Review: Ugly is Beautiful by Oliver Tree

Oliver Tree often asks, “Where is the division between the man and the meme?” He attempts to answer this question but fails to satisfy me with his answer. Oliver Tree is an artist who slowly burned onto the scene rather than bursting onto it.. Having released many singles and an EP before putting out his debut album and developing a methodology of turning yourself into a meme for the purpose of marketing he’s certainly worked hard to get to where he is now. However, as revealed in recent interviews with Anthony Fantano and MTV, this is also his last album.

He revealed that he is tired of working with record labels and having to become someone he’s not simply to release music and be paid for it. ” ’I’m just ready to drop all the bullshit and just get to be the real guy, make the real art,’ he said on a Zoom call with MTV News from inside a domineering plastic bubble.”1 Right after telling Anthony Fantano that he’s tired of marketing himself, he brought out a large document that he wrote for his senior project on how to become a meme.2

There’s immense tension in his music and character. On one side you have someone who writes music about being a genuine person. On the other is a person who doesn’t seem to be his genuine self. He has explained on various occasions that the jacket is his mothers and one that he wore growing up, his haircut is similar to one he’s always had, his JNCO jeans are the ones he’s always wanted, and his scooter is one that he’s ridden as a professional. This doesn’t resolve the tension that I felt, though. He’s taken some qualities of himself and turned them into a caricature, a meme.

Despite this tension in his artist persona, his music sings to me – as someone also going through early adulthood – of his journey through self-discovery and growth. He sings of feelings of being outcast and “other” while gazing upon society and seeing people just fitting in and not living out who they really are. It’s a call to action to create and live life with vision. Instrumentally, it melds genres such as indie, alternative, rap, and pop. It calls back to music he may have grown up listening to while still sounding unique and genuine.

Ugly is Beautiful caught my attention in a way that most pop albums don’t. I went in having heard one track and was taken in with every aspect of it. It was easy to see a genuine person in the lyrics and instrumentals. It kept every track interesting without falling into the trap of trying to make everything a banger. You could feel the enjoyment of the music making process and the real experiences he sings about.

The standout track in this album for me was “Hurt”. It details feelings and experiences around becoming a semi-pro scooter rider and an accident that happened during a competition. Lyrically and instrumentally he gets at the despair that you feel when you have things like this happen, when everything you know is taken away. Throughout many of his other songs, he writes about his struggles with drugs and feeling ostracized by others. Throughout this there’s a feeling of hope and confidence as he comes to terms with who he is and what he wants to do.

He seems to be following his own call to action as he leaves music – for now at least – and looks to start his own film production company. He’s seeking to make films he’s passionate about without having to deal with the bureaucracy and money of the music industry. After watching his music videos, there is little doubt that he will succeed as a filmmaker with vision. I will be interested to find out, however, which side of the internal dissonance that he’s displayed will win out.

Our Rating: 8.2/10 (Best New Music)

Release Date: July 17, 2020

Label: Atlantic Recording Corporation

1 Patrick Hoskin, The End of Oliver Tree as We Know Him, 17 July 2020, http://www.mtv.com/news/3166867/oliver-tree-ugly-is-beautiful-interview/

2 Anthony Fantano, Oliver Tree INTERVIEW, 16 July 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPpsNTAhpUE&t=47s

Madaila Bends Genres on New EP “West”

Madaila returns with a fresh take on their sound, deviating from synth-pop roots and opting instead for a more subtle folk approach.

Madaila has been a favorite of mine for several years now. “What If” won my heart, and tracks like “Give Me All Your Love”, “I Know”, and “I Don’t Want to Rest” really sealed things for me. Last year’s Clandestine Magic was a long-awaited return to form for the band after a bit of a hiatus (during which frontman Mark Daly released an ambitious solo LP).

Now, Madaila is back. Sort of. West is the first of four Madaila EPs slated for this year, and it’s quite a bit different that the 80s-styled pop they’ve been known for. Instead, there’s a lot more folk influence at play. The songs are more raw, rural, and perhaps even grittier.

None of this is left field for Daly who previously fronted the short-lived Chamberlin, a dynamic folk act with a sadly-shallow discography. However, the new Madaila is hardly just a Chamberlin reissue. It feels like a rejuvenation of the group’s classic sound, ditching some of the funner, dancier elements for a more humble, mature tone. Daly’s piercing falsetto is still at play, but in many ways, this feels like an entirely new band. Perhaps each EP will explore a different musical style – nonetheless, West is decidedly soulful and vulnerable, treading the careful line between bombastic indie and tender alt-country. Previous releases had apparent charisma, begging to be heard. This time around, the gloss is gone as Madaila doesn’t need to ask for attention. Like an old friend, the group beckons in listeners who will immediately feel comfortable and at home.

All this said, while it may not immediately feel like a Madaila release, it’s certainly good. “One Thing Can’t Be Everything” opens the release, with Migrant-era The Dear Hunter vibes and bright tones.”Sweet Revival” is booming and emotional. “Young Again” feels the closest to the Madaila back catalog. “Love In Ohio” is painfully lamentful. “You Won’t Be Alone” is a warm closer to the collection.

Lyrically, there are traces of things we’ve seen from Madaila before, albeit recontextualized. Love is a key theme, but it’s explored in a more poetic manner. Elsewhere, lines like “I’m not doing so well” feel undeniably easy to relate to. Daly isn’t claiming to have all the answers or the strength to weather any storm that may come to pass, and it’s this uncertainty and vulnerability that feels juxtaposed against songs like “I Know”. And while the latter is strong in its own right, there’s something about this new method of delivery that seems so powerful.

West is far from what you’d expect from Madaila, but it seems like a thoughtful and honest release through and through. Mark Daly hasn’t forgotten his roots in folk and it’s fresh to see both instrumental and lyrical elements of that style flourish here. I’m certainly excited to see what’s next.

Our Rating: 8.0 (Best New Music)

Review: This Isn’t Funny (LP1) by Metadiscorse

FFO: beach rock, lofi, bedroom pop, progressive rock

I’ve been called an old soul for preferring albums over singles and EPs; indeed, it is far more common to see bands releasing shorter (and more regular) works to appeal to dwindling attention spans and the saturation of dopamine that is omnipresent. That’s not to say singles or EPs are lazy, but they’re certainly more convenient from a commercial standpoint. Albums largely seem to be on their way out.

Enter Metadiscorse who have crafted a two-disk long player behemoth of a debut. The first part, This Isn’t Funny, is officially out today (along with some bonus live tracks), and the band has not cut any corners here. Six of the eleven tracks are over four minutes long, with several tracks approaching the six-minute mark. Even the conscious decision to go beyond nine or ten tracks seems significant. And while LP2 is still forthcoming, if we assume it’ll be comparable in length, this ends up being quite a hefty project.

Sonically, the band describes themselves as lofi and bedroom pop – neither of these is inaccurate, but I’d also add in terms like beach rock, grunge, and vintage psych. It’s full of moments both viscerally joyful and passionately vulnerable as frontman Hunter LoBianco croons over a variety of compositions that transport listeners from quiet docksides to restful country hamlets.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons to fellow Wisconsinite band Horace Greene, with their own unique flavor of retrospective rock. Metadiscorse has enough unique DNA in the form of more unique song structures, wide stylistic influences, and overall dynamics. However, vocal style and guitar tone are probably the biggest shared element between the two bands, and it’s hard to mentally separate the two.

“American Troglodyte” arguably serves as the flagship track on this LP and serves as a prime example of what LoBianco and friends are capable of. It’s the longest track, but none of that time is wasted. A waltz-like piano base and auxiliary percussion open the track, but the end is a whirling crescendo of full-band instrumentation. While the album has several instrumental (or at least nearly-instrumental) tracks, this build easily stands out among its compatriots.

One downside to the album format that many critics are justified about is the ability to be cohesive; personally I’m drawn to concept albums which play off motifs, lyrical themes, and elements of self-reference. Can you write a good album without these? Yes. But there’s a tendency for some albums to feel like a collection of singles more than anything else. And when a band like Metadiscorse sets out to release an album of such proportions, it’s hard for things to not feel consistent at times. The narrative inevitably suffers a bit. And genuinely, even some of the most ambitious (and greatest) albums begin to drag a bit as they surpass an hour runtime.

There are plenty of solid moments on This Isn’t Funny, but cutting a track or two could help it feel more solid as a whole. “Self Esteem” is a grungy interlude track that feels out of place on the album to begin with, but its slot as the second-to-last track seems to disrupt what would have been the one-two punch of “American Troglodyte” and “Out to Get Me”. “Problematic” and “Mid-Air Collision” are both stripped back type tracks, but even they feel too lofi for an album marketed as such. Juxtaposed against “Open Letter to Ms. Caroline”, these songs feel perhaps a bit under-developed.

But apart from these songs, there’s not too much to complain about. Sure, production could be a bit more pristine but there wasn’t a $20,000 budget here. The band has been fairly resourceful and the end result still sounds pretty crisp. The variety of explored genres is exciting, especially the mathy “Tokyo Drift (Conventionally Unattractive”. The variety may feel like a bit of a musical identity crisis at times, but there’s huge potential for the band to market specific songs to different audiences and leverage themed playlists here.

Metadiscorse is fearlessly-ambitious on this release, and they’re not afraid of the short-term commercial impact. This Isn’t Funny is ultimately a chill album that feels cozy in the quiet of your home but would nonetheless have allure live as well. It may not feel completely well-rounded, but barring a few earlier complaints, it’s definitely a strong debut album that is certain to help you slow down and appreciate beauty in the simple things in life.

Check it out here or on most digital streaming outlets.

Our Rating: 7.4 (Stand Out)

Exploring Sandy Soundscapes on Tarantula Tapes’ “Easy”

Glowbug’s Daniel Anderson is never content to stay in one place, this time emerging with an amalgamation of country, hip-hop, and lofi.

While Judah & the Lion are arguably the most mainstream example of hip-hop stylings mashed into unlikely contexts, they’ve arguably got nothing on the uncanny cocktail that is Tarantula Tapes’ debut album.

Tarantula Tapes is the latest moniker of Daniel Anderson, and Anderson himself characterizes the project as “not Glowbug” but also “not not Glowbug”. This is a fitting summary – Easy shimmers with a lofi glow and a base of vintage sounding synths, acoustic guitar, and a certain western ambiance. At times, it feels like a reimagined take on the classic chillwave sound of Glowbug, albeit one where Anderson’s vocals are substituted with intricate guitar melodies and the arrangements feel more spacious.

Admittedly, instrumental music is difficult for me to process. Even the most inane lyrics provide some degree of conversation for listeners to respond to. But without lyrics, listeners are given freedom to inject their ideas into both sides of the musical conversation.

It’s also difficult to know how to best approach instrumental works. Can they be appreciated well in the background as concentration or relaxation methods? Or should they be carefully examined with full attention? Is it a disservice to simply do one or the other?

As such, it seems unfair to try to place any sort of rating on Easy. It’s a bit like eating Indian food for the first time – it is foreign to me to some degree, and it may not go down the easiest. But that’s simply my own palate which has not been primed for this sort of release. To enjoy Tarantula Tapes properly is to not overthink things.

That’s not to say Easy isn’t carefully-crafted, lush, or compelling. But I need to temporarily suspend my notions of “meaning” and simply let these compositions cascade freely. Anderson isn’t commenting on dead-end jobs, vibrant memories of driving along the coast, or the nature of luck itself. Instead, he charts beauty is a more subjective manner – one that conjures western vistas, simple living, and an undeniable sense of wonder. Maybe the nature of quarantine holds the album back as it presents us with a sense of freedom that for many seems may never see the light of day.

Stylistically, Easy is in a league of its own. It borrows equally from Orville Peck’s cosmic country foundation and augments it with traces of classic hip-hop; hints of folk, chillwave, and Love as a Dark Hallway-era Flashbulb-esque guitar parts are all present. It’s undeniably modern, but is lovingly retrospective all the same.

Even though Tarantula Tapes is a change of pace compared to the more dynamic elements of Glowbug, the project certainly has its own unique strengths and shows Anderson’s “Renaissance man” aptitude for songwriting.

Check out Easy here: https://tarantulatapes.bandcamp.com/album/easy

Death and Rebirth With Hodera

When is a piece of art truly finished? When is it time to shift gears, call things quits, or reinvent?

These are questions that have inevitably been on the mind of Hodera’s Matthew Smith. The band itself began as Smith’s solo effort before becoming a true collaborative effort. And in a move that could be seen as overcompensation, Smith has once again found himself with a solo project, this time under the Bravely moniker.

This particular movement toward solo releases happened some point after 2017’s First Things First (and its supplemental follow up, Besides). And while reasons for the band’s informal hiatus remain shrouded in mystery (at least to me), the group decided to resurface earlier this year with another EP.

The band had this to say: We really only decided to get back together due to the constant online support. We thought our journey was done but you all pushed us to keep going!

Admittedly, it’s hard to keep tabs on which bands are active, which ones are putting out releases, which ones are on the cusp of new releases, and any of the multitude of factors connected to the music industry. It’s weird to realize how much time has past since some of my favorite albums. And when a band chooses to silently fade away, it’s even more confusing as to just what’s going on. They’ve decided they’re done, but fans don’t realize it. Needless to say, prior to reading this, I guess I missed the hint that Hodera was no more.

So, their return is certainly a welcome surprise (though their back catalog does indeed hold its own), but the bigger question surrounds why they stopped in the first place. After all, First Things First was a definite change of pace from United by Birdcalls, and while Bravely deviates stylistically, the sound is adjacent enough that it could have easily been published under the Hodera moniker – I’ve seen several bands turn to solo projects or rely on guest features but carry the same brand forward.

Certainly, there are few sure answers in this case. Maybe the whole spirit behind Bravely, the mental state where those songs originate, is vastly differently than what facilitated the Hodera songs. Maybe Hodera’s identity became a true cooperative work. Maybe everything that needed to be said was already out there. Maybe it was time, distance, money, priorities. We might never know, and it’s not imperative we do. But we do know that communal support was enough to bring the band back together for another recording.

And that seems pretty interesting – that Hodera and Bravely for once exist concurrently. It’s undeniable the new iteration of Hodera is a bit different after a few years off, but it’s not a detriment. The two projects have unique purposes enough to warrant a brand separation.

But what about bands like Thrice who have seemingly run the gamut on genre? The Alchemy Index on its own carried enough stylistic variety to surpass most bands, and that’s only a microcosm of what the band has explored. Cool Hand Luke has gone from midwest emo to alternative rock to piano-based indie and has seen several lineups, including a solo iteration. There’s something to be said about a band that, in a sense, manages to have a career that lasts a couple decades. And while that’s harder and harder in the modern world, uprooting the brand you’re most known for can seem like career suicide – or at the very least, akin to starting over. Compare the social draw of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s to Richard Edwards’ solo work – the same artist under two different names is seeing disproportionate success.

Now, Hodera is smaller than all of the bands listed; arguably, they have the most to lose starting over. It’s hard to get the first hundred or 500 people to care, and doing it all over again is excruciating.

That’s not to say this distinction is wrong by any stretch or that Hodera is the only band that has done this sort of thing; what’s unique is that the band quietly dissolved but reappeared. Whatever defines their music, whatever unites the members… these are the core parts of Hodera as a project. It would seem other artists have fewer firm definitions for their art, allowing it to be malleable to some stretch. But others, in the case of The Felix Culpa, simply exist under the pretense that they’ve reached their magnum opus and that to carry on further would be a mistake. Some reasons naturally carry a greater degree of permanence, even if the band may later decide to do some sort of reunion after reconsidering things.

But Hodera was very much a young band with a small catalog. It’s hard not to feel that the end was untimely, much like a high school romance torn to shreds when the couple go off to separate colleges. All the band has said is that they’ve stopped playing a few years back.

But just as easily as Hodera vanished, they reappeared (perhaps with more longevity). So, much like we should consider the constraints for when a project is complete, we should too ponder when perhaps a project was sunset too soon and where there is still room to continue.

In the case of Hodera, You’re Worth It definitely feels like a chapter that was missing. It’s inviting and familiar, rife with the sort of comforting wordplay Smith’s lyrics are known for. The title, the impetus for reunion, and the band’s stance on mental health seem to point toward one major driving force for their persistence: their support base. It seems that a project once decidedly introspective has shaken its telephoto roots for a wider angle based around community – that this release, and the band’s resurgence, is for the community. It’s a sort of musical thank-you card. This alone was able to break whatever confines had been placed upon Hodera, if not expand the definition of Hodera as an entity.

Ultimately, it’s good to have Hodera back with this release. In all the questions and unknowns, the band have their reasons for their actions. Hodera’s career trajectory is one of intermittent rest and forceful rise, and the end result are songs that shimmer with struggle and endurance.

Review: EP1_2020 by New Language

RIYL: Spicy quarantine jams with timely lyrics

It’s perhaps both a great time and horrible time to release music these days. On one hand, shows aren’t happening, chaos has manifested in some pretty tangible ways, and art itself seems far less important than larger social challenges.

On the other hand, the audience is more captive than ever – and more in need of messages of truth, sensibility, and critical thought to help discern reality in a sea of fake news, personal anxieties, and general apprehensiveness.

Here, New Language‘s latest effort, the simply-titled EP1_2020, seems to ring true. The band has been working on its second LP for quite some time, and while it’s uncertain if these songs are a subset of what we’d find on the album or not, these three tracks speak well into our current pandemic – and beyond. I’m led to believe that this EP wasn’t initially planned but that our current circumstances prompted the band to put out this release. After all, New Language is not the sort of band that takes unreasonable risks and giving listeners an anchor for reality amid socio-political and personal turmoil reflects the band’s brand of community-driven efforts. This is a band known for donating album and merch sales to charities, so dropping this EP should certainly not be taken as a cheap grab for attention.

Instead, EP1_2020 makes every effort to comfort the restless and weary. New Language has continually managed to navigate socially-conscious lyrics in a way that avoids taking sides, and this is something I particularly respect. There’s a common empathy that whatever ideals we might hold, we are all in the same world trying to make it through.

On this EP, the lyrics feel more personal than ever. Lead single “NO TIME” speaks to the consumption, if not over-consumption, of media and its consequent consumption of us. That’s not to say naivete is a good goal by any stretch, but so much of what occupies our minds can become burdensome. We see this exemplified in some of the lyrics: “Losing my sight, losing my mind, no time, no time”. It’s the sort of sentiment that works best laid so bare. While there’s certainly more to behold lyrically, suffice it to say our relationships with others are strained by how we prioritize our time and what we treasure most. In a time where we’re cut off from many people we love, it’s even more critical we direct our efforts toward those who are hurting rather than cower in escapist fashion.

“PARANOID” is a particularly striking track, and its name is perhaps the most direct of the three songs on the EP. These opening lyrics set the stage for this introspective piece:

Lost control
Trying to steer clear
Why are we still here?

It comes and goes
Try to be sincere
But why are we stuck here?

These are certainly sentiments we’ve experienced before to varying degrees, but they feel even more timely. Why are we stuck here? It’s a statement that resounds on multiple levels, from potential international distress to the millions of jobs lost in a mere few weeks. It is easy to think and feel the worst in all of this when good news feels so rare, but a panicked response certainly is not healthy either. Instead, the band has this call-to-action for us:

Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid
Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid

Take away, take away fixed patterns
Break away, break away right now
Overthrow
Don’t need to be so paranoid

There’s a recognition of the unhealthy thought cycle and a desire to do something about it rather than be passively overtaken by fear. We tend to forget how even small changes in thought can have a huge effect when applied on a mass scale.

The EP ends on “CAN’T EXPLAIN”, a track accompanied by a video of LA during the quarantine which the band has created for their community. Lyrically, it feels like the most resilient track so far: even when confusion abounds, we will carry on for the people and things we love. The song’s title seems to have two sides to it – not being able to explain the current difficulties and also not being able to explain the hope and desire to push forward in a time where it’d be easier to sit things out.

Musically, the band has continued down their experimental tangent we first saw with “House of Cards”. Synths are more prominent this time around (and a central part of “NO TIME”). Things feel a bit poppier overall, though not to any sort of detriment. These are certainly the most palatable songs the group has released to date, with the band taking a more minimalist approach to songwriting so that every second truly counts – and there is certainly no time to waste here, no pun intended. While the group’s first LP was grounded in solid hard rock and post-hardcore and the EP played a bit more off alt-rock influences, this EP shows a new direction altogether. Certainly, New Language is still a rock band – but subgenre labels feel less apt to describe the core of what this band is crafting. At the end of the day, EP1_2020 is a fresh set of timely tracks that glimmer with perseverance and fortitude in an uncertain age, and that’s worth plenty all on its own.

Our Rating: 8.2 (Best New Music)

Song Premier: Cloud Caverns’ “The Eleventh Hour Effort”

“We were always waiting for the shoe to drop,
Here it is.”

Chattanooga’s Cloud Caverns has been crafting intimate, progressive folk for the better part of a decade now. Manned by Brandon Peterson, with intermittent friends lending assistance, the project has three full-length albums under its belt. More recently, Cloud Caverns has been releasing singles in anticipation of a new new full-length album.

Never shy to the discomforts of political corruption, disillusionment, and the the simple (yet unrelenting) pains of life, Peterson pens visceral songs that are poetic without being esoteric: they’re songs that frame the common threads of life in a way that manage to make something beautiful out of a reality that is often harsh.

We’re excited to debut Cloud Caverns’ latest single, “The Eleventh Hour Effort”. It’s a particularly timely song given the current health crisis. While the song’s lyrics speak of a house literally collapsing, it’s a state that many of us are experiencing emotionally. We are inside the house, it is sinking, and we’re not sure what to do. But the song is not prescriptive, instead slyly remarking, “That’s just life, is that right?”

All of this is juxtaposed against an otherwise upbeat sonic landscape, with prominent use of flute-like synth tones. It’d be easy to lose the serious undertones of the lyrics with a casual listen. It feels warm and playful, a nice change of pace for a project known to oscillate between intense alt-rock and spacious acoustic arrangements.

Check out “The Eleventh Hour Effort” below:

The Eleventh Hour Effort by Cloud Caverns

Quarantine Jams: What Our Writers Are Listening To

As the global pandemic develops, here’s what our writers are listening to, and why.

Let’s face the facts: we are living in scary and uncertain times. With most public life shutting down over the past few days, it’s been difficult to find a distraction from this fact. Everything happening on the news and in our communities shows that life is not normal. Meanwhile, we are stuck in doors washing our hands and twiddling our thumbs, waiting to see what will happen.

Fortunately, most of us still have access to our music libraries. As the global pandemic develops, here’s what our writers are listening to, and why.

NOTE: Bandcamp is giving their usual cut of the profits from purchases on the website to the artists on Friday, March 20th. Please consider purchasing these albums on Bandcamp to help the artists make money while they can’t play concerts, or albums from other artists that you love!

Ian’s pick: American Football, LP1

Anyone who knows me at a personal level will know about my love affair with American Football’s 1999 album. I first listened to it when I was probably 18 or 19. Since then, it has grown to be one of my favorite albums. It’s like a warm blanket and hot tea after a hard day. It’s the perfect soundtrack for any season, but particularly a chilly night.  But most of all, LP1 is one of those records that has the power to amplify my mood.  If I’m listening while happy, it fills me with a warm nostalgia that makes everything more beautiful.  While sad or anxious, its melancholy tone is more consoling than most any other album. 

As I’ve been dealing with the uncertainty of the high school that I teach at being shut down, and low-level anxiety while being alone in my apartment most of the time, the record has brought the warmth and companionship to get by.  It makes staying home appealing, because it brings out the coziness of life inside.  Maybe it’s the house on the album cover with the warm, yellow light shining out through the top window.  During this time, it’s nice to be reminded of the comfort of our own homes. Purchase LP1 on Bandcamp here.

Jason’s Pick: The New Year, The End Is Near

Western pop culture’s take on “apocalypse” usually involves people scavenging tinned meat from radiated convenience stores, or all of the ancient doomsday prophecies coming true (at once!). Or zombies. The End Is Near is apocalyptic, but in a way that hews closer to the word’s original meaning: it’s a revealing. In this case, The End Is Near revolves around anxieties that bind humanity.  

The New Year formed after beloved ’90s indie rock band Bedhead (often lauded as one of the formative “slowcore” bands) folded near the turn of the century. Songwriters/singers/guitarists/brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane still carry the Bedhead torch here: lots of single-note guitar lines woven together, odd time signatures, philosophy-after-four-drinks wordplay, and some surprisingly catchy melodies. And like Bedhead, The New Year sidestep a lot of standard rock tropes; this is  minimalist music without a clear verse-chorus-verse structure, which makes the occasional distorted guitars or hooks more powerful.

I genuinely love The End Is Near as a whole, but it has a few standouts. “Disease” is evergreen in its relevance, a rumination on the universal nature of suffering, specifically around illness. That it’s packaged with some nice guitar interplay and a slyly memorable melody doesn’t hurt. And “18” builds to a glorious climax while looking through the eyes of an elderly person reflecting on the limitations of the flesh. It’s chaotic, beautiful, and wonderfully humane. The End Is Near is full of songs like this, snapshots of people like us revealing their fears and heartaches. In a time of crisis, it’s a good reminder that we’re not alone. You can buy The End Is Near on vinyl here. You can also buy their latest album, 2017’s excellent Snow, on Bandcamp here.

Tyler’s Pick: Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

My warning before suggesting this album is that this is an album that embodies despair. It is a monolithic exemplar of a degrading soul when faced with loss, destruction, death, and all that negative stuff. But oh my God is it beautiful. 

If you’re like me, the world doesn’t make sense and you’re constantly attempting to find meaning in it. With all the nonsense going on outside our closed doors, many of us are truly feeling the most negative emotions we possibly could be feeling at this point. Social isolation doesn’t necessarily breed positivity.

And sometimes, when we feel negative, experiencing art expressing those negative emotions helps us deal with them better. 

This album is one 80-something minute long track of the most droning, sludgy, metallic-tinged bass and drums that I’ve ever heard. It is an album depicting what it might sound like “on the other side.” To further cement this idea, the architects of the album use the voice of the at-the-time recently deceased drummer midway through as both a tribute to him and a reminder that death is always close. 

So yeah, if you’re not up for some awfully dark music in these awfully dark times and would like something maybe more positive, look elsewhere. Purchase here on Bandcamp.

Casey’s Pick: New Language, Come Alive

New Language burst on the scene in 2017 to critical acclaim and they quickly made their way on the list of my favorite bands. While their sound continues to evolve, their conviction is undying and their work ethic is indomitable. 

The band’s lyrics have always been socially-conscious, even laced with (non-partisan) political ethics. Their debut, Come Alive, is peppered with calls-to-action regarding critical thought, fighting through personal doubts, and persevering when the obstacles feel insurmountable. It’s a high-octane, intelligent release that musically straddles the line between hard rock and post-hardcore. It’s the kind of sound that typically gets abused and becomes offensively-commercial, but that’s not the case here. New Language seem to borrow as much influence from Bloc Party as they do from bands like ’68. 

Ultimately, Come Alive exists in the same emotional space as the current pandemic: urgent, uncertain, brooding, never stagnant. The lyrics are more timely than ever as we as a country, and as a human race, strive to make sense of the chaos and find order in the misaligned segments of society. Purchase here on Bandcamp.

 

 

Albums That Slipped Through The Cracks: Space Camp by Audio Karate, A Track By Track Review

FFO: WAVVES, Lagwagon, The Starting Line, Alkaline Trio

For much of the underground scene, Audio Karate has been of interest to many fans of punk rock, skate punk & pop punk genres alike. They had their moments of fame like when making it on MTV(UK) and playing with bands such as the descendants… But were always on the cusp of becoming something bigger & better, their freshman album “Space Camp” showcases this with full force. The first track off of the album “Rosemead” had ballad-like potential, the drums and guitar in the track are reminiscent of its time in the pop punk sphere. The lyrical content in this song may make you feel like you are reading a love letter to your valentine, while at the same time, the nostalgia may also make you feel a sense of longing and belonging somehow. There are very few albums I can listen to nowadays for the first time without stopping and this track caused me to do so. Much of this album has a track that is as infectious as the track prior in one way or another.

It starts to become melodic with the track “Drama Club Romance”… Here, we notice the signature guitar parts that stand out from many similar bands at the time. It’s like going to the beach and listening to pop punk, the waves pull me in more and more. This song is one of my favorites and more visited tracks for me personally. “Nintendo 89”, the first track I and many others first heard by this band, could have reached ballad status as well. To me, though, it was just that and more. Arguably the track has a My Chemical Romance-like entrance but eventually demanded that I mosh in the comfort of my own home.

The attitude of the album takes a turn from hopeful to heavy in the song “Hello St. Louis”, which could be considered the most surprising song as well. The sporadic and punch-filled bass solo turned into guitar solo parts jumped out at me as something that stood out on this record. It’s a good turning point for the album and could peak your interest(like it did mine) at what is to come in following songs. “Monster In Disguise” plays off of the previous track and adds even more fuel to the fire as the most emotional track on this release. The song seems to be about a bad relationship, though the lyrical content itself could also provide solace to some one feeling isolation and lonliness.

The songs to come may be surprising as the emotion suddenly changes to a more mellow vibe. “Car Ride Home” returns to the punk rock summer vibe that “Drama Club Romance” had, and also is debatably the most poetic song on this record. The music here yells 90’s skate punk and reciprocates that it’s still alive even in the early 2000’s while still being the most surprising track on this album(in my opinion). “Senior Year” continues this fashion and the nostalgia here is so infectious as it is the most child-like song here. “One Day” and “San Jose” were the least exciting tracks to me, they don’t offer much of anything too different but are still fun and catchy nonetheless.

However, the song “Jason” takes a turn in the album holding the place of the last song before the closer on the album. For me, in albums this is where I never know what to expect going into the last two songs. Although, this track specifically serves as the most raw version of the band at their time as frontman Arturo Barrios sings “can’t do this anymore”. The song as a whole is alluring and holds an explosiveness to it that is broad in the best of ways. Finally, we’re at the closing track “T-San”… Here, Arturo sings “so I say goodbye to you”, and to me this serves as a great closer for the album. It became a tearjerker after reading the lyrics in depth considering the heaviness that is so present here.

Overall, this album is one that constantly serves as inspiring and interesting. This record is so fun at any time of the year to me, I can throw it on almost anytime. It’s a gem as well as underground staple that has stood the tests of time, aging very well. Today the album turns 18 years old… So, happy anniversary/birthday to Audio Karate on the album(if you all read this), and congratulations on the more recent release of the incredible album “Malo” ! I am looking forward to whatever this band has up their sleeves next.

7.6 (Stand-Out)



Release date: March 14, 2002

Label: Kung Fu Records

Review: Random Desire, by Greg Dulli

The new Greg Dulli solo album is the creative culmination of a 30-plus year career.

FFO: Greg Dulli, Greg Dulli, and Greg Dulli

Random Desire is billed as Greg Dulli’s first solo project. Even if you ignore the fact that Dulli already had a solo debut in 2005 (possibly a technically , since it was released as quote Greg Dulli’s Amber Headlights end quote), Dulli’s bands—the Afghan Whigs, the Gutter Twins, and the Twilight Singers—were always driven by his singular creative vision. His bandmates played important roles, but they were always in service to whatever muse Dulli was following at the time. If Dulli is fronting a band, it’s going to sound like his project, period.

After “reuniting”* the Afghan Whigs in 2011 and releasing two albums (2014’s good Do to the Beast and 2017’s excellent In Spades), Dulli found himself in need of a creative outlet as the band again went on hiatus.  Random Desire is that outlet; inspired by Prince, Todd Rundgren, and other one-man-bands, Dulli wrote, played, and recorded the whole album himself (save for some guest spots from his pals). While there’s a slapdash quality here as a result, the album is still the most diverse release in Dulli’s career, revisiting almost every creative detour he’s taken while venturing down the occasional new path.

*more like adding an original Whig member to the Twilight Singers line-up

One of the most fascinating things about Dulli’s creative output over the years is that as his songwriting accumulated new wrinkles, he’d take those elements to his next project and continue building. So while the Whigs started off as a loud college rock bar band with serious ’60s R&B/soul undertones, they kept expending, ladling in more and more nuances. And then the Twilight Singers added a dollop of electronica and sunny indie rock. And the Gutter Twins folded in some late ’80s Nick Cave vibes. Random Desire keeps with this trend, as all of these elements swirl and slosh around. Some songs, like the glorious “The Tide,” revisit touchstone points (in this case, Black Love-era Afghan Whigs, with a huge upswell of guitars, piano, and Dulli’s howl). Other tunes try some new tricks, like opener “Pantomima”—it’s maybe the single most joyous-sounding thing Dulli has released. And “Scorpio” slinks along with a sexy vibe that’s carried by a trip-hop backbeat and some impressively syncopated verse vocals from Dulli.

If Random Desire suffers, it’s mainly from the limitations of keeping this to a one-man affair. I’ve always found Dulli an underappreciated musician, a true jack of all trades whose musicianship was always eclipsed by his huge on-stage persona. But while a more-than-capable multi-instrumentalist, Dulli’s playing never strays far from what he’s done before. The same can’t be said for his vocal performance—Dulli’s raspy yowl aims for some sultry low notes that are far out of his range. It’s endearing, but still a bad fit for the album. And it’s also not helped by the thin-sounding production; Dulli might’ve been shooting for this early Prince aesthetic, but it doesn’t mesh well with the anthemic swells that frequent his songs.

Random Desire is also the most lyrically diverse of Dulli’s career. Dulli’s songs have always been about the brooding and self-destruction that comes with passion. But here, he seems to take a step back and look at the sadness, joy, and peace that comes from relationships (or, like in the album’s standout “Marry Me,” broken relationships). It’s still Dulli, but this is the most mature he’s ever sounded (or, his persona has sounded, if there’s any actual difference between the two).

Clocking in at a mere 37 minutes, Random Desire covers a lot of ground in a little time. Even with its limitations, the it’s the most true sounding recording Greg Dulli has ever released. Maybe that’s why it’s being billed as his first solo album.

Our Rating: 7.9 (Stand Out)

Random Desire is out now on Royal Cream/BMG.