Albums That Slipped Through The Cracks: Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven by Kid Cudi

FFO: Nirvana, Minor Threat, Alice In Chains

Kid Cudi is an artist who has always changed up his formula with every project he has released. Well known and critically acclaimed for his first two “Man On The Moon” albums, he wasn’t willing to settle by any means. Even as projects moving forward would tend to flop in the eyes of critics and fans or get mixed reviews, Scott Mescudi, or “Kid Cudi”, still continued in doing what made him happy. While “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” received negative and mixed reviews as well, over time, fans have come to appreciate how deep and different the album is compared to Kid’s other projects. Even Andre 3000 as well as other notable artists Kanye West and Erykah Badu gave the album high praise. When friend of mine mentioned to me that this is a punk rock album by Kid Cudi, as some one who loves punk rock music and its culture, I was curious to see how this record would be overall.

While this album isn’t something that hasn’t been tried before, for Kid Cudi it is something almost completely different. If you are expecting any hip hop elements in the mix here of this album, you may be disappointed. However, you may at least appreciate the title track “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven”, which sounds like something off of the “Man On The Moon” albums but with much more instrumentation. I was very impressed with how much versatility Kid pulled off in this album, not just because it is a style change, but for how loud this album is. It’s very punk rock at times and also very grunge-sounding at times. It sounds as if Kid may have been on the brink of insanity by lyrical content, putting it into poetry and him singing/yelling over a bunch of sloppy punk rock riffs. If there’s one thing I can agree with fans on, it’s that this is arguably his most deep and confident release of his career thus far. 

Through the record until about the middle part of it stopping after the track “Judgmental C**t”, we hear very Nirvana-esque riffs and music while the vocals some times don’t differ too far from his work before this record. At some points, the vocals don’t seem to play well into the mix, but it’s made up for what it lacks in the way the music sounds. “Fade 2 Red” & “AMEN” are arguably the most punk-rock sounding songs on the album, loud and filled with more drums than most of what the rest of the album has to offer. “Handle With Care” is my personal favorite song on the album though, surprisingly… It is his most soft song here in terms of sound as well, but the lyrics are very deep and yet somehow cathartic. 

At this point in the album though, the sound starts to decline a little bit throughout the second half. While there are some very alluring & much more deep moments as far as lyrical quality, nothing stood out to me as much as the first half. There’s also Beavis & Butthead skits at the end of several songs in the album… While this adds a lighthearted and funny feel to soften up the album’s flow, it almost doesn’t fit. During their appearances, Beavis & Butthead both comment on how they are feeling about the album & how they are being influenced by hallucinogenics while listening to it.  It is weird to hear this in the album, but also makes me appreciate the album as an art piece less in a way though too. I was surprised to hear the 3 demos in this half of the album and no fully finished tracks of the same names to back them up as well. While these 3 tracks may keep the spirit of punk rock fresh in the album, it doesn’t seem to fit well where they were placed, as they feel like some songs that should have been put on the first half of the album(or maybe not at all).

Overall, if you are big fan of punk rock and grunge music, this may be an album you are at least able to appreciate. It is infectious in terms of sound, but, somewhat lackluster in quality and when considering it artwork. I will say, though, this is arguably Kid Cudi’s most underrated album and is one for the books, it is one I may be revisiting in the future as well. In more recent times, Kid has put out a single with legendary rapper Eminem titled “The Adventures Of Moon Man & Slim Shady”. Kid Cudi & Travis Scott also put out a track in April titled “The Scotts” under their new group titled under the same name “The Scotts”, and are slated to release a much anticipated project in the future. What can we expect from Kid Cudi in the future aside from this? Who knows?! He is a man of many talents and obviously has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. I, personally, would like to see a return to the punk rock & grunge sounds on this album at some point should Kid Cudi feel the urge to release something similar to this again… either way, I’ll always be eager for what his future as an artist holds.

Our Rating: 6.0 (Solid)

Release Date: December 4, 2015

Label: Republic Records

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.

Review: Never Not Together by Nada Surf

FFO: Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub, The Rentals

Compared to other 1990s one-hit wonders, Nada Surf’s career trajectory has been an interesting one. They came in big in the summer of 1996 with their Ric Ocasek-produced MTV hit “Popular,” an acerbic song with a big chorus that found the New York City trio (now a four-piece) raking in a good bit of money for their major-label, Elektra. The song’s success was ultimately at the expense of their sophomore album, 1998’s The Proximity Effect, which, despite having enough palatable Replacements-lite power-pop cuts in hindsight, did not contain a track that scratched Elektra’s itch for another college radio hit. The label’s nixing of the band opened the door for a few years of day jobs and, eventually, Barsuk Records, home to indie up-and-comers like Death Cab For Cutie and Rilo Kiley. Starting with 2002’s exceptional Let Go, things have been fairly consistent for the band. Their sound developed in a direction away from the caustic, feedback-drunk irony that was the calling-card of 1990s rock into sincere, lush, jangly pop music, a sound which they have more or less stuck with since.

In that regard, their latest album Never Not Together is not entirely different from anything they’ve released in the past 15 years; it is not a massive stylistic jump or sonic experiment, nor a defining opus from a band that has been at it for 25 years. Certain lyrical adjustments aside, it could have been released in the place of Let Go and fit in quite nicely in the milieu of 2002. Nada Surf’s gift has never laid in sonic excursions, but in tightening their craft as songwriters, performers of rich power-pop that matures with the band and their audience. Never Not Together triumphs in that area in spades, giving us an album that is somehow both their most compact and their most full-bodied collection of songs in a good while.

The opening track, and first single, “So Much Love,” fades in with pretty acoustic guitars and a sprinkle of piano; this sweet, delicate pop rock track is somewhat par for the course for Nada Surf at this point, and begins the album nicely with a safe air of familiarity before taking off with “Come Get Me,” a good dash of floaty jangle pop a la Jayhawks, interspersed with lines of moog synth that plays like something from Summerteeth-era Wilco. “Just Wait” finds its infectiousness in a more straightforward, hooky fashion, almost fitted perfectly for radio with its four-chord opening over swelling keyboard and strings. Despite being the most simple, straightforward track on the album, “Just Wait” also feels like the turning point on the album, as the tracks that fill the second half are filled with a wider variance in arrangement and style. “Something I Should Do” is an upbeat rocker that employs spoken word in a way that might be enough to hook those who are looking for another “Popular”; what’s missing is the caustic tone, as Matthew Caws says “And we have to hold onto that hippie point harder/Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad,” going for the post-Elektra sincerity he has taken to. “Looking For You” opens with a children’s choir that seems to be singing about insomnia before working itself towards a fantastic build with the hopeful message that “what you’re looking for’s looking for you, too.”

The strongest moment on the album comes with “Mathilda”, a 6 minute track that is almost broken down in 3 different suites. “They used to call me Mathilda,” Caws sings over a simple folksy melody. “My mama kept my hair long. I was more pretty than handsome, and I was not very strong.” This exploration of self-hatred learned from societal standards forays from reverb-washed arpeggio to overdriven power chords before settling into a Paul Simonesque folk-pop outro movement. “There’s a special hell that we build for ourselves, and it’s handed down in homes and playgrounds,” he sings. Within most of the lyricism lies this desire to love others, a sort of humanistic vision of neighbourliness. Nada Surf have always taken a more direct approach to lyricism whether that be in the overt sarcasm of “Popular,” the vitriolic damnation of toxic masculinity in “Mothers Day,” or the wistful longing of “Inside Of Love.” Caws and company channel this more towards sharing wisdom, altruism and acceptance in these woefully, absurdly divisive times. People looking for more extended metaphors, witty wordplay or crypticism may want to wait for the next Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks album. Otherwise, the marriage of honesty and innocence is refreshing in its own way.

Seeing Nada Surf in concert these days, you’ll never see them wince when they play “Popular” the way Radiohead might when dusting off “Creep”. There is no desire from the band to divorce themselves from their novice work. But while other 90s one-hit wonders may also attempt to recreate their biggest hits, Nada Surf continues to strive to mature; not through sweeping experiments, but through small steps towards crafting perfect songs. Never Not Together has the feeling of meeting up with an old friend over coffee. There is always that familiarity that doesn’t preclude the growth from being noticed. And in a world that seems to get noisier as time goes on, that might be the kind of detoxing we’ve been looking for.

7.6 (Stand-Out)

Released: February 7, 2020

Label: Barsuk Records

Albums That Slipped Through The Cracks: Killing Us Is Easy by Operatic

FFO: Jimmy Eat World, At The Drive In, As Cities Burn

If you’re looking for a great alternative album but also something new and not average in this genre, then look no further. In their debut, the members of Operatic prove they have potential, and a lot of it. As the music progresses, it could throw you off guard some times but, I feel, it keeps you interested the whole way through in one way or another. In a lot of ways, you understand clearly the message the lyrics are trying to convey… In other ways they can be cryptic and almost eery, and because of this, leaves room for interpretation. If you have ever been in an unhealthy relationship of any kind or have felt lost in life, then this EP may be a cathartic listen for you. Other themes involved can be repetitive but only for the sake of putting emphasis on what this record is trying to accomplish.

Killing Us Is Easy, as a whole, takes on a style of a melodically driven progression while throwing you small surprises along the way. Some may not find this EP as interesting, but for me, when first hearing this release, I was blown away with the lead guitar work… It is impressive, fresh and leaves you wanting more similar sounds to grace your ears. The vocals and instrument dichotomies are genuine and polished, making this a crisp listen, one of which tugs at the emotions of the listener’s soul. Most have found out about this band from the demo version of the first track titled “Interested In Madness”, which was featured on Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, and, this is how I found them as well. The demo version is a little bit different at some points and gives off almost a completely different feel for the song with small subtleties.

“Forget + Think + Tell” may be my favorite track on this just because of every aspect involved and how the song moves as compared to the others. The chorus screams what rock and roll at the time could look like, while you almost feel like you’re taking a small step through this path in the dark with rhythm guitarist & frontman Jesse Fritsch as he walks on it. The song “Fiona”, however, takes place right after and is possibly the most progressive and explosive track here… It is a great place to have this track with how the songs flow. Here, Jesse, sings “with this we’ve become, not so interested“… But to me, this record is nothing short of interesting. In fact, at the time of this release, it breaks the mold and can be considered a bold statement as well as a staple.

Our Rating: 7.2 (Stand Out)

Release Date: December 31, 2004

Label: Self-Released

Apple Music link: https://music.apple.com/ca/album/killing-us-is-easy/132828102

Review: The Coming Collapse, by Foxhall Stacks

Washington D.C. hardcore veterans’ power pop debut spins on our society’s collapse

FFO: Material Issue, early Fountains of Wayne, The Smithereens

Despite being a perennial punching bag in some corners of music journalism, power pop lives on. The earliest power pop bands took British Invasion melodic sensibilities and turned it up, pairing big hooks with self-deprecating longing. Each successive generation of power pop musicians added a new wrinkle or two while simultaneously worshiping at the Altar of Power Pop Past. At this point, power pop, as a form of pop rock, is an earworm ouroboros. Power pop fans (and I am among that number) are fine with this; we just want the hooks to keep coming. Keep ’em coming. Please.

The Coming Collapse, Foxhall Stacks’s first full-length release, is breezy enough and certainly catchy enough to pass muster for most power pop devotees. All of the right elements are here: the overdriven choruses are catchy (“Turntable Exiles,” “Rough Sailors”); the swarm of handclaps and punchy harmony vocals ever-present (“Do It Yesterday”); the acoustic tune is here (“Worried”); so is the punk-ish number (“The Old Me”); oh, and there’s the quasi-psychadelic song (“Failure”); and so on. The Coming Collapse follows the standard power pop template nicely, specifically the late-’80s/early-’90s alternative rock wave (think the Posies, Material Issue, and so on). but the band’s genesis is a little more surprising than the usual mopey-Anglophile-English-major-with-guitar origin story. The band’s members all have impressive resumes, especially in the indelible Washington D.C. hardcore punk and post-hardcore scene. (Between the four: Minor Threat, Government Issue, Wool, Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, Velocity Girl, and High Back Chairs, just to name a few.) But a bunch of aging (gracefully!) punks playing catchy guitar pop isn’t that odd, in the grand scheme of things—there’s a lot of overlap with the “punk” and “power pop” Venn diagram sets, when you get down to it.

The thing that breaks the mold here is that The Coming Collapse unrepentantly deals with the ravages of age, both individually and as a society, more than almost any other power pop record I can think of. That sounds more highfalutin than it actually is—the lyrics are often a weak point of the album, with a number of clunky rhyme pairings littering the tunes. The band isn’t trying to pretend they’re decades younger than they are, though, a problem with some legacy power pop acts. Instead, frontman Bill Barbot lets the existential dread seep into the grooves of the record—when you’re worrying about the fabric of your society unraveling, who has time to fret over whether that cute person at the amusement park notices you or not?

While the album leans heavily into songs that skirt around mid-tempo, the rhythm section keeps things moving. Pete Moffett has always been a pocket monster on the kit (see his outstanding with J. Robbins’s post-Jawbox outfit, Burning Airlines, for an example), and that doesn’t change here; he and bassist Brian Baker lock into a groove from the opening lines of “The Reckoning” and maintain it for the next 40 minutes. Jim Spellman’s lead guitar lines provide a nice counterpoint to Barbot’s occasionally angular rhythm guitar parts; while the two don’t have the instrumental chemistry that Barbot had with J. Robbins on the later Jawbox releases, there’s a comfortable vibe on the songs on The Coming Collapse. These are four scene veterans having fun together, and it shows.

Saying The Coming Collapse is “solid” could be interpreted as a backhanded compliment. It’s not. The Coming Collapse is a well-made, tuneful album with little in the way of filler. This last point alone makes it a power pop rarity. But, aside from a handful of excellent songs (“Turntable Exiles,” “Law of Averages,” and “Top of the Pops” really are fantastic tunes), the album is, well, solid. And it doesn’t really need to be anything more, really. Sometimes, singing along to something that’s good enough with your fellow travelers as the world collapses is enough.

Our Rating: 7.7 (Stand Out)

The Coming Collapse is out now on Snappy Little Fingers Quality Audio Recordings.

Review: Petals For Armor I, by Hayley Williams

The results on her debut EP Petals For Armor I are fine, but lackluster.

A Hayley Williams solo release has been in talks since before the world knew Paramore existed.  Her initial recording contract offer was to her as a solo artist, which she famously rejected in favor of being in an alternative rock band.  Despite her intentions, Paramore’s career has been plagued by business drama for the last decade, with very ugly splits involving various founding band members who left on the claim that she was not giving them a fair cut of the proceeds and taking too much credit.  With all of the conflict, perhaps the biggest surprise of Paramore’s career is that it took until 2020 for Hayley Williams to go solo. 

The results on her debut EP Petals For Armor I are fine, but lackluster.  The five songs are produced by Taylor York, long-time member of Paramore, which lends some sonic consistency between Armor and Paramore’s most recent album After Laughter.  The EP begins with the lead single “Simmer,” which manages to do just that and not much else.  Williams shows more vocal restraint than in her previous full-band discography, refraining from her trademark belted choruses.  This is not a bad thing; her delivery is unique as always.  The production is crisp and glistening, with tight beats and muted synths.  It is exciting upon first listen, but does not stick a few moments after.

The real highlight of the EP is “Cinnamon,” which is the most musically abstract song on the track list, featuring the most down-to-earth lyrics.  It opens with a jagged, stuttering beat and earie harmonies from Williams that eventually evolve into an irresistible groove around the halfway mark, before devolving into a sparse bridge.  Lyrically, the song emphasizes the joys of simple home life with the empowering hook, “I’m not lonely, I am free.”  It’s creative, catchy, and oddly comforting. 

Petals For Armor I thrives when it manages to hit on the indie-pop grooves and lush textures, which happens quite often.  Where it suffers is in lack of personality.  Many of these songs sound like they could have been released by a plethora of indie singer-songwriters.  Williams’ lyrics and emo-tinged vocals that have been primarily what has kept Paramore fans dedicated to the band long after the mid-00’s emo scene faded, and gained them lasting respect from many of those in the underground, are strangely lacking.  Perhaps the inevitable Petals For Armor II will shed more light on Williams vision for the project, which at the moment does not feel fully realized.  As a long-time Paramore fan, this is something that is enjoyable and interesting, but lacking the heart that defined Williams’ earlier output.  

Score: 6.3 (Solid)

Release Date: Feb. 6th, 2020

Label: Atlantic Records

For more on our rating scale, see https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: Vampire Empire by Glowbug

Glowbug has been consistently crafting experimental electronic music for the past decade, and it has been quite a journey. But rather than shift directions entirely, it seems that each album manages to supplement a strong core sound with new elements that makes Glowbug hard to classify. There are elements of chillwave, hip-hop, alt-rock, post-hardcore, chiptune, and so much more at play. Put simply, Glowbug makes synth-pop that packs a punch and will probably appeal to fans of rock more than those of dance music.

At large, the Glowbug discography is patchy. I certainly consider myself a fan, but I’ve always been drawn to a couple songs here and there. Strangely enough, it was 2018’s Weezing, a tropical take on some Weezer classics, that really stood out to me. It was a style that doesn’t have a lot of direct competition, and the use of timpani and brass really gave it a refined edge.

It’s this sound that also serves as the primary base for Vampire Empire. Glowbug augments these elements with everything from Latin piano grooves, sultry falsetto, AWOLNATION-esque screams, and frenetic choruses and the end result is an album that seem more balanced than its predecessors. It’s not without highlight songs (“Love”, “Phantoms”, “Death Wish”, and “Time Bandits” are all exemplary) but the other tracks certainly aren’t far behind.

“Phantoms” feels like the best entry point for the album – while it wasn’t released as a single, it has all the right elements of one. A bassy synth intro bleeds into upbeat horns, cementing a warm feeling that embraces the whole album. The chorus is crazy in all the best ways, mixing one of the most rhythmically-compelling vocal parts of the album with some of the aforementioned screams. It’s also worth noting these screams are very brief and hidden under vocal processing, so you probably wouldn’t find people moshing here.

Lourdes Hernandez of Russian Red once again makes an appearance (“Lucky Me”, “Anatomy Art”) and is strong as always. She’s been featured on several previous Glowbug releases and has become a staple guest. “Anatomy Art” in particular is a groovy beast of a track and Hernandez definitely helps round it out.

Vampire Empire hardly feels like an appropriate title; there’s nothing bleak or foreboding here. Instead, start-to-finish, you’ll find 40 minutes of beachside bangers, shimmering with synths, brass, and Caribbean percussion. It’s the kind of music that perhaps feels out of place for this time of year, given the widespread cold we’re experiencing. But just maybe this is the cure to seasonal depression we’re been looking for.

Our Rating: 8.5 (Best New Music)

Review: Folklore by Suitor

An eerie canopy of distorted guitar and static vocals contorts in a titanic intro on Suitor’s debut release. The group, somehow more amorphous than its music, has no discernible social media or even a Bandcamp page, so it’s a mystery how I first caught wind of this release. Nonetheless, there’s something special about the mystery here – I’m reminded of Triple Crown’s Holy Fawn, with their foreboding shoegaze-meets-metal sound to some degree.

Suitor doesn’t share too much common blood with this sound, largely opting for a more standard indie/post-hardcore sound – but the opening combo of “Folklore” and “Deep Sleep” would have you convinced otherwise. It’s distorted, dissonant, and heavy. And while the vocals are much clearer than Holy Fawn’s reverby howls, there’s still an intensity here in the form of background shouts.

But “Simple Math” moves in another direction completely, opting for 80s-esque guitar lines and more of an arena rock vibe. “Deep Sleep” could easily be classified as punk, but “Simple Math” doesn’t venture much further than “rock”. It’s solo-heavy and anthemic but it’s also a very odd change of pace.

“Hands Off” retains the melodic force of “Simple Math” but drifts in yet another direction. It rests comfortable under the umbrella of emo-rock. It’s more refined than “Simple Math” and more melodic than “Deep Sleep”, putting it right in the middle of Suitor’s dynamic spectrum. However, that’s not a bad thing – “Hands Off” is a very palatable track.

The EP closes on “Creature”, which sits in a very similar spot with “Hands Off”. It’s another instrumental highlight.

Folklore would be a divisive EP on its own if we were to consider its subtle over-promising but the lyrics don’t help all that much to compensate. They seem to read like slightly more thought out relational clichés, and while Suitor plays in a style where lyrics tend to be second nature, this still works against them. Don’t get me wrong, there are much worse lyrics out there. But when an EP already feels somewhat disjointed, I’d love for some point of redemption to excuse some of the other elements.

All in all, Folklore is a decent EP. It feels well-produced and the band is talented – their stylistic inconsistencies actually reinforce this point. The biggest loss to Folklore is certainly the lack of cohesion, but the group certainly show promise as they delve into disparate sounds like punk and melodic indie – I’d just like to see some more continuity with any of these styles. It really did feel like a bait-and-switch scenario after the first two tracks and I would have enjoyed if the whole EP had stuck with that vibe. But for a first release, it’s definitely a good start and a few tweaks would really put Suitor in the running for a very solid next release.

Our Rating: 6.5 (Solid)