Titus Andronicus-6/21/19 at Rough Trade, Brooklyn, NY

Jack White was in the building earlier that day.  On a day when The Raconteurs put out their first album in over ten years, the band played a small in-store that afternoon at Rough Trade in Brooklyn-the first of three intimate NY shows for the band.  The Raconteurs would go onto play Rough Trade Saturday night and Coney Island Baby Sunday afternoon.  Jack White exists within a realm that few working rock musicians do; Dave Grohl is probably his only true contemporary.  This is all to say that these 200-250 cap rooms are a rarity for someone of Jack White’s stature to perform in.  He’s a rockstar in the truest definition of the word, which is very different from how someone would perceived Titus Andronicus who headlined Rough Trade on Friday Night for the release show for their new record An Obelisk.

 

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The Problem With Greta Van Fleet

In 2008, AC/DC went on a North American tour in support of their Black Ice album.  Opening this tour was Northern Irish hard-rockers The Answer, a band that upon a Google search was hailed as “The Irish Led Zeppelin.”  I downloaded some of their songs, most notably “Highwater or Hell” from their Never Too Late EP.  They definitely did have a bunch of Zeppelin-isms, chunky guitar riffs, a yelping lead singer, and a powerhouse rhythm section.  For someone who’d yet to get jaded from almost all opening bands, The Answer seemed like a godsend.  Of the three big arena concerts I’d been to, The Answer was easily the best opening act I’d ever seen.  I listened for The Answer for about a year after that show, because why wouldn’t I?  Led Zeppelin was my favorite band, and there was little sign they were ever reuniting.  Here I had a near perfect sound-alike that I also enjoyed.  A few artists manage to stir up similar feelings: young bands like Wolfmother, Jet, Alter Bridge, as do some newer supergroups formed by older rockers: Black Country Communion, Adrenaline Mob, or Hellyeah.  Artists that pay tribute to older music are nothing new, and some are actually somewhat innovative in their modern classic rock (see: The Darkness, Steel Panther), but now we have Greta Van Fleet: a breakout sensation that sounds a little too much like Led Zeppelin. Continue reading

Introducing the Burger-A-Day Podcast: 1. School of Rock

Welcome to the inaugural Burger-A-Day podcast. On it BurgerADay.com contributors James Crowley and Marisa Winckowski discuss music, movies, and pop culture. On this debut episode, they discuss Richard Linklater’s 2003 musical comedy School Of Rock-its lasting impact, mass appeal, later adaptations, and how the view towards it changes with age.

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Brand New-Science Fiction

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If the rumors are true, this will be Brand New’s final album.  It’s not a sad last gasp for breath nor is it a number of recycled demos and singles that the band’s fans have heard a fair amount in recent years.  There’s nothing wrong with “Mene”, “I Am A Nightmare”, or the 3 Demos, Reworked EP, and it would have been fully acceptable to stick those songs on Science Fiction.  Still, Brand New revealed they had one final trick up their sleeves, and that results in the band’s perfect, catatonic, terrifying, heavy farewell album.

Science Fiction succeeds in every category beginning from its bizarre rollout: announcement of limited vinyl, website crash, strange packages, unexpected announcement and release two days later.  Brand New is to alternative rock, what Beyoncé is to pop, and a shock and surprise release is exactly what this album deserved.  Science Fiction needs to be appreciated in one sitting of hearing the album straight through.

There are more classic rock tropes on this album than before, from the extended songs, shredding solos, and excessive use of acoustic guitar.  Still, this album reaches new sonic experiments that Brand New haven’t touched yet.  It has tracks like “451” and “Desert” that show a major blues-influence, the former sounding like a Black Keys song.  They play with texture a lot, where a bunch of the album sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned estate.  It’s the best produced album in their discography, where even a song like “Desert,” which has the coldest lyrics still sounds incredibly warm.  Even in the albums most depressing moments, it still welcomes the listener into its depths.

Still, what has truly made Brand New most notable have always been their lyrics.  Jesse Lacey touches down on a number of old themes-religion, grief and depression, unlikable characters-as well as a few new ones, mainly the sci-fi that the title implies.  The closing track “Batter Up” hints at themes of extraterrestrial life, and the spoken interludes almost sound like they were nicked from Creepypastas, but they do set a certain chilling atmosphere throughout the album.  “Lit Me Up” opens the album with dark arpeggios in a chilling atmosphere, with Lacey’s haunting tone, but Lacey does manage to expand these into much bigger ideas.

Religion is still a major force in Lacey’s lyrics.  It’s evident from the beginning although it seems like he’s mostly turned his back on a bunch of his Christian faith.  On “Lit Me Up,” Lacey sings, “When I grow up, I want to be a heretic” to “It lit me up, and I burned from the inside out/Yeah, I burned like a witch in a Puritan town.”  “Desert” sees Lacey taking on a character that uses religious rhetoric to spew hateful views, and with a release coming not even a week after the violence in Charlottesville, it’s one of the most chilling takes on the album.  “Desert” and “137” are two of the more politically charged anthems of the album, with “137” leading to a chorus of:

Let’s all go play Nagasaki

We Can all get vaporized

Hold my hand, let’s turn to ash.

I’ll see you on the otherside.

“137” also contains allusions to Christian-faith.

Still, mental health is probably the biggest thing on Jesse Lacey’s mind throughout Science Fiction.  In the ultra-catchy “Can’t Get It Out,” the song’s final refrain goes

I’m just a manic depressive

Toting around my own crown.

I’ve got a positive message

Sometimes, I can’t get it out.

“Could Never Be Heaven” is actually a really sweet love song with mental illness as a theme, where Lacey sings about his love of his wife and family and how they help him cope with his depression.  “Out of Mana” seems to recount therapy sessions, beginning with “Write down all of your fears.”  Fittingly, the closing “Batter Up” is a somber take about the infinity of living with depression, and outer-space is a nice touch to illustrate it.

If this is Brand New’s last hurrah, it’s a damn-good one.  There is a part of me that really hopes that the title Science Fiction means they have one last trick up their sleeve, whether it’s one more album or a psyche-out retirement.  Still, I’ll take Science Fiction.  It’s a safe good-bye.

30 Years of Appetite for Destruction

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I’ve never known a time when Guns N’ Roses weren’t one of the biggest, most important rock bands of all time.  I was born in 1994, right before the band dissolved into the Axl and company show that they were for most of my life.  The first time I ever heard GN’R was about 12 years ago, at my cousin’s baptism.  An older cousin lip-synced and air-guitared to “Welcome to the Jungle,” a song that I’ve always had a shifting perspective on.  Living in a post-Guns-Reunion world makes the 30th anniversary of Appetite for Destruction that much more bizarre. Continue reading

Lady Gaga-‘Joanne’

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Lady Gaga was cool once.  There was once a time when America found Lady Gaga to be shocking.  It hadn’t really set in with the singles “Poker Face” and “Just Dance,” but when Lady Gaga died on stage at the 2009 Video Music Awards, she was badass.  When blood dripped down her stomach during the final chorus of “Paparazzi,” Gaga had more akin to Mechanical Animals-era Marilyn Manson than Beyoncé or Taylor Swift.  The Fame and The Fame Monster releases made Gaga a truly dark presence in pop-music.  Even though she was still making fun, party music, she became a leading force in my own personal delve into poptimism due to her dark themes and theatricality.


Following Gaga’s leap into fame, she released pretty lackluster albums.  Born This Way had the hits “Edge of Glory” and “You and I” but hardly mandatory listening.  ARTPOP was a total flop.  Cheek to Cheek was more of a passion project that was mostly loved by moms.  Joanne is an excellent return to Lady Gaga making great pop-music.

Joanne is the type of dance music that fans have come to expect from Gaga, but it’s run through an 80’s rock and country filter.  The first single, “Perfect Illusion,” sounds like Lady Gaga singing a Van Halen track.  The gal-pal anthem “Hey Girl” has more akin to “Benny and the Jets” than it does to “Starboy.”  Gaga’s anthemic pop-music is much better than any of the artists actively trying to make stadium-rock today.  Joanne has been called a crossover into country music, but it’s really a crossover into classic-rock.

Despite this being Lady Gaga’s dad-rock album, she never loses sight of her youthful audience.  Any song that isn’t a ballad is a certified banger.  “Dancin’ in Circles” is a funky club jam.  “Diamond Heart” has the type of soaring chorus that only a Lady Gaga fan could love.  “John Wayne” is dance-rock at its best.  Despite disguising itself as a country song, it is much more like Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.”  “Sinner’s Prayer” and “Joanne” are both bluegrass ballads that would fit on Led Zeppelin albums.  “Angel Down” is an epic power-ballad of a closing addressing some of the large issues this nation faces with gun control.  “Million Reasons” is probably one of Gaga’s best ballads yet with all the grandeur of a Mötley Crüe song.

The lyric themes on Joanne are as varied as the genres that can be drawn.  “Diamond Heart” is an ode to resilience and partying.  The title track is a tribute to Gaga’s late aunt who the album is named for.  “Dancin’ In Circles” has Gaga singing the joys of masturbation: “feels good to be lonely/baby don’t cry.”  The Florence Welch featuring track, “Hey Girls” has the two singing, “Help me hold my hair back/walk me home cause I can’t find a cab.”  “John Wayne” longs for a certain flavor of Blue-Collar-Americana that Joanne certainly brings.

Lady Gaga may never reach the same level of success and greatness that she hit with her earliest works, but Joanne doesn’t compromise any of Gaga’s integrity.  It’s her best record in years, and we can only expect an excellent tour to follow.