The Wonder Years-Sister Cities

Philadelphia punks The Wonder Years have continually shown that they’re more than just punks.  Since the release of Suburbia, they’ve never really had an adequate match within the Warped Tour scene that they’re often lumped into, and they don’t really mesh with the artsy DIY punk scene that creates artists like Long Neck or Pinegrove.  This is all to say that even though Sister Cities isn’t their best, The Wonder Years are still in a class all their own. Continue reading

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Mount Eerie-Now Only

               This is all terrible to write about.  Last year’s A Crow Looked at Me was a career-defining album for Phil Elverum.  That’s terrible to say, because it’s an album so rooted in the tragic loss of his wife, Geneviève.  It’s also somewhat ignorant, because Elverum had been working as a musician for over two decades.  While a popular artist in his own rite, A Crow Looked at Me was the sort of album that propelled him into a certain level of mainstream success.  His near-immediate follow-up Now Only should not be nearly as good as it is, but it’s a similarly haunting and honest album. Continue reading

Titus Andronicus-A Productive Cough

To say I wasn’t really looking forward to Titus Andronicus’ new album wouldn’t be right.  I really wanted to hear it, but I also planned to dislike it.  In the interview that was released with “Number One (In New York),” Patrick Stickles declared that A Productive Cough would have no “punk bangers.”  Those were my favorite Titus songs, and now Stickles wanted to get rid of them?  These fears evaporated upon listening to “Number One.”  A Productive Cough doesn’t have the same sort of gritty, shout-along songs like “Dimed Out” or “A More Perfect Union,” but the songs aren’t any less punk bangers. Continue reading

The Wombats-Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

I’m standing in the Subway station waiting for the uptown train and racing to connect to the free WiFi before my train comes so I can download the first single off of the new Wombats album. It downloads as the train is pulling in and I find my seat. I always take a moment right before listening to new music from a favorite band or artist; I want to remember where I first heard a particular song or album in case it becomes of great importance to my life. I take in the blue seats and the fairly empty train car and press play. Continue reading

awakebutstillinbed-what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way other people see you

            About three minutes into awakebutstillinbed’s debut album, lead vocalist Shannon Taylor sounds like she’s about to breakdown.  Her voice cracks as she screams, and it’s not pretty.  She doesn’t have the sort of aesthetic screams that blend in with a song cleanly.  She sounds like she’s ugly crying screaming along to the radio.  Awakebutstillinbed channel Taylor’s songs into the type of palatable indie emo that’s probably too intense for the Sorority Noise crowd, and that’s probably for the better.  She doesn’t dress her sadness in longwinded metaphors or interesting instrumentals.  It’s bare. Continue reading

Jetty Bones-Old Women

I hate to make the easy comparison, but this sounds like early Paramore in the best possible way.  The band’s sole consistent member and frontwoman Kelc Galluzzo commands a stage and has a voice that rivals Hayley Williams’.  While 2017 has been a great year for female-fronted bands, most tend to lean towards a punkier or more emo sound, and Jetty Bones are unafraid to embrace a sense of mid-2000’s pop-punk.  The pop embrace is in full effect on the band’s second EP, Old Women. Continue reading

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

Kevin Devine-‘Instigator’

v600_kd_instigator_1600            Kevin Devine is a phenomenal songwriter in the same way Billie Joe Armstrong is a great songwriter.  His songs can be very simple, but they’re all pretty catchy, and the lyrics and vocals are at the forefront.  He’s also most well-known for mixing both intensely personal lyrics with some political views peppered in.  Where Armstrong has gotten vague, Devine has become hyper specific, and Instigator is one of the best records of 2016.

Where songs about drinking alone, unrequited crushes and self-pity may have become old-hat, Devine’s latest is one of his best and most refreshing albums.  Instigator is mostly a record about making peace with the world you live in.  The title track and “Magic Magnet” romanticize both the good and bad in relationships.  Devine is both madly in love and wants to have arguments with you (when you need to).  The best part of these songs is the seeming glee that Devine presents them with.  The guitar tones are bright, and the tempo is up.  Both songs sound like driving down a Los Angeles highway in the summer time.  “No One Says You Have To” is about as mellow as the album gets, but the quick fingerpicking and soothing tone are equally as positive.  “Before You’re Here” is a beachy song about anticipating the birth of his daughter.

Even what appear to be Devine’s darkest personal moments have a positive twist on them.  In “Daydrunk,” Devine sings:

But daydrunk is what I used to be

No Jimmy Buffet song

No island imagery

Old men

Dying retirees

Bellies on the bar

Elbows up with me.

Despite the darker imagery depicting Devine’s alcohol and drug abuse, he sings it in a cheery, poppy little song.  The album closer, “I Was Alive Back Then,” reflects on some larger moments in his life-depression, Christmas mornings, marriage.  The song’s repeated chorus of “I was alive back then” makes it seem like Devine is beginning his midlife crisis at 36, but when he ends, he sings, “I was alive back then/Now, I am again,” singing about the birth of his daughter.  It’s the most somber, sobering moment of the album.

Following the first three upbeat numbers, Devine gives us “Freddie Gray Blues.”  It’s a haunting track that tackles not only the current issues of police brutality, but Devine addresses his own white-privilege from a very self-aware point of view.  He also offers this different point-of-view that leaves a lot of people conflicted:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues

I’m kinda talking my family to you

See, my dad was a cop

And his dad was a cop

And my uncles were cops

And my cousins were cops

I’m partly here because of cops

And I love all those cops

And I know not every cop

Is a racist, murdering cop

But this is bigger than the people I love

The system’s broken

Not breaking

It’s done

In a song like this, Devine mixes his two styles beautifully, and he’s penned a protest song as good as Bob Dylan’s “The Hurricane.”

“Both Ways” is a surf-punk jam that both satirizes and criticizes the United States.  The song is mainly calling out hypocrisy that mostly seems to be calling out right-wing conservatives.  One of Devine’s most clever lyrics is “You can’t weaponize Jesus/and be shocked when the heathens shoot back.”  At the same time, it seems Devine is praising the United States for being a nation that could allow both, or he could be understanding of where both sides come from.  He could also just be satirical.

This brings us to perhaps my favorite Kevin Devine song ever written.  “No History” is a song about the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  The song crams a range of emotions into three and a half minutes.  The song begins sounding like a search party.  Devine recounts the day of the attacks, his own coping, and turning to his father to try to make sense of it all.  Devine sings as his father, “I know I see it/I thought it made sense.  I don’t anymore.”  The chorus erupts into a word salad of confusion where Devine sees a destroyed city, anger at Muslims, and a mourning nation.  Before the final chorus, Devine reflects on how far we’ve come from that day.  We’re still in a world where we’ve fought a war on terror that, at times, seems to have gone nowhere.  Still, he reflects on seeing his niece as an infant, and how life does go on.  “This is the future: severe and always happening.”  It’s a song that’s powerful, to say the least.  Devine’s politics may not be for everyone, but he certainly presents himself in an honest way that demands your attention.

Remembering the 2006 VMAs

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I didn’t know the VMAs were last night.  Between work, personal life, and general disinterest, it slipped under my radar.  People like to harken back to the golden age of MTV as the 80’s and early 90’s.  In Steven Hyden’s recent Your Favorite Band is Killing Me, he calls the 1992 VMAs the greatest and most interesting award show of all time, and maybe, he’s right.  While 1992 saw icons like Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Elton John and so many more performing, this was two years before I was born.  The 1992 VMAs are a folktale for me.  The most iconic VMA incident in my lifetime is Kanye-Taylor in 2009, but the most important VMAs for me came in 2006.

In 2006, I was 12, and I’d just graduated from exclusively listening to Led Zeppelin and AC/DC to listening to pop radio, which at the time was dominated by alt-rock.  The Killers, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco were among the most popular names in music.  Green Day was still living out the career-revival that American Idiot brought about.  That same summer, I became enthralled by the heavy metal of the 80’s.  Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Metallica were all just as relevant and new to me as Shakira and Beyoncé.  These star-crossed coincidences were all a large part of what made the 2006 VMAs such an event.

For starters, Jack Black hosted in 2006.  No one is more over-the-top heavy metal than Tenacious D’s own Jables.  Black opened the show with his own goofy musical number, and his vibrant enthusiasm radiates in everything he does.  Jack Black doesn’t do anything half-assed.  This is why a one-off performance of a friendship song by Tenacious D at this VMAs was incredible.

Even though the performances matter most, there were some interesting award recipients that year.  In addition to the standard awards, MTV gave awards for music featured in videogames and a famed “Ringtone of the Year Award,” which was awarded to Fort Minor.  Awards were won by people who would only be sparsely heard from again (James Blunt, Shakira and Chamillionaire).  Beyoncé, who took home 8 awards this year, would only take home one for best R&B video.  The Black Eyed Peas beat out Kanye.  Avenged Sevenfold won best new artist over future Video Vanguard winner Rihanna.  (Rihanna’s new metal logo may just be an attempt to make up for her lost first VMA).  Panic! At the Disco won video of the year, without winning any other VMAs.  The stage was also rushed during their acceptance by a man more notorious than Kanye, the mighty “Six.”  Gnarls Barkley and The Red Hot Chili Peppers were both winners and have remained staples for music fans and the public at large.  The All-American Rejects, AFI and Fall Out Boy were also award recipients, making it a great year to shop at Hot Topic and wear skinny jeans.  Looking at the change in winners in the past ten years is bizarre, to say the least.

The performances are where VMAs are made, and in 2006, there were some damn good performances.  Some of the best pop songs of the 2000’s came out in 2006.  Shakira performing “Hips Don’t Lie” is just as electric as it must have been inside Radio City Music Hall.  Beyoncé’s “Ring the Alarm” isn’t her best, but it’s much better than I remembered, including the brief dance break toward the end.  Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” performance is probably the best though.  The first thought I had was how inescapable that song was, but then, I realized why “Sexy Back” was such an overplayed song.  It’s because it’s fucking great.  Timberlake’s choreography and sweet tenor is still a testament to what a great pop-artist JT is.  It’s a timeless capsule into an early incarnation of the A-List giant.

Now, the 2006 VMAs were a great year for alt-rock.  The Raconteurs were the house band, and they performed with the father of alternative music Lou Reed.  OK Go did the treadmill routine on live TV, which is so much cooler with the additional angles and new choreography.  Axl Rose introduced The Killers to close the show, screaming “Do you know where the fuck are you are?”  The Killers are basically classic rock at this point, but “When You Were Young” was another inescapable hit.  Brandon Flowers and company secured a spot that now is reserved for superstars of Taylor Swift, Rihanna or Beyoncé level fame.  That’s how big alternative music was in 2006. This was also a year where over-the-top pop-punk was bigger than ever.  My Chemical Romance had just released The Black Parade, and they played the title track at the pre-show from the top of Rockefeller Observation Deck.  Seeing MCR play their biggest hit over the New York skyline with a children’s chorus wearing skull face paint showed that an album about death could be just as vibrant as a Fergie song.  Fall Out Boy introduced Panic! at the Disco for the performance that my sixth grade self was looking forward to the most.  Brendon Urie let his voice crack while trying to censor himself.  Ryan Ross walked down the catwalk with Urie as circus dancers surrounded the emo Lennon-McCartney that would never exist past two albums.

For kids who liked guitar based rock music, these VMAs gave validation to kids who would spend every summer at Warped Tour.  Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy were both nominated for VMAs this year still, but there were no rock performers at the VMAs this year.  Modern Baseball, some of the freshest faces in pop-punk, play Killers covers regularly.  Fall Out Boy have returned with a vengeance as pop-artists, but the magic of From Under the Cork Tree is lost in the new music.  P!ATD have grown into an interesting pop-act, with only Brendon Urie left.   Seeing MCR sing “Welcome to the Black Parade” on a rooftop paved the way for middle schoolers who would grow up to love bands like The Wonder Years, PWR BTTM, or A Day to Remember.  Even hearing James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” on a minimalist video set me up to listen to the like of Bon Iver.  In 2006, the VMAs birthed a bunch of emo babies with heavy eyeliner and all.  Some of us may have scoffed at Justin Timberlake in ’06, but we’ve found a place for him in our little-emo hearts.  While we may have grown to appreciate and enjoy the Beyoncés and Christina Aguileras of the world, we’ll never forget My Chemical Romance welcoming all of New York to Black Parade.

James writes sins, not tragedies on Twitter.