Dave Hause-Kick

With the formal formation of his backing band, The Mermaid, Dave Hause has become more adventurous. Where 2016’s Bury Me in Philly felt transitional, Kick sounds like a musician who wants to see where he can reach.  The singer-songwriter still channels the Americana of his peers Brian Fallon and Craig Finn perpetuate, but there’s more of an inclination towards a (slightly more) modern America than the Ferris wheels and classic cars that you’d probably expect from the former or the drug abuse as religious metaphor of the latter.  Hause allows his work to be more bass-driven, as he reflects on finding some contentment in age and sobriety. Continue reading

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Spanish Love Songs-Schmaltz

LA’s Spanish Love Songs have all the promise of a band that can have real staying power.  They have the hunger of a band that wants people to hear their songs and feelings, and they have the talent to back it up.  Their latest album Schmaltz brings the breakneck intensity of hardcore, but the emotionality and varied sounds of emo.  They take the heartland-americana punk sounds of bands like The Gaslight Anthem or The Menzingers and tie in the heavy pop-punk sounds reminiscent of Upsides-era Wonder Years.  Schmaltz sees a band in the formative stages of becoming an excellent act that will only get better. Continue reading

Brian Fallon-Sleepwalkers

Where Painkillers served to bridge the gap from the crumbling Gaslight Anthem’s worst album to Brian Fallon’s solo career, Sleepwalkers sees Fallon comfortable in a singer-songwriter role.  His sophomore solo effort marks a massive step up from the previous album.  Fallon leans on the nostalgia that made him a punk celebrity, and the album is a good supplement to The Gaslight Anthem reunion this summer. Continue reading

The Menzingers-After the Party

menzingers-after-the-party1It’s been about 9 months since I graduated from college.  It may sound cynical, but I already feel old.  I can’t run on four hours of sleep or drink excessively without an unbearable hangover, and I tend to spend a little extra money on quality products instead of just getting the cheapest version.  I’ve also grown an appreciation for a bunch of dad rock records that I hadn’t previously enjoyed.  There’s certainly a give and take to my old man feelings.  The Menzingers’ After the Party has been released at the perfect time now with the band’s new found maturity and nostalgia.

The Menzingers are part of a long tradition of punk bands that keep their heartland rock influence on their sleeves.  On the Impossible Past was a record that occupied a Venn Diagram space reserved for the likes of The Gaslight Anthem.  It is an essential modern pop-punk record that draws equally from the canons of Springsteen and Against Me!  Still, the band stepped more in a straightforward pop-punk direction for 2014’s Rented World, but on After the Party, the Scranton quartet show a revitalized interest in classic rock.

Despite The Menzingers taking a step toward their roots, it isn’t always an obvious regression.   The Springsteen-isms aren’t always prevalent, and takes such as “Lookers” or “Thick as Thieves” seem to look more towards different flavors of rock.  “Thieves” feels more like heartland rock, but the intro screams AC/DC.  “Lookers” looks back to the likes of the Four Seasons and Elvis complete with it’s “Sha-La-La-La” chorus.  Vocalist, Greg Barnett even referenced Meat Loaf when describing the title track.   Still, for those that are dying to hear some heartland rock, “Your Wild Years” and “Tellin’ Lies” both capture the essence of Springsteen or The Gaslight Anthem. Barnett even adopts a bit of a country twang in his voice in bluesier numbers like “The Bars” and “Black Mass.”  Still, there’s plenty of straightforward punk, if A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology was more your speed.  “Bad Catholics” and “Charlie’s Army” are ripping punk tunes with similar themes.  Even the songs that sound more like classic rock, like “Midwestern States” or “Lookers,” have the same pedal-to-the-metal, American muscle car pacing as earlier Menzingers tunes.
Above all, After the Party is a record about coming to terms with growing up.  This is perhaps best illustrated in “Midwestern States,” which illustrates a young couple through financial problems and dreams of escapism.  Even as things get bad, and they’re asking friends for a place to stay (“I hope this isn’t a burden/Thanks for having us over”), there is some hope during the chorus as Barnett sings “You said LA’s only two days if we drive straight.”  Even the opening chorus of “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over,” is sung with such gusto and enthusiasm that it sounds more like a celebration rather than a death sentence.  The closing track echoes the same sort of sentiment with a chorus of “Only a fool would think that living could be easy,” where Barnett sounds pleased with the final line “The life I’ve painted, I’ve sold for a quick twenty.”
Both positive and negative nostalgia run throughout the album.  There’s always a fondness for the past perhaps best described during “Lookers:”  “I was such a looker in the old days.”  Songs like “Bad Catholics” recall the sweetness of being a problematic kid: drunk driving and skipping mass, and the feeling of seeing your old fling from the church picnic years later: you realize that you really miss those stupid, old times.  Even “Charlie’s Army” sounds like he’s triumphantly recalling a past sexual romp over beers with some new friends.  “Your Wild Years” is probably the closes the Menzingers have come to writing a true love song, and Barnett thinks back to driving home after shows and family vacations with his girlfriend, but there’s still a tinge of guilt:
You’re the kind of girl that deserves the world
I’m just the kind of guy that promises the world
So I fix a drink nice and strong in the kitchen
Something quick that’ll cure my conscience
Creep back to bed and I kiss your forehead
Maybe everything is fine and it’s all in my head
Even a song like “The Bars” is framed like the kind of bar song to throw your arm around a buddy singing about the old times even though it’s a much sadder song.
The sad nostalgia certainly ought to be familiar for any Menzingers fan: booze soaked heartbreak and regret.  “The Bars” shows this well with lines like
No good’ll come from stumbling home with the sun.
I used to care.
Now I stare into the sunken eyes and strangers’ faces.
I fall asleep in the strangest places.
What the hell am I doing?
Where have my friends gone?
Even though the Menzingers are still “Drinking like they do in novels,” it now comes with a bit more pain than before.  The pain peeks its head into the bangers like “Tellin’ Lies” or “Bad Catholics,” but After the Party is never depressing for long.  You’re going to get old, and you’ll wish for simpler times.  Living might not be easy, but you just gotta enjoy the ride.

Against Me!-Shape Shift With Me

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During “ProVision L-3,” it seems like Against Me!’s seventh album will be a return to more hardcore punk roots albeit in a bland way.  Laura Jane Grace and company shatter that idea by the time Grace sings the opening lines of “12:03.”  Against Me! deliver a nice helping of heavy power-pop throughout Shape Shift With Me.  If Transgender Dysphoria Blues was a rebirth for the punk outfit, Shape Shift With Me is the band finding steady footing.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues set out for Laura Jane Grace to record her experience as coming out as a trans-woman, and Shape Shift With Me seems to show what Grace’s love life has been like since she came out.  She has songs that both show excitement for a new relationship (“12:03,” “Crash”) and others that show anger and grief (“Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be,” “Boyfriend”).  The melodic instrumentation is reminiscent of punk rock heavyweights like The Gaslight Anthem or Green Day.  Grace’s vocals still cut through everything making some of Against Me!’s most solid music and lyrics.

Laura Jane Grace sings some songs at a mile-a-minute.  Tracks like “12:03,” “333” and “Norse Truth” have moments where Laura’s speak-singing style crams in all the words she needs to say.  “Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be” is one of the most powerful moments on Shape Shift as it seems to see Grace tackling her gender dysphoria again as she had on Transgender Dysphoria Blues.  “Boyfriend” has Grace chastising a lover not to treat her like “some dumb fucking boyfriend,” and you can hear both the anger and lament in her voice.  Where most of the early cuts on the album are self-reflective and emotional, the latter tracks of the album take a more lustful approach.  “Rebecca” glorifies “just a good couple casual fucks” in a seemingly BDSM relationship, and “Dead Rats” seems to blur the lines between love and lust.

Shape Shift With Me only suffers from the lack of boundaries it pushes.  Against Me! have constantly been a band of reinvention, and Shape Shift With Me only succeeds in being a pretty great album.  It doesn’t tackle large issues like on Reinventing Axl Rose or Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but Grace’s explorations of personal relationships are still just as enjoyable.