Friday, December 28, 2007

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline
Label - Virgin Records
Release Date - August 28th, 2007

I think the best way to describe Ben Harper is "respected." Lifeline is his eleventh release with the Innocent Criminals. All his releases have been critically acclaimed, making him well-known in the States and a superstar overseas. I'll be honest - I haven't heard most of this illustrious back catalogue. But I do know that I've seen this band play a handful of times, and each time has completely mesmerized me.

Because of this, I jumped at the opportunity to review Lifeline. I slid the disc into my stereo and was enveloped by the fluid, easygoing, reggae-based tunes. The inside of the CD's slipcase proudly proclaims that "Lifeline was recorded and mixed in 7 days on a 16-track analog tape machine. No computers or pro-tools were used anywhere in the process."

That's quite a feat these days in music, and it points to a love of the essential qualities of music, and that's exactly what Lifeline delivers. The album begins with an acoustic guitar and bare percussion on "Fight Outta You", leading into gravelly opening lines from Harper. You feel like you ought to be sitting barefoot on the porch in the summer. For those of you more indie or country oriented, imagine a more soulful rendition of Wilco's Summerteeth album.

The breezy vibe continues with "In The Colors," a loving song in which Harper pleads come and dance with me, and you really want to. The lyrics aren't full of long words or complex metaphors, but they are honest - more real than any band that takes itself too seriously and thinks they're going to change the world.

"Needed You Tonight" puts the piano high in the mix, and Harper belts out the words over the jangly melody. The song feels vaguely familiar, but Harper's immediacy and urgency makes the emotions fresh. "Say You Will" is the most musically upbeat track, beginning acapella and continues bouncing through similes:

like Marie Antoinette said to Louis XVI
man, I think we're going down
our chances are slim and none
and I'm afraid slim just left town

The whole song is backed by a female choir repeating the chorus and adding well-placed "shoops."

Harper slows it back down then with "Younger Than Today," a bittersweet nostalgic song. However, he immediately picks back up with the catchy guitar riffs of "Put It On Me."

"Paris Sunset #7" is a beautiful instrumental track that sounds exactly as its title implies. It's full of delicate acoustic guitar, and sinks further down the octaves as the song progresses, eventually bleeding into the final track, "Lifeline." The title track is reminiscent of Damien Rice or Elliott Smith - a faint acoustic guitar underneath the quavering vocals of a man desperately reaching out.

Lifeline is a thoroughly enjoyable album. While not the most technically innovative or lyrically complex, it's still moving and at times, intense. Save this one for next summer, when you're floating in the pool drinking lemonade.

01. Fight Outta You
02. In The Colors *
03. Fool For A Lonesome Train
04. Needed You Tonight
05. Having Wings
06. Say You Will *
07. Younger Than Today
08. Put It On Me
09. Heart Of Matters
10. Paris Sunset #7 *
11. Lifeline

* - standout tracks

For Fans Of: Donavon Frankenreiter, John Butler Trio, Ben Harper and the Blind Boys Of Alabama

Listen At: Website | MySpace

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

EOTY List 2007

This year it was really difficult for me to put together an end of the year list. There were just so many great albums released. Everything is open for discussion - feel free to ask me why I placed something where I did or whatever. I also know that I just didn't get around to listening to everything released this year, so if you feel that I have a glaring omission, please tell me so I can find it and hear it. Thanks, and enjoy the list!

Best Albums
01. Jimmy Eat World – Chase This Light
02. Say Anything – In Defense Of The Genre
03. Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends
04. Feist – The Reminder
05. Straylight Run - The Needles, The Space
06. Anberlin - Cities
07. Every Time I Die – The Big Dirty
08. The Rocket Summer – Do You Feel
09. Dustin Kensrue – Please Come Home
10. Four Year Strong – Rise Or Die Trying
11. Coconut Records - Nighttiming
12. Chase Pagan – Oh, Musica!
13. Portugal. The Man – Church Mouth
14. Everybody Else – Everybody Else
15. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
16. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
17. Saves The Day – Under The Boards
18. Relient K – Five Score And Seven Years Ago
19. Fall Out Boy – Infinity On High
20. Sherwood – A Different Light

Most Disappointing
01. The Academy Is… - Santi
02. Cartel - Cartel
03. Cobra Starship – Viva La Cobra!
04. The Receiving End Of Sirens – The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
05. The Spill Canvas – No Really, I’m Fine
06. Armor For Sleep – Smile For Them
07. Waking Ashland – The Well
08. Limbeck - Limbeck
09. Paramore – Riot!
10. Envy On The Coast - Lucy Gray

Best Songs
01. Anberlin - *fin
02. Feist - The Water
03. Dustin Kensrue - Blood & Wine
04. Brand New - Fork And Knife
05. Lovedrug - Salt Of The Earth
06. As Tall As Lions - Into The Flood
07. Kanye West - Stronger
08. Portugal. The Man - Telling Tellers Tell Me
09. Jimmy Eat World - Let It Happen
10. Relient K – Deathbed
11. Melee - Frequently Baby
12. Against Me! - White People For Peace
13. Wilco - Impossible Germany
14. New Atlantic - Wire & Stone
15. Coconut Records - Nighttiming
16. Say Anything - That Is Why
17. The Rocket Summer - So Much Love
18. Radiohead - Bodysnatchers
19. Stacy Clark - Empty Bottles
20. All Time Low - Dear Maria, Count Me In
21. Ryan Adams - Two
22. Paramore - Misery Business
23. Rihanna - Umbrella
24. Holiday Parade – Driving Away
25. Saves The Day – Turning Over In My Tomb

Keep Your Eye On
01. We Shot The Moon
02. Rosie Thomas
03. Everybody Else
04. Holiday Parade
05. Brighten
06. The Morning Light
07. Modern Skirts
08. The New Frontiers
09. Cavil At Rest
10. Pictures In Pieces

Most Anticipated
01. Brand New
02. As Tall As Lions
03. The New Frontiers
04. Pictures In Pieces
05. Saves The Day
06. Glassjaw
07. Jack’s Mannequin
08. The Matches
09. The Reign Of Kindo
10. City And Colour

Sunday, December 2, 2007

12.2.07 recs

These are all artists who played at Folkfest at my school last night.

Doug Cheatwood And The Bastards Of Fate.
One of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Cheatwood was rolling around on the ground, pies were thrown at the audience, and there were crazy lights and fog. I can't quite tell if they're geniuses or just insane.
For Fans Of: Portugal. The Man, The Drugstore Cowboys, Bear Vs. Shark.

Red Clay River.
Good old-fashioned bluegrass/country, heavy on the moonshine. Vocalist Daniel Bivins has a gritty voice reminiscent of Tom Waits, and the group of them are perfect when it comes to harmonizing and stomping their feet.
For Fans Of: Tom Waits, Harry McClintock, The Cox Family

Ced Hughes.
Performing under the name Shoot The Moon last night with a friend as a DJ and Kid A on backup vocals, Ced Hughes has a bouncy, in your face style of hip hop that uses beats from Interpol, Justice, and Amy Winehouse, just to name a few.
For Fans Of: Kanye West, Consequence, Jay-Z

Friday, November 30, 2007

Brand New 11.29.07

Brand New at the Commonwealth Ballroom, Virginia Tech 11.29.07.

Brand New played a solo show at Virginia Tech on an off day from their tour with Thrice and mewithoutYou. The stage setup included two drum kits as well as a freestanding drum, and the lights were exclusively yellow and white.

The show began with a half hour of Jesse Lacey alone onstage with an acoustic guitar. He did not address the audience until a brief mumble about colleges and "We are Brand New" before launching into Soco Amaretto Lime.

Jesse solo:
Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself (Morrissey cover)
Play Crack The Sky
Two Headed Boy Pt. 2
Moshi Moshi
Soco Amaretto Lime

Jesse then exited the stage and returned with the rest of the band for the remainder of the set. The songs were delivered with much screaming rather than singing, but that style works for many of Brand New's songs, especially the tracks from The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. The setlist was:

Jesus Christ
Welcome To Bangkok
Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades
Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't
Jaws Theme Swimming
The Archers Bows Have Broken
You Won't Know
Sowing Season (Yeah)

There was minimal band/crowd interaction, except for when Jesse expressed concern over the actions in the pit. He also introduced Limousine as a song about a tragedy near his home, and dedicated it to the school, as Virginia Tech is a "school that knows tragedy."

On a number of the songs, Brand New's crew joined them onstage to play extra instruments, often with multiple people per instrument. It's really incredible to watch them do so.

The band quickly left the stage after Sowing Season, and the belligerent crowd began chanting for Seventy Times 7. Eventually Vinnie Accardi came back onstage and began the slow buildup of Untitled. He left and then brought the rest of the band back out with him to finish the song. At the end, everyone left the stage except for Lacey, who remained at the mic to say, "Hey Chuck! It's Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Berry! You know that new sound you're looking for? Well listen to this!" before leaving.

Overall, it wasn't the best show I've seen Brand New play. However, Brand New's average set is better than most bands' best sets, so I'll continue to go see them every chance I get.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

11/25/07 recs

Rosie Thomas.
Beautiful acoustic pop music. Her album These Friends Of Mine was recorded with Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer, and includes guest vocals from Jeremy Enigk (on a Denison cover), Damien Jurado, and David Bazan.
For Fans Of: The Weepies, Brandi Carlisle, Maria Taylor

The New Frontiers.
Formerly known as Stellamaris, these Texans play atmospheric pop rock that will completely envelope you while you are listening. Their upcoming full-length was recorded with Matt Goldman, and I'm sure it will blow many listeners out of the water.
For Fans Of: Nada Surf, As Tall As Lions, The Appleseed Cast

Cold War Kids.
Long Beach natives Cold War Kids are a pretty unique band these days. They play a blend of rock and blues, full of swagger and soul that's hard to find in our scene. The album released earlier this year, Robbers & Cowards, is probably going to end up pretty high on my end of the year list.
For Fans Of: The White Stripes, Spoon, The Strokes

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ryan Adams show review

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals At DAR Constitution Hall, 10.30.07.

There were no opening bands on this date, and people were still filing into their seats as Ryan Adams and the Cardinals took the stage. They began without fanfare, and played three or four songs before Adams even addressed the audience. Even then, all he said was a simple, "Hi, we're The Cardinals." The night was divided into two sets, with an intermission-like break halfway through. The majority of the material was from Adams' last two or three albums with The Cardinals, and included:

Beautiful Sorta
Cold Roses
Off Broadway
Rescue Blues
Why Do They Leave
Everybody Knows
[spacewolf's birthday song]
Please Do Not Let Me Go
The Sun Also Sets
When The Stars Go Blue
Peaceful Valley
Blue Hotel
Goodnight Rose
Bartering Lines
Shakedown On 9th Street
Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard
encore: Easy Plateau

After about five songs, Adams stopped and announced that it was time for JG's nightly joke ("I went to a hospital cafeteria. They were serving broken leg of lamb.") and that it was also guitarist Spacewolf's birthday. So a punky birthday tune was sung, and then the set was resumed.

There was a lot of fake smoke throughout the show, and there was also a black backdrop with hundreds of pin lights that shone various colors during the night.

There were long breaks between many of the songs when Adams spoke into a mic to his band's earpieces. The audience took these opportunities to shout requests, eventually irritating Adams enough that he went offstage to get a megaphone. He then proceeded to shout at the audience, "No! A little more to the left. Cross your arms like that! Be a different color! Lean the other direction!" Unfortunately, the audience never took the hint. There was even one man who shouted for "Summer Of '69." The rest of the crowd immediately gasped and booed him.

Although Adams was not very interactive, his performance was perfect. Despite downing a number of beers and other beverages, he was on pitch and wonderful to listen to. I would definitely go see him again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Last Car In Alaska, The - Comfort

The Last Car In Alaska - Comfort
Record Label - Unsigned
Release Date - August 15th, 2006

Some of the best shows I've ever seen have taken place in rec centers and basements. Even if the bands aren't of the highest caliber, there's a certain amount of heart and passion that make them worthwhile. The Last Car In Alaska wouldn't be out of place at all at a show like that.

The Last Car In Alaska's songs are based in punk, with a melodic edge that works to bring the lyrics to life. While the production isn't the sharpest, there are promising guitar hooks and driving drumbeats just underneath the vocals. Throughout the album, Dan Ubilla has high and low points as a singer. He tends to be a bit flat and monotone, but occasionally manages to spit out a nice vocal hook, like with the gang vocals on "Listen: We're All Quietly Battling The Human Condition."

In spite of the spotty vocals, Ubilla's lyrics are top notch. If Fall Out Boy had put out an album between Evening Out With Your Girlfriend and Take This To Your Grave, the lyrics here would probably be very similar. Take for example, the first verse of "Starving, Hysterical, Naked:"

The sun didn't fall so much as crash / and in the wake the sky was burned / an orange crisped to black / I still swear that if you squint / you can almost see all the purple hues / dancing around in it

The band steps away from their usual tempo with the closing track, "Bethany." It's a slow acoustic ballad that is simple and heartwrenching at the same time. It shows the band's versatility and the possibilities for their future. Most of the album is like that. The pieces haven't all fallen into place yet, but there's great potential for future material: just like all those basement bands we love to watch.

Track Listing
01. I Like You Man...You're Crazy
02. Listen: We're All Quietly Battling The Human Condition
03. With Friends Like You, Who Needs Friends?
04. You're The Kind Of Girl
05. Starving, Hysterical, Naked *
06. Bethany *

* - standout tracks

For Fans Of: the early work of MxPx, Fall Out Boy, and Taking Back Sunday

Web Site | MySpace | PureVolume

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sleeping With Giants Tour 10.20.07

The Academy Is..., Armor For Sleep, The Rocket Summer, & Sherwood at Amos' Southend, NC, 10.20.07.

It's a rare event when I'm super stoked to see every band on a tour bill, and that was the case with the Sleeping With Giants Tour. I love every band on it, and every one of them put on a stellar show last night.

Sherwood were first up, with their mic stands wrapped in fall leaves and their keyboard adorned with sunflowers. While their keyboardist was by far the most energetic, the band played their usual spot on performance. Vocalist Nate Henry hit every note, even the extended high ones. Their setlist included:

Never Ready To Leave
Give Up
Learn To Sing
The Best In Me
Middle Of The Night
Song In My Head
Only Song

While it was a bit sad that there was only one track from Sing, But Keep Going, the slowed down version of "Song In My Head" that they performed made up for that.

The Rocket Summer was next, and Bryce Avary got the crowd moving in no time. He played:

Break It Out
Around the Clock
Do You Feel
Brat Pack
So Much Love
So, In This Hour...

Avary bounced back and forth between guitar and keys effortlessly, getting the crowd to clap and dance right along with him. There was one point where he left the front of the stage to go play drums to intro a song. It's cool to see him put into practice all his skills. I wish he could have played a longer set; I can't wait to see him perform again.

Armor For Sleep was the direct support for the night. While less mobile than The Rocket Summer, Ben Jorgenson and company delivered an impassioned set that included some of their best tracks, as well as a few new ones:

The Truth About Heaven
Remember To Feel Real
Smile For The Camera (new)
Dream To Make Believe
Williamsburg (new)
Stay On The Ground
Awkward Last Words
Car Underwater

The Academy Is... took the stage to the sound of a couple hundred screaming girls, and they played like I've never seen them play before. They had an incredible light show, and frontman William Beckett strode around the stage like he owned the place. When I've seen them in previous years, Beckett used to strut more like a diva, but he has grown into his own presence and performs with heart that is not seen in many modern frontmen. They played many more cuts from Almost Here than I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise. Songs included:

Same Blood
Slow Down
LAX To O'Hare
Black Mamba
Sleeping With Giants (Lifetime)
Bulls In Brooklyn
The Phrase The Pays
We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands
Everything We Had
Down And Out
40 Steps
Almost Here

It was easy to envision this band filling up arenas: they already play as if they are facing that big a crowd. And I'll be the first to admit, I'm not a big fan of Santi. However, all the new songs sounded great live - they fit the band's performance style and are pulled off with flair. This band is going to continue to grow for a long time to come.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Show Review - Saves The Day acoustic

Saves The Day, Dr. Manhattan, & Single File at Alley Katz in Richmond, 10.12.07.

This tour is Saves The Day's first acoustic tour ever, promoting their upcoming album Under The Boards.

The opening band was Single File, a three-piece from Denver with incredibly catchy garage pop. Their singer had an excellent voice, and they were fun to watch. They played a half hour of songs from their album No More Sad Face, including:

My Best Defense
The Grocery Store
Melody Of You
Look At Me I'm Crying
Zombies Ate My Neighbors

"Velcro" is easily their catchiest song, reminiscent of American Hi-Fi style pop. About halfway through the set, the guitarist and bassist switched instruments and continued on with the set. Both were equally proficient with the two instruments. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this band.

The direct support was Saves The Day's new labelmates, Dr. Manhattan. They had an interesting setup: the drum kit had a shirt strapped to the front that read "CRUNK OR DIE!" and the keyboardist also had a kick drum propped up on two tupperware bins to beat on. Now, the songs these guys write are really interesting and inventive. However, most of the band was clearly chemically altered, and kind of embarrassing to watch. It was neat to see the keyboardist jumping around and banging on his drum, but the singer and bassist were just making fools of themselves. Hopefully they'll learn to grow up a bit - they have potential to have a powerful show.

Finally Saves The Day came on. David and Chris took their seats to a screaming crowd, who immediately began shouting out requests. Throughout the show they kept reiterating that they would take requests at the end, but that they would play a prearranged set first.

Everything was spot on. While Chris' voice has gotten more nasal over the years, he still hits every note. He's also still clearly passionate about his music, even the oldest songs. The set drew from Saves The Day's entire catalog, including Can't Slow Down and a number of b-sides. Songs included were:

This Is Not An Exit
Rocks Tonic Juice Magic
See You
Radio (new song)
Dying Day
Third Engine
Three Miles Down
Stay (new song)
Don't Know Why
Take Our Cars Now

*break before requests*

You Vandal
All I'm Losing Is Me
Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots
Sell My Old Clothes, I'm Off To Heaven
Shoulder To The Wheel
At Your Funeral
Jessie And My Whetstone

At one point, David had a look of complete astonishment on his face as the crowd finished a verse for Chris without his help. Saves The Day is another band whose fans are completely devoted to them. Chris was overwhelmed at the number of requests and the intensity of the requesters. On songs from Stay What You Are and Through Being Cool, I could barely hear Chris over the crowd, even though I was standing three feet away from him. The new songs sounded really good; "Radio" in particular sounded like a return to the sounds of Stay What You Are and Through Being Cool.

Note to showgoers: if you plan on getting completely drunk, please stay at the back of the venue. The kids who got there early to get a front row space will not appreciate it when you push your way in, spill beer all over them, and sing loudly in their ears while pumping your fist. Also, an acoustic show is not the place to attempt to crowd surf or stage dive. Thanks.

Other than that, it was a great, intimate night where it was easy to see the love of the crowd for the band, and vice versa.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Frantic are an up and coming band from the Chicago suburbs, and their new album, Audio & Murder, is about to hit stores. Frontman Kyle Dee took a few minutes to answer my questions about the new album and how it feels to be in a band so young.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Kyle Dee: I am Kyle Dee. I sing and play guitar in the band 'The Frantic.'

PPJ: You guys are pretty young for a band. Do you think that gives you any advantages or disadvantages?

Kyle: I think like all things, it comes with pros and cons. It's great for us because we have a head-start on our music career. We have a ton of energy, and a longer shelf life than some of the bands at a higher age. It helps us stand out in the crowd as well considering I am about 5' tall. Our music appeals to all ages though.

PPJ: What bands do you think have impacted your music and your lives the most?

Kyle: I was born into music. As a kid, my parents would buy me a new cassette tape at least once a week. The music that really showed me my dream would be Nirvana or Green Day. I was also huge on The Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, Foo Fighters. The big 90's bands.

PPJ: Chicago has been a recent hotspot for up and coming bands. What has your experience been like with the Chicago scene?

Kyle: It really helps to be coming out of a major city. A lot of media is spread throughout Chicago and we hope to become a big part of the music scene here. The kids that come out are always really supportive and it means the world to us as a band.

PPJ: How did you go about writing the songs on Audio & Murder?

Kyle: Audio & Murder is a mix of things we have written over the years. It goes from teen love and heart break, to high school and parties. A lot of it is just about being with your friends and enjoying life.

PPJ: What was it like to work with a big name producer like Mudrock?

Kyle: Being the young guys that we are, a big name producer opened our eyes to the music business. He truly put not only his heart into the record, but ours as well. Mudrock taught us a lot about song structure and helped change our songs for the better. We couldn't be more thankful.

PPJ: What are your favorite and least favorite songs on the new record, and why?

Kyle: 'I Don't Want to Be Alone' is my personal favorite. It feels like the catchiest song to me. As for least favorite, it wouldn't have made it on the record if we didn't like a song! 'Heifer' is definitely hit or miss though. I always worry that we might offend our audience which is not the intention of the song at all. On the other hand it is the song many people remember us by.

PPJ: You've also performed alongside some huge bands. What's that like, and what's your favorite memory of a show?

Kyle: Sharing a stage with bands I've grown up loving is a dream come true.
It's awesome to know that they are real people just like you and I. They are just very talented. The best feeling in the world is following their footsteps and learning what they do to succeed.

PPJ: What are your plans for the next few months after the record comes out?

Kyle: I hope that things take off very quickly. Especially the record. (Which comes out Oct. 30th in stores everywhere.) Touring is going to be an all year plan, along with writing the next record on down time. Other than that, meeting all of our fans at shows!

PPJ: I have to ask: is there a story behind the song "Heifer?"

Kyle: Like I said earlier, the CD is about times we've gone through over the years. I wrote "Heifer" in the 8th grade about a girl that I had a feud with. I was just a dumb punk rock kid who thought getting into trouble was cool. ( It isn't. ) The girl and I get along great now and I feel bad for ever writing it. But I did.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Kyle: As a whole, the new Used album " Lies for the Liars " is incredible. I'm also currently listening to Paramore - Riot! and Chiodos - Bone Pallace Ballet.

Thanks again to Kyle for answering these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for arranging the interview. Be sure to pick up Audio & Murder on October 30th, and then go out and catch The Frantic on tour.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Frantic - Audio & Murder

The Frantic - Audio & Murder
Label - Sinister Muse Records & Empyrean Records
Release Date - October 30th, 2007

There's not a lot of real punk music left anymore, not punk music with passion. Most of that kind of punk these days tends to be of the political variety, but The Frantic have created a record that encompasses these qualities, while still feeling like a good old-fashioned party.

These young Chicagoans (the oldest are just eighteen) combine the raw power of The Sex Pistols with the hooks of Set Your Goals. Audio & Murder bursts into action with a shout of "We're the Frantic! Who The fuck are you?!" and Ramones-esque "hey hey hey"s over pounding drums and stuttering guitars. "Big Papa" features a massive vocal hook in the chorus along with rapid fire verses that are bound to get a crowd riled up. There's even the faintest touches of synth accenting the guitars.

The growling vocals and undercurrent of power chords continue throughout the next few tracks, and the band doesn't loosen its grip on the listener for a second. "Fast Girl" provides prime opportunities for fist-pumping and crowd participation, as does the driving beat of "Frantic Summer." The lyrics aren't particularly deep, but they're relatable - tales of best friends and ex-girlfriends galore. Every suburban kid will key into the short spoken bit in "Frantic Summer" where two of the guys talk about having nothing to do since there aren't any shows that night.

"Movin' Along" is an acoustic ballad about moving to the city and not looking back to ex-girlfriends. It's got a country vibe to it, which doesn't fit the rest of the album at all. Regardless, it's a pretty song in the vein of Limbeck or Steel Train. After that divergent track, the band leaps back into their regular sound with "Rock & Roll Renegades" and keeps it there for the rest of the album.

The most entertaining track on the record by far is the closer, "Heifer." Clearly someone had a bitter breakup:

Your waist is a waste of space / My ass looks like your face /
You are a fat fuckin' heifer / I said / you fat piece of shit

The best part is that this chorus is one of the biggest hooks on the entire album. There's also handclaps and gang vocals - this will be a fan favorite for years to come for this band.

Audio & Murder clocks in at 25 minutes and 51 seconds. On one hand, I think that's far too short and I want to hear more. On the other hand, there isn't a single track I'd consider to be filler, and any attempt to stretch out the running time would have dragged the album down considerably. It's a great debut album by a band that has heaps of potential; I hope Audio & Murder will catapult them into view of the music community.

Track Listing
01. We're The Frantic
02. Big Papa
03. Fast Girl
04. Frantic Summer
05. Movin' Along
06. Rock & Roll Renegade
07. Audio & Murder
08. I Don't Want To Be Alone
09. Always Gonna Roll
10. Hollywood Homicide
11. Heifer

For Fans Of: The Ramones, MxPx, Dude Ranch-era Blink-182

Web Site | MySpace | PureVolume

Sunday, October 7, 2007

10.7.07 recs

This kid is really young, but he's making breathtaking, romantic music that's easy to fall in love with.
For fans of: Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart, Grizzly Bear

Modern Skirts.
Meandering indie pop from Athens, Georgia. Their singer has a distinct voice, and their music is perfect for relaxing with a glass of lemonade.
For fans of: Lakes, Blackpool Lights, Ben Jelen

Accessible hip-hop with a reggae twist. His new album, Atlantis, is a must-have.
For fans of: The Roots, Talib Kweli, Common

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Hero From A Thousand Paces - Mistakes

A Hero From A Thousand Paces - Mistakes
Release Date - April 3rd, 2007
Label - 1x1 Music

In this music scene, there is a sort of image continuum that bands fall along. There are some bands that are entirely music driven, with no focus on image. There are some bands that try to balance both. And there are some bands that are entirely image based and their music is secondary. A Hero From A Thousand Paces fall firmly in that third category.

This band from New Jersey is made up of former members of The Pennyroyals and Riding Bikes, but have lost any vestiges of punk from those old bands. Instead, they wear exclusively red, black, and white, along with a lot of makeup and hair gel. On their slick myspace page, the music seems the be merely a vehicle for promotion of the band, rather than the other way around.

As for Mistakes, it starts off with what sounds like a pretty promising guitar riff. That is, until the rather weak vocals of Mark Fray set in, forcibly bringing to mind bands like Hawthorne Heights. The next three songs all feature the exact same guitar tones and and uncreative, sex-driven lyrics:

System overload / surge malfunction / Aching for your love / Starved and malnourished / We've been tarnished with a kiss / There goes our precious innocence

There aren't any discernible hooks anywhere, and Fray takes on a similar cadence for every verse. He occasionally ventures into falsetto, where his voice becomes even less powerful than it already was. "Semantics" is Hero's attempt at a ballad, but Fray still delivers his lines exactly the same way as in previous songs, only this time with the aid of even higher pitched background vocals. He simply sounds bored all the time. Fray does manage to belt it out a little more in "A Hand Written Apology," but the trite lyrics of I'm sorry / I never meant to hurt you don't keep your interest.

"Close Your Eyes" starts out with an acoustic guitar, a sound much more fitted to the vocals. However, the band rushes back to their electric guitars just as the song is starting to sound good. If they hadn't followed their formula, they would have has a sweet song on their hands.

A Hero From A Thousand Paces is clearly trying to capitalize on the subset of kids who are into music to be seen, not to see. By the looks of their website, they've got dozens of these kids under their net. However, as soon as those kids find a prettier boy in eyeliner, Hero will find themselves without a fanbase and will have to latch onto the next hot trend.

Track Listing
01. Bold And The Beautiful
02. With Closed Fists
03. The Aftermath
04. Semantics
05. Doctor Doctor
06. She'll Pay For Me In Singles
07. It's Not Over
08. A Hand Written Apology
09. Philadelphia
10. Close Your Eyes
11. The Stained Slide Show
12. A Good Thing

* - standout tracks

For Fans Of - Hawthorne Heights, 30 Seconds To Mars, Silverstein

MySpace | PureVolume

Verona Grove - EP

Verona Grove - Verona Grove EP
Release Date - Spring 2007
Label - Pat's Record Company

These days, reviews of pop-punk albums often contain the disclaimer that the band is "nothing groundbreaking." But who says a band has to be groundbreaking to be fun? Yeah, you've probably heard Verona Grove's style of music a thousand times over, but that isn't to say you shouldn't give them a shot.

This trio from Wisconsin sound like a cross between The Starting Line and Driving East. Tell me that isn't fun. Their four song EP starts with the fist-pumping "Everything You Dreamed," and the rolling guitars and smooth vocals are sure to get teen girls jumping up and down in a frenzy. Their simple choruses and vaguely heartbroken verses are just begging for crowd singalongs.

"Revolution" is a fairly well executed piano slow jam, and sounds like it could be Waking Ashland b-side. I'd like to see them push this style a little further; they seem to know how to use the piano well.

The best song is the closing track, the synth-driven "Goodbye Surrender." It's easily the EP's catchiest tune, and is capable of launching the band into the current dance-rock craze. The backing vocals on this track are also simply made for crowd participation. Production-wise, the EP is nicely done, though I think they could benefit from more punchy vocals and drums.

So yes, Verona Grove is not breaking any new ground, but most bands these days aren't. So why not enjoy the music of those who know the formula and how to work it?

Track Listing
01. Everything You Dreamed *
02. No Words To Say
03. Revolution
04. Goodbye Surrender *

* - standout tracks

For fans of: The Starting Line, All Time Low, Holiday Parade, The All-American Rejects

MySpace | PureVolume

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Marc Broussard - S.O.S.: Save Our Soul

Marc Broussard - S.O.S.: Save Our Soul
Release Date - June 26th, 2007
Label - Vanguard Records

Bob Seger once sang about how great old time rock and roll was. Now, Marc Broussard is here to tell us how great old time R&B was.

Save Our Soul is a collection of covers ranging from Marvin Gaye to The Pointer Sisters to Stevie Wonder. Broussard rolls through these classic tunes with a swagger in his step and a rasp in his voice, giving each song new life.

The album kicks off with the funky groove of Stevie Wonder's "You Met Your Match." Broussard's gravelly voice gives it flair - the only drawback is that he occasionally veers into wailing, becoming a bit too high pitched to enjoy.

The cover of Blood Sweat & Tears' "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" features sultry horn and strings sections behind Broussard's meandering words. The sparse instrumentation on this track is surprisingly powerful, making this song a key slow jam on the record. Broussard picks it up again quickly with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "If I Can Build My Whole World Around You." His falsetto melts into the beautiful voice of guest Toby Lightman, who easily steals the show on this track. The song fades out too quickly though - it would have been nice to have been able to hear the entirety of the last verse.

"Come In From The Cold" is the album's lone original track, and sounds like a cross between John Mayer and Jamie Cullum. Broussard again makes use of light strings in the back of the mix, which are a nice accent to this song. Lyrically, Broussard is surprisingly good, if a bit cliche when it comes to love:

throw off all the memories that can bring you down / loving is the only way to heal a heart that love has wronged

"Let The Music Get Down In Your Soul" (Rance Allen) showcases a nice piano part, as well as some well placed harmonization in the background to create a bouncy singalong. Harmonization is also used to good effect in his cover of The Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can."

While Broussard's voice is no match for any of the great artists he covers on this record, he is still enjoyable to listen to, and he's found ways to give each song a new twist while still maintaining the spirit of the originals. Broussard claims he wants to help people discover the heart and happiness of R&B. Listening to Save Our Soul makes me want to go dig up some old Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye records...I think that means Broussard has accomplished his goal.

Track Listing
01. You Met Your Match (Stevie Wonder)
02. Kissing My Love (Bill Withers)
03. I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know (Blood Sweat And Tears & Donnie Hathaway)
04. If I Could Build My Whole World Around You (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell)
05. Come In From The Cold
06. Love And Happiness (Al Green)
07. Harry Hippie (Bobby Womack)
08. Let The Music Get Down In Your Soul (Rance Allen)
09. I've Been Loving You Too Long (Otis Redding)
10. Respect Yourself (The Staple Singers)
11. Yes We Can (The Pointer Sisters)
12. Inner City Blues (Marvin Gaye)

For Fans Of: The Temptations, The Isley Brothers, The Four Tops.

Website | MySpace

Monday, October 1, 2007

Interview - Four Year Strong

Four Year Strong are currently creating huge ripples in the pop-punk and hardcore scenes with their explosive blend of the two genres. Since I love their live show and their new record Rise Or Die Trying, I was excited to get the chance to ask a few questions of frontman Alan Day.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Alan Day: My name is Alan and I sing and play guitar.

PPJ: How did Four Year Strong get started?

Alan: We started like 6 years ago, we were all in different pop punk and hardcore bands and we all wanted to try and start something new and bring the 2 kinds of music we love together.

PPJ: Who would you say were your biggest musical influences when you were growing up?

Alan: We had tons of influences like Saves The Day, New Found Glory, The Movielife, Blood For Blood, The Hope Conspiracy, American is an endless list of bands that influenced all of us.

PPJ: What do you think of the huge amount of buzz you guys are getting due to websites like

Alan: We absolutely love that so many people have such strong feelings about our band, whether it be love or hate, just to know people care enough to say anything about us means a lot. Everyone at absolutepunk has been great to us, and we really appreciate that.

PPJ: On the flip side, what do you think when people complain your sound is too close to bands like Set Your Goals?

Alan: We do get that comparison every once and a while, and its a little frustrating when we hear people say we sound like them considering we've been around for years and years doing what we do now without ever hearing them until recently. But at the same time, they are a great band and we love those guys, we just wish people didn't feel like they had to choose one over the other. We are both similar
genres, but we are both executing it in entirely different ways.

PPJ: What went into recording your new album?

Alan: Our lives went into this record. We've been working on this record for a long time, and we really concentrated on getting our live vibe across in this record. It is our first national release and we just wanted people to know exactly what were about.

PPJ: How do you go about writing your songs?

Alan: Someone like me or Dan, the other singer guitarist, will come up with a riff or something, and we will all get together and just jam on it for a while. When it starts to escalate, me and dan will get together and work on the structure of the song and then start writing the lyrics and then it all just starts to fall together. We all put a lot into all of our songs.

PPJ: What drives you to write music?

Alan: Everything. Girls, friends, family, other music, but what we really try to do is take our inspiration and translate it so that people that hear it can relate to it. We want our songs to mean as much to everyone else as they do to us.

PPJ: You spent time on Warped Tour this summer. What was that experience like?

Alan: Well we only played one day in our home town, but that one day was awesome. We had tons of fune playing to some new and some old faces. And we got to hang out with a ton of friends in other bands, so it's pretty much just an amazing experience all around.

PPJ: With the recent resurgence of pop-punk music, what do you guys do to make yourselves stand out from the crowd?

Alan: We always just want to do what we love to do, and that just so happens to be what's in right now. We don't want to compete with anyone, we just want to make friends and have fun.

PPJ: What do you hope people will take away with them when they hear your music or see your live show?

Alan: We just hope that people will have fun and run around sing along, jump off the stage and then go home with a smile on their face. We're in it for the same reason everyone else is. To play music and have fun.

PPJ: What are your plans for after your record release?

Alan: We just want to tour as much as possible to meet everyone and hang out.

PPJ: Lastly, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Alan: That's a tough one because there are so many great bands out there. But I guess for now I'll have to say A Loss For Words from Boston, they are some our best friends and they are an amazing band. Daggermouth is also a kick ass band from Canada, we just did a tour with them and those guys rule hard. And a band we are all real into is Shipwreck, a hardcore band from Merrimack Valley, so everyone check them out as well as both of the other bands. A Loss For Words, Daggermouth, and Shipwreck. Listen now.

Thanks again to Alan for answering these questions, and to Stephanie Marlow and Rob Hitt at I Surrender Records for setting everything up. Make sure to pick up Rise Or Die Trying when you go catch FYS on tour.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

recs 9.30.07

City And Colour.
This is the solo project of Dallas Green, frontman for Alexisonfire. His acoustic songs are surprisingly heartwrenching and beautiful.
RIYL: Dustin Kensrue, Damien Rice, Rocky Votolato

The Bled.
Hardcore powerhouse The Bled are back full blast with their new album Silent Treatment. It's a no holds barred explosion of sound.
RIYL: Every Time I Die, He Is Legend, Norma Jean

Explosions In The Sky.
Brilliant experimental instrumental music. EITS songs are easy to lose yourself in.
RIYL: Unwed Sailor, Mogwai, The Album Leaf

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interview - Saturday Looks Good To Me

K Records outfit Saturday Looks Good To Me are about to release their fourth LP, Fill Up The Room. Frontman Fred Thomas took some time to answer my questions about the creative process his band uses to make their unique style of indie pop.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Fred Thomas: I'm Fred Thomas and I play guitar, sing and do some percussion stuff in SLGTM when we play live. I also write all the songs and lyrics and do most of the recording, production and arrangement of our records.

PPJ: How did SLGTM get started?

Fred: At the turn of the century in Ann Arbor, Michigan where the band started, me and a lot of my friends had built up this tiny community of musicians and homies who were really into music and conceptual ridiculousness. One of the ways this love of concepts and foolishness manifested itself was the idea that four or five different people could play music in different combinations and be legitimately considered twenty or thirty different bands or solo projects or whatever. So we were always starting new bands or different ideas with the same five or six people. One was Flashpapr, a kind of quiet slowcore folk improv group, one was Glass, a cheesey electro project, one was Saturday Looks Good To Me, a 60's inspired four track dance band and one was Slinner, a Pavement/Slint/Weezer tribute band where all the songs had to sound like equal parts of those three bands. I just kinda stuck with SLGTM from there, but that's how it began, as a ridiculous concept.

PPJ: How do you go about writing your songs?

Fred: It's always different. Sometimes an entire song comes to you at once, lyrics and melodies and different movements and everything are right there. Other times it takes months or years to find the perfect way to fit pieces of different ideas together.

PPJ: You're about to release your fourth album, and the band has gone through a lot of changes since the release of your first. What do you think have been the most positive and negative changes along the way?

Fred: That's a great question! I think if a musical project does the same thing record after record, it's a really bad thing. The band has evolved from a kind of recording-based entity that gathered together my friends and acquaintances and made really lush records into a full-fledged band that tours all the time, and translates these precious bedroom songs I make on my own into loud and energized communiques in the setting of a live show. This is reflected in our new record, which is probably the first one we can play live and come close to having it sound anything like the record, cause it's coming from the experience of the dance floor moment instead of the bedroom experiment. In my view, this is both the most positive and most negative change that's happened. Positive in the way that it allows for a full-circle appreciation of the songs and that we're changing and growing in an honest way. Negative in that it signifies the end of that dreamlike world where I would record anything and anyone, slow it down, throw it away, dig it back out of the trash, put reverb and delay on it and form this perfect sound, not thinking about the future or the past. It feels like growing up, which is always both good and bad.

PPJ: How did you get signed to K Records?

Fred: It was extremely mellow and intuitive. We had been working with Polyvinyl since 2003, and they've always done a great job and helped us out immensely, but we've also done a lot of smaller projects with other labels, so it was never an exclusive arrangement. When we finished our new record, I sent it to a bunch of labels to check out and K was the most excited about it of anyone, and I had been getting to be better friends with them for a few years, so it just seemed to
align perfectly.

PPJ: Would you consider "Fill Up The Room" a concept record? Why or why not?

Fred: I consider it more of a song cycle than a concept record. All eleven songs are about the ideas of love and death, and how those things are really the only things that truly effect our lives and all the choices we make. Different lyrics or musical parts repeat a lot and the context changes from song to song. All the songs sound different stylistically as well, which makes it really interesting to hear the same words or guitar lines and have it be a totally different listening experience than the last jam.

PPJ: What is your favorite aspect of writing and playing music and why?

Fred: I love recording. It's the most insular and the most vast place in music for me. You can do anything and everything's acceptable and beautiful, even the failed experiments.

PPJ: What do you hope to do with SLGTM in the future?

Fred: At some point I abandoned hope in the future. When we started playing, before we were even playing shows out of town, there was a lot of hubbub about bands in Detroit getting signed to major labels, and this kind of energy in the air that being in a band meant bigger and better things than just playing sweet shows and feeling good. I saw this corrupt the music of some people I knew and also felt a weird pressure on myself for who I was making songs for. Invisible friends. Invisible critics. As we went on there were more and more pressures and strange things like that, and I've found the only way to stay pure in your music is just to follow your muse and do everything you want to and not worry or think about where you'll end up. So no plans or desires for a future, though there will probably be one.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Fred: Since I moved to Brooklyn, High Places are my favorite band. Two folks making this really perfect percussive, dreamy and uncomfortable sound that falls into a heavy eastern/Hawaiian sounding bed of noise that echoey, slushy and sweet vocal melodies glide above. They're perfect. They did a remix for us. The Dirty Projectors' new Black Flag revamp record is pretty hard to stop listening to as well, but for the sound you never want to end, this extremely rare record by a british folk rock act called Tony Caro & John has been reissued recently and it's a flawless, homemade masterpiece that finds a midway between the minimalist hippie bliss of Tyrannosaurus Rex and somber psychedelic rock band production without the rock band. It's transcendent music, perfect sound forever.

Thanks again to Fred for answering these questions, and to Jesse at Force Field PR. Make sure to pick up Fill Up The Room on October 23rd, and to catch the band on tour with The Blow now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interview - Zolof The Rock & Roll Destroyer

Pennsylvania's Zolof The Rock And Roll Destroyer have made a name for themselves with upbeat, female-fronted pop tunes. They're about to release their sophomore LP, Schematics, and frontwoman Rachel Minton was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Rachel Minton: My name is Rachel & I play keyboard & sing in Zolof.

PPJ: I'm sure you've been asked this a thousand times before, but can you explain where you came up with your band name?

Rachel: True, we're asked this question a lot & I usually lie & tell a more interesting story about how we got the name. But the truth is that one of our original members is a writer (plays/fiction) & he had a character in his writings called 'Zolof The Rock & Roll Destroyer'. But 'Zolof' was a masseuse to the rock star community, so he was actually tenderizing rock more than destroying it.

PPJ: Schematics will be your first LP in about four years. How do you feel you've grown musically since the release of Jalopy Go Far?

Rachel: I feel like we've learned to be more honest with our music. Jalopy Go Far & The Popsicle EP were more pop, as far as content and sound. We're still all about melody & immediate gratification, but these songs are more about being frustrated and feeling kind of crazy. Fun, but honest.

PPJ: Have you ever found it hard to maintain a focus for the band with so many members coming and going?

Rachel: No, not really. Zolof is essentially Vincent and myself & we have different friends that have played with us over the years covering bass, drums & keyboard, but we have always been the creative core of Zolof.

PPJ: You've collaborated with a wide variety of other artists over the years. Who are some of your favorite people to work with, and why?

Rachel: Reel Big Fish, The Loved Ones, Motion City Soundtrack, Will from Straylight Run, Anthony Green & so many more. On recordings or live, collaborating with people you love and respect is a blast.

PPJ: How did you go about writing and recording Schematics?

Rachel: Vincent & myself are the creative core of Zolof. One of us will come up with a melody & build the song around that. We always demo the songs so that we can step back & see how we feel about them and then move forward with writing.

PPJ: How do you keep up the energy of your live shows when you're on long tours?

Rachel: Playing is the only thing that keeps you going when tour gets long and strenuous. I mean, long drives kill momentum, but once you're hanging out and talking with kids at the show it really pumps you up again.

PPJ: Which of your songs are you the most proud of and why?

Rachel: I love all of our songs for different reasons & they've all documented a time in our life, but like a lot of musicians I'm most proud of our newest songs. Again, I think they're very honest and more revealing than our previous releases.

PPJ:What drives you to keep writing and playing music?

Rachel: For myself and Vincent, playing & writing together keeps us doing it. We have such a great time & it's so gratifying. I think that we'll continue as long as it's fun.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Rachel: The Matches, Motion City Soundtrack, & The Loved Ones.

Thanks again to Rachel for answering these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for arranging the interview. Make sure to catch Zolof on tour with Motion City Soundtrack now, and to pick up Schematics on September 25th.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Show: The Starting Line

The Starting Line, All Time Low, Permanent Me, and Four Year Strong at Toad's Place, 9.19.07

The Richmond venue was surprisingly underattended for this talent-filled tour. However, those smart enough to be present were treated to quite a good show.

Massachusetts-based pop hardcore band Four Year Strong began promptly at 7PM and tore through most of the tracks on their new LP, Rise Or Die Trying, which had been released that day. Their setlist included:

Bada Bing! Wit A Pipe!
Abandon Ship Or Abandon All Hope
Wrecked 'Em? Damn Near Killed 'Em
Beatdown In The Key Of Happy
Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die

They left out my personal favorite, "Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated," but all is forgiven as their set was high energy. Their songs translate fairly well live, considering how slick the production on their record is. However, someone needs to inform audience members that a weak circle pit of one or two kids doesn't need to be sustained for the entirety of the set.

Permanent Me is a band I've never paid much attention to, and their live show merely underlines why: it was lacking a lot of the heart seen from the other bands on the night's bill, and the songs felt very repetitious.

All Time Low picked up the slack with their explosive show. The Maryland group busted out all their usual high kicks, guitar spins, and profanity - everything that makes an ATL show fun. They played a few tracks from their upcoming full-length, So Wrong It's Right, as well as favorites from the Put Up Or Shut Up EP:

Dear Maria
Jasey Rae
Running From Lions
Let It Roll
The Beach
Six Feet Under The Stars
Coffee Shop Soundtrack
Break Out! Break Out!
The Girl's A Straight-Up Hustler

Despite their pervasive vulgarity (guitarist Jack Barakat announced they would be "touching dicks and sucking tits" in the back after the show), All Time Low's endless energy makes them anything but boring to watch. I'm continually impressed by them and their growing fanbase.

The venue was still pretty empty by the time The Starting Line took the stage, but they played as if they were facing a sold out crowd. The band performed a nice mix of songs from all three of their LPs, including:

Up And Go
Inspired By The $
Making Love To The Camera
Are You Alone?
Surprise, Surprise
Bedroom Talk
Something Left To Give
The Best Of Me

It was interesting to see how parts of the crowd were excited to hear new songs, while others only showed interest in material from Say It Like You Mean It. The set went smoothly - the band has everything down solid. Even when, halfway through the set, an audience member was dragged out of the venue in a headlock by security, the band didn't flinch. It was a good, enjoyable show overall.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Review - Shape

Artist: Shape
Album: Raised Near The Power Lines
Label: Division East Records
Release Date: March 27th, 2007

One doesn't usually think of New Jersey and immediately think of great MCs. However, the scrawny, white Jersey boy who calls himself Shape is clearly aiming to put his hometown on the hip-hop map.

Raised Near The Power Lines begins unconventionally with the sounds of a scratchy record player and distant horns. The track lazily flows into "Darkside Of The Silhouette," where we first hear Shape's meandering flow. His words are bitter, but he doesn't spit them at the listener.

In the excellent "Rising Up To The Top," Shape dedicates the track to Jam Master Jay while denouncing the senseless violence in mainstream rap, pointing fingers at artists like 50 Cent for encouraging kids to adopt the gangster lifestyle.

Shape's lethargic rhymes are very similar to other "backpack rappers" like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock. He also shares the unpolished style of these artists, rather than the highly produced sounds of Talib Kweli or Consequence. There are tracks where he picks up his pace, "Stereo Gun Unplugged" probably being the best example. This particular song is also notable for the line Sometimes I rob like an emotional white guy / 'Cause all I wanna do is open shows for Bright Eyes.

Periodically, the album has instrumental interludes that return to the record-scratch sounds of the opening track. Seeing as the album runs over an hour in length, these interludes seems a bit unnecessary. The tone of the album stays intact just fine without them.

Shape does a great job of using nontraditional instruments like pianos and horns to great effect, particularly the piano loop on "Something That Could Make You Do Wrong." Without the piano, the song wouldn't be worth noting, but with it, the song sticks in your head.

As stated previously, the album is a little on the long side - 19 tracks and 1 hour 11 minutes is a bit excessive. With a little bit of trimming, Shape would have an album that could put him on par with heavy hitters like Atmosphere and Jedi Mind Tricks. His lyrics are smart and he knows how to use interesting samples to catch your ear. If he keeps at it, people will begin to note West Orange, New Jersey, and the home of great hip-hop.

01. Introduction To Power Lines
02. Darkside Of The Silhouette
03. Every Step Forward (Two Steps Back)
04. Rising Up To The Top (ft. Atbash Cipher)
05. Stereo Gun Unplugged *
06. BY3X's Favorite Beat (Instrumental)
07. Something That Could Make You Do Wrong
08. Rock Like This (ft. Atbash Cipher)
09. Empeecee2K
10. Nasty As A Bag Of Yak/Richard Pryor *
11. Early Mourning (Interlude)
12. Ax Throwers (ft. Tame One)
13. Gary Oldman (ft. Atbash Cipher, C-Minus, Bully Mouth, GDP, & Def Dom)
14. Playing To Get Famous
15. OMG (I'm Going Crazy) (ft. GDP)
16. Super Heroes (ft. Bill Hicks) *
17. The 7th Hour
18. The 7th Hour Pt. 2 (Instrumental)
19. Heart Beats

* - standout tracks

For fans of: Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Cage.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Review: Four Year Strong

Artist: Four Year Strong
Album: Rise Or Die Trying
Label: I Surrender Records
Release Date: 9.18.07

Listening to Four Year Strong makes me tired.

You might think that's a negative thing to say about a band. In this case however, it's a compliment. I get tired because I imagine all the mosh pits, gang choruses, and synchronized handclaps that a Four Year Strong show must be full of. In my mind, I'm in the pit screaming with the best of them. It's exhilarating.

Four Year Strong have blended hardcore and pop-punk beautifully with their debut album, Rise Or Die Trying. Beginning with slowly building sirens on "The Take Over," and exploding to life with "Prepare to Be Digitally Manipulated," this album is a half hour of pounding adrenaline.

Songs like "Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die" and "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Hell" use the double bass generously to great effect. The songs are driven by the drumbeats, and the squealing guitars are merely added emphasis.

Lyrically, the band is reminiscent of Fall Out Boy circa Take This To Your Grave. The best example of this is probably in "If He's Here, Who's Runnin' Hell?"

Take it or leave me behind / because you know that you never did care at all / my poor ears have had it / you're coming in static / Tuned out across the board / like a million times before / you're living it up now / just wait until it goes down

The similarity to Fall Out Boy doesn’t stop there – so many of the guitar riffs and vocal hooks recall pre-From Under The Cork Tree Fall Out Boy. Pete Wentz always claims to be influenced by Lifetime – Four Year Strong sound like a perfect mashup of the two bands.

The album never pauses, not even for a second. The slowest song is "Catastrophe," and even on that song, the band has only taken the speed down about half a notch. If Cartel were to suddenly start listening to a lot of Set Your Goals, they might sound like this song. Though this track slows things down a bit, Four Year Strong dive right back into the thick of it in the next few songs.

The only criticism I have of this album is there is very little variation between the songs. If you're not listening to the lyrics, the neverending breakdowns and gang vocals tend to blur together. It's clear that Four Year Strong have found a formula that works for them, and they're going to stick to it very closely. I hope that they can find a way to vary their sound more in future releases, before they run this formula into the ground.

I can imagine this album turning up in a lot of end of the year lists. And I can also imagine that a lot of other people will let Four Year Strong become their new guilty pleasure. As for me, I can't wait to catch the band on tour and finally get to take part in those mosh pits and handclaps.

01. The Take Over
02. Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated *
03. Abandon Ship Or Abandon All Hope
04. Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die *
05. Wrecked 'Em? Damn Near Killed 'Em
06. Catastrophe
07. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Hell
08. Bada Bing! Wit' A Pipe! *
09. Beatdown In The Key Of Happy
10. If He's Here, Who's Runnin' Hell?
11. Maniac (R.O.D.)

* - standout tracks

For Fans Of: Set Your Goals, Hit The Lights, Take This To Your Grave-era Fall Out Boy

MySpace | PureVolume

Sunday, September 2, 2007

9.2.07 recommendations

These two recommendations come via the show I hosted at my school last night. Both bands put on impressive performances.

Pop-punk from Philly, they put on an explosive show and are all genuinely nice guys. They have just recorded the follow-up to This Could Be A Possibility, and I'm definitely looking forward to it.
RIYL: Spitalfield, Cartel, Hit The Lights

You, Me, And Everyone We Know.
Imagine if Say Anything started writing dance rock tunes. These guys always bring the party - make sure you catch them on their upcoming tour with I Am The Avalanche.
RIYL: The Graduate, Head Automatica, Brighten

Sunday, August 26, 2007

8.26.07 recs

Between The Trees.
These guys write impeccable pop rock songs. They're starting to blow up fast, so keep your eyes on them.
RIYL: Mae, Melee, Brighten.

Crash Boom Bang.
Infectious pop rock from Northern Virginia. They put on one of the most interactive and entertaining live shows I've ever seen, and are currently recording their debut LP with Tom Higgenson of the Plain White T's.
RIYL: All Time Low, Cartel, Spitalfield.

These guys are about to release their second album, Black Earth Tiger. It's a big departure from Soundtrack To A Headrush: so much heavier and darker.
RIYL: Every Time I Die, Underoath, Alexisonfire.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Coconut Records - Nightttiming

Coconut Records - Nighttiming
Label - Young Baby Records

Usually, just knowing that a band is fronted by an actor is enough for most people to write them off. However, I am begging you to take a close listen to Coconut Records. It's indie darling Jason Schwartzman's newest project, and the songs can more than stand for themselves, actor supported or not.

Coconut Records' debut album, Nighttiming, is a breezy, hopeful walk through some surprisingly beautiful and endearing songs. The album pushes off slowly with the meandering "This Old Machine," a track that will instantly capture the hearts and ears of Bright Eyes and Death Cab lovers everywhere. Schwartzman's singing voice is decidedly different from his speaking voice, and is very soothing to listen to.

Everything about this record screams California, particularly the aptly titled "West Coast." With its bells and flowing guitars, this song is simply meant to be listened to while driving along the beach at night. The lyrics are not particularly deep, but they fit the laid-back feel of the album to a T.

"Back To You" is along the lines of a Rooney song, which is fitting, seeing as Jason's brother, Robert, fronts Rooney. With perfectly placed handclaps and a catchy chorus, much toe-tapping is sure to ensue.

The album's title track is by far the best on the record. A dance tune of the best kind, "Nighttiming" is a song that will be stuck in your head for days on end; the type of song you'll find yourself craving to hear again and again. "Minding My Own Business" and "The Thanks I Get" are a couple of well crafted pop songs, and songs like "Mama" and "Ask Her To Dance" are very reminiscent of Bright Eyes in Schwartzman's vocal tone. While these styles may seem disparate, all of the songs weave together seamlessly to make an album that flows wonderfully from start to finish.

Full of light hooks and poppy piano pieces, Nighttiming should not be tossed aside as the failed efforts of an actor. Rather, it should be played again and again while dreaming of the California coastline. Very rarely do albums come along that straddle the line between light pop and hip indie, and with Nighttiming, Schwartzman has done that better than I could have ever hoped for.

01. This Old Machine
02. West Coast *
03. Back To You
04. Summer Day
05. Nighttiming *
06. Minding My Own Business
07. Slowly
08. Mama
09. The Thanks I Get *
10. It's Not You, It's Me
11. Easy Girl
12. Ask Her To Dance

* - standout tracks

For fans of: Phantom Planet, Rooney, Of Montreal

website | myspace | purevolume

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I heard the neighborhood was bleeding.

Manchester Orchestra, Unwed Sailor, and Colour Revolt at Jammin' Java, 8.14.07

I was very excited to see this show, as Manchester Orchestra has quickly become one of my new favorite bands, and certainly one of my favorite to see ever since I first saw them with Brand New last spring. The idea of seeing them in such a small venue was wonderful.

The show began with Colour Revolt's Sean Kirkpatrick coming onstage to apologize for the fact that their singer, Jesse Coppenbarger, was sick, and that Kirkpatrick would be just doing a few songs solo. He did a good job of keeping the attention of the audience as he alternated between fast and slow songs for about twenty minutes.

Unwed Sailor took the stage shortly after. I had never heard of them before, and when I realized they were an instrumental band I prepared myself to be bored for the next half hour. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were actually very good. Each song flowed seamlessly into the next, with just enough synth to balance the smart guitar work.

Manchester Orchestra began with just Andy Hull playing "Sleeper 1972" solo on his electric guitar, eyes shut and almost whispering into the mic. The rest of the band crashed to life with "Wolves At Night," and the band proceeded to pound through the rest of the tracks on I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child.

The best performance of the night was easily "Where Have You Been?" which devolved into Hull screaming, sighing, and holding himself up with his mic stand. The entire venue was dead silent for a full ten seconds after he finished before bursting into applause.

I love to watch Manchester because even if Hull's voice cracks, or if Chris Freeman's tambourine is slightly off beat, they're passionate and good enough that it doesn't matter. The band is so young, but their songs are already so mature. Every note is intense and purposeful. It's refreshing.

When called for an encore, Hull returned to the stage claiming they had no other songs, but soon relented and played a song titled "Badges And Badges" from his side solo project, Right Away Great Captain. Although he called it pretentious, it was a nice pop song, quite different from his Manchester material.

All in all, a very good show. Manchester is a band I will not tire of watching anytime soon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

she's driving away from me as we speak.

Holiday Parade, The Mile After, & Every Avenue at Jammin' Java, 8.13.07

Talk about pop-punk: this tour is like a mini-supertour of up and comers in the genre. It was an evening of spin kicks, hand claps, and preteen shrieks, and it was a ton of fun.

Michigan's Every Avenue opened the show, playing energetically to the fairly small cluster of girls standing near the stage. Their set was a blur of synchronized high kicks and arm waves, and they never ran out of steam. Singer David Ryan did his best to interact with the crowd, and was impressively able to keep his vocals strong even while sprinting around the stage.

The Mile After began promisingly with a nicely harmonized rendition of the first few lines of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls." However, the rest of the set was decidedly less high-octane than Every Avenue's, almost to the point of a letdown. This isn't to say the band wasn't good - they had the requisite driving hooks and singalong choruses, but their presentation wasn't as much fun. Singer Chase Holfelder's voice sounded pinched, and they seemed to be just going through the motions.

Holiday Parade took the stage quickly, jumping straight in with "Crimson Red" and never stopping to breathe. It was difficult to hear Andy Albert's vocals, but the rest of the band was dead on in their delivery, with drummer Mickey being particularly fun to watch.


Crimson Red
Abe Frohman
Clothes Off! (Gym Class Heroes cover)
My Philosophy
Driving Away
Another Mistake (I Won't Be)
Walking By
Never Enough

The cover of the first verse of "Clothes Off" was a great surprise, and the band turned it into a nice rock and roll tune. Albert knows how to work the crowd with or without a guitar in his hand, and it's just great to see a band so clearly enjoying themselves onstage.

The band said they'd be shooting a video for "Never Enough" in the near future. Watch out, because these guys are going to be huge.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

8.12.07 recs

All of these recommendations come courtesy of my friend Sally, and I thank her so much for introducing me to these bands.

Leslie Feist is also a member of Broken Social Scene, but her solo work is most impressive to me. She has a beautiful voice and a great ear for melody.

Sondre Lerche.
Singer-songwriter from Norway. He has been called the Scandinavian answer to Bright Eyes, but he is much more polished and refined than that.

Cavil At Rest.
This L.A. based unsigned band writes ethereal, haunting pop songs. Their live show is ten times better than their recorded material, but they're definitely a band you should keep your eye on.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

ScientificLifestyle - The Arrow EP

ScientificLifestyle - The Arrow EP
Label - Mean Red Music
Release Date - 7.24.07

It's hard to be unique in Los Angeles, the town where everyone is trying to stand out. L.A.'s electro-tinged rock outfit ScientificLifestyles is trying their best, but are they making it?

Frontwoman Nicole Porter has breathy, flowing vocals that complement the sparse guitars and offset the rather heavyhanded drumming on The Arrow EP. Opening with "Flight 273," the music sounds a bit like a blast from the past - it wouldn't have been out of place on a soundtrack like Empire Records.

"Glee Slipper" is where the electronica tag on their MySpace shows up in full force, but even here it is not overpowering. It's often hard to understand what Porter's lyrics are - the background vocals tend to compete with hers. However, her voice is pleasant enough that it almost doesn't matter. On this track, the '90s stylings of Porter's voice blend very nicely with the '80s sound of the instrumentals. The song climaxes with a dance breakdown, which would have been a lot more fun had the mixing of the drums been better executed. Still, one can see that it would translate well in a live show. The band slows down for "Chinatown Swan," a very pretty pop ballad. Unfortunately, the midi programming leans toward elevator music on this track. Again, Porter's lilting vocals redeem the song.

The final song, "Or," finds a much happier middle ground between rock and electronic programming. It's the catchiest and most well-produced track on the album. Both the vocals and the instrumentals are clearly heard, and none are done to the point of cheesiness heard on earlier tracks. Overall, ScientificLifestyle's major redeeming factor is that of their vocalist Porter. The songs themselves are not as unique as an L.A. band needs them to be in order to get noticed. Hopefully Porter will be able to find a way to let her voice be heard through other avenues.

01. Flight 473
02. Glee Slipper
03. Chinatown Swan
04. Or *

* - standout tracks

For fans of: Straylight Run, Paper Route

website | myspace | purevolume

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Interview - A Thorn For Every Heart

California's A Thorn For Every Heart are gearing up for the release of their sophomore album, It's Hard To Move You. I got to ask a few questions about life on the road to their frontman, Phil Nguyen.

PPJ: First, please tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Phil: My name is Phil Nguyen and I play guitar and I sing every now and then.

PPJ: What inspired you to begin playing music?

Phil: When I was in jr. high, my favorite band was Reel Big Fish. This was back in '96. My older brother had a guitar and I would sneak into his room when we would go to school and I would try and learn all the RBF songs. But I grew up with older siblings which were all into music which made me love it as well.

PPJ: Are those things the same things that drive you to keep playing today?

Phil: Yeah, that's part of the reason why I still play to this day.

PPJL Does being from California make it harder or easier to break into the music scene?

Phil: I wouldn't say that it's easier or harder. If you have the drive and determination, your music is going to be heard.

PPJ: You're about to release your second LP. What went into writing this record?

Phil: A lot of jamming. We would take a simple riff and turn it to a song that we loved. If we were writing a song and didn't feel it, we would just drop the song and move onto the next one.

PPJ: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your new album?

Phil: My favorite part of the album is just being able to work with these great producers. They have taught me so much. To be honest with you, I am 100% happy with this record.

PPJ: Why was there such a long period of time between your two albums?

Phil: It's like you have so much time to write your first record. And we wanted to make sure for our second album, that we wrote songs that we were all happy with. It took us a bit but we hope it was worth it. We put our heart and souls into this.

PPJ: Your sound has evolved over time. Why the changes, and how do you hope to see ATFEH continue to mature?

Phil: When we recorded our first album we were only a band for almost 1 year. A lot of the songs were written a few months of being a band. At the time our style was kinda all over the place. We wanted to incorporate all our styles into one. I love the first record. I think we did the best we could. But as you get older and are in this band for a lot longer, you mature. We write what we love and what we feel. This second album is exactly what we were feeling at the time.

PPJ: How did you get hooked up with Kickball Records?

Phil: They actually found us on the internet. We put up some demos online and they heard us and emailed us. Talked to them for a few months. Then signed on to the label.

PPJ: You're constantly on tour. Where are your favorite places to be and why?

Phil: Yeah, we tour as much as possible. My favorite place to tour is the northwest. I love Washington and Oregon. I just love the greenery and the clean air.

PPJ: What tour was the most fun?

Phil: Every tour is fun. You meet new people and life long friends. I couldn't
say what was the most fun. But one band that I loved growing up and got the honor to play with was Jimmy Eat World.

PPJ: You've covered Oingo Boingo and Smashing Pumpkins songs for compilation albums. Why did you choose the songs you did?

Phil: We all grew up in the 80's and we all love Oingo Boingo. We just thought that "Dead Man's Party" was a perfect song to cover. When we got asked to do the Smashing Pumpkins tribute album, we were all wanting to do a song that wasn't a single of theirs because we as a band didn't want to butcher the song. We all loved the song "Jelly Belly" so thats how that all came about.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Phil: 1. The Receiving End Of Sirens 2. The Sleeping 3. Paper Rivals.

Thanks again to Phil for answering these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for putting things together. Catch A Thorn For Every Heart on tour, and keep your eyes peeled for when It's Hard To Move You hits stores.

website | myspace | purevolume

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interview: Reel Big Fish

Reel Big Fish are living legends. They've been rocking their brand of ska for over ten years, and the band is still going strong with the recent release of Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free. Read my interview with frontman Aaron Barrett to see what it's like to be in such a longstanding, respected band.

PPJ: Tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Aaron Barrett: My name is Aaron Barrett, I sing, play guitar and write songs for Reel Big Fish.

PPJ: What drew you to begin playing ska music?

Aaron: I started going to local shows at small clubs when I was in high school and I always liked the ska and reggae influenced bands the best, I loved the horns and the energy and the unique sound. after I found out what "ska" was, I realized I had been listening to it for years because some of my favorite bands were The English Beat, The Specials and Madness. I had been taking guitar lessons for a few years and messing around with playing music and forming a band but once I tried playing ska, I knew that it was for me.

PPJ: You've just released your sixth studio album. Did you ever think your band would make it that far?

Aaron: I have always had my doubts and I know how hard it is to make it in the music business but I always knew, from the very beginning that I would keep trying as hard as I could to make it no matter what. So I'm not surprised that I'm still playing in this band...I do feel very lucky to have so many people listening to my band and coming to see us play though!

PPJ: What prompted the change to having more happy songs on the record than you're usually known for?

Aaron: I think the band has just been in better spirits now since we got off Jive Records and got through our mid-life identity crisis so it was easier to make more fun, upbeat songs.

PPJ: How have you managed to keep Reel Big Fish relevant over the years, even when ska falls in and out of favor?

Aaron: We are constantly on the road playing shows and winning more and more fans and I think we have good songs, and that never goes out of style!

PPJ: What do you do to keep your live show fresh and entertaining?

Aaron: We put a lot of spontaneous humor in our live set and we try to get the crowd involved and just make the whole thing a party.

PPJ: Do you ever get tired of playing your older songs?

Aaron: No way, we love playing the old songs and the fan favorites and the hits! We love to please the crowd! And it just never gets old to see a crowd go wild when you play a song they all know and love!

PPJ: You've done a lot of cover songs over the years. Which ones are your favorites?

Aaron: I love "Kiss Me Deadly", "It's Not Easy", and "We Close Our Eyes" the best. I love to do covers!

PPJ: Several of Reel Big Fish's members also have side projects. How do those get balanced with Reel Big Fish?

Aaron: They don't. Scott and I tried to have side bands for a while but there is just no time. We're on the road with RBF 9 months out of the year and we really can't put the time needed into other bands. Dan does some dj-ing and makes electronic music with a project he calls "Black Casper" but that's just him doing it himself.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Aaron: Cannibal Corpse, Toots and the Maytals, Say Anything.

Make sure to pick up Reel Big Fish's new album, Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free, in stores now, and to catch them on their current tour with Less Than Jake, Streetlight Manifesto, and Against All Authority.

website | myspace | purevolume

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hawaii's National Product are beginning to make waves in the rock scene with the release of their debut album, Luna. I got to ask a few questions of frontman Danny Casler to see what it's like to be him.

PPJ: First, please tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Danny Casler: My name is Danny and I sing.

PPJ: You guys are originally from Hawaii. What's the music scene like there, and what's it like to try and break into the continental States?

Danny: The band formed in Hawaii however we added some best friends to the band when we moved to California. The music scene is incredibly diverse in the sense of where there is no segregation of genres. Everyone gets along.

Breaking into the continental United States was the hardest thing we have ever tried to do. Without a name and a "homebase" your a permanent touring band so it makes you work harder to become established and taken seriously.

PPJ: How much of a role did the internet play in getting your name out there?

Danny: Aww, the good ole inter-nerd. If it weren't for you where would we be. The internet seriously is the greatest modern day marketing tool out there. With the saturation of so many acts now, its much harder to get noticed but things like purevolume, myspace, facebook, buzznet and absolutepunk make it a lot easier.

PPJ: What made you choose to sign with R&M Records?

Danny: R&M is a family orientated label. We met with several majors, a few indie majors, and everything in between. The background that our executives have in the music & film industry and their credibility made our decision an easy one.

PPJ: How does it feel to be about to release your first full length album?

Danny: Scared, excited, and all the feelings I'm sure a parent feels when they send their kid of to school. This our baby in a sense, and its gonna be sent out into the universe to do its thing and I hope its all positive in the way it affects people.

PPJ: What is your songwriting process like?

Danny: It varies. I do a majority of the songwriting that is on the record however there are moments when we all come together or other write something. We mix it up all the time to remain fresh and creative as a team/family/band.

PPJ: What was it like to record with James Paul Wisner?

Danny: It was probably one of the highlights of my life. He has always been a dream producer to me. His records have impacted my life in many ways and to know that we would be working with him was awesome. We ended up all becoming very close friends during the process so ending the record was like walking away from a family reunion.

PPJ: What's your favorite thing about playing music?

Danny: The interaction between the listener and the maker of the music. Music to me is all about connection. The way it impacts the listener and inspires thought and feeling.

PPJ: What drives you to keep playing and keep touring?

Danny: Seeing new kids who believe in music. That is my #1 motivation.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Danny: I could say a lot of the typical bands that are deserving but I feel like everyone knows bands like The Refused, Jimmy Eat World and more. I'll give some love to bands that aren't known yet who have incredible talent.

The Lives Of Famous Men - from Alaska, now Portland based, unsigned, strong catchy dancy tunes and phenomenal live. Very very nice guys.

Sequoyah Prep School - South Carolina band, softer indie rock, incredible hooks, very powerful presence live, strong vocals with super good songwriting.

Fiore - band from Orange County in the vein of Circa Survive however more straight forward vocals, great harmonies and hooks, very aggressive yet indie, has the softness of Copeland and the aggressiveness of Saosin.

Pick up National Product's new CD, Luna, and catch them on one of their many tour dates.

website | myspace | purevolume