Thursday, March 29, 2007

the neighbors have complained damn near every night.

The Academy Is... - Santi.

Alright. I am trying very hard to like this album. TAI are one of my favorite bands, and Almost Here is one of my favorite albums of all time. But this...but Santi...I don't know what to make of it.

The Academy Is have almost completely turned to dance rock with this CD. Dance rock is the hot new trend in the scene, and TAI have jumped on that bandwagon. This, plus their video tie in with Fall Out Boy, make it abundantly clear that they are marketing themselves to FOB's radio audience, even more so than ever before.

I also am not a fan of Butch Walker's production. It's way overdone - William Beckett's vocals are all nasal and strained, when he hasn't sounded nasal since his days as Remember Maine. The instrumentation is all overprocessed too - nothing stands out - it all runs together. "Bulls In Brooklyn" in particular sounds like it could have been lifted straight off the Butch Walker And The Let's Go Out Tonites album.

All this being said, there are a few good tracks on the album. The opener, "Same Blood," is particularly good. It draws you in (and makes you think you're in for a treat with this album). The lyrics are more abstract than anything previous to this. Luckily, this style of lyricism continues throughout the album, which is a step up from the very straightforward lyrics of Almost Here.

"We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands" has definitely grown on me - I am sure this will be a summer favorite this year, mostly due to the hook in the chorus.

In my opinion, "Seed" might be the best song they've ever written. It's mature without being stuffy, and Beckett's voice sounds very nice here.

Unfortunately, everything after "Seed" is completely forgettable. There are no driving hooks, no lyrics or riffs that jump out. The songs sound very similar and uninteresting unless you're reading the lyrics along with the songs.

When a band has this drastic a change in sound, usually you can at see where it came from, or trace it back to key songs in the past. With Santi, I can't seem to do that. It's completely out of left field. There was not any indication of dance rock on Almost Here or the From The Carpet EP (whatever happened to The Fever and Pour Yourself A Drink anyways?). I feel that a lot of this may have been due to Butch Walker's heavy hand in this project. Again, I'm trying to like it, but I just can't.

Standout tracks: Seed, Same Blood, We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

hey mister DJ, you gotta put a record on, yeah.

Sunday recs!

Cobra Starship.
Dance rock project from Midtown's Gabe Saporta, you may know Cobra Starship as the performers of the Snakes On A Plane theme song. While their CD isn't completely mindblowing, their live show is. Catch them next time they're near you.

Chase Pagan.
One of The Militia Group's latest signings, Chase Pagan plays a kind of ethereal indie-soul. This guy is truly talented and I expect big things from his upcoming LP.

Timbaland is known for producing hit singles for people like Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake. Now he's got his own album, Shock Value, coming out. I highly recommend the song "One & Only," featuring Fall Out Boy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I'm sorry if I stole yo gurl.

Last night I went to see My Favorite Highway, The Friday Night Boys, Kenmore, Pictures In Pieces, Jefferson Third, and Suburban Riot at Jaxx Nightclub. I'm not sure I can give a proper review, as it's weird to try and critique the performances of my friends. Instead, I'll give you a brief summary of each band's sound.

If you'd like to see a full gallery of the photos I took of each band, just click on any of the images included here.

Suburban Riot.

The best way to describe them is ska without the horns. They're heavily influenced by Blink-182, and given that they're just high schoolers, if they keep at it they might end up being pretty good.

Jefferson Third.

Pretty much your average pop-punk band, these are some of the most hardworking guys I've ever met.

Pictures In Pieces.

Pop-punk similar to Saves The Day and Name Taken, these guys are going to explode soon.


Kenmore used to be your average screamo band, and then somewhere along the way they learned how to write a good song. For fans of bands like Underoath.

The Friday Night Boys.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Very similar to Hellogoodbye, only a thousand times better.

My Favorite Highway.

Piano-based pop-rock that sounds like Jimmy Eat World meets Jack's Mannequin. Trust me, they are going to be THE next big thing.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

talked down to bare essentials.

Cartel, Cobra Starship, Boys Like Girls, and New Atlantic at the 9:30 Club, 3.18.07.

I was pretty excited for this show because I've never seen Cartel outside of Warped Tour, and it's been since December or earlier since I've seen either Cobra Starship or New Atlantic.

New Atlantic were up first. They've recently signed to Eyeball Records and are releasing their debut full length, The Streets, The Sounds, And The Love in a few weeks. Hence, they played almost exclusively new material with the exception of "Late Night Television," which is off their earlier EPs. They sounded perfect as always. Their live show has improved a lot since Gio learned to enunciate while he sings. Most softer bands tend to be boring to watch, but New Atlantic is an exception. Basically, watching them just makes you happy.

Boys Like Girls was next. Clearly a lot of the underage girls were attending the show for this band, as there was a huge forward surge accompanied by screams when the band came out to test their instruments. I'm really not a fan of this band, as they are pop-punk by the numbers - no creativity at all - and Martin Johnson's voice tends to be nasal. I will credit them with having a good amount of energy onstage, but it wasn't good enough to convert me to fandom.

Cobra Starship put on an extremely entertaining performance as always. Gabe Saporta is constantly moving around the stage, dancing and engaging the audience at all times. He is also capable of staying on key while doing this, which is rarer than you'd think. Set list as closely in order as I can remember:

Send My Love To The Dancefloor, I'll See You In Hell (Hey Mister DJ)
The Ballad Of Big Poppa And Diamond Girl
The Church Of Hot Addiction
The Kids Are All Fucked Up
It's Warmer In The Basement
It's Amateur Night At The Appollo Creed
Keep It Simple
You Can't Be Missed If You Never Go Away
Bring It (Snakes On A Plane)

Martin Johnson (Boys Like Girls) and Will Pugh (Cartel) came onstage to sing backup vocals and rap, respectively, on "Bring It." Pugh should probably stick to singing and not rapping, but it was all in good fun.

Finally was Cartel. Their intro music was Queen's "We Will Rock You," which amped the crowd appropriately for the great show to follow. While Pugh isn't as active onstage as Saporta is, his incredible vocals more than make up for it. He has one of the most powerful voices I've ever heard, and he is able to almost perfectly replicate what is recorded on CD. Set list:

Say Anything (Else)
Matter Of Time
Luckie St.
Settle Down
If I Fail
Burn This City
new song
Wonderwall (Oasis cover)
The Minstrel's Prayer

I was so happy to hear "The Minstrel's Prayer," I've been wanting to hear that live forever. I also loved how they played that song with "Q" and "A" directly afterwards like on the CD - those three songs flow together so nicely. There were also short instrumental breaks between some of the songs, which sounded pretty, but kind of interrupted the show in my opinion. Also, Kevin Sanders' (drums) intensity makes up for Pugh's lack of - Sander's drumming is just as crisp live as it is recorded (the drumming is probably my favorite aspect of Chroma) and he often stands up at the kit and gestures wildly at the crowd while singing along.

The new song was decidedly more rock than anything from Chroma; easily radio-ready. I'd love to hear how it sounds recorded. Incidentally, Will dedicated the new song to The Receiving End Of Sirens and Matt Squire, who were all at the show since Squire is producing TREOS' new album in Maryland at the moment. Squire also produced Boys Like Girls' album.

Overall, a very good show all around. Can't wait to see three of those four bands again, whenever they come around next.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

music's all around, can you feel the sound inside?

Recs a little early this week, as I may not have access to a computer tomorrow.

Holiday Parade.
Another unsigned pop band, these guys clearly know what they're doing. If you like the sound of All Time Low, Sherwood, or Cartel, then Holiday Parade is right up your alley.

Down By Fire.
I was just tipped off about these guys the other day. Mostly punk with a little pop and a lot of heart. Pure moshing goodness.

Progressive indie dance pop from Quebec. Sung completely in French. I've been recommended this band multiple times over the last few months and have finally listened. I'm sorry I didn't do it earlier.

The Photo Atlas.
TPA are exactly what you'd expect from a Stolen Transmission band - pure sex on the dancefloor. These guys are probably going to be my new guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

a warm arrival never left so cold.

Sherwood - A Different Light.

A Different Light is the first full-length from the pop quartet known as Sherwood. This little band has been steadily building online buzz since they put their Summer EP up for free download on, and their subsequent signing to MySpace Records. So does it live up to the hype?

Beginning slowly with a re-recording of "Song In My Head," it is immediately apparent that these songs will be much more highly produced than anything from Sing, But Keep Going or the Summer EP. However, Nate Henry's vocals are still as clean as ever, which was the biggest selling point of this band for me. The song proceeds into a faster tempo and picks up the pop hook neatly.

The next two tracks, "The Best In Me" and "Middle Of The Night" are probably the catchiest songs on the record, evoking the common comparison to The Beach Boys. "The Best In Me" uses a little bit of horns and synth, both of which seem a little over the top to me. "Middle Of The Night" is still my favorite Sherwood song, even if the production makes the guitars and drums sound a little tinny here.

"Alley Cat" takes a different tack with all electronic instrumentation. I'm not a big fan of it, but I like the lyrics of this song. Despite this misstep, we get right back into the swing of things with "Give Up!" whose stuttering beat will get you tapping your feet again.

"The Only Song" is yet another good re-record from the Summer EP. "The Simple Life" is a languid love song that shows Sherwood do indeed have some versatility. The same goes for "I'm Asking Her To Stay."

Overall, you'd think MySpace Records might have wanted to do a better job, seeing as this is the first release for that label. Luckily, Sherwood's incredible talent for pop music overcomes the production shortcomings. This album is sure to see a good deal of stereo time soon because it's essentially a soundtrack for lying under the trees in the summertime.

Standout Tracks: Middle Of The Night, The Simple Life, I'm Asking Her To Stay

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I called her on the phone and she touched herself

Treaty Of Paris.
These guys are the first signing to Andrew McMahon's label Aiport And Tapes Records. They are right on the line of pop-punk and dance rock, and their singer has a really sweet voice. You can bet they'll be big, maybe even because of McMahon's name alone.

Say Anything.
Say Anything is the brainchild of Max Bemis, and they definitely don't get as much love as they deserve. They've just released the bonus track "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" as a single. Watch the video for a cameo from the most unexpected actor.

Dustin Kensrue.
I am still spinning Dustin's solo CD. I have never gotten so hooked on a side project before in my life. Please Come Home is honestly some of the best folk-country I've ever heard.

Friday, March 9, 2007

this heart's a bomb and we're setting it off.

(photo by Emilio Delgado)

Dave Cook of My Favorite Highway generously let me interview him recently. Here's an in-depth look at one of the scene's fastest rising stars.

PPJ: Tell us your name, instrument, and favorite band.

Dave: My name is Dave, I sing and play piano and guitar for MFH. My favorite band is Maroon 5.

PPJ: How did My Favorite Highway begin?

Dave: The band formed in November of 2004. I had been away at school in Pittsburgh for two years and ended up coming back to VA to take some time off. Will asked me if I wanted to start a band with him, and since we were cousins I said yes. Years later, Brian joined the band in February of 2005 and then Bobby joined in March of 2006.

PPJ: How would you describe the kind of music you play?

Dave: Upbeat, fun and melodically infectious.

PPJ: Tell us a little bit about your songwriting process.

Dave: It really varies, I write the lyrics and melody, but the music can be written in many different ways. Sometimes we'll write an entire song during a practice without any lyrics or melody and then I'll take that home and finish it. Or sometimes I'll write the lyrics right on the spot, or be messing around on the piano and come up with something. It's an interesting process because I feel like we're always trying to re-invent the way we write in order to write better songs.

PPJ: Are any of you still in school? If so, how difficult is it to balance that with the band?

Dave: Bobby is the only member of the band who is currently in college, the rest of us tried, but it is really hard to balance. Bobby is a trooper, he goes to school in Lynchburg and drives back to Fairfax every weekend for practice and shows.

PPJ: Why don’t you play “Counterfeit,” “Steel City,” or “Harbor Bay” anymore?

Dave: Well... "Counterfeit" was our first song ever, and because it was the first song, naturally it's kind of immature in the way it was written and the lyrics aren't very good, and the music doesn't really go anywhere so we kind of tossed it out the window. We probably won't ever play that song again, haha or at least I hope so, I hate that song, haha.

"Steel City" is a great song, but it isn't finished yet, we've only played it once at a Jammin' Java show. You'll probably see this song recorded as a B-Side someday.

"Harbor Bay" is an old song that was never finished, it was very personal to me and I got to a point where I didn't really feel like sharing it anymore.

Picking which songs to play and record is a hard process, and you have to pick your best songs because you can only do so many and these are just songs we've grown apart from.

PPJ: What’s the weirdest thing a fan’s ever done for you?

Dave: Well, we had two girls fly here all the way from Seattle to be at our CD release show. That was crazy.

PPJ: You are sponsored by Naïve Clothing, who also sponsors bigger bands like Anberlin and Copeland. What is that partnership like?

Dave: All the guys at Naive are really great, I'm good friends with Josh who runs the company and he's a really great guy. They're a really small company and take good care of their bands.

PPJ: You guys are still unsigned, despite a huge amount of industry buzz. Why is that?

Dave: Signing a record contract is like marriage. It's not something you want to rush into, because you're basically signing your life away for the next 5 years. It's the weirdest experience I've ever been through. It's like bands and labels both play hard to get, it really is like high school romance. At this point we've met with just about every label you can think of. We have some things out on the table, and we're just trying to make sure we ink the right deal. Unfortunately I can't speculate as to which labels we're working with right now. It's a really long process, but you should be hearing about some stuff soon. Bottom line, industry buzz doesn't mean anything, that's what I've learned.

PPJ: Do you ever read what people write about you online? How do you deal with any negative feedback?

Dave: I'm pretty sure we eventually read most of everything online. I believe that all feedback is good feedback. Anytime anyone wants to say anything about us, good or bad, it's great because our name is getting out there. Not everyone is going to like your music, that happens. We're doing what we do for our fans.

PPJ: Will and Dave are cousins, while Bobby and Brian are brothers. Does that make things harder or easier?

Dave: Depends, we fight at times, but because we've grown up fighting with eachother we know how to make up.

PPJ: Has being from the DC area provided you with any noticeable advantages or disadvantages?

Dave: The sweetest thing is that we can play in Maryland, DC and Virginia, it's a big local fanbase. The disadvantage is that there isn't a beach nearby and that depresses me, but that has nothing to do with music.

PPJ: Can you tell us about any upcoming tour plans?

Dave: We'll be doing a full U.S. tour starting in May, and then we'll probably be touring full-time throughout the year from then on out.

PPJ: Do you have any plans to record more in the near future?

Dave: Yes.

PPJ: What is your favorite venue to play at?

Dave: Jammin' Java, the 9:30 Club is amazing, but we've only played there once so I can't say it's my favorite because that would imply we've played it more than once, if we play it again, it will be my favorite, but until then, Jammin' Java.

PPJ: What inspires you, musically or otherwise?

Dave: Personal experience, relationships, movies - I get a lot of ideas from movies, books. Sometimes I'll make up fictional situations and write about them and they become songs, that's how "Bad Habits" was written.

PPJ: What do you hope to accomplish with MFH?

Dave: We hope to become a household name and take over the world within the next five years.

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

Dave: Steve Moakler, The Friday Night Boys, and Lorien. They're all good friends of ours and they're amazing.

Thanks again to Dave for taking the time to answer all these questions. My Favorite Highway's music can be heard on myspace, purevolume, and on tour.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

we should get jerseys.

Relient K - Five Score And Seven Years Ago.

Yesterday saw the release of the fifth LP from my favorite band, Relient K. Let's see how Five Score measures up.

Beginning, oddly, with a short a cappella called "Plead The Fifth," the RK boys immediately lay down their signature vocal harmonies, in possibly the best arrangement of such since "Lion Wilson" from The Anatomy Of The Tongue In Cheek. Then in blows "Come Right Out And Say It," where it is obvious that they are continuing with the sound they created on MMHMM. Very similar hooks, lyrics and instrumental stylings.

Things turn a little harder with "I Need You," but the chorus bounces us right back to the sugar sweet Relient K is so good at. Actually, the backing vocals on this song strongly remind me of Anberlin.

We hear the first significant use of piano on Five Score in "The Best Thing." Other than that, the song isn't much of a standout.

However, "Forgiven" is very unique. One of the most powerful songs RK has ever written, the darker instrumentation combined with highly Christian lyrics makes for an anthem of sorts.

"Must Have Done Something Right" is probably the most fun track on the whole album. On first listen, some of the lyrics might be mistaken for something straight off their self-titled, but the arrangement is reminiscent of songs like "High Of 75" or "My Girl's Ex-Boyfriend." Essentially, it's just pure pop with a sweet message - classic RK.

"Give Until There's Nothing Left" has sort of cliche Christian lyrics. It is a nice showcase for Matt Thiessen's vocal range though.

"Devastation And Reform" is another highlight. While the song's structure reminds me a little too closely of many MMHMM tracks, the lyrics are a step up.

Usually I'll cause my own first hit / It seems to me to be slightly masochistic / But there'd be no story / Without all this descension / So I inflict the conflict / With the utmost of contemption

Good stuff. "I'm Taking You With Me" displays more of their pretty background harmonization, as well as some nice guitar work and sweet lyrics.

"Faking My Own Suicide" is a nice country-tinged treat: it was originally a Matthew Thiessen And The Earthquakes song, and it's neat to hear a full band version.

"Crayons Can Melt On Us For All I Care" hearkens back to old-school RK songs like "Breakfast At Timpani's" or "Kids In The Street." It doesn't fit into the album at all, but it makes hardcore people like me happy.

Things turn back towards the serious with "Bite My Tongue" and stay that way through the beautiful "Up And Up" and the epic "Deathbed." When they told us they were going to have an 11 minute epic track at the end, I only half-believed them. Not only did they actually do it, but they did it amazingly well. They lyrics are like unlike anything we've ever gotten from Thiessen - really complex and referential, and the wide range of instruments (strings! horns! keys!) really adds to the song and keeps it interesting.

Overall, I don't think this album is as big a step forward as is usually made between their CDs. However, I think they are finally settling into a style they can own. It's just really freaking good.

Standout Tracks: Forgiven, Faking My Own Suicide, Deathbed.

Monday, March 5, 2007

I'm in an overdramatic phase.

New Courage Call demos.

Courage Call are originally from Ashburn, VA, but have currently transplanted to Orange County, CA, while some of their members go to school there.

They've put up three new songs on their myspace, all of which will delight fans of bands like Something Corporate and Waking Ashland. Parts of the demos are a little rough, but significantly more coherent and hook-filled than what was there before. Seriously, if you like piano rock, you need to start listening to these guys.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

we're baking like mice in the sun.

Lovedrug - Everything Starts Where It Ends.

This is the sophomore release of the indie-pop quartet known as Lovedrug. Often compared to bands like Radiohead and Coldplay, Lovedrug combines elements of those bands with a style distinctly their own.

Everything Starts builds on what they began on Pretend You're Alive, and takes the emotions deeper and the arrangements higher. It's much more complex and much more thoroughly planned than their previous album.

Beginning with the relatively upbeat "Happy Apple Poison," Lovedrug draws you in with Michael Shepard's unique vocal delivery style and atmospheric instruments. However, the Happy mood doesn't last very long. The stellar "Pushing The Shine" takes the lyrical content to a darker level, which expands into a beautiful piano-based soundscape with the songs "Castling" and "Thieving."

Often, albums tend to lose steam around this point in the tracklisting. Everything Starts is quite the exception. There's the rolling "Casino Clouds" and soaring, ballad-like "Doomsday And The Echo." Then there's "Salt Of The Earth." The eerie handclaps and chain sounds perfectly complement the cadence of the piano and Shepard's voice.

The dark pop vibe is brought to full potential in "American Swimming Lesson," with its biting lyrics, swelling chorus, and instrumentation that borders on industrial.

Overall, Everything Starts Where It Ends is a near masterpiece with the way you can sink into the Lovedrug universe and never want to leave again.

Standout Tracks: Pushing The Shine, Bleed Together, Salt Of The Earth.

hello, hello, I am the sun.

This week's recs are bands that are both releasing new CDs this Tuesday. Coincidentally, both are from Canton, Ohio. You can expect full reviews soon.

Lovedrug's music is ethereal and intense - unlike anything you've ever heard before. Michael Shepard's vocals have improved immensely, and the new songs are just so much more layered and cohesive than their previous work.

Relient K.
Pretty much my favorite band. Relient K has matured and mellowed over the years, graduating from pop-punk to pop-rock in a graceful manner. Every release is ten steps above the last, and the new album is sure to be the same way.