Band: Sleeping With Sirens Title: Let’s Cheers to This Released: May 10th 2011 Label: Rise Records Producer:Kris Crummett
I gave this band a listen when they released their first album and I didn’t like it and to be honest I would have passed this one by had I not seen ‘Kris Crummett’ on the production credits. That said, I gave it a go and happily, ‘Let’s Cheers to This’ is much better than the debut album. Despite the vocals being extremely high in pitch (borderline female), he does have a very impressive voice and uses it to good effect throughout the album, utilising his ability to reach ridiculous notes to deliver some unique melodies.
It doesn’t take you long to realise that you aren’t on a journey of originality, but that’s hardly the point of an album like this. The guitars plod on harmlessly, providing the chords necessary to compliment the relentless energy of the rhythm section, all of which is uplifted by some excellent vocal work. It’s alternative pop done rather well: simple, uncomplicated, catchy and above all a lot of fun. It seems harmless enough. If only that were the case. The first track is a great opener, introducing the audience to some great hooks, but once you move onto track two, obstacles appear that limit your enjoyment. Chief of which is the lyrics.
I’m a sucker for a great melody and if there’s one thing that pop music has going for it, and for the most part there is only one thing going for it, it’s that when it’s done well it has some great melody. Some pop songs, no matter how much you try and hate them, crawl into your head and refuse to die. That’s where their power lies. Where it fails is that it’s mundane: the artists have no care for what they’re singing about (because they didn’t write it for the most part) and despite the fact that they hold very large audiences in the palms of their hands, they don’t use their status to stimulate thought or get people to question intelligent subject matters. It’s for this reason that I get incensed by alternative acts such as this going down the same path.
The essence of the problem can be summarised using the pre-chorus to ‘If You Can’t Hang’, which has such a brilliant melody that it demands you sing along as loudly as possible. The problem is that if you do, you’ll be singing these words: “you’re such a pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty face but you turned into a pretty big waste of my time.” The genius of a great chorus is that you find yourself singing it at random intervals throughout the day, but whenever this tune gets in my head I stop and think “no, I’m not singing that, it’s ridiculous.” I know that the importance of lyrics in music is subject to personal preference, but for me the lyrics hold this album back and prevent it being a really good pop album. What is the point of a great, catchy hook if the words are so ridiculous and mundane that you wouldn’t want to sing along? The result is that you’ll only listen to this album when you’re on your own, because it’s embarrassing. I don’t want to be embarrassed by music that I like, I want to be able to recommend it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately I can’t do that with ‘Let’s Cheers to This’ because if I do, my referred friends will listen to the lyrics and assume I’ve turned into a 10 year old girl.
It’s not just what is being said that bothers me, it’s what it signifies that’s annoying. Lyrics of this nature are lazy and infantile and they automatically narrow your audience to kids. That’s fine if you’re a high-school band, but these guys are in their mid-twenties and they could be doing much more with their obvious talent for song-writing than pandering to children. ‘Let’s Cheers to This’ could, and should, be a great summer pop anthem and it definitely has its moments of brilliance, but there are so many cringe-worthy moments that if you’re over 16, you’d be better off not telling anybody that you like it.
I read an article on the BBC website which lists out the top 50 ‘Americanisms’ that annoy British English speakers. Among the responses were some rather predictable instances of ‘business speak’ that have overflowed into everyday speech, along with American equivalents of words that we know and love here in the UK. None of this is really new to see, but what caught my eye was this quote, written below the article from an American lady:
“The idea that there once existed a “pure” form of English is simply untrue. The English spoken in the UK today has been influenced by a number of languages, including Dutch, French and German. Speakers from the time of William the Conqueror would not recognise what we speak in Britain as English. This is because language variation shifts are constantly changing.”
This is of course true and a very appropriate point to raise. The question for me then became: “what separates evolution of language from merely changing it to suit a preference?” I don’t see anything wrong with ‘business speak’ bleeding into our everyday lexicon - I might dislike several phrases (and believe me, I vehemently do) but this is a stylistic choice to either use or not use, so there’s no real harm in it. Besides, new clichés such as “reach out” or “touch base” just give us something to whinge about, or at the least, ammunition for mocking those that use them.
The same is true for situations where new words have been created in American English for nouns that already existed. Examples such as ‘pacifier’ instead of ‘dummy’, ‘sidewalk’ instead of ‘pavement’ and ‘asphalt’ instead of our commonly used ‘tarmac’. All of these circumstances occur because the cultures in which language speakers live, dictate the way in which words are derived. British English speakers use ‘dummy’ because over time, we have created this term within our own culture and it’s not difficult to see how an entirely different culture may not understand the historical evolution of a term, therefore choose a more logically direct word instead. For this reason, I don’t have a problem with these words either - though I would always prefer to use the British equivalents because it’s within my cultural heritage.
What I’m more interested in is the syntax of language and how Americans choose to alter this, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. New words, phrases, clichés, etc. are all stylistic choices and are dictated by the culture that we live in, but English as a language contains various rules that have evolved over time to help the receiver of spoken or written English to fully understand what us, the speaker/writer is trying to convey.
Case 1 - The ‘u’
Americans prefer to not use ‘u’ in various words. Here are some examples: color/colour, labor/labour, honor/honour. For me, this is an evolution of language that I refer to as ‘trimming’ - cutting out seemingly meaningless vowels without changing the way in which word are pronounced. I would hazard a guess that the British preference of ‘colour’ contains an aesthetic legacy to it, since the word looks nicer with a ‘u’ than without. Americans, who I believe on the whole to be more concerned with practicality than aesthetics, drop the unnecessary vowel to be more concise. On this point, I think the Americans have a fair case for evolution, because it’s trimming down needless letters in words, and over time we may adopt this into British English if we ever get over the need for our words to look pretty on the page. Personally I have a soft spot for pretty words, so I would always prefer to keep the ‘u’!
Case 2 - Double ‘l’ versus single ‘l’
Here’s where I start to take issue. The word I’ll use to demonstrate this point is ‘cancelled’. The double ‘l’ in cancelled is there to shorten the vowel sound of the first ‘e’, so that we pronounce the word as it is intended. In American English, the word is spelt ‘canceled’, which removes the shortening of the ‘e’ so that the word now reads as ‘canceeled’. This is an instance where removing a letter DOES materially change the pronunciation of a word, meaning that the spoken form is not aligned with its written form. I don’t understand how these alternative instances occur, since they go against very clear and obvious rules of language to give a spelling convention that is just plainly incorrect.
Case 3 - Replacing ‘s’ with ‘z’
It is common in American English to replace certain occurrences of ‘s’ with ‘z’ such as in ‘organization’ (typing that was painful!). This is an example of changing the spelling of words without any meaningful result. In most circumstances, the ‘s’ and ‘z’ sound is the same, so what is the rationale for changing it? Now, I don’t profess to be an etymologist so there may well be a valid reason for why this phenomenon exists, but I can’t understand it. Please correct me if you know!
These are just 3 cases of non-convergence between English and American English usage, but they give you a flavour of the type of aspects that I’m interested in. Those who know me wouldn’t be surprised if I said that I could continue writing about this topic for days, but since I’m conscious that reader attention may be waning at this point, I’ll draw my conclusions.
Most British people who poke fun at the way that Americans ‘bastardise’ our sacred language, do so from a perspective of ignorance and cultural arrogance. The response by the American lady, beneath the quote on the BBC article, is absolutely right in that language is constantly evolving, and our own form of English in the UK has been concatenated as a result of many colonial invasions, influences and cultures. It excites me to see new verbs and usages appearing in the modern world as a result of technological advances (e.g. ‘texting’ and ‘blogging’ as new verbs), and in some respects Americanisation brings fresh logic and invites us trim down unnecessary features in our language that have stuck with us through time as historical artefacts. Whilst I would argue that preserving these legacy items helps preserve our culture, I don’t begrudge a relatively new culture, such as America, introducing their own terms to replace historical words that have no relevance to them as a nation.
What I do take issue with though, is the many instances where written English is changed in a way that suits an American ‘style’ but actually changes the meaning or pronunciation of words to give a result that is inconsistent with the effect that the change was trying to achieve. Here are some examples:
“I could care less” (this is actually completely opposite to the phrase’s meaning)
“Stoked on” (you can be stoked, and even stoked by something, but stoked on?)
“He did good” (using an adjective to quality a verb is incorrect usage. Well is the adverb form of good, which is what should be used in this instance).
The rise of social media has allowed individuals to stay in touch with more people than has ever been possible. Facebook gives us the opportunity to converse with (and often benchmark ourselves against) those who we went to school with, Twitter seems to forge a stronger bond between celebrities and the general public and the likes of Tumblr, Wordpress and Blogspot allows creative individuals a plethora of opportunities to share their art. Accessing all of this information during one’s personal internet time can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but the problem is that suddenly personal internet time is becoming the majority of peoples’ time. And what is the catalyst of this problem? The bloody iPhone.
On several occasions over the past couple of months I’ve been deep in conversation with an iPhone owner (or enthusiasts of any smart phone to be fair), when suddenly my flow has been rudely interrupted by the sound of a vibration and the consequent brandishing of a small life support machine that my fellow conversationalist has had to seemingly plug themselves into for fear of missing the next iteration of their respiratory cycle. It isn’t just in normal conversation either. There have been times that I’ve been out to dinner with people and my fellow diners have had their heads buried in their phones, clearly more interested in what their former school friends, to whom they still haven’t spoken to for years, had for dinner, rather than enjoying the prospect of selecting their own with their supposed friends.
I find the irony to be astounding. Here is a device that enables us more contact with our friends, from past and present walks of lives, through electronic means, yet some users of said device choose to ignore physical, real-time conversations with their friends in present company in order to do so. I would hardly find it acceptable to be invited round to a friend’s house for dinner and spend the majority of the evening hanging over the garden fence talking to the neighbours about current affairs, rather than spending the time with my friend. If my friend wanted the neighbours to be include in the evening, they would have invited them.
With that in mind, I would kindly ask that when you are in my presence, you refrain from satisfying the urge to dig in to your pocket and slide your finger longingly over your beautiful glass screen and instead converse with me - the person stood right next to you trying to engage in friendly conversation. Otherwise I’m likely to declare you an addict and suggest you wear a black, semi-circular slip of cloth attached to a string, draped over one of you ocular organs (see what I’ve done there?)
To satisfy my science fiction orientated imagination, I may now hypothesise over a short story where the human race inevitably ends up mute (but with extremely nimble fingers) because in a future where everybody owns a smart phone, we’ve all forgotten how to bloody well talk to each other.
1) I completed a review for Sky vs Sea this week and it's not a bad little EP. If you like Of Machines or The Receiving End of Sirens this might be up your street. The link for the review should be up later today.
2) I've been reminiscing a little this week with As Cities Burn, more specifically the second album 'Come Now Sleep'. Beautiful, heartfelt music that helped me concentrate a lot at work this week. If you want convincing, I'd go for album opener 'Contact'.
3) The second memory lane mention this week is Kaddisfly. 'Set Sail the Prairie' remains one of my favourite albums and if you haven't heard of this band before, now's the time to put that right. Check out 'Empire' from the aforementioned album.
2) GlassJaw have made their 'Our Colour Green' EP, which features 5 random singles they released at various intervals on vinyl in 2010, available to buy through Amazon MP3. I'll have a review up for that one at some point soon.
3) Aaron Gillespie, former drummer/vocalist of Underoath, will be releasing this song as his first single from the new 'faith' album that he's working on. Whatever floats your boat these days kiddo...
4) Funeral for a Friend will soon be releasing a live DVD of them performing the 'Casually Dressed...' album in its entirety. Here's a trailer.
Here begins a new weekly submission - my recommendations for the week, interesting bits of news and anything else that takes my fancy.
1) I just can't get enough of Proceed at the moment. Their EP 'Curious Electric' was incredible (see my review here) and seeing them live recently has only solidified my love for the band. There will be a full length album out this year and for me it can't come soon enough.
Here are a couple of videos of the band and there are tracks available to listen to on their website:
3) The more I listen to Underoath's Ø (Disambiguation), the better it gets. I'll have a review posted for that one in a couple of weeks.
1) Jonny Craig is apparently going to have a new solo album out this year as well as working on new Emarosa material and Downtown Battle Mountain 2 with Dance Gavin Dance.
2) Here's a new We are the Ocean song 'What it Feels Like. Judge for yourself, but I'm rather unimpressed.
3) Very interesting interview with Letlive here. There's a good discussion about the lyrical content on the album, which I found particularly interesting.
On the subject of Letlive, here's an acoustic performance of Homeless Jazz.
I'll be reviewing the following this week:
1) Goodbye Good Sense - Teaser EP
2) Sky vs Sea - Earthshaper
1) Dominating my car stereo for a second week has been Underoath's new album Ø (Disambiguation). Having absorbed the new darker sound, I'm really enjoying this album as once again it shows another side to Underoath's ever evolving sound. They are a band that keep on delivering.
Isles & Glaciers - The Hearts of Lonely People
Record Label: Equal Vision
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Recently, I had an interesting job offer that involved going overseas. It was an exciting prospect and so I flew over for a visit prior to making my decision. Every ingredient was right: a lovely country, an excellent salary offer, interesting work and a hassle free move. Except, when I arrived at the place, all of these seemingly perfect elements just didn't combine to create the dream move that I was hoping for.
Isles & Glaciers is an 'all-star' band made up of the genre's leading players, making this EP a mouth watering prospect. You could say that if post hardcore was a sport, Isles & Glaciers would be this year's national team.
Musically, the band is overflowing with talent, with drumming duty provided by Mike Fuentes (Pierce the Veil), bass by Matt Goddard (Chiodos), guitars by Nick Martin (Underminded) and Brian Southall (The Receiving End of Sirens), plus a good helping of sampling also provided by Brian.
There is no abating vocally either; Isles & Glaciers features three of the most distinctive vocalists in the genre: Jonny Craig (Emarosa), Vic Fuentes (Pierce the Veil) and Craig Owens (formerly of Chiodos).
All of these elements combined seemed, on paper, to be something I would instantly fall in love with. However, as with my trip, once I paid the EP a visit, I was left under whelmed and disappointed by the time it reached the end.
The EP moves along at a swift rate, with basic guitar parts accentuated by fast-paced drumming, tinged with electronic effects. The vocal duties are distributed evenly between the three singers who each take it in turn to perform a couple of lines before turning the spotlight over to another, until their next line comes up.
Thus we arrive at my main gripe. Putting aside my personal distaste for Craig Owens' vocals, I find it mystifying that three such highly regarded singers partake in a 'vocal relay' throughout the EP, continually passing the baton to the next person, without ever attempting to create harmonies with each other instead.
It's not until stand-out track 'Viola Lion' that an attempt is made to introduce some harmony, however it actually falls to guitarist Nick Martin to provide the beautiful backing-vocal harmony toward the climax of the song, that the previous five tracks had been screaming out for.
In the past, bands such as The Receiving End of Sirens, Alexisonfire and Conditions have given us excellent examples of how three diverse vocals can harmonise together to create superb melody and whilst I was fully expecting this EP to be another glowing example, it is tragically lacking any such accolade.
Instead, it feels as though the vocalists wrote and performed their sections in complete isolation from each other, and whilst that may have been practical for the performers, it is a tragic waste of ability and opportunity for the listeners.
What compounds the problem is that the band have clearly identified the vocalists to be the key selling point of this record, so when the vocals fail to inspire, there is very little in terms of musical quality to rescue things. The music is simply a back-drop to allow the headline names to show what they can do. We are left with overly used electronic effects (which at times makes the acoustic drumming inaudible), unmemorable guitar parts and very little attempt at creating interesting songs.
The most frustrating part of all is that 'Viola Lion' is a fantastic track and demonstrates just how good this EP could have been if the band had collectively contributed to creating something with depth and coherence. As it is though, the musicians of the band have been relegated to the background in the hope that a few big name singers can carry off a series of songs without really needing to think too hard about the composition.
I firmly believe that if this EP had been put forth by a band of unknowns, with an un-heard of vocalist, then this EP would be quickly discarded as a disposable release because without a few brand names to give the band an image, there simply isn't enough quality in the songs to make it anything else.
In the end, I declined the job opportunity. Although there were many carrots dangled in front of me, they were never going to amount to a meal. There were a number of individual incentives that were persuasive but in the end, it was the very foundation of the deal that proved to be the downfall: I didn't like the city itself. The city failed to win my heart because there lacked a personal spark that would have sealed the deal and convinced me to move.
'The Hearts of Lonely People' has been constructed by a group of extremely talented and capable individuals, but the foundation upon which every successful record is built is the quality of the songs and sadly, this EP falls short.
Synergies do not arise by throwing together multiple individually attractive elements and hoping that something magical happens. My recent personal adventure, and this EP, are clear examples of this.
Recommended If You Like: Chiodos, Emarosa, The Receiving End of Sirens, Underminded, Pierce the Veil
The past year has been tumultuous for The Bled. They were on the brink of calling it a day due to the economic recession putting an ever increasing strain on the financial stability of the band. As a result, all but two members from the unit that brought us ‘Silent Treatment’ in 2007 remained.
Fortunately, the two remaining members were guitarist and chief songwriter Jeremy, and iconic frontman/vocalist James.
As such, The Bled have not lost their signature sound and with the inclusion of a whole new line-up, I’d argue that Heat Fetish brings a whole new level of energy and urgency to the band that has not been heard since the debut ‘Pass the Flask’.
One of my main concerns was how the band would deal with the departure of drummer Mike Pedicone, whose skills behind the kit throughout The Bled’s discography have been superb. That fear diminished right after the opening track.
I’m not sure where they find these drummers, but new sticksman Josh Skibar not only comfortably fills Pedicone’s shoes but also brings his own frantic style to proceedings, which helps make this album an extremely impressive achievement.
Musically, Heat Fetish delivers the staple sound that we’ve come to know and love with The Bled: heavy, downtuned and aggressive songs with screamed vocals, breakdowns and spasmodic rhythms that traverse through various timings.
If you turn your nose up at any of the above, then go no further with this band as it isn’t for you. If however, that sounds like your cup of tea, then trust me you will want to put the kettle on and make yourself a huge pot of it.
As ever, I find myself yet again in awe of James Munoz. There are very few vocalists in this genre that can hold a candle to him and each time I feel that he can’t progress any further with his voice, I’m proven wrong once more. One of my biggest gripes with the hardcore genre is the inability of screamed vocalists to emit any range from their vocals. Most screamers have a guttural shout, or a higher pitched yell, that they stick to throughout their songs, making every song sound repetitive and all too familiar.
James has an uncanny ability to surprise you with his vocals, moving from low to high, to shout to clean in any given song. This is what makes The Bled’s music a treat to listen to from one album to the next: you just never know what to expect.
The band tried to mix up their heavy elements with a more melodic edge on sophomore album ‘Found in the Flood’ but with very mixed results. Scattered throughout this album are fine examples of how the band have developed this side of their music without compromising on the quality. ‘Meet Me in the Bone Orchard’ is a prime example, where they have successfully integrated face-tearing aggression with haunting melody that helps to make Heat Fetish stand-alone as a complete package.
I’ve grown to appreciate every album The Bled have put out, but I’ve not always felt like they’ve achieved a faultless album since the release of their debut ‘Pass the Flask’. Something has always stood in the way; be it the production, or the missed attempts at being creative. The last couple of albums have been good, but too precise.
Heat Fetish though, is a new lease of life. There is a new line-up, new enthusiasm, new energy and a whole new set of songs I can’t help but get excited about. This is the new Bled and it sounds incredible.
Artist: Pacifica Title: The Art of Illumination Rating: 73% Click to listen
This four track EP is good introduction to a promising band that have a lot of potential and based on this record I can see them creating a very strong full length album.
Pacifica are a talented unit; playing fast paced, catchy post-hardcore with ambient lead guitars and plenty of rhythm changes to keep things refreshing. Interestingly the two bands that come to mind when I think of comparisons are Circa Survive (musically) and Translating the Name era Saosin (dynamically), both of which feature Anthony Green. Whilst the vocal styles of Pacifica and the aforementioned Mr Green are not really alike, fans of Anthony Green's work would no doubt find something to enjoy here.
Each song is energetic and hook-laden, which helps to give this short EP a longer-lasting feel. The strength of the vocals give the songs a good deal of mileage, as the tone of the vocals and quality of the melodies are equally impressive.
Another positive that helps to keep this EP sounding interesting is the production. Much like Saosin's debut EP, the production is raw and unobtrusive, allowing the band to lay down their songs with an almost live feel without encroaching on that youthful energy that would have been lost with bigger production. I hope that as the band progress (and hopefully become signed) they don't lose that edge to their sound.
My only negative with this EP is that the pace and feel of the four tracks is pretty consistent, which fails to show other aspects of the band's sound. It's understandably difficult to be dynamic with so few songs on show, but it does bring into question whether the band has another side to their music or whether a full length album would be more of the same, for longer.
The last point remains to be seen, but I'll look forward to getting a copy and judging for myself when it happens.