Nico Vega - chooseyourwordspoorly
Record Label: None
Release Date: April 3, 2006
Anyone who awaited the 2013 release of the stellar video game BioShock Infinite is probably already familiar with Nico Vega. The people in charge of the game's marketing wisely chose to use the band’s song “Beast” in their ads (watchthem). There’s a tribal energy to the song that could entice even mild mannered folks to pound their fists in response to the sharp guitar licks and pounding drums. And for those who immediately think of pop darlings like Taylor Swift when imaging female vocalists, well, lead singer Aja Volkman would like to kindly kick you in the teeth. She growls, she shouts, and she demands that you “love your neighbor, love your fucking neighbor, and let your neighbor love you.”
“Beast” is the best sound you’ll hear on Nico Vega’s first independent release chooseyourwordspoorly, but the other three songs certainly earn their keep. Fans of Karen O will appreciate Volkman’s more restrained side on “Rabbit in the Bag,” and “Let You Go” drips with a sad earnestness that crawls under the skin. Volkman hesitantly asks, “So do you see the way that I see you or do you just see me?” but rather than wallow in her quiet vulnerability for too long she uses the chorus to holler, “I wanna let you go, I need to let you go, I’ve got to let you go.”
Give Nico Vega the twelve minutes it takes to listen to chooseyourwordspoorly and they’ll win you over. The rock sound is fairly straightforward, but there’s not enough time for it to get stale, especially with “Beast” as the closer. Bonus Hollywood trivia: Mexican-American actor Michael Peña (End of Watch, Fury) is the drummer on this EP. ¡Muy talentoso!
Moonshine Matinee - Two Nineteen
Record Label: None (free download)
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Gather ‘round the campfire, children, because John Rowland is back with some new tunes, and he’d like you to take a listen. You might know Rowland as the frontman of the folk band Dorsey; if you don’t, you’d best get acquainted with them if you want to be my friend. But this is not a Dorsey release we’re talking about here. It’s an EP courtesy of Rowland’s new act, Moonshine Matinee. Nifty name, I know. So, how does this EP, Two Nineteen, stack up? Unsurprisingly, these six songs are certainly worth a listen.
Things start off familiar enough with “The Mysterious Disappearance (Jesse James),” a full band folk song with a nice outlaw analogy: “But if you’re going to rob trains than you rob ‘em like Jesse James. / ‘Cause thieves with grace are men with nothing to shame.” Next up is “Wrong Most of the Time,” and it signals a change by solidifying the piano’s place on the EP. Unlike Rowland’s previous work, these songs are led by piano keys, not acoustic strumming. The piano’s prominence, combined with other artistic choices, create an old-time feeling that your grandparents could appreciate. But if you’re looking for an excuse to boogie, the pace picks up considerably with “Dr. I’m Alright,” a jazzy number inspired by New Orleans flavor. It gives the EP a well-timed kick in the pants, but a production misstep makes the horns sound somewhat grating to the ear, something dancers won’t appreciate.
Closing out Two Nineteen are the bluesy “Mississippi Angel,” which features fantastic, deep toned guitar, and “Annie Come Back Home.” The light touch of a fiddle and soothing female backing vocals (“bah bah oooh”) make “Annie Come Back Home” sound like something you’d hear coming over AM radio waves during Depression-era America.
My fear is that you may be spooked away by some phrases used in this writing, namely “old-time feeling” and “Depression-era America.” Don’t go running away, just square this with yourself: this isn’t trendy new music. It was made by those with a fondness for music history, and it’s refreshing to hear a band trying on the hats of musicians from different genres, regions, and timeframes to create something new. This is Americana, this is country, this is the blues: “There’s no silver screen, and this ain’t Hollywood.”
Ted Eliason - The Tentcoat
Record Label: None (free download)
Release Date: November 18, 2008
Ted Eliason is one wacky fellow. He's known to associate with a "Psychedelic Party Band", and his latest album The Tentcoat contains off-the-wall pop songs as zany as a laughing monkey bubble gun.
How is it?
Have you ever ruminated on the various ways you could eat a banana? Or pondered the healing effects of candy pills? Ted Eliason has, and he decided to write songs dedicated to such whimsical subjects. These are the types of experimental pop songs you'll find under the canopy of Eliason's traveling carnival. The lyrics found on The Tentcoat are often absurd, sometimes magical, and downright funny. Take for example the domestic narrator of "Good Morning (Get Out of the House!)" who proclaims, "Revolution with a frying pan / Pots and forks and spoons to make a stand / Bang the secret sound to let them know you're in." Musical instruments, backing vocals, and background noise are also used to add to the overall eccentric effect. It's not always easy to pin down the source of each individual noise, but the various sounds somehow coexist in a harmonious relationship. In an ironic turn, it's Eliason himself who acts as the stable constant of The Tentcoat. His vocals are sometimes overlaid with effects, but they remains pleasant and welcoming throughout. It's a good thing too, because if the songs were any weirder, the good times may have been too cuckoo to enjoy. As it stands, The Tentcoat is an album made to make listeners smile, even if it's with an accompanying quizzical expression.
To be sure the main purpose of the album is to provide an offbeat kind of musical entertainment, but do I sense a deeper message to "Candy Pills"? Could it be a response to America's medication obsessed healthcare system? Is "Evil Man" a fiction denouncing men like Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis who use their power to gain sexual profit from impressionable young females? Mr. Eliason, your Tentcoat is full of surprises.
The Scenic - Find Yourself Here
Record Label: Victory Records
Release Date: July 22, 2008
The Scenic got it wrong with the album cover to Find Yourself Here. The mountainous landscape just doesn’t fit. Listening to this album conjures up images up sand, sun, and… death? Yep, it’s all right here in the music. An album cover closer to Everything in Transit by Jack's Mannequin would have been better, though with less city and more sea. Maybe a sea monster could have even been tossed in to represent strife, or just to look cool.
Visual digressions aside, most of you probably already know The Scenic as a pop punk band recently signed to Victory Records. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that ex-Rory singer Jeremy Menard has stepped in as the band’s singer, bringing with him experience and a familiar energy. As is the case with most pop punk, this album doesn’t break much, if any, new ground. But if pop punk is your forte, Find Yourself Here is better than just another notch on the genre bedpost.
“The American Way” (great song title, huh?) is the breakout single of this album. The music is catchy, there are background vocals galore, and teenage boys and girls alike will be tickled by the not-so-subtle sexuality in the lyrics. “The American Way” is also the best opportunity to sing along with Menard as he enthusiastically belts out, “And I knoooooow that you already know. / Moving soooooo fast, that you’re bound to lose control.” It’s a pretty irresistible hook. Still, listening to this track is somewhat bittersweet. As a general rule I’m not a fan of production that polishes music to a glossy shine, and that usually comes with the territory of pop punk. So, I prefer the raw snippets of “The American Way” in the studio videos the band produced during recording sessions as opposed to the flawless album version. I’m sure this observation won’t deter most listeners, but there you are.
The seaside imagery I mentioned before is most prominent in “Bon Voyage Mr. Bones,” which actually implements the lovely voices of seagulls (don’t worry, they’re not overbearing) as part of the effect. Oh, and remember that odd mention of death in the introduction? Take a look at the chorus to “Mr. Bones”: “Oh no (oh no!). / Oh well (oh well!). / We’re on our way to hell.” Lyrics like this aren’t as grim as, say, Saves the Day’s “As Your Ghost Takes Flight,” but they provide a nice contrast between pop and pain. Another notable track is “Direction,” which is acceptable in its slow pace due to its fine storytelling. The lyrics are reminiscent of Ace Enders’ method of conjuring memories of people he’s met (whether based in reality or fantasy, I’m not sure) to put forth a message. “Direction” is more pessimistic than Mr. Enders has sounded as of late, but it is alluring: “Breezy Sunday afternoon, / I was strolling along the sidewalk strips down on 7th Avenue. / A stranger asked me for direction. / I said, ‘I don’t have a clue. / I swear I’m just as lost as you.’”
As I said, fans of pop punk will be in comfortable territory here. If you’ve become jaded with the genre (and who could blame you?), Find Yourself Here may not be for you. This is more good (not particularly special or “outstanding”) pop punk, take it or leave it. If you’re looking for a compliment to a sunny walk on the sand, you’ve found it.
Every member of AbsolutePunk.net is welcome to submit album/EP reviews to the site. New releases should be given priority, but reviewing older albums, including those that have been reviewed by other members (including staff), is also encouraged. Be prepared if you take on the role of reviewing highly influential and/or popular albums - only the best submissions will be accepted. Below you will find explanations of what goes into writing a user review as well as some tips to prevent common mistakes.
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First, head to the Reviews section of the website. Near the top of the page you will find the Write a Review link. From there it's a simple matter of filling in a template, an explanation of which is found below.
Write titles in the following format: Band Name - Release Title. Be sure to move the common word "the" to the end of a band's name to keep the review database easier to search through. So if you are writing a review of the album Fists Buried in Pockets by The Riot Before, the title of the review should look like so: "Riot Before, The - Fists Buried in Pockets."
This is the space in which to write your review. Before writing though, be sure to include release information at the top of the page. The release information that should be included is the band name, release title, record label, and release date. It should look like so:
The Riot Before - Fists Buried in Pockets
Record Label: Say-10
Release Date: September 9, 2008
As you can see, the band's name is in bold, the release title is italicized, and the record label and release date information are both colored gray. It's understandable that some release dates can be difficult to acquire, especially for unsigned bands, but try to at least include the month and year a release became available. Release information is expected in every review submitted, so do not forget to include it.
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Here is a review that properly contains both album information at the top and a Recommended If You Like section and myspace link at the bottom.
There's another section of the FAQ in which review ratings are discussed (What do the ratings mean?), but here's a short explanation of Reviewer Tilt, since it can be confusing. A Reviewer Tilt rating conveys how much a reviewer enjoys a release, all technical ratings aside. So even if an album isn't very creative or fresh, and thus given a Creativity rating of 60%, a reviewer may still find said album highly entertaining and issue a Reviewer Tilt of 80%. Also, if you are reviewing a release that does not feature spoken words, leave the Vocals and Lyrics ratings as "N/A."
Don't forget to upload high quality 150x150 cover art with your reviews. Art for a signed band's release can usually be found on amazon.com; for art from a smaller band search through their official website, myspace page, and record label website.
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How do I make that nifty "Recommended If You Like" box?
[fs=Recommended If You Like]genre; Band Name; Band Name - [i]Album Title[/i]; setting/mood[/fs]
What should my review look like? Is there a special format to follow when writing a review?
There is no prescribed format to follow, and you're only limited by your own creativity, so feel free to write using your own style. But if you need help getting started, often writers use the first paragraph to give a bit of history on the band and release, taking note of the transition from the band's previous release (unless, of course, it's a freshman release being reviewed). The body is usually reserved for track descriptions and the overall impact of the release. "Track descriptions" does not mean you must abide by a strict track-by-track description - such a review can get tiring quickly. Instead, narrow your focus on select tracks and use them as examples; if you decide to discuss lyrics, be sure to wrap them in quotation marks and let the reader know which song you pulled them from. Also, don't neglect to include in your review some kind of conclusion, in which you sum up your thoughts on the release or provide some new insight.
As examples of the different paths you can take when writing, here are some reviews of varying styles:
Between 350 and 750 words is a reasonable length. Lengthier reviews should be reserved for highly influential and/or popular albums (example 1, example 2).
What's a "once-over" review? What do they look like?
Once-overs can be simply described as mini-reviews. They are brief and usually reserved for EPs, especially from unsigned bands. Once-overs have a specific format and are broken up into two sections: "Who?" and "How is it?" Who? provides a bit of background information on the artist in a few sentences, and How is it gives an overview of the music.
In addition to writing standard reviews, submitting once-overs is also acceptable.
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Not at all. Though bands that fall under the gray area of punk will receive more attention on this website, reviewing anything from country to hip-hop is fine.
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The following conventions should be upheld when writing a review. Refer to this section to find the most common mistakes made by user reviewers. If your review was not approved, most likely it broke more than one of these.
Do not forget to attach album art that is exactly 150x150.
Always include release information at the top of the page and a Recommended If You Like section and myspace link at the bottom.
Do not adjust the font, size, or color of your writing. The only exception is the gray color of record label and release date information. If your review looks like this when submitted (notice the excessive font, size, and color adjustments), it will not be approved. Often contributors will write their reviews in Word, then copy and paste to AbsolutePunk.net, bringing along unnecessary formatting. Here's a possible solution if you're having this problem: first copy and paste your review to Notepad. Then copy and paste from Notepad onto AbsolutePunk.net, which will remove all formatting (italics, font, and so forth) in the body of the review. This is what your review should look like when you're submitting.
Italicize album titles, and place quotation marks around song titles.
Consider band names plural nouns. So if you are writing about Brand New, make sure to use "are" rather than "is": "Brand New are from Merrick, New York."
Introduce artists by their first names and last names ("Jesse Lacey is the lead singer of Brand New"), and afterwards refer to them by their last names ("Lacey's lyrics on this song are strongly influenced by The Smiths").
Keep the music in the present tense, not the past - "This song is great," not "This song was great").
Reviews are your take on a release, so you can usually leave out phrases like "I think" and "In my opinion." More importantly, avoid telling the audience what they think and feel. Avoid phrases such as "This is when your blood starts pumping" and "You're loving this song." You can keep the same sentiment by simply adjusting your phrasing: "This part of the song gets the blood pumping" and "I love this song."
Reviews that look like sloppy text messages ("this album is thebest, its so good, i like it.") will not be approved. Proofread your work carefully for grammatical errors, and always run a spell check program before submitting a review.
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If your review was returned to you in a PM, it was not approved. More than likely, you ignored or accidentally overlooked one or more of the conventions listed above. Did you remember to place release information at the top of the page? Did you italicize album titles and place quotation marks around song titles? Did you proofread your work to check for grammatical errors? Run through the conventions while looking over your review to see where you went wrong. After reworking and improving your review, resubmit it to the review queue. Sometimes a submitted review will go through more than one edit/return, so try not to be discouraged if it takes some time and work to improve your writing. If you are unsure why your review doesn't meet our standards, contact the editor.
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Which staff member do I contact in regards to user reviews?
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Manchester Orchestra - I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child
Record Label: Canvas Back / Favorite Gentlemen
Release Date: October 14, 2006, July 24, 2007 (re-release)
The death of a father. Our inescapable mortality. The realization that even the darkest times in life can be followed by hope. Manchester Orchestra’s debut album I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child does not stray from weighted issues on singer/guitarist/songwriter Andy Hull’s chest. This album was first released in late 2006, but was re-released on July of 2007, which is when I received a copy and heard the band for the first time. I requested I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, because I recalled Jared Kaufman having an affinity for the band, and I trusted his judgment. It’s been months since first spinning this album, and as I’ve moved my attention (“affection” may be a better word) from first song to last, I’m in with Manchester Orchestra for the long haul.
In searching for a way to describe I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, I keep coming back to the word “heavy.” I do not mean heavy in the gravitational sense (I wouldn’t want to confuse Doc Brown), but as a fullness that’s anything but shallow. In writing songs Hull crafts characters and connects them to emotions - not the kind of theatrical fluff littering mainstream Hollywood, but the sort found in a beloved and dog-eared paperback of short stories. The album is craftily introduced by one of the more upbeat and quickly accessible songs in Manchester Orchestra’s collection, “Wolves at Night.” Keyboardist Chris Freeman sets a pop/synth rock tone for the band initially, and it is an enjoyable sound, but it’s soon discovered that both highs and lows encompass Manchester Orchestra’s full sound. “I Can Feel Your Pain” slows the pace down and finds Hull alone with a guitar, continuing the theme of Christianity found throughout the album: “I compared your Jesus to a thief / And he took my bones and he turned them into bread.”
There is beauty found in these songs for anyone seeking it. I was taken in by “Wolves at Night” and “Now That You're Home,” the first two songs found on the album, but it was “Sleeper 1972” that brought everything to a standstill. A minimalist approach to instrumentation places emphasis on what matters most in the sorrow filled narration; that is, Hull’s hushed voice and storytelling ability. There is not a word wasted in his introduction:
When my dad died
The worms ate out both his eyes
His soul flew right up in the sky
I cried myself to sleep
Hull hangs the black cloud of a funeral home over a family’s home that should be filled with joy, one in which a mother longs for her own death and a sister finds herself alone as emotions are turned inward and only serve to suffocate. This is the heaviness I was referring to earlier. Perhaps the best aspect of I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child is its ability to include varying emotions as part of separate scenes, so each song is of its own importance, but when placed alongside each other they feel stronger in their togetherness. The most recent Manchester Orchestra song to be placed on repeat on my music players has been “Alice and Interiors,” the title of which shows the band’s fondness for filmmaker Woody Allen. A desperate message to a fleeting love, Hull finds himself shouting out for one last chance and questions his own visibility, since his phone calls remain unanswered despite his attempts. After an interlude to contemplate his codependence and the futility of his efforts, Hull changes his tune, turning his frustrations outward to the one who won’t listen. He finds himself revitalized because of it:
‘Cause the truth is that no one truly knows
What the hell it is you’re doing
When they ask, “Are you dead
Or are you just sleeping?”
Oh yeah, I’m the one that is happy
I don’t like your shitty songs
You were wrong
Yeah, you’re always wrong
Months ago Manchester Orchestra were picking up steam; they were often talked about, and people were excited about the prospect of a new and talented young band. Maybe those people expected immediate gratification in the form of a new album, and by this point they’ve moved their interests elsewhere. I hope for their sake that’s not the case, because this album and this band deserve the attention of a wide and appreciative audience. I would like new music from Manchester Orchestra, but there’s no need to rush the band - I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child could hold me over for years.
The New Amsterdams – At the Foot of My Rival
Record Label: Elmar / Curb Appeal
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Matthew Pryor is nothing short of a musical hero to me. He was essential in expanding my maturing tastes, which is something I’m grateful for. Thus it’s no surprise that when I had the opportunity to delve into At the Foot of My Rival, the latest album by Pryor’s Lawrence, Kansas based band The New Amsterdams, excitement ran high. Due to my personal history, forming an opinion on these fourteen tracks has been a task of great difficulty. The initial excitement has faded, and though it’s disheartening to admit this isn’t an album I see myself coming back to often, it would be a mistake to imply there aren’t any good songs on the album.
Once the drowned out introduction of “Revenge” is completed, “Wait” provides a wonderful reminder of just why Pryor’s voice is revered by his fans. He doesn’t carry as much of the gruff texture he kept close as a youth but maintains the smooth style he’s become accustomed to in recent years. A few tracks later is a standout titled “Long Lost Shot.” Besides having a slick title, it also features some nice use of the harmonica and the best lyrics of the album: “Only the fools rush in / But only the frightened wait / I’d rather be foolish than / Scared of my own mistakes.” It’s a message to live by and something to be taken to heart by the more timid. “Story like a Scar” is also a keeper and a nice piece of nostalgia. Poppy choruses filled with quick fingered keyboard tapping bring forth images of the undeniably agreeable James Dewees, former bandmate of Pryor. There’s also a stripped down side to At the Foot of My Rival. Even on songs like “Fortunate Fool,” where multiple instruments are used, there’s an intimacy involved due to the slow movement of the instruments and Pryor’s overlapped vocals. Closing the album is “The Blood on the Floor,” and as its title suggest, it’s a dark song. The instrumentation sets an almost spooky atmosphere, and the distorted, strained background vocals (listen closely as “How can I trust whatever you say / It isn’t helping us” is belted out) add another layer to Pryor’s prominent voice. Though it may not fit with the rest of the songs (it would fit nicely with The Get Up Kids’ “Is There a Way Out” in terms of mood), this is the kind of sound to be explored further.
While there are no inherently bad songs on the album, a few simply don’t feel necessary. “Fountain of Youth” falters both lyrically and vocally. There are few words used in the song, and what’s present isn’t overall impressive: “Come if you can, call if you must / Drink what you bring and share it with us.” On that note, Pryor’s high pitched “ooh’s” sound more like filler than a necessary addition to the music. Funny how the lesser facets of the album are related to alcohol – “Drink or Dead” is another weak point. “Lay on the Rails,” the song preceding “Drink of Dead,” would have been a great lead in to the final track on the record because of the tension built. Instead, “Drink or Dead” slows things down with an acoustic guitar and horns that feel somewhat out of place. The real problem with these songs is they draw attention away from the best the album has to offer; regulating the lesser songs to b-side territory would have worked given the considerable fourteen track total. On the subject of length, it would've helped if standout songs were elongated. “Long Lost Shot,” one of the best available, doesn’t even break the three minute mark. During what sounds like a harmonica interlude, the music cuts off and the sound of a creaking door opening and closing can be heard - the sound of The New Amsterdams rushing onto the next song. The lack of a satisfactory length is a detriment to forming a greater attachment to what could become a favorite song.
No matter how much praise is thrown toward an album, the true test of its worth is how often it’s replayed. Some albums become as close as old friends while others are scattered and lost throughout the years, forgotten. It’s a shame At the Foot of My Rival seems destined to fall into the latter category of my album collection.
Dorsey – The Long Goodbye
Record Label: None
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Dorsey are Arizona’s best kept secret. With their first release, The Long Goodbye, this band of young men barely out of their teens craft together elements of folk, rock, and pop with an expertise far beyond their ages would suggest. Though the labels may turn some listeners off, fans of The Format (who Dorsey fully embrace) should have no problems mixing genres and accepting vocalist John Rowland. He is instantly likeable on poppy tracks, especially “Fool for Believing”, and his talent is even more recognizable when he slows things down on “Strawberries and Peaches.” Guest contributor Jenn Horst also deserves credit for bolstering Rowland’s already impressive voice with her own background vocals on a select few tracks.
These songs have been thoroughly played out on my computer for weeks, and it would be easy to lapse into a detailed examination of what exactly makes each song special. For the sake of brevity, simply allow me to bring the focus to my latest love affair, the aforementioned “Strawberries and Peaches.” For such a lighthearted title, the song is so heavy. There’s a palpable denseness to the sound of it, starting with Rowland’s drawn out wailing and getting to the thick of it with guitarist Andy Othick’s toned down solo. This is one of the somber laments of the album, as it finds Rowland losing faith in his savior (‘The lord above will pick you up just to bring you down again’) and turning to anyone who can save him from his melancholy (‘Sweet devil take me home, I want to get back to my rose’).
Bands usually have a couple of albums under their belts before they attempt this amount of instrumental creativity. The trademark guitar, bass, and drums are all here, but they’re complimented by a diverse assortment of instruments, ranging from piano (used heartily) to organ. As “The Long Goodbye” slows to an interlude, saxophones and a clarinet sneak around the speakers before they take center stage and add a shot of life to the song. Horns are not something one would think of as a complete necessity, but it’s this kind of distinction and attention to detail that helps give each song on The Long Goodbye its own personality.
Now, imagery is not something I expect to come packaged with albums I listen to, but I’ll gladly accept it when it comes. A wonderful example of this grammatical tool is The Get Up Kid’s “Campfire Kansas”, a nostalgic journey with a sweeping paintbrush that creates a landscape of youth and innocence. Though Dorsey don’t particularly sound like the Kansas pioneers, the feeling of being in the hands of gifted storytellers is similar nonetheless. An upbeat track, “Heavens to Betsy”, recalls a memorable train ride, the perfect place to find new love and make a new path. And even with the lonely road wearing down on him, Rowland finds peace with strangers on “Follow Me.” It’s the perfect close to an album of more ups than downs, the story of camaraderie quickly established in the most unlikely places.
‘All these strangers have smiles on their faces / I’m not at home, but I don’t feel out of place / Anymore of this wandering is bound to set me back / I had better take a closer look at where I’m at.’
I write with the knowledge that not enough people will read this review, and The Long Goodbye will not receive the attention it deserves. Irrelevant; I stand fast in my resolve. Dorsey is something to write home about, and though they’re relative unknowns at the moment, their sound is set to spread across the landscape.
Northstar – Is This Thing Loaded?
Record Label: Triple Crown Records
Release Date: October 22, 2002
Every music fan knows of a defunct band that never received the success they rightfully deserved. These bands are close to our hearts, and though we wished them the greatest success, we feel honored to be the few who recognize their talent. Northstar was one of those bands.
It’s difficult to recall the details, but at some time before Is This Thing Loaded? was released, I happened upon a demo of “Broken Parachute.” The two things that struck me most about the song upon subsequent listens were the guitar work and the somewhat odd lyrics. At the time I would listen almost exclusively to pop punk, so it was quite a surprise to hear a band that knew what it meant to rock. It was also interesting to hear lyrics of an ambiguous nature describing the stomping of monsters, running from the heartless, befriending a bottle for its soothing contents, and a woeful narrator on the brink of giving up.
“Broken Parachute” was a fitting introduction to Northstar, but Is This Thing Loaded? offers so much more. For one thing, the album proves that guitarist/vocalist Nick Torres is a songwriter to be appreciated. “Rigged and Ready,” the first song of the album, provides an example of what Torres is capable of. His delivery is drawn out and smooth (‘I’m thinking she needs me / Well do you girl? / I guess we’ll see’), but amplifies with the music while avoiding unnecessary screaming. However, there are moments in every song in which Torres produces short bursts of scratchy singing when he reaches his breaking point. Such a moment can be found on “My Ricochet”, as he repeats ‘I guess it’s that bad’ to the crashing of drummer Gabe Renfroe’s cymbals. These moments exist in every song, usually set to climactic music, and they are always welcome. But even if his voice is commendable, what really makes Torres’ vocals shine are the lyrics he articulates.
As mentioned previously, the lyrics of Northstar go beyond simple writing and implement grammatical tools like metaphors, similes, and symbols, so technically they lean more toward poetry than prose. The result is writing that is deep and satisfying in its vagueness. And like so many poets that came before him, Torres has a female target in mind. On “My Ricochet,” he serenades with the best of them, creating a holy image of his intended lover: ‘Why do you float way up there? / In disguise in dirty air / Why don't you melt way down here / With heaven so far and hell so near.’ Though he can be smooth, Torres is not always gentle when speaking to the ear of a lover out of grasp. He has something to prove as he pursues his “Cinderella.” She’s shot down every one of his friends, and he is clearly frustrated in his attempts to win her. Still, he falls victim to her disinterest just as his friends before him, and Torres comes to realize the futility of words: ‘Well under razor wrists lie the gorgeous words that will put her under my skin / But I’m alone again.’
By this point the review probably sounds like a personal dedication to Nick Torres, but rest assured the whole band deserves credit for helping make Is This Thing Loaded? sound so damn good. Torres, Renfroe, guitarist Tyler Odem, and bassist Shawn Reagan add complexity to their instruments and provide an almost flawless foundation for Torres’ voice and words. The dual guitar combination of Odem and Torres is serene at times, but has a perfect crunching distortion to match the heightened action of choruses and outros. A fitting example of this can be found on “Taker Not a Giver,” one of the album’s best. Airy guitar sounds accompany Torres as he sings, ‘I’m falling together, alone in wonder… land,’ but as soon as the last word is uttered, the real show starts. Rhythm and lead are wonderfully hectic together as Renfroe inserts drum rolls to heighten the commotion. “Taker Not a Giver” has a great chorus in the traditional sense, but the instrumental work between the band is the real high point of the song. Reagan can be overshadowed by the guitarists at times, but he is anything but a backseat bassist. He controls the tone of verses, setting the mood well, especially on “My Ricochet,” while Torres ruminates on matters of heaven and hell. Renfroe accordingly paces the songs, though he does lash out at moments, leaving the band behind to speed things up and take control. Listen to the abuse he dishes out on the bass pedal at the final moments of “Cinderella” to see what I mean; it’s three seconds of bliss just when it seems all the surprises of the song have been revealed.
Torres’ final lyrics of the album are ‘I'm classic and late / Plastic and fake,’ then only the feedback is left. Is This Thing Loaded? is indeed a classic, though there’s nothing fake about it. This is the real deal. There’s no need to nitpick which exact genre the album falls under, so let’s not. Is This Thing Loaded? will appease anyone stuck merely reminiscing about depth in musicians and lyrical content. If you don’t own this album yet, what are you waiting for?
Park – It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going
Release Date: November 11, 2003
Record Label: Lobster Records
When a band includes a disclaimer in their lyrics booklet explaining that musical themes of suicide should not be acted upon by the listener, they must really mean business. I hear the phrase “summer album” thrown around often in connection to upbeat and poppy albums. In contrast, Park’s It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going is the kind of album needed for warmth through the coldest of winters. Though there is little to nothing that can be described as cheerful in vocalist/guitarist Ladd Mitchell’s lyrics, there’s something encouraging in screaming ‘Let’s give up / Let’s give in’ during times of personal strife.
Though his lyrics are one of the main draws to Park, Mitchell’s vocals are nothing extraordinary. There’s something humbling about this, though. It makes him an everyman, someone whose troubles are easy to relate to. With that being said, at certain moments on the album his voice does shine brighter than usual. There’s an unmistakable build up on the track “Pomona for Empusa,” and for a few moments before the chorus Mitchell conveys his current frustration excellently with the single lyric, ‘Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?’ This short pause is made even better with limited accompaniment by guitarist Justin Valenti, who dwindles towards lower notes on the fretboard as a representation of Mitchell’s sinking state.
Transitions between songs can sometimes be awkward and poorly executed. It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going manages to produce one transition that’s downright fantastic. At the close of “Pomona for Empusa” drummer Miles Logan jumps from the left speaker to the right (an effect that can only be fully appreciated while wearing headphones) before bleeding into “Conversations with Emily,” an immensely impressive song.
The transition is made better due to how different the two tracks are. “Pomona for Empusa” is loud and angry, while “Conversations with Emily” is soothing, and spectacular because of it. Emily is Mitchell’s confidant; he spills his heart to her over a love lost as she attempts to comfort him. Mitchell speaks the part of Emily as well, which surprisingly adds to the storytelling effect. He speaks softly his anguish, expressing his emotions slowly for poetic effect: ‘The only thing that can fill this gap / Is the one who doesn't want me back.’ Ever the supportive friend, and perhaps shunned love interest, Emily consoles Mitchell by acting as the voice of reason: ‘I wish you were here to hold me / And scream Damn it Ladd, I need you back / Emily rolls over in bed / And says, You don't want that.' Bassist Gabe Looker does a wonderful job setting the tone, and as with every song on the album, he presents creative bass work that isn’t boring. “Conversations with Emily” is part open letter, part short story, and a song that everyone must listen to.
Hell hath no fury like Ladd Mitchell scorned, as evident on every track from It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going. Ever the conflicted lover, Mitchell wishes death on the woman he loves, wishes death for himself, and is quick to apologize for every one of his shortcomings. He lays himself at the feet of his dear sweet impaler, and when she denies him, he lashes out and yells, ‘Well god damn you for breathing,’ though he is instantly apologetic, repeatedly reciting the words ‘I love you.’
Park goes out on top with “Codex Avellum,” the final track of the album. Thought the lyrics are limited, the element of screaming background vocals accompanying Mitchell’s solemn words adds some raw emotion that is missing on previous tracks. It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going seems to have all the ingredients of a superb album, but lack of diversity hurts it as a whole. It’s a shame that the songs aren’t more unique from one another musically. Essentially, if you hear one song, you’ve heard them all. A huge exception to the rule is “Conversations with Emily,” which proves that with more branching out It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going could have been something better. Before this review is over, it is mandatory to post the last lyrics to the best song on the album. Slowing things down even further and cutting out the bass to place more of an emphasis on Emily’s final words, her conversation with Mitchell comes to a close.
So here’s my advice to you
This should have turned out different
But it didn't, so get over it
But don't you find it reassuring
That one consolation growing
My darling boy
It won't snow where she is going
Sloppy Meateaters – Forbidden Meat
Release Date: 2002 (reissue)
Record Label: Orange Peel Records
If you dislike nasal vocalists like Tom DeLonge of blink 182 and Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory, stop reading right now, because you probably won't appreciate Josh Chambers. Chambers is the vocalist/guitarist of the Sloppy Meateaters, a band out of Rome, GA that has flown quietly under mainstream radar and organized multiple DIY tours since its formation back in 1999. Chambers, along with bassist John Elwell and drummer Kevin Highfield, originally released Forbidden Meat in 2001. Now, more than five years later, the album holds strong as a treat for unabashed pop punk fans who prefer their singers complete with falsetto.
To re-establish how high Chambers' vocals can get, one must look no further than the album's second track, “Impossible.” He absolutely lets his voice fly during choruses, and it’s a fitting song to test whether or not the band will go over well with the listener. The following track, “Lonely Day,” is the catchiest of the album. With better production and more creative lyrics during choruses, “Lonely Day” sounds like a single that would click with high school kids across the country.
One of the most welcome surprises of Forbidden Meat is found on the track “Suddenly Forget”: Sloppy Meateaters have a bassist who actually does something besides stand on the sidelines with simple backing bass lines. Elwell picks up the slack from the lack of a second guitarist by controlling the rhythm alongside Highfield and even providing some solos. On that note, the band compliment each other very well as a three piece, and serve as a nostalgic reminder of blink 182’s early years.
Slowing things down to describe an inner struggle against apathy is “Give Me Something.” The song meanders until it finds direction in its interlude, and Chambers finds a simple, yet perfect way to describe his callousness – ‘Can life feel any better? / Can life feel any better? / I can’t feel anything.’ He quickly finds emotion again though with the bitter track “Things Are Gonna Change.” Chambers is full of hostility and comes out swinging as he sings, 'Suppose you were half human and you thought with a brain / Suppose you heard the news that things are gonna change.' He also expresses his frustration with religion on “Talkin About Jesus,” though it’s less a valid argument and more an adolescent rebellion against established power.
Though the songs leading up to it are good, even great, “So Long” trounces anything else on the album. A soft female voice claiming, “God, I hate rock and roll” begins the song, a ballad that could only have been crafted by a complicated young man. “So Long” is a letter of loving assurance to the unnamed female, and when that route fails, Chambers retorts, ‘Face it, you’re stuck with me / And all thirty / Personalities.' It may be sappy, but it sounds sincere enough to be wonderful.
A central theme of Forbidden Meat is hopeful dreaming. Chambers passionately denies the trappings of a normal life and chooses to live by his lofty ambitions instead. At one point he seems to be pleading directly to the listener as he sings the lyric, ‘Can you see my face in lights?’ Sloppy Meateaters may not have received the success Josh Chambers always dreamed about, but Forbidden Meat is the kind of angst-filled, emotionally complex, and all together endearing album any up and coming band can take pride in.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Greatest Hits
Record Label: MCA
Release Date: November 16, 1993
After ten albums spanning three decades, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers released their Greatest Hits album featuring the best the band had to offer. With more than a few hit singles amassed during their career, it’s no wonder the band released the compilation even though they continue to create new music today.
The band has sold a sizable amount of their previous albums due to the popularity of their singles, launching them to multi-platinum success on more than one occasion. The popularity of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers can be contributed to the easily accessible nature of their southern rock sound, which appeals to a variety of listeners. Guitar work on the Greatest Hits tracks is satisfying to fans of rock music, but not overbearing enough to turn away casual listeners. Tom Petty’s voice is also smooth and easy to follow, which appeals to fans of the pop genre.
"American Girl" is the opening track of the album, and serves as a fine example of the band’s signature sound. It is immediately likable and singing along to the background lyric "Make it last all night" is too fun to resist. Instantly recognizable radio hits such as "The Waiting" and "Free Fallin'" stand as some of the most enjoyable tracks on the compilation, and both are derived from the band’s characteristic subject matter of young and complicated love. The harmonic background vocals on "Free Fallin'" overdubbing Petty’s voice again prove the vocal appeal of the band. Although titled a "greatest hits" album, two new tracks, "Mary Jane’s Last Dance" and "Something in the Air" (a Thunderclap Newman cover), are added alongside the familiar songs. Fittingly, both are standout tracks and only add to the high quality of the album.
Although it feels sacrilegious to say so, Greatest Hits isn’t perfect. When compared to the stronger tracks on the album, some songs ("Listen to Her Heart") seem as if they could have been replaced by something more favorable in the band’s catalog of music. In addition, when listening to Greatest Hits it is remarkable how little Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers changed over time. There isn’t a discernible amount of musical progression throughout the tracks, so fans of evolution in their bands may be disappointed in that aspect.
The eighteen classic rock tracks found on Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Greatest Hits are easy to recommend, because it’s likely that some part of the music will appeal to listeners, whether it be the clean vocals or rock-inspired musicianship. Anyone who has found himself humming along to this band while listening to the radio or is looking for a simple heartland rock sound should pick up this album. Remember, this is the same band that was invited to tour with Bob Dylan before collaborating with both Johnny Cash and George Harrison.