Friday, December 30, 2016

REVIEW: SIMPLE PLAN'S "NO PADS, NO HELMETS...JUST BALLS"

No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls is the debut album from French-Canadian pop-punkers Simple Plan. The album, since its release in 2002, has made its mark within the pop-punk-rock genre as one of the shining examples of the genre’s resurgence in the early-2000s. How does Balls stand on its own years after its release? How does it continue to reflect on the genre’s continued popularity?

The content:

No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls is, at its heart, juvenile and pubescent in the best of possible of ways.

One look at the lyrics found within Balls showcases the album’s snapshot of adolescent life. The album’s second track, The Worst Day Ever, brims with teenage angst beginning with its title. Further into the song, lyrics like “Yesterday was the worst day every/And tomorrow won’t be better”, though initially shallow, play at the simplicity within the song’s progression.

Another song, God Must Hate Me, takes similar stabs at the album’s lamentations over self-worth. “I guess it’s no use/I’m screwing up every little thing” sets a revolving theme within the album of perception in the face of one’s self-image, a theme that’s more maturely handled within Perfect. The closing track on the album, Perfect blends the adolescent lyrics with somber powerhouse riffs and a killer, if not mellow bridge.

There’s something to be said for the production on this album, as well. From the first track onwards, the bass shines throughout the mix, moreso than other pop-punk albums of Simple Plan’s caliber. Riffs found in tracks like You Don’t Mean Anything also deserve credit for their legitimate catchiness – had they been performed by other bands (say, for example, blink-182), it’d prove to be just as original and catchy.

At the end of the day, Balls stands on two legs as a prime work of the early-2000s punk revival, even with its friendly vibes and often lazy lyrics. Though critics have found ease in lashing at Simple Plan for their style, there’s no argument that Simple Plan haven’t made that style their own.

The impact:

No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls has left behind a perplexing legacy, if anything else.

While Simple Plan hasn’t seen the successes of some of its pop-punk counterparts, the band’s debut album proved to be a foundation within the punk-rock revivalist movement of the early-2000s. Releasing in the shadows of larger bands like Good Charlotte and Blink-182, Balls left behind some of the most classic pop-punk anthems that still resonate within the genre today.

In particular, I’m Just a Kid and Perfect, two of the album’s singles, have established a legacy as some of the most well-known pop-punk songs ever, even among listeners who don’t necessarily know of Simple Plan.

The messages within those songs tie in to Simple Plan’s ideals as a whole.

“Most people we meet are not happy. You walk around at shows and meet kids, and most people don’t seem to be happy with where they are no matter how great a family they have, or how great they’re doing in school, or how much money their family has,” says drummer Chuck Comeau. “We have a society full of people that want something more, and they just don’t know what it is.”

Despite the album’s success as a double-platinum album, Simple Plan hasn’t let Balls hinder their aspirations. “I think a band needs to change a bit their style of music, you don’t want to be always doing the same thing,” said frontman Pierre Bouvier. “But at the same time, it is important to be faithful to what we are and our sound.”

The future:

Simple Plan’s newest album, Taking One For The Team, released in January of 2016. The band’s fifth album features the same lineup since the band’s inception – Bouvier on vocals, Comeau on drums, Jeff Stinco and Sébastien Lefebvre on guitar, and David Desrosiers on bass.


Next week’s review: Alkaline Trio’s “Maybe I’ll Catch Fire”

Friday, December 23, 2016

REVIEW: RADIOHEAD'S "PABLO HONEY"

Pablo Honey is the debut album from British alternative rock band Radiohead. Though it released to limited commercial success and exposure in 1993, it has since become notable within the genre, mostly due to the success of the album’s hit single, Creep. Despite its limited reach, how does Pablo Honey hold up today in light of Radiohead’s massive successes in the past two decades?


The content:

Pablo Honey is the first (and so far, only) Radiohead album that I’ve listened to. That said, having heard about the drastic change in style with their 90s follow-up albums, I don’t have that to go off of and compare against Radiohead's freshman effort.

That said…

Pablo Honey trogs along at mellow, if not inconsistent paces. While the opening tracks mix soft-spoken vocals with grungy riffs and instrumentals, it doesn’t take long for later tracks on the album to blend together. And while I’ve found that’s usually expected of unfamiliar albums, in the case of Pablo Honey it’s hard to find variety in the musical style.

Despite the lack of variety in sound, however, there is some quality to be found, particularly within some of the opening tracks. You sets the tone sufficiently enough, laying down the foundations for how the rest of the album will sound. Simple in its design and progression, You stands out as an album highlight simply for being memorable.

As mainstream as it’s become, Creep easily makes the album, it’s slow yet somber riff bursting into a deep, heavy chorus lamenting the narrator’s perceived status as a “creep” and a “weirdo”. For a song that’s one of Radiohead’s greatest hits, Creep settles right in within the album, unlike other successful singles from other bands in what I often call “title-track fatigue.”

While there are some duds to be found within Pablo Honey, the album goes to work in laying down the foundations for Radiohead’s original guitar-driven sound. The album’s gems help to make Pablo Honey a decent listen, as sparse as they may be.

The impact:

For a debut album, Pablo Honey initially saw little commercial or critical success. The success of its lead single, Creep, would eventually come to mark the album as the foundation from which Radiohead would refine and diversify their sound.

Released a full year before the album in which it’s featured, Creep became a worldwide hit once Pablo Honey released. First becoming a hit in Israel before spreading to the United States, Creep came to overshadow the band as a whole, with many concert goers going to see Radiohead performances simply to hear Creep played live.

Others, however, have cited Pablo Honey as “the album Radiohead made before they were Radiohead”. Citing later works such as their ground-breaking 1997 album OK Computer, many see Pablo Honey as a primitive work before the band really found their creative niche within the alt-rock genre.

Reflecting on the artistic standing of Pablo Honey, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke didn’t have the kindest words shortly after its release. “[Pablo] was quite flawed, and hopefully the [follow-up] will make more sense. I like the first album, but we were very naïve,” said Yorke. “We didn't really know how to use the studio."

The future:

Radiohead’s most recent album, A Heart Shaped Pool, released in May of 2016. It features the same main lineup as all previous Radiohead albums have since the band’s inception in 1985 – Thom Yorke on vocals and guitar, Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood on guitar, Colin Greenwood on bass, and Philip Selway on drums.


Next week’s review: Simple Plan’s “No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls”

Friday, December 16, 2016

REVIEW: SUM 41'S "DOES THIS LOOK INFECTED?"

Does This Look Infected? is the third full-length album from punk veterans Sum 41. Serving as the follow-up to 2001’s All Killer, No Filler (an album I reviewed back in September), Infected builds upon the foundations of the previous album set and explores some new, darker territory. How does it hold up compared to the band’s major-label breakthrough?

The Content:

Does This Look Infected? does fantastically expands upon its predecessor’s work in a lot of ways.

The guitars in Infected shine through more than they could’ve in Killer, and it shows through hit tracks like The Hell Song. Featuring one of the band’s best solos in its bridge, The Hell Song doesn’t beat around the bush in getting to the point of what Infected’s tone will sound like throughout the album: grungy, yet familiar with other punk stylings of the day.

All comparisons to the previous album aside, the album feels unique within the punk threshold it taps into. The brief interlude found in the crude A.N.I.C. is about as bold and brash as the band’s ever been, whereas Still Waiting (one of the album’s highlights) introduces the band and its fanbase to some new, heavier riffs not found on their previous albums. Mr. Amsterdam, another track on the back-half of the album, ventures into metal territory not unlike Slayer (a noted influence on the band).

As punk and metal as Infected can be, it sometimes hesitates to stray from the band’s pop-punk roots. Tracks like My Direction and All Messed Up, though lyrically dark, feel awkwardly sandwiched between the album’s heavier tracks: My Direction comes just before Still Waiting, as does All Messed Up before Mr. Amsterdam. These two tracks stand out in negative comparison for sounding lighter than their Infected counterparts, and while they’re decent songs in their own right they would’ve made for a better fit on All Killer, No Filler.

Looking at the natural evolution between albums, Infected represents the jump in maturity from the sound that originally made Sum 41 huge. Though change in sound is expected of any artist, for Sum 41 Infected is their first major step toward their current sound: a hint of metal, some touches of grunge, but loads and loads of all-around punk.

The Impact:

While Infected wasn’t the success that the band’s previous album, All Killer, No Filler, would go on to become, the band’s 2002 album still made waves within the Su
m 41 fanbase in addition to mainstream radio.

Infected showcased the band’s more hardcore stylings, abandoning the pop-punk overtures that originally brought them to fame. While the album still has touches of pop-punk in some tracks on the album, Infected would prove to be a stepping stone to even darker albums, most notably 2004’s Chuck. Said frontman Deryck Whibley on the stylistic change in between the two albums, “A lot of stuff happened in the past year that opened our eyes to new things."

As a result of the blending of the two musical styles, fans often consider Infected to be one of the band’s best albums. Whibley himself ranked Infected as his third favorite Sum 41 album in an interview with Vice, citing it as the sound he desired from Sum 41 despite mixing and production disappointments.

Three singles from the album – Still Waiting, The Hell Song, and Over My Head (Better Off Dead) were released. The first two singles particularly success, and are to this day considered some of the fanbase’s favorites. Does This Look Infected? would go on to sell nearly one million copies worldwide, as well as peak at #32 on the US Billboard 200.

The Future:

Sum 41’s latest album, 13 Voices, released in October of 2016. It is the first album in five years from the band, serving as a follow-up to 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder. To support the album, the band embarked on the Warped Tour in 2016, followed by the Don’t Call It A Sum-Back Tour later that year. The tour is set to make stops in Europe throughout 2017.

13 Voices is the first Sum 41 album since 2004’s Chuck to feature founding guitarist Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh, and the first Sum 41 album without founding drummer Steve ‘Stevo32’ Jocz, who left the band in 2013.


Next week’s review: Radiohead’s “Pablo Honey”

Friday, December 9, 2016

REVIEW: PANIC! AT THE DISCO'S "A FEVER YOU CAN'T SWEAT OUT"

A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is the debut album from Panic! At The Disco. Released in 2005, the band’s members were only 18 years old when they wrote and recorded Fever. Despite their youth, the album became a snapshot of the pop-punk-emo era of the time, and to this day P!ATD is one of the hottest groups around. What’s to be found within Fever that’s made it so legendary?

The Content:

A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is notable for being split in two stylistic halves. While the tracks leading up through Intermission carry an electro-dance vibe, the album’s back half features more traditional punk-rock stylings, with a touch of baroque theatrics.

That said, Fever manages to balance the best of both worlds. Songs like The Only Difference Between Martyrdom And Suicide Is Press Coverage rightfully incorporate electric synthesizers with the classic pop-punk treatment, while There’s A Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered, Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought Of It Yet perfectly demonstrates the band’s ability to work with swing-style rock and make it blend well with the album’s other styles. Mix all of that with sentence-long song titles and unconventional song formulas, and you’ve got a recipe for a 40-minute exotic trip of an album.

Fever’s lyrics are also top-notch, and for them to have been written by a then-18-year-old puts any of my writing to shame (the band’s members had just graduated high school when they recorded Fever). Dealing with themes such as adultery, mental illness, violence, and marriage, Fever leaps way beyond the years of those who wrote and recorded it. The closing song, Build God, Then We’ll Talk, brings the lyrical thematics full circle, bringing a tale of prostitution and bribery to fruition.

However, it’s not a masterpiece. Though Nails For Breakfast, Tacks For Snacks and Camisado are some fan-favorites within the P!ATD community, I found them to be the slower tracks on the album, despite their budding lyrical content. With that in mind, the pacing within Fever doesn’t quite feel uniform, even with its outright dividing of the two stylistic halves with an instrumental track titled “Intermission”. While individual tracks hold their own gems of wit, as a collective entity the album could use some ironing and polish. But, for a ragtag group of high school graduates that created one of the most recognizable pop-punk hits of the past decade, I won’t hold that against them.

Perhaps their most famous single, I Write Sins Not Tragedies, the track hits early on in the album’s second half, segueing directly after But It’s Better If You Do. While this transition helps to provide a seamless listen between the two songs, Sins still suffers from standing out so starkly in comparison to the other tracks strictly based on its massive popularity. Its success is merited – Sins has some of the best riffs and vocals on the entire album – but its virtue also proves to be its vice. As a result of mass radio and web exposure, Sins loses the hard impact that it could’ve had as a facet of the album as a whole.

For a debut album, Fever manages to overcome its shortcomings and deliver a showstopping, if not flawed experience in pop-punk. Once I got over the slowness of some of its early tracks, I found myself enamored with the dance-club beats and swing-style instrumentals.


The Impact:

Largely in part to its most famous single, I Write Sins Not Tragedies, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was able to mesh with the successes of other similar bands at the time, like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance.

 Fever would go on to sell over two million records and peak at #13 on the US Billboard 200. Rolling Stone ranked the album at #39 among the “40 Greatest Emo Albums Of All Time”, citing the band’s debut effort as “a snapshot of where ‘emo’ was at in 2005.”

The band credits Fall Out Boy (from which bassist Pete Wentz originally discovered the band’s demos and signed them to his label) for their rise to stardom after Fever: “I remember buying Fall Out Boy records not too long ago," former Panic! drummer Spencer Smith said in 2005. "We get to talk to them every day now. That's really weird, but it's awesome at the same time."

Ryan Ross, the band’s former guitarist, also found inspiration on the album’s dichotomous sound. “The stuff earlier on is a lot of dance-influenced, so dance music in general. The second half is more theatrical stuff, like movie soundtracks and musicals,” Ross said in an interview with Driven Far Off. “I guess the melody stuff would be from bands like Third Eye Blind and Counting Crows, stuff like that.

The Future:

Panic! At The Disco’s most recent album, Death Of A Bachelor, released in January of 2016. It is the band’s first album to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 200, and also fetched the band their first Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album.

Currently, frontman Brendon Urie is the only official member of the band. Rounding out the touring lineup are bassist Dallon Weekes, drummer Dan Pawlovich, and guitarist Kenneth Harris. The band has been massively touring throughout 2016 in support of the album, with plans to continue throughout 2017.


Next week’s album: Sum 41’s “Does This Look Infected?”

Friday, December 2, 2016

REVIEW: YELLOWCARD'S "OCEAN AVENUE"

Ocean Avenue is the fourth album and major-label debut for Floridian pop-punkers Yellowcard. Releasing in 2003 at the height of a rise in pop-punk groups and records, Ocean Avenue saw massive success thanks in part to a wildly successful single – the titular Ocean Avenue. The rest of the album, however, has also seen regards as a classic staple among the genre.

The Content:

Alright. I have a lot to say about this album.

Perhaps I’m biased since Ocean Avenue is in my Top 10 list of all-time favorite albums, but Yellowcard’s first major-label outing is one of those albums that I can never get tired of listening to. As a whole, Ocean Avenue feels like the pinnacle of the late 90s/early 2000s pop-punk surge that brought bands like blink-182 and New Found Glory to fame. And on a deeper level, the thirteen tracks in Ocean Avenue feel righteous on their own. That is to say, they carry their own weight as individual songs as opposed to being small pieces in a larger puzzle.

It feels right to give particular attention to some of the album’s highlights:

1.      - Way Away
Probably one of the greatest opening tracks on an album I’ve heard. The soft, yet electric introductory groove explodes into an absolute barrage of raw riffs and biting violin chords (Yellowcard is notable for featuring a full-time violinist as part of its lineup). The song’s hard, yet breakneck chorus sets the tone for the album in its themes of independence and self-acceptance (“Way away, away from here I’ll be” rings in to open the chorus), not to mention its killer bridge shines as one of the heaviest moments on the album.

2.      - Ocean Avenue
It’d be impossible to talk about the album without bringing up its title track. While the album’s third track does suffer from what I call “title-track-fatigue” (or, when an album’s title track jars out of place form the track sequence as a result of its mainstream over-exposure), it ultimately fits in with the rest of the album’s musical tone in a way that only Yellowcard can do it. And yet the pop-punk anthem still feels like one of the album’s biggest hooks in its belting chorus (who doesn’t remember singing along to “If I could find you now/Things would get better” as a teen?) and violin-solo outro. Without a doubt Yellowcard’s biggest song off its biggest album, and for good reason.

3.      - Life Of A Salesman
The catchiest song on the album for me. The band’s fantastic effects on the guitar shows through in this song’s intro, and even as it weaves through verses and a lyrically-powerful chorus the guitar tones on this track are some of the best on the album. While many pop-punk tunes from the era focus on negatively-focused songs about a parental figure, Life Of A Salesman looks up to a father, the speaker wanting to “be the same as you” in one of the album’s more upbeat tracks.

4.      - Only One
Definitely the showstopper on this album. Had Only One been present on any other album from any artist, its swelling chorus and lyrics beckoning to “Scream my lungs out, to try and get to you” would serve well as an album closer. Yet on Ocean Avenue, Only One closes out the album’s first half, sandwiched between two peppier tracks. The album’s sixth track takes hold of the slow-verse, heavy-chorus formula and makes it its own, managing to build to a stronger crescendo as the song progresses. Complete with a violin solo during the bridge and closing on emphatic strings, this song’s power will move you in ways that no other song can.

5.      - Believe
Believe is a fan-favorite, and is typically used to open Yellowcard’s concerts. Written after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, the song tells a story of the speaker’s thankfulness for the firemen who gave their lives to rescue souls trapped in the burning towers. Perhaps one of the song’s greatest moments (and possibly the album’s greatest moment as well) is the lyrical refrain during the outro, in which verses and chorus are heartfully layered over each other to bring the song to a riveting close. The song’s thematics and vocals make this back-half album one of the band’s greatest hits.

So, with all that said about some of the album’s greatest tracks, let’s take a look at the album as a whole. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the inclusion of the violin within the band’s lineup. While some songs would be great on their own without the violin, some songs appear to lose their structure and flow only to be saved by the accompaniment. Then again, I feel that that’s how Yellowcard has always written their songs. By basing the songwriting around the violin’s inclusion, we’re provided with unique song structure that no other band can really provide.

Ocean Avenue, upon multiple listens, has the structure and the feel of a concept album, a la Green Day’s American Idiot. While some tracks, such as Believe, come off independently enough to disparage this idea, I still find comfort in letting Ocean Avenue’s thirteen tracks tell a coming-of-age story of isolation as it develops into a longing for “home.”

Speaking of “home,” it’s that central theme that appears to be the driving force for the album’s lyrics. Ocean Avenue begins and ends with songs talking about home; Way Away details the great escape from home in a want for independence, while Back Home, the album’s closer, laments the glamour of life in California: “Another sunny day beneath this cloudless sky/Sometimes I wish that it would rain here”. And it’s in retrospective lyrics like those that the musical genius behind this album really showcases itself. Only this album could find sympathy in a longing for imperfection, favoring simplicity over shine.

Ocean Avenue is a perfect bildungsroman within the genre of pop-punk and should be a must-listen for any music aficionado.

The Impact:

Thirteen years after its release, Ocean Avenue has become a pop-punk staple for millions of fans across the world – particularly as a result of the success of its title track.

Released in 2004, Ocean Avenue, the third track off the album, saw massive success with its infectious lyrics and humming violin accompaniment (performed by Sean Mackin, the band’s violinist). To this day, fans old and new still find themselves humming to “A place off Ocean Avenue/Where I used to sit and talk with you”.

"I don’t know if it’s necessarily my favorite song we’ve ever written,” said Yellowcard frontman Ryan Key on the single, “But it’s the most important song we’ve ever written…we had a sense that it was a special song, one of the most accessible, massive-sounding pop songs that we’d ever written. But we didn’t know that song was going to change our lives forever."

Thanks in part to the title track’s success as a single, Ocean Avenue would go double platinum, as certified by the RIAA, for domestic sales of over two million copies. In tribute to the album’s success, the band released an acoustic rendition of the album’s entirety in 2013, ten years after its original release.

The Future:

Yellowcard recently announced their forthcoming disbandment following their final world tour, set to end in 2017. Their final album, Yellowcard, released in September of 2016.

In light of the legacy that Ocean Avenue left behind, during select shows on The Farewell World Tour, the band played the album in its entirety among the tour’s setlist. Among the shows in which the album was played were Los Angeles, Hungtington, NY, and a forthcoming show in Cologne, Denmark.

Next week’s review: Panic! At The Disco’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out”