Friday, March 17, 2017

REVIEW: ANGELS AND AIRWAVES' "WE DON'T NEED TO WHISPER"

We Don’t Need To Whisper is the debut album from Angels and Airwarves. Dubbed a “supergroup” by frontman Tom DeLonge, Angels and Airwaves launched in 2006 with their freshman music endeavor. Before the album’s release, DeLonge referred to the album as “the best music in generations” – but does Whisper hold up among the greats?

The content:

We Don’t Need To Whisper is all about aspirations. Aspirations of a new band, aspirations to be the biggest and deepest, and aspirations buried within the album’s ten tracks for life, love, and meaning.

From the very beginning, Whisper makes clear its galactic mood, with the opening track, “Valkyrie Missile”, opening with synthesizers and a back-and-forth spoken word intro. While there’s a certain ego embedded within the song (“Who do you think we are? We’re Angels and Airwaves” is a ballsy lyric to include on a debut album), Whisper overall does a good job of laying down a distinct sonic environment while maintaining the groovy guitar licks that DeLonge perfected in blink-182.

That said, Whisper still feels lost in the inflated infinity that it tries to create with its spacey vibe. The album often struggles to find an instrumental niche – it all feels muddled and uninspired when it gives way to synthesizers and electronic beats. Though there are some more punk-centered influences – tracks like “Distraction” have a Box Car Racer vibe, particularly in the lyrics – there’s no real “hook” in the music that made any particular track a highlight, save for “Valkyrie Missile” and “The War”.

The music itself isn’t bad. It doesn’t even feel uninspired – Angels and Airwaves, in their debut, has a noted U2 influence. It all just seems rather flat and misguided. While some may find enjoyment in the multi-dimensional sound that Whisper provides, for others it may be a frustrating influence.

The impact:

Despite DeLonge’s bombastic, painkiller-induced claims that We Don’t Need To Whisper was the best music in generations, it was met upon its release with mixed reviews.

While many outlets, such as Alternative Press, saw the band’s atmospheric sound as stadium-worthy, others, like Rolling Stone, found the sound excessive and pretentious.

Nevertheless, Whisper went on to reach #4 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and has since sold over 800,000 copies.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is Whisper’s foundation as DeLonge’s step away from blink-182, the massive pop-punk band which went on hiatus in 2005, one year before Whisper’s release.

"I do not want to be in a bullshit pop band with some bullshit pop songs while you drive your fucking bullshit car and sing along to it like you're some 14-year old girl,” DeLonge said in a concert in 2006.

While blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus started a new pop-punk band, +44, in the wake of blink-182’s hiatus, DeLonge was adamant to be taken seriously as a musician as opposed to writing songs about fucking dogs (yes, blink-182 actually has a song called “Fuck a Dog”). While DeLonge first explored his more mature songwriting chops with 2002’s Box Car Racer, he continued further down that direction after blink-182’s hiatus was made official.

"I always thought blink-182 was my life,” DeLonge said in an interview with Kerrang! Magazine, “but I’ve realized that it wasn't, it was just the first stepping stone."

The future:

Angels and Airwaves’ most recent album, The Dream Walker, released in 2014 alongside a short film entitled Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker. In April 2016, an EP entitled Chasing Shadows in conjunction with a novel of the same name.

In February 2017, DeLonge announced his role as a director Strange Times, a film set to feature new music from Angels and Airwaves.

DeLonge has also spent time following his 2015 departure from blink-182 studying UFOs – most recently, he was named UFO Researcher of the Year by Open Minds TV after a WikiLeaks leak revealed his involvement with John Podesta.

“I kind of use some of my notoriety to do something pretty ambitious and it worked,” DeLonge said in his acceptance video for the award.


Next week’s review: Green Day’s “Dookie”

Friday, March 10, 2017

REVIEW: MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE'S "I BROUGHT YOU MY BULLETS, YOU BROUGHT ME YOUR LOVE"

I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love is the debut album from My Chemical Romance, one of the leading “emo” rock groups of the early 21st century. Though their 2002 debut wouldn’t bring them mainstream success, it helped to lay down groundwork for their later mainstream breakout.

The content:

I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, with all the makings of a debut album from a fledgling band, simultaneously comes packaged with all the wisdom, wit, and woe you’d expect from veteran songwriters.

There’s variety to be found in Bullets, which both helps and hurts its artfulness. While songs like “Skylines & Turnstiles” and “Cubicles” have a distinct pop-punk vibe, some of the album’s sharper-edged tracks, including “Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us” and “Our Lady Of Sorrows”, carry post-hardcore and even some metal influences. While hearing this level of variety from a band in its infancy is unique, it detracts from the image of the band’s true identity at this point in their career. As in, what’s their main style? Do they have one?

I suspect this may be the origins of the “emo” labelling in the band couldn’t fit itself into any singular genre otherwise. That said, My Chemical Romance executes the balancing act between genres quite well in Bullets.

What Bullets doesn’t have in consistency, however, it certainly carries in lyricism. A particular favorite of mine on this album, “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”, tells the grim story of a couple affected by a vampire’s bite (vampires are a re-occuring theme in this album). The man in the relationship, to keep from becoming infected himself, must kill his partner, making things “harder at best”. The song laments the man’s difficulty of coming to terms with his decision, reflecting on a time of “Late dawns and early sunsets…Just like up on the screen”. Couple the dark lyrics with the lightest-sounding riffs on the album, and you’ve got one of the most emotional, narrative tracks in MCR’s discography.

“Monroeville” isn’t the only track to couple gloomy lyrics with energetic riffs. “Headfirst For Halos” closes out the album’s front half with a riff that’s catchy as hell, yet features a suicidal narrator declaring, “I think I’ll blow my brains against the ceiling/And as the fragments of my skull begin to fall/Fall on your tongue like pixie dust/Just think happy thoughts!” The darkest lyrics on the entire album, coupled with the album’s bounciest riffs, seems like an unnatural pairing, yet the chemistry between the vocals and the musicality blends together beautifully.

Meanwhile, songs like “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” and “Demolition Lovers” get a little edgier with the instrumentation. The former features a bridge-breakdown that contrasts greatly with the song’s softer opening, while “Demolition Lovers”, the album’s closing epic, features a complex, technical solo unlike anything else on the album.

I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love is ultimately a grab-bag of an album. While its stylings can vary greatly, MCR’s first eleven tracks of their discography still set the scene for greater music to come. That isn’t to say, however, that Bullets doesn’t have anything to offer; while fans will inevitably find filler, Bullets has some killer tracks that are still fan-favorites within the MCR community.

The impact:

I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, upon its 2002 release through the now-defunct Eyeball Records, didn’t exactly make waves within the larger music community.

To promote the album, the band toured within New Jersey before being noticed by an agent from Reprise Records, who would sign the band to their label in 2003, a year before their mainstream breakout, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, was released.

As of 2009, Bullets has sold 300,000 copies in the U.S., bolstered by the mainstream success the band saw long after the debut’s release.

Despite the album’s lack of massive success, however, the album has still seen acclaim for showcasing the band’s grungy, unfiltered beginnings – in true rushed punk spirit, Bullets was recorded over the span of one week.

I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love is incendiary – a gloomy, raw, consuming affair torn and haunted by bleak, bitter depression,” wrote Under The Gun Review. “It’s an astonishingly effective and intimate portrait of what it is to be so afflicted.”

Frontman Gerard Way attributes the rawness of Bullets partly due to an oral procedure he underwent days before he was due to record his vocals.

“The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me,” said Way at the time of the album’s release. “The thought I had facial nerve paralysis, they thought that I had TMG. I was on all these different drugs, and luckily I was able to sing for two days.”

Though his illness proved to be merely a tooth infection, recording his vocals proved difficult, thus leading to the power behind the fleshed-out yelling on the album.

Following the band’s breakup, Way found appreciation in the album’s anger.

“I'm pissed on this!” Way said as he live-tweeted his commentary on the album in April of 2013. “(I) learned to scream from listening to At The Gates.”

The future:

Given that My Chemical Romance broke up in 2013, there isn’t a whole lot in store for the band. Most recently, a 10th Anniversary re-release of The Black Parade saw release last year, along with a collection of demos and unreleased tracks entitled Living With Ghosts.

The main members of the band are currently keeping themselves busy with various side projects. Gerard Way, who graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, is working on DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint, which includes a rebooted Doom Patrol run. Brother and MCR bassist Mikey Way has been busy with his rock duo, Electric Century, which released an album in 2016.

Guitarist Frank Iero is currently touring with his band, FrnkIero and the Patience, while guitarist Ray Toro released a solo project, Remember the Laughter, in 2016.


Next week’s review: Angels and Airwaves’ “We Don’t Need To Whisper”

Friday, March 3, 2017

REVIEW: MEGADETH'S "RUST IN PEACE"

Rust In Peace is the fourth album from thrash-metal giants Megadeth. Since its release in 1990, Rust In Peace is often regarded to be one of the greatest thrash-metal albums of all time, amongst Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and Slayer’s Reign in Blood. Its release heralded a mainstream following for Megadeth and is considered to be one of their greatest albums.

The content:

In October, I wrote on Megadeth’s major-label debut, Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? While I wrote that the album was definitely memorable, it still had its filler that kept Peace Sells from being a masterpiece.

With Rust In Peace, the band’s fourth effort, this is not the case.

All nine tracks on Rust In Peace, in traditional Megadeth fashion, absolutely slaughter the listener with some of the heaviest riffs and solos in thrash-metal history.

One track in particular, “Hangar 18”, is not only the greatest track on the album with its face-melting solos and heavier-than-lead back-half riff, but is perhaps one of the greatest metal tracks ever. After listening to the album multiple times, I keep coming back to “Hangar 18” purely for its unrelenting craft.

Rust In Peace isn’t just about speed, however. The album presents some of Megadeth’s most complex work yet, from tempo changes to progressive riffs. “Poison Was The Cure” a track on the album’s front-half, opens with a sinister bass riff that evolves and churns into the song’s deeper, faster progression.

Much like the musicality, the lyrics within Rust In Peace work with complex themes like the apocalypse, authority, extraterrestrial life, and environmentalism. While some are outright with their spellings of disaster (“Brother will kill brother/Spilling blood across the land” from “Holy Wars…the Punishment Due” is a particularly visual lyric), other songs devote entire halves in which the lyrics give way for the music to tell its own story.

 It’s hard for me to find any real fault within Rust In Peace. Sure, some of its songs are slower, but by no means are they bogged down or drawn out. The music in this album is perhaps some of the best thrash-metal I’ve come across – between the heaviness of “Hangar 18”, the grunginess in “Take No Prisoners”, and the all-around complexity that bleeds into the album’s solos and riffs, Rust In Peace proves itself to be unique and daring on all fronts. For lack of sufficient words, Rust In Peace is as metal as metal gets.

The impact:

Rust In Peace is notable for not only being Megadeth’s defining work, but for shaping the thrash-metal genre as it entered the 1990s.

Cited for its blisteringly fast guitar work and complex instrumentation and tempo changes, the album has been on numerous top lists, including Martin Popoff’s Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time (at #11) and IGN’s Top 25 Metal Albums (at #4).

The album is also notable for being the first with Megadeth’s stable lineup of frontman Dave Mustaine, bassist David Ellefson, guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza, who passed away in 2016. Though Megadeth is notable for having numerous lineup changes throughout its 30+ year history, the lineup featured on Rust In Peace maintained itself through 1997’s Cryptic Writings before Menza’s departure in 1998.

Mustaine, during the album’s release, spoke of properly following up to the band’s previous releases with their fourth album.

“The only pressure that we had really was in our own heads,” said Mustaine. “Career paranoia is something that everybody deals with if they don't have faith in themselves. So, worrying about having a product that's going to compete with your past is just your own lack of faith. Anybody who doesn't understand what their history is, is destined to repeat it.”

The album would go on to chart at #23 on the Billboard Top 200 and net the band a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance.


The future:

Megadeth just recently came off of their first Grammy win for Best Metal Performance for Dystopia, the title track from their 2016 album.

For 2017, Mustaine has expressed interest in repeating the “Big Four” tour that brought Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax together in 2011.

“To have all of the Big Four releasing great new records within 12 months or so, that’s really cool,” said Mustaine. “Now the big question is whether or not the powers-that-be are gonna allow for the four of us to go and do some more Big Four dates.”


Next week’s review: My Chemical Romance’s “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love”

Friday, February 24, 2017

REVIEW: LINKIN PARK'S "HYBRID THEORY"

Hybrid Theory is the debut album from Linkin Park, one of the most prolific alternative bands of the 2000s. Released in 2000 to massive success, Hybrid Theory launched the band into superstardom and remains not only the band’s most recognizable work, but one of the most recognizable albums of the 21st century.

The content:

There’s something alluring about Hybrid Theory’s blending of genres that instantly had me hooked. Even as someone who’s forever written off Linkin Park as too mainstream of an act, too adolescent-oriented of a band, there’s a certain dynamic in this album that can’t be denied.

The first thirty seconds of the opening track, “Papercut”, are enough to work in electro, rap, rock, and dubstep influences, all of which are handled excellently – fans of any genre would find something to admire in this track. Going past these large-scale factors, little things like the harmonics in the chorus layered under rapper Mike Shinoda’s vocals give depth to the song that set the tone for the album.

Then comes “One Step Closer”, where the intensity dials to the maximum.

“One Step Closer”, opening with a single raw riff, blows up into a sonically heavy barrage of what is easily an album highlight. With vocals that alternate between grit and straight power, and a subtly mixed guitar track that gives way to novel turntable effects, “One Step Closer” flies full in the face of the listener, bursting with lyrics (“Shut up when I’m talking to you!” is a more famous one among the band’s fanbase) that straight-up assault and brim with anger.

The rest of the album follows similar territory, treading unusual ground between soft melodies and biting, raging choruses. While the lulling piano in “In The End” brings much needed calmness throughout the album’s anger, often the calmness is but a red herring; the opening Latin-inspired strings in “A Place for My Head” make way to one of the heaviest mixes of turntables and drum beats on the album.

Perhaps my only criticism of the album are the lyrics. While it’s evident that effort went into writing these songs in the wake of their musical complexity, the lyrics feel as though the band tried a little too hard in relating to its audience.

Take, for example, a lyric from the chorus of “Papercut”: “It's like I'm paranoid lookin' over my back/It's like a whirlwind inside of my head.”

Sure, the lyrics mean something. But even then, it reeks distinctly of teenage “edge” – hell, this is some of the stuff I would’ve thought was deep at age 15. Another lyric from “One Step Closer” illustrates this similarly: “Everything you say to me/Takes me one step closer to the edge/And I'm about to break.” While these lyrics are far from mindless or contrived, they feel constructed to channel a youthful anger that covers nothing more than platitudes of adolescent angst.

Hybrid Theory takes the expertise of multiple genres and truly stands out on its own. If you’re only even a little into rock, rap, nu-metal, or punk, Hybrid Theory has something to offer for fans across the map. For an album that was released close to twenty years ago, Hybrid Theory stands up well as a modern classic.


The impact:

Upon its release at the turn of the millennium, Hybrid Theory threw the band into ultra-stardom, cementing their status as one of the most recognizable rock groups of this century as the album became 2001’s biggest seller.

The album’s success, however, wouldn’t have come to fruition without the inclusion of frontman Chester Bennington in the band just one year prior to the album’s release.

“He really was kind of the final piece of the puzzle, and he brings vocal talent that, when we were looking for a second vocalist, we didn’t see anything close to his talent in anybody else,” said co-member Brad Delson.

Combine Bennington’s vocal prowess with the newfound style of their music, and their success with Hybrid Theory, and its singles in particular, feels like the perfect storm of all these little things. Hybrid Theory would go on to become Diamond-certified by the RIAA for sales of over ten million copies, a rare feat for an album in the 2000s with the advent of digital file-sharing.

One track in particular, “In The End,” saw stratospheric success when released as a single from the album, and is today considered one of the band’s most recognizable songs.

Bennington, however, wasn’t originally keen on the track.

“I was never a fan of ‘In The End’,” Bennington said, “And I didn’t even want it to be on the record, honestly. How wrong could I have possibly been?”

Hybrid Theory, and by extension Linkin Park as a whole, is often seen for the juvenility hidden under the adult heaviness.

Hybrid Theory spoke to the teenagers who didn't mind getting sent to their rooms because that's where the cool shit in the house is,” wrote The Diamond in their retrospective on the album. “If a 16-year old half penned the stuff that pops up on Hybrid Theory, he'd kick back and savor the moment, thinking it was the realest shit he ever wrote.”

Yet for its musicality, the album today remains timeless, even if the band would eventually diversify its portfolio away from its nu-metal roots.

“While Linkin Park's evolution away from anything remotely metal-based means many original fans have fallen out of love with them,” wrote Team Rock, “Hybrid Theory remains flawless...its influence runs rampant.”


The future:

Linkin Park’s newest single “Heavy” off of their newest album, One More Light, launched last Thursday. The new album is expected to drop on May 19th of this year. Previous to the album’s announcement, the band had posted cryptic messages and image fragments on social media, leading to the reveal of the album’s cover.

“One of the reasons we picked ‘Heavy’ as the first single is because it’s kind of core to the sound of the album,” Shinoda said in regards to the new single. “This isn’t like a polka album with one song that sounds like this. This is how the album sounds.”

The song was performed live via a Facebook livestream on the day of the album’s announcement.



Next week’s album: Megadeth’s “Rust In Peace”

Friday, February 17, 2017

REVIEW: THE BEATLES' "SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND"

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album released by The Beatles, perhaps one of the greatest classic rock bands of all time. In light of the band’s massive success, Sgt. Pepper’s was met with instant acclaim and commercial success, but to this day has been regarded just as highly for its icon status, becoming what many consider to be the single greatest album of all time.

The content:

I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of 60's rock, particularly for its softness compared to later rock movements.

Sgt. Pepper’s, however, is about as in-your-face as rock can get while maintaining a low-grit, happy-go-lucky snap to its groove.

Revolving around the concept of the alter-ego Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album’s thirteen tracks weave through different styles such as circus-inspired electro, Hindu classical, and toned-down folk rock. While it’s this strong variety united within the Sgt. Pepper’s concept that makes the album unique from earlier Beatles’ albums, the album still executes an enjoyable, consistent listening experience – even for those who, like me, have never given much attention to The Beatles in the past.

I find myself so drawn to this album because of its crispness – even writing on it fifty years later, I can still feel the ingenuity that inspired it, its avant-garde stylings that impressed even in 1967. The concept behind the music, whether it’s grandiose or scaled-back, is such a present driving force that you feel the ups and downs of the story as it progresses.


Two of the biggest tracks that maintain the narrative, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and its reprise, are easily the most “vanilla” rock tracks on the album while throwing in circus-like elements into the mix, bringing the alter-ego band concept full circle. The title track, which opens the album, and its reprise, as the penultimate track, provide the framework for how the music will ebb and flow through thirty-nine minutes of glam and grandeur.

One of the more different tracks that sticks out is “Within You Without You”, a Middle-Eastern inspired ballad whose soft vocals feel innately textured within the track’s sitar. Another track, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, begins with similar instrumentals. These tracks, though on the surface seem to be the anti-thesis of rock music, simultaneously seem to change the very way in which this album defines “rock”. It is through the unconventional that Sgt. Pepper’s sets the standard of the narrative over the arrangement.


The impact:

Sgt. Pepper’s impact as a singular piece of music, as what’s argued to be the greatest album of all time, is nearly immeasurable.

Let’s start, then, with the measurable.

Sales-wise, the album sold 2.5 million copies in the United States alone by the end of 1967, going on to sell another million before the decade’s end. Worldwide, the album has sold an astounding 32 million copies – one of the highest sales figures ever for an album.

But, from a cultural standpoint, Sgt. Pepper’s has had more impact than any sales figure could ever recreate.

For the time in which it was released, the album was perceived as a cry of rebellion.

“In Sgt. Pepper's intricate aural tapestry is the sound of four men rebelling against musical convention and, in doing so, opening wide the door for the sonic experimentation that launched hard rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge and every other form of popular music that followed,” wrote Christopher Spinelli for Guitar World.

Sgt. Pepper’s, upon its release, was not only a rebel against everything music stood for at the time, but also a cultivator in what music would come to mean.

“It was the big bang of albums,” said Andy Greene of Rolling Stone. “This was the first concept album. All the songs go together to tell a story, and it's inspired every musician." Rolling Stone Magazine would later go on to place Sgt. Pepper’s on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – specifically, at #1.

Paul McCartney himself commented on the album’s novelty status at the time.

“It was more of a production,” said McCartney. “On 'Sgt Pepper’s' we had more instrumentation than we'd ever had. More orchestral stuff than we'd ever used before.”

John Lennon also referred to Sgt. Pepper’s as the band’s magnum opus.

Sgt. Pepper’s is one of the most important steps in our career,” said Lennon during the album’s release. “It had to be just right. We tried, and I think succeeded in achieving what we set out to do. If we hadn't, then it wouldn't be out now."

World-renowned musicologist Oliver Julien, of Paris-Sorbonne University, has also spoken of the revolutionizing of the idea of an “album” as a result of Sgt. Pepper’s, citing the industry’s shift from albums as a “distribution format” to a “creation format” as a result.

In other words – Sgt. Pepper’s singlehandedly landmarked the use of an “album” to make a creative point, rather than a platform with which to release music.

The future:

When it comes to the future of The Beatles, the band’s physical feature doesn’t come into play (the group disbanded in 1970), but rather how its legacy will carry on through the following decades.

From the original “Beatlemania” fad in the 1960s to the band’s continued cultural relevance today, it doesn’t seem likely that The Beatles will fade into obscurity; it’s multiple successes, from Rubber Soul to Sgt. Pepper’s to Abbey Road, have permanently sealed The Beatles’ place in history as one of the greatest rock acts ever to grace the radio.

McCartney, who is now approaching his 80s and is one of just two Beatles left alive, has no qualms about continuing to perform solo in his old age.

“People say age is a number,” said McCartney. “It's a big number the older you get. But if it doesn't interfere, I'm not bothered. You can ignore it. That's what I do.”


Next week’s review: Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory”

Friday, February 10, 2017

REVIEW: THE STROKES' "IS THIS IT"

Is This It is the debut album from American rock group The Strokes. Released in 2001 after months of hype buildup following a European tour and an EP release, Is This It catapulted The Strokes to mainstream success to become one of the most popular and well-received albums of this century.

The content:

Is This It feels like the inspired lovechild of early Radiohead and an edgier version of The Who.

Thought the album was sonically softer than I initially expected, it’s not difficult to fall into the trance of the album’s initial groove and swing. The bass, loud as can be, absolutely excels in carrying the band’s finger-snapping riffs and drumbeats.

As a result of the album’s under-produced recording and mixing, each instrument gets to shine equally, allowing for both distinct guitars/bass as well as cool, mellow vocals that all intermix for a high quality listening experience.

Speaking on terms of the music itself, its light, melodic riffs and surface charm serve as a façade for darker, more reflective lyrics. The second track on the album, “The Modern Age”, ends with “Tomorrow will be different/So this is why I’m leaving.” Hidden behind a somewhat peppy riff is that gut-punch dose of irony of making a change in the face of a different change.

Another lyric from “Alone Together” takes the moodiness further. “Oh, “You drink too much”/Makes me drink all the same” builds even more on the band’s wordplay while consistently maintaining just enough cynicism to have an impact.

I think it’s both the landmark instrumentation and lyrics in Is This It that makes it so great. Even if it doesn’t hit on a first or second listen, the album’s ingenuity sinks in like a significant other; though it may not be love at first sight, by the third outing the album’s grooves will leave you swooning.

The impact:

More than 15 years after its release, Is This It is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of the 21st century.

The Slate, which named Is This It the greatest album of the decade in 2011, referred to the album as “a decade-defining record that set the agenda for how rock sounded and even looked throughout the aughts.” And, given the noted shift from “dad rock” to “arty arrogance” as noted by The Guardian (which named Is This It as the 4th best album of the decade), perhaps they’re right in their analysis.

Perhaps more unique about the album was the hype that built upon prior to the album’s release. After releasing just one three-track LP as a band, the band was almost instantly thrust into the spotlight, with a cover feature on NME and a wildly popular European tour, all before production on Is This It even began. 

For frontman Julian Casablancas, however, the fame didn’t come as easily as it seemed.

“Recording was painful; it sucked out my soul,” said Casablancas. “We only had a short period of time, and it was concentrating for 10 hours every day for a month and a half until 5 or 6 a.m., trying to focus on tones. I’ve never been so mentally fatigued as when I was finished with that album.”

The album also, to this day, retains its legacy for its starkness against the current rock trend of the time. The turn of the century right before Is This It’s release saw domination by both the nu-metal likes of Slipknot and Korn as well as the lighter pop-punk stylings of blink-182, New Found Glory, and other similar acts. 

Where Is This It comes in, however, is a revitalization of the classic 70s rock scene, straight down to the denim jackets, skinny jeans, and under-produced sound that stood against everything the industry of the time was about. It is safe to say, then, that Is This It stood out then as a different take on rock music, and continues to stand out simply for being genuinely good music.

Despite going against the grain, Is This It still saw immense commercial success, selling nearly two million units worldwide and charting both domestically and in the U.K.

The future:

The Strokes’ latest album, Comedown Machine, was released in 2013. A follow-up EP, Future Present Past, launched last year.

Though no official announcements regarding a new album have been made, in 2016 guitarist Nick Valensi revealed that the band was in the early stages of a new composition.

“We’re kind of just in writing sessions,” Valensei said.

The forthcoming album will likely continue with the band’s usual lineup of Casablancas, Valensei, rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, all of whom have maintained the band’s lineup since its inception in 1998.


Next week’s album: The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Friday, February 3, 2017

REVIEW: FALL OUT BOY'S "FROM UNDER THE CORK TREE"

From Under the Cork Tree is the second full-length album from Fall Out Boy. Serving as their mainstream breakthrough, the album helped to popularize punk within the realm of emo, serving well alongside the budding genre. Cork Tree, particularly two of its hit singles – “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down” – is one of the most recognizable rock efforts of the 21st century as a result of its success and imprint on the emo genre.

The content:

For those in tune with the stylings of 2000s pop-punk and emo-rock, From Under the Cork Tree treads on strikingly familiar territory while simultaneously laying down new foundations.

Specifically, tracks like “Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued” falls in line synonymously with both the grandiose song titles and fourth-wall breaking lyrics that would go on to shape the early sound of Panic! At The Disco. Meanwhile, the album’s grungier riffs, like the introduction to “Of All The Gin Joints In The World”, call to mind some of My Chemical Romance’s early work, particularly from their 2002 debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love.

However, where the album has its similarities, there are also unique elements to be found. Cork Tree establishes crisp drum beats and groovy bass lines in “Dance, Dance”, one of the album’s highlights. It’s these fresh takes on otherwise recognizable punk elements that introduce a fresh punk vibe to the band’s early emo sound.

Verging away from a comparative basis, Cork Tree delivers a variety of sound, even if it stays largely within punk domains. Vocalist and guitarist Patrick Stump brings a charming edge to lyricist Pete Wentz’s witty, if not grim lyrics; the album’s first lyric literally tells listeners, in Snicket-esque fashion, to “put this record down, take my advice, ‘cause we are bad news.”

But with the edge comes the somber in some of the album’s slower songs. One such lyric from “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” “I’m just a notch in your bedpost, but you’re just a line in a song,” ascends the song’s narrative to address itself while bringing genuinely smart writing to the table. Another song, “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner”, toys with wordplay and irony to keep the wit rolling: “So wear me like a locket around your throat/I'll weigh you down/I'll watch you choke/You look so good in blue."

From Under the Cork Tree feels like reading the beginning of a history book in that you get to listen to the beginning of an era. Fall Out Boy, with their first mainstream success, solidified not only the band's fanbase, but an entire genre with Cork Tree’s thirteen tracks of non-stop hits.


The impact:

From Under the Cork Tree helped to solidify Fall Out Boy’s status as both a stable rock group in addition to one of the three largest “emo” bands of the mid-00s alongside Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance.

Releasing around the same time as P!ATD’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (an album I reviewed back in December) and MCR’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, Cork Tree helped to cultivate a following within the emo subgenre of punk-rock, with the three aforementioned bands coming to be known as the “trinity” of emo-rock.

Cork Tree would go on to be named the ninth-greatest emo album in Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time.

“Fall Out Boy changed the course of emo-punk, pop-punk and pop itself with From Under the Cork Tree,” the magazine wrote in its ranking.

For some, Cork Tree was meant to be a grandstand effort that would follow in the footsteps of the band's debut, 2003’s Take This to Your Grave. Others, before Cork Tree’s release, would introduce Fall Out Boy as one of the biggest new acts, breaking through the charts to turn the band into ultrastars. Cork Tree, however, was seen by many as a step away from their debut sound.

Wentz, however, has defended their sophomore album for what it is:

"We wrote a record that means a lot to us but maybe isn't going to mean a lot to the people who are hyping us as the next big thing. And that's fine. We don't want to be the saviors of anything — we just want to be ourselves."

The future:

Fall Out Boy’s fifth top-10 album and third No. 1 on the US Billboard 200, American Beauty/American Psycho, released in 2015. The band embarked on tour during that year before headlining the Reading and Leeds music festival in 2016.

At their headlining Reading performance, Wentz told the audience that the band would be “back with new music.” No plans for a new album from the band have since been confirmed.


Next week’s review: The Strokes’ “Is This It”

Friday, January 27, 2017

REVIEW: BLINK-182'S "ENEMA OF THE STATE"

Enema of the State is the third full-length album from pop-punk pioneers blink-182. Serving as their second major-label effort after 1997’s Dude Ranch, Enema blazed the trail for other pop-punk bands to find their sound, ultimately creating the turn-of-the-century resurgence of the genre’s popularity. The conventions and styles found within Enema truly show how landmark it was in being that spark to the pop-punk explosion.

The content:

One of the things I enjoy most about Enema of the State is its presence of a cohesive team effort. Between Tom DeLonge’s melodic, yet raging guitar plucks, Mark Hoppus’ inventive bass grooves, and Travis Barker’s wildfire drum fills, Enema allows each member of the power trio to play off each other to create something really magical.

From the explosive riff in the opening track, “Dumpweed”, the album immediately sets out on making its bold statement…even if the lyrics get a little crude along the way.

Blink-182 has always been known for their toilet humor both in the studio and on stage, and Enema is no exception (the album’s title itself is a play on the phrase “enemy of the state”). One of the middle tracks, “Dysentery Gary”, refers to its male subject as “a fucking weasel” and “a player, a diarrhea giver”. The album’s closer, “Anthem”, offers some heartfelt insight for the immature, impatient youth: “Good things come to those who wait, ‘cause she laid me.”

A mellow step down from the vulgarity comes the classic, yet fresh angst that comes with being an adolescent. One of the album’s biggest hits, “What’s My Age Again?”, speaks of the narrator’s inability to mature past his childish antics, warning that “Nobody like you when you’re twenty-three”.

But going even deeper than this is the extreme maturity and reflection found in “Adam’s Song”. Labeled as the band’s “anti-suicide” song, “Adam’s Song”, though perhaps the darkest track on the album, is also the brightest. Some lyrics within the album’s seventh track may seem out of place (“Remember the time that I spilled the cup/Of apple juice in the hall?”), but within the larger piece these offhanded memories detailed within the song form what’s easily one of blink-182’s most personal, hard-hitting tracks in which Hoppus laments, “Please tell mom this is not her fault.”

Enema of the State brings a boatload of experience and craft to the table as far as sound, content matter, and sheer re-playability. Which is to say, Enema’s twelve tracks are a drug, a cocaine of sorts; once you hear your first taste of this album, it’ll be near impossible to turn away from its appeal.

The impact:

To this day, Enema of the State is seen as a hallmark album that not only capitalized on the rise of pop-punk’s popularity – it practically created that surge.

Coming off of the success of Dude Ranch (of which the hit single "Dammit" remains perhaps the band’s greatest hit), Enema doubled down on that album’s pop vibes and groovy guitar tracks to ultimately crash into the mainstream at the turn of the century.

From the album’s iconic cover featuring a nurse (portrayed by Janine Lindemulder) and the famous blue glove, to the monster singles that remain some of their most famous works, Enema is referred to by many as the record that allowed other pop-punk bands to find fame. In the few years following Enema’s release, bands like Simple Plan, Sum 41, and New Found Glory became mainstays in the scene thanks to blink-182.

“They’re the godfathers of pop-punk,” said William Beckett, former frontman of The Academy Is… in an interview with Rolling Stone. “When I heard they were reuniting [in 2009], I was losing my mind...”

Ryan Key, guitarist/vocalist for the soon-to-retire Yellowcard, spoke similarly of the band’s personal impact on his career. “I think the songwriting and production on Enema was a game-changer for me. It definitely made me want to be a better songwriter and make bigger-sounding records.” Yellowcard, in 2003, would release Ocean Avenue, a highly successful pop-punk album that launched the band into stardom.

Blink-182 themselves, of course, were floored by Enema’s success.

“This record changed our lives,” said Hoppus on the album’s 14th anniversary in 2013. “It still makes me happy to be onstage and hear Tom start the opening riff of ‘What’s My Age Again?’.”

From a sales standpoint, Enema would go on to sell nearly five million copies in the United States, with worldwide sales of over fifteen million records. To this day, it is the band’s most commercially successful album.


The future:

Blink-182’s most recent album, California, released on July 1st, 2016 – the 182nd day of the year. The album debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200, and as of January 2017 has sold 408,000 units in the United States since release. California has also been nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rock Album, serving as the first Grammy nomination in the band’s career.

California was also the first blink-182 album without DeLonge on guitar/vocals; he departed the band in early 2015. Matt Skiba, vocalist and guitarist of Alkaline Trio, replaced him shortly thereafter and became a full-time member of the band during the California recording sessions.

The band has made plans for a deluxe edition of the album, which Hoppus has called “A whole other album.”

“It’s more of an extension of what we did in the studio earlier,” said Hoppus.

Next week’s review: Fall Out Boy’s “From Under The Cork Tree”

Friday, January 20, 2017

REVIEW: THE WHO'S "TOMMY"

Tommy is the fourth studio album from the legendary British rock band The Who. Introducing the concept of the “rock opera” – a rock album that interweaves a conceptual plot -  to the world in 1969, it is hailed as the first “extended work” in the rock industry and has since been critically acclaimed for breaking ground within the genre. What foundations did Tommy lay down that has rendered its artistic relevance nearly half a century after its release?


The content:

Tommy dabbles both in the grandiose and the simplicity of its time. Coming from the tail end of the 1960s, I expected the latter without much deviation from the classic, low-key rock.

I was wrong.

The opening track of Tommy, Overture, incorporates the French horn, of all instruments, into a classic rock song. While the majority of the instrumentals on this album aren’t as in-your-face as rock-n-roll’s later contemporaries, the complexity layered between each track makes up for that to provide for a cohesive, artfully plot-centric album. This to say that there’s subtlety in the music’s genius. Though I wasn’t immediately wowed by the album’s sound, once I saw it through the lens of the arrangement I found new appreciation.

Tommy tells the story of a deaf, blind, and dumb boy named Tommy as he explores his world, meeting characters such as The Hawker and The Acid Queen, before becoming a “pinball wizard” and starting his own religion as he regains his senses. The story’s plot is interwoven through the lyrics as they appear (Tommy features large instrumental breaks throughout tracks). Though the story comes off more blatantly than, say, American Idiot (another famous rock opera by Green Day), casual listeners can still hear any particular song from this album and go, “Oh, I love the chorus to this song!” or, “I really dig the drumbeat here!”

Speaking of drumbeats…

Keith Moon’s expertise at the drum kit proves to be what’s perhaps the most unconventional sound on the album. Throughout fairly standard guitar tracks and instrumentals are the wild, yet sonically deep drumbeats that manage to both provide rhythm and throw variety into the mix. If anything, Moon’s work on the drums in Tommy feel ahead of their time when looking at classic rock from the 1980s and 1990s; fills found in tracks like The Hawker and Christmas nearly verge on punk territory.

On a larger scale, the pacing of this album feels superbly tight-knit. I’ve complained in the past about albums being too blended when tracks sound the same, but in Tommy’s case that sense of unity proves to be more of a blessing than a curse. Keeping the concept of the rock opera in mind, each track hinges on Tommy’s story almost to the extent that the album feels like one seventy-five-minute manifesto as opposed to a collection of tracks. Thus, Tommy should be treated more like a storybook, or a movie, rather than a rock album – though different, Tommy deserves to be heard for its story in addition to its groundbreaking arrangement and interpretation of classic rock.

The impact:

Tommy made waves in 1969 as the world’s first rock opera, ultimately reinventing the band’s sound and bringing them to renewed prominence. The lead single from the album, Pinball Wizard, found success and went on to become one of Tommy’s staple tracks.

The frontman of The Who, Roger Daltrey, spoke of the album’s influence on his voice in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “Once we got into doing all the songs on Tommy, as a vocalist I realized they really needed a stronger interpretation,” said Daltrey. “It gave me a canvas that was big enough to really, really take some chances. Once we got out on the road and sang it live, it just took off on its own and my voice grew with it.”

The Who would later record Quadrophenia, a 1974 album that also serves as a rock opera in light of their success with Tommy. Fans often consider those two albums to be some of the best in the band’s discography.

Daltery also supports Tommy as the peak in The Who’s musical career. “I just think it's the most complete. It is for me as a singer, anyway.”

To support the album, The Who played several gigs during 1969 and 1970 in which Tommy was played in its entirety, so as to reinforce the idea of the album as a cohesive narrative experience.

The album has since been re-interpreted as stage musicals on Broadway as well as in Seattle and London, in addition to a 1975 film of the same name based on the album.

The future:

Only two of the band’s original members – Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend – are alive today. Currently, The Who plan on touring throughout the United Kingdom in Spring of 2017, with special plans to play Tommy in its entirety for the first time since 1989.

While The Who were originally set to retire in 2015 after a set of festival performances, the future of the band after 2017 is now unclear.


Next week’s review: Blink-182’s “Enema Of The State”

Friday, January 13, 2017

REVIEW: NIRVANA'S "NEVERMIND"

Nevermind is the second of three studio albums released by Nirvana. While Nevermind, as well as Nirvana itself, exploded almost immediately upon its release in 1991, more than 25 years later it has since left behind an undeniable legacy that few albums have topped. Its fame and icon status has since made Nevermind arguably one of the greatest albums of all time, in part due to a plethora of factors.

The content:

Listening to Nevermind for the first time, as a twenty-year-old adult, was a tricky experience. There were all sorts of expectations going in – with Nevermind being one of the most iconic albums of all time, going in with a clean slate was tough (I had never heard anything from the band besides Smells Like Teen Spirit before sitting down to write this piece). That said, listening to one of the greatest albums of all time, holding each and every song to that mantle, was tough to steer away from.

But for a band consisting of only three musicians, Nevermind’s sound is absolutely explosive from beginning to end.

There’s a lot of meat in this album that’s a little difficult for me to put into words. While there’s a certain grunge that Nirvana has come to identify with (and is featured prominently on the opening track, Smells Like Teen Spirit), the other side of the coin features some kind of softness under the album’s menace.

One such slower track, Come As You Are, beautifully blends soft, gloomy riffs with a dark, heavy bridge without any forced transition. Come As You Are also precedes Lithium, a song with a similar mesh of the beast and the beauty of Nirvana.

But besides the balance between soft and heavy, or light and dark, Nevermind ushers in lots of distinct musical styles to suit any listener. Territorial Pissings and Stay Away have classic punk roots embedded. In Bloom has a vague stadium-rock feel to it, whereas Lounge Act, in similar punk-fashion, feels distinctly garage-y.

All of these styles would be nothing, however, without the album’s masterful production. With Butch Vig at the helm, Nevermind feels as much a DIY effort as it does a major-label outing. Everything from the bass to the vocals feels just raw enough to dirty up the polish, yet Nirvana is careful to not capitalize off of that essence.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about Nevermind, but to channel the cliché, there’s almost nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. Nevermind is nothing short of a classic album that, in a combination of styles and mixings that work just right, truly stands out as a shining example of rock music.


The impact:

Discussing Nevermind’s legacy in the music world is like discussing the legacy of 12 Angry Men or The Wizard of Oz in the film industry: it is truly a game-changer of an album.

Upon its release in 1991, sales for Nevermind skyrocketed after the success of its lead single, Smells Like Teen Spirit. The album has since been certified diamond by the RIAA for sales of 10 million copies within the United States, with over 30 million sold worldwide since its release.

On a longer-term scale, the album has been ranked #17 on Rolling Stones’ “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and was featured on similar listings from Time magazine, Guitar World, and Entertainment Weekly. As evidenced by these rankings, Nevermind is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of all time.

Artists from across the music industry have been outspoken about the impact that Nevermind has had on them:

“You could just listen to that thing on repeat, it never dipped,” said Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. “Just hearing that tape…it had an impact. It felt like a change.”

Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, spoke of the leading single’s radio success in comparison to his band’s single at the time, Give It Away. “I kept hearing this Nirvana song and was like, "God, that's a great fucking song. But are they going to play 'Give It Away'?" And then they turned out to be the greatest band in the world.”

The successes of Nevermind caught its members by surprise – despite having a platinum album at the time with Nevermind, they still found themselves touring in their van for venues that held less than a thousand people. Drummer Dave Grohl still lived in his friend’s guest room after the album had sold ten million copies: “I think we were all in shock after it happened. I went to Benihana with a credit card like, ‘Oh my God, this thing works!’”

Perhaps the only person not allured with the Nirvana sensation was the frontman himself – the legendary Kurt Cobain.

“I think it's embarrassing to have so many expectations of us,” said Cobain. When asked if his band weren’t prepared to become superstars, he responded affirmatively.

“We're not going to be [superstars]. We're prepared to destroy our career as it happens.”

Nevermind has since left its legacy perhaps as a relic of what once was Nirvana – the band disbanded after Cobain’s 1994 suicide. In light of the band’s sudden end, it’s still imperative to recognize the sheer impact that Nevermind had, from within the music industry, to the punk/grunge scene, to the millions of young-adults finding their place within the 90’s finest piece of musical work.

The future:

Given that Nirvana disbanded after Cobain’s 1994 suicide, it’s hard to determine what the future has in store for Nirvana’s legacy. That said, there’s no denying that the legacy still present isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Drummer Dave Grohl, after Cobain’s death, went on to form his own band, Foo Fighters, which have also seen international success in the music industry. Their latest album, Sonic Highways, released in 2014.

While Foo Fighters has been on indefinite hiatus since 2015, Grohl has assured that the band is remaining intact, having scheduled the band to perform sporadically in 2017.


Next week’s review: The Who’s “Tommy”

Friday, January 6, 2017

REVIEW: ALKALINE TRIO'S "MAYBE I'LL CATCH FIRE"

Maybe I’ll Catch Fire is the second full-length album from Chicago rock group Alkaline Trio. Releasing in 2000, the album saw little success…but has since blossomed into a shining example of Alkaline Trio’s ascent into punk stardom.

The content:

Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, speaking strictly on the basis of its production, feels like a microcosm of the entire pop-punk genre.

From the omnipresent bass, to the raw, biting guitars, to the often-humble drum, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire quite literally exudes that low-fi punk sound that has come to define some of the punk genre as a whole. Particularly in the album’s opening track, Keep Em Coming, the garage rock vibes hit like a truck, and it proves effective with the album’s sound. Other tracks, like Sleepyhead, provide a darker, deeper grunge to spice in some variety.

The lyrics within Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, much like the album itself, sound typical of the genre as a whole: retrospective, often angsty, but throaty and raw where it counts. Tracks like Madam Me and Radio feel bratty enough to make an impact (“Warmer than piss, have you ever felt like this?” and “Shaking like a dog shitting razorblades” are two particular lyrics that come to mind), yet at the same time carry a certain intelligence that not every punk song can.

Structurally, some songs feel blander than others. You’ve Got So Far To Go, which starts on a mellow enough scale for listeners to find their groove, feels too simplistic compared to harder tracks on the album. Similarly, 5-3-10-4, a later track on the album, doesn’t feel landmark compared to the dynamic riffs found during some of the album’s front-half highlights.

But then there’s the closer: Radio.

Starting off with a chillingly morose riff leading into a smooth drumbeat, Radio proves to be the album’s highlight as the narrator, during the heaviest chorus on the album, sings of his resentment for a girl. The hatred toward the subject reaches its climax with the titular lyric: “I wish you/Would take my radio to bathe with you/Plugged in and ready to fall.” Radio lulls its listeners to the album’s close, but not before one last bout of scratchy, angry vocals.

Though it might not be absolutely dynamic or groundbreaking, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire proves to be a fine example of some of the better works that came about during the pop-punk surge in the late 90s/early 2000s.

The impact:

While Maybe I’ll Catch Fire wasn’t favorably reviewed upon its release (some reviewers saw the band’s debut, 1998’s Goddamnit, in a superior light), it still paved the way for the band’s current success, particularly before their breakthrough album, From Here To Infirmary, released in 2001.

Though Alkaline Trio would claim success with their third album, its 2000 predecessor would still come to define the sound that not only made the Trio successful. Songs on Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, like Keep Em Coming, set forth the band’s sound that would carry over into Infirmary.

Matt Skiba, frontman for Alkaline Trio, has come to credit their musical sound and tone to his Chicago upbringing, despite his longtime residency in Los Angeles. “When people ask me where I'm from or where the band is from, I say Chicago without a doubt,” said Skiba. “I was born and bred…and it's like any city: It is what you make it and there's assholes and beautiful people everywhere, just don't run with douchebags and you're good.


The future:

Alkaline Trio’s latest album, My Shame Is True, released in April of 2013.

More recently, Skiba has been busy serving as the guitarist and vocalist for blink-182. Filling in for, and eventually replacing Tom DeLonge in early 2015, Skiba has since toured with blink-182 in support of their 2016 album, California.

Skiba, however, is adamant that his involvement with blink-182 doesn’t spell the end for Alkaline Trio. “Once things with Blink cool down a bit, the Trio can go in and make a new record and start touring gain while Blink is on break,” Skiba said in an interview with Daily Record. “It’s such a unique and wonderful position to be in, having two full time bands that people (myself included) are big fans of.”

Next week’s review: Nirvana’s “Nevermind”