Emery – “Now What” (Single)

New Release!

I’m biased. Emery is one of my favorite acts in the genre they work in. While there have been a few records that didn’t resonate with me over the years, they’ve always stayed true to themselves, and I respect that. 

I just recently got to see them live for the first time since I was maybe 13 and, my god, it was fantastic. Collectively, their hair is beginning to gray, and wrinkles are starting to show on their faces, but the energy they bring to each new performance is more intense than most younger bands I’ve seen lately. 

Live they were incredible. I hadn’t seen a more energetic group of musicians in quite a while (probably since last I saw Enter Shikari). On record, that energy is much more controlled; the music doesn’t feel nearly as explosive as it is live, and I’m unsure why that might be. 

Obviously a concert is much louder than your car stereo, and watching an involved performance can add a bit of weight to the music, but I’m not sure that’s the only difference. It seems like this band has never been properly captured. The guitarists have such an incredible sense of harmony in their writing, and it never comes across as well record as well as it did from the stage the other night. 

Toby Morrell has one of the most unique set of pipes amongst his contemporaries, which was one of the more intriguing parts of their live show. Over my many years of listening I had never picked up on how smooth his vocals were, outside of the “You Were Never Alone” track “Thrash”. To me, that voice would be the first thing I would want to preserve while doing a mix, but it, like the guitar harmonies, never came through while listening to their albums.

Again, I saw them when I was around 13 years old, and immediately after that show I really liked them. Over time though, I couldn’t remember what it was at the core that attracted me to the music. 15 years later, the other night at the Crescent Ballroom, I was reminded. Everything came together so well in a live setting.

Emery is fantastic on record, their songwriting is incredible, and their production always sounds good, but none of the previous recordings really capture how they actually play. They have such a clear distinction between guitar parts, live. They achieve a perfect harmony and timbre with their vocals, the way they fit the synths into the picture is smart; all of it gave a lot of previously unrecognized life to the songs I’d been listening to for ages.

With “Now What” I felt differently. I could really feel the weight of the instruments, the emotion behind the lyrics, the definition between guitars, and voices as well. This was, in my opinion, the best mix that Emery has ever put out. Of course ease of access to new technology, and better recording practices can contribute to the overall sound, but I didn’t feel this way about their last release, “Eve”. It was a great record, but I feel like it also suffered from the ail that plagued their other releases; it didn’t feel like Emery does live.

I really enjoyed the new track thru and thru. It felt like an Emery track in all it’s post-y glory, from the immersive, and intriguing guitar work, to the duo vocal performances. It’s full of old post hardcore soul, but at the same time, can definitely stack up against some of the more popular releases of the day. Everyone should absolutely be listening to this band in 2019, they’re just as good now as they’ve always been, if not better. The new single is fantastic, and Im very excited for this new record to drop.

Everyone who has ever been a fan of post hardcore needs to see this act live, they are the one band I can say it is an absolute must. And while I do really enjoy the mix on this new single, I don’t think it’s possible for an recording engineer to capture what they truly put forward in concert. I suppose it must be more than just a mix, it must be an energy. A pure, honest, and genuine energy that can only be experienced from the crowd.

Oh, Sleeper – “Bloodied / Unbowed”

Oh, Sleeper
Oh, Sleeper – Live in Phoenix, AZ at the Crescent Ballroom

I absolutely love this band. They were actually one of the first heavy acts I ever saw live. I believe it was on one of their earlier tours when they were playing with Norma Jean. I wanted to review this record right as it came out, but I decided to wait. I had seen that Oh, Sleeper would be coming through Phoenix supporting Emery and Hawthorne Heights, and had decided to wait until I saw the record live to do a full review. I am very glad I took that route. 

Firstly, Oh, Sleeper commands a crushing force of from their stage; something more than just their presence, and style. At this point, each band member has been touring to some capacity in one band or another since the late 90’s, and you can really feel that experienced energy they give off as a group. Micah Kinard’s vocals rip through the crowd like a chainsaw. Throughout the show, I caught quite a few “wow” looks from the crowd, specifically during the middle of “Vices Like Vipers” (if you know the track you know the part I’m talking about). I don’t think I’ve seen a more consistent or better sounding vocalist in the metalcore scene. In my opinion, Kinard should be heralded as one of the best metal voices of our time. 

Zac Mayfield’s holds everything down, from the crushingly heavy breakdowns, to the technical movements. Not only is he an impressive drummer, but he’s just as fun to watch play as any of the other members. 

Of course we can’t continue on without mentioning Shane Blay. He’s a well accomplished guitarist who has also been a part of the band Between The Buried And Me since 2005. It’s always more fun to see guitarists like this play at smaller clubs; you can watch just how intricate the parts are, and zoom in on their play style. Watching him shred through songs like “Endseekers” was truly impressive. 

Finally, Seth Webster, the band’s current touring bassist, is by far one of the most energetic bass players I’ve seen live. I remember saying to myself at quite a few instances, “damn, that guy’s having a good time!” 

The band themselves were great, and the set was awesome. They played a perfect mix of new and old songs which I think was the best way for them to do this tour. Being able to hear tracks from “Bloodied / Unbowed” juxtaposed with songs off of their earlier records is what really solidified my feelings about their newest release.

Oh, Sleeper - Green
Oh, Sleeper – Live in Phoenix at the Crescent Ballroom

Metalcore has had its ups and downs in recent years. The genre as a whole is certainly not as popular as it was a decade ago, and the biggest names in the scene have taken plenty of missteps. The Devil Wears Prada announced a few years ago that they wouldn’t be playing anything from their early records in a live setting anymore, which was effectively a slap in the face to anyone like myself who hold that material as some of their best work. Underoath’s newest release dropped to mixed reviews, and a lot of confusion, Bring Me The Horizon’s most recent records show them distancing themselves from their original sound. Effectively, things have been fairly inconsistent in this scene, and there are few acts anymore that fans of the genre can really count on for persistent, true to form releases. Oh, Sleeper has always been one of those bands.

“Bloodied / Unbowed” feels like the perfect next step for Oh, Sleeper. It’s been quite a while since their last record, but this new one feels so true to their other works, it’s like they never left. The band has always had a very specific flavor to their music; a certain theme that distinguishes them from the rest. 

Each record they’ve put out feels like a new take on the same thematic elements. Therefore, each new release sounds familiar, and yet also completely new. You can really hear this theme come forward during the lead line in the beginning of “Endseekers” as well as though the chaotic riffing in “We Are The Archers”. More importantly to me though, you can also hear this theme right up front in new tracks like “Decimation & Burial”, “The Island”, and “Of Bane & Disease”. 

This record is not at all a departure from their signature sound, but at the same time, it doesn’t suffer from the repetitiveness that plagues so many other bands. The songwriting across the whole of “Bloodied / Unbowed” feels experienced, artistic, and downright smart. There were plenty of moments throughout that surprised me, like I was being lead to expect a certain cliche was approaching, only for that expectation to be crushed with some brilliantly written, and totally unpredictable movement. 

“Bloodied / Unbowed” is all together a monster of a record, one of the best metalcore outings I’ve listened to in quite some time. It shows that the guys in Oh, Sleeper are far from being done, and very far from being out of ideas. 

This band is absolutely one of the best in the metalcore business, their wealth of experience runs very deep, and it shows. Their dedication to their craft is commendable, and they have the musical skill to match their ambition. I’m very happy to see these guys at it again, and I’m already anxious to hear what’s next for them. 

The Violent Femmes – “Hotel Last Resort”

I could never put my finger down on exactly why I loved The Violent Femmes, but now, after hearing this I can tell you why.

Their self titled record from 1983 had energy!

The simple riffs were played with intent, the lyrics were sung with commitment, and force, the music was sort of silly, but it was extremely danceable nonetheless. That record is near perfect in its execution and style, and there is nothing in its same vein that can compete.

This record “Hotel Last Resort” is none of those things. Lyrically it may be a little more grown up, but so is the music in the worst way possible. I can imagine if the band itself was an entity it would at this point be an aging music fan who spent too many nights drunkenly dancing around and now his knees shake as he struggles to get out of bed. The record sounds like a version of The Violent Femmes, but without the gusto that made them so great.

I had a hard time listening to this to be honest. A more mature, and better informed music fan would probably laugh at my taste for disliking this so much, but in my world The Violent Femmes exist to dance to; while fully clothed or otherwise, sober or otherwise, and vertically or otherwise. I don’t really care what the lyrics are about, they were just sung with such conviction and intensity on that self titled record that it doesn’t matter what they’re saying. On this release, nothing feels intense, it’s too grown up for what I love about this band.

Kolby Bergquist

Sum 41 – “Order In Decline”

The new record is interesting. Its not terribly good, but it’s also not a bad record as a whole. There are quite a few songs that go absolutely nowhere, and just sort of meander around a riff or two, but there are also some great tracks as well. “Turning Away” “Out For Blood” and “A Death In The Family” are all great punk tracks, that feel like both a departure from their original body of work, as well as a new direction.

These tracks feel way less like the goofy pop punk icons they once were, and much more like standard punk fair for the common man. On the other side of the coin, the rest of the songs, save one, are very boring. I suppose this is what we all must accept sooner rather than later, artists sell singles now, not records. Most of the tracks feel like filler, in stark contrast to their 2001 release which was in fact all killer.

As a whole this record feels so average. They did a good job hyping it up,
releasing songs like “Out For Blood” first. I was extremely excited about the heavier feel of that track and was itching for more like it. Unfortunately it’s the only song that sounds like that on the whole record; everything else is very standard.

By far the most exciting song on the record is “The People Vs…” which is a pulse pounding, punk track played ad breakneck speed. The chord structure of that song is interesting, inventive, and downright cool. Hearing that piece near the end of the album just sort of ruined the rest of it for me. The whole record is standard and at times very boring, and then out of nowhere this blazing fast, well written, excellent punk song. So now we know they had that in their back pocket the whole time they were writing, why aren’t the rest of the songs nearly as well done?

Generationals – “Reader As Detective”

Review by Nick Spezzacatena

Generationals new album Reader As Detective is exactly what you want out of indie pop music. It’s up beat, light hearted, and just plain fun. The instrumentation is bubbly, and danceable. I found myself bobbing my head to the beat while trying to be very scrutinizing while doing my very serious review. There is great groove going on through the entire album with the drums, bass, and catchy synth lines.

This band does a great job of creating classic pop riffs and turning them into something new and modern. The mixture of the retro melody lines with modern instrumentation makes the music super catchy, very interesting, and strangely familiar at the same time. The music feels comfortable as if it all the different moving parts belong together. They don’t force anything into the music, it flows effortlessly as music should. It is all very simple, but also perfectly catchy.

The mixture between the synthesized drums and acoustic drums was a smart direction, and it works very well. The synth drums are used more as fillers than the main beat of the song. Anything synthesized is perfectly juxtaposed with live instrumentation, and the sound they create is awesome. If you are an indie pop fan, you will love this album. The production is superb; it has a somewhat dirty and gritty sound without losing the tone and lighthearted feel to the album. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this album.

HUNNY – “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Review by Nick Spezzacatena

HUNNY recently dropped an album called Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. This album is very interesting, and honestly a breath of fresh air for me. They obviously took influence from other great bands, but they still managed to incorporate a distinct style of their own – different enough from everything else in this vein, but not so different that it stands out particularly. OK, it’s actually a little difficult to pin down.

HUNNY is a band out of California that worked with producer Carlos De La Garza. Garza worked with Paramore and you can definitely hear that style in this album. The whole record has this driving down the highway windows rolled down with the beach to your right type of vibe. Musically it stays very upbeat, and feels like summer dance music. Lyrically it’s a completely different story.

The album is full of classic break up tunes, enveloping the feeling of sad loneliness, with the intent of moving on. The lyrics are ultimately 2000’s Emo in style, which I’m not upset about at all. The lyricist makes plenty of 80’s references throughout the record, and if you’re careful you can pick them out. They have super catchy melodies, that sound similar to something a minders iteration of The Cure might write.

According to their website they took influence from Depeche Mode for their synth sounds, which is definitely heard on a couple songs. I wish the synths were more at the forefront of all the songs and not hidden so far back since they are such great patches. The bass was screaming in these mixes, which being a bassist is nice to hear the bass being showcased. I have to admit though it was a little much. All in all though it is a good record and a lot of fun to listen too, a couple songs weren’t the best and you can tell they are still trying to find their sound fully. But I would say definitely give HUNNY’s new album a listen.

Chance, The Rapper – “The Big Day”

Review by Nick Spezzacatena

Chance the Rapper just dropped a new record. While he has quite a fewmixtapes in his catalog, This “debut” will be his fist full length studio album, as well as his first album for full profit. To me calling it a debut just seems like a publicity stunt to try and get more listeners, but at any rate, this is being considered his first record, and it is a marathon to listen too.

All together the album is made up of 22 tracks, which to me, is a little excessive. The number of songs wouldn’t be shocking if they all shared a common theme; like a concept album, but since none of the songs share continuity between them, I doubt that was the approach. Some of the tracks are super wordy, showing off his speed rapping skills, while others are slower, and more poetic with the lyrics. Throughout the album there’s a common lyrical theme in talking about real life issues; relationships, addiction, mental illness, bad upbringing etc.

Like most Hip Hop records, there are a lot of different artists that are featured on the album, but I ran into the issue where none of the artists who are featured are credited in the track titles, so me, having only cursory knowledge of modern Hip Hop, had no clue who the artists were until I did some research. There are about 23 different artists featured on the album and only 22 songs. Therefore, I felt like Chance’s voice gets lost amongst the hordes of performers. Everyone from Death Cab For Cutie to Nikki Minaj, Timberland and Randy Newman, to Gucci Mane are featured which is a hell of a cast of characters, but again it feels like too much. The album doesn’t really feel like a Chance the Rapper studio album; more like another mixtape with Chance rapping a verse here or there.

All in all, the album is alright, but the whole thing just feels like a more of a publicity stunt than an actual studio record. For the album being called Chance the Rapper’s “debut” studio record, there’s not a whole lot of Chance on the record. It feels a lot like a cheap attempt to try to achieve the most mass appeal as possible in the shortest amount of time. There is way to much going on in each song, and you quickly lose the appeal of Chance himself as he is only singing here and there, and rapping a verse every now and then. The best songs are at the beginning of the album with some interesting instrumentation and some catchy lyrics, but about 10 or 11 songs into the album, it starts to all morph together and sound the same. After “Handsome” the whole thing gets very boring in a musical sense, and becomes very repetitive lyrically. It wasn’t a horrible record by any means, but I am disappointed in it; the record as a whole does not have the passion and creativity that I’ve always enjoyed from Chance the Rapper.

Imperial Teen – Now We Are Timeless

It’s their first release in seven years and I’m not going to lie, you can really tell they have been out of practice for some time.

Imperial Teen has come out with a new album called “Now We Are Timeless”. It’s their first release in seven years and I’m not going to lie, you can really tell they have been out of practice for some time. The album is definitely nothing special or exciting, and it lacks a lot of creativity.

It sounds like they cant decide if they should update their style of music or not. It’s great if you want to stick to a specific sound, but then I feel you shouldn’t dabble in other things without fully committing. Each song jumps from one style to another in a very jarring manner that I couldn’t get a grip on.

There are a few songs that have what suspect is a cheap drum machine playing super simple beats and clean guitars, and in the very next song, they have no synths at all, and walls of distortion on the guitars. This would be okay, there are albums that jump back and forth like this to great effect; but it just doesn’t feel well planned and executed. Instead of feeling like an artistic choice, it feels more like they can’t make up their minds on weather to either reinvent their sound, or stay the same.

Musically its just too simple, and after hearing a few tracks, the record becomes very boring. They use the same exact riffs and play them non stop through the entire song; to the point where I honestly couldn’t tell where the verse ended and the chorus began. For the most part they use the exact same drum beat through each track, the hooks in each track are even similar. I found it getting a little obnoxious at times to be honest. Their voices are mixed strangely, like they were recorded in a tunnel; a super whiny sounding tunnel. My biggest issue with the mix in general was that when the drums and bass are playing together, I couldn’t decipher one from the other. There was so much low end, it muddies everything up to the point where it makes some things totally incoherent.

Ultimately, the album does not totally suck, but it is also not great either. Super simple indie rock works a lot of the time, but this outing just felt disjointed and unfinished. Each song isn’t horrible on its own, but as a whole it could have been a lot better with just a little more creative energy.

Tycho – Weather

Tycho, funny enough, is a band I came across while watching T.V. I heard their song during a commercial and was very interested. Ever since I have been a big fan. Tycho is definitely the type of band you put on when rainy, and cold, and you wanna relax with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Lately though I have been itching for new material. Tycho puts out a lot of remixes and “deluxe” versions of songs, and I think we’ve all been waiting for something new; finally, it’s here!

“Weather” starts off with all the classic Tycho sounds, super smooth and layered synths that make you feel like you’re on a cloud in a dream. Tycho is normally an instrumental project, and to my knowledge had never released anything on an LP with vocals. This album is different. As they have before, he starts off with his classic instrumental sound, he quickly makes the shift, and for most of the album the songs incorporate vocals.

The singer he chose for the record was Saint Sinner, who is great, and something that was a big surprise to me, I really loved it. I was skeptical of the new vocal incorporation, I thought it might take away from the unique style and feel Tycho usually brings. On the contrary, it actually added a lot to the music; a whole new layer to the soundscape. Her voice is nothing too special but its soft and smooth and fits perfectly into the Tycho sound. A couple songs get a little poppy, but nothing too crazy. He adds some dirty synth bass here and there, but its not a far cry from what they normally do, and at the same time is a nice change of pace for the record.

Of course the production on this album is pristine. The tone of the drums is incredibly crisp, and sharp, and the synth patches are beautiful as always. The whole record is unsurprisingly mixed very well, and all together sounds as washy, warm, and enticingly pretty as you would expect from Tycho. If you are already a Tycho fan, don’t let the vocals dissuade you from listening. Im sure you’ll love what they are doing. It is different sure, but it’s not to far off what they normally do, and what’s the harm in a music project exploring some new avenues?

If you have not listened to Tycho before I would say definitely give them a listen, maybe start with his 2014 record “Awake” and lose your self in the fuzzy wake for a few hours.

The Black Keys – “Let’s Rock”

The instrumentation was there, the songs sounded like The Black Keys, but all together I thought this record was missing that spark that made El Camino so great. They really captured lightning in a bottle with that release, and it almost felt like they were trying to recreate that commercial success by upping the production value for this album; that was the exact approach a band like this needs to stray from. I think they’ve made a passable blues rock record here, but a very sterile and boring entry for their specific catalog.

I found out about this band years ago when they were featured on a punk comp, which is pretty rare for a band that ended up with enough mass appeal to be featured at the start of every NHL playoff game here in 2019. Their recordings sounded raw. Clean enough for the radio of course, but just trashy enough for the indie credit. “Let’s Rock” has all the bland radio appeal we’re used to, without any of the stuff that made them appealing in the first place.

There were a few interesting moments on the record, “Lo/Hi” has a second drum track that pokes out from the background with ghost notes, and I thought that was a very inventive way to keep a pop sensible beat, and incorporate more intricate drumming. The usage of organs and keyboards on this record worked very well. Songs like “Walk Across The Water” were bolstered by their presence, and given a more interesting feel. In fact, in opposition to their previous releases, the slower songs in this record were by in large the better songs.

It seems like they took a different approach to writing the record. If their previous releases were punk sensible ode’s to the 30’s 40’s and 50’s blues movements, this one was undeniably indistinguishable from 70’s Adult rock records. I hate to insult my man Steve Miller, but this just sounds like a version of his stuff, all the way down to Dan Auerbach’s vocals. I never noticed how similar the two sounded until Auerbach’s voice was juxtaposed with similar music to Miller’s.

All together, this was by no means a bad record in the grand scheme of things, but I felt like it fell short of the high bar they’ve set for themselves by previously producing such an incredible catalog. Again, there are plenty of fun moments, but following record with such clout as “Brothers” “El Camino” and “Turn Blue” is always going to be an uphill battle. I appreciate the exploration with the extra fuzz on the guitars, and keyboards but ultimately it couldn’t save this one from being boring in comparison to everything else they’ve released.

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