This year was stacked full of music that kept me company during the good times and the bad. I paid more attention to the trends and the obscure more than I had in the last several years. During the beginning of this year I paid close attention to new music because I was fresh off of my “best-of 2014” self-assignment. As the year progressed I veered away from seeking out new music and resorted to the skate-punk of my yesterdays. Continue reading “Best Albums of 2015 | Honorary Mentions”
Simple Songs is out 5/19 on Drag City. Pre-order it at Drag City’s online hub of awesomeness.
Attending two live shows in three days at the same venue definitely gives you a unique perspective. As I sit down to write this review, I find myself comparing the shows. This would be unfair even if the artists were similar. In this instance, they aren’t, so I am ardently to look at last night’s show in a vacuum.
Last night’s show featured two bands that share relatively similar genres…and not much else. At this point in time, Against Me! has become an elder statesman on the punk circuit. With six albums and over a decade of touring under their belts, they have built up a relatively small but diehard following. Known primarily for combining fast, punchy guitar riffs with pulsing drum beats and lyrics that are overtly political, Against Me! knows what they are good at, and they execute.
But what made last night’s performance so intriguing was the widely publicized subject of lead singer Laura Jane Grace and her gender dysphoria. Born Tom Gable, Laura Jane Grace announced she would be transitioning to life as a woman in a powerful and extremely poignant article published in Rolling Stone in 2012. This was the second time I had seen Against Me!, but the first since 2012. I’m unashamed to admit that I was curious to see what, if anything, might be different about the band and its lead singer.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out the answer: very little had changed, and a lot had changed. Against Me! was the same in-your-face, unapologetic whirlwind of punk that I had enjoyed as a younger version of myself, when their songs about subjects such as teenage anarchy, disenchantment with the military industrial complex, or drinking too many Guinness resonated most deeply. With their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the whirlwind is still there, even if the subject matter has changed. With the album title setting the stage, the new Against Me! isn’t shy about attacking head on the issues that Laura Jane Grace has faced in her transition to being a woman – fear, rebellion, hatred, desire for acceptance, and many others. The album is powerful because it’s personal, and that comes through even more live. In many ways, Against Me! is as good and relevant as ever.
The headliner of the night was The Gaslight Anthem, a band that has now released five albums since 2007, the most recent being Get Hurt in early August, 2014. This show was the opening act of a tour for the aforementioned record, a tour that will take them all over North America and Europe.
I don’t secretly like The Gaslight Anthem – they have been one of my favorite bands for over six years. This was my second time seeing them live, while also seeing a solo acoustic show a few years back with lead singer Brian Fallon. But coming into last night, that favoritism had begun to wane. Get Hurt takes Gaslight in a new direction. Gone are the days of uber-catchy, vivid, punk-inspired, heart-broken, modern-day Springsteen tracks. In place are grungier, arena-sized rock anthems that leave a lot to be desired. And the change is just as evident live as it is on the new album. An over-the-top light show attempted to distract from the fact that they played very few songs from their previous four albums. This didn’t feel like a band wanting to proudly unleash new tracks to the world – but rather, a band that was hiding from its past. As if their fans had forgotten where they came from.
Admittedly, the show was entertaining throughout. But what it more readily accomplished was to defend my pre-conceived notions that the band had changed, and in my opinion, not for the better. No single moment better portrayed Gaslight’s attempt at transitioning to serious rock band than their choice for final song of the night – The Who’s “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland).” This, apparently, was a page ripped directly from their primary inspiration for the new album – Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, it came across as far too contrived, and left a lot to be desired until The Gaslight Anthem (hopefully) goes back to their roots.
On the band’s full-length debut As The Crow Flies, Spokane, WA-based Mama Doll deliver a solid collection of visceral folk songs brimming with wry, concise observations delivered via haunting melodies. Part of a resurgent folk music scene in the Northwest United States, the band play a brand of Americana that’s rootsy without being nostalgic. Far from safe-teen-birthday pop, Mama Doll arrive at the party playing dirty and shooting straight.
“Sirens” opens the proceedings with the dueling accapella voices of Austen Case and Sarah Berentson before settling into a familiar groove that underplays the brief song’s thematic weight. Aided by appropriately atmospheric reverb, Case and Berentsonis’ vocals anchor the whole record in a way that is devastatingly honest, never overtly sacharrine and always on-point. “Warm Bodies” builds pleasingly courtesy of a slinky bass line delivered by Jen Landis (also of Cedar & Boyer, Harold’s IGA) while first-single “Rumors” is elegantly memorable even as the narrator of the song expresses agnosticism toward romantic love. “I’ve heard rumors that the sun loves the moon/I just don’t think that’s true,” she says.
The album production is first rate for an indie act, “Lovin'” cruises along on the strength of expertly mixed vintage piano, bass and drums while “Sad Song” is pure jazz-guitar-toned waltz bliss. Fresh off a late summer west coast tour, Mama Doll have delivered a debut lp that leaves very little room for improvement. With musical climate change in full bloom, here’s to hoping rising ocean levels can carry As The Crow Flies to new audiences, at least long enough to get us a second Mama Doll record.
Buy As the Crow Flies at Mama Doll Bandcamp site
Official site MamaDollMusic.com
From Indian Lakes are from the Yosemite National Park area, which for those of us toiling in the Fresno/Clovis area, means they are locals. One of the best and most dedicated touring acts on the entire West Coast, the band has a new record coming out in October on Triple Crown Records.
Recently, Austin’s White Denim played two nights to sold out crowds at the legendary Troubadour club in West Hollywood. They are currently touring in support of their 6th full-length studio album, Corsicana Lemonade.
The quartet took the stage and then quickly hit us with the hard driving rock that they are known for. Each member brought their own unique style, even down to the clothes and shoes they wore (something you don’t see in this hipster saturated time). However, once those unique and funky beats started, they synchronized into one music-creating beast, energizing the crowd.
With each song, White Denim’s scorching music rocked the crowd, blending the sounds of southern rock with the velvety voice of James Petralli and funky, fuzzy bass lines. I wasn’t sure if I should be banging my noggin or swaying my hips to the sweet sounds.
Possibly the best part of the 90+ minute set was the jam sessions between songs. Seamlessly transitioning from one song to the next with a beautiful free flowing and energizing mix of guitar, bass and strong drums, the band made the crowd scream with appreciation.
By the end of the set, I don’t think any of us wanted it to end. Crowd and band had become one in an almost physical joining. In the current musical environment it’s rare to come across a band that truly gives it all on the stage, leaving behind the pretense.
Find out if White Denim is coming to your town (or one within 200 miles), and do yourself a favor and go!
First, a disclaimer: I didn’t make it to the Digital Wild show on Friday, as I promised. I met up with some friends for happy hour at The Hole in the Wall (legendary Austin dive bar and music venue) and couldn’t convince anyone to leave for the show. There was some music playing, but we weren’t really listening, so a review would be hasty and uninformed. It was loud, though.
“Rave Tapes” is the eighth full-length for the Scottish post-rock band, and it’s their best in years. What Mogwai does best is layer the noise, building and building and rarely releasing, creating dark soundscapes of swirling guitar, pulsating keys, and dense atmospherics. When they’re in top form, there isn’t a word, spoken or sung. Over the years, they’ve experimented with guest vocalists, spoken-word, and other throat-related theatrics, but to these ears it’s always taken away from the whole, rather than added to it.
There are just two tracks on “Tapes” with vocals: one is a strange found recording (I think) of a youth pastor talking about satanic messages embedded in Led Zeppelin’s music. Been there, done that, considered buying the ironic t-shirt. What’s cool is how they punctuate the sanctimonious prig with the composition behind it, almost echoing the young man’s righteous indignation with spikes of evil genius. There is another track, Blues Hour, that includes some hushed, shoegaze vocals. It’s probably the most forgettable song on the record.
But the top of this album is pure instrumental rock bliss. After starting slow, ominous, and heady for a few tracks, those keys start kicking in on Remurdered and Hexon Bogon and the dirge is on. The band has achieved that delicate balance necessary for arresting instrumental music: a crafty blend of melodic hook with a healthy side of discordant chord progressions and plenty of feedback and sonic distortion. Too much melody, and it’s trite. Too much noise, and there’s nothing to bring the listener in. The best post-rock bands find this balance often, and Mogwai is a trusted veteran of the scene. They do it here with aplomb.