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Lawn – Blood On The Tracks

Release Date: 5/11/2018
Label: Forged Artifacts

Between Bandcamp and the rebirth of the cassette, it seems like a golden age to be a bedroom pop artist. Well crafted, lo-fi indie pop lends itself perfectly to the cassette medium. There have been a ton of great releases over the last few years. The most recent to hit my ears was the new LP from New Orleans band Lawn.

Blood On The Tracks is hook laden post punk. Fugazi with White Album sensibilities. Or maybe it’s more White Album with Fugazi sensibilities. Lawn blurs the line between pop and post punk that at times it doesn’t always feel like the same band. But other times they combine the two so flawlessly that you see the band’s vision clearly.

The first three songs on the record really showcase and highlight Lawn’s versatility and vision. The album opener, 2000 Boy, is pure pop perfection. A perfect summer time playlist song. It’s a song fit for mass-produced Spotify playlists and public radio themed playlists (I’m looking at you Rosewave). Just as the pop induced coma sets in, Lawn hits you with the Pixies esque Rat. Rat hits you with groove heavy guitar and bass lines, striking quick hits, punctuating the melody. And of the two first tracks on the album, Rat has the more memorable hook. But the band puts it all together for the title track, Blood on the Tracks. It instantly reminded me of Fugazi songs like Recap Modotti and Sweet and Low. It’s a punk song infused with pop to drive home a point. Again, it’s not pop in any conventional sense of the word but you will find yourself singing the chorus days later.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Pop songs like Making Friends, Vinnie, Clank, and Jackson are interspersed between great punk tracks like My Boy, Restless and Tired (on of my favorites on the album), Hips, and Diets. Lawn gives you the full range of what they do all at once. Which makes me wonder if they should have gone the Modern Baseball route and cut the album differently. With a cassette release the ability to have the pop tracks on one side and punk on the other makes sense.

On the other hand, I appreciate Lawn crafting a record that keeps you on your toes and is giving you the whole range of the band top to bottom. This isn’t a record you can preview 30 seconds of and decide if you love or hate it. You have to sit and digest the songs. You get to be surprised by what comes next.

Between the gritty punk spirit and the beautifully crafted pop tunes, Blood on the Tracks is a must listen, but you have to listen! Or you might miss a hidden gem!

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Children 18:3 – Come In

Come In
I loved Children 18:3’s self-titled debut. But with each subsequent record and the band’s slipping further and further away from the fun pop punk sound that made that debut so great, it’s been hard to stick with the band. But it was still a shock when they announced that their crowd funded fourth full-length would be their last.

There’s a lot to like about Come In, as there has been with every record Children 18:3 has put out. There feels like there’s more of that punk spunk and energy that the band had on it’s debut, while keeping the maturity from their last two efforts.

The title track/intro has huge potential that I feel is never reached. A great guitar line and song structure that lends itself to the song building and coming to a huge crescendo. Or at least building itself into the second track in some fashion. But instead, the vocals build to fever pitch while the track barely moves to the richter scale and then it just dies. It sucks the energy out of the room for sure. You’re forced to regroup quickly as Bethlehem comes blazing in hot! My favorite song on Come In, a huge pop punk song delivered by Lee Marie. Afterall is classic Children 18:3. It’s a song we’ve heard on all of their records and love! It’s the type of song we’ve come to expect from Children 18:3. Hold Your Breath is the tamer version of Afterall. More straight forward rock & roll.

After that Come In fails to fully capture my attention. Don’t Stop Moving is a ballad. It’s not bad, I’ve just never been a huge fan of Children 18:3’s attempt at these moving ballad type songs. Because Of You is a big anthemic rock song led by Lee Marie. It’s a good bounce back from Don’t Stop Moving. For This We Ride is also a huge rock song but something about the arrangement, riff, and vocals (at various time, not all at once) makes the song a little disjointed for me. Not a terrible song, but just doesn’t do much for me. Let There Be Light is like a better version of For This We Ride. The songs feel more composed and unified.

The third Lee Marie fronted track, Watch Over Me, doesn’t hold my attention as much as the previous two. The guitar riff is interesting on the verse, but again, it feels disjointed from the chorus. Less so then For This We Ride, but just enough. Great Big World feels like Children 18:3 attempted to write a song that sounded like The Who, and succeeded. Long Ride Home is a goodbye song.It doesn’t sound like Children 18:3, but I kind of like it.

I like Come In. And I think I like it more than anything the band’s done since their self-titled debut. But I can also tell it’s not a record I will find myself looking to listen to as much as I still do their debut. Some great songs and not a bad record to end on. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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Lexi Elisha – Drowning In Love

After a pop/country ep (Eventually), Lexi Elisha released Rope. A mature, almost adult contemporary ep that I enjoyed. It had seemed that Elisha was turning a musical corner and heading a different direction musically. But if pop music is in your blood, it’s in your blood.

Gone is the almost Taylor Swift pop-country flair that dotted Eventually. And Lexi brings that maturity from Rope into her pop oriented stylings on Drowning In Love.

Atmosphere seems like the obvious choice for the ep’s first single. A super catchy hook that’s easy and light. There’s nothing to forceful of demanding about Atmosphere. It’s an inviting song that could work both on christian and mainstream radio fluidly. The title track is my least favorite song on this ep. There’s nothing wrong with the song at all and I like it. But it just doesn’t jump out of the speakers as anything that’s really attention grabbing.

Elisha’s singer-songwriter/country side showcases itself on Wait. With a drum track ripped from a Johnny Cash song, replicated by a drum machine, it’s a nice take on pop music influenced by country music without ever feeling like a country song. There’s also a tinge of pain on the bridge of the song. It’s a subtle hint of emotion that’s easy to miss, but it helps build a connection between artist and listener. Vanity is a heartfelt, beautiful ballad. The only one on the ep. The subtle guitar in the background of the tracks gives me faint reminders of the guitar on Taylor Swift’s Style. In fact if you listen to the songs back to back you find something very familiar between the two songs. Each distinctly different, but familiar. In the same way, there’s something familiar and comforting about the power pop closer Wayside. There’s a fierceness to the song, that, as much as I love Gold, Britt Nicole never came close to having. There’s a commanding presence on the track that I feel makes Lexi Elisha a force to be reckoned with.

Drowning In Love is a great little ep! As much as I loved the stylistic change on Rope, Lexi is one of those fresh pop voices that we need. 4 out of 5 Stars.

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Marriages – Salome

Marriages debut ep Kitsune is an epic shoegaze masterpiece. It was love at first listen. I compared the ep to a modern version of the Cocteau Twins. Listening back to Kitsune, I understand what I was hearing when I said that, but it feels wrong listening back.

But listening to Salome, I feel pretty safe saying that statement was more of a prophecy. It’s still not fully accurate but the comparison works better musically. The huge fuzzed out wall of sound is gone. The band’s post metal past is clearly in the review mirror. Which took me by surprise at first. I love Kitsune and that huge wall of verged out fuzz was what drew me in. That huge sound translated into an epic live show!

By losing their big fuzzed out sound, Marriages creates the space to build more dynamics and vary their sound within each song. I should also say that when I say Marriages reminds me of Cocteau Twins, I mean vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle reminds me of Elizabeth Fraser. The reverbed guitars on Salome also carry a sound very similar to Robin Guthrie’s. On Skin, the album’s second track, is where the Cocteau Twins sound and influence really surfaces.

The Liar opens up the record and from the first note, I knew I was in for something completely different. In fact, I had to check that it was the same band on Salome that released Kitsune and not another artist named Marriages. Where Kitsune was huge and expansive in sound, The Liar is simple. Even when the song builds and explodes, it’s the bass and drums driving the song, leaving Rundle’s guitar playing to work as an accent, giving it more focus. Santa Sangre has a beautiful guitar layer that let’s Greg Burns explore the bass and give the song an additional layer of texture.

Binge is the track on Salome that makes me say wow. The chorus just jumps out of the speakers and the melody of the hook is catchy and memorable. But it’s not an ear worm. You won’t find yourself singing the song later and fir days on end, but you’ll find yourself at ease and enjoying the track every time you listen to it. The title track is as close you’re going to get to the fuzzed out sound of Kitsune. It’s more of a wash in reverb than distortion. The keyboard riff on Less Than is interesting and there’s more intensity on the verse to the song then there is on any other track. It’s about as “pissed off” as I’ve heard Rundle.

There’s a lot I love about Salome. It’s musically interesting and compelling to listen to. Sure, I loved the big shoegazey sound of Kitsune and would have loved more of that, but it’s not like Salome doesn’t appeal to the side of me that just wants look at my Chuck Taylors while I play guitar. 4 out of 5 Stars.

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Red – Of Beauty And Rage

Radio rock is a tiresome genre stuck in a loop of mediocrity and songs that all sound like the same band. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bands who do it better than others, and it doesn’t mean you can’t bend the mold. Sure, it should be break the mold but Red doesn’t break it. Instead they work within the confines of the mold and push against the mold and bend things just enough to make it interesting.

Red decided that the industrial/new wave elements from Release the Panic weren’t going to carry over. Which is fine. As much as I enjoyed the fun of Release the Panic, that record didn’t really move me.

But the band’s not done experimenting with their sound. Of Beauty And Rage sees the band ratcheting up their sound by adding full orchestration to their hard rock vibe. Not sprinkled in, but running through each and every track. It’s a part of the records DNA. On top of that, vocalist Michael Barnes adds to the intensity by bringing more screaming into his vocals. Those two factors create an intenser experience then any I’ve previously heard from thebans.

Honestly, it takes a couple of songs before I find myself connecting with Of Beauty And Rage. Descent is a bit of a throwaway intro. Especially since Imposter has it’s own extended intro. Imposter has it’s ups and downs. It’s very cinematic in composition and vibe. But that movie score movement tends to take away some of the songs natural ebb and flow. The pre-chorus builds but dies to a melodic chorus. It’s not that I hate the singing on the chorus. It’s the music that creates a battling dynamic. On the flip side, it is the orchestration combined with Barnes’ vocal that create this over the top operatic sound that feels weird on the chorus of Shadow and Soul.

Darkest Part feels somewhat like an Evanessence song. Which I don’t hate. I actually love the movement and interplay of the strings and Barnes vocals. Fight to Forget goes back to creating an arrangement that makes the chorus seem out of place. I appreciate that the band is taking risks and not giving us standard hard rock arrangements of songs, but it just doesn’t appeal to me aesthetically. The opening strings on Of These Chains are moving and beautiful.  It feels like a turning point in the score. The song is simple and offers a much needed respite from the over arranged tracks.

By the time we get to Yours Again, Red seems to get back to just being Red. The arrangements a little simpler and I enjoyed the songs a lot more.

Like I’ve said a thousand times, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for bands trying to step out of the box and do new things. And honestly, I like Of Beauty and Rage more my first listen through then I did my fourth and fifth listens. So take that for whatever you will. Another solid hard rock record. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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Judgement Day – The Altar EP

Let’s just be honest. It’s 2015. No one is really going to be breaking any new ground in the hardcore or metal genres. What’s done is done. It’s either good music, or it’s not. Judgement Day’s debut ep The Altar, is good!

In the simplest of of descriptions, The Altar is what I imagine Pantera would have sounded like if they were a brutal hardcore band. The Altar features some great guest appearances including the frontmen from Messengers, World Of Pain, and Bleeding Through. Each guest vocal adding a different depth and color to the songs that make each and every track on this all too short ep very interesting and different from each other.

Ago of Innocence’s is a blistering opener for the ep. Chad from Messenger’s vocals add a nice low guttural tone to Godfather’s almost sing-songy yell. The hook on Seek feels like a classic Seventh Star chorus. Easy to sing and a song that would make it a great crowd song live. Vision of a Sanctuary simultaneously combines one of the most brutal breakdowns you’ll ever hear with an angelic like vocal that creates a dynamic I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. Rise is a pure circle pit song. Fast, short, and to the point. Get the crowd up and moving! The title track is the most metal song on the album (which makes sense since it features Brandan from Bleeding Through).

It’s an ep that I wish was a full-legnth. Is there a better compliment than that? I just wanted more. I can’t wait for more music from Judgement Day. 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

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Sollunar – The Observatory EP

There are moments when you hit play on a new record and within seconds you know you’re listening to something special. That’s how I felt my first time listening to Sollunar’s debut ep, The Observatory. Maybe it’s my unending love for good post rock. Maybe it’s the excitement of seeing the growth of a friend culminate into a musical masterpiece. Maybe it’s just because the ep is that damn good!

Sollunar is the solo project of Florida musician/engineer Josiah Bibb. And The Observatory is the type of record that reminds me of why I feel so in love with post rock in the place.

The discordant ambient guitar layers providing the bed for the main riff on Aperture/Overture before dying out to a piano bed which strikes out on it’s lonesome for only a second before the song builds and decrescendos, offering a brief glimpse at what’s to come. It’s a tease for something more, which you want. Sure, it could’ve built into the next song, exploding in a triumphal cacophony of sound. But Bibb lets the intro die and gives the songs space to breathe. The dynamics play a key role in establishing a give and take between instrumentation and creating an environment for the listener to dissect and re-listen and engage the songs.

The quietness of Years makes you grab the volume knob and turn up the speakers, trying to catch the subtleties of the song. You can tell there’s an intentional crafting of the songs, because if you expect the song to build to go one one, Bibb will add a little addendum to the track, taking it off the rails of convention, only to reemerge farther down the line, already caught up in the next wave of sound and expansion. At times the guitar seems out of tune and not quite in step with the rest of the song, but it shifts and swerves and finds it’s way back into harmony.

Hoarfrost quickly finds it’s groove and builds, never to a point where the song explodes, but it leaves you wanting it to go over the edge. And it takes you to the edge before quickly dethrottling. The title track is a beautiful ambient piece that serves more as a bridge between the first half of the ep and the second. The bluesy guitar riff  giving way for Permafractions to jump right in. No frills or silly introductions, just smack you in the face guitar goodness. The waltzing movement of the riff create a tension in the beauty and destruction happening at the same time.

Soliloquy closes the ep with this knowing that there’s beauty in the simplicity of life. Abigail Bibb’s simple vocal melody create a texture that stands so well on it’s own, that you wish there had been more of it.

And then the record ends. I found myself going back and listening to The Observatory over and over again. It’s the first great record of 2015. 5 out of 5 Stars

RIYL: Caspian, Gifts From Enola, Giants, The Mylene Sheath

You can download The Observatory EP at http://sollunar.bandcamp.com/releases

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A Common Goal/False Idle – Split Decision

I’ve always loved the split ep. A quick glimpse at new music from two bands. Potentially the discovery of two new acts. Or when established bands do a split with a newer, lesser known act (the Stavesacre/Denison Marrs split comes to mind). And always a chance for bands to covering each other. As a fan of both of these bands already, False Idle and A Common Goal’s new split gives me two out of the three things I love about split eps.

I’ve previously described A Common Goal as blue collar punk rock. A band that’s definitely a Boston band! The band’s two new songs on the ep are less intense than some of the band’s previous work. It’s that laid back California cool, Social Distortion thing that ACG does so well. Nowhere Fast and Tow Steps Behind have an almost worn down feel. That life (and punk) isn’t just about blazing a trail forward as fast as possible. The band’s cover of False Idle’s Where Do We Go is a great blend of homage to the original, while making it their own song.

Coming off of an acoustic ep for the band and their frontman, seeing False Idle hit hard and fast on this ep will give fans a reason to smile and breathe deep. The firebrand punk rock False Idle has delivered before isn’t going anywhere. First World Last Place is punk rock in sound and lyrics. Political, meaningful, socially aware. It’s a great song! Say Goodbye comes out even faster before settling into a great melody. False Idle’s cover of The Calvary takes an already great songs, ramps up the intensity and takes the track to a new level!

The spilt ep is great for fans of both bands, those looking for an introduction to the two bands, or someone who just needs some new punk rock in their stereo. I’m looking forward to more new music from both of these bands. 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

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Anberlin – Lowborn

Anberlin’s been headed in a direction where they do what they want musically and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. With Lowborn being their final record, they found new ways to push themselves into new directions I wasn’t sure he’d see the band go.

And that’s ok.

Look, do I like everything the band has done on their last two records? No. But I appreciate a band taking their final piece of work together and continuing to explore new avenues of the creativity that’s inside them. They could’ve made Cities 2.0, but it would’ve been boring and I imagine the music would’ve been lacking and disappointing. So kudos to Anberlin for taking some big risks on their swan song.

Lowborn is good. Don’t get creativity and good mixed up. Lowborn is the next logical step forward from Vital. Depending on how you felt about Vital, that might be good or bad… Or both.

We Are The Destroyer takes its time to build but when the hook finally hits the song explodes out of your stereo. I would rank it as one of Anberlin’s heaviest tracks and the best album opener since Godspeed. Armageddon has an electronic, almost dub step breakdown in the middle of the track that caught me off guard. But the song has a really nice groove and the ever building movement is nice. Stranger Ways is very 80’s influenced. And again, I like it, but we three very different tracks to start the album. It showcases the band’s influence and range.

Atonement is just one of those great Anberlin ballads where Stephen’s vocals drive the song. Birds of Prey eventual has some rock elements but it’s a real groove driven electronic song. It’s something completely different from Anberlin. Also completely different is Dissenter. But it’s different in a very drastic way. We hear Stephen Christian scream for the first time and Dessenter feels very much like a song we would’ve gotten from Thrice. Of course there’s an 80’s/electro vibe on the hook but that’s doesn’t take away from the intensity of the song. It’s one of my favorite’s on the record.

Anberlin took some risks, and I think largely they pay off and are worth it. It’s good to see a band explore and take musical freedom and be truly creative. It’s a high note to end a career and Anberlin should be proud. Is it my favorite record from band? No. But I get the feeling that’s not what Anberlin was trying to accomplish.

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Mxpx – Acoustic Collection/Demos Collection Vol 1

New Mxpx is always good in my book. Even just new renditions of old songs. Luckily Mxpx has given us two new records to hold us over until there’s real new material.

The Acoustic Collection is great! It’s a great mix of some classics and a couple of newer songs.The album starts with Doing Time, a version that feels similar to Mike’s version on Live From the Basement, but I still like  it. It’s the older songs, where a slower, new spin and emotion has been placed and focused. Songs Like My Mom Still Cleans My Room, For Always, and the almost folksy Punk Rawk Show, each one taking on a new dimension you never noticed before. Already “sad” newer songs like You’re On Fire, Never Better Than Now, and Drowning all take on a desperate, heartbreaking quality. There’s a depth to the songs that you don’t always notice in their original punk form. And the Acoustic Collection shows the depth of Mike’s songwriting.

The Demos Collection is a great look at the rawness that is Mxpx. It’s punk rock at it’s core. All the tracks come from all albums after The Ever Passing Moment (starting with Before Everything and After). There’s a bunch of Before Everything, Secret Weapon, and Plans demos. The songs don’t deviate a ton from the originals. A couple of lyrics changes here and there, but the demos provide a raw, unproduced, unmixed look at Mxpx. And it’s fun. The band called this collection Vol 1, so I hope that means more is on the way. And I hope that somewhere, someone can find earlier demos.

Mxpx fans will love both of these records!

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