2012 in music, pt. 6: I Dig the Future

The saga continues with The Atom Age, Millencolin, The Bouncing Souls, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Offspring, and The Gaslight Anthem.

The Atom Age – The Hottest Thing That’s Cool

May 29th, Asian Man Records

The Hottest Thing That's CoolThe Atom Age are from Oakland and they sound exactly like Rocket from the Crypt. No, really, exactly like Rocket. They’re a punk band with a saxophone player, and they openly admit to being huge RFTC fans. As a huge Rocket fan myself, I think that’s awesome, but it also dampens listening to them a bit because I keep thinking “I could be listening to Rocket”. But hey, their hearts are in the right place and they definitely have the energy and speed to take on RFTC’s brand of punk. In fact The Atom Age play even a bit faster than Rocket, sometimes more at the pace of the Voodoo Glow Skulls. Opener “Dig the Future” is a wonderfully adrenaline-filled intro, and other tracks like “Cut, Paste, Kill” and “Better Unknown” sound like the best of their idols. With Rocket from the Crypt reuniting in 2013, a band so similar to them seems kinda redundant, but since Rocket haven’t scheduled any US dates (yet :crosses fingers:) I’ll take The Atom Age as the next best thing. 4/5

Millencolin – The Melancholy Connection

May 29th, Epitaph Records

The Melancholy ConnectionSwedish skate punks Millencolin celebrated their 20th anniversary with a second rarities compilation, a sequel to 1999’s The Melancholy Collection. The first 2 tracks, “Carry You” and “Out from Nowhere” are new, while the rest are b-sides from their last 4 studio albums spanning 2000–08, previously released on singles and compilations. “Carry You” exemplifies the well-rounded rock sound Millencolin have developed toward since the release of Pennybridge Pioneers, while “Out from Nowhere” sounds more like Bad Religion. The best of the b-sides are those dating from 2002’s Home from Home: There’s “E20 Norr”, which is a Swedish-language version of album track “Battery Check”, the rollicking “The Downhill Walk”, and “Bowmore”, a personal favorite from Punk-O-Rama 8. None of the tracks are weak, though it’s understandable that they didn’t make the cut for the records, since they fall just short of the actual album tracks.

The Melancholy Collection also includes the DVD A Pennybridge Production, documenting the recording of the band’s 2000 breakout album Pennybridge Pioneers with Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz in the production chair. In addition to studio footage and live performances, it features their music videos for “Penguins & Polarbears” and “Fox”. Though not essential, this disc does serve as an added bonus for fans. 4/5

The Bouncing Souls – Comet

Jun. 12th, Rise Records/Chunksaah Records

CometIn 2009, The Bouncing Souls celebrated their 20th anniversary by bucking the album format and releasing a song a month instead, as a series of 7″s and digital downloads a la NOFX’s 2005–06 7″ of the Month Club. They ended up collecting the tracks on an album anyway, resulting in the loose and uneven Ghosts on the Boardwalk. For their 25th year and eighth (ninth?) proper studio record they went for a more traditional punk rock approach, enlisting producer Bill Stevenson (legendary drummer for the Descendents, Black Flag, and All) and banging the whole thing out in 12 days. The result is 10 tracks of classic Souls. “Baptized” plays punk fury to themes of Middle East strife, while “Fast Times” is social commentary set to a head-bobbing tune similar to “New Day” or “Sounds of the City” on previous albums. “Static” criticizes modern pop music and oversaturation of media with dark punk rage, while “Coin Toss Girl” is a classic Souls tale of doomed romance set to a lovely melody. “Comet” is musically uplifting in the same way as “Night on Earth” from 1999’s Hopeless Romantic. “We Love Fun” and “DFA” (“Down for Anything”) bring out the band’s silly side, with mosh-pit ready anthems about cutting loose and having a good time. “In Sleep” and “Ship in a Bottle” show off the band’s more mature, thoughtful side, the latter serving as something of a metaphor for their career. In sum, Comet shows off the best of The Bouncing Souls and fits nicely in their catalog alongside records like How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Anchors Aweigh. 4/5

The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

Jun. 19th, Martha’s Music

Oceania

Billy Corgan has earned a rep as a musical tyrant through such stories as him overdubbing James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky’s parts on Siamese Dream, so it wasn’t altogether surprising that when he resurrected the Smashing Pumpkins name for 2007’s Zeigeist, it was really just him and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. That album was all guitar riffing and pummeling (albeit with excellent drumming), and failed to connect on the level of Pumpkins classics like Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, largely because it ignored the greatest strength of those albums: the balancing of heavy bombast with dreamy, often psychedelic pop. Thankfully, Corgan has gone back to the well a bit on Oceania and remembered his gift for that dynamic. The album also benefits from more of a “band” vibe (an element almost entirely absent from Zeitgeist) and a return to the album format, which Corgan had said he was abandoning in light of today’s market trends.

Delivered as part of the Pumpkins’ ongoing 44-track Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project, Oceania is an album-within-an-album. But you don’t have to know or even care about that since Oceania stands alone as a cohesive work. It still feels odd for this band to be called The Smashing Pumpkins, especially now that Chamberlin’s gone, but Corgan and his current band (guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Florentino, and drummer Mike Byrne)  have somehow managed to recapture the vibe of Siamese Dream without it sounding like a throwback. Judged against ZeitgeistOceania sounds positively fresh and inspired. At first you might think it’s going down the same path as Zeitgeist when it opens with the heavy rocker “Quasar”, but the track actually has a psychedelic feel to it that makes it sound more like 1991’s “Siva”. “The Celestials” was a good choice for a lead single, opening with an acoustic and orchestral section that recalls “Disarm” before it builds to a huge prog-rock number. The mid-album “Pinwheels” is the record’s best track, though, led by a dreamy keyboard line and slowly building to a swell of guitars both acoustic and electric accompanied by swooning vocals and lovely harmonies. “The Chimera” stands out in the second half with a class-rock feel. The whole affair is a welcome return to form for Corgan, and the first release since the original lineup’s dissolution that truly sounds like a Smashing Pumpkins record. 4/5

The Offspring – Days Go By

Jun. 26th, Columbia Records

Days Go ByThe Offspring seem to have a habit of featuring the jokey and/or mediocre songs from their albums the most prominently. Take “Days Go By”, the lead single and title track from this record: It’s  a midtempo modern rock number reflecting on the gains and losses of growing up from the perspective of adulthood. It sounds like some of the weaker material by the Foo Fighters or Unwritten Law, and it falls flat since it’s preceded by 2 fiery skate punk numbers. And that’s the problem with The Offspring circa 2012: Instead of picking strong rockers like “The Future Is Now”, “Secrets from the Underground”, or “Dividing by Zero” to represent their new album, they choose the overtly hokey “Cruising California (Bumpin’ in My Trunk)”, a hip-hop aping number that’ll have you hitting the skip button well before the first autotuned “Caaaalifoooorniaaaa”. The Offspring have had silly songs on their albums for a long time, but this song is just…woof. Then there’s “OC Guns”, another corny number that runs on a Sublime-ripoff bassline and a backing mariachi band. It seems to be saying something about gun violence in the band’s hometown, but the message never gets through due to the stupid-ass chorus, with Dexter Holland doing a joking Mexican accent: “Tiki tiki tiki tiki, what up holmes? / Huero, puto, pendejo, cabron”. Ugh.

Tellingly, the strongest track on the album is probably the re-recording of “Dirty Magic”, a song from the band’s 1992 album Ignition. It’s not surprising they chose that song to revisit, since it’s easily the most “mature” and alt-rock sounding number on Ignition, remarkably slower-paced than the rest of the record. Again, this is representative of where The Offspring are at these days. This isn’t to say that Days Go By is all either corny or mediocre; there are a fair number of high-energy tracks like the aforementioned “Future”, “Secrets”, and “Dividing by Zero”, as well as “Turning Into You” and “Hurting as One”, reminding us that this band does in fact still play punk rock when they want to. Even the more adult contemporary stuff like the title track and “All I Have Left Is You” isn’t bad, it just gets weighed down by the two overtly hokey tracks (“All I Have Left Is You” is ruined by being sandwiched between “Cruising California” and “OC Guns”, meaning you’re more than likely to skip over all 3 to get straight from “Hurting as One” to “Dirty Magic”). Ditching the joke songs and featuring 1 or 2 of the more energetic numbers as singles would have done this album much better service. 3/5

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Jul. 24th, Mercury Records

HandwrittenAlbum of the year? Maybe. Handwritten has the energy and earnestness of the band’s first 2 albums, 2007’s Sink or Swim and 2008’s excellent The ’59 Sound, elements which were missing from 2010’s American Slang. Yet it still manages to retain the overall sense of maturity expressed on its predecessor. Handwritten brings together all off the band’s influences—Springsteen, Petty, Waits, Pearl Jam, Social Distortion—and forges them into a sound all their own. Album opener “45” might be the modern rock song of 2012, with revved-up guitars and an instantly memorable chorus that can’t help being sung along to. The title track is simultaneously catchy, kicking, and tender, with bandleader Brian Fallon delivering lines like “I’m in love with the way you’re in love with the night / And it travels from heart to limb to pen”. “Here Comes My Man” has a soulful “oh-sha-la-la”  chorus, while “Mulholland Drive” pines that “I’d just die if you ever took your love away”. Mid-album, “Too Much Blood” finds the band stepping out of their comfort zone for a stomping, sinister dirge with an incredible riff; the song may come off as out of place, but it succeeds on nearly every level. “Keepsake” and “Biloxi Parish” tap a southern gospel vein, while “Howl” plays like a sequel to “45”, grabbing the listener and yelling “Hey wake it up! / Hey shake it out! / Does anything still move you since you’re educated now?”

On the closing 2 tracks, “Mae” slows things down like the prior album’s “We Did It When We Were Young” and spins a tale of ’50s rock & roll drama, with Fallon and his lady friend driving around town, leaning into one another with the radio on. Closer “National Anthem” is an acoustic ballad reflecting on life, love, and spirituality, with soft lines like “Take what you need now, honey, and do what you like / Don’t worry about me, mama, I’m alright”. Like a lot of The Gaslight Anthem’s prior work, much of Handwritten seems to be songs of romance addressed to emotionally careless ladies, constantly positing the singer as a sort of Romeo promising the objects of his affection deliverance from recrimination and responsibility, if they’ll join him lying on the hood of his classic American car listening to rock & roll by the moonlight. But it’s the way this erstwhile Americana is so consistently well-delivered on Handwritten, the way the album can stay on loop and never feel tired, that makes it such a winning record. Do yourself a favor and get the deluxe version with the covers of Nirvana’s “Sliver” and Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky”; it’s a great example of the alt- and classic-rock dynamics the band balances, and Fallon does a hell of a Cobain impression. 5/5

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3 responses to “2012 in music, pt. 6: I Dig the Future

  1. Pingback: The Atom Age – The Atom Age EP | meep[zine]

  2. Pingback: The Bouncing Souls / The Menzingers – split | meep[zine]

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