Nearing the end here. Reel Big Fish, Yellowcard, Weep, Blaqk Audio, Propagandhi, and Gallows.
Reel Big Fish – Candy Coated Fury
Jul. 31st, Rock Ridge Music
Reel Big Fish have been milking their back catalog in recent years. Since 2005 they’ve released a live album, 3 live DVDs, a covers record, and a twice-released album of re-recorded “best of”s. Even their last proper studio album, 2007’s Monkeys for Nothin’ and the Chimps for Free, was half made up of re-recordings of old rarities. So Candy Coated Fury is their first crop of new, original songs in quite a while, and their first record without longtime trumpeter/guitarist/co-frontman Scott Klopfenstein who retired last year. The album is a throwback of sorts to their mid-’90s heyday, right down to the disc art imitating 1996’s Turn the Radio Off and the male/female insult-slinging duet “I Know You Too Well to Like You Anymore”, immediately recalling that album’s “She Has a Girlfriend Now”.
Not that RBF have ever strayed far from their ’90s ska-punk sound, but Candy Coated Fury has the vibe of deliberately trying to recapture that era, rather than just carrying its torch. Aaron Barrett said he deliberately thought about danceability when writing these songs, and it reflects in the bouncy rhythms and upbeat tempos, particularly on the mostly-instrumental “Don’t Stop Skankin'”. There are, of course, the by-now-obligatory ’80s covers; this time it’s The Wonder Stuff’s “Don’t Let Me Down Gently” and When in Rome’s “The Promise”, both given the ska/reggae treatment. The only real misstep is “Hiding in My Headphones”, a wholly mediocre number featuring Coolie Ranx and members of Sonic Boom Six (no, I’ve never heard of them either) that sounds more like Smash Mouth featuring Alvin and the Chipmunks. Though not really a comeback, Candy Coated Fury is nonetheless an enjoyable ska-punk record in the band’s long tradition of such. 3/5
Yellowcard – Southern Air
Aug. 14th, Hopeless Records
Yellowcard continues the growth that worked so well for them on last year’s When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. While still rooted in the band’s emo-pop-punk sound, as the members get into their 30s the music and lyrics get a bit more nuanced and expansive. The majority of Southern Air is big, hooky pop punk with huge choruses and melodies tailor-made for the Warped Tour. “Here I Am Alive” is an emo-pop anthem with lyrics co-written by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and a coed duet with Taylor Jardine of We Are the In Crowd. “They say you don’t grow up, you just grow old”, sing Jardine and Ryan Key, “It’s safe to say I haven’t done both / I jumped, I fell, I hit the ground / But here I am alive”. It’s a formula for an instantly addictive pop/rock hit. On “Ten” Key tells a bittersweet story of losing a child to a miscarriage and wondering, ten years later, what his relationship with his child might have been like. The album as a whole has a sparkling, summery quality to it but also a flavor of maturity, with lyrics about youth written from the perspective of adulthood, giving them a reflective quality that carries more depth than the nostalgic naivete one usually gets from this style of music. 4/5
Weep – Alate
Aug. 28th, Projekt Records
It’s tough for me to review Weep, because I barely know the first thing about post-punk, shoegaze, “dark wave”, or the other styles that make up their musical palette. I have very little knowledge of the acts they’re often compared to: Echo & the Bunnymen, The Cure, Interpol, etc. In iTunes I simply label Weep as “gothic rock” because I don’t know how else to categorize them. So why am I listening to them? Because I enjoy the work of singer/guitarist Doc Hammer, better known as half of the creative duo behind The Venture Bros. I’ve written about Weep elsewhere, and I have their prior releases, so I view Alate in comparison to their other records and in light of what other critics have said about them. The album continues the dynamics of 2010’s Worn Thin, with dark, ethereal songs like “Drift Towards Home” and “This Stolen Moon” balanced against more muscular rock numbers like “Halved Heart”, “Away to Nothing”, and “They All Denied”.
Probably the most distinguishing feature of Alate in comparison to the band’s past work is the change in tone of Hammer’s vocals. While on prior releases he seemed to shy away from the mic, drifting in and out as if hiding behind the instruments, on this album he just goes for it. He’s still got that gravelly, robotic voice, but it sounds more confident and unreserved. I had the pleasure of meeting him aboard the USS Midway during Comic-Con and asked him about it; his response was something like “on those records I was singing like this (leans back as if distancing himself from microphone) and on Alate it was more like this (leans forward into microphone).” Alate also includes a new recording of “Can’t Be True”, a song from their 2008 debut EP Never Ever that gets a bigger, more lush arrangement here. Also included is a new mix of their Bauhaus cover “The Passion of Lovers”, originally released last year as a free Valentine’s Day download. That track quickly rose to no. 1 on my “most frequently played” iTunes list, and the version on Alate seems to have gotten some re-recording and layering in the vocals and a bit more synth in the mix. In any case it remains my favorite Weep track thus far. 4/5
Blaqk Audio – Bright Black Heaven
Sept. 1st, Superball Music
The second album by the electronic side project of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget was actually finished prior to AFI’s most recent effort, 2009’s Crash Love, but it was shelved to allow that record to get its full attention in the marketplace. Now that it’s out, Bright Black Heaven delivers more of the post-punk electro moodiness and thumping house anthems the duo explored on 2007’s CexCells. The high-bpm tracks like “Fade to White”, “Bon Voyeurs”, and “Say Red” would be at home at a rave, while darker numbers like the Depeche Mode-esque “Faith Healer” and “Bliss” would seem to fit the playlists at goth clubs. Much of the rest falls somewhere in between, with a danceable but brooding vibe exhibited on tracks like “With Your Arms Around You” and “The Witness”. Electronic music is another arena in which I have very little knowledge/experience, but Bright Black Heaven has caught my ear more than its predecessor did, and has a stylistic diversity that makes it worth repeat listens. 3/5
Propagandhi – Failed States
Sept. 4th, Epitaph Records
Over a 25 year career, the sociopolitically-charged Propagandhi have evolved from their skate punk roots to an increasingly thrash-based sound with punk influences. Failed States sounds like the culmination of the growth which was apparent on 2005’s Potemkin City Limits and continued through 2009’s Supporting Caste. The band has added depth and nuance with each successive record, both in the technical intricacy of their playing and the layers of meaning in their lyrics. Take “Hadron Collision”, a full-speed hardcore number about how riding a bike is way more punk than driving a car (“Ride fucking free, forty below / It’s the car that kills the punk”); in the middle there’s a lightning-quick solo, and then the lyrics expand a bit to reveal that it’s really about passive resistance against fossil fuel dependency (“We’ll learn by extinction / We don’t need all that shit we’ve been sold / We might be headed for the brink of disaster / But nothing’s in vain”). Equally vicious is “Rattan Cane”, dedicated to the persecuted emos and punks in Iraq and Indonesia who have been beaten to death or sent to re-education camps. There’s a bit of levity in “Things I Like”, in which Chris Hannah sings about enjoying Captain Ron and the Maple Leafs, but it quickly gives way to a Canadian Aboriginal speaking in his native language about how his hard-working people supported and helped out the Europeans.
And that’s where Failed States doesn’t quite win me over as much as Supporting Caste did. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve listened to it a lot, and it’s grown on me more and more over over the last few months, but it lacks the brief moments of levity and hooks to break up the constant thrash attack. There’s no “Dear Coach’s Corner” on here, I guess is what I’m trying to say. Like its predecessor, though, I expect Failed States will continue to grow and grow on me until I realize I haven’t taken it off repeat in days. The ending track, “Duplicate Keys Iscaro (An Interim Report)”, is my favorite, being melodic enough to hook the listener and having enough pauses to let them breathe, while still not letting up on the musical and lyrical attack, hitting home in its later half with the refrain of “There is no you / There is no me / There is all”. 4/5
Gallows – Gallows
Sept. 10th, Bridge Nine Records
“In us we trust!” declare Gallows in a gang vocal at the start of “Victim Culture”, the opening track of their third album. It’s a “fuck you” to anyone who still doubted their new lineup with former Alexisonfire screamer Wade MacNeil at the mic. Like Pennywise, Gallows have had to prove themselves with a new singer, having lost Frank Carter last year over musical differences. Given the decidedly un-punk direction Carter’s gone with his new band, Pure Love, it’s pretty clear what those differences were. Quickly recruiting MacNeil, Gallows silenced most doubters with last year’s Death Is Birth EP, showing they intended to continue down their dark, pummeling hardcore path. But while Carter was a wiry ginger given to Anglocentric subject matter (cf. 2009’s Grey Britain), MacNeil is a big, burly, bear of a man with a throaty voice to match, and his Canadian nationality gives a fresh perspective to the otherwise entirely British band. Thus Gallows is something of a mission statement, right down to its title.
The album is 11 tracks of furious yet fiendishly catchy hardcore, with dark melodies ready to sink their hooks into the listener. MacNeil sounds like he’s inciting a riot on each number, whether it’s calling out his fallen idols on “Everybody Loves You (When You’re Dead)” (Dee Dee Ramone, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Frankie Venom, Lux Interior, Darby Crash, Johnny Thunders, Sid Vicious, and Joe Strummer are all named) or cursing out the cops on “Last June” (“A.C.A.B. / Until last June meant nothing to me”; the line stands for “all cops are bastards” and refers to this incident during the 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests). The band sounds hungry and vicious throughout the record, ending with the face-melting and throat-destroying “Cross of Lorraine”. Gallows vies with another eponymously-titled album, Off!, for my pick as hardcore record of the year. 5/5