The final seven: NOFX, Matt & Kim, Coheed and Cambria, Dethklok, Forgetters, Angels & Airwaves, and Blink-182. Up next: my top picks of 2012.
NOFX – Self Entitled
Sept. 11th, Fat Wreck Chords
You know what to expect out of a NOFX record at this point. Self Entitled definitely has more good songs than bad/mediocre ones, even if it sounds pretty much just like their last few records. Fat Mike’s political awakening of the early 2000s (best exhibited on The Decline and The War on Errorism) seems to have ebbed, with fewer and fewer political songs on each record. Self Entitled has 2: Opener “72 Hookers” jokes that jihadists’ anger really comes from their sexually repressed society, and that the way to win the war on terror would be to ship 100,000 hookers and the Girls Gone Wild crew overseas (“Maybe if they could see a woman’s face / They might not get onto that plane with a bomb in their suitcase”). Other reviews I’ve read call the song juvenile and culturally insensitive, but I found it funny. Then there’s “Ronnie & Mags”, in which for some reason the band pretends it’s 1982 and attacks Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. That one just seems dumb.
In place of politics, Fat Mike is now singing about his BDSM lifestyle, something that was part of his private life for many years but has only recently come to define his public persona, since he got divorced in 2010 and started dating a professional dominatrix. “I Believe in Goddess” brings it up in reference to atheism (“I don’t believe in prayer, but believe in worship”) while “Secret Society” addresses it outright (“In our secret society / We find freedom through slavery / Absolute power and hierarchy”). Atheism is also the theme of “Xmas Has Been X’d”. “Cell Out” is one of the best numbers, led by great guitar and bass lines with lighthearted lyrics about the band’s long career (“She said she really liked my band in the early ’90s”). However, the most affecting number is definitely the plodding “I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again”, a sequel to “We Got Two Jealous Agains” from The War on Errorism. The original song was about the joining of Mike and his then-wife Erin’s record collections; this one documents the splitting of that collection in their divorce (“I got the record player, but I didn’t get the house”). Like “My Orphan Year” on 2009’s Coaster, it stands out for its honesty and deeply personal storytelling. 3/5
Matt & Kim – Lightning
Oct. 2nd, Fader Label
I decided to check out Matt & Kim after seeing them open for My Chemical Romance and Blink-182 last year. Their drums-and-synth pop and permanent grins are charming, but don’t hold my attention past a few tracks. “Let’s Go” is a great number with plenty of hooks, while “Now” ups the bpm and relies on drop-beat repetition of the title that, while probably pogo-and-chant-inducing in a live setting, doesn’t really do it for me on record. “It’s Alright” is better, sparkly and glossy with a singalong chorus. Up to now, that’s all the tracks I’ve bothered to listen to. Giving it a fresh spin, there’s some worthy stuff in the second half like the danceable “Tonight” and the melancholy piano-balled duet “Ten Dollars I Found”. Overall, though, I find the hyperactive synthesizer throughout the album wears thin after a while, and the lack of any instrumentation other than synth and drums doesn’t do much to hold my interest. Sure, Matt & Kim are energetic and enjoyable, but it seems I enjoy them only in small doses. 3/5
Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
Oct. 9th, Everything Evil Records
Does anyone know where Coheed and Cambria are at with their Amory Wars sci-fi epic at this point? The two volumes of Good Apollo were supposedly the concluding chapters, then 2010’s Year of the Black Rainbow appeared as a prequel installment. Now we’re getting two volumes of The Afterman (Descension comes out in February) that focus on the saga’s titular character, Sirius Amory, who I guess discovered the Keywork, which the whole story is about. It’s sort of like getting the backstory on Middle Earth or something. Anyway, it’s a return in many ways to the vibe of Good Apollo Vol. 1, arguably their best album: They’re off a major label, original drummer Josh Eppard is back (he’d left after that record), and they’ve returned to producers Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner (the duo who produced their first 3 albums).
Setting aside the sci-fi concept, since I don’t understand any of it anyway, the album rocks. It’s full of solid riffs, catchy melodies, and accessible hooks. There are some concepts drawn from real life, too: the shimmering “The Afterman” was inspired by the death of Claudio Sanchez’s wife’s best friend, while “Holly Wood the Cracked” was inspired by a crazy woman posting YouTube rants accusing Sanchez and his wife of being racist communists. Lead single “Domino the Destitute” seems to address the lineup changes (in addition to Eppard’s return, they have a new bassist in Zach Cooper) with lines like “Turn about face, I implore you, brother / Don’t walk away, don’t walk away from me / Because this is our war”. And I can’t go without mentioning the raging “Vic the Butcher”, easily the heaviest track and my personal favorite. 4/5
Dethklok – Dethalbum III
Oct. 16th, Williams Street Records
Brendon Small’s third album drawn from his animated series Metalocalypse has the distinction of beating its predecessor for the title of highest-charting death metal album. However, it feels as though the joke has worn thin. While it’s obvious Small takes his songwriting seriously, and the melodic death metal remains well-played by him, drummer Gene Holigan, and bassist Bryan Beller, there’s very little of the humor that made the first Dethalbum so enjoyable. Songs like “Murmaider” and “Thunderhorse” were glorious piss-takes on the genre, whereas the only obvious levity on this installment is lead single “I Ejaculate Fire”, and even then it’s only really the title that’s funny. The rest sounds like “real” death metal, and I guess I just don’t see the point in that. As well-played and metal as tracks like “Impeach God” and “The Galaxy” are, my favorite Dethklok tracks are still “Murdertrain a Comin'” and the “Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle” that come pretty much straight from the show. 3/5
Forgetters – Forgetters
Nov. 13th, Too Small to Fail Records
I’m a big Jawbreaker fan, yet for some reason I didn’t pay much attention to Blake Schwarzenbach’s new project, Forgetters, until several weeks after this album came out. The former Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil frontman has teamed up with original Against Me! drummer Kevin Mahon (producer J. Robbins played bass) for an album that’s a lot like its cover art: murky, often complex, and seemingly disparate, but coherent when viewed as a whole. Their debut EP 2 years ago was very Jawbreaker-esque, whereas the album is more indie rock with punk leanings.
Opener “Strike” starts as a simple number before breaking down into sludgy, psychedelic stew that carries into “Lie Artist”. “I’m Not Immune” starts edging the record more in a catchy direction, with some great Blake lyrics (“We love and hate the same five things / Is this the basis for a lasting friendship? / I think not”). In a perfect world, the lovely “Turn Away” and “Hoop and Swan” would be instant alt-rock hits, the latter sounding like a blending of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy-era Jawbreaker and Perfecting Loneliness-era Jets to Brazil. The most JTB-ish tracks are the piano-driven ones: “Die by Your Own Hand”, closer “Ribbonhead”, and “In America”, in which Blake reflects on what it means to be American in 2012 (“We’ve grown more boring than we were before these towers and wars”). “O Deadly Death” is another standout, a punky number with positively goth-sounding keyboards and lyrics. “Les Arrivistes” reminds me very much of…something, I just can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps The Cure’s “Lullabye”. The penultimate track is a catchy cover of The Human League’s “Seconds”.
Stylistically, Forgetters is something of a grab bag. That it manages to be so diverse while still maintaining an overall sense of identity is pretty remarkable. I’ve found myself, almost unintentionally, listening to it over and over, whether by leaving it in my car CD player for days on end or falling asleep to it coming through my computer speakers. That I’ve listened to it almost nonstop for several weeks, even as I’ve been reviewing 50 other albums, speaks volumes about its ability to take hold and take the listener along for a complex and satisfying ride. By that quality alone it ranks among my favorite albums of the year. 5/5
Angels & Airwaves – Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal
Dec. 18th, To the Stars Records
I’m not really sure why this exists, or why I downloaded it. I’ve cared for Angels & Airwaves’ albums less and less with each successive one, and this double EP only digs the hole deeper. The first disc is three tracks of what sounds like a film score (underscored by each track being named like a film reel), and comes off sounding like unfinished ideas from last year’s Love: Part Two needlessly stretched out to full-length. The nearly-8-minute “Reel 1 (Diary)” takes 3½ minutes to build up to something resembling rock and is the only track with lyrics, though they’re buried so low in the mix they might as well not be there. The EKG-like synth sound that persists throughout “Reel 5 (New Blood)” is annoying after 10 seconds, much less nearly 5 minutes. “Reel 6” is more of a techno-rock dance track that just sounds weird and totally out of place. The entire second disc is electronic-heavy remixes of tracks from the two Love albums, which is just as pointless as that sounds. I doubt even AVA superfans will want to listen to this stuff more than once, if that. Stick to the Blink-182 stuff, Tom; it’s going much better. 1/5
Blink-182 – Dogs Eating Dogs
As enjoyable as last year’s Blink-182 reunion album Neighborhoods was, it suffered from a lack of unity: The members recorded it by emailing tracks back and forth between separate cities and studios and took over a year to complete it, giving it a stale and disjointed feel. By contrast, the Dogs Eating Dogs EP was recorded within a month by all 3 members in the room together. It’s also their first release without a label, having split from Interscope/DGC in October. The more traditional recording method and creative freedom results in a fresher, more energized set of songs.
“When I Was Young” takes time to build, then snaps into catchy double-time and a duet chorus from Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus. The Hoppus-sung title track is the most aggressive and sounds like he and Travis Barker’s post-Blink act +44, except for DeLonge providing the chorus, while “Disaster” has the vibe of DeLonge’s other act Angels & Airwaves, at least until Hoppus comes in around the one-minute mark and it becomes more of a Blink-182 song. “Boxing Day” is an acoustic ballad with Barker playing an electronic kit and Hoppus and DeLonge trading off between lovelorn verses and choruses. “Pretty Little Girl” features a guest rap by Yelawolf after the second chorus, an obvious Barker idea that the other members should have vetoed. It comes out of nowhere and doesn’t add anything to what’s otherwise a very good modern pop-punk song with new wave-y synths in the verses and DeLonge singing lyrics of love to his wife. Overall, Dogs Eating Dogs improves greatly on Neighborhoods simply by getting the band members all in the same room to work together. Hopefully it’s an indication of things to come on future albums. 4/5