Dinosaur Pile-Up – Eleven Eleven Review

Final version of this review available here.

When Kanye West finally unleashed The Life of Pablo to Tidal subscribers after the messiest promotional campaign the music industry has ever seen, fans had a lot of questions. Would the album ever be for sale? Had “Famous” officially reignited the Taylor Swift feud? And why in God’s name is the track list STILL changing? One of the most notable discussion points, however, was centered around a track called “Father Stretch by Hands, Part 2”, which found Kanye’s entire fanbase wondering out loud: “Who the hell is this guy that sounds exactly like Future?”

That guy was New York rapper Desiigner, who would soon top the Billboard singles chart thanks to a comprehensive hijacking of one artist’s musical approach. Unfortunately for the newcomer, being a carbon copy of one of the most ubiquitous modern entertainers has already proven an all-but insurmountable obstacle. Perhaps he could learn a thing or two from British 3-piece Dinosaur Pile-Up, whose third LP Eleven Eleven instead elects to emulate a defunct, critically lauded band from over 20 years ago.

Much of Eleven Eleven is overwhelmingly indebted to Nirvana, with frontman Matt Bigland often adopting Kurt Cobain’s raspy groan and strumming through rhythm guitar parts reminiscent of the Seattle legends’ more aggressive material like “Breed”, “Milk It”, or “Scentless Apprentice”. However, this isn’t to say that Dinosaur Pile-Up have absorbed all of Nirvana’s chaotic charisma– the songs on here that most prominently channel this influence do so with mixed results. Most successful is album standout “Crystalline”, a downtrodden anthem with a golden hook, airtight structure, and a climactic guitar solo. Least successful is “Grim Valentine”, which is like Nevermind fresh out of a processing plant – Bigland and bassist Jim Cratchley blend into each other for a drab, repetitive riff, and Bigland’s vocals are so apathetic that it becomes contagious for the listener. “Grim Valentine” is Dinosaur Pile-Up stepping in Nirvana’s snow boot-sized footprints with Crocs.

While Cobain and Co.’s fingerprints are the most prominent on Eleven Eleven, Dinosaur Pile-Up are not clones. The beefy, overdriven guitars call to mind Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, as well hints of early Rage Against the Machine in spots, particularly in the opening title cut’s monstrous groove. The band also brings a slight Speed Metal edge to the roaring “Bad Penny”, a late-album shot of adrenaline with a circle pit-friendly bridge section. “Nothing Personal” is another up-tempo banger that would fit right in as the token aggressive song on a Foo Fighters record (e.g. “White Limo” on Wasting Light, “Enough Space” on The Colour and the Shape).

Ultimately, the LP’s most egregious flaws aren’t caused by derivative ideas but simply creative misfires. Particularly challenging are the plodding melodies on “Willow Tree”, the monotonous chugging verses in “Friend of Mine”, and the limp angst of “Anxiety Trip”, on which Bigland delivers elementary lyrics like “I’m different, but I don’t care/I’m awkward….I wonder if I’m loved at all.” On most of these eleven tracks, Bigland’s vague disenchantment grows tedious.

Eleven Eleven is not a record that inspires a strong reaction in either direction, because it operates within narrow musical boundaries and isn’t terribly stimulating or provocative. At its best, it’s a meat-and-potatoes tribute to the revolutionary Alternative Rock of the early ‘90s. At its worst, you just want to pop in a copy of In Utero

July 2016 Album Round Up!

From a record label perspective, July is one of the worst times of the year to release new music. High schoolers are at camp, Jewish high schoolers are DEFINITELY at camp, college kids are grinding it out at minimum wage jobs to pay off their gargantuan student debt, and everyone else is cashing in on their vacation days. There’s a reason this coming September is STACKED with exciting albums – the industry’s waiting for all these fuckers to get back in their groove and start shelling out cash in search of an escape.

Still, July isn’t the wasteland that the end of December is. For those taking a crack at radio, the enticing pursuit of a summer anthem remains, and for others, summer tours like Warped and Summer Slaughter are in full swing and those merch tables look awfully nice when they’re adorned with brand new albums. In the end, July 2016 actually blessed us with quite a bit in the new music department. Below are my thoughts on nine of the records that came out:

California – Blink-182

This much-anticipated comeback from Pop-Punk’s most celebrated band was the first record I snatched up this month. It didn’t matter that Tom Delonge was gone and replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, which would likely water things down. I just had to hear it, and I expected greatness. Well, “greatness” was not quite what I was greeted with. It’s a fairly enjoyable listen, but there’s so little on here that doesn’t already exist in a superior form on Enema of the State, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, or the self-titled record. Still, I will recommend 1) the lovably sappy ballad “Home is Such a Lonely Place”, 2) the mellowed out title track, which is littered with awesome vocal harmonies, and 3) “She’s Out of Her Mind”, which is vintage Blink. Oh, and the chorus in “Los Angeles” is fucking enormous. But other than that, there’s not much here in the way of replay value. NOT RECOMMENDED

Great Is Our Sin – Revocation

Boston, MA’s Revocation won me over in 2011 with their excellent third LP Chaos of Forms – some adventurous, versatile Death Metal that was tech-y at times, Thrash-y at times, and often dipped into Melodic Death Metal territory. Albums four and five (2013’s Revocation and 2014’s Deathless) were less experimental and more generic, but still solid. Great is Our Sin is the happy medium – straightforward and well-executed like its two predecessors, but it does a better job of breaking the monotony when needed. Case in point, the album’s closer and undeniable apex “Cleaving Giants of Ice”, which utilizes a – well, giant – melodramatic chorus in the Insomnium or latter-era Enslaved vein. For something more more technical, check “Crumbling Imperium”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Summer Songs 2 – Lil’ Yachty

An 18-year-old Atlanta MC and freshly anointed XXL freshman, Lil’ Yachty blew up with his debut mixtape Lil’ Boat back in March. Naturally, I ignored it. But Summers Songs 2 came, and curiosity got the best of me. This is Yachty’s sophomore effort, and one key ingredient is egregiously missing: talent. Listen to him deliver the hook to “Life Goes On”, an otherwise decent song with a bright and bubbly beat. Does he realize how off-time his flow is? Even if he does, purposeful does not equal good. Yachty’s the product of the last decade of rap’s more “ignorant” side, and he may be a weirdo like Young Thug or Lil’ Wayne, but he’s nowhere near the former’s charm or the latter’s cleverness. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Wildflower – The Avalanches

Sampling savants The Avalanches far surpassed ScHoolboy Q for the honor of most anticipated album of July 2016. We have waited longer for the follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You than we did for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy. But Chinese Democracy was an egomaniacal mess and Wildflower is mind-bending, staggering, awe-inspiring, and every adjective that makes me sound like I’m getting paid off to write this. As with Since I Left You, Wildflower is going to take quite some time to fully process, but it took virtually no time to start enjoying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Snake Church – Ringworm

Over 25 years into their career, these Cleveland Hardcore vets delivered a ripping eighth LP! Snake Church is a fantastic listen if you’re looking for a Metalcore record that’s truly an audible blend of Metal and Hardcore Punk, and not just a Groove Metal record with a handful of breakdowns. James Bulloch a.k.a. The Human Furnace is as visceral a frontman as ever, and he’s backed by a barrage of (mostly) great riffs. In particular, the track “Shades of Blue” is an uncharacteristically sludgy mid-album highlight that adds another dimension to an oft-monotonous style. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

Q’s follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated breakout project Oxymoron HAD to be worthy of “Top 5 Most Anticipated Hip-Hop Records of 2016” inclusion (perhaps alongside Kanye, Chance, Anderson .Paak, and maybe Kid Cudi because of how hilariously bad Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was). For me, Blank Face LP turned out to be excruciatingly difficult to review; its stark inconsistencies nearly gave me a brain tumor. There’s pure genius like the jazz-tinged boom bap of “John Muir”, or the g-funk influenced “Neva Change”, a collaboration with R &B and soul singer SZA, but then Q turns around and gives you utter landfill like “Overtime” an insincere swipe at radio, or “That Part”, a dull and predictable club song. Oddly, it’s all neatly divided up into thirds in order of the track list: a disappointing first six tracks, a stellar middle section, and a decent but inconsistent final four songs. Pretty strange. But the heart of the album was banging enough to (mostly) compensate for the record’s egregious misfires. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Retrograde – Crown the Empire

In the five plus years they’ve been active, Crown the Empire have made zero effort to distinguish themselves from their Hot Topic-core contemporaries. But with 2014’s The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways at least they executed the formula admirably. Retrograde, their third full-length, finds them attemping to replicate the success of Bring Me the Horizon’s 2015 commercial powerhouse That’s the Spirit to mixed results. The first half has a couple decent singles like “Hologram” and “Zero”, but even then, these songs are like chugging a bunch of girly cocktails – they’re sweet, sugary, and go down easily at first, but you’re gonna puke them up and have a massive headache eventually. And there’s downright atrocious stuff on here too, like “Signs of Life”, which begs the tired old questions: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Poison Red – Nonpoint

YUCK. Granted, Nu Metal and Alternative Metal were before my time so I have no nostalgia to swoop in and rescue this album for me, but STILL…I’m having a hard time understanding how there’s an audience for this in 2016. A flaccid guitar tone, cringeworthy lyrics (“so you wanna be the type of motherfucker that person to person is personally an asshole” is an actual verbatim lyric), and unimaginative riffs are the stuff this record’s made of. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Major Key – DJ Khaled

You can hate on Hip-Hop’s favorite Snapchat goon all you want, but this time around, DJ Khaled actually delivered a solid Pop Rap album! Since a Khaled LP is essentially a singles compilation, that’s how it ought to be judged, and there are more hits than duds on here. “Do You Mind” is one of my favorites. It’s smooth as hell, featuring a sensual piano line and one of the best guest spots Future has ever recorded. And if you’re a fiend for bars, there’s the fiery anthem “Holy Key”, on which Kendrick and Big Sean drop some serious heat, there are entire songs by Nas and J. Cole to munch on, and the track “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” boasts the best verse of the entire album courtesy of Jadakiss (“put me in the Hall of Smack”, anyone?). And the bland stuff, like “Fuck Up the Club”, is fairly inoffensive. RECOMMENDED

 

 

March 2016 Album Round Up!

What did I think of what the music industry had to offer in March 2016? Meh. There was the excitement of some new Kendrick Lamar (which I didn’t include here since it wasn’t an official LP per se) in addition to a few other high profile Hip-Hop releases. There was a pair of excellent albums from Metal staples Killswitch Engage and Amon Amarth. There was The Knocks. And then there was a whole lot of uninteresting shit. Regardless, below is a recap of eight records I was checking out in the midst of obsessing over my college basketball bracket.

Incarnate – Killswitch Engage

The roaring return of original vocalist Jesse Leach for 2013’s Disarm the Descent set a new standard for Killswitch Engage. Incarnate, that LP’s follow-up, smacks its remarkably high expectations right on the nose. Tracks like “The Great Deceit”, “Hate By Design”, and “Alone I Stand” have the makings of future Killswitch classics. And while Howard Jones-era albums The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies are excellent, the three Leach records (not including the original self-titled effort) have floated to the top of the KSE discography for me. Here is a full review (I also did a print one here). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

This Is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

Between “Naughty” and “Red Flag”, Gwen Stefani has two of 2016’s worst pop songs, and we’re only three months in. The latter is an especially horrifying Iggy Azalea-meets-Fergie attempt sure to leave helpless ears in varying states of deformity. It’s a shame, because “Make Me Like You”, “Used to Love You”, and “Truth” are all highly listenable, radio-ready pop tunes. But then the 46-year-old Stefani makes a cringe worthy song like “Send Me a Picture”, and any album highlights are immediately drowned out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED.

3001: A Laced Odyssey – Flatbush Zombies

Full disclosure here. I am brand new to Flatbush Zombies and have yet to hear their highly regarded BetterOffDead mixtape. But an act’s full-length debut is as good a place to start, isn’t it? Well, maybe not in Hip-Hop, but you get my point. Anyway, it didn’t take long for Flatbush Zombies to win me over, as Zombie Juice attacks the album’s first verse with a frantic inflection and a Grandmaster Flash shout out. Erick the Architect and Meechy Darko immediately follow with nimble flows and I was swoon. I have no context surrounding this LP aside from the group’s association with high profile collaborators like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson (appearances they shy away from on here). What I can say, however, is 3001 is chalk full of charisma, grade-A lyricism, and unique production. If this is the future of Hip-Hop, the genre is in quite capable hands. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

55 – The Knocks

It’s hard to believe we’re a year and a half removed from when “Classic” dropped, isn’t it? Either way, a fuck ton of A-listers grace this duo’s highly anticipated debut. While there’s certainly tracks like “Tied to You” and the X Ambassadors collaboration “Comfortable” that I don’t care for, 55 has a remarkably high batting average. The track list comes out of the gate 5 for 5 and doesn’t really slow up. And most importantly, the guest appearances actually do the LP a service rather than simply get in its way. Cam’ron kills it. Wyclef kills it. Later on, Carly Rae kills it. 55 is diverse yet focused. It’s instantly likeable. It’s truly how EDM and Pop SHOULD merge (I’m looking directly at you, Avicii!). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jomsviking – Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth’s tenth studio album and first full-blown concept record just might be their best in a decade. The Viking Metallers’ tried-and-true formula is accompanied by a trio of stylistic risks – the singalong chorus in “Raise Your Horns”, the blatant Maiden worship of “At Dawn’s First Light”, and a vocal duet with Doro Pesch in “A Dream that Cannot Be” – that ultimately pay off and help diversify the band’s sound. The cohesive storyline enriches the listening experience, recalling Amon Amarth’s best story-based moments (“Prediction of Warfare”, anyone?). Doro’s guest vocal appearance at the narrative’s climax (the aforementioned “A Dream That Cannot Be”) generated perhaps the most unique moment in Amon Amarth’s discography to date. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Black – Asking Alexandria

Sometimes a simple lineup change is enough to shove a new record into my ears from a band I have loathed from the beginning. And many a time I regret this morbid curiosity getting the best of me. Such is the case with Asking Alexandria’s fourth album The Black, their first with new vocalist Denis Stoff. Despite all the hype about stylistic departures and whatnot, it’s still more or less the faceless Metalcore of their first two LPs, albeit with a bit of traditional Hard Rock and Heavy Metal hastily thrown in. For instance, those chunky verse riffs in “Just a Slave to Rock ‘n Roll” have no business alongside the overly sappy melodic chorus – the track is completely Frankenstein’d together. In general, The Black offers a lot in the way of melodrama, but little in the way of thoughtful song construction or compelling musicianship. Hey, I did give this one a fair shot though. NOT RECOMMENDED

Collegrove – 2 Chainz & Lil’ Wayne

2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne’s collaborative album (on 8 of the 13 tracks, at least) feels more like a mixtape most of the time, but in 2016 what the fuck is the difference anymore? Whatever label you feel is appropriate, this project is jam packed with lazy fucking hooks that tested my attention span and my nerves (see “Blue C-Note”, “Bentley Truck”, or “Not Invited”). It’s especially disappointing since the effective lead single “Gotta Lotta” surpasses any post-Carter IV music Wayne has dropped. And I did enjoy the cinematic trap beat and clever Weezy verse on “Smell Like Money”, as well as the production on “Dedication”, which sounded like something Wiz Khalifa would’ve spit over five years ago. But beyond that, Collegrove didn’t hold my interest. But I did learn the magnificently pretentious word “portmanteau” from its title. NOT RECOMMENDED.

That’s Hip Hop – Joell Ortiz

The four members of Slaughterhouse have been dropping projects as if they’re actively trying to outpace each other. Joell Ortiz did the !llmind collaboration Human last summer, Joe Budden dropped All Love Lost, Crooked I (aka Kxng Crooked) put out Statik Kxng with Statik Selektah, and now Royce da 5’9 has a new mixtape Trust the Shooter out that directly precedes Layers (out April 15th), and supposedly has ANOTHER full-length album on the way. Whew. I’ve never had to take a deep breath after typing something before. What caught my eye about Joell Ortiz’s new record That’s Hip Hop– aside from my Slaughterhouse fandom – is that he coaxed one of my favorites, the legendary Kool G Rap, onto a song with him! So I had to listen to the album. At 30 minutes and nine real songs, it’s got the feel of either Illmatic or a brief mixtape – whichever comparison you goons prefer. It’s also exponentially more aggressive than 2014’s House Slippers ,the last Ortiz project I gave thorough, repeated listens. While I did enjoy House Slippers, the Puerto Rican is rapping like he has something to prove again. That’s Hip Hop lives up to its name and then some! RECOMMENDED.

 

 

 

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

Panic! At the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor”: Five Singles Deep

UPDATE: Full “Death of a Bachelor review here

As we cross the threshold into the second half of – what the fuck do you call this decade? the 2010s? – putting out two or three “promotional singles” for an album is a thing of the past, and streaming half (or all) of a body of work ahead of time is rapidly evolving into “industry standard”. It’s yet another music industry shift that benefits the consumer, as it allows fans to make a more educated guess about the quality of an upcoming release and a prospective “purchase” of it. Panic! At the Disco’s fifth full-length LP Death of a Bachelor doesn’t drop for another week and a half, but we can now stream 45.45% of the album thanks to the recent addition of a fifth single, “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” (though the title track does count as six, it’s not technically part of the album’s stream). It’s actually been quite a slow ramp-up, with “Hallelujah” coming out as early as last July, but we’re certainly down the stretch now, and I figured I’d dive into these five singles simultaneously and see what Death of a Bachelor might have in store for us come January 16th.

Victorious: The album opener, which has been floating around the internet for a couple months now, has grown on me tremendously. My initial reaction wasn’t negative but was rather one of mild, underwhelmed indifference. But as I approach listen number ten or so, “Victorious” is truly brimming with energy, thanks in part to Brendon Urie’s rapid fire vocal delivery in the verses and the rollicking stomp of the post-chorus. It’s as hooky as ever too. “Living like a washed up celebrity” is an especially fun line that continues to stick with me. When I saw Panic! live this past September, “Victorious” wasn’t out yet, but this is a future live STAPLE if I’ve ever heard one.

Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time: The fifth and latest single from Bachelor is introduced with a silly guitar riff that recurs throughout the song, alternating time in the spotlight with an appropriately goofy descending piano line. When the chorus arrives, however, it feels noticeably stripped down and empty, especially compared to “Victorious”, which precedes it in the track listing. Perhaps this is intentional, but to my ears, it leaves more to be desired. I did enjoy the Ratatat-esque harmonized guitar solo, but I found this to be the least satisfying of the five tracks and debatable single material. However, it does sit quite well in between the explosive energy of Victorious and Hallelujah, leaving few strikes against it aside from “why did this need to be released in advance of the album?”

Hallelujah: My initial impression of this album’s first single was that it was a half-hearted attempt at an “anthem”. It still kind of feels that way to me, but after witnessing an overwhelmingly positive response to its performance in concert this past September, I’ve grown to appreciate its merits in that environment, and I do “like”the song. Plus we get bombarded by some candy-sweet vocal harmonies, a reminder of Brendon Urie’s absurd singing talents.

Emperor’s New Clothes: Along with having the most aggressive hook of the five singles, “Emperor’s New Clothes” finds Urie splashing around in the lower end of his vocal range during the verses which is a welcome breather (we’re on track four of the album now, mind you) . He’s accompanied by some colorful electronic flourishes and a high-register, borderline intrusive bass line, leaving the song feeling a bit on the busy side. Plus, what the hell are these lyrics? Finders keepers losers weepers? All dressed up and naked? Though we do get a (possibly unintentional) Biggie shout-out with “if you don’t know, now you know”. As a song it’s far from uneventful, but some of its eccentricities might not be for everyone. Personally, I enjoy the chorus and not necessarily the body of the tune surrounding it.

LA Devotee: So now we’ve moved from Vegas on Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! to Los Angeles on Death of a Bachelor. Ok, sure. This is the track I did NOT see coming though. It has a totally different pace than the other four singles. A Pop-Punk influence hasn’t been this prominent on a Panic! At the Disco song in quite some time, but left turn or no left turn, it works. It really, really works. In what is likely to be an album highlight, the band throw a big, sexy – not to mention catchy – wrench in the works.

Love, hate, or indifferences aside, Panic! At the Disco continues to be distinctive. While my distaste for the band’s 2013 album Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! has worn off and I’ve come to really love a few of its tracks, my anticipation is definitely greater for Death of a Bachelor. I’m thinking it’s going to be a higher quality album, but most importantly, another unique chapter for an exciting band that refuses to write the same song twice.

Show Review: Panic! At the Disco @ City Hall Plaza – Boston, MA 9/17/15

For Boston radio station 92.9 – as well as a couple thousand excited Bostonians – this past Thursday was something to celebrate, with the station hosting and co-sponsoring a free concert in City Hall Plaza featuring alternative rock titans Panic! At the Disco. Surrounded by downtown Boston, the open Plaza area was bookended by a medium-sized outdoor stage in the front and sponsor tents and a crucial row of porta-potties in the back.

With a 5 PM temperature sitting somewhere in the upper-60s, accompanied by a light Boston breeze, the buzzing City Hall Plaza atmosphere felt like an extension of Summer. The Budweiser and Radio 92.9 tents set up in the back greeted me as I made my way across the plaza’s brick floor to the paved area closer to the stage, where a crowd of several hundred people had already formed in advance of opening act DJ Petro. In an interview with Radio 92.9 before the show, Panic! frontman Brendon Urie expressed his excitement: “I’m so stoked we get to play free shows. You get a massive, broader range of people, and it just makes the show insane.” And he was not wrong. For about three hours, City Hall Plaza became a melting pot of music fandom, with everybody from college students, to the Warped Tour crowd, to high school kids with cheap liquor in their Gatorade bottles, to out-of-place, mostly sober adults, all coming together to enjoy some free dinner time Panic! At the Disco, in weather that can only be described as a promoter’s wet dream.

Preceding Panic! was an opening set from the aforementioned DJ Petro, who spun mostly mash-ups for an anxious, rapidly-growing crowd. Throwback combinations of “Man in the Mirror” and “When I Come Around”, as well as “Turn Down for What” and Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” went over particularly well, while I chose to tune out the more painful reminders of my preteen years, like “Hollaback Girl”.

Panic! At the Disco made their entrance at 6:30 PM sharp with the bouncy “Vegas Lights”, easing into the show with one of the few deeper cuts that would divide the crowd. After several shifts, the band’s touring lineup currently consists of frontman Brendon Urie on vocals, guitar and piano, Kenneth Harris on lead guitar, Dallon Weekes on Bass, and Dan Pawlovich on drums. Accompanied by a modest light show that became increasingly central as dusk approached, the tight and energetic four-piece tore through a well-constructed eighteen-song set list for an audience that leaned more towards devoted followers than casual listeners. Less obvious choices like “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)” and “Nicotine” did nothing to slow the band’s momentum, all the while satisfying dedicated fans.

Just shy of ten years removed from their classic debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, the early Panic! material has not lost an ounce of appeal. The crowd, the majority of whom were likely in elementary school when Fever came out, responded feverishly (yep, I went there) to the energetic “Time to Dance”, “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage”, and obligatory closer “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”.

As the band weaved in and out of material from Fever as well as their other three studio albums – also tossing in well-received new single “Hallelujah” – frontman Brendon Urie’s vocal performance was nothing short of captivating. He embellished the songs with effortless falsetto shrieks and an abundance of charisma. The band also performed a spot-on rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as well as a medley of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Along”, all of which Urie sang to near perfection.

By the time Panic! began to play Ms. Jackson, the twelfth song in their set, nightfall had arrived and the show’s magical, carefree energy received a noticeable bump. The stage lights were now projecting onto the surrounding buildings, the fully packed crowd was mirroring every word, and the last 30 minutes felt altogether more intimate. It was a night I truly felt lucky to be apart of. As I walked out of the crowd during the last chorus of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”, I felt some of my cynicism for popular music waft away. Sometimes a truly great band does get the spotlight, and when they do, be sure you’re there to witness it.

Atreyu’s “Long Live” Single

The undisputed heavyweight champions of emo, watered-down, overproduced pseudo-metal have returned! Just kidding, I love Atreyu. Their unique blend of metalcore, alternative, and a touch of classic metal on albums like The Curse and A Death-Grip On Yesterday served as a major gateway for me into this beautiful world of aggressive music. I am also unflinching in my affection for 2007’s poppier, more old school Leads Sails Paper Anchor, and the album where it all came together, 2009’s career-best Congregation of the Damned. Thus, when the band announced an indefinite hiatus in 2011, I was definitely bummed. And by only the most intricate powers of deduction, one can assume that I was the opposite of bummed when Atreyu announced their return three years later, in June 2014.

Fast forward to July 2015, and we have a September 18th release date for the band’s sixth studio album, Long Live, and three singles, the latest of which is the title track, as seen above. First released was the anthemic “So Others May Live”, which beautifully merged crushing Pantera-style riffs, vintage Atreyu vocals from screamer Alex Varkatzas and drummer/crooner Brandon Saller, and superb lyrical content. It is quite possibly one of best songs the band has ever released. Next was “When the Day Is Done”,which I didn’t care for, if only due to the unforgivably cliche lyric “I’ll fly on broken wings”. Eeek.

“Long Live”, though, is another fucking gem. With a lead riff that could squeeze itself into a Slayer album, the track presents itself as a thrashier The Curse era. The gang vocals in the verses add a dose of hardcore that nicely juxtapose the song’s sleek chorus. The key to enjoying Atreyu is to see past any painful awareness of their formula. Screamed verses, melodramatic emo choruses, and some breakdowns. I know. But when the quality is at the level of “So Others May Live” and “Long Live”, it is difficult to fault a band for following a winning formula to perfection and adding some welcome, heavier new ingredients. Welcome back, Atreyu.

Broken Bells’ “After the Disco”: Quietly Universal

The concept of “universal appeal” has always intrigued me. While it’s an oxymoronic concept in and of itself, that doesn’t stop us from continuing to hypothesize its existence. Is it possible for all of mankind to unite in appreciation of a song? I mean, “Happy Birthday” is pretty damn close. And to my utter dismay, it certainly seemed as if Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” was toeing the threshold in 2007, at least as it pertained to bar mitzvahs.

In theory, the music that is topping the pop charts has the greatest statistical proximity to “universal appeal”, but in reality is often surrounded by fleeting, sometimes manipulated circumstances and a potent counterculture. To escape the wrath of the purists and attain true universal appeal, there has to be a marriage of musicianship and accessibility. It can’t be Fetty Wap, and it can’t be Opeth. This is something I’ve always been drawn to about Alternative music. While many releases under this umbrella exist on the fringes of mass recognition, I often find myself asking “who wouldn’t like this?” when listening to the likes of Band of Horses, Arcade Fire, or The Kooks, for instance. To my ears, Alternative music as a whole comes closest to the balancing act of authenticity and mainstream-ready accessibility.

Which brings us to indie rock band/duo Broken Bells’ second album, After the Disco. Consisting in the studio of Shins’ frontman James Mercer and Brian Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse, the music on this album is so easy to enjoy it is almost sickening. Of course, my reliably cynical homeboys at Pitchfork weren’t too fond of it, but that site is just troll-laden background noise at this point. Upon hearing the infectious synths of opening track “Perfect World”, the 2015 version of me was instantly hooked. But interestingly enough, I have a feeling that 1999 Backstreet-Boys-fanatic me, 2006 thinks-he’s-black me, and 2009 angry-metal-purist me would all equally enjoy it (hence my rambling intro on universality). In a fluid, consistently interesting 45 minutes, Mercer and Burton weave in and out of dreamy, atmospheric synths, simple and catchy guitar riffs, and 60’s pop worship, only falling a bit flat for me on the bland balladry of “Lazy Wonderland”. Particular highlights include the irresistible title track, the reflective “Angel and the Fool”, and “Holding On For Life”.

Obviously I’m pushing my luck a bit, but After the Disco is a prime example of why Alternative music is – for lack of a better term – quietly universal. While often not entering the Billboard Top 100, artists like Broken Bells and many of their peers make music that is easy to like and difficult to dislike. It certainly leaves me wishing it got a tad more exposure.