REVIEW: Earth Girls – “Wanderlust”

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Earth Girls feels like a genre departure for Liz Panella. In fact, this can really be said for all the current members of Earth Girls. Much of the band’s collective discography outside of Earth Girls tends to fall more on the hardcore side of things. Panella has a varied discography, including a lot of one off hardcore bands, Libyans being the most consistent. Joey Kappel and Antonio Holguin III have both been active in the Chicago punk and hardcore scene. The former with Boilerman and Poison Planet, the latter with Raw Nerve and Big Zit. It seems strange that they would come together to make a bubblegum pop punk record, but here we are.

Wanderlust is the perfect distillation of bubblegum and pop punk. Earth Girls have a sound that makes me think of what Helen Love would sound like if she edged more towards garage and punk rock than pop. Kind of like a Helen Love / Marked Men combination. The band has a very distinct sound, and it’s probably due to the pedigree the band has. They aren’t afraid to leave some rough edges on things. Those rough edges add a lot of heart to a record that could have gone glossy and shiny. This record could have gone full power pop by overselling the hooks. Instead they chose to combine the hooks with a driving grit. This is the kind of record that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Lookout Records circa the late 90s, early 00s.

The long and short of it is that this record rules. It’s catchy, it fast, and it’s a perfect summer record. My only beef is that it’s only about 21 minutes and it came out so late in the season. Otherwise, I really can’t complain.

Earth Girls
Grave Mistake Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

REVIEW: Sad Blood – “Legion Of Gloom”

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Hey, remember when I wrote about Sad Blood back in November? No? Well, here is a refresher. I ended the review being kind of a snarky and saying:

“Will Sad Blood be another one of those one-and-done bands that flooded my inbox a few years ago? I hope not. I’d like to hear a lot more from them, because Ultimate Worrier is a hell of an introduction.”

Past me can stop worrying though. There is a new EP from Sad Blood. I would have talked about it back in May, but I’m the worst. Anyway. It’s really good. Legion Of Gloom is the logical next step after Ultimate Worrier. It’s still a Doomsday Device of emo music loaded with pop hooks. There is still a lot of Dowsing and Pet Symmetry going on here, but Sad Blood are making it theirs. They sound more comfortable and have really found their feet.

If anything, the music has gotten more on the power pop side of things. It’s actually very interesting to see the band start making those moves. There is almost a dissonance between how the music sounds and what the lyrics are. The music has only gotten poppier and more melodic. The lyrics remain ever in bummer territory. I like that kind of thing though, so it definitely works for me. They add lighthearted humor behind it though. It certainly helps when they are talking about feeling nothing.

Also, the handclap gimmick on “Ten More Years” is my favorite thing.

Sad Blood
Bandcamp / Buy It

 

 

 

REVIEW: Slow Bloom – “Slow Bloom”

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My favorite punk rock records are the ones that sound like everyone in the band just said “fuck it” and just went as hard as they could regardless of the consequences. Punk rock is built on that energy. A lot of bands who try that end up playing fast, sloppy, amateur hour type shit. They mistake energy for speed. Good punk rock isn’t just stuff that is loud and fast. Good punk rock is something you can feel.

Slow Bloom is a band full of energy and heart. They play post-hardcore, but are still very aware of their punk rock roots. The songs sound gritty and dirty. It’s super welcome in a world where most punk rock bands have rounded of the jagged edges. They are also deceptively melodic and catchy. Underneath the screaming and distortion on “Phantom Tantrum” is a really great early 90s alternative rock song. “Veriforms” and “Deep Space” are what I think At The Drive-In would sound like if they weren’t too pompous and cool to be punk.

I don’t want to wax philosophically about a punk rock record. It’s on Bandcamp, it’s on Spotify. You can find it. My notes when I listened to this EP started with the phrase “dope as fuck.” Let’s just leave it there.

Slow Bloom
Bandcamp
Spotify

 

REVIEW: Darling Valley – “Crooked Orchards”

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Let’s get something out of the way. Darling Valley is, for all intents and purposes, Accents with a new name. That would make this LP3. Three of the four people in this band were present on the last Accents record, and there is a shared sensibility. But, let’s not dwell on the past. In fact, y’know, let’s just skip the comparisons to the older records they released as Accents. Let’s start fresh.

Darling Valley may be one of the only bands playing this kind of music that doesn’t bore me after more than a few songs. We live in a post-Decemberists world. There is no shortage of people throwing mandolins, banjos, and whatever else into their indie folk stew. It takes a lot to be engaging, and even more to be good. Crooked Orchards is as fine of a full length as any band could hope to make. The band is built around the quartet of TJ Foster, Lauren Foster, Jordan Stewart, and Ashleigh Whitfield. Like any good band, they are definitely more than a sum of their parts.

The sound of Darling Valley is rooted in folk and country. More than that, they are shining examples of Americana and roots music. They know how to work indie rock and pop influences without letting that overtake the rhythm. The songs are meticulously crafted, and exist in the little details. An example would be like how the little trumpet flourishes on “Who You Hold On To” play beautifully off the otherwise straight country vibe. The great depth the vocal melodies on “You’ll Go Far, Kid” add is another.

Crooked Orchards is a wonderfully written album with a ton a heart. The lyrical themes are what you might expect. There is love, both lost and found. There are references to literature and war. There is celebration, and there is mourning. Folk music is full of those themes. They are familiar and relatable. And, when done well, they are engaging and meaningful.

Darling Valley
Sounds And Tones Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

REVIEW: Haybaby – “Blood Harvest”

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Haybaby is one of those bands that defy classification. They’ll come out of left field with something whenever you start to pigeonhole them. Blood Harvest only further solidifies that. Sleepy Kids was definitely a standout record of 2015, and Blood Harvest is definitely my favorite thing of 2016 so far. To borrow a sports journalist buzzword, this band has ridiculous depth. It’s not every band that can follow a Pixies-esque alt/indie song with a fucking hardcore rager. The beauty of Blood Harvest is there in the little things. It’s the way everything builds up great atmosphere. It’s a little sludgy sounding, it’s got kind of a sinister vibe, and it all fucking works.

My favorite thing about Haybaby is the way they’ve built this record. Like, ok. “Stupid” opens the record. It’s musically very sparse. It’s primarily being driven by Sam Yield’s bass and Jeremy Duvall’s drums. Leslie Hong’s guitar only really come into play around the hook. “Joke/Rope” has a similar vibe, but the guitar drives it a little more. It’s considerably less sparse. “Kramer/Dreams” builds further on that pattern. It employs the strong rhythm section, but it adds some very Pixies-esque guitar. Then all hell breaks loose on “What It Is.” It’s dense, aggressive, and vicious as fuck. Everything get reined in ever so slightly, and tension builds to it’s release by the time “Pig” closes the record. That is really an oversimplification though. Even the calmest and most atmospheric song can get angular and arty or disjointed and uncomfortable. It’s like a picture perfect combination of early 90s grunge/alternative and post-hardcore. The band really knows how to get that perfect rise and fall working.

Leslie Hong’s voice is totally integral to this record. She has a great range. She can sing very delicately, she can belt out, and she can yell. Anything the songs need, she can do it. I think my favorite kind of vocal on Blood Harvest is when she has this very dry, almost blasé delivery. That kind of things is on here quite a bit, on “Stupid” and “Joke/Rope” especially. Her vocals, like the band in general, seem to thrive in the genre blurring state of flux.She absolutely nails everything from start to finish.

It’s pretty easy to see the passion this band has. Haybaby just keep getting better.

Haybaby
Tiny Engines
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

REVIEW: Geometers – “Geometers”

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Punk rock is a shifting genre. Styles come and go. Geometers play a style that I really don’t hear much of anymore. They are bringing a fresh take on the gritty, post-hardcore influenced punk rock of bands like Small Brown Bike and Engine Down. Geometers have a definite late-90s / early-00s No Idea Records vibe to them. It’s pretty refreshing to hear bands still playing this type of music in 2016.

This does mean Geometers are walking down a pretty well worn road though. This EP lives or dies based on what they do with the sound. They do well to keep the energy up, they hit the perfect mixture between melodic and heavy, and they work in some great hooks. The vocals are great, and the production work of J. Robbins in a total plus. If anyone can produce this, it’s him. Really, almost everything about the EP just works.

“Sidearm” is probably the strongest song on the whole record. It’s also the loudest and most aggressive thing the band offers up. It fucking rules. This isn’t to take anything away from “On My Own” or “Title Fight.” Both songs are also really great, and the tonal difference between them and “Sidearm” really show a solid amount of range. Like, I’m honestly super into most of the songs. The only one I’m one I’m not feeling is “Arp.” It’s only a short, instrumental interlude. Nothing huge. It just kind of kills the momentum of the record. I would have probably 86’d it if I had my druthers. It’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t make sense to be placed where it is. It would have been perfect as an intro track though.

Minor gripe aside, Geometers have definitely added some new life to one of my favorite kinds of music, and goddamn am I happy to see it.

Geometers
Jetsam-Flotsam
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

REVIEW: Orations – “Incantation”

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I love hearing modern bands play classic genre music. Orations are a prime example of how good it can sound. What they’ve done on Incantation is an interesting bit of songwriting, and certainly not easy. They live in a middle ground of goth inspired post-punk/new wave and driving, mid-tempo punk rock. They never sound like just a punk rock band trying to fuck with post-punk and new wave, and that is what makes this whole thing work so well.

The four songs on Incantation seem to be split into two styles. “Curses” and “Strangely Safe” bookend the EP with a style that calls to mind the poppier side of Siouxsie And The Banshees or The Cure. Mostly thanks to that classic post-punk/new wave guitar tone. Great use of reverb and great melodics. Those songs have a gothy kind of sound, but never fall into the droney and brooding genre traps. The middle two songs, “Circus of Currents” and “Nosedive,” have a much more straight forward punk rock sound. They definitely match the tone of the other songs, but maybe don’t rely so much on the overall atmospherics as much.

The band is great at tying everything together. Jason Draper (bass) and Paul Morin (guitar) absolutely nail the kind of interplay needed to make this sound work. Steve Sojka (drums) is very versatile in his own right, switching styles depending on what the songs call for. A lot of band would sort of fuck up the post-punk to punk rock shift, but Orations have it covered. But, in my mind, the strongest selling point of the record has to be Jess Collins’ vocals. She has a very commanding voice. It’s strong enough to stand out on the more driving songs, but versatile enough to weave in and out of the more atmospheric one.

This is skilled band walking a very tight rope. They’re making music that borrows from a classic sound, but they’re adding enough life and energy to keep it from being mindless throwback bullshit. A lesser band might not be able to do it, and that alone makes this one worth a listen.

Orations
Sheets Of Tens Records / Buy It
Bandcamp / Buy It