REVIEW: The Thermals – Personal Life

“Your love is so strong, it’s only a series of lies.”

It seems like every time I hear new stuff by The Thermals, it is a poppier (and better produced) version of their last album. If not for Hutch Harris’ very distinct voice, you would probably not assume that the same band who produced More Parts Per Million in 2003 was the same band who made Personal Life in 2010. The production and style is so different.

What does this mean for Personal Life? Basically, you have a slick sounding album that, while it does have a good number of strong songs, does not quite measure up to the bands strong back catalog. While I neither expect (nor want) this band to keep remaking the same album over and over again, I like them best when they are ripping through songs. If Fuckin’ A is the record by them that I measure their other albums by (which, honestly, it is), this one is a mild disappointment.

The song “Not Like Any Other Feeling,” for example, is pretty much entirely pushed along by Kathy Foster’s bass. Save for a lead riff that is basically only played at the beginning of the verse, only to go back to bass and drums after only a few seconds. Compare this to “How We Know” (on Fuckin’ A), which is another bass driven song, with the guitar basically being chorus only. The major difference being that the vocals in the latter had great delivery. It all sounded very urgent. The former has a vocal delivery that sounds pretty fucking lackadaisical.

With the exception of  “I Don’t Believe You” and “Your Love Is So Strong,” this record is more or less a plodding, mid tempo affair. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems like the energy of this album is just lacking. With the more “personal” flair to the lyrics, including some rather depressing moments, it seems like the album needs some fast to balance the slow. This does not really happen.

I know that this band can do a whole fucking lot more than they did here. The Thermals have always stuck close to writing pretty basic pop songs. This is probably the first album of theirs where that seems to be a weakness instead of a strength. This is the first record of theirs that does not seem to do anything better than the one previous.

All bullshit aside, I will give this a 3 out of 5. Will end up in my top 10 of the year, but barely. I am sure that the next record this band does will probably be their best.

Buy It (via Kill Rock Stars)
Buy It (via the band)
The Thermals (official site)

REVIEW: Best Coast – Crazy For You

“I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk”

The hype around this band is huge. So huge that I had written the band off as yet another fucking “throwback” type band. You know, the kind that hipsters always end up being in love with. The whole kitsch thing always bothered me.

This album came out in late July, I did not hear it until around mid-October (mostly due to the insistence of my friend). Was the hype deserved? Eh, maybe. To a certain point, anyway.

Basically, you are looking at a throwback style indie pop record. So, all the trappings are there. low-fi, fuzzy guitars, 60’s influences vocals. The whole bit. What makes this stand out from similar bands, like Dum Dum Girls, is that this borrows more from Brian Wilson than it does the classic girl groups. The surf vibe gives it that California sound that this record was meant to have. Yeah, there are touches of garage, but mostly this is a surf pop record. That is mostly pretty awesome.

Lyrically, this is pretty simple. While some bands, let’s say Wavves, suffer from having overly simple lyrics, Best Coast seems to excel because of it. In the song Bratty B, the line “sorry I lost your favourite t-shirt. I’ll buy you a new one, a better one,” comes off sounding sincere rather than awkward and blunt. The quote that opens the review is from the song Goodbye, which is probably my favourite on the whole record. A whole lot of this record is written in the clear and succinct style found in classic pop music. The “I love you” and “I miss you” sentiments sound better that way to me. It worked for the Beach Boys, it worked for the Ramones, and it works for Best Coast

For the songs themselves, the opening song Boyfriend usually gets skipped. Same goes for Honey (though not skipped as much). To me the record seems more front loaded. The first six songs seem to be the best of the bunch. The latter six tracks have their moments, but all the strong, must listen songs are already over. This is a pretty common thing with music these days, I just do not get it. While the latter half is certainly not filler by any means, it just does not feel as strong (save for Bratty B, which is the stand out on the 2nd half).

More or less, the hype around this band was pretty spot on. Best Coast is not doing anything that has not been done before. Bethany Cosentino is obviously no Brian Wilson. For being a throwback type indie pop band, in a scene where there are plenty, Best Coast stands out. So, fuck it, lets say 4 out of 5. Yeah? This record is going to be on a lot of “Best Of 2010” lists, and it is totally fair.

Buy It.
Website (blog)

REVIEW: RVIVR – RVIVR

“From these shitty jobs and moldy houses, shitty jobs and overdoses. The fact we survive at all is kind of a surprise”

Every goddamn time I start getting away from punk rock music, due to whatever bullshit reason, a band comes along and reminds me why I loved it to begin with. I was feeling that way in 2005, when fucking out of nowhere, I heard Latterman. It was their ” No Matter Where We Go…!” record. Instantly stoked. Two years later they broke up.

Fast forward to 2010, and I was starting to feel the same way. Luckily, RVIVR came out with their full length, and it is great. Now, I know everyone in RVIVR had previously been in other bands, but I do not know most of those. I knew that it had Matt Canino in it, and was more than a little interested. I would love to have had this record in the punk house years.

This is, more or less, not too far away from the type of stuff Latterman did. Melodic punk rock with (dare I say) little twinges of emo. Falls in line with the political/personal lyric split too. I recall reading a review of this, and having said review say something about how the lyrics sounded like “a self help book.” Is this a fair judgment, sure. But, a little posi never hurt anyone.

The split male/female vocals is what makes this stand out from Latterman. Erica Freas is the other vocalist (and also the guitarist), and she really sounds prefect for this type of music. The dual vocal stands out as a strengths on a number of songs, but the best being “Cut The Cord.” Her vocals are particularly stand out on “Real Mean” and “Cold In Your Bones.”

My one minor gripe with this record is the first track. I really can never get super stoked on, basically, instrumental only punk songs. Something about that always irks me. Had this record been one track shorter, and opened with “Edge Of Living,” I would not complain.

Honestly, I would feel bad giving this a 5 out of 5, because I feel like my Latterman bias would be partly responsible for this. But, I feel like that is what this record deserves. This record was in constant rotation for about 2 months. This was just what I needed. Fucking record of the year, right here.

Buy It! (Donation based download)
RVIVR (official site – WordPress)

REVIEW: P.S. Eliot – Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds

General opinions would call this band “pop punk” or “indie.” I lean a little more towards the latter than the former. It is pop punk-ish, but it does not follow the rigid constraints of that genre. It has punk edge, but is not afraid to let the songs draw out, or throw in some actual musicianship. They steer clear of the whole “punk riffing” thing. It has a certain level of lo-fi production, which keeps the punk (and possibly even garage) influence. Generally, it stays pretty midtempo, there is some good fuzzy guitar noise. But, it takes the influences and makes it something else.

The vocals are what makes this record stand out. There are some verses where the lyrics do not fit the rhythm of the music (re: Hail Mary and Incoherent Love Songs). This does not make it sound bad, it almost has kind of a Willie Nelson thing. Yeah, there might be a few awkward syllables, but that is how it is supposed to sound. If you know what you want to say, sometimes you have to get a little off rhythm. Also, for the vocals, there are some great harmonies on this thing. There are some choruses that sound like they have old 1960s girls group influence. Even the first song in, you know these vocals were not going to fuck around.

That is not to say it is a perfect record. I think there were a few sequencing things. The song Tennessee is great, but it is kind of a slow song. It seems like there were better “side one, track one” songs. But, that is a minor flaw (I would have put Hail Mary as the first song [for anyone who gives a fuck about my dumb opinion]). Another flaw is something that tends to happen with these more indie/punk hybrid bands. The songs kind of fade together. While each song is enjoyable, a record with mostly midtempo songs and fuzzy guitar sounds eventually runs together. The last little issue I have is also a point I said I enjoyed earlier. Which is how sometimes the vocals get offtime. I count that as good and bad. It is good because it sounds interesting, but it is bad because there are sometimes the vocals are slurred and unclear at times. And that sounds, well, not good. It is a double edged sword. It sounds great most of the time, but sometimes bad. I had to read along with the lyrics, but even then, some stuff was hard to understand.

All in all, I will give this a 4.5 out of 5. Not perfect, but pretty fucking great.

P.S. Eliot blog
BUY IT (Salinas Records)

REVIEW: Streetlight Manifesto – 99 Songs Of Revolution (Volume 1)

Alright, I said I would review this. So, you know, here it is.

Streetlight Manifesto is a great band. I have seen them live a bunch of times, and they always brought their A game. Shit, I remember them doing a Mephiskapheles cover once. But, man, they are like the fucking Chicago Cubs of third wave ska. In that, I mean, they have a dedicated fanbase, even though they can not seem to deliver.

To run with that metaphor, Everything Goes Numb was great. It is, to Streetlight fans, like the 1908 World Series is to Cubs fans. It was a shining achievement. That record came out in 2003. Not counting the rerecording of Keasby Nights in 2006, their next proper full length did not come out until 2007. And, after a four year gap between it and Everything Goes Numb, Somewhere In The Between had an underwhelming ten tracks. So, If Everything Goes Numb was like the 1908 Cubs, Somewhere In The Between is like the 2003 Cubs. As little as five games away from the World Series, but could not fucking get there.

Alright, all shitty metaphors aside, this record kind of sucks. Musically, it sounds pretty good. This is a band of skilled musicians. They are, if nothing, consistent when it comes to music. However, it is dragged down by being a fucking record full of cover songs. They cover material from punk bands like the Dead Milkmen, Bad Religion, and NOFX. They cover some pop and rock stuff from Paul Simon and The Cyrkle. And, they do a pretty on the nose cover of “Hell” by Squirrel Nut Zippers. Then, to make it even worse, they did a version of a fucking Bandits Of The Acoustic Revolution song. Yes, I know that is Tomas’ other band. And, yes, I know that Everything Goes Numb also had a BOTAR cover. But, this time it just seems gratuitous.

Anyway, their cover of “Linoleum” is basically a slowed down, reggae-ish song. Does it stand up to the original? Well, no. That song was meant to be a fast song. That song needs Fat Mike’s voice. The same thing goes for “Skyscraper.” Except switch Fat Mike to Greg Graffin and NOFX to Bad Religion. Otherwise, the covers are pretty much ehhh. They sound exactly like what you think Streetlight covering those songs would sound like.

The only song on here I am even remotely stoked on is the cover of the Dead Milkmen classic “Punk Rock Girl.” That song is a fun song, so even being surrounded by schlock, it will always stand out. But, that is more of a statement on the song versus the band. The Paul Simon cover of “Me And Julio Down By The School Yard” is pretty good too, I guess.

Probably the most talked about cover on this whole album is a cover of “At Such Great Heights.” When I first heard it, I was excited. I mean, I really like The Postal Service, and I like Streetlight. This should have been great. The synth parts done by the horn section DID sound pretty rad. But, just making the song another generic third wave ska song kind of sucks. Plus, as that one  guy on Punknews says, the band Tip The Van was covering this song for a long time. Including on the tour where they opened for Streetlight. So, there is that implied drama that I can not even be bothered to mention beyond that.

All in all, this album was disappointing. It was basically a bunch of songs made to sound like any other Streetlight song. Was anyone really clamoring for a ska version of a Radiohead song? Especially since there is a version of the same song (“Just”) done by The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches readily available at the Quote Unquote Website. 

I am not even going to rate this. Anyone who likes Streetlight probably already bought this. This thing charted at #140 on the Billboard 200. This record will be the new Modified by Save Ferris. By that, I mean, look for it at used CD shops everywhere. The smart money says that is where it will end up.

Buy it here (if you dare)
Information about this album, and the whole 99 song project @ Wikipedia

REVIEW: Candy Hearts – Ripped Up Jeans & Silly Dreams

This is an interesting record. Interesting because, in general, I know I should really like it, but for some reason can not get too stoked on it. Something about it leaves me more ambivalent than anything.

This is on the If You Make It label/collective/whatever. The description of this band says they are a mix of “the sweet pop/rock band Element 101, and pop/punk band Lemuria with a dash of The Weakerthans and Jawbreaker thrown in.” This is accurate, but this is where the issues come up.

Listening to this band makes me feel like listening to something else instead. Not because it is bad, because it really is not. But, it sounds like other records I have (that tend to sound better). Like, the first time I listened to this record, I was driving to work. I got through the first few songs, and then just ended up turning on Lemuria instead.  The Lemuria comparison makes sense. But, the Jawbreaker and Weakerthans comparisons do not. Save for the guitar on the song “Cracks Beneath Closed Doors,” there was really nothing that made me think of Jawbreaker. And, I can not even hear anything to make me think of The Weakerthans.

Anyway, what does this sound like? More or less, female fronted pop punk/indie. This leans more on the punk side than the indie side. On the If You Make It Site, they draw a comparison to “early Lemuria.” By “early” I think they mean the 2004 Demo.

The problem is, none of the songs are all that strong. It seems more like cutesy and shit, sadly to a detriment. You know, stuff like “we go together like the alphabet and letters that spell out our names, so perfectly together” (from the song “You And Me”).  Then there is the song “Punk Songs.” It is an acoustic song, but is basically based around Ramones riffs. It is another example of a fun song that kind of got bogged down by bad lyrics. Just imagine The Unlovables lyrics (cheesy and cutesy) played over some old Lemuria music. Except, where Hallie Bulliet always kind of wrote songs with a wink/nudge type feel to her lyrics, it seems like this band is being totally serious with it.

Being that this was obviously made by the band, the production is not very good. Mariel Loveland’s voice is not strong enough to stand out over the guitars, especially on songs like “What I Want” and “Blocking The Sunshine,” which have pretty big, hooky choruses.

Overall, this is an ok record though. It just makes me think of other things I could listen to instead. It is one of those records where the band relies too much on their influences. As far as debut full lengths go (pretty sure this is), it is about what you would expect. If they can tighten up the song writing and get a good producer behind them, I do not see any reason why they could not be great. They just need to find their voice. I guess I will give this a 2.5 out of 5. It is an average record from a band that shows potential to be great.

Get It: Download for free at If You Make It
Band Website: Candy Hearts (tumblr)

REVIEW: Rocky Votolato – "True Devotion"

Man, this record sucks. I feel bad saying it. I like Rocky Votolato. I really do. “Suicide Medicine” was great. Fuck, “Makers” is, in my opinion, damn near perfect. His various EPs are great, his old band Waxwing was fucking awesome. So, what the fuck happened?

Maybe his stuff is just a time/place type thing for me. A friend of mine, Marissa, got me into this. The first song she showed me by Rocky Votolato was “A Discourse On Killing.” Something about a folk song having the phrase “I want to hit somebody with a baseball bat. Break his fucking knees, and take pleasure in it,” just struck me as totally great. This was spring 2006.

So, I had Marissa burn me his stuff and got to listening. She burned me the previously mentioned “Makers” and “Suicide Medicine.” In December 2006 I moved to my first punk house. I listened to those records a whole lot. It was good folk/country. But, some of the songs were dark. Perfect. 2007 came along, and he put out “The Brag And Cuss.” It was the turning point for him. That record, while still good, had a considerable amount of filler. Shit, almost the entire second half was filler. When I found out he had something new coming out this year, I was not very optimistic.

“True Devotion” came out in February. I finally got around to getting it in May. Then, finally got around to listening to it in June. Musically, it is pretty interchangable with “Makers.” Folky guitar, a little less country vibe than the last one. But, the lyrics fell flat. If I had to describe this album in one word, I would say “repetitious.” For example, the second track “Fragments,” has only one regular verse. The rest is basically the chorus, with a few words changed every now and then. This was not the only song where this happened. A good number of songs could be better, if not for the seeming ad nauseum repeating of the chorus.

For the good parts though, it was generally solid musically. The guitar sounded good. The vocals were mixed well. The opening song “Lucky Clover Coin” sounded good. But, still was dragged down by overly simple, and repetitive lyrics. I think that “Sparklers” is a great song too. It has a good guitar sound, and is using sparklers and firecrackers as a metaphor for a relationship. Anyone can relate to that, I suppose. It is a bit trite, but, I am grasping for straws here. I know that does not seem like there is very much good. But, I think my expectations were a little high.

So, I guess this record just disappointed me. I only see two out of ten songs ever getting played again. Maybe I am missing something. It just seems like his songwriting is falling down to cliched metaphors and simple rhymes. Even the music could not save most of these songs. I feel bad though, I really wanted to like this. I say, fuck it, go get a copy of “Makers” and a bottle of Makers and have a good night there. This record here is fine enough, but not that good. 2 out of 5.

Official site (features all lyrics for this release).
Official store