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

REVIEW: The Get Up Kids – "Simple Science"

I am a pretty big fan of The Get Up Kids. When they broke up in 2005, I was totally not stoked about it. I had never gotten a chance to see them live. In 2008, they announced their reunion and I was fucking excited.

It was just going to be some reunion shows. Then they announced that they were start working on new material. October 2009 rolled around, and the first of their new songs was initially released on Daytrotter. It was the song “Your Petty, Pretty Things.” Now, no, it was not an epic return to Four Minute Mile or Something To Write Home About. It was, however, a great fucking track. It would not have sounded out of place on Guilt Show.

So, in November 2009, I finally got to see them live. They played at The Metro in Chicago, and it was a great set. It was enough to tide me over, but I was still waiting for their new shit. April 2010 rolled around, and the new record finally came out. I did not actually get it until May, because Interpunk apparently does not understand how pre-orders work. Either way, it was 4 new songs. Fuck yes. Did it live up to the hype I had built up around it? Well, yes and no.

“Your Petty, Pretty Things” showed up here. It was a lot cleaner sounding than their Daytrotter session version. It was your average mid tempo pop rock song. Not the return to midwestern emo I was hoping for, but generally great. This is basically what the other songs sounded like. Mid-tempo, catchy, you know the drill. “Tommy Gentle” kicked in with the killer vocal harmonies you expect with this band. “Keith Case” was a heavily distorted, almost droney, type song. But, everything I loved about the band was their. The vocal harmonies, the catchy pop hooks. There was no way I would not love this goddamn EP.

That said, there were some things that bugged me. I was expecting something more in line with Guilt Show. This was not really met. These songs are more experimental. James Dewees definitely did more with the keyboard and synth sounds on this record. Generally it sounded great, but the closing song “How You’re Bound” suffers because the damn synth is so high in the mix. That coupled with it being a 6 minute song made it stand out, but not for the best of reasons.

Long story short, it is a solid EP. If’n you were a fan before, you will be able to get down to this. It is not going to bring them any new fans. But, I do not think that was the point. I will give it a 3.5 out of 5. Totally enjoyable, but not something that will be in heavy rotation. Still one of my favourite releases of the year. And, man, when they drop their new full length this winter, I will be right there to buy it.

Buy It Here

REVIEW: Blunt Mechanic – "World Record"

Blunt Mechanic is the new project for Ben Barnett, of Kind Of Like Spitting. I am, basically, a giant fanboy for Kind Of Like Spitting. They have been at the top of my Last.fm chart for the past 2 years now. All the songs he did with that project are high on my list of favourite shit ever. When I heard he had a new project, I was pretty fucking stoked.

So, as expected, this record is out on Barsuk Records. Per the label site, “both band and album tip heavy on the riffaged hooks and light on the darkness; big on the thumbs up — no time for the thumbs down.” This is pretty accurate. A lot has happened since Kind Of Like Spitting called it a day in 2006.

This album is pretty low-fi. My main complaint is that, musically, most of it sounds pretty similar to the more full band Kind Of Like Spitting stuff (circa One Hundred Dollar Room and the split with Lemuria). There is nothing wrong with this, but it does not grab me as much initially as those recordings did.

But, yeah, it is pretty poppy sounding for the most part. A little garagey at times. Weird psychedelic vocal harmonies at other times. A few acoustic jams even. This record is fucking all over the place.”Aluminum And Light” stands out as a great example of the psychedelic influence. “Our First Brains” has a very country feel to it. Mostly due to the guitar riff and drum beat. It is also my favourite track on the album. Fast, catchy, and will stay stuck in your fucking head for days.

Of the more Kind Of Like Spitting sounding stuff “Is Or Isn’t All The Same” and “Pop Song” stand out. However, even though they seems kind of melancholy, they have a more positive feeling to them than Kind Of Like Spitting did.

As far as things I do not dig that much, “Enough” goes on for about seven minutes. Usually that is a skip for me. I understand the experimental nature of this record, but a lot can be said for the 3 minute song.

I feel bad for spending most of the review talking about Kind Of Like Spitting, but, it had to happen. Ben Barnett makes very particular music. This would be on the same level of trying to write a Hey Mercedes review without mentioning Braid. That shit is hard to do.

In the end, I will give this a 4 out of 5. This will undoubtedly end up on my end of year “best of” list. And if anyone gets a mix from me anytime soon, odds are some song from this record will end up on it. I implore you to pick this shit up, yo.

Album and order page @ Barsuk Records

REVIEW: Off With Their Heads – "In Desolation"

I was late to the game in regards to Off With Their Heads. I did not hear Hospitals until 2008. Basically, I slept on that record for 2 years. I was pretty mad that I did.

A lot can be said for an album that is so fucking catchy, but still so fucking dark. For their Epitaph debut, OWTH have basically taken parts of all their previous releases, and mixed them down to a coherent release.

The songs on In Desolation would stand up against anything in their vast discography. But, with the Epitaph production budget, this record just SOUNDS great. Production wise, it sounds better than an album this dirty has a right to. But, it is not overproduced.

This album is short of filler. Gun to my head, I am not really digging “My Episodes” very much. It almost kills the momentum of the record. This is still an ok song, it just sticks out a little too much. Luckily it falls right at the end of the album, rather than smack in the middle.

As far as stand out song, “Clear The Air” is probably my favourite on the record. It is an excellent closer, and a generally fantastic song. “ZZYZX” is another one of those “fuck you, i just want to be left the fuck alone” type songs. And, goddamnit if they did not do a good job of it. The lead off single “Drive” works well as an album opener. It sets the pace for the whole album well. As for the “deluxe” version Epitaph is selling, there is an extra song called “I May Be A Lot Of Shitty Things, But At Least I’m Not A Rapist Like You.” Pretty much a fuck you song. Great all the way around.

Enough bullshit though. Basically, if you were a fan of Off With Their Heads before, you have no reason not to like this record. A lot of shit has been said about this being released on Epitaph, but disregard any of that. Epitaph got themselves a winner here. Buy this record if you like catchy as hell songs about drugs, depression, stress, and anger. It is a cathartic album, and sometimes that is all you need. I will throw this 4.5 out of 5.

REVIEW: Against Me! – "White Crosses"

There is a lot of hype around this fucking album. Depending on where you frequent, most of it is bad. The more vocal people at Punknews are bashing the shit out of it. But, how does it really stand up?

Well, if you really love old AM! stuff, you will probably not like this much. It does not have the same feeling to it as Reinventing Axl Rose or As The Eternal Cowboy had. I will, however, say that I think this album is better than Searching For A Former Clarity and New Wave.

My biggest issue with this record is that the lyrics are overly repetitive. The song “White Crosses” felt overly long due to this issue. “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” also suffers a little from this problem as well. But, that song being the lead single makes total sense. It is a great song. Is it repetitive? Well, yeah. But, it does not suffer as a result of it. The message it is trying to get across is clear. And, man, that shit will probably go over live like a motherfucker.

There is a less “punk” vibe to this album. It feels more like power pop, or Replacements influence alternative. It is still an album meant to challenge the listener. So many “punks” are going to sleep on this record. But, I almost feel like that was the point. It seems like the band finally decided to do what they wanted, and fuck the people who are going to hate it.

As far as filler, this records has it. “Spanish Moss” kind of dragged ass. “Ache With Me” is a generally alright song. But, as Jelone over at Punknews called them, the “chickuh-ah” vocal sound was fucking odd. It did kind of ruin the song. I kept waiting for Tom Gabel to pull out a Rod Argent and ask “what’s your name? who’s your daddy?” (as a side note, The Zombies were a fantastic band, but that fucking line always sounded kind of douchey to me. I wonder if it sounded as bad in 1968).

Minor gripes aside, this record is average. Nothing stands out as being totally fucking awesome. But, nothing stands out as being really fucking horrible. There are some missteps, but they are not too noticeable. In the end, i will give this album 3 stars out of 5. An average score for an average album. However, if this album is a sign of things to come for the band, I will look forward to it.

wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Crosses_(album)