It’s not easy to make pop punk music. Like, ok, that’s not true. It’s mechanically easy to make pop punk music. It’s not easy to make pop punk music that can live and breath as it’s own thing. The genre purists are going to piss and complain no matter what. You’re derivative if you stick too close to the formula, you’re a trend jumping phony if you deviate. It’s fucking ridiculous. But let’s get down to brass tacks. Diet Cig is fucking good.
Swear I’m Good At This is exactly what any band would want their debut full length to be. Diet Cig has honed their indie pop influenced punk rock down to a science over the course of one EP and two singles. They are a two piece that sounds huge. Everything is firing, and everything works.
Swear I’m Good At This is in the fine tradition of records that sound happy but are lyrically kind of a bummer. There are songs about failed relationships. Songs about feeling lonely and hopeless. There’s some 20-something ennui. There are a couple fuck you songs directed to a society that really doesn’t seem to get what the fuck is going on. It’s musical sugar to cover up real life bitterness and I love it.
This a record full of singles and mixtape fodder. “Link In Bio” and “Tummy Ache” were absolute no-brainers to be lead of singles. “Barf Day” and “Bite Back” would fit perfectly on a bummer mix. It’s a record that is definitely going to appeal to an entire demographic of disillusioned kids just trying to find their voice.
This is the kind of music that exists to let you know you’re not the only one going through some shit. It’s 100% the kind of thing I loved when I was in my 20s, and I know some kid is going to be stoked on it. Diet Cig have all the potential to be huge, and I hope they everyone sees it.
Bandcamp / Buy It
It’s hard to believe that Created In The Image Of Suffering is technically the debut full length from King Woman. The evolution from a solo project of Kristina Esfandiari to full band has really only happened over the course of two singles and an EP. The version of King Woman here sounds very far removed from the version that recorded the Degrida single back in 2013. While the earlier releases were definitive King Woman songs, there seemed to be a lot of overlap with what Esfandiari doing in Miserable. The sound was a little darker, but still similar. King Woman evolving into an actual band with other full time members really solidified it as something different. 2015’s Doubt was the turning point. It was evolution.
Created In The Image Of Suffering is a document of that evolution and musical growth. It’s also a perfect example of how King Woman defies genre classification. It has elements of metal, doom, shoegaze, and drone. In a lot of ways it is all of, and none of, those genres. It might piss off some purists, but must be acknowledged. The end result is a sound that is beautifully varied. The band has the chops to be dark and heavy, but they also have the restraint to be light and airy. The guitars can go from melodic and soft to just fucking riffing. Created In The Image Of Suffering is a split of power and vulnerability, not that those things are mutually exclusive. Everything is tied together by Kristina Esfandiari’s vocals. Mysterious and ethereal, but also fucking powerful.
These songs are clearly the result of a very complicated life and history. They are very dense and very cathartic. The biggest mistake is to assume this record is just some angry, brooding thing. There are songs on Created In The Image Of Suffering about the abuse Esfandiari received while in the church, but there are also songs about unrequited love. It is Esfandiari as a songwriter just putting it all out on the record. The tone feels like it might skew one way, but there is so much more happening.
I’ve talked about King Woman and Miserable before on here. Esfandiari is easily one of my favorite artists going right now. Created In The Image Of Suffering has built on everything she’s done before, and is an A+ addition to an already fantastic discography.
It’s been about four months since I wrote about any record. I’m coming back with an easy one. Less Than Jake is one of my favorite bands. They have been since I was a teenager. It was Less Than Jake and the Bouncing Souls forever. Like, I’ve forgotten a lot of things over the years. The lyrics to every Less Than Jake record up to and including GNV FLA are still burned in my brain though. I definitely got away from this band after that. I never really listened to either of the Greetings EPs or See The Light very much. They were great records. I was busy reviewing every fucking emo revival record, or whatever.
There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to Less Than Jake. They are a band of veterans who know exactly where their proverbial bread is buttered. It’s why, in 2017, I can still put on any of their records and know I’m going to enjoy it. Is it predictability? Definitely. Could that be viewed as a negative thing? Absolutely. Not by me though, because I still love this goddamn band.
Sound The Alarm is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s an EP full of poppy songs with oddly bummer lyrics. Sound The Alarm would him every point if there was a template for a Less Than Jake record. “Call To Arms” is the classic punk with horns opener. Compared to their discography, it is probably the most Anthem-y. “Welcome To My Life” and “Years Of Living Dangerously” hit the laid back ska vibe. Both songs deal with friendships and relationships in different ways. The former being apologetic, the latter hits on the classic, reminiscent theme the band often uses. “Thing Change” is the strongest song on the record. It closes the record with the most Less Than Jake song they’ve recorded in years. Fast verses, great horn line, and a huge chorus.
It’s not really easy to write about Less Than Jake objectively. This band is wildly important to me, and I’m definitely willing to overlook things other people maybe won’t. Nostalgia is a hell of thing. Anything this band does is going to remind me of something I’ve done while listening to them. “Bomb Drop” makes reminds me of driving in a blizzard while listening to Borders And Boundaries. “Years Of Living Dangerously” reminds me of being sad and drunk while listening to B Is For B-Sides.
It’s a fucking Less Than Jake record. You know what it is. Don’t overthink it. It’s good, and it is another strong release in this band’s discography. I know everyone is going to try and compare it Hello Rockview or Losing Streak. Don’t do that. Just let it play. You’ll like it.
Less Than Jake
Pure Noise Records
The Lower Echelon play a kind of punk rock that doesn’t get much play these days. It is something in the middle of traditional, 70s style punk rock and the sardonic, sarcastic 80s stuff that permeated out from the West Coast.
Come To The Loud is a record that has more going on than an initial listen would cover. On the face of it, a song like “Dirty Princess” can come across as a little questionable. With proper analysis the lyrics actually get the point about bro culture and the weird fixation is has on damsel in distress tropes. This political tone is recurring. “All Against All” is more of a dirgey type song that touches how consumer culture and and financial system is rigged against normal people. “Flops To Lofts” has a similar tone.
As far as being a genre record, this record hits a lot of the touchstones. The songs are rough around the edges, the vocals even more so. It has the energy and heart that punk rock should have. If I had an issue with the EP it would be that the topics don’t necessarily get dealt with the weight they could be. There is a lot of bullshit happening in the supposed “progressive” world of punk rock, and masking the message in too much sarcasm tends to muddy the water.
But, look, let’s get down to brass tacks. The Lower Echelon are definitely on some punk rock shit, and this EP is definitely worth a listen.
The Lower Echelon
Computer Magic makes a kind of music that I really like, but really don’t talk about on here. I primarily focus on guitar based stuff in the indie and punk rock variety, mostly because that is the kind of stuff that is sent my way. I was really excited to get sent the promo stream of this though. Computer Magic is the stage name for Danielle “Danz” Johnson. Danz has been putting out music under this name since 2011. She has been very prolific in that time. Nine EPs and four LPs, including last years Davos. Most of these releases have been self released or on import from Japan.
Obscure But Visible is the new EP, and it is definitely a winner. It is very much in line with the music Danz has released thus far. It is reverb heavy synth pop that would slot nicely in that genre, or with indie pop stuff in general. The tone is wonderfully set by “Dimensions.” As the lead off for the records, it really embodies the dreamy sort of atmosphere that is present throughout the EP. There is also a very retro type vibe present on the EP as well. Especially on “Been Waiting” and “Gone For The Weekend.” Not retro like “it sounds old or dated,” but more in that it sounds what people in the past would assume “futuristic” music would sound. Does that make sense? It’s like an undeniable mixture of modern music and retro kitsch.
This EP is also a testament to Danz as a producer and creator. I always enjoy seeing the person creating the music also be the one producing it. Everything sounds great, and that is the reason. She knows where the vocals should sit in the mix, she knows how to get the atmosphere needed for the songs. It’s that personal touch that adds a lot of heart to things. Everything on here has passed through her hands. All the way down to it being released on Channel 9 Records, which she runs. This is the definition of DIY.
Obscure But Visible is a hell of an EP, and is definitely a melting pot of great things. It would fit in nicely in your collection, right by stuff from Broadcast, The Blow, or even Neon Indian. It’s pretty great.
Channel 9 Records
I can’t make heads or tails of post-genres sometimes. It gets especially troublesome when talking about a band like Cloak Of Organs. They could comfortably be listed under whatever post- genre tag you could rattle off. Post-metal, post-hardcore, post-punk, post-whatever.
Fuck it. Cloak Of Organs is a band that is not beholden to a specific scene or genre. They make music that is very melodic and airy in some places, but also very heavy in others. They’re self titled EP is the kind of record that would be at home in a metal collection as much as a shoegaze collection. It is an example of crafting atmosphere and texture.
The music is slow and brooding, and the vocals hit all the right “ethereal” hallmarks. This record sounds great in all aspects, musically and vocally. But, y’know, of course it does. This band is made up of Denver music veterans, and the combined experience means great things. The Nervous, Wovenhand, Planes Mistaken for Stars, and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club are all represented.
This is the perfect kind of record for fall. The music and the lyrical content both skew towards more dark topics. There are themes of body horror. There are themes of desolation. It’s not necessarily a “fun” record, but it sure is a great one. It’s definitely a great fall release.
Cloak Of Organs
Bandcamp / Buy It
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.
Grave Mistake Records