Monday, July 31, 2017

Punk Goes Pop, Vol. 7

Over 4 & 1/2 years ago, I was talking about my thoughts on Punk Goes Pop Vol 5 with my girlfriend at the time. I kept going on about the different songs and she mentioned that I should start a blog with these ideas. Fast forward to now, and I am 158 reviews and posts in, in part to due to the Punk Goes Pop series. So, even though I've moved a bit away from this scene and a lot of the bands that used to be present on the previous entries, I thought it would be fitting to take some time to review the latest volume.

There's definitely some hits on this album, starting with the opening track, "Stitches" by State Champs. Taking the original and giving it just the right amount of angst and punk flair, State Champs continues to show that they can take something that isn't theirs and make it their own. Their version of "Stitches" feels so natural for them; if I didn't know the original song and heard the cover, I would've assumed it was their own song and not a cover. They have become a very solid band in the pop-punk scene, one that I have really enjoyed watching grow and tighten up their sound over the years. 

"That's What I Like", originally by Bruno Mars but this time performed by Dance Gavin Dance, is another great song that the band was able to retain the original essence of the song while still giving it their own flair. The song still has the swagger of the original, with a balance of clean and screaming vocals that doesn't cause you to grind your teeth. There's some great guitar work on the song as well, with the lead guitarist really showing off his chops. This type of cover reminds me of why I really enjoyed the PGP series in the beginning; it combines a heavier band with a poppier radio hit and the result is both hilarious and enjoyable. 

One of my favorites (possibly my favorite of the album) is "Gangsta" by New Years Day, originally by Kehlani. This is an example of why I do really enjoy this series of releases, despite the inconsistent nature of the material. The band took a song that you wouldn't have thought to hear them perform, and they completely owned it and took it to a new level. The dark nature the band brings really fits the vibe of the song, and replacing the hip hop beats and Kelahni's sensual nature with roaring guitars and Ashley Costello's haunting vocals really emphasize the twisted nature of the song, in a way that the original just couldn't. 

"Let It Go" by The Plot In You is a rare example of a band not straying far from the sound of the original but still managing to create a captivating performance. The vulnerable, stripped down nature of this song ended up really working for the band, despite my initial feelings that they should have tried to push the sound and build into a huge climatic ending. The lead singer, Landon Tewers, is the real star of the song, showing off his range and vocal sensibility as he switches from soft and gentle to a strain that's almost heartbreaking in it's emotional depth. 

"When We Were Young" by Andy Black & Juliet Simms was one that I initially skipped, partially because I had heard the original and didn't have too much interest in a cover. However, I'm glad I ended up listening, because this one is an easy contender for the best song on the album. The vocal performances from both singers are impressive, to say the least. Andy Black has the makings of a great solo career ahead of him with a voice like that; almost country sounding, but full and powerful. Juliet Simms has a couple of moments where she soars so high that you find yourself distracted from whatever it is you were doing because it's just an enthralling voice. It's not a super "punk" song overall, but that's something that's been present in PGP throughout all their volumes.

"In The Name of Love" as performed by Too Close To Touch is the last song, and crept its way into the hits section of this review. I initially didn't give it much thought (not knowing the band or the song they were covering), but I listened to the original and then came back. And boy, that made quite the difference. Keaton Pierce's soaring vocals, that switch from having almost a pretty quality to having a hint of a scream, combined with the very well layered instrumental give the song a definite epic sense. PGP did not want this volume to go out without a bang, and Too Close To Touch certainly provides that.

Despite a number of hits, there were some misses on the album as well. Seaway's rendition of "Closer" wasn't necessarily bad, but the band turns the dials back a bit too much to the point where the song feels almost like it should be a slow song for a high school dance instead of an overplayed radio hit. It just didn't quite click for me. The same could be said of "Love Yourself" by Grayscale and "Can't Feel My Face" by The Amity Affliction. Both songs aren't bad, but they're also not the best. "Love Yourself" has this weird tempo thing at the very beginning, where the vocals and guitar are off just enough at points for it to be too distracting. "Can't Feel My Face" really turned me off with the abrupt jump from clean vocals and synths to the addition of screams; I actually skipped the song the first time I heard it because it killed the momentum the song had, for me. The chorus is probably the best part of the song, and comes out pretty well, but there's a dark aspect of the original song that the band didn't quite tap into, and it comes off as wasted potential. "I Don't Wanna Live Forever" by Ice Nine Kills starts off really well, with a well done intro and beginning verse, but the screaming that comes in for the pre-chorus derailed the sensitive emotional vibe they had begun with. 

Some of the songs were in-between great and bad; Capsize takes Drake's "Fake Love" and makes it brooding and angsty, with the chorus being the high and the verses being just okay. Boston Manor gives Twenty One Pilots' "Heathens" a bit of a grittier twist, but with a little less of the swagger that TOP brought to the original. Eat Your Heart Out gives a nice rock makeover to Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You", although it feels a bit like the lyrics come out more hollow in this rendition.

Overall, this release grew on me a lot more than I expected. Despite not knowing a lot of the bands or being as current on the scene, the latest addition of Punk Goes Pop shows no signs of slowing down or becoming stale.

Rating: 6/10

Recommended: "Stitches", "In The Name Of Love", "Gangsta".

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Swimming Pool Summer - EP - Capital Cities

Capital Cities broke on the scene in 2013 with their hit song, "Safe and Sound", a track full of bright synths, a pulsing drum track, and the trumpet line on the chorus that really gave the song its unique sound. The band has been a bit quiet since their first album, but finally released a new EP of music July 7th called "Swimming Pool Summer". As can be expected, the songs off this release are perfect for summertime adventures and parties.

The title track starts things off in the same vein as their previous releases, with a subtle synth bass and strummed electric and acoustic guitar that intro into Ryan Merchant's vocals and a trumpet line that brings to mind their hit song while feeling new. The overall vibe of the song is laid back and a bit more subdued than their original album; the instrumental . There are also some cool string lines on the bridge as well that are subtle; it shows the  way that the band layers and includes a lot of cool elements that require a bit more attention from the listener to appreciate. This isn't the kind of song you would put on to get a wild party started, but definitely works for a beach day or pool day or summer night kickback.

"Drop Everything" begins with a low, rumbling synth and a cool vocal track that's been edited and chopped. This song has a bit more emphasis on the drums than the last song, especially on the verses. The lyrics are really intriguing as well, with Merchant utilizing the same rhyme sound on each verse; they manage to do so in a way that doesn't become tiresome or annoying. It shows their ability to make different words work in the same rhyme scheme and not fall back on the same words again and again. The small build up and drop into the vocal hook/synth line for each chorus is nice; again, it's not over exaggerated but still pulls from current trends in the music world. The bridge also features a nice trumpet solo (I was a trumpet player in middle and high school, so I am inclined to appreciate it more than some might) that feels right at place amongst all the electronic swells and wobbles surrounding it.

"Girl Friday" is an interesting one because it features rapper Rick Ross, which might not be something the average listener would expect on a song like this. On their first album, however, Capital Cities featured Andre 3000 from Outkast, so it fits their vibe. This song is definitely the most upbeat and energetic of the EP, and also works more in a narrative format than the rest of the songs they've done. This story element is especially prominent in the first verse, where Merchant sings and a woman responds in a way that would be indicative of a telephone call. Rick Ross's verse fits right in with the song, as surprising as that might sound. I myself was skeptical at first when I saw his name listed, but I was impressed with the way in which he made his sound fit on the pop track, which is not his normal forte at all.

"Drifting" begins with the focus on the vocals, as Merchant sings without the usual harmonization he has on his tracks; it gives the few lines a sense of vulnerability that isn't easily found in their music. The song has a bit of a melancholy feel to it, despite the synths and drums not letting up until the very end of the song. It ends in a stripped down form, just vocals and plucked guitar chords, providing a very different glance at this band. This song also utilizes a remixed vocal hook in the chorus that goes back and forth with Merchant's actual vocals. The song has a slight 70's/80's vibe, especially during the pre-chorus with the synth and guitar choices they made.

There is also a remix of the title track by THCSRS, which fits the overall vibe of the EP while still giving the track a new sound that would fit well at an EDM festival for people to dance along to. It's not anything incredibly spectacular, but a good addition for what the EP seemed to be trying to do.

Something that I enjoy about this band is that they found their niche and have stuck to it. They haven't tried to do anything super innovative or thought provoking (not to say they don't make excellent music) - and that's okay, because they know what kind of music they can make really, really well. Everyone needs music for different times and different purposes, and Capital Cities should be an auto include on everyone's summer jam lists this year.

Since this is an EP, I'm going to rate each song individually as well as overall.

Rating: Overall - 7/10

  • Swimming Pool Summer 8/10
  • Drop Everything - 8/10
  • Girl Friday (feat. Rick Ross) 6/10
  • Drifting - 7/10
  • Swimming Pool Summer (THCSRS Remix) - 6/10

Recommended: "Swimming Pool Summer", "Drop Everything"

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington

At first I thought it was fake. A hoax. I immediately began searching for a credible source, looking for a sign that what I was reading was just a very bad joke.

But that relief never came.

Chester Bennington, as many of you will already know, was found dead today after an apparent suicide.

I've been struggling to form words to convey my thoughts right now. I spent most of this morning sobbing with my girlfriend and failing to compose myself again and again as she held me. Chester's death hit me hard. Despite any preparations one can have for a loss, death is never easy and even more so when it is unexpected.

From around the time I was 7 or 8, Linkin Park has been my favorite band.  That has not changed for the last 16 years.  I remember listening to Hybrid Theory and Meteora in the times that I was angsty and brooding, alone in my room with my portable CD player. I remember being both excited and confused by the change in Minutes to Midnight, having a contest with my mom to see who could learn the verses from Bleed It Out (I won that). A Thousand Suns took a long time to grow on me, but is probably my favorite album by Linkin Park now. Living Things was a great combination of all the elements they had explored so far. The Hunting Party allowed them to revisit the raw nature of the groups that influenced them in their own formative years. And their most recent release, One More Light, was their attempt to really be honest and lay their struggles on the line for the fans to experience.

I've seen them live three times; each time was an absolutely incredible experience. I remember in particular when I saw them in 2011 in San Diego at SDSU. As a member of their fan club, called LP Underground, I entered in and was selected for the chance to meet the band. I got to go to a special place, line up with other excited fans, and received free stickers and guitar picks as we waited patiently for our chance to meet the band. And I got to meet them, have them sign a CD, shake their hands, even if it was just for a moment. Even though I was so awestruck and nervous that I couldn't say a single word, it is an experience that I will hold in my heart forever.

Through all these years, I've listened to every album, every single, every release and side project. The influence that this band and Chester in particular have had on me shaped me in so many ways, in my music and my writing and my creativity. He showed me how to take the darkness inside and make it into something that other people can understand and sympathize with. And while I cannot speak as someone who has suffered depression, their music has given me so much strength in times that I struggled through hardships and pain. And I know there are millions out there who feel the same as I do, who have similar stories to my own. I know he had a wife and children and the rest of the band members that he left behind, and I cannot begin to fathom their loss.

Please, please, please; if you are suffering from depression, please know that you are not alone. This is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. I know it is not easy to reach out for help, but it is there.

Chester, I don't know where you are. I don't know where you stood with God. But I pray for your soul, for the suffering that you experienced. I pray that your family is surrounded with love and support. I wish I could show you all the compassion people had for you.

I'll end this post with the chorus from the increasingly haunting title track from Linkin Park's latest release, "One More Light".

"If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone's time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
Or quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do."

Rest In Peace Chester. 1976-2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Metaphysical - The Technicolors

The Technicolors were one of those bands that snuck in under my radar. I had heard of them simply because they're on 8123 record label, which was started by one of my favorite bands, The Maine (I've mentioned them just a couple of times). I didn't give them as much attention as I should have at the time, but I really began listening to them as I was preparing for the 8123 Fest earlier this year that I attended. They put on a great show, and I began really appreciating their music, especially their EP Sweat that they released last year. When I heard they were putting out an album this summer, I was very intrigued and waited with anticipation. The album definitely didn't disappoint.

It opens with "Neon Roses", which itself opens with a bright, overdriven guitar riff that leads into the kind of rock-alternative sound you'd expect from The Technicolors. It's organic and energetic, switching between the rock n' roll fueled verses and the spacey, almost psychedelic chorus. My favorite part is the bridge, where the band plays on your expectations, climbing up vocally until you expect it to go to a certain note, but then jumping even higher and playing with some cool harmonies that are quite unexpected. It's almost dissonant, but only because it feels different from the rest of the song in terms of pitch.

"Lilies for Lily" follows, and being one of the singles is one I got some more time to really enjoy. The song uses some great contrast, from the palm-muted guitar of the verses to the full blown strumming of the chorus, as well as the vocals shifting from a lower register to a higher one from the verses to the chorus. This one soars in its shifts, and definitely will keep you coming back for more and more.

"Fever Bomb" feels for the first few moments as if it's going to be a little more mellow and relaxed as the clean guitar picking guides you in. Within seconds, however, it completely smashes that with gritty guitars, crashing drums, and the lead singer almost yelling to be heard above the rest, creating a sense of urgency. The pre-chorus brings it back down a little, but only for a moment as the chorus continues the urgency, where the lead singer repeats "a little bit more love, a little bit more time, a little bit more touch". The bridge reintroduces the guitar line from the very beginning of the song, but only as a part of the build up into the frantic guitar solo that completely matches the tone of the song. The rock n' roll sound really comes through on this song, easily making it a stand out.

"Fall off the Moon" is interesting because they included a "remix" on the Sweat EP last summer, which I don't really consider a remix and more of an acoustic version. But having heard that version first makes me more inclined to like it better; however, this version of the song is still great. It finds the band dialing down the intensity and gritty sound for something a little more clean while still maintaining the same sound presence and immensity their other songs create. There are some synths that come out a bit stronger on this song than the rest of the album, which I think fit, given the moon/space nature of the song. I think this song really highlights the lead singer's vocals and range, where he goes from fairly low and almost gravely to utilizing his falsetto as he sings "to fall off the moon" in a way that's beautiful.

"Imposter" brings back the gritty sound, with the guitar part being extremely overdriven, reminding me a bit of grunge. There's some really cool moments on this song; the bridge, for example, includes a guitar solo that leads into this moment of just the vocals and rim hits on the drums and then back into another solo. They also utilize that same moment of vocals and drums before each chorus begins. The song doesn't let up for a moment, pushing the sound and energy up until the very last few seconds.

"Congratulations, You're a Doll" features this cool interplay of palm-muted guitar and the bass guitar for the intro, highlighting both without having one overtake the other. The song has a great groove to it, as well as some fantastic contrast. The verses are generally low key, leading into the bigger choruses that feature these few seconds of really distorted guitars and drums kicking it up to 10 before immediately coming right back down. The bridge is, again, a really cool point in the song; the lead singer does a little vocal solo, if you can call it that, just singing notes and no words attached, and the rest of the band joins in as he begins singing actual words that build and push and lead right back into another chorus.

"Valedictorian" pushes the tempo a little more, focusing on keeping a fast pace throughout the whole track. This one feels fairly straightforward in terms of being a rock n' roll song at it's core, featuring solos in multiple places. The vocals aren't as prominent as some of the other songs, giving this sing almost the same kind of vibe as an instrumental in terms of its purpose; showcasing the other members of the band.

"Motives" slows things down a little compared to the tempo of the last song, but uses these moments of dissonance in the pre-choruses to still let the intensity show. It's another example of the way in which The Technicolors utilize contrasting elements to create their sound.

"Sweat" was the title track from their EP last summer and was one of my favorites. The clean guitar combined with keyboard in the background (it sounded like a marimba, but I can't be quite sure), gives the song a very spacey feel to it. It's another one of the lower energy songs on the album, which fits well in terms of the contrast it provides from song to song. Just because it's lower energy, however, does not make it a sad song, which is not the direction that The Technicolors seem to go. Even on their slower songs, you definitely leave the experience feeling better than you did before.

"26 on a Tuesday" features a drum beat that just keeps chugging along, keeping the pulse of the song steady and constantly pushing you along with the guitars strumming along in a way that puts more focus on the chords themselves and not creating a wall of distorted strings. The whole song feels a bit more seperated in terms of the elements; they don't come together to make a huge sound, but rather they let each other be featured in different moments.

"Little Charmer" is another one of the singles that released before the album dropped, and gives a bit of a laid back feel throughout the song. It's chill, it's relaxed, and it feels right as the album is almost coming to a close. The featured whistle in the beginning and in other spots throughout is a nice touch that feels different for the group, and the harmonies on the chorus add a nice sense of depth that's very subtle.

"Metaphysical" doesn't let the album finish without a bang, however, and it's evident from the first moment the drums and vocals join the gritty guitar on the quick build into the chorus. This one gets your feet tapping and head nodding along as the band lets themselves go. My favorite part is the guitar part that starts about a minute and a half into the song; it's such a unique sound that it catches the attention of the listener with ease. The vocals showcase the range of the lead singer, letting him reveal the moments where he can get soft and quiet right alongside the times when he reaches and yells higher. The bridge sees the band jamming out one last time before building into the final chorus that finishes the album with the energy you would expect it to.

Overall, the album is a great release from the band. It has a lot of moments that lets the group really shine, and almost no moments where the formula they've created for themselves fails to work as best as it can.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended: Fever Bomb, Neon Roses, Congratulations You're a Doll, Sweat

Related: The Maine, U2, Beach Weather

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Did We Get So Dark? - Royal Blood

I had heard a couple songs by Royal Blood, but I hadn't really taken the time to listen to their music until I saw they had released a new album, How Did We Get So Dark?. I decided to put the album on a couple weeks ago as I was doing some research, and found myself much too distracted by the music to continue. It's good, simple rock n' roll; when I say simple, I don't mean that in a derogatory manner. I mean it bass guitar, drums, and vocals. There's a couple additional elements in some of the songs, but for the most part, these three elements are all that the band needs to create fantastic music. Their songs do not give the impression of being limited by the fact that there's only 2 members of the band (something I found almost unbelievable). And it's also hard to believe that Mike Kerr makes the sounds he makes on a bass guitar. It gives it a really cool quality, since he's playing it more like one would an electric guitar. Not to mention he sings all the vocals simultaneously.

But back to the new album. It's kick ass and a blast of fun from start to finish. Songs like "Lights Out", "I Only Lie When I Love You", and the title track really set the pace and tone for the entirety of the album. "Lights Out" features a rumbling low bass line that Kerr proceeds to use to allow his vocals to take the spotlight. He uses falsetto on a couple of songs, but this is one where he opts for pushing with his chest voice and adding to the intensity of the crashing drums and bass guitar hits of the chorus. "I Only Lie When I Love You" grabs you from the get-go, with a focus on the drums that gives the song a heightened sense of swagger that's added to by a great synchronization between the timing of the bass and drums (plus there's cowbell. We always need more cowbell).  The title track uses a few moments of gang vocals during the pre-chorus and great harmonies on the chorus to introduce the listener to the ride that they're about to embark on. The balance is present on this song as well between all three elements, each having their time to shine as well as pushing the intensity of the song together. The bridge is my favorite part of the track, starting with a great solo riff for the bass while Ben Thatcher simultaneously shows off his drumming skills. It then evolves into a growing outro, with the repeated "How Did We Get So Dark" of the vocals allowing the bass and drums to continue playing off each other as they build the song more and more until it stops on a dime.

"Where Are You Now?" starts off with a drumbeat that feels like a galloping horse, pulling you along for a ride before switching tempos for the chorus, which consists of a sweet bass riff and Kerr in the background softly asking the title question. This song highlights how the band is able to balance showcasing vocals/lyrics and the instrumental itself throughout the album. They're really good at the instruments they play, and they make sure people recognize that.

The band isn't afraid to slow things down a little, like on "Don't Tell" and "She's Creeping". The former  and the later is guided in by a very high bass line, Kerr's vocals, and a sharp drum beat. Both songs still crank the distortion and intensity, so don't think they're getting soft on you; both songs also are great examples of Kerr's vocal abilities, with his falsetto highlighting on the choruses. "Don't Tell" features one of the few solos on the album, which fits the vibe of the song very well.

The last song leads into what is my favorite song on the album, "Hook, Line & Sinker". It kicks things off right from the start, with a bass riff reminiscent of Muse's earlier material (think "Hysteria") and pushes on into a verse where Kerr's vocals and the bass match tone and movement. The song definitely has swagger to it as well, especially with Kerr's delivery and annunciation of the lyrics. It never lets up for a moment, with the pauses and breaks creating little breaths in the song and providing moments of contrast that make the highs even higher. The bridge builds into a short little set of solo riffs that remind me of "Icky Thump" by The White Stripes. The song ends just as intense as it begins; even as I write this, I cannot help but tap my foot and want to bang my head along.

"Hole In Your Heart" and "Sleep" end the album, but definitely don't let it go out without a bang. "Hold In Your Heart" features one of the heavier choruses on the album, as well as one of the few prominent keyboard parts during the verses. The bridge especially feels like something Muse would have done, with the harmonized vocals having a slightly haunting vibe as the bass and drums utilize the off beats to create a really captivating instrumental. "Sleep" feels like this brooding monster during the verses, with the bass dark and gritty in the background before it joins Kerr's vocals in the foreground. The bass is the star of this song, and it gets it's final solo on the tail end of the bridge. The song fades out for the last 40 seconds with Kerr singing softly and the bass repeating a note again and again.

I was super impressed with this album. I haven't listened to more straight up rock n' roll in a while, and I really, really enjoyed the organic and simple aspect of these tracks. If you haven't checked them out, you're missing out on a great time with a great band.

Rating: 5/5

Related: Foo Fighters, Muse, The White Stripes

Recommended: "Hook, Line & Sinker", "I Only Lie When I Love You", "How Did We Get So Dark?"