In general, the long career of Dinosaur Jr. is considered to be separated into three distinct eras. There are the early years where the band was a key figure in the beginnings of American alternative rock. Then came the major label years in the ’90s where the band saw the most commercial success on 1994’s Without a Sound. However, by the end of this run, singer and guitarist J Mascis would be the only remaining founding member and he would soon retire the Dinosaur Jr. name. But in 2005, Mascis would reunite with original bandmates Lou Barlow and Murph and Dinosaur Jr. would be reborn. This third era of the band would last longer than either of the two previous eras and, with the release of Sweep It Into Space, produce more material as well. And this 21st century version of Dinosaur Jr. is my Dinosaur Jr.
That’s not to say that I ignore or see no value in the band’s previous releases. The first albums are brilliant and Without a Sound was successful for a reason. But the third era was contemporary with my own growth and developing musical tastes. I was introduced to them through 2009’s Farm, a fantastic album which led me back to Beyond, and kept my ears open for I Bet On Sky and Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. This latest release fits nicely among them, and a big part of that is because the majority of the album is business as usual for the band.
That’s not a problem because Dinosaur Jr. is a band where business as usual is a good thing. Business as usual means fuzzy guitars, catchy hooks, tight rhythms, and ripping guitar solos. These elements are all present from the very beginning of album opener “I Ain’t” which also has lyrics about loneliness and alienation, another trademark of the band. Similar sounds and themes can be found throughout the album on tracks like “And Me” and “Hide Another Round.” There are some flirtations with other instruments and styles like the piano in “Take It Back” and the hard rock riffs of “I Met The Stones.” There’s also some additional production and instrumentation from Kurt Vile throughout the album, most notably the 12-string guitar on “I Ran Away.”
Sweep It Into Space isn’t without its faults, however. The track “Garden,” written by bassist Lou Barlow, who performs lead vocals, just doesn’t feel quite like it fits in with the rest of the album. That’s not a knock on Barlow, because the song isn’t bad on its own. And his other contribution to the album, closing track “You Wonder,” fits in just fine. “Garden” just sticks out. There’s also the track “I Expect It Always” which has riffs that repeat a little too often and flat melodies that do the same. Again, not a terrible song, but not quite to the same standard as everything else.
In terms of quality, pretty much everything that Dinosaur Jr. has released in its “third era” has been at least good, if not a little forgettable in the cases of I Bet On Sky and Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. If had to place Sweep It Into Space among the albums of this era, I’d say it fits right in the middle. It’s not quite the challenging masterpiece that Farm was, and while it has the same spirit as Beyond, it doesn’t quite reach the same level. However, there are moments that are far more memorable than what Sky and Glimpse had to offer. It’s a good album that exemplifies what Dinosaur Jr. are all about at this point in their career. It’s business as usual, but that’s exactly what we want from them.
And we’ve made it to the third installment of my June Quick Takes. Here we have the releases that aren’t necessarily the biggest name artists that I wanted to make sure I shared my thoughts on them. This will wrap up my scored coverage of the month of June. This will be followed by another round of quick takes for the month of July to get us all caught up to the current month, and I will hopefully be back to full album reviews in a couple weeks. But for now, check out my picks below from the month of June.
BAAUER – PLANET’S MAD–Yes, this is the “Harlem Shake” guy, and while that song came out all the way back in 2013, this is only the EDM producer’s second full length album. And I would encourage you to not let “Harlem Shake” sour your opinion towards his music. I’m not really sure how to categorize the music that’s on this album. While he has moved on from the trap EDM of his earlier singles, there is still elements of it present. Specifically, some of the production here is beat-centric with minimal sounds outside of the percussion and bass, to the point of some songs having drops that are basically drums only. And these are mixed in such a way that they hit incredibly hard. There’s also a lot of world influence on some of these beats, giving them rhythms that almost compel the body to move. There’s even a track that dabbles in drum ‘n’ bass and the mandatory synthpop song. They’re not all winners, but it’s a very good album nonetheless. 4.0/5.0
HAIM – WOMEN IN MUSIC PT. III–For their third album, the Haim sisters enlist the songwriting and production assistance of former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. This isn’t all that surprising because he worked on a few songs on their second album. But on Women in Music, he worked on the vast majority of the tracks. And his fingerprints are everywhere, to the point that several tracks sound like they could be Modern Vampires of the City era Vampire Weekend songs. But that’s not a bad thing! If you look back at my favorites from 2013, I hold up that VW album as one of the best of the decade, and the Haims obviously bring enough of their own influence to make this clearly one of their albums. In the end, this is a great pop rock album that is loaded with memorable hooks and enough left-of-center production to help it really stand out. 4.0/5.0
HUM – INLET–I’ll admit that this is the first time I had heard anything from Hum. This album was surprise released back in June and I noticed a lot of people were really hyped on it. I gave it a try and I honestly liked what I heard. Their brand of alternative rock with thick, metallic guitar riffs was pretty cool. I was inspired to go back and listen to their ’90s albums and come back to view Inlet through a more contextual lens. And… my opinion of it decreased a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good, but when you compare it to the albums from Hum’s peak, it comes across a little one-note and not quite as dynamic, even when compared to Downward Is Heavenward, the album closest to it stylistically. Again, this is still pretty good, but it could be better. Maybe, if this reunion lasts, a really great Hum album is in the future. 3.0/5.0
KHRUANGBIN – MORDECHAI–This is the third album from psychedelic funk trio Khruangbin. And as might be expected, the band does a good job of pulling off the sound of vintage soul and funk production with their songs. There are a couple tracks that have some really solid grooves and they even dabble in one or two world genres, like on the Latin influenced “Pelota.” But, the bottom line is that the majority of the album is just boring. Save for a few tracks, most of the songs are pretty slow burning tracks that don’t go much of anywhere over the course of four minutes or more. They just end up fading into the background and, before you know it, you’re one or two songs further down the track list. 2.0/5.0
METRIK – EX MACHINA–I’m generally not much of a drum ‘n’ bass guy, but I do like a good EDM banger from time to time. And boy, does this new album from Metrik have some bangers. Metrik is an English producer who has been active for over 10 years. What impresses me about this album is that this is DnB music filtered through more modern EDM genres like dubstep and even synthwave. But there’s also an influence of rock music, like the driving verses on “Parallel” that recall down-stroked guitar rhythms, and the literal electric guitar on “Closer” and “Thunderblade.” The best tracks sound like a modern refresh of the kind of songs you’d find on the soundtrack of a ’90s Need For Speed video game. Unfortunately, the album is a little front-loaded with all the best tracks taking up the first half. That’s not to say the back half isn’t good, it’s just not as exciting as the first. 3.5/5.0
PHOEBE BRIDGERS – PUNISHER–In 2017, Phoebe Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. Almost immediately, other people wanted to work with her in some regard. Between then and now, she has collaborated in some way with Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Conor Oberst, Christian Lee Hutson, and The 1975. It’s like all these people recognized her potential and wanted to get on the Bridgers train before anyone else realized it. The thing is, it also appears that Bridgers realized the value of surrounding yourself with supportive and talented people. Nearly all of the people I mentioned contribute to this album in some way, and it’s that much better for it. Everything that made her debut great is improved and all the flaws have been fixed. The songs are personal and emotional and hit you just the right way, and they’re backed up with fantastic instrumentals. This is a real highlight of the year so far. 4.5/5.0
SPECIAL INTEREST – THE PASSION OF–Fair warning, this isn’t going to be for everybody, but if you’re into noisy industrial post-punk that leans more on the punk than the post, then you’re going to love this. I often say that some artists have a punk energy, but this band absolutely has one. They are always loud with lyrics that aren’t sung so much as shouted. Pulsing, unsettling electronic beats drive just about every song on the album, and they’re not afraid to let their drum machines distort or to throw in a little static to accompany their dissonant guitars. And the loudness and anger isn’t just an act. They come from the New Orleans DIY scene, and you sense that this is the product of a genuine, righteous anger. 4.0/5.0
STARFLYER 59 – MIAMI EP–Starflyer 59 is the indie rock project of songwriter Jason Martin, has been consistently active for over 25 years, and was one of the original bands on Tooth and Nail records. That translates to 15 albums and 9 EPs. Miami is the latest EP and the first in over 10 years, coming only a year after his last full-length album, Young in My Head. The track list has 3 new songs and 2 reworked tracks from the last album. Sonically, this is pretty much your standard Starflyer fare: guitar driven indie rock with influences from ’80s post-punk and alternative with the tiniest hint of Martin’s shoegaze roots. The only real deviation is a little flirtation with ’60s rock and roll on “Once More” filtered through the Starflyer sound. Martin’s consistency can end up being a bit of a curse rather than a blessing on longer albums, so this EP’s 19 minute run time keeps things from getting stale. If you’re not familiar with Starflyer 59, this is a good way to get introduced to their current style. 3.5/5.0
Wow, I am just doing so bad with these right now. But I’ve committed to writing a few of these out before publishing so you should be seeing them a little more often and hopefully we’ll be able to get through them all before the end of the year. So let’s see, 2012 is when I finished my little college detour of part time classes and enrolled full time in the third and final school of my college career. This was also the year that the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated, the Higgs boson particle was discovered, and the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. It was also a big year for film with movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, and the first Hobbit being released. This was also one of the last years where I could dedicate some significant time to discovering and listening to new music, so the next few lists will be a bit shorter. With that being said, below are some albums from 2012 that were important to me at the time. I’ll also throw in a reminder that this retrospective is by no means me ranking or holding up these albums as the best of the past decade. This is a strictly personal series, but I think it offers a look into the foundations of my musical interests and tastes.
ANBERLIN – VITALS–In 2012, I hadn’t paid much attention to Anberlin for 5 years or more. Never Take Friendship Personal was a landmark album for my teenage years, and I did like Cities, but it didn’t make the same impact. After that, they signed to a major label and while New Surrender and Dark Is the Way.. are fine, nothing was quite creating that same excitement as their earlier releases. But then Vitals came out. I heard the singles, and while they didn’t necessarily sound like Friendship, there was something that reminded me of it. This album has a…. vitality (sorry) that made me feel like I was listening to the Anberlin that excited me all those years ago. Especially in songs like “Little Tyrants” and “Someone Anyone.” I still think this is a highlight of their catalog.
CHIDDY BANG – BREAKFAST–This was an important album for my growing appreciation of hip-hop music at the time. I had first heard of Chiddy Bang with their single “Opposite of Adults” that sampled “Kids” by MGMT. Then there was their subsequent EP that had other songs that sampled indie music, like “All Things Go” that sampled Sufjan Stevens. So basically, this rap duo liked the same music that I did, and that common ground was a good place for me to start. While I was already digging into older rap music and even enjoyed recent releases from legendary groups like the Beastie Boys, Chiddy Bang was the first contemporary artist that I actually bought an album from. Unfortunately the album hasn’t aged all that well, but it still holds a special place for me for nostalgic reasons if nothing else.
FLATFOOT 56 – TOIL–I imagine Celtic punk is a difficult genre to keep interesting for the long term. Of course, as I say this, there are bands like Dropkick Murphys that have 9 albums out. But what I mean is keeping things interesting from album to album. However, when Toil came out I was very impressed with the way Flatfoot 56 managed to still sound fresh 4 albums in. They’ve also always been the one Celtic punk band that I was more drawn to and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s the very American focus that they have, using the working class of Chicago as their inspiration. And maybe some of that heartland rock bleeds into their sound. They’re also one of the few bands (that I’m aware of) that actually incorporates bagpipes. Toil has some of my favorite songs from Flatfoot 56, including “Strong Man” and their version of the hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”
JAPANDROIDS – CELEBRATION ROCK–I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the very album that this blog takes its name from. Japandroids really refined their unique blend of post-punk, garage, and heartland rock on this album. The tracks on Celebration Rock almost glow with a positive and triumphant attitude. No doubt, Brian King’s guitar playing plays a key role in that, the fuzzy tone that lingers around the notes gives them almost a droning quality. But it’s all clear enough for the powerful hooks to punch through with the urgency of a punk basement show. And if you look at the final track, you will find the very song that inspired the name of this blog.
KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID, M.A.A.D CITY–Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t listen to this album until a few years after it already came out. I had read an article about how faith was starting to pop up in prominent hip-hop releases from artists like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. Kendrick was also mentioned and this album specifically, because of it’s overarching theme of family and faith being the strong foundation that supported Lamar in his youth in Compton. The album immediately impressed me when I gave it a spin. I knew conscious hip-hop existed, but this was like something different. Gangsta and west coast beats and flows but with more conscious lyrics. And Kendrick’s lyricism is absolutely fantastic all over this, giving a very honest, semi-autobiographical account of what it’s like to grow up black in southern California.
THE LUMINEERS – self titled–If you judge this album solely on the single “Ho Hey,” then you are truly missing out. Yes, they lean a little hard into the gimmicks and yes, the songs are pretty simple. But I believe that simplicity matches the indeterminate era between the 1920s and 1940s that the Lumineers occupy in the narratives of their songs. And even though the songs mostly just tell stories, there’s still some sincerity there. Especially when they slow things down on tracks like “Slow It Down” and “Morning Song,” both easily among the best tracks on the whole album. Yes, this album is mostly popular because of “Ho Hey” and the fact that it came out in the middle of the indie folk craze, but it’s genuinely one of my favorites from that time. I feel like it’s unfairly overlooked because of it’s association with its hit single.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA – HOME AGAIN–I mentioned before in my review of Kiwanuka’s most recent release that I don’t really remember where or how I heard of his name, but somehow I heard the singles “Tell Me A Tale” and “I’ll Get Along” from this album and I was very intrigued. The incredibly convincing vintage soul sound was cool, but it was also still compelling rather than just being vintage for the sake of being vintage. I eventually bought the album and was surprised to find that the majority of the songs were much quieter and mostly acoustic. Some even had clear influence from songwriters like Nick Drake. But this wasn’t a bad thing. The album is nice, welcoming, and relaxing listen from start to finish.
TNGHT – self titled EP–Around the time that trap started getting big in the hip-hop world, it was also infiltrating the world of EDM. The resulting sounds were hard hitting beats with earth shaking bass. Electronic musicians Hudson Mohawke and Lunice came together to make some trap EDM and called themselves TNGHT. They put out this 5 song, 15 minute EP in 2012 and it’s some of the hardest (and sometimes weirdest) stuff to come out of the subgenre. The duo would release a standalone single in 2013, but then they’d disappear until reappearing again in 2019. So for the longest time, this is all we had. But it’s very good and I was happy to at least have it.
This album showed up in a list of new releases for the week and I instantly recognized the name, but I couldn’t remember where from. Some quick digging revealed that a track from their first EP was in a playlist or something I came across a couple years ago and I added it to one of my own playlists. The track was “My Favorite Liar” and it was some decent pop punk with a bit of garage rock influence. The chorus was catchy and I liked how the song sounded happy but the lyrics were angry at a specific person. I then found out that Infinitely Ordinary is the band’s first full-length. After being reminded that they had left a positive impression, I went into it with some slight anticipation.
Well… let’s just say The Wrecks have made some stylistic changes since that first EP. There are a couple hints of the pop punk I was familiar with, but the majority of what’s here lines up more with radio ready alternative pop. Now, that’s not an inherently bad thing. Some bands like WALK THE MOON can write some damn good and damn catchy songs and I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy them. But a lot of Infinitely Ordinary just isn’t doing it for me. There are a couple things I do like, so we’ll start with those.
“Out Of Style” is a fun dance rock track that has barely sung verses and big choruses that I think is telling the story of two former lovers that put some geographical distance between themselves and both of them are coping in some unhealthy ways. At first, I didn’t like the verses, especially the second one where the vocalists describes some LED lights he hung up in his room. But it eventually grew on me and it becomes hilarious in a way when you realize this is just a product of his chosen coping mechanisms. Along with that, the hooks in the song are just great. Another track I like to a lesser extent is “This Life I Have” that switches back and forth between light, AJR-esque passages and raw, garage punk like their older material. The lyrics deal with frontman Nick Anderson’s struggles with severe impostor syndrome and the wild musical differences represent how these bouts of depression and self-hatred can hit so suddenly. The only thing about it that really bugs me is how much like AJR some of the melodies sound, otherwise it’s one of the strongest tracks here.
Beyond that, “Feels So Nice” is okay pop rock with some synthpop in the mix, but it starts off with one of the worst lyrics. “You said I look like a Stones song/I said baby I could fuck like one too.” What do either of those statements even mean? It’s almost saved because immediately after this Anderson compares the girl to a Dylan song, but I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or really stupid. What really bugs me about the lyrics are the inconsistent messages all over this album. Normally I’m a little forgiving in this area, but the sequence of these tracks makes the problem worse. The track “Four” describes how Anderson is heartbroken after his girlfriend leaves and he wants her to come home. The song sells it at the end with Anderson’s voice cracking because he’s just so passionate about it. But he also just spent the last two tracks describing how he’s coping with an ended relationship by partying and how another relationship got so stale that he just wants out. Given that, the sincerity of “Four” is a hard sell, no matter how much his voice cracks.
What makes this even worse is the that the song immediately before this, “Fvck Somebody,” (yes, it’s spelled with a v) is all about how he’s become bored in a relationship and wants his girlfriend to mess up somehow so he has an easy way to get out of the relationship. First of all, dude just needs to grow a pair and talk to his girlfriend and just end things if it’s not working for him. I know it’s a hard thing to do and it’ll hurt and it sucks and it’d be nice if it was easy. But he literally says that he’s “gotta get out without it being my fault.” Dude, just break up if you’re unhappy. Second, following this with “Four” doesn’t make me feel bad with you, it makes me wonder if you really care.
The final piece to this confusing puzzle comes in the album closer, the title track, where he describes spending time with a girl and then says that he “could get used to this infinitely ordinary life.” But just a few tracks earlier he was practically begging his girlfriend to cheat on him because the relationship got so boring. So which is it!? And I know, all four of these tracks could be describing four different relationships, but the messaging is so different and in such close proximity in some of them that it can be frustrating. Especially when other songs are set up as coming from Anderson’s personal experiences, so we’re led to believe that these are all reactions to real events, whether they are or not.
The music itself on this album doesn’t really help either. “Four” pulls heavily from the AJR brand of modern indie pop and hints of it show up on “Fvck Somebody” as well. “We All Get Lonely” sounds like a Muse song without the political commentary. The title track pulls from modern pop tropes, and that’s not always a bad thing but this particular case feels really derivative. It also has a melody that reminds me of another song, but it’s by an artist that isn’t super widely known so I’m probably the only person who cares.
I guess what bothers me the most about this album is that we know The Wrecks can do better. Their first two EPs showed a lot of promise. This band had the potential to get some real mainstream traction and be a bright spot in the current landscape of pop rock music. To see them so quickly chase after trends on their first full-length is just disappointing. That being said, we also know they have talent, and it does poke through on a couple tracks. We can hope that they only get better from here.
Let’s see, where was I in 2010? I turned 20 years old, I finished my first year of college, and would start my second. I did that thing almost every guy does and stopped getting haircuts and I would continue to grow my hair out for the next couple years. A lot of good movies came out and a couple would become all-time favorites of mine (Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). My interest in music was at an all-time high. I was pretty well-informed on indie and alternative music with a little help from MTVU (or so I thought). I started taking hip-hop music more seriously. And I was pretty humbled when I started reading Pitchfork and for the first week, I didn’t recognize a single artist they reviewed. But I wasn’t deterred, I just went deeper. Below are not only some of my favorite albums from 2010, but some that were important to me and my musical growth.
THE BLACK KEYS – BROTHERS–This was the album that turned The Black Keys into a sensation. Not to be that guy, but I was into the Keys before they were cool. I was introduced to them in 2006 with the Chulahoma EP, and they quickly became one of my favorites. I had a lot of mixed feelings about Brothers when it first came out. At first I wasn’t thrilled about the band trading their sludgy delta blues sound for a more R&B inspired rock. But at the same time, Brothers was a huge improvement over their previous two records. In true hipster form, I also lamented the attention that the band was getting, fearing this would lead to a more mainstream sound from them. But again, I was also happy that more people knew about one of my favorite bands. It took 8 years of hard work, but The Black Keys finally made it, and it still holds up as one of their best albums.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – ZOMBIE EP–In 2009, The Devil Wears Prada released their third album, With Roots Above and Branches Below, and it was their best work yet. The production finally caught up with their style, and their songwriting was better than ever. Metalcore was at its peak popularity and Prada was among the best. How could they possibly do better? Then in 2010 they released the Zombie EP and completely blew Roots out of the water with five fucking tracks! The band ramped up the speed and brutality, and the theme was based on vocalist Mike Hranica’s interest in zombie books and movies. Weirdly enough, The Walking Dead would premiere two months after this EP released and everyone else in the world would hop on the bandwagon. The band was just firing on all cylinders with this one. It’s a bright spot in Prada’s discography and one of the few metalcore releases I can still listen to today.
GORILLAZ – PLASTIC BEACH–Prior to 2010, I didn’t pay much attention to Gorillaz. All I really knew about them was “Feel Good Inc.” and it wasn’t my style of music when it was popular. I don’t remember what caused me to give the band another look but when I did, I became almost obsessed with them. This newfound appreciation coincided almost exactly with the release of “Stylo,” the first single from Plastic Beach. Their third album would have them moving further from hip-hop and refining their wonky alt-pop. The result would be some of Gorillaz’ best tracks and best collaborations, with contributions from artists like Mos Def, Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Little Dragon, and Bobby Womack (who had a bit of a resurgence in popularity, thanks to this album). Unfortunately, it would end up being the last great Gorillaz album. But they’re still making music, so there’s always hope.
JANELLE MONÁE – THE ARCHANDROID–The first time I knew anything about Janelle Monáe was when I saw a poster at Best Buy. I was instantly intrigued by this black woman wearing a tuxedo with a massive pompadour hairstyle. What on earth kind of music could this woman make? I don’t know what I expected, but I liked what I found. Her funk infused, alternative R&B and psychedelic soul were so much fun that it quickly became a favorite of mine. Which is weird considering I didn’t give pop and R&B music much attention at this time in my life. The genres were presented through a lens that helped me bridge the gap from my preferred music at the time, with rock and progressive influences coming through. And because I’m a nerd, the overarching sci-fi narrative of the album helped too.
SKRILLEX – SCARY MONSTERS AND NICE SPRITES–This entry has probably awakened some dark memories for some readers. Memories of hard drops, wobble bass, and questionable fashion choices. But regardless of how immature some of those trends seem now, they were a key milestone on the trajectory of EDM in popular culture. And it all starts right here with this EP. Scary Monsters was the EP and the song that made brostep a phenomenon. Whether you loved him or hated him, you knew about Skrillex. And if you listen to this EP beyond the title track, it proved back then that he wasn’t just a one trick pony. He had some range, and his work since proves that he still does. He hasn’t really matched the quality of this EP since, but the mark it left has given him producer credits throughout the decade and likely well into the future.
SLEIGH BELLS – TREATS–The “Loudness war” is something that has plagued music production for the past 30 years, and it can be the difference between a good album and a bad one. But there’s something to be said for using that digital compression as an aesthetic choice. From the very first seconds of Treats, you are bombarded with guitars, synths, and drums that are bricked out so hard that everything clips. Apart from bass boost memes, this is perhaps the only time that these levels of compression 100% serve the songs. It’s just one piece of Sleigh Bells’ in-your-face approach to noise pop (or their self-described “shred pop”). I had never heard anything like it before this album, and nothing has quite captured this level of noise and energy for me since.
THE SWORD – WARP RIDERS–I know that within the spheres of stoner rock and doom metal, this album is not held in very high regard. But, I wouldn’t know that if it wasn’t for this album. I don’t even remember where I first saw the album artwork, but the retro typeface and Roger Dean-esque sci-fi watercolors compelled me to listen to this album. Through it I was introduced to retro styled traditional metal and left hungry for more. Finding other artists like this proved difficult at the time, but I just didn’t know where to look. I finally did learn a few years later, and even though I’ve found “better” examples of what The Sword were trying to do on this album, the riffs on Warp Riders still hold a special place for me a decade later.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND – CONTRA–This album was my introduction to Vampire Weekend and contains perhaps my favorite song of theirs (“Giving Up The Gun” is the song by which all other Vampire Weekend tracks are judged, and it has one of the best music videos). The bright and clean sound was a perfect break in the winter clouds when the album came out. When compared to the band’s debut, Contra took the formula they set for themselves and refined it. Rough edges were polished and influences were mined even deeper, creating a major improvement stylistically and compositionally. This really was a great work of indie rock that was only topped by their third album that took this stylistic trajectory to its logical, almost absurd conclusion.
Alternative rock/Some approximation of garage rock
Did… didn’t Green Day already do this? Didn’t they already attempt to do some kind of garage rock revival album back in 2008 with the Foxboro Hot Tubs? Did they forget they made that entire album? Actually, sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who remembers it, so maybe they did forget. Anyway, Father of All… is Green Day’s thirteenth studio album and the driving idea is that the band is tired of making thematically heavy and political music. They just wanted to make a pretty straight forward rock album. And I get that, especially in today’s political climate. The expectation to make the American Idiot of Trump’s America can weigh heavy on you and be exhausting. But I feel like maybe they went a little too far.
There’s no easy way around it, this isn’t very good. Now, Green Day hasn’t released a great album in quite some time, so the bar is already low, but this just stomps it into the dirt. Like I mentioned before, the sound they’re going for is reminiscent of the garage rock revival of the early ’00s. There’s hints of glam, rock ‘n’ roll, and Motown, and it’s fun for the first listen. But this album sounds like the worst parts of a Jet album, but lacks the charm that makes you sing along when “Cold Hard Bitch” comes on the radio; like what little soul was there has been sucked out.
There is one vaguely bright spot in “Sugar Youth” that sounds the closest to an actual pop-punk song. But it’s one of the shortest songs on the album and it’s still not immune to hand claps and garage band riffs. Another that comes close is “Stab You in the Heart” that approaches horror punk with a ’60s rock feel. But then you realize that it would have been better if it was done by an actual horror punk band like The Cramps. The title track sounds like it’s ripping off Eagles of Death Metal, “I Was a Teenage Teenager” sounds like it’s ripping off a bad Weezer song, and “Junkies on a High” sounds like they’re badly ripping off themselves.
The lyrics aren’t very good either, but that’s to be expected when they’re trying to get away from being political. There are some hint’s a current events, but overall this is just the dumb album that they wanted it to be. “I Was a Teenage Teenager” is particularly light on the lyrics despite being the longest song on the album. And I normally don’t criticize album covers, but this one is just awful. We get it, you’re trying to make the opposite of American Idiot. Why don’t you beat it into our heads a little harder?
Overall, Father of All Motherfuckers (it’s the end of the review, I don’t have to censor it anymore) is probably the biggest misstep of Green Day’s career. I can understand wanting to free yourself from certain expectations, but I feel like pushing the “Fuck, go back!” button from that one meme. They’re trying so hard to not do something that they forgot to make the songs actually good. You end up with a slog of an album that’s less than 30 minutes long. And I’m going to remind everyone again that they already did this better with the Foxboro Hot Tubs album, Stop Drop And Roll!!! in 2008, in the midst of their most political era. I guess a good thing about this is they can only go up from here, right?
Do I really need to tell you who Third Eye Blind are? You know, the “Semi-Charmed Life” guys? The “Jumper” guys? Really? Alright fine. Third Eye Blind are an alternative rock band that formed in the ’90s and hit the world with a one-two-three punch of top 10 singles on their 1997 self-titled debut. Two of those singles were the ones I mentioned before. The third was “How’s It Going to Be.” They quickly followed up with the 1999 album Blue that, in some regards, was an improvement over their debut, but it was not as successful. And their popularity continued to decline from there despite remaining active and releasing new music semi-regularly.
Screamer is the band’s sixth album, and the first after frontman Stephan Jenkins announced that the band wouldn’t be releasing anymore full-length albums. So do what you want with that. Prior to release, Jenkins kept referring to the album under the working title Summer Gods and said it would be an EP with experimentation in other genres, including trap music. Mercifully, what we got is something more cohesive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And they didn’t completely abandon the promise of trap music.
The album actually starts out pretty strong. It opens with the title track (featuring Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells), and while it fits in with modern alternative pop rock trends, it’s still on-brand for Third Eye Blind and noisy enough to keep your attention. Following that you have perhaps the best song on the album, “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down).” It’s a high energy guitar rock song with lyrics of protest and the hope of the future generations. It’s the closest thing on this album to the spirit of old school Third Eye Blind.
After this you get “Ways” and “Tropic Scorpio.” The former would be a mostly forgettable track if the lyrics didn’t creep into cringey territory. The latter is the only other point where they get close to the sound and feel of their peak, but it’s another case where the lyrics bring it down a few notches. Unfortunately things start to rapidly decline after this. The worst offenders are “Walk Like Kings,” “Got so High,” and “2X Tigers.”
As I mentioned before, they didn’t completely abandon the promise of trap music, and “2X Tigers” is the track that delivers on that promise. The result is a wandering, auto-tuned mess with a sparse beat and the whole thing feels out of place. Similarly, while “Walk Like Kings” is presented in an alternative pop rock sound, the lyrics wouldn’t be out of place in a modern trap song with lines about “motherfuckers fucking with my flow,” a G550, and “living the lux life.” “Got so High” has a pre-chorus that just repeats the word sugar over a dozen times as the tempo gets slower for the chorus, and the rest of the lyrics don’t make much sense either.
The rest of the songs aren’t really terrible, just mostly forgettable pop rock. The only one that really stands out with some level of lyrical depth is “Light It Up,” which seems to be about the fond memories of a friend who has passed.
Overall, it feels like Third Eye Blind and blink-182 are suffering from the same affliction. Both of these bands appealed to a specific demographic at their peaks and they’re desperately trying to appeal to the same demographic of this generation despite being 20 year veterans of the music industry. Screamer has a couple songs that will get the attention of older fans, but the rest feels like mediocre or just plain poor attempts at being relevant in today’s musical landscape.
I really could not have asked for a better year to start reviewing music. Several artists have put out their best work so far, others have released comeback albums (some good, some bad), others still have released very impressive debuts, I’ve even had the delightful pleasure of ripping a few albums to shreds. And now, in addition to all that, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds release a new album. What a time to be alive.
Nick Cave is an Australian singer and songwriter who has been active for over 40 years. He started in a noisy garage rock band that eventually became the post-punk band The Birthday Party. After this band broke up in the mid-’80s, he formed the Bad Seeds, a band whose approach to Gothic rock is more Flannery O’Connor than Siouxsie Sioux. He has a penchant for writing 7 minute songs with graphic lyrics about love, death, and God, and he’s one of the most revered lyricists in rock music. Cave is an artist for fans who value songwriting. He’s almost universally loved by music nerds, similar to other songwriters like Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits.
Ghosteen is the seventeenth studio album released by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and I’m honestly a little nervous to be reviewing it. I’ve joked on social media that I feel like my reputation as a music nerd and reviewer is on the line. Cave’s music is often met with critical acclaim, and before I ever had a chance to listen to Ghosteen, five publications had given it a perfect score. If I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t very familiar with Cave’s music going into this. I always had a respect for it and knew a handful of songs, but never did a deep dive into the discography or any single album. So this review has a bit more research behind it than others.
Cave says that Ghosteen completes a trilogy started with 2013’s Push the Sky Away and 2016’s Skeleton Tree, but it pairs better stylistically with the latter. Cave’s teenage son tragically died while Skeleton Tree was being recorded, and many view the album’s stark, ambient, and experimental backing and its more abstract and poetic lyrics as reactionary and a catharsis for Cave in the wake of the tragedy. Ghosteen has similarly sparse and ambient instrumentals and poetic lyrics, but dissonance and the raw pain of loss are replaced with hope and beauty.
Long-time Bad Seed Warren Ellis works with Cave to craft ambient soundscapes with analog synthesizers at their foundation. These are frequently more inviting than those on Skeleton Tree, but no less somber. At times they even sound spacey, like the soundtrack to a sci-fi film from the ’70s. Little more makes up the instrumentals of this album; piano appears on several tracks and there’s an occasional flourish of strings.
Lyrically, Ghosteen again continues in a similar vein to Skeleton Tree. Where the majority of Cave’s lyrics in the past were more narrative, focusing on characters and the dark situations that develop them, his recent output has been comparatively more abstract, striking at an emotion rather than a story. The theme of Ghosteen again is grief, but instead of the raw and visceral reaction in the moment of tragedy as heard on Skeleton Tree, these are the songs of someone who has had a few years to process that grief. Many of the lyrics have to do with coming to terms with the reality of what has happened (“Sun Forest,” “Ghosteen,” and “Hollywood”) or the support one seeks and needs from loved ones in these moments (“Waiting for You” and “Leviathan”). There’s even a track where it appears the spirit of Cave’s son is speaking with him, reminding him that he is still with him in some way (“Ghosteen Speaks”).
Truly, one of the great triumphs of Ghosteen is the title track that opens the second part of the double album. It’s a 12 minute epic that effortlessly moves between synth-laden ambiance, piano balladry, and occasional hints of prog. Cave’s allegorical lyrics take you on a journey through the pain and grief and eventual acceptance in the aftermath of a great loss. It’s a great distillation of the emotions and themes of the tracks that came before.
My only criticism is that in the first couple spins of this album, the tracks “Ghosteen Speaks” and “Leviathan,” the closing moments of the first part, seemed weak in comparison to the rest of the album with the former’s ghostly wails and the latter’s repetitive refrain. However, further listening and analysis revealed the purpose for these decisions and the songs began to make more sense in the context of the album as a whole.
Scoring this album has been exceedingly difficult. On one hand, understanding the context and doing a proper deep dive into the album and its lyrics is very rewarding. It offers a beautiful and poignant expression of loss and grief in a way that only Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds can provide, and the experience is enhanced when it’s paired with Skeleton Tree. However not every listener is going to do the work required to see that. Despite all its beauty and craftsmanship, Ghosteen is not necessarily accessible or a joyful listen, and that might put some listeners off. There’s also no denying that, while it makes sense in the context of the album, “Leviathan” is the weakest track. None of this changes my opinion that Ghosteen is probably the closest thing to a perfect album that I’ve heard this year.