Easycore was a weird moment, wasn’t it? Somewhere in pop-punk’s resurgence in the late ’00s to early ’10s, someone dared to ask what would happen if they made pop-punk with breakdowns, and the rest is history… literally. Now, about a decade on, the scene has all but died save for a couple of the bigger bands. Which is honestly a shame as I happen to really enjoy easycore. Four Year Strong’s self-titled album is full of bangers and A Day to Remember’sHomesick was a hallmark album of my early college years. If anyone knows about any bands that are keeping easycore alive, please let me know. Because, from the perspective of a (mostly) outside observer, it seems like the genre is barely hanging on anymore. And I think A Day to Remember recognizes this. You’re Welcome, their latest album, contains a lot of experimentation with various brands of pop rock in what feels like an attempt to figure out how they can stay relevant at this stage in their career. I can understand why they’d want to do this, and it’s a mostly noble effort, but I feel like the results are mixed at best.
The biggest problem, to me, is that there’s not a lot here that really feels like A Day to Remember. This album feels like a band who doesn’t know who they are trying to find what sticks to get airplay. Which is more disappointing when the band in question has an established identity. I’m not opposed to bands experimenting and branching out in to new things, but the attempts on this album ultimately feel weak. I mean, “Bloodsucker” sounds like Imagine Dragons, “F.Y.M.” sounds like WALK THE MOON, and “High Diving” sounds like fun. with heavy guitars. And it doesn’t stop there. Some songs just give off a vibe that feels familiar, but in an unoriginal way. “Resentment” and “Looks Like Hell” almost sound like Christian hard rock, a genre notorious for chasing trends (and I swear the latter sounds like a Switchfoot song). Other songs like “Only Money,” “Everything We Need,” and certain parts of “Degenerates” sound painfully generic. Some songs even have moments that feel like they could have been co-written by Jack Antonoff, which makes sense when you consider the fun. comparison from earlier.
But similarity doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “Viva La Mexico” sounds like it might have been inspired by one of the goofier pop rock bands from the mid-’00s like Fountains of Wayne or Bowling For Soup. But the band brings their easycore edge to the track and it ends up being one of the better tracks on the album, and one of the very few where I can tolerate listening to the whole thing. Similarly, “Re-Entry” feels like a classic blink-182 song with an ADTR flair, and it, coupled with “Permanent” feel like the most like ADTR on the whole album, and we don’t get them until the final quarter. But these are really the only bright spots among all the issues mentioned above and others like “Last Chance To Dance (Bad Friend)” being a borderline nu-metal song, as if to prove that they’re still heavy, and the rest of the songs on the album being largely forgettable.
While You’re Welcome is a disappointing album, it’s not a complete failure. Despite their familiarity, songs like “F.Y.M.” and “Everything We Need” are undeniably catchy, and A Day to Remember does manage to put an imprint on certain tracks that is undeniably theirs. “Degenerates” is, literally, half a good song. And once again, I don’t fault bands for trying new things. When you come from a sub-genre that’s such a flash in the pan like easycore, you don’t really have a choice if you want to survive. The problem is when the attempts feel so mediocre and half-assed, especially when you know that a band is capable of doing better.
Well, I certainly took my time getting to this one. Before you get too far, you might want to go back and refresh your memory of my 2010 list. But anyway, in 2011 I finished my second year of college and left that school for a couple reasons (let’s just say I didn’t transition well to the college lifestyle). The Marvel Cinematic Universe began to truly take root with the release of the first Thor and Captain America movies, NASA flew the last Space Shuttle mission, and Osama bin Laden was found and killed. The role music played in my life was pretty similar to 2010. I was still listening and reading as much as I could. I continued to discover new things and dig deeper into genres I previously hadn’t explored. Here are some albums that have endured for me from that time.
BEASTIE BOYS – HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART TWO–4 years since their last album, 7 years since their last album with lyrics, and 13 years after their last great album (sorry to fans of To the 5 Boroughs), the Beastie Boys came back in the best possible way. They came back loud, funky, and ready to party. Hot Sauce fits nicely in the sound that the Beasties established through the ’90s with obscure samples, live instruments, synths, and punk rock attitude. Other Beastie Boy staples like instrumental funk tracks and the odd punk song are here too. This really was a return to form for the Beasties and it would become a fitting end to their discography. MCA sadly passed away from cancer in 2012 and Mike D and Ad-Rock announced that they would not make new music as the Beastie Boys a couple years later.
THE BLACK KEYS – EL CAMINO–2010’s Brothers broke The Black Keys into the mainstream, then El Camino blasted them off the charts. The fuzzy guitars in the opening seconds of “Lonely Boy” tell you immediately that you’re not getting the slow-jamming R&B rock of Brothers. This is going to be a raucous, badass garage rock record, and you better buckle up. But the Keys haven’t forgotten their blues roots. “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” still have hints of their beloved delta blues. And later tracks like “Hell of a Season” and “Stop Stop” still pull from R&B. El Camino really is the total package and the crown jewel of the later half of The Black Keys catalog. They haven’t quite captured the same magic since.
BON IVER – self titled–My ass was planted firmly on the indie folk bandwagon in the early 2010s. I had heard of Bon Iver, but my knowledge was limited to the song “Skinny Love,” I hadn’t heard the rest of the first album. When I saw that he had come out with a new album and it was getting very good reviews, I gave it a chance. I pressed play and was met with… not indie folk. I don’t really know how to categorize what I heard but it was beautiful and incredibly compelling. I put this album in my car stereo and it stayed there for months, despite not really being “driving music.” There are so many layers to uncover on this album. Even as I revisit it for this list, I’m hearing new things along with what made me love it in the first place.
THE CIVIL WARS – BARTON HOLLOW–Sticking with the indie folk theme, The Civil Wars were one of many groups to emerge during the genre’s boom at the time. A collaboration between contemporary Christian singer Joy Williams and Americana singer-songwriter John Paul White, the band quickly proved they were not just another Mumford clone trying to capitalize on a trend. Their sound was much quieter (mostly), and their lyrics embodied feelings of longing and loss in ways that other songwriters only dream of. Barton Hollow itself plays almost like a timeline of a relationship with lighter songs leading to the explosive and raucous title track. The tone then turns to darker minor key songs and then ends with bittersweet goodbyes. Unfortunately we only got one other album from The Civil Wars before they called it quits, but they will be remembered as one of the better parts of the indie folk boom of the 2010s.
GOTYE – MAKING MIRRORS–Yes, this is the “Somebody That I Used to Know” album, and that song is fantastic, but I think we can all agree that it was overplayed at the time. However, this album is so much more than that song. It’s track list has just one indie pop gem after another, some with hints of old school soul and R&B and even hints of Paul Simon. There is some art-pop weirdness here and there, but it’s way more accessible than it isn’t. I also feel like the fact that “Somebody…” became such a meme distracted from the strength of Gotye’s songwriting and his voice. You really should do yourself a favor and check out the rest of this album, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find. The only downside is this is the last thing that Gotye has really released. But I keep my fingers crossed in hopes of someday getting another album.
OWL CITY – ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL–I feel like I’m going to lose a lot of music fan cred by admitting that I like Owl City. Say all you want about how he’s a more sanitized, ultra twee version of The Postal Service, but if you follow Adam Young, you find out that he has a serious DIY attitude and he just does what he wants, and I respect that. All Things Bright and Beautiful was his second major label release and, to me, the best example of the Owl City brand of synth pop. The instrumentals are super clean and precise with intricate percussion tracks. These back catchy melodies and lyrics that are full of metaphor and beautiful language (that is, admittedly a little cheesy, but way less than some found on Ocean Eyes). I could go on for awhile on this one. Maybe I’ll do a full write-up for it someday.
THE STORY SO FAR – UNDER SOIL AND DIRT–By 2011, the emo and pop-punk bands of the late ’90s and ’00s had either disbanded or were making radio rock and bland power pop. It was enough to keep the fans happy, but the world needed a new class of pop-punk to bring the energy back. The new decade brought that with bands like Fireworks, Man Overboard, Real Friends, The Wonder Years, and Handguns. One that quickly rose to the top was The Story So Far who kept the catchy pop hooks but brought back the harder edge of punk with more raw vocals and energy that would permeate through the entire scene over the next few years. 2011 was a good year for pop-punk, and Under Soil and Dirt was one of its best releases.
TURBOWOLF – self titled–In the last entry of this series, I mentioned that The Sword left me hungry for more riff-heavy hard rock and metal, but I had a hard time finding it. However, I was lucky enough to find Turbowolf while I was stumbling about in the dark. But Turbowolf is not your typical stoner or doom metal band. They do have sludgy guitars, an occult aesthetic, and riffs for days, but they also have the attitude and occasional speed of punk, the atmosphere of psychedelic, and the weird synths of horror punk. Mix this all together and you get the tasty, hard rocking riff smoothie of their self titled debut.
VULFPECK – MIT PECK–Somewhere in Michigan, a few friends decided that they were going to start a band that tried to capture the vibe and sound of old live rhythm sections like The Wrecking Crew or the Muscle Shoals band. Little did they know that they were about to create the minimalist funk powerhouse of the modern era known as Vulfpeck. Mit Peck was the first collection of tracks they released into the world, containing songs like “Beastly” and the band’s signature track, “It Gets Funkier.” With this EP, Vulfpeck introduced us to their brand of retro-styled funk and soul, but more importantly it introduced us to the bass playing of Joe Dart. (We’re not worthy!)
Alright, this should be the last one before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Who am I kidding? This thing has never been regularly scheduled. But you know what I mean, we’ll get back to single album reviews. Anyway, in this last entry, we have some albums that I wanted to make sure I got to share my thoughts on. A lot came out in March, so I have a lot of thoughts.
BRIAN FALLON – LOCAL HONEY–There are a few specific genres of music that I’m just a huge sucker for and heartland rock is definitely one of them. Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, is one of the modern artists scratching that itch. His second album, Sleepwalkers, was one of my favorite albums of 2018. Local Honey is his follow-up and it’s a much quieter, more personal album. Despite this, the spirit of heartland rock is still very much present. With the exception of the murder ballad “Vincent,” all the songs are very personal, with half of them being love songs and one being words of hope and encouragement for Fallon’s daughter. There are a couple moments where I wish the song would go big and loud but that would defeat the purpose of the album. 4.0/5.0
CIRCA WAVES – SAD HAPPY–Earlier this year, I praised the first half of tracks released for this album back in January. The upbeat and catchy dance rock hooks were working a lot better for me than the band’s last album. I was hoping that they would continue the momentum when the full album was released. Now we have the whole thing and it’s a somewhat confusingly packaged double album with only 14 total tracks and a run time of 47 minutes. Unfortunately, as with most double albums, there are tracks that don’t need to be here and it runs out of steam by the end. This is a little concerning when you consider this album isn’t that much longer than your average rock album. It’s still better and more enjoyable than last year’s What’s It Like Over There? but cutting this down to a single album with 10 tracks might have been a better course of action. 3.5/5.0
ERIC JOHNSON – EJ, VOL. II–For 2020, guitar virtuoso and songwriter Eric Johnson has given us a sequel to 2016’s acoustic album, EJ. Much like that album and a lot of Johnson’s recent work, he is showcasing his songwriting and vocal abilities. This isn’t new, even Ah Via Musicom–famous for his signature song, “Cliffs of Dover”–has songs with lyrics. But anyone but his most die-hard fans will find the lack of electric guitar on this album a little disappointing. Is Johnson an accomplished musician across multiple instruments? Absolutely. Are his songwriting skills and vocal performances competent? Sure. Is anything on this album noteworthy? Not really. 2.0/5.0
PHANTOGRAM – CEREMONY–I’ve had an interesting relationship with Phantogram’s music. I fell in love with the trip-hop-meets-indie-rock sound on their debut. But they apparently decided that they did’t want to make that kind of music soon after releasing it. I’ve been unable to connect with the music on the following albums in the same way. Ceremony is the closest I’ve come and I’m sure that’s due to the fact that some of their trip-hop origins are popping back up on a few tracks. I’m sure it’s always been there, but it’s really front and center here. There are still tracks that just don’t grab my interest and some other just general weirdness. But this is the first time I’ve really enjoyed some Phantogram tunes in about 10 years. 3.0/5.0
R.A.P. FERREIRA – PURPLE MOONLIGHT PAGES–Another one of those genres that I’m a sucker for is jazz rap. I am all about groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets. Every year, I find at least one album that scratches my jazz rap itch. So far this year, that honor falls to Purple Moonlight Pages from R.A.P. Ferreira (formerly known as milo). As the “Rhythm and Poetry” on the cover implies, there is a bit more of a spoken word element to this than just rapping. But Ferreira delivers dense and conscious lyrics with clever rhyming and structures that call to mind the best lyricists of hip-hop’s golden age. And the jazz instrumentals just make them that much better. The album’s one major weakness is it’s length, clocking in at a stout 52 minutes. When your music is this dense, length is not your friend. Otherwise, this is a very enjoyable album. 3.5/5.0
SILVERSTEIN – A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DROWN–Honestly, I had no idea that Silverstein has been consistently releasing new material this whole time. As such, this is probably the first time I consciously listened to new music from them in over 10 years. Which is a funny coincidence because a lot of the album sounds like music that was coming out 10 or so years ago. Given the gap in my listening history, I don’t know if this comes from a conscious effort to recreate the sound or the fact that their sound has changed so little over the course of 15 years. Either way, A Beautiful Place… brings the bad along with the good from the time. About half of the tracks sound like the more produced emo and pop-punk songs of the late 2000s instrumentally and lyrically. And some of the melodies sound like they came right out of an All-American Rejects song. But the other half is full of the things we fondly remember from post-hardcore and screamo from the same era. It’s not bad, but it could have been better. 3.0/5.0
SUFJAN STEVENS/LOWELL BRAMS – APORIA–This latest release from celebrated songwriter Sufjan Stevens is a collaboration with is step-father, the Lowell from the title of his 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. The track list consists of mostly instrumental electronic compositions that came out of a jam session that occurred when Lowell visited Sufjan in New York. And it mostly sounds like just that: a bunch of electronic improvisations cut down into digestible tracks. It’s not unpleasant and there are a few moments of brilliance, but the overall impression I get is that it’s all just pretty “meh.” I know it’s not really fair to expect an artist as seemingly restless as Sufjan Stevens to stick to a particular sound or formula, but when you compare this to his previous work, it is a little disappointing. 2.5/5.0
WAXAHATCHEE – SAINT CLOUD–On this album, singer and songwriter Katie Crutchfield taps into the worlds and sounds of indie folk and alt-country. For me personally, the result is ultimately only okay. There are bright spots both instrumentally and lyrically, and sometimes it’s even on the same song. But one of the pitfalls of the peak of indie folk was forgettable songs for the sake of a sound or aesthetic. Saint Cloud unfortunately falls into that trap on more than a couple songs. That’s not to say it’s bad, the brightest moments shine especially bright. In the end it’s still a good album, just not a great one. 3.0/5.0
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?