A DAY TO REMEMBER – YOU’RE WELCOME album review

A DAY TO REMEMBER – YOU’RE WELCOME

Fueled by Ramen, 2021

Pop rock, pop punk, easycore

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’s Homesick 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.

4/10

June Quick Takes, Part 3: My Picks

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.

LuckyMe

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

Columbia

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

Earth Analog

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

Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories

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

Hospital

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

Dead Oceans

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

Night School/Thrilling Living

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

Velvet Blue

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

THE 1975 – NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM album review

THE 1975 – NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM

Dirty Hit, 2020

Alternative/Pop rock

After delays and much hype from the band themselves, The 1975 have finally delivered their fourth album and follow-up to 2018’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships that was first promised to us back in 2019. So now that we have Notes on a Conditional Form available to us, the ultimate question is if it lives up to the hype that’s been built up around it. It was delayed because Matthew Healy and the band wanted to make sure it was perfect, right? Well, let’s find out.

First off, this album is massive, with 22 tracks clocking in at 80 minutes. The 1975 are no strangers to long albums, with every one of their full-lengths running over 50 minutes, but this one pushes the CD format to its limits in the physical editions. That’s right, this is not a double album, it’s packaged, or at least presented as a single album. (I stream everything. Don’t judge me!) As much as I like to pick on pop and rock albums when they stretch past the hour mark, a long album doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad album. If an album makes you feel like the time invested hasn’t been wasted, it can be as long as it needs to be. Unfortunately, Notes… doesn’t make the best use of its time.

That being said, this album does fare better than other long albums. There are several moments on it that are actually quite good. But there’s also just a lot of stuff that just doesn’t need to be here. For example, early on in the album there are two brief, orchestral interludes. You might think that these are setting the stage for tracks like this to be interspersed throughout the entire album, but no, they’re only tracks 3 and 5 and that’s it. Another major misstep is “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied,” which starts with gospel chorus vocals, has this very strangely pitched and rapped chorus, and a terribly mixed guitar solo. The last completely weak point is “Bagsy Not in Net,” which doesn’t really feel like a fully formed song.

The rest of the weaker tracks on the album aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re not great and there’s the question of whether they fit on the album or not. An obvious pick here is “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” which features Phoebe Bridgers and sounds an awful lot like a Sufjan Steven song or even a combination of the first two Bon Iver records when the brass comes in. The Bon Iver vibes come back in a big way on “Don’t Worry,” a duet with Matty Healy’s father. The story behind the song is beautiful, but it doesn’t outweigh the similarities. And neither of these songs are awful, but they aren’t great and they just feel out of place. Similarly, the electronic tracks “Shiny Collarbone” and “Having No Head” are actually really good, but they just don’t seem to fit.

Okay, I’ve done enough complaining. It’s time to talk about the good stuff, because there’s actually some very bright spots on this album. After the intro track, “People” is an absolute banger of some noisy garage rock. It’s completely unexpected in the best way. “Me & You Together Song” sounds like some late ’90s, Third Eye Blind pop rock, but unlike the other referential tracks on the album, it’s actually an incredibly well written track that is inspired by a sound without copying it. Similarly, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is a certifiable ’80s new wave banger. All of these tracks have The 1975’s signature cheeky lyrics, throwing a little dirty subversion into the catchy and bouncy hooks. One more thing I want to highlight is how tracks “Frail State Of Mind” and “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” expertly combine The 1975’s pop rock with styles of EDM like UK garage and house.

Ultimately, Notes… is a pretty conflicting album for me. The 1975 take a lot of risks on this album. That’s evident from the first track, named after the band itself, and consisting of a 5 minute speech on climate change from Greta Thunberg. I mean, damn. The really frustrating part is that a lot of the risks pay off, or at least break even. But the “good, not great” tracks pale in comparison to the really great ones, and then there’s the issue of the completely unnecessary ones. This isn’t a bad album, but I can’t help but feel like there’s a really great one in it somewhere if the band had been a little more focused on quality over quantity.

3.0/5.0

THE WRECKS – INFINITELY ORDINARY album review

THE WRECKS – INFINITELY ORDINARY

Big Noise Music Group, 2020

Alternative/Indie pop/Power pop

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.

1.5/5.0

COLDPLAY – EVERYDAY LIFE album review

COLDPLAY – EVERYDAY LIFE

Parlophone, 2019

Pop rock

Coldplay doesn’t really need an introduction. For a brief moment they were a cool band for hipsters, but almost overnight they were simultaneously global superstars and the butt of jokes. Even after the the bulk of the hype has died down, a new release from Coldplay is still a pretty big event in the music world. Every one of their albums so far has sold millions of copies worldwide. But in recent years the quality of their output has decreased a bit. And their last album was the first in 10 years to not reach #1 on the US charts (though it still reached a more than respectable #2).

Everyday Life is the band’s eighth album and their first double album, split into the halves Sunrise and Sunset. Despite being a double album, it’s not the band’s longest, coming in a few minutes short of A Rush of Blood to the Head and a full 10 minutes short of X&Y. While Everyday Life‘s 16 tracks could technically fit on one album, there is allegedly a line drawn between the themes of the two halves, but I’m not so sure that line is as bold as they think it is.

To use a cliche music journalism term, the production on Everyday Life is much more organic than Coldplay’s recent releases. There is considerably less electronic and disco influence on this album and some moments sound closer to their “classic” albums than they’ve been in years. But that doesn’t mean there’s no growth or experimentation. There are songs with influences from gospel, Middle Eastern, African, and even bluegrass music. Even songs without a clear musical influence have passages sung or recited in Arabic, French, Spanish, and the Igbo language of Nigeria. And just because the production is “organic” it doesn’t mean there aren’t big moments. A few songs have orchestration, but they aren’t as squeaky clean as songs on an album like Viva la Vida.

Lyrically the overall theme of the album is the shared struggles of all humanity and how love is the thing that can help us all endure. This is clearest on the track “Bani Adam” (which is printed in Arabic in the track listing and translates to “Children of Adam”) that takes its title from a poem by Saadi Shirazi. The track is essentially an instrumental interlude or extended intro for “Champion of the World,” but it has a recitation of the title poem, a sample of The Sun by John and Alice Coltrane, and a sample of a Nigerian gospel song. The theme of all three samples is that we are all God’s creation and of equal value.

Other issues that are specifically mentioned are the way black Americans are treated by law enforcement (“Trouble in Town”), absent parents (“Daddy”), America’s unhealthy obsession with guns (“Guns,” duh), and political unrest in the Middle East (“Orphans”). It’s also worth noting that this is the first album from Coldplay to contain explicit lyrics, dropping the fuck-bomb on “Arabesque” and “Guns” to emphasize the point of each song.

My main criticism with this album is a common one with most double albums, and it’s that there’s some stuff on here that doesn’t really need to be included. Namely the opening instrumental and “WOTW/POTP,” the latter of which is literally an unfinished sketch of a song. The lyric booklet actually reads “I haven’t finished this one yet.” There’s clearly an emotion being conveyed, and while that comes through in the demo, I’d rather have the finished product. Also, while it’s nice to see that a band as big as Coldplay is still willing to experiment, I do wish some of that experimentation went a little farther. Similarly, other people might wish they dug a little deeper with the political lyrics, but I personally think this is about as deep as we can expect a band on this level of international stardom to get.

Overall, Everyday Life brings some welcome changes for a fan of Coldplay’s “original trilogy.” Super clean production and collaborations with Beyonce and Rihanna are traded for a more organic sound and more cohesive lyrical themes. Experimentation with other sounds is welcome but could have gone further. The flow of the album is a little uneven, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. The biggest problem is that there really aren’t any tracks that stick with you quite like some of the classics.

3.5/5.0

THIRD EYE BLIND – SCREAMER album review

THIRD EYE BLIND – SCREAMER

Mega Collider, 2019

Alternative/Pop rock

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.

2.0/5.0