Album Reviews

Review: Five Iron Frenzy – Engine of a Million Plots

EngineofaMillionPlotsIn my review for Less than Jake’s See The Light, I made mention of several bands who always held the third wave ska flag high with their craft. For some reason, I forgot to mention Five Iron Frenzy, who after a ten-year hiatus are back with a kindling of new songs, tied together with a deft ribbon titled Engine of a Million Plots. In hindsight, this oversight is made ever more glaring upon repeated listens of the new album, a wonderfully nostalgic but incredibly refreshing repaving of an old road.

That old road, third wave, has seen a remarkable rekindling over the last few weeks, most notably from their “old guard” of established acts still breathing the fire they did when they first burst on to their respective musical landscapes. Five Iron Frenzy, perhaps slightly less on the forefront than say Less than Jake or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were during their height of popularity, had been one of the more consistent acts. Their albums were always good, in many ways. My most compelling recollection was their album Our Newest Album Ever!, a sprightly, homely at times, wind in your hair ska/punk album that dug deep into the core of what it was growing up during these times.

Now a decade removed from their last output, Five Iron Frenzy continue their remarkable track record with songs still entrenched in their love of ska, rock and punk, while being in tune with the contemporary world around them. The album’s musical output is as strong as ever; with tracks like the up-tempo “We Own The Skies” and “Against a Sea of Troubles” showcasing their impeccable blending of ska and punk while “So Far” (candidate for best song they’ve ever written?) is your uplifting anthem driving home the band’s trademark tone and message.

There’s an energy and vibrancy to this album that you’d think would dissipate after all these years, but it seems the ten-year gap has not only re-energized the band, but has armed them with a bounty of material. There is a greater injection of alternative rock than we’ve seen in the past, but the amalgamation of the band’s past with its present and future comes together in an incredibly rewarding manner.

As songs like “I’ve Seen The Sun” and “Blizzards & Bygones” close out proceedings, you are left with a certain blessing of musical enlightenment and artistic satisfaction. There is depth in the album but there is also a great feeling of warmth through it all. With the Engine of a Million Plots, we’re taken on the ups and downs of life and music with poise and grace. An enriching and rewarding listen.

[rating=4]

 

Five Iron Frenzy’s new album Engine Of a Million Plots is available from the Five Iron Frenzy store. Check out their video for “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” below:

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Album Reviews

Review: The Bennies – Rainbows In Space

benniesMelbourne’s The Bennies are an eclectic collective of musicians who seem to have cut their teeth on everything from party rock anthems, metal and ska to reggae and pop. The group’s debut album, Rainbows In Space, is a rather apt description for this 14-track LSD trip down the road of every15-year-old kid’s schizophrenic music collection.

You get party-themed rock (the opening “Party Smashers”), ska-tinged anthemic punk (the pretty great “Anywhere You Want To Go”), stoner reggae rock (“Let’s Get Stoned”) and rock steady (“Hold On”, which is another good entry). It’s an easy indication that Rainbows in Space is really a smorgasbord of genres that are glued together by the band’s frenetic energy. Much of the album sounds like it was written under a heavy haze of drugs and alcohol, and while some of the songs are a bizarre mixture of tripping something fantastic with an ultra laid back attitude, some songs seem to be lacking in solid direction.

The album’s biggest problem is that the band have an affinity for so many different genres of music that they’re having a hard time picking one (or even two) to give the album a singular aesthetic. The band completely lose their marbles in “Frankston Girls”, a candidate for one of least productive songs you’ll hear all year. It’s part metal, part ska, part rock, all kinds of terrible. It’s real shame because they follow it up with the more traditional third-wave ska sounding “Westgate Wednesday” which is a terrific tune, akin to what Against All Authority, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Assorted Jellybeans did during their time.

It’s early days for The Bennies as they’ve got a lot of positive elements going for them. They know how to party, but lack direction when it comes to writing a solid album from start to finish. Some of their terrific songs are weighed down heavily by their awful ones. An album full of “Westgate Wednesdays” and “Anywhere You Want To Gos” would have made Rainbows In Space worthy of repeated listens. Unfortunately, for now, your best bet is to pick and choose a few tracks until they’re able to do the good more often than the bad.

[rating=2]

 

Rainbows In Space is available now via Poison City Records.

Listen to “Anywhere You Wanna Go”:

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Album Reviews

Review: Less than Jake – See the Light

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Five years removed from their last studio album, Gainesville pezcore kings Less than Jake show no signs of aging. 20 years and some 8 albums in, it is quite the contrary as See the Light is the most energetic and urgent album the band have released since their Losing Streak days. After spending some subdued years trying new sounds (most notably with In With The Out Crowd), the band have continued what they rekindled in 2008’s GNV FLA; third wave ska’s finest amalgamation with punk.

From the get go, tracks like “Good Enough” and the terrific “Jump” continue a legacy they first cemented with songs like “My Very Own Flag” and “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts”. The energy through See the Light is one of the most impressive aspects of the record; “Sunstroke” sets the melodic punk bar high, while songs like “Bless the Cracks” give Hello Rockview songs a run for their money.

The band ventured into more pop oriented territory with In With the Out Crowd, and while results were decidedly mixed, songs like “American Idle” prove that the band can still be accessible without losing their trademark vitality. LTJ’s horn section is as prevalent as ever, something that became sorely lacking during their second run through the majors.

Less than Jake are bastions of a generation now more than a decade removed. When the youth landscape was filled with third rate, third wave ska bands, there was always the select few that carried their craft with distinction. It was the Mustard Plugs, the Buck-O-Nines, the Mu330s and of course, the Less than Jakes that always gave ska/punk an underlying credibility as it progressed into the mainstream of the late 90s. Truth is, it never went away, it just lost all the excess baggage. See the Light is the nostalgia, the present, and the tomorrow of a generation still holding its own.

[rating=4]

 

Less than Jake’s See the Light is out now via Fat Wreck.

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Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Lights & Motion – Save Your Heart

art_550In the modern realm of post-rock complexities, there are artists whose art and music has undertaken a certain breadth to it. But as you step back and listen to it as a whole, you often realize it is more burden than anything else. A lot of it is very weighty and careens into self-indulgent territory. Explosions In The Sky can write music that is breathtaking, but sometimes their songs are too long, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is similar, where experimental becomes the focal point instead of the beauty, and Mogwai and Tortoise unfortunately, are just far too dreary and mathematical.

A few years ago, Jade Tree Records released music from Statistics, the musical moniker of Nebraska mainstay Denver Dalley. His brand of post-rock combined elements from Midwestern emo’s lineage, and escaped into the ethers of pop and the more aurally pleasing. His songs however, often felt unfinished.

So there must be middle ground somewhere, and Swedish multi-instrumentalist Christoffer Franzen may just be it. Under the name Lights & Motion, Franzen has been making beautifully soaring, instrumental post-rock akin to Statistics (and to some extent, Angels & Airwaves and 30 Seconds to Mars without the inflated rockstar ego), but with a little more grace, a finished veneer, and a stratosphere’s distance in emotional resonance.

There is beauty in music and then there is Save Your Heart, a record so glistening with the sounds of perfect soundtracks the world over that it should really be the sound of every successful spacewalk, moon landing, and the perfect dawn. We’ve thrown the word “epic” around on numerous occasions, but it is by far the one word that is most suitable for Save Your Heart as Franzen has crafted songs that shine with the vision of a brightly burning star. Songs like “Sparks” and “Ultraviolet” are a mixture of pretty guitars, midtempo percussions, and soaring instrumental harmonies, all wrapped in a welcoming glow.

“Snow” is the album’s longest excursion at 6.40 (a pop punk second compared to an Explosions song), and with its percussion-toned opening and graceful ascension, it is the album’s finest moment. Keyboard sprinkles and Franzen’s ability to craft music that is both reflective and optimistic is exemplified to near perfection.

The album is succinct, and spends less time in tangents than most other post-rock artists which is a refreshing change for the genre. “We Are Ghosts” erupts in a euphoric blaze of electronica-laced keys after painting a certain musical serenity, while “Atlas” brings home the beautiful melancholic grace Save Your Heart is so good at doing.  The album closes out with the title track, like an effective closing credits scroll, it is harmony in the end and a fitting bow to a memorable performance.

Few albums will come this close in capturing the imagination of hope and promise in musical form. Save Your Heart’s beauty and grace is one to savor.

[rating=5]

 

Lights & Motion’s Save Your Heart is out now on Deep Elm. Listen to a few songs below:

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Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Save Ends – Warm Hearts, Cold Hands

saveendsTaking a cue from early Saves the Day, Get Up Kids and The Anniversary, Boston’s Save Ends is a wonderful and energetic throwback to the glory years of early Vagrant-era post-emo, pop-fused punk. Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is a wonderful mix of everything that era did well; uptempo melodies, melancholic tones, harmonic vocals and a sense of “growing up” within the songs.

Save Ends features dual male/female vocals that work in unison to give the songs an added texture. Christine Atturio’s voice comes across similarly to how Jolie Lindholm’s did during her time as vocalist for grossly underrated band The Rocking Horse Winner. The songs on Warm Hearts come across as a mixture of Atturio-directed sentimentality (the great “Chasing Embers”) and the Hot Rod Circuit-esque (“Kurzweil”), while tracks like “Song of Susannah” could have been a cut off Designing A Nervous Breakdown or a highlight from a Rainer Maria album. The album opens with the humorously titled “Punkorama 30”, giving credence to the band’s self awareness and lineage, and quickly ascends to fast-paced melodic punk, setting the tone and energy for the rest of the release’s vastly oscillating styles and tones. Much of which results in one of the most rewarding listens we’ve come across this year.

There’s a lot to like about this record, and while the sounds can be a throwback to music from a decade ago, Save Ends aren’t just about sounding like their influences. For those who grew up with mid to late 90s emo, Save Ends are what would become of the sound, and liking this record is about more than just nostalgia- it’s about realising the long lasting resonance of that time and how well this band is able to capture and emote this aural atmosphere.

Falling snow, reflections of Massachusetts, and the pull of the heartstrings are the things Save Ends write home about. And Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is the finest entry into the genre in a very long time.

[rating=4]

 

Save Ends’ Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is out on Tiny Engines November 12th. You can preview and purchase the record via the stream below:

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Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Protest The Hero – Volition

voliProgressive metal band Protest The Hero have never had a problem with the technical aspects of metal. Well versed in the art, they’ve never shied away from infusing their breakneck music with elaborate solos, breakdowns and instrumental technicality that would normally scare away those who like their craft a little less cerebral. Their latest album, Volition, makes no mistake of this and continues their streak of albums that are both melodic and accessible, but equally sound technically. It will appease metalheads who like their metal garnished with more than just chugga-chugga riffs and growls.

From the opening salvo of “Clarity”, Volition is robust in breadth and urgency. Many of the songs, like “Drumhead Trial” and “Tilting Against Windmills”, crash together in a tidal wave of razor sharp guitars, intense guitar noodling and a mixture of Rody Walker’s piercing voice and the guttural backdrop of machine gun percussions and screams. The percussions come courtesy of Lamb Of God’s Chris Adler, who replaced departed member Moe Carlson in the studio for the release.

The album was funded through an IndieGoGo campaigned and raised more than $300,000. Fans of the band expect a lot from Protest The Hero and much of the material on Volition should meet and exceed their lofty expectations. There is a lot of uptempo, speed metal on here and anyone needing a break from metal that is far too cerebral and maybe a little indulgent, will probably need to go elsewhere. Volition. But if you like this sort of thing, then shred baby, shred.

[rating=3]

 

Protest The Hero’s Volition is out now via Spinefarm / Razor & Tie Records.

Bonus video:

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Review: A Wilhelm Scream – Partycrasher

partycrasherSix years is a long time between drinks, but if there was ever a band whose next drink was going to knock you out in a swirling fury of whiskey and melodic hardcore, it’s A Wilhelm Scream. Partycrasher, all pummelling guitars, soaring melodies and machine gun percussions, is what you’ve come to expect and know of the band; but distilled in six years worth of pent up material.

From the opening salvo of “Boat Builders”, it is clear that the band haven’t lost a step. Few contemporaries mix technical ability with attitude as well as they do. And without breaching the boundaries of pretension, songs like “The Last Laugh” shred and showcase musical chops in equal parts (also see the opening to “Ice Man Left A Trail”). AWS are still damn good at blending that razor fast transition between uptempo verses and even faster choruses, and songs like “Devil Don’t Know” continue that trademark AWS songwriting canon.

“Gut Sick Companion” floors it with the high-flying solos while “Hairy Scarecrow” takes a turn down the more traditional melodic hardcore route. The latter has got elements of everything from 88 Fingers Louie to early Ten Foot Pole and the brash, snotty attitude of RKL.

What’s bad about this album? If you had to pick something, probably that it took six damn years to do.

On the even further upside; one can run through the gamut of journalistic cliches to describe this album. Any of the following would work:

– The greatest thing since someone decked Glen Danzig
– The greatest album ever by a band that was once called Smackin’ Isaiah
– The best thing to listen to after going to The Fest
– Album Of The Year

A Wilhelm Scream still wipe their ass with this musicbiz thing. Partycrasher is brand new album, same great band.

[rating=5]

 

Listen to “Born A Wise Man”:

A Wilhelm Scream’s Partycrasher is out now via No Idea Records.

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