Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Mansions On The Moon – Full Moon EP

fullmoonLos Angeles music collective Mansions On The Moon may not be household names yet, but their Full Moon EP is as good of an introduction as any. Combining elements of electronica, dance, pop and indie, this 5-song EP melds on a mostly consistent basis.

Opening with the disco-toned “Full Moon”, the EP immediately evokes the imagery and sounds of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive. It’s a song soaked in neon lights and pulp cinema aesthetic, opening up the band’s sound in beautiful fashion. “It’s Not Too Late” is similar in style, figuring into the electro/indie palette bands like Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts crafted before them.

It is however, with the song “More Than Nothing (ft. Codi)” that the band really shine. With its female vocals providing a nice ethereal touch, the song brings to life sounds and images Canadian band Stars are known for, and is the EP’s apex. It’s an electronic lullaby that’s both sophisticated and subtle.

The EP hits a rocky patch with “Heart of the Moment” unfortunately, where campy disco gets an 80s hairspray makeover and bears down on the ultra cheesy. It’s a distraction of sorts from the previous three songs, but like with anything, teething issues are nothing new. And while the song certainly is jarring, it is at least a sign that the band can still improve. Thankfully, the EP closes out on a stronger note with “Radio”.

Mansions On The Moon still have some way to go but there is so much to like about the Full Moon EP. There’s depth, talent and a real know how for writing catchy and infectious electro dance pop. A real solid foundation.

[rating=3]

 

Listen to the Full Moon EP:

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Mansions On The Moon’s Full Moon EP is available now.

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Review: Various Artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute

tonslyIt’s difficult to separate Tony Sly the solo artist from No Use For a Name the band. Through the years the band were at their most popular, Sly was synonymous with the name and their craft. Yet it often forgotten the band were around for several years without Sly at the helm. But the truth is, while much of their earliest New Red Archives material exhibits a far “rawer” quality to it, it was with Sly that No Use For a Name became a household name in punk around the globe. Bridging the gap between melody and aggression, Sly’s songs were crafted with the backbone established in albums like Incognito, but embraced the kinds of harmonies that defined that generation’s brand of punk. And with it, No Use For a Name along with helped punk become a more visible form of musical expression.

His death was, and still is, an immensely sad and tragic occurrence whose ripple effect continues on in the community in which he was such an important part of. Now over a year since, some of his closest friends and contemporaries have put together The Songs Of Tony Sly: A Tribute, a stellar compilation that is both a homage, and a sombre remembering of Sly and his work over the years.

It would have been easy to have limited the tribute to up-tempo, melodic punk the band was synonymous with. And while the best track on here, Strung Out’s blistering cover of “Soulmate”, is just that, the work on show here goes to prove that Sly was more than just power chords and great melodies. From the opening subtle touch of Karina Danike’s cover of “Biggest Lie” (from NUFAN’s final studio album) to the ska-flavored rocksteady of Mad Caddies’ “AM” and Snuff’s almost-calypso like rendition of “On The Outside”, the diverse reconfigurations of the songs here are a great barometer of how far reaching Sly and his bandmates were in terms of the kinds of different artists they connected with.

Songs that were originally done with razor sharp distortion and hard hitting percussions are turned into acoustic-tinged reflections of musical vulnerability. Like Alkaline Trio’s almost macabre toned “Straight From The Jacket” or even Simple Plan’s weirdly bouncy reworking of one of No Use’s best tracks “Justified Black Eye”. In a sense, the latter is the one serious flaw of the album; it is a very off-putting rendition that probably has more to do with the original version being what it is (the long lasting resonance of that song done in its original form) than Simple Plan’s take on it.

The tribute’s most affecting moment is perhaps Rise Against’s cover of “For Fiona”. Tim McIlrath flies solo with a melancholy take of the song, one about Sly’s love for his daughter. In it Sly sings; “So you stay young while I get old / But always know, I’m your best friend”, and when McIlrath sings this in his piercing voice, there is an incredible sadness and finality to Sly’s passing. It’s clear how much he loved his family and when you listen to this song, you’re all but made aware of how real it is.

Purchasing this album digitally means you’re given a few extra tracks that are a nice addition to the mix. The bonus tracks include The Swellers’ version of “Chasing Rainbows” and a fantastic piano-only rendition of “International You Day” by Ryan Hardester which closes out the project in fitting and beautiful fashion.

For fans of Sly and No Use For a Name, this compilation (purchasing it) is perhaps the closest we’ll get to a contribution to his legacy. I’ve written about how Sly and his music affected me on the other side of the globe and feel that, with proceeds going to the Tony Sly Memorial Fund, this compilation is a small, but honest way of saying “thank you” to a man whose music changed people close to him, people who knew him in passing, and of course, people like me he never met.

[rating=4]

 

Listen to Strung Out’s cover of “Soulmate”:

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The Songs Of Tony Sly: A Tribute is available now via Fat Wreck

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Review: Signals Midwest – Light On The Lake

lightonthelake1There is just something painfully beautiful about the music of Signals Midwest; Cleveland’s answer to the melancholia of punk’s late 90s and early 2000s where bands like Small Brown Bike, Appleseed Cast and American Steel carved their niche.

Signals Midwest are like those bands in a way, but unlike the sometimes heavy burden of an Appleseed Cast song, much of Light On The Lake gives the listener a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope in these tunes, and while singer Max Stern seems to write with a heavy heart, the emotional resonance of these songs is set to more than just one tone. Take the song “St. Vincent Charity” as example; it starts off in the bleakest of Midwestern emo colours; downtrodden, midtempo and coated with Stern’s striking voice. Yet a few minutes into it, the band have taken us from the doldrums to a distinctly more upbeat, Frank Turner-esque folk vibe, before barrelling full steam ahead in more traditional punk rock mannerisms. It’s utterly fantastic.

“The Desert to Denver” is a great example of the band’s relentless and razor sharp amalgamation of fury and emotion. They tend not to settle on one musical journey and as songs like “An Echo, A Strain” (with its soaring whoah-ohh choral treatment) and “Caricature” (with its light American Football-esque opening) prove, they aren’t interested in being pigeonholed into one genre or style.

There is grace and there is chaos in music, and Signals Midwest, guised in punk rock roots, have painted one of the most interesting and compelling records in recent times. If beauty in music is found in songs like “Greater Plains”, then its counteracting movement is exhibited in “A Room Once Called Yours”. There is frustration, sadness, anger, urgency and poise in this Light On The Lake, and the results are engaging to say the least.

Highly recommended.

[rating=4]

 

Listen to “St. Vincent Charity”:

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Signals Midwest’s Lights On The Lake is out now via Tiny Engines.

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Review: Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners

arlissTaking cues from Springsteen, The Hold Steady and a little Gaslight Anthem, Arliss Nancy put the American in American Rock Music. Poetic, blue-collared and soaked with the bourbon-tongued acidity of heartfelt songs written by the downtrodden, Wild American Runners is a terrific and absorbing journey through the mind of songwriter Cory Call.

6 years into their Arliss Nancy careers, Wild American Runners features songs that bounce and soar to an amalgamation to Southern flavored guitar riffs, piano accompaniments, sturdy percussion work and Call’s gruff vocals. “Nathaniel” is a terrific keys-strewn number; mid tempo, aching and beautifully, while “Hold It Together” is a good sampling of the band’s Gaslight Anthem-lean. In “Bloodletter”, the band carve an anthemic dusty highway number that goes in unison to proceeding melancholy grace of the title track. The latter being Call at his most Springsteen.

Much of the album is perfect for long night drives or times where one needs to be in their own mind. There is as much heartfelt in here as there is poise and honesty. While the style isn’t too distinguishable from their influences, the substance here is as profound as the bands and musicians they draw lineage from.

You may wait for the entire album to find that song that defines the ethos and sound of the band in a perfect way, but in the album closer “Vonnegut”, you find just that. It’s a beautiful song, and ends Wild American Runners on a great note. You may not have heard of Arliss Nancy yet but don’t wait too long before you do. This is American rock music at its best.

[rating=4]

 

Listen to “Vonnegut”:

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Arliss Nancy’s Wild American Runners is out now on Black Numbers.

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Review: Broadcaster – A Million Hours

broadcasterThere has always been something about Long Island, NY. The number of terrific bands that have come out of this stretch of land could fill stadiums a plenty. Three-piece rock trio Broadcaster could very well be the latest in a long line of Long Island bands to really make themselves household names.

Taking cues from terrific prairie rock favourites The Weakerthans and older time punk rock/indie stalwarts Jawbreaker and Superchunk, Broadcaster mix the best elements of Southern-tinged rock with uptempo, emotionally charged punk. Following on from the terrific 3-song 7” Tightrope Walker (listen to the title track, it’s just fantastic) comes their new full length A Million Hours.

From the get to, the band forge their sound in chunky riffs, whoa-whoahs and some good time melodies that bring back some of those great Lookout Records pop-soaked punk days. The song “Jamie” could easily be something Limbeck wished they had written while “Show Me Something New” traverses down a road paved by the likes of Husker Du and to some extent, early Gin Blossoms. Songs like “I Don’t Wanna Talk” have got a little bit of Lucero in them while “Petrified” is perfect for long breezy drives with the window down.

All through the record I kept telling myself, in slight bewilderment, “How good is this??”, and my only serious qualm was the lateness of my arrival to the Broadcaster party. The record has got a distinct sound, one most would find familiarity with upon finding out it was produced by Jawbox’s J. Robbins. The guitars are thick, the percussions distinct, and the fuzz portion of the harmonies all well in tune.

The only thing really missing from the album is the inclusion of the song “Tightrope Walker” as that song particularly, is still the best song the band have written thus far. Nonetheless, A Million Hours closes off particular strong with “Wasting Time With You” and “World Turned Gray”, providing listeners plenty to be excited about going forward.

While Long Island may stand in the shadow of their big city counterparts, the long line of bands that have stepped out from this shade have leapt far higher than a great number of NYC rock stars. There may be something in the water in Long Island, but maybe Broadcaster are just damn good, regardless of where they’re from.

[rating=4]

 

Listen: “Tomorrow”

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Broadcaster’s A Million Hours is out now via Jump Start Records.

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Review: High Tension – Death Beats

hightensionComprised evenly of The Nation Blue and Young & Restless members, new Australian rockers High Tension have been given a fair amount of praise from the release of their debut 7” “High Risk, High Rewards”. Not surprisingly, the pedigree in which High Tension comes from justifiably gives them more than a leg to stand on. But after listening to their debut full length, Death Beat, you can forgive me for not entirely buying into this hype just yet.

Karina Utomo possesses a great set of pipes and belts a good one, but airs on the grating side after a while.  Through the opening tracks “Blaze Up” and “Positive”, Utomo’s vocals and the music gel quite well, owing a little perhaps, to the more uptempo nature of these songs. However, it is with slower, sludgier fare like “Without U.S.” that her vocals become really quite irritating.

Musically, if you’re a fan of the Cancer Bats or the Bronx, you’ll find some of the riffage here to your liking. But in reality, the riffs all sound a little too by-the-book and you’d probably expect more from this talented group of individuals. Nothing quite stands out just yet and perhaps, over time, they will find points of interest in their music that will distinguish them from the average fare.

A musician friend who plays and tours in bands regularly (an avid heavy music listener) weighed in with his opinion as I wanted a second look with fresh ears. And the best thing he said was, “it’s alright, lacking a bit of imagination, and some of the riffs sounds like what a 13-year old who just bought his first distortion pedal would write. But a good vibe.”

Probably sums it up.

Death Beat isn’t a bad album by any means, and it’s a solid foundation in which they can easily build upon. It is just all very underwhelming for now. However, if there is a true positive out of this, they’ve certainly got what it takes individually to prove this reviewer wrong.

[rating=2]

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High Tension’s Death Beats is out now on Cooking Vinyl Australia.

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Review: Bodyjar – Role Model

BodyjarI’m not sure if it’s the old age or that things do actually get better over time, but after an 8-year hiatus, Melbourne punks Bodyjar may have just released the defining album of their career with Role Model. Some 20 years into it, the band has written both a consistent and consistently good record built on the kind of melodic punk that filled the airwaves through the mid-90s.

For those who lived outside of Australia during punk’s seminal burst into the mainstream, Bodyjar’s introduction was their Nitro Records release How It Works. Polished and composed, singles like “Not The Same” were a nice first look, but the album lacked the depth their contemporaries had. Perhaps the biggest differences between the career trajectories of Bodyjar and their North American counterparts was the sheer number of similar bands that flooded the market in the US and Canada while in Australia, Bodyjar were clear and above the best of their kind.

Rode Model, their first release since 2005’s Bodyjar, rips to shreds these preconceived notions the band aren’t as good as their US friends. In fact, one can argue that Role Model is the best melodic punk album we’ve seen in a very long time. Tracks like “Petty Problems” and the terrific “Fairy Tales” is proof that this band not only has the chops, but probably had them all along.

Hope Was Leaving”, brings back sweet memories of mid 90s skate punk doused with a hearty helping of soaring melodies and the kind of bite associated with the Strung Outs and Good Riddances of the world, while slower fare like “Break This Feeling” give the album some room to stretch.

Bands from that era have tried and failed to branch out from power chords and whoa-ohs, but Bodyjar are unashamedly comfortable with who they are. Melodic punk has fallen by the wayside with the younger generation of bands, but that’s where Bodyjar come in, and Role Model should serve as educational material on how to do this genre right.

Old punks die hard, for that, we are thankful.

[rating=4]

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Bodyjar’s Role Model is available now via UNFD. You can pick up a copy via iTunes.

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