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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Live Reviews

Live Review: Ash

Returning to Australia for the first time in years, Ireland alterna-rockers Ash turned the clock back at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel to play their acclaimed album, 1977, in its entirety. Not only were the band in exceptionally fine form, but the crowd, who looked like they were at the last Ash show (quite possibly on the original 1977 tour in 1996), were the most pleasant, down to earth and collected group of people I’ve seen at a show in years.

It was refreshing to say the least.

Racing through 1977, Ash proved that while they’ve been at it since the band members were 19, they were still as energetic and compact as they’ve ever been. Stand outs through the initial set were of course the Ash staples; “Girl From Mars” (still fantastic), “Angel Interceptor” and “Kung Fu”. Tim Wheeler was as unpretentious a rock star to have graced a stage in recent years as his genuine gratitude and enjoyment was evident through the set. With minimal banter between songs, there was little selling of merchandise or aggravating self importance, instead the band knew why they, and we, were there- to enjoy a great album from back to front.

As the band closed the album set, they wrapped up the pre-encore show with the terrific “Jack Names The Planets” and “A Life Less Ordinary”, before heading off for a quick break. The band returned to the appreciative crowd to close the night on Ash favourites from Free All Angels including “Walking Barefoot”, “Shining Light” and the terrific closer of the evening, “Burn Baby Burn”.

A tight and terrific hour and a half, Ash are a reminder of an era of music far removed from today’s YouTube generation. While it’s been years since 1977 and years since Ash’s brand of music graced the airwaves on a contemporary basis, the band are still as relevant and impactful today. Best of all? The crowd was almost all dickhead/hipster free.

Ash are playing one final Melbourne show at the Corner Hotel on August 29th. Tickets here.

 

ASH
August 22, 2013
Melbourne, AUS @ Corner Hotel

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Album Reviews, Music

Review: Jimmy Eat World – Damage

Consistency as a band is an achievement all on its own and Arizona rockers Jimmy Eat World have remained remarkably consistent through their years together. Now 8 studio albums in, the band have managed to find steady ground when it comes to their output, both in sound and aesthetic appeal. Damage, like its predecessor Invented, is built upon the band’s love for melodic guitar-driven melancholia. It’s all beautiful sounding, yet restrained.

The band’s new found musical foundation is the sound of them turning their amps down from the levels they exhibited on Bleed American, Futures and Chase This Light. Where once there was the distorted, high-tempo frequencies of a “Bleed American”, “Sweetness”, “Pain” and “Big Casino”, there is now the more composed, less frenetic pacing of a “Lean”, “Book of Love”, and the terrific title track “Damage”. It’s not necessarily regression or slowing down, it’s refinement; fine tuning their craft to a cohesion they’ve been hinting at since their opus Clarity.

Lead off single “I Will Steal You Back” is the closest Damage gets to sounding like Futures; equal parts heartstrings and rock-fueled sentimentality. In “Please Say No” and “Damage” we get Jimmy Eat World’s trademark lyrical introspection, with the latter waxing the disconnect between two frayed ends; “Are we only damaging the little we have left? / Both of us swimming in the same polluted mess / Are we too damaged now to possibly connect?” while we’re left again feeling like love has closed the door once again on the previous; “Say anything you will / Except how you’d have me still / Say anything but know / When I go, I go, I go”.

Damages‘ finest moment is perhaps “How’d You Have Me”. The song’s structure, like Chase This Light’s “Firefight”, goes hand in hand with the poetic mistrust of the lyrics and the crescendo building of its music- operatic, and cuts deep; “Only one thing left I wish I knew / how did you have me / and I only got you?” Jim Adkins as acerbic as ever.

“Byebyelove” is one of the album’s most interesting set pieces. The band have never shied away from the grandiose; from the arching beauty of “Goodbye Sky Harbor” and “23” to “Invented”, song’s have been pushed to the limit of both length (the latter two at nearly 8 minutes while “Goodbye Sky Harbor” rests at a cool 16 minutes long). “Byebyelove” has the same makeup as these songs- like the audio equivalent of reaching for the stars- yet as it sounds like it wants to inch close to the momentous, it comes away a little stunted and not something that could have been truly grand. Nevertheless, the album closes on the reflection of “You Were Good”, an acoustic piece that’s both nostalgic sounding, and distinctly monophonic. It is by far the most subdued of endings, and quite unlike what the band have done before.

Like Invented, Damage is the next page in a new chapter for the band. Produced by first time Jimmy Eat World collaborator Alain Johannes (Spinerette, Mark Lanegan), the album is perhaps the band’s most refined effort to date. Working out most of the shortcomings of the previous effort, Damage is another addition to an already impressive and long standing discography.

Jimmy Eat World, still terrific. (Dine Alone / RCA Records)

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Album Reviews, Music

Review: Goo Goo Dolls – Magnetic

In the 15 years since the release of their chart conquering Dizzy Up The Girl, the Goo Goo Dolls have remained not only remarkably active, but quietly consistent. While many of their contemporaries, whose songs once found chart success alongside “Iris”, “Slide”, and “Black Balloon”, have gone wayside, this Buffalo group have continued on with success not often seen or heard outside of their long serving fanbase. It has been a good thing for the group, that while those who wrote songs like “Closing Time”, “Flagpole Sitta”, “The Freshman” are long gone, the Goos have managed to adapt their pop-infused rock with enough malleability to stay relevant in the constantly revolving door of mainstream radio programming.

Magnetic, like its predecessor Something For The Rest Of Us, is new Goo. Still entrenched in its rock roots, the pop side of the material delves away being guitar driven (as last heard most prominently on Gutterflower), to more beat-based song structures and more robust production. It’s not surprising that much of the material here then, is sounding the most fresh the band have been in years. “Rebel Beat”, the first single, is indicative of their new found comfort with songs that sound like they weren’t written solely on a guitar (and again on the fuzzed out, beat-driven “More Of You”). The infectious bounce of the song boasts modern pop accessibility, but is still replete with trademark Goo Goo Dolls inflection. In “When The World Breaks Your Heart”, there is a joyous, heart warming glow to the song the band have been chasing for several albums. It is a wonderful feelgood song, with both hope and love as its anchor, buoyed by some of the best songwriting John Rzeznik has done in years.

Musically, much of Magnetic feels like continued growth from what they began in Let Love In and furthered in Something For The Rest Of Us. Alongside the more obvious, there are traces of Americana (in the acoustic tinged “Come At Me”), Superstar Car Wash (Robby Takac’s finely distorted coda of “Bringing On The Light”- perhaps one of the best songs Takac has written?) and conventional balladry (“BulletProofAngel”). Yet there is a balance between the material that previous albums have struggled to find; a tonal feeling, or a mood, absent from the past few releases.

It’s hard to say whether or not the Goo Goo Dolls will ever reach the same heights they did during the close of the 1990s. And as one listens through Magnetic, it is also hard to believe this band has been around since 1986; because so many of their kind burned out so long ago and because the new album sounds distinctly in-tune with the contemporary understanding of popular music. The Goo Goo Dolls have and will always be more than “Iris”. The material that preceded it and the material after is a sign of their long lasting appeal. With the undeniably catchy nature of Magnetic, the appropriately titled album is the sound of a band at their finest. (Warner Bros.)

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Album Reviews, Featured, Music

Review: Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

There is an unspoken idea that country music artists can’t be relevant or aware in music’s often self-indulgent meta-isms of today. That someone wearing cowboy boots or a stetson is somehow unqualified to talk about pop culture and the ‘in and now’ the way someone in shades and a designer leather jacket is. Somewhere along the line, our trust in understanding the world through music shifted from the endless plains to urban hooliganism and hipster clubs. While some country music can be hokey, the bad kind is not any less irrelevant than “musicians” who use computer programs instead of guitars.

Brad Paisley, now on his ninth studio album, is as relevant and eloquent as any musician who uses their music to express the world’s trials and tribulations through notes and lyrics. Wheelhouse, 17 tracks in all, is a lesson on how country music can be as smartly written and urgent as anything written from the underbelly of London or New York. While strongly rooted in Southern traditions, the album makes it a priority to stretch far past the borders of Nashville. The album’s first single “Southern Comfort Zone”, sets this tone early on, making the earnest concern that country stereotypes are just as poorly formed as any other. It waxes lyrical about how you don’t have to be country to be country, set to the backdrop of uptempo guitar-driven country rock and easy-to-digest lines; “Not everybody goes to church or watches every NASCAR race / Not everybody knows the words to “Ring Of Fire” or “Amazing Grace””. It’s perfect for the radio- any radio- replete with just the right amount of melodic resonance. The song’s message is something that permeates through the rest of the album too, that a good ol’ Southern country boy can be as worldly as just about anyone else.

In “Pressing On A Bruise”, Paisley shares the song with singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, resulting in the album’s most alterna-ready tune. Kearney’s vocal imposition and contrasting beat leaves the song somewhere between Paisley’s more traditional numbers and Third Eye Blind. The song’s accessible nature isn’t far from opening credit music for everything that was on the old WB channel (ie. Teen dramas and young adult shows).

The distinctly country-heavy tunes of the album, “Harvey Bodine” and “Outstanding in the Field”, bounce with enough country fervor but avoid the hokey Billy Ray Cyrus-ness trap. Interestingly, some of the album’s most memorable songs are when Paisley slows down the tempo- like the quietly somber “I Can’t Change The World”. In it, Paisley’s melancholic tone is a little defeatist, surrendering to the idea that we cannot affect change on a grand scale, but when it comes to the matters of the heart, we are in fact in control of that destiny; “I can’t change the world / maybe that’s for sure / but if you let me girl / I can change yours”.

He tightropes blasphemy (in the piano-clad “Those Crazy Christians”) with humor and aplomb, while doing the old-fashioned romance with style (“Beat This Summer”), but the one time Wheelhouse stumbles, is in the LL Cool J featuring “Accidental Racist”. It’s a well meaning song, about Paisley’s awareness of the sometimes ugly side of being Southern, but the LL rap verse/bridge come off as clunky. It’s not that LL can’t do his thing, it’s just that on here, he comes across as “rap for mainstream country folk” (LL actually uses the lines “I wish you understood what the world is like livin’ in the hood / just because my pants are saggin’ it doesn’t mean I’m up to no good”).

The album however, ends on a terrific note. The closer, “Officially Alive”, is everything great about Wheelhouse. Guitar soaked, upbeat and uptempo, it is a song about feeling alive while being aware that you’re alive- spreading the gospel of being happy, being in love, and being aware of impending mortality. It’s all parts Southern soul coated with the shine of radio friendly country rock and good time vibes.

It is unfortunate that country, great country especially, isn’t perceived to be as culturally relevant and/or powerful as something written by Jay-Z or Thom Yorke or whatever it is that is being pushed as the new wave of significance. The truth is, like his country contemporaries, Paisley is as in-tune with the world around him as he is the world in which he calls home. It just seems that the majority of country artists aren’t always concerned with reminding us constantly. Tastemakers are quick to push country aside, away from the lens of indie trends, flashy hip hop and schizophrenic dance music. It’s too bad because Wheelhouse is modern reflection with great conviction; clarity amongst the distortion and noise found in our current surrounds. (Arista Nashville)

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Album Reviews

Review: Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True

Matt Skiba has confessed that the songs he wrote for My Shame Is True are very much catharsis for a romantic relationship gone sour. Yet as one wanders through the Alkaline Trio back catalogue, it is not a stretch to say that much of the agony, anger and melancholy heard seems to come from this very source; that a complicated connection between two people is as friction fueled as a power chord. One listen to classic tracks like “Radio” and “Stupid Kid” and one can see a bright bitterness resonate through both the words and the music. So perhaps this, their ninth studio album, as Skiba notes, wasn’t meant to be a “personal record”, it just turned in to one. The results are the most profound they’ve been in almost a decade.

Gone are the more punk rock oriented numbers like “Private Eye” and “Goodbye Forever”, their ethos replaced by the more languid, fluid sounding song writing they began to explore in Crimson. Much of My Shame Is True takes its cues from what they laid down in 2010’s This Addiction; mid-tempos, extended bridges, more succinct melodies that while tone down their angst, are no less urgent. This includes some of the album’s best tracks, “Kiss You To Death” and “Midnight Blue”- all while keeping Skiba’s lyrical ability for being emotional without sounding over dramatic; “I don’t care if we fuck / or we if talk / or we cry / I just miss you / I want to kiss you to death tonight”.

Pleasantly surprising, is the quality of the Dan Andriano-sung work this time around. He’s sung on one of the best Alkaline Trio songs to date (“I’m Dying Tomorrow”), but perhaps down to personal tastes, there’s always been a preference to Skiba-sung tracks. On My Shame Is True however, the Andriano numbers are brilliant. “Only Love”, with its piano-laced contemplations, and the live-for-today ode of “Young Lovers”, come across as some of the best post-Crimson tracks the band have written.

It is foolish to think the band will ever write another Maybe I’ll Catch Fire or From Here To Infirmary. But with My Shame is True, Alkaline Trio, along with the Blasting Room crew (who seem to be busier than ever), have produced their most assured record to date. They are sounding as comfortable with their sound as t they’ve ever been, and with it comes the creative freedom to write songs that resonate on both a personal and aesthetic level. This is the record that Agony & Irony and This Addiction wanted to be. (Heart & Skull / Epitaph)

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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