Sight & Sound

Revisiting Emo: This Afternoon’s If We Gave Up Now

afterSometime in 2002, I received This Afternoon’s third full length, If We Gave Up Now, from now defunct label Emplane. Revisiting this release some 11 years later, it’s interesting to revisit my initial thoughts on the record when I wrote the review of it (back in 2002).

Here’s how I initially described the band; “mid to late 90s almost Midwestern indie rock influenced punk. There are catchy hooks, heartfelt vocalizations with a distinct mid tempo rock feel. You can compare them to the likes of Texas is the Reason, the Enkindels and maybe some early Elliott.”

It’s a pretty accurate description upon re-listening to the release. I do however, have to note that while I originally said that some of the longer song lengths tend to feel like “four hours of driving through Kansas,” their effect today is a little less draining. Almost as if a four hour drive through Kansas really isn’t that bad. Maybe it’s just the decade in between, but I seem to appreciate the slower build up, the more languid song structures, and the less than urgent demeanor in which the music unfolds- much more than I did back in 2002. Texas is the Reason is probably the closest recognized sound This Afternoon emulates, and while the paced approach to songwriting may not appeal to every post-hardcore enthusiast, If We Gave Up Now may just surprise a few.

It just takes a little time. Have a listen:

“Made By Make Believe”
Made By Make Believe

“Stop-Sign Racing”
Stop Sign Racing

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Sight & Sound

LISTEN: Joshua and the Baggage EP

joshjoshJoshua are quite the emo anomaly; once the darlings of the genre, their presence went from the thoroughfares of file sharing’s best days to the unfortunate mumblings of ‘what ever happened to?’ and the occasional joyous find at local Mom and Pop record stores. Capturing much of the attention in their early Doghouse Records days, they reached a pinnacle through, of all things, a self-titled single that still holds their two finest offerings; “Divide Us” and “Your World is Over.” It is quite strange to think that while many of their counterparts (who ply their trade in very much the same scope) have ascended to far greater heights, Joshua have never scaled higher than occasional scene reminiscence and the inquisitive wondering of lost potential…

One wonders if the band had been around today, whether their brand of pop-tinged emo would find its way onto grander settings. Truth be told, their final release, the Baggage EP, doesn’t differ too far from what popular acts like Say Anything did during their heyday. Yet there is a certain air of unpretentiousness that comes with Joshua that is sorely lacking in the music Max Bemis (of Say Anything) generally writes. Perhaps this is due to the relative obscurity that Joshua had in comparison to Say Anything, an aura of undiscovered riches amongst a sea anemone of emo-flavored indie rock. It’s what gives their music replayability years and years after the fact. Have a listen to the very breezy “Perfect Man” and tell me you’re not swayed … and then listen to the track “A Better Place” to see just what could have been.

“Perfect Man”
“Perfect Man”

“A Better Place”
“A Better Place”

Note: We are of course talking about the Joshua formed in 1995, who went on to release material on both Immigrant Sun and Doghouse … not the metal band.

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Sight & Sound

LISTEN: The Wunder Years – Pitstops On The Road Less Travelled

pitstopsThe festive season is an amalgamation of many sentiments. For some, its time is best shared in the comfort of those closest to them- be it friends or family. Others find solace in the seemingly endless road that beckons- solitary journeys that evoke the deepest of personal introspection and wonderment. If the latter is true, than perhaps the overtly bubbly nature of this time can be a little soulless- one too many “feliz navidads” sung by wide-eyed children in busy shopping malls.

In 1999 I discovered an indie/punk band on my travels around Northern California called The Wunder Years. A perfectly monikered band for those who happened to grow up alongside the troubled (but very thoughtful) childhood of one Kevin Arnold dreaming of someday landing their very own Winnie Cooper. Regardless, this particular Wunder Years took their cues more from the likes of Jawbreaker than Joe Cocker- resulting in a near seamless blend of Kerouacan contemplation and road weary rock n’ roll.

They sang about what it is like being lost in youth, finding one’s self on your travels, and growing up along the way. I for one, thought that at the age of 18/19, it was the perfect accompaniment to those years— like the audio version of On The Road. Plus, they threw in a rendition of a Cars classic, which was very well done. Appropriately, the album was called Pitstops On the Road Less Traveled. And at the time, it felt right- another chapter in a book we’re all writing.

In the years since, the band dissolved and the moniker was taken up by Pennsylvania pop punk act The Wonder Years, who felt it wasn’t necessary to avoid copyright issues. This band, while at times seemingly energetic and youthful, is by far the lesser of the two. It’s a shame that they’re the band most people will associate the name to. But as this is a nostalgic trek down the road less travelled, here are three songs from Pit Stops.

Listen: “Go Kid Go”
Go Kid Go

 

Listen: “Vacations/Seperations”
Vacations Seperations

 

Listen: “Just What I Needed”
Just What I Needed

 

 

Supplementary notes: Members of The Wunder Years went on to form The Ghost, and The Velvet Teen. Brian Moss, the band’s primary songwriter and vocalist, does time as Hanelei.

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Culture, Headlines, Music

One for Massachusetts

It’s been more than ten years since I’ve been to Philadelphia, a decade removed from its heritage and first hand lessons in American history. Equally historical were the venues scattered on South Street and Arch Street where many of my earliest punk rock memories were formed. In the Theatre of Living Arts and the Trocadero, nights of sweat, blood and bruises became as much a part of my Philadelphia story as the times I spent learning about the Liberty Bell. These moments defined the city and all these years pass and I still breathe the packed monoxide air of those age-old venue floors. It’s been even longer since I went to Boston. So much so that I only vaguely remember the wood-clad structure of my hotel, who for architectural reasons beyond me, built their vast spaces horizontally instead of vertically. But I do remember the No-Name Restaurant, not it’s food or it’s locale, but the name, a tick for clever marketing and little else.

Boston has seen plenty since: thousands of bands have come and gone, the Boston Red Sox won three World Series, the Patriots three Super Bowls, and the Celtics hung up another championship banner. They’ve suffered immeasurable tragedy with the Boston Marathon attacks, and have banded together as a city and a region to lift each others’ spirits in the time after. All these events along with what I can assume are countless smaller, more localized strings of positivism would lead one to believe that the air of sadness and toil that appeared to envelope the city for so long has been lifted. It is not to say Boston is a sad town, in fact, I don’t remember it being so, but as a tourist and an outsider, the many elements that we encounter as being from Boston or part of it, left a melancholia that came with what were inept sports teams, terrible weather, and a gloomy disposition left in the shadow of taller, more famous cities. Boston hardcore, noted for their contribution through SS Decontrol, Gang Green, DYS and Jerry’s Kids, wasn’t exactly the plum of sunshine you’d need to get over lagging blues.

So what is my Boston? My Boston, the one I briefly knew, fueled by the angry and disenfranchised, came to fruition in a band that lasted one album, 12 songs, and a quiet influence that resonated long after their demise. The Hurt Process by Boxer, this is my Boston.

Part post-hardcore, part mid-nineties emo, Boxer still encompasses all that is the city; gritty, desolate, pained- jarring for the senses but cathartic in its connection. This is what Boston was like to someone who had never lived in Boston. Perhaps if you disagree, then it is something you need to take up with your local tourist board.

Boxer was Vagrant Records’ initial signing, the calling card for a label whose stock rose because their bands wore their hearts on their sleeves better than anyone else. We talk a lot about The Get Up Kids with Something to Write Home About and Saves the Day with Stay What You Are. These two are often considered the staple releases of the early Vagrant catalogue, but we fail to see that the very first band they ever signed, released an album just as poignant as the two, if only, not as polished.

It’s the opening line of “Blame It On The Weather” that feels perfectly Boston. It’s the stringy guitars and the pulsing bass line that accompanies it. It’s the percussions that kick in at just the right time, and it’s the voice that sounds like it has smoked a thousand cigarettes that chime in;

Sitting in my ditch of self-loathing and of course my mind is roaming / thinking things are worse than they appear to be

Listen: “Blame it On the Weather”
Boxer – Blame It On the Weather

And then there were the girls, or one in particular whose name may or may not have been Georgia. Her hair smelled like a season and she sounds like a girl who liked music you’d only play on a record player. She probably liked the Velvet Underground on Sunday afternoons but wore combat boots and spiked her hair on a Friday night. She’s someone you’d fall in love with from the deepest of your soul only to break your heart. This is the little Georgia girl Boxer sings about, with a sense of sadness and anger wrapped in crunchy mid-tempo riffs and couplets of disappointment. She’s the one that kept you up at night, 2:18am. She’s the one that you’ll forget someday, just not today, the one you’re waiting for, when the sun finally comes, it’ll be when you’ll stop missing her.

Listen: “Georgia”
Boxer – Georgia

It’s the romanticism of a troubled city that drives people to write great songs about it. It is the way the rain falls on a lonely streetlight that inspires, and I think Boston has more than one lonely streetlight. I think if I get to drive through Boston some time soon, my mind would automatically play these 12 songs in order. Appropriately perhaps, the album’s title understood the city’s plight on both a personal and cultural stake and its significance on a national and global scale. This was a hurting town, whether you were a fan of sporting teams, music scenes or girls named after southern states. Yet on some level, they knew that this sadness would only last for so long. That someday you could finally leave it all behind.

We wait until the sun goes down in Boston, the stars are out / We’ll have our way; our time will shine like the twinkle that’s in your eye

Listen: “One for Milwaukee”
Boxer – One For Milwaukee

There is something to be said about not overstaying your welcome. Boxer knew 12 songs were enough. It was for that moment, the perfect capsule of the streets and places no one but themselves knew and understood. I can’t for one imagine any more songs written or recorded by them. It would be strange and out of place, almost like happiness and sunshine down on Harvard Avenue. I would never claim to be from Boston, and I can’t tell you what it’s like now. I can only imagine at least, with all the things that has happened to the city over the past decade, that there has to have been an uplift of some kind. In fact, I’m sure it’s a terribly nice place to visit. But for an outsider like me, until I get to venture down a sun-soaked path leading to the friendliest bar in town, Boston will always be The Hurt Process, where it rains or snows every night.

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Boxer formed in 1995 and disbanded in 1999. Vagrant Records released their one album, The Hurt Process, in 1998. Drummer Chris Pennie recently drummed for Coheed & Cambria and the Dillinger Escape Plan. 

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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: 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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