Review: I Am The Avalanche – DIVE

I Am The Avalanche - Dive

It feels great to have I Am The Avalanche back. With their first studio album in six years, DIVE wastes little time getting down to the business at hand with some incredibly well-crafted tunes. Lead single “Better Days” opens the record with a perfect build up to an ultra-melodic chorus. Lead vocalist Vinnie Caruana had this to say about opening the album with the track: “Not only is it the intro track to the record, but it is also the song the first the band wrote together since 2014’s?Wolverines. It’s all about realizing too late how good you had it and raising a “drink to better days.” Oddly enough, it was written before the world went to hell in a handbasket earlier this year – making it an eerie prophecy.” Interestingly, many of these songs found on DIVE are the perfect soundtrack to the uncertainty of the days ahead of us while still remaining cautiously optimistic that things can improve.

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Review: Arms and Hearts – The Distance Between

Arms and Hearts - The Distance Between

The Manchester melodic punk act formed by Steve Millar, better known as Arms & Hearts, makes a solid introduction to the folk-punk scene on The Distance Between. With a raspy voice that ranges from the howl of songwriting veterans such as Brian Fallon and Chuck Ragan, Millar makes a powerful opening statement on this collection of nine well-structured songs. The material teeters between sounding like a singer-songwriter at a dimly lit nightclub, to the full-bled passion of a punk band packed to capacity in a sweaty venue. What Millar does best is making his listeners hang on his every word as he sways from a soft croon to a blood-curdling scream.

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Review: A Day to Remember – What Separates Me From You

What Separates Me From You

There aren’t many bands out there like A Day to Remember. They’re a group that can hit you with crunching guitars, thunderous drums, and earth-shattering screams while also having the capability to make fast pop-punk songs and gentle acoustic ballads. This sounds like a combination that shouldn’t work, yet they’ve found a way to pull it off time and time again.

ADTR’s fourth album, What Separates Me From You, further proved that A Day to Remember will never fit into a certain mold. They’re going to make the kind of music they want to make, whether that’s fun pop-punk or metalcore. Each A Day to Remember album is a grab bag of genres, but here the band (consisting Jeremy McKinnon – singer, Neil Westfall – rhythm guitarist, Joshua Woodard – bass, Alex Shelnutt – drums and Kevin Skaff – lead guitarist) started to explore their poppier side like they never have before.  

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Review: Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

Chris Stapleton - Starting Over

Chris Stapleton, it seems, has little interest in being famous. Five years on from the CMA Awards team-up with Justin Timberlake that made Stapleton a superstar, he’s yet to cash in on his A-list status in any of the significant way, barring perhaps playing concerts in bigger rooms. His follow-up to 2015’s Traveller could have been gargantuan. He easily could have called in another favor from Timberlake for a guest feature, and you have to assume that other famous pop stars, country stars, songwriters, and producers were lining up to work with him. Yet, rather than deliver a bid for crossover success, Stapleton dropped a pair of albums that were, essentially, b-side collections. From A Room: Vol. 1 and From A Room: Vol. 2, released roughly six months apart in 2017, were made up of covers and songs that Stapleton had written during his long career as a writer for a Nashville publishing agency. The songs didn’t grapple with Stapleton’s newfound fame, nor did they really push any boundaries in terms of sonics or structure. Instead, both records played like low-stakes almost-demo collections, with spartan production, no notable features, and no-frills production from Dave Cobb, the same guy who’d sat behind the boards for Traveller.

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Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension

When reviewing a new record from Sufjan Stevens, at this stage in his 20+ year career, the opening paragraph practically writes itself. You can start by recapping his much-publicized, albeit half-serious, ambitions to create an album about each US state; then discuss his (also ambitious) zany pursuits, many of which involve Christmas songs; then shift to his mid-career pivot towards spazzy electronica; and then take us to his critically acclaimed acoustic works over the past five years. Let’s forgo all that (at least any further) and just state the obvious fact that Stevens’s new record, The Ascension, adds to a singular, shape-shifting discography. Which, if you haven’t listened, or listened much, to any of this output, then I suggest you do not start with Stevens’s newest album, which is not necessarily a “for fans only” release but doesn’t consistently capture the magic of earlier records. Instead, let me suggest the first half of Illinois for dazzling orchestral Americana that sounds as unique now as it did 15 years ago; the last two songs from The Age of Adz for glitchier electronica rooted in folk, as if I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn were synthesized into one record; and the middle of Carrie and Lowell for achingly vulnerable, sparsely arranged songs about abandonment, death, love, and forgiveness.?

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Review: Lifehouse – No Name Face

The charming debut record from Lifehouse called No Name Face took a lot of people by surprise when it first arrived 20 years ago. Led by singer/songwriter Jason Wade, the band was able to capture radio magic right from the get-go with their radio mega-hit “Hanging By A Moment.” The song went on to be the most played song of 2001 and allowed for the album to sell over 2.5 million units in the United States alone. Apart from the lead single and introductory song on the record, the LP is surrounded by several well-crafted songs that showcased Wade’s lyrical depth and vocal prowess at the tender age of 20 years old. The band was able to pull on the heart strings of America and made several TV appearances during the promotional cycle of the album. Looking back at this album brought up a lot of memories of listening to this record front to back during the autumn of my senior year of high school. What set Lifehouse apart from most of the other bands I was listening to during this era of music was their way of telling great stories through their music, and it made for an album that would stand the test of time.

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Review: SUUNS – Fiction EP

SUUNS - FICTION EP

There are no ifs or buts about it – SUUNS are a band caught in a unique juncture of past and present on their new EP, FICTION. On the eerie opener, “LOOK,” the Montreal-based band conjures an ominous atmosphere straight off the bat. Vocalist Ben Shemie recalls sermons, his vocals high in the mix; processed to the point where words are unintelligible but that doesn’t even matter. All you can focus on is the feeling “LOOK” demands. “FICTION” takes a leaf out of trip-hop legends Portishead’s books with beats contrasting against a mournful elegy: “Where are you from, you don’t seem to know,” Shemie sings. “Life is long as a day/And one by one, you see them fall/I can’t talk, can’t take anymore.”

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Review: Sarah and the Safe Word – Good Gracious! Bad People.

Sarah and the Safe Word - Good Gracious! Bad People.

Every now and then I come across a band who is able to mix so many of the elements I enjoy about music and present it in a pleasing package. Much like my discovery of My Chemical Romance opening up for The Used back in the year 2002, it’s hard to describe the feeling of when you know that a band has that “it” factor. Enter Sarah and the Safe Word, who have crafted their sophomore record called Good Gracious! Bad People that has a blend of Panic! At the Disco theatrics, My Chemical Romance thematic elements, and the Gothic cabaret of the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. The sextet band from Atlanta, Georgia appear poised to take the next dramatic leap into the limelight as their new record delivers all over the board.

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Review: U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind

U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind

All That You Can’t Leave Behind is not the best U2 album. The Joshua Tree is greater and grander. Achtung Baby is more innovative and more daring. War has more to say. I can see reasonable arguments for preferring most of the U2 catalog over this record—and frankly, many U2 fans do. Even the band’s non-Achtung ‘90s albums—the experimental, occasionally brilliant, occasionally baffling pair of Zooropa and Pop—tend to garner more praise from the average U2 fan than their 2000 comeback. And yet, despite all the criticisms thrown at All That You Can’t Leave Behind—that it’s too safe; that it effectively ends U2’s legacy as a chance-taking band; that it’s as top-heavy as any 2000s record give or take a Hot Fuss—it’s also, by far, the U2 album I reach for most. The Joshua Tree is my go-to favorite, and Achtung is the one I love thinking about most, but All That You Can’t Leave Behind has an advantage over both: something about it just feels like home.

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Review: Fear No Empire – Fear No Empire

Fear No Empire - Fear No Empire

In the midst of a global pandemic and social unrest going on in the United States, Fear No Empire were inspired to form to give another voice to the protests and amplify their message through their music. The band is comprised of vocalist Ali Tabatabaee (Zebrahead), bassist Ben Ozz (Zebrahead), guitarist Dan Palmer (Zebrahead, Death By Stereo), and drummer Mike Cambra (The Adolescents,?Death by Stereo and Common War). When I last spoke with Ali about this new project, his passion for providing a call to action for others to fight back was apparent. The topics covered on their self-titled EP are extremely topical and relevant. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of action from leadership, kids in cages, and discrimination across the board forced the hand of these musicians to do their part to spread awareness and provide a musical outlet for their politically-charged attack.

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Review: I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Razzmatazz

I Don't Know How But They Found Me - Razzmatazz

Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman were facing some extremely high expectations and unanticipated buzz surrounding their debut LP, Razzmatazz. Under the band moniker, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (which originates from a Back to the Future quote) the two musicians found some unexpected success early on in their career. Weekes, who once was a touring and contributing member to Panic! At the Disco, found himself at a crossroads of sorts since he had written tons of solo material and needed an outlet to release it under. The band’s first single, “Choke,” from the 1981 Extended Play record skyrocketed the band to the tip of everyone’s tongue and made naysayers take notice of what some were calling “Panic-lite.” The EP debuted at the top of the Billboard Heatseekers chart, and the single peaked at #7 on the iTunes Top 100 Alternative music charts. With the spotlight firmly on the band, Weekes and Seaman crafted a unique set of tracks that would become their debut full-length record. The material is similar to the introductory tracks found on the EP, but the band begins to realize their vision for their sound on Razzmatazz.

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Review: Give Me A Reason – Vice Versa

Give Me A Reason - Vice Versa

The Swiss-based pop-punk band Give Me A Reason have created a solid debut record in Vice Versa. Produced by Blake Roses (Oh, Weatherly), the band comes storming onto the pop-punk scene with vibrant guitars, bouncy vocals, and solid songwriting. The band’s sound is reminiscent of early All Time Low, with a mix of Boys Like Girls and Cartel thrown into the mix. While the band doesn’t stray too far from their influences, the music that comes pouring through the speakers is undeniable ear candy.

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Review: Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You

Bruce Springsteen - Letter to You

At this point, you don’t get a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band project without questions about it being the last one. That’s actually been the case for years: when Springsteen and company closed out their 1999-2000 reunion tour at Madison Square Garden with a special extended version of “Blood Brothers,” it felt remarkably final. Nine years later, when The Boss concluded the Working on a Dream tour with a full-circle performance of his debut album, 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, a common topic of conversation in the Springsteen fan community was about whether we’d ever get another E Street tour. The band came back in 2012—sans late sideman Clarence Clemons—for a tour supporting Springsteen’s then-new LP Wrecking Ball, and came back again in 2016 to play 1980’s double-LP masterpiece The River in full night after night. At the end of each tour, the question resurfaced: was this the last dance? The ensuing years only gave credence to the idea that it might be, as Springsteen penned his memoir, spent more than year on Broadway, and circled back to old songs for last year’s solo Western Stars. Each of these projects was wrought with ruminations about fading youth, aging, and mortality. Bruce wrote and spoke extensively about Clemons, whose death in 2011 clearly shook him to the core. On Stars, he closed the album with “Moonlight Motel,” his most aching look back at the past, and at the little glories of youthful freedom and young love that can’t quite ever be replicated or recaptured.

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Review: The Big Easy – A Long Year

The Big Easy - A Long Year

If there’s anything Brooklyn-based band The Big Easy can count on as they release their debut record A Long Year, it’s that there’s probably absolutely nobody with whom that title isn’t gonna resonate. The end of 2020 is in reach now, and while, sure, in some ways it feels like the start of it was only two weeks ago, it also feels like it was a thousand years ago. A pandemic, the ever-growing creep of fascism, however many personal battles we all may have had, and all before whatever is to come on election day; it’s been a long, scary, exhausting and often hopeless year. To state the obvious, we live in a very different world now than we did back on January 1st.

A Long Year was penned in that old world, and it sounds like a time that’s gone now, if hopefully temporarily. This is raucous, beer-soaked, dive bar punk. This is being jammed into a tight space with strangers and feeling the spray of sweat and spit like it’s ocean mist and not a potential death sentence. Remember that? It sounds kinda horrifying now, but also like to just experience that one more time would be some kind of salvation.

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Review: Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Taylor Swift - Speak Now

Speak Now is the most pivotal album in the Taylor Swift discography. It’s not the one that started the story (2006’s self-titled debut) or the one that made her a global superstar (2008’s Fearless), nor is it her biggest album (2014’s 1989) or her straight-up best (2012’s Red). But it was on Speak Now where Swift took full control of her creative enterprise, came into her own as a songwriter, and established many of the key elements that would ground her career for the next decade. It also might be the album that, more than any other, sets the table for the next 10 years of country music, from the pop influences to the confessional style of songwriting. It is, in a word, a landmark.

Swift, unlike many mainstream country stars, was always a songwriter first and foremost. Her debut self-titled record dropped when she was just 16 years old, but she still had writing credits on all 11 songs (and wrote three of them solo, including the number-one country smash “Our Song”). On Fearless, she more than doubled that number, taking solo writing credits on seven of the 13 songs (including “Love Story,” which briefly became the best-selling country single of all time). Still, Swift racked up a lot of co-writes on those first two albums, particularly with veteran Nashville songwriter Liz Rose, who has 12 writing credits across Taylor Swift and Fearless. On Speak Now, the big selling point isn’t that it’s a concept album about wild romance and dramatic heartbreak (Red), or a leap into pop (1989), or a rejoinder to her haters (Reputation), or her “indie” record (folklore). No, the big selling point here is the simple fact that Swift wrote all 14 tracks by herself.

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