Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Album Review: Skeleton Coast by The Lawrence Arms (by Marcus Pond)

I first became aware of The Lawrence Arms after buying the 2002 Warped Tour sampler. It was a double disc affair and a great memento of my first and only Warped Tour experience, but I’ll admit that there wasn’t much about the song “Navigating the Windward Passage” that stuck out to me, other than that the singer’s voice (Brendan Kelly) seemed too raspy and grating for me to really enjoy. I didn’t skip it every time, though, but I mostly forgot about them outside of that tune, and didn’t really give them another listen until they released Oh! Calcutta! in 2006.

At the time, I was enrolled in a Christian university that I didn’t like, in a small town that I left as often as I could, and was struggling to endure the seemingly year-long winter weather that few southern California kids would’ve put up with. It was in this condition that Oh! Calcutta! (hailed by many as the Arms’ best work to date) wormed its way into my ears and my heart, and I worked backwards into their catalogue, also falling in love with Apathy and Exhaustion. The self-loathing and melancholy mixed with punk rock anger, delivered by different and at times dueling vocalists really resonated with me.

Since 2006, the band had released just one other record (2014’s Metropole, their first release on Epitaph) and what was essentially a “greatest hits” compilation (2018’s We Are The Champions of the World), so it wouldn’t have been a stretch to assume that the days of putting out new music under The Lawrence Arms banner had passed. But with Skeleton Coast, the boys from Chicago show that, even with all three members being in their 40s, they’ve still got it.

The singles leading up to Skeleton Coast were “Last Last Words” and “PTA” (which stands for Planes Trains and Automobiles), and are great samplers of what TLA offers. On “Last Last Words”, Chris McCaughan croons mournfully as soothing power chords soar. His lyrics, usually a bit more wistfully poetic than Kelly’s, paint the bittersweet finality of the impression that’s left behind when we leave this world; “Hang me in the halls of obscurity / Behind the velvet ropes / In a distant gallery”.

“PTA”, on the other hand, is a song fronted by Kelly, and opens up with pounding drums and a raucous verbal assault. Like “Last Last Words”, it centers on death, but is approached uh, differently, more nihilistic (“Don’t worry baby it’s nigh / The end of our time / The brush on your thigh / The feeling of toiling and loving / Only to watch it all die”) and carnal (“Dusty and lonesome and craving a glance / That starts in your heart then shoots into your pants”).

McCaughan and Kelly are the yin and yang of The Lawrence Arms, balancing each other out, both in vocal delivery and lyricism. It’s that balance that keeps this and most of their records fresh to my ears, as the songs seem perfectly sequenced to keep your attention from start to finish. Never too romantic, depressing, or angry, they find the sweet spot and lead the journey.

Kelly described the record on the “Road To The Skeleton Coast” podcast (which began earlier in the year and detailed much of Kelly’s discography with The Lawrence Arms, as well as other bands, leading up to and including Skeleton Coast) as a type of concept album about an outpost at the end of the world. Recorded in El Paso, Texas, which is on the edge of the country and essentially on the edge of nowhere, it has a bit of a post-apocalyptic vibe to it – as if releasing music during a global pandemic needed to be even more ominous.

Some of my internet music buddies seemed quick to point out that they prefer the “Chris” songs (I have a soft spot for Four One Five Two, the debut LP from McCaughan’s solo vehicle by the name of Sundowner), but something about most of the “Brendan” songs just really appeal to me this time around. “Pigeons and Spies” is probably my favorite song (and will probably end up on my own personal “best of TLA” playlist on Spotify), and has some of the best lyrics. On it, Kelly spits out a handful of oddly specific metaphors involving dinosaurs and pigeons, before proclaiming “I’m tired / And you’re tired too / I want to make big changes but I’m not in the mood”. When they get to the bridge, it’s as triumphant as the Arms are on the record, and it’s about drinking before 9:00.

Dead Man’s Coat”, “Ghostwriter”, and “Under Paris” (all Chris songs) are also highlights on the record, which clocks in at 35 minutes. Only one of the 14 tracks goes past the three minute mark, so buckle up – the tracks are as unrelenting as the year it was released.

RIYL: anything that Brendan Kelly has done, the Red Scare Industries catalogue, LaGrecia, and Arby’s.

Stream and download Skeleton Coast on Bandcamp.

Like The Lawrence Arms on Facebook.

This review was written by Marcus Pond.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Album Review: Proper Confessions by Brightview (by Emma Prew)

Brightview are a three-piece emo-punk band from Bad Nauheim, Germany, that Colin and I recently discovered on Bandcamp. Their latest release, Proper Confessions, was released in early September and the band describe its as being ‘six songs coming straight from our heartstrings’. I don’t know about you, but that sounds right up my street.

Proper Confessions kicks off with Scissor Fight, which is upbeat from the outset with a big melodic guitar part and pounding drums. The instruments take somewhat of a backseat for the opening verse as Brightview sing nostalgically of coming home and trying to grow up and be an adult – which is easier said than done sometimes. The volume is cranked up for an impassioned and catchy chorus that, in another time, I could easily imagine being shouted along to in a basement venue. Continuing the theme of nostalgia, 455 gives me instant Gaslight Anthem vibes – which is absolutely never a bad thing – and also perhaps a hint of fellow Germany-(via USA)-based punks Little Teeth. The opening verse of ‘We spent nights raising glasses, Singing to our favourite songs, Always annoyingly loud, off-key, Singing ’til our pain was gone’ hits all too close to home in these corona times we’re living in but it’s brilliant nonetheless. 455 is perhaps a little slower paced that the opening track but it certainly doesn’t lack any emotion. Rainbow Shoes is the name of the third song on the EP, featuring a fairly lengthy instrumental introduction – at least compared to the previous two songs – it feels like Brightview are setting themselves up for big things. There’s a great chugga-chugga guitar part that, alongside a bold rhythm section, really seems to drive the song forward. Something about the vocal delivery of the chorus brings to mind Against Me! which is further confirmed with a clap-along bridge right at the end of the song.

Band-Aid is the first of two ‘love’ songs on Proper Confessions. The track is a slower paced one which suits the sombre theme perfectly as Brightview sing of a relationship that didn’t work out. There’s some lovely warm guitar melodies interwoven between verses and some subtle vocal harmonies towards the end of the song that ensure the song doesn’t feel too melancholic. Fine is the second of the aforementioned love-themed songs but, instead of taking the same sad route as the previous track, it’s almost immediately clear that this is a more positive ending of a relationship – at least from the vocalist’s perspective. Understandably the pace is ramped up somewhat here with the whole song feeling like a very cathartic experience, both for the band themselves and for listeners. I’m sure some people will be able to relate to the track’s chorus – ‘It hurts to say that we're not together anymore, I hate to tell you this over the phone, I know that I might be, The greatest asshole you've ever known, I hate to tell you but this is fine for me.’ Bringing Proper Confessions to a close is 14, Across. Opening with palm-muted, distorted guitar and the line ‘Get up and look alive you moron’, Brightview immediately grab your attention with this final track. It’s a hugely melodic hard-hitting tune from start to finish that seems to build and build towards its end, ensuring that the EP finishes with a bang.

Germany is a real treasure trove for punk rock bands and Brightview are a great new addition to CPRW’s list of favourite German bands. Maybe/hopefully we’ll be seeing them at a future [Hamburg] Booze Cruise Festival.

You can stream and download Proper Confessions on Bandcamp and like Brightview on Facebook.

This review was written by Emma Prew.

Friday, 27 November 2020

CPRW Playlist: November 2020

CPRW Playlist: Here's what Brett, Chris, Dan, Dan#2, Emma, Lee, Marcus, Omar, Richard, Robyn and myself have been listening to in November.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Album Review: Media Shower by Dead In Four

Today I was about to review Bedford, New Hampshire, based Dead In Four’s 2020 album, Walter Concrete. I’ve listened to it a lot recently and was looking forward to telling you what I thought about it. As I loaded up Bandcamp to get the lyrics ready I discovered that Dead In Four have released a new EP named Media Shower. I kind of figured that I should probably review the most current release but just wanted to say that Walter Concrete is an incredible album, well worth a lot of your time.

If you’re unaware of who Dead In Four is, it is a project by Mark Oslord who plays sometimes electro, sometimes folky punk music. Media Shower was recorded as a way of dealing with the feelings and frustrations of 2020 and was a way of getting back into the more aggressive and melodic punk sound that they grew up on.

Media Shower begins with Basement Boy. It starts out slowly and quietly with Oslord’s dreamy vocals welcoming you to the song before things really get going with a increased tempo and aggressive guitar lead. Oslord’s vocals make me think of a mix of Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba and Em Foster from UK punks Nervus. It’s a great sounding vocal that really gives a unique sound to Dead In Four. The track looks at the subject of turning into a recluse due to events of the past. The final verse of the song slows things back down and is great for singing along to and should offer some catharsis for anyone who’s been through something similar. Next is Beach Combover. This track is about looking back at your past discretions and trying to learn and make amends for them. The song doesn’t have the same high tempo as the previous one but certainly is packed with hooks that will grab the listener. It’s clear that Oslord has a great skill for writing an infectious chorus.

The third song on the EP is Are We Heathens? This is a slower paced song that is about dealing with your mental health issues. During the track Oslord talks about feeling low and hating himself and opens up about how living with these thoughts makes him feel. Lyrically it’s a incredibly emotional song and another that people going through similar things with hopefully find comfort in. I’d kind of like to hear this song played with just an acoustic guitar, I think that would make it even more powerful and emotional. Media Shower kicks back in to top gear on the fourth song, Trouble Negative. The opening guitars with their subtle layering act like a warning alarm before the drums kick in and a rush of energy flows out of the song. The song has some magnificent shifts in tempo and melody throughout the song that really keeps your attention, the bridge in particular I really loved as it goes off like a rocket. Towards the end of the song it slows down and becomes almost chant like which allows anyone listening to sing along. The track is about how everyone is always having an argument and how society struggles to admit when they might be wrong.

Heyday is one of the poppier songs on Media Shower. The vocals come in almost immediately which offered something different from anything else we’ve heard so far. When a band or artist does this you really need something to grab the listener’s attention such as Oslord’s vocals starting with a deeper pitch than on the previous songs before getting higher for the chorus. During the second half of the track I start to get reminded of punk rock flavour of the month Spanish Love Songs. The lyrics feel as autobiographical and story-like as some of Dylan Slocum’s best work. The penultimate song is titled Addendum. This is a slow and atmospheric song that shows a completely different side of Dead In Four. Vocally there’s a solemn, dream like quality to the song that captivates the listener. For the most part the song is quiet, only getting louder for the chorus. There is a beautiful layered harmony on the chorus that gives it a fuller and more hopeful sound. Addendum is about trying to live the best life you possibly can and not being afraid to talk to people if you’re feeling sad or confused. Last up is Pantera Bread. This is by far the heaviest song on Media Shower. Starting out with a thick bassline before a shreddy guitar comes in really lights up the song. The track is littered with shredding solos and really shows off Oslord’s skill as a guitarist. Vocally the song switches between Oslord’s trademark style and a more aggressive growl that I wish had made more appearances on the EP. The song is about people not accepting that they are different and the conflict that it brings. This is a powerful and memorable way to finish Media Shower.

Dead In Four has somehow managed to release two releases in 2020 that I absolutely love. Media Shower features seven fantastic songs covering a number of extremely relatable topics and is played with a huge amount of skill. It’s amazing to me that Mark Oslord not only wrote all these songs but played every instrument himself. People this talented deserve a lot of attention – check this out now.

Stream and download Media Shower on Bandcamp here.

Like Dead In Four on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Album Review: Alright by The Hype Pathetics

The Hype Pathetics are a three piece band from Denver, Colorado. Having only formed in the autumn of 2019, the band is already on their second release. In February they released their first single Red On White and then in August came their three track EP Alright. This is what we’re reviewing today. The Hype Pathetics play catchy, fast paced indie pop punk music and I’ve absolutely loved them for a couple of months now.

Six Pack is the first of the three songs on Alright. The song bursts into life with a shout of “4-5-6 Pack” before we are greeted with simple garage punk guitar riff and then lead singer Paul Bowers’ vocals come in. Bowers sings with a higher pitch that immediately catches your attention. On Six Pack, the vocals do most of the work when carrying the melody of the song, this is another thing that really pulls you in. The verse is pretty speedy in itself but when the chorus comes in things really get fun. The track is about having fun and getting drunk at punk rock gigs. I’m tee-total so I can’t really relate to the getting drunk but I do love having fun at punk rock gigs. Up next is Heart Attack – a song that injects you with energy from the very moment it starts. It has this great quality that has you wanting to get your boogie on. Flipping things around from the opener, on Heart Attack the chorus is the slower tempo section of the song and the verse is where all the energy comes from. The song is about being hyperactive and people not accepting you for the way you. The energy from the music really reflects the overall meaning of the song. I really enjoyed that. The third and final song is the EP’s title track, Alright. This was my favourite when I first listened to the EP. The Hype Pathetics again had me dancing like a silly sausage in my chair and having the time of my life. This may be a bit of an exaggeration but I was having a very nice time. This is one of the catchiest and most infectious songs I’ve ever heard. It’s extremely simple and repetitive but I don’t believe I’ve had more fun listening to a song in a long time. The song is about trying to get in touch with someone and hoping that they’re okay.

There is a good chance that The Hype Pathetics are my new favourite pop punk band and I beg you all to go and check them out, make sure they get huge and find their way to the UK so I can see them without having to get on a plane. Thanks very much.

Stream and download Alright on Bandcamp here.

Like The Hype Pathetics on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Album Review: Stork Bite by Crafting Lies

Crafting Lies are a four piece band from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada – the country where so much of the best punk rock comes from. The band play high energy punk rock that toes the line perfectly between pop punk and melodic punk that leaves you feeling pumped up and ready to get a bit rowdy at a show. In April, the band released their debut six track EP which is titled Stork Bite. I’m always excited to check out new Canadian bands so was pleased to find time to work on this review.

The first of the six songs is titled Alive. This is a nice positive song to start the EP. It’s about fighting against the darkness and living your life to the fullest. The chorus is packed with gang vocals which will encourage people to sing-along with the song and be united in the struggle against bad mental health. It’ll help folk realise they are not alone and that’s important. The song really comes alive during its chorus and is the definite high point of the track. Up next is Carbon Monoxide Dreams. This was one of the standout tracks on Stork Bite when I first listened to it. The track starts with a pounding drumbeat that really makes you pay attention and when the chorus hits you’re really hooked in. The track is about the relationship between a person and their car. Often it’s more trouble than it’s worth but the feeling of freedom it gives you and the relationship you build with it make it very special.

The third track is Clear Vision. This track is about finding a way through the fog that is life and, no matter how often you might get lost, you have a plan on how you can get there in the end. The song starts with a slow and methodical build before we get to the verse. The way in which the vocals are delivered on both verses are my highlights of the track. They really make you listen to every lyric because of this interesting melody. Nothing Left is another positive and powerful song. It starts out quite slowly and is a bit more subdued, talking about feeling like you’re at the end of your tether mentally. When the chorus kicks in the song explodes into life and the song becomes an anthem for continuing to fight back until there’s no fight left in you. The contrasting halves of the song do a fantastic job of making the song really stand out. The passion that the chorus in particular is sung with was extremely moving.

The penultimate song is titled Six Feet Deep. This track brings the energy and tempo back up. Beginning with some beating drum sticks before some call and response vocals come in followed by the full band. This is the first time on Stork Bite that Crafting Lies really make use of the call and response technique and I found that it added a wonderful extra element to their sound. Stork Bite is concluded with Hang It Up. This track shows off a completely different side of Crafting Lies. The first half of the track is completely acoustic. As the song moves forward it gradually builds towards a big finish where the whole band come in. This makes for a very emotional ending. The track is about the difficult dilemma every musician goes through – whether to keep pursuing your dreams or giving it up for a more stable life. Vocally you can really hear the hurt in the singer’s voice. What a way to finish the EP.

I’ve said a million times on CPRW that Canada is a conveyor belt of brilliant bands. Crafting Lies are yet another one to add to that list. Smart, positive and relatable punk rock that will have you smiling, thinking and feeling things. I feel like it won’t be too long before a lot of people in the scene are talking about this band. If you’re already a fan of PUP or The Penske File then you’ll love Crafting Lies.

Stream and download Stork Bite on Bandcamp here.

Like Crafting Lies on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Album Review: Tales From A Red Flag Galaxy by Stubborn Hearts

Stubborn Hearts are a melodic punk duo from Rhode Island, New York. They write relatable songs about subjects such as relationships, anxiety issues and pets, and promise to always put on an energetic live show. Taking influence from bands such as City Mouse, Mobina Galore, The Muffs and Spanish Love Songs, in May they released a seven song EP named Tales From A Red Flag Galaxy. From the fact I’ve chosen to review it, you know I liked it – read on further to find out why.

First up is Flux Capacitor and from the start you can hear the Mobina Galore influence. The song begins with just guitar and Jenn Lombari’s vocals. After a while the drums come in to give the song a fuller sound but the song really gets going when Lombari really pushes their vocals towards a more guttural shout. This is when the song really grabbed me. The track is about the end of a relationship and wishing you could go back in time to when things felt better. Up next is Don’t Freak Out. Stubborn Hearts pick the pace up on this song and channel their inner pop punks. The contrast in the slow and melody driven opener and this is wonderful. It immediately shows another side of the band. The song oozes with energy and will have you pogoing around the room whilst singing along. Musically it’s an upbeat song but, in fact, this is another break up song. I really enjoyed the opening lines of the second verse – “I keep checking on your last text, hoping to see blinking dots.” The energy continues on the third song Troll Book Club. Stepping away from the subject of broken relationships, this song looks at feeling alone and trying to make improvements in your life. This energetic pop punk style is really up my street and it puts a massive smile on my face. Musically it’s rapid and has that rawness to it that I love while the vocals do a superb job in carrying the melody.

The fourth song is titled Mums. This song talks about the anxiety that comes with expecting a difficult conversation with someone you’re close with. The title suggests that it’s about a difficult conversation with your mum but I feel like it could be with anyone you’re close with. I like the switch up on this song, more often than not most relationship songs are about the aftermath of the break up rather than the feelings you have before things end. Despite the sad topic, the song remains upbeat which will help give any listener going through something similar a level of catharsis. Next on Tales From A Red Flag Galaxy is Please Excuse Our Appearance. Stubborn Hearts slow things down ever so slightly and show off a more melodic side. The song is about rebuilding and renovating somewhere to make it feel like home. I think everyone is searching for a sense of belonging in some way so I found this subject very interesting. I want a house where bands can play down in the cellar. The penultimate song is titled Mixed Messages. Returning to the subject of relationships, Mixed Messages is about not knowing where you stand in a relationship and asking questions where you feel self doubt and mistrust. The chorus is one of the catchiest on the EP and will soon find a place in your mind. For the final song Stubborn Hearts pay tribute to the late, great Kim Shattuck with a cover of The Muffs’ song Outer Space. The Muffs were a huge influence on so many bands and I think this is an awesome version of the song. It’s a fantastic way to finish the EP with this brilliant tribute.

Stubborn Hearts blew me away on this release, I discovered them through clicking around Bandcamp and have found one of my favourite EPs of 2020. If you like fast, melodic and gritty pop punk then don’t sleep on this duo.

Stream and download Tales From A Red Flag Galaxy on Bandcamp here.

Like Stubborn Hearts on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.