Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Album Review: Axiom by Harker (by Chris Bishton)

I've been looking forward to this one. It seems an age since Brighton's 'Emogazers', Harker, released their debut No Discordance. Actually, it's only been three years. But it seems longer as the sophomore, Axiom, has been delayed due to obvious difficulties getting into the studio to record it last year. But now it's here. Firing not just against the apathy brought on by repetitive lockdowns and stay home orders, but also demanding action on a whole range of social, economic and environmental needs. It's very powerful and it's been very much worth the wait.

The first track is The Beast Must Die. Already released online a few months earlier as a showcase to the album, it's easy to see why. It totally embodies the band and frames the rest of the LP. Thirty odd seconds of feedback before the fuzzy guitars start, which then eventually combine with Mark's vocals to create a sound that is somehow new, but also familiar. Does that makes sense? Probably not, but that's the overriding takeaway for me on this new album.

There are echoes of bands from my youth. This is great for me because I spent the 90s listening to far more to Sonic Youth, Swervedriver (look them up if you don't know them by the way – one of the very best 'gazer' bands from back then) and, dare I say it, the Manics, than I ever did NOFX or No Use For A Name. That's not to say these bands aren't great. They are. It's just when I was a teen I was more often than not on the emo end of the spectrum. But despite these comparisons, Harker are, nevertheless, contemporary. There's more of an urgency to this, making it sit more comfortably with possible similarities with The Gaslight Anthem and a fiercer, punk sound.

It's based on the idea of ‘mono-consciousness’ – seeking a heightened sense of meaning and avoiding a closed mindset, but with the subjects of the song showing a lack of empathy, leading to the aforementioned apathy. It's this idea that the mono-consciousness is a beast inside of us that needs hunting out before it takes control. As an opening track, it's a real statement. Different to the debut album, but recognisable, and most importantly, fantastically powerful.

Sign of Crows is next. Instantly recognisable as Harker. Catchy and tuneful, bouncing along, before it slows and dips, before rising again. This is where Mark's ardent voice reminds me a lot of James Dean Bradfield – soulful and authoritative.

Adulthood is the other track that was released online in advance of the full album. Consequently familiar, it already seems to be an associated favourite. It starts slowly enough, forges ahead with mid-tempo singalong vibes, before once again receding against a somewhat introspective feel.

The fourth song, Hellion, is probably my favourite. An instant start, fast and harmonic, it pauses for breath and then crashes on and feeds back. Rowdy and mischievous in every sense indeed. This will be the song that people will be singing along to in a packed and sweaty venue once we start up again.

Moriah is heavier, grittier and rockier. A bit of a harder listen for me, a little bit unexpected. A shorter song, but its foundations quickly grow on me.

Flex Yr Head is an older track released online post No Discordance and it gets a deserved spot on the album here. It's a Harker favourite of mine and it's great to have it placed amongst these other songs. It fits well, bridging the old and the new.

Daisychain is another of those songs that starts slowly and builds, but without reaching a crescendo. There's no huge upsurge in this song, which keeps me focused as I listen intently.

The penultimate track is No Sun. Jaunty with a recognisable Harker feel, it's very infectious before the album draws to a close with Antenna. At six and a half minutes long, you need to strap yourself in for this last track, rising and dipping throughout. Screeching vocals, endless guitars and feedback leads to a subtle mid song ballad, before building again to bring the album to an intense conclusion.

It's a cliché to say that second albums often show the band has matured, so I'll try and resist. However, it is different to the first album with a more considered sound. It's certainly not smashed out and not quite as poppy as the first. Those elements are still there so older fans should still love this, but there's parts that actually feel quite sombre; although I'm not sure that was the intent – it's still tremendously catchy and sonorous, pitched perfectly.

Axiom is available on a number of labels in the UK, Europe, the US and Japan – Disconnect Disconnect Records, Shield Recordings, Wiretap Records and Fixing A Hole Records. No matter where you are in the world, I strongly recommend you pick it up.

Pre-order Axiom on Bandcamp here.

Like Harker on Facebook here.

This review was written by Chris Bishton.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Album Review: Four D: The Winter Suite by Second Player Score

Second Player Score are a three piece band from Vancouver, WA. Describing themselves as a #nerdcore band, they have a sound very reminiscent of the 90s skate punk scene. The band have become known for wonderfully catchy songs as well as having plenty of hooks. In February, the band released their newest EP – Four D: The Winter Suite. This is my first exposure to the band and I found a new favourite.

The four track EP begins with the song The Flow. It starts in a great up-tempo fashion with some siren-like guitars and some heavy drums. When the vocals begin, they add a great melody to the song that really pulls you in. I really enjoyed the contrast with the wordy verses and the more simplistic chorus; this really gives the song a distinct feel. In perhaps an homage to Bad Religion, the chorus has some great harmonies. When I first heard the second song, That Escalated Quickly, I was quickly reminded of Swedish skate punk legends Millencolin. Musically the song has a punchy rhythm, with the vocals doing most of the work with the melody. Second Player Score add in a great guitar solo midway through the track which then leads into a building verse and final chorus that brings the song to a great conclusion. The song is about how things can quickly go horribly wrong just when you think things are going okay for you.

Winner Takes It All sees the band go down more of a ska sound which I really enjoyed. This is such a positive and uplifting song about not giving up and going for your dreams. Lyrically the song is extremely simple. This simplicity makes the song so much more impactful, which I guess is what you want from a song like this. CPRW Records has just released a compilation packed with positive and uplifting songs, I’m sad that I hadn’t heard this song earlier as it would have been perfect for it. The fourth and final song is titled Dark Night Of The Soul. Second Player Score slow things down on this track. This gives the song that wonderful epic feeling that all final songs should have. Given the song’s title and the heavier nature of the sound, it would be fair to say that I was surprised to find the song so uplifting. The track is about holding on to hope no matter how difficult things may seem. Starting out slowly, the song builds and builds as it progresses towards its first chorus that will hopefully make anyone not feeling good feel at least a little better.

Four D: The Winter Suite is such an impressive release. It’s quite throwback in sound but doesn’t sound dated. The second half of the EP in particular was sublime. It’s such a positive ending and something that is important for people to hear. If you’re a fan of bands like Millencolin, Bad Religion or anything released by Epitaph twenty years ago, I’m sure you’ll love this.

Stream and download Four D: The Winter Suite on Bandcamp here.

Like Second Player Score on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Album Review: Bigger Than Today by Becker

Becker are a three piece band from Parkersburg, West Virginia. The band have been together since 2018 and have released a couple of EPs. Their latest, and the subject of this review, came out in January 2021. Titled Bigger Than Today, the EP features five fresh sounding pop punk songs that explore life as a thirty something.

First up is Psycho Therapy. My very first thoughts when I listened to the track were that Becker had a bit of a throwback sound that has been brought to 2021. I can easily imagine this being released by Lookout Records or Honest Dons twenty years ago. Psycho Therapy starts with a familiar melody that ensures you’re hooked in immediately and are keen to see where the song goes. The song is played at a mid tempo which really allows the listener to get a grasp of what the track is about. The track looks at admitting that you are struggling mentally and asking for help. This is a subject that I am very passionate about. Suicide is such a big killer of men in their thirties and so many lives could be saved just by talking, so much love to Becker for opening with such an important song. Next is Thank You For Not Smoking. This track starts with a nice rumbling bass line and drum beat that builds into the vocals. Becker pick the pace up on this track and squeeze a lot into the one minute and thirty second duration. The chorus is the stand out moment of the entire song for me, as the band compares their own lives to people who are perceived to be doing better.

Regarding Reggie has a slow, methodical intro that jumps into a faster paced moment. Adam Nohe’s bass is really allowed to shine throughout the song, it’s basically a lead bass line throughout the majority of the track. This track is about feeling lonely and looking at what has happened in your life to lead you to that particular moment. Much like the previous song, Becker do a superb job of squeezing a lot in to a song that is less than two minutes long. The penultimate song on the EP is Man Plans, God Laughs. This shows off a much slower and, dare I say, more grown up side of Becker. The four minute long song seems like a meticulously thought out track where the three piece somehow manage to make their sound huge. Layered guitars, pedal effects, heavy bass tones, pounding drums – it’s all in there. Man Plans, God Laughs is about how all the dreams you have as a child can come crashing down and how rubbish that is. The final song on Bigger Than Today is named Elder Hostile. I was interested to find out what this song what would like after the epic nature of Man Plans, God Laughs. I felt like it needed to be big to follow on from that. Becker return to their familiar sound to finish the EP. It’s faster paced and ensures that we finish with a lot of energy. The guitars buzz throughout the track, as the vocals do most of the work whilst carrying the melody. Towards the end of the song things get quiet and then begin to build to a big finale of whoa-oh gang vocals that will no doubt encourage a live audience when they get to play these songs live.

Bigger Than Today features four great power pop songs and one epic, emotional banger. As someone who is in their mid thirties and has often compared themselves to what other people are doing, I really found a lot of the subject matter extremely relatable and I’m sure a lot of people reading this will do so as well. If you loved bands such as Squirtgun and Nerf Herder, I really think you’re going to enjoy Becker.

Stream and download Bigger Than Today on Bandcamp here.

Like Becker on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Album Review: I’ll Become Kind by Biitchseat (by Emma Prew)

Biitchseat are a four-piece indie punk band from Cleveland, Ohio, who I recently discovered when scouting out tracks to add to my ever growing new[ish] playlist, EMPOWERMENT – a compilation of angry, uplifting and empowering tunes from bands that have female and non-binary members. At the beginning of March, Biitchseat released a new four track EP on Refresh Records titled I’ll Become Kind. The band describe the EP as being ‘a reclamation of self-determination, and a resolution to treat yourself kindly’. I don’t know about you, but that definitely sounds like something I can get on board with. I really love the artwork as well (which is by Violet Hill).

I’ll Become Kind opens with Anti-Depressed, which was also the first track I heard from Biitchseat in general – as a single and out of the context of this EP. It’s certainly a great introduction to the band. Starting slowly and relatively quietly with just guitar and vocals, it’s not long before the volume is amped up and the rest of the band come in. The melodies are certainly pleasing to the ear but it’s vocalist Talor Smith’s voice that immediately grabbed my attention and lured me in to the song and the band. The lines ‘And you don’t have to wait for fall, And you don’t have to be scared at all.’ feel incredibly uplifting and empowering. The wonderfully titled Bad Vibes Hoarder is up next. From the outset the track has an almost dream-like and carefree feel with an enticing melody that seems to go up and down and then up and down again. Overall it’s a slower paced track than the first but is no less rousing, particularly around the three minute mark where an instrumental interlude leads into a killer final chorus – ‘…I don’t need to be a bad vibes hoarder, Shouldn’t I, shouldn’t I want more?’. There’s already no shortage of positive messages to be taken from this EP and we’re only on track two.

Wasting My Own Time is the name of the third song on I’ll Become Kind. Its warm, melodic guitar part and firm drums instantly put a smile on my face – I don’t know why but it just felt comforting, like the sun shining through a window on a Spring day. Evolving from gently strummed chords to some huge-sounding, slightly fuzzy tones, the guitars seem to really drive the song forward as Talor reflects on the feelings of needing to forgive yourself for ‘wasting your own time’. I can definitely relate – and I’m sure you can too – to the sense of always feeling like you need to be productive with every moment of free time you have. Similar to Bad Vibes Hoarder, there is a lengthy instrumental section towards the end of Wasting My Own Time but, instead of leading into another chorus, it gently fades out in an almost cinematic fashion. The last track on the EP is called Good Enough. It’s the perfect culmination of the themes that have already been reflected upon earlier on the EP, as well as featuring the EP’s title in its lyrics. Being kind doesn’t just mean treating others well, you should be kind to yourself as well – something I’m sure we all need reminding of every now and then. ‘Tell me how to become better, And I’ll become kind, And I’ll become kind, Please tell me how to become kinder, To myself, It’s about time, It’s about time.’

It’s been a rough week (month, year…), but songs like these are certainly helping to make me feel better. I like sad songs, and sometimes listening to them does make me happy or bring a feeling of catharsis, yet it’s whole different feeling to just listen to such positive and relatable tracks such as those on I’ll Become Kind. Go and check it out, it might just put a big smile on your face too.

You can stream and download I’ll Become Kind on Bandcamp and like Biitchseat on Facebook.

This review was written by Emma Prew.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Album Review: Tyler Moes by Madam Fatale

Madam Fatale are a three piece band from Sydney, Australia. I first came across them thanks to Punk Rock Radar on Instagram (I seriously recommend following that page) and I stuck them on a playlist of bands to check out. When they came on I was instantly impressed with their old school Green Day-esque style of punk rock and they quickly found their way on to my review pile. In February, they released their debut album Tyler Moes. I was impressed with the fact that they decided on a twelve track album for their debut release rather than an EP. This, to me, shows a lot of ambition. Is it good though? Yes, that’s why I’m reviewing it. But what do I think is good about it? Read on to find out.

Tyler Moes begins with Are You Bored? Madam Fatale kick the album off with a track about being the second child and getting the feeling that you don’t belong. From the opening vocals you can hear the Green Day comparison I made in the introduction but, aside from the vocals, musically this almost feels more like Billie Joe Armstrong fronting an indie band and it works fantastically. The second song, Church Street, is the track that really made Madam Fatale stand out for me. The opening guitars have a great pop punk sound that really gives you a feeling of what’s about to come. It’s a mid-tempo and melodic song about an acquaintance of the band that only brings bad times to all they meet and wanting to get away from them. This is an extremely catchy song that quickly finds a home in your head. Given that the third track, Girl Of A Thousand Names, is less than two minutes long I initially expected to the song to be a speedy number. It does pick up the pace, but it’s not the blistering punk bullet that I expected. It actually starts quite slowly before getting into a steady pace for the majority of the song. Its high point come when we hit the line “she’s the girl of a thousand names.”

Screen Gun Girl starts off in a solemn fashion. It’s a break up song, with the band’s lead singer Luke Bindoff realising the mistakes they made that ultimately ended the relationship and wishing they could reconcile. The song shifts melodies during its second half. The second half feels like it could be a big sing-along at a live gig. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t make more use of potential gang vocals but I guess, given the nature of the song, it would feel a bit out of place. The fifth song, Out Of My Mind, is another stand out track on Tyler Moes. There is that great, bratty pop punk style that made us fall in love with the genre many, many years ago. There is an immediate sing-along quality to Out Of My Mind that will draw people in and the theme of the song will be relatable to many of us. It’s about falling for someone and convincing yourself that they feel the same even when they possibly don’t. Bad Mistake brings us to the halfway point of the album. This song is about living life whilst constantly getting things wrong. In reality, this should be a really sad song but there is a joy in this song. I guess that it is cathartic for Luke to sing about this, perhaps getting a feeling of frustration off of their chest. I can see this being a fan favourite for the band.

The second half of Tyler Moes sees Madam Fatale take things in a much different direction. Parramatta Girls has more of a rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly style to it that adds some freshness to the album. As the song progresses there is a moment where things get a bit darker but, for the most part, the track sticks to that rockabilly style. The simple chorus is one that will get stuck in your head for days and days. Toothpick is a slower and more emotional sounding track. The opening verses feature these cool jangly emo guitar tones before the chorus jumps into a more traditional pop punk style. The song looks at the loss of a friend and struggling to deal with that. It’s a much sadder song than anything else on the album so far, so you can understand the slower style that’s going on. I Want My Mummy Back is another slow and sad song. I’m sure you’ve guessed from the song’s title that it’s about wanting your mum to come back. Despite not having a lot of different lyrics, the track is over four minutes long. There is perhaps an argument that the song doesn’t need to be as long as it is but I kind of feel like the repetitive nature of the track adds a lot more emotion and sadness which is portrayed throughout.

The tenth track continues the slower style that Madam Fatale have adopted over the last few tracks. It’s a five minute long, fuzzy, shoegaze style. Musically the song is extremely haunting with Luke’s vocals really shining throughout. The subtleness of the guitar, bass and drums really add to the song. Josh Bishop’s drums are absolutely fantastic and do a brilliant job of not only giving the song a strong spine but also building things up for Luke’s voice to get a bit more intense. The penultimate song is titled Longlands Road. Beginning with just guitar and vocals (something I always enjoy), Josh tells a tale of leaving home. The full band comes in soon enough and really fleshes out the song but I was slightly disappointed this didn’t really increase the tempo of the song. I felt like it could really explode into life for a great sing-along as it’s another song that I’m sure so many people listening to the album will relate too. The final song on Tyler Moes is Besiege Me. This song was originally released as a single by the band in March of 2020. Besiege Me is an acoustic song that also includes some strings. I loved the addition of the strings – they give the song so much extra depth. Perhaps fittingly, this is a sad break up song to finish the album off. The stripped back sound really adds to the emotion of the entire song. Lyrically, it’s quite simple. This will really add to the emotional output of the song as it will hit more people immediately. A great way to finish the album.

I’m consistently coming across fantastic Australian bands and Madam Fatale are certainly another to add to the list. They have quite a unique sound that could see them fit under a few punk and indie umbrellas. This could see them get a big fanbase extremely quickly into their career and I suspect (if the world has finally been fixed by then) to see their name on festival line ups in the UK and Europe over the next few years.

Stream and download Tyler Moes on Bandcamp here.

Lke Madam Fatale on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Album Review: Sgt. Scagnetti vs Hans Gruber And The Die Hards Split

I do love a split. I especially like them when one you get to discover a band that you never knew before. This was the case on the new split release by Sgt. Scagnetti and Hans Gruber And The Die Hards. I’ve been aware of Hans Gruber And The Die Hards for a few years now but I’ve never heard of Sgt. Scagnetti. I was keen to check them out. The split is only three songs long, one from the Sgt. Scagnetti and two from Hans Gruber.

Sgt. Scag (as they are often known) were actually an active band in the North East of America in the late nineties. They were known for their fun and unpredictable live shows. Like many bands from the era, they split in the earlier 2000s but have played a couple of reunion shows in recent years as well as releasing some new singles. Their appearance on this split is a great way to introduce themselves to the new era of ska punk fans. Sgt. Scag’s song on the split is titled Cultination. This is a great introduction to the band for anyone, like me, who is listening to them for the first time. It begins with quite a lengthy brass-fuelled introduction before lead singer Steve’s soulful vocals come in. The opening verse has a great call and response section between Steve and the rest of the band that really hooked me in. This is all played at a nice, mid-tempo pace before the band speed things up for the chorus. So much goes on in this song with changes in tempo and melody but the band seamlessly blend it together so it never feels stop/start. As the song finishes there are some great gang vocals and harmonies and ensure the song ends with a bang. The track is about the Internet influencing children to become mindless robots and how that’s a bad thing.

The first of Hans Gruber And The Die Hards’ songs is titled You’re Being Watched. The Texan outfit are one of the more unique and creative bands to come out of the USA ska scene. The track is about the paranoid feeling of being watched and trying to convince people that you’re not going crazy. The song starts with a very traditional ska punk style. The saxophone playing gets the song off to a fun start before the vocals come in and the song goes off in a completely different style. Vocally you would probably find more similar bands in the crust punk world, with some venomous singing going on. There is a slight change again for what I guess is the chorus, where a vocal that sounds like MC Bat Commander from The Aquabats come in. So much is going on and I love it. Hans Gruber’s second track is named Medical Advice. The track is largely instrumental except with occasional lines being shouted over the top. The lyrics touch upon the medical advice that has been given to the world during the past year such as staying at home, wearing masks and avoiding seeing vulnerable loved ones. There are some moments of anger and moments of sarcasm in these lines, they create quite an interesting dynamic and often make you think. This is such a skankable song and has a really catchy tune that will quickly earn a place in your head.

I really enjoyed this split. It features some old and new school style ska punk so it has something for everybody and is well worth checking out. It’s less than 8 minutes long and is a lot of fun.

Stream and download the split on Bandcamp here or here.

Like Sgt. Scagnetti on Facebook here and like Hans Gruber And The Die Hards here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Friday, 26 March 2021

CPRW Playlist: March 2021

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