Maybe I’ll Catch Fire – Alkaline Trio

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Alkaline Trio’s 2000 release, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, is not there best work, but it is still a CD that is worth listening to. It is another chapter of delightful darkness for one of the most under appreciated bands out there.

One thing that catches you right off the bat is the sound of the album’s production. It manages to sound like it was cheaply recorded, but still is extremely tight and “clean”. It’s hard to explain but one listen to any of the tracks and one instantly is able to recognize the effect I speak of. I absolutely love it, it might have my favorite production sound of any album.

The album kicks off at full gallop with “Keep ‘Em Coming”. The third track “You’ve Got So Far To Go” is a terrific tale of love, smoking, and booze carried by bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano. It the type of song that other bands often try and fail miserably at pulling off, but Alkaline Trio quite often nails.
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Accelerate – R.E.M.

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No one can debate that R.E.M. is rock royalty. As the “original” indie/college rock band, they’ve sold out stadiums and topped the charts. Heck, they’re still big enough to drag Modest Mouse across the country as an opening act for their upcoming tour. But seeing as the band hasn’t released a good album since I was in third grade (!), 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, it was looking as if the band was done putting out any relevant music. Their latest effort, Accelerate, proves that there’s still a little creative juice left in R.E.M.

Accelerate is a journey back to the roots of R.E.M. Their past few albums have felt like collections of half-hearted, mailed-in tunes, and the band has publicly admitted that that was indeed the case. This new record feels like it was made by a refocused and re-energized band of guys who knew how mediocre they’ve been recently. Lead singer Michael Stipe returns to spitting out vocal lines that actually feel like they mean something with more aggression than he’s ever displayed. Guitarist Peter Buck seems almost freed from the boredom of recent efforts on Accelerate, playing up-tempo licks that give off a feeling of emotional exuberance. The result is a faster, sharper and sleeker R.E.M. Four of the eleven tracks on Accelerate clock in at under three minutes, which is a very good thing. Most importantly the band sounds like they’re having fun playing music again, which makes for a far better listening experience.
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Coming Home – New Found Glory

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*Excuse the 1st person, I just needed it badly here.*

I like New Found Glory quite a bit. I’m not ashamed to be a child of the pop punk generation. It conveniently corresponded with my junior high/high school years, and NFG were one of my favorite bands not only in the genre, but in general. I understand that many folks do not like the band largely due to singer Jordan Pundik’s high pitched vocals, which you either dug or reminded you of nails on a chalkboard. I fell into the former category. Long story short, I pretty much loved NFG.

All that said, I hate their 2006 release Coming Home. Hate, HATE, HATE it. Loathe it. Want to destroy it’s soul. It is, without a doubt, the worst album I ever paid for.

Where to begin? Let’s go with the general problems.
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Goddamnit – Alkaline Trio

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Few debut albums are even noticed, and even fewer gain high praise, but Alkaline Trio’s Goddamnit is a clear exception. The album, which was originally released in 1998, was recently called “the best punk-rock album of the past ten years” by Alternative Press. In honor of the album’s 10th anniversary, the Chicago threesome just released Goddamnit Redux, a completely re-mastered version of the original disc that includes a making of the album DVD, a previously unreleased b-side and a few live tracks. And while the extras are a nice bonus, the real gem is the album itself.

The real (bleeding) heart of the album is lead singer/guitarist Matt Skiba. Armed with a rhythm guitar that cuts like a buzz saw, rabidly aggressive vocals, and some of the cleverest lyrical chops in music, he manages to carve out a classic punk album with a distinctly unique sound. Most of the songs’ lyrics focus on wallowing at the bottom of a bottle for different reasons, including depression, the police and most commonly messed up or failed relationships. Skiba’s strength as a songwriter is his way of simultaneously adding strokes of darkness and pop sensibility to the traditional barre chord punk formula.
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The Stand Ins – Okkervil River

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A year ago the album Stage Names by Austin, Texas-based indie-folk rockers Okkervil River was praised as one of the best albums of 2007 by Pitchfork, Amazon, Harp Magazine, eMusic, and numerous other music publications. Leading up to the release of band’s second endeavor The Stand Ins, the album was being billed as the sequel to Stage Names. Due to this distinction it is only fair to compare Okkervil River’s newest effort to their previous one.

The Stand Ins begins with a short instrumental intro track, and with this, the album begins to go wrong. The track is one of three such instrumental tracks on the album, none of which lasts even a minute, and all of which are rambling and unimpressive. While the tracks may have been meant to provide a tone and help transition the album from part to part, the result is the direct opposite. Because of these the The Stand Ins never really seems to get its footing, leading the album to feel like a collection of tunes without a sense of direction.
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Menos el Oso – Minus the Bear

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Minus the Bear is a Seattle-based rock band with a distinct sound and amazing musicianship and Menos el Oso is an album that should be in your collection.

Minus the Bear’s sound is anchored by lead guitarist David Knudson, who has one of the most unique playing styles in modern music. Knudson taps on most of his riffs, which gives them an open, sprawling feel that almost doesn’t sound like a guitar at all.

Drummer Erin Tate always seems to have time for a quick little drum fill, and Matt Bayles, the group’s electronic noise man, fills any open space. Vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider and bassist Cory Murchy are more straightforward in their approaches, which keeps the band’s sound grounded.
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