The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation [2016]


As sad as it is to say, The Dillinger Escape Plan is throwing in the towel. That’s old news. Even older news is their storied commitment to fractured rhythm and teeth-grinding musical violence, their intensely physical and destructive live shows, their defiant DIY attitude that filters down to every move they’ve made in twenty years of existence. But the how and why of the band’s demise is quite possibly the newest thing here: the band is going out in a blaze of glory with one final record and a world tour spanning into 2017. They’re not killing this thing because they’re run out of ideas, or because their bodies are only being held together by sheer force of will, or because everyone hates each other. In fact, the band’s probably operating at its highest creative gear ever. Instead, they’ve realized that once anything reaches an apex, it eventually has to come back down. In the face of potential stagnation and diminishing returns, they’ve decided to clip that apex and kill the beast while it’s potent enough to still be missed.

That final record is Dissociation. And instead of pulling out all the stops and making some unhinged, off-the-wall masterpiece untethered to any expectations and obligations, they’ve instead consolidated their strengths into one album. Dissociation reads like a weathered road map of where the band has been before: touching upon the unrefined chaos and power of Calculating Infinity and Miss Machine, the freak-out glitch of Ire Works, and the melody and more traditional structures of Option Paralysis and One of Us is the Killer, it’s a summation of their body of work. But that’s not to say that Dissociation lacks for its own voice, either. On it the band sounds more crazed, more desperate, and more lonely than ever before, like it’s using those pieces of its past to hold itself together one last time in the face of the end rather than simply revisit the past.

It’s obvious on tracks like “Low Feels Blvd”, “Nothing to Forget”, and “Fugue” that the idea here is to take those past landmarks and channel them into some new feelings and emotions. On the former track, the band fires into breakneck Ire Works-esque riffing that pummels just as hard or harder than anything they’ve done before, and just as you feel like you know where it’s going, the bottom falls out. Suddenly the track takes a detour into Mahavishnu Orchestra styled jazz soloing from Ben Weinman, accompanied by frantic brass and strings and carried by choir-like falsetto from Greg Puciato. On “Nothing to Forget” the band opts to take the ominous, chunky approach they used on much of Option Paralysis, before opening up into one of the most straightforwardly pretty and melodic sections they’ve ever put on tape. Here the band is once again accompanied by a string quartet, but this time they opt for something a little more cinematic than “Low Feels Blvd”, using them to create drama and tension behind some of the most pure and honest-sounding vocals the band’s ever utilized. And “Fugue” builds from the band’s brief flirtations with electronics and morphs it into a full scale Aphex Twin/Dillinger hybrid, smashing Billy Rymer’s drums into quantized madness while layering them over one of Liam Wilson’s most unsettling bass lines ever, turning it into the album’s most jarring and sonically unique track.

But it wouldn’t be a Dillinger album without some tried-and-true landmarks, either. “Symptom of Terminal Illness” is the band’s usual “pop” track, but approaches its melody from an eerie, dramatic, and unsettling angle that quite possibly makes it their most compelling work in that vein yet. And songs like “Honeysuckle”, “Wanting Not So Much to As To”, and “Surrogate” deliver all of the musical shock and awe that their name has been built upon, featuring plenty of the band’s trademark jagged off-time riffing, vicious vocals, and chaotic power. And despite its mid-tempo, opening track “Limerent Death” is perfect for that role, as it feels like it’s dragging the listener kicking and screaming into something bigger, scarier, and more dangerous through it’s multiple build ups and breakdowns.

Bigger, scarier, and more dangerous perhaps sums up the whole record: while the band has been getting progressively more melodic and injecting some pop structures into their sound in recent years, Dissociation is much darker, more desperate, and less obvious as a whole. The first few listens won’t yield many obvious hooks, as the music is denser than ever before, and the lyrics betray a sense of fear, anxiety, and existential dread in the face of death. There’s palpable tension in every moment here; a sense that the beast is cornered and dying, yet strong enough to make its last stand and one final statement. Nothing sums that feeling up more than the album’s eponymous closing track, a track that’s far outside of their typical sound, and yet the most fitting possible conclusion to their discography. “Dissociation” is built entirely around keening, emotional strings courtesy of SEVEN)SUNS string quartet, and layered with throbbing electronics and skittering, off-kilter drum loops that threaten to spiral out of control. And strangely enough, despite Ben Weinman being the band’s only remaining original member, you won’t hear a single moment of his guitar work on this track. Instead, Greg Puciato croons what sounds like an epitaph for the band over all of this without ever raising his voice – lines like “don’t confuse being set free with being discarded and lonely” and “couldn’t stay for you / what a strange way to lose” feel like they were written with the band’s imminent death in mind. Even more strangely, the final moment of Dillinger’s final track fades out into a gentle falsetto, with all of the remaining instrumentation dropping away and leaving nothing but the lyric “finding a way to die alone” echoing out into the emptiness. It’s heart-wrenching in its truth, powerful in its contrast, and a completely unexpected ending.

On Dissociation, The Dillinger Escape Plan have truly found a way to die alone, but not in the sense you would think. They’re dying alone in the sense that, like everything else they’ve done, they’re going out in a way that no one else could. After years of setting the standard for mathy, technical metal and hardcore, with plenty of new musical ground left to tread and with an ever-growing fanbase, they’ve bowed out on top of their game with this record. They’ve left no opportunity for themselves to simply become another band that people wonder, “wow, those guys are still around?” about. Instead, what they’ve left behind is a perfect discography, with each record standing in stark contrast to each other, and one with a clear beginning, middle, and thematic conclusion. They’ve left a myriad of crazy stories, intense memories, and music that has influenced and will influence generations to come. It’s heart breaking to know that this is the end of a band at the height of their powers, but it would’ve been more heart breaking to watch them fade into mediocrity eventually. Dillinger has always been a band that stood alone miles above the rest, so for them, dying alone was always the only option.

Key Tracks: Wanting Not So Much to As To, Low Feels Blvd, Honeysuckle, Dissociation

Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty


Periphery are a band that’s always moving forwards. They were once just another bedroom guitarist’s project, and over the years they’ve flourished into one of the biggest names in metal today. And with each new release, they’ve found subtle ways of growing their sound and improving their songwriting in order to keep things from getting stale. But this time around, the band was faced with something of a tall order: how do you follow up a massive concept album that sprawls two discs and runs the gamut from radio-ready rock to some of the lowest, heaviest downtuning possible with metal guitars?

Well, the answer is simple: you don’t. Instead of feeling daunted by trying to follow up such a heady record, this time around Periphery has opted to just have fun with the process. Writing and recording in guitarist Misha Mansoor’s home/studio, the band deliberately put itself in a much more relaxed environment in order to not force things, and it truly shows: Periphery III: Select Difficulty features some of the band’s most straightforward, thoughtfully arranged, and vocally-driven songs ever. While there’s some typical heavy Periphery fare to open up the album with the back to back combo of “The Price is Wrong” and “Motormouth” (two tracks which, in all honesty, tread a little too close to many of their other songs), there’s a surprising amount of variety here for a metal band. “Marigold” is what happens when you build a rock song out of proggy guitar riffs and pure pop instinct, with string embellishments and gang-vocal chants to match, and “The Way the News Goes…” is comprised of a soaring, intricate clean guitar melody that refuses to stay in any one plac and later manages to meld a blast beat to a pop chorus in the same song. Following that theme, “Catch Fire” is the band’s purest attempt at a pop track yet, possibly more so than Juggernaut’s “Heavy Heart”. Surprisingly enough, it delivers in spades, showcasing that the trademark Periphery sound can stay intact while also being able to slot in easily on the radio, and proving that this band is impossibly dynamic within an incredibly narrow genre. And while it’s the closing track, “Lune” feels more like the centerpiece of the record. Periphery has always flirted with ambience and layering to thicken up their sound, but “Lune” is the most purely mood-driven track they’ve ever recorded. Opening with an introspective guitar line and taking its time to bring in several layers of synth, strings, and effects-drenched guitars, the song is a showcase for Spencer Sotelo’s vocal prowess. It’s quite possibly the closest thing to a ballad a band like them can get, and its worth its weight in emotional heft (which is even more impressive considering that, by most standards, its lyrics are pretty plain).

But on the parts of the records where they’re not stretching their muscles, at times it feels like they’re starting to run the risk of repeating themselves. As mentioned before, the two opening tracks feel like very by-the-numbers Periphery heavy tracks, handing in riffs that feel like they could have been written by anyone on the Sumerian Records roster. They’re nothing as impressively heavy as “Zyglrox” or “Make Total Destroy”, and they also fail to bring a new twist to that sound, either, which makes them feel a little flat. Also suspect is the fact that the band is continuing to revisit nearly decade-old Misha demos for new material: for a band that prides itself on having every member be a songwriter, enough so to base an entire EP around the concept of each member writing a song based around a singular overture, it seems a little odd to dredge up and rework such old material instead. Aside from those issues, it’s hard not to feel like a few songs here run just a little too long as well. “Marigold” features a two minute long outro consisting of nothing but guitar feedback and reverb, and when that happens just three songs into the record, it’s a total flow-killer. “Absolomb” suffers from a similar fate, but for a different reason: its outro is actually a gorgeous piece of orchestral composition, and should be showcased as its own separate track. However, it simply feels tacked on at the end to inflate the track’s length instead.

But considering that the band didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel for themselves with this record, that’s okay. There’s still a lot of growth to be found even on this more laid back, less ambitious undertaking. There’s heavy amounts of orchestral strings on this record, plenty of analog synths being seamlessly melded into guitar lines for added texture and flavor, a sharper eye for actual melodic songwriting instead of smashing riffs together, and more attention to detail than ever before. The band is still having enormous amounts of fun just writing and playing together, and even when they feel like they’re treading water, that fun is infectious. Overall, Periphery III: Select Difficulty is another welcome addition to the band’s catalog, and offers up yet another new flavor of their sound.

KEY TRACKS: Marigold, The Way the News Goes…, Flatline, Lune

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool [2016]


Radiohead isn’t a band that needs introduction at this point, at least usually. But during the lead up to their first album in five years, it seems as if they were trying to reintroduce themselves. In the days before A Moon Shaped Pool dropped, the band completely erased their internet presence, leaving nothing but a blank slate devoid of posts across their Twitter feeds and Facebook page. And when those gears DID start turning again, it was only to dribble out tiny clips of a child-like claymation video, which lacked any music, branding, or information of any kind. It signaled very clearly that something was about to happen, something that wasn’t beholden to their past, something cleaner and purer than before.

A Moon Shaped Pool is exactly that – it’s some of the cleanest, purest, and most human music the band has put to tape so far. Of course, this is Radiohead we’re talking about, so they’ll always bear some of that cold, insular, and electronic edge they’ve explored for so long. But what’s so surprising about this record is the much more emotional and naturalistic side they’ve chosen to explore within it. Acoustic guitars, string sections, and pianos take far more precedence over drum machines, sequencers and laptops, and more than ever Thom Yorke’s lyrics are focused on the pitfalls of the human condition instead of his trademark claustrophobic technophobia and paranoia. “Burn the Witch” is a perfect example of this: opening with a percussive gush of strings unlike anything in their discography, it drives forward with little need for guitars or drums, while focusing on the division of different peoples and the fear-mongering that causes it. But that song is actually a bit of a feint, as it doesn’t take long for the band to dip into more downcast, defeated territory: “Daydreaming” is one of the simplest songs in their catalog, but one of the thickest with emotion. Built upon a simple repeating piano motif, Yorke’s vocals barely rise above a murmur, and are cocooned with flourishes of violins and electronics that establish the song’s true movement and feeling. And “Decks Dark” is a slow burn of a track replete with chilly, rattling guitar lines and an introspective piano line that buoys some of Yorke’s most expressive vocals since In Rainbows – ones that equate encroaching dread and fear to visiting aliens blotting out the sky with their flying saucers.

But it’s after that three track run that the album starts revealing its truest colors. For example, “Desert Island Disk” is the closest thing to a folk song that the band has ever recorded. Calm and quiet, it’s led by an aerobic acoustic guitar line, gentle swirls of background electronics, and an oddly out-of-character set of lyrics that inspire uplift and hope instead of fear and paranoia. This track also finds a cousin on the album’s second half in “The Numbers”. It’s another gentle, folky song that this time finds its inspiration in ’60s protest music, as Yorke quietly rails against climate change and the powers that be, insisting that the people have the power to create change – which doesn’t solely have to function as an instruction against global warming. And while not nearly as folksy, “Present Tense” is a Spanish-sounding love-lost groove that’s almost danceable despite it’s lack of any sort of beat and heartbroken lyrics. Acoustic guitars aren’t the sole driving force of this album, however. “Ful Stop” throbs along with a repeating bass line courtesy of Colin Greenwood that establishes the core of the song, a song which chooses to fully explore that groove rather than searching out another, more obscure path. And on “Identikit”, the rest of the band allows Jonny Greenwood to take his electric guitar out of storage, resulting in a song with plenty of spiky dynamics and angular guitar lines to complement its grooving drums and expressive chorus.

But as always with Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool has a moodier side as well. As “Daydreaming” foreshadows, this isn’t an album without its darkness. “Glass Eyes” is a short yet powerful piano ballad punctuated with otherworldy strings, exploring the anxiety one finds themselves faced with when arriving in a new place, and its bare bones musicality only serves to emphasize its narrative (one which is formatted in the spirit of a voicemail left on someone’s phone). And conversely, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor…” finds itself straddling both that minimalist slant of “Glass Eyes” and a bigger, more sweeping cinematic feel. Its first half drifts around with little direction and a listless energy, until Jonny’s Bond-esque string score swoops in to take the song into an entirely different world. What at first seems like an almost disjointed track soon makes sense, as that swirl of strings leads into the crowning jewel, and closing track, of the album. “True Love Waits” is a storied song in Radiohead’s catalog, having been played live in one version or another dating back all the way to 1995. But it’s been a notoriously hard one for the band to try and capture, as it wasn’t until Yorke’s 23 year long relationship dissolved that they were finally able to find the inspiration to nail it. Once written with the hope and promise of a new love in mind, the song is now transformed into a fragile, twinkling, and bittersweet one of loss, barely held together as its gentle dual piano lines threaten to spiral away from each other. Despite being so gentle and low-key, Yorke manages to wring emotion out of every syllable and key, and the rasp that creeps into his voice during the chorus truly sells it.

A Moon Shaped Pool strikes a very fine balance as a whole piece of work. Despite featuring downcast, dreamy tracks like “Daydreaming” alongside folksy excursions such as “Desert Island Disk” and “The Numbers” and percussive orchestral numbers like “Burn the Witch”, and despite also pulling songs from many different points in the band’s career (“Ful Stop” and “Identikit” originated in 2012 on the King of Limbs tour, “Present Tense” in 2009 a a Yorke solo gig, “Burn the Witch” in the Hail to the Thief era, and “True Love Waits” in 1995), it feels like a body of work that was created concurrently. These songs have been massaged and finessed into the gentle, moody, yet very human forms they appear in here, and feel like puzzle pieces that were always meant to fit together. Even more so, despite their disparate eras, the fact that much of their lyrical content syncs with the huge loss Yorke has recently suffered makes these tracks feel even more fated to be together. Radiohead may have erased their own social media presence, and in doing so took a stab at erasing their own past. But the album they did it in service of inverts that by collecting little bits of ephemera from throughout their career, and uses them to form their most gentle and intimate sounding record ever, and one that’s the closest thing to a traditional heartbreak album the band has ever made. Where they once feared the world’s ever-increasing reliance on technology, here they’re fearing the breakdown of personal relationships and the loss of love. After looking outward for so long, it’s not so surprising that they’ve finally chosen to look inside and take stock of their own hearts. No longer are they paranoid androids suffering from future shock, but instead have opened their hearts up a little more to reveal the glassy-eyed daydreamers they truly are.

Key Tracks: Daydreaming, Decks Dark, Identikit, True Love Waits

Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere [2016]


In 2012, after over 13 years of relentless touring, writing, and recording, Thrice decided to hit that ever-infamous “hiatus” button. The grind of being in a band their size had worn them down over those years, and they needed time to spend with their families – the value of which had been made even more apparent after several members losing loved ones during their last album cycle. With that in mind, the band embarked on a “farewell” tour that dug deep through fan-selected favorites, culminating in a huge 33-song long final show in July 2012. After that, the band dispersed to their families and new projects: Dustin became a pastor, Teppei opened a leather crafts shop, Riley started a baseball-themed grindcore band, and Eddie put in time with Angels & Airwaves. But the break didn’t last long, and in the waning days of 2014, the band announced their intention to get back together. And in a little under two years, they’ve returned with their first album of new music since 2011’s Major/Minor.

To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Thrice essentially picking up where they left off with Major/Minor. The grungy, dirty rock sound they’ve had on that album and on Beggars before it is still firmly in place, but it seems like reconvening has also given them greater appreciation of where their music has come from in the past. One of the most obvious cues the band has picked back up are the larger, meatier guitar parts reminiscent of their Fire EP – “Death From Above” and “Blood on the Sand” both move with more power and weight than the band has shown in years, and while not quite as heavy, “Black Honey” and “The Window” pick up much of that EP’s dark and brooding undertones as well. “Hurricane” opens the album with a thick swirl of guitars and brooding atmosphere appropriate for the title, feeling as if it really could be buoyed on the winds of a storm. In fact, this record finds the band turning up the sludge and brood in every aspect, not just on the guitars – this thing is downright dirty sounding. Even in it’s most friendly and approachable moments, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and grit in the mix that doesn’t relent. Yet “Salt and Shadow” exists on that same album, a song with a gentle, heavenly atmosphere that would be able to slot itself perfectly on the band’s Air EP. But that’s about the only air and light that manages to work its way in both musically and lyrically.

Lyrically, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Dustin focusing much less on faith (as he had on more recent Thrice albums) and more on the social and political issues he first touched on with The Artist in the Ambulance. “Blood on the Sand” is a take down of the frightened apathy that causes us to build walls to keep out our fellow man instead of making an attempt at connection, and “Death From Above” tackles our willingness to bomb those same people from afar without ever putting a name or face to them. “Whistleblower” is an obviously pro-Snowden song, celebrating the individuals who risk their freedom and lives to enlighten the rest of the world to a massive wrongdoing, and “Black Honey” focuses on our often blind conquest to take the things we need without considering how the blow-back might affect us. It’s refreshing to hear Dustin have something to get angry about again, because it helps lend power to both the music and his own vocal delivery. Plus, even though some of the lyrics here suffer from being very on-the-nose, it’s brave for a band of their size to deliver a comeback album with lyrics that could potentially polarize old and new fans alike.

But for all the base-touching they do on this album, it feels like they’ve forgotten to bring anything fresh to the table. As a longtime fan you might be happy to hear those flourishes from throughout their discography, and as a new fan, they might even seem unique to you. But it’s disappointing that after five years apart – in such vastly different bands and even parts of the country – that they haven’t found one new thing to bring to the mix. In fact, a handful of tracks find the band veering dangerously close to rock cliché instead: “Wake Up” featuring a tired cock rock-esque chorus that settles for repeating the song’s title in place of any sort of lyricism, and “Stay With Me” apes U2’s worst arena rock tendencies and mixes them with a dash of sludgy guitars to no effect. At its worst, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere ironically finds the band sloughing off some of their character and flair in an attempt to be both radio-friendly and to pay homage to their previous sonic explorations.

Sadly, this album ends up being very much a mixed bag. There are flashes of the band’s former glories littered in almost every track, but they’re also tempered by some of the band’s blandest moments ever put to tape. It’s not a bad album in any sense of the word, but after five years apart and plenty of exploration for each one of their members, it’s a shame that To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Thrice simply mining old territory and watering down the rest. Perhaps this is just the band’s way of getting back to ground, consolidating the parts of the band they loved the most as a springboard for whatever comes next. Or perhaps middle age and family life has dulled their fire to prove themselves and take huge risks. And perhaps it’s too easy to compare this album to the rest of the band’s towering discography, because if this were any other band, it might be something fairly special. But in the end, they’ve simply put out an okay album after so many great ones. It happens.

Key Tracks: Hurricane, Blood on the Sand, The Long Defeat, Death From Above

Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic [2015]


I’ve had a rocky relationship with Between the Buried and Me for quite a while now.

I used to be a huge fan of the band during the Colors era, loving that album and the ones before it. But as time went on and their new releases piled up – The Great Misdirect, Hypersleep Dialogues, The Parallax II –I started to grow bored of their approach. It felt as if they had locked themselves into a sound and had no clue how to get out of it, turning every song into an endless marathon of stuck-together riffs and unending one-note growls. For a band that made a name by experimenting with their sound from release to release, Between the Buried and Me sure seemed like they were stuck in a rut.

I couldn’t bring myself to ever fully give up on them, though. This was the band that first got me into metal and progressive metal, so they will always have that place in my heart (this is the same rationale I use to justify listening to each new Weezer album, god help me). So when I heard about the upcoming release of Coma Ecliptic, backed up by the band’s assertions that they were pushing themselves in a new direction this time, I couldn’t help but give them another chance.

Coma Ecliptic is a concept album that’s styled after the classic rock operas of yore, from The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It follows a man who falls into a coma and is given the chance to explore other lives and worlds, and given the choice to decide whether to stay in one or continue searching for a better one. While Between the Buried and Me is no longer a stranger to concept albums, this being their second, Coma Ecliptic is an album that truly feels like a concept album. The music has a flow and a dramatic portent to it that The Parallax II lacked, drifting from tension building organ lines, horn sections, and their trademark metal approach with ease. This wasn’t something that was always easy for them in the past, because we ARE talking about the same band that has thrown hoe-down honky tonk music and horse neigh breakdowns into their music before. But on Coma Ecliptic, Between the Buried and Me takes a much more refined, measured approach to their writing, writing for the songs and the melodies rather than for the sake of experimentation.

With that said, it’s surprising that this is still the most experimental music they’ve recorded since Colors. The band has been showing off classic rock and prog influence in their music for quite a while at this point, but it often manifested more as a curiosity than a core element of their sound. But Coma Ecliptic shows the band stripping their sound down from their intensely technical prog metal into something more akin to a Yes or early Genesis record, bringing in organs, horns, piano, brash classic rock guitar leads, and a heavy focus on clean vocals. While those elements were always a part of the band’s sound, here they’re actually the focus and basis for much of these songs – “Node” is led almost entirely by a Rhodes piano, “Dim Ignition” is built around spacey arpeggiated synth work, and “Turn on the Darkness” boasts an unsettling atmosphere boosted by it’s huge bassy piano chords and minor acoustic guitar work. Every song here ends up having its own distinctive melodic core and musical ideas, and as a result these songs are immediately memorable. Coma Ecliptic isn’t a record that takes dozens of listens to unpack and parse, but rather lends itself to replayability by the simple fact that many of these songs are just plain catchy.

And one of the main reasons for that, besides the band’s new found penchant for smooth dynamics and instrumental experimentation, are the vocals. Much of Between the Buried and Me’s discography is led vocally by Tommy Rogers’ powerful growls, with small singing sections interspersed throughout. That script is flipped on this album, though. Where his clean vocals once sounded shy and robotic, he’s truly come into his own here. From his soaring, belted vocals in “Option Oblivion”, the muted and hushed opening of “Node”, or the crazed Mike Patton-esque delivery on “The Ectopic Stroll”, Rogers has a range and prowess on Coma Ecliptic that he hasn’t had on any other Between the Buried and Me album. Now that the band has stripped back much of their technical metal sound, there’s a space for his vocal melodies to carry the songs in different directions, and his growl is still there as a backup when the band decides to get heavy. It’s quite refreshing to hear these distinct vocal melodies where Rogers would have once opted simply to growl.

For most bands, it’s almost impossible to shift gears seven albums into their career. Many bands experiment early on and settle into a sound for the rest of their career, and Between the Buried and Me very nearly fell into that category. Instead, they wrote Coma Ecliptic, a record that challenged their own boundaries and opened up their sound to brand new territory. The result is their most focused, immediate, and rewarding album in nearly a decade. By blowing up their old school prog influences on a large scale, focusing more closely on melody and songwriting, and making clean vocals a major part of the music, they’ve written an album that will be refreshing to long-time fans, challenging to others, and exciting for newcomers. Welcome back, guys.

Frank Turner releases new song, “The Next Storm”

Good ol’ Frank Turner. The ever-reliable singer songwriter is back with another dose of his signature brand of rock-infused folkiness, with a new song entitled “The Next Storm”. From his upcoming album Positive Songs for Negative People (due out August 7th), the song doesn’t stray from Frank’s style at all, featuring vaguely inspirational lyrics and an upbeat bass line, with sprinkles of piano spread about. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s a very exciting song, especially after Frank’s promises that this album was supposed to be going back to his punkier roots – instead this track sounds like it could fit on pretty much any album past his debut, and that’s a bit of a let down.

SikTh and Refused are back!

It’s been a good week for new music from old bands. Yesterday, hardcore punk legends Refused announced that they were not, in fact, fucking dead, and were actually releasing a new album titled Freedom, in June. They were also kind enough to drop the first track from it, titled “Elektra”, which was co-produced with famous Swedish producer Shellback (which to me is a little odd, considering the fact that the rest of his resume is studded with huge popstars…but the song is just fucking good), as well as a video for the track. Besides the new music, they will be touring with (coincidentally or not), another reformed heavy cult band, who you may know by the name of Faith No More, and those dates can be found here.

Refused weren’t the only big comeback this week, though. British math-metallers SikTh, hailed as one of the original forerunners of ‘djent’, way before that was even a thing, have announced that they will be recording a new EP (their first new material since 2006’s Death of a Dead Day), as well as running through a short five-date trek through the UK. On the down-side, there’s no convenient link to a new song from these guys like Refused, so I’ll have to deny you the instant gratification this time. But it will be here soon enough, and you can finally be assured that there will be new music from this classic heavy, schizophrenic metal band.

So, are you glad to have both of these bands back? Or should they have stayed dead and buried? What’s your take?

Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves [2015]


There’s a reason why Isaac Brock’s record label imprint is called “Glacial Pace”. It’s been eight years since the release of Modest Mouse’s last album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, and the band has kept an incredibly low profile in the intervening years. With a new release looking more and more unlikely with each passing month, and the departure of founding bassist Eric Judy, things were looking a bit hopeless for Modest Mouse fans. But just like a glacier, just because progress is slow doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And now, we finally have a brand new studio effort from the band in the form of Strangers to Ourselves.

After such a wait, it would be easy to expect them to come back sounding like an entirely different band, similar to when they followed up The Moon and Antarctica with the break-out Good News for People Who Love Bad News. But instead of rewriting their rules, Strangers plays things closer to the vest. It doesn’t sound worlds apart from We Were Dead, acting as much more of a lateral movement in their sound than pushing it forward into new realms. But the band does manage to tap back into the introspective and lonely sound of their earlier work, mixing in their trademark jagged guitar lines with their new pop slant. Songs like “The Tortoise and the Tourist” and “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box” are the best examples of this: blending the more extroverted, bombastic tendencies of the band’s latest output with the lonely guitar shrieks and philosophical lyricism of the old only serves to reinvigorate the band. “Shit in Your Cut” also recalls some of the most downtrodden moments of the band’s classic The Lonesome Crowded West, pleading to not be left alone, yet sounding frustrated and defeated about it at the same time.

Strangers to Ourselves in fact features some of Brock’s best lyricism since The Moon and Antarctica. As many other musicians and bands reach their forties, they often choose to detail the struggles of aging and all the fear and pain that comes along with it. But that’s the easy and obvious route, and Brock’s focus has always been on the myriad fears and pains of existence anyway. If anything, Strangers to Ourselves is a much more outward-looking album, more often choosing to focus on the ‘we’ than the ‘I’. Sometimes speaking in generalities like on “Be Brave”, or using a children’s story-styled set up to discuss man’s lack of values on “The Tortoise and the Tourist”, or even inserting himself into the shoes of a serial killer on “Pistol”, Strangers is incredibly varied lyrically.

But the lyrics aren’t the only thing that’s varied here on Strangers. Throughout it’s 15 track length, the band jumps back and forth through a variety of sounds – between gentle melody and moody introspection like on the title track and “Shit in Your Cut”, the bombastic, almost carnival-esque energy on “Sugar Boats”, the funky romp of “Pistol”, and even the downright hoedown of “God is an Indian, and You’re an Asshole”. That’s good and bad, because while it’s great that the band is still experimenting with new sounds and moods, it also damages the flow of Strangers as an album. “God is an Indian…” is nothing but jarring when sandwiched between “Be Brave” and “The Tortoise and the Tourist”, and the energetic “The Best Room” jumps right into the funereal, reflective closer “Of Course We Know”. Modest Mouse have almost always been guilty of overstuffing their albums and taking wild detours, but Strangers to Ourselves ends up feeling a little more like a collection of songs than a cohesive album compared to their past work. Given the expanse of time between We Were Dead… and Strangers to Ourselves, though, it’s not surprising that a group of songs written across eight years sounds disjointed.

But flow aside, Strangers is still a refreshing late-career effort, brimming with the energy of a band ten years younger. Instead of looking solely inwards as they get older, their worldview has expanded, and so has their sound. By the act of combining the sounds that cemented their legacy with the pop sensibilities that landed them one of the biggest hits of the 2000s, they’ve created an album that can bridge the gap between old fans and new. Modest Mouse could have easily phoned this album in for a quick infusion of cash and an excuse to tour. Instead, they’re still writing vital, energetic music that respects their roots. They might not be recording genre-defining classics like The Lonesome Crowded West anymore, but they still stand alone as a band that sounds like no one else but themselves, and still have something to say. And the best part? Brock has promised that the next one won’t take eight years.

KEY TRACKS: The Ground Walks with Time in a Box, Sugar Boats, The Tortoise and the Tourist, Pups to Dust

Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy (2014)


Smashing Pumpkins’ – or Billy Corgan’s, however you want to put it – newest album, Monuments to an Elegy is the next part in the drawn out Teargarden by Kaleidyscope saga. Since 2009, Corgan has been releasing individual songs and entire albums under this theme, and he aims to conclude it next year with the next Pumpkins disc, Day for Night. All of the music under the Teargarden banner has been marked by Billy’s heavy experimentation with synthesizers and flowery subject matter, which obviously makes this material a very far cry from his “the world is a vampire” days. At times, though, he’s touched upon the Pumpkins’ former glory with it, most consistently on 2012’s Oceania (which balanced the heavy synth with heaping slabs of the band’s trademark fuzz).

However, Monuments to an Elegy comes up a lot shorter than it’s predecessor, both literally and figuratively. It’s run time is barely longer than that of most EPs, clocking in at 33 minutes with 9 songs. That means there’s no grand ‘Silverfuck’ or ‘Thru the Eyes of Ruby’ style epics here, or even the exploratory ‘Oceania’; the songs are short and sweet with predictable verse-chorus-verse structures. Figuratively, Monuments also finds Corgan dipping back into the synth-as-a-lead-instrument style that defined the early songs in the Teargarden cycle, for the worst. Almost all of the nine tracks here are either lead by, or feature prominent synth use – which would be all well and good, if most of them didn’t sound straight off of a New Age easy-listening CD. It comes off as painfully cheesy in the most un-ironic of ways, and it isn’t helped by Corgan’s absolutely dreadful lyrics. Besides clunkers like “Never been kissed by a girl like you/All I wanna, I wanna do/Love me baby, love me true/Oooh” and “alright alright/everywhere I go is shining bright”, you could literally die from alcohol poisoning if you drank every time he mentioned some variation of the word ‘love’ or ‘lover’.

But Corgan’s songwriting is so strong that, every once in a while, it does overpower even his most misguided tendencies. “One and All (We Are)” feels and sounds like a cut off of Mellon Collie, partly because it actually has roots in unfinished the Mellon Collie-era outtake ‘The Viper’. Grinding along with thick buzzsaw guitars and an angry inflection Corgan’s voice hasn’t held in years (and completely free of the cursed mini Moog), it’s a true dyed-in-the-wool Pumpkins song that reminds us of what he was once capable of. The prog-tinged ‘Tiberius’ manages the balance Oceania struck by successfully mixing a bright synth line with huge chugging chords, segueing into a heavier breakdown and back with ease. And the album’s lead single, ‘Being Beige’, has grown on me by leaps and bounds, bringing with it an Adore-influenced sound and gentle pop melodies.

I don’t fault Corgan for trying to explore new sounds and territories with his music, but he’s been mining this Synthing Pumpkins sound for five years now, and it’s seriously both wearing out its welcome and hurting his songs. The man who followed up one of the biggest double albums in music history with an understated gothic pop record is stuck in a rut, despite all of his grandstanding to the contrary. Monuments sounds deeply confused and flawed, jumping back and forth between guitar-driven rockers and new-agey synth and lyrics, rarely ever congealing into something cohesive. Ever since Corgan reformed the Pumpkins in 2006, he’s been struggling to find a sound for them that’s both relevant and in line with their past, and for all this trouble, he’s lost sight of what really matters – good songs. It’s a shame to see one of the ’90s greatest songwriters so mired in mediocrity, but at least at the end of the day we still wind up with a great song every now and then. That’s probably all we can ask for anymore.

Key Tracks: One and All (We Are), Tiberius, Being Beige

Circa Survive – Descensus (2014)


Circa Survive is officially an ‘old’ band now. Formed in 2004, with their first release coming with 2005’s Juturna,  they’ve come to be one of the most consistent and powerful bands in the alternative rock sphere. This year, they made a surprising move in signing with Sumerian Records, first rereleasing 2012’s Violent Waves, and now delivering their fifth and newest studio effort, Descensus. At this point in most bands’ careers, it’s where you see them start to slip and fail to live up to their standards.

Circa Survive is not such a band.  Since Juturna, they’re a band that has managed to grow and mature, without having to become something else entirely to do it. And that’s no easy feat – to stay fresh and exciting for ten years – without suddenly throwing in EDM beats or disappearing up their own asses like some kind of freakish musical Ouroboros.

Descensus is yet another step down that path, incorporating both old and new sounds to create something new. What’s most apparent on the first listen is that this album is much more balanced than it’s predecessor Violent Waves was, which traded on long streaks of down-tempo songwriting and melancholy. Descensus has instead struck a balance between these quieter passages and the louder ones, with the screeching ‘Schema’ barreling out of the gate with crashing drums and tortured guitar scrapes, while songs like ‘Phantom’ and ‘Who Will Lie With Me Now’ (clocking in at a brief 54 seconds) take things down a peg and giving the album some room to breath. This is quite possibly Circa’s most dynamic album, because it smoothly jumps between moods and doesn’t stay stuck in one gear for too long (unlike some of Blue Sky Noise or Violent Waves do).

Descensus was actually touted to be Circa’s heaviest album yet, and while it’s not necessarily much heavier than any of their other records, it certainly has no shortage of hard-rocking songs. As mentioned before, ‘Schema’ is an excellent, brash opener, and songs like ‘Sovereign Circle’ and ‘Quiet Down’ are angry, pounding tracks that would almost seem out of character if not for the trademark guitar interplay of Brendan Ekstrom and Colin Frangicetto. They play with dynamics on ‘Child of the Desert’, too – what at first seems like a brooding, broiling track erupts into straight up groovy rock riffing, soloing, and screaming.

And here’s where that fine balance comes in – for all the harder rocking tracks on this album, there’s also moments of empty space and beauty, which allow it to breathe and flow like a true album should. ‘Phantom’ sounds like something you could sit under an umbrella on the beach and watch the waves to, replete with echoey lap steel guitars, and yet hides a darker lyrical center: Anthony would “rather be on my own, than with you”. ‘Who Will Lie With Me Now’ is a spacey interlude, with some small snippets of vocals buried in reverb drifting through the hollow, empty-sounding guitars. But the real centerpiece of the album, both literally and figuratively, is ‘Nesting Dolls’. This song finds Circa Survive doing their best Explosions in the Sky, but instead of mindlessly aping, they’ve actually created one of the most beautiful songs they’ve ever written. ‘Nesting Dolls’ floats along with gentle, bright guitar arpeggios and ethereal vocals, (at times buried similarly in the mix as in ‘Who Will Lie With Me Now’), and slowly works it’s way up to what seems like the typical cliche post-rock crescendo. However, right at the critical moment, it simply floats back down to Earth, fading out with grace instead of feeling the need to explode.

Descensus also sports the band’s longest song to date in the title track, which closes out the album. It’s a nine minute journey that starts off with the same echoey guitars as ‘Phantom’ and a driving bass line, and feels almost cinematic in the way it smoothly works it way up to a flurry of guitar tapping and then comes back down. Eventually, the chugging guitar from the beginning of the track returns as a sort of motif for the second half, which is much more restrained and spacey. This simple chugging motif becomes hypnotizing, as it’s embellished with the occasional strain of guitar and reverb, and gently ends the album by making it feel like we’re floating out of it, instead of crashing into a wall. This track is actually a great summation of the album itself, emphasizing it’s balance between driving, progressive-tinged rock and drifting, spacey sounds all in one song.

It feels as if Circa Survive has made finally the album they’ve been working towards since Blue Sky Noise. Descensus has that album’s strong sense of hooky songwriting, but also incorporates Violent Waves’  sense of space and melancholy, creating a whole that knows when it should push the pedal to the metal and when to back off and breathe. ‘Nesting Dolls’ and ‘Descensus’ take the band into territory it hasn’t explored before, and tracks like ‘Schema’ and ‘Sovereign Circle’ rock like they haven’t since On Letting Go. And yet for all this album does, it still stays recognizably Circa Survive, and in that respect it probably won’t win over any new fans or suddenly push them into stardom. But that’s fine, because instead Descensus finds a band that’s ten years into their career and still firing on all cylinders, still delivering music that pushes their boundaries, and still insanely worth listening to.

Key Tracks: Schema, Nesting Dolls, Phantom, Sovereign Circle, Descensus