Saturday, May 29, 2010

work/sleep Review

When it comes to pop-punk, the way you deliver it can easily make or break you. For the Boston based power-pop group The Appreciation Post, they stumble back and forth between effectively poppy music and the filler-ridden formulas of their genre predecessors. They could easily be compared to pop-punk powerhouses All Time Low. With energetic tunes and lyrics about relationships and partying, they certainly show a striking resemblance to the current stars in the genre. To put it simply, occasionally it works and other times it falls hard. On the group's most recent EP, work/sleep, they attempt to find their feet as a band ultimately establish themselves as legitimate artists. Whether this works or not is based entirely on how much filler you can tolerate in seven songs.

The prominent feel throughout the record is synonymous with that mindset present throughout the summer -- Adventurous and blissfully carefree. Whether this works to the album's advantage is up to the listener. Some may enjoy the poppy, synth driven rhythms that each song thrives on; however on the other end of the spectrum some listeners may be bored by the cliché, sometimes overused, pop-punk formulas that are also pronounced throughout the EP. The opening track "The Beating of a Lifetime", encompassing each aforementioned aspect, will easily tell you whether you'll enjoy this record or not. It immediately begins with an upbeat drum pattern mixed with groovy synth and quickly brings in the guitar to give you the combination that the remainder of the record utilizes (or abuses). This is one of the better songs on the album (if not the best); however from there it becomes a teetering shift between memorable and mediocre.

On I'm No Sure Thing it becomes apparent that the group has no real interest in having diversity with their music. The monotonous repetition of chorus' and the same relatively boring synth pattern is all that's there to keep you entertained amongst the not-so-spectacular guitar riffs and drum patterns. However the group seems to be aware of how they operate as suggested by the shout of "This is prolific filler!" on Doom & Gloom. It's at this point where it becomes apparent that the group isn't trying to take themselves too seriously and simply provide a fun listen, but this doesn't come at a price. Whether it's blatantly stated or not, there remains a good deal of filler here. No Songs Is Good Songs utilizes that same formula of verse/chorus/verse/repeat, which isn't uncommon in the genre, but it's used so often here that it comes out hollow and uninspired. Then there's the entirely unnecessary Better My Future, a thirty-seven second display of pure filler. It may seem that all hope is lost for work/sleep, but fortunately for The Appreciation Post, they pull out a couple songs to end the album properly.

Fear Of Loss gives this EP the burst of energy it so desperately needed. It pulls it from the pop-punk monotony that plagues its first half. All the scattered instruments finally come together to make a very fun listen. While this doesn't redeem the mistakes made previously, it at least gives the listener a taste of what the group is capable of other than formulaic tracks about girls and parties. On the final track Moving Backwards, vocalist Jim Keaney gives his best vocal performance on the record, though it should be noted that he's great on nearly every track. He has a great voice for what the group is trying to do and always gives a confident tinge to each line.

Musically speaking, the EP really has nothing special to it. The instrumentation is everything you'd expect from a group in the genre and it begins to feel stale by the third track where the synth and guitar seem to melt into each other creating a truly boring mess. It will easily hook the party crowd with each track having a catchy feel to it, but in hindsight it provides nothing new and is a terribly safe attempt at musicianship. Only a few aforementioned times is it effective in context with the record and from there on out it becomes recycled and tired. Had there maybe been a little instrumental diversity to keep the attention of the listener, it would have been a much more substantial listen.

It's difficult to describe work/sleep without bouncing back and forth between a positive and negative opinion. On a few tracks, it really shines as an extremely fun listen, but when taken with the filler and monotony of other songs, it becomes apparent that The Appreciation Post may want to reconsider their approach. As mentioned previously, they try to stay a happy-go-lucky group, not taking themselves too seriously. However this seems to work against them with their music coming out hollow and overall boring. The appeal of it all is difficult to find amongst the filler which in the end becomes the anchor to keep them at the bottom of the power-pop sea.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Here, Hear. Review

La Dispute is an increasingly intriguing group. With each effort that's released, they slowly build and grow upon their talents and have slowly become a large force in post-hardcore music. They could easily flow along with the formulas they've found successful on past outings, but with their recent series of EPs they've done just the opposite. With the "Hear, Here." series they show that they refuse to become stagnant and choose to grow rapidly as a group. It inspires a nod in their direction for their musical persistence and skillful execution of each impressive release. The first in the aforementioned EP series is a fine example of this lively musical progression. They take bits and pieces of poetry and writings and add their own special touch to portray their artistic dexterity and it is indeed the group's refusal to become dull and repetitive.

An array of music is present throughout this short EP, with the group utilizing several different instruments and utensils to create a backdrop for Jordan Dreyer's spoken word poetry. With several poppy little noises present throughout "One" and the acoustic guitar keeping "Two" flowing, you never quite get the same instrumentation in the short four tracks. This is a pleasant (and necessary) touch to keep the record interesting and lively. I imagine it's difficult to capture attention with your entire project relying on one man speaking and a few more people playing timidly in the background. Fortunately for them, La Dispute does this nearly flawlessly, always holding my attention and piquing my interest in what Dreyer has to say. However, the band does slightly fall back into familiar trends with "Three" where we hear the whining vocals that has been ever-present throughout the group's works. Though it does feel slightly out of place, it doesn't turn the track entirely sour.

With the superb storytelling on "Four", you can get a basic idea of what the entirety of this EP will be. Dreyer says everything with a confident tinge and it really adds to the way the poetry is presented. However strange it may be for a group most known for their harsh shouts of "Tonight we ride!!!" to release an EP of spoken word poetry readings, it doesn't tarnish the quality that they remain consistent with. It's a clean, simple, and enjoyable release that can be enjoyed by many. With each interesting little noise and sporadic instrument addition throughout, "Hear, Here." presents itself as La Dispute's refusal to become stagnant. It's a breath of fresh air for anyone who might think this group has only one strongpoint, and it will show any naysayers that La Dispute are a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Untitled 7" Review

One of the most promising groups in the post-hardcore genre today, La Dispute have been consistently pumping out quality music since their first EP in 2006. From there they went on to release several more solid EPs and eventually their most well renowned record, "Somewhere At The Bottom of the River Between Vega And Altair". This LP garnered them much attention from fans of the post-hardcore genre, including myself, so it was no surprise that when I stumbled upon one of their earliest releases that I was immediately immersed in the same charm offered on several of their other releases. Their "Untitled 7" contains only two songs, but is effective in providing a quality listening experience. It brings everything you've come to expect from the band, but doesn't feel stale in that regard. The harsh, cutthroat guitar, the cryptically engaging lyrics, and contrast between desperate and screaming vocals all reemerge as the strong points here and it's no surprise - La Dispute has been doing it wonderfully for the length of their career.

The addictively energetic opening track, "Only Everything Below", is one of the most solid songs the group has put out to date. The guitars immediately take center stage until Jordan Dreyer comes in with his swift vocal work, keeping the song at a quick and attention-grabbing pace. The song soon dims down slightly to effectively display how well this band can switch between quick, harsh thrashes and more mellow guitar work. It interchanges between the two several times throughout the song which gives it an interesting and entertaining structure. As per usual for the band, Dreyer paints a lush picture for the listener. With lyrics like "Still, the flowers open as she passes, and the birds, they sing to greet her/Though she heaves blood" he gives the song substance to go along with the impressive musicianship at work in the background. Each small detail of this track excels in a memorable and impressive fashion, however it's up to the next track to solidify this as an excellent outing.

The next and final song is "Shall Never Lose It's Power". It starts out noticeably slower than the previous track, but still has the desperate feel presented throughout this release. It doesn't take long for the melodic guitar picks to turn into full-on distortion-heavy riffs mixed with Dreyer's magnificent screams. The rage he depicts is so raw and passionate that it's rarely matched by anyone in the genre. Again, the lyrics portray another emotional and intelligent picture. Jordan Dreyer has a knack for always keeping your attention with his music and never releasing his grip on your interest. This is ever-present here and is what makes this a very enjoyable track, however not as memorable as the first.

Through a simple nine minutes of music, it feels like you've listened to half of a full-length LP. The music is substantial and syncs up with the lyrics in a majestic manner that La Dispute has always been masterful at. In the end, it all boils down to whether you've enjoyed La Dispute in the past. They provide everything that they've been both praised and criticized for, most notably Dreyer's whiny vocals. However, if this is your first time listening to the group, then you'll get a very solid idea of what's to come of their full-length, but not so much of their most recent EPs, which are a different beast in themselves. To say it simply, La Dispute's "Untitled 7" gives you every reason to love or despise the group, you take your pick.

Friday, May 7, 2010

From Here To Infirmary Review

Let's go back to 1998. Alkaline Trio, the punk group emerging from Chicago, burst onto the scene in a gritty display. Their debut record "Goddamnit" set the tone for what would become their sole purpose in the music industry -- Creating dark, gloomy, yet still incredibly catchy music with a keen precision. Fast forward two more years and we're served another dose of grisly wit with "Maybe I'll Catch Fire". With this outing they soon proved to be a force to be reckoned with; an intelligent and morbid front-man and his partner in crime. Indeed, Matt Skiba (guitar, vocals) and Dan Andriano (bass, vocals) are the backbone of the group. With the drummer position in constant flux, they held the group together until finally Derek Grant joined to form the trio that we know today. A mere year after "Maybe I'll Catch Fire", the trio returns with their third studio album "From Here To Infirmary". As expected, everything that the group has been adored for in the past returns in full force, if not a little watered down.

The album has been criticized for being a tamer effort than what they've put out in the past, and in some instances that's easily agreeable. With "Armageddon"'s sing-along chorus and catchy rhythm, it could be labeled as a radio song with ease. However, when listening to a song like "Another Innocent Girl", you get a somber, heartfelt number that can really stick with you with its beautiful imagery and gloomy melody. Each bitter melody and angry shout sprinkled throughout the record is a testament to their past work and each, dare I say, "mainstream" friendly guitar lick and rhythm brings forth a newer, cleaner Alkaline Trio.

Musical progression is a must if you want to stay away from stagnancy, and that I believe is what this album is attempting to accomplish. The adept lyricism and shadowy moods are still present, but with a coat of polish and a step outside the box from what the trio has pumped out previously. Take a song like "You're Dead", Skiba uses his pristine songwriting to convey his message but is still cunning in his presentation. The line "If assholes could fly/This place would be busier than O'Hare" is one of the writing gems scattered throughout the course of the record -- And while some of the lines can be pretty silly, such as the ending to "Mr. Chainsaw" where Skiba proclaims "In case you're wondering we're singing about growing up", you still get a relatively serious and lyrically well-executed record.

Perhaps the most enjoyable portion of the record is every track where Dan is leading. This album marks where he hits his peak as both a lyricist and musician. Besides supplying some really great bass lines (Steamer Trunk, Bloodied Up), he displays some of the best lyricism to come from the band at the time. On "Take Lots With Alcohol" his vocal sincerity is unmatched up until the conclusion. You can savor the emotion pouring from him as he wails his bleak lyrics about alcoholism. The theme is present throughout most of the record but isn't nearly as emotionally drenched as it is when Dan appears once again on the conclusion, "Crawl". This is definitely one of the high moments of the entire album. The way Dan builds the song to the perfect intensity simply inspires you to experience the heart-wrenching tale he weaves so intricately.

Musically, the group is as simple as they've always been. The distorted guitar and sludgy bass is always in your face, though never too over-powering. While this has always been one of the weaker points of the group, they take advantage of the simplicity here to create some very catchy songs. "Bloodied Up" is a fine example of this, with a smooth bass line and repetitive guitar chords underneath Matt's relatively smooth (in comparison to earlier work) vocals. You get a real sense of the band's earlier sound with the ever-moving rhythm and constantly pounding instruments. On the flip-side of that, "Trucks And Trains" takes advantage of crescendo to make another musically effective track with some pretty solid lyrics as well.

Of the several aforementioned catchy songs on the record, there's one that stands out as above par in contrast to the rest of the album. "Stupid Kid", being one of the best f**k you songs I've heard, gives you that feeling in your gut; that slowly building tension that inspires you to scream the chorus with Skiba. It's these moments that remind you why you're listening to Alkaline Trio. They're bitter connoisseurs in the punk genre and never fail to make you feel all that gut-turning anger and heart-wrenching agony that they convey so sublimely. It's a relatively simple record and they're not reaching for the stars musically, but for what it is there isn't much disappointment. Despite a few slip-ups, "From Here To Infirmary" will go down as one of my favorites of all time, for more personal reasons than anything, and as one of Alkaline Trio's catchiest efforts to date.