Hey all! Another Sunday night, another Stereotoid. I personally had some great reviews planned but I think I might've caught the flu (in the dead Texas humidity nonetheless) so I think I'm just gonna let some of the others take this one up. There's some good stuff in here, for sure. JTHomeslice solidifies himself as a regular with two reviews on The Upsides by The Wonders Years and Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows by D.R.U.G.S., Kraid's expertise on jazz and synth come together for a review of Laughing Stock by Talk Talk, and resident blogger LawofThermalDynamics drops by to review Radiohead's latest album King of Limbs.
Album: The Upsides
Artist: The Wonder Years
Label: No Sleep Records/Hopeless Records
Released: September 21, 2010 (rerelease)
Genre: Pop punk
Sounds like: Super personal and relatable pop punk
Pop punk has had a renaissance over the last few years. With hardcore inspired bands like Four Year Strong and Set Your Goals and veterans like New Found Glory and Blink-182, the pop punk scene has never been stronger. One band that has set themselves apart from the pack, in my mind at least, is The Wonder Years. Their intensely personal lyrics struck a chord with many fans, including myself. That combined with a great classic pop punk sound makes one of the finest pop punk albums of last year.
The Upsides was originally going to be about giving up. All the guys in the band were in a bad place before writing the album. It wasn’t until singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell saw the fountain at Logan’s Circle in their hometown of Philadelphia was turned on, that Soupy realized they couldn’t be this down at this time in their lives. The album then gained an overall theme of not giving up despite what life may throw at you. The thing I like most about Soupy’s lyrics is that they sound like a real person wrote them. They’re very frank and realistic. Songs deal with things like social awkwardness, putting up with the shitty people you live around, and the loneliness of touring life. They’re delivered with a dose humor, there are references to sexting and Jersey Shore so it’s instantly dated, and cursing that add make it sound more like a real person talking. I bring up the use of cursing because it’s actually used well. Other bands just go “FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK TITS FUCK” to the point where it’s just ridiculous, but Soupy’s swearing sounds more like someone around my age talking. It’s refreshing to hear someone sing like a person.
To reflect the overall tone of the lyrics, the music is super upbeat, as pop punk should be. Soupy’s voice is a somewhat high pitched, but not to the point of irritation. He creates great poppy hooks that accent the energetic music. The guitars are loud and crunchy, the drums are pounding, and there’s even a subtle keyboard part here and there. It has so much energy and it’s flat out fun. The album occasionally veers away from that with “Hey Thanks” and the rerelease track “Logan’s Circle: A New Hope”. “Hey Thanks” is a ukulele driven song (!) with Soupy thanking his girlfriend for putting up with him. The song is absolutely wonderful with the combination of uke, Soupy’s vocals, and guest vocals from Rachel Minton of Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer that eventually brings the rest of the band back in for a huge finish. One of my favorite songs on the album. “Logan’s Circle: A New Hope” is a reworked version of “Logan’s Circle” from the earlier in the album. It’s a slower, piano driven piece with reworked lyrics to reflect the time around the original release of The Upsides. That and the acoustic “We Won’t Bury You” provides a nice ending to the album.
Maybe it’s just that this album hit me at the right time. Being 19, in college, and still not sure about my future, an upbeat album all about staying happy despite what life throws at you is just what I needed. It also helps that it’s great musically too. It’s absolutely the best pop punk album of 2010. These dudes have a great future ahead of them.
Album: Laughing Stock
Artist: Talk Talk
Label: Verve Records/ Polydor Records
Released: 16 September 1991
*Sub-genres experimental, art rock
Sounds like: Take an 80’s British synthpop band, and dip them into borderline ambient jazz & experimental rock.
Ever felt a bit melancholic? Nothing too severe, just enough to make you wonder about the facts of life, and how you fit in them. Yeah, that’s how my week mostly went. I can’t be all jolly and happy all the time, you know? Music is one way to get out of it, that’s for sure. I mostly listen to uplifting music regardless of my mood, anyway. Sometimes though, I like having my fix of abstract and moody melodies. Laughing Stock --for a lack of a more optimistic title-- by Talk Talk fits exactly the prescription. And darned it, it’s actually pretty damn good.
Now, I’m no expert on Talk Talk, I’ve never even heard of their early pop debuts, (well barely). I’ve actually just started listening to their post-rock phase. But, I still felt like it was necessary to share this beautiful album to the community. Laughing Stock is strangely personal. I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, but somehow, I can’t quite figure it out. Maybe it’s just too abstract to really find an answer, yet it still speaks to me in such a transcending way. Weird isn’t it? It’s like I’ve heard this band before, even though it’s my first time hearing them. The album is highly similar to Portishead and Gary Numan in terms of emotion. Dark, moody, completely dredged in sweet melancholy. Laughing Stock sounds incredible as well. Right there, between the improvisational time signatures of Miles Davis and Free Jazz, and the smooth, beautiful harmonies of alternative rock.
I’m hearing a lot of Kaki King in the guitars, too. Maybe it’s that much of an influential album after all. Laughing Stock was one of the first in the batch that lay the grounds of what would become post-rock; highly regarded as one of the best in the genre, even. I guess you can understand my enthusiasm. Mark Hollis’ voice is absolutely wonderful on these tracks. Expressive and gloomy, it adds so much to the already gorgeous accompaniment. The drums are heavy, so is the bass. It creates the perfect mood for a dejected evening. But, like I said, it’s the right kind of melancholy. Not the one that would make you blow your brains out, on the contrary, (That sounded a little off, right?).
Laughing Stock is so perplexing. Yet, I’ve highly enjoyed it. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I have a strong sentiment of déjà vu. Maybe it’s my unconscious playing tricks on my mind. Maybe it’s because I fell in love with a wonderful album, too. I sense sometimes like there’s this profound anguish inside of me that needs to get out. I normally take it off through video games, but music also does it for me. Talk Talk’s last LP is atmospheric, though, above all, very emotional. I hear love and sorrow (regret), from it. I could see myself falling in love with someone, or even crying out of a broken heart to this album. It has done so many things to my brain this past week. Laughing Stock is incredible. And goddamn, I needed that.
Album: Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows
Released: February 22, 2011
*Sub-genres Alternative rock, pop punk
Sounds like: A bunch of dudes from post-hardcore bands get together and make a post-hardcore album.
What a terrible name for a band. D.R.U.G.S.? Really? Aside from having a dumb name, D.R.U.G.S. also has some of the biggest talent from modern post-hardcore scene. The band features Craig Owens (formerly of Chiodos), on vocals, Matt Good (from From First to Last) and Nick Martin (from Underminded) on guitar and backing vocals, Adam Russell (from Story of the Year) on bass, and Aaron Stern (from Matchbook Romance) on drums. To be honest, the only band out of those I’m familiar with is Chiodos, but I’ve at least heard of the rest. There was a good amount of hype surrounding the band after they announced the members, but we all know that hype doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about the music.
The album starts off with a bang in “If You Think This Song Is About You, It Probably Is”. This song is fucking fantastic. It opens with Stern tapping on the rims of his drums before the rest of the band comes in with a blast of sound. It goes back to the tapping in the verses and everyone comes in for the chorus. This one really showcases Owens vocals, going from hushed tones to soaring melodies and high pitched screams. It’s an absolute highlight of the album.
The central theme of the album is about relationships and cheating significant others. That would be fine if the lyrics weren’t sub depressed high school kid level. For example, there’s this from “The Only Thing You Think About”: “I knew as soon as I left you’d go and fuck someone else you whore”, then there’s this from “Mr. Owl Ate My Metal Worm”: “I’d like to keep cutting/I’d like to keep cutting/ But I can’t stand to watch myself bleed”, and then there’s the chorus from “Sex Life”: “If you had a sex life, a sex life/ would you even worry about mine/when your bed is empty”. All these lyrics were written by a 26 year old man.
The album suffers from overproduction. The electronic and orchestral elements are used way too much. It’s almost like the band or producer John Feldmann (The Used, Atreyu) thought that there couldn’t be a moment on the album where there was just a single instrument by itself. When used sparingly like in “If You Think This Song Is About You…” it works well, complimenting the rest of the song. But when it’s overdone like on “I’m the Rehab, You’re the Drugs”, it’s overbearing and hurts the song. Another problem is that the effects sound far too much like other bands. “Graveyard Dancing” straight up sounds like The Used. Seriously, listen to ”The Bird and the Worm” and then listen to ”Graveyard Dancing”. They are crazy alike. I guess that’s just Feldmann’s production style.
The instrumentation is good, if a bit standard. It’s got all the hallmarks of post-hardcore, chugging guitars and double bass, clean and harsh vocals, and some good guitar leads as well. A particular highlight is Nick Martin’s harsh vocals. He absolutely kills it on “Stop Reading, Start Doing Pushups” and “My Swagger has A First Name”. His deep growls and yells are a great contrast to Owens higher screams. I just wish he was used more. One song that took me by surprise was “I’m Here to Take the Sky”. This is a pop punk song. It sounds like Paramore if fronted by Craig Owens. And it’s good! It’s an interesting change of pace after 30 or so minutes of post-hardcore pummeling.
Overall, I enjoyed this album. I didn’t really have all that much expectations for it except for “oh hey, it’s Craig Owens new band”. I could imagine a superfan of all these bands being underwhelmed by this project, but coming at it from my perspective I liked it. They just need to take more of the good (Martin’s vocals, pop punk sound) and lose the bad (shitty lyrics, unnecessary electronics) and they’ll make an excellent next album. I know these guys have it in them.
Album: The King of Limbs
Label: Self Released
Released: February 18, 2010
Genre: Alternative Rock
*Sub-genres Electro-Ballad, Prog-Rock
Sounds like: Everything else Radiohead has done since Kid A, just a little different.
When Radiohead first released In Rainbows back in 2007, I was hopeful in thinking that Radiohead had turned over a new chapter in their musical styling towards a more organic kind of music moving past their digital fascination for something, not necessarily classic rock like their first three albums, but for something else entirely and if there's something Radiohead does better than any band in the world it's being different. 2011's The King of Limbs proves that Radiohead is pursuing the intimacy found in their last album as this may just be Radiohead's most romantic album ever.
The album starts out with Bloom, an electronic opener with spastic drum loops, but unlike past efforts similar in both style and tone as this song, Bloom feels more primal and has an almost tribal execution. The album, as it turns out, began to unravel right before my eyes into one of the best examples of deconstruction I have ever listened to.
At eight tracks long and clocking in at around thirty four minutes this is the band's shortest album to date, but the album moves along at such a pace and transitions to the next song with such ease that the whole thing could be treated as a single entity. The songs begin in usual Radiohead fashion (at least since Kid A), sputtering noises, abstract lyrics, and the atmosphere of a freezer, but as the album progresses the lyrics become softer, the beats smoother, and I found myself easing into a comfortable position and allowing Thom Yorke's voice to sing sweet nothings into my ear. Moving across the album, songs like Lotus Flower transitions into Codex which just as smoothly melts into the folk inspired Give Up The Ghost which passed right along, and before I knew it I reached the end. The album finishes with Separator. A bubbly song that encapsulates the entire album as a more loving, almost happy Radiohead.
The really funny thing is that Radiohead already did a piano driven ballad, several of them. They've already started albums with electric drum loops, already sang songs about love, but what makes this album amazing is that it won't feel any different from anything else they've done until you finish listening to it. The true strength of the album lies in its short length. Every song, every minute of the album feels perfectly in synch with one another and builds up to a natural conclusion. There is not a single wasted minute in here. This is an album in which nothing is out of place, and everything feels perfectly natural.
In terms of how it compares to other Radiohead albums, the only thing I can say is that eight albums in and Radiohead maintains their perfect game. Now, if you were a fan alienated by their turns towards electronic chirps in Kid A, I can tell you that Radiohead has not returned to its classical roots. If you are a fan of anything Radiohead, embrace another winner.
Of course this being Radiohead no clear interpretation is ever the truth and though I personally found this album the happiest I've heard coming from the band, others deem this album another depressing downer. I can't say you'll have the exact same reaction towards this album as I had, but whether you enjoy the gloom and doom Radiohead or eager to see Radiohead's next move, The King of Limbs is a good indicator of the future of the band, and the future looks to change once again.