EP Review :: Spraynard – Exton Square

“…the band and their sound is maturing in real time, but holding onto what made them great in the first place.”

With their debut album, Funtitled, Spraynard – an American trio who can be best described as fusing the careful intricacies and passion of 90’s emo with all that is carefree and great about traditional pop-punk – cast me back to being 14 and listening to Weezer’s Blue Album.

That record is a collection of fast-paced upbeat songs about comic books, video games, generally lacking direction and being totally fine with the fact. This best summed up on their own words – in a line delivered as well as it is written – “Today I will prove that I’m more than a collection of comic books or a high score on the screen”. It’s an incredibly uplifting record that I could (and quite possibly should) go on about at length, alas this is a review of the new EP, sorry!

Exton Square opens with ‘Can I Borrow A Feeling?’, and for the first 78 seconds you might wonder if you’ve indeed put on a Spraynard record. It leads in with a slow and somewhat sensitive opening, something which many who were expecting the EP to simply be an extension of their debut would never have expected. This is quite quickly put to bed and the song continues in much more the fashion we’ve come to expect. This theme however is quite consistent throughout, and its one of the things I enjoy most about the EP. It’s definitely a Spraynard record, they’ve kept a lot of what made their earlier stuff great but they’ve also been able to develop their sound with fantastic results.

Listened to along side the previous release it really feels like a natural progression for the band. In the same way that Funtitled reminded me of youthful times of optimism, Exton Square reminds me of looking back on those times with a sense of nostalgia, and perhaps feeling the ill effects of growing up. It suggests that the band and their sound is maturing in real time, but holding onto what made them great in the first place. (It might be contradictory at this point to mention that my favourite tracking “Trembling” is probably the most closely matched to the style of their earlier records, but I don’t care.)

The style, structure and feeling of the new EP is so intriguing, the evolution of the sound leads to something of a cliffhanger as to what’s to come next. Sadly this sense of intrigue meant that I found it to be a little short, there are only 4 tracks and from a band that writes predominantly concise songs, it almost feels over too soon. This could perhaps be a very clever marketing ploy for a new full length release, but seeing as I didn’t see J. J. Abrams name in the album production credits I doubt it and so I was left feeling that perhaps there could have been a bit more content.

That said, there’s nothing to stop me putting it on again, and I think that’s what I’ll do.

– John Dykes

Album Review :: Matt Skiba & The Sekrets – Babylon

“…it’s standard Matt Skiba fare with an emphasis on the emotional, the morose and the morbid.”

Having already got one new side-project under his belt for 2012, it was surprising to see Matt Skiba announce that he’d be releasing a full length with, new band, The Sekrets. Though considered a “solo-ish” outing from the Alkaline Trio vocalist/guitarist, Skiba enlisted Hunter Burgan (AFI) and Jarrod Alexander (My Chemical Romance) to help him out with this latest foray into the world of post-punk.

I say it’s a post-punk record, but it still contains a lot of the elements that endeared Skiba to punk fans for the past fifteen-plus years. Unlike his previous effort with Heavens, the record is a lot more upbeat and will sound familiar to fans of his work with The Trio. The addition of a synth and some light vocal effects – mainstays of that late 70s/early 80s post-punk sound – stand out as the the biggest difference between Babylon and newer recorded material. This is no bad thing, and there were times I felt that some of Agony & Irony and This Addiction may have been better served as part of this project.

Lyrically, it’s standard Matt Skiba fare with an emphasis on the emotional, the morose and the morbid, which fit well with the haunting synth tracks that lurk in the background of each song. Though even Skiba can’t be spot on all the time. ‘Luciferian Blues’ and ‘Falling Like Rain’ are the two weakest lyrical efforts on the album, with the latter definitely being the worst track on the record. There’s just a bit too much of that synth and it sounds like a bad 90s dance track.

At it’s worst it’s pretty bad, but there’s a lot to love here. ‘Voices’ and ‘All Fall Down’ make for a great opening to the record and ‘How The Hell Did We Get Here’ is absolutely fantastic. It’s tracks like these that combine the pop, punk, electro and post-punk influences the best and justify the reason for this record’s existence. With that said, despite of its post-punk roots and the clear influence of Joy Division and New Order, it’s not all that downbeat. Skiba still has a knack for making you want to sing along with him, even when it comes to the darkest of subjects.

In fact, it’s actually quite a fun record and feels like the natural progression of what Matt wanted to do with Heavens. Some may scoff that Matt’s not exactly stepped too far out of his comfort zone here, but that doesn’t mean him and the band haven’t made a really good record. It’s punky, poppy and morbid in equal measure, and definitely worth your time.

Songs To Cure Depression :: Ween – ‘Bananas And Blow’

“Stuck in my Cabana…”

This has been lifted straight from my blog so what does that tell us exactly?
Either I’m getting terribly lazy or the words already wrote were a perfect fit. In all honesty I think it’s both but the latter being more of a fluke then any kind of premeditated scheme. Anyway, that ugly, ugly, bastard know as depression was here biting at my nut sack again and even though the song really has fuck all with the current situation, it did briefly alleviate the grim feeling of melancholy. Here’s some additional words to go with those above.

It’s probably a good idea to do this while the adrenaline is still flowing through my body. I’m back off the drink again after falling back into it over the past week due to (or perhaps resulting in) finding myself in quite a dark place again.

But the adrenaline helps.

Even if all I want to do is sleep.

I guess I should make some kind of actual point here.

For the past few years I’ve spent my time honing a skill that has helped me throughout my days. This metaphorical tough skin that allows me to detach myself from any negative situation and just carry on with things. It prevented me from being getting bit in the arse by bad people, bad women, pretty much anything (the day I learn to use this technique to the same effect but for the bad feelings coming from within, shit, well that’ll be the day the apocalypse rears it’s slimy head and blows us all the fucking smithereens).

So who would have thought that my special ability would, in fact, bite me in the arse? Sometimes being an emotionally handicapped, socially inept, closed off freak isn’t a good thing. Especially when something (someone) good comes along and you find yourself going through the old routines of alienation and complacency instead of tearing down the self-constructed walls of reclusion and allowing yourself to be an actual damn human being and stop pretending you don’t give a crap.

It’s a scary prospect, this reintroduction into the wild.

To admit to caring.

To realise you’ll probably get broken down all over again, but giving it a shot anyway.

I’m a real fuck up and I’ll make a plethora of mistakes along the way.

But I’m willing to give it a shot.

Just gotta keep those digits crossed in hope this irrational fear of attachment hasn’t fucked it when it being fucked is the worst possible outcome.

Songs To Cure Depression :: Ween – ‘If You Could Save Yourself (You’d Save Us All)’

“…the cheques all bounced. I came in your mouth.”

Depression won out today. It was going to happen eventually. Shit, we got through over ten installments of this damn thing before it go so ugly that a good song couldn’t clear it. So what else could I do? I couldn’t miss the deadline after doing so well, so I thought I’d pick a song that (to an extent) reflected the way I feel.

I’d said it recently on that goddamn blog that I didn’t understand why i was sinking so deep again, and I still don’t. I didn’t have any money, perhaps it was that. I didn’t have any love, so it could be that too. Or maybe I’d become so damn terrified of the prospect of life that I was just bumming out in the biggest of ways anyone can be bummed out by the weight of life, by letting it drag you down and beat you into submission. I’m scared senseless of all the big ones, them irritable questions that crop up when the reaper comes a’knocking.

“Is it my time?”
“Oh no, Ian, I’m just checking up on you. I heard you’ve been feeling real down recently and I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t decided to advance our little meeting without letting me know.”
“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.”
“Oh. Well. Good. Chin up kiddo.”
“Who told you?”
“The big man.”
“God?”
“Christ no, that fuck doesn’t care about anyone but himself. No, Satan. He’s worried sick about you.”

So this song is by Ween, arguably my favourite band. They do a lot of crazy shit but once in a while they pull out a gem like this, and as much as it gives some solace knowing that there is other people’s pain (and theirs is probably much worse) it doesn’t pick me up, just makes me feel dumb and stupid and miserable.
Fuck it. I’m going for a drink.

Album Review :: Apologies, I Have None – London

“…runs the emotional gamut, and does it expertly.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Apologies, I Have None have finally released their debut full-length and it’s absolutely fantastic. Having heard everything the band has done up to this point, and seen them live countless times, I always knew that this was going to turn out great. What I didn’t expect was to have my expectations completely shattered, and that’s exactly what’s happened here.

There’s no beating around the bush when it comes to London. ’60 Miles’ hits you in the face right from the off and just doesn’t stop. The overarching theme of England’s capital making the record completely cohesive, and a very easy listen, despite some of the darker, more intense, subject matter. Rarely have I heard a record that can go from completely uplifting, to down and self loathing, and then do the whole thing all over again so seamlessly. This intensity is epitomised in ‘The 26’, but that was just one of the many times this record caught me off guard in the best way possible. It runs the emotional gamut, and does it expertly.

The record also delivers us a more polished Apologies, I Have None. Previous releases have been far from badly produced, but there’s been very little of this quality out there. This becomes especially apparent on the new recordings of ‘Sat In Vicky Park’ and ‘Joiners And Windmills’. Both songs sound better than ever and really fit in well amongst some of the newer, harder, tunes on the record. It also offers up something different, musically. ‘Foundations’ is nothing more than Dan and a piano, the rest of the band taking a back seat. And whilst it doesn’t sound like a ‘typical’ Apologies song, it’s by far the the most interesting song on the record.

Whilst I love how different ‘Foundations’ is and how intense ‘The 26’ gets, it’s ‘Concrete Feet’ – a song about the harsher aspects of life – that stands out as my favourite. The way the music builds in conjunction with the, seemingly self-deprecating lyrics really helps the song hit home. That’s not to say the lyrics aren’t powerful on their own: “You’ll always make mistakes/you’ll always fuck shit up/you will sometimes make bad choices/and blame that shit on bad luck” is just one example of the lyrical tour de force that this song (and the entire record) is.

In fact, everything about London is fantastic (it’s better than the city it’s named after, that’s for sure). So much so, that I’ve found it hard to review. It’s so good that I’ve found it hard to find a fault. I’d have to really start nitpicking to come up with something I didn’t like about these ten songs. I know there’s no such thing as a perfect record, but this might be as close as you’re going to get. It shows off exactly what Apologies, I Have None are all about, and should see the previously uninitiated clamoring for older material and a chance to see them live.

Songs To Cure Depression :: Wheatus – ‘Anyway’

“…even if I’m luck I’ll amount to zero, but I thought that you’d love me anyway.”

As I sat at the goddamn desk, sipping at my second coffee and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life and if any of this would ever lead to anything close to a wage, I felt a strange sense of something, not quite satisfaction or contentment, that is best described with the word “apathy,” a less crass way of describing the sentiment “I don’t give a fuck.”
Which to most might not seem like a good way to feel, but it was better than the 100 tonne anchor of depression pulling me into another week long black out binge session where I achieved very little apart from a few scrawls here and there. Yes, apathetic was progress, I had so many deadlines and so little enthusiasm to do them, but at least I wasn’t going under. But how did I get to this place? I sure as hell didn’t feel like this a few hours ago. Was it the fresh air I’d taken in on a stroll? The 30 minutes of meditation I had just recently done? Or was it the music? The beautiful music that has saved me from the jaws of that bastard death-shark more times then I can recount. A dose a cheesy indie-pop was just the ticket. Wheatus had been my guilty pleasure for so long that it wasn’t even a secret anymore, so much I just admitted it to anyone who inquired. And why shouldn’t I? As much as they will always be tarred as “that teenage dirt-bag band” (shockingly, they have other songs) Wheatus were in fact a group of talented, fun loving, song writers who could spin a mood from minus to plus within three minutes of high-pitched vocals, bouncy rhythms and tongue-in-cheek lyrical content (I mean, BMX Bandits is about jerking it to 16 year old Nicole Kidman) and there is few other examples of Wheatus at their best then the song “anyway.” I have no clue what the hell this video is about though, but it was the best YouTube had to offer.

Album Review :: The Magnificent – Bad Lucky

“…there’s thousands of punk bands out there proclaiming their town is the shittest, but no one does it quite as well as The Mags”

Let me pose a question: If you were to take the poetic, typically English, story telling of The Clash and combine that with the angst-ridden, raw, pop-punk of  (old) Green Day, what would you get? The answer to that is The Magnificent and, In a nutshell, their latest offering sounds like the bastard child of the aforementioned.

Whilst Bad Lucky does nothing especially groundbreaking, it is a really solid punk record. Opener, ‘1981’ sets the tone right from the off. It shows that the band aren’t afraid of delving into territories unknown. I mean, how often have you heard a song about a royal wedding with such awesome guitar work? The semi-dystopian world view carries on throughout the entire album, setting it apart from anything else. I mean, there’s thousands of punk bands out there proclaiming their town is the shittest, but no one does it quite as well as The Mags.

Of course, not all of these songs are about decaying towns. ‘Working Mens Club (Part 2)’ – a song that might well be my favourite on the record – focuses on the monotony of the ‘nine to five’ and, presumably, the overall hatred of having to work in a job you hate. This track also offers a change of pace not heard elsewhere on the record, introducing a hard, fast, Descendents-esque sound that would’ve been welcome more than just this once.

There’s also some real good sing-along songs on here too. ‘King Of The Denim Jackets’ springs to mind with it’s catchy opening verse and plethora of ‘woah-ing’ and ‘oh-ing’. Though a resounding cheer of “1990” emanating from the crowd at the next Mags show is a safe bet too.

Honestly, there’s very little wrong with Bad Lucky. Alright, there’s a few sketchy lyrics here and there but, more than any record I’ve heard recently, Bad Lucky has a real old school punk swagger about it. A real nostalgia, not all of which is derived from those songs with dates for titles.

Songs To Cure Depression :: RX Bandits – ‘…and the Battle Begun’

“…take of your shoes, it’s time for dancin'”

To: XXX@XXXXXX.XX.XX

Cc:

Bcc:

Subject: Attendance

Dear XXXX,

Sorry I haven’t been in attendance much these past few weeks. I’ve been having a really bad time with my anxiety/depression/etc and it has been hard for me to face being at university.

I’m going to work hard at getting my head back into place and hopefully after this week will be in full attendance for the rest of the term.

Is it possible to have all the assignment and hand in dates in a reply e-mail? That way I can catch up at home before next Monday’s lecture.

I’m sorry if this has caused any problems and I’d hate my poor attendance to appear as a disinterest in the course. I’m enjoying it very much (when I’m actually there) and want to do the best I possibly can during my time at university. It’s a shame my issues hold me back, otherwise I’d be giving it my all.

Incidentally, I was told by a friend that Winston Churchill had similar mental health issues during his life. So perhaps there’s hope for me becoming a fat, bald, cigar smoking maniac who runs the country for a while too.

Again, apologies for my absence,

Ian Critchley

Podcast :: UTB #35: We’re Going On Tour With Soundgarden Too!

“If you see an old woman on the street…hit her with a crowbar” – Ian Critchley

The subject of Carol Vorderman is firmly off the table for this week’s Under The Bridge, we’re sticking to the music talk. Thank christ for that! This week Emma Hallows tells us all about her recent tour with Dave Hughes, we discuss hypothetical meetings between penguins and polar bears and are asked the question “What is Cliff Richard doing right now?”

This week’s music is provided by Great Cynics, Martha, Harker and The Menzingers. No excuse for this being late. Barlow (eds note: honestly) just forgot we’d done it. It was edited, ready to go, and everything!

Go on, have a listen:

Under The Bridge #35: We’re Going On Tour With Soundgarden Too!

Gig Review :: Brand New – Academy 1, Manchester – 09/02/12

© 2012 Tom Bailey

“…the audience calm, and cling to every word, eventually taking over singing the song like a drunken choir, and seemingly putting Lacey off his lyrics. But who cares, the mans a legend.”

As the first chords of ‘Welcome to Bangkok’ ring out, myself, and I would imagine most of the crowd, are suddenly 14 again. Taken back to that place in time we first fell for Brand New, reminded of our teen loves and broken hearts, the band being the sound track to those drunken underage parties and our disenchanted younger years. Very few bands from my teen years still appeal to me, but Brand New explain why my love for them is so strong through the course of the show.

Looking around the room as the anticipation builds I find myself as another mismatch in a room full of variety. From 14 year olds in brand new Brand New shirts, to the Wiccan odd ball in front off me, to people like myself the post-emo veterans holding on to youth with white knuckles and teary eyes.

The atmosphere was electric as the band stepped on stage and began “Welcome to Bangkok”, ploughing through to ‘The Archers Bows have Broken’, ‘Millstone’, and ‘Sowing Season’ until there was a problem with Derick Shermans guitar we the  found Jesse filling the time with talk of his day in Manchester, explaining his great “Luncheon” and the fact that they have spent all day napping, he is a very humble and seemingly shy character (hidden bellow a baggy beanie) and despite the chat only being a filler for an onstage mishap the crowd are transfixed with what he has to say. As Derrick’s guitar comes back to life, Jesse apologises for wearing the same clothes tonight as he has for the last two shows, “I smell good though” he reassures us.

As we get to the fifth song, the crowd are gripped by the throbbing bass line of ‘Vices’ and are whipped up into frenzy. Moving onto ‘Sink’ another bass heavy beast of a song we can see just how great a bassist Garret Tierney really is ripping in to his bass with endless energy.

Rolling on to ‘Sic transit Gloria… Glory Fades’ the band are joined by a riot of vocals from the audience, followed up by ‘Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don’t’ the whole first verse taken over by the audience, the band seeming stunned by this looking at each other with confussed faces. A nice reminder that the band don’t quite realise just how good they really are.

The bands stage show was perfect, understated lighting and dry ice, nothing fancy just us and them, the way a good rock show should be. Yet another reason to see them live, it’s all about the music.

As ‘Jude Law and a Semester Abroad’ got started the room erupted once more in to a fury, not a body in the place wasn’t dancing. Following up with ‘Seventy Times 7’ only added to the atmosphere. Again taking people back to 2002 with the emo anthem.

Pausing at this point to ask the crowd ‘Play Crack the Sky’ or ‘Soco Amaretto Lime?’ Jesse asks for a clap vote, ‘Soco Amaretto Lime’ being the unanimous winner, the audience calm, and cling to every word, eventually taking over singing the song like a drunken choir, and seemingly putting Lacey off his lyrics. But who cares, the mans a legend.

Working through ‘Limousine’ to ‘Jesus’ we again find the crowd taking over the show to the bands delight. “Jesus Christ that’s a pretty face” bellowing from the moving mass of bodies.
As the show draws to a close we get ‘Degausser’ and finally ‘You Won’t Know’. With a towel over his head Lacey is an ominous presence on stage, considering the haunting Echo and the Bunny Men style to the tune, the tone drops and once again we are all hypnotised by Lacey’s presence. As the bass and drums pick up we are once more consumed with the need to dance, and we do, en masse! The whole room once again and for the last time turbulent and exhaustedly dancing like it is the last night on earth. As the song trails off the rest band quietly leave stage leaving Jesse behind to drop to his knees for the final solo then knock the mic stand over and throw his guitar through the drum kit.

A quick nervous “We will see you next year” and mention of a new album coming up excites the crowd and, with that, Jesse leaves the stage. The house lights suddenly blind us all and we quickly realise there will be no encore, a little disappointing given how good a show it has been. A large knot in my chest had me hoping in vane that they might come back with an acoustic and bring us to climax with ‘I Will play my Game Beneath the Spin Light’ or ‘Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot’. Missing ‘Guernica’ also left a few people disappointed but what will be will be, despite the lack of encore and a missing favourite the crowd leave sweaty and entirely satisfied, already buzzing with talk of next years gig.

Glory Fades… but not for Brand New, I am exited and refreshed, looking forward to what lies ahead for the talented gents from Long Island.

– Nick Matthew