Weekly 40-Watt #6: Ramones

Weekly 40-Watt #6: Ramones

There are several songs that I primarily associate with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series back from the N64 days:

  • “Police Truck” by Dead Kennedys

  • “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” by Primus

  • “Cyco Vision” by Suicidal Tendencies

  • “New Girl” by Suicide Machines

  • “Superman” by Goldfinger

  • “Blitzkrieg Bop” by Ramones

Now … this type of primary association is a factor of multiple events that need to happen concurrently. First off, this association wouldn’t have existed if I’d heard these songs before to any significant extent. If I already had some type of relationship with that Primus song, for example, its primary association in my head would be attributed elsewhere.

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Weekly 40-Watt #5: Coining the "replayability quotient"

Weekly 40-Watt #5: Coining the "replayability quotient"

I’m not writing about a band or artist for the first time this week, but instead dedicating this installment of my weekly music blog to a term that I used last week in my post about AM Taxi’s Shiver By Me. The term is replayability quotient, and after a quick Google search I’ve decided that I invented it.

Going back to when I wrote reviews on AbsolutePunk.net, at some point I started attempting to factor in a record’s long-term value into my “critiques.” I remember prioritizing this at the time as a way of policing myself into giving fewer albums really high scores. AP.net was known for reviewer ratings that tended to skew high, and I was especially guilty of that, especially early on in my album-reviewing time. When you write those reviews, especially if you’re writing about a release that is not highly anticipated, it’s tempting to give something you like a pretty high score so that people who are skimming through will notice it and potentially become intrigued. I was really fallible in that regard when I was younger.

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Weekly 40-Watt #4: AM Taxi's 'Shiver By Me'

Weekly 40-Watt #4: AM Taxi's 'Shiver By Me'

This week’s album is AM Taxi’s Shiver By Me. It’s the first new full-length since 2010 for this Chicago rock’n’roll band, and only their second overall, but the band members here have more musical experience than that output lets on. They know how to play their instruments pretty well.

I fell in love with AM Taxi’s first LP, We Don’t Stand A Chance, back in 2010 when (I think) then-AbsolutePunk.net contributor Chris Fallon reviewed it. I was drawn by the comparison this band received to The Gaslight Anthem back then … The ‘59 Sound was a couple years old and American Slang was still incredibly fresh, I think just released when We Don’t Stand A Chance came along. The comparison is apt; Adam Krier’s vocals do indeed sound like Brian Fallon’s, with that type of rasp that stays omnipresent in this type of poppy punk rock and roll. The guitar work and overall song structures remind of Gaslight easily, and the step-further comparison to Springsteen is there for the taking, too.

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Weekly 40-Watt #3: William Tyler

Weekly 40-Watt #3: William Tyler

Today’s focus is William Tyler, a guitarist who played in the band Lambchop for a long time and who has put out eight of his own releases, most often associated with Merge Records throughout his solo career. The band Lambchop is worth looking into on its own — here is an Essentials playlist from Apple Music for them — and I would especially recommend them for fans of alt-country acts like Limbeck. Easy to see here where a band like Limbeck could have taken plenty of influences from this band.

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Weekly 40-Watt #2: The Front Bottoms

Weekly 40-Watt #2: The Front Bottoms

This week’s 40-Watt blog is not strictly about a band that I’m listening to for the first time, like last week’s was, but it’s a band that I’m visiting for the first time in a long while.

I originally heard The Front Bottoms back in summer 2010, when I reviewed their debut EP, Slow Dance to Soft Rock, for AbsolutePunk.net. They were an unsigned band and I wrote about them like they were an unsigned band. Back then, I called the EP an “eager and honest brand of indie rock/punk” and praised “The Beers” as a highlight. In retrospect, that song is certainly still my favorite song that uses the word “steroids” in a chorus — no doubt.

The way I closed that review? “Hopefully this band can muster up enough attention one day to embark on a proper tour, and maybe even work their way into a long-lasting career; it would be a shame to see this type of clever songwriting go unnoticed by the masses.”

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Weekly 40-Watt #1: The Black Crowes

Weekly 40-Watt #1: The Black Crowes

This is a new blog feature called Weekly 40-Watt. My goal with it is to encourage myself to listen to something new in my ears each week and start writing about music a bit more again. I’ll listen to one band or album, new or old, that I’ve never listened to before and write some stuff about it. Let’s see if we can somehow get 50 of these in 2019.

Today’s blog is about The Black Crowes. My friend Pat pointed me in their direction when, after playing a zillion hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 and watching A Star Is Born, I found myself searching for something rock-ish / country-ish / blues-ish with guitars. Probably I can blame the Jackson Maine tracks on the ASIB soundtrack for this itch.

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Dan Campbell & Ace Enders - "Thunder Road"

Dan Campbell & Ace Enders - "Thunder Road"

I basically use this blog for almost anything except personal content / life updates, but this post will firmly straddle the line of something personal while also being music-related, which is something I write about plenty enough.

Katie and I got married in March. We had an awesome wedding and reception in Gowanus, and I'll always think it's cool that while living in Brooklyn we were able to host 120 family and friends for our wedding at a place that was just a 20-minute walk away from our apartment.

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A good ranking of classic Disney animated movie soundtracks

A good ranking of classic Disney animated movie soundtracks

The following is an objectively good ranking of classic Disney animated movie soundtracks. The criteria for the soundtracks considered in this list is very simple: I focused on the best soundtracks from what is considered objectively the best run of theatrical animated features from Walt Disney Studios.

The run I'm referring to begins in the fall of 1989 and ends in the fall of 1999. Throughout this one single decade, Disney produced the following animated classics (this is not a comprehensive list of all films released in this decade, mind you): The Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan. You'll notice that this list excludes some crucial titles -- namely, Toy StoryA Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2 -- which are purposefully left behind as I've always viewed the Pixar x Disney partnership to be separate and have produced a superior product when compared to Disney's in-house animated films.

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Spanish Love Songs - 'Schmaltz'

Spanish Love Songs - 'Schmaltz'

I dove into my first listen of Spanish Love Songs' Schmaltz with a suspicion that I was predisposed to enjoy it. The going comparisons for the album were to The Menzingers, Hot Water Music, and other bands of that gruff pop-punk ilk. Right up my alley, in terms of music I've enjoyed for the last decade-ish.

But many bands putting out music that has been up my historical alley have failed with more regularity lately, in terms of my own enjoyment. Rarely does a pop-punk record come around that really impresses me, or has significant lasting value, let alone a debut. To boot, what was I going to gain from a band trying to reboot Chamberlain Waits when I've been latched onto The Menzingers' After the Party for the past year? It's not that I've moved on from double-time punk songs, but that as I'm getting older, I'm keeping up with the bands who grow with me.

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Year-end 2017 stuff: The Menzingers and other bands I listened to in 2017

Year-end 2017 stuff: The Menzingers and other bands I listened to in 2017

It is now February 15, and despite that being the date, I still have not put a 2017 year-end list on my blog. I will note that no one asked me for this list, so it must not be all that important, and my lateness to the party must not have been noticed. Primarily, I am putting this online so I can refer to it in the future. I've enjoyed having lists from past years to look back on, so that's why I'm bothering with it at all.

This year I mainly listened to The Menzingers, but managed to squeeze in time to listen to other bands as well. 

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My favorite albums of 2017, so far

My favorite albums of 2017, so far

Each of the previous three years has come with a certain disclaimer -- that I'm listening to less music than I pretty much ever have in the past. Not the case this year! My music listening has picked up quite a bit this year, though it stills tends to come in waves. I'm spending more time listening to music on the train than I used to, and while my commute time is still mostly devoted to a book, a comic book or a podcast, this alone has increased the amount of new albums gracing my ears. Additionally, I'm spending more time in the gym this year than in years past, which is proving to be the main source of my music listening so far in 2017.

Here's the dang list.

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Déjà nostalgia: A whole life, plus two nights, with The Menzingers

Déjà nostalgia: A whole life, plus two nights, with The Menzingers

The Menzingers occupy this specific space in rock music. They aren't the only band that live in this space, but they're one of the best at doing this thing within it. There's no hard definition for this space, no concrete rules or regulations that determine its residents; it's not marked by a specific sub-genre or even a certain execution of a familiar sound. The space they fill is more recognizable by the way a Menzingers song can make you feel.

This feeling was all around me when I listened to "Lookers" for the first time. Released in August last year, the track was the first single dropped from their upcoming album After the Party. Friend of the program Dan Ozzi wrote, in Noisey's premiere of the song, about The Menzingers' affinity for nostalgia within their songwriting. This affinity is of paramount importance to The Menzingers' membership in this space, and that space is where the term déjá nostalgia will apply most directly. He called on the band's past records, On the Impossible Past and Rented World, for their nostalgic vibes and commented that "Lookers" feels like an instant Menzingers classic, which I very much agree with.

Nostalgia is a prominent feeling when listening to this band, especially to OTIP, due to the imagery in which The Menzingers often deal. The scenes from that album are well known by now: American muscle cars, American diners, American waitresses, a non-zero amount of American drunkenness, driving without aim, getting nowhere (the plot does not develop / it ends where it begins), etc. The Menzingers are amongst the few bands that pull this off without being corny, which is the highest risk run by bands who operate in this area, lyrically. And the nostalgia factor comes into play because diners, muscle cars and other settings or objects like those don't feel particularly of this era, though all of them still exist; there's a wistfulness, a vignette tinge, a haze and romanticism to it all. On the Impossible Past feels simultaneously new and old, even on first listen.

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Listen while you work: 'Narcos (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)'

Listen while you work: 'Narcos (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)'

A personal characteristic that bothers me regularly is my inability to listen to normal music while I'm doing any type of work that requires reading comprehension or writing. This didn't always used to be the case, but at some point in the last three years, it became impossible for me to have most music on via headphones while I was writing anything, and more recently, I don't like having music on when I'm reading, either.

Some quick tasks are exceptions to this rule, and I can definitely have music on when I'm doing more "drone-ish" work, like updating spreadsheets or the more technical parts of my job. But the general rule is that I'm not listening to any music with vocals while I'm working. This obviously rules out most of the music I like, and it also rules out listening to podcasts while I'm working.

This was my impetus behind getting more into instrumental post-metal recently (I'll probably have another blog about that at some point). But my recommendation for today is the Narcos original series soundtrack, which I will credit my friend Andy (who tweets once a year, about football) with turning me onto indirectly. If you haven't seen Narcos yet, it's a Netflix show about Pablo Escobar and his drug empire in Colombia. The first season was awesome, highlighted for me by the acting performances, and I'm planning on starting the second season soon.

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AOTY Contender Series: Modern Baseball - 'Holy Ghost'

AOTY Contender Series: Modern Baseball - 'Holy Ghost'

Duh! Modern Baseball's Holy Ghost took the top spot on my mid-year albums of the year list, and has as good a shot as anything else of being #1 come EOTY time. Also -- side note -- oddly enough, I haven't really sat down and figured out my list yet, even though I've been writing these blogs for a few weeks. I plan on doing that Tuesday in preparation for recording an episode of Chorus with Jason about our favorite albums.

Holy Ghost (Apple Music / iTunesSpotify, YouTube embedded below, Bandcampvinyl) continues to stand head and shoulders above many of the albums I've heard this year. It has a great emotional range complemented by a big leap in songwriting from MoBo on an instrumental level. And though it has very focused inspirations, it manages to appeal broadly to a wide audience, whatever the listener is going through.

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AOTY Contender Series: The Hotelier - 'Goodness'

AOTY Contender Series: The Hotelier - 'Goodness'

This piece serves as a bit of a spiritual follow-up to my notes on Against Me!'s Shape Shift With Me, and a follow-up to something I talked about with Jason on Encore back in March. The podcast topic was all about the first listen you dive into of a new album that you're very highly anticipating, and how that first listen is often filled with a sense of self-imposed "worry" or "anxiety." I use air quotes here because the worries and anxieties caused by this are certainly not as dramatic as...like...real-life issues, but it's a sense that I've become familiar with over the years and I think it's a sense that all music lovers get from time to time.

My thesis statement in regards to this topic (the podcast convo starts around the 51-minute mark of this episode) revolves around the mind games you can start to play with yourself after taking your first listen. In fact, those mind games can start even before the end of your first listen depending on how loopy you're being. All of this was presented in the context of my first time listening to The Hotelier's third album, this year's Goodness (Apple Music / iTunesSpotify, YouTube embedded below, Bandcampvinyl). I wound up totally psyching myself out before diving in for the first time, and by midway through the record I was convinced that it would never hold a candle to Home, Like NoPlace Is There, an album that I loved dearly when it was released in 2014 and still love dearly.

Truth is, rarely will any album be able to live up to the lofty expectations that you burden it with when those expectations come via the lens of an album you've been in love with for any amount of months or years. Home, Like NoPlace Is There was not a record that blew me off my feet the first time I listened to it; it's an album that slowly latched onto me until I became familiar with every crevice of it. I listened to it endlessly, which expands your love for an album -- you come to know every downstroke of a guitar or snare hit, and those moments come to mean more to you when you've sat with a record for dozens of listens. A new album that you're listening to for the first time will never match up to the emotion you retroactively place into an album that you fell in love with however long ago.

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AOTY Contender Series: Against Me! - 'Shape Shift With Me'

AOTY Contender Series: Against Me! - 'Shape Shift With Me'

There were two albums that I was quite anxious to listen to this year. This happens from time to time, where you're just so excited for an album that there's a bit of trepidation before you dive in for the first time. One of those albums was The Hotelier's Goodness, and in my AOTY Contender Series entry for that album I will be diving deeper into this idea about too-great expectations, and the other of those albums was Shape Shift With Me

I didn't write too much about Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues when it came out, but that album topped my AOTY list in 2014 (with, incidentally, The Hotelier's Home, Like NoPlace Is There right behind it). I did write a small amount about Blues this year, in the context of reading and writing about AM! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace's new book, TRANNY. The blurb I put in there is the most important thing I can say about Blues -- it was an album that taught me to think about things I'd never thought about before. You can read more into that here, if you'd like.

It's also a straightforwardly killer rock album. Diverse in its tempos, great musicianship, emotional and cathartic storytelling. Getting that and Home in the same year feels, in retrospect, like even more of a blessing than it felt like at the time. But diving into Shape Shift With Me (iTunes / Apple MusicSpotify, YouTube embedded below, vinyl), after its predecessor had such an effect on me, made me get that small anxious feeling when I started my first listen. 

As I'll write again in my Hotelier blog, this small anxious feeling can start to cause issues with your evaluation of an album when your first listen doesn't live up to the hype. I don't think I managed to make it all the way through Shape Shift on my first attempt at it -- the odd beginning with "ProVision L-3" and the new production style just didn't sit with me well at first. But the album clicked for me after continued listens, and stands up now as a worth follow-up to Blues, and the must-listen next chapter in Grace's story.

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AOTY Contender Series: PUP - 'The Dream Is Over'

AOTY Contender Series: PUP - 'The Dream Is Over'

I wrote about the PUP album in semi-decent length back when it came out in May, and my thoughts on it largely haven't changed much since then. The Dream Is Over (Apple Music/iTunesSpotify, YouTube below, Bandcampvinyl) is a very impressive effort to me for many reasons, and it's been one of my most-played albums throughout the year (it somehow fits really well in both the summer heat and the fall/winter wind). 

Chief among this sophomore effort's impressive attributes is, as I wrote in May, the apparent development and progression of this young band. They seem to be extremely comfortable in their art right now, something that has gone on display recently in the form of this great music video for "Sleep In The Heat." The Dream Is Over saw PUP extending their range from a go-to sound of loud and noisy punk rock to slower, more methodic songs full of emotion

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AOTY Contender Series: Pinegrove - 'Cardinal'

AOTY Contender Series: Pinegrove - 'Cardinal'

A big theme of my 2015 AOTY list was records that surprised me and took high-ranking spots on my final list. This was the case for Foxing's Dealer, Turnover's Peripheral Vision and The World Is...'s Harmlessness, which ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. These stuck out because they were bands I had actually listened to before but whose new albums didn't interest me when they were initially released. That I liked them so much was a surprise, and that surprise is amplified when the same thing happens three times in one year.

I can't truly toss Pinegrove's Cardinal (Apple Music / iTunesSpotifyBandcamp, YouTube below, Amazon) into the same bucket. I hadn't heard this band before this year, so their first LP for Run For Cover Records wasn't a surprise in the same way. It came out of nowhere because this was a new band for me, not because I had any pre-existing thoughts about whether Cardinal would be any good.

But Cardinal became my first AOTY contender of 2016. It was released in February, and while it's silly to call anything an "AOTY contender" in February, it was still pretty clear to me at the time that this would make my eventual short list. I fell for it quickly and without much hesitation. The album's vibe is indie-rock mixed with alt-country/Americana: It's Limbeck's Hi, Everything's Great for 2016 emo/punk listeners, an album that isn't afraid to draw inspiration from a bunch of stuff between modern indie-rock and Springsteen's Nebraska

Cardinal is largely more subdued than Hi, Everything's Great. Vocalist Evan Hall at times drawls, murmurs or even slurs his lyrics, content to stay in the relative background of a swelling and dynamic instrumental effort. It's tempting to say his drawl sounds Southern, but Pinegrove and Hall are from New Jersey, so the end result of his vocals and his band's rock songs winds up claiming no geographic (sonic) home. It feels oddly familiar on first listen for this reason -- something you think you've heard before but cannot place.

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