jesse richman

Start Today: Bad Religion

by Jesse Richman

It’s been a long-running joke amongst the POZ staff that Zack has no knowledge of musical history. That’s understandable, though: it can be intimidating to work your way through a long-established band’s large back catalog if you don’t know where to begin. Start Today is a new weekly column aimed at giving Zack (and you) an entry point into those essential artists’ catalogs. No more excuses: start today!

This week’s subject: venerable California punk legends Bad Religion.

Who are these guys? Formed in 1979, Bad Religion are one of the O.G. SoCal punk rock groups. Combining the breakneck speed of skatepunk with aggressively intellectual, politically charged lyrics courtesy of Dr. Greg Graffin (an Anthropology professor in his spare time), pop melodies and soaring vocal harmonies (the trademark “oozin ahhs”), Bad Religion created a sound all their own, one that’s become a template for everyone from NoFX to Anti-Flag. Unlike virtually all their peers, they’re still making vital, exciting music worth listening to today. And guitarist/co-songwriter Brett Gurewitz remains one of the most important figures in the punk scene today as the owner and founder of Epitaph Records, a label he originally created as an outlet for his own band’s music.

Where to start? Over the last 35 years, Bad Religion have released sixteen studio albums, along with a handful of EPs, compilations, live discs, and even a Christmas album. Remarkably, most of that material falls in the “very-good-to-excellent” category – Bad Religion might be the single most consistent punk band as far as songwriting goes. Still, there are a few distinct eras of Bad Religion, and each has its highlights.

  • The Early Years: The period spanning 1982’s debut How Could Hell Be Any Worse? through 1985’s Back To The Known EP was a formative one – the band was still finding their sound and learning how to write proper songs, and the recordings are shaggy at best.
Recommended: No essential albums here, though a few songs from this era remain fan favorites today (we’ll get to that later).
  • The “Golden Age”: Bad Religion’s sterling five-album run from 1988’s Suffer to 1993’s Recipe For Hate established their reputation as one of the US’s great punk bands; had they disappeared in 1993, they’d still be remembered today. You can’t go wrong with any of these albums, but for my money, the best of them is 1990’s scorching statement-of-purpose Against The Grain – it’s a 34 minute, 17-track declaration of warfare, one band taking a stand against a world slowly being consumed by willful ignorance, magical thinking and oppressive small-mindedness. 
Recommended: Against The Grain
  • The Atlantic Era: Nirvana’s mainstream breakthrough in 1991 launched a feeding frenzy amongst the major labels, as they rapidly signed any underground act with the potential to generate a hit. So, in 1993 Bad Religion got a shiny new contract and a big promotional push from Atlantic Records. The result was the band’s best-selling album to date, 1994’s gold Stranger Than Fiction. Clearly influenced by grunge’s slower tempos and characteristic stop-start songwriting, a few tracks here now feel dated, but for every miss, there are two or three essential cuts. Unfortunately, the same forces that carried Bad Religion to a major label pulled Gurewitz away from the band, as running Epitaph suddenly became a full-time job. The remainder of the band’s tenure on Atlantic, running from 1996’s The Gray Race to 2000’s The New America, marks a period of diminishing returns.

    Recommended: Stranger Than Fiction
  • The 21st Century: 2001 saw a major upheaval for Bad Religion. Their contract with Atlantic completed, the band returned to Epitaph; simultaneously, Gurewitz returned to the band. And when a chronic injury forced drummer Bobby Schayer into retirement, the band brought young, mega-talented Brooks Wackerman into the fold. The changes injected new life into the band just as they needed it, and the impact of those moves is apparent on 2002’s steamroller of an album, The Process Of Belief. Since then, the band has churned out consistently solid work, up to and including 2013’s True North. 

    Recommended: The Process Of Belief

All of that said, while Bad Religion have a number of start-to-finish-great albums, they aren’t really an “album” band – they don’t write concept albums (I’m ignoring 1983’s Into The Unknown here, and you should too), and while they generally do a fine job of sequencing their records, there’s not much lost by picking and choosing individual songs. Here’s a playlist of ten essential Bad Religion tracks that span the band’s career. Start with these, then dig into the albums above for a fuller picture of one of punk’s longest-tenured titans.

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An Urge To Learn How To Do Backflips: American Beauty/American Psycho

by Jesse Richman, edited by Erik van Rheenen

I’m trying to put together cogent thoughts, but “American Beauty / American Psycho” keeps careening by on repeat and I keep finding myself gasping for breath like I’ve been white-knuckle dodging trees and asteroids in some Star Wars contraption. I’ve never heard Pete Wentz’s bass snap and pop with such precision. Patrick Stump is going so rapid-fire that his ability to form words can’t keep pace with his heart; he repeatedly devolves from sentences to repeated catchphrases mid-lyric before abandoning words entirely for whoa-a-oh-a-ohs, and every time heart over head seems like the right choice, the obvious one, the only one, really. Meanwhile, Joe Trohman has never used absence so well, the empty space between his sporadic chunky riffs create a vacuum that sucks you forward like a vortex, and then there’s one moment where he randomly buzzes in for 10 seconds to drop some opening-bars-of-“When Doves Cry” Prince freakout shit.

Why? Why not! Fall Out Boy have always been unabashedly maximalist, but since “My Songs Know…” they’ve been pushing one variety of maximalism harder and harder. I think maybe they realized “Centuries” was the breaking point of that sound, because “American Beauty / American Psycho”  doesn’t just turn the dial to 11, it invents a new dial with a 12 on it and then lines in an overdrive pedal. (Don’t think it’s a coincidence that both halves of that title are movies that pushed the bar on what movies could be, groundbreaking in their day). We’ve moved beyond hip-hop beats, beyond chasing down the things that outpaced rock in the last decade, and onto some new shit. The result is almost Cold Cave-y at times, totally enveloping and ever accelerating, like a bone-rattlingly loud synth strapped to the back of a Ducati.

British synth-pop mainstays Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released an album in 2011 called History of Modern; the title track, which shares some distant sonic kinship with “AD/AP” (really, give it a listen, I think you’ll hear it too), speaks with wonder about the eschaton, the end of time. The song is celebratory, even as it describes the world unwinding – “Everything you take, everything you gave/All the things you’ve found, all the things you’ve made/Everyone you lost – and saved/Nothing will remain, cradle or grave.” Good, bad, it all ends and begins anew. At its best moment, the song drops into a hushed pre-chorus – “there will be no song/when the final voice is gone” – before exploding outward into a starburst of joyous synths, a big bang of angels weeping or blasting horns or whatever angels do (both seem appropriate here).  It’s worth losing everything, the best along with the worst, because even the best in this world couldn’t match the wondrous possibilities of starting anew.

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“I can be more creative [...] when I’m not overwhelmed.” Somos’ Michael Fiorentino talks getting well, and getting better.

Bands drop off tours all the time. Typically, they chalk it up to family emergencies or “unforeseen circumstances.” But when Somos opted to pull out of their scheduled tour with Dads this month, frontman Michael Fiorentino minced no words, issuing a statement that read, in part, “I have struggled with anxiety and depression, and it eventually built up to the point where touring in February was daunting and unmanageable.” A month following that announcement, I caught up with Fiorentino to find out more about his decision to go public, his progress, and what the future holds for the Boston quartet.

by Jesse Richman

I get the sense that Temple Of Plenty has been met with a reception well beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. What were your expectations for the release?

Michael Fiorentino: We were genuinely, 100 percent caught off guard. We were happy to be working with Tiny Engines, but it’s not like we had really heard about them before they contacted us. We viewed it as a stepping-stone to opportunities down the road. We didn’t know that it would catch on in the way it did. In all honesty, it was a pleasant surprise. It’s been a cool year.

Tiny Engines really came into their own last year. You were one of a number of groups to have a real breakout year for them. Is it the case of, “a rising tide floats all boats”? 

I think their year started in this huge way with that Hotelier record. That’s another record that broke through on a totally different level. And I think that just got the ball rolling for the other bands. I think they got it going, and then a bunch of bands on the label put out records that got a good amount of buzz. It was just awesome. 

Their success certainly affected you own year. You got to do a ton of touring, you played Riot Fest, things seemed to be building rapidly. You had a tour with Dads lined up for this month. And then, I guess it was about a month before the tour, you announced that you were dropping off for mental health reasons. How did you know that now was the time you needed to hit the brakes? Was there something in particular that happened?

At some point I had to make the decision, but just in general, I was getting to the place where it didn’t seem manageable. I thought that for the long-term health and sustainability of the band… I hate missing one show, so to drop a whole tour, it was a bad feeling. But the way I thought about it was, it’s better to take it head-on and really try to get better and drop one tour, as opposed to pushing forward, not really getting the help, and then the whole thing imploding six months down the line.

How do you approach your band with something like that? How did they react at first?

I’ve known Phil [Haggerty, guitarist] since he was 14, and I’ve known Justin [Hahn, guitarist] for almost as long. Evan [Deges, drums] I met later on, but we’re all close friends. They knew it was something I’ve dealt with, and when I came to them with the proposal to get off the tour, it wasn’t a shock. I think they were actually kind of relieved that I was going to go through with getting healthier. It was a little bit of disappointment — no one wants to drop a tour, you’re in a band, you want to tour — but I think there was some relief from them.

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POZ Review: The Maine - Pioneer

The Maine’s battles with Warner Music Group have been well publicized at this point. After the label initially refused to release Pioneer, the band successfully negotiated the right to put the album out on its own dime. And from the first notes of opening track “Identify,” it’s immediately apparent both why the label didn’t want to release it and why the band did.

At this point The Maine have washed away virtually all remnants of the pop band they began as, scrubbing off all the cloying, sugary bubblegum. What remains is an anodized frame of iron-solid songs, well-constructed and durable, expertly and lovingly crafted with care. Oh, and that voice – frontman John O’Callaghan has never sounded better than he does on Pioneer. His vocal tone has always been The Maine’s strongest asset; here, though it never loses its essential character, it seems to shift and transform ever so slightly from track to track. O’Callaghan has been channeling Everclear’s Art Alexakis for years, but “Don’t Give Up On ‘Us’” echoes like Young The Giant’s Sameer Gadhia, and there are even hints of Bryan Adams’s throaty bark on “Heroine.” It’s not a radical transformation, just a new and welcome layer of complexity, a twist of lemon on his dry martini voice.

But if O’Callaghan is mostly up to his usual tricks, well the band around him has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s a process that started with the harder edged Black And White, and really began to solidify on tracks like In Darkness And In Light’s “Book Of Me And You,” but while the former album was spotty (if largely solid) and the latter movie soundtrack an experiment (albeit one that hit more often than missed), Pioneer is fully realized. In particular, guitarist Jared Monaco seems to have grown by leaps and bounds, playing with sounds he’s never come near before, from the buzzy Black Keys-esque skronk of “Heroine”’’s lead to the perfectly shaped atonal feedback of “When We Were Young”’s middle eight. 

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Why The Way We Listen to Music Matters (An Elegy For Ruby Red)

by Erik van Rheenen, edited by Jesse Richman

This is a story about a boy and his headphones, and it opens in the grey days of autumn, two years ago.

When I stepped out of the bleak, wind-whipped Upstate New York fall and into the fluorescent lights of the Syracuse University bookstore, I had only two things on my mind: the long train ride home to Erie, and the new headphones that would keep me sane on the trip. The over-ears around my collar — a cheap pair of sleek blue Skullcandy ones – were terminally afflicted with intermittent crackling and less-than-admirable sound quality. My knowledge of headphones was casual at best. I didn’t care if the low end bottomed out. I didn’t pay enough attention to notice if the headphones lost the bass and highs in the shuffle. As long as they sounded all right and felt good, I was sold.

Twenty minutes later, I plunked a thirty-dollar pair of bulky red headphones on the counter for the cute blonde co-ed, earning her work-study cash the hard way, to ring up. I figured they’d make a suitable replacement for the nearly-busted pair hanging loosely around my neck. I trekked back up to my dorm, adjusted the new pair (the brand, Ear Pollution, proved nearly unresearchable for this writer) comfortably over my ears, and listened to Keasbey Nights in proper, my feet dangling off my bed as I laid on my chest with the liner notes. I didn’t think I’d one day be writing parting remarks for headphones that were less a music delivery vehicle and more a wiry extension of myself. I didn’t think they’d have a story worth telling.

A snapshot of two whirlwind years, in the frame of a still life: those headphones rattling against the window of the Erie-bound Amtrak as I listened to Streetlight Manifesto and fought sleep. Those headphones sinking into the cheap pillow of an early morning flight heading for a weekend jaunt in Philadelphia. Those headphones rekindling my love for The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee on a day-breaking, rollicking Greyhound bus to Cleveland, and for The Sunset Tree during a red-eye flight to Spain. Those headphones helping me survive sickness in a cramped train to Seville, and again on a bus back from Ronda, where I learned that the aching American sadness that bleeds from On the Impossible Past was just as longing and nostalgia-inducing against the backdrop of the Spanish countryside.

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POZ Xmas Review: Against The Current - "All I Want For Christmas Is"

 Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is as close as we’ve got to a modern Christmas classic, and Poughkeepsie pop-punk upstarts Against The Current do it justice with a scorching, raucously enthusiastic cover. 

Mariah could prove an intimidating matchup, but vocalist Chrissy Costanza’s got the vocal chops to shine, flashing a few soaring melodic twists of her own, and the band chugs in time behind her with just the right balance of melody and grit. By the time a blazing lead guitar line drops in to tear across nearly the entire final third of track, the undeniable, unbridled joy burns hot enough to warm the heart of even the iciest Grinch. All I want for Christmas is some more music from Against The Current. Don’t let me down, Santa!

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POZ Review: Patrick Stump - Soul Punk

Historically, when singers of wildly popular bands have stepped out from the acts that made them famous, success has been all but guaranteed, even if that singer wasn’t the driving musical force. Call it the Rod Stewart phenomenon. But Fall Out Boy aren’t exactly your typical band. While Patrick Stump may have been the guy behind the mic, bassist Pete Wentz was in most people’s minds, including those of much of Fall Out Boy’s highly-dedicated fanbase, the band’s ostensible frontman, or at least its public face. But while popular perception placed Pete Wentz at the heart of Fall Out Boy’s creative process, it becomes quickly apparent listening to Soul Punk just how integral Stump was to their sound, especially as that band’s sound grew to match their arena-sized ambitions. Soul Punk operates in a different sonic space than did Fall Out Boy, it has a different locus of influences, but there are myriad common threads to be followed from one to the next; there’s nothing about this progression that feels unnatural, and fans of Fall Out Boy’s Folie A Deux should feel right at home amidst Soul Punk’s outsized hooks and unrestrained bravado.

To be sure, Stump’s vocals—full-throated and unhindered, smooth with deep soulful tones, often ululating wildly just on the edge of control but never crossing that line—are the clearest link between the band and his solo work. But Soul Punk finds Stump lots of opportunities to toy with new vocal possibilities. The opening verses of “The ‘I’ In Lie” and “Allie” find him affecting a Prince-ly falsetto; “Dance Miserable” is full of New Jack Swing-style harmonies. There’s a moment in “Cryptozoology” when Stump hisses “Some days I may express myself in curious ways” that makes for a startlingly perfect Rick James impression.

But it’s Stump’s lyrical bent on Soul Punk that really breaks new ground. In Fall Out Boy, Stump often served as a sort of librarian for Wentz’s stray thoughts, cataloging and organizing his bandmate’s deeply personal revelations and singular turns of phrase. There was a sort of clubbiness to the Fall Out Boy approach: to be a fan was to be a member of the team (albeit a team which anyone was welcome to walk on), a soldier in the Clandestine-cloaked army of Overcast Kids with lyrics for marching cadences. On Soul Punk, Stump takes a much more universalist tack, repeatedly invoking the sort of broad-brush we-isms of Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye and large swaths of the 70s soul music he clearly holds dear. If Fall Out Boy were “us against the world,” Soul Punk is a little more “We Are The World” 

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POZ Xmas Review: Artist Vs Poet - Naughty Or Nice

It’s hard to imagine that any band should be more excited for 2011 to finally end than Artist Vs. Poet. The last twelve months have seen 60% of the band depart, including lead vocalist Tarcy Thomason, along with cancelled tour dates, a cross-country move, and ultimately their release from Fearless Records. AvP 2.0 are prepped to launch two new releases in the new year, but in the meantime they’ve released a Christmas EP, Naughty Or Nice, to tide fans over.

Once rhythm guitarist, now vocalist Joe Kirkland has a voice more suited for boy-band style theatrics than pop-punk simplicity, a sterile-but-pretty delivery capable of theatrical loop-de-loops, so it’s only fitting that the band kicks off Naughty Or Nice with a cover of *NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” and their harmonies over the simple piano and beats arrangement hits the mark. Even better is the shockingly gorgeous a cappella arrangement of holiday classic “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” 

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POZ Review: The Bigger Lights - Battle Hymn

The band Stars put it best in the creepy intonation that opens their seminal track “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”: “When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.” Virginia’s The Bigger Lights have been taking that advice to heart. Dissatisfied with the music they were making and the scene they were making it in, the one-time power-pop quintet have spent the last year burning bridges: with former label Doghouse Records, with scene bands extending tour offers, with their management. But with the release of their newest full length, it’s clear they saved the hottest flames for themselves. The self-released Battle Hymn scorches from beginning to end with 28 minutes of pop-metal mastery, a series of hair-hangover arena anthems twist-tied with gutbucket Los Angeles street punk, one foot firmly planted in each end of the 80’s. It’s a daring move that might leave their fans feeling burned, but no matter; like a phoenix from the ashes, The Bigger Lights 2.0 is sleeker, hotter and completely transformed.

It’s a change that reveals itself in the first seconds of “Terrible World, Give Me More,” a classic opening track that rips and roars like early, hungry Motley Crue, with a barbed-wire guitar lead that gives way to vocalist Topher Talley’s newfound snarl, “welcome to the show // it’s a goddamn masquerade,” bile practically dripping off each syllable. The anger that doesn’t let up, sprayed alternately at music industry execs and fair weather friends (the roiling hard-charger “Never Mistake A Suit For A Friend”), anonymous haters (the denim-jacket-meets-skinny-tie funk of “Living Martyrdom”), even the angel on Talley’s shoulder (“Halo, I’m Not Coming Home”). He’s a surprisingly strong lyricist, and if he occasionally turns into a fount for conventional rock dogma, he does so with the raging heart of a true believer.

Elsewhere, “Salt” trusses propulsive verses to an epically rafter-ready refrain. “Send Me A Miracle” makes gold out of late 80’s Def Leppard verses and early 90’s Poison choruses; alchemy! Best of all is “Bullet Believers (Rah Rah Rah)”, a too-fast-for-love barnburner that siphons the art punk of newer My Chemical Romance and takes it to the wall before breaking into a stunningly unpredictable midsection. This is the stuff of genius, folks. Behind it all, the secret weapon is the exceptional drumming of Ryan Seaman—whho sadly left The Bigger Lights post-recording to pound the skins in ex-Escape The Fate vocalist Ronnie Radke’s new project, Falling In Reverse. His powerful backbeat anchors the album, and his brilliant series of fills on “Suit” are a master class in how to show off your chops while always serving the song.

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As Scene In Pitchfork

by Erik van Rheenen, edited by Jesse Richman

…It’s apparent that when one engages with pop-punk, it’s less of a “phase” than a vaccination—a crucial inoculation that makes you immune to it for the rest of your life, presumably for society’s benefit. So it’s not surprising that pop-punk isn’t afforded the same cachet amongst critics as similarly youth-oriented genres: after all, there’s nothing subversive or cool about your 13-year-old self, and there haven’t been many examples of its practitioners aging gracefully.” - Ian Cohen, Oh, Common Life.

When Say Anything rounded off the band’s artillery blast opus …Is a Real Boy with the acerbic “Admit It!!!,” Max Bemis verbally crucified 2004’s burgeoning hipster culture by attacking an anonymous “you.” It’s transparently obvious that the tongue-lashed antagonist of “Admit It!!!” represents a faithful acolyte of indie rock trends — a faux-bohemian “vacuous soldier of the thrift store Gestapo” — but he only draws Bemis’s ire as a hipster everyman.

Instead, Bemis saved the specifics for the song’s sequel, which pockmarks 2012’s less well-received Anarchy, My Dear. When he Admits It again with a second (though by no means last) indictment of indie rock culture, Bemis wags an unwavering finger in Pitchfork’s direction, calling out the influential indie rock gatekeeper as “a stupid website with Satan as its figurehead.” For all of the positives to be found in the music created by “the scene” * — the early-2000s commercial viability, the subculture of positivity in which young punks saw more of themselves than in more mainstream music offerings, the community-building that unified fans — the majority of it was never going to be hailed as a critical darling or Pitchfork-approved.

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POZ Review: There For Tomorrow - The Verge

There are two ways to become a great band: either do something no one else has done or take something lots of folks have done and do it really, really well. There For Tomorrow aren’t reinventing the wheel on their second LP, The Verge, but they are doing something that seems to be rarer and rarer these days—releasing quality, straightforward hard rock music in the mold of fellow Floridians Anberlin, untainted by either indie’s preciousness or radio rock’s overweening bombast.

Which is not to say The Verge sounds anything less than huge—the arena-scale pretensions of Elvis Baskette’s production suit There For Tomorrow perfectly. Booming drums, spaced-out guitar harmonics and pick slides fill out the sound behind vocalist Maika Maile’s sweetly flat affect in songs like the Verve Pipe-esque “Get It,” and moments like the bridge in standout track “SAAVE” and the intro to “Circle Of Lies” could pass for Circa Survive. Still, Baskette shows a deft hand: he backs off perfectly on “Slip Inside (The Barrel Of Your Gun),” letting the song bubble in its atmosphere without roiling over, treating the expansive sonic pallet as a tool, not a bludgeon.

Maile occasionally lapses into the sort of post-Nirvana, faux-deep gibberish that sounds great as long as you don’t try to parse it; if you can tell me what “I found a road where they color-coded my pledge of allegiance” or “I am a third-world product of inflation” means, you’re way better at this than I am. But what he lacks in specificity he makes up for in delivery, with meaning sunk into his annunciation and with a newfound grit that bolsters tunes like massive opening track “The Verge.” Meanwhile, while the band aren’t exactly treading new ground, they do stretch out a little. Bassist Jay Enriquez and guitarist Christian Climer lock into a throbbing alt-boogie in “Hunt Hunt Hunt”’s verses; Maile breaks out a sweet falsetto on downbeat piano ballad “BLU”.

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POZ Review: The Swellers - The Light Under Closed Doors

by Erik van Rheenen, edited by Jesse Richman

My muse works the late shift.

There’s a frantic kind of energy that comes from writing at night: scratching out blunt admittances with reckless abandon, inking self-effacing truths to paper and knowing that when the morning light spills in through the windows and the cracks in the door, something you wrote will – hopefully – mean something.

Following my initial listening session with The Swellers’ haymaker of a new record, The Light Under Closed Doors, I started to wonder if the Brothers Diener hired their writerly muse from the same agency as mine. Though the album sports an optimistic title (albeit not the sort of “rah-rah” pep rally slogan that pop-punk fans can print onto Day-Glo shirts), The Light Under Closed Doors is the most blunt, honest record of the Rust Belt band’s career. While they’ve always had a knack for penning burly hooks and no-frills, blue-collar lyrics, The Light Under Closed Doors finds the Swellersfilling them out with the cutting underpinnings of self-growth; as a band, they face steadily increasing anxiety with a head held high and a fuck-you smile.

The searing “Should” opens the record with a jolt of nervous energy that courses from drummer Jono Diener’s rambling beats to vocalist/brother Nick Diener’s panicky confessionals, as the singer quickly jumps from post-relationship musing (“I gave up / I know things won’t get better”) into gang vocal-backed catharsis (“Let it out/ Let it all out”). The bold emotional liberation of “Should” becomes a pivot on which The Swellers swivel from snapshot to snapshot of life as a twentysomething, laying pretty much all they’ve got on the line — musically and lyrically.

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POZ Single Review: Man Overboard - "Father Christmas"

by Jesse Richman, edited by Erik van Rheenen

The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” holds a firm slot at #2 on my list of underrated Christmas standards – it’s punchy, snotty, boisterous and earnest in a cut-the-crap kind of way, and if the lyrics were about anything other than Santa, it would be part of the larger musical canon, not just the holiday one. 

While The Kinks far predate the punk explosion of the late 70s, their influence on the genre is undeniable. (Ask whoever put “Village Green Preservation Society” on the house PA two nights in a row preceding Brand New’s set during their recent holiday run; I’m sure they can school you.) And “Father Christmas,” with its class consciousness and threats of violents, is the template for pretty much every pop-punk Christmas song to come since.

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POZ XMAS Review: Anthony Green - Winter Songs

by Jesse Richman

It’s been one hell of a year for Anthony Green. When he wasn’t reuniting with the genre-defining Saosin to stalk festival stages, he was busy recording the tremendously well-received Descensus with his current outfit, Circa Survive – all while recovering in secret from a heroin addiction, the harrowing details of which he laid out in one of the year’s most revealing (and surprising) interviews. Yet somewhere along the way, he also found the time to bang out this pair of strong solo acoustic tracks.

The first, an original titled “Better Half,” finds Green feeling earnest and thankful as he praises his “better half” over chord changes that twist and turn in consistently unexpected ways, a writing style that should feel familiar to fans of his other work. The second, a straightforward reading of the Sinatra classic “Christmas Waltz,” works nearly as well with Green’s high-pitched, strained vocals as it does with Sinatra’s croon, imbued as it is with the sort of malleability and sturdy construction that made the great American songbook so great. (In this case, credit Cahn & Styne). 

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POZ Show Review: Shone - 02/07/13

by Jesse Richman, edited by Erik van Rheenen

The crazy viral marketing campaign behind Shone’s Heat Thing album led to all sorts of wild speculation about the band’s membership (was it Brand New in disguise?), and drove interest to a degree rarely seen for unknown acts. Witness tonight’s debut show at Mercury Lounge, a show that sold out before the album was even released, to which most tickets were purchased before the band had even been heard. Some may have regretted that purchase – Heat Thing is a challenging disc of oddball rock that touches on everyone from the Talking Heads and Bryan Ferry to Oingo Boingo and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, and bears no resemblance to anything released by Brand New. So it was with a mix of excitement, curiosity and trepidation that the crowd filed into the small, packed venue for tonight’s show.

Frontman Andrew Accardi (Robbers) emerged onto the small stage (which was surrounded by gently pulsing neon light sticks and angled mirrors) covered in striped face paint, wearing two boldly patterned shirts with a scarf tied around his waist as a belt. Prancing and shimmying across the stage with a half-goofy wildness, he cut a striking figure, something akin to Austin Powers-meets-Pan-in-a-fever-dream. He toyed with instruments at times – a tambourine, a small megaphone-like device – but mostly remained unencumbered, waving his hands wildly as he danced. When he approached the mic, he primarily did so with a smooth croon, reminiscent of Dredg’s Gavin Hayes. 

To his right, brother Vin Accardi (Brand New), hair pulled back in wild pigtails and sporting a day-glow orange windbreaker, bounced between synths, guitar, and assorted noisemakers. Stage left, Mike Strandberg (Kevin Devine, Brian Bonz) manned his guitar behind a pair of Cyclops sunglasses. They were joined by a dual-drummer attack of Brian Lane (Brand New) and Ben Homala (Bad Books, Brand New crew), bassist Joe Cannetti (Brand New crew), and a second keyboardist who doubled as a horn player, as well as (briefly) a cellist bedecked in a bright red feather boa and a long wig the same shade.

Still, for all their wild looks, the band sounded exceptionally tight as they charged through Heat Thing’s nine tracks in apparent order, taking only a handful of brief breathers in between. The mood was playful; the band was clearly having fun, but never let the set drift into sloppiness. If Shone is, as some have contended, a joke (I suspect otherwise), on this night it was an awfully well rehearsed one – the band’s set tightly mimicked the album, recreating its unpredictable twists and turns seamlessly. There were a few deviations, to be sure – at one point, Andrew Accardi led his bandmates through the introductory passage of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”; at the end of Slithering, he danced through the crowd, then returned to the stage and attempted to start a “6-6-6” chant among the assembled. But by and large, Shone stuck to the script.

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POZ Show Review: Riot Fest Chicago (09/13/13)

by Jesse Richman, edited by Erik van Rheenen

Walking around the Riot Fest festival grounds at Chicago’s Humboldt Park early Friday afternoon, it was impossible not to be struck by the sheer enormity of the thing. 

It took nearly 15 minutes to stroll by the impressive Riot Stage, the festival’s beating heart, located just by the entrance; through an endless row of carnival games, rides and even a Ferris wheel; past the full circus tent that delineates where the unofficial freak show ends and the official one begins; past two more stages — Roots and Rebel — in the heart of the grounds, as big as the main stage at your standard outdoor show; along the vendor fair road, extensive enough to put anything you’ve seen at Warped Tour or Bamboozle to shame, and looped around a wrestling ring complete with luchadores; to the sprawling food vendor area, packed with local trucks and tents offering everything from classic Chicago dogs to “Funnel Cake World” to something called “bacon sausage”; and finally, to an intersection which T’s off to final two stages, Rock and Rise, so far out that you can hardly remember where you began.

It’s on a scale of magnitude unlike any punk festival in my memory —it’s probably not a stretch to use words like “ever” and “anywhere.” But then, so is the Riot Fest lineup. It’s not unusual to see a handful of punk acts, current or past, on the festival circuit, and there’s certainly no shortage of fests nowadays, but a punk festival with booking this comprehensive — and a large festival so clearly, unmistakably punk — is uncharted territory. So it was only appropriate Day One’s headliner, Fall Out Boy, paid a visit to hometown Chicago in the midst of an arena tour.

Not that Fall Out Boy could have dreamed of filling arenas even as recently as 2009, when the band bowed out for an “indefinite hiatus” that, thankfully, proved to have an emphasis on “indefinite.” The album they returned with, Save Rock & Roll, is rife with exactly the sorts of songs that play best to the biggest crowds, and it’s been a thrill to watch them rocket-ride back to stardom as big as they’ve ever known this year on the back of songs like the stomping “The Phoenix,” which opened the band’s headline set, and mega-hit “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up),” played near the end of the night, just before a no-time-to-leave-the-stage-so-here’s-the-encore encore. 

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POZ Review: mewithoutYou - Ten Stories

It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, the 2009 release from heady indie-punks mewithoutYou, was a veritable master class on folk-pop songcraft, with vocalist Aaron Weiss wrapping a newfound croon around hookily shambolic largely-acoustic beds, but the break from the band’s post-hardcore past wasn’t especially well received by fans. Ten Stories declares a détente of sorts; it opens with Weiss in classic form, barking out “February, 1878”’s scene-setting intro with the intensity of a street preacher crying doomsday before easing back into more melodic vocals at the two minute mark. Weiss continues to draw from both techniques throughout Ten Stories; “Fox’s Dream Of The Log Flume”’s aggressive ramble could be a lost recording from 2004’s Catch for Us the Foxes, but dark parable “Elephant in the Dock” feels like a continuation of It’s All Crazy’s experiments with vocal melody. The two approaches fit together surprisingly neatly, with most tracks melding seamlessly together; the few moments that jar do so with clear authorial intent.

The band, for their part, seem to be on the same page; most of Ten Stories’ instrumental tracks draw from one of those two wells, though there’s an intriguing intermixing of waters at times, a synthesis that results in some of the band’s most musically exciting moments to date, like the jolting transition from lilting major key pop to dirty alt grind midway through “Nine Stories.” Meanwhile, mewithoutYou have a couple new tricks up their sleeves: Ten Stories’ most quietly tuneful track, “Aubergine,” swoons warmly, dreamily, over starbursts of pedal steel; the spry indie pop of “Cardiff Giant” could pass for Modest Mouse at their ebullient best.

If there’s been one constant across all of mewithoutYou’s albums, it’s Weiss’ idiosyncratic approach to his lyrics, and Ten Stories’ subject matter—theologically and philosophically resonant fables exploring morality and the quest for truth, dense with metaphor and symbolism but couched in deceptively simple language, starring anthropomorphized animals and plants—should be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the band’s past work. Ten Stories is mewithoutYou’s first true concept album—it purports to tell the story of a circus train disaster by exploring the lives of the animals involved therein—but all of the band’s past albums have evinced tight thematic ties, so what might feel like an awkward pose (or a serious overreach) for other outfits seems mostly par for the course for mewithoutYou.

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POZ Review: Anarbor - The Mixtape

If you need any further proof that hip-hop has become the driving influence in the music world, witness the mixtape. Full of skits, goofy larks, collaborations and experiments, mixtapes were once strictly the province of rap artists, a way of getting their music heard while remaining unencumbered by the strictures of publishing fees, copyright laws and sample clearances. Over the past few years, though, mixtapes have started popping up on the rock landscape, perhaps most notably with Fall Out Boy’s 2008 Welcome To The New Administration.  Now it’s Arizona rockers Anarbor’s turn to put their own stamp on The Mixtape

The highlights are frontloaded. The set opens with “Contagious,” originally found on the band’s album,The Words You Don’t Swallow, and here featuring guest vocals by Ryan Hunter (North Korea, ex-Envy On The Coast) and Sierra Kusterbeck (VersaEmerge). Kusterbeck’s banshee wail steals the scene, breathing new life into an already-rock solid track. It’s followed by a “rock remix” of Mike Posner’s 2010 hit “Cooler Than Me” that’s more cover than remix, with frontman/bassist Slade Echeverria taking center stage, his loping bassline and rangy vocals leading the charge flanked by power-riffing from guitarists Adam Juwig and Mike Kitlas and a swinging stomp by drummer Greg Garrity.

In Anarbor’s capable hands, the dance-pop of La Roux’s “Bulletproof” turns into a full-on pop-punk rave-up, all vocal harmonies and gang chants. It’s such a complete transformation that the song is almost done in by the remaining bit of the original, Elly Jackson’s chorus vocal.  Speaking of transformations, the raging dubstep of “I Do What I Do (Will McCoy Remix)” bears an uncanny sonic resemblance to Skrillex’s epic run-through-the-paper-shredder deconstruction of Benni Benassi’s “Cinema,” and hell, if you’re gonna sound like someone else right now, it would be hard to pick a hotter (or more talented) property than Sonny Moore.  

Not all the gimmicks really work. Echeverria pulls off some impressive vocal mimicry of Rivers Cuomo on their cover of “Hash Pipe,” but the track hews so close to the original that you might as well just pop on the Green Album and listen to Weezer play it.  “Call From Manager (Skit)” is a joke that’s been played out one too many times, and it’s usually done funnier. And the acoustic and remixed versions of “Let The Games Begin”– available as a bonus tweet-for-a-track– are enjoyable but inessential as is the set’s only original track, “Fast, Cheap and Out Of Control.”

Still, for a free release, The Mixtape is more than just a toss-off. In an age where music’s value is measured not in monetary cost but in opportunity cost, Anarbor have made something worth your valuable listening time.  Really, what more can you ask for?


by Jesse Richman, edited by Emily Coch

POZ Review: William Beckett - Winds Will Change

When we last left our hero, William Beckett was gingerly stretching his wings on his first solo release after years fronting scene mainstays The Academy Is…. But if Walk The Talk found Beckett tentatively inching away from TAI’s sonic palette, the new Winds Will Change—the second of three EPs Beckett intends to issue to inaugurate this new phase of his career—is a dead sprint towards parts unknown.

Each of the four tracks here approaches pop from its own discrete direction. “Scarlett (Tokyo)” drops Beckett, a notorious cinema buff (he’s gone so far as to host a weekly movie club for fans via his blog), in the midst of the Scarlett Johansson/Bill Murray vehicle Lost In Translation. Light and lithe, racing through twinkly keys like a bullet train on click-clack rhythms and a slickly pulsating bassline, the track practically oozes propulsion, darting through a thrilling series of subtly metastasizing changes that serve as the bridge. It’s a veritable study in forward motion, a triumphant convergence of theme and form, echoing the film’s themes of distance, longing and separation both lyrically and sonically.

Just as good is “Dig A Hole,” where fuzzy, menacing verses blossom into a beautifully expansive chorus lofted over thudding percussion by cinematic strings and a hint of falsetto. Meanwhile, the date-gone-wrong tale “Great Night” (“I’ve had a great night // But this wasn’t it, oh no”) bounds forward on a boozy sing-along chorus underpinned by rollicking barroom piano, near giddy in its nothing-you-can-do-but-laugh approach. And “Warriors” takes nearly the opposite tack, a streamlined, accusatory retro-futurist rocker, slinky single-string guitar and electronic flourishes zooming around Beckett, hissing like a burning log at the center. Each track is distinctive, and distinctly excellent.

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POZ Review: Every Avenue - Bad Habits

On Bad Habits, Every Avenue continue to prove that there’s a place in the world for straightforward power-pop, a genre that—from its earliest days (Big StarThe Raspberries) through its subterranean late-20th-century highs (The ReplacementsMaterial Issue) and up to its Disneyfied late-2000s coming-out (which was pretty much anyone in 2007 who wore neon and didn’t self-describe as br00tal)—has perpetually struggled for respect. All of those earlier bands, either maligned or merely ignored, crumbled under the weight of expectations unmet, only to see their legacy grow years after calling it a day. Every Avenue are, perhaps unwittingly, the latest outfit to pick up the burden, churning out three albums and an EP’s worth of sturdy, self-assured and relatively similar melodic rock tunes over the last four years on Fearless Records. On one hand, there aren’t going to be any surprises here; on the other, there’s something to be said for knowing who you are.

Which is not to say that there isn’t room to play around within the genre, and Bad Habits finds Every Avenue stretching their stylistic legs a little. Bad Habits features a few of what are pretty definitively the band’s angstiest moments, or at least moments when the angst in vocalist Dave Strauchman’s lyrics carries over into the music, sucked up by hungry guitars that grind and squeal as they choke it down with a newfound, gutty strength. (Speculation: guitarist Jimmie Deeghan’s recently grown Grizzly Adams beard contains Samson-like powers.) Best is “No One But You,” which throws those snarling axes over the top of a pounding swing beat. Elsewhere, “Whatever Happened To You” gallops along with some serious horsepower and Strauchman’s scruffiest vocals to date.

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