REVIEW: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – "Belong"

After a great debut release, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart had set the bar pretty high. Their 2009 self titled record was an incredibly solid take on indie pop. Mixing together the heavily distorted guitars of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the effect heavy wall of sound of shoegaze, and the genre expected perishing alt rock voice. All in all, an enjoyable half hour of music.

In that same year, the “Higher Than the Stars” EP was released. It was kind of split as far as the sound. Some songs sounded like they could have been on the previous full length, but some were a little cleaner sounding. There was more straight forward pop songs to be found here.

In that vein, we have the new full length. Produced by Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder, this record sounds like it should have been released back during the 90’s post-grunge, alternative rock scene. This release has more in common with The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream” (or the more poppy stuff on “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness”), than it does The Jesus and Mary Chain (or My Bloody Valentine). However, this is all tempered with a heavy dose of new wave synthesizer, and a touch of the poppier side of The Cure.

The songs are still either slow or midtempo, the lyrics are still hit or miss, the general twee guidelines are still met, but it is a cleaner sound. Kip Berman shows he his vocals have range beyond a monotone drone. Peggy Wang steps up with the keyboard use. They have taken the next step musically while still falling well within the dream pop thing (by the by, how many subgenres does this type of music need?).

Lyrics are the tripping point here. With the cleaner production, comes clearer vocals. Realistically, the lyrics on these types of records are usually twee. But, with dense production, heavy music effects, and a general vocal drone, they tend to not stand out over the instrumentation. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. From the titular song (and album opener), we get the line “tell yourself / it’s not yourself / but, no one else / can make me know there’s no one else.” From “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” we get this “I know everything is so-so / I know you could just fly solo / But come on, we are gonna go go around the world, ’cause you’re the girl of 1,000 dreams.” Lyrically, this is what we are dealing with most of the album. But, pop music (indie or otherwise) has never been know for it’s lyrical prowess.

But, the album is not all bad. While “My Terrible Friend” suffers from dubious lyrical content, it more than makes up for it musically. It might be one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” is another stand out track for similar reasons. Catchy instrumentation might not save a record from poor songwriting, but it can certainly help.

Also, I want to make special mention of the album cover. It is simple, but good. Their last full length had this overly contrasted photo. It looked like something Tim Armstrong of Rancid would shit out for whatever band was releasing something on Hellcat Records. This is a major step up.

This is a generally good album. Maybe a little too poppy. Lyrically, it needs a lot of help. But, if you are a person who has a soft spot for twee, check this out. Not the finest example of indie pop, but certainly not the worst either.

Official Site
Buy It (Slumberland Records)

REVIEW: The Get Up Kids – "There Are Rules"

Alright, this is a hard album to write about. I am a huge fan of The Get Up Kids. Shit, I am wearing one of their t-shirts right now. Four Minute Mile, Something To Write Home About, and On A Wire are still getting a lot of plays. Sadly, this record does not have great replay value.

There Are Rules is the first full length for this band since they released Guilt Show in 2004. They then broke up in 2005. That record was a mixed bag at best. This is true for the latest. It starts off strong, the first two songs are a little synth heavy, but generally pop/rock songs that the band is known for. “Tithe” being the album opener would have set a great tone for the record. “Regent’s Court” followed up in a similar style. The latter was constantly getting dogged for sounding like a Strokes’ song. Not being well versed in that band’s catalog, I can not say if it is true or not. Sadly, save for the closer, the rest of this album is new wave synths, subdued guitars, but the occasional big chorus. I can get behind a band trying new things. But, did the world need another record like this? In a world where synth heavy post-punk and indie are the genres du jour, this fails to rise above the rest of that saturated market. And then, the album cover looks like a simplified version of a Big D & The Kids Table record.

James Dewees showed that he is more than capable of making textured, and in some cases eerie, music. His work on the keyboard and synthesizer are primarily what drives this record. As far as creating atmosphere, good on him. This is especially noticeable on “Rally ‘Round The Fool,” which is the longest track on the record. It clocks in at just a little over five minutes. The vocals sound fine, but both Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic are constantly singing with distortion on their vocals. In tone, they still sound like the same guys who recorded the classic songs in their back catalog, but a little too processed. The Pope brothers are the MVPs of this release. With as much experimentation and faux-art happening, they keep the rhythm section tight and in line.

It would have been a good record if it was released by a different band, but it is a bad record for The Get Up Kids. Their song writing strengths struggle to shine through. As does their ability to make excellent pop songs. More or less, they took the more experimental songs from the Simple Science EP, and just ran with them. They even include a song from it on here. Even then, it is the exact same version of Keith Case that appeared on the EP. Cutting and pasting songs like that will never not annoy me.

Overall, it sounds like The Get Up Kids playing Joy Division songs. It is a combination I should enjoy, but not really what I wanted. But, reunion records are always a little touch and go, right?

Official Site
Myspace

REVIEW: Football, etc. – "The Draft"

In my very short review of the Football, etc. EP, First Down, I was very clearly stoked on it. It was four songs of great emo music. They were coming across as one of the best contemporary bands in the genre. I still stand by that opinion, but maybe the honeymoon period is over.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this new full length is still good. The same points of praise still stand. The problem is, in full length form, it just does not feel the same. Having listened to this record many times, there is something about it that does not sit right with me. While the band is certainly adept at making great sounding 2nd wave style emo, they do not quite branch out beyond the formula of the genre. The average length of all 10 songs is about 3 minutes (shortest being 1:22, longest being 4:26. The rest all fall somewhere in the 3-3.5 minute mark). All are mid-tempo. More or less, you have 10 songs that are all pretty similar sounding. While it makes for a cohesive half hour (give or take) of music, it can also get kind of boring. Couple this with the fact that Lindsay Minton (guitar/vocals) tends to draw every word out (on damn near every song), and you have a recipe for a slightly sub-par release. My last minor gripe is the artwork. It looks ok, but kind of like someone resized the picture to LP sized on an old version of MS Paint.  And, it is more than a little Cure-y

But, this is by no means a bad release. The songs are generally good. Lyrically, the band remains spot on (with the exception of Lambeau). The honesty and conviction are there, but it is tempered by the somewhat repetitious music. Of special mention, the songs “X’s And O’s” and “Hail Mary” are fantastic. “Flood” might be my favourite track on the whole record. This record is a great example of how strong lyrics can make up for less strong instrumentation.

I know this review seems kind of negative, but I don’t mean it too. This band is still very strong in regards to the music they play. It is easy to draw lazy comparisons to Rainer Maria or to the vocal stylings of Kim Deal. But, my previous statements on this band still stand. If the whole post-emo indie rock thing is your bag (as it is mine), there is no reason why you should not own this record. There are some flaws, but it is still a great record overall.

Official Site
Bandcamp Page (stream some stuff)
Count Your Lucky Stars (U.S. Release)
strictly no capital letters (Europe release)

REVIEW: Lemuria – "Pebble"

Lemuria is one of those bands that has evolved with each release. Their first release in 2004, technically a self released demo, was more or less a pop punk record. It steered clear of the genre bullshit. It was not just reheated Ramones riffs. But, the energy was more that of pop punk. As time progressed, they started to play with their sound. Allowing songs to get a little longer, a little more complex, and a little more thought out. Especially lyrically. I mean, the lyrics and delivery on the song “Let’s Think About What Just Happened” (from the 2004 demo) are a little awkward.

Between then and now, the band put out some 7 inches and splits (notably they did a split with Kind Of Like Spitting. The split with them features the KOLS song that I named the blog after). They collected all their 7″ material and compilation tracks on a release called The First Collection in 2007. While being a compilation release, it has held up really well, and does not sound disjointed, save for maybe a track or two. For people like me, this was the first introduction to the band.

In 2008, they released Get Better. It was the debut full length, and was a a hell of a debut at that. This release kind of solidified what this band was capable of. Fast pop punk songs, mid tempo indie song, and great lyrics start to finish. In my opinion, there was no filler on that album. So, yeah, they set the bar pretty high for themselves.

So, in 2011, we now have Pebble. It is out on, oddly enough, hardcore stalwart label Bridge Nine. Which is kind of a weird pairing, given the style Lemuria plays vs. what B9 is known for. J Robbins did the productions, and I am a fan of his work. He has produced so many of my favourite bands, including Jawbreaker, Braid, and The Promise Ring. He did a great job. The tones are great. It sounds clean without sound over polished. So, that is great.

But, the record has some rough patches. It falls into, what I call, “I’m Henery The VIII, I Am syndrome.” Less Than Jake is guilty of this a lot as well. Basically the second verse is the same as the first. Not to shit on this type of thing, as it is pretty common, but it can get old pretty quickly. You have to make sure that the verse you are repeating is a hell of a verse. Not every song is guilty of this. The most notable offender is the song Pleaser. Which is about 90% made up of the lyric “I am hinting hard, I am a hard hinter. I am a pleaser, and I am hinting hard.” This song goes on for damn near four minutes. It is a great song, but I think it provides a good example.

The album opener, Gravity, is not what one would expect from a pop-punk/indie band. Very slow, very calm, sounding not unlike a song The xx would put out (sans the overused synth lines that The xx are so fond of). More or less, an ok song. But, not really indicative of the album’s tone. There is not really any fast songs, it is mostly a mid tempo affair, but it has all the catchy hooks one would expect.

Lyrically, this album just seems darker. I mean, Get Better had some less than cheerful lyrics (see Hawaiian T-Shirt or Lipstick). Pebble tops that. I mean, one of the most cheerful and poppy songs on is about sexual abuse. Seriously, check out the song Bloomer.

Sheena Ozzella sounds fantastic on the record. Her vocals sound better than ever. The same is true for Alex Kerns. They are very good at doing back and forth vocals. The vocals are mixed well, and stand out clearly over their guitar and drums, respectively. Looks like, on this release, the bass duties were filled by Kyle Paton. He has since left the band due to immigration troubles with Canada. As I mentioned previously, the bass sounds great on here. Check out the song Chautauqua County to see what I mean.

One issue I have about this record is that the songwriting does not have the split that Get Better (or even The First Collection) had. This record was very much the Alex Kerns show. Out of 11 songs, he wrote 10 of them. Lyrically, Sheena was only involved with the lyrics of the last song, The One. Which I think is one of the best songs on the album. I mean, yeah, the ratio usually falls in his favor. If you go to their site and look at the lyrics, he has more writing credit overall. But, I feel like this album was too reliant on him. I like him as a song writer, he has a demo album online of at If You Make It that was really good. I just wish Sheena had more songs on the album. I think this might have helped squelch the above mentioned Henery The VIII, I Am syndrome. Not a deal breaker by any means though. But, I really think I would have rather had a Sheena song instead of Yellowstone Lady. Just saying.

All in all, a good record. I think my expectations were really high for this, given how much I loved Get Better. This being out so early in the year, I am not sure how it will hold up against other releases this year. But, it has set the bar pretty high. If you like indie pop, do not sleep on this record. While you are at it, get their split with the Cheap Girls too.

Buy it from the band directly
Buy it Bridge Nine Records (where you can choose if you want CD, vinyl, digital, whatever).

REVIEW – Football, etc. – "First Down"

Man, I am so clever. Posting a review for a band called Football, etc. on Super Bowl weekend. Also, totally fucking up the review schedule I set. Anyway.

See, There was a time when the word “emo” did not bring to mind pictures of kids with swoop haircuts, lip piercings, and unfortunate day-glo tees. Back in the mid to late 90s, the 2nd wave of emo produced a rather impressive series of records. I mean, we are talking about big bands like Friction, Braid, Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Mineral, Rainer Maria, Camber, Texas Is The Reason, The Promise Ring, Sunny Day Real Estate and the first few releases by The Get Up Kids (to name a few). Yeah, this was what music taxonomy nerds would call “post-emo indie rock,” but my point remains.

Hailing from Houston Texas, Football, etc. put out this EP in July 2009, but they sound like they could have been contemporaries to the above listed bands. While this was just a four song demo, it had the touchstones of that (seemingly forgotten) sound. You have the twinkly guitars, the somewhat subdued vocals, and sincerity that most fucking “emo” records are missing these days. Lindsay Minton has a great vocal performance on here. Perfect voice for this type of music.

I am not going to fuck around with a track by track analysis or anything. It is a four song EP, and it is fantastic. They have a full length coming out in March via Count Your Lucky Stars Records. This EP is available for download at a few places (donation based/free), but I guess the actual physical release is out of print.

More or less, if you are a fan of that 2nd wave emo sound, check this out. It will not disappoint. I am not going to give it a x out of 5 star rating, because I decided I do not want to do that anymore.

Official Download via Bandcamp
Official Download If You Make It
Steam some stuff via Myspace

REVIEW: Iron Chic – "Not Like This"

“I want to smash my face into that goddamn radio.”

Without rehashing the entire intro for my review for RVIVR, I really like Latterman. This is another post-Latterman band. So, now that is out of the way. With this band being a mish mash of Latterman and Small Arms Dealer, it had no option but to be great.

This album is pretty fucking fantastic. What you have here is an album full of anthemic punk rock songs. I overlooked this band in the beginning. See, I have a weird thing about album titles, and their 2009 EP title, “Shitty Rambo,” made me not even want to check the band out, even knowing the pedigree. Something about that name bugged the shit out of me. And, man, that was a mistake.

So, in 2010, this debut full length came out, and did not disappoint. The opening song “Cutesy Monster Man” might be one of my favourite “side one, track one” songs of the year. And, the strength of that song carries out through the rest of the release.

To me, though, the lyrics on this record are kind of dark (in a strangely optimistic way). For example, from the song “I Always Never Said That,” we get the following line: “if I hear another word about a better place, I’ll paint these walls with my fucking brains. You said I wouldn’t, but if I did, you don’t think I’ll go to hell for it.” This song is a pretty optimistic in the way it looks at how seriously things get taken, including things that probably are not so serious. And, that even if shit sucks, maybe you should just try and make the best of what you got. I know that sounds kind of simplistic and dumb, but it is a great idea.

Most of the record shares this vibe. In a time where shit sucks, and real communities seem to be non-existent, maybe the best thing is a record about how we all still have a chance. If we finally decide to not let ourselves get run the fuck over. Idealism is still alive in punk rock.

Like with RVIVR, I do not think I can give this a perfect score. I have that bias. But, this record is fucking great from front to back, it shares so much in common with what I loved about Latterman, and I think more records need to be as solid as this one. Let’s call it a 4.5 out of 5 (though, in my mind, it is a straight up 5 out of 5).

Buy It (donation based download)
Buy It (physical copy via Dead Broke Rekerds)
Official site (with full lyrics)

REVIEW: The Thermals – Personal Life

“Your love is so strong, it’s only a series of lies.”

It seems like every time I hear new stuff by The Thermals, it is a poppier (and better produced) version of their last album. If not for Hutch Harris’ very distinct voice, you would probably not assume that the same band who produced More Parts Per Million in 2003 was the same band who made Personal Life in 2010. The production and style is so different.

What does this mean for Personal Life? Basically, you have a slick sounding album that, while it does have a good number of strong songs, does not quite measure up to the bands strong back catalog. While I neither expect (nor want) this band to keep remaking the same album over and over again, I like them best when they are ripping through songs. If Fuckin’ A is the record by them that I measure their other albums by (which, honestly, it is), this one is a mild disappointment.

The song “Not Like Any Other Feeling,” for example, is pretty much entirely pushed along by Kathy Foster’s bass. Save for a lead riff that is basically only played at the beginning of the verse, only to go back to bass and drums after only a few seconds. Compare this to “How We Know” (on Fuckin’ A), which is another bass driven song, with the guitar basically being chorus only. The major difference being that the vocals in the latter had great delivery. It all sounded very urgent. The former has a vocal delivery that sounds pretty fucking lackadaisical.

With the exception of  “I Don’t Believe You” and “Your Love Is So Strong,” this record is more or less a plodding, mid tempo affair. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems like the energy of this album is just lacking. With the more “personal” flair to the lyrics, including some rather depressing moments, it seems like the album needs some fast to balance the slow. This does not really happen.

I know that this band can do a whole fucking lot more than they did here. The Thermals have always stuck close to writing pretty basic pop songs. This is probably the first album of theirs where that seems to be a weakness instead of a strength. This is the first record of theirs that does not seem to do anything better than the one previous.

All bullshit aside, I will give this a 3 out of 5. Will end up in my top 10 of the year, but barely. I am sure that the next record this band does will probably be their best.

Buy It (via Kill Rock Stars)
Buy It (via the band)
The Thermals (official site)