Two Knights, the duo of Parker Lawson and Miles DeBruin, are the epitome of a duo that knows how to fucking go. Find me a stronger two piece that plays this kind of music. Effing is the kind of record that will get pigeonholed as an emo record, but that only accounts for a small portion of what it is. It is an energetic, mathy, punk rock record that knows how to get the point.
The songs on Effing are all pretty short. Save the closer, “Lex Loser,” all these song barely break the two minute mark. Even that song is just shy of 03:21. It’s remarkable because these aren’t simple, punk rock riffs. “Stoned Legends Of The Hidden Temple” and “Lex Loser” are pretty aggressive in the guitar department. A bunch of nerds would be yelling about “twinkling” if they were slower. “I Ate an Entire Pizza During One Episode of The West Wing” is on the other end. It’s way more straight forward, A to B type song.
Two Knights have basically nailed the gimmick. They are a great blend of indie, emo, math rock, and punk. Two Knights are the kind of band that knows exactly what they want to do, and they know exactly how to do it.
Perennial released their first EP back in 2015. Early Sounds For Night Owls was a quick four song record that I still don’t think got the attention it deserved. It had all the heart and intensity that you would want from a record, especially in a genre as driven as post-hardcore. It’s essential listening. Especially if you want to understand the artistic side of underground music. But that’s 2015, and it’s now two years later. Where do we stand?
The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves is the new record, and it’s probably my favorite record of 2017 so far. I mean that with no hyperbole. Perennial have raised the bar. The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves fucking goes. It’s one of those records where you can tell what songs are going to absolutely wreck the place live. “La Fugue Pour Béton brut” is definitely one of them. I feel like “Evergreen, un deux trois,” “Resolver,” and “Hippolyta” are definitely contenders too. Those songs are quick bursts of aggressive energy. Shit, the whole record is.
The evolution of Perennial’s sound is key to what makes everything work. First, the increased vocal presence of Chelsey Hahn adds a lot of depth. The way her vocals work with Chad Jewett’s is one of the many standouts on the records. Those two were the heart of Lion Cub, so it’s no surprise that they work so well together. To that point, the increased presence of the keyboards and sampling also change the dynamic a lot. That texture existed on Early Sounds For Night Owls, but that record still felt more guitar driven. The song that best shows that shift is “La Fugue Pour Béton brut.” That song appeared on the EP in 2015, and a reworked version shows up here. It’s the best.
The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves is an amazing record from start to finish. It’s a perfect mix of art school punk and post-hardcore. The energy, the passion, everything.
Howling Frequency Records
Moral Straightjacket are a two piece band from Irvine, California. They’ve been steadily releasing records for a few years now, and their new EP is a great addition to that discography. I’ll Be Your Rainbow is a stellar three song primer of what this band can do.
Moral Straightjacket are primarily a “post-” band. The mix of post-hardcore and post-punk gives the band a bigger sound than duos usually have. The songs are primarily built around guitar and drum, but they don’t sound limited in scope or nature. I’ll Be Your Rainbow is a great example of a band doing a lot with a little.
The vocal duties on this record are split. One track for each member, and one featuring guest vocals from M. Blue Wizards (vocals by John) and Blood Orange (vocals by Lucas) provide bookends. The vocals are what really make this band stand out to me. John has a very standard voice in genre terms, and Lucas sings in a baritone voice that still isn’t very common in genre music (or rock music in general).
The three songs cover a lot of ground musically. “Blue Wizards” opens the EP, and it fucking goes. It has a very Repeater-era Fugazi vibe to it. “Evergreen” has a much more mellow vibe. M’s vocals hold court on this one, and goddamn does she sound good. The acoustic driven “Blood Orange” calms things down even more as a closer.
Moral Straightjacket has been around for a minute now, and they’ve got a really strong discography. There is no reason not to check this out. I’ll Be Your Rainbow is probably one of my favorite post- records so far this year. And, seriously, “Blue Wizards” fucking goes.
Ruined Smile Records
It’s kind of hard to write about Football, etc. at this point. I been writing about them for about as long as I’ve been running this blog. I first talked about them when I wrote up their First Down EP. I also covered their previous two full lengths (The Draft and Audible), their Disappear EP, and their split with Plaids. There isn’t much to say about them that I haven’t already said sometime in the last six years.
Football, etc is one of my favorite bands to have come out of that late 2000s emo scene. They were right there at the start of the emo revival (or whatever), and they’ve outlived many of their peers. In fact, Football, etc. are one of the bands I most associate with the current genre. They’ve put out consistently great records. They do that second wave emo sound better than most current bands going. They are a torchbearer. Corner is another example of all that.
Their third full length, and first on Community Records, is a distillation of the growth the band has experienced. While the songwriting and vocal performance from Lindsay Minton is still the goddamn show, it has become more and more about how the trio works together. Allowing certain pop influences to shine through have made the rhythm section of Mercy Harper and Daniel Hawkins an unstoppable force. “Foul” and “Nutmeg” are perfect examples of how the band can absolutely fucking go. Minton’s guitar is still out there twinkling, but things really pop when she gets some distortion going. Her vocal delivery sounds as strong as ever. There is a much more dynamic range than on records past. A song like “Space” wouldn’t be horribly out of place on a record like The Draft or Audible, but it certainly would be the outlier.
Corner is the sound of a band that has matured beyond being a “genre band.” You can still call them emo, and you’d be right. Football, etc. are much more than that though, and it’s great to see that they’re still growing.
Community Records (USA)
Barely Regal (UK)
Stiff Slack (JPN)
The Lillingtons always feel like two different bands to me. There is the standard pop punk band doing standard pop punk love songs, but then there is the sci fi/horror/b-movie influenced band who put one of the best genre records ever (and two additional classics). The problem with the former style is that Kody Templeman does that style with way more gusto in Teenage Bottlerocket. The Lillingtons, despite being the older band, suffer as a result of this.
All that being said, after a roughly 10 year hiatus, what does a new Lillingtons EP sound like? Well, it kind of sounds like a Teenage Bottlerocket record. Ok, that’s a little shitty to say. It’s definitely a Lillingtons record, but it feels more Shit Outta Luck than Death By Television to me. The first two songs, “Until The Sun Shines” and “Rubber Room,” come off as retreads of things the band has already done. Like, “Rubber Room” feels like an ehhh version of “I Need Some Brain Damage” mixed with Teenage Bottlerocket’s “Welcome To The Nuthouse.” The other two songs are more in the b-movie side of things. “Project 313” is about being stuck on a rocket in space. “It’s On” is about a succubus, but is also a pop punk pastiche of 80’s cock rock.
Project 313 sounds exactly how you think it would. Simple pop punk in the tradition of Lookout Records and the Ramones. Genre fans will love it, genre haters will hate it, and no one will learn a goddamn thing. And isn’t that good enough?
Red Scare Industries
(Usually I embed Bandcamp or Soundcloud stream. Only one song was playable on Bandcamp at time of writing. Had to use a Spotify link instead, I guess. Sorry.)
It’s easy to talk about Orations through the lens of “modern band does classic genre music.” Hell, that was my main talking point when I wrote about their previous EP. It’s really not a point worth revisiting because there is more going on. Orations are easily one of the strongest modern voices in this kind of music.
All that said, what’s new? Wych Elm is Orations honing their sound even further. The reverb is still there. The melodies are still top notch. Jess Collins still has one of the best goddamn voices. Wych Elm stands out by what makes it different from past releases. They still effortless emphasize the punk part of post-punk, but not so strongly as on the self titled EP. It’s still very “goth” sounding, but has more of a college rock type jangle when compared to to the more Siouxsie And The Banshees / The Cure vibe on Incantations.
Wych Elm is absolutely everything a first full length should be. It feels like a declaration of intent. Like a mission statement. It’s documentation of a band that knows exactly what they are and exactly where they’re going.
Custom Made Music
Swiss Dark Nights
It’s not easy to make pop punk music. Like, ok, that’s not true. It’s mechanically easy to make pop punk music. It’s not easy to make pop punk music that can live and breath as it’s own thing. The genre purists are going to piss and complain no matter what. You’re derivative if you stick too close to the formula, you’re a trend jumping phony if you deviate. It’s fucking ridiculous. But let’s get down to brass tacks. Diet Cig is fucking good.
Swear I’m Good At This is exactly what any band would want their debut full length to be. Diet Cig has honed their indie pop influenced punk rock down to a science over the course of one EP and two singles. They are a two piece that sounds huge. Everything is firing, and everything works.
Swear I’m Good At This is in the fine tradition of records that sound happy but are lyrically kind of a bummer. There are songs about failed relationships. Songs about feeling lonely and hopeless. There’s some 20-something ennui. There are a couple fuck you songs directed to a society that really doesn’t seem to get what the fuck is going on. It’s musical sugar to cover up real life bitterness and I love it.
This a record full of singles and mixtape fodder. “Link In Bio” and “Tummy Ache” were absolute no-brainers to be lead of singles. “Barf Day” and “Bite Back” would fit perfectly on a bummer mix. It’s a record that is definitely going to appeal to an entire demographic of disillusioned kids just trying to find their voice.
This is the kind of music that exists to let you know you’re not the only one going through some shit. It’s 100% the kind of thing I loved when I was in my 20s, and I know some kid is going to be stoked on it. Diet Cig have all the potential to be huge, and I hope they everyone sees it.
Bandcamp / Buy It
It’s hard to believe that Created In The Image Of Suffering is technically the debut full length from King Woman. The evolution from a solo project of Kristina Esfandiari to full band has really only happened over the course of two singles and an EP. The version of King Woman here sounds very far removed from the version that recorded the Degrida single back in 2013. While the earlier releases were definitive King Woman songs, there seemed to be a lot of overlap with what Esfandiari doing in Miserable. The sound was a little darker, but still similar. King Woman evolving into an actual band with other full time members really solidified it as something different. 2015’s Doubt was the turning point. It was evolution.
Created In The Image Of Suffering is a document of that evolution and musical growth. It’s also a perfect example of how King Woman defies genre classification. It has elements of metal, doom, shoegaze, and drone. In a lot of ways it is all of, and none of, those genres. It might piss off some purists, but must be acknowledged. The end result is a sound that is beautifully varied. The band has the chops to be dark and heavy, but they also have the restraint to be light and airy. The guitars can go from melodic and soft to just fucking riffing. Created In The Image Of Suffering is a split of power and vulnerability, not that those things are mutually exclusive. Everything is tied together by Kristina Esfandiari’s vocals. Mysterious and ethereal, but also fucking powerful.
These songs are clearly the result of a very complicated life and history. They are very dense and very cathartic. The biggest mistake is to assume this record is just some angry, brooding thing. There are songs on Created In The Image Of Suffering about the abuse Esfandiari received while in the church, but there are also songs about unrequited love. It is Esfandiari as a songwriter just putting it all out on the record. The tone feels like it might skew one way, but there is so much more happening.
I’ve talked about King Woman and Miserable before on here. Esfandiari is easily one of my favorite artists going right now. Created In The Image Of Suffering has built on everything she’s done before, and is an A+ addition to an already fantastic discography.
It’s been about four months since I wrote about any record. I’m coming back with an easy one. Less Than Jake is one of my favorite bands. They have been since I was a teenager. It was Less Than Jake and the Bouncing Souls forever. Like, I’ve forgotten a lot of things over the years. The lyrics to every Less Than Jake record up to and including GNV FLA are still burned in my brain though. I definitely got away from this band after that. I never really listened to either of the Greetings EPs or See The Light very much. They were great records. I was busy reviewing every fucking emo revival record, or whatever.
There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to Less Than Jake. They are a band of veterans who know exactly where their proverbial bread is buttered. It’s why, in 2017, I can still put on any of their records and know I’m going to enjoy it. Is it predictability? Definitely. Could that be viewed as a negative thing? Absolutely. Not by me though, because I still love this goddamn band.
Sound The Alarm is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s an EP full of poppy songs with oddly bummer lyrics. Sound The Alarm would him every point if there was a template for a Less Than Jake record. “Call To Arms” is the classic punk with horns opener. Compared to their discography, it is probably the most Anthem-y. “Welcome To My Life” and “Years Of Living Dangerously” hit the laid back ska vibe. Both songs deal with friendships and relationships in different ways. The former being apologetic, the latter hits on the classic, reminiscent theme the band often uses. “Thing Change” is the strongest song on the record. It closes the record with the most Less Than Jake song they’ve recorded in years. Fast verses, great horn line, and a huge chorus.
It’s not really easy to write about Less Than Jake objectively. This band is wildly important to me, and I’m definitely willing to overlook things other people maybe won’t. Nostalgia is a hell of thing. Anything this band does is going to remind me of something I’ve done while listening to them. “Bomb Drop” makes reminds me of driving in a blizzard while listening to Borders And Boundaries. “Years Of Living Dangerously” reminds me of being sad and drunk while listening to B Is For B-Sides.
It’s a fucking Less Than Jake record. You know what it is. Don’t overthink it. It’s good, and it is another strong release in this band’s discography. I know everyone is going to try and compare it Hello Rockview or Losing Streak. Don’t do that. Just let it play. You’ll like it.
Less Than Jake
Pure Noise Records
The Lower Echelon play a kind of punk rock that doesn’t get much play these days. It is something in the middle of traditional, 70s style punk rock and the sardonic, sarcastic 80s stuff that permeated out from the West Coast.
Come To The Loud is a record that has more going on than an initial listen would cover. On the face of it, a song like “Dirty Princess” can come across as a little questionable. With proper analysis the lyrics actually get the point about bro culture and the weird fixation is has on damsel in distress tropes. This political tone is recurring. “All Against All” is more of a dirgey type song that touches how consumer culture and and financial system is rigged against normal people. “Flops To Lofts” has a similar tone.
As far as being a genre record, this record hits a lot of the touchstones. The songs are rough around the edges, the vocals even more so. It has the energy and heart that punk rock should have. If I had an issue with the EP it would be that the topics don’t necessarily get dealt with the weight they could be. There is a lot of bullshit happening in the supposed “progressive” world of punk rock, and masking the message in too much sarcasm tends to muddy the water.
But, look, let’s get down to brass tacks. The Lower Echelon are definitely on some punk rock shit, and this EP is definitely worth a listen.
The Lower Echelon