is a melodic punk album, superficially anyway. There are gruff vocals, driving guitars, and killer backing vocals are abound. There is a lot more to it than that. There are some emo and indie rock influences in here. There’s also a fair amount of post-hardcore influence. This is most notable in some structural aspects of the songs. A song can begin as a straight forward punk song, but then go off into a mathy direction for a minute. Guitar leads are strong, and not generically “punk.” It’s not uncommon for a song to abruptly change and go a different direction all together.
It’s that tendency that is both the greatest strength and most glaring weakness on this record. On the plus side, it keeps the record interesting. On the other hand, it makes certain songs sound a little disjointed. “Lowercase” being an example of the former, “In The Pauses” an example of the latter. It’s not a bad thing, I suppose. It just feels like sometimes ambition got out ahead of the band. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it can get distracting when a slow to mid-tempo song all of a sudden takes a right turn into quick punk song via an extended solo. Especially when it feels like it’s happening on almost every other song.
Let’s get back to the point though. Light On The Lake is a great record. It exists in a world where a punk rock record doesn’t have to be a “punk rock” record. It shows that bands can grow and mature without compromising. And, ultimately, isn’t that the point?
It seems the first talking point that most people bring up when discussing Little Big League is the collective pedigree of the members. It makes sense, but it is a little boring to do, right? It never really explains the project at hand. Let’s just sidestep that stuff and focus on the record. It’s pretty simple when we look at it that way.
Little Big League have a great LP here. These Are Good People is a great example of a band taking an almost decade specific sound, but avoiding the whole throwback gimmick. It plays primarily like a 90’s indie/alternative record. In a very straightforward way in some places, but filtered through college rock or emo in some others. Sometimes the guitar is twinkly, sometimes it jangles. The leads are simple enough, but catchy and hooky.
The most dynamic thing on the record is the vocals. Michelle Zauner’s vocals range from delicate and soft to high and powerful to rough and yelled. It adds a very diverse layer to what would otherwise be very genre normative songs. Shit, we get bits of each in the first three songs alone. The album opens with “Lindsey,” on with very powerful vocals. “My Very Own You” has moments of the more delicate side. “Dark Matter” gets rough at the end. This carries on throughout. It’s not for everyone though. Michelle Zauner doesn’t have a perfect voice. It ranges somewhere between Mimi Gallagher from NONA and Caithlin De Marrais from Rainer Maria (other people also say Karen O. So there’s that).
Long story short, everything pretty much works on this record. It may be walking down a pretty well worn path, but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s a record that can be put on and enjoyed. It’s not trying to redefine a genre. It’s not trying to revolutionize a scene. It’s comfortable and a little familiar. There’s not a damn thing wrong with that.
Little Big League
I know there has been a lot of people (myself including) hyping this supposed “emo revival” stuff. Dikembe is one of those bands that shithead bloggers like me will champion. The reason is because everything you want in this genre is right there on the record. Run a checklist on Broad Shoulders, everything is there. Gruff, melodic punk filtered through 90’s emo sensibilities? Check. Yelled, off kilter vocals? Check. Fantastic lyrics delivered in an engaging way? Check.
This shit rules, ok? Honestly, the review could end there. After the fantastic Chicago Bowls EP from last year, Broad Shoulders is one of those rare records that lives up to the hype. Damn near everything works here. Steven Gray (guitar/vocals) has a voice that, while not technically “great”, is perfect for this. He can go from sounding pretty straight forward to almost unhinged without skipping a beat. Rounding out the rest of the band is Ryan Willems (guitar), Kenny Jewett (bass), and David Bell (drums). Goddamn if they don’t play the hell out of this shit.
I kind of wish this record was longer. With 10 songs coming in just this side of 30mins, it is certainly over pretty quickly. But, you know, fair enough. Every member of this band is in another band (isn’t that just a like a Gainesville band?), and two of those bands both put out full lengths last year (Wavelets and Senders). This record is a no brainer for being one of the best of the year
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Restorations self titled record was one of the best last year. A/B is their new 7″, and it is certainly a great extension of that LP. To keep this brief, we have a great 10 minutes of roots rock by way of punk. “A” is quite reminiscent of “Neighborhood Song” (off their full length). “B” is a straight ahead rocker. You just know that song would kill live. Especially with the whoas.
Everything about the previous full length is true here. This band is still hard to peg down as being just one thing. Jon Loudon’s gruff, gravelly voice still drips with sincerity. The band, as a full unit, has made another great sounding bit of rock. And there are just enough fun little detours into post-hardcore angularity to keep it from being formulaic.
If you haven’t already checked these guys out yet, get on with it. This is a 7″ that will appeal to even the most jaded rock fan. Whether they are stoked on punk rock or not.
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Punk rock gets stagnant sometimes. When it does, something has to comes out of left fucking field. This is one of those records. This is a strange brew of pop punk, screamo, and hardcore. And, by god, it works like a charm.
Collectively, Best Practices are a solid fucking band. In it there are members of Weak Teeth and former members of Light The Fuse And Run, Jesuscentric, and Wow, Owls!. Add the fact that this was recorded by Will Killingsworth (from Orchid and Ampere), and you have the recipe for a great record.
Nine songs rip through in about 12 minutes. The vocals sound straight out of a hardcore record, but the music stays securely in a poppy, if not slightly jagged and angular, place. I honestly don’t really know how to explain this record. It is a short and fast pop punk record that is all hopped up on screamo energy. While things can get a bit crazy, there are great hooks all over this thing. This is one of the best punk record I’ve heard this year. Kudos, Best Practices.
Teeth Like Swords
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Holy cats, you guys. This is a fucking record. If you want a good distillation of what hardcore and emo can be, this is certainly a great example. State Faults (formerly Brother Bear) remind me why I love this type of music. To me, listening to Desolate Peaks is like hanging out with an old friend.
While this record borrows from a lot of things, it eschews the blatant style biting that a lot of screamo (or skramz, or whatever the fuck we’re calling it these days) bands seem to be doing. State Faults is able to navigate the middle ground between the chaotic screamo and the twinkly emo. The vocals are aggressive as hell, but the instrumentation hangs out in an inviting, melodic place a lot of the time. To my ear, this has some pretty obvious influence from bands like Antioch Arrow, Saetia, and maybe Maximillian Colby. For a boring comparison to more recent bands, this has a lot in common with bands like Caravels, Pianos Become The Teeth, Circle Takes The Square, and The Saddest Landscape.
Where this separates itself from the super chaotic bands of yore is in the grounded instrumentation. State Faults are fantastic at playing up the more jagged, hard line stuff while still maintain a bit of atmosphere and space. The production is great and makes the two book ends completely compliment each other. Unlike some other bands, the fluctuation of style sounds fluid instead of forced.
This shit rules. Check it out, ok?
Tiny Engine Records
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I’m a total sucker for melodic punk rock. When it comes to bands in that genre, it takes a lot to not sound painfully redundant. In a world where every melodic punk band sounds like Latterman, it is nice to get something that really doesn’t. Fuck, this record is great.
Signals Midwest play a great mix of indie, punk, and post-hardcore. Maybe throw in a bit of Midwestern emo for good measure. Latitudes And Longitudes mixes all those little sub-genres into a very cohesive record. This is a sophomore record that shits all over the idea of sophomore slump. It takes what the band had on Burn The Blueprints and adds some new dimensions. Instead of another straight forward pop punk type record, we get a record full of great hooks, great leads and solos, strong choruses, and some great gang vocals in places. I keep trying to think of a way to describe the music on this, and all I can think of is A Wilhelm Scream played through a filter of later era Hot Water Music. Even that description seems a little lacking.
This record has a central theme of motion. Be it leaving or staying. There is the underlying idea that you can’t leave everything behind, no matter how much you may want to. Rarely does this kind of record ever get that in depth on such topics. There is a high level of sincerity that shines through. On the theme of distance, this line is repeated throughout the record:
“I was counting the miles.
You were counting the days.
Ain’t it strange the numbers we wanted
were moving in opposite ways.”
The songs that most stand out to me are “I Was Lost” and “Limnology.” Also of note is the slower, acoustic song “January & Seven.” If anything, these songs define this record to me.
To make the long story short, this is a great piece of punk rock. It shows that you don’t have to stick to the stupid formula to make a great record. If more punk bands could be this sincere, maybe the genre wouldn’t seem like such a fucking joke.
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