I caught this Leeds-based 5-piece supporting The Dangerous Summer at Thekla in Bristol recently, and was so impressed I went back to my hotel and downloaded their album that very evening. Beer may have been involved. What I ended up with was this 13-track stonker, their first after a clutch of singles, on the recently re-launched label Slam Dunk Records, which is run by the same people behind the festival so you might have a decent idea of what to expect.
A consistent, solid album of authentic-sounding emo anthems infused with pop punk hooks, Happiness, produced by James Kenosha (Dinosaur Pile-Up / Pulled Apart by Horses) is bookended by two of its strongest tracks, the riotous feelgood sing-along Take it Slow and the soaring, slightly slower-paced and more reflective Junior, a song about paying your dues.
The singles Oak, Nightwalker, Drysocket and Pawn Shop Jewels, a mid-tempo rocker showcasing singer Joe Cabrera’s impressive vocal range, also stand out. It might not have spent 16 weeks at number one (does that even mean anything any more) but almost 45k plays on YouTube alone ina few short months is nothing to be sneezed at. Whoever chose those singles chose well, each one offering a pure, perfect slice of modern alt rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on any playlist. The musicianship is precise and textured, the twin guitars and wistful lyrics, more often than not referencing growing up and working class life, sit proudly atop a surging rhythm section. Also of note is Monster, the jaunty chorus striking a tense duality with the dark, intensely personal subject matter. It’s expertly done, and guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine. Cool video, too.
The members of Beauty School have been fixtures on the northern rock scene for years, playing in different bands with varying levels of success. Consequently, this is the sound of a band with direction, who have done their time, put in the graft, and now have a clear idea about their sound and what they want to achieve as a band. Best of all, they clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, which is refreshing to see. As the marketing bumph says: “Beauty School have interpreted sounds from pop-punk, alt-rock, and indie-rock and forged a record that finds a home in each genre without feeling out of place or over-indulgent.”
The influences aren’t hard to spot. The Wonder Years, Neck Deep, and A Day to Remember shine through, and there are tuneful touches of Funeral for a Friend, Feeder and even vintage New Found Glory. Hearing this album for the first time was like listening to the result of all my favourite bands getting together for an impromptu jamming session. I’ve spunked money on many worse things when drunk.
I wasn’t the only one who was impressed, Beauty School have been making a lot of friends recently and picked up a bit of airplay. Beauty School are out on tour again this month supporting The Wonder Years, another great band. See you down the front.
A year in China, Covid restrictions, and being old as fuck meant I hadn’t seen any live music for almost four years. That’s a long time, and it was always going to take something special to get me off my ass and down the front again. That ‘something special’ turned out to be a UK tour by The Dangerous Summer, one of my favourite bands of the past decade.
First, a word about the venue, Thekla. I love spaces with character, and being a converted cargo ship moored in Bristol’s Floating Harbour, Thekla has plenty of that. Built in Germany in 1958, it carried various cargoes between European ports until running aground off the coast of Northern England. And there it stayed, for seven years, until being bought, patched up, and sailed to Bristol by American novelist Ki Longfellow-Stanshall (who died earlier this year), her husband Vivian, and a small crew of volunteers, where it has played host to gigs, shows, and club nights since 1984. What a story.
TDS have to be one of the most underrated bands there is. I’ve been a fan since the Absolute Punk days (if you know, you know) and I reviewed both their 2019 album Mother Nature and their 2020 EP All That is Left of the Blue Sky right here on this blog. For all intents and purposes they are the definition of a cult band, and no doubt they’ll maintain that status long after they’ve gone. People will still be discovering them in 50 years time. Their fans know this. Musically, if you imagine a cross between Jimmy Eat World and Joshua Tree-era U2, with maybe a touch of My Chemical Romance or Alkaline Trio, you’d be half way there. Rather than try to make sense of my inadequate description it’s probably easier to just look them up on YouTube.
But first the support, Beauty School. I must admit I knew nothing about these guys. One of the joys of going to gigs, especially on the club circuit, is the opportunity to be blown away by bands you’d never heard of before. Granted, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is a thing of beauty (school).
As I watched the Leeds-based five-piece plug in and tune up I must have looked like a curious spectator examining an especially interesting museum exhibit. They went about everything with gusto, and just seemed happy to be there. While most bands are preoccupied with image, one of these guys looked like Eddie the Eagle wearing a Leeds United shirt. I was curious to see what kind of noise a two-guitar set up would make, yet intensely wary of getting earfucked by a bunch of talentless northern reprobates. The tiny stage barely seemed big enough, especially when a man mountain with blue hair came bounding into sight holding a mic. I had barely finished asking myself who the fuck this might be when I realized it was the lead singer. Although a new band who have just released their first album, appropriately called Happiness, singer Joe Cabrera confessed mid-set that all the members were veterans of other bands and had presumably been on the circuit for years. This shines through in their playing, which is smooth, polished and full of energy. The highlight for me was Take it Slow and set closer Junior. They were so good I even forgave them for the Leeds United shirt.
I won’t waste time going over the history of a band with a lot of history. Let’s just say Maryland band TDS are out in support of their latest album, Coming Home. It’s been a long road. Soon after forming in 2006, they signed to Hopeless Records and put out a steady stream of quality material until 2013 when they took a 5-year hiatus. Since regrouping, you get the feeling they’re trying to make up for lost time. Long-time members AJ Perdomo (vocals and bass) and Matt Kennedy (guitars) have been supplemented by ex-Every Avenue guitarist Josh Withenshaw and demon drummer Christian Zawacki, who hits those things like a man possessed. The band’s entire chemistry is a thing to behold. They look like they’ve been playing together all their lives, and have no trouble replicating their studio sound in a live environment. If anything, the songs carry more weight, the musicianship even more impressively precise, and the lyrics even more impactful and emotive.
They start their set with Prologue from the aforementioned Mother Nature album, which isn’t a song at all but an intro fashioned from a genuine voice mail Perdomo received from a friend which became ‘It’s own piece of art’. This builds then segues effortlessly into Blind Ambition and the soaring title track from the new album, which judging by the reaction it received is already a crowd favourite. It can be tricky working new material into a set, but there were no such problems here. A lot of thought had gone into what was played when, and the newer material like Someday, which took its time to grow on me but now ranks in my top five, slotted in neatly with the more established crowd pleasers.
Way Down was every bit as powerful as you might expect, the crowd noise regularly drowning out Perdomo’s vocals, and Where I Want to Be, the first track from their 2009 debut album, almost brought the house down. For Bring me Back to Life Perdomo left his bass behind and got in the crowd. These kinds of antics usually come across as contrived, but on this occasion the sentiments seemed genuine. These are big songs, not just in stature, but scope and sheer presence. The only issue was the set having to be cut short because of an imminent club night, which smacks of either bad planning or simple greed, but was no fault of the band’s. They didn’t play my favourite song, either, but you can’t have everything. By the time we arrived at a euphoric closing one-two of Fuck Them All (which is nowhere near as aggressive as it sounds) and signature tune The Permanent Rain. I actually met a guy from Cardiff who said he’d named his own band after that song. There can be few greater compliments.
By the end of the set I felt like I’d been on a journey. I wasn’t quite the same person I’d been at the start. TDS have a back catalogue that puts most of their contemporaries to shame, and as they embark on this new chapter in their career having left Hopeless, gone indie, and then signed to Rude Records all in the space of a couple of years, they are destined to go from strength to strength. Don’t let them pass you by, or you’ll live to regret it. Come back soon, guys.
It amazes me that The Dangerous Summer, named after the book by Ernest Hemingway, are still one of the current alt-rock scene’s best kept secrets. For those unfamiliar with the Maryland trio, a good approximation would be to take one part Jimmy Eat World, one part mid-era U2, one part Lifehouse and add a pinch of Maroon 5 or Savage Garden. The result is a sleek, tight unit producing tuneful, agreeable rock spearheaded by vocalist, songwriter and bassist AJ Perdomo, lone survivor from the original line-up. If it’s dense, multi-layered soundscapes with soaring melodies and wistful lyrics you’re after, look no further.
Mother Nature, The Dangerous Summer’s sixth album if you include the 2011 acoustic re-working of their debut Reach for the Sun (and I definitely do) was released via Hopeless Records with little fanfare back on June 19th. It follows last year’s patchy self-titled album, their first release after a near-five year hiatus during which they surely must have thought about throwing in the towel. This band has experienced more tumultuous drama and difficulties than most.
The album opens with a moody spoken-word piece entitled, imaginatively enough, Prologue. I’m not adverse to these kinds of openings. They certainly help set the mood. But the timing is important. Anything over ninety seconds or so is pushing it. Luckily, Prologue just about fits the criteria and soon bursts into the first track proper, Blind Ambition, a fine mid-tempo anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s quickly followed by Bring me Back to Life, another understated slow-burner, which gives way to Way Down, the first track of the album which could conceivably be granted ‘classic’ status. Perdomo’s raspy vocals have never sounded so fresh and emotive. The next two tracks, Virginia and the near-six minute Starting Over/Slow Down are decent filler but offer nothing new. However, after the mid-album mini-slump, the pace picks up for the single Where were you when the Sky opened Up and the pop-infused Is it Real. The rest of the album is a slightly uneven affair. While certainly not mere filler, Violent Red and the title track again tread some familiar territory, while Better Light is a mood piece that sounds more like an unfinished afterthought. This minor indiscretion is soon forgotten when closer Consequence of Living kicks in, which has to be one of the strongest tracks in the band’s repertoire.
While not as immediate as some of their peers or indeed, some of their own earlier material, on repeated listens, Mother Nature proves beyond reasonable doubt that The Dangerous Summer remain a band of enormous scope and power as well as limitless potential, bursting at the seams with the kind of visceral, raw emotion that is so sadly lacking in most contemporary music. Their power and intensity are both impressive and contagious. Perhaps an argument could be made for the band attempting to push the boat out a little more and getting a little more experimental on future releases but if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t complain. If something isn’t broke, why try to fix it?
It’s weird how some bands stick with you and accompany you on your journey through life. Like a faithful dog that never dies, they’ll be at your side through thick and thin, good times and bad. Senses Fail are one of my ‘go-to’ bands. They are inspirational, and give me strength to continue when I don’t really feel like it. It’s not as if they try to be that way. When bands try too hard, it always comes across as lazy and contrived. But SF are real and they mean every word, even if those words aren’t always nice to hear. I know how lame that sounds, but don’t just take my word for it. They aren’t the most technically gifted group of musicians in the world, but their passion, belief and enthusiasm for what they do is captivating.
How did all this start? Sometime in 2006 I was browsing Pure Volume for new music and came across the track Buried a Lie, from their debut album Let it Enfold You. This was when SF were riding the emo wave, though they were always more melodic hardcore than emo. Or post-hardcore, if you believe the record label. Some people call them screamo, others call them a punk band. Who knows what they are? Their music doesn’t really fit in any convenient category or sub-category, which is one of the reasons I love them so much. Another reason is the name. In Hinduism it is believed that being alive is a kind of hell, and the only way to reach Nirvana is to have no attachments to the physical world. No love, no job, no material possessions. You go out into the wilderness and meditate until you achieve the ultimate level of separation. As lead singer James ‘Buddy’ Nielsen explains, “If you want to reach the highest level of being and see God, you have to have all your senses fail.”
So even though on the face of it, ‘Senses Fail’ sounds like a massive negative (death?), it’s actually a metaphor for enlightenment or a higher state of consciousness.
Despite the labels they often get tagged with, SF aren’t always a blood and thunder kind of band. They release a lot of acoustic stuff which reveals their softer side, as evidenced by last year’s excellent In Your Absence EP. However, our first taste of seventh full-length If there is Light brings the thunder in spades. First single Double Cross, unleashed last November, is as bone-crushingly brutal as they come. It was soon followed by Gold Jacket, Green Jacket, and if this song was any more melodic they might have had a chart hit on their hands. Nielsen, who wrote that and every other track on the album, says the song is meant to give a voice to, “The millions of people struggling every day to follow their dreams and passions.” And it does. The third single release, New Jersey Makes, the World Takes, gave us more of the same and amped up the excitement levels to an all-time high.
As all three singles are sequenced in the first four tracks, you’d be forgiven for thinking some bright spark at the record label was doing some front-loading. But the sequencing works extremely well as Double Cross is the perfect opening track. Other stand-out’s for me are Is it Gonna be the Year and Stay what you Are, both infectious slices of vintage emo-tinged pop punk. The amazing thing is, they sound as fresh and vibrant as they would have had they been released back in 2004. The epic title track, which closes the album, also deserves a mention. Over the past few albums SF have built a reputation for making the closing track something to remember and they continue the tradition here. Like a microcosm of the album as a whole, If There is a Light is reflective, powerful, and moving. Anyone who has experienced profound loss and come out the other side will be able to relate to the subject matter, typified by the lyric, “I guess the best thing I can do with my time is love every minute of life.”
With producer Beau Burchell twiddling the knobs, SF vowed that their experimental phase was over and they were going back to their roots with this album, and it seems like they’ve kept their promise. It certainly has more in common with Still Searching than last full-length effort Pull the Thorns from your Heart (2015) which became their lowest-charting album to date. In the years between those releases they suffered several line-up changes and delivered the odd patchy piece of work. But here they are again, back from the dead and in top form. Front to back, this could be their best and most consistent album yet. Check it out immediately.