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’s been a difficult year for most of us. In fact, 2020 has been a total fucking washout. It’s been a time of change and upheaval, uncertainty and angst, and with their sweeping melodies and emotive lyrics The Dangerous Summer make the perfect soundtrack to it all.
Earlier this year, they left Hopeless Records when their contract expired and, despite being offered new terms, took the opportunity to turn officially ‘indie’. As lead singer and lyricist AJ Perdomo explains, “It got to a point where I was getting all of these calls and having these conversations and I just felt miserable. I hate talking about this sort of shit. This is what makes me fucking hate music. So out of anger I just said, ‘Let’s release this stuff ourselves. Screw all this shit’. Then we can go at our pace, release things whenever we want and do whatever the fuck we want. I just didn’t want to be owned any more.”
You can read my review of their last album for Hopeless, Mother Nature, here. The Dangerous Summer’s first independent release was the soaring single, Fuck them All, which sounds as if it might be a not-so-subtle message to the music industry as a whole. These lyrics speak for themselves.
Fuck them all They want me like a light bulb Blurred out with the sun Swept under the rug again Am I insane? I think this is my moment Yeah, nothing’s standing here in my way
Fuck them All kicks off this six-track EP in style before things are brought down a notch, a touch prematurely you could argue, for the piano-based slow-burner Come Down. Latest single I’m Alive follows, which sounds less like a departure and more like a cut from the aforementioned Mother Nature album. That’s not a criticism, by the way. As much as you have to admire any artist having the courage to branch out, try new things and develop their sound, all this has to be anchored in something tangible, solid and relatable. There has to be a thread of familiarity running through anybody’s body of work to tie it all together. Take Prince, for example. He would jump from hip-hop to dance to r n’ b to glam rock, often over the space of six tracks on the same album, but everything he did was still unmistakably Prince. That’s very much the case with TDS, who over the years have matured and fleshed out their signature sound while remaining true to their roots, flying their own flag and resisting the temptation to chase fashions or fads.
LA in a Cop Car keeps things ticking over in much the same vein, calling to mind classic Yellowcard or Something Corporate. TDS often get tagged with the pop-punk label, which isn’t a bad thing, but not entirely warranted. They may have the energy and vitality so prevalent in pop-punk, especially during it’s early-naughties climax, but for me that’s where the similarities end. This music is much more textured, and the lyrics have more of a soul-searching emo vibe. The EP is rounded off with Come Along, another epic-sounding chunk of polished power pop featuring Aaron Gillespie who now plays drums with TDS, having made his name with Paramore and Underoath.
In summary, All That is Left of the Blue Sky is bold and fearless, the sound of a band finding their feet after finally being set free. The songwriting and musicianship is, as always, immaculate, and the layered production adds a sheen. TDS are one of the artists eager to capitalize on an ever-evolving music industry and seem very well-placed to do so. They can only move forward from here and I can’t wait to see how it pans out.
Or Father of all Motherfuckers, to use its full, needlessly sweary title. This review, like the album itself, is going to be short. With its ten tracks amounting to a total of less than 26 minutes running time, in my view it barely qualifies as an album. And that’s not the only mildly confusing thing about this release. The truth is, after the swaggering pomp of Revolution Radio (2016) and the epic God’s Favourite Band compilation (2017), I expected more. With Father of All, Green Day appear to be going backwards, or at best treading water while they channel the spirit of nineties-era Prince. There are some decent tunes here, the best among them probably being the singles Oh Yeah, and Meet me on the Roof and there’s an impressive array of musical styles on show ranging from glam all the way over to motown.
Possibly the closest things to classic-era GD are I was a Teenage Teenager and Sugar Youth, and Junkies on a High also deserves a mention if only for the poignant lyrics which hint at much-loved rockers not with us anymore. But sadly, most of the other cuts fall flat, the most cringeworthy being Stab You in the Heart which is a blatant rip-off of Hippy Hippy Shake. For me, the whole thing lacks depth and substance. It’s no Dookie, or even an American Idiot. In an interview with the Sun newspaper to promote the album, Billy Joe Armstrong explains, “This record represents the time we are in now. It’s got the shortest attention span and there’s a lot of chaos.”
In that context, the album makes a bit more sense but you can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Green Day. There can be no denying they are in a weird place right now. In a concerted effort to avoid being pigeonholed, in their storied career they’ve gone from snot-nosed punk upstarts to angry political activists to pop rock icons brandishing saccharine sweet sing-alongs. I’m not sure where Father of All fits into this. It’s not exactly a new direction, but it’s surprising enough to have you scratching your head on the first listen. Both Kerrang! And The Telegraph gave it four out of five stars, while the Independent gave it a measly two, saying, “The onslaught of frenzied energy comes at the expense of innovation.”
It’s difficult to argue with that verdict. While Green Day deserve credit for always doing what they want, rather than taking the easy route and doing what was expected of them, it’s unlikely that their 13th album will be the one that defines them or even stands out amongst their now considerable body of work. If you’re on the hunt for new music you’d be better off checking out the recent releases by Bouncing Souls or Dangerous Summer. All that said, Father of All does get better on repeated listens and GD might still prove me wrong.
2019 was a good year for music. Who would have thunk it? In one calendar year we were blessed with new releases from The Dangerous Summer, Feeder, Bruce Springsteen, Stereophonics, The Who, Coldplay and Senses Fail, to name but a few.
I’m a massive Bouncing Souls fan, and have been for fifteen years or so, ever since I stumbled across Gone, still one of my favourite songs, on a punk site. Earlier this year, BS (ironic for such a non-BS band) dropped their first new material in three years and I didn’t even fucking know about it. Living in China has its downside. Still, I would’ve thought one of the newsletters I am subscribed to would’ve said something. Not even BS’ own newsletter said anything. Or maybe it did and I missed it. That’s a possibility. Sigh. Life, eh?
Anyway, the six-track EP Crucial Moments, the long-awaited follow-up (kinda) to their 2016 album Simplicity released to mark the New Jersey punks’ 30th anniversary was issued on Rise Records back in March 2019. I finally found out about it about six months later, got excited as fuck, and immediately head over to Amazon where, in my enthused state, paid a quid more than I had to for it because I accidentally downloaded the title track twice. Motherfucker.
So was Crucial Moments worth the inconvenience, the wait, and the extra quid?
In a word, abso-fucking-lutely.
The aforementioned title track kicks things off, and is a pretty fair representation of the place the band is at this point in their career. More introspective, tuneful and melodic than most things pre-Hopeless Romantic, yet still filled with simmering energy and an ominous undertow you feel could erupt into some serious hardcore thrashings at any (crucial?) moment. Watch the nostalgic yet still rocking video HERE. And erupt it does on the second track, 1989, so fast and furious it harks back to the rampaging, take-no-prisoners BS of the early-nineties. 4th Avenue Sunrise also falls into this bracket. Oh, to be young again. But like most of us, BS have chilled out a bit since then, as infectious sing-along Favourite Everything illustrates perfectly. The hard-edged blue-collar rocker Here’s to Us would sit pretty well on any recent BS album, but for me the highlight of this EP is the closer, Home. It’s slightly more mellow and emotive than the bulk of this EP but it’s with this kind of positive, life-affirming, fist-pumping, rabble-rousing anthem that, for me, BS truly excel.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but personally I like the approach to music the newly-matured BS take now. I love the occasional 1.5-minute hardcore speed ride as much as the next ageing punk, but a whole album full is usually too much for my delicate sensibilities. BC are at their sublime best when mixing it up, going through the gears from moshpit to bar stool and back again in the blink of an eye, and they do it very well on Crucial Moments. My only criticism is a predictable one; while not opposed to EPs per se, I just wish this was longer. As it stands, Crucial Moments is a welcome stop-gap between albums, and ready to take its rightful place amongst the best releases BS have ever put out. It’s a minor gripe, and I am very conscious of looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I just wish there was more substance here. Half an album’s worth in three years? Come on, lads. Call me greedy, but I sincerely hope more material emerges from these recording sessions, and that we don’t have to wait too long to hear it. Oh, and when it comes out, someone please give a nudge.
Allister are one of the great forgotten pop punk bands. They had all the tools – cool image, solid musicianship, a great attitude, killer tunes, witty lyrics, tattoos – yet somehow got lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, they achieved modest commercial success, especially with their Last Stop Suburbia album in 2002, and cemented their place in pop punk folklore long ago (lest we forget they were one of the first bands signed to legendary label Drive-Thru records, also home to Senses Fail, Something Corporate, Newfound Glory, Halifax and Finch, to name just a few) but the big time always eluded them. In most places, anyway. Allister, and in particular bassist and singer Scott Murphy who for a long time sustained a solo career (I think he still does), was absolutely huge in Japan. No doubt a talented individual, Murphy’s charisma and boundless enthusiasm is admirable. I met him at a gig in London a few years back, and he was awesome.
This album comes through necessity more than anything. They haven’t released anything since 2012 and wanted to mark what is essentially their 25th anniversary as a band, and 20 years since the release of their debut album which, incidentally, was recorded on a purported production budget of $700 and featured a cover of the Fraggle Rock theme. Kudos. Someone somewhere suggested a ‘greatest hits’ style compilation, but that proved problematic as it turned out Allister didn’t actually own the recording licenses for any of the tracks on their first few releases but owned the rights to the songs themselves. Hence, the solution was to re-record, and in some cases, ‘re-imagine’ them, and pad the thing out with a few new tracks. The pick of these is probably the high-octane Peremptory Challenge, ran a close second by the slightly more restrained opener Stay with Me.
As for the re-recorded tracks, most have been updated only in the sense that they’ve lost a lot of that energetic immediacy so prevalent in pop punk circles. The guitars are choppier, the bass section slightly higher in the mix, and most tracks have been brought down an octave or two in an effort, you feel, to ingratiate them with a mainstream audience who are rapidly forgetting what drums and guitars sound like, let alone pop punk. Some, like Moper and Flypaper benefit from this treatment, but others like Scratch and A Study in Economics seem to lose a little something. Or maybe I’m just too attached to the original versions and resistant to change. Dunno. Regardless, even at 50% capacity Scratch is approximately 50% better than 90% of other songs.
One of the biggest missteps is a wholly unnecessary remake of the ska-infused Stuck Powered On from the 2012 album Life Behind Machines. In my humble opinion it was one of the band’s weakest tracks anyway, and the 2019 version adds nothing to the original. Meh. All things considered, 20 Years and Counting is a somewhat patchy affair, but has enough quality to carry it through. Beyond the new material seasoned fans are unlikely to be overly impressed, but if this release exposes Allister to a new generation, it will have done its job.
To promote the release the band have made a cool new video for Somewhere Down on Fullerton, which you can catch HERE.
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.
No, this isn’t satire. This is some serious shit. Don’t mock. I know it’s a massive two-fisted claim, but when you think about it, 1986 was an outstanding year in music. Most of us just didn’t appreciate it at the time. Through no fault of their own, half the people who read this post probably weren’t even alive thirty years ago, which is a thought that absolutely terrifies me.
Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi, License to Ill by the Beastie Boys, The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, Invisible Touch by Genesis, Graceland by Paul Simon, A Kind of Magic by Queen, Master of Puppets by Metallica, So by Peter Gabriel, Liverpool by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Classics, one and all. Thirty-year old classics. Well, except that last one. Apart from Rage Hard Frankie’s long awaited follow-up to Welcome to the Pleasuredome was utter crap. But it was memorable crap.
You might not think it, but look beneath the surface and you’ll see that three decades on, 2016 has been another stellar year in music for people of a certain persuasion. Not only did Blink 182 return revitalised and reinvigorated, but there were new albums from Bouncing Souls, Biffy Clyro, BabyMetal, Bayside, Bowling For Soup, and even a few bands that didn’t begin with ‘B,’ like Taking Back Sunday, Feeder, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, Against Me! A Day to Remember, and the kings of modern punk rock (yes, I said it), Green Day. Still to come we have releases from Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. Even the Ataris, who haven’t put out anything new since 2007, came to the party. Granted, October in the Railroad Earth is an EP made up of studio outtakes, so it’s neither a proper album nor new, but I’m including it here because I want to, and it’s fucking awesome.
You could say 2016 has been something of a pop punk renaissance, a fact further underlined by imminent new offerings from Billy Tallent, Tonight Alive, Set it Off, and the Starting Line. I think this speaks volumes about the state of the world we live in right now. People are fucked off and miserable. We want the happy back. Break out the fart jokes and beer, all is forgiven! ADTR, Blink and All Time Low even toured the US together in what is probably the greatest live bill I’ve never seen. Thanks for that. A slightly more unsettling alternative is that pop punk now qualifies as retro, and is benefiting from that warm, fuzzy nostalgia buzz that people yearn for when they hit their late-thirties. It’ll be popping up in Classic Rock mag next.
I realise all this might not mean much to some of you. But to get to the point, pretty much ALL my favourite bands of the past fifteen years or so are releasing new albums at roughly the same time. And not only that, but most of them are good! This is a truly unprecedented event of near-cataclysmic significance well worthy of a blog post. Like an inter-planetary alignment over Stonehenge or something. Now, if someone could get Funeral for a Friend to reform and knock out a new album by the end of the year, we’ll be golden. Ta.
They’re back! The Blink 182 love-in is one of the most hotly anticipated reunion stories of the decade. When founder member Tom DeLonge left to go chasing spaceships or whatever, a lot of people, me included, thought it was all over. As if growing up wasn’t enough to deal with. But then in walked Matt Skiba to breathe new life into what had become a stagnating franchise. By all accounts, recording the last album, Neighbourhoods (2011), their first in eight years, was a fraught exercise. And it showed. The music was derivative, disjointed and, for the most part, bang average. If this was the sound of a band maturing, it was painful to ear. Then came Skiba, who had been fronting emo punks Alkaline Trio to great effect since 1998. Released worldwide on 1st July 2016, a full 21 years after their indie label debut, California gave Blink 182 their first US number one album in fifteen years, and their first UK number one album EVER. They also deserve some extra kudos for kicking Drake off the top spot.
Predictably, after all this time the teen angst has morphed into mid-life angst, but angst is angst however you dress it up. Lyrically, Blink are just as witty as they ever were and now they can incorporate Gen Y frustration and general hopelessness into their music as well as the odd broken heart. Gone are the dick jokes and dog semen references (mostly), and in are the odes to misplaced youth and shattered dreams. This is never more evident than on opening track Cynical (clue’s in the title) which starts off in a pretty subdued manner before launching into a frantic sing-a-along reminiscent of the Take off Your Pants and Jacket days. Cynical bleeds effortlessly into lead single Bored to Death, which appears to be another depressing evaluation of adult life featuring the telling refrain, “It’s a long way back from seventeen, the whispers turn into a scream.”
She’s out of Her Mind, No Future and The Only thing that Matters are lightweight, up-tempo stand-outs while Los Angeles, Left Alone and San Diego wouldn’t sound out of place on either of the last two albums. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not entirely, anyway. The grown-up sensibilities fall completely by the wayside for Kings of the Weekend, Rabbit Hole, and in particular, Brohemian Rhapsody, a 30-second full-frontal assault built around the line, “There’s something about you I can’t quite put my finger in.” Snort.
In many ways this album is a homage to punk past. Most of the tracks will have you waxing lyrical about those heady days of the early noughties when Blink, Good Charlotte, and Fallout Boy ruled the world. But other aspects (No Future, for example, is a title lifted from God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols) reach even further back in time. Listen carefully and you might recognise elements borrowed from the Misfits, the Ramones, NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, MXPX and more. It has the hooks, humour and choruses of every classic Blink album, but here they delivered with a fresh twist. Matt Skiba shows he isn’t just hear to make up the numbers. His vocals compliment those of Mark Hoppus perfectly, his guitar work is solid if unspectacular, and he even had a hand in writing almost half the songs. California contains an impressive 16 tracks (17 if you include the bonus Hey, I’m Sorry) but with a total running time of under 43 minutes, the band have clearly steered back toward the three-minute formula that made them so popular, and away from the bloated stadium rock epics they were in danger of resorting to. All in all, this is a great album. I’m going to finish by nicking a line from Home is Such a Lonely Place which sums it all up pretty well:
I love KOKO. It’s not the biggest venue in the world, it’s probably not even the biggest venue in Camden, but its old-school multi-balconied layout always makes for a good atmosphere and a storming gig in this little corner of London Tahn. In past lives the venue has been a theater, a cinema, and a BBC studio. Now it is a 1400-capacity concert venue. It has character and charm, and is a welcome deviation from the sterile sports arenas and pokey little rock clubs so often used by gigging bands these days. Some juiced-up jobsworth security guard confiscated my Cadbury’s Dairy Milk on the way in, presumably in case I clubbed someone to death with it, which didn’t get my evening off to the best start but at least I wasn’t accused of being a Romanian pickpocket like I was at the Ally Pally last year. A Day to Remember? A day to forget, more like.
I’ve been a fan of ska punk stalwarts LTJ since their album Anthem rocked my world back in ’03. I’ve also loved Yellowcard since Ocean Avenue which, ironically enough, came out the same year. I’d never seen either band live so to get them both on the same bill was pretty amazing. I didn’t even care that it was a Monday night and I had work the next day.
Co-headlining tours often make for a weird dynamic. The first question to be answered is who’s going to play first? There is still a level of prestige that comes with playing last, on the top of the bill in the traditional headliner slot. I don’t know if they alternated or what, but on this occasion it was Yellowcard who followed French rockers Chunk! No, Captain Chunk, who I completely missed because I was eating Mexican food across the road.
Fresh off the Warped Tour and a US jaunt with Memphis May Fire, Yellowcard are a band on form. Powerful, polished, and profound, their multi-layered music comes at you in waves, and is given an extra dimension by Sean Mackin’s often-manic violin. Having progressed from their slightly more hardcore roots and survived the demise of pop punk, they now manufacture a brand of solid, mainstream rock it’s hard not to like. The bulk of the material in the first half of the show was taken from last year’s Lift a Sail, as evidenced by the opening salvo of Convocation segueing into Transmission Home and Crash the Gates, the first three tracks off the album. In truth they didn’t go down too well, which prompted front man Ryan Key to yell, “I know it’s Monday but wake the fuck up!” before launching into Lights and Sounds.
I’m no expert dude, but if you want crowd interaction, maybe starting a gig with an extended violin intro and a couple of mid-tempo plodders most of the crowd don’t know isn’t the most sensible option. A stunningly stark rendition of the piano ballad California aside, the latter part of the show was, naturally, more geared toward the crowd-pleasing classics (and there are a lot of them) building up to the one-two encore of probably their best-loved songs, Way Away and Ocean Avenue.
After roughly 70 minutes of Yellowcard, the stage was set for their fellow Floridians Less Than Jake. With eight albums and a clutch of singles and EP’s to choose from, any LTJ set list is full of potential surprises, and so it proved. They kicked things off with Look What Happened, which is a bit like Bon Jovi starting a gig with You Give Love a Bad Name. Cue mosh pit. From there it was a veritable free-for-all as the five-piece tore up the rule book and hopped, jumped and skipped all over their extensive back catalogue. It’s very clear that this is a band who doesn’t give a fuck. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious, not to mention relentless, with Chris DeMakes and Roger Lima forming a two-headed vocal assault team that barely pauses for breath. Their (usually) good-natured banter easily plugs the gaps between songs, the duo sometimes coming across more like a well-oiled comedy act than members of rock band, a la Blink 182. One of the biggest LOL moments of the night came when, in an effort to drag fans away from social media for a few precious moments, DeMakes said, “If your phones not a dildo, you shouldn’t be using it.” Priceless.
The whole thing makes for an inclusive and fun atmosphere. This is a band that obviously loves what they do, as evidenced by trombone player Buddy Schaub’s no-holds-barred performance just six weeks after having a pacemaker fitted. At one point they invited a guy up from the crowd, gave him a huge comedy mask to wear, and let him stumble around the stage like a drunk Elvis Presley for a couple of songs. There were also lots of sparkly things and balloons. Highlights on the musical front, for me anyway, were the Ghosts of Me and You, Automatic, History of a Boring Town, and a faultless, tour exclusive (we are assured) version of Gainsville Rock City.
With a strict 11pm curfew in effect in most of London these days (ask Bruce Springsteen) the gig was over all-too soon. Never mind. Like I said, I had work in the morning. And you know what? I even had time to go and get my Cadbury’s Dairy Milk back from the juiced-up jobsworth security guard. So the joke’s on you, dick wad.