Friday, January 16, 2015

Concert Review: Drag the River, Austin Lucas, Samantha Crain at Will Rogers Theater

Venue:  Will Rogers Theater (Official, Facebook, Twitter, Google+)
Date:  January 10, 2015

Last Saturday night was the inaugural edition of the Southern Sound Concert Series at the Will Rogers Theater with Drag the River, Austin Lucas, and Oklahoma’s own Samantha Crain.  This was my first trip to the Will Rogers in well over 15 years and man has it changed.  The venue is incredibly nice with an upscale bar and restaurant and the theater room itself is immaculate with fantastic acoustics and not a bad seat in the house. 

Samantha Crain opened the show with a set of stirring songs driven by her powerful and haunting voice.  I was somewhat familiar with Crain’s work having reviewed her most recent album, but one truly can’t appreciate the brilliance of her voice until hearing it live.  Needless to say, I am now a fan and anxiously await her new album.  Austin Lucas was up next.  The alt country singer-songwriter took to the stage with his acoustic guitar and belted out songs from his entire catalog, including the rousing set ending “Alone in Memphis.”  What impressed me most with Lucas’ set was his guitar playing; I hadn’t realized just how good he is on the six-string.  The night ended with Colorado’s Drag the River taking the stage and belting out songs that covered the gambit of their 15+ year career.  On this night the band consisted solely of singers/guitarists Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price, sporting an electric and acoustic guitar respectively, trading off songs, and taking requests from the audience.  Their set included classics like “Beautiful & Damned,” “Me & Joe Drove Out to California,” “Calloused Heart # 2,” and “Brookfield” (one of my own requests).  Drag the River is simply fantastic.  Snodgrass and Price have a perfect chemistry together that is evident through their seamless performances and watching them perform is a joy to behold.

One of the more interesting parts of the night was the crowd.  Both Drag the River and Austin Lucas have their roots in the punk scene and thus often play punk venues with punk bands (the first time I saw Drag the River was at The Conservatory, a venue known for hosting punk rock shows) but a lot of the audience for this show appeared to be the kind of folks that you would find at some high-end art exhibits or hoity-toity restaurants.  This isn’t meant as an insult, just a description.  Eventually I ran into some old friends and we all expressed the same sentiment, that the crowd was weird.  Hopefully they all had a great time though and plan on coming out to the next in the Southern Sound Concert Series in March because this series is one that deserves support and I hope succeeds.      

Monday, January 05, 2015

10 Questions with Haniwa

Haniwa is an indie rock band from Oklahoma City, OK.  The band recently released their self-titled debut album via BandCamp. 

This interview was conducted via email December 9-24, 2014.

For more information on Haniwa please check out their BandCamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and pages.

Dave:  How did the band get together?

Shawn:  I grew up with Tyco and he grew up with Dylan so I knew Dylan, but we really didn’t meet until we became “grown-ups”. We all knew that each other played music. Tyco had played in a band with Dylan for a while and I had played in a few bands with Tyco when we were younger. My name must have come up and I went to jam with them at Tyco’s apartment. We played a bare bones version of what would later become Archipelago with a guitar, a keyboard, and a uke. A few months down the line we start writing and practicing together with Dylan and Tyco as well as Shirley and Allan.

Dylan:  What Shawn said basically. Allan, Tyco, and I were in a band called La Folle for a couple of years prior to Haniwa. Shawn, Tyco, and I spent some time after La Folle ended drinking Sangria and playing music into the late hours. I knew at that point that I wanted to be in a band with Shawn. Also, Allan Pellegrin was with us for a long time but decided to relocate his life to New Mexico. Although we don't play together anymore we're still great friends and keep in touch.

Dave:  What’s the story behind the name Haniwa?

Dylan:  Our band went without a name for quite some time in the early days. Eventually, as we started getting more and more serious, we decided that we should just keep it democratic and vote on our favorite names. I presented the name Haniwa, which are old Japanese terracotta sculptures that were buried with the dead. I've always found our music to be pretty and strange on the outside with undertones of darkness and moroseness, In that way I thought "Haniwa" was a good conceptual fit.

Shawn:  So a “Haniwa” is a statue from Japanese antiquity that was used at funerals. They look like un-glazed clay and have large black circles for their eyes and mouth. We got the name by everyone suggesting a name, then we all voted.

Dave:  For those who have never heard the band, how do you describe your music?

Shirley:  Honest and unique.

Dylan:  It's moody alt rock with computers.

Shawn:  A bit of salt and a lot of love.

Dave:  You recently released your self-titled full-length debut. What's the story behind the record? Why did you decide to go the self-release route instead of working with a traditional record label?

Shirley:  Because we had enough experience between the four/five of us to do it on our own. We also enjoy creative control.

Dylan:  Just to add on to what Shirley said, we didn't want to compromise what we believed to be a good thing. You know what they say about too many cooks-

Dave:  Do you have plans to tour in support of the new record? What are some of your favorite places to play?

Shirley:  We would love to tour! Our next step is to start expanding into surrounding states.

Dylan:  Favorite places to play currently- probably the 51st street Speakeasy and Back Alley Gallery.

Shawn:  I have loved everywhere we have played, my two favorite shows so far have been at The Speakeasy and The Back Alley Gallery.

Dave:  Do you have any specific type of songwriting process?

Dylan:  We're extremely democratic. Generally someone will come up with a skeleton of a song and we all get our hands on it and it turns into something were all proud of. I think because of how collaborative our creative process is we all feel a sense of ownership over each song.

Dave:  What are your thoughts on the music scene in Oklahoma?

Shirley:  Oklahoma’s art culture is in the middle of a growth spurt. It’s a wonderful place for any type of artist! You can find your niche and your people, no matter what you’re in to or what you create. That being said, I feel like the new kid in class, still trying to find who you sit with at lunch. Will anyone play with me at recess? Who’s going to laugh at my jokes?

Dave:  This is a High Fidelity inspired question. What are your top five favorite bands, albums, movies, television programs, books/authors?

            All: Radiohead - In Rainbows
            Tyco: Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
            Dylan: The Notwist - Neon Golden
            Shawn: Boris - Smile
            Shirley: Wild Nothing - Gemini        
            Shirley: Moulin Rouge
                        Count of Monty Cristo
                        The Fountain
                        The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 
                        Girl, Interrupted
            Shawn: La Haine

            Dylan: Rashomon
                        Lost Highway
            Shirley: 30 Rock
                        Grey’s Anatomy
                        Gilmore Girls
                        Will and Grace

            Shawn: Brooklyn 99
                        Bob’s Burgers
                        The Tick

            Dylan: The Wire
                        Breaking Bad
                        Avatar: The Last Airbender

            Dylan: Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughter House V
                        Frank Herbert - Dune
                        Jonathan Safran Foer - Everything Is Illuminated
                        Craig Thompson - Blankets
                        Alan Moore - Watchmen

            Shawn: Murakami - After Dark
                        Camus - L’étranger
                        William Gibson - Neuromancer

Dave:  What’s next for the band?

Shirley:  We haven’t stopped writing since we met each other, and we are almost done writing the next album. It’s very science inspired and explores so many different fields - I love it! So, that’s something we’re looking forward to next.

Dave:  Any final thoughts?

Tyco:  Electro pop lock and drop it, Haniwa brings exciting melodies and intriguing lyrics into a harmonious broth, which will not soon spoil. These young upstarts have landed blow after blow on the permanently worn face of the music world, Mike Tyson would envy the belly-fire shown here. To further emphasize the unique characteristics presented by Haniwa we must consider the content, with a terminally ill drummer Haniwa have carved quite the groove sporting only a robot beat box and 4 gifted youngsters.

Oklahoma City has been pulsating and writhing at it's music cultures core long enough, it's time to burst forth the new alien breed and destroy Sigourney Weaver once and for all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Top 30 Records of 2014: 10-1

End of the year lists often start to come together in the months of October and November.  Much of this list was relatively settled by Halloween, with the top spot having been secured since that record’s release, but then came December.  In the first two weeks of the final month of 2014, four records were released that landed in my top 5.  Those four records pushed the rest of the list down and caused me to rethink a few things throughout the list resulting in two albums moving to the Honorable Mentions section and the finalization of this list at 30.  Every album and EP on this list is worth the price of admission and if there was any justice in the world, these would have been the records that topped the charts this year.  But thankfully in this day and age, one doesn’t need top 40 radio to tell you what to listen to anymore and like One Man Army once so perfectly sang “They never play us what we want,  We've got our hits, We've got our favorite songs, So come on and turn off the radio.”

10.  Metropole by The Lawrence Arms
From my review
The Lawrence Arms’ sixth studio record Metropole is an ode to that realization that one has entered middle age.  The dueling lead vocals of bassist Brendan Kelly and guitarist Chris McCaughan bite with harsh honesty and clever lyrics that make these songs meaningful without berating or beating the listener on the head to drive home the point.  In other words this record is subtle and straight-forward all at the same time. [...]  For me, this is one of those records that really hits home with its themes of growing up and growing old, while still feeling the anger and frustration of youth.  On top of that, the songs are catchy punk rock ‘n’ roll anthems the mix the best elements of Jawbreaker, The Goo Goo Dolls (an early influence according to Kelly and one that I can definitely hear), and the historic Chicago punk scene.  This is the kind of record that makes you feel like you are not alone and that is reassuring (at least for this middle aged Gen Xer).  It’s also a record that isn’t afraid to be more than just another punk rock outing, making it a collection of catchy rock ‘n’ roll tunes and anthems that should appeal to a wide audience.

9.  All The Ways You Let Me Down by Candy Hearts
From my review
Candy Hearts’ third full-length album All The Ways You Let Me Down is a brilliant blast of ‘90s influenced, pop punk goodness.  From the opening of the infectiously catchy “I Miss You” to the closing crescendo of “Top Of Our Lungs,” Candy Hearts have delivered a perfect record.  The band hasn’t broken the mold or changed direction with All The Ways…, they’ve simply perfected what they already did brilliantly—write catchy-as-hell pop songs that punch you right in the heart with their honesty.    

8.  Storm Watch by Shallow Cuts
From my review
With a sound that is catchy as hell, pulling from the best of punk, power pop, and straight up rock ‘n’ roll, Shallow Cuts’ debut is a timeless piece of perfection.  From the opening hook of “The Mission” with its wink to Loverboy (which amazingly works and makes the classic rock number not suck simply by its association to such a great new song), to the closing crescendo of “Calamine,” Storm Watch is, simply put, flawless.

7.  Leave A Light On by 7 Seconds
From my review
Leave A Light On truly captures everything great about 7 Seconds while also standing out as the band’s best work in over 20 years.  This record is hopeful and powerful, poignant and funny, earnest and light-hearted, all while being catchy and melodic, razor sharp and touching, and blistering and melodious.  Aside from being a musical masterpiece, this record also brings back the optimistic, positive, and promising attitude of those early years.  On a personal note, I haven’t connected with a 7 Secords record this strongly since I first discovered the band’s 1985 magnum opus Walk Together, Rock Together.  This is the 7 Seconds record that I have been waiting for for over two decades, and boy was it worth the wait. 

6.  Report by The Copyrights
From my review
The Copyrights’ sixth full-length album Report is nothing short of brilliant.  The Carbondale, IL quartet has been knocking out some of the best pop punk around since 2002 and after 12 years it’s safe to say that this band has not only gotten better with age but perfected the genre.  Pop punk can be a tricky genre.  Often bands are just doing their best to channel and/or emulate the Ramones or Screeching Weasel or Alkaline Trio or the like, to varying degrees of success.  At its core, pop punk is a very simple genre -- songs that are generally under three minutes and follow the formula laid out by Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys (and kicked into high gear by the Ramones).  Most bands don’t do a lot to take that formula and make it their own; this is not the case with The Copyrights.  With a sound that is distinctive and Midwestern, driven by great hooks and spot on harmonies, The Copyrights have done what so few have been able to do before them -- take the genre of pop punk and make it their own.  With so many pop punk bands one can easily draw comparisons to other acts, but not The Copyrights.  The closest comparisons one can make to the boys from Carbondale are fellow Illinois natives The Methadones and one of the most criminally underrated bands of the 1990s, Sinkhole.  Report opens with a whisper that turns into a roar in “Slider” and never lets up from there.  Each song is filled with infectious hooks, catchy choruses, and cleverly poignant lyrics that are guaranteed to have you bopping along (and if not then there is something seriously wrong with you).

5.  Fire Academy EP by Radio Reds
From my review
Radio Reds’ latest, and final, release isn’t some haphazard swansong thrown together with leftover bits and pieces; no, Fire Academy EP is their magnum opus.  From the opening, Billy Bragg-esque jangle guitar of “Sell Out” to the haunting piano driven closer “Plain for You,” Fire Academy works in every way.  These songs are passionate and heartfelt and grab you by the balls with their intensity and hooks (and there’s a killer cover of “I Melt With You” to boot).  [...]  The shame of this band calling it a day is that I think they were on the verge of not only hitting their stride musically (which they certainly showcased herein) but finding a wider audience.  Bands like Restorations, Luther, and The Menzingers have found success in punk circles (especially The Fest crowd) with styles that mix and match elements from punk, indie, post hardcore, Americana, and emo and I see no reason why fans of those bands wouldn’t love Fire Academy and Radio Reds in general. 

4.  Stay Clean Jolene by Stay Clean Jolene
From my review
Stay Clean Jolene’s self-titled full-length debut is a blast of everything that is good in punk rock right now.  Mixing big hooks with bigger choruses, Stay Clean Jolene finds that perfect spot that is equal parts Leatherface, Dillinger Four, The Bouncing Souls, Iron Chic, and Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves, making songs that are catchy as hell, full of energy, and a joy to listen to.  In a way I’m not really sure what else to say about this record other than it is fucking brilliant and one of the best of the year.

3.  LP3 by Restorations
From my review
Restorations’ third album LP3 is a beautiful and brilliant mix of sounds that defies categorization while still sounding familiar and reassuring.  It is like an old friend that you haven’t seen in years--it’s recognizable and safe while feeling refreshing and exciting--and that is what makes it work so incredibly well.  Restorations have been honing their captivating mix of post hardcore, punk, progressive classic rock, indie rock, Americana, and emo with a penchant for big chords and rolling crescendos since their beginnings in 2008.  On LP3 they have perfected it.  After years of listening to punk rock, I’ve become very accustomed to the two to three minute long song; in fact, I am of the opinion that a song needs to have a reason if it is going to be more than four to five minutes long.  Restorations have completely destroyed that preconception with this record.  Many of the songs on LP3 are more than four minutes (the closing track “It’s Not” is over six minutes in length) and not once did I feel that the songs were longer than they needed to be nor was there a moment on this record that didn’t have me completely and utterly compelled.  Simply put LP3 is flawless perfection.

2.  Lost & Rootless by Tim Barry
From my review
Tim Barry’s sixth album is probably his best.  The stripped down and heartfelt Lost & Rootless is an earnest and humble collection of modern folk perfection.  Recorded in his shed (soundproofed with bits of carpet, blankets, and pallets), Barry describes the album as wooden stating “That's the feel that I was going for when I picked the songs.  There's violin, voice, a wooden resonator guitar...there's a very subtle electric bass on one track, but otherwise I wanted to do a wooden record.”  The minimalist approach to the recording only serves to highlight Barry’s talent as a songwriter.  His unique voice has always shined through his lyrics, going all the way back to his time as the lead singer of Avail, but it is at its brightest when laid bare and accompanied by little to nothing more than his guitar and that is exactly what you get on Lost & Rootless.  Simply put, Tim Barry has perfected his craft as a singer/songwriter and this record is a brilliant example of the power of simplicity and the effectiveness of folk music.

1.  Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? by Beach Slang
More than any other artist, band, or act, to me 2014 was all about Beach Slang.  From the first time I heard their debut EP, I knew that it was going to be my favorite record of the year and that opinion never changed.  Beach Slang is said to be working on their full-length debut to be released in 2015 and if that is the case, then it is easily my most anticipated record of the year.  This is a band that I love an a release that I will cherish for years to come.
From my review
Every once in a while a record comes along and blows you away with the opening chords of the first song and you can just tell that you are hearing something really special.  That was my exact reaction to Beach Slang’s debut EP Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?.  From the opening chords of “Filthy Luck” to the closing moments of “Punk Or Lust,” Beach Slang has put together the purest essence of the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that the outcasts of the 1980s and ‘90s found comfort in.  The four songs on Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? are beyond catchy with giant hooks and choruses that defy you to not sing along.  With a sound that is equal parts Tim / Pleased to Meet Me era Replacements and Superstar Car Wash / A Boy Named Goo era Goo Goo Dolls, Beach Slang have tapped into something that has been missing in rock as of late…the voice of the outcast.  This voice rings so clear and hits you right from the get-go as singer/guitarist James Snyder bellows “I’m a slave to always fucking up. It’s not okay, but maybe it’s enough. Kids like us are weird, and more, we’re brave. We tie our tongues and turn them into rage.” in the opening moments of “Filthy Luck.”  Here’s the thing, and I’m sorry for being so blunt but, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? is fucking brilliant.  [...]  To quote Dillinger Four, this shit is genius.

Top 30 Records of 2014: Honorable Mentions

A lot of great music came out in 2014.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep up with it all or give some records the time and attention they deserved.  These are some of those records.  At various points throughout the year I found myself listening to songs off these releases on while my MP3 player was on shuffle but for whatever reason I never really sat down to fully digest these records (with the exception of one that is a fantastic single that just barely didn’t make it onto my Top 30).  I’ve also included a playlist that I made on Spotify for these releases. 

  • Soul And Fire Is All We Ever Need by Protectors
  • Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady
  • A Thousand Surfaces by Hard Girls
  • Mocking Love Out of Nothing At All by Gentlemen Rogues
  • Nervous Like Me by Cayetana
  • The Voyager by Jenny Lewis
  • Die on Stage by Hostage Calm

Top 30 Records of 2014: 20-11

Here is part two of my favorite records of 2014.

20.  Red Scare Industries: 10 Years Of Your Dumb Bullshit by Various Artists
From my review
Red Scare Industries is one of the best record labels in punk rock today.  This label has given us the likes of Teenage Bottlerocket, The Copyrights, The Menzingers, Masked Intruder, and The Sidekicks just to name a few.  10 Years Of Your Dumb Bullshit is a collection of new songs from some of this label’s best acts past and present.  Included herein are tracks from Teenage Bottlerocket, The Copyright, The Falcon, Masked Intruder, Elway, Direct Hit!, The Methadones, Druglords of the Avenues, The Sidekicks, and Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds.  One of the record’s standout moments is Nothington’s brilliant “So It Is,” a song that showcases that Red Scare isn’t just a pop punk label.  In a lot of ways I see Red Scare as a modern-day Lookout Records.  Both labels were known for classic pop punk bands and albums but both have put out records from across the punk spectrum and that is what made Lookout so legendary and makes Red Scare such a tour de force.  

19.  M.I. by Masked Intruder
From my review
Masked Intruder’s sophomore full-length M.I. isn’t just as good as their stellar self-titled debut—it’s better.  M.I. is 13 songs of pop punk perfection with unforgettable hooks, beautifully crafted melodies, and lyrics that are so earnest that they make you forget that this band’s thing is a gimmick.  It’s actually that final point that makes the gimmick work.  The band is supposedly a group of ex-cons that have been known for breaking into girls’ houses (among other things) and wear colored ski masks to protect their identities (like a burglar).  They play the gimmick so straight that it works perfectly and makes for some of the most fun and entertaining music out there today.

18.  Rented World by The Menzingers
From my review
...The Menzingers’ fourth full-length record Rented World is the sound of a band dealing with maturity.  If the band’s previous album, 2012’s On the Impossible Past was the sound of a band growing up, then Rented World is the realization of what it means to be an adult.  Sonically this record is the culmination of all that came before it, mixing elements of pop punk, emo, indie rock, post hardcore, and classic rock resulting in an album that sways from driving anthems (see the amazing album opener, and possibly best song of the year, “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore”) to delicate ballads (the closing “When You Died”) to mid-tempo rockers (“When Your Heartache Exists”) and a seemingly Rilo Kiley inspired ditty (“Rodent”).  The Menzingers find themselves living in that newly ambiguous area of punk where bands like Luther, Restorations (both also from Philadelphia), The Radio Reds, and The Gaslight Anthem reside.  This style seems to be born of bands that grew up on the punk and underground rock of the ‘80s and ‘90s, taking all of those various genres and sub-genres and throwing them into a pot to boil and stew.  Of these bands The Menzingers are one of the finest with Rented World being a stellar output...

17.  Beauty & Ruin by Bob Mould
Bob Mould returned to his classic form with 2012’s brilliant Silver Age, harkening back to the days of Husker Du and Sugar with songs so catchy and fun that they sound like they could have been recorded during the Flip You Wig or Cooper Blue sessions.  Beauty & Ruin picks up where Silver Age left off and turns things up a notch with more phenomenal songs that remind us that Bob Mould is just that damn good. 

16.  Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!
From my review
Simply put, Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues is brilliant.  The concept record tells the story of a transsexual prostitute but what makes it so compelling is how guitarist and lead singer Laura Jean Grace has crafted these songs with such grace that they are not only some of the catchiest the band has ever released, but they take an extremely difficult topic and make it understandable and relatable for the listener.  Grace has always been a passionate singer and songwriter but this record is different and just showcases how freaking good she really is.

15.  Get Hurt by The Gaslight Anthem
From my review
The Gaslight Anthem’s fifth full-length album Get Hurt is easily their most ambitious effort to date.  Opening with the trudging, stoner rock, blues infused “Stay Vicious” Get Hurt announces that this record is unlike any Gaslight Anthem album before it.  While having a punk heritage, Brian Fallon and company have never shied away from their love of straight up rock ‘n’ roll music and it is that love, especially of the classic rock of the 1970s and the inspirational arena rock of the 1980s, that is on full display here.  The record is dark and moody, but it’s not a downer or a depressing record, part in thanks to the big and uplifting choruses in songs like “1,000 Years,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Dark Places.”  Get Hurt is not a record that grabs you on the first listen; it requires time and patients and multiple listens before its brilliance finally sinks in.

14.  ‘Till Midnight by Chuck Ragan
From my review
Till Midnight is a record that brings the love song to the forefront, making nearly the entire record an ode to the heart.  Ragan’s unique perspective and take on this well trodden territory is as refreshing as it is honest and earnest.  Where his previous album Covering Ground was conceived to mirror Ragan’s live sound (especially as seen on the Revival Tour), Till Midnight brings a full band to the table and the extra instrumentation helps carry these songs to a full and vibrant life mixing elements of country, folk, and roots rock.  The bottom line is this: Chuck Ragan is a freaking genius and everything he touches is solid gold and Till Midnight is no different.

13.  Ordinary Life by The Tim Version
From my review
The Tim Version’s fourth album Ordinary Life is nothing short of brilliant.  Perfectly mixing elements of punk (ala Hot Water Music), college rock (ala The Replacements), and alt country (ala Lucero and Drag the River), the result is a powerful blast of everything that is good in rock ‘n’ roll music.  The record moves effortlessly from high octane rockers (“For the Birds” and “Hello, Waterface”) to haunting ballads (“The Future Of Humanity Is Dogs” and “Die In Yer Sleep”) to mid-tempo anthems (“Plague Dogs,” “Funny Movies,” and “A Dream About Dean’s Dream”).  From top to bottom, Ordinary Life not only works but excels at being a top notch rock ‘n’ roll record that is easily one of the best releases of 2014.

12.  All Messed Up by Textbook
From my review
Textbook’s fifth full-length album All Messed Up is 11 songs of Midwestern, pop punk indie college rock perfection.  Having boasted members of bands like Noise By Numbers, Dan Vapid & the Cheats, Not Rebecca, and The Bomb, Textbook is the quintessential Chicago band.  All Messed Up opens with the insanely catchy “Everything I’m Not” perfectly setting the stage for what is to come.  The record is filled with hooks and melodies and sing-along choruses that dare you to not fall in love with them.  What’s great about All Messed Up, and Textbook’s music in general, is the timelessly fun while simultaneously feeling nostalgic and fresh.  This is the kind of music that would have fit just as perfectly next to Flip Your Wig and Tim in 1985 as it would have next to Big Red Letter Day, Fore, and Come On Feel The Lemonheads in 1993, Indecision and Awake is the New Sleep in 2005, and All the Ways You Let Down and Who Would Want Anything So Broken? in 2014.

11.  Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street by Beach Slang
From my review
Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street succeeds in every way that a follow-up release should by taking the energy and excitement of the previous release and adding to it new levels of nuance and passion.  The four song EP takes the band’s punk-as-seen-through-college-rock approach of Who Would Ever… and tweaks it by adding layers of deeper sorrow and heartache and touches of Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen.  The resulting sound is still clearly Beach Slang but displays a growth to this band’s already passionate and deep work.  While Cheap Thrills… is less in-your-face than its predecessor, the slower tempo and refined approach make it just as invigorating and powerful.  This band is seriously something special and one to watch.

Top 30 Records of 2014: 30-21

2014 was another great year for new music, unfortunately for me I had a really hard time keeping up with it all.  Because of that, my end of the year list includes both EPs and full-length records.  Maybe next year I’ll do a better job at keeping up with everything that comes out.  In the meantime I’ve broken down my Top 30 Records into three posts, plus an honorable mentions post.  So without any further ado, I present to you the best music of 2014. 

30.  If I Stay [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] by Various Artists
If I Stay was my favorite movie of 2014 for a number of reasons (excellent acting, top notch directing, great script, etc.) but what really drove the film home was its use of music.  The story revolves around high school senior Mia (a concert cellist), her boyfriend and budding indie rock star Adam, and her family (her parents were both punk rockers, with her dad having been a drummer of a local band).  A terrible car accident kills her family and leaves Mia in an out-of-body experience where she must decide whether or not she wants to live or die.  Much of the film consists of flashbacks, including multiple performances by Adam’s band Williamette Stone.  It’s that band’s songs that make this soundtrack something special.  The band that you see in the film is the same band that recorded and performed the songs that you hear on the soundtrack and holy crap are they good (especially the moving folky rendition of the Smashing Pumpkins “Today” which appears in one of the film’s most pivotal scenes). 

29.  Spin It by The Forty Nineteens
From my review
The Forty Nineteens’ sophomore full-length Spin It takes the foundation the band laid with their brilliant debut No Expiration Date and builds on it adding power pop savvy to their unique band rock ‘n’ roll.  Still there are the elements of college rock, alt country, indie, and punk rock but this time around the pop is front and center.  While No Expiration Date was the sound of a band expressing their devotion for Dramarama, Spin It is the sound of a band articulating their admiration of early Elvis Costello. 

28.  The Royal We by Seagulls
From my review
Atlanta, GA’s Seagulls’ sophomore EP The Royal We is five songs of gravelly vocal, punk rock anthem goodness (six including the bonus track).  These are the kind of catchy songs that bridge that gap between pop punk, street punk, Midwest punk, and the like; in other words they should appeal equally to fans of Teenage Bottlerocket, U.S. Bombs, and Dillinger Four.  Seagulls’ greatest strength is in their ability to craft a great hook and a chorus that pulls you in and dares you to not sing along.

27.  Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters
Sonic Highways is Foo Fighters ode to the history of some of the greatest music cities in America.  Each song on the record was recorded in and inspired by a different city from Austin, TX to New Orleans, LA; from Chicago, IL to Washington, DC; Los Angeles, CA to Nashville, TN; and Seattle, WA to New York, NY.  The band also recorded a documentary for each song/city which was released on HBO.    

26.  Full Speed Ahead by Crosshatch
From my review
...Crosshatch plays a highly energetic form of 90s influenced indie and punk rock.  The band's seven song debut EP, Full Speed Ahead, is nothing short of brilliant.  The songs a filled with killer hooks, thunderous basslines, and top notch drumming that takes equally from the indie rock of the early 90s (ala The Lemonheads and Buffalo Tom) and the pop punk of a couple of years later (ala Sicko and Pinehead Gunpowder).  YR Magazine described Crosshatch's music pretty perfectly -- "With appreciation for the pop sensibility of The Bouncing Souls, the lyrical integrity of Iron Chic, and the energy of early Green Day - they play with feeling, substance, and emotion."

25.  Souvenir by Banner Pilot
From my review
Banner Pilot’s fourth album Souvenir plays true to form in that it is a collection of incredibly catchy, hooked laden Midwestern punk tunes.  The band’s familiar sound pulls heavily from the likes of Dillinger Four, Jawbreaker, Pegboy, and Hot Water Music, but their passion and intensity is what really makes their music stand out (not that one could ever really go wrong following in the footsteps of those punk rock giants, IMHO).  While the 12 songs on Souvenir are undeniably Banner Pilot (especially with those thundering basslines), this isn’t simply the same record all over again.  Simply put, Souvenir is a stellar record that proves that not all great punk rock (or music for that matter) is from the past.

24.  Famous Graves by Cheap Girls
From my review
The band’s fourth album Famous Graves is yet another top-notch collection of power pop punk indie rock anthems that sound just as at home when played next to the likes of modern acts like Candy Hearts and The Thermals as they do alongside classic acts like Superchunk and The Replacements.  Over the years the band has been compared to the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and the aforementioned Replacements but to me Cheap Girls’ closest cousin from years gone past is Buffalo Tom.  And like the Boston power trio, Cheap Girls hit you with great hooks and melodies driving heartfelt and honest lyrics that speak directly to the soul and inner teenager.  Famous Graves does not chart any new territory but it doesn’t need to.  This is a rock ‘n’ roll record driven by heart and hooks, which is exactly what Cheap Girls have been knocking out since day one.

23.  Teenage Retirement by Chumped
From my review
Chumped channels the purest elements of youthful angst and rage, joy and fun in their full-length debut Teenage Retirement.  Lead by sharp wit and razor tongue of singer/guitarist Anika Pyle, Chumped have produced an album of pop punk brilliance that harkens back to the genre’s glory days in the early to mid 1990s while at the same time sounding fresh, modern, and vibrantly young.  More than maybe any other genre or sub-genre, pop punk lends itself to the unadulterated exuberance of youth and Teenage Retirement is the absolute perfect expression of the hope and desire and desperation that comes from being young.  

22.  Fistful of Hollow by Swingin’ Utters
From my review
The Utters’ latest album, Fistful of Hollow is a testament to the never-ending growth and development of the band.  While still sounding like a Swingin’ Utters’ album, Fistful of Hollow adds another layer to an already complex musical history that has flawlessly mixed elements of punk, oi, folk, country, power pop, and college rock.  With the lineup solidified and bassist Mike Peck and guitarist Jack Darlymple now completely entrenched in the group, the Utters’ have forged a path with a strong and cohesive record that remembers the past while looking towards the future.  Fistful of Hollow proves that the Swingin’ Utters are far from being a nostalgia act and far from being done.

21.  Fatten the Leeches by Cancers
From my review
Cancers’ full-length debut Fatten the Leeches is a blast of grunge-guitar driven, unforgettably catchy, rich power pop that harkens back to the glory days of the early 1990s.  Formed by Ella Kasper and Lenny Miller, Cancers’ sound is reminiscent of the pre-(and very early post)Nirvana underground music scene without sounding cliched or overtly nostalgic.  Love of the era of Kurt Cobain is in full swing and that has unfortunately brought us a lot of acts that simply mimic or pilfer the music of two decades ago.  That is not the case with Cancers.  Fatten the Leeches is a brilliant album with a timeless feel that makes it sound like it could have been released in 1991 or 2014.  Aside from the crunching guitars and perfect pop hooks, what truly makes this record excel is Kasper’s lush and sensuous vocals.  From top to bottom Fatten the Leeches is an excellent record...