Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic” (2017)

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Power Trip is a hardcore thrash metal band from Texas and “Nightmare Logic” marks their second full length album. Just by looking at the cover on this album I would imagine the music to be grimy, harsh, and unsettling. Without a doubt some of that is present on “Nightmare Logic”, but there is also a hell of a lot of old-school badassery, too.

The first minute and a half of the album had me worried that Power Trip wasn’t going to be for me. The by-the-numbers crunchy guitar riff and intermittent yelps from the vocalist had me reconsidering sticking it out for the long haul.

I’m glad that I did.

The song transformed with a vicious, galloping pace, the vocals turned guttural and deep and a searing guitar solo really kicked things off. From this moment on, the album flew by, one song satisfyingly leading into the next in a hailstorm of aggression and speed. On “Nightmare Logic”, Power Trip expertly perform a brand of thrash metal that is darker in tone and has elements of hardcore music (mostly thanks to their vocalist). What I really love about the band’s sound is that the influences mesh seamlessly together in a way where it’s not distracting. The thrash metal is pummeling, the hardcore is aggressive, and everything has this layer of ugliness on top, so while it does have an old school flair, make no mistake this isn’t Metallica or Megadeth.

Power Trip have a fantastic energy on this album as well, no doubt fueled by how pissed off they sound and who can blame them? You get your typical themes of doom and gloom here, but they feel genuine and, once again, 2017 is a good year for making music that welcomes the apocalypse.

Any complaints I would have on this record would come down to personal preference. For the style of music Power Trip are going for on “Nightmare Logic”, I don’t think it can get too much better and I really am digging this album. I definitely consider this a great metal album in general and one that I will be looking forward to revisiting again in the future.

8/10

 

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Fleet Floxes – “Crack-Up” (2017)

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It has been a long 6 years since Fleet Foxes released their spectacular record “Helplessness Blues”. There were hints over the years from Robin Pecknold that the Foxes were still writing music, but with the departure of Josh Tillman (who would go on to become Father John Misty) and with Robin attending Columbia University, I was prepared for a life without another Fleet Foxes record. Obviously that didn’t happen with the release of “Crack-Up” earlier this year.

If I was being an ass and rather cheeky, I would say “I guess I was right, because Crack-Up isn’t a Fleet Foxes record”. The truth is, “Crack-Up” is definitely a departure from the sounds and feelings that were prevalent on “Helplessness Blues” and the self-titled album. Gone are the lavish instrumentals and grandiose songwriting. Instead, what we get on “Crack-Up” are some quite slow-paced songs, with many subdued tones and vocal melodies, and many repetitive song structures. Come into this album with preconceptions of what Fleet Foxes should sound like and you will most likely be disappointed at first. I know I was when I first heard the strange whispered vocals on the opening song.

After listening to the album two times in its entirety, the strengths of it became apparent. “Crack-Up” may be darker and more subdued, but there is a lot of emotionally resonant music to be found here. The whole album flows wondrously and there are moments of pure beauty. This isn’t an instantly gratifying album, but it is a very interesting one. The more I listen to it, the more I discover and the melodies that were hidden in the beginning start to reveal themselves. I would say this is the most challenging album from Fleet Foxes, however, like any good challenge it is rewarding to those who face it.

Fleet Foxes did not deliver what I was expecting after years of silence, instead they gave me something to digest and mull over. After giving it the time it deserves, I have to say that “Crack-Up” is a great project. It does not match “Helplessness Blues”, but I place that album up on a pedestal and I can’t see any folk album replacing it any time soon. I do think “Crack-Up” outperforms the self-titled album, as it is a much deeper record with I think a lot more replay value.

Now, hopefully it’s not another 6 years before we get a follow-up release.

8/10

Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues” (2011)

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In 2011, Fleet Foxes released their second full length album, “Helplessness Blues” which garnered them universal acclaim and even a nomination for Best Folk Album for the Grammy awards that year. This was a momentous time for the band and I think the recognition they received for this record was well deserved.

“Helplessness Blues” certainly marks a change in sound for Fleet Foxes, they are less folky here compared to their previous releases and, for lack of a better word, embrace more of a pop sound. That being said, the usual suspects for instruments are still here and it isn’t a total transformation of sound, but it is noticeable. Robin Pecknold holds down the vocals more than ever before, as he clearly sings from the bottom of his heart, giving a lot of impressive performances on the album.

One of my favorite aspects of “Helplessness Blues” is the consistency of the album. Every song fits perfectly together and the quality never dips from beginning to end. This truly is meant as an album experience and I never feel the itch to skip ahead nor do I think there is ever a lull in the track listing. The more I think about it, the more I consider this album to be one of the most consistent records I have listened to. I do have favorite moments and songs on the album, “The Shrine/An Argument” being one, but I appreciate the journey from the opener to the closer much more than jumping to these moments.

“Helplessness Blues” emits an unrelenting feeling of wanderlust and a romantic view of the world. The album stirs something deep and primordial inside of me, making my heart yearn for a lonely cabin in the mountains and a sheep dog, while at the same time giving me a great feeling of love for my fellow man and a wanting to be part of something larger than my myself. Whatever feeling Fleet Foxes coaxes out of me here, this is a very powerful album.

“Helplessness Blues” is not only my favorite Fleet Foxes album, but it is probably my favorite folk album. The sounds are beautiful, the lyrics are poetic, and the emotions it stirs in me are undeniable. This is where I fell in love with Fleet Foxes, and unfortunately this is where Fleet Foxes departed for 6 long years, before returning with “Crack Up”, which I will be reviewing soon.

10/10

Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” (2008)

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Just a couple of months after the release of their EP, “Sun Giant”, Fleet Foxes released their first full length album, the self-titled “Fleet Foxes”. The musicianship, lyricism, and songwriting on this album would bring Fleet Foxes to the status of indie folk gods, but how does it hold up after almost a decade? Does it still stand out as brilliant or has its sheen dulled over time?

For me, this is an enhancement of everything Fleet Foxes did right with “Sun Giant”, and a recovery for everything they did wrong. The songs on the album are fully fleshed out, most of them having multiple noticeable changes in tone or structure within them. Even though I have listened through the album so many times, I still forget where some songs end up compared to how they begin.

The primary instrumentation is still acoustic and clean electric guitar, but there are an abundance of others that join in like mandolin, percussion, woodwind, bass, piano, and of course the voice of Robin Pecknold, though he is accompanied by the rest of the band fairly often. The dynamics between the different instruments, the adding and taking away of certain ones here and there, keep things in constant flux. The album is always moving between valleys and peaks and offering something interesting for my ears.

It’s kind of funny how the album starts off with “Sun It Rises”, where the first verses are sung in such a backwoodsy, country drawl that you might expect that you’re about to listen to a very rough and southern folk album. The album you do get is polished, at times intricate, and most certainly beautiful. “White Winter Hymnal” is the second track on the album and probably the most recognizable due to its repeating and hypnotic verse “I was following the, I was following the” and its use in popular media. On this song, like so many others on the album, Fleet Foxes effectively builds up the sound by starting off with just one vocalist, then adding another, then a tambourine, until by the end the whole band is playing and singing. “Ragged Wood” is an excellent song where we get a lot of Fleet Foxes’ trademark ‘Whoas’ and ‘Ohs’ before bustling into a happy and rhythmic tune. After a few verses of that, things quickly calm down and the song begins yearning for something or someone. The mood of the album dips further down with “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”, which is a beautifully morose song, somewhat betrayed by the strength of Robin’s voice picking up halfway through where I would have preferred it to stay quiet.

Two songs on the album stand out to me as my favorites. The first in the track listing is “He Doesn’t Know Why”, which has fantastic lyrics and an amazing rhythm to it. After the first few verses when the percussion kicks in, the song reaches such folk grandeur that it’s infectious. I love the refrain in the song as well, with Robin’s voice pulling so much weight with the conviction coming off of his lips. My other favorite song is “Your Protector”. It starts off slowly, with just some flute playing and Robin’s voice taking us through the short introduction. As soon as the chorus hits though, Fleet Foxes as a band just bursts out, giving an amazing performance that carries through the rest of the song.

Oddly enough, “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Your Protector” are such great songs that they actually diminish the rest of the album in comparison. There is a noticeable difference in quality between these tracks and the rest of the album, which is more a compliment to the songs than a slight against the album. I do have one big issue with the album, however, and that would be “Oliver James”, the very last song. I kind of hate this freaking song, nothing interesting happens in it and Robin’s voice ends up annoying me by the end of it. I cannot find any redemption in it and wish the album had ended with “Blue Ridge Mountain” instead.

Fleet Foxes delivered an excellent indie folk album with their first full length release. Despite what few issues I have, this is still one of my favorite folk albums, and I know for many people this is Fleet Foxes’ best.

8/10

Fleet Foxes – “Sun Giant” (2008)

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I would consider Fleet Foxes my favorite indie folk band of all time. I first fell in love back in 2011, with the band’s second full length album release, “Helplessness Blues”. From there, I worked backwards in their discography, moving from their self-titled LP to their EP, “Sun Giant”. Fleet Foxes did release one EP before this in 2006, but I’ve never heard a song from it and from what I’ve read only 50 copies exist in the world.

In preparation for reviewing Fleet Foxes’ record “Crack Up”, which came out earlier this year, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at their previous releases. Obviously, I’m starting with “Sun Giant”, because for me this is the genesis of the band and the sound they cultivated on each future release.

Typical for an extended play release, “Sun Giant” is a mere 19 minutes long and 5 tracks. The opener of the EP, which is named “Sun Giant” itself, starts things off with a bit of a sputter. Robin Pecknold’s lyrics are beautiful, evoking such a romantic view of the natural world that has been a common theme through all of Fleet Foxes’ history and Robin’s voice is an ethereal thing of beauty. But the lack of instrumentation on the song definitely leaves a void, as if it is more of a demo than an actual complete piece of music.

The next three tracks on the EP, “Drops in the River”, “English House”, and “Mykonos” contain a more complete vision and are excellent songs in the Fleet Foxes discography. With “Drops in the River”, we have a beautifully sung, quiet introduction with just what sounds like the scraping of some stringed instruments before an electric guitar bursts in with some clean chords and Robin’s voice raises to match. “English House” is a jaunty tune with a lot of “oohs” being sung, another common characteristic to Fleet Foxes. I really like the clean guitar tone and just the amalgamation of instruments on this track that comes together seamlessly.

My favorite song on the EP hands down is “Mykonos”. This feels like the most fleshed-out song on the EP and is most reminiscent of the sound Fleet Foxes would steer towards on their future albums. Even now, it is one of my favorite songs from the band, period. There is a great rhythm to “Mykonos” and it really is a rocking folk song with the band’s instrumentation in full effect.

The EP ends with “Innocent Son”, which to be honest I don’t like. To me it has many of the same problems as the song “Sun Giant”, with a lack of an interesting melody or chorus and the sparse instrumentation does not do it any favors.

“Sun Giant” is an EP with hints of the greatness that would become commonplace for Fleet Foxes on their full length releases. However, it is bogged down by a slow start and a whimpering ending. Still, the meat of the EP is great and I still come back to it for “Mykonos” and “Drops in the River” in particular.

7/10

GBH – “Momentum” (2017)

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GBH, also known as Charged GBH, are an English punk band that have been active since 1978. The fact that they are still making music at all is pretty damn impressive and the fact they still kick ass is even more so. On this latest outing with “Momentum”, GBH waste no time getting through 12 tracks of no-nonsense punk rock.

As you might expect, GBH bring an old school punk vibe to this album. The sound and pace are pretty similar to early metal music and I was definitely picking up a lot of similarities to Motörhead. The songs are pummeling and full of pissed-off energy. I’m particularly partial to tracks like “Population Bomb” and “Fifty What?”, the latter of which directly addresses the age of the band by saying age is just a number and GBH is still giving more to the punk scene than a lot of younger bands. Honestly, I think that’s a fair enough statement.

While I enjoy the energy, sound, and lyrics on “Momentum”, there are a couple of things that keep me from considering it a great album. The vocals from Colin Abrahall are at times overly exaggerated in a way I’m personally not a fan of. Also, the straightforwardness of the album works against itself for me. I enjoy listening to the songs in the moment, but after having the album out of my mind for a minute not much of it is sticking with me. Unfortunately, this is not an album I’ll likely be coming back to very often in the future.

Without a doubt, GBH deserve a lot of respect for continuing to rock and put out good music after all these years. With “Momentum”, I can have a good time playing it loudly but it does not have the lasting appeal I look for in a great album.

7/10

Ragana – “You Take Nothing” (2017)

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Black metal is not a genre I listen to very often, I usually prefer varieties such as heavy, sludge, thrash, or doom. But, I do like to give black metal a try every once and a while to keep pushing my musical tastes and to hopefully one day grow to appreciate the genre enough to become a genuine fan.

That brings me to Ragana and their album “You Take Nothing”. I had heard some positive things about this release and decided to give it a shot and I’m glad that I did. Ragana have an interesting take on the black metal sound, and it is refreshing to see a two piece female band enjoy success in a pretty male-dominated genre.

Listening to “You Take Nothing”, I was affected emotionally almost right away. The dreary dissonant sounds and painful vocals actually startled me and dragged my mood through the gutter. Ragana are effective in building a depressive atmosphere with the relatively few tools they decide to use. The drums in particular are expertly done, providing tasteful fills and keeping things at a slow pace. You won’t find any blast beats here. The guitar is great, too, with interesting riffs played across the album both saturated in distortion and with a crystal clean tone. The wretched vocals on the album are raw and unsettling, but the vocalist also has quite a few moments where she sings cleanly, adding a nice contrast of beauty to the otherwise bleak atmosphere.

I also enjoyed that the album didn’t overstay its welcome. “You Take Nothing” is over after just 30 minutes, with all of its 6 tracks clocking in between 3 and 6 minutes long. This short length along with the nice variation between quiet and harsh moments means that Ragana have strayed from making the album an exercise in masochism, which I appreciate.

The depressive atmosphere on “You Take Nothing” will keep me from coming back to it very often, but I do enjoy a lot of what Ragana are doing on this album. This is definitely a solid album for me, and I’m glad I took the time to give it a listen.

7/10

 

Tacocat – “Lost Time” (2016)

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Take bubblegum pop sensibilities, feminism, west coast punk attitude, and a heavy does of surfer rock and you’ll get something pretty close to Tacocat. Tacocat is a punk rock band based out of Seattle and “Lost Time” marks their third studio album and their latest release. I first came across the band on a random Reddit thread with their single, “I Hate the Weekend”. I was drawn to the immediacy of the song, it was so freaking catchy and fun that I had to check out the rest of the album.

What I soon learned was that “I Hate the Weekend” was not some fluke of a song. Listening to “Lost Time” was like I was hanging out in a meat hanger with all of these hooks catching on me every which way I turn. There are hooks everywhere on this album! The guitar riffs, the choruses, the verses, everything is designed to get you singing along and bobbing your head. The track times are super short, most barely getting past 2 minutes, so they do not waste any time getting to the good stuff.

In other words, “Lost Time” is like a bag of candy.

It’s mind-boggling how Tacocat pull off so many fun melodies on this album, I kept waiting for a song to be a dud but it never happened. Each track on this album is catchy and has a great energy coming from the band. Of course, I still have my favorites like “I Hate the Weekend”, “I Love Seattle”, and “You Can’t Fire Me, I Quite”, but this is such a fun and quick album that I’ll just keep listening to the whole thing.

The instruments on the album are great but the real stars are the guitars and the vocals. There is a wonderful, jangly snarl to the guitar and it really does a lot of the heavy lifting in making the melodies work so well. Just as equal in importance are Emily Nokes’ vocals, which are sweet and powerful and the perfect conduit for the lyrics.

Sure, the songs are simple, but they cut straight to my heart and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I have seen Tacocat get some grief for their lyrics. It’s true that some of the songs are about getting your period, Plan B, “mansplaining”, and working stiffs, but I personally have no issues with the subjects of the songs and Tacocat deliver them in a witty and humorous way.

This is a very addicting album, and I really need to get around to getting a CD of it. For me, “Lost Time” is one of those records that no matter what mood I’m in, I will almost always be up for listening to it again. It’s quick, it’s fun, it’s quirky, and it’s so. freaking. catchy.

9/10

 

 

Hard Girls – “Floating Now” (2017)

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This was an album I pretty much stumbled across, which I always love to do. The moments before I hit play on an album from a band I’ve never heard of are always exciting with the anticipation of what the hell I’m about to listen to. So, what did I hear from Hard Girls and their album “Floating Now”? A pretty damn good punk album is what!

From Hard Girls on this record, you get some classic punk tropes like the shouting choruses you can hear on songs like “Puddle of Blood”, “Codeine Dreams”, and “Running”,  and also the traditional punk rock instrumentation you might expect. But you also get, what I like to call, the right mix of sweet and sour. The song “Camera” is one of the best examples of this with its somewhat harsh guitar leads (sour) which swing into some hella catchy verses and chords (sweet). This can span beyond moments in a single song, and it does on “Floating Now”. There are some great dynamics throughout the album, where mellow songs such as “Herd” and “Echolocation” give a lot more emphasis to the bangers like “Neurons on the Fritz”.

The guitar work really shines on “Floating Now”; at times it noodles away, following the vocal melodies, and at others it causes mayhem. I especially like the sounds it pulls off on “Neurons on the Fritz”, where I swear I’m hearing an octave pedal being used, which in my opinion is a very underutilized effect. The bass also gets some love on the album, like at the end of “Puddle of Blood” where it breaks out into a funky little jam. I have no complaints about the drums either as they keep the band going like a well-oiled machine. The vocals did come off at first like a run-of-the-mill male punk rock singer, but they did grow on me and they do have a nice range to them, evidenced by the more mellow songs. The recording on the album is nice, I can hear all of the individual instruments but there is still enough noise and crackle to give the songs some added liveliness.

I have to preface the score by saying that it’s a 7 for me, but teetering on the edge of an 8. If I had my druthers, Hard Girls would go a little more aggressive on the louder moments here. It’s like they are about to punch me in the face but they pull back and I just want them to take a swing. I like to feel some adrenaline in my punk rock, and “Floating Now” doesn’t quite deliver that. This is still a nice punk rock release, and I’ll be keeping my eye out on the record label, Specialist Subject Records, as well as the band itself.

7/10

Iron Chic – “You Can’t Stay Here” (2017)

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Here’s some straightforward punk rock from Iron Chic’s album, “You Can’t Stay Here”, which just came out last month. Iron Chic have a sound that’s not very aggressive, but not overly catchy. I think of it as middle-ground punk. There isn’t a whole lot of deviation going on in this record and almost all of the tracks are your standard punk rock tunes. This is about as uncomplicated as you can get.

Now, there is totally nothing wrong with a straightforward album if it has something to back it up, whether that be an addictive energy coming from the band or some killer melodies and choruses. Unfortunately, I’m not getting that from “You Can’t Stay Here”. The performances are pretty stale, the recording is kind of lifeless, and the songs are for the most part forgettable. When Iron Chic do go for something different, like on the song “Ruinous Calamity” which is a slow acoustic track, the results aren’t much better. After each listen of the album I was only coming away with two songs that I enjoyed, “Planes, Chest Pains, and Automobiles” and “Profane Geometry”.

That felt really harsh to write, so let me say that I don’t think this album is bad, but average. Obviously the songwriting and sounds here are just not jiving with my personal tastes. I honestly thought I was going to really enjoy Iron Chic’s efforts here due to the record label SideOneDummy being one I generally enjoy and, as stupid as it may sound, the cover art (I mean that is some really cool art). Oh well, I probably won’t be giving this album another try, but I may check out Iron Chic’s next record to see if they change anything up.

5/10