Glassjaw – “Material Control” (2017)

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“Material Control” is a bit of a comeback record for New York based post-hardcore band, Glassjaw, who formed back in 1993 but underwent a hiatus and some lineup changes since then.

The production on this album is great. The guitars are suitably chugging, the bass is thick and noticeable, and the drums are lively. There is also no denying the punk fueled aggression Glassjaw brings to this album. For me, unfortunately, that is where the positives end.

This album was such a slog for me and I think it came down to two main things: The vocals and the songwriting. On the vocals front, they just sound like a generic rock singer. Nothing notable and nothing personally intriguing for me. As for the songwriting, “Material Control” is a pretty repetitive album in that while there is diversity in the track list, the songs themselves mostly rely on one or two riffs. This can be fine and I have enjoyed repetitive songs before, but the music built around the repetition is not solid or interesting enough to draw out for 3 or 4 minutes. By the 2 minute mark I am ready to bail on a lot of these songs.

The best parts of the album are the instrumental breakdowns, which are satisfying and bring a welcome break from the slog of the song structures and the bland singing. I was really hoping I would get more out of this and while there are some nice moments here and there the outcome overall is average.

Favorite songs: “citizen”, “pompeii”

5/10

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Alex Cameron – “Forced Witness” (2017)

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Alex Cameron is an Australian indie pop/rock singer and “Forced Witness” is his second album.

On “Forced Witness”, Alex Cameron delves into sexual depravity and pornography. The lyrics are in your face and hard to turn away from as they come from the point of view of homophobic macho men, online predators, and just the lowest of the low in today’s society. The lyrics throughout the album are vivid and interesting and definitely a highlight. While the themes of the album lyrically are dark and lonely, the music is upbeat and funky, creating an excellent dichotomy.

Musically, “Forced Witness” is a rich experience with a lot of fun guitar leads and added instrumentation that all create a lavish and full sound. The melodies on the album are infectious and have a great quality that only improves on repeated listens. A lot of the pop sensibilities on the album did not catch me right away, but after giving “Forced Witness” a second listen things really started to click.

I am really glad that I gave “Forced Witness” a proper chance. This is without a doubt one of the most lyrically interesting albums I have heard in a while and the music ain’t bad either! I can definitely see this album continually to grow on me, but for right now I can say without hesitation that it is indeed great. If you are in the mood for something weird and catchy, do yourself a favor and check this out.

Favorite songs: “Country Figs”, “True Lies”, “Studmuffin96”, “Marlon Brando”

8/10

 

Check it out for yourself on Alex Cameron’s bandcamp here:

https://alkcm.bandcamp.com/album/forced-witness

Low Estate – “Covert Cult of Death” (2017)

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Low Estate is a New York based experimental metal band and this is their sophomore album.

Low Estate go through a variety of metal sounds on “Covert Cult of Death” though none seems more prominent than black metal. The guttural vocals are unsettling and the heavily distorted guitars are ugly and bleak. The band adds some grind flavor with some songs that have more of a groove to them and a couple tracks on the latter half of the album remind me slightly of High on Fire’s stoner metal sound. There is definitely a diversity of sound and style on the record and each song is a distinct entity.

All of that being said, I can’t say that I’m enjoying this album too much. A couple of tracks did connect with me, but for the most part the album passes through my ears leaving not much behind besides a slight headache. I think I would like “Covert Cult of Death” a lot more if the songs were more dynamic and the unrelenting heaviness of the music led to some climactic moments.

Even though I am not loving this album, I can certainly see it appealing to fans of black and experimental metal or just heavy music in general.

Favorite songs: “R-Complex”, “Forced”

6/10

 

Check it out for yourself on Low Estate’s bandcamp here:

https://lowestate.bandcamp.com/album/covert-cult-of-death

A Giant Dog – “Toy” (2017)

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A Giant Dog is a garage rock band from Austin, Texas and “Toy” is their sixth release.

This is a wonderfully eccentric album with plenty of rock and roll guts to hold it all together. I have heard fans of A Giant Dog’s earlier albums bemoan that “Toy” is not as heavy, but I find myself thoroughly enjoying the quieter moments. That’s not to say that this is a smooth and sweet album, there are plenty of raucous bangers in the track listing, particularly in the second half of the album.

A Giant Dog have a lot going for them in the realm of uniqueness. The band’s use of accompanying instrumentation like horns and strings as well as some expertly interspersed synths keeps things interesting and the vocals are exaggerated, wild, and fun.

Speaking of fun, “Toy” is dripping with a great vibe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The lyrics are tongue-in-cheek and explicit yet witty at times as well. Each song has a distinct character to it and there really isn’t a dull track on the record. It’s impressive how A Giant Dog managed to craft a pretty diverse set of songs that still maintain an obvious core sound and influence.

It really didn’t take long for this album to start sticking with me. A Giant Dog is a band with a lot of neat ideas and a fantastic sound. I will certainly be keeping my eyes and ears open for their next release.

Favorite songs: “Get Away”, “Lucky Ponderosa”, “Tongue Tied”, “Night Terror”

8/10

 

Check it out for yourself on A Giant Dog’s bandcamp here:

https://agiantdog.bandcamp.com/album/toy

MGMT – “Oracular Spectacular” (2007)

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MGMT are a psychedelic rock band and “Oracular Spectacular” was the band’s debut album.

“Oracular Spectacular” is one of the most lavishly produced albums I have come across. This thing is chocked full of different sounds and little details that make each song burst like a pinata. MGMT cover a lot of musical ground on the album with songs incorporating acoustic and electric guitars, electronic beats, thumping basslines, orchestral movements, and the vocals of Andrew VanWyngarden. While some albums can sound overproduced that is not the case here. Each sound and style fits snugly together and each one is done proper justice.

The aspect of this album that absolutely makes me go goo-goo ga-ga over it is the songwriting. MGMT blow each song out of the park by creating some of the most instant and catchy melodies I have heard. The band showcase an incredibly strong pop sensibility while also crafting songs that have significant shifts within them. It keeps the album fun and exciting and as a result it really flies by. “Oracular Spectacular” is one of those rare albums where I think every song is great, though of course I do have my favorites.

For me, this is a perfect album. Without a doubt, it’s one of the catchiest and most intriguing pop/rock projects I’ve ever heard.

Favorite songs: “Electric Feel”, “Pieces of What”, “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”, “The Handshake”

10/10

 

 

Jay Som – “Turn Into” (2016)

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Jay Som is the musical project of multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte and “Turn Into” was its debut album.

“Turn Into” is a pretty sweet piece of dream pop music. The instrumentation is totally lo-fi and has a great bedroom feel to the recording. Duterte is a very impressive musician and she sounds competent on the guitar, drums, and every instrument she plays on this album. Duterte also has a great voice that is beautifully soft and mellow. The track listing is suitably chill and pleasant and the whole album goes by quickly despite being 33 minutes long. There are some peaks and valleys in noisiness and Jay Som does get a little rocking at times, but most of the album stays firmly in the realm of dream pop.

I really don’t think there’s a bad song on “Turn Into”, and I like that each one has a slightly different flavor. As a whole, I get the impression that Jay Som is a project with a lot of potential and one that could develop in a few interesting ways. Despite all of these positives on “Turn Into”, I do think the songwriting could have been improved. While I do enjoy the songs on the record, there aren’t any that I am deeply in love with. I feel that some of the tracks could have used more dramatic crescendos or stronger verses/choruses.

Still, this was a good debut for Jay Som and the fact that Duterte did everything completely by herself (as far as I know) really embodies the indie music spirit and is commendable. I know that Jay Som did release newer material this year, which I still have to check out. But based on this, I’m sure I will end up enjoying it.

Favorite songs: “Peach Boy”, “Ghost”, “Why I Say No”, “SLOW”

7/10

 

Check it out for yourself on Jay Som’s bandcamp here:

https://jaysom.bandcamp.com/album/turn-into

Pile – “A Hairshirt of Purpose” (2017)

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Pile is a post-punk band from Boston and their latest album is “A Hairshirt of Purpose”, which was released back in March.

I am definitely a fan of Pile’s music. Their album, “Magic Isn’t Real”, is one of my favorite albums ever and I think their other records such as “Dripping” and “Jerk Routine” are excellent. So I had some expectations coming into this album. Pile does not pull anything unexpected on “A Harishirt of Purpose”, the disjointed and beautiful melodies are still here, punctuated by distorted breakdowns and vocalist Rick Maguire’s compelling screams. The songs that service the distorted edge to Pile’s sound are great, spiraling into driving rhythms and crazy guitar licks that all amount to an impressively orchestrated chaos. Rick Maguire’s singing across the album is awesome, too, shifting with ease between quiet and introspective and explosive. Par for the course, the lyrics on the album are befuddling but soaked with meaning and inspiration.

While there are songs and moments that live up to the band’s best output, I’m left a little disappointed. The majority of “A Hairshirt of Purpose” is filled with mellow songs that lack the climaxes that made Pile’s music so exciting for me in the past. While these songs are decent, they are definitely lackluster. I’m missing the feeling of excitement I would get when listening to Pile’s previous albums, where at any moment it felt like a song could explode into something noisy and badass.

Even if I am a little disappointed, “A Hairshirt of Purpose” is still a good album. And it’s worth noting that all of Pile’s music grows on me the more I listen to it, so maybe this will click with me more in the future. For now, I’m enjoying the handful of songs that rock my world and am waiting patiently for the others to possibly open themselves up to me.

Favorite songs: “Hissing for Peace”, “Texas”, “Slippery”, “Fingers”

7/10

 

Check it out for yourself on Pile’s bandcamp:

https://pile.bandcamp.com/album/a-hairshirt-of-purpose

 

Fresh – “Fresh” (2017)

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Fresh are a London-based punk band and just a few months ago they released their debut album.

Right out of the gate, I have to say this band makes me really excited. There is an addictive energy to Fresh and they have a wonderfully poppy punk sound. Fresh just totally nails on a lot of the things I love in punk music. Their songs are quick and fun while also having some weight to them in the lyrics. The female vocals are dripping with emotion and attitude and the guitars and drums sound great. The first half of this album in particular was making me grin ear to ear, listening to spunky songs like “Get Bent” and the epic chorus to “Fuck My Life”. There are just a lot of great moments of pure noise on this short album and, again, the energy is palpable.

I think this is a great album based on its own merits but also for the potential it shows for the band. Admittedly, the second half of the album is a little less memorable for me, but there are moments spread across the 20 or so minute runtime that absolutely foreshadow Fresh as a pop punk band to keep your eyes firmly set on. I know I will be waiting with anticipation for them to release something new and I hope they dive headfirst into the pop punk sound they perform so well on this debut.

 

Favorite songs: “Get Bent”, “Fuck My Life”, “Passing”, “Wish You Were Here”

8/10

Check out their bandcamp and listen for yourself:

https://freshpunks.bandcamp.com/album/fresh

Vagabon – “Infinite Worlds” (2017)

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Vagabon is the project of Laetitia Tamko and “Infinite Worlds” is her debut album.

“Infinite Worlds” is a very diverse record and really allows Tamko to flex her chops across genres. There is some punk rock with an indie rock flair on the album opener, an ambient and spacey song stuck in the middle of the record, and some morose indie pop scattered throughout. Matching these different moods, Tamko’s voice is strong yet delicate, powerful but pretty. Certainly, Vagabon succeeds in all of these different areas though I definitely prefer some over others. For my tastes, Vagabon is at its best when tackling more straightforward indie sounds rather than veering towards the more experimental or slow, drawn out songs.

While “Infinite Worlds” is a competent album, I feel that it’s missing something before I can consider it great. The album is definitely a grower as it gets better with repeated listens, but many of the songs aren’t hooking me in. It’s frustrating because it’s obvious that Tamko has a boat load of talent and I have no doubt that she will only improve on future releases, but I’m not in love with “Infinite Worlds” as much as I think I should be.

This album is making waves in the indie scene and should be sought at by any fan of the genre. There is no denying that it’s a good album, it was just shy of being great to my ears.

Favorite songs: “The Embers”, “100 Years”, “Cleaning House”

7/10

Havok – “Conformicide” (2017)

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Havok is an American thrash metal band and “Conformicide” is their fourth studio album.

Havok have a very old school thrash metal vibe to their sound. They really sound like a more brutal Megadeth, the biggest difference being the retched vocals of frontman David Sanchez, and honestly for me they are more interesting and sound better than Megadeth ever did. While Havok succeed with this familiar sound, they are more than just an homage to their influences. The band showcase some pretty cool characteristics and innovative mash-ups in their songs. For example, I never would have imagined hearing some funky slapped bass in a thrash metal song, but Havok delivers it with the song “Hang ‘Em High”. Also, I really dug the punk style of “String Break” and I would love to hear it carried into a longer song.

On “Conformicide”, the band continues to deliver on the fundamentals of great thrash metal. The guitars are fierce and the solos are blazingly fast, the drums are relentless, and the vocals sound like a demon on speed. I also appreciate the lyrics on the album which address your standard grievances among thrash metal artists (religion, war, corporations, government) but they do so in a sincere and direct manner.

While “Conformicide” is a great record, I do think that some of the songs lack more memorable guitar riffs or something sticky to catch in my brain. But that complaint aside, Havok have delivered a blood-pumping and impressive metal album and they continue to be one of the best modern thrash metal bands out there.

Favorite songs: “Hang ‘Em High”, “Dogmaniacal”, “Peace is in Pieces”, “String Break”

8/10