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

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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

Red Fang – “Murder the Mountains” (2011)

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Red Fang is an American stoner/sludge metal band and “Murder the Mountains” is their second studio album.

This is one of those albums that I bought on a whim based purely on the title of the album and its art. I actually got this at a Hot Topic back when they used to sell CDs and vinyl and I’m glad that I did. Red Fang brings a mix of grimy sounds, Black Sabbath-esque guitar riffs, and a brooding atmosphere that also doesn’t take itself too seriously. I really enjoy the dirty, almost unpleasant melodies and riffs on “Murder the Mountains” because there are great hooks beneath the surface. It makes the catchy moments that much more satisfying. Red Fang also bring a more straight forward approach to some of the songs such as on “Hank Is Dead” and “Painted Parade” and I think these go over extremely well, showing that the band is capable of producing memorable bangers.

Red Fang show a lot of promise for a relatively young band on this album. The drums, the guitar tones, and the recording are excellent and I really dig the contrast between the two vocalists Bryan Giles and Aaron Beam. The band really have a knack for delivering something heavy and ugly and then following it up with something melodic and sweet. There are a few tracks on “Murder the Mountains” that fall a little short. “Into the Eye” isn’t very dynamic and the repetition of the song doesn’t produce anything too interesting. “Throw Up” is pretty long and could have been cut down and although I think the song “Wires” is great, I think it could have been improved further with some editing.

After hearing this album, I considered Red Fang one of my most anticipated modern metal bands. “Murder the Mountains” showed that the band had a signature sound, that they had the basics on lock, and that they were willing to do some interesting things with their songwriting.

Favorite songs: “Wires”, “Hank Is Dead”, “Painted Parade”, “Human Herd”

8/10

Iron Maiden – “Iron Maiden” (1980)

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Iron Maiden are heavy metal legends, having released a staggering number of albums and continuing to perform over 40 years since forming! Their self-titled album, “Iron Maiden” was the one that started it all and I believe is arguably their best effort.

Right from the start there are a couple of things that separate this album in particular from the myriad other records under the band’s belt. For one, there is a rawness to the songs and performances on a level not found on any other Iron Maiden record. These songs aren’t ultra-slick recordings devoid of life and the band has a fantastic energy that gives each song a kick in the ass. Second, this is the tightest and most consistent Iron Maiden album. I feel that most of the band’s other albums are at least a little bloated with some songs that stick out as unquestionably lesser in quality. On “Iron Maiden”, each song is a hit and nothing overstays its welcome.

The sound and songwriting on “Iron Maiden” is exceptional. Steve Harris’ bass playing rightfully takes the spotlight on a few moments and it is so great to actually hear the bass in a heavy metal song. The guitar solos from Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton are melodic as hell and fun and the drums from Clive Burr are a standout on tracks like “Charlotte the Harlot”. And I have to admit that as much as I love Bruce Dickinson on later Maiden albums, I always have preferred the rough punk edge to Paul Di’Anno’s vocals that were present on this album and the second Iron Maiden record. The songs on “Iron Maiden” are each distinct and have a purpose in the track listing. They showcase a ton of catchy hooks, very technical and fast playing, macabre lyricism, as well as a softer side to the band on songs like “Remember Tomorrow” and “Strange World”.

For my money, this is the best Iron Maiden album. In fact, this is one of the best heavy metal records. Ever. Period. This is Iron Maiden when they were a little rough around the edges but still contained within them powerful and beautiful songs with the musicianship to match.

Favorite songs: “Prowler”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Charlotte the Harlot”, “Iron Maiden”

10/10

Phoebe Bridgers – “Stranger in the Alps” (2017)

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Phoebe Bridgers is an indie folk singer from Los Angeles and “Stranger in the Alps” is her debut album.

“Strangers in the Alps” is as sad as it is beautiful. Phoebe’s lyrics and her voice are full of melancholy, but there is a prettiness behind both that only makes the songwriting more endearing. The songs are soaked in nostalgia and a naivete of a young person still maturing and finding their place in the world. Phoebe’s voice is whispy and soft yet strong. Her vocals do a lot of the heavy lifting on the album, perfectly matching the moods of her songs and giving a lot of weight to the melodies. The instruments are varied and used extremely well. They don’t take away from the intimate singing and are used as a nice little boost to the melodies, and when they do strut their stuff like on “Motion Sickness” they kick ass. I also have to shout out the drums which are fantastic, especially on the song “Georgia”. One gripe I have with the album is the male vocals that pop up on two of the tracks; i’m just not a fan of the man’s singing and I’d rather hear Phoebe on her own to be honest.

This is a great folk and indie album and it’s an extremely impressive debut release. Phoebe Bridgers executes on all of the important pieces to make this a well put together record. So far this is one of the best folk albums I’ve heard this year, though it’s not without its faults. There are a couple tracks on this that are good, but nothing special. With that said, please check this thing out if you are a fan of the genre, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Favorite songs: “Smoke Signals”, “Motion Sickness”, “Georgia”

8/10

Fugazi – “Repeater” (1990)

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Fugazi are punk rock royalty with being credited as one of the founders of the post-hardcore genre. “Repeater” was the band’s first full length album and is widely acclaimed as a keystone album for post-hardcore and punk in general.

For me, Fugazi was one of those bands that was often name-dropped but it took me a while to take the time to actually give them a listen. What is immediately apparent with Fugazi is that they have a unique sound. Unique doesn’t always translate to good, however, and I think the band is by no means the easiest to get into. On “Repeater”, Fugazi have a dissonant, almost unpleasant sound. The chords they play are harsh, there is a staccato “attack-and-stop” to the rhythm, and the vocals are shouted and not musical at all. There were some things that I liked right away though, like the chorus to the song “Repeater” and the very spur-of-the-moment feeling that radiated from the whole album. The performances from Fugazi were organic and fun, like a band that was playing off of each other and ad libbing little pieces here and there.

The more I listened to “Repeater” the more I grew to like the unwelcoming sound. I found myself banging my head to the jolting rhythm of songs like “Greed” and singing along to the group vocals that reminded me a lot of classic punk bands. The unconventional and experimental nature of the songs kept me coming back for more and before I knew it I was in love. On top of that, there is also a lot of great playing from all band members here. In particular there are some sweet bass lines on this album that sound fantastic.

Even after nearly 30 years, Fugazi’s “Repeater” is still earning itself new fans and I’m one of them. Despite the many years that have passed since this album released, I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

Favorite songs: “Repeater”, “Blueprint”, “Styrofoam”

9/10

Marika Hackman – “I’m Not Your Man” (2017)

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Marika Hackman is an English singer-songwriter and “I’m Not Your Man” marks her second full length release.

Most of this album is a pretty chill and mellow piece of indie rock and pop music. The rhythms are slow and deliberate and Marika’s vocals don’t pull off any wild tricks. While the mood for the most part is mellow, that’s not to say “I’m Not Your Man” is a sparse album. The songs are full of instrumentation so you aren’t going to be getting any cavernous and spacey tracks on this album. There is always a guitar playing or Marika singing to keep you from getting sucked into a void of boredom.

For the most part, the songs are written solidly and while not all of them blow me away there is at least something interesting going on with each track. The vocals from Marika are certainly a highlight and I really enjoy the thick undercurrent of sexuality throughout the album. I like that the lyrics are written in a seductive way that doesn’t become overbearing or trashy.

Although there are a lot of good things about “I’m Not Your Man”, I only came away from the album with a couple of songs that I loved. I do think that a few of the tracks blended together a little too much and I would have liked to hear more punch from the instruments or the vocals to spice things up. Still this is a good indie album that shouldn’t be overlooked from fans of the genre.

Favorite songs: “My Lover Cindy”, “Apple Tree”, “Majesty”

7/10

Wolf Alice – “Visions of a Life” (2017)

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Wolf Alice is an alternative rock band from the UK and “Visions of a Life” is their second studio album.

Wow, I am seriously impressed with Wolf Alice on this album. “Visions of a Life” is delightfully eclectic from the sounds to the genres Wolf Alice seems to traipse through with ease. There are moments of punked-out aggression such as on “Yuk Foo” and “Formidable Cool” that sound like a raw garage rock band and in the same breath there are songs with 80s pop music flair, indie pop acoustic prettiness, and indie guitar rock. A lot of albums that have this ambition of covering multiple styles often fall flat on their faces and end up becoming disjointed. That’s not the case with Wolf Alice here because although the sounds are varied there is still a cohesiveness pulling everything together. Also the band has enough talent to pull off every style.

Wolf Alice employs a variety of instruments to complement the various sounds they pursue on “Visions of a Life”, but the core of the band is your standard guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. The instrumentation is recorded excellently and there are a lot of great beats, riffs, drum fills, and bass phrases that keep my ears at attention. The vocals from Ellie Rowsell are really great, ranging from ethereal and quiet to wild and loud.

“Visions of a Life” is chocked full of memorable songs and is just a plain old great album experience. It’s obvious that Wolf Alice has a ton of talent and a great skill for songwriting. This is definitely an album I will be revisiting again and is a highlight of 2017 for me so far.

Favorite songs: “Beautifully Unconventional”, “Don’t Delete The Kisses”, “Formidable Cool”, “Visions of a Life”

9/10

Counterparts – “You’re Not You Anymore” (2017)

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Counterparts is a hardcore punk band from Ontario and “You’re Not You Anymore” is their fifth studio album.

This is an exhilarating album from beginning to end, with nary a moment to catch your breath. The songs blaze by in short spurts of 2 minutes but convey boat loads of emotion. The drums are technically phenomenal with super fast fills and pulling off exhausting beats and the accompanied electric guitar is equally manic yet tight.

While I dig the aggressive nature of the instrumentals and the energy that Counterparts puts into this album, there are some things that pull me out of it. For one, this hardcore punk is just a little too hardcore for me. That’s to say, the screamed vocals of frontman Brendan Murphy get a little trying for me. I usually prefer when hardcore vocalists offer some contrast or at least don’t sound too overly emotional. There’s also a breakdown in the middle of the album that kind of brings everything to a halt and not in an interesting way.

I appreciate the instrumental performances on “You’re Not You Anymore”, again I think they are great, and while I’m listening to the album in the moment everything sounds good. But I’m not getting very many memorable songs out of this, in fact my favorite song from the record is strictly due to the fact that it has a killer chorus. While this album isn’t so much my style, I would definitely recommend any hardcore punk fans to give it a try and the fact that it’s under 30 minutes long means it doesn’t take much of a commitment either.

Favorite song: “A Memory Misread”

6/10

Hot Snakes – “Suicide Invoice” (2002)

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Hot Snakes is a post-hardcore punk band and “Suicide Invoice” was their second album. This band has an instantly recognizable sound thanks to unique guitar tones and riffs as well as vocalist Rick Froberg’s raspy yet clear voice. Due to these qualities, it’s always easy to spot a Hot Snakes song in the wild.

To harp on a little more about the sound on “Suicide Invoice”, this is such an enjoyable album to listen to. There is almost a rockabilly flavor to the electric guitar. It’s very throaty and the band doesn’t hide behind much distortion, allowing a lot of mid-range to come through and for a wonderful clarity on each strummed chord. I am just in love with the tones and the playing that the guitarists showcased on this album. I’m equally impressed with Froberg’s singing. At times, it sounds like he’s boiling over with anger and he’s barely keeping it in check, which creates a great tension on a lot of the songs.

The songwriting on “Suicide Invoice” is arguably just as great as the sound. The track listing is extremely cohesive with not one sticking out as a black sheep. The songs all have something interesting go on, whether it’s a riff, a great chorus, or a well-written verse. There are no moments that need skipping on the album and it’s an easy album to listen to over and over again due to a tidy 33 minute run-time.

Hot Snakes totally won me over as a fan with “Suicide Invoice”. I love their style and sound and the songwriting chops displayed on this release are great. It’s awesome to listen a punk or post-hardcore band with such a recognizable sound and slightly different take on the genre while also being just plain fun to listen to.

9/10