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est. 2008

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7/6/17

The summer months always seem to go by faster than the rest. It’s a bit counterintuitive since the days are longer and full of sun, it seems like time should go by slower, but somehow all the events, holidays, vacations and visits pack everything together and somehow it’s almost the midpoint of July. In an attempt to savor all we get, I’m working on slowing my days down. Spending time with the doors and windows open and music playing loud and clear. Sitting out in the sun and hearing new tunes to open my mind. The latest of these listen is the new record Young from Overcoats, one of the most sonically interesting and pleasing new bands I’ve heard this year.

They blend the beautiful harmonies of First Aid Kit with the electro-pop tendencies of Haim or Lorde, filled with grooves and repeated hooks aplenty. They’re definitely a younger band but that doesn’t count against them in terms of depth; all there songs seem to have an element or idea about self-reflection, self-perception and self-reliance. “Leave the Light On” is a danceable anthem for independent life with some banging horn/key tones, “Smaller Than My Mother” is a raw confession of the inner resentments of relationships. “23” is another standout in this way, with its pointed, no-holding-back explanation of the mental toll of predictable love gone sour. My favorite so far is “Nighttime Hunger,” a pulsing track mourning the struggles of the anxious insomniac. l I love the way they drop out the melody and sing in tight, the way they embrace guttural rhythms close harmonies, the way their voices lilt and float over these eye-popping lyrics. They’ve got a definite style that runs through Young — a great example of an album you can just put on and fall into.

“Nighttime hunger and all the fears that it brings tend to fade in the light
In daytime I build a new me but still dread the night
I try to keep moving but I can’t seem to chase my monsters away
When the darkness comes it takes everything from me…”

~Nighttime Hunger
Overcoats, Young

3/7/17

One of the best things about getting older? You start caring less and less about what people think of you and your tastes. So it is without a shred of shame I admit I have almost exclusively listened to Ed Sheeran since his billion-views busting Divide album came out Friday (OK, with some Japandroids, The Menzingers and Laura Marling thrown in there, too) and I still think he’s one of the best pop songwriters of his generation.

Sheeran’s spoken word delivery can be construed as annoying to some, but I dig the rhythms and phrases he finds. His guitar playing is distinct and often innovative. And lord, those ballads — he can break hearts and mend them with a refrain with the best of them. “Photograph” and “Tenerife Sea” held the place as my favorite love songs of his last record while “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” and “Dive” are the ones I’m most into this time around.

My favorite song on the record, though, the one that I go back to play before skipping among the others, is “Castle On The Hill,” a dedication to the friends Ed grew up with and the times they shared. It’s a familiar story for anyone who spent their teenage years with a tight knit group who inevitably broke away from each other as they grew up and life pulled them in separate directions.

Not only is the musicality of the song gorgeous and moving and triumphant, but the topic is one that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s living across the country from those who know me best, maybe it’s wishing we were better able to share the activities and interests of our lives together again. Maybe it’s wishing I had more reunions to look forward to. All I know is when I hear Ed Sheeran sing about driving down country roads, singing to “Tiny Dancer” with his friends and watching sunsets, I think about wandering the city long past our bedtimes, meeting up on a grassy hillside and watching the stars preside over our dreams as we wished upon each and every one of them we’d never have to grow up.

“I’m on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to “Tiny Dancer”
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill…”

~Castle On The Hill
Ed Sheeran, Divide

 

12/21/16

Another year, another end-of-the-year list. I’m getting in the habit of these things now, and also getting familiar with the sense of pressure and dread at shuffling my favorite music around.

Meriting a spot on this means it was music I couldn’t tear myself away from, that I binge-listened to on dull afternoons, evening walks or morning workouts. I turned to these albums when I couldn’t turn to anything else, when their hooks and chord progressions ran their way through my mind all day, or when I needed to hear that heartbreaking line one more time. I felt like I listened to more new music in 2016 than any other, mostly due to a reviewing side-hustle as well as getting Spotify premium on my phone, so narrowing it all down to 10 was hard. Obviously this year also saw incredible, groundbreaking releases from the likes of Bowie and Beyonce, and that song from The Chainsmokers hooked me as well as anybody, but these are the records that really resonated with me. I hope when I listen to them in 2017 and in years to come, I’ll be able to close my eyes and remember the place I was in when I first heard them, blanketed in sunshine settling into my Left Coast skin.

10) Kevin Devine – Instigator


One of my favorite songwriters, who in my opinion just keeps getting better with time. I regret that I was unable to catch him on tour this year, as the rocking and rolling songs on Instigator promise a great show. But I love it for walks around the city and morning jumpstarts, too, as the way Devine phrases his thoughts, feelings and societal observations are ripe for pondering. Though KD likely has one of the biggest catalogs of artists of his caliber/generation, I’d say that Instigator is a standout that could be presented to show a new listener what he’s all about.

9) Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings


Ms.Lambert takes the crown for my favorite record to sing this year. Though it was a fourth-quarter release, I haven’t stopped listening to this record since the day it came out, and it pushed me back toward regular guitar practice. Lambert really tells a story, and gives so much context to heartbreak, growing up, moving on and self-exploration, all with a wry smile and whiskey glass by her side. For that, and for the bold vulnerability, I bow down.

8) Moose Blood – Blush


These guys came out of seemingly nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite UK rock groups — and Blush burst forth this year as a collection of edgy heartfelt anthems. Nothing better than seeing them live at The Fonda opening for The Wonder Years, too — I love their cynicism in spite of youth, and their energy in spite of the cynicism. I love their obvious romanticism on songs like “Knuckles” and “Honey” and the aching regret on tracks like “Glow” and “Sway.” Also like how all the song titles are one word. Blush is as upbeat as you could want from a 2016 pop punk band, and as smooth and sweet as its namesake.

7) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial


Hearing Will Toledo’s voice for the first time is like hearing a memory you can’t place — you don’t know where, but you swear you’ve heard it before. He’s just that ubiquitous. As a brilliant guitar player and subtle, wry lyricist, Toledo is chock full of talent and has a substantial following behind him. This year’s Teens of Denial was a stunner, in its own depressing and over-it way. Gems like “Vincent” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” show how hard Car Seat Headrest can rock without abandoning pensive sensibilities, one of my favorite lines rock musicians can walk. Toledo has tapped into a raw rock and roll vibe that used to only exist in bands you had to go backwards to find, but this record showed how alive and well the genre can be.

6) Bon Iver – 22, A Million


God this album! I don’t have it on vinyl yet, but of all the records on this list, it’s the one I have my eye on the most. Justin Vernon has established himself as the kind of musician who pushes boundaries, and this eagerly awaited album shows that he does not make waves for their own sake, but rather because he has developed something to say. They heavy reliance on vocal manipulation and other-wordly echoes made 22, A Million an unforgettable listen, if only because it sounds like *nothing* else out there. But it has the same beauty as Bon Iver’s breakthrough work, with a few more levels of abstraction thrown in. I fell in love from the start, and this is now one of my favorite “focus” records when my mind starts running away with me. “8(circle)” is my favorite, although I’m probably not alone there. Three cheers for artistic expression, and those stay their path.

5) Joyce Manor- Cody


If I had to recommend an album for anyone to listen to this year, it’d be Joyce Manor. Hands down. For me, they’ll be up there with TWY and Brand New, carrying that mantle in their own sharp style. But we already knew that; the best thing about Cody is the way they’ve harnessed their aggression and thrash into polished hooks and climatic builds. “Last You Heard of Me” was my anthem upon release of the single, and it exemplifies the meaning and message these guys can cram into what on the surface one excepts to be a silly little pop punk song. Joyce doesn’t take themselves too seriously, which I love, but there’s nothing silly or little about them at this point.

4) The Hotelier – Goodness


Deep and resonant, heartfelt and literary….The Hotelier’s much -anticipated follow-up did not disappoint, nor did it simply satiate. Goodness is lush and full and while it doesn’t have the same sadness as their breakthrough record Home, Like No Place Is There, it has the same existential darkness and rock-solid progressions. Songs like “Piano Player” and “Soft Animal” channel the turmoil that we’ve come to know and love from The Hotelier, while pushing musical boundaries with different kinds of builds and busts. There’s a lot of depth here, and the shower of critical reception on Goodness gave me hope that it was recognized by not just niche audiences but the music world at large. After playing this album to death upon release, I can still put it on and get lost in it — damn right, they did it again.

3) Jimmy Eat World- Integrity Blues


Getting to listen to Integrity Blues for the first time felt like getting a phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. You knew what they were up to, you knew they were doing OK, but you hadn’t heard the ins and outs yet. With this record, the singles were promising, but a part of me held my breath thinking this could be an album full of filler. Not so! Integrity Blues is likely the best album JEW’s put out since Chase This Light, and though my adoration for Invented is a very real thing, the songs on this record are true and honest alternative rock that embrace maturity in melody and meaning…the closer, “Pol Roger,” is easily one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time, and not just for those sweet, sweet Jim Atkins harmonies.

2) case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs


This album got under my skin so quick, it was like falling in love at first sight. I think I read about the famed, talented trio just a couple days after the album dropped, and got right in on the ground floor with it. And it blew me away, with its stunning harmonies, poetic effort and lush sonic landscape. There’s not a song on this record that doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air to me. There’s a sweetness and a strength, an assertive foot forward and knowing shy smile. Every song paints a picture of people, places and things, and eloquently describes intricate emotions with excellent harmonies and beautiful, lithe guitar parts. “I Want To Be Here,” “Supermoon” and “Best Kept Secret” all became instant classics for me, and the perfect songs to soundtrack my first summer in LA.

1) Pinegrove – Cardinal


I had trouble figuring out what was my favorite of my favorites, but I think I knew it had to be Pinegrove. I made an instant connection with Cardinal for its unique sound and literary qualities, but the album’s staying power really went above and beyond anything else this year. Pinegrove was the easiest band for me to bring up when talking music with friends, as I knew they were likely to be a spot-on suggestion for anyone who likes alt-rock, folk-rock or anything in the indie vein. When you hear songs like “Aphasia” and “New Friends,” you’re struck by not only their honesty but their plaintive innocence, as if you’re having a conversation with a thoughtful friend about your lives and feelings. That familiarity makes Pinegrove instantly accessible, even before you get into their slightly quirky and innovative ways of structuring songs. Seeing them at The Echo was one of my most memorable concert experiences of the year, too, if only because the way they layered up their sound with extra synth & auxiliary really brought their songs to life. There’s a comfort in knowing that if I heard this album when I was an emo teenager, I would’ve loved it for the same reasons I do now — and it gives me hope that today’s emo teenagers are being introduced to quality indie rock. Pinegrove also delivered one of my most definitive favorite lyrical truisms of the year — “I am outta my goddamn mind and out to California,” which sums it up as well as anything. So looking forward to continuing to wrap myself up in Cardinal, and see where this band goes next.

And as a little bonus, here’s a playlist of my favorite songs of the year, added in no particular order than how I remembered them. I kept it to one per artist, off of albums that dropped this calendar year (so you can expect that new Ryan Adams’ tune here next year). Looking over it, I’m really struck by the variety of the artists, and how despite their differences, they all managed to strike the same chord in me.

11/21/16

From the low and rumbled opening tones, Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings” is one of the best country offerings of the year, and I’ve been losing myself in its beauty daily.

A double album is a rare and risky move, as who can put out that much work that merits attention all at once? It seems like you’re asking for filler. But here, every song offers a little bit more of the unfolding story, and it’s solid start to finish. After hearing the lead single “Vice” earlier this year I looked forward to what kind of soul-searching Lambert would offer up. I love the tones, topics and narratives she shares, the kind that clearly raise her from the radio country throne she once occupied into a higher plane of performers.

The opening track “Running Just In Case” is a slow burn, the kind that color most of the album. “I guess no one ever taught me how to stay,” she says, just one of the many poignant observations to come. “Getaway Driver” struck me as an instant favorite, with its harmonies and cyclical chords and ballad-style perspective. Then I found out it was a newly anticipated collaboration with Anderson East — I would say there’s some magic brewing in that pairing.

Lambert is bluesy and bold, and as assertive as we’ve come to expect, but she’s not just belting for its own sake. To the contrary, there’s more soft tones than there are loud ones. While this record is fueled by heartbreak (songs like “Tin Man” chronicle the pains of love) it doesn’t feel like a break-up album as much as come-back-together one. It’s Lambert’s spine, strength and vision for her life to come that ebb and flow, and she filters her many relationship reflections through a lens of moving forward as a whole person. It’s so much more motivational and introspective than maudlin or mushy as one might think “country” to be. And it’s not all bad news. Our narrator is a girl-about-town who travels and creates and believes in herself, and even love, despite its failings. “Pushin’ Time” is the romantic peak of the album, and it’s taken the mantle of my favorite Miranda track (previously held by “Bathroom Sink”).

While it’s the slow jams that steal the show, the upbeat tracks are still miles beyond what we heard on “Platinum.” They embrace lots more instrumentation and a folksier sound that’s more Willie Nelson or Bonnie Raitt than the radio country mainstays like Jason Aldean or Kenny Chesney that Lambert usually shares the charts with. Musically, there’s excellent choices and production on this album that keep it elevated but accessible. Acoustic guitars, horn sections, pedal steel, muted drums…it’s a very Americana lexicon paired with Lambert’s confessionals that make for a mature, full-fledged sound. She lets her voice crack and fall in very natural ways, instead of belting out pop-star style, though there’s tons of power in her voice seen on tracks like “Good Ol’ Days” and “To Learn Her.” At a time when excellent folk and country has captured modern audiences through the likes of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Lambert looks to pivot from an established female artist who can command those same indie, picky audiences. To be fair, Kasey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe have done this too, but from a different angle, as Lambert already has a big following. Bottom line: “The Weight of These Wings” has eternal qualities that will appeal to listener beyond her core audience.

Lyrically, there’s plenty of moments that are either heartbreaking, cutting, comforting or inspiring. “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart,” she sings on the closer of the first album, just one example of many well-crafted lines in a song flooded with gorgeous steel guitar parts. I think I read somewhere that this is the most co-writing Lambert has done on a record, and it speaks beautifully to her self-aware and poetic. “I was born a bull in a China cabinet,” she says on “Things That Break,” kicking off 3:48 worth of metaphor and vivid imagery. “Keeper of the Flame” is a rallying cry to all those who has ever been called to be the kind of somebody who accomplishes something. Then there’s the bookend songs about highways that start and finish the album, with plenty more journeying in between.

Spout off her name to high-minded listeners and it might conjure up images of flashy sequined dresses, songs about trashing cheating ex’s cars with baseball bats and celebrity romances. But with all its beauty and poetry, “The Weight of These Wings” shows us a version of of Miranda Lambert that’s a far cry from the reputation or stereotypes. Instead of any trope, she’s simply herself, and as authentic, true, powerful, talented and strong as a woman, artist or woman artist ought to be.

“I didn’t plan on fallin’ fast;
I didn’t know I could be kissed like that.
No I’m tradin’ miles for minutes.
This bed’s too big without you in it.

Sometimes love acts out of spite,
And good things happen over night.
Can’t take it slow cause you and I are pushin’ time
You and I are pushin’ time.”
~Pushin’ Time
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Songs

10/21/16

Today is akin to a high holy day for rock, folk and alternative music fans: Jimmy Eat World, American Football, Kevin Devine, John. K. Samson and Dan Layus all put out new records today. I’ve given them all a listen through and they are all deeply fortifying and satisfying in different ways: JEW with it reliable rock and pensive hooks and some of their best instrumentation in years; American Football’s light and delicate touch is a blissful return to what was spawned 17 years ago, Samson’s poetry and imagery is as sharp as ever. Layus’ record was a surprise, but the Augustana frontman has leaned into his country and folk influences for some really fluid songwriting. But the song that has hit me hardest today comes from Devine’s “Instigator,” which might be his most succinct and polished effort yet.

KD hasn’t lost his introspective or his progressive politics, and he often embraces a clean-cut, bold guitar sound that feels very classic and full and realized, polished by years of touring with The Godamn Band. It’s a good contrast for his often dark narratives, which include some haunting refrains. The whole thing is a great listen and I’m sure to return to it constantly, just as his “Matter of Time” collection has been a go-to favorite this past here.

One song in particular is an early favorite, for both its almost lullaby-like melody and its message. It’s a ballad toward the end of the album called “No One Says You Have To” that previously appeared on a split last year, but I haven’t heard it before and it has slapped me upside the head with its message self-awareness and self-care, and its soft, cyclical melody. It has a beautiful parallelism of lyrics as far as repetition and it’s absolutely soothing and haunting and vulnerable and warm. We need more of this, this honestly, to counteract our own cynicism and ironic defense mechanisms that pull us apart from each other. I am so grateful for this kind of admission from a musician and human I admire and respect.

To me, this song is about our sort of useless need to apologize for being human. Maybe it’s largely a product of our success-driven society, but we always seem to want to beat ourselves up for not being *something* enough or for making decisions that maybe were the best we could do at the time. We shouldn’t feel sorry for being who we are.

I can’t say I’m underrated
I can’t say it, so
I can’t say I’m underrated
I know, I know, I know

She says, “Watch your ego, baby.”
She says, “Take it slow.”
She says, “That’s a bad look, honey.”
I know, I know, I know

It gets so lonely inside my mind
I’m surrounded in love all the time

I get stuck in simple phrases
Complicate straight lines
If there’s a knot that don’t need tying
I try, I try, I try

She’s no font of Christ-like patience
And neither, sir, am I
But she’s honest in her imperfections
I try, I try, I try

It just gets scary inside my mind
I turn straw men to monsters
And line their mouths with knives

I say, “I can’t race forever.
Can’t raise the rock so high.”
She says, “No one says you have to.
Let go and take your time.”
~No One Says You Have To
Kevin Devine, Instigator

9/7/16

Whether it is intentional or by mere coincidence of flow and the creative process, Jimmy Eat World has successfully managed to stay on an every-three-year album cycle and I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in this. The new singles from the forthcoming “Integrity Blues” make for full and brooding listens, with trademark booming or shimmering JEW guitar parts and melodic, melancholic choruses.  But their reappearance means I’ll inevitably dive into their back catalog, and I can see how much a difference three years can make.

When “Damage” came out in the fall of 2013, I was in transition, and probably more than a little lost about my direction in life and what I wanted. The songs had a deeply personal nature about love and loss and acceptance that I needed at the time. Three years before that, when “Invented” came out, I was finding my footing, and piece by piece letting myself settle into the world. Some of the those tracks made me remember the importance of presence, and gratitude – like “Movielike” and the title track.

“Chase This Light” back in 2007 caught me at the height of undergrad worries and flurries and passion and pride, and I’ve found I didn’t quite appreciate all that album had to offer the way that I do on this side of the real world. It’s offers positive reinforcement of the self’s authentic direction that at the time, I didn’t know how to grasp. Taking it back to “Futures,” in high school, I was flooded by the romance, nostalgia and promise of the thing, and it was the record that made me call Jimmy Eat World a favorite band, as their new release gave me fresh associations to make instead of just glomming onto their (brilliant and timeless) past work.

Now here we are, nearing the final quarter of a year that has a long list of excellent full-lengths from established artists (Brian Fallon, Kanye, Radiohead, Deftones) and newcomers (The Hotelier, Carseat Headrest, Moose Blood, Pinegrove). I’m pretty sure that Jimmy Eat World will make their way into my top 10 if not higher, though if only because they’re one of the most persistent, reliable rock bands of our generation. These guys can pack big theaters or deliver meaningful little acoustic sets, head onto children’s television or stay underground for months at a time, and there will be listeners like me somewhere, devoted to their entire catalog. And with each release, they keep channeling these big, profound life lessons into lyrics, which often cut to the heart of some of the toughest questions about getting old: how to hang onto success, love, and yourself, how to appreciate the world around you, how to let the past go, and let the future preside.

The growth and maturity of Jimmy Eat World in their music and their narratives has coupled with my own, and that relationship between musician and listener is an irreplaceable, unbreakable comfort.

“What you do works for a time
Until you drop without a warning sign
If you keep going on like this
I’ll be one more thing for you to miss

Sure and certain
Wander ’til we’re old
Lost and lurking
Wonder ’til we’re cold.”
~Sure and Certain
Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues

6/14/16

“Ten feet to the sky
Feeling inside
Nothing will save me
I’ve gotta save myself

Water’s creeping in
It’s darker that it’s been
Seems like nothing’s left out there
But a scratching call
Like it’s worth seeing the ground again.

Keep hanging on.
I know I’ll get there some day
I’ll be free of this some way
But I’m doing what I can
I don’t need a rope anymore.”
~Rope
Empty Houses, Daydream

Finding the right new record is an important rite of passage for the start of summertime, even in the land of endless sea and sun. Answering this call at the ready is “Daydream,” the full-length debut from Detroit-based Empty Houses and one of the most feel-good albums I’ve heard this year.

The first thing you hear are the charming overtones of Motown 60s soul girl groups, with lead singer Ali Shea’s magnificent, soulful alto and plenty of jingle bell auxiliary serving up Wall-of-Sound flavors for the Pro Tools age. But track after track reveals reliably deep guitar grooves and catchy melodies, and the listener realizes that the retro influence is far from a trope but a trained and honed sound on behalf of all the band members. Beyond that, it’s just pure fun — and music is supposed to be fun, right?

“Daydream” rips through 10 tracks in about 30 minutes, a perfect set time full of dance-worthy breaks and funky riffs. But what I like most about their sound is despite all their pep, Empty Houses isn’t about bubble gum. Many of Shea’s sentiments are heartsick and full of regret, wondering how a love went wrong or pushing it aside to see the start of a new day. Their ballads, in particular “Every Word,” are powerful piano-fueled tracks suitable to soundtrack an evening in or a drive down the coast. By and large, though, “Daydream” is an up-tempo record packed with attitude, and it falls into one of my favorite genres: happy-sounding music for sad and ponderous people.

3/25/16

“They need a heart. 
I relapse on memory. 
I got numb again. 
I feel the scar, but I need the money.
I think I’m lost again. 

I think my life is disappearing.” 
~Punch Drunk,
Young and Heartless, Stay Awake

As much as I’ve been hooked on the arena-synth emo likes of the new record from  The 1975 (eveyr night) and the alt-country twinges of Brian Fallon’s “Painkillers,” (every morning) I keep adding ot he list of what I must l isten to that is new and different (during the day). Today that is the Young and Heartless, a Hopeless Records band that I’d heard of but hadn’t heard and listening to their new record provides a much more mature, complex sound than I imagined.

And to make it that much better – I checked out their Bandcamp and found out they are from my beloved Harrisburg.

There’s a darkness and edginess to their lyrics, about money and drugs and losing grip on one’s life. But their ever-so-slightly nu wave guitars elevate their sound to something silky, smooth and cohesive. The vocals are throaty baritone without the screamy-screeching that seems (finally) to be going out of fashion in favor for more technical, on-point melodies and backing harmonies. There are echoes of grungier emo, like Citizen, but also the introspective notions of Into It. Over It., and the shoegaze tint of Title Fight. Every song seems to be about not being able to get it, or keep it, together.

“Stay Awake” Is an incredibly digestible listen, but not necessarily a comfortable one – it’s not a happy record, by any means, but it is really beautifully crafted mid-tempo rock and roll. Each song, prior to its final chorus, seems to build a tension that breaks down in a feisty drum part and ever-so-dissonant chord choices. It’s a sound that feels absolutely trendy and on-point, but only because it has been fashioned out of years of work. However long they’ve been around, Young and Heartless are good enough at writing tight, deep groves together, which just so happens to be the sound of the moment. But you don’t get to sound this seasoned without a run-up, and something tells me this sound has been brewing in their garages and studios for awhile. 

I’m so happy to have stumbled upon this band on their record release day, as they start what is very likely a successful run and I seek anything new, relevant, present and different to enthrall myself in. As wonderful as it is to have new music from old favorites (and there is so much of that this year, notably new LPS from Aaron West, The Hotelier, and Thrice coming up this spring) having a new band with a new style and a new story provide punctuation to the phases of life, like the bookends in between what’s old and new.



“What am I doing? 
Carve me a new love.
Open the blinds.
Your life deserves light.”
~Misery on Misery 
Young and Heartless, Stay Awake

2/4/16



“Get lost in the dead of the night where once I lived on Grand Street.

Deaf from Chucks on bones crushed white. 
New Brooklyn bows before me. 
Soak it all in and let it run deep, glory in delusion. 
I can picture us, 
Waltz in the ruins of this wilted gray contusion.

Sometimes, when she’s far and I’m drunk, I clutch her like a compass. 
Never thought of being anything but quixotic and self-conscious. 
Some ache to guide your hand, to pull out of the socket. 
I’m the cricket that lets you burn while I smolder in your pocket.”
~Jiminy
Say Anything, I Don’t Think It Is

I didn’t know Max Bemis planned on releasing a new Say Anything record this week, so I was had an extra surprise when he started streaming it for free the day prior.

Sad to say I lost the plot on his records after “In Defense of the Genre,” which always felt like too much to wrap my head around despite some catchy standouts. This record feels far more organized than that, with the same outrage-inspired message. The musical maturity of Max Bemis since he stole a generation’s heats and minds on “…Is A Real Boy” is obvious, with more intricate parts and progressions, but the same tired, aggressive snarl.

Emotional expression remains the star of this show, even in newfound restraint – the end of “Attaboy,” in particular, features a nice sort of post-rock delicacy under screamed-in-despair vocals.  Track 2, “17 Cokes Up Speeding,” feels like a throwback, capturing the anxiety and depression Bemis has always channeled with punked-out chords and dizzying technique. There’s some really excellent guitar parts and harmony-filled hooks, and Darren King (brother-in-law by marriage to Bemis) is a strong addition to the sound (feel like I hear more of him behind a kit on this than I do on MuteMath’s “Vitals,” it seems, at least as far as that smooth, understated backbeat goes).   

As a musician, Max Bemis remains experimental – whether this is for its own sake or to underscore his messaging, I can’t be sure. He continues to plays around with spoken word and hip-hop samples, like on “Goshua” and odd choice for a closer “Varicose Visage” and I have to wonder what feedback he’s received. But then a track like “Jiminy” returns to the dramatic kickdrum-backed melodies and brilliantly twisted wordplay that have made the backbone of Bemis’ discography, full of buoyant grit and graceless glory.

I’m surprised how much I like this, having given up on Say Anything’s sound as a little too disorganized and radical for my tastes. I’ve preferred to hear Max Bemis acoustic or in Perma, like when I caught that show in December 2013.  But where “I Don’t Think It Is” veers into unfamiliar territory, it’s still a confessional ode to the art of grappling with the mind and its anxieties, which is an unsurprisingly comforting listen for me, for now, regardless.

“I’m 23 locked up in the asylum
Listening too much to my own album
Sent me spinning out death-wish-bound to forge a callous
Stomping on the seesaw where I balance
I’m at that age where I actually go to parties
And I sit in the back with a drink and let them judge me
While I pray to the devil that a hurricane comes to take us
We’ll be torn away from all the ways we fake trust

‘Hey, kid!
You’re not a kid anymore!
You’re not a kid anymore!’

 Said the fool to the mystic
“Be realistic!”

He replied with a lipstick sigil:
‘You always think too much and feel too little’

‘Hey, kid!
You’re not a kid anymore!

You’re not a kid anymore!’

Said the fool to the mystic
‘Be realistic!’
He replied with a lipstick sigil,

‘You always think too much and feel too little.‘”
~17 Coked Up Speeding
Say Anything, I Don’t Think It Is

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