Thursday, June 23, 2011

The "Don't Miss" Songs of the Week -- June 23, 2011

1. Earshot - "Wait"

2. Age of Daze - "Afflicted"

3. Waking - "Restless"

Cover of the Week:
A Day to Remember - "Since U Been Gone" (Originally by Kelly Clarkson)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Is Gonna Hurt -- Sixx:A.M.

2007's The Heroin Diaries was a pleasant surprise for mainstream rock. The album, which accompanied Sixx's book of the same name, was a beautiful piece of art. It began with emotions of desolation and gradually grew more hopeful as the album progressed. Lyrics within were haunting and heart-felt. The combination of these factors contributed to an album that was well above average, resulting in elevated expectations for the follow-up. While This Is Gonna Hurt is by no means a bad album, it does not stand up to the quality of its predecessor. It isn't even close.

The good news is there are no songs on the album that are repulsive. Unfortunately for Sixx: A.M., there are absolutely no memorable songs, either. Everything seems completely uninspired. One of things that made The Heroin Diaries a good album was the sincerity, which is completely lacking here. This Is Gonna Hurt seems forced. It is as if the band was surprised with the success they received by riding “Life is Beautiful” and ended up being cornered into pushing out a sophomore attempt. The album is boring, generic, and over-saturated with ballads. It is exactly the type of album that one would expect to be released by Daughtry. Nearly every song follows the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo or bridge/chorus structure, failing to adequately capture the attention of listeners.

Despite the album tending to be a bit monotonous, the voice of James Michael is far from boring. His vocals alone are reason enough to give This Is Gonna Hurt a listen or two. There are times where it is difficult to distinguish his voice from Adam Lambert and Muse's Matt Bellamy. While this is an enormous compliment, it is regretful that it seems that Michael does not attempt to test his range as often as he did on the previous effort and, as such, repeat listens should be given to that album instead of the more recent release. He already showed the world he was a top-tier vocalist in previous years, so why take conservative approach now? The same holds true for the rest of the band, as well. Everyone in the band can be considered above average within their genre, but it seems each, as well as their instrument tone, has regressed. Nikki Sixx can lay down blistering bass tracks, but the bass is nearly lost in the mix this time around. It is actually difficult at times to hear the notes he is playing without bass-heavy earphones. The guitar work of DJ Ashba is not above this criticism, either. Ashba plays very well and it surely takes a great deal of talent to play as he does, but one would have to search extremely hard to find a solo in the album that contained any sort of feeling. It was as if he knew that this album required a solo after the second chorus of every song, so he just threw something together and moved on to the next one.

Michael is an excellent singer and there is no denying this, but the words that are issued forth from his mouth throughout This Is Gonna Hurt are less than appetizing. If there is one thing that holds the album back more than anything else, it is the lyrics. An apparent lack of sincerity bleeds through and, considering The Heroin Diaries contained genuine and well-crafted words, comes as a major disappointment. The same aspect that drew listeners in previously, now may be the very thing that separates them from the band. What makes it worse is that not only are many songs filled with seemingly uninspired lyrics, but often times the lyrics are just bad. As Michael softly sings, “And sometimes I wish you were dead; And I'm not even joking” in “Help is on the Way”, it may be difficult to hold back a cringe. Other songs follow the storytelling route and end up sounding like Uncle Kracker or Train:

The traffic's backed up on the 405,
And the smog's so thick you can cut it with a knife,
But it gives me time,
To think about my life,
I take the 10 to the 5 to the 101,
I got a song sitting here on the tip of my tongue,
And the more I drive,
The more I feel alive.

The second verse of “Sure Feels Right” is no better than the first in the lyrical department, but maybe above average lyrics are not a necessity for the creation of a good song; the song is, indeed, relaxing. However, there is only so far a song or, more importantly, an album can propel itself without the presence of quality songwriting and lyricism.

Even with all the criticism, it is unfair to label This Is Gonna Hurt as poor or even below average, because by all definitions, the album is mediocre. It is better than a lot of the horrific works that have come out of mainstream rock, but it is worse than just as many. Fans of mainstream rock will eat up this album. Fans of The Heroin Diaries will be left wanting something more.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Genre: Mainstream Rock

Recommended Tracks:
Lies of the Beautiful People
Live Forever

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The "Don't Miss" Songs of the Week -- June 16, 2011

 1. Chevelle - "Sleep Walking Elite"

2. Protest the Hero - "Bloodmeat"

3. The Exies - "Ugly"

Reader Selection of the Week (by Anonymous):
Kate Miller-Heidke - "Last Day on Earth"

What do you like and dislike? Any suggestions for next week?

Endgame -- Rise Against

Rise Against is an incredibly consistent band. So much so, in fact, that when you pick up one of their albums, you know exactly what you are going to get. For those that love the band, this is a good thing. For those that are on the fence or dislike the band, it may not be so favorable. Regardless of your opinion, your notions are not going to be changed with Endgame, so feel free to skip straight to the recommended tracks if you are familiar with the band.

If you are still reading, you don't know much about Rise Against or you think my writing is like the sweet poetry of R.L. Stine. Either way, the two most important things you need to know about the band are: they are politically driven and they are masters of tempo changes. One may think they'll grow tired of hearing political songs one after the other, but Rise Against generally does it well and sometimes it is good to get a break from the ocean of songs about the opposite sex. The problem is political songs tend to be simplistic because they are the simplest songs to write. No matter what happens, there is always going to be something you disagree with, so the songs will nearly write themselves. All a political band must do is write about how terribly they believe the government is performing and the song is complete. Yes, Katrina relief was not handled optimally and the oil spill was not applauded by anyone, but writing a song ("Help is on the Way") about it isn't going to embarrass anyone at fault or change anyone's mind on the subject. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a politically driven band, it just doesn't require as much lyrical talent to churn out single-after-single.

A few years ago, I affectionately knew Rise Against as the "Slow-Down/Speed-Up Band", because I noticed that in nearly every single they released the chorus was at half the speed of the verses. This is an extremely cool tactic to put into the songwriting process, because it gives the chorus a much more epic punch. In Endgame, nearly every song (not just the singles) has some sort of tempo change. No matter how much I try to grow tired of it, it always sounds awesome. It isn't just half-time and double-time changes; there are numerous complete tempo changes in the middle of songs that keep each song fresh throughout. If you haven't experienced this, take a listen to this album (or any by Rise Against) for that reason alone. There is no one better than Rise Against at tempo changes. It is the single biggest draw to the band and can bring me back to them time-and-again on its own.

Like many "punkish" bands, the overall speed of songs by Rise Against, including those on Endgame, is quite a bit faster than the average album. The band does its best when it takes its time and goes just slightly slower, though. When they speed up too fast, Rise Against tends to sound like The Offspring with a better singer. While The Offspring is not a bad band, Rise Against has so much greater potential and should not waste songs sounding like an inferior. However, the comparison between the bands cannot be made in the song "Broken Mirrors". It is the most unique song Rise Against has made to date and, as a result, ends up being one of the top songs on Endgame. The best way to describe the sound is the lovechild of The Resistance-era Muse and American Idiot-era Green Day meeting Tool. There is probably no bigger, truthful compliment that can be given to Rise Against thus far in their careers.

As far as the music itself is concerned, the band again focuses heavily on the singing of Tim McIlrath. He still has the strong, raspy voice that he has always had, but with the screaming all but eliminated from Endgame it is sometimes difficult to see if feeling resides behind his words. However, have no doubt, the ability is still completely there. Other than vocals, drums are the only instrument worthy of any conversation. While there is nothing earth-shattering within the beats of Brandon Barnes, he is absolutely above average while pounding the skins, and his ability to completely change tempos in the middle of songs should not go unnoticed. The guitar and bass work are nothing at which to scoff, but are definitely par for the genre.

Like the lyrics of their songs, Rise Against's Endgame is going to change no minds. If you liked the band before, you'll welcome the release. If not, you'll avoid it. McIlrath may need to ask himself his own question: "Don't you remember when you were young, and you wanted to set the world on fire?". Somewhere deep down, Tim, I know you do. Don't let your fire be squelched or you may forever be resigned to being average. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Rating: 3.2 out of 5
Genre: Hard Rock/Punk

Recommend Songs:
Make it Stop
Broken Mirrors

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The "Don't Miss" Songs of the Week -- June 9, 2011

Every Thursday I'll be posting 3 songs (but I'll start you out with 5 this first week) I highly recommend for you to check out. I'm sure you'll find plenty songs that you have heard before, but I hope this will be an avenue for music discovery. These songs will be able to speak for themselves, so no review will be necessary. Enjoy and be sure to let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your suggestions, too; I'm always looking for new music.

1. Finch - "What it is to Burn"

2. Sick Puppies - "All the Same"

3. Jack's Mannequin - "Kill the Messenger"

4. Fightstar - "The English Way"

5. Emarosa - "Heads or Tails? Real or Not?"

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray -- Seether

Seether has been at the top of the hard rock scene for nearly a decade. The Disclaimer albums as well as Karma and Effect were extraordinary. These facts only serve to make their latest release, Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray (I suppose I can forgive the grammatical error), the most disappointing album of the year. In fact, to fully describe it, the review would need to be r-rated.

What better place to start than the beginning? "Fur Cue" kicks everything off heavy in classic Seether style. If you are still fooled by this tactic, then I guess their plan is working. It seems that the band feels that they can trick their old fans into thinking that nothing has changed and the band is still the Seether of the past. While the song is the heaviest, this does not mean it is the best. Seether generally puts one of the best songs of the album first, but this one does not come close to the previous album openers ("Gasoline", "Because of Me", and "Like Suicide"). Let's not let the band get off easy with that song title, either. "Fur Cue"? Really? How cute. Too bad those words make no furking sense when placed together. Maybe Britney Spears helped them out with the song title.

After the not-so-terrible "Fur Cue", listeners are treated to two songs so nauseating and heartless ("No Resolution" and "Here and Now") they'll be fooled in to thinking "Country Song" is of quality. The songs just don't go anywhere. There is seemingly no emotion behind them and, as a result, they are absolutely boring. At least the band experimented a little with "Country Song", but it missed the mark as well. It is quite an accomplishment to do something fairly unique and still manage to be completely generic (the group-chanted "hey"s and "woah"s seal the song's fate). The song actually has a good bridge that may make one forget that the song is forgettable. Until the chorus kicks back in, that is.

Let's discuss the positives of the album for a minute so you can catch your breath before we return the mountains of disappointment. The direction taken for Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray will not be a favorable one for the majority of Seether fans, but it is a respectable progression. The band did not sell-out and take the route that many others (such as Nickelback) have. Even with this undesirable direction, there are three songs on the album that are very enjoyable listens. Unfortunately, it takes until the 5th song of the album for Seether to treat their fans to "Master of Disaster". This song is really nothing overwhelmingly special, but it feels like one of the few songs on the album Shaun Morgan (guitarist and lead vocals) actually felt. As he croons, "You stole my dreams...I'm dead inside", you can genuinely feel the disgust in his voice. The song also features an awesome bass interlude toward the end that is absolutely perfect for the song. The rhythm section, with John Humphries on drums and Dale Stewart on bass, highlighting the album is nothing new; That is Seether's style of music. "Roses" uses keys along with the traditional Seether-style of music to create a song that sets a mood like no other on the album. It is dark and ominous throughout most of the song, but a key change in later choruses provides release and a sense of hope for listeners. It truly is an fulfilling experience. The surprise (and possibly best song) of the album comes follows immediately. As "Down" starts, you may think you are listening to a song by The Toadies. It is is different in the most positive sense of the word and is just different enough to keep you interested during the verses before it blasts you with a catchy chorus. True greatness comes from Pearl Jam-esque solo (it is by far the best Seether solo to date) and the outro. No one has ever accused Seether of using profanity in a productive manner, but here Morgan sings the most effective profane words of his career. As the song comes to a close, the lyrics of the chorus change slightly and he belts, "Why'd you f***ing doubt me, why'd you have to put me down?". This is not about the lyrics. This is about the feeling. These words give hope that somewhere deep inside, there may still be some passion left inside Morgan.

One should note that Morgan seems to have worked out some issues in his life and is now a happier man, as evidenced by this new music. Formerly dark bands, like Seether, putting out happy songs is not a problem as long as the sincerity is still there. The problem is the majority of these type songs on Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray feel fake. It is simply unnatural for Morgan to be singing about such bright subjects. Happy songs are more difficult to write and he does not seem to have the ability to sing them in the way they are meant to be sung. That being said, Morgan does succeed in the sure-to-be hit, "Tonight". It may not be the cup-of-tea for older fans of the band, but a good song is a good song no matter the band that wrote it.

There are plenty of forgettable songs on the album and that is forgivable to an extent. However, there is no forgiveness for "Pass Slowly". The only PG-rated word that can be used to describe the song is "atrocious". I've never been one to skip songs when listening to albums, but that lousy excuse for a song is unacceptable. "Desire for Need" sounds like a song pulled straight from a Disclaimer b-side cd, "Fade Out" builds up massive potential during the first verse and fizzles out, and "Forsaken" is an uninspired album closer. In contrast to the generally well-produced nature of the album, the bass drum sounds awful. It nearly sounds dead. It is like they recorded some guy hitting a mattress with a hammer. This distraction is quite disappointing since Humphries is such a good drummer.

Even though the album is not all bad, but there are certainly much more negatives than positives to discuss. The band seems to be in a downward spiral and there may be no coming back. It may be time for Seether to hang it up if they cannot find a way to put more energy and passion into future releases. The talent is certainly there. It is just a matter of finding the drive to keep on going.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Genre: Post-Grunge

Recommended Tracks:
Master of Disaster

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wasting Light -- Foo Fighters

You are probably thinking, "Foo Fighters? Meh... probably a slightly above average rock album with a few really good songs". Many times that assessment would be correct, but it is actually much better than that this time around. It seemed highly unlikely that after being in the music business for the past 20 years that Dave Grohl would do anything surprising or exciting, but with Wasting Light he did just that. In the opening moments of the 2011 Foo Fighters release Grohl screams, "These are my famous last words". Maybe the band is in its twilight possibly explaining the effort the band put in to make this album their best yet.

This easily could be the album that Grohl has been wanting to make for the entirety of his illustrious career in music. There may be no album that captures his essence better than Wasting Light. From the very beginning of the album, one will notice something is slightly different from the Foos' previous releases. It may be a difficult thing to put a finger on at first, but the ever-so-important change is the passion in Grohl's voice. Don't get me wrong, there has always been a sense of urgency and passion in the man's voice, but this time it feels as if he believes every word with every ounce of his being. When listening, one will be sad when Grohl is hurt, angry when Grohl is upset, and at peace when Grohl is at ease. There is a lot to be said for an artist that can convey his emotions so well that they are adopted by the observer. This is one of the most beautiful, and therefore important, aspects of art and there is no shortage of it in Wasting Light.

The next thing that will catch listeners' ears by surprise is the musical experimentation that took place with this release. No, Foo Fighters didn't make any groundbreaking musical progress, but it came as a pleasant surprise that they did not sit back and accept mediocrity. This fact is evident in no song more than the first single, "Rope". This song may actually take a few listens to really sink in, but once it does, it becomes one of the many highlights of the album. It is difficult to explain what makes this song so unique, but there is definitely something special there. It is the combination of the dual lead guitars, amazing harmonies, and the contrast of the abrupt (even harsh) verses and beautiful choruses. The song is complete with a mini-drum solo and a guitar solo (a true rarity for the band, but not for this album). The song was an excellent choice for a first single because it showed that they were not holding anything back for the album.

One of the biggest developments for Foo Fighters was something that the untrained listener may not be able to truly appreciate. The band really took it up a notch on the background vocals and harmonies. Even if it goes unappreciated, it will will definitely not go unnoticed. Songs such as "Rope" and "Dear Rosemary" are elevated from being great to amazing because of all that takes place in the background. I do not know where this talent has been hiding for the last few albums, but I'm glad that it finally showed itself. The need for quality backing vocals for an album to enter the upper-echelon cannot be stressed enough.

As always the Foos produced numerous choruses with which the crowds are sure to be caught singing along. "Rope" rears its lovely head again for this category along with "Bridge Burning", "Dear Rosemary", "Arlandria", "Back & Forth", and "Walk". This is nothing new for Foo Fighters, so "White Limo" should be a focal point instead. This is a side of the Foos that you've never heard. The band has produced their fair share of songs on the heavier side, but this one is different. The song has more energy than any other as it chugs and pushes on from the start to the finish. It is one of the least dark songs that can be placed in the genre of heavy music. Even though there is a lot of screaming and driving guitars, there is something positive lingering underneath it all. It must be listened to to be truly understood. The same holds true with "These Days". The music of the song is not the contrasting element in this case, but rather the lyrics. While Grohl warns, "One of these days your heart will stop and play its final beat", one can't help but feel at ease. It is quite an odd experience, but it is difficult to feel anxious or upset when the lyrics are being sung so beautifully and peacefully.

Wasting Light may be the first Foo Fighters album that lacks the filler material that has plagued previous releases, it is not without fault. The problem is that it tends to drag a bit toward the end. After the first 5 or 6 songs, a listener may be ready to proclaim it "Album of the Year". Not so fast. Unfortunately the album loses quite a bit of steam and flair at the back end. That is not to say that the songs do not stand up incredibly well on their own, but they tend to run together and become a bore when the album is listened to as a whole. A major turn off in the worst song on the album, "Miss the Misery", is the fact that one of the riffs sounds identical to one that the band used earlier in the hit song, "Monkey Wrench". The song really isn't all that bad, but it is very difficult to get past that little portion of the song. The final flaw of the album is that while there are several great songs, there is no "Everlong". There is no song that can carry the album entirely on its own.

Even with the slowdown at the end of Wasting Light" Foo Fighters proved they still had enough in the tank to make a stellar album and are still much more than relevant. It may not be album of the year, but it is certainly the best work as a whole the band has ever released and will definitely make a run for alternative rock album of the year. The musicianship of the band is at its peak with Taylor Hawkins still blasting away as possibly the best drummer in alternative rock, and with the addition of guitar solos as well as overall great writing. It was nice to hear the entire band improve and not be overshadowed by drumming. In Wasting Light, Hawkins is no longer the major focal point of the band. That status goes to Dave Grohl's passion.

Rating: 3.8 out of 5
Genre: Alternative Rock

Recommended Songs:
Burning Bridges
Dear Rosemary