2013: The Year in Pictures

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

As you know well enough by now, I’ve already summed up what I thought were the best albums of 2013. Because, you know, some people still like albums. But 2013 wasn’t just a great year for music listening, it was a great year for music watching. Thanks to a great hobby and an even greater ‘better half,’ I was able to take in more shows this year than in any year since college. In the process, I started to try my hand at live concert photography. An amateur in every since of the word, I couldn’t tell you what an f-stop is with a gun to my temple. That said, I think I stumbled into what would be considered an “okay job” at times. I have learned a lot, and continue to do so. I combed through the several thousand pictures I took and posted some of my favorite moments in a gallery below. Check it out – clicking on one picture will open up the gallery in full-screen mode.

Hopefully 2014 will feature many more cool opportunities. Stay tuned!

Read more…

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2013: The Year In Music

December 27, 2013 1 comment

Frequent readers of this blog (he says as though there is such a thing) will remember that 2012’s musical review found a top-heavy list that had a couple great albums and a lot of filler. It was tough, frankly, to put together even a top ten that was worthy of being called a “top ten” of anything. In looking back at last year’s list, there are probably only a half-dozen that I’ve listened to more than a half-dozen times this year.

2013, however, has been a far, far different story. If you read my write-up over at Dying Scene, you’re no doubt aware that I took the easy way out, compiling a top-ten list that was 15 albums long. The top six were almost interchangeable, and have all spent time as my true “favorite” at different points during the year. The next nine or ten are almost interchangeable at times as well. Long story short, 2013 made up for 2012 in a big, big way.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

As always, I don’t include EPs, live albums or 7-inches in my countdown. However, there were a few that are noteworthy and thus will get props here.

First up is the new 7-inch from Nashville’s Blacklist Royals. The two tracks, “Righteous Child” and “She’s The One,” are slated to appear on the band’s forthcoming full-length, Die Young With Me. They’re a heck of a taste of what’s to come…just hope DYWM finally sees the light of day in ’14. Here’s the title track from the 7-inch:

Also released this year were a couple EPs from Boston’s Street Dogs. The fellas started 2013 on hiatus, but that was short-lived. By spring, they had resurfaced with a new lineup and a couple releases on new label home Pirates Press Records. The new lineup doesn’t appear in its entirety on the albums, but they are at least the first new material we’ve had from Street Dogs since their self-titled 2010 album. Here’s the new track “Crooked Drunken Sons.”

In related news, 2013 also saw the debut 7-inch from FM359, a project that features the Street Dogs’ Mike McColgan and Johnny Rioux teaming up with Continental’s Rick Barton (also, not coincidentally, a founding member of Dropkick Murphys alongside McColgan). It’s very much a left turn compared to what you might expect coming from two founding Dropkicks (remember when they were a punk band!?). It’s a traditional Americana-style album; gospel without the Gospel. Here’s “A Little Sign”

MOVING ON TO THE LIST

21. Drag The River – s/t

Drag The River is the long-running on-again/off-again project featuring Jon Snodgrass and ALL’s Chad Price. The Fort Collins-based alt-country team put out their first album in five years this year. It’s good. Here’s “Song For My Roommates.”

20. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

I think I would have had this album up higher if I hadn’t seen a solo performance by frontman Toh Kay earlier this year. But I did see a solo performance by Toh Kay earlier this year, and it was freaking awesome, so that kinda spoiled the much-maligned final album from Streetlight Manifesto before it actually came out. Anyway, here’s the title track:

19. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves

For the uninitiated, Amanda Shires is the violin-playing better-half of alt-country artist extraordinaire Jason Isbell (whom you’ll read more about later). She put out her own solo album this year, and it’s not what you’d perhaps expect coming from the violin playing better-half of Jason Isbell. Dark, sweeping, bluesy and sorta punky at times. Here’s “Devastate,” but make sure you look up the track “Box Cutters” as well:

18. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I’m not, nor have I ever been, clinically depressed. I feel like if I were, I wouldn’t be able to make it through a Frightened Rabbit album in one piece. In a list that is chock full of world class songwriters this year, Scott Hutchison is, at times, the best of the bunch. Here’s “The Woodpile,” which may be my favorite song of the year. Seriously. If you listen to no other song on my list, LISTEN TO THIS ONE!

17. The Bronx – IV

I belong to the minority that actually prefer’s The Bronx’s mariachi alter ego side project to the original incarnation. I’m not that hardcore. Still, IV is a really good album, certainly my favorite the four studio album’s they’ve out out to date. A little more mainstream sounding, but that’s why I like it. I know, I know… Anyway, here’s “The Unholy Hand”:

16. Off With Their Heads – Home

Here’s where we start to get into the territory of albums that have been my “favorite album” of the year at times. OWTH are the real deal. Frontman Ryan Young has a no-bullshit way of conveying, well, conveying what a suicide note sounds like. At times, you genuinely worry for him. See for yourself; here’s “Always Alone”:

15. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I can understand those that say that Nine Inch Nails’ music is an acquired taste. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Trent Reznor as an artist, but it wasn’t until later years that I actually started to connect with his music. His return to the NIN game in 2013 is equal parts “pick up where you left off” and “time to change the game again.” Here’s “Copy of A” (featuring Pino Palladino on bass):

14. Get Dead – Bad News

Fat Wreck’s site bills Get Dead as “elements of Swingin’ Utters, The Pogues and Hot Water Music.” If you’re familiar with all of those bands, you realize that none of them are really even close to each other sonically. And yet, Fat Wreck’s description is right. Here’s “Kerouac’s Teeth”:

13. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners

I only got into Arliss Nancy very late in the year, which is a shame, because the Fort Collins-based country punks are really, really good. Folk-punk has been the obvious trend lately, but these guys don’t seem to be riding the genre’s coat tails. Here’s “Benjamin”:

12. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True

I’m just gonna come out and say a couple things here. After Skiba’s Sekrets side project, particularly after video of the disastrous show in Chicago surfaced, I was genuinely concerned about the future of the Trio. Then I heard “I Wanna Be A Warhol” the first time through, and was even more concerned. I’ve since become enamored with it, and I think the entire album is some of their best, most mature work to date. Andriano’s tracks shine in particular. It feels weird to have “My Shame Is True” listed so low, given that this would probably be a top 5 album most other years. Speaks to the strength of 2013 more than anything. Anyway, here’s “I, Pessimist”:

11. Broadcaster – A Million Hours

This album has been in my “to be reviewed” folder for way too long (stupid grad school work). I really do owe it to this Long Island three-piece to finish it up. Takes me instantly back to everything that was right about mid-90s power-pop music (somewhere between American Hi-Fi and Weezer, but with better lyrics). Sadly, they’re a little too “indie” to have anything on YouTube. Look ’em up on Spotify, however.

10. Joshua Black Wilkins – Fair Weather

If you were lucky enough to make it out to Face To Face’s US tour this past summer (with Teenage Bottlerocket and Blacklist Royals), and smart enough to show up early, then you were lucky enough to catch Joshua Black Wilkins’ one-man-show. If you weren’t so lucky, you don’t know what you’re missing. It probably stands to reason to point out that yours truly takes a liking to boozy, bluesy, singer-songwriter music, and J Black Dubs is amongst the dirtiest Tennessee bluesmen going. Not bad for a photographer by trade. Here’s “I Tremble”:

9. Bad Religion – True North

It’s probably a fair criticism to say that the last few Bad Religion albums are effectively interchangeable. As much as I love everything from the Brooks Wackerman era, True North is the best of the bunch. And their live show is still as vital, and inspired, as ever. Here’s their ode to Mitt Romney, “Robin Hood In Reverse,” followed by the self-explanatory “Fuck You.”

8. Swingin Utters – Poorly Formed

Many people are partial to the Utter$’ first “comeback” album, 2011′s Here, Under Protest. Most people are wrong. Much like my commentary for Three Chords And A Half Truth above, I really think that Poorly Formed is a great example of a band reuniting, hitting their stride, and shaking off any residual dust. That said, I didn’t give it much of a chance earlier in the year. It has since become effectively stuck in my CD changer. Here’s “Greener Grass.”

7. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Pound for pound, Jason Isbell might be the single best lyricist on the list this year, though that is certainly saying something. Isbell is somewhat recently sober and married to the aforementioned Shires (who also plays violin for his band, the 400 Unit). Tracks like “Super 8,” “Cover Me Up,” “Stockholm” and “Flying Over Water” are damn-near perfect. Here they are, in that order:

6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Another example of the strength of the 2013 music scene: Frank Turner’s last album, England Keep My Bones, was my favorite album the year it came out. The more honest, introspective Tape Deck Heart is better, and yet it’s #6. Anyway, here’s “Recovery,” followed by “Tattoos,” which appeared on the deluxe version.

5. Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One – Illuminator

I was sad when Darkbuster met its demise a half-dozen-or-so years ago, and more sad that frontman Lashley had, effectively, a mental breakdown while on tour in Europe toward the end. Illuminator is the sounds of Lashley hitting the lowest of low points in a few areas of his life and coming out the other side. Can’t say enough good things about the album. Here’s “US Mail.”

4. Face To Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth

Here’s what I wrote for Dying Scene: “While 2011′s Laugh Now, Laugh Later marked the band’s triumphant return to the punk rock game, Three Chords And A Half Truth found Face To Face abandoning much of what you’d call their ‘traditional sound’ yet again. Perhaps it was foolish of us to think that they have a ‘traditional sound’ after all. Not as big a left-hand turn as Ignorance Is Bliss was, but certainly not without its “out of left field” moments. Also, best album cover of the year. Nice work, Nat.” Here’s the video for “Right As Rain,” directed by the above-mentioned Joshua Black Wilkins, followed by the leftest-of-left turns, “First Step, Misstep.”

3. Various Artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute

I could spend twelve-hundred words expounding on the touching, virtuous moments of this album. Oh wait…I did. Here’s Tim McIlrath covering “For Fiona,” with backing vocals from Jon Snodgrass.

2. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly well aware of my long-time affinity for all things Pearl Jam. They are the first band that was really “my” band. I’ve emoted with and related to Eddie Vedder’s every word for better than twenty years. I understand and accept that The Clash are “the only band that really mattered.” Pearl Jam are my Clash, and always have been. So it pained me to no end that Eddie phoned in the last album, 2009’s Backspacer (with more than a little help from prodoucher Brendan O’Brien). For the first time, I was legitimately nervous about a PJ album, fearing that the “all tings Pearl Jam” chapter of my life’s book would close after almost a quarter-century. I was worried over nothing. Lightning Bolt (or at least the first eight tracks on Lightning Bolt) is a total triumph. A return to the piss-and-vinegar of the mid-1990s, coupled with some of the more heartfelt, relatable ballads the band has ever written. Here’s two examples of the former (“Father’s Son” and “Mind Your Manners”) and one of the latter (“Sirens”).

1. Dave Hause – Devour

In all honesty, this album probably sealed up the #1 spot on my 2013 list a month or so before it had even been recorded. It was upon first hearing “Autism Vaccine Blues” live during Dave’s set opening for Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour, and had an immediate, jaw-dropping sort of impact. Though the album version is a little less jaw-dropping than just Dave and a guitar, Devour contains enough cathartic moments to put it a full head above anything else on the list. Here’s my full review of the album from earlier this year. Here’s the stripped-down version of “Autism Vaccine Blues,” followed by a quintessential downer (“Before”) and a quintessential upper (“The Shine”).

Internal Dialogue of a Bad Run

March 17, 2013 Leave a comment

And go…

Press “start.” Shit, wait, no, that was the “Lap” Button. I always do that. Take two…”start.”

Head right. Tuck fingers up inside sweatshirt. Damn, it’s cold out today. Let’s see how this goes. Twinge in right ankle already? That’s new. Landing too much on rear foot. Keep feet underneath me. Shorter strides. Stop sign coming…look left, look right. All clear. Man, it is seriously cold. Colder than I thought. Hurts the back of the throat. Can only take shallow breaths. That’s gonna suck.

Cross road. Stay on sidewalk. Tough to breathe. Pretty sure I used my inhaler before I ran. Doesn’t feel like it though. Might be a short run. Still landing too far forward. Slow down. Watch out for that snow pile. Hasn’t snowed in two weeks…thanks for clearing the sidewalk, ass. Legs feel tired all ready. Let’s do the hill, though. Shorter strides. Ankle feels better…musta been a fluke. God, hills suck. Stride is better. Tired legs. Guy walking dog. Seen him before. “G’Morning.” Who do you think I was saying that too? Tool.

Okay, let’s take a right halfway up the hill. In no kinda shape to do the steep one today. Goddamn it’s cold. Pull up collar on sweatshirt to breathe through that for a minute, maybe warm up the lungs. Collar too tight on sweatshirt when zipped. So much for that. Got awful windy when I took that corner. Wind seems to be funneling down this street. Awesome. Why the hell not. Still running too fast. Doesn’t help with the breathing. Dummy.

Take a right and go up that hill. Watch out for busted pavement. Damn, plow did a number on that corner. That chunk of pavement is gonna suck to clean up. Christ, I should walk for a few minutes. Catch the breath. Another runner coming this way. Guess I won’t walk. Tough it out. Focus on breathing. Is it inhale for two steps, exhale for three? Inhale for three, exhale for two? Dammit. Neither seems right. I like this guy’s jacket. Bright yellow. “Morning!” “Morning! Happy running!” I knew I liked this guy. Runners > dog walkers. Okay…he’s gone. Now walk for a few.

I think inhale for two, exhale for two is what worked last run. Damn, last run was a good one. This one isn’t yet. Felt like a warmup. Still cold. Walking makes the legs colder. That’s helpful. Maybe we’ll just make this a shorter run than we had planned. Ok, go again.

In (one, two), out (one, two), inhale (one, two), exhale (one, two). Up one small hill then down a long one. Let’s coast for a while. In (one, two), out (one, two), in (one, two), exhale (one, two, three). Shit, that was wrong. Dummy. Way to run too fast down the hill. Shin feels a little tender. Not a new spot…same one as before. Shocker. Guess eight weeks off wasn’t enough. Oh well. Take a left and head toward Reading. Lots of puddles. Christ, looks like a river flowing from that house’s basement. That’s gotta suck. Always that house too. No wonder the last people sold it last winter. Wonder if they have to disclose that the basement has a wall-to-wall swimming pool, or if that was a pleasant surprise. Still cold out. Lungs are warming up. Head is getting real warm. Nothing like getting sweaty when it’s 30 degrees out. Awesome. Why do I do this?

Stop sign. Lots of traffic coming down the hill. Gonna have to stop for a second. Cross this street, then long flat straightaway. Something about long flat straightaways that I hate. This one just seems like it goes forever. Of course, some runs just seem like they go forever. Legs feel heavy. Feels like running on a treadmill…I think…haven’t ever actually done that except at Sears. Still, feels like not moving at all. Inhale (one, two, three), exhale (one, two), inhale (one, two, three), exhale (one, two). Maybe this was it. Inhale (one, two, three), exhale (one, two). get off the road onto the dirt path. Feels better. Shoulda worn my Sauconys. Two more runners coming up. Another yellow jacket. REI must have been having a sale. “Morning.” “Morning!” Again, that’s why runners rule. Watch out for snow/mud puddle.

Take a right toward the train bridge. Wonder if they shoveled it off? Looks good from here. Shorter strides. Shorter strides. Stop leaning forward. Bend the arms. Ugh. Thinking too much. Stop it. Stop it. Cross train bridge. No snow/ice at all. Excellent. Back onto the street. Feels like I’ve been running up hill for miles. Legs are dead. Can’t find lungs. Take a right. Last real straightaway before home turning toward home. Good thing. Looking straight into the sun. Awesome. Why not. No lungs. Street is busy today. No sidewalk. Lots more sand/crap on the shoulder than I expected. No room to run. Hope there’s no cyclist barreling down behind me. That’ll leave a mark.

Inhale (one, two, three), exhale (one, two, three), inhale (one, two), exhale (one, two, three). This doesn’t seem right. Was that a hypodermic needle? Awesome. Must be a diabetic. We don’t have drugs in Wakefield…hehehe… Watch out for that fence. Even less shoulder than before. Get this run over with. Slowly. Couldn’t move legs faster if I tried. Feel like I’m running in ankle weights and steel toed boots. Leaning too far forward. Shin is still tender. Crap. Almost cycling season. Train for Soup Kitchen 5k and shut ‘er down…again. Inhale (one, two, three), exhale (one, two), inhale (one, two), exhale (one, two, three, four). Get me home.

Stop light coming up. Train just came through, so I should be good. Look left. Look right. Don’t break stride in the intersection. Minor miracle. Sweating like a bastard…but lungs are still cold. Winter rules. Heavy legs. SNOW BANK! Crap. Wet foot. Cold, wet foot. WTF. Rock stuck in the tread of my shoe. Makes a funny sound. Like wearing a cleat on one foot. Not screwing up stride…any more than it’s already screwed up. Sometimes I feel like I run like a fat guy. (You know what I mean). This is one of those times. Cold, wet foot. Cold, wet head. Stupid long hair. How did Pre do it?

Take a right. Train tracks coming. Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip. Didn’t trip. Watch out for churchgoers (generally, and literally right now). Timed being on this street wrong. Ugh. Can’t breath. Can hear my heart beat though. So there’s that. One more intersection. Can’t see if anyone’s coming. God forbid you trim your hedges. Tool. Explains the Scott Brown signs. Dog-walker again. Don’t say hi. “Morning.” Crap. “Morning.” Not sure that’s how it came out, given the no breathing thing. Almost home. Untuck hands from sweatshirt. Find “Stop” button. Wait…timer still reads “00:00:00”. Shit…

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2012: The Year In Music

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

2011 produced a lot of releases that are still in heavy rotation at the Stone household (and, more appropriately, in the Stone automobiles). 2012 was more top-heavy, producing a small handful of albums that I find truly amazing and a bunch of others that are good-not-great. I’ve tried to include as much audio (or at least links to where you can find as much audio) as possible to give you a taste of 2012.

Not much rambling this year; let’s get to it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

As a general rule, I don’t include EPs, live albums or 7-inches (45s, as the older generations might call them still) in my final countdown. That’s mostly in the interest of self-reservation, as doing so would mean I’d have to absorb a whole lot more material than I’m accustomed to, and my brain could well explode. That being said, here are a couple of the more noteworthy releases of the year.

-The Shell Corporation – Time & Pressure EP

I missed the boat on The Shell Corporation’s full-length, Force Majeure, last year. Time & Pressure continues the band’s political punk middle finger to the establishment in ways that would make Dead Kennedy’s proud. Stream their EP here.

-Dave Hause – 7-inch collection

Dave Hause is one of my favorite vocalists, and has been for some time. I really, really liked his solo album, Resolutions, for a long time. That is, until he reworked a lot of the songs for a unique collection of five 7-inch vinyl releases put out on five different record labels this year. Each release also features Hause covering two song’s from the respective record label’s back catalog. Cool idea. Here’s the review I wrote for Dying Scene. Also, here’s “Melanin,” which is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Big Awesome – Birdfeeder EP

Great indie band from South Carolina. These dudes were supposed to record with Trever from Face To Face. Not sure why they didn’t. Anyway, they put out a pretty rad EP this year. Stream it here, or download it for free (or you can pay if you’re so inclined).

THE LIST

21. Riverboat Gamblers – The Wolf You Feed

Punk-infused indie rock’n’roll from the Austin, TX area. Check out “Comedians” below.

20. No Trigger – Tycoon

Melodic hardcore (I guess is what we’re calling it) band from Worcester, MA. They’ve been around for quite a while, though I only learned of them somewhat recently. Here’s album-opener “Maple Boy.”

19. Dogjaw – Pilot

Melody-driven punk from West Virginia. There is such a thing! Stream their album here.

18. Run, Forever – Settling

Three-piece punk band from Pittsburgh. Review will follow for Dying Scene – I only came across the album late in the year. Stream it here.

17. The Bogarts – Nothing To Call Our Own

How these boys aren’t signed to a label that is willing to press their stuff on vinyl or put it out in physical format is beyond me. Good dudes from Thousand Oaks, CA. Stream the album here, or download it for free (again, you can opt to pay as much as you want).

16. Jenny Owen Youngs – An Unwavering Band Of Light

It isn’t coincidence that Jenny Owen Youngs’ initials are “JOY.” That’s exactly what she brings people. That was lame of me, but whatever. Here’s “Already Gone.”

15. Murder By Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

Murder By Death continues to get a little darker and stranger with each release, and I love it. Adam Turla is really finding his ever-evolving voice. Here’s “Hard World.”

14. Pentimento – Pentimento

Something happened, and Pentimento got dropped by their label prior to putting this album out, so they put it out on their own for free. Their label was nuts. Stream it here.

13. Pennywise – All Or Nothing

Much has been made of the fact that Pennywise’s old lead singer, Jim Lindberg, left the band, and that they decided to record with a new singer, Zoli Teglas. Lindberg has since rejoined the band, but in the interim, the short-lived new lineup put out an album and added some life to their sound. Check out the whole album below. Vintage street punk.

12. Let Me Run – MAD/SAD

This album is pretty awesome from start to finish (except for the track “Doctors”). Reminds me of No Motiv or Samiam fed through a Ten Foot Pole filter (if that makes sense to you, pat yourself on the back). Here’s the opening track “If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It.”

11. Jesca Hoop – The House That Jack Built

Like Bjork, but more “real,” and without the fake swan dress. Here’s “Born To Lose.”

10. Make Do And Mend – Everything You Ever Loved

I totally missed this album most of the year. Awesome band from West Hartford, Connecticut…who knew there was such a thing?!? Sort of Hot Water Music-inspired post-punk. Here’s their video for “Lucky.”

9. Jack White – Blunderbuss

Quite honestly, Jack White can do no wrong in my book. He could lay down a dirty-blues-inspired riff over himself reading a Chinese restaurant menu and I’d think it was effing brilliant. Here’s “I’m Shakin’.” Tell me it doesn’t make you start dancing in your kitchen.

8. Bob Mould – Silver Age

Former Husker Du/Sugar frontman ditches the sort of techno vibe he’s been on for a while and made a kick-ass Foo Fighter-ish rock record. Here’s the video for “The Descent.”

7. Chris Wollard + The Ship Thieves – Canyons

The non-werewolf half of the Hot Water Music put out his second solo album this year. It’s much better than the first; sounds vary from traditional HWM-fare to acoustic, highwayman blues stompers like “Lonely Days,” which you can see below.

6. Brendan Kelly & The Wandering Birds – I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever

The Lawrence Arms frontman has got a new side gig. It’s a very dark, disturbing blues inspired folk-punk album, and it’s pretty damn awesome. Just don’t listen with the kids in the room. Here’s “Suffer The Children, Come Unto Me.”

5. Silversun Pickups – Neck Of The Woods

Silversun Pickups have a way of making albums that sound very similar, and yet new and progressive at the same time. Here’s the bass-driven “Mean Spirits.”

4. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

The Gaslight Anthem made a better Pearl Jam record than Pearl Jam has been able to do in about a decade. Here’s “45,” which sounds like Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer,” only with better lyrics and less obnoxious Brendan O’Brien keyboard.

3. Rocco Deluca – Drugs ‘N’ Hymns

Rocco Deluca dropped the Burden, grew a beard and ponytails and apparently lives the life of a hermit now. All of that lead to an amazingly beautiful, sparse-yet-powerful album. My only complaint is that it’s too short. Here’s the video for “Lucky.”

2. RNDM – Acts

Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament has never been one to rest on his laurels when the band is on a bit of a break. He and frequent collaborator Richard Stuverud teamed up with singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur for a stellar, groove-heavy rhythm-and-blues-inspired rock album. It’s also a bit of a concept album. Check out “Modern Times.”

1. Hot Water Music – Exister

I’m not a HWM fan from way back. However, from the beginning notes of album opener “Mainline,” I was overwhelmed with a sense that this was going to be my favorite album of the year. Here’s a live version of “Mainline,” followed by “Drag My Body” and “State of Grace.” The latter two songs are among my favorite songs by anybody ever.

On The Passing of Tony Sly

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

On The Passing of Tony Sly

This is a post that I initially wrote for Dying Scene. I was sitting at my desk when I originally learned of Tony’s incredibly untimely passing, and was (and remain) incredibly taken back by the whole thing. While trying to process what was going through my head, I turned to what I know best: writing. Save for a couple minor edits, the post that ended up on Dying Scene was essentially written stream of consciousness. I didn’t quite expect it to take off the way it did; certainly the most “viral” original content piece I’ve written to date. I do take some pride in that my words (evidently) summed up what a lot of others were going through.

Album Review: The Bogarts – “Nothing To Call Our Own”

I initially wrote the review that follows for my “day job” at Dying Scene, but a reader beat me to this one. Rather than let 600-or-so words go completely unprinted, I figured I’d brush the dust off the old personal blog and post ‘er here.

When last we heard from Thousand Oaks, California’s The Bogarts, the youngsters had put out a solid-if-occasionally-flawed EP (2011’s self-released Ideologies – read my DS review here) that played like you’d expect to hear from an upstart band with SoCal skate-punk chops beyond their years.

A little more than a year has passed since Ideologies, and the time has served the fellas well. Their self-released debut full-length Nothing To Call Our Own finds the sound and the lyrics more focused and aggressive than ever. Okay, I’ve gotta stop focusing on how young the Bogarts are, because their sound obviously belies their age. While other early-twenty-somethings are busy refining their Cookie Monster vocals and cookie cutter screamo acts or bastardizing pop-punk into a shadow of its former self, a select few are proudly carrying the high-intensity skate punk flag forward for the new generation. The Bogarts are placing themselves at the head of that pack.

Album-opener “Bridge Burners” finds co-vocalists Alex Johnson and Nick Waite taking turns pouring their hearts out. It can be the proverbial kiss of death for younger bands (particularly those comprised of guys who can’t legally drink in the States yet) to tackle themes like isolation and betrayal and political unrest and self-medication. It’s a dangerous tightrope that leaves most sounding either painfully pedestrian and out of their league or pathetically simple and naïve. Or worse: emo.

The four-piece list Against Me!, AFI and Anti-Flag as influences, and while those are certainly valid, I can’t help but draw comparisons to Screw 32, one of the more underappreciated bands from the mid-1990s whose demise was all-too premature. Musically, there’s was a particularly dark take on the skate punk sound, and that seems to be The Bogarts wheelhouse as well. The music is aggressive and close attention is paid to melodically crafting songs that actually build on themselves in triumphant crescendo (“Living,” “Tempe AZ” and “The Offensive Rhyme” chief among them), or at least change tempo enough so as to avoid too much “sameness.”  Rambunctious chant-along backing vocals abound, creating visions of sweat-filled basement punk show group choruses.

The aforementioned Waite doubles as the band’s bass player and teams in lockstep with drummer Moritz Kaltenbrunner to serve as a formidable anchor for the dueling guitars of Johnson and Liam to alternate between swirling leads (is that an Iron Maiden inspired riff I hear on “Greetings From”?) and layered power chords. There’s not a lot of polish involved on Nothing To Call Our Own, and that’s probably a good thing. Equal parts aggressive and melodic, the music brings with it a heaping helping of tempo and key changes. The occasional muddiness supports the lack of clarity and direction that is eloquently evoked in the lyrics “Heavy Head,” which is the album’s most down-tempo track. It gets off to a little bit of a sputtery start and the lyrics a tad clumsy in the second verse (too many syllables, not enough spaces). It’s obvious enough what they were going for, however. Plus, the instrumental section is pretty solid, so they get a pass.

All told, Nothing To Call Our Own is a better-than-solid release that finds The Bogarts taking a huge leap forward in progressing their sound without reinventing themselves. A little more focus in a few areas and they’re laying the foundation for a solid career as a punk rock force to be reckoned with.

Running Thoughts – Volume One

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

So I got geared up for my run tonight. Nothing major, just a couple miles through the neighborhood. It was about 9:00, and the mercury was hovering around 40 degrees. To further set the scene, we had our first measurable snow since Halloween this morning (about two inches), before the precipitation decided to turn to rain. As such everything (EVERYTHING!) is wet.

Because I was just going for a casual run, I just threw on a pair of sweatpants, a regular t-shirt and my Old Navy Active windbreaker. Decided to run in the Pumas, as I have been quite a bit lately. I like them almost as much as my Adidas, but they are a tad warmer, so they are better for winter running. Also, had my headlight and red flashing “tail light” – both are necessities for a nighttime run, even through the quiet streets of Wakefield.

Anyway, while I was lacing up the Pumas, my dear wife Natalia remarked that I was “such a dedicated runner.” While on the surface that might sound true, my initial thought was to disagree wholeheartedly…

Instead, I pointed out that the reason that I felt I had to go for a run tonight was that I’ve recently been anything but a dedicated runner. If I had actually gone for even so much as one run over the long weekend that just passed, I could have “cheated” and taken a day off today. But, for whatever reason, I took the entire weekend off from running. It wasn’t a planned thing. It wasn’t all that miserable weather-wise (okay, yeah, so it was bone-shatteringly cold for a couple days, but running in the cold isn’t a huge deal).  I wasn’t particularly busy (and let’s be honest…you can never really be too busy for a 20-30 minute run, especially when you enjoy running at night). So why didn’t I run at all this weekend? Well…I just didn’t, that’s why.

So on my run, I kept thinking about how the fact that I was running now proves both my dedication to running and my lack of dedication to running at the same time. And then, for the first time since getting bit by the “bug” that is running, I started to think of myself as “a runner.” And that’s pretty cool. So in addition to using this spot to ramble incessantly about my musical preferences, I’m now going to use it to ramble incessantly about running-related musings. Hey…why not?