Music

Musical Quickie: 8 – Incubus

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 6/8

Incubus‘ eighth album, 8, finds the band playing it safe. It’s business as usual for the guys and it’s nothing exciting. Songs like “State of the Art” and “Familiar Faces” are unoffending, but don’t keep your attention for long. You may not skip them while listening to the album, but would you seek them out on your own? Probably not. There are a handful of exciting tracks, like “Nimble Bastard,” “No Fun,” and “Glitterbomb,” which all have strong hooks. The rest of the songs are forgettable or pale imitations of what they’ve done in the past.

There’s not a lot that’s exciting about this album. While none of the songs are outright bad, they just make you go “meh.” It leaves you with little to say about it. It’s a shame the album is so unremarkable since they seemed to be going in the right direction with the Trust Fall (Side A) EP. They at least tried some new things. Here, they stick with routine and it’s pretty boring. Save for a handful of songs, there isn’t much to this album. In the end, 8 is just okay and pretty forgettable.

 

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Eternity In Your Arms – Creeper

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 8.5/10

Rock music has gone through numerous changes since its inception, but somewhere along the way, it lost its theatrics. Rockstars no longer seem larger than life, mysterious, or alien. Creeper is here to change that. These theatrical punks from Southhampton, UK are taking you back to the days when rock music was a spectacle. Not only is their music over the top and filled with Gothic drama, they’re creating a mythos and extend an offer to join their Creeper Cult. With dark imagery, a healthy dose of punk rock, and a dash of theater, these punks are making rock music fun again.

Creeper is all about theatrics. You can hear every ounce of drama, camp, fear, and desire in their songs whether it’s from the music or frontman Will Gould’s vocals. Their songs are like mini-macabre plays circling around themes of love, death, loss, loneliness, and frustration. The album itself is a loose concept record based on the characters Madeline, The Stranger, and James Scythe, which were first mentioned on their second EP, The Callous Heart. While the story is easy enough to pick up after a few listens, it doesn’t make or break the record. You could easily listen to it without realizing the songs are connected. In the end, the story doesn’t really matter because everything else about the album is so damn good.

The opening track “Black Rain” perfectly captures what Creeper is about. It has a gloomy, Gothic intro featuring a brief mysterious monologue before exploding in a mass of shredding guitars and crashing keys. The best part is the big chorus which sounds like a choir from the depths of darkness singing “And in the rain/I screamed your name.” It has an awesome anthemic quality; you can easily picture a stadium singing this song. Though it’s one of the album’s highlights, there are moments where it reminds you of My Chemical Romance’s “Helena.” It’s forgivable, though.

Poison Pens” doesn’t let you relax for a second with its pummeling drums, doom-laden bass, and rapid guitars. It’s a hyper punk track that’ll get you moshing as soon you hear “Our love is dead!” screaming in your ears. The bridge gives you a chance to catch your breath when things slow down and Gould sings “I fell like an angel for you/now I do the deeds that devils do” sounding sinister and ready to strike. The off the rails pace and AFI-inspired gang vocals make it one of the most thrilling tracks on the album. “Suzanne” is another high energy track with a similar punk edge full of morbid imagery. The song instantly hooks you with its rallying cry of “now now now now!” along with the Meatloaf-esque hooks. These over the top vocals are part of their campy appeal and helps them stand out in the deluge of forgettable punk rock bands.

Hiding With Boys” is another insanely fun song that shows off a bit of the band’s glam-rock influences. This one is more upbeat and doesn’t have as much of an edge as the other tracks. The hook of “hiding with the boys in your bedroom” has an infectious melody and is just fun to sing at the top of your lungs. The music is kind of playful and the extensive keys give the song more of a classic feel, as if you heard it before, which isn’t necessarily bad.

But just when you have the band figured out, they switch gears showing another side to themselves. “Misery” keeps its gloomy nature with the subdued acoustic guitar accompanying Gould’s fragile vocals slowing things down considerably. With just Gould and a guitar, for the most part, it’s the most honest track on the album. The Gothic nature of the band shows up in coy lines like “I wrote down a list of coroners/their names, their office phone numbers/to pronounce dead the thing we had” and the hook “misery never goes out of style.”  Near the end, the music intensifies and Gould’s vocals are more pronounced and powerful as if he’s found the will to go on despite all the bad things happening. This shift nicely changes things, keeping the song from getting dull.

Creeper gives us another intimate moment with “Crickets,” sung by keyboardist Hannah Greenwood. Unlike most of the record, this song has a hint of a country vibe, especially with the accompanying violin in the background. Greenwood absolutely kills the song with her pretty, yet gritty vocals. You can feel her ache as she sings about the end of a relationship. The song is an unexpected treat from the band. Not only do these songs give us a break from the onslaught of raging guitars and dark matter, they show how the band can go beyond their comfort zone. They’re not just another band keen on loud guitars and screaming vocals.

While most of the songs are fun, catchy, and stand out, the two low points of the album are “Down Below” and “Winona Forever.” These songs aren’t bad; they’re both upbeat and fun like the other tracks with their sing-a-long hooks and bouncy rhythms. They’re just not that memorable compared to the rest of the album. The band quickly gets back on track with “Darling” and “Room 309,” which continue the trend of raging guitars, big hooks, and lots of drama. Here, it’s hard not hear their musical influences. You can easily pick up traces of AFI, MCR, Misfits, and Alkaline Trio. Is this bad? Not really. It’s clear they’re inspired by these bands, but at least they avoid sounding like cheap knockoffs.

Creeper excels at bringing camp and theatrics to their music, which is part of the reason it’s so much fun. Everything feels over the top from the music to the lyrics, which would sound cheesy anywhere else. The huge dramatics come out the most during closing track “I Choose to Live.” Here, they rip out a page from Queen’s book and feature larger than life music with a booming chorus. One of the most personal songs on the record, it deals with overcoming life’s struggles. Gould starts out singing softly as if defeated. But as we crescendo, his voice gains strength until he’s shouting “I choose to live” at the top of his lungs. It ends the album on an oddly positive note, letting you know no matter what you’re going through, you’re strong enough to survive.

Eternity in Your Arms is a hodgepodge of all the bands Creeper loves and has been influenced by. While they are mostly inspired by punk rock, you can hear traces of emo, glam, pop, and, dare I say, country. This is what helps them stand out. These elements are found all over their songs, keeping the album fresh and exciting. Featuring big hooks, lots of gang vocals, and a touch of Gothic and emo tendencies, their songs are grandiose, a spectacle even. It brings you back to the days when rockstars were meant to be bigger than life or aliens from another planet altogether. Sure, what they’re doing isn’t necessarily breaking genres, but man is it fun.

Saying Goodbye to HIM

HIM announced they’re done. No more albums or new music. I guess it’s a breakup but I hate thinking about it that way. “Breakup” is such a negative term. There’s no bad blood here. Rather, they felt it’s time to move on. Part of me is sad, but I’m also happy for the band. Music is overwrought with bands who probably should’ve called it quits a long time ago *cough* Queen *cough.* In our minds we never want our favorite musicians to stop making music, but there’s a point where it gets sad. New material doesn’t hit you the same way or they keep writing the same songs. Suddenly, their tour stops are a greatest hits package. It reeks of desperation. HIM could’ve kept going for another 10 years if they wanted. Instead, they’re going out on their own terms. And I respect that.

When I heard the news, I was nowhere near tears like I was when The White Stripes broke up. But it still hit me hard. HIM has been with me for a long time. They don’t mean as much to me as The Cure or Green Day, but I still love them. They’ve brought me so much happiness with their music. They’re a band I would often forget how much I liked. I wouldn’t listen to them for months and when I finally did, I’d go on a binge trying to soak up every melancholy thought and note.

What I loved about their music is how they made melancholy and darkness seem okay. Frontman Ville Valo even made it sexy with his sultry vocals. Many of their songs talk about love and death, but it never made you sad or depressed. Instead, it was comforting. They showed that it’s okay to embrace these feelings sometimes.

I also liked their songs for their poetic nature. Sure, some of them are a bit over dramatic, but a good number of them are thought provoking and beautiful. Songs like “The Sacrament,” “Funeral of Hearts,” “For You,” and “When Love and Death Embrace” are downright gorgeous. They still impress me to this day. Songs like these helped me push myself as a writer. Their lyrics often influenced my writing, which I started getting serious about when I discovered them.

Like most fans, I was initially attracted to the band for Valo. No doubt about it, the man is sexy. Something about him is mysterious, which made him more attractive. He’s like the stereotypical new guy in town that’s brooding and spends a lot of time in coffee shops. Over time, I came to appreciate him as a singer. He’s got an impressive range; he sounds sweet and beautiful with the high notes and downright diabolic with his flourishing baritone. I’ve always liked his singing, but I really fell in love with it when I saw HIM live. They’re not the most energetic performers; they don’t dance around or anything like that. Yet, there’s such a fire and passion behind their live shows. They play as if it might be the last concert they’ll ever do. And Valo often has no trouble pulling off his vocal acrobatics in front of a crowd. Most importantly, their shows are fun. Hopefully, I can jam with them one more time before they leave.

The end of HIM is saying goodbye to an old friend. There are times we didn’t speak for a long while, but when we reconnected we picked up where we left off. They’re familiar and comforting, always there when I needed them. I’ll miss them, but at least I can visit them again with all the wonderful music they’ve given us in the span of 26 years. And I’ll never forget how I actually got to speak with Valo for an interview. He was every bit as charming and sweet. It was an honor to speak with someone I’d been following so long. I never thought I’d get the chance to speak with an artist I like so much. So, thank you, HIM, for letting me explore darkness with you and all the memories and fangirl crushes you gave me. I’m happy my friend convinced me to give you a listen 13 years ago.

XX

Everybody Wants – The Struts

 

Release Year: 2014

Rating: 8.5/10

While scrolling through various music sites, I saw The Struts’ name pop up now and then, but I didn’t pay much attention. I got my first taste of them at Lollapalooza 2016 and man, are they amazing. As soon as I got home I grabbed a copy of their album and fell in love. There’s a reason why they’re climbing up the ranks of rock music. Looking like a blast from the past, their music brings the fun and sexy back to rock music. From start to finish the album keeps you moving and singing, making it impossible to feel anything but good.

The Struts get the party started with the energetic “Roll Up.” It has a steady build up making you pumped for what’s about to come. Frontman Luke Spiller starts singing about the day in the life of a rock star. Right away you get a sense of his fun, playful vocal style, very reminiscent of the late Freddie Mercury. Everything explodes when the hyper hook of “Everybody wants/everybody wants/roll up/roll up” hits. Hearing the hook along with the rocking music gets you bouncing from start to finish. At the end of this song you’re rocking out and ready for more. Luckily, the band keeps the hits rolling with the anthemic “Could Have Been Me.”

With its big hook, driving music, and ferocious hand claps “Could Have Been Me” is made for stadiums. It’s a song everyone can get behind not only for its catchy hook but for its overall message. Spiller sings about living life and not wasting time wondering “what if?” It’s about doing what you want and having no regrets. Listening to it, you can picture thousands of people singing along while stomping out the beat. The band’s vintage rock sound comes out on the sexy and fun “Kiss This.” Spiller is playful yet sassy as he talks about getting fed up in a relationship and finally leaving. And it’s impossible not to be infected by the simple refrain of “uh uh uh uh uh kiss this!” It’s the perfect fuck off song to sing at the top of your lungs.

Most of The Struts’ songs on this album seem to represent the 70s glam era of partying and debauchery. There are plenty songs with that sleazy, sexy sound, like “Dirty Sexy Money,” which is all about having a good time and letting loose. The stand out “Put Your Money on Me” has a similar vibe with its irresistible hook, fun vibe, and vintage flavor. Things switch up on the more 80s sounding “My Machine.” The opening has electro synth making it sound like a Devo song and even Spiller sings in a robotic manner. Once it gets to the hook it gets back to hardcore, high energy rocking. Like so many of their other songs, there’s something downright awesome about this one. And like so many classic rock songs, this one uses the car metaphor for a sexy woman. It’s dirty, sexy, and playful.

Though it’s clear The Struts like to party and get wild, there’s a sentimental side. There’s actually a surprising amount of love songs on the album. One of the most energetic and light sounding songs is “She Makes Me Feel.” Unlike the other tracks, the music here is really bright and almost carefree. There’s even upbeat whistling that plays along with the melody. Spiller sings about the shitty things in life not mattering, as long as he can come home to his lady whose his “pick me up.” “Black Swan” and “You + I” follow a similar suit, but focuses on lost love and a love/hate relationship respectively. Though they’re not as party driven as the other songs, they still keep they’re upbeat, rocking nature ensuring there’s never a dull moment.

The album was eventually reissued in the US with five new tracks: “Mary Go Round,” “These Times are Changing,” “Young Stars,” “Only One Call Away,” and “The Ol’ Switcheroo.” In turn, three songs from the original release were dropped. While the new songs are decent and have that same, upbeat fun nature to them, none are as good or better than the tracks on the original. Every song on the 2014 release is engaging, fun, and awesome. The new songs, not so much. They’re not bad; just not all that memorable. If you’re going to grab a copy of this album, I recommend picking up the original.

This is one of the most fun rock albums I’ve heard in a while. The Struts bring mindless fun, partying, and sleaziness to rock and roll. As soon as it starts, the album keeps you moving, singing, and dancing. It’s impossible to feel bad when you listen to this record. The songs are upbeat, carefree, and even sentimental at times. Luke Spiller is charming, playful, and seductive making anyone who hears his voice fall in love with him. The band predicted their own success with the title Everybody Wants. Now, we can’t get enough of The Struts.

2016 Album that Left Me Conflicted

California – Blink-182

It’s been painful following the Blink-182 debacle. With Tom leaving the band, but not really leaving the band, according to him anyway, it seemed like it was the end. They tried reforming and it clearly didn’t work. Story over, right? Instead, they recruit Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba and drop a new album. And if you thought the Untitled album divided the fanbase, this record destroyed it. Go to any forum or comments section and thoughts range from “This is the best they’ve done in years” to “They’re fucking garbage now!” It feels impossible having a discussion about the album without having the Tom vs Matt argument.

My expectations were pretty low after I heard the first single, but I was still pretty happy to hear new music from them, especially since I didn’t think it was happening. Once I got the album, I could only stomach hearing the entire record about three times. I don’t hate it; there are actually some songs that impressed me. I love the big booming verse of “Los Angeles” and “Cynical” might be the best song on the album. Still, California is nowhere near their best. And don’t get me started about their Grammy nominee. Even though I knew I didn’t really care for the album, I still felt confused about the whole situation.

I’m in the Blink-isn’t-Blink-without-Tom camp. The instant rebuttal for this is how Blink faltered when he was in the band. Personally, I thought Neighborhoods was pretty good and the Dogs Eating Dogs EP made me think even better music was in store. Yes, I do think Tom is a dick for leading on fans when he really didn’t want to be in Blink anymore. But Tom brought a certain sound to Blink that’s missing on California. When I listen to that album, it doesn’t sound like I’m listening to Blink-182. It sounds like I’m listening to some other generic “pop-punk” band. Blink-182 have never been the best pop-punk band around, but they had a style and vibe that was all their own. I hear none of that on their latest album. It might as well be +44’s follow up and even that album is better than California. And it’s funny how many people think Matt is better when half the time it sounds like he’s doing an impression of Tom.

At the same time, I agree with people who say Blink have the right to move on if one member doesn’t want to play anymore. Yes, they certainly do, just like Tom has the right to do other projects. Still, it’s not the same to me. And that’s fine. It still feels weird to see pictures of them or hear their name and see Matt instead of Tom. I’m sure it’s one of those things I’ll get used to, but they might’ve been better off releasing the album under a different name. There are certain expectations that come with the Blink-182 name and for me, California didn’t hit them at all. Maybe things will get better for Blink once Matt’s been in the band for a while and the shock of not seeing Tom washes away. But it will never be the same for me and that’s something I can accept.