Album Review

AFI (The Blood Album) – AFI

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7/10

AFI is one of those bands I’ve grown to love and appreciate more over the years. I initially got into them with “Girl’s Not Grey” and Sing the Sorrow. So when they teased a new album last year, I was beyond excited. Burials isn’t necessarily my favorite, but it was solid. I hoped The Blood Album would top that and mark a proper return for the band. Well, that isn’t really the case.

Even before the album dropped, AFI got a lot of flak. Some fans called the songwriting lazy while others thought the songs were just boring. And after spending so much time with it, I see what they mean. The album isn’t bad; it’s just kind of there. Very few of the songs are notable or exciting like we expect from AFI at this point. The opening track “Dark Snow” is decent and kind of catchy with its hook of “I go on,” but it’s not the most gripping song to introduce an album. AFI has always been good at creating openings that punch you in the teeth and tell you what you’re in for. While this track does map out the sound for the rest of the album, it’s kind of tame. It has the potential to grow on you, but it’s not very exciting.

Things get better with “Still a Stranger.” Though it reminds you of something from Crash Love, it has this great energy to it that kicks you into gear. Frontman Davey Havok even pulls out some aggressive vocals though I gotta admit, they do sound a bit forced. It’s a nice way to even out the song with some edge, but it sounds like he’s laying it on a bit too thick. It almost doesn’t fit. Still, this track manages to be one of the more notable ones from the album. Another song in the same vein is “Aurelia.” Havok hypnotizes you with the way he sings “Aurelia, the new wolves await/Aurelia they brought you new chains.” From there the hook is kind of repetitive, but it does its job at making the song stand out. It does sound similar to other songs on the album due to the midtempo music, but it’s still a decent entry.

The rest of the album follows the same suit: songs that barely register, but sound good in the whole scope of the record. Tracks like “Hidden Knives,” “Pink Eyes,” and “Get Hurt” aren’t terrible. There’s just not much to say about them. They have a generally bouncy energy to them while midtempo rock music plays out and Havok spits out some lyrics. I guess they work as a whole, but the songs are kind of weak when you listen to them outside the album. They just don’t hit you the way a good AFI song should. And it doesn’t matter if it’s aggressive or not. Songs like “The Interview” and Endlessly, She Said” are still memorable and charming even though they’re not in your face. The same can’t be said about most of the songs on this album.

Snow Cats” is another decent song that has a bit of a Decemberunderground feel to it. With the somber, mellow guitar riff opening the track, this one has a melancholy mood to it. Still, it’s not the best song in their catalog particularly when it comes to the lyrics. The chorus is easy enough to remember, but the rest of the lyrics aren’t all that engaging. It sounds like Havok strung together a bunch of phrases to be provocative and it doesn’t work. “Feed From the Floor” shows off their lighter side with the brighter music that sounds like it was ripped from The Cure. But after a few minutes, the song grows dull and boring. And closing track “The Wind that Carries Me Away” is only memorable because it sounds like their version of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You.” The song is aiming for an ominous, smoldering sound and it doesn’t quite hit it. Like most of the other tracks, it’s decent but doesn’t do much.

There are a handful of songs that gives us a taste of the classic, hard hitting AFI we desire. Single “White Offerings” is still one of the standout tracks here. It has a pummeling energy, awesome drive, and tons of attitude. It makes you want to start breaking shit when you hear it. “Dumb Kids” is another standout song for a lot of the same reasons. It finally brings some excitement to the album. It makes you want to pump your fist in the air and start pogo dancing. Personally, these are the type of songs I wanted on the record, mixed in with some morbid romance for good measure. “She Speaks the Language” and “So Beneath You” stand out for actually sounding different. The former has an alluring stuttering guitar riff giving the song a dangerous vibe. The looming bass playing during the verse is killer too making for a notable track. The latter finds the band getting in touch with their aggressive, hardcore side once again. Out of all the songs on the album, this one has the most punk rock influence and will likely appeal to longtime fans.

If there’s one song on the album that I just flat out don’t like it’s “Above the Bridge.” I already mentioned the complaints about lazy songwriting and it’s all over this track. The music itself is okay. It’s kind of generic and has a bit of a Cure vibe with the keyboards. They actually sound pretty similar to the keys on “Just Like Heaven.” Seeing as they were a huge influence on the band, it’s not that much of a surprise. While the music may be unoffending, it’s the hook that I cannot stand: “I saw you step upon that bridge/I saw you walk across that bridge/I saw you float above that bridge.” The constant repetition makes the song annoying. When I first heard it, I dubbed it “that bridge song.” There are some other uninteresting verses, but that’s all there is to it. And even those suffer from constant repetition. Very few of the songs on the record are fantastic, but this one is definitely the weakest entry.

So is the Blood Album bad? Not necessarily, it’s just not very exciting. Rather than having songs that are thrilling, charming, and exciting, the songs are just there. Very few of them manage to stand out and grab your attention. Others are okay at best, sounding generic or too similar to one another. Sadly, the album is kind of disappointing. It’s enjoyable, but still overwhelmingly okay. Usually, their songs can be described as charming, romantic, morbid, or elegant. The best way to describe the new stuff is decent rock songs. And it has nothing to do with their change to a lighter, friendlier sound. I love that AFI is constantly evolving; I just want it to be interesting. This album misses that mark. It does have potential to grow on you over time, but it might take a while. It seems maybe Havok and Puget had too much on their plate while making the record. At the same time, they were working on the new Blaqk Audio album and Havok was working on Dreamcar. It’s fine to want to do a lot of different projects, but there comes a time when you need to focus on just one. I’m glad AFI are back, but I expected better from them. Hopefully, when they’re ready for their next album it’ll be one that will remind me why I fell in love with the band in the first place.

 

100 – The Hunna

100

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been obsessed with Night Riots since I saw them open for Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Now, I love them even more for introducing me to The Hunna. The Hertfordshire quartet took the stage before Night Riots and tore it up. I was floored by their raw energy, sheer force, and awesome presence. Plus, it didn’t hurt that their songs were kickass. I bought their debut album, 100, right after the show ended. While it’s not perfect, it’s a promising as hell debut.

Right away the album pulls you in with the insanely catchy “Bonfire.” This opening track perfectly captures what The Hunna are about: raucous music with sing-along worthy hooks. Singer Ryan Potter recounts a destructive relationship with a hint of sadness, but mostly sass as he sings snarky lines like “So bite my tongue/But fuck your heart/and I can’t stand/can’t stand you, baby.” Everything explodes during the chorus, hitting you in the chest with the wild guitars and pummeling drums. The music may be intense, but the hook of “And we blew up like a bonfire/fire, fire” instantly grabs you. Though the content isn’t necessarily upbeat, the way the song is packaged makes it fun and so fucking satisfying making you want more. Luckily, The Hunna is prepared to deliver.

This trend of earworm hooks and wild music continues for just about the entire album. “We Could Be,” which seems to be targeted at previous record labels who passed over the band, has the same driving energy and sheer force as the previous track. This song stands out for the catchy, yet biting hook of “We could be way up/and we could be on top/if it weren’t for shit like you.” Somehow they manage to make this chorus fun and upbeat even though there’s a lot of attitude and anger behind it. “Never Enough” follows the same pattern of rocking music with gripping hooks on this highly energetic and booming track. It makes another high point on the album.

Though they don’t seem to talk about it much, the band must’ve had a hard time getting started judging from songs talking about their struggles. “World is Ours” has a positive message of not giving up when times get tough and talks about trying to get the band running. It has a great message but isn’t the most gripping song on the record. “You & Me” is another song dedicated to the non-believers and a nod to those who stuck with them over the years. We get to see just how much the band means to them with the line “not just a band, but a family.” It seems they’ve been through some rough times, but at the end, they keep smiling, which is something they express in other songs. Tracks like “Brother,” “Alive,” and “Be Young” all have an uplifting message of live life, be happy, and don’t stop trying.

The Hunna slow things down with the soft, sentimental “Sycamore Tree.” Potter finds himself in a moment of reflection on this mellow track. The way it’s framed is actually soothing: for most of the song, it’s only Potter and an acoustic guitar. Near the end, the rest of the music kicks in waking up listeners, but things never get crazy. It’s nice to hear them switch things up, but it’s a little too slow for my taste. “Still Got Blood” is the stronger ballad. It has a raw, rock sound with the fiery guitars and hard hitting music. There’s definitely a lot of attitude and soul to the song, which keeps it from getting dull. Potter gets sultry for the sexy track “Bad For You.” With a blues-tinged riff, Potter sounds soulful and full of desire as he sings about something he wants so bad but knows it’s no good. It’s one of those songs that you put on to get in the mood.

Honestly, there are no bad songs on the album. Some are stronger than others, but they’re all enjoyable. But what keeps 100 from being a stellar debut album is the length and lack of variety. After a while, the songs start sounding the same. “Coming Home, “Rock My Way,” and “Alive” can all be described as highly energetic, catchy, fun songs. Aside from a guitar riff here and there, little about them really stands out from other, stronger tracks. This is why songs like “Piece By Piece,” which takes some cues from funk and has a sick groove, are so notable.  This becomes painfully obvious when you realize the album keeps going and going. Filled with 16 tracks, some of it, sadly, is filler. If they opted for something shorter, they could’ve picked the best songs making for a standout debut album. As it is now, it’s not bad, just a little tiring after a while.

Still, The Hunna fucking rock. The album has its flaws, but it’s enjoyable. All the songs make you feel good and have killer hooks. You’ll be singing along with them in no time. They somehow manage to perfectly blend pop melodies with hard driving rock music, making for songs that are super satisfying. Plus, Potter proves to have a wonderful voice. He switches from signing with so much fire it sounds like he’s about to rip his vocal chords to sounding soulful and sweet. And the way his thick British accent infiltrates songs makes it downright charming. If you thought the album was good, just wait til you see them live. If The Hunna is the future of alt-rock, I think music will be awesome at least for a little while.

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.

Venus Doom – HIM

 

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 6/10

Everyone has that one album they tried to like – this is that album for me. I gave this record so many chances thinking it might have been me; maybe I was too quick to dismiss it. Maybe it’s one of those albums that gets better with age. I could be completely wrong about the LP, like I was about Scream, Aim, Fire. But after revisiting it once again, my feelings have not change. I still think this is the band’s worst album despite their good intentions.

The album seems to start off on a good note with opening tracks “Venus Doom” and “Love in Cold Blood.” Hearing the heavy crunchy guitars, energetic beat, and familiar themes of love and death, I thought maybe I was wrong about the LP. But then the big issue kicked in with both tracks: changing gears midway through. On “Venus Doom” after the standard guitar solo, the music slows down to a light lullaby while Ville Valo puts on his deep throat vocals to sound menacing. The whole thing just doesn’t work and feels corny. On the latter track, right when it should end the band picks up the pace and rock out, which doesn’t add anything to the song aside from making it longer. Unfortunately, this issue pops up constantly throughout the album.

So many of the songs like “Passion’s Killing Floor” and even the strong “The Kiss of Dawn” suffer from musical changes. For some reason, the band decides to shift gears and switch up their playing. The problem is it rarely does this smoothly. It often comes off as abrupt making the song as a whole disjointed. “The Kiss of Dawn” is actually one of the better songs from the album, but unless you’re listening to the radio edit, a light muted melody is tacked on at the end. It doesn’t fit in with the song and just makes it longer than it needs to be. It’s such a disappointment because you’ll be rocking out to the song and suddenly it’s like another track is playing when it’s still the same one. It ruins the flow of the music and makes the song dull.

Then there’s “Sleepwalking Past Hope,” which is ten unbearable minutes of slow, soft music, lilting vocals, and lots of melancholy. Like so many of the other tracks, it starts off well with a somber, haunting piano riff that lures you in. But before you can get into the song distorted guitars replace this music making you wonder why it even started with the somber riff at all? It continues with the heavy guitars for about five minutes before it switches tempo and slows down again. After that, a wild solo pops up out of nowhere trying to wake you up and make you remember you’re listening to the song. The entire thing is so entirely drawn out. Did it need to be ten minutes? No fucking way. There is no justifiable reason why the song needed to be so long. All it does it does is bore you before the thing ends. Some bands know how to make lengthy songs that are exciting; HIM is not one of those bands. This album also has their shortest song “Song or Suicide,” which is so short it just feels pointless.

There are a few times when the band gets it right, like on the catchy “Bleed Well.” This is standard HIM all the way: heavy guitars, light melody, and images of love and death. It’s just so satisfying to hear, especially after all the other poor tracks. There’s a memorable guitar riff that opens the song, followed by Valo coyly singing “You had demons to kill,” which will melt you if you used to (or still) crush on him. Another good track is “Dead Lover’s Lane,” which sounds like a leftover from their previous effort Dark Light. It’s another one that sounds like classic HIM and even has a shift in sound during the bridge, but this time, it’s actually good. It flows really well instead of sounding like two different songs.

I really tried to like this album, but no matter how many times I listen to it my feelings are the same. Even if the band didn’t suddenly change tempo in the middle of the songs, it would still be a weak album. Most of the songs are okay at best, otherwise, they’re a little too familiar. And anyone who’s been following the band before this will most likely miss the keyboards, which they swapped out for more guitars. Sure, maybe it is their heaviest album in terms of some of the music, but it doesn’t keep listeners from losing interest. It also has some of their cheesiest lyrics that sounds like they’re taken from a bad goth poem. It’s time to face the truth; I just don’t like this album.

Paradise – Con Brio

 

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

I learned about this funky band when I went to Lollapalooza this year and caught their set. I’ve been singing their praises ever since. Based out of California, Con Brio, which means “with spirit” in Spanish, is a funk/R&B/soul band that are all about loving life and having a good time. They channel this feeling into their funky debut album Paradise. From start to finish the album keeps you going and leaves you with a big smile on your face. After hearing the record, you’ll be convinced Con Brio is the next great band in music.

The album is a funky jam from start to finish. Each song is filled with brassy horns, groovy bass, and hot guitar licks. “Paradise” kicks things off on a slow note. The guitar riff rips into the track inviting listeners on this musical journey. The horns come in one by one to beef up the sound completing the bluesy vibe. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter, Ziek McCarter’s passionate vocals hit you. After one verse you’re ready to fly with him to what he calls paradise. From there, everything is a party. “Liftoff” is the epitome of funky. As soon as the opening note plays, it gets you grooving. It’s so upbeat and energetic, you’re ready to party like it’s a Friday night. And you can’t help but smile as McCarter here sings “Because nothing here can hold our spirits down.”

Even though most of the songs are funky, “You Think This is a Game?” is a bit different. It still has that funky groove and bluesy mood, but McCarter has a spoken word style. The way he raps over the music makes it seem like he’s at a slam poetry contest. It’s a bit jarring, especially when all the music clashes at the end, but it’s an interesting sonic experiment. Aside from getting down and grooving to the beat, Con Brio’s music is uplifting. Many of their songs spout positive messages about loving yourself and loving each other, something that’s easy to forget during these times.

Free & Brave” offers a comment on society and the Black Lives Matter movement. The opening verse references the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Martin Luther King, making you think it’s going to be a negative outlook on the world. Instead, Con Brio uses the song to say people have to keep going despite these tragic events. The message of the entire song is though the world gets shitty, we’re still free and in control of our destiny. We still have to believe that things will get better. The band gets harder and heavier on “Hard Times.” This fusion of rock and funk has a message of sticking together and reaching out to one another to get through hard times. It’s a great reminder that we still need each other even when everything looks bleak. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to go through this alone.

Another song with an optimistic message and my personal favorite is “Money.” Not only is it upbeat, funky, and made for dancing, it’s about not letting money rule you. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in work and focusing on making money to live. With this song McCarter reminds us it’s not all about work; we need play time too. He also sings “When you’re stretched out, all stressed out/Knowin somethin ain’t right, and you’re left out/Can’t let that 9-5, put a seatbelt on my mind.” It’s a great message to those who aren’t satisfied with working any old job and want to follow their dreams for the career they really want. Money is necessary, but we don’t have to let it take us over as Con Brio reminds us.

When they’re not grooving or spouting good life messages, Con Brio are romancing listeners with their sexy slow jams. “My Love” is a soulful gem made for romantic nights. Though it’s a little too slow for my tastes, it’s a good song and doesn’t hold back on the funky music. The same goes for the mid-tempo “No Limits,” which is slinky and slick. Both songs do a great job showing off McCarter’s vocals. There’s no doubt he’ll bring up comparisons to Michael Jackson, but his voice is still powerful enough to give you chills. And when he busts out the falsetto, it’s enough to make you swoon. He has one of those voices where when he’s feeling a song, he goes all the way making you screaming “Sing it, baby!” “Honey” is another soft, mid-tempo jam where McCarter spreads the love. The acoustic guitar and McCarter’s gentles vocals make the song relaxing and soothing. Some lyrics like “You can be such a busy bee, but save a little honey for me/I can be such a busy bee, but I’ll save my honey for thee/We can both be the busy bee and save a lil honey while we,” are kind of cheesy, but they’re forgivable. It’s still a sweet, sentimental track.

If you need an album to kick up your feet and unwind to, then this is it. Every one of Con Brio’s songs are filled with positive messages about loving life, yourself, and not letting the small stuff get you down. The entire album is full of optimistic messages, which we all need every now and then. The music is fun, upbeat, and will keep you dancing. Something about their music is so infectious even if you’re not the biggest fan of funk and soul. With their passionate playing and Ziek McCarter’s seductive, soaring vocals the band stand out as one of a kind. Put on Paradise when you need a pick me up or just want to dance. Let the music wash over you and let Con Brio’s songs take you to your own version of paradise.