Rock Music

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.

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.

 

Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 7/10

When Trent Reznor announced last year that we would indeed get new Nine Inch Nails music, I was ecstatic. Throughout the year, Reznor shot down any rumors of new NIN material. After months of speculation, he finally gave us new music. It’s not a new album, but it’s a taste of what’s to come. But rather than being a release that displays his best work, it’s more like something to shut up NIN fans and let Reznor work in peace.

Though trying not to make comparisons, the opening track “Branches/Bones” sounds like a leftover from Hesitation Marks. It’s brief, but the upbeat rock oriented music is similar to material from Reznor’s previous album. It kicks off the EP with a rush of energy thanks to the non-stop guitar riff that plows through the song. The music is loud and jarring sounding like it’s being played through blown out speakers. The track is decent at best, but it’s not that notable. At least it’s decent at kicking off the EP.

All the songs are solid, but very few of them stay with you afterward. “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” are good, but don’t grab you by the throat and pummel you like other NIN tracks. The only song that stands out is the eerie “Dear World.” Whether it’s the synth groove or the creepy opening vocals with Reznor singing “Yes, everyone seems to be asleep” this was the only song I actually remembered from the EP. The song has dark undertones as if something horrible is about to happen. Reznor’s monotone manner and the cold, robotic music makes it seem like something from an 80s dystopian film. There’s also a hypnotic air to it. The way Reznor speaks quietly seems like he’s trying to put you under a spell. It’s one of the coolest and unnerving tracks on the EP.

One thing the EP excels at is creating this dark, claustrophobic feeling. Songs like “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” have gritty music that puts you on edge. The former has a slow droning drumbeat as if ushering in some unforeseeable doom. And the way Reznor’s wails after the chorus gives it a haunting atmosphere. Everything in the song sounds so foreboding. The latter song has quiet vocals as if Reznor’s on the verge of breaking. Then chaos unleashes during the chorus when everything clashes together for a destructive mood.

The closing track “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” continues the musical trend of impending doom. With the booming, fuzzy music it sounds like the end of days is coming. Just like with the rest of the EP, the music is the high point of the song. It instantly draws you in. The singing and the lyrics are where things get weird. The chorus of “break through the surface and” is fine on its own, but for the verses, Reznor does this weird spoken word style. Instead of being smooth, it sounds like a random rant. His flow goes against the music making it disjointed and off-putting. Near the end, the music and singing clash together creating a jarring wall of noise. It’s another solid song but doesn’t really hit that sweet spot for NIN fans.

Reznor’s always been a master of electronic music and it’s no different on this release. Each track has gripping music and is a mix of cool grooves with cold, metallic sounding electronic soundscapes. It’s the highlight of the EP. The same can’t be said for the lyrics which are forgettable. In his time, Reznor has crafted some of the most anguished filled, aching, and heartbreaking songs. Little of that is on display here. The lyrics seem meaningless and difficult to pinpoint what he’s trying to get across. Lines like “Still can make out pieces with the opening sewed shut/Yeah, parts of me are slowing down, time is speeding up/Spiders crawling everywhere, infected Japanese” (“Branches/Bones”) come off as forced. As if he’s trying too hard to be poignant and unnerving. They’re not as engaging or thoughtful as they are on past NIN releases. Hell, even the lyrics on Hesitation Marks are better. This makes it seem like Reznor rushed out this release to stop fans from asking about new NIN music.

The EP is solid, but does it really jump out at you? No. The songs don’t punch you in the gut like we expect from NIN. If anything, they’re fairly decent rock songs with some electronic elements. The EP isn’t terrible, but it’s far from Reznor’s best. There are bits and pieces of past NIN releases in the song, like elements of The Fragile, but few of them leave an impression. You’ll find yourself struggling to remember most of the songs after listening to it a few times. Very little about it is notable and there’s little to say about it. The strongest point is the music, but the lyrics fail to be engaging. For fans longing for a NIN release, this isn’t going to satisfy them for long. Still, it does make me excited for what NIN has in store for us. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for more new music.

Notable Releases of 2016

2016 may not have been music’s finest year, but there were a lot of good albums I played on repeat. While not all of them were notable or amazing, there were plenty that stood out for different reasons. So here are my picks for other notable releases for 2016.

Album that Caught me Off Guard:

Electric Warlock Acid Witch – Rob Zombie

When I heard Rob Zombie was dropping a new album, I reacted with a “meh.” Seeing as I didn’t care for his last few albums, I had low expectations for this one. Educated Horses was a big disappointment, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is bearable, yet forgettable, and Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is hardly worth remembering. My disdain for the new album grew when I saw the lengthy album title and tracklist featuring songs like “Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO.” But when listening to it a revelation dawned on me: this is fucking great! This album is Rob Zombie getting back to basics: weird songs, tons of samples, and rocking the fuck out. There are some misses on the record, like the sludgy “WURDALAK,” but it’s a rousing ride from start to finish. Zombie keeps it short and simple as he pumps out bangers like “Get High,” “Get Your Boots On,” and “Teenage Rock God.” Some of the songs are reminiscent of his past stuff, but it still gets your heart racing and head banging. Even the songs that are just okay are still gripping instead of boring filler like on his last records. Listening to it again I couldn’t help throwing devil horns in the air even though I was by myself on the couch. It’s loud, aggressive, weird, freaky, groovy, and kick ass, everything a Rob Zombie album should be. It’s a proper return to his aggressive roots, which he seemed to move away from in later years. And best of all, the album is fun as hell. It reignited my faith that Rob Zombie can still make killer music. Can’t say the same about his movies, though.

Underrated Album of 2016:

Alas Salvation – Yak

Once I heard Yak’s brand of chaotic, psychedelic rock on their 2016 debut, I knew it would be one of my favorite albums of the year. They almost went under my radar, but I barely caught them thanks to an assignment for another music site. What instantly grabbed me was their energetic, destructive vibe. Listening to songs like “Victorious” and “Harbor the Feeling” makes you picture them breaking everything in the room while they’re playing. It felt like I was hearing chaos incarnate when listening to the album. Half the time it’s unbridled noise and audio insanity, but I loved every minute. To keep the album from getting repetitive or dull, Yak plays with different sounds, like the psychedelic tinged “Use Somebody” or the Spaghetti Western isolation of “Smile.” Tracks like these made for an unpredictable, exciting ride. If there was one album that got me the most excited and left the biggest impression on me, this was it. I can’t wait to hear what else the band has in store for us in the future.

Album I Tried to Like But Couldn’t:

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are so Beautiful yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

Get out the pitchforks right now. Yes, for some reason, I couldn’t get into this album. I was intrigued by The 1975 when I saw them perform “The Sound” on The Tonight Show. Since they’ve received mass praise from practically every outlet, I decided to check them out. While I liked songs like “Love Me” and “A Change of Heart,” the rest did nothing for me. It seems I like the 80’s, danceable side to the band, not the slow, drawn out, ballads that permeated the second half of the record. I listened to it several times, but came away with the same feeling; it’s long and too slow for my tastes. It just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would. This doesn’t mean I think The 1975 are a bad band or that the album sucks. It just wasn’t for me and I still don’t get what all the hype’s about.

Album of the Year Runner Up:

The Dream is Over – PUP

It was really hard picking album of the year and it came down to PUP’s second album and what I ultimately picked. PUP’s self-titled debut kicked ass. It showed off their punk nature and chaotic drive, but also showed the band can do more than just scream and be loud. They pushed that to the breaking point with their sophomore effort. With such praise heaped on their first album, it would’ve been easy for them to cave under pressure and release something that was tolerable. For this album, they somehow managed to top themselves. Everything about felt rawer, fiercer, and even more emotional in some places. I love how songs like “DVP” and “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You (I Will)” are pure destruction and aggression. Yet, songs like “Pine Point” and “Sleep in the Heat” both haunting and gut wrenching. It’s easy for a punk band to be loud and brash, but few of them can get out of their comfort zone and make emotional songs that still kick major ass. So much passion, drive, and heartache comes out of this album, it’s hard to take in all at once. It’s an excellent follow-up proving the band didn’t get lucky the first time around.

Well, 2016 is finally over. Let’s hope more awesome music in 2017. What albums are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

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.