LIZ VAN PAY

the ramblings of a music journalist and nearly-published author.

Posts Tagged ‘bands

Album Review – Social Distortion: Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

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As a band, Social Distortion are immortal. Their career – spanning over twenty years – is one that didn’t come easily, and definitely didn’t continue that way. There have been loves lost, founding members’ deaths (guitarist Dennis Danell passed on from a brain aneurysm in 2000), and other situations that would have killed lesser bands. Although it took six years for the band to come together to create a new album (the last release being 2004’s Sex, Love and Rock ‘n Roll), their fans knew it would be worth every second. 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph) is worth the wait in every way.

The music of Social Distortion has aged gracefully along with its’ members and grown with the times. Sound-wise, it’s gone from balls-to-the-wall punk rock to a bluesy – almost country – rock sound. That alone would be a death warrant for most bands, but for Social D, it shows that they’re always going to stay true to who they are, and put out the albums they want to.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes has a little bit of everything. From the fast and loud to the soft and sweet and everything in between, this album is something special that only comes around once in a long while.

If you’ve seen the band live in about the past two years, “Road Zombie” will sound familiar, as it was the instrumental track welcoming them to the stage. “California (Hustle and Flow)” is an anthem to the band’s beginnings and making a life of music while living beneath the bright lights of California skies. The tempo stays pretty slow throughout, but still maintains a positive message, solidified by the lyric “life gets hard, and then it gets good – like I always knew it would”. “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” is a positive song, but one of warning. Vocalist Mike Ness’ sound throughout is syrupy sweet, though the lyrics are those of regret and an attempt to warn others to not follow a negative path.

In 2011, many of us are preoccupied with stuff. How much money we have in the bank, how much junk we have littering our homes, but one thing is clear: “You Can’t Take It With You”. A fun track with a morbid theme, it serves as a representation of where society stands. Though the guitar sound is rollicking and the tempo is fast, the fact is this: when you’re gone, you’re gone. None of it matters, just live life.

“Diamond in the Rough” is one of two favorites I have on the album, and here’s why. If you have ever fought with feelings of negativity or self-loathing, as everyone has, it is an anthem of positivity and love that can pull any listener from a bad place. It speaks of finding oneself, making mistakes, and finally coming out on top – like a diamond in the rough. The final track on the album, and my second favorite, “Still Alive” can be applied to so many different situations. With the band, it’s a middle finger to those who said they’d never make it, and it serves as life inspiration for any listener. A truly amazing track that’s hard to put words to.

The only true love song on Hard Times, “Bakersfield” explores themes of missing a lover, being far away, and constant feelings of just wanting to be home. For any touring musician, this is an obvious issue. As the song continues, it’s obvious the band are getting closer to home (’18 more hours, girl, and I’ll be home to you’), and as a listener, the band’s homecoming to wives and children can be visualized. While most of the songs on the album are positive, “Alone and Forsaken” is an exception. Ness’ voice changes from the sweetness of earlier tracks into a gravelly, foreboding one, begging to be understood by the man upstairs. A perfect breakup song, themes of being left by a lover are expressed throughout and the lyrics (‘each vow was a plaything that she threw away’) just beg for understanding. Keeping with the theme of a cutting breakup, “Writing on the Wall” is in a perfect spot in the track list. The rough vocal sound has been replaced with honey, as Ness explains in no certain words how he can’t let go. As the song plays out, the lyrics say sweet, but the message is simple – ‘if you love someone, you’ve gotta let them go – and if they return to you, that’s surely how you’ll know.”

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes fits into the band’s discography seamlessly. For years to come, even after Social Distortion hangs it up, one thing is definitely certain: their sound will remain timeless, and their music will remain anthems of not only our generation, but the next.

Favorite Tracks: “Still Alive”, “Diamond in the Rough”

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Album Review – Lostprophets: The Betrayed

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In 2004, Lostprophets were a big deal in the United States. With songs “Last Train Home” and “Burn, Burn” from their album Start Something popular on American radio, it seemed that the hardworking Welsh group would be around the US forever. Right around 2007? Crickets. With two albums released since Start Something and only one released in the United States, The Betrayed is an album that, shamefully, isn’t too readily available. While former outings have seemed honest, they also seemed safe. With The Betrayed, the Lostprophets have made an album that the listener can feel they genuinely wanted to make – with the songs ranging in tempo and sound from the pummeling “DSTRYR/DSTRYR” to the catchy-as-hell “For He’s a Jolly Good Felon” (also the first single), with some slower, more emotional songs in between.

“For He’s a Jolly Good Felon” is a fun song about stealing, basically. In the video, singer Ian Watkins plays the devil on the shoulder of two thieves as they steal their way through the streets of the UK. The band has always been good at creating different sounds, to bring different themes into their music. While there are some expected sounds (“It’s Not The End of the World (But I Can See It From Here)”), there are definitely a few curveballs thrown in (the screaming hit of “Next Stop Atro City”, the sweet lyrics in “Dirty Little Heart”), these songs merge together to build an album that’s basically the brain child of both a hypothetical combined slam dunk/home run.

While the album may never see the light of day in the U.S., The Betrayed is worth the search.

Favorite Tracks: “DSTRYR/DSTRYR”, “For He’s A Jolly Good Felon”, “Dirty Little Heart”

Written by Liz Van Pay

December 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Album Review – My Chemical Romance: Danger Days

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My Chemical Romance are a guilty pleasure band for a lot of people – a band we listen to but don’t want to cop to. I am obviously one of those. Last week, I picked up their new record, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. One thing you should know about me, is if a song gets stuck in my head or I find myself singing along to it, I’m stuck with it. While genius it is not, Danger Days is definitely something different. A band not opposed to concept albums (The Black Parade being their biggest commercial success), MCR tried again with Danger Days, and did a great job. In reality, it could be considered a dance record, but its’ one of the most well thought-out storylines for a concept album in recent history, and is a fearless display by a band who had nothing to lose – already on the brink of breaking up following their last touring cycle.

In a music marketplace that’s dwindling on its’ best day, it is refreshing to hear a band take a risk, and not just churn out an album to appease their record label. While there is no doubt that The Black Parade was at least worth a listen, it seemed forced, and did not seem like the My Chemical Romance many have grown to know – though many of their diehard fans got used to the black Sgt. Pepper outfits and church-like staging at live shows. Now, expect those to be replaced with battle gear and maybe even tumbleweeds!

The concept of the album is a fictional place in the future, Battery City, California. The band members (the Killjoys) play the main characters – singer Gerard Way as “Party Poison”, bassist Mikey Way as “Kobra Kid”, guitarist Ray Toro as “Jet Star” and guitarist Frank Iero as “Fun Ghoul” – constantly packing heat in the form of ray guns to battle the Draculoids and Better Living Industries to take back their city. First single “Na Na Na” is – to put it mildly – a fun song. It’s a rollicking tune that gets stuck in your head at the first listen (if only for the repetitive ‘Na’s). While the story takes place in the audio of the songs, visuals can be found in the videos – with the video for “Na Na Na” showcasing the band members running amok trying to protect Battery City, and also boasts a battle scene with the band pitted against some unusual characters – Draculoids – which definitely helps to bring the concept of the album home. Second single, “Sing” is more of an anthem sung to infiltrate the hearts of 14-year-olds everywhere, but also to encourage its’ listeners to get off their asses and do something. Another fun piece of the album is the narration by “Dr. Death Defying”, with an intro and outro, as well as an intermission-style introduction to “Party Poison”.

With so many bands just churning out faceless, heartless music, an album like Danger Days is necessary right now. While every song is not a sterile, forced epic (as each song on The Black Parade seemed at points), it is worth a listen, maybe more. This is not the My Chemical Romance of the past, this is the My Chemical Romance of the future – and as spoken in “Na Na Na” – the future is bulletproof, and so is My Chemical Romance.

Favorite Tracks: “Vampire Money” (toe-tapping, hand clapping party time!), “Bulletproof Heart”, “Party Poison”, “DESTROYA”

Album Review – Avenged Sevenfold: Nightmare

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I have never been Avenged Sevenfold’s biggest fan. Sounding The Seventh Trumpet got me into them, and my love of classic rock and guitar solos kept me listening, though I wouldn’t call myself a fan. It is impossible to ignore what this band has suffered through in the past year, what with the passing of one of their founding members, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan.

“Nightmare” the band’s newest release, is the band’s catharsis, healing, and cleansing, without a doubt in my mind. While many people thought Avenged lost their edge when they signed to a big label and sold out in every sense of the word, this release is more than just another record. Exploring themes of death and loss, it is clear that there was only one thing on the minds of the band’s members while making this record: the loss of their bandmate.

My first listen left me surprised, to say the least. I’m not sure what I expected, but it definitely is not the mopey, woe-is-us album I thought it might be. While there are, of course, songs that deal exclusively with the death of their friend (“Buried Alive, “Victim”), there are a few tracks that show that Avenged haven’t forgotten the music that got them where they are (“Natural Born Killers”, “God Hates Us”). Musically, the album comes together perfectly with the dueling guitars we’ve all come to know and drum parts that leave heads spinning (penned by Sullivan). A late track on the list, “Fiction” is the most haunting. The final song Sullivan brought to the table (initially called “Death”) features not only his writing and lyrics, but his unmistakable voice, as if he is speaking from beyond the grave, alongside singer Matt Sanders (er, M. Shadows) The track’s name was later changed to “Fiction”, after Jimmy’s nickname, and features pronounced piano parts over muted drums and guitars, unlike the rest of the band’s discography.

The band’s debut week on Billboard at number one proves that there is definitely new life in Avenged Sevenfold, though they’ve lost one of their biggest pieces. And while I’m sure I’ve talked shit in the past about how ridiculous the band got, this album changes the rules.

Written by Liz Van Pay

August 15, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Album Review – Cancer Bats: Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones

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From the first bars of opening track “Sleep This Away”, the Cancer Bats prove that their new album, Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones (Good Fight Records/Distort Records) is a heavier departure from their previous projects, but one with purpose. Each track has the classic Cancer Bats sound, but the subject matter seems more grown up than previous projects, exploring themes of love, faith, and feeling not good enough. “Raised Right” is an ode to parents everywhere. “Drive This Stake” explores feelings of loneliness, and the list goes on. The final track on the album, “Sabotage” is a cover of the Beastie Boys’ classic. Wetting fans’ appetites with the release of the Sabotage EP in March, the band released a hilarious video to accompany the song. Released on April 13, 2010, the album as a whole does not possess a song that leaves the listener wanting anything more. Titled using portions of each of the members’ nicknames, Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones proves that the Bats are growing up, learning what works and what doesn’t, and covering more ground than anyone thought possible.

Written by Liz Van Pay

April 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Album Review: The Dear & Departed – Chapters

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The Dear & Departed are not a new band. Several of the band’s original members were in Australian band Day of Contempt, where the band originated before moving stateside to Orange County, California. Releasing their first album Something Quite Peculiar in 2007 on Science Records, they began to get their name out by touring with bands like AFI and Avenged Sevenfold, even doing the Vans Warped Tour. In January 2010, they released a new EP, called Chapters, on Equal Vision Records.

The band is fronted by tattooer Dan Smith, who is becoming well-known as a tattoo artist at High Voltage Tattoo, serving as a cast member on Kat Von D’s LA Ink television show – Kat even visited the band as they recorded Chapters during an episode in September 2009.

Musically, the band are influenced by everyone from Morrissey to The Cure, and that is all obvious in the first listen. The songs all have a similar sound, but each has its own hook that is impossible to get out of your head. Chapters is an EP of five incredibly emotional, raw songs, but each hold their own in a listener’s head, with a mix of electronic elements and instrumental background which fits Smith’s voice perfectly. “Matter of Time”, “It Looks Like Rain” and “Tambourine Love” are a few of my personal favorites.

While similar to 2007’s Something Quite Peculiar, The Dear & Departed are far more put together with Chapters.

Written by Liz Van Pay

March 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Album Review: Alkaline Trio – This Addiction

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Anybody who knows anything about me knows that the Alkaline Trio are one of my favorite bands of all time. I own countless t-shirts, pay yearly to be a member of their ‘Blood Pact’ fan club, and can recite most of their lyrics on demand. Ever since I heard their self-titled album way back when, I’ve been hooked.

Last week, they released their newest album, This Addiction. Out on Epitaph Records along with their own Heart & Skull label, the album promised to be a blast back to the sound they crafted early on, and the band definitely delivered. Less auto-tune, less big production – a stripped down, back-to-basics Alkaline Trio record.

While the band found success with previous releases Good Mourning, Crimson, and Agony and Irony, the themes stayed the same but something was missing. With many radio-friendly songs that lent themselves to picking up new fans along the way, it felt like something was missing – something that was definitely found with their newest project.

The songs continue to keep a dark theme throughout, but the band definitely experimented with different sounds, such as trombone used in “Lead Poisoning” that makes it feel almost like it belongs on a ska record. “Eating Me Alive” has backing instrumentals that make it sound like a takeoff of 80’s new wave. The album is full of experimentation, which merges together to keep older Trio fans happy, and even pick up a few more along the way. Personally, my favorite tracks are the above as well as “Draculina” and “Dine, Dine My Darling”.

For those interested in the split between songs performed by Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano, there are three ‘Dan songs’ and the remainder ‘Matt songs’, but the deluxe edition of the album contains two additional songs, both sung by Andriano: “Kick Rocks” and “Those Lungs”.

If you were expecting the band to create another album identical to Agony and Irony, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go into listening with an open mind, it’s impossible to be disappointed. This Addiction is the best Alkaline Trio album in years, and if their #11 Billboard chart debut doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what will.

Written by Liz Van Pay

March 3, 2010 at 4:09 pm