LIZ VAN PAY

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

Posts Tagged ‘reviews

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 – 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

Archives: Fall Out Boy show review.

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photo by liz van pay

From the diehard fans littering The Rave’s parking lot and sidewalks before the doors opened to the lucky ones who found themselves crushed against the barriers of the stage in the Eagles Ballroom, Fall Out Boy’s ‘Believers Never Die, Part Deux’ tour brought equal parts energy and entertainment to the stage, from the beginning chords to the final shrill screams of the fans who couldn’t get enough.

Hey Monday, Metro Station, All Time Low and Cobra Starship served as the sold out show’s openers, and complemented each other as the perfect segue into the headline act. Hey Monday’s energetic brand of female-fronted pop punk warmed up an already excited crowd for not only the remaining bands, but for their headline show back at the Rave on June 24th.  Lead singer Cassadee Pope ran and jumped around the stage as if she was on a pogo stick, and truly drew the crowd in and served as the perfect beginning to a show whose openers made the show’s headliners look like amateurs. From Metro Station’s original “Shake It” to All Time Low’s cover of Blink-182’s “Dammit”, each and every one of the show’s openers had something to say, and each and every ear in the room heard them on Saturday, May 16th, 2009. Cobra Starship front man Gabe Saporta took a few minutes during a lull in the band’s set to “thank each and every person in the room for allowing him to make music and have fun with his friends”, and “show that if you want to do what you love, there will always be people to support you”, prior to launching into the song “Kiss My Sass” – an inspirational anecdote from the seemingly fun-seeking band who was responsible for the theme song from the 2006 film Snakes on a Plane.

Since Fall Out Boy’s last trip to Milwaukee brought them to the U.S. Cellular Arena, it’s quite obvious that the Chicago native quartet have ‘made it’. From the large video screens prefacing their 90-minute set with footage of riots and the band all dressed as politicians, it was clear that a typically fun loving pop-punk band had something to say, and they dressed the part from the word ‘go’. Their set began with “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes”, and continued through songs from their newest release, 2008’s Folie A Deux, through their catalog and including singles “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar We’re Going Down”. By the end of the set, the band had foregone their staunch suits and donned more comfortable stage clothing, but had seemingly forgotten the high-energy shows that many fans are used to seeing, to the dismay of some as the band stood in their spaces, not running around as their openers had. Hey Monday’s Cassadee Pope came out to lend some assistance toward the end of the set, and the band also pumped it up with its’ cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, which served as a saving grace and truly ended the set on a positive note, with the show’s patrons screaming the lyrics of each and every song back at them ten times louder than the one before it.

Written by Liz Van Pay

August 3, 2010 at 4:26 pm

One of my favorite haunts: Blackbird Bar, Milwaukee.

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Milwaukee Magazine’s Bar Time Contest, on one of my favorite spots in Milwaukee, Bay View’s Blackbird Bar. While the piece has not yet been posted on the website (and I’m not certain that it will be at all – selection can be a bitch), I felt it was worth posting right here on the ol’ blog. If I am selected for contention I will let everyone know – just because every vote counts! Let me know how you feel, and if you’ve patronized Blackbird, if you think I’m at least a little bit correct.

Small bars are a dime a dozen in Milwaukee, and most are downright forgettable. The scene plays out as it has so many times before: you walk in, grab a beer, and walk out – maybe you have a decent conversation with a stranger to pass time after a long work day or in an attempt to extend last night’s bender. At Bay View’s Blackbird Bar, leaving without a memorable experience and a smile on your face is not an option. Situated at 3007 South Kinnickinnic Avenue, it can be difficult to find unless you’re looking for it (as it can be best described as a storefront space), but once you do, you will have found your new favorite watering hole.

Laid out in an open style with classic Milwaukee kitsch throughout, Blackbird is a non-discriminating hometown bar that makes you feel like part of the family just for walking in the door. With most drink specials under $5, these good times won’t break your bank, either. Happy Hour runs from 4-8 PM every day and offer $2 taps of Schlitz and Riverwest Stein, $3 microtaps and 2-4-1 well drinks. Find yourself going out for a drink a bit later in the day? Nightly specials are for you, beginning at 9 PM and changing on a regular basis. With twenty bucks in your pocket, you can get a great buzz going in a fun atmosphere with wonderful people from all walks of life. Any night of the week, you are assured great conversation. Sports fan? You can always just enjoy a beer while watching a Brewers game on one of two flat-screen televisions in the front bar area.

Speaking of the kitsch – there are large, intricate paintings of various blackbirds on the gold walls in the cozy back booth area. In the front bar, bright blue walls are complimented by gold lion statues circling the two large booths across from the long, padded (dare I say comfortable) bar. It seems like a small place from the outside, but spacious once you walk in the door. Depending on the nature of your visit – coming in to catch a post-work beer or with a group to celebrate a birthday or other event – there is ample and appropriate seating for either. Trying to pinpoint a genre for Blackbird is impossible, as there are always new faces and new goings-on that ensure boredom will never be a concern.

Looking for fun on a Thursday night? Every night from 7-9 PM, Blackbird hosts ‘Team Trivia’, a popular event in Bay View with prizes and snacks for attendees. Monday nights have been coined ‘Metal Mondays’ from 7-9, featuring – you guessed it – metal music and even more drink specials.

Open since 2008 and replacing the building’s former occupant The Groove, Blackbird has created its’ niche as more than just a bar. It is the perfect marriage of bar and coffee shop, of great people and even better times. With more than just beer, Blackbird offers many different veins of amusement. Televisions (of course), board games, always-changing pinball machines and the always-popular photo booth are just a few items that ensure your great times at Blackbird are all but guaranteed with just one stop.

Written by Liz Van Pay

August 2, 2010 at 8:37 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