LIZ VAN PAY

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

Posts Tagged ‘writing

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”

Soon to be featured on estrella-online.com!

This is our team.

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Since Sunday, I have been piecing together just what to say to explain what happened to Green Bay that night.
If you don’t know me, you should know this: I was born and raised on the west side of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I grew up fifteen blocks from Lambeau Field, went to gymnastics class with Reggie White’s children. The Packers were a giant part of my childhood, and as an adult, nothing has changed. The weekend after the NFC Championship game, I got a G tattooed on me.

When the Packers won Super Bowl 31 in 1997, I was in fifth grade. ESPN came to my elementary school. I remember standing on the side of the street and Gilbert Brown slapping my hand when the buses came by with the welcome home parade. Those memories will never leave me, much like the new memories made on Sunday, February 6th.

The Green Bay Packers are not just a football team. Sure, we’re the smallest market in the NFL, but the love for our team is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, or felt, in my entire life. The city is full of shareholders who either bought stock after the last Super Bowl win or when it was first offered for sale. We financed the renovations to Lambeau Field with our sales tax. Did people complain? Yes, but not as much as you’d think. The Packers are the heart and soul of Green Bay, and their fans tie not only the city, but the team together.

The Packers didn’t just win the Super Bowl on Sunday. Green Bay, Wisconsin won the Super Bowl, and goddamn did we celebrate.

The game was easy going in the first half and nail biting in the second. I remember sitting at the party making people hold my hand because I was so nervous. Watching the clock tick down those last five minutes, I was speechless. I couldn’t form words. When the clock went from 30 seconds down, the feeling was indescribable. We ran around, hugged each other, and then took to the streets.

We ran downtown as fast as was humanly possible, even though it was freezing and the fireworks weren’t for another hour – I wasn’t even wearing a jacket. We ran downtown to be part of it. Cars were driving up and down the streets, horns honking, people screaming, everyone running around. When we got to the corner of Walnut and Washington, there were police cars in a road block, a van from the WIXX radio station playing Weezy’s version of “Green and Yellow” on a loop, and the street was full. Reps from the Press-Gazette were selling copies of the ‘WORLD CHAMPS’ special edition. I remember taking a swig of beer from an old friend I hadn’t seen in forever, hugging and high fiving everyone, and dancing in a slew of cop cars. I remember smashing bottles on the bridge. I remember how elated everyone was. We’re all family, and it was proven on that night. Green Bay exploded, and the feeling is incredibly difficult to explain.

We have always been known as Titletown, and today, we brought that trophy home for the first time in 14 years. The words are hard to find, but there are two words I can think of to try: hell yes.

Written by Liz Van Pay

February 8, 2011 at 11:26 pm

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”

FYI: I started a crafty blog!

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While it may seem like I’ve forgotten about writing, I haven’t – just haven’t been feeling real inspired to write lately. One thing thats’ taken over a big portion of my life, however, is my crafts, oddly enough! I’ve been building all kinds of stuff from scarves to cakes to even art pieces, and decided to throw it all onto a second blog (though don’t worry, this one isn’t going anywhere). You can find that blog here. Even if I’m not updating this blog too often, be happy to know that I’m likely knitting, sleeping or working, and I haven’t forgotten about this. If you’re interested in what I do craft-wise, or want to learn something new, check it out!

Written by Liz Van Pay

December 2, 2010 at 8:56 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

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