Archive for The Swellers

The Swellers… still rockin’ like it’s 1999.

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , , on April 14, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

When Much the Same broke up in 2007, I was convinced that there wasn’t anyone left to bear the “punk rock” banner.  It’s been more than 15 years since the punk rock explosion I remember from my youth (check out www.onenineninefour.com and tell me that doesn’t pique your interest!) and, as I’ve said before in this blog, I know the scene’s different these days.  Still, I miss those big shout-out-loud choruses and fast, palm-muted verses!

Oh, what’s a 26-year-old dinosaur like me to do?  I guess listen to old No Use For A Name and Pennywise records until…

I picked up the Sweller’s newest album Ups and Downsizing last fall.  Throaty (yet melodic) vocals?  Check.  Double-time drum beat?  Check.  Hooks that hit you like a ballistic missile?  Check.  Ding Ding Ding!  Folks, we have a winner.

Tell me this song doesn’t make you want to go to a show and get crushed against the stage barriers or drink some Yoo-hoo from a paper cup.  Fortunately for us, the Swellers are playing the Van’s Warped Tour all summer long (or at least the first half)!

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My favorite albums of 2009

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

Finally getting around to compiling this list of my favorites from 2009.  I decided to include EP’s with the list because there were just a bunch of really good ones this year.

Before we get into the top 10, I thought I’d briefly make mention of a couple other good collections of music:

  • Horse Feathers – House With No Name (Came out in 2008.  I didn’t listen to it until this year though.)
  • The Panic Division – Sleepwalker (Nothing groundbreaking and the songs all kinda sound the same.  All that aside, this is just fun to listen to in the car.)
  • Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist (Not as good as last year’s effort, Censored Colors, but still trippy and beautiful.)
  • Rx Bandits – Mandala (Everything these guys do takes me at least a year to dig into properly.  It’s always amazing and always initially over my head.)
  • ***Click on the album cover to buy album from the iTunes store!***

    10.  The Elms – The Great American Midrange

    This is not a thinkpiece.  This is a rock and roll album.  It lives up to that billing through and through.  While the album is largely a glimpse into the band’s midwestern backdrop, they do a solid job of diluting the “times are tough” context with a healthy dose of fat, tasty riffs that make your ass jiggle.  If you’re into Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, I’ve got good news; these guys are too.  Add a dash of southern gospel choir and a truckload of vintage gear and you’ve got a good idea of The Great American Midrange brings to the table.

    What surprised me is how many great songs didn’t end up on this album.  Rumored to have demoed almost a hundred songs for TGAM, the Elms left off a handful of tunes that I had the pleasure of hearing before the album’s release.  I was shocked that “Bring a Little Love”, “Promises” and “Miracle” didn’t make the cut.  I’m hoping that they’ll make it onto the Elm’s subsequent release.

    9. Anamanaguchi – Dawn Metropolis (EP)

    Punk rock 8-bit instrumentals?  It’s kind of a niche market, but this 7-song EP packs a lot of hooks.  When you walk around with this playing on your iPod, it almost feels like you’re living a video game.  This album is just fun.  Some of the jams rival your favorite game soundtracks from the original NES (actually… the band uses a hacked NES to make their songs!).  Take a listen to “Overarrow”, “Danger Mountain” and “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” (by far the best song on the album… and maybe one of my favorites from the entire year!).  There are a lot of bands that play covers of their favorite old Nintendo songs (the Mini Bosses come to mind) but as far as I can tell – Anamanaguchi are the best at taking 8-bit sounds out of the dustbin and creating brand new music with it.

    8. Cassino – kingprince

    Cassino is the remnant piece of one of my favorite bands, Northstar.  Unlike some of my other favorite bands that have since broken up, Cassino continues to make compelling if not entirely original music.

    It’s true.  Several other bands have trodden the emo-turned-alt country path as a way of breaking ties with a scene and declaring a new found maturity:  Dustin Kensrue, Dallas Greeen, Chuck Ragan (all of which cranked out dynamite albums, mind you!)  But Nick Torres’ slow Alabama drawl sounds at home surrounded by acoustic guitars, banjos and fiddles.  Fortunately, this second album features a more varied assortment of folk instrumentation (and everything was recorded in Nick’s apartment).

    This album includes 3 songs (“Ice Factory”, “Gin War” and “Boomerang”) that have been reworked from the band’s last album (2007’s Sounds of Salvation), which might sound like a cop out.  Truthfully, the newer versions are so drastically different that they feel brand new though.  Of the rest of the albums all-new tracks, my favorites are “Cannonball” and the final track, “The Levee”.

    What makes kingprince a standout album is the storytelling.  Nick’s taking a few notes from Bruce Springsteen’s page.  Lyrics have always been a strong point on Northstar albums, but they’re more focused here.  There’s a sense of restraint in the phrasing and an emphasis on the instruments.

    7. Mae – (m)orning (EP)

    Mae’s last album, Singularity, was just an awful piece of trash.  I was shocked because I loved their previous efforts, but Singularity was full of alternative rock anthems that seemed so atypical from a band that had formerly set their focus on making delicate, melodic and contemplative music.

    Then I got an urge to listen to their new EP, (m)orning, the first of a trilogy – (m)orning, (a)fternoon, and (e)vening).  This is a pleasant return to form for Mae (bands often talk about returning to an earlier sound, but rarely deliver).  They hit you with a quick intro track and then it’s onto the epic track, “The Fisherman Song”.  It’s one of those songs that switches directions at least 4 times (and the “bridge” from 4:20 – 5:44 completely slays me – it’s the drums).  Other highlights include “A Melody, A Memory” – which could’ve easily been a lost track from The Everglow – and “Night/Day”.  With any Mae release, I expect at least one song that can slide right onto my bedtime mix, and “Night/Day” is that song.  It’s the most chill and evening-friendly song on the EP.

    So Mae is back from the dead.  That’s good news!  There are two more EPs that will round out this collection and I’m really excited to hear them now.

    6. Vedera – Stages

    I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I was listening to most of Stages in 2008.  It may have ended up on my “Best of the year” list last year, actually.  But this year, the band finally released the album to the public with some new tracks.  This album is better than last year’s version by leaps and bounds.  Some of the weaker tracks were removed and replaced by the stellar tracks:  “Loving Ghosts”, “Goodbye My Love” and “Even I”.

    Stages is an entirely different direction for Vedera.  Their last album, The Weight of an Empty Room, bordered on prog rock.  Kristen May’s airy vocals teased with hooks, but they never seemed deliberate.  Stages is a pop record.  The choruses are catchier, the songs are lighter, and the band has never sounded better.

    I think long-term fans might have a hard time accepting the bands newer songs (and the fact that some of the old choruses found new homes on Stages) but Vedera is one of those gems that need to shine on a bigger stage (pun intended).  There isn’t a vocalist on American Idol with as much talent as Kristen May – and she’s the frontwoman of a very organic, real band (writing their own songs).

    When compared to all the phony, pre-fabricated, image-obsessed music we’re bombarded with – Stages is the pop album you NEED.

    5. The Swellers – Ups and Downsizing

    A lot of bands are trying to keep punk music alive.  Set Your Goals was touted as the savior of the genre this year, but This Will Be the Death of Us was largely disappointing.  Veterans, New Found Glory, tried their hand with Not Without A Fight, but aside from a few gems – the album fell flat.  The Dangerous Summer put out an album that almost quenched my thirst for a new Starting Line album (the singers sound exactly the same), but alas – it wasn’t the same.

    And then the Swellers released Ups and Downsizing.

    This album is a pop punk classic.  You can sing along with every chorus.  The guitars and drums clip along at a blistering pace.  The vocals don’t make your balls switch sides and the lyrical content has actual substance.  The Swellers hail from Detroit, and the album is thematically centered around the regional economic downturn.  Sounds like a bummer, but it’s from the heart.

    I will be listening to Ups and Downsizing for years to come.  At least for the Swellers, the future is looking bright.

    4. Thrice – Beggars

    Thrice will never make a metal record again.  Make of that what you will.  The band’s collection of elemental EPs showcased just how diverse they can be.

    Beggars is the culmination of that diversity and the result is expectedly brilliant.  The music is at times anthemic and at times very minimalistic.  (“The Weight” and “In Exile” are respective examples of each.)  Dustin Kensrue’s voice is just vastly powerful and his lyrics always seem to have the heft to deserve that power.

    In terms of instrumentation – Beggars is the most uniform release Thrice has completed yet.  In the past, the band seemed focused on highlighting how many different types of music they could feel comfortable creating.  On Beggars, they don’t vary stylistically as much.  Instead, you get the feeling that they found a sound and embraced it.

    But this is Thrice – and I’m sure their next album will sound entirely different… and just as brilliant.  For the time being, Beggars is as stunning an album as Thrice has ever made.

    3. Metric – Fantasies

    This album reeks of sex and loneliness.  Emily Haines has the voice of a lolitaand Metric always has this very urban, gritty feeling in their music.  Fantasies is their best album yet – it’s one of those releases you can listen to the entire way through without skipping a song.  The tracks flow perfectly.

    Just imagine that it’s 2am in New York City, and the streets are wet and steamy (because it’s August… and it’s just rained).  You’ve most likely snorted your dinner and you’re headed to a hipster dance party.  Fantasies is the soundtrack of your life right now.  You just get that feeling when you listen to the album.  It’s shady music for shady dealings.

    …Or shady music for cleaning your new apartment with your roommate.  Still – 3rd favorite album of the year.  This one bangs pretty hard.

    2. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha

    I liked a song by the Appleseed Cast a lot in highschool.  It was called “Marigold and Patchwork” and I heard it on a Deep Elm compilation.  Other than that, I just don’t know a ton of their music.

    Sagarmatha was one of the last releases on the now-defunct Militia Group record label, and it’s incredible.  It’s a mostly instrumental album that reminds me of the best moments of an Explosions in the Sky album.

    The vocals on the album sound like inaudible droning – almost like another instrument… but that’s not really important.  It’s the music that really matters.  The tight rhythm section and the airy, spacy guitars, the experimentation with electronic sounds…

    I honestly don’t know how else to sell this album besides saying that you really need to listen to it.  Preferably in the dark while staring at a visualizer.

    1. Propagandhi – Supporting Caste

    If you know me, then you know I’ve been sweating this album since it came out in March.  This is the best album of the year by miles.  This is punk fucking rock, and it’s here to choke you out and then sodomize your corpse.

    Every song on Supporting Caste is a different rant.  There might be one song with a chorus where lyrics repeat, but generally there are only thematic melodies.  The music is spastic and sonically amazing.  Big, splashy chords and lightning-speed picking.  As a guitarist, I’ll be chewing through how to play this for the next decade (most likely with minimal results).

    It’s mathy and catchy.

    Most of the songs are preachy – but at least one (“The Banger’s Embrace”) is all about the great feeling of seeing your favorite bands play live.  It’s palpable nostalgia.  Two songs are completely brutal (“This is Your Life” and “Incalcuable Effects”) and they make you feel like trashing your house and punching your loved ones in the teeth.  Most of the songs are just so cleverly written that it would take a band like Propagandhi – with 23 years under their belt – to write them… and yet I can’t believe that a group of middle-aged punkers cranked out something to relevant and so substantial.

    I can’t pick a favorite song anymore.  They’ve all had a turn.  This album renewed my faith in a genre I thought had faded out.  Propagandhi FTW.

    Now vs. Then – Someone had to ask the question, “How did we get here?”

    Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by stevenreedkelly

    I have a huge problem with the scene I grew up supporting.

    This is going to be one of those highly contested articles that makes me look like a total asshole (because it’s about to get sexist up in here!).  I’m just going to let you know that I’m okay with that.  It won’t be the first time I’ve been called a jerk.

    Here’s my general theory on how bands generally build a following:

    1.  Guy scopes out a new band with his other guy friends.
    2.  Guy shows his girlfriend said band
    3.  Throngs of teenage girls flock to see said band.

    I know that probably sounds like a huge generalization (it is!).  But I really think there’s some truth to it.  I also think the “punk” scene has evolved in recent years as an attempt to skip the middle man.  “Punk” bands these days tend to pander more towards their female fans as an attempt to quickly establish a rabid fanbase (and get laid!).

    First lets take a look at your average punk band 15 years ago.

    No Use For a Name.

    No Use For a Name

    I feel like this is a pretty representative sample for the ’90s punk rock scene.  This is also a band that never really broke it big.  They signed to an indie label (Fat Wreck Chords) and put out a stream of consistent records while never really flirting with mainstream radio.  Their sound stayed roughly close to home base (just last year they put out their 9th studio album, Feel Good Record of the Year, which they very well could’ve released much earlier in their career), but its fair to say that their earliest albums were harder.  If you were a fan of NUFAN, you were most likely a fan of similar popular punk bands like Millencolin, the Vandals, Pennywise, etc.  These bands all sounded vaguely similar and formed the foundation of the punk rock scene from the mid-1990s until about the year 1999, when emo and screamo really started to take off.  In 1995, the punk rock scene was a conglomerate of bands that played fast (sometimes goofy) and catchy songs.  Most of the bands looked like they spent all day skateboarding before they hit the stage.  Style was as much an afterthought as using any sort of chord that didn’t include the word “power” or “octave” in front of it.

    You’d get in the mosh pit for a No Use For a Name show.  This was music you’d furiously steering-wheel-drum to in your car.  The lyrics may have been about girls – but they were tough songs.  You’d listen to these songs with your guy friends, but they were catchy enough that you could probably intersperse some with the Gin Blossoms songs on the mix tape you were making for your girlfriend.  Hell, when my old roommate was dating this girl in college, their “song” was NUFAN’s cover of “A Fairy Tale of New York”.

    The crowd majority was mostly guys for a band like No Use For a Name.  It was those guy fans that would spread the word about the band to their friends.  It was those guy fans who became devoted and spent cash on their merch and records (remember mailorder?!).  One thing’s for sure: a girl at a NUFAN show in 1995 either had a boyfriend in attendance or she must’ve been pretty cool (obviously not both!).

    So the “punk rock” scene has evolved quite a bit since 1995.  If you looked at the Warped Tour lineup of the past few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that embodies hints of the same sound.  The kids making tunes these days have been drip-filtered through that whole “emo/screamo” phase and a whole new breed of band has become the norm.

    The Maine.

    The Maine

    The Maine is a resounding example of what a scene churns out after 15 years of inbreeding.  Take a look around.  Your old punk rock venues are full of bands like the Maine, All Time Low, We the Kings, Boys Like Girls – pick one.

    All of these bands are cookie-cutter copies of each other.  Swooping bangs, neon t-shirts, silly white-boy, club-banger slang.  Look at these kids!  I didn’t even pick the douchiest picture.

    Every generation has its own style though, I get that.

    The problem?  These bands have lost their teeth.  They’ve lost that bite and grit that made punk rock so appealing!  There’s no rebelling!  There’s no anger!  These are sappy love songs with glossy production – a perfect companion to the latest American Idol debut.

    So how did we get here?  The popularity of Blink 182, Sum 41 and (ugh, it pains me to give this band any credit as an influential force, but) Simple Plan started to draw more female fans to punk shows.  Somewhere along the lines, horny teenage guys in bands decided that it was better to stuff a venue full to the gills with barely legal (and not-so-legal) girls.  They’ve bailed on trying to build a strong male following.  So the Maine uses lines like “with eyes like sunsets and legs that go on for days” to speak to the ladies out there.  The worst and most misleading part is that the music is presented under the guise of being punk, and that’s what makes it suck.  I mean, they spend time name-dropping Prada.  Seriously, where’s the angst in expensive designer clothing!?  Indeed, the underground has gotten a serious makeover.

    You go to AbsolutePunk.net (a staple website for the punk rock scene) and these are the bands getting represented.  Why?  My guess is because the well has run dry.  There just aren’t many bands garnering popularity in the scene anymore that have that punk rock sound.  It’s full of this garbage.  And it doesn’t look like it’s losing steam right now.

    Not all is lost.  NUFAN and Propagandhi, despite getting older, are still making great records.  Younger bands like The Swellers or Bayside are churning out tunes that still harken back to those glory days.    Still, I hold out hope that someday the youth of America will grow a pair.

    Update: a continued observation of “the scene”