Review: MxPx – MxPx

Self-titling an album is always a bold move, but to do it a quarter century into a career is something special. At this point, MxPx are one of the legends of the skate punk/pop punk scene, which makes it fitting that their newest album, MxPx is a reflection of their accomplishments and favorite memories. It genuinely sounds like the band are continuously having a blast. If anything, it confirms the brilliance of loud, fast simplicity in music and is a reminder of why people fell in love with punk to begin with.

You can buy or stream MxPx on Apple Music.

MxPx is an album that finds joy in reflection. It’s pure energy that at once shows the craft of a band so far into their career, as well as the manic noise that draws so many people to punk rock. While it sounds like it could have fallen out of 1998, MxPx is an record that relishes not being more than it is and doubles down on itself in an era when bands (and audiences) seem obsessed with finding something new.

Its greatest strength is that it is simple in construct. The music sounds similar to the skate punk of 20 years ago, though more refined. The lyrics wholeheartedly become party ready sing-a-longs, but there are glimpses of a career well earned and fondly remembered. It’s a touch that makes the record feel like a celebration of the band itself as much as it is meant to excite a crowd into a frenzy.

Album opener, “Rolling Strong” sets the tone for the album as singer Mike Herrera proudly boasts, “There’s no giving up, no going home / We’ll be here till the end / We’re pressing on / Probably should have asked a friend, but that not how we’re living / We’re still rolling strong”. It’s a song that really sounds like the band still love what they do, especially during a breakdown filled with enthusiastic shouts and crazed guitars.

MxPx finds ways to mix memories with the youthful optimism of pop punk in ways that sound neither self-indulgent nor ham-fisted. “The Way We Do” has a generic sounding chorus about following your dreams (“This is the way we do / Like the way we always wanted to”), but dispersed between these are stories about past tours and great nights on the road. “Let me live on through the songs and stories / Like that time Face to Face destroyed our van / Our freezing balls, crossed Canada with Simple Plan / Or stealing food from Bad Religion’s dressing room”.

Closing song, “Moments Like This” sends off a message of hope about making the most out of life and enjoying freedom while you have it. “It’s moments like this, that I’m gonna miss / When I’m dead and gone and I can’t kiss my kids / Will they look up at the sky and think about me? / These are the ways I’ve been spending my days, thinking weird thoughts and the things that amaze / Beyond my life and the way I’ve been able to live it so free.”

Though I listen to a lot of punk rock, I find music similar to skate punk hard to comment on. Predicated on fast guitars, steady drums and thundering bass lines, it can start to run together extraordinarily easily. However, simplicity is the biggest strength of MxPx. Many bands who started in the genre around the same time as MxPx, such as blink-182 and AFI, have drastically changed their sound over the years. Without more familiarity with MxPx, I can’t say for sure how their self-titled album compares to their earlier work, but it is crafted with the strength of a band who isn’t trying to build their reputation as much as they’re putting it on display.

MxPx is an album that should make fans of the band proud, and one of the few self-titled albums that seem to truly represent the band as a whole. While it provides one of the most fleshed-out versions of lightning quick punk rock, it makes the genre feel relevant and energized. MxPx could have been released anywhere in the last two decades, but it wouldn’t have quite the same depth of nostalgia or inspiration. Perhaps more important than anything though, MxPx is just incredibly fun to listen to.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and he just heard the cabinet in his bathroom open and close on its own. He is typing this to avoid having to go see why it did that. The cat sitting on his lap seems alarmed as well. Booooo.

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Reflecting On: The Fratellis – Here We Stand

The feeling that Here We Stand would hit the sophomore slump may have been inevitable. Following The Fratellis’ debut album, Costello Music, was a daunting task at best. While Costello Music had made the band famous internationally, the legacy of Here We Stand would be that of the album leading to the band’s break up.

Costello Music is a beloved record. It is a collection of pub punk songs, featuring characters, wit and tales best told over a pint glass. The unstoppable swagger of “Chelsea Dagger” remains the band’s most famous song, if for no other reason than as the victory anthem of the Chicago Blackhawks. Here We Stand is the album that turned off everyone I knew from the band. They stopped following The Fratellis’ career almost immediately, opting instead to replay Costello Music for the next 10 years.

The Fratellis had established a solid sound for themselves in Costello Music, including a series of incredible B-Sides for their singles. Here We Stand bears the burden of trying something different. Instead of reveling in eccentric punk, the music slowed down, added a piano and much cleaner production. In retrospect, the change isn’t that drastic, but at the time, it sounded like a complete genre shift. The characters and stories were gone, and a dash of blues influence seeped into the songs.

Here We Stand is a good album, but not a great one. Despite its best efforts, the album feels disjointed. The songs are slower than anything on Costello Music and seem caught somewhere between writing sessions. Some extra time may have found a stronger product. Songs meant to be jams, such as “A Heady Tale”, find the guitar hidden beneath a melody of piano that awkwardly gives way to the bridge after each chorus. “Lupe Brown” mixes simple guitar parts with a doo-wop styled chorus, and “Acid Jazz Singer” finds harder guitar licks dampened by a pop chorus.

For two years, Costello Music was a staple for my friend group. Less than a week after the release of Here We Stand, I was the only one still listening. A year later, the band went on a three year hiatus that, for all purposes, left the album dead. When The Fratellis finally returned with We Need Medicine, the time given to let this new sound simmer created a much tighter album that managed to achieve the sound that Here We Stand had attempted.

Though The Fratellis continue to move away from the sound of their debut to this day, Here We Stand is the album that started that journey. It’s not perfect by any means, but without the experimentation on this album, the band would most likely be trapped trying to rewrite their debut over and over instead of making the music they want to.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and spilled a full cup of water on the floor like an amateur. Like, IMMEDIATELY after filling it.

Wolves at the Gate: The Message of Rise Against

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I fell in love with Rise Against in the middle of college, during the height of the Bush era. To say it was similar to the political climate of today seems quaint, but I remember the boiling of my blood at the discussion of laws to ban gay marriage, of the sick feeling of being in war or watching the economy catch flame. The Sufferer & The Witness was the first album I had ever heard that took a deep dive into politics (not counting my beloved American Idiot). Appeal to Reason and Siren Song of the Counter Culture quickly became new favorites.

The band released three albums during the Obama years (counting a B-Side album). But I can’t say that I listened to them more than a couple of times, and I stopped listening to their older works almost entirely. I don’t have a reason – it could be that I had gotten tired of ‘revolting’, that they started to sound mainstream or the idea of revolutionary punk rock seemed old hat.

Wolves, the band’s newest release came out over a month ago. I picked up a copy on release day, and didn’t listen to it for weeks. Again, I don’t have a reason other than politics these days is a maddening topic, and the idea of listening to rebel songs when the entire world seems up in arms just feels draining.

I listened to Wolves on a road trip, once our other albums had run out, after I had read some ironically hilarious news about an unfortunate meeting the president’s son had last year. Wolves won me back almost instantly. The hooks were less alternative, and screamed of the raging punk aesthetic I originally loved about the band. More than that, it revived my interest in Rise Against completely. From their first album through Wolves, they are the only band I have been listening to, even the albums I never originally went back to. It’s as though I am listening to the band for the first time again.

So why the change? Wolves is a great record, and feels like a return to basics in many ways. There isn’t as much of an alternative edge to it as The Black Market, instead falling back to a more ‘classic’ style punk. The politics aren’t as razor sharp or as damning as they could be given the last seven months. Instead, this is all common practice, as vocalist Tim McIlrath sings , “Stand by to switch on / We fire on all pistons / We’re singing along but no one is listening / From dusk until dawn, we stay up to carry the flame”, on “Mourning in Amerika”.

Throughout their discography, Rise Against maintain the same themes they have had since at least Siren Song, which is railing against injustice and singing ahead of the army as it grows. During the Bush era, when the news made me red with rage, the lyrics from “Bricks” (Sufferer) rang with me: “We’re setting the fires to light the way / We’re burning it all to begin again / With hope in our hearts, and bricks in our hands / We sing for change”.

To say I was pleased with Obama’s America wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but the fire of anger didn’t burn in me. Rise Against’s fury and rebellion didn’t excite me, because it wasn’t needed. I became much more introspective, obsessing over new waves of punk like The Wonder Years. I rediscovered old favorites that I had set aside because they seemed childish when compared to the political climate (Homegrown and The Ataris). As the Occupy movement climaxed, and Black Lives Matter took to the streets, Rise Against felt redundant, almost unneeded. Why should I listen to rebellion when I am seeing it? Why listen to anthems against oppression when it seemed like Obama was more or less on my side?

Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been as into the band as I had been in youth, but it felt like Rise Against weren’t as effective or as evocative during progressive times. The fight doesn’t seem as just, because the message is already being heard. But in the Trump era, it seems like every hour there is something new to be mad about or annoyed at, someone else perverting the country while the rest of the world leads. There is constantly something else to laugh at because sometimes, that is all that’s left.

All the while, Rise Against sang on.

Perhaps it is personal opinion, or a minor slump in their writing or just that songs of rebellion sound petty when the world seems like it could be on the upward tick. It would have been simple, maybe even beneath them to attack the Trump administration with the rage and venom that Rise Against is fully capable of. Wolves doesn’t go out of its way to attack in the same way that “State of the Union” (Siren Song) does, or tackle hard topics like euthanasia (“Injection”, Sufferer), which poked at the heart of morality.

Where Wolves finds its strength is reminding us that although this administration may seem extreme, it is still just politics. But the country seems awake now and ready to resist. Wolves feels like a culmination of the message the band has spent their career leading the march towards. For a band nearly two decades deep, the album seems to relish in the basics. The guitars are loud, but practical. Sonically, this could have been any one of their earlier albums. The production is flatter than Sufferer or Endgame.

The difference is that is that for what feels like the first time in my lifetime, the country is actually standing at attention and actively watching the world. The message doesn’t have to be as cutting or dramatic, because the people are actually pushing back. Whereas a rallying cry on older albums felt like wishful liberal thinking, lyrics like, “We are the wolves at the gate, our numbers growing everyday, yeah ./ You can’t fight us all, no / You can’t fight”, (“Wolves”) feel more charged and dangerous than they ever could have before.

The Russia scandal and sea of constantly updating news makes a song like “Bullshit” something that has a weight it wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. “But this is bullshit / It’s finally coming into focus / You’re lying and I think you know it but you’re too afraid / To face the storm you helped create / Yeah, this is bullshit / And did you think I wouldn’t notice? / Cracks in your theory are showing like a broken vase / Your grip around me dissipates”.

I meant to review Wolves when it came out, but I just couldn’t; the idea of investing in anything remotely more political than necessary just seemed like masochism. But this album isn’t a political hit piece. It’s a reminder that Rise Against have preached the same message for years about not tolerating injustice and recognizing the fight for culture. The difference is that this time, it seems like the country is listening. I am listening.

And on they’ll sing.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just watched his cat throw up on a pillow… Cuz why make sick on something easy to clean?

Review: Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

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By the time I had discovered Lucky Boys Confusion, save for one collection of demos and B-Sides, the band had already released all of their material and the various members had decided to split off to work on their own projects. None of that stopped a large group of us from driving hours to Chicago to see their annual one-off shows.

You can buy Stormchasers on iTunes.

In the time since then, several events, namely divorce and the unfortunate passing of guitarist Joe Sell in 2013, acted as a catalyst to reevaluate and spawn a new spark of creativity for the band. Once known for drinking songs, the group has tempered themselves slightly, finding the same lively spirit in rebuilding themselves once the party is over. Stormchasers isn’t a depressing record. It’s the concept of following the havoc in life and cleaning the wreckage into something new, for better or for worse, while looking back fondly on what came before.

Picking up where the How To Get Out Alive EP left off over a decade ago, Stormchasers forgoes many of the ska and hip hop elements of early LBC in favor of the of the immediate punk and waves of Americana rock of guitarist Adam Krier’s side project, AM Taxi. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t sound like a Lucky Boys record – Stormchasers is loud, aggressive and quickly gets to the heart of the issues that may have held the group back before breaking free of those constraints to forge a natural progression of the band.

As a concept record, LBC addresses the elephants in the room within the first three songs; feeling stuck at this point in life (“I Slept with the Devil”), divorce (“It’s After Midnight”) and carrying on after losing Joe Sell (“Stormchaser”). However, instead of wallowing in sadness, Stormchasers uses nostalgia as a tool of empowerment to search for a better future (“Good Luck”).

The evolution in sound for Lucky Boys Confusion is obvious to anyone who has followed the band. They have doubled down on the rock aspect of the music, forgoing the hip hop genre that aged their older albums. While it negates the unique draw of their early discography, it verifies the band as an essential punk band and the flag bearers of the modern rock scene in Chicago. Adam Krier’s guitarwork comes in waves of stiff power chords that create walls of sound while maintaining extraordinary melody. Whether loud and erratic (“Insomniac”), gentle and subdued (“Sun in My Eyes”), or a throwback to the band’s classic era (“Stormchaser”), Krier is at his best, carefully bringing the band’s sound back from into the modern age.

Bassist Jason Schultejann has ample time to carry the songs entirely (“Burn a Little Birghter”, “Name In Lights”), providing substance to a genre that can easily out-loud the bass. Drummer Ryan Fergus is a powerhouse, carrying tempo across the spectrum and maintaining a foreboding presence even in the softest moments.

Vocalist Kaustubh “Stubhy” Pandav once again proves himself as one of the best vocalists in rock. Pandav pushes himself in nearly every song, maintaining every ounce of the enigmatic energy that made him a captivating singer two decades ago. His voice was made for pop punk, and the effect carries through effortlessly (“Sun in My Eyes”, “Your Friends Are Whispering”).

Thematically, Lucky Boys delve into finding the hope at the end of the dark moments. “Slept With the Devil” sets the tone, as Pandav chants, “Our dreams are burning, we breathe the smoke / There’s only so much time before we choke / So stop complaining, embrace the thrill / There’s only so much time here left to kill”.

However, the darkness they describe runs deep. Pandav finds the helplessness through the hell of divorce on “It’s After Midnight”, pleading, “You stopped loving me right when I turned around / I wasn’t chaste enough for you / You took the battleground, you won the war in a wedding gown”. “Stormchaser” particularly strikes deep, reflecting on Joe Sell. “Welcome to life as a stormchaser: searching for love and black bitters /… and I’m tired of being cynical, but it’s catching up / And I’m tired of being practical, but it’s catching up / And I’m seeing the possibilities, and they’re catching up to me / But you’re catching up to me”.

However, the use of nostalgia is used as a tool to pave a way forward and creates a message of hope out of the initial depressing lyrics. On “Sun in My Eyes”, Pandav sings, “How did we go from getting so high off of feeling shallow? Most of these days we make it up as we go”.

One of the true highlights is “Good Luck”, an AM Taxi-esque rocker that gives guitarist Adam Krier lead vocals. He reflects on memories of the band’s inspiration and career, making a declaration of what drives the band to keep going after everything. “Got a varsity letter? Screw ‘em, we get endless memories / Playing songs together, keeping up all the neighbors on your street / And if we burn out fast, come whatever / Summer songs will last, that’s forever. Now and forever, good luck”.

Stormchasers is a massive return for a band many had thought was more or less put to rest. Without retreading ground already covered, the band picks up where they left off. While the songs may not be the soundtrack for hard drinking, the mature aspect refines the storytelling that LBC are known for that cuts through what would be a sad album and makes it one of that yearns to find hope when there doesn’t feel like any.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has so far seen LBC live twice in 2017. It’s not creepy if you call it “enthusiasm!”

Reviving the Future: An Interview with Ryan Fergus of Lucky Boys Confusion

Last week, Lucky Boys Confusion released their first new single in nearly a decade. “It’s After Midnight” is an aggressive rock song that finds a slick balance of crunching harmonies balanced against a swirling story of a relationship spiraling out of control.

As a long-time fan of Lucky Boys Confusion, the song is a refreshing answer to the curiosity of what a band that hasn’t written a full record for almost 15 years looks to create, and how it balances against the rest of their career. For a smaller band, Lucky Boys Confusion has an exceptionally strong and loyal fan base that follows them from show to show, and “It’s After Midnight” certainly beckons their attention.

With just a month until the release of new album Stormchasers, I spoke with drummer Ryan Fergus about the build up leading to its creation and what it means for the future.

***

First off, “It’s After Midnight” is awesome. I’ve been listening to it since it was released and it really feels organic for the band. Do you think it reflects how the album sounds stylistically, or does it branch and venture out more?

Oh thanks! Yeah, we’re really excited about it and it’s been getting a lot of really great feedback. You know, when you go away for as long as we did, and we really created this record in a vacuum, you get a little bit nervous. We really love this, we’re really jacked about this but we don’t know how people are going to receive it. It was such a relief to finally get at least one song out there to kind of show people what we’ve been working on, and the reception has been really positive, which is really encouraging for the rest of the record.

To answer your question, it would definitely be a song that we thought would kind of bridge the gap, so to speak, in terms that it does sound reminiscent of a lot of songs off of Commitment or Throwing the Game. It’s really reminiscent of the How to Get Out Alive EP, but it is a bridge. There are a lot of songs on the record that sound like the older stuff, but there is some modernization and maturity to it and we’re trying different things.

It’s probably our most cohesive record. It’s very fortuitous that we’re talking today, as we just got the final master of the whole record back today. To hear everything together as one rolling, cohesive piece, I’m just on cloud nine right now. We’re really pumped up about it.

That’s fantastic! I was going to say, the single reminds me of How to Get Out Alive. It’s interesting that it’s more cohesive. Closing Arguments, I know it was a mix of demos and B-sides, but it did feel like a patchwork of songs.

Yeah, it wasn’t as coherent. It was basically seeds of what would have been the next record, and obviously that would have changed a lot. And we had a chance to start fresh. We didn’t revisit any of those old pieces so this is all new ideas and arrangements. All new ideas we really cooked up in the last year, year and a half. Once we started working on it and decided that we could do this, it all came together very quickly. It does feel like one piece. There’s no little skips, there’s no 30-second interludes – it’s 12 songs, and it’s a story.

Really, it’s closure in a lot of ways. That’s not to imply that this is the last thing we’re ever going to do, because if anything, we’re more invigorated than ever. What I mean by that is everything that happened to us over the last four of five years, we didn’t really comment publicly on it. Most notably, our guitarist, Joe Sell died suddenly, tragically and very young. I think we left a lot of people in a lurch. We didn’t really have a way of addressing everything we’ve been through in the last few years.

This is kind of our statement to everything that has gone down and what we’ve been through, and there were some pretty dark times, I won’t lie. But I think this has been really therapeutic for us, and we’re all in a really good place. And we’re excited to be working together. We really couldn’t be more pleased with how everything came out.

Everyone has been kind of focused on their side projects for quite some time. Was it natural to be writing together again? Especially since Stubhy (Pandav) and Adam (Krier) went their own way for a while and wrote in their own ways for so long, did things mesh well when everyone came together again?

Yeah, it felt like home, I think, a lot for all of us. Especially for the two of them from a song writing perspective. What happened after Joe passed, it kind of spun us all out in different directions. For Jason (Schultejann) and Adam, they started AM Taxi. Stubhy had multiple projects that he was involved in. My project was kind of having a normal life. Having a job, getting married, having two great kids and living a more normal day-to-day. To do that and then come back into this, and bring a lot of lessons learned with maturity, the things we’ve gone through and bring those together… It was comforting.

The joke of it is, the creative part of this thing has been the easy part. The songs really came together quick, we didn’t have a lot of knock-down, drag-out arguments about arrangements. Even the recording process was a really smooth situation. Honestly, the difficult part for us has been everything else.

We’re doing this completely self-sufficient. There’s no label, there’s no manager, nobody. If anything, the difficult aspect of setting this up and launching it is that we’re doing everything on our own. Every day is a thousand tiny decisions with a constant text thread between the four of us during all hours of the night, starting at 7:30 in the morning. It’s just an ongoing dialogue for a year of, “Hey, did you call that guy?” or “Johnny K (producer) needs an answer today for the mix.” The difficult part has just been the little technical aspects. The creative part was actually quite wonderful and really did feel like coming home again.

Listening to “It’s After Midnight”, the lyrics are about a pained relationship, and they’re fairly vindictive. Lucky Boys have been known for a slight storytelling aspect as much as you are for party songs. With everything that has happened, is Stormchasers more of a serious record, then?

It’s not a kind record, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. If anything, it’s a celebration record. It’s celebrating life, death, love, losing love. All the aspects that kind of make up the human condition. There are darker aspects and you can make the claim that the world is going in a darker direction than it was five or 10 years ago. It’s definitely a reflection, and I think people will see a lot of things they identify with on the record.

There’s a lot of stuff about Stubhy’s marriage, which he’s been very open about and I’m proud of him that it’s out there. But his marriage ended. He’s since fallen in love again, engaged and getting married this summer so it’s been this roller coaster in a lot of ways. He’s been very transparent about that. There are a lot of lines on the record, where you just go, “Wow, he went there.” And I’m so proud of him for not holding that back and not pulling punches.

In that regard, I think people will be surprised at the lengths we’ve gone with some of this stuff and ultimately, it’s a lot of things people will identify with. We got older, but a lot of the folks that are listening to us have been along for the ride and gotten older too. They’ve got responsibilities, they’ve got relationships they’re maintaining and dealing with, someone in their family that have been through some pretty tough times as well. It’s stuff people can relate to, tear apart and identify with.

Speaking of the fan base, I just moved to Chicago a few years ago, and everyone I’ve met who has any kind of interest in rock music knows who Lucky Boys Confusion are. A lot of them seem to have the same type of story, where it’s almost an urban legend where someone finds a copy of Throwing the Game tucked away in a closet somewhere and just falls in love with it after listening to it. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed being at live shows, it’s a lot of the same people coming again and again, talking about past shows. Do you pick up on that from the fan base in general?

It’s stunning to me. It’s stunning to all of us. I’m not sure that you know this, but this year is actually our 20 year anniversary. We started this band when we were 18 years old and just out of high school, and there are a lot of people who have been there since year one or year two. It’s unbelievable. We’re starting to get to the point where some of these folks are starting to bring their kids. Their kids are old enough to go to shows now. It’s definitely a surreal thing.

But you’re right, there are so many stories about, “my older brother left the CD with me before he went to college and then I got into you guys.” It’s really been amazing, and what we’ve kind of said all along is that if they keep coming, then we’re going to keep showing up.

Especially for this long stretch here where we weren’t putting out any new content and you start to think, it’s gotta be here, right? You’re gonna start to see a drop off, kids are going to stop coming and we’re kind of back where we started, playing for 30 people. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

That was definitely in the back of our minds, but these folks have been coming out to hear the same older songs for however long now and we owe them something new. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we wanted to come out with something new, especially for the folks that have been around for so long and have been patient and just waiting. We thought maybe there never would be a record. We’re excited to make that happen for the diehards throughout the many years and we’re just so appreciative of that.

I know it’s a hack question, but do you have a favorite song off of the new record?

[sigh] No, it’s a great question. [laughs]

No, it’s probably changing by the day. Again, it’s a record that finally feels like a whole thing. But we’ve got a song called “Sun In My Eyes” that’s probably going to be our next single. That’s going to come out this month, actually when the preorder goes up on iTunes and whatnot. But I think it’s going to throw some people for a curve ball. It’s a bit more different than anything we’re really tried. “It’s After Midnight” is a call to arms and the announcement that we’re back and Lucky Boys are grown up. “Sun In My Eyes”, I think is something totally different. It’s poppy, kind of a mystical tune but it really crunches, it really rocks. It still feels like us, and I’m really digging that right now.

We close the record with a tune called “Candle in the Window” and it’s the same thing, it’s really different. It sound kind of like an old Elvis Costello B-side or something. It’s really powerful and kind of punctuates the record. And there are a lot of different fields and different directions. Listening to it today as a cohesive piece, it really feels like one statement. I’m really excited to get it out there.

Lastly, what do you think Stormchasers means for the future of Lucky Boys Confusion, especially after you said everyone seems more invigorated now than they have been for a while?

You know, its funny. I like serial dramas on Hulu, like “The Americans” and shows like that, and a lot of these shows are in a bubble. They don’t always know if they’re going to be renewed, so what they do is have this year end finale that wraps up the current storyline and resolves those problems, but it leaves the door open for more story. I think it’s an analog to Stormchasers in that, if it ends up being the last record, I think it’s turning the last pages of the book.

But it’s not a full resolve. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of intense moments here and there, but overall this was a really pleasant, really great experience. A lot of that was based on working with our producer, Johnny K, who is just amazing. He produced it, engineered it, mixed it so that this became one single vision.

I would feel very open, and I think the way the guys are feeling right now, that they would probably agree that there’s no reason that this couldn’t be the beginning of a really nice creative era for us. This year is really about the new record, and celebrating the 20 year anniversary. We really want to mark that and will probably be doing some stuff later in the year to mark that. It’s kind of a big deal – not many bands get to 20 years.

But there’s nothing saying that there couldn’t be more in the future, especially with as excited as everybody is right now. It’s definitely viable.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has been to a Lucky Boys Confusion show at least once every year for a decade. Their shows have never once gotten stale in that time. It really was an honor to talk to someone who has kept the attention of myself and my nonsense friends for that long. My apartment suddenly smells like spray paint, and that can’t be great.

Review: Green Day – Revolution Radio

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Absolutely no one can make a comeback quite like Green Day. Though the band have released quite a few of the most influential punk rock albums of the last few decades, the Uno, Dos, Tre experiment seemed to have set them back a few steps. The triple album set felt slapped together, brandishing an album’s worth of great songs spread between two records’ worth of B-sides and fluff. Revolution Radio is a return to form that manages to scale the mountain of expectation set by the band’s best albums: Dookie, American Idiot and arguably, 21st Century Breakdown, while cutting out the fat.

You can buy Revolution Radio on iTunes.

You can buy Revolution Radio on iTunes.

Revolution Radio is the band’s most cohesive album in nearly a decade; shorter and easier to digest than the great political operas Billie Joe Armstrong has written, the album is the perfect hybrid of the classic punk rock that made the band a worldwide phenomenon in the 90’s, and the flame tongued political warfare that arguably made them even more famous in the mid-2000’s. Revolution Radio finds the sweet groove between the rippling wall of power chord studded punk rock that Green Day made a signature sound, and the sweet taste of classic rock that found form on 21st Century Breakdown, the last great album they put out.

While Billie Joe doesn’t delve into the rock opera portion of storytelling for this newest outing, his heart is still in the same place. The result is an album that manages to take deep jabs at the politics of America, while retaining the spirit of the disenfranchised punk that personified the group early in their career.

If you know the band at all, then you already know what to expect: Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar is a sound of nature itself. Wave after wave of his harsh power chords somehow create the most aggressive punk rock and the jauntiest pop songs known to man (“Revolution Radio”). Mike Dirnt’s bass guitar give the songs the backbone to propel them above their peers in every way, rounding out Armstong’s guitar in full sound. Tre Cool’s drumming is prolifically astute, comparable to Blink 182’s Travis Barker – not in style by any means, but that his work can draw you into the song more than the guitar can at times.

Lead single “Bang Bang” has gotten a lot of coverage of late as being written from the perspective of a mass shooter (“Bang bang! Give me fame! / Shoot me up to entertain / I am a semi-automatic lonely boy”). It is also the hardest song on the album, sporting an unrelenting wall of sound, rounded by a bouncing bass line and thundering drumming that reflects the chaotic march and tension of the act. With backing haunts of “hoorah” against the lyrics of “I want to be a celebrity martyr, the leading man in my own private drama”, “Bang Bang” brings attention to the crisis of the mass shooter as much as it does mock those individuals for falsely glamorizing the act.

“Revolution Radio” sounds (to me) like a sister song to American Idiot’s “Letterbomb” in theme if not sound. The song calls for rage, and illustrates an image of destruction while calling for truth amidst a revolution. The song sets the theme for the album, setting the pace for heavy punk guitar set against Armstrong’s poppy voice and antagonistic lyrics.

At this point in their career, it has become a joke that “Green Day songs sound the same,” but the joy in the band is hearing how they find new ways to construct their music. Opening track “Somewhere Now” borrows heavily from the classic rock aesthetic of 21st Century Breakdown, beginning with a rhythmic acoustic guitar before blasting off. Singing, “I’m running late to somewhere now I don’t want to be / Where the future and promises ain’t what it used to be / I never wanted to compromise or bargain with my soul / How did life on the wild side ever get so dull?”, Armstong seems to ask himself how punk rock became so neutral. The song keeps tempo and finds a balance between the guitar with a flourish of backing vocals and sleigh bells. The song is a perfect blend of the band calling back to one of their best albums and experimenting to make something unlike anything else on the album.

“Say Goodbye” sounds aesthetically like a spiritual successor to “East Jesus Nowhere” in terms of Tre Cool’s beat, and Armstrong’s critique on police shootings d0 just as much to throw him deeper into spirituality as “East Jesus Nowhere” did to dismiss it. “Violence on the rise / Like a bullet in the sky / Oh Lord have mercy on my soul / Kindred spirits sing for the sick and suffering.”

“Forever Now” continues the tradition of the band constructing a massive operatic song in several parts that has appeared on every project for the last decade. Much in the way that “Jesus of Suburbia” set the story of American Idiot, “Forever Now” caps off theme of Revolution Radio. Where opener “Somewhere Now” asked how the punk rock lifestyle became so dull and seemed a call to arms, “Forever Now” embraces the sound of pure punk chaos while Armstrong sings the melancholy of being a rock star in this day and age compared to where he started. “My name is Billie and I’m freaking out / I thought before I was, now I can’t really figure it out / I sit alone with my thoughts and prayers, screaming my memories as if I was never there”, before shifting tempo and theme to “If this is what you call the good life, I want a better way to die”. The song shares several themes and guitar riffs from “Somewhere Now”, with everything between supporting the acknowledgment that political punk rock is a dying art form.

Revolution Radio is the best of Green Day. There are as many call backs to their best works as there are forays into territory unknown. It’s a political album that allows enough room to find love with those who were turned away with the war against Bush in 2004. It sounds like the classic band that set the punk world on fire 20 years ago as much as it does a band decades into their career, pushing their boundaries while acknowledging who they are and being damn proud of it. Where the band may have stumbled on their triple disc experiment, Revolution Radio rights the ship and sets the course for the rest of their third comeback from the brink.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and loves Green Day more than certain family members. That said, he realizes that Uno, Dos, Tres was not the best of times. But he listens to them. Oh, how does he listen to those records with his ears and a heart of love. Even so… “Kill the DJ”? Really? Ugh…

 

Reflecting On: The Fratellis – Costello Music

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Ten years ago, the iPod helped launch the career of The Fratellis. Lead single “Flathead” was played against the vibrant commercial featuring flashing colours and black silhouettes of hipsters dancing. The song was hypnotic, to the point that I found out the U.S. release date of their debut album, Costello Music and counted down the days until I could hear more music from the band. I had hopes that it wouldn’t be a one-hit wonder album.

What I didn’t expect was that 10 years later, I would still consider it one of the top five albums that I think everyone should own and listen to.

Costello Music is simply a work of art. It is Britpop gone full-tilt. The songs cover the spectrum of genre, punk rock, pop, acoustic ballads, blues and the type of rock that is only inspired by the sex and florescent light of British pubs. Each song sounds completely unique on the album, but never out of place. The energy crafted into each song is on a level only a band like Green Day can accomplish. The guitars are frantic, the bass dances with a playful carnival stride, and the drumming beautifully keeps a manic tempo. For a band consisting of only three members, they make a hell of a lot of noise.

But punk rock can only do so much for a band. What sets it apart is the flourish. This is music you can drink to as much as you dance. Every little thing provides a unique binding that sets the song apart. “Henrietta” features a balto saxophone in lieu of a traditional bass guitar, as well as a vocal solo of the band shouting, “wah wah wah waah” amidst the tepid growls of horny cats. “Whistle for the Choir” sets a mandolin solo between bouts of souldful acoustic guitar. Fan-favorite “Chelsea Dagger” makes what I have heard described as “the dead-man’s chant” the anchor point for the song, so much so that it’s what an arena full of fans chant each time the Chicago Blackhawks score a goal. “The Gutterati?” features a heavy harmonica solo as prominently as it does the raw guitar, and as the song ends after a frantic two and a half minutes of loud guitar and tongue-twister inducing speed choruses, one of the band’s members casually say, “I hate your fucking lyrics”.

What makes the songs endearing, though, is the storytelling. As the rock scene was reinventing itself in the mid-2000’s, The Fratellis didn’t sing about depression or girls – they told stories. There were characters and tales of infidelity. Everyone in the album was born with a pint in their hand. The Chelsea mentioned in “Chelsea Dagger” is a stripper who comes up again in the song “Ol’ Black and Blue Eyes” as Jon Fratelli sings, “And Chelsea says she’s got somewhere to go / And if she does she’s gettin’ there slow / And I would help her out but I’ve got some place to be”.

“For the Girl” is a jangling punk song about falling in love with a girl at a concert. The verse and chorus move at a break-neck pace, backed with “la la las” and a sliding guitar. The song features a setting and paints the scene perfectly for the whirlwind romance of bad ideas as Jon sings, “Well she said I know but I just can’t tell everything you’ve just been saying / Lucy was there as well in the dark, the kids in the band were playing / No one can hear a word or tell what the girl was singing / She must have been 16 or 18 or just past caring”.

“Got Ma Nuts From a Hippie” is perhaps the single best song ever written about drug use. It’s sleazy, angsty, paranoid and ends with the main character not sure what is happening until he wakes from his stupor to find himself in the back of a van with a girl he met at a pub. “I listened with my ears but I couldn’t hear what she was saying / And I guess she talked with her mind, but I didn’t want to seem too unkind so I just laughed / And kept my eyes peeled to the door, wondering what I was there for / But it’s alright…I got my nuts from a hippie in a camper van on Saturday night”.

The album is a gritty tale of drunken nights out, looking for romance and finding it in strippers. The songs are a series of short stories, but none fall the way you would expect. There is never a happy ending, there is never a cliché version of romance. The characters stumble through the streets, hate the music they’re listening to in pubs, and just want to get laid. Like the songs themselves, they’re full of energy and not quite sure what to do with it. But it’s that uncertainty that makes the songs so real and liveable. You can picture each one, where it takes place, and the characters talking to each other as another round of pints line the table around them.

Costello Music is an album unlike any other. It’s a story of young Englishmen trying to figure themselves out in a world they can barely stand up straight in. Their stories don’t end perfectly, but they end the way they should – in utter, magical chaos.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has listened to Costello Music almost weekly for ten years. That is just absurd. Also, the band changes tempo when playing live to make the songs bluesier sometimes. How neat!

Reflecting On : The Pillows – My Foot

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The Pillows are legend. As the band behind the grunge pop soundtrack of smash-hit anime, FLCL, they’re the only Japanese rock band that a shocking amount of Americans know (and love). The Pillows are Japan’s answer to The Ramones. Starting as a cheesy pop band in the late 80’s, they broke into a grunge infused garage rock with hints of surfer rock by the mid-90’s.

Over the course of almost three decades, The Pillows have had a similar evolution to that of Green Day; after releasing nearly an album a year, their signature sound has taken tiny steps. Each record can sound similar to the uninitiated, but those who listen can see the shifts, waiting year after year to see how the band pushes themselves this time. For me, My Foot is the most important record to the band’s sound in the last 15 years.

By the early 2000s, The Pillows had shifted from the fuzzed grunge in favor of poppier elements on albums with differing degrees of success. My Foot found the best utilization and drastically altered the band’s course into the present day. Even now, their (almost) yearly album releases continue to refine and experiment off of the style choices made on My Foot.

The elegance of The Pillows is in how their music can sound as though it is bare-bones, but still be so rich and full. The way that vocalist Sawao Yamanaka and lead guitarist Yoshiaki Manabe seem to call and answer each other on guitar. The way that the bass thumps along (perhaps because the band lacks an official bassist) in simple harmony. The way that Shinichiro Sato’s drumming seems to hover on single, steady beats, offset by raging hammering at a moment’s notice.

The album’s second song, “Rock’n’Roll Sinners” is the very thesis for what The Pillows had spent 15 years trying to accomplish, and what they’ve done ever since – pure rock and roll the way it was meant to be written. The guitar riffs rage with the energy of the best Saves the Day song and their signature, simplistic garage pop. In English, Yamanaka sings the anthem of all rock bands, with the spirit that has made The Pillows such a draw for almost three decades: “All the people of the earth want to rock and roll / I quit forgot, yes, I’ll try to do better in the future / All the people of the earth want to rock and roll / I will do it yet, I felt my heart beating wildly / What do you want?”

My Foot also contains one of the best singles in a discography covering nearly 30 years, “The Third Eye”. Based over an elegantly simple drum beat and a quick, sexy plucky guitar riff, the song is just cohesive enough to work. At the same time, the energy pushing the song forward is unrelenting, meshing a pop beat with an aggressive punk riff, “The Third Eye” is the embodiment of what The Pillows are and what makes them so endearing. It also showcases a willingness to play with music, in that during a dual guitar bridge, one of the guitars changes keys and attempts to directly conflict with the main melody. It’s an incredibly short moment, but it’s the type of thing that you still remember years after the fact.

“Non Fiction”, resting midway through the album, is the type of song only The Pillows could write. The guitar riff is quick, fun and circus-like, as though written to be the soundtrack to an animal plodding along. It’s the type of music that seems like it should be a quirky B-side for most bands, but The Pillows manage to give it a sense of passion to strong, you can hear how much fun they had writing it.

My Foot is the type of album that is incredibly hard to find. It is the definitive sound of a band who already had almost two decades of music under their belt, and the accomplishment of refining themselves to a razor edge. It’s sleek and sexy, written with melodies broken down to essential sounds. If anything was added or touched up, the songs possibly wouldn’t work – take anything away and they’d be disastrous. But more than anything, it’s what rock and roll should be. It’s fun, memorable and passionately energetic.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and actually bought My Foot  in a Borders Books on a whim based on the album art. Good choice, classic Kyle. Good choice.