Anyone that has been in the vicinity of Western New York knows the painful cold we’ve been experiencing lately. Polar Vortex sounds like some Sci-Fi movie, but nevertheless, this snow and cold is exhausting. It is every year, so you’d think we’d be used to it. The tense feeling of walking to your car and/or job in single to negative digits is something tough to put into words, but Planes Mistaken For Stars first self-titled album gives me that feeling.
Planes Mistaken For Stars were a post-hardcore band from Illinois that had a good little run in the early 00′s. Taking equal parts hardcore, rock, metal, and melody they created a unique sound that has kept their legacy intact largely by word of mouth of their fans. They developed their sound over time to a powerhouse of sound, but on their first album they were clearly still searching for their sound. This is not a deterrent as the chaotic mash of sounds is part of what has made the album stay with me over the years.
“Copper and Stars” is one of my favorite songs anyone from my generation has written. So with that out of the way, the album with this song the listener is treated with a one minute jam session before the band kicks into full gear and guitarist/singer Gared O’Donnell takes over. His gravely, raspy voice repeats the opening lines, “And I don’t want to say that I wasted my days chasing instead of catching keeping. Wasting wishes on copper and stars”. It takes some time to get used to his voice, but it is as vital an instrument as the guitar. The song builds up before slowing to a halt at the end, only to allow “Division” to pick up where “Copper and Stars” left off. It’s intense, chaotic, and rhythmically all over the place for just under two minutes before abruptly stopping and spilling over a quiet minute long ballad.
The band perfects the push and pull technique. Never quite letting the listener get comfortable. The band is a locomotive going down the tracks pulling you along. You know the scenery is lovely because they slow down to let you see once and awhile, but they also let you know they are the captain of the train and you are just the passenger.
“The Past Two” ends with the the lines, “Cuz I’m afraid when the snow clears there won’t be much left of me. December killed the best of me”, effectively summing up the winters in Western New York. Any fan of rock or heavy music in general can find something to love about this band. If anything it’s something different to listen to while your car defrosts tomorrow.
Sometimes getting older is depressing in which we can no longer do things we enjoy. Sometimes, it allows us to look at life askew to appreciate something we never really paid attention to. This can be something as benign as nature you normally carelessly pass by on the way to work or finally watching that movie that your friends keep talking about. It can of course be much more life changing, but it’s important to remember that doesn’t have to be. However, it can be.
American Steel is a band that have been around since I was a toddler. Growing up, I heard magazines talk about them. I saw people wearing their t-shirts and adorning their clothes with their logo. I finally gave in and listened in my earlier youth, and they didn’t do anything for me. I just wasn’t ready for them yet. I hadn’t experienced enough of life to understand. You can’t force life experience.
No movie can make you feel love. No punk song can teach you how to do a kickflip on your skateboard. However, those things can remind you of those experiences. We all look for something to feel familiar when we encounter something new. We need to know that things make sense, or find a way to make them make sense to us.
“Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts” by American Steel is their latest album released in 2009. I was 22. I had been through college, found and lost love, and worked a handful of jobs that I may or may not have enjoyed. The album made and continues to make sense to me. I’m not saying their older albums don’t make sense to me listening to them now, but I can tell you that this one hits the spot for those who feel weary. Some music has the power to stand the test of time and feel new and nostalgic all at once. Albums that do that? Any that make you feel young and come to the realization of your age. My list is different than yours. This album may or may not be on that list, but I will tell you that it’s worth listening to in order to decide for yourself.
As the end of the year closes and a new one approaches, it’s a time to reflect. Not just on what has happened over the past year, but what has become of us as a whole over a lifetime. Lofty words, but sometimes it’s necessary to slow down in this non stop world, even if it’s just for a moment.
Jeff Berman’s project Divided Heaven provides me with the hope that the actions I’ve made with my life haven’t been in vain, and that I have a purpose. Regardless of religious beliefs, we all have dreams and goals. We all want to live long, successful, and happy lives among the people we care about. We all get motivation from different places.
Jeff writes acoustic songs of self-doubt, self-empowerment, and the road to get there, He’s a humble, genuine human being just trying to figure it out like the rest of us. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a powerful voice, it leaves the songs exposed for scrutiny. Like in life, what you see is what you get. If you like acoustic pop music, and have an open mind, Divided Heaven’s album “A Rival City” is for you. If you listen to it, and can’t get enough, fear not, he will have a new album in the spring called “Youngblood”.
With albums ten through six I had to think about how to narrow the list down, these albums are hands down my top five. There’s plenty that I didn’t include, but to my ears, these stood out above the rest.
5. Red City Radio – Titles. A powerhouse of an album written by some rad dudes from Oklahoma. Who knew? I knew when this album was announced it would be one of my favorites of the year. “Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You” has not only has one of the best titles of the year, it is probably my favorite song of the year as well. This was the first band I saw at Fest this year. By the end of the first song I was covered in beer, my glasses were broken, sang so hard my voice hurt with people I’ve never met and at the same time felt completely at home. This is a rock album the way they should be made. Red City Radio are leading the way for a new breed of bands to play rock music. Take notice. Choice tracks: Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You and Two Notes Shy of an Octave
4. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners. The only alt-country band you need to be listening to right now. Don’t get me wrong Lucero is great and all, but Arliss Nancy are just coming into their prime and need to be recognized for the work they’ve put out. The warmth this album exudes is why it’s on this list. It’s something to be listened to thoroughly and savored. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I fall in love with it. It’s equal parts rock, country, and ballad. If you the words country music makes you cringe, don’t worry I feel the same way. Trust me, this will change your mind as to what country music can and should be. I might actually consider listening to my local “country station” if they played Arliss Nancy, Drag the River, Lucero, Two Cow Garage, Austin Lucas, and the like. So go buy this album, then call up your local country radio station and ask why they aren’t playing any of the artists I just mentioned. (They won’t know who you’re talking about. Trust me, I’ve tried). Choice Tracks: Benjamin and Coals
3. Worship This! – Tomorrow, I’ll Miss You. This band. Man, this band is something else. It’s truly amazing how young, yet talented these guys are. I saw this band back in summer in a tiny art space in Pittsburgh, and let me tell you, the dozen people that were there witnessed a hell of a show. These guys are always on point no matter who they are playing for. This album captures that energy making every song sound massive. It’s “All Killer, No Filler” as Sum 41 would say. Every track is a standout in it’s own right. If Red City Radio are leading the way for a new breed of rock bands, Worship This! are the A students of the class. Choice Tracks: Summit Tower and The Fear of Missing Out.
2. Restorations – LP2. I’ve already spewed my love for this record in two entries, and I just bought it two months ago. They blew me away when I saw them live. I had heard the name of them in passing, but never got around to listening to them. This is why I mention so many bands to listen to. It may seem bothersome, but one of these times you’ll get some time and find a band that might change your life. This is one of those bands for me. They are one of the more accessible bands due to the melodic nature in their songs, but the things they do as musicians will captivate anyone taking the time to actually listen and let the music get inside them. It’s easy to lose yourself in these songs. That’s the sign of a great record to me. The ability for sound to take me away from whatever I’m doing and thinking and just listen. Music is my drug of choice, and this album hits the spot when I need it. It may not do the same for you, but I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it regardless. Choice Tracks: New Old and D
1. Captain, We’re Sinking – The Future is Cancelled. This album is absolutely depressing, but the reason it’s my favorite album of the year is due to the way it grabs a hold of your heart and doesn’t let go until you hear what it has to say. The lyrics read as if from the diary of a man going through a divorce and subsequently his life falling apart. It’s not a concept album, but it feels like a story is being told. To start this album and not let it finish is an injustice to yourself. Captain, We’re Sinking play a brand of melodic punk rock that provides a driving rhythm for the emotional roller coaster. I can’t recommend this album. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s hands down my most listened to album of the year. This doesn’t always equate to the best album, but I think in this case it’s a fitting title. Choice Tracks: Adultery and The Future is Cancelled
That concludes my favorite albums of 2013. Leave a comment telling me what you’ve enjoyed this year. And as always stay safe and take care of yourself.
Ranking albums at the end of the year brings me as much joy as it does anxiety. Best of lists are completely subjective, but I love reading what other people think of things. It gives me a chance to check out something I may have missed, share what I have been enjoying this year, and to use as conversation piece with friends.
I do make an effort to try and sort them, but every album listed is one I hold dear for one reason or another. There’s also a bunch of albums that didn’t make this list that probably could/should have, but at the time of writing these are the ten albums I spent most of the time listening to over the year. Anything that didn’t get listed will get a proper write up anyway in the coming weeks and months. Like I’ve said before, there’s never a bad year in music. This blog in indicative of that statement.
10. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart. Frank Turner has a full band backing his songs in his version of Americana. For the most part it works, and you’re left with songs that make you want to dance and sing along. He has a way of making every song sound like it is someone’s personal anthem. That’s why I love Frank. Choice tracks: Plain Sailing Weather and Four Simple Words
9. The National – Trouble Will Find Me. This is my listen at work album when I’m working on paperwork. The band sounds like an indie rock combination of Joy Division and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Singer, Matt Berninger sounds like a young Nick Cave, which I find incredibly relaxing to listen to. The music is very passive aggressive, relatively soft in nature, but lyrically dark. Choice tracks: Don’t Swallow the Cap and Slipped
8. The Bronx – IV. This album I just wrote about in my last blog post, but to recap: This album just rocks. It’s an unpretentious album about being who you want and doing what you want. It’s a little bit cliche, but the band don’t take themselves too seriously, and who doesn’t need a little bit of fun in their life? Choice tracks: Ribcage and Pilot Light
7. Off With Their Heads – Home. This album came out just at the right time, and was therapeutic for what I was going through. Ryan Young writes from his heart about his pain. It’s not poetic, and at times almost painful to listen to. The man hurts inside, and you can hear it in every note he sings. I recently saw them live and blew out my voice singing along. It’s a solid punk rock album from a band that similarly to The Bronx churns out album after album because they just love making music. Choice tracks: Nightlife and Start Walking
6. RVIVR – The Beauty Between. Politics aside, this band knows how to write songs. Really good songs. They expanded beyond their traditional pop-punk sound which I think is a huge improvement on an already proven formula. The dynamic of Erica and Matt singing is what makes this band stand apart from their peers. That, and that guitar tone. My lord, that guitar tone. Choice Tracks: Wrong Way/One Way and LMD
For the sake keeping these entries from growing to an absurd length (and hopefully building anticipation) this concludes Part 1. Part 2 will be uploaded in the coming days. Have I left out your favorite album? Is it coming up in Part 2? Have you heard any of the albums I’ve mentioned? If not here’s a chance to check out something new before being bombarded with more information.
At this time of year you’d think this would be my “Best Of” list. Not quite yet. I need more time to formulate that list. I was just having a conversation with someone and I told them, “There’s no such thing as a bad year for music.” There’s literally so much music made on a yearly basis, that as long as you have your ear to the ground you’ll have a disappointing year in music.
The Bronx quietly released their 4th album in February that I almost forgot it came out this year. The Bronx are a no-nonsense punk band with rock and roll tendencies. All their albums are self-titled. They’ve even released two mariachi albums that are both named Mariachi El Bronx. Why? Just because they felt like it.
On “IV”, they bring a mixed bag of goods. They’ve got songs that make you want to dance, songs that you want to sing along to, and songs that make you want to break stuff. Sometimes all in the same song. The band is a locomotive of noise that is speeding down the tracks, but the wheels never leave the tracks, though sometimes you get worried if you’re along for the ride.
The opener “The Unholy Hand” is the perfect clocking out of work song. Cranking up the volume as the guitars ease you into the explosion that is vocalist, Matt Caughthran, singing:
“They got you working on the weekdays
They got you working on the weekends too
And now you’re swallowing your paycheck
Like it’s what you always dreamed you’d do
When you look into the mirror
Is your faking any clearer?
Are you hanging on your last hope?
When you look into the microscope”
This is the band to listen to when you just want to rock out and shrug the stress off. There’s not a skippable track on this record, or any of their records for that matter. If the band has any message to their listeners, it’s to be who you want to be no matter what people tell you otherwise. The band continues to churn out whatever type of album they want every couple years. Either you’re on board or you’re not. I grabbed my ticket a decade ago.
Some of my personal favorites are “Along For The Ride”, “Ribcage”, and “Valley Heat”.
Here’s them playing my favorite song of theirs, “Heart Attack American”. I love the opening where Matt asks the audience, “You wanna cut loose. You got a voice? Get the fuck up here!” These are my favorite types of shows to go to. If this doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what will.
Forgive me for my lack of posts. I’d like to say I have a good reason, but it’s really just one of those times where life gets in the way. On the plus, I’ve been listening to a plethora of new music that gives me that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Considering it’s got to the point in the year where it’s a good day to reach the freezing point, I’m going to need them.
Arliss Nancy is a beast of a band that deserves more attention than they get. I recently saw them at an art space in Gainesville, Florida called The Wooly. It was only half full due to majority of people waiting for the later bands to go on. Everyone inside huddled around the stage witnessed an intimate show that rivaled anything else I saw over the four days I was there.
Arliss Nancy play a brand of no frills alt-country/rock that speaks to the everyman. I like to try and use analogies to try and describe bands. Sometimes because it’s fun, and sometimes it’s the only way to try and describe how a band sounds without playing a song to someone. Singer Cory Call sounds like a perfect blend of Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash. That sounds like a larger than life combination, but his voice is truly something special. The way The Boss and The Man in Black were great story tellers and had their own way of captivating an audience, Arliss Nancy are doing their part to keep honest music alive.
They have been putting out solid albums for years, slowly gaining a fan base across the country. Their latest album, “Wild American Runners” is a contender for album of the year, and I think their best album overall. They’ve finally combined all of their best elements. They can rock with the best of them, but they can slow it down with a ballad that will break your heart.
The opener, “Benjamin”, is a perfect introduction to the band. It’s a mid tempo song about how to deal with someone you love walking out on your life. You really believe Cory has gone through the situation, and hear the suffering. It’s songs like this that you have to thank a band for sharing their pain. The entire album follows a similar theme of lost love, unrequited love, and the path to finding a way to love yourself.
It’s the honesty you can hear in the music that makes me love this band. I write about them today hoping you find something to love about them. If you live up north like I do, you know you’ll do some crazy things to stay warm. Hold onto what you love (whatever or whoever that may be), that’s what keeps me going day to day.
Here’s a video of them playing live at the show I was at with bass player Kyle Oppold taking on lead vocals. Forgive the quality. It’s difficult to find much on this band online. Just buy the albums. This band deserves your money.
We all have one of those friends that gets along with everyone. Everyone knows who they are and has no reason to dislike them. There’s bands like this too. The Bouncing Souls have been writing light hearted punk songs for over 20 years. They’ve risen to Social Distortion status of consistency. One could argue who’s catalog is stronger, but when you hear both, you know exactly what you’re getting.
This is something you either enjoy or have grown tired of. It’s a fine line from developing a style and repeating oneself. I believe the Bouncing Souls know what they do best, and more the most part stick to it. They write anthem after anthem. The songs are easy to sing along to, and are catchy enough that you’ll be singing along by the end of the song whether you know it or not.
Everyone has a favorite album by them, and it’s tough to argue against any of them. Here’s a quick ranking of my top five in my personal opinion.
1. Maniacal Laughter
2. Hopeless Romantic
3. How I Spent My Summer Vacation
4. Anchors Aweigh
5. Bouncing Souls
I tend to lean towards their older stuff because that’s what I grew up with. The first song I ever heard was “Kid”, and remains my favorite song of theirs. It’s fun to think back to our youth and how things stick with us. I recently saw an article of stuff from the 90s and saw a picture of those balancing birds you could buy. It’s simple things that are the most comforting. I find The Bouncing Souls music comforting because it sounds they represent being young, full of energy, and ready to take on the world. I still use a Harry Potter mug at work, and when someone inevitably asks I tell them that, “you’ve got to stay young in your mind”. Not childish, but remember how it feels to be young, full of energy, and ready to take on the world.
“I put that record on just to make a sound
The rhythm hit got my movement off the ground
The soundtrack of what I want to be
If I want to change the world
It’s gotta start with me
I put the needle on the record
I put the needle on the record
And play that song again
And in the end what have we learned?
Are we just faces in the crowd?
I died and was reborn again today
Hold fast to myself
Make these good feelings stay”
- “That Song” from How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Music changes over the years, but the feelings it gives us stays the same. Leave a comment and let me know what bands make you feel this way.
Restorations are a special band that you need to watch out for. Sure you can jump on the bandwagon later, but you’d be wise to not miss what they are doing right now. Their album, “LP2″ is currently wearing out my turntable’s needle, but that’s just fine. The opening song, “D”, starts with a single distorted guitar playing what sounds to my ears like a weird version of “Amazing Grace”. It’s anthematic, slightly eerie, but at the same time inviting. After about 30 seconds, the full band kicks in and I feel a rush of emotions come over me. It’s one of those goosebump moments that makes you remember music is a language that doesn’t always need words.
Their lyrics speak to the confusion and uncertainty that is being a human. I used to think that figuring out who you are comes to fruition by early college years. I’ve redacted that view as I can attest, life does not get any easier, nor does it help you along the way. You have to figure it out along the way, and do it your own way. Albums like this one don’t necessarily make choices easier, but help you find comfort in those decisions.
Restorations play a brand of rock music that is easily accessible, but not for everyone. They know how to play their instruments and don’t mind showing off at times. It’s never excessive, nor do they interrupt singer/guitarist Jon Loudon. Which is good because, he belts out line after line of poetry that you wouldn’t want to miss. I can see why everyone I’ve talked to about this band has trouble summing them up. They just need to be heard. If you like any kind of rock music, it’s worth a listen. Jon has a voice that Eddie Vedder wish he had, enough twinkling guitar playing to appease indie-rock fans, and the kind of lovable charm that a band like The Gaslight Anthem has. Oh, and the album artwork is awesome, if you’re into that sort of thing. They’ve got it all, and trust me you will thank me later. I’ve already thanked those that recommended them to me.
“Wild eyes to the stars at night
Hoping for some chance to arrive
To find out its been there the whole time”
I’ve arrived back from The Fest in Gainesville, Florida. I’m a little worse for wear, but I had the time of my life that no sickness or exhaustion from travel could bring me down. I met some amazing people that made me feel completely at home in a place where I had no friends. From the first time we stepped into our first restaurant in Gainesville, everyone was super warm and comforting. It’s odd how sometimes doing something different to realize how good things could be if they were different.
The whole experience made me think about my life and how I want to change for the better. Maybe it was all the empowering music, maybe it was the stress relief, maybe it was just enough to get me moving. Within the first ten minutes of seeing my first band of the day Red City Radio, my glasses were bent, I was covered in beer and other people’s sweat , and I had lost most of my voice. In the midst of all the chaos to most people, there’s a sense of community and belonging in that time. It’s impossible to explain unless you’ve experienced it yourself.
Not only did I see many bands that I love. I saw some completely new to me that blew my mind. Restorations is one of those bands. How I never got around to listening to this band I’ll never know. Their sound is so warm and inviting. It’s technical, yet melodic. Everyone I talked to about them just talked my ear off about how great they were, but nobody could put their sound into words. I heard Gaslight Anthem meets Death Cab For Cutie to a more punk influenced Tool. I never would have checked them out without the incessant talk about them from my roommates. That’s what Fest is about. Being open to meet new people and do things that you wouldn’t normally do.
Fest is a place and time where people set aside life obligations, bias towards others, and be a part of something special. I left with friends from all over the world. I’m thankful that I finally went and got to experience everything. The best part? I’ll probably go next year. If you like the types of bands I’ve written about it, it’s totally worth going. Even if you talk to no one and just watch shows. The hundreds of bands that play every year are worth the ticket price alone (lower than almost every other festival I might add) . The atmosphere and the friends you’ll make are priceless.
I’ll do a more complete write up on Restorations and some other great bands I saw that I’ve yet to devote time to writing about. Once I recover from this cold that happens when the body encounters more germs than it can handle. Trust me, it was all worth it.