Blink-182 is Stiff and Out of Touch on Ninth Album

Nine is an unfortunate and out of touch entry into a once legendary catalog.

Blink-182 is a pop/punk three-piece from Poway, California. Their debut, Cheshire Cat in 1995 and it’s follow up, Dude Ranch found significant success with the latter going platinum, but it was their 1999 classic, Enema of the State which placed the band at the very top of the rising pop/punk wave and remains to this day one of the most iconic rock albums of the late 90’s. The success continued through the turn of the century as 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and 2003’s self-titled LP sold over three million copies combined and solidified Blink’s legend status, despite the drop in quality as they turned from goofy, immature comedy to weak attempts at thoughtful lyricism. Since this successful trio, the band broke an eight year silence with 2011’s  Neighborhoods and another five year break with 2016’s California. Both records received middling reviews and commercial success. Now, they’ve returned with Nine.

The problems with this album are fairly apparent from the first track, “The First Time,” as Mark Hoppus struggles in vain to keep up, vocally, with the rest of the band. That carefree, whining lead that brought such a comedic layer to the band’s sound is just gone as cuts like “Hungover You,” sound completely out of touch.

Lyrically, the record also leaves quite a bit to be desired as well. Blink hasn’t had the juvenile edge in many years, but this album is especially bland. Tracks like “Happy Days,” and “On Some Emo Shit,” verge on meaningless and lack any of the snarky wit that fans have come to expect. There is genuinely not a single memorable line on the LP, and the pacing suffers greatly for it.

In fairness, there are a handful of interesting tracks. Travis Barker’s drumming is, as always, a highlight as cuts like “Pin the Grenade,” and “No Heart to Speak Of,” which make the second half of the record somewhat bearable, and “Blame It On My Youth,” which is maybe the most exciting track on the LP, hinge almost entirely on Barker’s lightning fast fills and creative rhythms. These are some of the few moments when the magic of the old Blink seems to be alive, but they’re quickly snuffed out.

The drums are often dragged down by atrocious production. Tracks like “Heaven,” and “Darkside,” are some of the worst as the vocals hiss almost to a painful extent and the drums and guitars are often soaked in an ill-advised comb-filter effect which makes them sound like they’re coming from a playstation game.

Additionally, the instrumentals themselves are often boring and uninspired. Cuts like “Run Away,” and the closer, “Remember to Forget Me,” feature almost nothing of note and feel almost like musical wallpaper. The mixture of lazy songwriting and repetitive arrangement seriously hurts the pacing and leaves none of the tracks with any lasting impact.

Some of the best tracks on the album are the two, “Generational Divide,” and “Ransom,” which come in with a runtime under 90 seconds. Oddly enough, this shorter format seems to ignite some songwriting fire in the band as Barker’s drums and even some of the vocal hooks are punchy and exciting. These tracks don’t overstay their welcome and, though the entire album couldn’t be made up of cuts like this, they’re some of the only exciting moments across the bloated runtime.

Perhaps the worst tracks on the album, though, fall in the middle where the band just seems to be desperately searching for a sound. “Black Rain,” sees a more metal approach with heavier instrumentation while “I Really Wish I Hated You,” attempts to use sharp vocal melodies and witty lyricism to tell a story. Unfortunately, both fail, not for lack of trying, but because the band is just far too stiff and out of touch to pull off these new sounds. At best, these tracks sound like an older band having fun trying out some new styles, and at worst they sound like cheap mimicry of the dynamism that made them legends in the first place. Add in the constant trap drums and hip-hop instrumental elements, and you have a recipe for a very out of touch LP.

Ultimately, I don’t know that I can call this album a disappointment. I haven’t cared much for anything Blink has done since their heyday in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. But this album is especially frustrating for a number of reasons. The bloated runtime and lack of creativity certainly spring to mind, but most of all, I have to wonder as to the purpose of the album in the first place. None of these tracks appear to have been worked on all that much and if you don’t feel like working hard on new music, why put out a new record at all?

Nine is an unfortunate and out of touch entry into a once legendary catalog.

3/10

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Death Cab for Cutie Drops Fantastic New EP

The Blue EP is a triumph for a band which is more than two decades out from their debut, and it’s one of their most exciting projects to date.

Death Cab for Cutie is a soft/indie-rock band from the Pacific Northwest. They debuted in 1998 with Something About Airplanes, and followed with two more records over the next three years. They finally reached prominence in 2003 with Transatlanticism, which went gold, and the platinum certified Plans in 2005. After Plans, the group slowly tapered in popularity over ten years and three more releases, leading up to their most recent project, Thank You For Today, which showed a few signs that the band may be stumbling onto a new, exciting style. With The Blue EP, Death Cab has hit a new high.

The EP opens with one of the most ambitious cuts in the band’s history in “To The Ground.” The slow, brooding opener and prominent bass guitar feels almost ripped from the pages of an art-rock act until Ben Gibbard’s luscious, calm vocal brings the track into its central groove, which covers the majority of the run time. Still, the lyrics about a brutal car crash and the Beatles influence which is even more pronounced here than it always is on Death Cab’s music, make for one of the more interesting tracks I’ve heard this year.

“Kids in ’99,” follows, and it’s one of Death Cab’s catchiest tunes in years. The vocal hook on the verses is simply infectious and the shoegazey guitars and danceable drum work makes for an extremely enjoyable listen. Only two tracks into this EP, and already the signs of life which appeared on last year’s Thank You For Today have developed into a full blown, noticeable energy.

“Man In Blue,” falls in the center of the project and it’s a classic, atmospheric Death Cab song. Dave Depper’s lead guitar, while simple, is absolutely perfect to set the mood and Gibbard brings yet another wonderful vocal performance. In classic Death Cab for Cutie style, the track never quite reaches an explosive climax, but is instead a beautiful atmosphere for a listener to just sit in for a moment.

“Before the Bombs,” is another strong showing, though I must take slight issue with the fairly cheesy lyrics on the hook which mar an otherwise strong piece of writing. It’s the harmonies, though, which really steal the spotlight hear as the strange effects and creative note choices bring a dynamic sound. Additionally, the electronic elements and fuzzy guitar effects are utilized extremely well.

The closer, “Blue Bloods,” may be my favorite track on the EP. Jason McGerr’s drums are slow and simple, yet perfectly thoughtful and beautifully played. Gibbard’s vocals and lyrics are fantastic with some really creative melodic moments on the first verse. Above all, though, it’s the band’s ability to pace the track’s five minute run-time which impresses me the most. Thanks to a roaring guitar solo from Depper and a well played bass line from Nick Harmer, the explosive instrumental passage in the last couple minutes is a tremendously effective closer.

As the EP finishes, I’m somewhat blown away. There was plenty to be happy about with last year’s album, but The Blue EP takes this to a new level. While they haven’t quite found the heights for their mid-2000’s peak, Death Cab has created a new, more mature sound which compliments Gibbard’s writing well.

The Blue EP is a triumph for a band which is more than two decades out from their debut, and it’s one of their most exciting projects to date.

5/5

Meth Brings the Pain in Daring Debut

Mother of Red Light is a dark, disorienting experience from an exciting young act.

Meth is a mathcore/noise-rock band from Chicago, Illinois. The six-piece deputed as a three-piece with 2017 with The Children are Watching, an EP which steered headlong into grindcore and black metal without looking back and will flat out blow your skin off in its short runtime. 2018 saw the addition of three new members and a hard turn toward atmosphere and noise rock on the I Love You EP. Now, Meth brings forward their most coherent and ambitious project to date with their debut LP, Mother of Red Light.

From the start of the record, many things become clear, not the least of which that we are in for some fantastic lines from lead guitarist, Zack Farrar! Tracks like the opener, “Failure,” or later cuts like “Inbred,” feature guitar work that is at time melodic and accessible and other times pure chaos. It’s this tonal dexterity which allows the guitar to lead the every instrumental whether through catchy hooks or abrasive swells and everything in between.

When the tone does become abrasive, however, it’s Seb Alvarez’ lead vocals which take a clear front seat. The handful of quieter, poetic moments are nice additions, but the crushing, unbridled screams on songs like “Child of God,” and “Cold Prayers,” drive the band’s full power. The vocals are often layered to fantastic effect with a brutal mixture of growls and screeches backed by the lower, calmer elements.

In addition to the death and black metal influences, this record has a strong math-core element at its core which is felt in the bizarre and unpredictable time changes that characterize even the heaviest moments. “Swallowed Conscience,” and “Her Womb Lays Still,” fall back to back and exemplify this perfectly. From slower passages with complex rhythms to explosive climaxes which layer and alternate time signatures, the entire sound is consistently held together by wonderful drum work from Andrew Smith and an impressive tightness from the rest of the group.

Ultimately, however, Mother of Red Light is set apart from contemporaries by the gloomy, nocturnal atmosphere which hangs over every track. It’s this atmosphere that allows the band to carry longer cuts like the seven minute, “Psalm of Life,” as the constant sense of dread seems to drive even the most minimal moments, and in the monstrous and speedy follow up, “Return Me,” that dread is brought to fruition as the band brings the pain with thrashing guitars brutal screams. The entire record is spent either being knocked out of your chair by hellish climaxes or waiting in anticipation for the next explosive passage.

This all brings us to the 11-minute closer, “The Walls, They Whisper.” This is certainly the most ambitious track on the album as it takes up about a quarter of the runtime and, for the most part, this pays off. The long, dreary poem which opens the song is effective and the anticipation reaches a fever pitch with the droning, clean guitar. When the breakdown finally comes, it’s perfectly doomy and powerful. That being said, this track is a good example of all the issues with this album. The nearly four minute passage of only radio fuzz, while disorienting, loses its effect long before it ends, and when the band finally returns, the momentum is simply dead.

And this is the album’s biggest issue in total. While the atmosphere and progressive elements set the sound apart from nearly everything else in the genre, I’m also left with far too much slack. I wouldn’t want to pull this experimentation out of the project entirely, but reigning it in here and there would allow the record to feel tighter and better paced in a way it desperately needs.

That being said, this is a fantastic debut. Meth is experimenting with one of the darkest, heaviest sounds around and this record leaves me extremely hopeful for future releases. While they do tend to get lost in their own heads a bit, too much risk is always preferable to too little, especially when most of it pans out well.

Mother of Red Light is a dark, disorienting experience from an exciting young act.

7/10

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Dinosaur Pile-Up Signs With a New Label and Drops Enjoyable Fourth LP

Celebrity Mansions is an enjoyable project, but falls short of being anything more.

Dinosaur Pile-Up is an alt-rock band from Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. They debuted with three well received EPs in the late 2000’s before dropping their first full length album, Growing Pains, in 2010 with charted in the UK. They quickly signed with SO Records and releasing the follow up, Nature Nurture just three years later and supporting it with a tour that brought them to the United States for the first time. Eleven Eleven dropped in 2015, their third full length studio effort and final partnering with SO before landing a massive signing with Parlophone Records. With the much larger label, Dinosaur Pile-Up has access to the highest budget they’ve ever had for an album, a massive growth from their debut which was recorded in at home. With this budget, they’ve recently dropped their fourth studio LP and, for the most part, it’s a blast.

Like any good rock album, one strong feature of the record comes in the form of its lead guitar. Matt Bigland brings a handful of creative ideas to tracks like “Back Foot,” and “Black Limousine,” meshing noticeable, smooth melodies with chaotic, garage rock tendencies to make for quite a few impressive moments. For many listeners, this detail may fall by the wayside because of louder, more commanding elements, but no rock record is complete without strong guitar work.

That being said, Bigland is far more impressive in his duties as the band’s lead vocalist. His range and energy make cuts like the opener, “Thrash Metal Cassette,” and the title track infinitely listenable. He’s so clearly having a great time and it comes through in virtually every second of music. Not to mention, his screams are quite impressive, especially for the genre.

Even more addictive than Matt’s work as the frontman are Mike Shells’ fantastic drums. Virtually every track is impressive, but a few of my favorites include “Stupid Heavy Metal Broken Hearted Loser Punk,” and “Black Limousine.” Throughout the LP, Mike is exactly the kind of drummer this genre demands as none of his rhythms are particularly eye-popping but all of them bring an explosive style that takes each track to a whole new level. The drum kit is also particularly well mixed, which brings me to the true highlight of the album.

The production on this album is excellent. The new label’s money is well spent hear as the album carries a perfect balance between the sharp, tight mix and the messy, ringing instrumentation. The sharp cut off on “Pouring Gasoline,” is a fantastic example of this. On the other hand, there are a few creative moments like the surprising use of radio effects on “Round The Bend.” It’s this strong production throughout which elevates every track and even saves a few poor ones.

However, unfortunately, I do have quite a few complaints with this LP. Perhaps the worst quality comes in a few cringe-worthy lyrics on later cuts like “K West,” and “Professional Freak.” This is especially disappointing as lyrics on earlier tracks are quite strong. Additionally, several tracks on the latter half of the album just don’t carry their weight and seem to drag a bit. 

All in all, Celebrity Mansions is a fun listen. It brings back much of the alt-rock and pop punk styles of the early 2000’s with a bit more precision and maturity as well as some very strong production. However, several lyrical and melodic moments don’t quite live up, causing the album with a runtime of only just over half an hour to feel bloated.

Celebrity Mansions is an enjoyable project, but falls short of being anything more.

4/10

Defeater’s Self Titled Return is Brutal Yet Heartbreaking

Defeater is a riveting story of struggle which packs a punch of brutal instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism.

Defeater is a melodic hardcore band from Boston. They debuted in 2008 with Travels which tells the story of a young man born in New Jersey near the end of the second world war. This family and the circumstances surrounding them would go on to be the focus of the entirety of Defeater’s discography with each album expanding the world and introducing a litany of new characters, some acting as sequels and others as prequels. In addition to the sprawling narrative, the band’s unique ability to mix hardcore instrumentation with a keen sense of melody makes them one of the most interesting bands in the modern metal scene. They officially parted ways after the 2015 release of Abandoned, but announced in early March that they would return with a self-titled fifth LP.

From the opening track, “The Worst of Fates,” the most prevalent highlight of the band’s sound is clear, that being Derek Archambault’s vocal performance. Throughout the album, especially on cuts like the aforementioned opener or the more subtle “Desperate,” Archambault brings an intensity that can’t be ignored. Under that roughness, however, there’s a genuine vulnerability through which he imbues every story and character with a gruff sort of humanity. It’s a brutal scream, but heartfelt all the same.

Beyond this, Archambault’s lyrics are once again enthralling. Of course, the story telling and conceptualism of the album is every bit as excellent as expected. On tracks like “List & Heel,” or “All Roads,” though, he goes above and beyond in painting vivid imagery and writing with a truly cinematic eye. Along with its many other functions, this album is the fifth installment to a long series which deals with the same family and, in that department, it succeeds wildly.

Instrumentally, the record is a masterwork. Perhaps the most noticeable piece of the puzzle is Joe Longobardi’s drum work. On cuts like “Mother’s Sons,” or “No Guilt,” Joe transitions between complex rhythms and lightning quick fills and does each incredibly well. He has an excellent ear for timing and despite rather predictable time signatures and somewhat weak production, his work shines through as a definitive key to the band’s impressive sound.

Another great element is Jake Woodruff’s grinding lead guitar. While a few of choices are a bit questionable, his contributions to tracks like “Stale Smoke,” and my favorite song on the album, “Debt/Debtor,” can’t be ignored. His drowning style provides a more solid counterpoint against some of the album’s most driving, fast paced beats and he has a talent for writing hooks. On a few cuts, his leads provide the catchiest moments on the album in addition to laying a more layered atmosphere.

My favorite aspect of the band’s sound, though it may not be as immediately noticeable, is founding member Mike Poulin on bass guitar. He grants a heaviness to songs like “Atheists in Foxholes,” and “Hourglass,” and he’s to thank for much of Defeater’s fantastic sound. The chugging, rhythmic bass stands as the foundation of nearly every melody and it is, in many ways, the glue that holds the album together.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Defeater combines all of this for an epic, creative finish in “No Man Born Evil.” This track embodies much of what makes this album so good with a ringing lead guitar, thundering bass, and explosive drums underscoring an unbelievable performance from Derek Archambault which brings to life a harrowing storyline. It’s the perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

Defeater’s self-titled come back is almost everything fans could’ve hoped for. We get to return to the dark, gritty world which they’ve created over the past decade, guiding by great writing and wonderful performances from the entire band.

Defeater is a riveting story of struggle which packs a punch of brutal instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism.

8/10

Catfish and the Bottlemen Stay True to Form For Better or Worse on Third Release

The Balance is a fun project full of great efforts that just can’t quite break the atmosphere of its own uninventive creation.

Catfish and the Bottlemen are an indie/alt-rock outfit from Wales. The debuted with 2014’s The Balcony which went platinum shortly after its release. Prior to their debut, the famously cut their teeth playing in the parking lot before larger bands’ gigs, and that experience very clearly informed much of their commanding sound. After the massive success, the launched two tours and dropped The Ride as a follow up LP in 2016, which went gold. The back to back strong releases netted the band a spot as an opener on Green Day’s Revolution Radio tour in 2017. In January of this year, Catfish and the Bottlemen released a new single and announced the release of their third studio record, The Balance. It’s finally here, and it’s mostly meets expectations.

One strong addition to The Balance that wasn’t nearly as prevalent on previous releases is a string of excellent bass lines. On tracks like “2all,” and “Basically,” Benji Blakeway is given the front seat, melodically speaking, for much of the runtime. His parts are well written and he performs confidently but, of course, the tone of the bass can’t be ignored. The thickness that Blakeway along with, presumably, the production team achieved is fantastic, and it brings another level to his work.

Additionally, Bob Hall’s drums are quite the asset. On a cut like “Fluctuate,” he finds a danceable rhythm and delivers it throughout, where as on “Mission,” his bombastic style guides the group extremely well through multiple timing and style changes. His style is nothing revolutionary in rock music and he rarely shows incredible speed or complex rhythms, but there’s something to be said for reliable simplicity, and that is delivered in spades.

Of course, this is a rock album, and so it’s nothing without the guitars. Luckily, Johnny Bond, the band’s newest member, holds this down quite well. Here, Catfish seems to have improved the most over previous efforts as they’ve found a consistent tone and style which works well with their sound. Tracks like “Sidetrack,” and “Coincide,” feature driving and catchy riffs that will remain in a listeners head for quite a while. 

The album’s strongest points, however, are Van McCann’s vocal performances. From the opener, “Longshot,” to the closer, “Overlap,” and even cuts throughout the middle like “Encore,” McCann brings a confidence and punk energy which is, frankly, more that what he has any right to. His range is quite impressive and, thanks to a handful of grin-worthy one liners, he’s charming enough to carry the record through most of its rough points.

All this being said, I am left with a few complaints, one of which I’d expected before ever hearing The Balance and had hoped the band would be able to mitigate better than they did. Namely, this album can often be boring. It lacks and width whatsoever in its instrumental pallet, and each cut comes in somewhere around the three to four minute range and is built on nearly a identical structure. This can often ignored thanks to strong performances and a magnetic frontman, but on songs like “Conversation,” and “Intermission,” the veil of talent just can’t obscure the numbers by which this album was painted.

However, that certainly doesn’t make the record unenjoyable. In fact, if you want to shut your brain off for a moment and enjoy some fun, meat and potatoes alt-rock, The Balance is the album for you. There’s plenty to enjoy, especially on the first few listens, and it’s worth checking out for any fans of the alt-rock scene that once ruled the world just a few years back. However, there just isn’t enough risk or creativity to be found here, and the record suffers for it.

The Balance is a fun project full of great efforts that just can’t quite break the atmosphere of its own uninventive creation.

5/10

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East of the Wall Returns After Five Years With a Strong Prog Rock LP

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

East of the Wall is a progressive metal outfit from Keyport, New Jersey. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 2006, which kicked off a fairly impressive career and expansive catalog. However, after their fourth full length LP in 2013, they seemed to fall off the map a bit, only releasing one EP in 2015 under Epistemic Records instead of their usual partners, Translation Loss Records. After a long hiatus and more than a few notable lineup changes, they’ve finally returned with their first full scale release in almost six years, NP-Complete.

Much of what works so well about this album is what one would expect from a prog metal band of this caliber, but there are a few surprises, namely in the production. The stereo imaging on this album is absolutely wonderful, and really demands a nice set of headphones. Take a track like the opener, “Tell Them I’m Sorry,” for example. The production work doesn’t quite jump out, but closer examination shows that not only is every instrument, especially the drums, extremely well mixed, but every sound has a direction allowing this album to really surround a listener. 

Another strength which is all too often ignored in the metal world is the excellent bass guitar work. From cuts like the hilariously named “Fast-Bang Pooper Doop,” to the later “Somn 6,” the bass is not only extremely well played, leaving the guitars side for some inspired melodic lines, but it’s also able to cut through the rather chaotic mixes and shine quite effectively. It’s often missing from even the best metal records, and so a strong bass presence is a welcome feeling on NP-Complete.

Of course, the staples of great progressive rock are still here. A multitude of electric guitars form the melodic front to nearly every track, even verging on some shoe-gaze inspirations at a few points. “Leinholder,” is an excellent example of the pure proficiency with which these guitars are played by nearly every member of the band and the track dances through strange signatures and quick riffs with ease. The closer and best track, “Non-Functional Harmony,” on the other hand, is more sparsely populated with a driving and well written riff.

However, while the guitars may be the muscles of this project, Seth Rheam on drums is definitely the backbone. Nearly every song incorporates complex rhythms, strange signatures, and remarkably fast fills, all of which Rheam does with relative ease. “Clapping on the Ones and Threes,” is a nice shining moment for the drums as Seth strikes a great balance between tight, sharp fills and explosive cymbal shots. “N of 1,” on the other hand kicks off with a fantastic drum solo which carries over into one of the best, most rhythmic cuts on the album.

All this being said, I do have a few loud gripes with the album. First and foremost, the vocals leave quite a bit to be desired. While there are a few nice moments like the brutal screams on “Somn 6,” but the majority of the album is packed full of incredible instrumental work and sub par vocals.

Additionally, the instrumental and overall sound pallet are a bit clean and safe for my taste. Nearly every guitar sounds almost pristine, and the majority of vocals are clean as well. When they do attempt to add other instruments, be they synths or a saxophone on the closer, it feels mostly out of step with the direction of the track. I can’t help but wish for a more daring, and perhaps more abrasive pallet.

Worst of all, though, the pacing varies widely, but leans on the side of slow and dense. This, of course, may not be an issue for the hardline prog-metal fan, and I myself can forgive some of it, but a track like “The Almost People,” illustrates this quite well as it just becomes lost in itself over the near eight minute runtime, with no discernible sectioning or direction.

Overall, I enjoyed NP-Complete. It can be a bit of a slog at times, and the lack of risks does catch up with the band at times, but for fans of long-form, jazz-influenced, technically challenging music, this is a treat.

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

6/10

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