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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The Bouncing Souls Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary with Fun EP3

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

The Bouncing Souls are a punk rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They debuted in 1994 with The Good, The Bad, and the Argyle, and went on to release four albums throughout the 90’s, each finding some level of underground success. Though their catalog lacks any real mainstream hits, it does show every sign of a hard working, old school punk act with 10 studio albums and 15 EPs since their formation in 1989. After beginning with Chunksaah Records, they left to work with Epitaph for the majority of their output in the 2000’s but they’ve recently returned to Chunksaah for their most recent projects including 2016’s Simplicity, which is one of their best selling albums to date. With their 30th anniversary approaching, they’re adding to their extensive catalog with Crucial Moments.

The EP opens with the high energy title track which kicks off the tracklist in style. It’s essentially a straight forward, pop-punk cut driven by Greg Attonito’s impressively clean vocal. The drum fills are fast and exciting and lead guitar is extremely well played. The pulled back bridge, though quite cliche’d, is enjoyable and the crisp production makes for quite the opener, overall.

“1989” is a much more true blue punk track, all the way down to the terse, 90 second runtime. Instrumentally, there’s no dip in quality to be heard and, in fact, there is the improvement of a very well played bass line on the bridge and an entertaining guitar solo. Unfortunately, Greg’s vocals lack the grit needed to pull off this sound, and the song is at it’s best when he returns to his melodic style near the end. Additionally, the structure of this track is just awkward and it leaves quite a bit to be desired, ultimately.

“Favorite Everything,” follows, driven especially by an ear-worm guitar lead. Lyrically, its a fun love song full of quirky platitudes which are performed quite convincingly. Beyond this, the drums are, once again, excellent, aided by a great rhythm in general. The track’s biggest weak points are the transitions between sections. Choruses just seem to start and end with no noticeable change beyond lyrics, and the track as a whole bleeds together a bit by the end.

“Here’s To Us,” on the other hand, is easily the strongest showing on the project. The instrumental is explosive and Attonito’s vocals are his best thus far. The melody on the chorus is fantastically well written, though the lyrics are a bit juvenile, admittedly. It ends with a soaring guitar solo directly into an exciting passage of doubled vocals. It’s exactly the sound you want to hear out of this band and it’s delivered better here than anywhere else.

The band returns to the traditional punk sound again with “4th Avenue Sunrise,” this time with much better results. Greg defaults to a more charismatic, blues-tinged vocal style which fits the song much better and more importantly, this cut doesn’t feel nearly as incomplete. Each idea is presented and fully fleshed out while the high tempo retains the quick impact they’re going for.

“Home,” closes the album and it’s a relatively enjoyable finish. It features yet another excellent chorus which is very well performed by Attonito. The crunching lead guitars are pure pop-punk and explosive drumming brings the choruses to a head in a very satisfying way. Overall, it’s one of the stronger cuts on the project, not the least of which because of the very strong songwriting.

Ultimately, this is a fun collection of songs, though it’s lacking in more than a few areas. There’s really not a single track that isn’t enjoyable in some way or another. The tracklist is very well paced and the production is slick but full of life.

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

3/5

Hear the EP

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Calling All Captains Drops Energetic Label Debut

Nothing Grows Here is an bombastic EP from an exciting young band.

Calling All Captains is a emo/pop-punk five-piece from St. Albert, Canada. They formed in early 2014 and released their debut EP, A Way With Words later that year, which followed many of the tropes of pop-punk of the era with a fair share of catchy songwriting. They went on to release a follow up in 2016 entitled, Disconnect. This project was noticeably heavier, especially in the instrumentation which featured much more active and intricate drum work, though there was a bit of screaming incorporated into the vocals. Their underground success lead to a signing with indie label, Equal Vision, best known for alums like Coheed and Cambria and We Came as Romans. With a studio budget and a couple releases under their belt, Calling All Captains has dropped their Equal Vision debut in the form of Nothing Grows Here.

The EP opens with the band’s recent hit single, “Chasing Ghosts.” It’s a strong single and an even better opener as it really sets the tone for the entire track list. There’s an excellent tone coming out of the rhythm guitar and the group is extremely tight, rhythmically. Best of all, Luc Gauthier’s lyrics have matured quite a bit between releases as he know writes fairly thoughtfully, avoiding some of the pop-punk tropes that acted as pitfalls on the last two EP’s.

They continue with the more low-key title track. Above all else, the song is highlighted by yet another powerful rhythm guitar performance.While the verses leave something to be desired melodically, the chorus makes up for the short coming in spades as one of the most catchy moments on the entire EP. The dropout is very well done, and the track closes out strong.

“Fools Gold,” follows and is perhaps the best of the five tracks. Gauthier’s vocals are emotional and dynamic with quite a bit of power filling out yet another extremely catchy verse. The track is, not unlike the rest of the EP, driven by Tim Wilson’s active and creative drum work, using cymbal crashes to accent explosive moments and lightning fast tom fills in between. Nick Malychuk’s bass also comes through much stronger here, anchoring the track very well.

Another of the lead singles is next, this time “Disconnected.” Here, the drums do tend to be a bit overwhelming, though they’re still expertly played. The bass is well placed once again, and this is yet another song with an excellent chorus and hook. The screams are at there best on this track, and the build out of bridge carries a lot of momentum into the outro.

The record closes with “Out of My Head,” which is simply fantastic. Maybe the only time when the verses hold up to the quality of the chorus, the track also features a the best bridge on the EP. The breakdown at the end is absolutely thunderous, drumming near the end is at a creative peak. It’s a strong close to a solid EP.

Overall, Nothing Grows Here accomplishes it’s goals with admirable precision. It’s an energetic label debut for Calling All Captains, and it shows off their instrumental prowess perhaps better than any previous work. I do have my complaints, however. 

The production is extremely stiff, leaving no room to breath for many of the instruments. The bass is often lost in the mix, a shame as it’s played so well by Malychuk. The lead guitars, though solid when they appear, are rarely heard despite the fact that almost every track is crying out for a strong lead riff. Finally, the pacing could use some attention, as the middle of the EP does seem to drag thanks to similar tempos and styles on each track. Most of these are minor issues here, but may present themselves more glaringly on a full length LP.

Nonetheless, Nothing Grows Here is an bombastic EP from an exciting young band.

4/5