Against Me- Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Any Against Me! album release is always going to generate a lot of anticipation, but this follow up to White Crosses has created considerable interest, even beyond their normal fan base. This is largely due to the extremely courageous step by frontwoman Laura Jane Gave to announce she was transgender. Whilst this album covers the issue of trans gender dysphoria, it also deals with important issues such as the loss of a young friend and pure self-discovery. It should also be noted, that the band’s sound has been through its own stages of change and development since they first emerged as a hard core punk band.
The opening track “Transgender Dysphoria” immediately shows how they have moved on to a more ‘commercial’ approach. In fact, the opening sounds like The Sweets’ ‘Ballroom Blitz’ to me! It then moves on to what is a brilliant punk rock track. It’s an explosive song, which delivers a really important and worthwhile message that is to be applauded. It sets the sound and the significance of the album right from the start. “Trans Soul Rebel” keeps the message and the brilliant sound going. This really is Against Me! at their most melodic and commercial. I am sure there will be some hardcore fans who will moan about the change, but when the songs are of this high a quality, it really is churlish to complain. Those older fans may be even more upset when they hear “Unconditional Love”, as it has an almost Green Day feel to it. This track really is a great punk pop song with a call to arms feel about it.
Fear not though, “Drinking with the Jocks” is a throw back to the more hard core sound of their earlier albums. It has a heavier sound with the lyrics being screamed out with a ferocious passion. “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” keeps the more intense sound going. It is a further sign that the band haven’t lost their roots and are certainly not against delivering a message in their songs.
Despite the tile, “Fuck My Life 666” sees the band back to a more accessible sound. It is still punk rock, but with a melody that sees them moving closer to an almost Gaslight Anthem feel. This comparison is also appropriate to “Dead Friend”, due to the technique of having a story telling style to it’s lyrical delivery. It’s a great melodic song, which could see Against Me! breaking in to the main stream. Whilst on “Two Coffins”, they tone things down with an acoustic song which is sparse and poignant.
They again perfectly mix punk ethic along with delivering a great melody on “Paralytic State”. This really allows the listener to hear and appreciate the lyrics in the tune. Final track, “Black Me Out” further emphasises that punk isn’t just about being loud and indecipherable, it is more about an approach and attitude to life, and Against Me have lost none of that.
This is an absolutely fantastic album and possibly the best of the year so far. It will be intriguing to see how the older fans will feel about it. Hopefully, it will see them respecting that the band have grown and developed. It is certainly capable of introducing the band to a whole new legion of fans. It really is an essential purchase for anyone who loves punk rock music delivered with energy and passion.
Chuck Ragan – “Till Midnight”
The album opens up with the absolutely cracking “Something May Catch Fire”, and I’m not sure of the last time I heard such a great opening song. Sure, the influence of Springsteen is very loud and clear, but when you’re talking about a song which is the Boss at his anthemic best, why complain. It’s a brilliant, melodic, rocking number. “Vagabond” really just keeps the quality going. It’s a more solemn and restrained song, but has the great use of a Hammond organ that gives some light to the more country blues feel. There is a nice change in texture when Jenny O joins Chuck on “Non Typical”, where there is a great contrast of Ragan’s rasping voice against the sweeter sound of Jenny O’s.
The sound edges to more of a kind of folk Gaslight Anthem feel on “Revved”. A lot of this comparison is to do with the story telling approach of the vocal style and lyrics. The use of a fiddle rather than a guitar dominance gives it more of a folk feel. The more folk/Americana style is kept on the slower “Bed Roll Lullaby”. Then “Wake With You” sees him moving in to proper blues/country ballad territory. This is one for late night reminiscing as you sip on a large glass of Bourbon.
There is also plenty of evidence that Chuck has not forgotten his punk rock roots. “Gave My Heart Out” is a song which is just built for crowd participation at a gig. Whilst on “You And I Alone” he manages to perfectly mix both the folk/Americana sound with his rock background. It takes a relatively simple sound, but builds it in to something which is anthemic but not overblown.
We see the shadow of The Boss looming large again over “Whistle Blowers Song”, but this time we are talking blue collar woes a la a Nebraska track. The album then comes to an end with the slower “For All We Care” which has a more downbeat feel. The album therefore goes from the triumphant opening to this more melancholic and thoughtful song, which will leave the listener deep in their own thoughts.
Chuck has already got a hugely dedicated and loyal fan base here in the UK, and there is no doubt they will love this. If, however, you have never heard Chuck before, then you really need to go out and buy this. Anyone with a love for rock, folk, singer song writer, Americana or in fact just good music, will find something to enjoy here. The sleeve itself has a very classic feel to it, which is appropriate as this is a great, classic feeling album. It will stand up not only against Ragan’s own back catalogue but also be an album that stands the test of time.
The Cringe – “Hiding In Plain Sight”
The Cringe actually formed in 2004 and have had some high profile support slots with diverse acts such as The New York Dolls, The Hold Steady and The Bravery. The band are led by John Cusimano but he is also joined by some talented musicians, with some great experience. The band consists of drummer Shawn Pelton (Saturday Night Live band, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow), lead guitarist and singer James ‘Roto’ Rotondi (Mr Bungle, Air), and bassist Jonny Matias (Crash Moderns). Given the diverse nature of the band it won’t come as a surprise to see that the album is a mixed and entertaining affair.
It opens up with “Rushing Through The World”, which is an in your face song which has an almost Foo Fighters feel. They then enter top quality pop rock territory on “Finally Gonna Be On Your Own” (not surprising given the Crash Modern link). It’s an upbeat, melodic, rocker which should be played whilst driving down the highway. “Deep Girl” is similar, but adds a bit of funk swagger in to the mix. The pop rocking sound continues with “Gotta Find A Way” with the added melody of a piano before you hit the great mid song break. This gives it a rocky,power pop, feel a la Cheap Trick.
“Make Me Something” slows things down, as it moves in to a big ballad which, once upon a time, would have been featured all over MTV and US commercial rock radio. The slower pace continues with “Gimme Resurrection”, but now we are talking great, laid back, coolness. This is the Summer on the beach, chill out track, for the album.
Things get a little heavier and darker with “Lord Jim”. It has a brooding bass line and a harder melody which is very different to the overall sound of the rest of the album. “Blame It All on Me” soon brings us swiftly out of the gloom and back to the sunshine. It’s another cracking pop rock number which keeps building up and down until it reaches the brash chorus. The album ends with “String You Along”, which again has a harsher edge than some of the earlier tracks. This is the one that you could see the band really smashing out live, to demonstrate all the bands considerable musical skills.
This is a really great modern rock album which combines some great variety of styles. They are all firmly in the pop/rock side of things, thanks to the focus on the melody and tunes. Unlike many albums though, there is still some variety and each song has something different about it. Given the background and experience of the band it should really not come as a surprise that that they have created a big rock album, which is sadly so very rare these days.
Joan As Police Woman – “The Classic”
This is the fourth album of originals from the artist known as Joan As Police Woman, and the confidence in its quality is highlighted by the title. It is therefore not surprising to head that Joan Wasser has declared that she is “ in the best place I’ve ever been in my life”. The album has a liberated feel, as it blends a variety of influences and styles.
“Witness” opens with a drum roll and then slowly builds up until the passionate and soulful vocals enter the song. Then we see a track which is full of soul, but also has a sort of Latino feel to it, it’s a strange but brilliant mix. The eclectic nature of the album is also demonstrated on the title track, “The Classic”. This is almost a Doo Wop song, but with what sounds like a human beat box behind it. The eccentric feel of the songs continues with “What Would You Do”. It’s a track which has an almost haunting and quite scary feel to it, before it moves in to a more soulful chorus.
In contrast, single “Holy City” is a huge tune, built for playing loud and dancing along to on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s a perfect blend of old school, Motown soul, with an indie sensibility. This feel returns later on with “Shame” which has some wonderful, lush backing vocals and the use of a brass section which really lifts the song. It could easily be a huge single as it just has a great good time vibe to it.
“Good Together” is like some epic Bond theme number. It’s a slow and hypnotic track, with the only fault being it doesn’t quite build up to the huge chorus you would expect. “Get Direct” follows and is almost like a chill out track but with a real feel of a Prince influence underneath it all. Then “Stay” is a slower track but this time they keep it relatively simple and it ends up like another post club chill out tune. The whole album then ends by throwing in a reggae style feel on to “Ask Me”, just to ensure the album covers just about every genre of music.
The term eclectic is really perfect for this album. It really is as mad as a box of frogs! The longer, slower tracks in the middle of the album bring the tempo and feel down, but in many ways it helps to really highlight the light and more upbeat songs at the beginning and end. It certainly demonstrates that Joan As Police Woman are a unique band, who are able to produce a diverse and interesting album which is really impossible to compare to anyone else. In a world of identikit acts, that alone is worth applauding.
Roto’s Magic Act – “Into The Unknown”
Roto’s Magic Act are led by the talented multi-instrumentalist Roto (aka James Rotondi) who has played in acts as diverse as Mr Bungle, Air and more recently The Cringe. This album is certainly a brave and bold album which has the ambition of delivering a neo-classic rock album, which is intended to take the listener on a continuous sound journey.
“Circus Clown” opens, not unsurprisingly, with a circus theme intro until we move in to a smooth pop rock number and what must be a very rare song about a circus. “Hearts In Flight” is another pop song with a sparser sound and a gentle flowing melody which recalls a Tom Petty number. Then “Happier Ever After” has a real power pop sound, with a breezy melody and fun lyrics like “I still get looks from the dancers in the cage”. The title is very appropriate, as you won’t be able to help smiling as you listen to the song. “South” is a similar bright number, with a great almost laid back reggae mid-section.
“Faraway Lands” sees the sunshine levels turned up to full, on a song which is a great pop rock track. It’s a good time song which will get you turning up the radio and driving that little bit faster. Whilst “Hot News” is another of the more rocking songs on the album. It has more of a classic rock, almost seventies feel to it, before it moves in to a more psychedelic middle part.
There is more of a singer, songwriter vibe to “Blackout” but with a Beatles esque sound underneath it. This influence is even more noticeable on “The Old Trapdoor”, which goes through psychedelia to good time rock n roll within the space of a few seconds. Roto moves in to full on singer songwriter mode though on “Into The Unknown”, which is a pure and beautiful track.
The ability to deliver a real variety of styles is perfectly demonstrated by “Strays”, it has a mixture of melodies but with more of a power pop feel to it. In fact, this track actually has a sound very much like the wonderful Jellyfish. The album ends in a reflective mood on “Heart Stops”, a song which sees a return to a more dreamy and wistful sound.
The reference to magic and circus are actually quite relevant to this album. It is full of songs which have a variety of styles and sounds, many of which entertain and occasionally surprise you. The term ‘mature pop rock’ gets a bit of a bad press, but it’s a good description of the overall sound of this album. The songs are all clearly well-crafted by a talented musician. They have the sense of someone who really knows how to construct a proper pop song. Importantly, however, this isn’t at the expense of realising that the essential element of a great song is to have a sense of melody and fun.
The Go Around – “Restating The Question”
The Go Around are actually a duo consisting of Pennsylvanian brothers, Alexander and Anthony Saddic, not that you will believe that when you listen to their latest release, “Restating The Question”. The album doesn’t sound like some kind of brotherly duo, it’s an album which sounds like it has been delivered by some bright, new, full on, pop rock band.
The album opens up with “Make It Loud”, which is essentially an intro song that does start with banjos but is really just a request for the listener to join in with the album. The first ‘proper’ track is therefore “When I Hit Bottom” which has a cool harmonica at the start, before it moves in to a chugging pop rock number.
“I Ran” keeps up the pop rock feel with a sound which is reminiscent of a great band called The Crash Moderns, who were around a few years back. The Go Around add a slightly different dimension with “Her Love Is Like Glass”, as it has even more emphasis on the ‘pop’ side. It’s the song on the album which really could be a huge summer hit. Whilst “Remedy” is more of a ballad type song which would suit being played at the poignant moment on a big, feel good film soundtrack.
The Go Around aren’t afraid to also rock out a bit and they certainly do this on “Fooled”, which has a heavier and more angry delivery. However, tracks such as “On Your Shoulders” and “You Come Alive” show that they are a band with a focus on delivering feel good, pop rock songs. The band hit a particular high on “Sunflower Song” which, as you would expect from the title, has a real summer time feel to it. This song has a slower pace but is a lush song which would be perfect on a bright sunny day. The album comes to a conclusion with “Amber Skies”, which is a pure pop, anthemic number which will leave you on a pleasant high.
This is an album which is quite rare these days, it’s full of songs which are well written, pop rock numbers. It’s a style which has struggled to cross the pond to the UK. This is probably due to the fact that it is made to be played under a bright and sunny sky! Many of the songs have a really commercial pop feel to them. In fact, you could even imagine them being recorded by some popular pop band such as, dare I say it, One Direction or The Vamps and they would be a huge world wide hit. That’s not a criticism though, it is a recognition that we have a band consisting of a couple of artists with the talent to write potentially huge pop rock songs.
The Fruitful Earth – “Rising Sun”
“Rising Sun” is the second album from The Fruitful Earth and is actually released on April 28th. The band are continuing to develop a lot of interest from the music press and also getting some good airplay as well, so the future looks bright. The band describes their sound themselves as “fully wired rock n roll! Inspired by bands from the early seventies”.
The album begins with a classic piano opening on the song “Firebird”, before it moves in to a slow ballad before occasionally ‘wigging out’. It’s fair to say that it’s an eclectic start to the album. It may confuse many listeners on first hearing, but you should definitely persevere with the album beyond this track. The next song “Sun” opens similarly, with a restrained piano and vocal performance. It then builds in to an expansive and beautiful song, much like a sun rise. They then add a bit of funk on the awesome track “Honey Bee” which is, if you can imagine it, like a pop piano led Black Keys’ track.
“Up All Night” shifts the influences into a more soul like work out, it’s like the Scissor Sisters but with the O.T.T. dial turned right down. “ Natural High” is similar with the sprightly piano line keeping the whole song swaying along. The soul returns with “Rolling Free” but this time in a passionate, slow and seductive song.
The band really do shake things up with the appropriately titled “Shake”, which has some great “Bonham” sounding drums before the whole song hits a kind of psychedelic, Zeppelin esque rock out. Then “Sweet Music” has got summertime hit written all over it. There’s a laid back cool which will be irresistible on a hot summers day. Speaking of cool, a special mention to the band for calling a song “Ford Cortina”!
The album ends with “Love” which is an epic, mid paced song that allows the beauty of both the piano playing and vocals to really shine. Like many of the songs, it ties in with the album title and cover, as it has a real rising sun warmth to it.
Let’s hope that this album release is a prelude to a long hot summer. The songs on it will certainly leave you with a warm and pleasant glow. Alternatively, even if the weather isn’t great, the songs here will at least bring some joy to the listener. Many albums of this type can be too sweet, but this is full of songs with melodies but also a variety of influences and styles which ensure you will revisit the songs again and again.
Black Heart Breakers – “S/T”
Black Heart Breakers are a band from Sydney who proudly state that they “Care for Rock n’ Roll” and perfectly describe themselves as the bastard child of Power Pop and Punk Rock n’ Roll. Hopefully, with the likes of The Cry! (See our review of their album here……), they will help to create a new and upcoming scene. This album is delivered with the promise of an unstoppable lust for rock n’ roll.
That lust is clearly evident from the off, with “Your Hearts Running Wild” being a great punk pop song with some nice handclaps to give it a bit of a seventies Glam feel. Given it’s title, there is no surprise that “ I Wanna Be Wanted” adds some more pop into the mix to make it reminiscent of a Cheap Trick song, which has to be a good thing! Whilst “Don’t Worry about Me” is a fun time rock n’ roll song, which has a rawness and youthfulness about it which is really appealing.
The punk feel is back with “X Heart” but it has more of a ‘trashy’ sound, which will have you thinking about bands such as The Loyalties. Likewise, “Pretender” is all about the punk energy but with a little extra sweetness in the scuzzy melody. There are a number of songs like this on the album, including “What Hurts The Most” and “Outta My Mind” which see the band come across like the Ramones’ snotty little brothers.
“We Don’t Have To Be Lonely “ opens up with some great Spector esque beats and handclaps. It’s seventies punk pop feel will have people in the know thinking of the great, and recently reformed, Last Great Dreamers. Then on “Waiting For Somebody” they show the ability to hold back on the scuzz to give a simpler, T Rex esque glam stomper. The band really go out with a bang on final track, “Seventeen”. It is again a Ramonesy sounding rock n roll track, which is full of swagger and attitude.
This isn’t a spectacularly ground breaking album, but more importantly, it is a great slice of punk pop, rock n’ roll. Don’t go thinking it’s punk pop in a Blink 182 way, instead it’s proper punk rock songs filled with a little sleazy, glam influence. Black Heart Breakers won’t change the world with this release. Hopefully, however, they can introduce a whole new generation of fans to the world of punk n’ roll. The band have created a rock n roll album which is played with a sense of passion but also, importantly, fun. Sometimes, all you want to do is have a good time and this album definitely delivers that.