Review: Afraid Of Heights

Following my post featuring Billy Talent’s single Afraid Of Heights on Wednesday, the Ontario rock band have returned with their latest full-length record.  They released the music video for the single last week, which you can watch here:

Afraid Of Heights opens with the bass-y intro to Big Red Gun, before the track transforms and becomes easily recognisable as Billy Talent’s signature sound.  This is despite the band’s regular drummer, Aaron Solowoniuk, going on hiatus from the band due to a flare-up of his MS, and Alexisonfire’s drummer Jordan Hastings stepping in.  The musicians are obviously able to work well together, as the record is very cohesive and well put together.

To me, each track is easily distinguishable from the rest, with strong choruses which go around and around in your head for hours after listening – Louder Than The DJ being a prime example.  Other examples of stand-out tracks are Rabbit Down The Hole, an emotionally charged ballad about losing your loved ones, and fast paced punk number Time Bomb Ticking Away.

If you’re a long time fan of Billy Talent, you certainly won’t be disappointed with their latest record.  Lyrically Afraid Of Heights is more politically charged and makes a bigger statement than any of their previous efforts, and it’s obvious to me that the band have found a winning formula and decided to stick with it, for the most part.  Of course their sound has improved over the years, and their punk rock style has become slightly more polished, but tracks throughout their entire discography are easily recognised as theirs.  In my opinion, Billy Talent have a good thing going here, and it would be a shame to change their style too drastically now.

Highlights: Afraid Of Heights, Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats, Rabbit Down The Hole, February Winds

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8 incredible tracks you need in your life – July 2016

This past month has been a big one for new alternative music releases.  Something tells me that this summer will be jam-packed with awesome albums and singles, and the recent releases by Biffy Clyro and blink-182 were a great start to this month. Today I decided to run through the best tracks released recently.

Of Mice & Men – Pain

Of Mice & Men’s last album, Restoring Force, received mixed reviews because long term fans felt like the band had sold out and become more mainstream.  Pain is a very obvious return to their more hardcore roots, with fewer clean vocals and more aggressive guitars.  The band have big plans for the rest of the year, with a new record out in September and a UK/EU tour across September and October.

A Day To Remember – Bullfight

Following the first two singles from their upcoming record, Bullfight is the latest single from A Day To Remember.  This track seems to fall somewhere in between the punk-rock Paranoia and the more hardcore Bad Vibrations, which shows that their next record will be anything but predictable.  The band have pushed their album release back from August to September 2nd, which is a little disappointing, but hopefully the final package will be worth the additional wait.

Pierce The Veil – Circles

Pierce The Veil’s latest record Misadventures has been out since May, and Circles is the latest single to be released, along with a video featuring a stay in a house-of-horrors style hotel.  For me this track was one of the strongest on the record, so I’m pleased the band chose to release it.

Die Antwoord – Banana Brain

Fans of Die Antwoord know that this bunch are doing whatever the hell they want, creating record after record of experimental alternative electronic music.  Their latest track is the lead single for their upcoming September release, Mount Ninji And Da Nice Time Kid.

With Confidence – Voldemort

Pop punk newbies and recent additions to the Hopeless Records roster With Confidence released their debut full-length record last month.  This latest track, Voldemort, is a true pop punk track which shows that there’s plenty of new blood entering the genre and keeping things fresh.  Plus, who doesn’t like a cheeky Harry Potter reference?

CHVRCHES ft. Hayley Williams – Bury It

I wouldn’t normally share CHVRCHES on this blog, seeing as they’re a electronic/pop group, however because their latest track Bury It features the lovely Hayley Williams I thought I’d make an exception just this once.  This is a super summery upbeat track – a must for barbecue and garden party playlists!

Neck Deep ft. Mark Hoppus – December (again)

Neck Deep have now released a grand total of four versions of their track December, this time featuring Mark Hoppus of blink-182. Some may say that four versions of one track is excessive, and to be honest I kind of agree with that viewpoint, but each version brings something different to the song, so it could be worse!

Billy Talent – Afraid Of Heights

Billy Talent have released the official music video for Afraid Of Heights just two days before their upcoming record of the same name is due to be released. I’ll be reviewing the album in full on Sunday, but for now, enjoy this single and its sci-fi video.

What do you think of these tracks? Are there any singles I missed off this list? Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: Youth Authority

Youth Authority was the sixth studio album released by Good Charlotte on July 15th.  This album was a long time coming after the November 2015 release of the lead single, Makeshift Love.  You can watch the music video for the track here:

Now I’ve always been a fan of Good Charlotte, even though I don’t follow the band religiously, and on first listen it seems obvious to me that the band have stayed true to their trademark sound.  Vocalist Joel Madden sounds just the same as ever, and the tracks are made up of a winning combination of pop punk tracks with electronic influences.

Some might say that the band should be more experimental and move on from their older sound, but following their more experimental pop-sounding record Cardiology and four year hiatus, it doesn’t surprise me that Good Charlotte have gone back and explored their roots a little within Youth Authority.

There are two tracks featuring guest vocalists on Youth Authority: Keep Swingin’ features Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens and a lovely string instrumental, and Reason To Stay features a crooning verse by Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro.  These songs do break the slight monotony of the album,and Reason To Stay especially is an album highlight for me.

Overall, this latest record has a very consistent sound, and even on first listen I was tapping my foot and nodding my head along to the tracks.  It’s a fun album and very easy to listen to and enjoy, especially if you’re feeling nostalgic for the late ’90s and early noughties.  However, few tracks really stand out as exceptional to me; not even the singles Makeshift Love or 40 oz. Dream, which is a surprise as I would expect the strongest tracks to be released as singles.

Plus, I quite enjoy that even though their sound is very similar to previous albums, the lyrical content of this album has matured.  Unlike blink-182’s California, which I reviewed earlier this month and was very nostalgic for the band’s youth, Good Charlotte seem to have grown up slightly and are looking forward rather than returning to the past.

I imagine that long term fans of Good Charlotte will be more than happy with Youth Authority, however new listeners who may not have listened to their previous albums may be questioning why it sounds a little like a noughties throwback.  For me, I definitely enjoyed this album, and whilst it isn’t an exceptional piece of work, I reckon it’s a solid record with potential for mainstream popularity alongside die-hard pop punk fans.

Highlights: Life Changes, Reason To Stay, The Outfield, War

Fashion: altrocklife’s holiday suitcase 2016

If you were following this blog last summer, you’ll have seen my holiday suitcase post as I prepared to jet off to sunny Spain on my summer hols.  This year we’ve stayed a little closer to home, and instead I’ve headed to my university town of Bournemouth with my lovely Mum and sister for just under a week of sun, sea and bubble tea.  I moved out of my student house at the end of May, but our tenancy doesn’t end until the 21st, so we decided to make the most of my student digs and have a short holiday before the tenancy ends.  I’m still paying rent for the place after all!

Whilst in Bournemouth I’ve been taking my family on a tour of my favourite places. We went to karaoke at one of my favourite bars, DYMK, and have eaten/plan to eat at a number of delicious restaurants such as Coriander (Mexican), Baraca (Mediterranean/Turkish), Retro (Lebanese) and the Nippon Inn (Japanese).  Plus, we should be taking a day trip to Poole, visiting the lower gardens and beach, and doing plenty of shopping.

But what did I pack for this holiday?  I roped my sister into taking some pictures of the outfits I’ve planned, and I’ll give you the lowdown on where I bought everything.

OUTFIT 1

Striped shirt: Primark
Shorts: ASOS

OUTFIT 2

Blue checked shirt, white crop top: New Look
Shorts: ASOS

OUTFIT 3

Raglan top: New Look
Shorts: Drop Dead

OUTFIT 4

Denim shirt, red striped crop top, jeans: New Look
Red velvet choker: ASOS

OUTFIT 5

Stripy crop top, black pinafore dress: New Look

OUTFIT 6

Grey crop top: Primark
Burgundy cross back pinafore dress, black velvet choker: ASOS

OUTFIT 7

Black chiffon shirt: New Look
Floral pinafore playsuit: Select
Black and gold bead choker: ASOS

What do you think of my holiday wardrobe?  What are your summer fashion essentials? Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Lifestyle: My favourite Lush products

Hi altrocklifers! Today I thought I’d do something a bit different, and discuss my recent foray into purchasing from ethical cosmetics giant, Lush.  The company, which had humble beginnings in Poole in 1995 (the year I was born!) has reached worldwide acclaim for their 100% vegetarian and cruelty free products.

Now, Lush always seemed like a niche shop to me, and I used to be quite nervous about going inside and asking questions.  Plus, a lot of their long term customers, AKA Lushies, can be a little bit fanatical about the brand.  I went pescatarian last May and fully vegetarian in January, so since then I’ve been making a more conscious effort to purchase toiletries from cruelty free and vegetarian brands.  I’m very glad I did, as the products are fantastic and I can use them guilt free!  Plus, all of the staff in my local branches (Bournemouth whilst at university and Lincoln whilst at home) are absolutely lovely and were brilliant at helping me find the best products for my skin and hair.

I’m going to go over the products I’m currently using and how I feel about them, as well as products I’ve tried in the past and didn’t continue to use and why.

HAIR

Soak And Float – solid shampoo bar

Lush's Soak And Float solid shampoo bar on a plastic grass design soap dish
The soap dish was £3 from Tiger, by the way. It’s a fab way of storing my shampoo bar!

I’ve always struggled finding suitable shampoo, as I have mild dandruff and medicated shampoo only ever managed to keep the worst of the flakes at bay. Thankfully, Soak And Float is absolutely fantastic at calming my scalp, and I’ve seen nary a flake since starting to use this solid shampoo about two months ago.  It’s fantastic value for money as well: Lush suggests that each bar lasts up to three months, but because I have very short hair I think mine will last even longer than that.  Scent wise, I can’t put my finger on what the dominant scent of this product is, but it’s quite gentle and a little sweet.

Price: £5.95 for 55g
Recommended for: People with sensitive scalps or dandruff
Status: Vegan
My rating: ★★★★★

American Cream – conditioner

250g bottle of Lush American Cream conditioner

American Cream has mixed reviews across the board: some hail it as a conditioner deity, others think it smells like curdled milk or baby sick.  Personally I lean much further towards the former.  Whilst I don’t think this conditioner smells like strawberry vanilla like it’s supposed to, it does have a sweet, pleasant creamy smell which reminds me of crème brûlée before you caramelise the top.  I have fairly thick hair, and this conditioner is thick enough to thoroughly condition whilst being light enough not to weigh down my natural curls.

Price: £9.95 for 250g
Recommended for: People with normal to thick hair
Status: Vegetarian
My rating: ★★★★☆

Hair Custard – hair dressing

A sample pot of Lush's Hair Custard
I always leave Lush with at least one free sample. It’s great!

Last time I went to Lush in Lincoln the person who served me suggested I give Hair Custard a go, and I’m glad they did.  It’s a light, creamy product with a strong vanilla fragrance which I use to fight the frizz which comes hand in hand with curly hair.  I also use it as a light styling product to keep my curls in place.  The product is ideally used in wet hair before blow-drying, but because I leave my hair to air-dry I don’t know how well it works in that way.  I’ll definitely be buying a full sized tub next time I go to Lush.

Price: £12.95 for 100g
Recommended for: People who want to tackle frizz or hydrate their hair
Status: Vegetarian
My rating: ★★★★☆

FACE

Cup O’ Coffee – face and body scrub

Cup O' Coffee Lush face and body mask

I absolutely love coffee, so I was drawn to Cup O’ Coffee straight away.  It has a very sweet, chocolatey smell, with crushed coffee beans which add the exfoliating touch.  I have combination skin – oily in some places and dry in others – so the crushed coffee beans help to exfoliate away dead skin, and the agave syrup and coriander oil soothes and moisturises.  You can use this product to exfoliate your body too, but at the moment I only use it on my face.

Price: £6.75 for 150g
Recommended for: People who get dry, flaky skin
Status: Vegan
My rating: ★★★★★

Popcorn – lip scrub

Lush's Popcorn lip scrub

This was part of a lovely birthday gift from my sister, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving.  It’s lasted a very long time, and it does wonders for exfoliating my lips.  I get very chapped and dry lips, especially in the winter, so I like to exfoliate with Popcorn and apply a moisturising lip balm before bed.  It’s got a lovely sweet taste, and actually does smell like popcorn! Bonus.

Price: £5.50 for 25g (but it lasts a really long time!)
Recommended for: People who frequently get chapped lips
Status: Vegan
My rating: ★★★★☆

BODY

The Olive Branch – shower gel

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Remember to give The Olive Branch a good shake before using, because the olive oil separates and forms a separate layer at the top of the bottle.

At first I was a little nervous about using this product, as it contains olive oil and I was worried I would end up with more spots on my back and chest than before.  Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, and The Olive Branch helped my dry arms and legs become smooth and moisturised.  It has a lovely citrus scent thanks to the mandarin and bergamot oil.  It is very runny, which took me aback when I first used it, but once you get the hang of how much you need a bottle goes a long way.

Price: £9.95 for 250g
Recommended for: People with dry skin
Status: Vegan
My rating: ★★★★★

PRODUCTS I NO LONGER USE AND WHY

Veganese – conditioner

Veganese conditioner by Lush

I absolutely love the scent of Veganese – it has a very strong and refreshing lemon scent.  The product was recommended to me by one of the members of staff in the Lincoln store, because I was looking for a fairly light conditioner that wouldn’t weigh down my curls.  Unfortunately for me this conditioner was too light, and didn’t leave my hair feeling conditioned at all. I passed Veganese on to my Mum, who has straighter, thinner hair than I do.  She really likes it, so I can vouch for it being a good quality product, but it just wasn’t right for me.

Price: £9.95 for 250g
Recommended for: People with normal-to-thin, straight hair
Status: Vegan
My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Angels On Bare Skin – face and body cleanser

Lush Angels On Bare Skin face and body cleanser tub

I actually used up two whole pots of this cleanser before moving to Cup O’ Coffee, and it really served me well whilst I was using it.  It has a very strong lavender scent, which I love, but others seem to find overpowering.  The ground almonds in this cleanser exfoliated my skin whilst the chamomile and lavender calmed and soothed.  Unfortunately I found that it didn’t exfoliate enough, and my face was left with patches of dry, flaky skin.  I also found the process of adding water to the product before mixing to a paste quite tedious.

Price: £7.25 for 100g
Recommended for: People with slightly dryer skin who don’t need too much exfoliation
Status: Vegan
My rating: ★★★☆☆

Are you a fan of Lush?  Have you tried any of the products above? Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: Ellipsis (Deluxe)

Everyone’s favourite hairy Scottish man band, Biffy Clyro, returned on Friday with their latest record, Ellipsis.  Hype for the album started building with the release of their first single, Wolves Of Winter, an anthemic track which will certainly fill stadiums and festivals with energy – I absolutely loved it from the first listen. If you haven’t heard it, you can watch the official music video here:

Wolves Of Winter was followed by Animal Style, a more quirky track with an undulating melody and punchy chorus.  It took a couple of listens for the second Ellipsis single to grow on me, but now I’m a big fan.  One thing is for certain: Animal Style demonstrated that Biffy Clyro haven’t created a predictable follow-on from their previous album Opposites, and I’m expecting to be challenged and surprised by their latest effort.

On to the album itself: following Wolves Of Winter, which was an excellent choice of album opener, second track Friends And Enemies changes the pace.  It features a slightly slower tempo, electronic drums and claps, and feminine chants and backing vocals to change the atmosphere from aggressive and defiant to more peaceful and reflective.  There are quite a few shifts like this between tracks, meaning you’re never quite sure where the album is going next: I’m definitely a fan of Ellipsis’s unpredictability.

Biffy Clyro are well known for their acoustic ballads as well as powerful anthems.  Following Machines, God And Satan and Opposites, their latest addition to their emotional arsenal is Medicine.  It’s a very powerful track, with Simon singing very bluntly about his struggle with depression, and the melancholy chorus really tugs at the heartstrings.  Well, my heartstrings anyway, maybe I’m just a big ol’ softy.

Medicine is quickly followed by Flammable, a riff-heavy track with a lot of attitude, and the quick-fire grungy sounding number, On A Bang, which almost sounds like the big brother of Opposites album track Modern Magic Formula.  Even though I started listening to Ellipsis expecting the unexpected, the country twang of Small Wishes caught me by surprise, and to be honest it feels a little out of place.

I’d be very interested to hear some of the album’s slower tracks, such as Re-arrange, performed live.  Biffy Clyro are well known for performing without any bells and whistles and putting a raw, low-fi spin on their more heavily produced tracks.  There are quite a few electronic elements throughout Ellipsis, which would come as no surprise to fans of Opposites, so hearing these tracks performed simply by Simon, James and Ben would provide an interesting contrast.

To conclude, although some listeners will consider Ellipsis daring and unpredictable, others will describe it as directionless and confused.  My opinion falls under the former; maybe that’s because I’m a die-hard Biffy Clyro fan and have been for many years, but I genuinely think that their latest album is explosive.  The Scottish threesome (fnar fnar) have been able to produce intense proggy rock, whilst headlining festivals and topping the popular music charts.  Biffy Clyro are a band that have it all, and I hope their quest to push boundaries and produce more incredible music continues for a long time to come.

Highlights: Wolves Of Winter, Herex, Medicine, Flammable, In The Name Of The Wee Man

News: A Day To Remember announce Bad Vibes world tour

A Day To Remember fans have a lot to look forward to over the next few months.  They announced their follow up to their 2013 record Common Courtesy, named Bad Vibrations, will be released on August 19th.  They’ve already released two singles, including Paranoia, and you can see the video for the track here:

This song got me extremely excited for their next album: Common Courtesy had a lot more acoustic influences which meant, for me, that it didn’t pack the same punch as their previous records Homesick and What Separates Me From You.  From the sound of Paranoia and Bad Vibrations I’m already expecting big things from A Day To Remember this year.

Their latest announcement is that A Day To Remember will be setting off on a world tour in December, which will continue until February of next year.  The ‘Bad Vibes’ tour will take the band to Australia, the UK, and a number of countries in mainland Europe including Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Support for the UK and EU legs of the tour hasn’t been announced yet, but the band will be supported by Of Mice & Men throughout the Australia leg.  Unfortunately it’s unlikely that OM&M will be supporting during the UK/EU legs, because they will be on their own headline tour of the UK and EU in October and November.

Here are the dates you can catch A Day To Remember on tour in the UK – I’m hoping to attend the London date, because I have yet to see the band play during a headline tour and I reckon it will be a fantastic experience.

  • 22/1 – International Arena, Cardiff
  • 23/1 – SSE Hydro, Glasgow
  • 25/1 – Barclay Card Arena, Birmingham
  • 27/1 – SSE Wembley Arena, London
  • 28/1 – Leeds Arena

You can also see whether the band will be visiting a European or Australian venue near you here.

What did you think of Paranoia and Bad Vibrations?  Are you planning on attending any of A Day To Remember’s tour dates?  Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: California

blink-182 had a major challenge on their hands when it came to releasing their latest record, California.  Following the departure of Tom Delonge amidst a storm of controversy, their latest record had to prove that the band could survive and thrive without him, and with Matt Skiba as a replacement.  Lead single Bored To Death got the marketing for California off to a good start: if you haven’t heard the track yet, you can watch the video below.

There was a lot of controversy when Bored To Death was released amongst both old-school and newer blink-182 fans.  Some older fans found the track reminded them of the band’s earlier work, whilst others claimed that the title described how they felt whilst listening to it.  I’ll admit that I’ve never exactly been a die hard fan, but I can’t help but love their most popular tracks, and I believe that California has taken the band’s original spirit and polished their sound to suit their growing and maturing audience.

The fact is, without wanting to sound harsh, the members of blink-182 aren’t getting any younger.  To me it’s very inauthentic when older bands attempt to write the same songs as when they were teens and young adults, so a maturing sound and lyrical content is exactly what I want to hear from this band.  Hearing middle aged men – some of them parents – sing about high school drama really doesn’t do it for me, so I’m glad California has avoided this trope.  The band does sing about their younger years, but with a more reflective and nostalgic tone rather than attempting to imitate those times.

I really enjoyed the combination of Matt and Mark’s vocals throughout the album.  Matt doesn’t sound anything like Tom Delonge, but I think if blink-182 had chosen a soundalike replacement they would have received a lot of flack.  Plus, Matt’s credentials as vocalist and guitarist for Alkaline Trio meant that he fit right into the band’s trademark pop/punk-rock.

Admittedly, there are a couple of elements to this album that stick out to me, and not in a good way.  The heavy autotune on Mark’s vocals during opener Cynical feels totally unnecessary to me. Plus, there are a lot of na-na-nahs throughout which gives the impression that the band got bored of songwriting and used fillers to plug the gaps.  Whilst blink-182 are well known for their jokey immature humour, the penis and fingering jokes in Brohemian Rhapsody and Built This Pool aren’t my style, and fall a little flat.  What was I saying about the band maturing again?

I also think that California could have done with fewer tracks: the 16-song record clocks in at just over 42 minutes long, and blink-182 could have put their message across in 12 or 13 songs.  The tracks also aren’t particularly easy to distinguish from each other, but there are a few elements (such as gang vocals and heavily edited drums) which help some individual tracks, such as Sober and the title track, stand out from the crowd.  Songs that fit well together are also a sign of a well produced and cohesive album, so this isn’t an entirely negative thing.

Overall, my review of California is a mixed bag.  Whilst I like the band’s nostalgia, energy and more polished sound, it’s been over two decades since their formation and part of me wonders whether their punk-rock flame is starting to go out.  It’s possible that blink-182 just aren’t the band for me, so I’ll leave the final verdict up to you guys, my altrocklife audience, as I’d be interested to hear your views.  Let me know what you thought of California on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Highlights: Los Angeles, Kings Of The Weekend, Left Alone