Review: Echoes

It’s only been about a year since the release of Ones And Zeros, but Young Guns are already back with a new record, released last Friday.  The band have said that they wanted to make up for a long period with no releases by putting out two records in quick succession, but I’m not sure if this has worked out for them.  In my review of Ones And Zeros I said that I didn’t think the record would top their second album, Bones, for me, and I still stand by that.  I’m interested to see if Echoes will succeed where their previous album failed.

The album starts with lead single Bulletproof, a track which features electronic elements as well as proper guitars, and a fantastic chorus which reminds us of how impressive vocalist Gustav’s voice really is.  You can see the music video for the track here:

This is followed by title track Echoes, which demonstrates that the increased electronic elements from Ones And Zeros are still part of Young Guns’ sound.  There are more beefy guitar riffs in this track, however, which hark back to their earlier days and heavier sound of the past.  Said heavier guitars are found throughout the record, including during Careful What You Wish For and Mad World.  These heavier tracks interspersed with electronic intros and effects helps each song to stand out from the rest, and the overall effect is pretty special.

The pace of the record slowed down slightly with Awakening, a more relaxed track with one of Young Guns’ trademark soaring choruses, and Living In A Dream Is So Easy, a wistful and emotionally charged number.  The intro to Buried quickly returns the record to its previous high energy.

I’ll be honest and say that I went into this record with fairly low expectations.  I was disappointed by last year’s release, so I became a little worried that the band were creating music in a style outside of my preferred genres.  After giving Echoes a good listen, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ones And Zeros was an experimental prototype in the lead-up to their latest album.

I really enjoyed Echoes, and I think that the band have balanced alternative rock guitars and drums with electronic elements to create a sound that really works.  In truth, I found it difficult to write up my little ‘highlights’ section because I really enjoyed most of the tracks, and they all had features I found interesting or unique, so it was harder to pick out favourites.  Does this album top Bones, though?  To be honest, Bones became a very important album to me during a difficult time in my life, so it will always mean more to me than anything else Young Guns put out.  I do think that Echoes is musically on a par with their second album, and it’s fantastic in its own right, but the meaning I’ve given to Bones probably means it will always top any other music they put out.  #sorrynotsorry

So to conclude, if you were disappointed by Ones And Zeros the same as I was, I suggest that you give Young Guns another try and listen to Echoes.  I’m certain that you wouldn’t regret it.

Highlights: Bulletproof, Careful What You Wish For, Paranoid, Buried, Afterglow

Review: Cold World

Following Of Mice & Men’s previous album, Restoring Force, propelled them firmly into stardom, the Californian five-piece have returned with their latest effort.  Promotion for Cold World begun with the release of lead single, Pain, easily the heaviest song they’d released since The Flood era.  This raised expectations amongst fans hoping for the band to step away from more electronic influences and return to their hardcore roots.  You can watch the slightly freaky music video for Pain below:

Pain was followed by two more tracks, Real and Contagious, which were similar in style and tone to Feels Like Forever, with more clean vocals and less aggressive guitars and drumming.  Real included clean vocals from Austin Carlile, which is a new direction for the vocalist, and one I’m not sure I’m a fan of.  His voice sounds a little nasal in places, which I don’t really enjoy, so maybe he should leave the clean vocals to Aaron Pauley in future.  This mixture of singles led me to believe that Of Mice & Men plan to head further from their hardcore roots, but let’s see how I feel by the end of my first listen, eh?

Cold World opened with the slow atmospheric track Game Of War, which I personally felt dragged on for maybe a minute too long, as it didn’t get me excited to begin listening to the record.  However the pace soon picks up with the 8-bit sounding intro to second track The Lie, followed by the emotional single Real, the chorus of which packs a solid punch.

There are some points within Cold World, such as the intro and outro of Contagious and the filler track , which have electronic influences that remind me a little of Linkin Park’s earlier albums.  Others, such as the chugging verses of Like A Ghost, remind me of Slipknot’s latest record, and to me The Hunger shares similarities with Stone Sour’s sound.  To me, the band’s homages to their inspirations and favourite artists are apparent.

Lead single Pain sits in the middle of the album, and for me marks its high point.  I can understand why Of Mice & Men chose this track as their lead single, as it’s definitely my favourite on the album – and the heaviest.  Lyrically the album varies: some tracks are pretty emotional and poignant, others, such as Relentless, have pretty cheesy and overdone sentiments.

I had very high expectations for Cold World, considering how much I loved the band’s previous record Restoring Force, and my first impressions are that I don’t think Of Mice & Men have managed to better their previous effort. Sure, there are some fantastic tracks on this latest record, but there are also a significant number which could have easily slotted into the Restoring Force tracklist.  I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of growth in the band, but this doesn’t mean I love the Orange County boys any less, and I’m hoping to see them live in November where I’d enjoy hearing some of their new tracks performed live.

Highlights: Like A Ghost, Pain, The Hunger, Transfigured

Review: Bad Vibrations (Deluxe)

It’s official: after a month’s additional delay, A Day To Remember are back with their sixth full length record.  Promotion for Bad Vibrations begun with the ultra aggressive Paranoia, which let us know that the anthemic crowd-pleasers and more radio friendly tracks of Common Courtesy were being left behind.  As soon as I heard this track, I knew I was going to love the record: I still get goosebumps at the breakdown and I’ve listened to the song hundreds of times!  You can see the music video for their lead single here:

This single was followed by the album’s opening track, Bad Vibrations, which made it obvious that A Day To Remember took inspiration from their earlier hardcore roots on this latest record.  Immediately the album’s tone is set as aggressive, punchy, and reflective of the band’s struggles: the reflective tone is most obvious during Naivety, a strong punk-rock offering in which vocalist Jeremy McKinnon sings about how his outlook on life has changed as he’s grown older.  I think it’s important to note that the band haven’t taken a step backwards with this record – their post-hardcore roots are given a 2016 makeover, with polished production and additional electronic elements to add an extra punch.

Unlike Common Courtesy, A Day To Remember haven’t included many quieter emotional ballads or acoustic tracks in Bad Vibrations.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of emotion packed into their latest record, but the overall tone falls more towards the anger/frustration end of the spectrum, rather than dealing with sadness, grief or heartbreak.  A few tracks, such as Justified, allude to being a quieter track, but the introduction and bridges are soon swallowed up by powerful chugging guitars and harsh vocals.  The only true ballad on the record is Forgive And Forget, which features gorgeous strings that add to the orchestral feel of the booming, echoey drums.

Bad Vibrations contains a number of changes of pace and tempo across the record, and even within tracks, to prevent the album from melding into one solid mass.  We Got This is an inspirational pop-punk number akin to All I Want or Right Back At It Again, slap bang in the middle of the record to change the tone and keep things fresh.  As well as We Got This, I can see Turn Off The Radio becoming a fan favourite.

I can conclude this review very simply: I absolutely love this record.  A Day To Remember have outdone themselves, and I think it will be very hard to top Bad Vibrations on my list of favourite releases of 2016.  I definitely don’t aim to be a rabid fangirl, and I listened to this record with my ever critical ear, but I honestly didn’t hear anything worth critiquing…unless you were hoping for a lot of friendly poppier tracks, in which case, you’ll be disappointed.  A Day To Remember are a band in their prime, and this record makes me wonder what additional musical masterpieces they’ll be capable of in future.

Highlights: Bad Vibrations, Paranoia, Exposed, Reassemble, Negative Space

Reviews: How have my opinions changed? altrocklife revisits old reviews

Today I thought I’d go back and look over some of the records I’ve reviewed over the years here at altrocklife.  I always write reviews whilst listening to albums for the first time, so they make for a good analysis of my first impressions.  However, often these first impressions no longer represent my feelings about an album after I’ve listened to it three or three hundred more times.  I often make predictions about how I’ll feel about an album in the long term, so I thought I’d go back, re-read my old reviews of some of these albums, and decide if those predictions were correct.

Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis (Deluxe)

When I reviewed this album last month, I said that I found the record daring and unpredictable, but the track Small Wishes was very much out of place.  I’ll be honest, it is a little jarring when Small Wishes plays, and it’s definitely the outlier of the album.  However, it doesn’t disrupt my listening experience too much, and I enjoy the record now much more than I did when I initially reviewed it.  Learnig Simon’s lyrics following multiple listens has definitely improved my listening experience.

Pierce The Veil – Misadventures

Whilst I didn’t do a full review of this record (I featured it in my June album haul), I did say that I wasn’t sure whether it would top their previous album, Collide With The Sky.  I’ve listened to it a few more times, and whilst I do enjoy Misadventures a lot, their previous record is still my favourite by the band. I was very passionate about Collide With The Sky, and I still am, so their latest effort had very big shoes to fill, and it didn’t quite manage that for me.

Bullet For My Valentine – Venom (Deluxe)

If you read my review of this album, you’ll be aware that I was definitely not a fan.  I’ve since made a few more attempts to listen to the record, and it still falls just as flat as ever for me.  To be honest, I’ve definitely grown out of the style of music that BFMV produce: if you’re still into it, then good for you and I hope you enjoyed Venom, but I certainly didn’t, and I’m not one to write a positive review if I didn’t feel positive about the record.

Don Broco – Automatic (Deluxe)

As per my prediction, I did add a number of tracks from this record to my party playlist, and enjoyed them whilst sunbathing in my back garden and drinking a cider.  I still think that the effort Don Broco put into the album is obvious, as the production value is much higher.  The record retained the attitude of Priorities but managed to smooth out the rough edges.

Young Guns – Ones And Zeros 

In this review, I stated that I wasn’t sure whether I’d end up enjoying this record more than their 2012 record Bones.  In hindsight, Ones And Zeros just didn’t deliver the raw emotional and musical impact than their previous record did, and it doesn’t feel like Young Guns reached their full potential with it.  If any other band had released Ones And Zeros I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more because it didn’t follow Bones…if that makes sense?  As a standalone record it is good, and I did enjoy it, but in my eyes it just wasn’t as good as Young Guns have proven themselves capable of.

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

One of my only criticisms of this record was that, with only eight tracks, Sonic Highways felt a bit too short for me.  This still harks true: even now, almost two years after its release, I still expect another track or two to follow the album closer I Am A River.  Hopefully whatever Foo Fighters does next will pack more of a hefty punch.

What did you think of these records?  Do you still feel the same about them as you did on first listen? Let me know your thoughts on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

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

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

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

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

Review: The Getaway

Photograph of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing at Lollapalooza 2014
RHCP performing at Lollapalooza 2014. Photo Credit: conyfera via Compfight cc

I’m pretty sure every punk rock fan likes at least one Red Hot Chili Peppers Song. Whether you’ve actively sought out their music or just heard them on the radio or in a rock club, I would be surprised if you’d gone your entire life without hearing Californication, Can’t Stop, Under The Bridge, By The Way, Dani California or Give It Away.  On Friday, the LA brand broke five years of silence since the release of 2011’s I’m With You with their eleventh studio album, The Getaway.

The album’s release was preceded by single Dark Necessities; you can watch the video for the track here:

The record is opened with the title track: a chilled out, indie sounding number with emphasis on Flea’s bass playing and additional female backing vocals, before leading on to Dark Necessities.  I first heard the single on the radio, and it was obvious from the introduction that this was a Red Hot Chili Peppers song.  The band haven’t departed too far from their sound over the years, but by incorporating new elements such as piano and strings, The Getaway has an edge over their previous albums.

Goodbye Angels is a track with a big impact, and a strong competitor for my favourite song on the album.  The introduction builds gradually: it begins with acoustic guitar before the addition of drums, additional harmonising backing vocals and electric guitars. The resulting track keeps up the powerful pace alongside catchy repetitive vocals until the electric instrumental breakdown at the 3:30 mark, demonstrating the musical talent that the band still has to offer.

Penultimate track The Hunter returns to the album’s initial chilled vibe, with singer Anthony Kiedis’s more melodic vocals and a focus on the accompanying piano creating a more atmospheric sound.  This atmosphere continues into the introduction of the final track, Dreams Of A Samurai.

My main conclusion is that The Getaway is a much more cohesive album than previous efforts.  Every member of the band, including Josh Klinghoffer who only joined RHCP full time in 2009, have used their wealth of experience to create an ego-free album with a polished sound.

The album clocks in at almost 54 minutes long, which means there’s plenty of new tracks to get your teeth into.  The length of the album, plus the sheer amount of hard work and effort that went into The Getaway, makes up for the 5 year wait, in my opinion.

Overall, if you liked RHCPs previous albums you’ll definitely enjoy their latest release. Whilst on the whole it’s got a more chilled vibe than previous releases, The Getaway is just as enjoyable as the rest of their extensive discography.

Highlights: The Getaway, The Longest Wave, Goodbye Angels.

Review: If I’m The Devil…

Californian four-piece letlive. released their latest album, If I’m The Devil…, on Friday, and it’s an exciting post-hardcore LP with subtle hip-hop and indie influences to keep things fresh.  The release is their first since previous guitarist and percussionist Jean Nascimento left the band last year.  letlive. are well known for their experimental sound, and their latest LP certainly continues that trend.  The release was preceded by two singles; see the video for Reluctantly Dead below, which incidentally is one of my favourites from the album.

(By the way, the entire album is available to stream via Epitaph Records’ YouTube channel – pretty cool right?)

The album begins with opener I’ve Learned To Love Myself, a track with booming drums and subtle strings which add a real depth.  The first couple of tracks are fairly slow in tempo, but picks up with the soulful female vocals in the introduction to Good Mourning, America.  This track doesn’t shy away from discussing police brutality, an issue which has been prevalent in the American media for the past 18 months or so.

The title track is a slow burner, with an extremely atmospheric introduction that eventually picks up to match the tone of the rest of the album, reaching a crescendo during the second chorus. Final track Copper Colored Quiet is another atmospheric number, with female backing vocals adding a unique tone to the track; the song naturally winds down and brings everything to a close.

Throughout the album is underpinned by vocalist Jason’s unique voice, strong drumming and undulating bass.Whilst I haven’t followed letlive. religiously, I was a big fan of singles Muther, Renegade ’86, Banshee (Ghost Fame) and Younger when they were released, so going into their latest album I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Overall If I’m The Devil… is slower in tempo than previous releases, which means the album is more cohesive, in my opinion anyway.  This more relaxed tempo makes the album a more chilled listening experience, plus demonstrates that you don’t have to release fast-paced tracks to produce powerful music.

letlive. have a habit of producing albums full of heart, with lyrics that pull no punches whether on the topics of love, loss, family or politics.  Fans of the band’s previous releases will definitely enjoy If I’m The Devil…, and new listeners will find their latest release an excellent introduction.  There have been a lot of excellent releases so far this year, but I can see this letlive. LP shaping up as one of my favourites.

Highlights: I’ve Learned To Love Myself, Good Mourning, America, A Weak Ago, Foreign Cab Rides