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  • New Music: Trampled by Turtles — Alpenglow

    If you’re reading this review after seeing anything else on this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m doing a review of a bluegrass-folk album amongst a sea of emo and alternative music. You’d probably also be surprised to know that this band is easily in my top five most listened to on a regular basis.

    The thing about Trampled by Turtles is that, despite being assuredly bluegrass-influenced, the band finds a way to put out music that grabs ahold of you emotionally and refuses to let go, no matter what your musical preferences are.

    Alpenglow, the band’s tenth album in their nearly 20 years as a band, was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and, as a result, might have the most mainstream appeal out of all of their albums, but does so without losing too much of the band’s signature sound.

    As an aside, the album’s name comes from “the optical phenomenon that takes places when the sun casts a reddish glow across the mountains at dawn and dusk,” which really tells you more about the overall sound of the album than you’d expect.

    One thing that Trampled does consistently well is assembling a collection of songs that carry you from the first track to the last in a way that feels like a deliberate journey. Even without looking, you can get a sense of where you are in the progression of the album and when the last track, in this case The Party’s Over, ends, it feels like the period at the end of a musical sentence. (Side note: if the closing lines of the song: “Yeah the party’s over / And I’m left here thinking / Of the dogs and the moonlight and you” don’t make you feel something, you might want to make sure you’re still alive.)

    Alpenglow is also interesting in the way that it is somehow reminiscent of older Trampled albums. Several songs on the album give off a feeling that they remind you of something that you just can’t quite put your finger on. Others are more obvious in their similarities. Nothing but Blue Skies, perhaps one of the strongest songs from a lyrical perspective, has a vocal melody that immediately reminded me of Bloodshot Eyes off of their 2010 album Palomino. Similarly, the strings during the bridge of Quitting is Rough give a sort of déjà vu to the bridge of Alone, from 2012’s Stars and Satellites.

    That’s not to say there’s nothing new here. Both of the songs released in advance of the album — On the Highway and It’s so Hard to Hold On — do an excellent job of showcasing the strengths each of the band’s six members bring to the table and how the band has progressed musically since their last album.

    In fact, so many of the songs are excellent that it is hard to choose one that is the stand-out track, and I’m certain this is one of those instances where my favorite will probably change over the next several months of listening.

    A top contender for strongest offering, though, is Starting Over. Lyricist Dave Simonett takes what could be a superficial topic that there are literally thousands of songs about and makes it seem almost intellectual and deeply emotional at the same time. There’s also beautiful instrumentation in the song, including a fiddle solo and some really stellar vocal harmonies.

    Overall, for long-time fans of the band, Alpenglow might not live up to Palomino or Stars and Satellites but it is welcome new music after a 4-year drought and is certainly worth adding to your folk/bluegrass playlist.

  • Top 7 Taking Back Sunday songs I want to hear at WWWY Fest, but they probably won’t play

    One of the biggest events in the pop-punk/emo music world is the upcoming When We Were Young Festival, taking place in a few short weeks in Las Vegas. I’m going to cover the festival when it happens, but wanted to spend the next couple weeks highlighting some of the (many) artists that will be performing.

    Today, I’m going to selfishly start with my favorite band on the lineup, Taking Back Sunday. Rather than provide a bio or list their most popular songs, I’m going to take a different approach: My top 7 Taking Back Sunday songs I want to hear at WWWY Fest, but they probably won’t play.

    Seven probably feels like an arbitrary number, but I figured choosing one song from each of their studio albums was the only really fair way to compile this list. It feels a bit like trying to choose a favorite child or something.

    1. From Tell All Your Friends: There’s no ‘I’ in Team

    There’s so much emo lore built into this song that I can’t possibly explain, other than to say there is longstanding bad blood between TBS and the band Brand New and this song is one entry in that feud. Maybe as a result, or maybe coincidentally, TBS rarely plays this song live, but it is one of their most energetic, angry and emotional songs. It is also a great demonstration of how cohesive the vocals are between singer Adam Lazzara and guitarist John Nolan. This song could easily be a master class in the key attributes of early 2000s emo music and is begging to be unleashed on a crowd of aging emo fans.

    2. From Where You Want to Be: One-Eighty By Summer

    From the moment the intro riff starts on this song, you can tell it is meant to be played live and screamed at the top of your lungs. Between the first verse’s declaration that “Nothing seems important anymore/We’re just protecting ourselves from ourselves” to the second verse’s pleading rhetorical question: “Why can’t you just be happy?”, this is definitely a strong contender for TBS’s best angry-about-a-love-interest song.

    3. From Louder Now: My Blue Heaven

    I’m not expecting to hear any of the more ballad-y songs at WWWY, mostly because with a limited set time, TBS doesn’t typically let the energy of the crowd die down too much, though this has historically been a popular live song. The video I included is a gorgeous live version featuring a string arrangement and is one of the more beautiful renditions of the song I’ve come across. I might have a more emotional reaction to music than some people, but I cannot get through the bridge of this song without feeling a little choked up, so listen at your own risk.

    4. From New Again: Carpathia

    This album is hard to pick from, mostly because the band itself acts like it doesn’t exist. These songs got played live when the album was new but most haven’t shown up in a live setlist for over a decade. I chose Carpathia because I’m a sucker for a good historical reference generally, but especially when it is as well-chosen and subtle as this one. The RMS Carpathia was a turn-of-the-century passenger ship most famous for rescuing many of the Titanic survivors, only to tragically sink during World War I after being torpedoed by the Germans. I’m not saying this song is great based only on the brilliance of the metaphor, but it certainly started on strong footing with its name.

    5. From Taking Back Sunday: Sad Savior

    There was definitely a trend away from the standard emo sound and toward a more general rock sound that became evident once their self-titled album was released. Sad Savior is one of the most interesting sounding songs on the record, with a 3/4 time signature and a really ballroom-dancing feel as a result. Lyrically, the song holds true to the genre, with the very dramatic emo chorus of: “You don’t have to pretend to be an orphan anymore.”

    6. From Happiness Is: Nothing At All

    This is easily the most underrated song of the modern-TBS era. Everything here, from the harmonies to the tempo, to the simple guitar arrangement, is incredible and puts the emotion behind the song at the forefront. I can’t even get into how great the lyrics are because I can’t choose any one set of lines to quote. If the giant crescendo toward the end of the song doesn’t make you feel something, I’m certain you are truly dead inside. The band has a habit of ending albums with a showstopping ballad, but Nothing At All is the strongest one of the bunch and it is criminal that is hasn’t found a permanent place in the band’s live shows.

    7. From Tidal Wave: Call Come Running

    If any of these songs have a remote possibility of being played at the show, it is this one — it has a music video and everything. That being said, Tidal Wave as a whole has a weird place in my heart as of late, as a couple of the tracks are some of my current favorite songs (Looking at you, You Can’t Look Back). Because WWWY is basically a nostalgia festival, I doubt we’ll see many, if any, newer songs played, and the upbeat, positive vibe of this song probably don’t mesh with the sad emo atmosphere the fest is aiming for. All of those things aside, dancing along in the crowd while Lazzara sings “If you wanted, we could leave this place/ I’m thinkin’, leave it all behind/ Oh, I can handle all these things/ So long as I could call you mine” might be just what the crowd needs to warm their cold, emo hearts.

  • New Music: Bush – The Art of Survival

    For casual fans of Bush — those that maybe remember their few big radio hits from the 90s — The Art of Survival probably feels like an unexpected turn away from alternative music in favor of something heavier and darker musically.

    Frontman Gavin Rossdale acknowledged in an interview that he had intentionally taken the band in this direction for their 2020 release The Kingdom and enjoyed it so much, he wanted to continue with the sound going forward. “I think I had so much fun to make it heavy that I just stayed heavy and stayed with heavy tuning and strong riffs — stuff [that will go over well at] festivals,” he said. “I just like it to be exciting and really driving. So it’s similar to the last one. If you liked the last one, that level of heavy, then it’s like that.”

    That being said, while the sound does represent a huge departure from the Bush of the 90s, Rossdale’s songwriting from a lyrical perspective is pretty recognizable in some places on the album. The opening track, and the strongest on the record, Heavy is the Ocean, illustrates his affinity for metaphor and imagery in his writing, using the relentless strength of the ocean to depict how difficult but inescapable it is to acknowledge feelings for someone. If it weren’t for the driving drums and big guitar solo, lyrics like “All the time/You’re in me like the waves crash all in white/In light/A silver blue that shines across tonight” might feel like a generic pop song, but this is an instance where Rossdale’s raspy vocals combine with the harder sound to make a heartfelt song still feel masculine.

    The flip side of that coin is Creatures of the Fire, a song that, as a fan of sappy emo music, I truly want to enjoy. In the context of the album though, it feels like a meek, almost comically sentimental attempt at recapturing the success of Glycerine. It plays like a song that belongs in an early 2000s rom-com starring Tom Hanks, which is not to say it is bad, but it just doesn’t make any sense sonically with the rest of what the album has to offer.

    It does make sense, however, that after 30 years as a band, Bush would want to branch out and that their sound would evolve in this time. I’m just not convinced that it is enough to gain them any new fans and might not appeal to those looking for the nostalgia of Sixteen Stone or Razorblade Suitcase.

  • New Music: The Wonder Years – The Hum Goes on Forever

    There was a post on Twitter recently that said something like: there are two types of pop-punk music, 1) “Everything is ruined and it is all your fault” and 2) “Everything is ruined and it is all my fault” and that the new album by The Wonder Years is a solid showing of the latter. As I listened through The Hum Goes on Forever over the last few days, I can’t help but feel like it is a solid summary of the record.

    Despite never quite reaching the level of success of some of their contemporaries on a national level, The Wonder Years have withstood the ebbs and flows of the pop-punk/emo cycle of popularity and have steadily released albums since 2005, without the seemingly inevitable series of breakups/hiatuses and reunion tours that have plagued others.

    As a result, their latest release feels cohesive and genuine, rather than relying on nostalgia for success. That’s not to say that they don’t depend on some of the hallmarks of the genre; there’s a tremendous amount of angst, songs about the band’s hometown, and power chords going on, but there’s also a sense that the band is maturing along with its fan base as it ages.

    Maybe the best example of this lyrically is in the pair of songs about lead singer Dan Campbell’s kids — Wyatt’s Song (Your Name) and You’re the Reason I Don’t Want the World to End. Both are sweet and heartfelt and explore the apprehension Campbell feels about being a good dad and ensuring his kids have the best life possible, a sentiment that certainly will resonate with the Elder Emo fan base.

    There are still a fair bit of standard angsty musings to be had, though. The album’s first track, Doors I Painted Shut, starts with the line “I don’t wanna die, at least not without you,” which is certainly an assertive way to set the tone for the record.

    One standout track on the album, Low Tide, is brimming with the types of vaguely depressing metaphor that is emblematic of the genre. The first verse ends with Campbell proclaiming that he’s “reading up on black holes, hoping one might take me in.” This space theme carries through the song, eventually wrapping up in the bridge with the lines “I’m exploding on re-entry/Scattered wreckage in the sea.” It is hard to get much more emo than that.

    The two singles released from the album so far — Oldest Daughter and Summer Clothes — show the band’s ability to pull together both upbeat, catchy melodies and true ballads. Summer Clothes, in particular, plays into the genre trope of wistful reflection on summer’s end, but does so in a satisfying way that doesn’t feel played-out or overdone.

    Maybe the most surprising song on the album from a musical perspective is Songs About Death. It has a heavier feel than the others with more driving guitars and stronger bass elements and is a little reminiscent of something that might have been a mid-2000s song by Brand New.

    Overall, The Wonder Years’ 7th album brings the right balance of melancholy about the past and hope for the future to please both emo and pop-punk fans and does so in a way that doesn’t feel like its pandering or trying to hard.

    The Hum Goes on Forever is available from Hopeless Records and on all major streaming services.

  • Riot Fest 2022

    Last weekend, Riot Fest returned to Douglass Park, despite complaints from neighborhood residents, and featured artists from a variety of genres performing across 5 stages over 3 days.

    Day One

    Much of the hype for this year’s festival focused on the much-anticipated reunion of My Chemical Romance, who were slated to headline 2020’s cancelled fest, and then again in 2021, when the band opted to delay touring another year. Two years later, emo fans finally got what they had been waiting for, though the experience was far from ideal.

    Although Riot Fest has not released attendance numbers from the fest, news outlets seem to consistently report more than 10,000 fans were present for MCR’s performance Friday night. Crowds started to gather at the stage from the time gates opened, staking out their spots for the entire day and making it difficult for fans to reach the main stages for the day’s other performers.

    Several hours before the headliners, Riot Fest staples Taking Back Sunday played a solid set of crowd favorites spanning their 20+ year career. Front man Adam Lazzara brought his signature mic-swinging and showmanship to the fest, breathing life into the crowd and inspiring some sing-alongs.

    Alkaline Trio took the stage next, and, despite being the hometown band of the night, failed to capture the attention of most of the crowd, which was rapidly growing in anticipation of MCR. They put on an excellent set, focusing on their tried-but-true popular songs, including the predictable choice to end with “Radio,” an angsty break-up song that piqued the attention of some of the emo fans in the audience.

    Day one came to a close with MCR being forced to try to do crowd control while playing songs primarily from their “Black Parade” era. Lead singer Gerard Way had to stop after every song and request the crowd take a step back due to excessive pushing near the stage, and the band’s production manager had to come on stage prior to the encore and ask the crowd to calm down for the remainder of the set. It was a shame to see because the band genuinely put on a great show and snuck in a few unexpected songs among all of the crowd-pleasers, but ultimately the experience was overshadowed by the poor crowd control on the part of the festival and the terrible etiquette on the part of the fans.

    Day Two

    As a bit of a throwback to the festival’s roots as a series of club shows, Riot Fest typically has after shows each night at some of the major music venues in Chicago. Saturday contained several of these after shows, including a joint performance between Midtown and Chicago-natives The Academy Is…, both of which were reuniting after nearly a decade of not performing. Former Panic! at the Disco member Jon Walker also performed a brief acoustic set to open up.

    The 10pm show, which sold out in a matter of minutes, saw fans arriving at Concord Music Hall in early afternoon for VIP meet and greets, soundcheck viewing, and the opportunity to grab a spot along the barricade. Despite ongoing rumors of internal conflict among the band members, TAI seemed to have great chemistry during soundcheck, with singer William Beckett entertaining the crowd while guitarist Mike Carden took more of a lead in working with the sound team to dial things in. A highlight of the soundcheck viewing was an impromptu audition for an audience member to participate in “Bring it (Snakes on a Plane),” a song originally by Midtown singer Gabe Saporta’s other band, Cobra Starship.

    The show itself was excellent. Midtown brought the pop-punk energy they were known for, while joking about how old they’ve gotten. Saporta mentioned wanting to do this reunion to show his kid he used to be cool and took a photo with the crowd and one of his son’s toys, which elicited some giggles from fans. In addition to their own songs, they did a great cover of “When You Were Young” by The Killers, which was well-received.

    The Academy Is… also came out with a more aggressive swagger than they were known for having in previous performances. The majority of their setlist came from their “Almost Here” album, which is certainly a crowd favorite, but, considering their last tour was focused on playing that album in its entirety, hearing more songs from other albums would have been more interesting. They closed their set with an emotional rendition of the very-fitting “After the Last Midtown Show,” which, while heartfelt, brought the energy in the room down quite a bit. Luckily, the encore performance of “Bring it (Snakes on a Plane),” was an electric burst of nostalgia to end on.

    Day Three

    By the time Sunday rolled around, the crowds at the festival had decreased substantially, food and merch lines were shorter, and a much more relaxed vibe seemed to have washed over those in attendance.

    Florida ska-punk band Less Than Jake played mid-afternoon and riled the crowd up with a set of their most popular songs across most of their albums. They brought out their signature toilet paper cannons and encouraged a fairly large circle-pit during “Plastic Cup Politics.”

    Jimmy Eat World was one of the bigger acts to have a daytime spot and they drew a huge crowd at the main stage. Their set included all of the overplayed radio hits, like “The Middle” and “Sweetness,” as well as some classics like “Lucky Denver Mint.” Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of diversity in this crowd, with just about every age and group composition present, including parents with toddlers. Jimmy Eat World brings the festival-goers together, it seems.

    The Academy Is… drew a sizable crowd for their main festival reunion, even though they were playing opposite two other big name artists. They played the same set as the previous night, with the only exception being they were unable to perform their encore due to going over time on their set.

    The highlight of Sunday, though, was headliner Nine Inch Nails. It was clear from the start of the set that the band has perfected the art of live performances over the last 35 years. The setlist spanned their career such that it gave fans a taste of everything without feeling like they were only playing huge hits and the way the order of the songs were arranged kept the energy up while still allowing for some of the more melodic, down-tempo songs. The lighting and cinematography of the on-screen footage were exceptional and the crowd was active and energized, but not rowdy or destructive. Standing in the sea of people as they closed out the festival with “Hurt” was an experience that made the whole weekend worthwhile.