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.

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.