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I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
Support Thirty Seconds to Mars:
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
New York state-natives and Epitaph-signees Every Time I Die made sure we did not usher too comfortably into a hopeful and redemption-filled 2021 without first getting uppercutted by a slaying miasma of savagery refinement. The acclaimed metalcore quartet saw fit to unveil a double A-side lead single before last disgraced year’s countdown, almost exactly a month ago on the 8th December (AOTY list season and other publishing commitments caused the curatorial delay). Dropped in anticipation to their still unnamed ninth studio LP, slated for release later in the year and their first in over a lustrum—this serving as their longest gap between albums since their formation in the late Nineties—both pitiless and manic teasers accompanied a larger announcement of an exclusive Online Telethon Extravaganza livestream, dubbed TIDathon. The event took place on 19th December and replaced the group’s traditional annual TID the Season holidays show in a virtual fashion. AWOL, a third instant-gratification cut which will also presumably be featured on the untitled Low Teens follow-up, was furnished to ticket-purchasers via download link.
The two symbiotic furious hardcore ragers making up the bundle are titled “A Colossal Wreck” and “Desperate Pleasures” and hint at a revolving artistic dialectic between them. That is, both numbers’ sonic, thematic, and sequencing demeanour suggests a direct back-to-back relationship on the forthcoming project’s tracklist, a sentiment that further appears to be solidified by the following statement issued by Every Time I Die’s frontman and lyricist Keith Buckley upon the single’s release in early December:
[The songs are] two sides of the same reactionary coin. While Colossal Wreck looks around at the current state of the world and says , ‘life is a punishment and only the worst of us thrive,’ Desperate Pleasures takes a more optimistic approach and renounces the nihilistic/accelerationist attitude of the voice that came before.
It says that without hope, even in the face of such universal anguish, only death is certain and to give up now when those around us need it most is a treacherous act of pure cowardice. That said, I’m not sure which is worse, being a coward or being a cynic. Probably a coward. At least cynics have a sense of humor.
Coming to the music, “A Colossal Wreck” pierces through its two blazing minutes and a half of blistering perniciousness by way of an absolutely ravaging and relentless destructive rhythmic flow, flashing by in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it apex, before cathartically culminating into a larger-than-life breakdown-turned-outro: “I should have been baptized / Death’s perfect shine is in my eyes / Now I’m just killing time / Until time decides I’ve had enough / We must have not / I should have been baptized / Death’s perfect shine is in my eyes / Now I’m just killing time / Until time decides I’ve had enough“. This record flexes most of the veteran metallers’ trademark harsh muscles, purveying abundant beefy six-string distortion atop of annihilating percussive drills bordering mathcore. As per the Buffalo’s finests’ indulging sinfulness, the whole effort is driven by Buckley’s inhumane high-octane screams that seem to pull listeners by their dried out necks, only to scour layers of venomous graters down their blood-curdling agonised jugular pipings instead of quenching their vitriolic thirst.
On the promo single’s rear side one finds “Desperate Pleasures”, undoubtedly a groovier and more dejected exploit than its madder sister song, although by no means less compositionally dense or forgiving. In a way, this track’s impact could be seen as even more brutal and plaguing than “Colossal Wreck”. At first, Every Time I Die seem to bestow some respite upon listeners, as the tune flat out thoughtlessly swings through its initial bells-tolling cadence and chant-y-meets-jammy fifty seconds of runtime. However, this swiftly transforms into a giant take-no-prisoners sonic red herring, as Buckley and his violent gents company pick up steam to arise full pedal-to-the-metal with the cut’s second stanza: “Fight for their lives / Fight for their lives / The hopeless are useless in desperate times / You got it bad? Try having passion / Try still believing that some good will happen / Though nothing ever has / And nothing ever will / ‘Cause nothing ever can / It’s almost unbearable / Honestly? Terrible“.
“Desperate Pleasures”‘s rest from that point on is a who’s-who of the influential hardcore group’s most cherished and accomplished songwriting components, all worked into a topical poignancy that only a nihilist 2020 record can sport: angular sludge metal guitar riffs, murderous blast beats, a rhythm section that could rival any of R&B’s grooviest assemblies, as well as a verbose and intricate lyrical section earmarked by ETID’s 41-year-old singer’s internationally-renowned authorship and wordsmithing. With still no fixed release date or album roll out in sight, it’s (quite literally) terrifyingly reassuring to know that Keith on the mic, alongside his brother Jordan and professional wrestler Andy “The Butcher” Williams on guitars, Stephen Micciche on bass and touring stickman Clayton Holyoak, appear to have not skipped a blastbeat even after their longest break in-between studio full lengths hitherto. Similarly gnarly is the reckoning of a meat-and-potatoes outfit that can still milk its winning compositional chemistry more than twenty years since its debut, yet as candidly illustrated by this recent double A-side single, at the same time manages to deliver their conventional rabidness without ever running the risk of painting themselves into a musical corner.
EVERY TIME I DIE
A COLOSSAL WRECK/DESPERATE PLEASURES
BRIAN FALLON — LOCAL HONEY (LESSER KNOWN RECORDS)
THE STROKES — THE NEW ABNORMAL (RCA RECORDS)
FAKE NAMES — FAKE NAMES (EPITAPH)
FREDDIE GIBBS & THE ALCHEMIST — ALFREDO (ESGN / EMPIRE)
GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM — GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM (100% ELECTRONICA)
DOMINIC FIKE — WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG (COLUMBIA RECORDS)
THE KILLERS — IMPLODING THE MIRAGE (ISLAND RECORDS)
TOUCHÉ AMORÉ — LAMENT (EPITAPH)
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN — LETTER TO YOU (COLUMBIA RECORDS)
SMASHING PUMPKINS — CYR (SUMERIAN RECORDS)
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.
Nearly four full calendar years after issuing his sublime sixteenth studio LP Prisoner and an extended hibernation causing him to shy away from the public eye, North Carolina-native singer/songwriter, record producer, Pax Am Recording label owner, and poet Ryan Adams saw fit to surprise-release his new album Wednesdays in digital format on Friday 11th December (a fuller CD + LP physical release including an extra 7” with two bonus tracks is scheduled for March 2021). Originally slated to be the second in an ambitious trilogy of records to be unveiled throughout 2019, the 11-track, 42-minute long collection of songs that just hit the digital streaming shelves is a re-tooled and re-doctored redux of the initial 17-track opus announced as part of last year’s triple threat. In an interesting twist of fate—perhaps fittingly on account of 2020’s warped MO—Wednesdays’ official opening (“I’m Sorry and I Love You“) and closing (“Dreaming You Backwards“) numbers are in fact recycled residuals from what was poised to be the final tracklist for the first project to drop as part of the triptyque before getting indefinitely shelved last year, Big Colors.
By and large an unplugged and acoustic affair, save for a couple denser jams with richer arrangements (see “Birmingham” sequenced at number seven on the tracklist, a compelling alt-folk hybrid between Big Colors’ lead promo single “F*** the Rain” and Adams’ legendary “New York, New York” smash hit, or even the aforementioned tender piano-led curtain closer), this record sees the American songcraft extraordinaire lay his spirit and soul as bare as they come, while resorting to a direct, earnest, and matter-of-factly delivery that lends all the more momentum and urgency to every verse and refrain he endearingly wears on his sleeve. Unsurprisingly, thematically the project forays into heavily chartered territory for the 46-year-old alt-country rocker, touching on topics such as unrequited love (“Who’s Going to Love Me Now, If Not You“), scorching family loss (“When You Cross Over“), motherly odes (“Mamma“), and just loads and loads of heartbreak—all with the distillation and poignancy of someone who’s been through thick and thin while experiencing all of the above first hand. Suffocated by a surreal promotional quiet, a troubled past, and little to no fanfare, these are the words Ryan chose to accompany the release with:
Limbo. That’s what a Wednesday is sometimes. Maybe a portal. Maybe a bridge across. It can hang there like a forever unless maybe you’re out to sea and everything is just another token of the blue.
This record hasn’t been doing any good gathering dust over there in the stacks of blue with the other records I’ve crafted out of these broken parts of myself. It felt to me like it wanted to, no, maybe it ‘needed to’ get out for some air. Its meaning changed as it was written and, even now, I’m not so sure what it might be. But it’s time to let it go.
I know for me, music is the tunnel through. It’s the passage to connect dreams and reality. It heals as it draws the map to our souls in these tracks of memory and meaning. Of love and loss.
Pain can be the teacher to only those with the strength to listen. In these songs, I know my eyes were open to the color of the sounds, in every shade of blue and every drop of rain.
Wednesdays is that to me. It’s a map to days now gone. Like a wish, it’s here for anyone who needs it and it answers to its own creation. A narrow path across these waters it describes.
As my pen sits here on the page writing new chapters of my story, I know these songs can do some good in these weary times.
I release it to anyone who needs it, with love and humility, in hopes everyone is finding some shelter in these stormy times.
For as self-explanatory and evident this might sound describing a largely unplugged and intimate album, the record’s A-side is perhaps its more subdued and unassuming, with most of its five tracks simply sporting Adams’ heartfelt solo accounts accompanied by a de-amplified acoustic guitar. Case in point, the stern and dejected “Walk in the Dark” at number four, which also aptly captures the search for forgiveness and redemption that underpins most of the songs on the album (“I call out your name / It echoes in the room / I sleep on the couch / A bed will not do / And I don’t wanna let go / Take me back to the start / I will love you while we are learning / To walk in the dark“), whereas the outstanding folk lullaby-esque “Poison & Pain“—rounding up side A—masterfully espouses a dark confessional weight with a sweet refrain that rings catchier than it should (“And my demons / That got so bored of dreamin’ / My demons / Alcohol and freedom / A King without a Queen / A King without a kingdom“).
Turning Wednesdays upside down reveals a more instrumentally profuse B-side, tracked with an ever so slightly larger sound design and a more electric recording line-up. However, this does not seem to hold true for Adams’ seventeenth solo LP’s title track coming through at number six, furnished in the guise of yet another acoustic guitar apex, soundtracked by distant intermittent pedal steel licks and flavourful organ textures. Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska-worshipper “So, Anyways” (triangulate this data point with the original cover art for the album announced in 2019, reported below) is another standout. A dour and spine-chilling moment that sticks out not just on this thing’s B-side, but as far as the whole project is concerned too—soaked and humidified as it is in watery reverb and ornamented by plucked fingerpicking, journeying through a striking labyrinthine allegory for love (“And where you lay your head / Is anybody’s guess these days / Our love is a maze / Only one of us was meant to escape / And I was lost until I felt your love / So, anyways“).
Notwithstanding its powerful and devastatingly cathartic tenet (“It’s not the fall from grace that breaks you down / It’s someone’s face you miss so much / You hit the ground, you hit the brakes / And you crash in the same place / Till the impact tears apart the parts of her you lost / You cannot replace“), penultimate cut “Lost in Time” might be the only real snoozer on here. Most of its characteristic elements—from sound-bedding pedal steel guitars lamenting in the background to the violent and intrusive intimacy of the performance unchaining even the softest pick thud hitting the instrument’s body—can all be found and embraced more successfully elsewhere. Admittedly, its thankless tracklist placement might or might not also go influence the exposure burden for listeners, after nearly forty minutes of pretty much the same raw and minimalistic one-dimensional formula. Yet the retrospective impression here is that it’s the tune at the core of this record that could not have been redeemed anyway. Luckily, said intense playback leitmotif gets cathartically interrupted by the lush closing statement of “Dreaming You Backwards”, a triumphant and brightening Lennon-esque ballad that gratifies and bids farewell to the existential pressure accumulated hitherto both by Adams and the listeners, mostly conveyed through silence. A silence that has never rang louder before.
2020, PaxAm Recording Company
Holy smokes I just can’t get over how breathtakingly perfect, laudably defiant, and effortlessly delivered this sound recording is. To every new song I am reviewing, either you get to Adam Granduciel-level or get the f*** out.
THE WAR ON DRUGS
2020, Super High Quality
What’s interesting about undergoing a premature album review as it pertains to the creative output of alternative rock legends Smashing Pumpkins is that one year one could be serviced with a complete album spanning eight cuts and clocking in at just over half an hour of runtime, whereas another (zany) year one could be serviced with just as many preview teasers for its follow up—which combined clock in at just over half an hour of runtime—and not even reach half of the pre-announced tracklist length for said very album. Just to make head and tails here, in 2018 Billy Corgan and co. unveiled their tenth official studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., comprising eight songs and recorded alongside producer royalty Rick Rubin at his swanky Shangri La studio in Malibu, California. Fast forward to two years and a global pandemic later and we find the American alt rockers announcing their follow-up LP CYR in form of a gnarly and improbable 20-track double album, slated for release on 27th November by Washington D.C. and Los Angeles-based indie imprint Sumerian Records.
Intended both in music and spirit to act as a successor to their previous aforementioned project, serving as the second instalment for the group’s ongoing Shiny and Oh So Bright series, CYR began to be teased during this past summer through a raft of mysterious SP countdown timers across the Interweb, which eventually led to the unboxing of synth-pop Ava Adore-ing lead single/title track “Cyr” (“Tangents vex the whorl / The void arrives then leaves / Returning, returning a kiss / For lovers built the dream“) as well as its attached garage/indie B-side “The Colour of Love“—the latter incidentally doubling as the grand record opener. Predictably, both numbers came with luscious accompanying music videos, which quickly grew to reveal a larger five-part cyber-psych animated series outing dubbed In Ashes, written and created by Billy Corgan himself and set to coincide with the ambitious album roll out. Speaking of which, at the time of writing this amounts to eight individual singles parsed out across four separate release slots, giving lucky and thirsty fans more than the average conventional taster amount ahead of the CYR’s complete unveiling. This brings us full circle to the notion of the present ‘perhaps-not-so-much’ premature evaluation of the full piece de resistance dropping at the end of the month.
Subsequently to the initial solid and convincing two-track combo unleashed at the end of August, SP saw fit to start dropping another double single at the end of September, this time in the guise of the sticky, kooky, and eccentric art-pop of “Confessions of a Dopamine Addict” on its A-side (“I’m down for bewitching trains / And cursed tower / The masts blackened / As windswept / Horizons ever sour / If it takes more to find you / Than setting out a fading sun“), as well as the nocturnal indie-synth sensibilities of the soft and tender “Wrath” on its back. Not content with the existing load, just a few weeks later throughout the month of October the Grammy Awards-winning goths chose to issue an additional two double-single bundles within the span of a couple weeks. Leading the streak was the raspy and gritty guitar-lead of “Anno Satana“—sporting arguably the most gratifying songwriting amongst the ongoing promotional eight-pack—counter-mirroring the more subdued and dejected yet adorable B-side “Birch Grove“. Lastly, and fittingly just in time for Halloween, the angelic and compositionally gelid flairs of alt-ballad “Ramona” graced the world’s airwaves with necessary respite vis-a-vis flip-side “Wyttch“‘s gruesome, abrasive, and bewildering spookiness (with a frightful official music video out on Friday 13th, no less)—marking the last and easily heaviest cut unveiled by the quartet in anticipation to CYR.
Any partial artistic inference made to the full LP on account of not even half of its total track count can’t forego the crucial monition of how—unlike for Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. where Mr Rubin was given creative control of the production steering wheel—this record sees Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan looking after any and all production duties. Nonetheless, and rightfully so considering the ongoing gelling conceptual album series, tracks such as the aforementioned “The Colour of Love”, “Anno Satana”, and “Wyttch” immediately seal a robust sonic continuum with its 2018 predecessor, both in terms of thematic focus and sound delivery. Whether completely intentional or not, one can only assume that at least a portion of that analogue, guitar-led, and driving percussive predicament entrenched in said cuts goes to distill some degree of the band’s true current musical ethos—not a bad thing in and of itself for it’s sounding rad. However, the crispier, cleaner, and glossier new wave synth processing found in flagship singles here, such as the title track, “Wrath”, and “Birch Grove”, hint at a possible return to more lavish late 90s aesthetics, albeit sans the compositional depth seen on Machina/The Machines of God.
While on the subject of studio arrangements and recorded instrumentation inklings, it’s probably worth reiterating that in 2020, aside from the aforementioned singer-honcho Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins is Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, James Iha on lead guitar, and Jeff Schroeder on rhythm guitar—the former two doubling as reverting staples from the legendary original line-up that thrusted the group into international stardom and critical acclaim, back then completed by controversial absentee bassist D’arcy Wretzky. As expected, taping sessions for CYR saw existing members record stems on their respective instruments, whilst aside from synthesizers, additional guitars, vocals, and production duties, Mr Corgan also lied bass guitars to wax for the occasion (additional background vocals, significantly presents on a chunk of the eight promotional singles described above, come courtesy of Sierra Swan and existing Australian touring member Katie Cole). Judging by the hors d’oeuvre SP has served us hitherto, the suite of styles and sounds one is to expect from the full length appears fairly versatile on the ear, ranging from the foreboding distortion of “Wyttch” through to “Birch Grove”‘s culling and sparse caresses, emanating tenderness and endearment from its every musical pore.
With a whole other album’s worth of twelve records off CYR still to be released, and more than half of the projected 72 minutes of runtime left to nothing more than the listeners’ imagination, any definitive appraisal of this album at this point would be reductive at best. Add Mr Corgan’s inherent unpredictability and—for a sincere lack of a better term—creative weirdness on top of the equation, and one soon realises that any judgement bestowed one week away from the album’s street date is as reliable as the next person’s. Truly and honestly though, based off this sample of tracks, CYR does not seem to sport the same oomph, pizazz, compression, and dare I say it even catchiness found throughout Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be stood corrected here once all twenty songs hit the digital streaming shelves and each and every one of these promotional cuts can be savoured within the context of the full conceptual journey, but for as slept-on and underrated the inaugural instalment of the Shiny and Oh So Bright trilogy still is, it’s also proven to have aged robustly well despite—or perhaps precisely because of—being devoid of much promotional bells and whistles fanfare.
2020, Sumerian Records
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It’s been a little minute since one could stumble upon as a trial-by-fire, all-killer/no-filler, straight-as-an-arrow alternative punk rock LP from a legacy act as Bob Mould’s latest blazing studio full length project, Blue Hearts. The former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman’s fourteenth as a solo artist, the LP dropped on 25th September and follows in the footsteps of 2019’s rather upbeat and stray light Sunshine Rock in the shape of what his indie label Merge Records dubs as “the raging-but-catchy yin to Sunshine Rock’s yang”, before adding that it was “recorded at the famed Electrical Audio in Chicago with Beau Sorenson engineering and Mould producing”, concluding that “Blue Hearts nods to Mould’s past while remaining firmly planted in the issues of the day”. Promo blurbs aside, the record cuts through like a rabid and quaint meat and potatoes uppercut at a packed and austere fourteen songs and 36 minutes of runtime, keeping comfortably on brand for an old underground hardcore scene head such as Mould.
While sporting key tunes on the album in title disguises such as “American Crisis“, “Forecast of Rain“, and “Racing to the End” might make the principal conceptual undercurrent of Mould’s latest exploit all too painfully obvious, there is so much more than meets the eye on the Malone, NY-native newest project. Mind you—all individual chapters sequenced within this thematic crusading journey are ultimately nothing more than blistering and riveting peas in a pod, but for one the semi-acoustic, stripped down, analogue frontiers on the album’s tail ends “Heart on My Sleeve” and “The Ocean” provide an equally awakening and matter-of-factly respite amidst the bulk of this body of work’s asphyxiating searing bonfires. The record’s flip in mood and sentiment compared to its predecessor is impossible to miss already on its unhinged seven-track A-side, with manic and inflammatory numbers such as “Next Generation” and “Fireball” exhuming some of Mould’s most piercing and inspiring mid-80s Hüsker Dü reference pull-ups, not without being set ajar to the kind of trademark sweet-on-the-ear sticky songwriting drowned in amp gain found in the aforementioned “Forecast” as well as “Siberian Butterfly” on that same front-end.
Perhaps even more pronouncedly than on any other body of work found within Mould’s career past the new millennium mark, Blue Hearts frequently sees the 59-year-old punk rocker flirting and fiddling with enveloping backup singing harmonies, courtesy of staple touring member and longtime band bassist Jason Narducy. Cases in point, on the less cohesive but compositionally more articulate and gnarly record’s B-side, are the groovy and infectious “Baby Needs a Cookie” at number ten, as well as album highlight “Password to My Soul” just two skips down the line, displaying revered and classic Mould playbook elements such as oceans of Fender Stratocaster distortion, sticky and tender chords progressions, lavish viscerality, and just wealth and wealth of melody. Such moments not only serve as poignant reminder for both Bob’s creative efficacy and deep influence over his 40-year-long career, but also go offset duller points on the project, found most acutely on the mutual carbon copied-snoozers of formulaic duds “When You Left” and “Little Pieces“.
What’s more, on the qualified and loaded half hour and change the former Sugar honcho packs in on his fifth consecutive album on the North Carolina indie imprint, there is even room for flavoursome sentimental detours, arguably not amongst Mould’s most recurring topical calling card. These afford listeners gratifying mundane interludes in-between the overtly explicit socio-political framework that so assertively defines the record’s overarching ethos. Take for instance “Everyth!ng to You“, a jolly and carefree tongue-in-cheek romantic declaration checking in halfway through the project, or even the raunchy blues rock of “Leather Dreams“, the latter not only casting somewhat unusual alt-garage sensibilities onto his songwriting, but also housing what might be the highest number of innuendos Bob ever lied to tape at once. With that being said, his voice is still mixed just that ounce or two too quiet to get eaten by cymbals, I mean guitars, to prompt listeners to pay a little bit extra attention.
This time though it’s as important as ever and not one bit less catchy than what we’ve come to expect from the old hardcore punk fox. Look—you don’t need to hear it from me, but in so many ways a project like Blue Hearts could only have come out in a year such as 2020. Existential and impending climate dismays, ostracising and disenfranchising societal uproars by way of ethnic reckonings, an earth-shattering public health emergency, and a menacing and breathtaking forthcoming election for the 46th President of the USA all end up crunched and parsed within the bold, earnest, and stern fourteen acts of Bob Mould’s auditory gesamtkunstwerk. This is stoic, matter-of-fact, and heart-on-sleeve zeitgeist recounting, free of virtue signalling or empty sloganeering, set to an animalistic and savage sonic score that ranks amongst the New York state-native’s most sincere and unfiltered. Don’t spend too much time scouting for soft and delicate acoustic menageries or intimate whispered affairs on this thing—those are to be found in spades across Mould’s rich and prolific back catalogue. This is the official soundtrack to going to hell in a hand basket, carrying chocolate chip cookies to tame a mean and evil orange monster…
2020, Merge Records
Considering the profound influence it has had on mainstream rock music in the new millennium, it’s ashamedly baffling how little real estate this site has dedicated to Las Vegas rock band The Killers over the course of its six-year online existence. Notwithstanding the somewhat lopsided distribution of studio projects released by the Brandon Flowers-fronted outfit during their almost twenty-year-long career—prolifically loaded in its front-end, with four LPs within eight years between 2004 and 2012 (Hot Fuss, Sam’s Town, Day & Age, and Battle Born), only to go on to release just two more in as many years since then (2017’s Wonderful Wonderful and last week’s Imploding the Mirage)—there is no denying that such a recidivistic AWOL state ought to be remedied in spades. What better occasion to right such unjust wrong than the highly anticipated, greatly acclaimed, and bizarrely delayed issuance of the American alt rockers’ sixth official full length album, out on Friday 21st August on Island Records.
American adult alternative rock stalwarts The Killers—nowadays virtually just answering roll calls as frontman Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr—should not need any formal introduction to many a cultural bystanders, owing to their bragging rights awarded a mighty flexing of around a dozen modern-day indie rock classics that brought them top-of-the-charts comfort and festival crowd-pleasers alike. Announced by the group’s camp in early March alongside triumphant and life-affirming lead single “Caution“, and following up their slept-on and critically slashed Wonderful Wonderful two years prior, Imploding the Mirage mirrors its predecessor in track listing and runtime (ten songs clocking in at around 42 minutes). Unlike its forerunner though, it’s tightly packed with big, larger-than-life, loudness-war victorious arena fist throwers, collaboratively dished out with a host of unlikely co-signs, ranging from Canadian pop singer k.d. lang to The War on Drugs‘ Adam Granduciel, although the mightiest headline-inducing cameo comes courtesy of former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham (who lends six-string wizardry to the aforementioned “Caution”).
After a second teaser to the full length following around the end of April in the shape of the hazy world-grooves encapsulated by the outstanding “Fire in Bone“, the group saw fit to unveil two more sonically eclectic and compositionally dense cuts prior to the full exploit between June and August—the ripe and wondrous album opener “My Own Soul’s Warning” and the Springsteenian synthetic horse-galloper “Dying Breed” (the former attached to two official music videos in an unconventional promo stunt). Truth be told, in retrospect such an assembly of ginormous preview tracks functioned as the perfect canary in the coal mine for the tiring full project experience, on the heels of their nearly asphyxiating sonic grandeur and pitiless climactic sound dynamics, pulling one uppercut after another to unaware listeners, found drowning in these records’ blown out mastering and fat stem layering. Don’t get it twisted though, none of these are bad songs in and of themselves—they are just a lot on the eardrum.
Regrettably, the remaining six joints on the record provide little respite from gargantuan sound compression and airwaves-stuffing fatigue. Cases in point are the album’s two synth-overdosed weaker closing moments, “When the Dreams Run Dry” and the vast, elusive, and spacious title track. Again—not the worst tunes the band has ever written, but enveloped in as much testosterone-fuelled overboard sound design that it dilutes and decoys from their redeemable compositional merits. It’s a shame that when Imploding the Mirage does take a breather and attempts to slow down the adagio a notch, such as with the piano-led mid-tempo radio ballad “Lightning Fields“, or the Weyes Blood-assisted cinematic ear worm “My God“, these plateaus actually double as outright lull snoozers of the pack, particularly when considered in the context of the full record’s songwriting valour. Meanwhile, thankfully and conversely, the Big Country-homaging sing-along stunner “Blowback” and the glorious saccharine guitar-work on “Running Towards a Place” easily make for some of The Killers’ most laudable and inspired work in a decade, significantly contributing to elevating the album’s overall lasting creative impact beyond its obese production’s dazzling fog.
In other welcome rock song craft news—that is, you know, pertaining to actual four-minute songs with inherent artistic value recorded with genuine acoustic instrumentation—New Jersey emo/folk natives The Front Bottoms chose the same late August Friday as Flowers and co. to unveil their seventh official studio album to the world, In Sickness & In Flames (out on Warner Music’s Fueled By Ramen). Standing as their most ambitious project yet, the record is a matured (?) concept journey through life’s tragicomic inertia, inevitably moulded by this year’s public health crisis impact and, as one has come to expect from the eclectic and exuberant slacker duo, growing up. In Sickness & In Flames undoubtedly ranks amongst The Front Bottom’s longest, heaviest, and sincerest exploits to date, with as many as twelve slyly-sequenced tracks, where even the snappiest ones run just short of four minutes of heart wrenched content.
Let us be honest, few other acts in the 2010s have been as consistent and accomplished in recounting late stage capitalism stream-of-consciousness cautionary tales for suburban twenty-somethings as the Woodcliff Lake-natives, not without an (un)healthy dose of self-deprecation and inconsolable incorrigibility. Their 2013 masterpiece Talon of the Hawk is pretty much a genre calling card at this point, and by some unconventional artistic twist of fate, their resilient semi-acoustic, heart-on-sleeve, spoken word open mic aesthetic has managed to do without a great deal of innovation—or even evolution—in order to retain their flavoursome and witty merits. Clearly, The Front Bottoms are still amongst the proudest torch bearers for legions of millennial simps, and their latest LP is a powerful if emotionally available and subdued budding everyday life account, casting an approaching new decade wide open as continued beacons of their stoic and earnest DIY underground milieu.
Songs-wise, less than the somewhat stale, phoned-in, and overcooked lead singles “everyone blooms” and “Fairbanks, Alaska“, it’s deeper cuts such as upbeat indie dance slapper “jerk” and the stern and austere lamenting ballad “the hard way” that both sound classic TFB and find them at their abundant best on this new project. It’s however the album’s B-side (or C and D sides, for y’all vinyl-maniac), taking off with the 90s alt rock/post-grunge firestarter “leaf pile” and wrapping up with the shivering and gorgeous piano closer “make way“, that makes for the most focused, captivating, and compelling back-to-back half hour of music that lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Mat Uychich have put out to date. Accept this early and unsolicited hot Twitter take as receipt legitimising said acknowledgement. Elsewhere on the record’s side B, “new song d” at number eight on the tracklist is a most serious contender for their all time best song, period—whereas “bus beat” is ridiculously packed with hooks (“I do it like that because that’s the way my baby likes it“) and even the aforementioned “Fairbanks, Alaska” sounds righteous and well-placed amidst such songwriting delicacy.
The Killers and The Front Bottoms represent a tale of two rock and roll cities, both with their respective blistering blessing and crushing curses. One is made of a big, loud, and flashy razzmatazz, banking on glamorous superficial appearances and romanticised bella vita. It’s tempting and sensorially appealing, it sucks you in by way of its luring chassis and swaying halo effect, yet upon prolonged exposure it might render it mundanely hard to swallow all at once. The other one the brick and mortar manifestation of struggle, defiance, and acceptance—laminated by rusty copper-looking buildings and never quite succeeding in shaking off those blue-collar last smoke residuals, be it from cigarettes or a flickering pyre. These musical cities are adjacent. They neighbour one another, and go as far as exchanging forms of underbelly trade flows and unhealthy next-door syndrome. The grass might always be greener on the other side, but with Imploding the Mirage and In Sickness & In Flames the real optimum lives in the dialectic interaction of these two vivid exponents of the state of the modern rock and roll art.
2020, Island Records
THE FRONT BOTTOMS
2020, Fueled By Ramen