Author: Eric U. Norris

The Gary
Farewell Foolish Objects
Sick Room Records
Street: 10.28.14
The Gary = Joy Division + Sonic Youth + Johnny Cash

I’ve seen some odd combinations of music in my time, and The Gary is definitely in the ranks of oddball musical fusion—bringing together elements of post-punk, roots music and Americana. The opening track, “Blank,” starts off like a straight up folk song with Dave Norwood’s vocals over simple guitar chords. Then, around the 2:22 mark, a wall of distortion and atonal riffing hits the speakers all while Norwood’s Southern-accented vocals manage to break through it. The album continues with “Coming Up For Air,” a synthesis of country twang and roots music with distorted post-punk riffs and “The End to Alvernon,” which boasts country-style vocals singing dark, deep and sincere lyrics evocative of the late Ian Curtis. While this combination is odd, The Gary actually make it work, showing off each of their inspirations in every song. –Eric U. Norris

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stickfigures
The Signature of All Things
Skinned Elbow Records
Street: 11.21.14
stickfigures = Botch + Converge + Cave In

Brooding, intricate and heavy as all hell—these are just a few words to describe the debut album of these Ogden-based, mathcore heavyweights. Stickfigures emulate a sound that adheres to old-school, borderline ’90s noisecore with Kyle Bertagnolli’s and Cort Long’s abrasive and discordant yet perpetually elaborate guitar work and Nick Ledbetter’s equally dynamic drumming. The songs contain instrumental tractor beams of thickly distorted riffing with looming melodies that create unsettling anticipation, which is alleviated by Long’s provocative and menacing screeching that complete the absolute aggression of this album. Overall, The Signature of All Things creates an unnerving atmosphere with its assertive sound that makes for a brutally ominous album. –Eric U. Norris

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Bare Minimum
Hit After Hit
Self-Released
Street: 03.25
Bare Minimum = Wilhelm Scream + Strike Anywhere + The Bronx

In this corner, an album with a title that so obviously invokes a musical beatdown, I expect its unrelenting arsenal of raw vocals intertwined with the pounding combination of melodic hardcore will leave few dissatisfied. The first blow is “Laptop Jockey,” where they rip off the iconic lyrics from a classic Pink Floyd track, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)”—“Hey! DJ! Leave us kids alone!” The second track is the classic tip of the hat to the underdogs, “Nerd at the Punk Show,” claiming that a scene dedicated to outcasts is ironically developing a mentality similar to what you get in a frat house. The third (and final) blow is the lyrically mysterious, yet overwhelmingly catchy “Snake Charmer.” You bet I’ll want to scream that chorus all day. What an album! Clearly, Hit After Hit lives up to its title, will anything take it away?—Eric U. Norris

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anti-flag american spring album cover

anti-flag american spring album cover

Anti-Flag
American Spring

Spinefarm Records
Street: 05.26
Anti-Flag = The Clash + Rentokill + Kid Dynamite

Over the years, Anti-Flag have formatted themselves as one of the most politically outspoken punk rock acts of this generation. In American Spring, the band has meticulously written songs based off of rhetoric from some of the most prolific contemporary writers—revolving around the global spectacle of humanity’s defamation. While the album has a strong idea for lyrical prowess that was executed well, the songs did not feel very gripping to me at times. “Brandenburg Gate” and “Song for Your Enemy” had very memorable vocal phrasing and “Break Something” and “To Hell with Boredom” ignited a fire in my reptilian brain, but it dragged with songs like “Without End” and “Set Yourself on Fire” that just didn’t take off. I can’t bring myself to hate this album because I respect the effort that has been put into it, but it felt lacking in the edginess that made Anti-Flag so intense. –Eric U. Norris

Pears

PEARS
Go To Prison

Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 07.24
PEARS = Direct Hit! + early Thrice + Gorilla Biscuits

PEARS’ sound is hard to pinpoint—one second, vocalist Zach Quinn is screaming in your face with a backup of pounding atonalities from guitarist Brian Pretus, and then it shifts on a dime to a more melodic approach. With that concoction as the centripetal sound that drives this album, it definitely rips you a new one! Quinn’s voice is charismatically raw and feral, and the music itself is fucking relentless! “You’re Boring” throws you right into the fire, and “Victim To Be,” “Sycophant,” “Terrible” and the rest of the album keep you burning. They’ve even thrown in a solid cover of “Judy Is a Punk” and a reference to the Descendents at the end of “Grimespree.” Go To Prison holds nothing back—its ferocity will have you snarling at a wall and then will let you sit back and enjoy the harmonies. 
–Eric U. Norris

Wicked Bears – Self-titled

Wicked Bears
Self-titled

Hidden Home Records
Street: 03.23
Wicked Bears = Alkaline Trio + Direct Hit! + The Menzingers

In a conversation I had recently with Wicked Bears’ bassist/vocalist Casey Keele, he talked about how much great music is coming out these days and how overwhelming it is to really listen to and absorb all of it. I know this feeling all too well—in today’s age, the amount of information being hurdled at us at an intense velocity on a daily basis becomes so much for our human brains to handle. As a music writer, I’m constantly being exposed to new bands and music across the country, and even the world. To give an album an accurate review, it requires multiple listens to fully take it in. Plus, if the album in question is not “doing it” for me, then my dream job can easily become a curse.

That all having been said, blessed am I that Wicked Bears’ self-titled debut is only six tracks long and that each is more engaging than the last. Wicked Bears have a sound that closely resembles the angst-driven, pop-punk revival that crosses streams with old-school emo music. That means we’re in for some melody-heavy guitar riffs, catchy pop hooks, lyrics of heartbreak and cynicism and often some pretty dark humor to even it out.

“Nothing But Time” delves into some modern-day existentialism: “I’ve been standing here for 15 minutes and I don’t know what I want / I could stand here another 25 years and still won’t know what I want.” “The Weekend” takes a jab at living the 9-to-5 life and how, for five days, we are just waiting for that two-day break, only to do it all again (your experiences may vary): “The weekend comes and goes; it’s the punchline, you’re the joke / and Sunday’s forcing Monday down my throat.” Then “Do You Remember?” gives the most anthemic chorus of the EP: “Do you remember signing up for this? Because I don’t, I don’t, I don’t!” which gets the most points for crowd participation when played live. I didn’t even know the lyrics when I first saw Wicked Bears play it, but by the last chorus, I was uncontrollably singing them as if I had done a million times before.

This EP is definitely not to be glossed over—it’s very well put together with its melodies, rhythms and vocal harmonization. Does it get a little too poppy for my taste? Sometimes, but I usually take pop-punk in small doses, and I’ll definitely have this EP on standby when I need to get my fix. –Eric U. Norris

Rancid
Trouble Maker

Epitaph / Hellcat Records
Street: 06.09
Rancid = The Specials + Youth Brigade + Charged GBH

You know, being in a punk rock band, especially one that has been around since the 1980s or ’90s, must be the most artistically challenging thing ever. If there’s anything I’ve learned in all my years of listening to punk rock, it’s that you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. When it comes to your audience, releasing new music is like walking on eggshells—you’ll be plagued with comments like, “It’s not as good as their old stuff,” or, “It’s just the same shit they’ve been putting out for years. Where’s the variation?” Granted, there’s very little headspace in branching out to new forms of music while still identifying as a punk band, but really, the punkest thing to do as a band is to just write what you want to write. That having been said—onto Rancid’s Trouble Maker!

While I have always loved Rancid and their music, I can’t deny the difficulty of being void of filler for albums with 15 to 20 tracks. Despite having a few gems, Trouble Maker felt like every other song had half the effort put into it as the preceding track. It’s not that the songs are horrible. In fact, they have incredibly catchy vocal and guitar harmonies mixed in with a lot of raucous screams and chants, but the super crisp production by way of Mr. Brett Gurewitz makes their raw punk sound feel somewhat diluted. I can’t speak for Gurewitz or any of the members of Rancid on behalf of how the production of this album went—I’m simply just speaking about how this album made me feel.

So, what’s good on this album? “Ghost of a Chance” and “An Intimate Close Up of a Street Punk Trouble Maker” (Phew!) are very decent representations. There’s Tim Armstrong’s guitar harmonizing over Lars Frederiksen’s high-speed riffs with the “ooohs” and “aahhhs” in the verses leading very comfortably to the chant-heavy choruses. One of the leading singles, “Telegraph Avenue,” softens it up with an acoustic guitar carrying the verse before blasting into the electrified chorus consisting of “nah nah naaahs.” “Bovver Rock ‘n Roll,” fittingly enough, has a very classic rock edge with headbang-style rhythms and bluesy guitar solos. That’s right, a guitar solo with hammer-ons and everything—in a punk song: Judas!

One thing that’s noticeable is that there are not a lot of ska-sounding songs on this album. In fact, there is only one song that invokes the two-tone skank rhythm—“Where I’m Going.” The mix of ska and punk is a huge asset to Rancid’s sound—while I don’t see them as straight-up ska punk, some of their best songs, like “Hooligans,” “Red Hot Moon” and “Time Bomb” were written as such and added diversity to their albums. While “Where I’m Going” is a good song and probably the most memorable on this album, it feels like it was added because, “Oh, we need a ska song here because every Rancid album needs one.” And that’s basically what this album is—Rancid doing Rancid with little to no variations.

Rancid are a band that, despite having somewhat significant musical drifts (i.e. Life Won’t Wait and 2000’s Rancid), are at a point in their careers where any album they put out, good or bad, is going to get their fans saying, “Yup, same old Rancid.” This can be a blessing and a curse as Rancid have patented a musical style that joins together West Coast hardcore, U.K. street punk, Oi! and two-tone ska, which got them to where they are today. But as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’m not going to argue that Trouble Maker is not as good as Let’s Go or And Out Come the Wolves, as I know we are all sick of beating that dead horse, but I will say it is what you’d expect from a Rancid album. Take it for what it is and enjoy what you want on it. –Eric U. Norris

Threar | Lovelost

Threar
Lovelost

Self-Released
Street: 03.16
Threar = Defeater + Modern Life is War + Redeemer

Watching the evolution of hardcore music is amazing—every time I look away for a second, it seems that another band has formed beneath my nose. The most common strains I’ve seen are the hardcore bands that will make you pissed off and those that will make you depressed, and Threar fall under the latter category.

Adopting guitar structures and rhythmic patterns evocative of post-hardcore/emocore/melodic hardcore bands, Wolf Nunley does an astounding job at harnessing emotion with his guitar and giving the sounds some atmosphere. “Homebound” is a prime example of how the composition and emotion go hand in hand—the spontaneously switching rhythms in sync with the melodies ending on a chugging breakdown is nothing short of sporadic emotional discharge. “Faultline” goes heavy on the breakdowns—the type of riffs that just make you want to punch shit, but it’s not all buildup, breakdown, repeat. It’s about the space in between that lets the music breathe and play with the listeners’ expectations. I love when music keeps you guessing like that.

Threar’s lyrical content delves into the struggles of depression, anxiety and the overall inner darkness that most people have to live with. You can say what you want about hardcore bands exposing their softer side, but I feel looking inward and projecting what you feel is one of the most honest forms of artistic expression. One of the most terrifying things we face is the darkness that looms inside of us and if it’s given an outlet, the results can be heavy. –Eric U. Norris

The Hip Priests
Black Denim Blitz
Self-Destructo Records
Street: 08.11.14
The Hip Priests = Nashville Pussy + Zeke + The Dictators

There are some things that can be said about The Hip Priests—a vile, sex-oriented, overall thick-skinned assemblage of raw rock ‘n roll just about sums it up. Lyrics like “I can smell you on my fingers ever since eagle rock slipping; on my alcohol blinkers strapping on my cocaine cock dipping!” (“Vodkacoma Casanova”) and “I’m a nasty little prick, but I’m writing all hits and you can’t get enough, because you’re dicks!” (“Good Things Come to Those Who Hate”) indicate that these guys were put on this planet to offend. Carried by rockabilly twang, the Hip Priests’ callous, lust-driven lyrics are placed upfront for everyone to gawk at and they don’t care what anyone thinks about them. For instance, “Survival of the Shittest” explains that if “you wanna kill ‘n desecrate us, you want to masturbate us.” Lewd, crude and uncouth, Hip Priests’ blunt lyrics will dissolve any empathy in your system. –Eric U. Norris

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Poison Idea
Confuse & Conquer
Southern Lord Recordings
Street: 04.07
Poison Idea = MDC + Reagan Youth + Disclose
 
As a band that helped shape the foundation of hardcore music and has since, for three decades, continually released raw, unnerving and discordant material that teeters between hardcore and heavy metal, expectations are in high regard. Poison Idea’s sound is loud, fast, abrasive hardcore that adopted the advantageous metal riffing that would be the inspiration for punk/metal hybrids. This album adheres to that crossbreed sound with the most notable tracks being “Bog,” “Trip Wire,” and “Rhythms of Insanity.” “Psychic Wedlock” and “Hypnotic” both offer more in terms of song structure and lyrical enterprise. “Dead Cowboy” stands alone, as this is when Jerry A. retires from his raucous barking of lyrics and traverses into Old Western–style vocals while the rest of the band plays some fitting bluegrass-style music. Overall, the album is classic Poison Idea—it’s loud, fast, in your face and doesn’t pull any punches. –Eric U. Norris 
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