Piñata Protest = Mariachi El Bronx + Manic Hispanic + Flogging Molly
Opening with a 45-second intro declaring Piñata Protest “los mas chingones de la musica norteña punk,” El Valiente certainly delivers on that description. Fusing accordion-fueled Mexican music with high-energy punk rock, Piñata Protest are one of the most entertaining bands to emerge from Texas in a long time. “Vato Perron” is a straight-up party song, in which vocalist Alvaró Del Norte proudly shouts about his penchant for drinking and dancing, much to the detriment of his “pobre corazón.” “Tomorrow, Today” and a spirited cover of “La Cucaracha” keep the party vibe going, while “Life on the Border” is a bit more weighty and serious in its subject matter. It’s interesting to see the band switch between English and Spanish within their songs, and it’s executed in such a way that it isn’t at all jarring. The standout track is easily the cover of “Volver, Volver,” which is appropriately reflective and measured—until it explodes into a punk rock rager at the song’s end. Do your abuela proud and pick this record up. It’s perfect for quinceañeras, funerals, anything really—just no pinche Cinco de Mayo parties. –Ricky Vigil
Fat Wreck Chords
Sundowner = Dave Hause + Fake Problems + Chuck Ragan
Out-surviving the punk rock singer/songwriter fad that swept through the country a few years ago, Chris McCaughan has returned for a third album under the Sundowner moniker. As the more mellow and introspective vocalist of The Lawrence Arms (read: the one who doesn’t sing about farts), McCaughan’s style is well suited to a stripped-down style. McCaughan is a great lyricist, with an eye for metaphor and unique concepts comparable to a grittier John K. Samson. Neon Fiction showcases his songwriting prowess, specifically on “My Beautiful Ruins,” which is a forlorn love letter to his hometown of Chicago. Themes of coldness, loss and drifting permeate the album, but there is a wistfulness that seems almost hopeful. Neon Fiction lacks some of the more aggressive songs from previous Sundowner albums, but it is easily the most consistent and fully realized album under the name yet. Now about that new Lawrence Arms record … –Ricky Vigil
Inter Arma = Baroness + Tombs + Yob
As listeners, we tend to flock to the genres and sub-genres that we like because of the satisfying sameness. I love simple, stupid punk rock, and if a band sounds like they might have only ever listened to Venom, there’s a solid chance I won’t like them once they stop sounding exactly like Venom. That said, it’s awesome to hear bands who aren’t entirely what you expect. Inter Arma could be described as a sludge band—they definitely have the typically slow pace and thick riffs of the genre down—but calling them a sludge metal band would be a disservice. This band is firmly rooted in the muck and grime of sludge, but throughout Paradise Gallows, they aptly incorporate a vast variety of influences and styles.
“Nomini” is a two-and-a-half-minute intro that sounds like it was ripped straight from John Dyer Baizley’s fingers with its stretched-out, echo-y guitars. When we jump into “An Archer in the Emptiness,” Inter Arma embrace their true heaviness with jackhammer drumming, sludgy riffs and sinister growls from Mike Paparo—think Torche minus all the bubblegum. TJ Childers’ drums are the thunderous glue that hold Inter Arma’s chaos together and constantly steal the show, even over the intensely wailing guitars near the end of the track. Inter Arma laugh in the face of brevity, with only two of the album’s nine tracks clocking in at under six minutes, and with three of them over the 10-minute mark. With songs so long, they are able to explore a wide soundscape, switching up tempos and transforming songs while maintaining a consistent thread. “Transfiguration” provides more of the sludgy goodness until the three-minute mark, when a Slayer-like squeal emits from one of the guitars, and Childers kicks into overdrive to convert it into a blackened ripper.
“Primordial Wound” has one of the coolest song titles in an album full of cool song titles, and it opens with some creepy, chant-like vocals from Paparo. The song only switches gears at the end with some harsh, noisy vocal screeches. “Potomac” harkens back to the album’s intro, displaying Inter Arma’s pretty side, complete with a piano throughout. The closing trifecta of songs is among the album’s best, showing the band at their heaviest (“The Paradise Gallows”), scariest (“Violent Constellations”) and prettiest (“Where the Earth Meets the Sky”). Paradise Gallows is a long album, but it never outstays its welcome, thanks to Inter Arma’s constant exploration. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. –Ricky Vigil
The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Titus Andronicus = Desaparecidos + Fucked Up + Andrew Jackson Jihad
No strangers to lofty, semi-nonsensical concept albums, Titus Andronicus have struck gold again with this 29-song, 93-minute epic about losing one’s shit. Opener “No Future IV: No Future Triumphant” sets the pace for the album, recalling the timelessness of The Clash or The Who alongside the fury of modern punk rock. “Come On, Siobhan” is among the catchiest songs the band has ever written, and “Dimed Out” is pretty much constantly stuck in my head, even if I can’t quite understand Patrick Stickles’ barking vocals. As there is bound to be on an album of this length, there is some weird shit on here, including a nearly unrecognizable cover of The Pogues’ “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” but it’s really quite shocking how enjoyable this album is throughout its entirety. I haven’t had this much fun listening to any album for a long time—maybe going insane really isn’t so bad. –Ricky Vigil
Bandhood = Torche + Hot Rod Circuit + A Perfect Circle
Bandhood is an exercise in duality—the yin and the yang, the harsh and the delicate. This is especially interesting, considering that Bandhood is comprised of only one member: Andrew Drechsel. Half of the album is comprised of pretty indie songs, while the other is more in line with the sludgy stomp Drechsel showcased with his band Laughter. It makes for an interesting listen, and it’s one that never feels jarring, despite the switching between genres and moods.
“Wonderful” opens the album with a gently-strummed acoustic guitar and Drechsel’s affable vocals. Drechsel’s lyrics are free from the sappiness that so easily comes with such mellow music, as he delivers them charismatically and even throws in some humor for good measure: “Everyone I know might go to hell / Well, it could be worse.” The track ends with a several-second explosion of distortion as Drechsel delivers the chorus for the final time before the next track, “Averse Universe,” jumps in with its heavy drumming and thick riffs, completely contrasting the first impression created by the opening track. Melody and strong lyricism still live in these tracks, but it is undeniably heavy—it’s hard to believe that this is the same project featured on the opening track.
Drechsel keeps the balancing act of one soft song to one heavy song throughout the album, as “Hey Hey” injects the tiniest bit of country twang to the softer side of Bandhood and even features a ripping acoustic guitar solo near the end of the song. “Every Song’s Been Written” is a meta journey through songwriting and song-listening, delivered with some of the cleverest lyrics on an album full of clever lyrics. Drechsel’s voice sounds like a combination of Steve Brooks and Maynard James Keenan on heavier tracks like “That Sin” and “The Only Million,” which also feature some cool shout-along vocals that would feel at home on a punk record.
The closest the disparate styles of Bandhood get to merging is on the final track, “Sofia,” which features a plodding bassline, dive-bombing guitars and generally softer vocals from Drechsel. I initally found myself more drawn to the harder sound of Bandhood, but Drechsel’s lyrics pulled me in to the more mellow side of the project as well. The exploration of, well, bandhood and what it means to connect with music throughout the album make it an interesting listen throughout. –Ricky Vigil