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My Ten Favorite Records of 2010

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

These are my favorite records of 2010. Looking back at last year’s list, I realize this was a great 12 months of music.

1. Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught on Tape

Both lyrically and musically, this record is so much better than Fake Problem’s earlier work, it might as well be a different band. From awful to awesome in one album flat? Not exactly, but you get the idea.
Favorite line: “If Confidence is key, I must be locked out of the house. If home is where the heart is, I do not have a pulse” – “ADT.”

2. Eminem – Recovery

I’m not a rap fan (surprising, I know). In fact, Eminem’s Recovery is one of the only rap albums I own. However, I can say that no matter which genre you prefer, it’s impossible to ignore the statement that Eminem made with this record. Lyrically, it’s ridiculously angry, but somehow completely upbeat and positive at the same time.
Favorite line: “He’s married to the game, like a fuck you for Christmas, his gift is a curse” – “Not Afraid.”

3. Foxy Shazam – Foxy Shazam

The catchiest record of the year comes from the weirdest band of the year. Need proof? Either listen to their album, or see them live. Lead singer Eric Nally routinely smokes four cigarettes on stage, and then eats them.
Favorite line: “Baby, you look like a zebra” – live show

4. Tokyo Police Club – Champ

The first half of this record contains what are easily my favorite songs of the year. Too bad the second half doesn’t quite measure up. Still a great listen containing all of  the quirks you would  expect from Tokyo Police Club.
Favorite line: “I’m on your side, but only for a while, of course. You never use words you can’t afford, a house of cards and it’s a sign” – “Wait Up (Boots of Danger).”

5. Motion City  Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life

A complete return to form after the so-so Even if it Kills Me. I’m pretty sure the quality of their records is directly proportional to the amount of swearing Justin Pierre does. And he swears a ton on this record.
Favorite line: “It’s been a good year, a good new beginning. I’m through with the old school so let’s commence the winning.” -“Worker Bee.”

6. Steel Train – Steel Train

Steel Train’s transformation from jam band to one of today’s best rock bands is nothing short or remarkable. This is their strongest work to date.
Favorite line: “You and I both are nothing but thieves. We take what we want when we need.” -“Bullet.”

7. Off With Their Heads – In Desolation

In my opinion, Off With Their Heads are the ideal rock band. Everything they play is short, fast and loud.
Favorite line: “So I just drive. It doesn’t matter where. I put my foot to the floor let the wind blow through my hair” – “Drive.”

8. Fireworks – All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion

While pop-punk has grown a bit stale in recent years, you wouldn’t know it by listening to Firework’s newest full-length. This is the album that even bands like New Found Glory wish they could write. It’s basically a 12 song party. And it’s my kind of party, because there are enough sarcastic one-liners for everyone in attendance.
Favorite line: “Without this bad knee I wouldn’t have a good one. These vices don’t hold me down. They fucking carry me” – “When We Stand on Each Other We Block Out the Sun.”

9. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

While it doesn’t quite pack the punch of their 2008 breakout The ’59 Sound, this is another admirable effort from New Jersey’s new favorite son’s.
Favorite Line: “For the hub city girls in the ribbons and the curls, who know the meaning of staying out late. They know the meaning of staying out very, very late” – “The Diamond Church Street Choir.”

10 Hot Hot Heat – Future Breeds

Talk about a comeback. With this record, Hot Hot Heat took everything that made their pre-Happiness Limited material so much fun, injected it with pure caffeine, and then threw it in a blender. The result was an immensely enjoyable and twisted record.
Favorite line: “So much, so much for dying before you’re 30, or 27 like Jan and Jim. Get on it. Where’s your iconic
all too ironic romantic tragedy recorded quadraphonic?” -“Implosionatic.”


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The Gaslight Anthem Rocks Boston

November 9, 2009 1 comment

the_gaslight_anthem

The Gaslight Anthem
Murder by Death
Jesse Malin
Broadway Calls
House of Blues Boston
October 17th, 2009

It’s amazing how quickly the Gaslight Anthem, a band that was barely known outside the state of New Jersey until recently, has exploded onto the scene in 2009. After an opening slot at a free WFNX show this summer, the band returned to Boston to headline the House of Blues in an engagement that signaled the arrival of the blue-collar quintet as one of today’s most promising acts.

The night began with a set from Broadway Calls, an up and coming pop-punk act that has seemingly opened for about 100 different bands this fall. While their short set was solid, it wasn’t as nearly as well received as their performance supporting Streetlight Manifesto at the same venue a month earlier.

As the cavernous venue finally began to fill up, Jesse Malin and his supporting band took the stage to perform a set of sunny pop tunes that had the crowd slightly interested. I’ll have to admit it wasn’t exactly my thing, so I didn’t pay too much attention.

Next up was Murder by Death, a band that served as a perfect opener for the Gaslight Anthem with their gruff, no frills style. The band played a 40 minute set of songs that dealt mainly with whiskey, drinking, the desert, and being in jail. It seemed as if the quartet was straight out of a John Wayne movie, and the crowd ate it up.

HPIM1142

Fallon Earlier This Summers straight out of a John Wayne movie, and the crowd ate it up.

The Gaslight Anthem would then take the stage as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was pumped over the PA system. With a huge smile on his face, lead singer Brian Fallon would strum the first notes to “High Lonesome” as the dance party instantly became a rousing rock show. The band would then tear through “Casanova, Baby!” and “Old White Lincoln” as the crowd surged toward the front of the stage and sang along.

As the set wore on, the New Jersey quintet seemed to pick up steam with every song, and those in attendance responded in kind. Fallon and co. would not only play every song from their breakout album The ’59 Sound, but they would also play a number of tracks from their debut full length Sink or Swim, as well as from their more recent Senior and the Queen EP. While it was not surprising that they would venture into older material, it was surprising how enthusiastically the crowd responded to it. It’s good to see that radio success hasn’t created an army of fair weather fans.

The ear to ear grin that Fallon had showcased at the start of the set never left his face,  An outsider might have thought he had just won the lottery, and based on the size of the crowd that packed the House of Blues and their enthusiasm, he might as well have. After a show stopping rendition of “Here’s Looking At You, Kid,” the band would charge into “The Backseat,” a set closing number that had crowd serfers flying through the air.

HPIM1143

Bassist Alex Levine

After a brief time break, the group would return for an encore that would feature zero songs from their most recent album but would still inspire quite a bit of chaos in the pit. “Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts” was followed by “Drive,” and the show was then closed with a cathartic version of “Say You Won’t (Recognize)” that saw nearly everyone on the floor crashing and bouncing into each other like bumper cars.

With smiles still intact, the band would leave the stage a full hour and a half after they had made their appearance, which is almost unheard of for a band with only two full length records. They had given their fans everything they had wanted and more, which is just one of the reasons why one of rock’s best kept secrets may officially be out.

Top Ten Records of 2008

December 29, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve always liked “Best Of” lists, but I’ve always had a lot of trouble compiling my own. In 2005, I made a list of the year’s 25 best records and gave a reason why for each. I’m not nearly that ambitious anymore, and I certainly didn’t hear 25 albums worthy of making such a list this year. That is why I’m going to present you with my Top Ten of 2008. I know, they are completely subjective and you might think all of these records such, but  that’s ok, because everything on this list captured my imagination and reminded me why I still buy cds,  at least for a little while. So here they are:

1) The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound. Simply an amazing record that captures the spirit of Bruce Springsteen, modern day punk, and everything in between.

2) Fall Out Boy, Folie a’ Deux. It’s hard to justify putting a band like Fall Out Boy on this list, but they’ve simply never let me down. Folie a’ Deux is pure genious.

3) The Matches, A Band in Hope. The most creative and original band I listen to somehow manages to “out-weird” their previous efforts.

4) Alkaline Trio, Agony and Irony. Openning track “Calling All Skeletons” is easily my favorite of the year. I listened to this record non-stop all summer.

5) The Academy Is… Fast Times At Barrington High. Never would I have though this band would make it’s way on to a list like this after their laughable last record, but Fast Times was the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year.

6) Bayside, Shudder. Classic Bayside.

7) Jack’s Mannequin, The Glass Passenger. I still haven’t decide if I like this or their debut record better, but both are excellent.

8. Funeral For A Friend, Memory and Humanity. The band’s top-notch guitar and drum work is aided by pristine production and Matt Davies’ simple yet supurb song writing skills. This record is a huge step back in the right direction after 2007’s disapointing Tales Don’t Tell Themselves.

9) Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death And All Of His Friends. I never liked Coldplay in the past, but this record changed that instantly. It’s refreshing to see a band achieve the success that they deserve.

10) Valencia, We All Need A Reason To Believe. This is one of those records that, on the surface seems like another happy and upbeat pop-punk record, but on the surface turns out to be much darker.

Rise Against and Alkaline Trio in Hampton Beach

October 26, 2008 1 comment

If you’re like me (and millions of other people), you saw The Dark Knight this summer. If you’re even more like me, you saw it twice. Maybe you liked it better the second time, or maybe you preferred the surprise of the first viewing. Either way, the movie you saw was exactly the same both times. Now imagine that when you saw The Dark Knight for a second time, you realized that a scene or two had been changed. While the differences were subtle, they just happened to make the movie quite a bit better and more memorable. In a way, that is what happened when I went to see Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, Thrice, and the Gaslight Anthem for the second time in less than a week. While each band stuck to the forumla that was so successfull in Worcester five days earlier, a few welcome surprises made this show every bit as exciting as the first go around.

Hampton Beach isn’t the easiest place to get to. Actually, it probably is, but we somehow missed the exit and ended up taking a scenic tour of southern New Hampshire. This meant then when we finally made it to the venue, we were only able to catch the last four songs of the Gaslight Anthem’s set. Surprisingly, I didn’t even recognize the first three of those, meaning they weren’t from their latest release, The ’59 Sound. This was surprising because their set in Worcester consisted almost exclusively of songs from this record. They closed their set with “The Backseat,” which of course sounded great. The band plans to do their own headlining tour beginning in March, and that certainly can’t come soon enough.

In between sets, I look a second to take in the rather strange surroundings. Hampton Beach Casion Ballroom is a large rectangular room that looks like it was build sometime in the 50’s. As one of my friends said, if anyone ever lit a match in there, there would be some serious issues, for the interior is covered in wood paneling. Also, the stage seems to be located in the wrong place, on one of the long ends of the rectangle, putting more people closer to the front of the stage, but also leaving huge empty expanses of to the sides. The venue is located on Hampton’s main strip, right across from the beach and next to numerous tacky fried dough and souvenir shops. I’m not sure where the “casino” part comes in, because I certainly didn’t see any slots, but the building did have a gaudy Las Vegas style sign out front. It seems to fit the vibe of the entire town pretty well.

Next up was Thrice. Now I hadn’t been thrilled by thier set in Worcester, but tonight I would say they were more enjoyable. I especially liked the inclusion of “Music Box” in the set list, and “The Earth Will Shake” was once again executed perfectly as their last song. However, I was somewhat surprised that the crowd as a whole didn’t seem to know them very well. Sure, there were the diehards up front singing every word, but it certainly paled in comparison to the crowd at the Palladium.

After a rather long wait, Alkaline Trio took the stage to an ethusiastic roar and openned thier set once again with “Private Eye.” While the crowd seemed a great deal more interested in the Trio than they did in Thrice, the intensity level was still nowhere near what it was in Worcester. This wasn’t nessecarily a bad thing, for I was able to enjoy the set near the front of the stage and only came out with a few minor bruises. Also, I must mention just how happy Matt Skiba once again looked to on stage that night. He came out with an ear to ear grin on his face, and it pretty much didn’t leave until the band finished their set. Seeing how he feeds off the energy of the crowd and mouths the words to even Dan’s songs still impresses me, even with this being the forth live show I had seen the band perform this year.

While the setlist included only two different songs than the ones played a week earlier in the Worcester, those two substitutions made a world of difference, being that they were two songs I was dying to hear. The slightly tame “I Was a Prayer,” as well as the new track “Over and Out” were left out, as fan-favorite b-side “Warbrain” and Agony and Irony track “Love Love Kiss Kiss” were played consecutively. The fact that “Love Love Kiss Kiss” is one of the best tracks off their new cd, yet I had never seen them play it live made it that much better. Once again, a huge sing-along version of “This Could Be Love” served as a perfect closer to a great set.

Much like Alkaline Trio, Rise Against would not disapoint, displaying their trademark intesity throughout the show and also including a pleasent surprise in the set list. With their new record Appeal to Reason having now been on shelves for nearly a week, the tracks they played from that record were better received than they were in Worcester. This was especially true for “Hero of War,” the accoustic track which is sure to be a staple of their encores for years to come. The setlist was, however, still heavy with songs from 2006’s The Suffererer and the Witness. Due to the fact that the crowd wasn’t quite as rough as it had been in Worcester, I was able to actually watch Tim McIlrath and company on stage. I’m somewhat surpised the lead singer didn’t burst a blood vein during the set, considering the amount of intensity on his face, especially at the start of the set.

The highlight of the show for me was undoubtedly the moment they announced they would play “Broken English.” The track from 2003’s Revolutions Per Minute is one I’ve always consider perfect for a live setting, yet had never seen them play. It completely lived up to my expectations, inspiring a huge cirlce pit in the middle of the floor that saw some great crowd participation. The band once again closed their show with the combination of “Survive,” “Under the Knife,” and “Prayer of the Refuge.” Considering I’ve already praised their live show to such a great extent in my previous review, it’s difficult not to repeat myself, but I have to once again say that Rise Against is easily one of my favorite live bands, for they give everything they have every single night. While they haven’t reinvented punk music by any means, they have, in many ways, perfected it, writing songs that are not only socially aware and inspire action on behalf of the listener, but also sounds great both on record and in a live setting.

Rise Against and Alkaline Trio in Worcester

October 14, 2008 1 comment

This is the tour of the year. If you think differently, I think you’re wrong. Any time you pair two of today’s biggest and most prolific punk bands on the same bill, you’re certain to get great shows that will attract thousands of fans at venues all across the country. Throw in one of the scene’s most innovative post-hardcore bands, along with an act generally acknowledged to be “the next big thing,” and you have a touring match made in Heaven. Monday’s date in Worcester at the Palladium somehow lived up to the hype, providing one of the most intense live show experiences I’ve ever been apart of, while confirming the headliner’s standing as one of today’s most popular, influential, and vital rock bands.

The night began with a short set from New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem. The much talked about and self

The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon

The Gaslight Anthem

described “soul band” put on a very enjoyable show that mainly featured material from their latest release The ’59 Sound. Lead singer Brian Fallon’s signature “soulful” vocal work took center stage while guitarist Alex Rosamila admirably led harder driving songs such “Old White Lincoln” and “The Backseat.” While only a few in the crowd (which was already quite large at this point) seemed to be familiar with the act, the band seemed to do well in winning them over during the set.

Next was Orange County’s Thrice. While the band has strayed quite far from their post-hardcore roots with their most recent releases, they showed that they can still bring the heat in a live setting. Dustin Kensrue spent most of the set screaming his lungs out, while drummer Riley Breckenridge pounded his kit into oblivion. For the first few songs, I couldn’t help but think “wow, these guys are heavy.” However, that thought soon turned to “wow, these songs all sound the same,” and then transformed into “wow, I’m kind of bored here.” Despite their technical prowess, I simply wasn’t that interested in their set. They did end on a high note however with “The Earth Will Shake,” a standout track from their 2005 record Vheissu. I have plenty of respect for the band and their ability to write great songs, but I was a little to excited to see the two bands that would soon take the stage.

Next, a black banner embossed with a familiar logo was unfurled, candles were lit, and all hell broke loose.

Alkaline Trio

Alkaline Trio

Alkaline Trio took the stage to a roar from the crowd and broke into “Private Eye.” The band just happens to have two perfect songs with which to open a set (and a record), and they segwayed  into “Calling All Skeletons,” the biting first track from their latest effort Agony and Irony. The band then continued the onslaught with old favorite “I Lied My Face Off.” While they might not have been the headliner, it was obvious that the majority of the crowd knew Alkaline Trio and knew them well, judging by the reaction to this song.

The band would go on to play the staples from the new record, including “Help Me,” “In Vein,” and “I Found Away.” They also played “Over and Out” for the first time ever. “Cringe,” the opening track from Goddamnit was a very pleasant surprised and received a huge reaction from the crowd. The only iffy point  was the Crimson track “I Was A Prayer,” which is a nice song, but didn’t quite pack the energy of any of the set’s other songs. The band would close with another huge sing along moment in “This Could Be Love,” during which guitarist/front man Matt Skiba pointed out an enthusiastic fan and had the rest of the crowd sing the chorus to him. What has surprised me each time I have seen Alkaline Trio this year, and especially on this night, is how much fun they seem to be having on stage. Many veteran bands who have seen the same type of success would scoff at an opening role, especially after having released a major label debut earlier this year. However, both Skiba and bassist Dan Adriano had huge smiles on their faces for the majority of the time and were undoubtedly excited to playing the show. While a headlining tour may suit them better simply due to their enormous catalog, they were the perfect warm up for another venerable Chicago favorite.

Rise Against

Rise Against

Rise Against entered the room to some type of distorted spoken-word introduction which was mainly drowned out by static and the cheering crowd. From here, they would burst into a furious rendition of “Drones.” In the few glances I caught of front man Tim McIllrath during the song, it looked like he was perilously close to suffering a burst vain and/or crushing the microphone. Such intensity would continue into the next song, “Give It All,” the band’s first breakthrough hit. From here on out, it’s a little difficult to remember exactly what was played because I was more concerned with surviving than taking mental set-list notes. I’ve been to a lot of shows, and a lot of rough ones, but this one might take the cake in that area, and I have the scratches and bruises to prove it.Throughout the set, bodies were being thrown around like rag dolls in the pit, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been in car crashes that were more pleasant than what I experienced when I ventured into the center of it. Luckily, everyone was watching out everyone else, and the second someone hit the ground there were often four hands there to immediatly pick them up.

The fact that I didn’t exactly see most of what happened on stage shouldn’t take away from another excellent Rise Against performance. They sounded great, and while the set list was heavy with tracks from 2006’s The Sufferer and the Witness, there was enough of a mix of old and new to keep most fans happy. The band played three new tracks from Appeal to Reason, set to be released the next day but already for sale at the band’s merch table. They were lead song “Reeducation (Through Labor),” album openner “Collapse” and the haunting acoustic number “Hero of War,” which was played near the end of the show along with “Swing Life Away.” Two songs from 2003’s Revolutions Per Minute were also played, those being “Like The Angel” and “Halfway There.”

The band finished their set with a bone-crushing combination of “Survive,” “Under the Knife,” and finally “Prayer of the Refuge,” which insipred a wild pit that consumed most of the floor. By the time the lights came back on and the band had left the stage, many in the crowd were covered in sweat and bruises, but most would agree that they would trade the opportunity to see a tour this good for a few aches and pains any day.

Rise Against Set List (Probably not in order or quite right)
Drones
Give It All
Injection
State of the Union
Ready to Fall
Re-Education
Chamber the Cartridge
Stained Glass and Marble
Behind Closed Doors
Like the Angel
Collapse
Bricks
Halfway There
The Good Left Undone
Hero of War
Swing Life Away

(Encore)
Survive
Under the Knife
Prayer of the Refugee