Tag Archives: Album Review

REVIEW: Drive-by Truckers’ The New Ok Lets Us Know That It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

John Lennon once said his dream would be to write a song one day, record it the next, produce it the following day, press and release it immediately after in an attempt to get art out into the world as fast as possible (he came close as was probably possible with “Give Peace a Chance”, which was written, recorded, produced, pressed, and released in just over a month). While our modern musical landscape may make that dream even more feasible, with musicians able to put music into the world via SoundCloud and other such streaming services as instantaneously as it can be written, it’s still quite the daunting task, and even more so to do it with an entire album. 

Drive-By Truckers have come as close as is probably possible for a band in this era to accomplish that task with last Friday’s surprise release of The New Ok, the band’s 13th studio album and second of 2020. For a band that has released that many albums over the course of their 22-year existence, it is still a remarkable feat. They are a band who has set a standard for themselves of releasing an album at least every 2-3 years, with 4 years being their biggest gap between releases (between 2016’s American Band and The Unraveling, released just this past March). In a normal year for the Truckers, as their fans most-often call them, they would release an album, tour the world like crazy, playing epic shows in each city, return home to write and record, and begin the whole process all over again. That is a normal year for the band. 

This, however, has been anything but a normal year. Back in March, I was playing The Unraveling on repeat and gearing up to see the band play live for the fifth time, and my first time as an Arizonan. I was loving the new album and could not wait to hear it live with all the furious energy I had come to expect from seeing them those previous times. A Truckers show is an event: a true ROCK SHOW that leaves even the newest of converts pumping their fists, singing along, and riding a rollercoaster of emotions until the moment Patterson Hood says goodnight and the band leaves the stage. A Truckers show is a life-affirming good time. I could not wait to see one of my favorite bands in my new home, and then the pandemic happened. Live shows went away, and my wife and I were left stuck at home, both of us teachers trying to teach in the new reality of a world turned upside-down. I sat in my office and tried to figure out how to do my job all over again, and listened to all their other albums through headphones while adjusting to this new reality. 

The Truckers were always one of the hardest-working bands in rock, and not even a pandemic can slow them down. In between playing online live shows, founding members and dual songwriting threats Hood and Mike Cooly managed to write and record The New Ok  —an album that speaks as much to our times through its title as it does through its songs. 

The opening track “The New Ok” pays homage to that thing we struggle every day to accept and are at the same time so sick of discussing: the idea of our collective “new normal.” Things that were at once so commonplace now seem foreign and strange to think about, like going to a concert or a live sporting event. Even our attempts to adjust and find that semblance of normalcy have gone awry. Hood sings on the track: Deep in my own head drenched from the cups/I thought going downtown might cheer me up/We promised each other we wouldn’t let it get too rough/Said, “Let me know son when you’ve had enough.” While the narrator struggles to adjust, he struggles along with everything that has occurred during this new ok, as the struggles of the pandemic give way to the Black Lives Matter protests and violence that happened in cities across the country. This new ok is anything but ok, and the Truckers are struggling right along with us. 

The high-water mark for relevant political songs is Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s “Ohio,” written by Young in the immediate aftermath of the Kent State shootings. It was written and recorded within two weeks of the shootings and released as a single within a month. With “Perilous Night,” the Truckers have their “Ohio.” The song was originally written and released just two months after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that saw white supremacist groups descend and duel with anti-racism protestors and resulted in the death of activist Heather Heyer. The song directs its anger not just at the white supremacists but at the politicians who enable them and oftentimes embolden them. While “Ohio” captured a single, tragic moment in our nation’s history, “Perilous Night” is a song I cannot imagine the band could have ever thought that when the single was first released in the fall of 2017 it would still be relevant enough to be included as an album track three years later and feel like it had an immediacy to it. (Literally as I wrote this review, news broke that a member of a white supremacist group shot up a police precinct in Minneapolis during the protests over the death of George Floyd and tried to frame Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors for the crime.) 

“Sarah’s Flame,” released as the b-side to “The Unraveling” on the first Record Store Day drop in August, is a plaintive drum-and-organ-driven ballad from Mike Cooley that may stand as one of his finest songs in the Truckers’ oeuvre. The band has been ever-evolving in their sound since their 1998-debut Gangstabilly (this is a band after all whose third album was a legit rock opera and still stands as one of their finest works), and yet the Memphis-soul vibe of “Sea Island Lonely” proves to be a bold step and one of the album’s true stand-out tracks, with the horns and rhythm section serving as a perfect compliment to Hood’s always-distinct vocals. 

The extended political metaphor of “Watching the Orange Clouds” finds Hood, or at least a Hood surrogate, bracing himself for an impending storm and wondering what more he can do to stop it from happening. He worries for his kids who have benefited from their race and position in life, but sees that they are becoming increasingly aware that not everyone shares their privilege. As he stands on his balcony, his mind is awash with how overwhelming the horribleness is that has beset all of our lives: he contends with violence against BIPOC, white nationalists, the pandemic, and the relentless assault of the bleak. As for the titular “orange cloud” he hopes will go away, well, you can probably figure that one out on your own.  

While they have never been adverse to cover songs, the Truckers have usually reserved them for live-show surprises in the past (such as their cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” on their 2000 live album Alabama Ass Whuppin’) or as one-off covers for tributes (their covers of Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” and Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” were both recorded for tribute albums and included on their 2009 B-Sides and Rarities album The Fine Print [A Collection Of Oddities And Rarities] 2003-2008). But their album-closing take on The Ramones “The KKK Took My Baby Away” is the tonally perfect ending to an album about dealing with new realities. While the song was originally written by Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone as a dig at bandmate and rare punk-rock conservative Johnny Ramone, who teased Joey often for being Jewish and then stole Joey’s girlfriend Linda, here the Truckers put a universal context spin on it, as some of us have seen friends or family reveal alt-right leanings or outright white nationalist proclamations. While to some, the southern Drive-By Truckers covering the prototypical New York punk rock legends may seem surprising, there is more shared DNA between the two bands that might be apparent if you held up pictures of each band side-by-side. The cover serves as the perfect coda on dealing with a reality that is so often unrelentingly horrible, and though Ramone’s protagonist is calling to get help as his girlfriend is literally kidnapped by Klan, helplessly seeing people close to us seduced by racist ideologies is terrifying and just as tragic. 

There is an urgency to The New Ok that feels welcomed right now. It is an album that feels the walls closing in and is screaming into the void. If misery loves company, then the Truckers have given us the perfect record to commiserate with. While things are anything but ok right now, The New Ok is what we need to come to terms with not feeling ok.

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Posted by Drive-By Truckers on Sunday, October 11, 2020

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REVIEW: The Messenger Birds Doom-pocalypse Debut — Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually

Album To Be Played In Its Entirety Live From Rustbelt Studios at 8pm EST This Friday, October 9 on Band’s Youtube Channel

When approaching any new band, it’s best to avoid assumptions to keep from pigeonholing them as this or that instead of just themselves, Still though, it would be understandable that The Messenger Birds, a Detroit two-piece rock band made up of members Parker Bengry and Chris Williams, whose debut album is being pressed at Jack White’s Third Man Press, might cause people to assume they are a band in the same vein as another great Detroit band: The White Stripes. If that was anyone’s assumption going in, Bengry and Williams quickly dispel it with extreme prejudice just moments into their debut full-length Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually

What’s instantly shocking about the album is that it was, according to the band, written in 2018 and recorded mostly in 2019, because the music feels immediate, like the band is bunkered down somewhere, inundated by the relentlessly bleak news of the day, and cranking out these songs to express their frustration and rage. Make no mistake: Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually is not just a great rock record – it’s an emotional journey. 

The Messenger Birds | Photography: Koda Hult

The opening track, “Play Dead (Just For Tonight)” opens with a somberness of a funeral dirge, with a slow-building guitar, picking up more and more momentum with each note. Lyrically, some connections are made because of what we, the listener, are feeling inside at the moment. But one can’t help but feel the line “Keep your mask up on the nearest shelf,” even if its meaning is about the need to escape into another persona to get away from everything that feels horrible. The further references to “another day for the Holocaust” – a shooting at a synagogue, pipe bombs, and false-flag conspiracies – lay open the song’s ominous tone of fear and paranoia, like it’s anticipating an oncoming apocalypse, complimented by the creeping feeling of dread of the music that eventually explodes into chaos of drums and guitar with the song title repeated as a refrain “Just play dead for tonight,” like needed advice to survive these times. 

“Play Dead (For Tonight)” is just an opening salvo. “The Phantom Limb,” which has hit 5 million plays since it debuted on Spotify in 2018, is where the record really kicks into high gear. It’s the kind of fist-pumping, all-out rocker that’s been missing from our recent music landscape. It’s a song that forces you to remind yourself that it’s being played by two guys on two instruments, and is the best that dynamic has produced since The White Stripes. One of the many things that stand out about Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually is how much Bengry and Williams are able to pull off with each song, reaching sonic landscapes that seem impossible for a two-piece band. 

If the release’s ominous, paranoid tone is merely hinted at in the first two tracks, the one-two punch of “What You Want to Hear” and “Self Destruct” releases it like a primal scream. The Messenger Birds clearly didn’t set out to write songs about how we are inundated every day with bleak news brought to us by society’s most heinous monsters – these songs are merely a byproduct of what it’s like living in these times. 

Even a cursory glance of a news feed or comment thread sees people desperately clinging to a vision of our society that is far from reality, and “What You Want to Hear” is the ballad of confirmation bias: a song directed at everyone who wants to live in an insular bubble and shut out any challenges to their flawed beliefs. “Self Destruct” is where we’re headed as our country seems to be handed off more and more to hate groups that have been emboldened in the past few years. “My tv’s like a time machine/Takes me back… 1943/Tiki torch, marching up the street/Flying flags of a dead dream” is a lyric that is clearly inspired by the events in Charlottesville just three years ago, but sadly are still too relevant in light of The Proud Boys and other supremacist groups trying to bully and intimidate those who push back against their messages of hate.  

The first single and true emotional centerpiece is the title track “Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually.” As hopelessness seems pervasive and the walls start closing in, we’re too often left with our own thoughts screaming inside our heads. While we all hope for the best, we fear the worst, and the narrator of the song knows this better than anyone. It’s the anthem for fighting back when fighting back feels pointless, and for when loss and tragedy feel too inevitable to resist anymore. As the song closes with the repeated “Hope we make it through,” we can all close our eyes, nod for a moment, and mouth “I hope so, too.” 

If the title track is the emotional apex, then the acoustic “When You’ve Had Enough,” gives us a moment to scale it all back for a breather and some introspection before gearing up again. It’s a song that seems perfectly placed at the end of the record that has been an intense rollercoaster of emotion, like the moment when the ride hits a long stretch of gentle hills and you feel for a moment a cool breeze on your face and gain a sense of peace. It’s providing comfort through the reminder that we are not alone in this, even if, like the song intones, “Most days I’m only getting by,” which we all have felt in these past 10 months. 

The world we are living in is a constant rollercoaster that never seems to end, and the album closes with “Start Again” to remind us of that. The lyrics reference the Greek myth of Sisyphus (“I feel like Sisyphus just got it started again…”) who angered the gods by putting Death in chains so no one else had to die. As punishment, he is forced to push a heavy boulder up a hill only for it to roll back to the bottom again, forcing him to start again. I’ve always loved the myth of Sisyphus because it is a tale that defines determination, even in the face of that which is unavoidable. French philosopher Albert Camus wrote an essay about Sisyphus’s pursuit of getting the boulder to the top without rolling back down again, even though he knew it would. Camus tells the reader that it is important to picture Sisyphus as happy. If we can picture Sisyphus as happy, then we too can be happy and believe in our collective potential to survive all of this horribleness. Even as the song descends once more into a chaos of screeching guitars and drums, The Messenger Birds seem to want us to do the same. 

Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually is one of the most self-assured debut records I’ve heard in recent memory and one that feels the rafters begin to shake as the foundation of our reality cracks underneath and knows it’s all caving in on us. Even if the lyrics warn us that we are at the forefront of an apocalypse, it implores us to stand together against every wretched monster carrying tiki torches and trying to shout us down with hate. We will fight back and reclaim our world and our sanity and do it together, pushing back those who are only concerned with power. 

Let’s hope for that return soon, because with our world being on pause for the moment, live shows won’t be happening for a while. This is a shame because this album is an album that demands – cries out – to be heard live. In the meantime, blast it from your speakers and let it pulsate through your body and reverberate through your soul. The Messenger Birds are a band for this moment and could define a third phase of Detroit born-and-bred rock ‘n’ roll. The Messenger Birds Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually was released October 7th through Earshot Media. You can order the record, buy some merch, watch videos, and get the latest news on the band on their website.

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The Messenger Birds will continue to celebrate the new release with fans as direct support for Steel Panther’s upcoming socially-distanced ‘Fast Cars and Loud Guitars- Live at The Drive-In’ show taking place on October 16 at Pontiac, MI’s Crofoot Festival Grounds. Tickets for the event are now available here.

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REVIEW: Dennis DeYoung Returns With New Music – 26 EAST: Volume 1

It’s been 45 years since the golden voice of a “kid from Chicago” hit the Top 10 with the song “Lady” and propelled the band Styx into the worldwide spotlight. Now, at age 73, crooner Dennis DeYoung shows no signs of slowing down with the release of his new solo CD entitled 26 East: Volume 1. The songs are refreshingly original and yet instantly familiar while the lyrics are peppered with some very poignant statements about the world today and the roles we each play.

Dennis DeYoung at Mesa Arts Center
| 2019 “The Grand Illusion Tour”
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved
Click to Enlarge

There is some expectation for great songwriting from the man who penned such top 10 hits as “Mr. Roboto”, “Show Me The Way”, “Come Sail Away”, and reached Number 1 with the definitive rock ballad “Babe.” The odds doubled when DeYoung decided to collaborate with another Number 1 songwriter:  Jim Peterik, who’s known for chart-topping successes from “Vehicle” (#2 for Ides of March), “Caught Up In You” (#10 for 38 Special), and the rock anthem “Eye of the Tiger,” a number 1 hit for his former band Survivor. Although past success is no guarantee of future results, the DeYoung/Peterik team delivered five solid tracks that are textbook for well crafted songs. “We collaborated from the get go,” said DeYoung, “happily and seamlessly and at this time we have written nine songs together of which five will be on Volume 1. Just two Chicago guys doing what they do best, making music and having a laugh.

Out of the gate, 26 East begins with “East of Midnight,” a big production of melodic rock with the signature stacked harmonies, soaring synthesizers balanced with crunchy guitars, and that strong voice that keeps classic rock radio stations in business. There’s a hint of “Grand Illusion” here and a nod to “I’m OK”, but it’s definitely not a regurgitation of the past. The song is a reminiscent journey back in time to the humble beginnings of DeYoung’s music career when the nucleus of Styx began with him and the Panozzo twins, Chuck and John. The album’s title “26 East” was the address where DeYoung grew up in Roseland on the far south side of Chicago, and the cover artwork features three locomotives traveling through space, representing the original members leaving Chicago on their journey to the stars. 

There are two other guests on this album that add to allure. First is Julian Lennon, whose harmonies seamlessly blend with DeYoung’s on their collaboration “To The Good Old Days.” DeYoung indicated that he hadn’t met Julian before recording this song, but their words seem so sincere as they sing about raising a glass to toast all of the memories of their past together and all the good and bad times that they’ve survived.

August Zadra (Guitarist, Vocalist),
“The Grand Illusion Tour”
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt
© All Rights Reserved
Click to Enlarge

The second guest is guitarist/vocalist August Zadra, who may only be mentioned briefly in the liner notes, but presumably contributed significantly to the “band” sound of the record. Zadra is a dynamic force in the Dennis DeYoung live show where he takes on the lead and harmony vocals originally voiced by Tommy Shaw. His work shines on the rocker “Damn That Dream” that talks about the reality of a dream-come-true turning into a charade that leaves you “lost and torn apart.”

DeYoung’s music is diverse and culled from the “boom child” musical inspirations from his youth through to the songs of his modern contemporaries. The track “You My Love” feels like an homage to the love ballads of the 1950’s — so much so that you might believe that it is a cover of a song that might have been earmarked for the Grease soundtrack. Even the vocal styling is on point for this period of music.

From the Styx classic “Suite Madame Blue” to “Turn Off The CNN” from his last solo record, One Hundred Years From Now, DeYoung has never shied from making political points with his lyrics. 26 East boasts a trilogy of politically themed songs that starts with the campy “With All Due Respect.” It’s definitely a fun song about the incompetence of our bi-partisan government, but the chorus sports the childish jabs, “With all due respect, you are an asshole” and “With all due respect, plug up your pie holes” that are hard to take seriously. The following song, “A Kingdom Ablaze,” is a haunting melody with lyrics that foretell an end to our nation if we don’t correct our ways. The music is reminiscent of “Castle Walls” from the Grand Illusion album laced with a subtle shuffle, ominous Gregorian chants, and the foreboding message, “When our greed becomes our need, all will bleed.” “The Promise of This Land” is the third song in the trilogy that comes later in the track list. It is a song of hope, and DeYoung’s theatrical spirit shines as brightly on this song as it did on the wonderful collection of show tunes from his 1994 release, 10 On Broadway.  This song is full of references to our founding fathers and the dreams they had for this newly launched nation.

There are certain formulas for writing timeless “hit” songs and DeYoung and Peterik have their own recipes. The standout songs that have potential for chart topping success are “Run For The Roses” and “Unbroken.” Both start softly with the mood of a minor key and then soar to dramatic heights in major keys and layered harmonies spreading a positive message. Each song would be comfortable in any of the past five decades. Though the odds are stacked against DeYoung for chart success in the current climate of much younger artists, you never know when he might catch lightning in the bottle again (like the time “Show Me The Way” was spurred on as an anthem during Desert Storm). Who would have expected his recent rendition of “The Best of Times,” sung at his home during the COVID-19 pandemic, would go viral (no pun intended) and reach over a million views.

Speaking of “The Best of Times,” 26 East wraps up with yet another reprise of the “A.D. 1928”/”A.D. 1958” from the end of the Paradise Theater album. This time it is called “A.D. 2020” and features DeYoung playing an accordion, the instrument that got it all started for him. If you have been a fan of the music of Dennis DeYoung throughout the years, this short bookend to the album will tug at the heart strings as he seems to accept the notion that his music will last long beyond his years. He has shared his soul here in sonic form for you to listen to, relate to, and most importantly, to let it move you.

Dennis DeYoung & live band – Mesa Arts Center
| 2019 “The Grand Illusion Tour”
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved
Click to Enlarge

And so my friends I’ll say goodbye
For time has claimed its prize
But the music never dies
Just listen and close your eyes
And welcome to paradise

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26 East: Volume 1 Track List

  1. East of Midnight (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik, John R. Melnick)
  2. With All Due Respect (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  3. A Kingdom Ablaze (Dennis DeYoung)
  4. You My Love (Dennis DeYoung)
  5. Run For The Roses (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  6. Damn That Dream (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  7. Unbroken (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  8. The Promise of This Land (Dennis DeYoung)
  9. To The Good Old Days (Dennis DeYoung, Julian Lennon)
  10. A.D. 2020 (Dennis DeYoung)

26 East: Volume 1 Line-Up

  • Jim Peterik: Guitar, Bass, Keyboard, Vocals and Vuvuzela
  • August Zadra: Electric Guitars, vocals 
  • Jimmy Leahey: Acoustic and electric guitars 
  • Craig Carter: Bass, vocals and invocations 
  • Mighty Mike Morales: Drums and all day sound checker 
  • John Blasucci: Keyboard’s
  • Mike Aquino: Electric Guitars 
  • Kevin Chalfant: backing vocals 
  • Matthew DeYoung: Drums on “To The Good Old Days”
  • Ed Breckenfeld: Drums on “Unbroken”
  • Zoe and Austin Orchard for Ring Around The Rosie 
  • The Chicago Children’s Choir and conductor Josephine Lee
  • Dennis DeYoung: Keyboards, fake drums, fake bass, fake news and some vocals. Oh and Vuvuzela 

Mastered by Dave Collins, DaveCollins Mastering. L.A.

(Source)

Georgia Train’s I do — A Naked Introspection of Relationships

About a decade ago, I was first introduced to Georgia Train as part of a two-piece band named Bitter Ruin. From the moment of first hearing the track that introduced me to them on Myspace, “Trust”, their dramatic music had the ability to connect with my mental and emotional state. Released on May 1, her 10-track solo album I do is no exception, as it resonates deeply on personal levels.

(Please check Bitter Ruin out.
They are mind-blowing and deserve all of the love in the world. )

I have developed many of my own website projects over the years that never quite took off, and one of them was a alternative/goth fashion and feminist website called Mistress Ravine – which I created in my early 20s. On that site, I had an Advice & Opinion blog that I intended to help educate young women, and put a spotlight on artists that I felt deserved recognition. For that blog, I wrote an album review for Bitter Ruin, and it’s funny to think back and wonder how much of my track-by-track dissection of Hung, Drawn, and Quartered may have possibly missed the mark when it came to interpreting the songs. It is, of course, a given that listeners will always apply their own understanding from their unique realities to tracks, yet I have thought back on it over the years a bit self-critically. Listening to Train’s commentary after having already listened to I do about seven times since its release, it is fascinating to learn the true meaning and the headspace behind the songs — it’s so much more intricate than what I tend to assume… so much more potent.

While in quarantine, Train produced this album herself, regarding which she comes across as humble and intentional in her commentary. Her solo work differs from Bitter Ruin’s past work in that it is less theatrical, or to use a word from her commentary, flamboyant. To be forthcoming, I wasn’t sure whether I would connect with the album in the same way as their past work when I heard teaser clips. However, the maturity and sophistication of I do do parallel my evolution and speak to me. The album having been recorded at home and serving as an introspection on love and marriage, it is a uniquely authentic, raw listen. However, do not go into this album expecting a series of mere love songs.

I do is, to me, an album of healing and acceptance. When we fight “to the death” to make a relationship work, it’s as if we stick our fingers in our ears, unfold our blinders, and charge forward. We feel righteous, we feel we are doing a good thing, the loving thing, and yet in actuality, we may be more doing harm than good. That is one of the most difficult things we can ever face. Sometimes, music is the key to revealing the truth, to waking us up. Sometimes we need a song to give us a poignant message (or more bluntly, hit us over the head with it) that compels us to simply utter a self-aware “ouch.”

Train, who is known — with no exaggeration — for her vocal acrobatics (a bit trite, but such an apt phrase), also has an impressive vocal range. You will catch her voice flying high, as well as dipping deep, throughout the album. Often, she flutters around in a falsetto, though any old Bitter Ruin fan knows how she can belt that chest voice (a favorite example being “Leather for Hell” — a unique rock song for Bitter Ruin). Her graceful singing on I do is a perfect fit for the very private conversation she is having through her music. 

That is not to suggest that the album lacks intensity — to the contrary, my favorite track from the album, titled “Pressure”, crescendos and inspires heartache.

“Did I put too much pressure on you to be the one I can lean on?
Maybe I was wrong to”

The following track, “Shatter”, paints a picture of the unintentional self-harm we participate in out of desperation to repair a broken relationship. The song is a twisted knife in the heart of anyone that has been in this situation, yet serves as commiseration.

“On my knees finding pieces of the shatter,
these tiny cuts don’t matter
Work all night just to put us back together,
I swear I’ll make us better”

Marry This” is a unique, nuanced track that addresses the way people that commit to each other inevitably change — a topic I have yet to see Disney tackle.

“I didn’t marry this (don’t know what it is, don’t know what it is),
I need to know what this is.”

The most beautiful song on the album is, in my opinion, “White Snow”. In the commentary, it was very interesting to hear who she states influenced the track. (Speaking of Disney, I can imagine Frozen’s Elsa singing this song. Though, with all due respect, this song is meant for Georgia Train, not Idina Menzel.)

Unholy”, with a gospel style chord progression, has the perfect sound for the closing track. If you listen to the commentary, it is mind-blowing how quickly it was written and recorded. It is the only track on the album that addresses sexuality, but as an intellectual study of sexuality — something I have never heard in a song before. Within the Gregorian chanting, she sings in a language which I was trying to pinpoint as either Italian or Latin, and it turned out to be neither. Find out what it is in the commentary.

I do is an album for listeners who like music to draw out their emotions. It is for those who like to ruminate on their relationships, or to analyze the psychology of love and behavior. (Ok, so, it’s made for me.) It fluctuates between grief, regret, desperation, ambiguity, fear, and hope. It is unlike any other I have heard, and I am very grateful it is in my life now.

I do – with track-by-track commentary- album cover

Among many things, the album is about musing on what has transpired in relationships, the uncomfortable truths about relationships we do not often hear in pop culture, struggling to understand, confronting tough realities, and coming to terms. Over the commentary, Train explains how some of her personal experiences inspired certain tracks, how songs evolved, her intentions and stylistic choices, how she reclaimed some of her music, and so much more. The commentary makes the album feel that much more whole, and I think it’s especially significant to include with a quarantine release. I absolutely support the idea of the commentary for future releases.

I highly recommend not only purchasing the version of the album with the commentary on Bandcamp, but for just a bit more, support Georgia Train by purchasing her full digital discography. Either way, you can get it here.

A Message from Georgia Train

A Few Recommendations: 

  • If you can, listen to the album with noise-cancelling headphones over your ears to experience it intimately.
  • If you are able, please purchase it even if you have access to Spotify.
  • If you purchase the commentary, you can do what I do and stream the regular version of the album on Spotify as well for a tiny bit of extra support!
  • Check out my favorite Georgia Train song, “Get Out” — another belter:
  • Follow her on social media:

Georgia Train Online

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YouTube | Twitter | Spotify

  • CHECK OUT BITTER RUIN!!! They released the track “Caution to the Wind” last year after about 5 years of hiatus, and two more this year! They’re one of my all-time favorites, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to share them on Burning Hot Events.
Bitter Ruin
| Photographer:
Scott Chalmers

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REVIEW: In Case of Emergency Break Glass Ceiling: On Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters

“We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing.”

— Hélène Cixous

We do this to women. We expect a performance, and the exact one we desire, on demand: Manic Pixie Dream girl, vixen, maiden, mother, crone. We want to dial a number, press a button, swipe right, and order up exactly the kind of woman we want. We box women in, pigeonhole them; we do not let women evolve, and we do not let them be. And by we, I do not mean men; I mean the entire world. We ask women to stuff their whole selves, containing multitudes, into boxes, so that we might more easily handle them. Well, Fiona Apple has fetched the boxcutter and the bolt cutters, too.  

At first listen of Fetch the Bolt Cutters, I myself am guilty of this. I was unnerved by the seemingly random acoustics that permeate the album, that seemed to bookend each track. I wanted to hear the contralto register, the impressive range and moody piano ballads of Tidal, the aggressive lyrical onslaught of When the Pawn. I wanted Fiona Apple to repeat a performance of the woman she used to be, a self she has since outgrown.

Fiona is not going to put on a mask for us. We’re asking her to remain the victim, angry at the world while she’s now a self-actualized, grown-ass woman, wandering around her house using whatever’s around her to express herself, to make music. Apple will never make another Tidal, and we shouldn’t want her to, because she is not just revisiting her pain, but growing through it. She shares herself with us rawly and authentically in this album, and it is a sin to ask of her anything else, any former selves she’s outgrown.

Evident from the opening track “I Want You To Love Me,” Fiona did come to play with us hoes; she’s exploring a playful sound that’s only grown since The Idler Wheel, one in which, rather than reigning herself in, she’s ending the track with yips and some sort of high-pitched dolphin sound. This intensifies in the title track “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” and by this third song, I was fully like, “What is she doing?” There is so much barking sprinkled through the end of the track, the listener will wonder if it’s coming from a neighbor. That’s it, though: she’s using what’s around her — her house and her own world, her pet even — to bring us in. It is a strange joy, one that fully embodies the idea of cutting loose.

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Through the album, sonic experiments abound, the extent of which, at one point, made me think Fiona Apple’s sound is now like dog slobber to cat people. What to do with this mess? It devolves into at best jazzy, at other times wholly chaotic noise. Apple is a few rattling cans away from a straight-up noise project.

Yet, her lyrics, as ever, continue to land, a punch right in the gut: “I know a sound is still a sound around no one”, and in “Under the Table”: “I’d like to buy you a pair of pillow-soled hiking boots/To help you with your climb/Or rather, to help the bodies that you step over along your route/So they won’t hurt like mine”. By the time she intones the titular, “Fetch the bolt cutters/ I’ve been in here too long” there is no question that this is not about us. Being a musical audience is passive, a spectator sport, and Apple has worked too damn hard to shut up, not now. She doesn’t speak the truth, she spits it out like hot grease.

Arguably her most vulnerable album yet, we begin to see places where Apple has untangled the threads enough to weave together something new. In a recent interview in Vulture, Apple admitted that past perfectionism fenced her in:

“If you grow up and you’re praised a lot for being special, rather than for making an effort, you end up later in life being afraid.”

Being gifted, and being expected to call up a gifted performance in perpetuity, was a prison that kept her from appreciating her own efforts, from experimenting, made her afraid to try. What we hear in Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Apple finally feeling free to roam, to play.

In “Relay” which Apple actually started writing at 15, there are glimpses into what’s been ruminating in her mind. “Evil is a relay sport/When the one who’s burned/Turns to pass the torch” Basically, hurt people hurt people. Fiona Apple’s music, for so long, has spoken especially to survivors of assault. We could watch her rage, hear her croon vitriol in a way that elevated hurt into something divine, and made good art. Survivors need to see examples, like Apple, of someone not only overcoming their hardships, their assaults, but using them to create something new. This is how they stop being victims.

I was reminded of Marina Abramović while listening to this album, specifically her art project that involved sorting and counting thousands of grains of rice. Participants had breakthroughs, visions, and powerful transcendent experiences. What Apple has done with this album—using her house as instrument, showcasing her friends and pets — it is clear she has found her own meditation in an emergency, has built a cathedral with all of these avant-garde sounds to house her voice, which has now become its own instrument. 

Starting with “Newspaper,” the album’s sound takes on a focused quality, infused with bluesy rhythms. Her lyrics are, somehow, increasingly introspective when she near-growls about “trying not to let my light go out” and the track feels meditative, in a way. Apple is finally focusing on relationships that matter, both her relationships with other women and her relationship with herself. This was hinted at in track two with “Shameika,” and it comes to full bloom now. (“yet another woman to whom I won’t get through”

Much of the tonal shift, I believe, we see from Apple in Fetch the Bolt Cutters comes from a new perspective on her part, one of reconnecting with relationships with other women in her life. It’s essential to see other women free to express themselves, and Apple is pointing out this is a continual struggle. Patriarchy has long divided us against each other, taught us to shame, police each other and internalize misogyny, in order to better conquer. 

By the time we get to one of the standout tracks from this album, “Heavy Balloon”, which is frankly incredible, this track best displays the shift that has taken place in Apple.

She has not kept it a secret that being assaulted early in life majorly affected her sense of self, and surviving being raped at 12 years old led to a lifetime of eating disorders and body image issues. These are ways survivors attempt to regain control, an agency that was stolen.

“Heavy Balloon” is filled with personification, identifying with plants (“I spread like strawberries/I climb like peas and beans”). It has a mouth-feel, nourishing, as it contains imagery of fruits and vegetables, not in a final form, but growing; Fiona has learned to love the body she lives in by understanding it, listening to it, communicating with it. (“I’ve been sucking it in so long/That I’m busting at the seams”) Apple is finally dealing with the things that have held her in—mainly, herself.

“You get dragged down, down to the same spot enough times in a row,
The bottom begins to feel like the only safe place that you know.”

If there’s one thing I can say for Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is that Apple eases us into the heaviest shit. Not that she’s ever taken some turn to saccharine, ever only scratched the surface, but there is a build up to the line “Good morning/You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in/Good morning” in the track “For Her.” Apple has reconnected with her own anger in Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and she admits the irony that in doing so, she’s created her most upbeat-sounding album. There are really no slow, sad ballads here. In an interview, she confesses she finally feels anger towards the man who assaulted her as a child and realized making excuses for others fails to hold them accountable. There is a decided connection between Apple’s righteous, justified anger and finally being able to fully, freely express herself. She feels free. 

By the time we reach the end of the album with the final track “On I Go”, this journey that is Fetch the Bolt Cutters has come full circle. Welcome to the Order of Saint Fiona, a sanctuary in which it is revealed to us that the highest transformation is severing the ties that bind us and weaving them to make art, art that connects. Wabi-sabi for the skeptical. From the beginning of the album and the ragtime saloon sound of the opening track to a near-growling in the middle with “Newspaper”, or the waltzy “Cosmonauts” to hymn-like refrains with the final track, we get to hear what it sounds like when a musical heroine stands up herself and marches to the beat of her own drum (or wall, or countertop, or whatever). 

Some have made connections between this turn for Apple, a new sound, and that of Radiohead, mainly in terms of albums that exist as a coherent whole, a complete organism—one which grows on the listener. It is accurate that Fetch the Bolt Cutters has a progression, a purpose, a message. And it is true that Apple has made use of what’s around her to create, a DIY ethos, in a way that is punk as fuck, in the canonical sense of the word.

Still, I fear I am failing Fiona Apple with this review, as I too want to offer a perfect tribute to a woman who demonstrated to me what it looks like to rise from the ashes, that moments of rage are not only justified, but holy. As I’ve long suspected, words fail us when we need them most. Apple herself has said that Fetch the Bolt Cutters is about liberating voice, but no, actually, much more than that; that’s not precise enough. Much has been made of her various states of well/unwell, lots of gazing at her mental health, but this album shows what beauty and art can come from a woman alone in a locked room — the antithesis of yellow wallpaper.

Still, there is caution that comes with labeling Fiona Apple as “finally free”: to do so would stuff this iteration back into that box, asking it to hold still. This is a woman we’ve watched, seen and heard, cut herself loose over and over, inspired us to call it like we see it, shown us resilience by not “shutting up” and now MacGyvered her way into an album wholly original, purely hers, and sorely needed.

Pre-Order the Vinyl – Out July 15, 2020

Fetch the Bolt Cutters Tracklist

  1. I Want You to Love Me
  2. Shameika
  3. Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  4. Under the Table
  5. Relay
  6. Rack of His
  7. Newspaper
  8. Ladies
  9. Heavy Balloon
  10. Cosmonauts
  11. For Her
  12. Drumset
  13. On I Go

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REVIEW: DIVISIONS — STARSET Takes Us on a Journey Through the Future

Released on September 13th, 2019, DIVISIONS is the third studio album by STARSET. Fronted by Dustin Bates, STARSET is known for their elaborate shows and their detailed, cinematic rock albums. To watch STARSET live is to watch a spectacle of light and sound that leaves you in awe. There is an augmented reality app, aptly titled STARSET, that was first meant to be used during the live concert. This has since been updated to have some functions outside of the concert setting. During the “Immersion: Part One” tour, Bates and his bandmates wore spacesuits. Bates, in fact, has a significant tie to space: he was a teacher at the International Space University Space Study Program at one point, and has solidified his image of being both an extremely imaginative and talented musician and an accomplished scientist.

DIVISIONS — set on Earth in 2049, in a dystopian future that involves mind control via an implant. Four music videos were released in the lead-up to the album release: “MANIFEST,” “WHERE THE SKIES END” “STRATOSPHERE,” and “DIVING BELL.” Watching them helps understand the story behind the album, which in turn is linked to their show.

You do not listen to Starset —
you experience them.

As you travel through the journey that is DIVISIONS, you will hear more than just the songs. “WHERE THE SKIES END,” for example, is bookended by audio clips from a video called “A New Horizon” that played at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York. The name of the exhibit was “Futurama,” and was a vision of the future – a future that came true in many ways. Ronald Reagan can be heard in “STRATOSPHERE,” taken from a speech he gave in 1987 to the UN about war, in which he said “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing a threat…From outside this world.

The first track is only Bates speaking with synth playing, building until the end of the song. “A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE” lays out the rest of the album:

This place is a desert for the mind
Devoid of emotion and barren of thought
No real thought, at least
It’s no surprise
Most minds here have long since atrophied from lack of use
They wait in flatline for the next rushing jolt of synthetic stimulation
The real world can’t compare, even if it were allowed to
Contemplating the real world leads to seeing the world for what it is: a prison... (Continues)

MANIFEST” is a mix of heavy rock riff and poppy sounding choruses. It leaves you off balance a little, though it is a very enjoyable song, and it just takes a couple of listens to get used to the genre switch. It showcases the genius of Bates: as the music switches between rock and pop, the lyrics describe a love that seems to be a bit unstable:

Every time I’m onto you
You change it up‚ you always do

The song ends with a cadence of crashing guitars and drums, leaving the listener with a second or two of silence to regroup a bit before the synth beginning of “ECHO”.

“Echo” is a symphonic song, soaring behind lyrics that seem to be steeped in Greek Mythology. From the mention of the Odyssey at the beginning, up to and including the lyrics:

I call and I can hear you sing
But oh, it’s only my echo
It’s only my echo

In Greek Mythology, Echo was cursed by Hera to only be able to repeat the last words that another would speak. She met, and fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with himself. That ended rather poorly for both of them. The song seems to be more than just the story of Narcissus, it indeed seems to be told from the viewpoint of a narcissist:

I thought it was destiny
I was gonna conquer the sky
Then plummet to the ground and be
Anchored by your side
But when every time I found myself upon new heights
I would climb again and leave you in the moonlight

It should be noted that the person referred to here followed the singer silently for most of the song, so the accusation of giving up early toward the end rings quite false. It is, again, a well-crafted song by Bates.

WHERE THE SKIES END” seems to be a near defiant look at the future, a musing that is sung over music that alternates between a heavy riff and synth. The lyrics speak of the change between the current and the previous generations — one that could possibly apply to today as well:

These aren’t the dreams of our fathers
There’ll be no wishing on stars
We are the sons and the daughters
Let them come test who we are

PERFECT MACHINE” is far more synth heavy, the music slowing down a bit, and seems to be a tragic song in some ways. In the first verse it becomes quite apparent the protagonist is not exactly the nicest person in this scenario; in fact, they sound downright manipulative:

And if I bend just right
I can make it
I didn’t want you
I wanna watch you change
From a butterfly and into chains

By the end of the song, the subject seems like they have reached the point where they have acknowledged their faults and are trying to protect the other person from them. 

As the outro plays, you can hear what sounds like a subway, or perhaps a bus station, and a disembodied voice in the background repeating propaganda. It is a masterful touch to remind you that this is set in a dystopian future

TELEKINETIC” is absolutely connected to “A Brief History Of The Future”. This is a heavy, heavy song, reaching past the rock genre and going into the metal, with a scream punctuating the song. One cannot help but to be reminded of the band RED during this song. Bates weaves in a comparison of being a puppet and voodoo, and in between it all, the mention of the hit of the chemicals in the brain that popped in the first song.

Fake
I’m just a puppet in your play
You pull the strings and I obey
High, that oxytocin hit me just right there
It’s counterfeit
Zombie, zombie, could it be a hex?

As the song ends, as your ears are possibly still ringing, “STRATOSPHERE” starts. This is the first true pop rock song on the album. In the first half, the drum kick is the heaviest element of the song, unless you listen closely to the lyrics. It is indeed a beautiful, tragic song; a song of longing and missing someone that you once loved.

There is duality between “STRATOSPHERE” and “FAULTLINE,” with the latter sounding more like a sarcastic, angry song about a hurt partner pushing back against the other in the relationship:

First you gotta know
How to play the victim
Hate to tell you so
But you repeat the symptoms like an aftershock
And I only want to make it stop

It is such a sharp contrast in music style and lyrics that it feels out of place, and yet it will resonate with anyone who has ever gone through a rough breakup, and indeed with anyone leaving an abusive relationship.

SOLSTICE” has a bit of a heavy sound to it, with a great beat with some EDM behind it, though it quickly becomes very repetitive. Musically it’s a great song, lyrically it leaves one wanting more. It is the least impactful song on the album, though it is still an enjoyable song musically.

TRIALS” is, quite simply, a song of defiance — a story of looking straight into the teeth of the darkest days and triumphing. Set over a driving drumbeat, it is another song that reminds me a bit of RED and moves closer to metal and away from rock. 

WAKING UP” shares the same kind of driving drumbeat, though the message changes quite a bit. There is a near EDM feel to this song as well, and seems to be more about the message of someone throwing off the mind control device. It is truly enjoyable, though there is some repetition.

OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE” is one of the most enjoyable songs on this album, both in music and in message. There are many concepts being explored here, one of which is a mind that has been awakened and is now contemplating the vastness of the universe, and that there may indeed be other worlds out there.

DIVING BELL” is a beautifully juxtaposed song. It feels relaxed, but has an urgent question

If I stare into the abyss
Will it stare into me?  

It is not often that you witness the process of living with depression and trying to push away from those who love you. It is a perfect end to one of the most well-put-together albums of 2019.

STARSET is amidst their “DIVISIONS: 2019” tour in support of this album, and unsurprisingly, the show looks just as incredible as previous tours. Finishing the U.S. leg of the tour in Newport, KY, they will be embarking on a European leg starting February 8th, 2020.

View tour dates: HERE

Get the album, allow your imagination to take you on the journey that STARSET has laid out before you, and then go see them live.
You will not regret it.

STARSET Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter
Instagram | YouTube


REVIEW: Surviving — Jimmy Eat World’s Subtle Masterpiece

Released on October 18th, Surviving is the tenth studio album by Jimmy Eat World. Available in every imaginable format; it can be streamed, purchased as a download, a CD, vinyl pressing, and if you really wanted to throw it way back (as frontman Jim Adkins loves to do) it can be found as a cassette tape. Surviving is an expertly crafted journey, one that explores the time Adkins spent battling depression and self-doubt. There are ten songs on the record — a theme, perhaps, given the release in the tenth month of the year.

From the first notes of the driving guitars, before the kick of the drums, before the ever-recognizable voice of Adkins kicks in, it is apparent that this will be familiar but new ground. The first lines of the title track “Surviving” appear to confirm this:

Don’t hide your face, what you were before
it doesn’t have to be you anymore

The song “Surviving” could be considered a confrontation of sorts. One could interpret it as the singer confronting his past, and simultaneously the listener could perceive it as a confrontation of their own past. It is relatable in every line, and because of that, powerful.

“Criminal Energy” was my favorite to watch live at the Crescent Ballroom a few weeks ago, and the album version is just as good, if not somewhat muted compared to the live version. That is not to say it is bad in any way; rather, this is a song that is designed to get the blood pumping and the crowd dancing. And it is delightful — Adkins’ voice soaring behind the crashing guitars and drums. Just as quickly as it comes, it fades to a softer, slower song in “Delivery”.

While “Delivery” is paced more slowly than “Criminal Energy”, it is deep. There is a subtle beauty in the lyrics, an essence of yearning for the love of the years gone by. This is the genius of Adkins: the ability to relate to each listener even without meeting them, and to draw a picture in such a way that they don’t always realize the scope of the art. 

Adkins continues this in “555”. The art could be lost if you got lost wading through the shock that longtime Jimmy Eat World fans will undoubtedly feel: the shock of a song that sounds more like it came from M83. However, it fits with the message from this song so very well. The expectation of Adkins, and in turn Jimmy Eat World, is that there will be an album that sounds much like what has been done before. There is a danger in that expectation, and it is daring to break it. That is exactly what they do, with synth clapping as the backing and one of the oddest and yet entertaining videos you will ever see.

“One Mil” starts the ramp up back into the heavier songs on the album. The story of wasted chances will resonate with the masses, though I would argue that most of them have never fallen for a camera girl.

Camera girl, you still there?
If I look you’ll disappear
Worse, you might wanna talk
I’m so underprepared

To some it is the classic story of the introvert attempting to find love and upon finding a chance at it, wasting it. To others, it is like a remnant of teenage love, which we would all like to think that we eventually grow out of.

Wish I had mastery of wit, luck and fearless confidence
Then shred majestically to your heart

This story changes in “All The Way (Stay)”, a song that is raw, raw in sound and lyrics, the clang of a guitar and then the echo of a snare drum your only companions at first. It is not comfortable in the first 30 or so seconds, and that discomfort draws you in to listen to lyrics like:

 We get discouraged by the pointlessness
And we’re pretty quick to judge things pointless
There’s what I want and what I need
And the latter takes a while to see

Behind it all, you realize that this is again urging the listener to show who they really are, to allow others, or possibly just one other, to see under the layers where you hide. While the song starts with a crashing drum that may force you to shift uneasily, by the end you will find yourself swaying to the catchy beat and powerful vocals. It is a great lead into a song that has a far more comfortable feel, “Diamond”.

“Diamond” is the song you didn’t know you needed to help you through a really rough time. Hopes, dreams and careers take time, and it’s easy to want to take the easy way out and get a quick payout. After over a quarter of a century playing with Jimmy Eat World, Adkins can say with the utmost confidence in the lyrics:

That’s how a diamond grows, yeah
Give yourself the right chance over time
Don’t believe them
If they try to sell you something quicker, yeah

This theme extends to “Love Never”, where Adkins vocals are on display second only to “555”. This is another life lesson, this time a reminder about love, set over a near frantic beat. Depending on your stage in life, it either serves as a warning for those who still romanticize the ideal love and the idea that cute, fat angels will shoot you with an arrow shortly before you meet the perfect match, or a reminder that love looks a whole lot more like you summoning the strength to not murder your partner for not picking their socks up. At any rate, it is a fantastic, underrated song on this album. 

“Recommit” feels like something that all of us have wanted to sing, or yell really, at that one person in our lives who sits on the fence when push comes to shove. To some, the music may feel a little underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the tracks. However, one can appreciate its beachy pop revivalist vibe that flows and ebbs from the verses to the contrasting heavier chorus that barrels in between them.

The album closes out with “Congratulations”, a song that seems so far out of place that it is a bit jarring. Unlike much of the rest of the album, this seems to almost take a political stance, with lyrics such as:

Suspiciously, through editing
The facts are disappearing
With discipline and message
You’ll take awkward possession
Of nothing you really wanted
Welcome, congratulations

The defiance and air of dissonance present throughout the rest of the album melts into the background, as sarcasm seems to run rampant in this unusual and yet enjoyable song. It should also be noted that Davey Havok of AFI and Dreamcar lent his vocals to this song, something subtle you can pick up on once you know to listen for him.

Surviving is an incredibly solid album overall. It harkens back to the energy we all bore witness to in the fantastic journey that was Bleed American (later re-released as Jimmy Eat World). Adkins is a master of self-awareness, weaving life lessons into the verses in much the same way a master weaver would work threads into a rug. While the frontman has been given much praise in this review, the entirety of the band deserves recognition for this album. While it is the norm for the music world to decide to try to build an architectural masterpiece like the Empire State Building, often falling far short of that lofty goal, Adkins and his bandmates decided to build a comfortable mansion in the Midwest overlooking a lake. The band succeeded in doing exactly what they set out to do, giving the world a sometimes odd but overall enjoyable work that will stand the test of time.

Featured photo (top) by Oliver-Halfin


REVIEW: Temperatures Rise — Arizonan Summer’s Stylistically Eclectic Debut Album

In the seemingly-bygone-but-dearly-missed era of the cross street of life and music, summertime meant a great many things, but cherished most of all were the words, “I’ll make you a tape.” As mixtapes gave way to mix CDs, which in turn gave way to mp3 playlists and eventually music streaming, the idea of a mixtape seems to have faded from the public consciousness for a while. Perhaps though with the resurgence of cassette tapes (Mutemath and Jenny Lewis, among many, many others have released cassette copies of their latest albums), there is still a place for lost nights of driving around listening to the perfect soundtrack of youth. Therein lies the charm of Alt-rockers Arizonan Summer’s debut album Temperatures Rise, as it instantly brings to mind such memories of late-night drives with friends in a time when you had nowhere important to be and life still lay somewhere far on the horizon as a worry for another day. 

Art of any kind begins with the artist trying his or her best to approximate their heroes before discovering their own voice. The band is fronted by Chris Reiswig, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter behind the Arizona-based band, clearly knows where he comes from, not just in place but in style, as he definitely wears his influences on his sleeve. Arizonan Summer’s bio describes their sound as “Progressive Indie,” but the deeper story of their music can be found in their admission that their sound gravitates towards “Art-Rock, Folk, Post-Punk, Funk and Psychedelia.” All of those influences can be heard on Temperatures Rise, and yet it proves to be so much more than that. Arizonan Summer’s bio describes their sound as “Progressive Indie,” but the deeper story of their music can be found in their admission that their sound gravitates towards “Art-Rock, Folk, Post-Punk, Funk and Psychedelia.” All of those influences can be heard on Temperatures Rise, and yet it proves to be so much more than that. 

In the album’s opening track, the simple acoustic “Aardvarks (Intro),” which recalls early Radiohead albums, you can feel Reiswig’s youth, as the lyrics recall that moment in everyone’s early twenties where they’re not a kid anymore, but also definitely not an adult. He sings of those directionless nights, in the song’s opening lyric “Keep your eyes to the stars/And your ear to the radio/You’ve got to get your kicks however you can/When fighting against this life on loan,” but it’s the song’s next line, from which the album gets its title (“Temperatures rise/it’s just a fact of life”), that comes the reckoning that the inevitabilities of life are coming for all of us, no matter how lost we feel. 

Where “Aardvarks” feels quiet and introspective, “Perpetual Slip” is a shot of early 90’s punk adrenaline. With vocals that recall The Offspring, a soaring guitar solo that feels like moving upwards in a tornado of music, and supported throughout by a rhythm that begins with foot tapping but ends with the urge to pump your fist in the air along with the song. If the opening track is like lighting a fuse, this is the moment when the album soars into the stratosphere and explodes for the listener. 

Chris Reiswig (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Arizonan Summer

While “Perpetual Slip” is the point where the album’s energy skyrockets, it is the third track, the righteous post-punk anti-love ballad “Anhedonia (I‘m Not In Love),” that emerges as Temperatures’ standout. At his age, Reiswig would be forgiven for filling the album with sappy declarations of love, but instead he uses a shredding guitar to share his nearly-exuberant acceptance of the end of a relationship. There’s no moping in the song, and not a hint of regret to be found, as he closes out the song with his pronouncement to the lover he’s leaving behind that he’ll rip them off like Nicorette patch. To whomever inspired this song, sorry, but he didn’t want to be with you, and he clearly couldn’t care less because he’s moving on. 

Displaying the album’s diverse range, “The Fever Age” features grungy guitars, and vocals that bring Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley to mind. The darkly-ambiguous spoken vocals of the song’s bridge creates images of a half-remembered ominous dream. 

Where Reiswig turns up the volume for a love he no longer wants, he turns it down for the heartbreaking “Shimmer” to sing about the love he does want but can’t seem to have. It serves as a bookend to “Anhedonia,” and has the feel of later regret when you realize at an awake-too-late hour that the love you had but didn’t want was what you wanted all along. Moving on in these moments is easier said than done, and Reiswig clearly knows this as he closes the song promising, “I promise you I’m still right here;” this is the last hope a lonely heart has before accepting and getting on with life. 

The coffee-house folk of “Idle Mind” continues the album’s theme of feeling stuck in the middle of indecision. Its simple guitar-strum melody and toe-tapping rhythm makes for a perfect sing-along moment of appreciating being directionless, as long as you’ve got someone with you, since the greatest memories are born not of intricate plans but what can happen when you don’t have anything in mind and let the moments happen. 

While Arizonan Summers may be a showcase for Reiswig’s songwriting, the nearly seven-minute “The Joy of Ulterior Motives,” serves as a showcase for the entire band – guitarist Dylan Ewing, bassist Erin Sperduti, and drummer Kash Filburn. The haunting track, reminiscent of “Mexican Moon”-era Concrete Blonde, sees Reiswig serving a warning to someone who has betrayed him, ending with the parting, “I know that you know pride comes before the fall,” amidst a wall of screeching instruments. 

Arizonan Summer

The album’s closer, the aptly named “This Must Be the End” begins with the image of an aimless drive on a full tank of gas. For an album that feels like the perfect mixtape for such a drive, this song has a shrug of acceptance that there are no sure things in life, and sometimes we aren’t guaranteed the happy ending we’re hoping for, but that’s okay. 

Chris Reiswig (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Arizonan Summer

With Temperatures Rise, Chris Reiswig and his talented band have positioned themselves as more than homegrown talents, and the album isn’t just some local kids giving it a go for the first time. No, this is an album that defies expectations by never settling into anything easy or overly sentimental. It is an album that lives on that cusp of life between being young and being old. It’s in the moments where we crash and burn, tell an unwanted love to get out, feel lonely when we realize it was a mistake, bond over the meaninglessness of it all, and finally accept our fate, turn up the radio, and drive off into the unknown horizon of our futures.

Buy & Stream Temperatures Rise

Amazon | Spotify | Google Play
Apple Music | CD Baby

Temperatures Rise Tracklist

  • Aardvarks – Intro
  • Perpetual Slip
  • Anhedonia (I’m Not In Love)
  • The Fever Age 
  • Shimmer
  • Paper Trails
  • Travel Sequence
  • Idle Mind
  • The Joy of Ulterior Motives
  • This Must Be The End

Arizonan Summer Online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube



REVIEW: Bradley Palermo’s Debut Album, “Volume 1” Honestly Depicts the Bitter Sweetness of Life

Bradley Palermo Volume 1 Album Art

Pre-Order

iTunes | Amazon Music

Bradley Palermo, a solo folk/punk artist in Los Angeles, is debuting his first full length album, Volume 1, on Friday, April 19. The record is a result of a successful crowdfunding campaign late last year, followed by a recently completed international tour. Comprised of previously released singles, the songs were reworked and remastered to create the cohesive Volume 1. Being no stranger to life on the road and the various trials of life, Volume 1 captures an autobiographical letter written to anyone who has experienced life, death, love, and loss.

Before setting out on his solo folk career, Palermo spent 15 years fronting the bands The Sudden Passion and Femme Fatality. He grew up in St. Louis, MO playing in local indie bands. All the while he was developing an affinity for the alt-country bands that were emerging from the region at the time. Palermo draws inspiration from Americana acts like Son Volt and The Bottle Rockets, and folk-punk troubadours such as Chuck Ragan and David Dondero (both of whom he’s now shared the stage with). His influences and past come together in the raw and honest Volume 1.

Stream

Tracklist:

Tombstones
I Like things That Kill
All My Friends (Have Died)
2nd Wind
The Long Way
Deep Valley Blues
Lost In August
The High Cost of Free Living
Trouble To Find
Hollywood, Hollywood

Tombstones

As the first track on Volume 1, “Tombstones” starts with a synth riff that would make Femme Fatality fans grin with a sense of familiarity. The track is driven by a powerful, classic acoustic guitar rhythm that instantly tells you that you’re in for a catchy song. Palermo sings of living as an artist on the road, away from the draining and lifeless corporate existence. Palermo sings in the chorus, “I’ve done the 9 to 6, pulling out my hair, carving up my wrist… I think it’s safe to say I’ve done gone and made my escape.” Displaying Americana at it’s finest, Tombstones would make the perfect bonfire summer sing-along about free living.

I Like Things That Kill

Following “Tombstones” is another catchy acoustic rhythm along with a steel guitar carrying the melody. Palermo sings the song title to implant into your head, “I like things that kill”. This song turns out to be a country/folk love song with a hint of a punk chorus. Reminiscing, he starts the first verse and ends the song with the same lines, “All the things I loved are all the things I’ve quit. I miss you like I miss whiskey, cocaine and cigarettes…”, driving the listener into the building chorus with, “I like things that waste me, eradicate me, honey, I like things that kill… I like things that kill”. Building a scene of a love addiction for a lover long gone, the track pings familiar emotions and imagery that nearly any listener can relate and sing to, making it a brilliantly written piece.

All My Friends (Have Died)

As the song title alludes to, this track is a somber reminder of all the people who have left this earth. In this country/Americana track, Palermo describes the things his friends supposedly used to do, along with specific names and situations of unfortunate fates. This track brings the pain and haunting hole that is created when someone you know passes: “My friends don’t pick up the phone or text me back when I say ‘What’s up?’… Even though I’m up here singing, I feel a little dead inside, cause all of my friends have died.” After the second chorus, Palermo wistfully yells, “And I fucking miss ’em, man!”, followed by a perfectly placed electric guitar solo to represent those memories in a celebration of what once was. He finished out the song by repeating the first verse and ending it all with a cymbal tap fading out.

2nd Wind

“2nd Wind” comes in to perk you up from “All My Friends (Have Died)”. The addition of harmonica in the instrument arsenal is introduced in a tale of a refreshing new romance in the time of personal turmoil. Palermo sings, “There ain’t no use in hiding it, I was out running all common sense. No one gets that drunk on accident.” He continues to tell the tale of meeting a woman that saved him: “And in this City of Angels, she was the only one I’ve met. Call me a holy roller cause I am born again.” “2nd Wind” ends leaving the listener ready for a new emotional start, which is exactly what we all need from time to time.

The Long Way

“The Long Way” describes Palermo’s painful first marriage, his move to LA, and other catalyzing events that brought him to where he is now. The track introduces a grittier tone, and has breathy falsetto backing vocals that bring out strong emotional ties to the lyrical content. The bridge absolutely shines, bringing a climax of both emotion and unexpected production value, turning the featured lower frequency instruments that are too often ignored or omitted in the genre into stars. The bass and a low-programmed synth add another depth of seriousness that speaks volumes along Palermo’s raspy cries. “The Long Way” is a unique turn in the album that keeps the listener’s engagement.

Deep Valley Blues

Ever the catchy writer, Palermo’s “Deep Valley Blues” would be a successful radio single. Short and fun, it captures the feeling of old folk/country/blues that is the heart of Volume 1. Touching on the differences between Los Angeles (San Fernando Valley area) and his hometown of St. Louis, Palermo paints a picture of homesickness in the most concise way. “Deep Valley Blues” is destined to be a popular live show sing-along. “I’ve got them… deep valley blues. It’s gonna take me too much time to make my way home you, and you know it ain’t the distance, honey, it’s the altitude… I’ve got them… deep valley blues…

Lost In August

In a track that could easily be sung by Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie/The Postal Service), the album takes another turn in a light and romantic way. In true indie/folk fashion, “Lost In August” kicks off with a ukulele and accordion-driven rhythm. The composition creates a dreamy and nostalgic backdrop to Palermo’s toned-down vocals. The lyrics and tone show the versatility of Palermo’s songwriting skills, as he lets atmosphere take the place of country-harsh vocals and to-the-point lyrics. A delightful change of pace that’s sure to grasp listeners of overlapping rock/indie/folk genres.

The High Cost of Free Living

The synth makes another appearance in the folk piece, “The High Cost of Free Living”. A straightforward song with a country baseline. Palermo makes use of multiple instruments and harmonies to keep the listener engaged through lyrics of alcoholism and the drawbacks of trying to live as an artist. Although it’s not the strongest song lyrically on the album, it keeps on par with being a catchy sing-along like earlier tracks.

Trouble to Find

“Trouble to Find” starts out with an interesting bass riff seemingly taken from the brainwaves of Brian Ritchie (The Violent Femmes). Palermo brings us through a folk song about dealing with toxic personalities and mental illness. This track circles us back around to the tone of the first half of the album. He paints the imagery of an adversary and tries to rationalize the situation, familiar to what many people might think and say in that kind of situation. However, the song ends right when the listener feels like there might be more waiting to be told. It feels a little incomplete, despite the great storytelling.

Hollywood, Hollywood

The last track on Volume 1, “Hollywood, Hollywood” completes the journey of Palermo’s folk tale, reiterating how Hollywood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but you just make the best of it. It gives the feeling that everyone is trying to be someone, trying to act busy, having superficial relationships, etc. Although it is also a short track, it ends the album saying that the journey is over and he is here now, trying to find his way. It’s a perfect ending to his story.

Final Thoughts

Bradley Palermo’s Volume 1 is nearly a perfect folk album. Featuring a variety of influences, emotions, and incredibly candid lyrics, the album is easy to listen to and connect with, especially for artists. None of the tracks are boring, and they display incredibly strong songwriting ability. The album plays like a story Palermo might tell you himself at a bar over some drinks. Engaging, intimate, and memorable, Volume 1 would be a great introductory piece to new listeners of the folk genre.

Bradley Palermo Volume 1 Album Art

Pre-Order

iTunes | Amazon Music

Tour Dates

4/24 Los Angeles, CA @ Satellite (album release show) #
4/30 Victorville, CA @ Kennedy’s Pub *
5/01 Las Vegas, NV @ The Dive Bar *
5/02 Reno, NV @ Pignic Pub *
5/03 Willits, CA @ Shanachie Pub *
5/04 San Francisco, CA @ The Plough & The Stars *
5/05 Bakersfield, CA @ El Conquistador Music Experience  (album release show) *
5/07 Canoga Park, CA @ Scotland Yard Pub * %
5/08 Santa Ana, CA @ Beatnik Bandito Music Emporium (album release show) *
5/09 Lancaster, CA @ The Britisher *
5/10 San Diego, CA @ Rosie O’Grady’s (album release show) *
5/11 Tucson, AZ @ Saint Charles Tavern *
5/12 Tempe, AZ @ Yucca Tap *
5/13 Yuma, AZ @ Littlewood Art Co-Op *
5/14 Flagstaff, AZ @ The Hive *
5/24 Las Vegas, NV @ Citrus ^
7/24 Cottage Grove, OR @ Brewstation %
7/25 Seattle, WA @ Skylark %
7/26 Tacoma, WA @ The Valley %
7/27 Bremerton, WA @ Hi-Fidelity Lounge %
7/28 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Hideaway %

^= Punk Rock Bowling club show with Amigo The Devil, Bridge City Sinners, and Pinata Protest
#= supporting Typesetter
*= w/ Tim Holehosue
%= w/ Sim Williams

Watch Live Performances:

2nd Wind | Deep Valley Blues
I Like Things That Kill | Tombstones

Bradley Palermo Online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Featured photo (top) by Marisa Palermo

REVIEW: ANTI-MELODY by American Standards Gets Real About Grief, Loss, & Suicide

Phoenix-based hardcore punk-infused metal band American Standards is known for their “piss and vinegar” sound, boasting a well-crafted amalgamation of heavy-handed, technical instrumentals, and brutal yet poetic lyrics that confront societal divides such as corporate greed, media corruption, loss, materialism and personal struggle. Presumably due to their focus on DIY ethics, the group attracted a devoted following in response to their leadership of what has come to be known as the “guerrilla punk” movement in Phoenix. Think of the gritty, raw basement shows we all know and love, except this time American Standards would be there to distribute self-produced compilation CDs as a method of raising money for local causes and charities. Pretty rad, isn’t it?

Online you’ll find American Standards listed as “chaos-driven noise punk” also noting themselves as self-proclaimed “purveyors of fine noise” and “Voted Least Likely to Succeed in 2011″ – the year the band was formed. Don’t let their humor fool you though, the message packaged within the chaos tells something of a deeper story. The group has since been recognized in the form of a regular presence on local radio stations like 98KUPD, RadioPhoenix and TheBlaze in addition to sharing the stage with acts like Atreyu, Comeback Kid, Norma Jean, Every Time I Die and many more.

American Standards’ most recent album “ANTI-MELODY” (which premiered in Revolver Magazine, Alternative Press and Lambgoat) is the group’s fourth release, delving into topics that are undeniably more personal than ever before for its members while simultaneously continuing to deliver on what the band has always been known for: pungent commentary on societal divides and anti-consumerism. This time around however, the development of this album is a distinct reflection of American Standard’s ability to focus through times of struggle while baring it all despite battles with depression after the loss of founding guitarist Cody Conrad to suicide, followed shortly after by the loss of the vocalist Brandon Kellum’s father to cancer.

What would have broken so many other bands transmuted into a powerful point of resonance for American Standards, empowering them to produce an album that not only cuts deep, but holds true to the spirit of the band’s fiercely integral essence.

The Tracks

Writers Block Party

“Writer’s Block Party” might at first sound like pandemonium to an unfocused ear, but with closer listen you’ll quickly discover a lyrical contrast that highlights societal pressures imposed on those who desire success or any place in the limelight. The song immediately portrays the immense impact of these pressures through the band’s eyes; “dancing around like we’re marionettes, a stutter in our step, a cadence in our breath, to the unimpressed…”

This is an opening number that comes out swinging, keeping things hyped while immediately addressing the lyrical heart of the matter which made it an ideal choice for a single. And despite seeking an “easy fix” it’s clear things weren’t so simple as the song goes on to say, “I gave up my heart to find a soul… The clouds came in and the lights went out. We were guided by the roar.”

The metaphorical nature of their lyric choices leave much to interpretation and making space for further connection with their ever-growing fan base, but it can be speculated that this track alludes to the many struggles of avoiding corporate sponsorship in the music industry and beyond. This line in particular encapsulates the track well:

“Remove the spine and the heart. Safe bet, mindset. And claim what’s left as art.”

Carpe Diem, Tomorrow

Although brief in content, the technical aspect of  instrumentals included in “Carpe Diem, Tomorrow” are placed well as both a striking opener and stout interludes that highlight a wake-up call just beneath the surface:

“Concrete minds cannot change. Don’t stand still, keep moving. You’ll become what you say you hate.”

Encouraging fans to seize the day, this track utilizes the concept of time to motivate listeners and warn them of the consequences of stagnancy in life. Audibly this track has an underlying rhythm that is a bit similar to that of System of A Down, Throw Down, or Tool; while offering unique lead guitar, which in contrast offers similarities to bands like From First to Last, Trivium, and Hatebreed.

Church Burner

“Church Burner” starts off with an eerie chorus which repeats throughout, but not before laying down some seriously chunky guitar riffs that bring a daunting undertone. The lead guitar and bass notes are undeniably the highlight here, although this is the first sing-scream track to be found on ANTI-MELODY which is to be noted as well.

Lyrically this track is beautiful in the simplicity of its resounding metaphor while still managing to communicate the intensified angst that American Standards fans long for.

“An extremist in boldface type. We’re all people, but compassion doesn’t sell. And there’s no time for independent thought. There are no divisions outside the ones that we create.”

While chaos and hardcore don’t exactly scream “empowerment”, American Standards is clever in the execution of their message. They scatter calls to action throughout each song and foreshadowing for what is to come if the previously mentioned social obstacles aren’t addressed in a way that keeps things moving, so-to-speak. The lyrics go on to say:

“Tear down the walls and build a bridge… We don’t want another title to tell us who we are.”

Bartenders Without Wings

“Bartenders Without Wings” slows things down a bit, sounding more like a classic punk ballad that explores a struggle between man and self. The energy of this track is especially solemn, suggesting the song may be addressing the unexpected loss of founding guitarist Cody Conrad as well as Kellum’s father. “Bartenders Without Wings” also spotlights some inarguable similarities to the sound of now infamous As I Lay Dying.

According to Kellum, ANTI-MELODY is the result of “what started as social commentary on the growing divide in our society” but then became much more personal due to the loss of Conrad and Kellum’s father amidst recording; this track communicated that effortlessly.

Kellum went on to say that the band “went back in to re-record much of the album and in a lot of ways used it as therapy to cope with the experiences.”

Danger Music #9

“Danger Music #9” is a smashing reminder of the dreadful state of conglomerate corporate takeover and a return to the classic American Standards sound, fueled by the pain and grief that lurked in the shadows for these four bandmates at the time. It can be inferred from the lyrics that they are not simply addressing a grandiose idea of anti-consumerism, but more specifically an issue with the intentions and treatments of our healthcare system. Though often choosing to communicate through lyrics that are poetic and/or satirical in nature, “Danger Music #9” takes an unprocessed approach to its confrontation of western culture particularly medicine, making the lyrics that much more savage in nature.

“You make a beautiful statistic, diamond eyes. Giving incentives to move these units. Prescribe more illness. And we’ll become the money they count behind closed doors. A half a million dead. A third of us next.”

Cancer Eater

The title may have tipped you off as to what this track is about. The tragic loss of Kellum’s father is uttered through every verse of “Cancer Eater”, tearing from word to word with an energy unmatched by any other song on the album. Instrumentally, “Cancer Eater” is equally as brutal, once again highlighting lead and bass guitar.

Lyrically, however, this track has got to be the most poetic:

“We’re taken hostage by the ones we love, that leave us behind. I can’t be as tough as nails, with this paper skin. And organs that fail. But life moves on, and I’ll go on too… I lived like him. I’ll die like him. Remember me, remember.”

Broken Culture

“Broken Culture” is self explanatory in its purpose, erupting with energy right from the start with strategically coalesced vocals and a true hardcore sound that are again unique in their likeness to other tracks on the album if you listen close. Themes of anger, fear and isolation resurface once again, but this time with a more somber tone in wake of its preceding track “Cancer Eater”.

“We had more guns than bullets so, we made pistols with our hands. Where’s the good; there’s evil we must fear. So, pull the trigger and pray the rounds land.”

Chicago Overcoat

“Chicago Overcoat” takes all the energy from the seven songs before itself and delivers that consolidated energy as one swift punch in the ear drums before ending on a beautiful piano note. The track is in itself, a crescendo of all-encompassing instrumentals accompanied by a dominating vocal performance by Kellum.
“Chicago Overcoat” starts off with the focus on bass and drums as opposed to vocals and lead guitar, making for a pleasantly unrefined, and super-sludgy combo. And yet, there is a tone of desperate release, resentment, and determination to rise above through and through.

In Closing

ANTI-MELODY took things to the next level for American Standards, allowing fans to get to know the individuals behind these powerful words that leave us feeling a little less misunderstood and a little more at home in the world.

Ever-brutal. And ever-poetic.

It seems, although incredibly tragic, the struggles that American Standards experienced during the making of ANTI-MELODY created a vacuum of emotion yielding an outcome no fans could have predicted. We’re looking forward to seeing where this intimate breakthrough takes them, and eager to listen in as they continue to evolve.


ANTI-MELODY is available now on iTunes, Google Music, Amazon and Spotify or you can pick it up along with exclusive merchandise through the
American Standards Bandcamp page.

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