Going Out In Style- Dropkick Murphys

Dropkick Murphys

"Look serious guys, Springsteen will be here soon"

It is always sad when the biggest selling point of your album is a guest appearance from another artist, but that’s just what Celtic-punks Dropkick Murphys have ended up with on their 2011 release ‘Going Out In Style’. The 7th release from Quicy’s Irish-hardcore masters ultimately ends up not differing much from the previous six, but is that really such a bad thing? Lets take a look.

The big name appearance here is Bruce Springsteen on the band’s cover of 1913 track ‘Peg O’ My Heart’, which sits as the penultimate track of an album that is otherwise just more of the same. Bruce’s smooth tones actually sound a little out of place amongst the shouting that forms the majority of the vocals, but its fun to hear him here and is a nice change of pace. Other than a couple of reworkings of Irish classics, such as the previously mentioned ‘Peg O’ My Heart’ and the final track’s re-imagining of the classic ‘Irish Rover’, the album does not have much at all to separate it from their previous releases. In fact, their  version of ‘Irish Rover’ ends up sounding a lot like fellow Celtic-punks Flogging Molly’s hit ‘Drunken Lullabies’, to a slightly distracting extent.

This is not to say that the album as a whole is not enjoyable, Dropkick Murphys can always be relied on for a good time, but they seem to be getting a little too comfortable as the biggest Celtic-punks around. If you like Dropkick Murphys, you’ll like the album, but don’t expect a revelation, even with the help of Springsteen.

6/10

(Yes, this review is shorter, its a slightly expanded version of a review I did that was originally limited to 150 words)

Lady Gaga- Born This Way

 

 

Lady Gaga as Mother Monster

Well, I for one welcome our new Gaga overlords...

When Lady Gaga released her track Born This Way as a single, a lot of people were underwhelmed. There were cries of it “shamelessly ripping off” Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’, of it being too blatant with its pro-LGBT message (more on that later) or if it being plainly just not as good as her earlier work. Well, if there is one thing we should have learned from her previous efforts, Lady Gaga’s music is nothing without a promo video to accompany it. This fact has never been so true as with the just unveiled video for Born This Way.

Click the image above to watch the video for yourself if you like, but I would recommend you read this first to prepare yourself. Honestly, you don’t want to go in there alone. Ok, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Much like her video for Paparazzi, the Born This Way promo begins with two and half minutes of introduction before the song itself actually begins. Unlike Paparazzi however, which was presented as a Swedish drama, Born This Way takes its time setting up Lady Gaga’s very own mythology. Gaga takes the nickname given to her by fans, ‘Mother Monster’, and runs with it wholeheartedly. Mirrored images set up idea of birth and the womb, images that border on being downright disturbing, but never quite make it due to the layer of glam and glitter over the whole affair. Gaga sits atop a throne with a third eye on her chin (just go with it) in the role of Mother Monster and recounts the “Manifesto of Mother Monster’. She tells the tale of an alien territory owned by the government, known as G.o.a.t, where a new free race of humanity without prejudice or judgement was born. Evil was also born at the same time, seemingly from the anti-Gaga, an idea shown with the imagery of Gaga pulling rifles out from within her (see what I meant about slightly disturbing?) She then sets up that this is what gave humanity the idea of choice. This leads onto the song  beginning properly, being filled mostly with Gaga dancing in a glittery bikini with a team of half naked backing dancers, interspersed with images from the intro.

Now that you know what the video is like, the next question is whether or not it is any good. Personally, I think it is fantastic. For one thing, it is hilarious! This is the most absurd video Gaga has produced to date, and it is thoroughly enjoyable seeing how many ideas are shoved in to such a small space. Its almost like the video is a direct response to the critics who said that the song itself is bland compared to her other work, giving it the much needed WTF quality we have all come to associate with Gaga. A lot of it seems like a response to critics, playing up the Madonna similarity accusations at one point (you will know it when you see it, think ‘teeth’), and flipping between ignoring the LGBT messages at points, and throwing them in your face with glittery unicorns at others.

Overall, Lady Gaga is still a true artist within herself, but more importantly, an artist at trolling the pop industry. She is constantly pushing what she can get away with, and every time it seems she can still go further. With the song itself, Gaga seems to be testing whether people (read: conservative America) can accept an in your face message supporting LGBT rights, rather than her just existing as a gay icon through veiled ideas. With the video, she is seeing whether we will let her get away with setting up a prog-rock style backstory to her new album, and her most shocking video yet.  Seriously, Rihanna’s S&M got banned for less than a lot of the imagery in Born This Way’s promo. I’m happy for her to keep on pushing, because behind all the facades of eccentricity and insanity, she is still providing us with some of the catchiest, most artistic pop in recent years. I’m happy to let her get away with it, the big question is, will everybody else?

Bottom line, Born This Way is an eclectic and hilarious music video that is also going to fuel her hardcore fans for years to come. No matter your opinion on her, Gaga’s work is always worth keeping up with, either for the artistry or the insanity, and it doesn’t get much more insane or artistic than Born This Way.

Toy Story 3

"Try And Spot Whoopie Goldberg's Character, Go On!"

The Academy may as well not open the voting for ‘Best Animated Picture’ this year, nothing is going to stop that little gold man from joining Buzz and Woody’s gang after what Pixar have pulled off with Toy Story 3. Never before has there been a trilogy of films where each subsequent picture is as good as, or better than the original. What’s even more amazing is that this feat has been accomplished by not only a series of ‘kids movies’, but also a series that started with an experiment in a new way of making films. Let us never forget that the original Toy Story was the very first full length computer animated film. This is essentially to Pixar what Snow White was to Disney as a whole, or The Jazz Singer to all of Hollywood. It changed the game in terms of what could be achieved. Had those had sequels, maybe they could have managed to be of this consistent level of quality, but somehow I doubt it. In the Toy Story franchise, Pixar have that rarest of things, true movie magic.

Let me slow down before this turns into a love letter to Pixar and the Toy Story franchise as a whole. We are here to talk Toy Story 3, the final piece in the Toy Story puzzle. It’s been 11 years since the last Toy Story film, so where are we now? Well, it’s been 11 years for the toys too, and as is the way with the species we call human, we grow up. Andy, the owner of the titular toys, has done just the same. He’s 17 and getting ready to head off the university. The toys we knew and loved in the first few films have dwindle in number until only a core group remain. This sets up the big question that spurs on the entire narrative of the film, “what happens when an owner outgrows their toys?” What this sparks off is a movie that, surprisingly, plays out like the wittiest, most emotional prison escape movie you have ever seen.

Even though we’ve lost some friends along the way, there are a bunch of new toys to meet that fill out a great ensemble cast. On the one hand, Ned Beatty puts in a powerful turn as ‘Lots-O’-Hugging Bear’, whereas Timothy Dalton’s role as “Mr. Pricklepants” is minor, but is also an example of the spot on casting done for this film. Hell, they’ve got Whoopie Goldberg cast so perfectly as, wait for it, a stretchy purple octopus that you would never know her from the character itself. The new face that stole the film for me was Michael Keaton’s superb Ken. You’ll know why when you see it.

Trust me, you will want to see it. If you are a kid, you will love it. If you are an adult, you will love it. However, I myself am particularly lucky. I am truly the perfect age group for this film. I grew up with the original films, and as Andy is leaving for University in the film, that process is still fresh in my mind from going through it myself. If you are aged 16-20, and enjoyed the original Toy Story movies, I can honestly think of no better film for you right now. Actually, that statement is true for every moviegoer. What Pixar excel at is making movies for everyone’s inner child, and the Toy Story series is the one that has done this the most thoroughly. At some point in your life, you have played with toys. That’s what makes Toy Story. Look at that sentence again. That past tense going on there? That’s exactly what Toy Story 3 is all about. Toys don’t get played with forever.

Movie franchises don’t last forever either, and thank god that this one has gone out with a bang. Toy Story 3 is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s hilarious, but in a way that no-one will have a joke pitched too low, or fly over their heads. It’s terrifying too, in a way that mainstream animated films haven’t been for a long time. What really makes Toy Story 3 is how heartfelt and cathartic it is. Toy Story 3 is the only film I can remember ever to make me cry.

Go see it now, for the sake of all your old toys.

10/10

Standout Scene:

Mr. Potato Head’s new look

Failsafe For Tomorrow- Give Up The Ghost EP

Failsafe For Tomorrow’s second EP ‘Give Up The Ghost’ reminds me a lot of an undercooked cake. It has the potential to be really tasty, and you can tell the ingredients that went into it were chosen with the best of intentions, but you just can’t enjoy it. Instead, I was left overwhelmed by a feeling of “put it back in, it’s not quite done yet”.

This Scarborough band sit somewhere between Screamo and Metalcore, two genres which, at least for me, seem to struggle with both originality and issues of whiny angst. Sadly, Failsafe For Tomorrow don’t really do much to change my opinions of either genre. Sure, they are a little less whiny than some other bands, but they still don’t have any sort spark that makes me set them apart from other bands. What Failsafe For Tomorrow do have is a pretty decent mix of genres, but just like every other metalcore band, the singing and the screaming sound a little cut and pasted together. Then again, these may just be my personal prejudices against the genres coming through. If you like Metalcore or Screamo, then at its base, Give Up The Ghost is a perfectly serviceable EP, or it would be if it weren’t for everything I’m about to say next.

I really feel sorry for the drummer on this EP. He gets to drum all the way through, and even gets a couple of little solo moments, but is buried so far down in the mix that half of the drum sounds are almost completely lost. The easiest way to describe the drum sounds are to imagine the band is in one room, and the drummer next door. It’s completely muffled throughout the whole EP.

This may  also explain how bad the band seem to be at keeping time at points. I can’t believe that this was not picked up by their producer, or even the band themselves, but at numerous points in the EP, the vocalist and the guitarist are guilty of rushing the beat and each other. For example, the intro to the song ‘So Long, So Long’ is just guitar and vocals, and ends up as almost totally unlistenable. I can’t tell who is rushing who, or whether the rhythms are just clashing, all I know is that it is incredibly jarring to listen to and I am shocked it wasn’t picked up on before release. The guitar rushes ahead yet again later in the song, and there are many other points on the album where the band just is not playing together. Most of ‘Blood To Spill’ is very guity of this, where they are almost playing too fast for themselves.

The band actually sounds a lot better in the limited lighter, floaty sections of some of their songs than in some of the more metal bits. It’s just better musically. I mean, sure, the screaming is very well enunciated (odd praise, I know, but true), but it just sounds like they are trying too hard and sticking in the screaming because the genre they’ve gone for demands it.

Overall, you can probably tell I was not very impressed. You are free to look them up yourself if you are a fan of metalcore or screamo, but you’ve probably got dozens of bands on your music player of choice who can do the job a lot better. I hate to rip apart a new band like this, but they really aren’t ready yet. Just think though, they may have solved all these problems by the time their debut full length release rolls around.

3/10

Standout Track:

What We Are

Introducing: Dinosaur Pile-Up

"I Wouldn't Want To Be Piled Under A Diplodocus"

Hailed as the next big thing by indie darling radio station XFM, Dinosaur Pile-Up seem to be gradually spreading their name around the industry as the next big band to watch. The big question however is, are they any good?

Well, this 3 piece from Yorkshire are certainly trying hard, floating around the peripheries of hitting the big time since 2008. Although, surprisingly for a fresh, up and coming band, they seem to be  making their music difficult to get a hold of. Sure, Myspace has been superseded  by Facebook as the social media site of choice by the general populace, but it has remained at the heart of the independent music scene despite the social scene exodus. This is why it is so odd that only their new single, ‘Birds and Planes’ is readily available on their, seemingly well-updated, Myspace page. This could possibly be because they are trying to keep their debut, full-length album fresh to listeners, but once that September release rolls around, people will not have had much to form opinions on. The only other songs floating around for easy listening are ‘Opposites Attract’, found on a compilation album on Spotify, and ‘Birds and Planes’ B-side ‘Headspinner’, available as a free download on their website. Well, here goes nothing, how can I sum up Dinosaur Pile-Up off the back of three tracks?

If I were just giving an opinion from ‘Birds and Planes’, then I could happily call Dinosaur Pile-Up “Foo Fighters Lite” and leave it at that. Seriously, get Dave Grohl on vocals and this song would fit in without a problem on ‘One By One’ or ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’. The riffing is there, the screaming is there, even the harmonies sound like they could have been lifted straight from something by the Foos. While the overdriven bass sounds really sweet, it doesn’t do much to separate Dinosaur Pile-Up’s sound from that of the Foo Fighters. Like the difference between many bands, a lot of it comes down to the vocalist. Though possibly damning with faint praise, Dinosaur Pile-Up’s vocalist Matt Bigland sounds pop-punk-tastic. When everything else sounds so Foo Fighters, it’s a little odd for the vocals to sound so much like they would fit in on a Blink 182 tribute act.

Happily he, and the rest of the band, show a lot more depth and variety on ‘Opposites Attract’. While the Foo Fighters similarities aren’t completely gone, this track shows them a lot more as carrying the torch of grunge as a whole. Soft verse, loud chorus songwriting is in full effect here, backed-up by a filthy tone and threats of discord which happily stay on the right side of the split between moody and just plain bad. The pop-punk is one of the first influences that has obviously been thrown right out of the window, Bigland’s voice barely rising above a whisper for the majority of the track, and possessing a much welcome moan when the track escalates. The harmonies are still there, but subdued to a level where they become a disenchanted chorus rather than a jolly focal point of the song. Also, I have to commend these guys on their use of feedback, it sounds pretty damn kickass and the song would be left lacking without it. This is grunge at it’s grimiest, and they pull it off in a way that Nirvana would be proud of.

B-side ‘Headspinner’ is a track that bridges the gap between the lightness of ‘Birds and Planes’ and the thick grime of ‘Opposites Attract’, and pulls off being a better song than it’s own A-side. What starts as the epitome of simple grunge grows and grows layer upon layer of instruments and vocals until it becomes something that you wouldn’t really expect at first listen. The bittersweet chorus is a particular highlight, sounding almost like Dookie era Green Day, until the chord sequence takes ones of the grungiest chord shifts you will hear in modern music. The Foo Fighters comparisons remain in the song’s bridge, which takes its cues from songs like ‘Pretender’, but luckily, not in the obnoxious way that the band’s lead single does.

It is a real pity that Dinosaur Pile-Up chose ‘Birds and Planes’ as their lead single. From what I heard, it is definitely their weakest work, going far too far into Foo Fighters territory. You don’t mess with a band as consistent as the Foos. Where Dinosaur Pile-Up shine is where they are reopening the doors to grunge. Grunge is a genre that died a sad, slow death in the 90s and maybe, just maybe, Dinosaur Pile-Up could help it live again. They aren’t the new messiah, but they are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Meat Loaf- Hang Cool Teddy Bear

Let me get this out in the open before I begin. I have never been a fan of Meat Loaf. For such a legend of rock, I found his music incredibly tame, and bordering on quite sappy and bland. He was just an artist I didn’t get. Popular? Undeniable. To my tastes? Barely, which is why his new release, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” came as such a surprise to me. It is actually really good.

“Hang Cool Teddy Bear” is apparently the start of a new series of albums, like his previous “Bat Out Of Hell” trilogy. This time it deals with a wounded soldier’s visions of future lives he could have lived. Produced by Rob Cavello, the producer who gave Green Day their first steps into the realm of the concept album with American Idiot, this album sounds great. One problem I had with listening to older Meat Loaf was that for all the intended bombast, it never really came across due to incredibly flat and dull production. This is honestly not the case here. Sweeping orchestras, soaring choirs all back up the core, classic rock line up of guitar, bass, piano, drums and vocals. But that’s the main point, it doesn’t wash the rock into the background. Finally, the guitar track is actually audible on a Meat Loaf release!

I don’t know whether it will apply to rest of the series, but this first release filled with celebrity appearances. Justin Hawkins (most famously of The Darkness) turns up co-writing some of the songs and singing backup, Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote the final track of the album, and Steve Vai and Brian May both play lead guitar on a couple of the tracks. After playing Meat Loaf’s son in the movie “Pick Of Destiny”, Jack Black lends his backing vocals to a track, an American Idol judge sings a duet with Mr. Loaf and, craziest of all, the multitalented Hugh Laurie appears to lend his piano chops to the already star studded “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”.

This is of course forgetting the real star of the show, Meat Loaf himself. He may be getting on in years, but it hasn’t done his voice any harm. If anything, it’s added more of an edge. Meat Loaf’s voice is still flying high like you’d expect, but he’s gained a growl, a gruffer edge, and it really works for him. This isn’t the vocal of an aging rocker, this is the vocal at the peak of maturity. It’s very lucky that he is still so good because he is taking on quite an eclectic mix of styles here. He runs the gauntlet from waltzing power ballads to hip-hop influenced rockabilly, screaming blues-rock to prog-heavy metal. It is actually kind of amazing that so many songwriters writing so many styles could produce such a cohesive album. Each track flows really well to the next, despite only being linked by this overarching concept of a soldier’s visions, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way. This isn’t story album, it’s a collection of interlinked tracks and gladly they do manage to link.

This album has managed to convert me. Ok, you still won’t find “I Would Do Anything For Love” on my iPod, but I have had a great time with “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”. Meat Loaf’s consistently strong vocal is finally backed up by great songwriters, high-class production and star musicians, offering the backing that Meat Loaf has always deserved. Occasionally it’s a little corny, but it’s all part of the fun, and it wouldn’t be Meat Loaf without it. Lets just say I’m definitely keeping my eye out for “Hang Cool Teddy Bear II”

9/10

Standout Tracks:

Living On The Outside

Like A Rose

Song Of Madness

Download the Bonus Track “Prize Fighter Lover” at the  Album’s Site for FREE!

Ramona- Mornington Crescent Now Open

"Apple Don't Have Their Own Band, But If They Did..."

“Mornington Crescent Now Open” is the wonderfully named debut EP from the self-proclaimed “band that never meant to be a band” Ramona. These Canadian pop-rockers started off as a way for guitarist/engineer/producer Dave Fritz of Junior Achiever to release some steam on some solo work, and then gradually picked up other members to fill out the line-up.

It’s important to remember the work of Junior Achiever when approaching Ramona, or possibly not, depending on your outlook on things. The strong influence that Mr. Fritz has had on the sound of both of these groups is undeniable, and the similarities are strong. However, this isn’t a reason to disregard Ramona as just being Junior Achiever songs by a different group, or for Junior Achiever fans to think they know everything they need to about this new group. Anyway, even though I hate to say this, the general listening public won’t have heard of the band that came before, so for most of you, this comparison should not worry you too much.

Ramona is bubblegum pop-rock for grown-ups. Tight vocal harmonies with background “oohs” abound, very occasional profanities thrown in reminding you that bubblegum has a tendency to pop back in your face. Fuzzy guitars, solid drums, floaty synth and high-gain bass round out the highly polished sound of Ramona. It’s not often I mention the production values, but it’s certainly worth mentioning here. Independent bands can often lag behind quite significantly in this regard, but Ramona avoid that problem with a sound that is polished to a mirror shine. At times, this is actually a slight downside as it borders on sounding overproduced and manufactured, but generally they just about stop short of it going too far, and even when they do it gels fine with their overall bright and poppy tone.

If you are one of the people who did know Junior Achiever’s music, then the easiest way to describe Ramona is as a more mature take on it. “Mornington Crescent Now Open” is shiny, grown-up pop-rock. It’s what would happen if Keane tried to be Weezer, or if Coldplay stopped being pretentious and found their inner fun-loving punk. Overall, there really is nothing wrong with Ramona’s music, but yet again, nothing truly special, but how often does that roll around anyway? It’s a solid little release, with a lot of promise. I had fun with it, even if I couldn’t stop thinking of the Radio 4 show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” after reading the title.

7/10

Standout Track:

Hanging On The Words

Darksiders- Impressions

I know I usually post only music reviews, but as I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch in good music review material, I though you might be interested in some impressions of the videogame I’m currently playing, Darksiders. (warning, if you don’t want some minor spoilers of the game’s opening and some of the cooler items  and characters you meet, then look away now)

"The Only Horseman You'll Need"

So, what is this Darksiders thing all about anyway? Well, we are told that Angels and Demons having this epic war for all eternity, to which the four horsemen are the intermediaries. Essentially, if they war gets too big and they mess up earth by starting the Apocalypse, it’s up to the four horsemen to show them who is boss. Well, the game starts with this war finally spreading across to earth. Demons crash down from the sky, all spikes, claws and teeth and start crushing and maiming everything in sight. Angels fly down to deal with them, as you’ve never seen them before. These angels are covered head to toe in gleaming gold armour and don’t hesitate in completely shredding their demon foes apart, or worry about accidently crushing some humans along the way.

This commotion draws down our hero, War, the most appropriate Horseman for the job. Looking for all the world like the world’s most badass male interpretation of Red Riding Hood, he proceeds to do what War does best, break stuff and kill people. One big sword and a whole lot of dead demons and angels later, we learn that something has gone a bit awry. Turns out someone started the fighting on earth without going through all the right procedures, and so all this demons verses angels, end of all humanity stuff isn’t technically the apocalypse, and so War isn’t meant to be there at all. After getting thoroughly owned by a demon that looks like it’s made out of a cathedral, he returns to his higher ups to learn he’s been framed for starting the pseudo-apocalypse, stripped of his powers and sent back to earth on a suicide mission to fix what they think he has started.

This is where the game properly begins. I, after playing about five minutes of it at my friend’s house, decided to start the game on it’s equivalent of hard mode, “Apocalyptic Difficulty”. The five minutes I was shown didn’t seem hard in the slightest, so I thought I might as well go for the higher achievement and play it through on the harder difficulty. Not the best choice, as he later told me that he was able to start his ‘Apocalyptic’ playthrough with the best armour in the game, significantly lessening the threat of the game’s enemies. Oh well, I decided I would take the challenge by it’s horns and keep playing through on this difficulty.

As I got into it, I realised that this game felt very familiar. It didn’t take me long to realise the Darksiders is the darkest Legend Of Zelda game I have ever played. Ok, so it’s not identical, but stop me if this any of this sounds familiar. Deep within dungeons hide parts of something that must be brought together to be able to access and defeat the main antagonist. In each of these dungeons, you will find a new toy to add to your arsenal (including a grappling hook and a boomerang-like thing) that will be required to traverse that dungeon and ultimately end up being the key to defeating the big boss at the end of the dungeon. Throughout the dungeon crawling you will encounter block-sliding puzzles, chests containing keys, maps and guides to the rest of the chests in the dungeon. To get between these dungeons, you are able to ride your noble steed which uses it’s dash ability to get across gaps in the world. Oh, and you have a flying assistant who points out where to go and gives advice on how to defeat the bosses.

This lack of originality isn’t as big a problem as it sounds, for a couple of reasons. For one, by placing these conventions on a brand new set of characters and a new, post-apocalyptic world, Vigil games have done for Zelda what Nintendo could never do themselves, make it darker without seeming silly and injecting some freshness without changing a winning formula too much. The other reason, well, it’s because Zelda isn’t the only game that Darksiders takes some heavy cues from. The blood, guts, souls and quick-time finishers from God of War appear here, as gloriously gory and satisfying as ever. Also, even after an art style conversion and a boost of steroids, the Barnacle enemies from Valve’s Half-Life games appear in full, dripping and biting force here. Finally, keeping with Valve’s games, the dungeon I’m currently fighting my way through bears one very large resemblance to their esoteric first person puzzler, Portal.

Despite all these similarities, they all end up as feeling more like homage than a cynical attempt to cash in on success. It’s nice to have a game that plays up video game convention again, rather than fail at being innovative. Nothing in Darksiders is new, but it does everything to a level of polish that makes it a joy to play. After all, these conventions lasted so long for a good reason, they make games fun. Spotting a boss’ pattern and using it to your advantage hardly ever gets old, and the boss’ in Darksiders are so massive and dangerous that once you do get it, you start to feel a bit like a Horseman of the Apocalypse for taking them down, at least on Apocalyptic mode.

If you are looking for a great, classic gaming experience, I’d say you should give Darksiders a look, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. You’ll want to do it just for the awesomeness of the dude with the massive hammer. You’ll know him when you see him, listen out for an increase in the frequency of the word “pidgeons”.

SOS- Adult Situations

"The True Face Of Hard Rock"

“Adult Situations” is the 5th release from New York based rockers SOS, and even though you may not have heard of them up until now, gives good reason why you should go and search them out. If you want some backstory, then read the rest of this paragraph, if you just want to get onto what they’re like musically, and how good the album is, then feel free to skip ahead a little past the break. Formed in the good old days of the mid 90s, SOS worked the New York gig scene, working on their craft under the slogan of being “trained to rock”. A few roster changes have occurred in the period between their previous release “A Guide To Better Living”, but it doesn’t seem to caused any problems with their sound.

The fact that these guys formed in the mid 90s is an important fact to remember. If you liked the metal and grunge and punk of the late 80s and early 90s, then there’s probably something for you to like here. SOS seem to take their cures from greats such as Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, (early) Offspring and even the mighty Metallica. A good way to describe them would be what would happen if you took 90s grunge, upped the distortion and taught it how to play Master Of Puppets. Though, this metal influence pales in comparison to all the grunge going on in “Adult Situations”, it’s still undeniably there. SOS’s sound is actually a little bit of a breath of fresh air in a rock environment filled with whining metalcore and the return of the synth. Straight ahead, hard, grungy rock from a band who’ve worked to get where they are, rather than garnering success from a first release and gradually faltering more and more from expectations.

As an album, it works decently. It’s no Sgt. Peppers, or anything in the concept album ilk, but it still feels like a cohesive whole. That said, “Walk Of Shame” is a little bit of a weak opener to the release, due mostly to the bass and drum led intro in particular and the song in general having a shallower tone than the rest of the album. “Adult Situations” is a thick album, full chords put through distortion, effects all over the place, multiple guitars. It’s just a shame that the opener pushes the 90s grunge structure of soft verse/hard chorus a little too far, leaving the verses sound thin rather than soft. Gladly, this is not representative of the album as a whole. Tome heavy drumming thickens out the sound satisfyingly, and generally is backed up by deep delving basslines. The guitar runs an eclectic mix of grunge dissonance, metal riffing, almost clean lead and, on occasion, searing solo lines. This is not including the times when it’s running through a wah pedal or reduced to cleanly strummed chords. You could listen to just the guitar parts, and have a wide aural experience. Not to forget the vocals which have just the right amount of growl for the tone (think “pissed off Smashmouth”), and have vocal lines which manage to pleasantly deviate from the norm at times.

This isn’t a perfect album by any means. The 90s have come and gone, and SOS are one of the few remnants of the music of that era, other than struggling new releases from those big names SOS seem to be inspired by. This means that either there’s a big market for people who miss that sound, or that this sort of rock has died out for a reason. Personally, I’m glad to have it. Sure, a couple of the songs are a little samey, but I guess that is “Adult Situations” toeing the fine line between having a unified sound, and all of your songs being identical. Luckily, they err mostly on the side of a unified sound. I’ll be listening to these songs for a little while to come, so maybe you should give them a listen and see if you have a hankering for a band who are “trained to rock”

7.5/10

Standout Tracks:

Daddy Like

Wasteland Temptress

Hypoxyphilia

Thanks to Mike as 316 Productions for providing the album for review.

The Separation- Retire Your Engines

"The Separation Appear To Be Camera Shy"

Why do so many bands insist on putting “core” in their descriptions of themselves? It adds nothing, as it base term “hardcore” really means nothing, musically. This is why I was confused listening to ‘Retire Your Engines’ by self proclaimed ‘post-hardcore’ band The Separation from Kent. I guess it makes a useful addition to your description of your band, but it does not really give much of an impression of what your band sound like. Personally, I would describe The Separation as prog-influenced-screamo, but that’s just me.

Still, that doesn’t really help you visualise the sound very well, let me try and place it in terms of other bands. Take one part Thursday and mix it well with Fightstar. Them, in a separate bowl, take Coheed and Cambria and fold Rush in well. Take your Coheed/Rush mixture and sprinkle it liberally over the Thursday/Fightstar blend. Garnish with Fugazi and serve The Separated to your hungry listeners. However, maybe the screamo comment is a little too far, as lyrically, they seem to be going against the traditional Emo grain. Take the song ‘The Real Cost Of Our Free Ride’ for instance, featuring the lyrics “The ‘lets get pregnant’ marathon/We’re at our best when we’re left alone/The ‘I hate my parents’ telethon/We’re at our best when we’re left alone”. The Separation seem to be doing well at mocking the emo/screamo sterotypes, at least a little, which is nice to see.

The lyrics are actually well written, bordering on the poetic, though as occasionally lost when the clean vocals take on a whiney or screamy edge. Sadly, this happens a little too often. They are backed by a pinpoint accurate lead guitar line, and bass with a surprisingly pleasant tone, if simple musically. The rhythm guitar chugs along nicely distorted, sitting on top of adequate (if not overly impressive) drums. They go together to form this odd post-hardcore-prog-screamo mix, which despite all the disparate elements comes together as a nicely produced package. Most of the elements have been done better on their own, but personally I’ve never heard anything exactly like it before so would recommend giving it a listen.

7/10

Standout Tracks:

Black Wire

The Distance Between Us

Three Sisters and The Burning Widow