Drug Church’s Cheer is an Excellent Punk-Pop Evolution

What does it mean to be a punk band in 2018? It’s hard to say, really. Ten, fifteen years ago if a band with the reputation of Drug Church made a record so explicitly poppy and clean sounding, it was nearly a guaranteed ticket to losing any kind of credibility they’d earned on their way up. However, making this sort of leap is to be expected now, because rock economics simply don’t add up. That’s not to say this is why Drug Church have made this stylistic choice, instead that it just doesn’t mean as much as used to. Regardless, on Cheer, Drug Church take what made them great on albums like Paul Walker and Hit Your Head and really hone in on them. The result is an album that’s no less hard hitting and way more immediate sounding.

“Grubby” is a tectonic rager of an opener, with vocalist Patrick Kindlon sounding higher above the mix than he’s ever sounded. “Avoidarama” starts with a killer bass riff that settles into a classic verse-CHORUS-verse hook. It’s an unavoidably great song. “Weed Pin” is buoyed by an amazing watery guitar riff with Kindlon espousing about frustrating career prospects. Plus, it’ll stop you dead in your tracks when he sings: “Fuck you at $12.50 an hour/I should have started a chemical fire/I should have burned this fucking place to the ground.” 

Simply, Cheer is a great record from a band who’s growing by leaps and bounds by slightly altering the more hardcore elements of their sound and making them a little more palatable. On “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor,” Kindlon sings “If you live long enough/you’ll do something wrong enough/that you’ll feel shame enough/to say enough’s enough”. That’s 100% relatable. There’s no shame here. Drug Church swung for the fences, and that’s the most punk thing they could do. 

On Nearer My God, Foxing Craft an Instant Classic

I’ve been struggling to write about this album since I first heard it a few months ago, and it’s mostly because I’m overwhelmed by every listen of Nearer My God. It’s an album title that smacks with the air of supreme confidence and ambition, one that too many bands fail to live up to. Foxing are not one of them, I am happy to say. It’s one of those super-rare occasions where a band somehow hits their stride as artists and hits a creative peak.

For their third record, Foxing paired with former Death Cab for Cutie member/producer Chris Walla. It’s abundantly clear that his steady hand has guided the group in a way they haven’t even bothered to attempt on record before.  Songs like the opener “Grand Paradise” with its blippy churn and the horn swells of the single “Slapstick” really are just setting up for sonics that are weirder and more ambitious. “Lich Prince” sort of feels like a woozy 2011 Drake ballad before it opens up to a gasping, monolithic rock song. Have the lyrics “I feel like a houseplant” ever been used before? Have they ever given way to a cataclysmic world-burning guitar solo? Has that ever seagued into falsetto harmonizations all in the course of a minute? Of course not. That’s what makes it so awesome.

The album’s title track “Nearer My God” has already made waves as the band released it in five different languages total – Spanish, French, German and Japanese. It’s a soaring, chugging power ballad, perhaps the most traditional thing on the record. Once you hear it, you can almost understand the universality of that melody and how it would translate into other languages. “Heartbeats” doesn’t sound like a rock band at all – soundscapes tempered with program drum hits and orchestral samples that sound super familiar but transformed into something that feels entirely fresh. Also, go listen to all nine minutes of “Nine Cups” and try to figure out what it is. I have a feeling it’s going to take a lot longer than I’ve already spent with it.

Nearer My God packs so much detail per song it’s impossible to quantify the breadth of what an accomplishment it is. Make no mistake Foxing have made an instant classic. It’s a template for going forward and a record we’ll look to as ‘emo’ (or whatever this is) makes the great leap forward. Very rare does an album come along that perfectly captures what it’s like to push the boundaries of an established sound and do it so brazenly and make it sound so organic. What a gift that is. 

On Lessons, The Sharp Shadows Show Off Some New Skills

On Lessons, The Sharp Shadows sophomore album, it’s clear the band has learned something after 2016’s Small Victories. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Boston power-pop trio led by Stephen Bailey has returned with a collection of songs that feel a little more lived in then its predecessor. “Believe In Yourself (But Don’t Take On The World Alone)” feels a little Nick Lowe and a little Ted Leo, while “Don’t Say You’re Sorry to Me” feels straight out of a 50’s sock hop. (That’s a good thing.) The album’s first single, “Push Push Push” is unlike anything Sharp Shadows have done before – a nervy, shifting punk track where Bailey duets with Michelle Hutt of The Royal They. It’s barely over two minutes long and infectiously catchy – Sharp Shadows execute a perfect song in half the time it takes other bands.

With Lessons, it’s abundantly clear that Sharp Shadows have mastered their craft of big guitars and even bigger hooks. Bailey is no question a student of the power pop game – there’s a little Graham Parker, a little Big Star and plenty of confidence here. If there’s something to learn after this album is over is that Sharp Shadows are continuing  to evolving in their quest to create the perfect pop song. They’re pretty darn close as it stands.

Jesse Malin Opens October Residency with a Wild Memorial Night

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Jesse Malin play, at benefits, at festivals, as an opener, but last night was the first time I’ve seen a proper Jesse Malin show, and it was proof that I should have done this years ago. Coming off two wildly successful Joe Strummer tribute shows and a European and UK tour, Jesse and his band were tight and on point for the full 2 hours, even as Jesse was climbing through the crowd to sing from the bar or going off setlist.

The show was the first of Jesse’s residency at his new club Coney Island Baby. Nestled on Ave A in the spot that used to be the beloved HiFi bar, and Brownies before that, Coney Island Baby is one of those magical places where the band melts directly into the audience, in no small part because the stage is at ankle height. The front row often found itself on catching-the-falling-mic-stand duty, while Jesse got lost in the swell of the crowd.

Malin pulled from all eras of his solo career, including new tracks that are currently being prepared for a new album. The 20-plus song set included such Malin staples as BrooklynAll The Way From MoscowYou Know It’s Dark When Atheists Start To PrayTurn Up The Mains, and more, and covers of The Ramones (Do You  Remember Rock N Roll Radio), The Clash (Rudie Can’t Fail), and The Lords of the New Church (Russian Roulette).

The night wasn’t entirely a party, though, as Jesse was also reeling from the death of his father last week. Like the best memorials, the show swung easily between somber and celebratory. He peppered in stories about their relationship (often taking on a “Bronx” accent that sounded more like a muppet than a New Yorker) that moved the audience and were clearly cathartic for the punk-rocker-turned-troubadour. One such memory was of Jesse’s father saying “I’ll come see you when you get to play The Garden” when Jesse told him that his band was playing three sold out nights at CBGBs. “He didn’t quite get what was going on there.” Jesse explained. “He was an accountant. He liked the swag, he liked the merch.” 

Jesse’s residency has him and his band at Coney Island Baby for the next three Tuesday nights. As Jesse said last night, “things are great, we’re playing Tuesday’s at Brownies!”

Listen to Mozy’s Jesse Malin playlist here.

On Dose Your Dreams, Fucked Up Return to Their Magnum Opus With an Even Better One

Let me be very clear here: Dose Your Dreams, Fucked Up’s first album in four years, is unquestionably their best record.

For a group already known for their ambitious 2011 rock opera David Comes to Life, the thought they would top it with another double album seems patently insane, but they actually *did it*. It’s an overwhelming assortment of punk, psych, digital hardcore with elements of arena rock and other genre experiences. That said, it represents everything great about them to this point and pushing them in completely new directions for the future. It’s an album elevating a ‘great band’ to an ‘all-time great band’.

There’s an incredible amount of ground to cover here, so I’ll provide some  cliff notes. For an album that’s this ambitious, it’s also a bit of a changing of the guard – band mastermind/guitarist Mike Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco are in firm control of the band, pushing Fucked Up in directions they couldn’t have dreamed up. Vocalist Damian Abraham has taken a less active presence in the group as priorities in his life shift, being deployed a little more carefully across 13 of the album’s 18 songs – and it works beautifully.

Whether it’s the catchy-as hell glam rock stomp of “Normal People,” the disco-psych (yes, you read that right) of “Dose Your Dreams” the gutbucket hardcore of “Living in a Simulation,” the throbbing snyth pummel of “Mechanical Bull” or guitarist Ben “Young Guv” Cook’s insta-classic shredded lead vocal on “Accelerate”, there’s a staggering amount to get into. Jonah Falco handles vocals on two songs, including the standout Beach Boys-ian “Love is an Island in the Sea”. Even J Mascis shows up to duet with Jennifer Castle on “Came Down Wrong,” which sounds like a little Dinosaur Jr. tribute in miniature.

Dose Your Dreams is about many things. Sure, it’s about Fucked Up’s most famous character, but it’s also the picture of a band – six people with disparate influences pushing outside what it means to *be* a band. No longer confined to traditional roles – there’s no longer one singer, one guitarist, one drummer, so on and so forth – they have made a record that’s messy, fearless and totally original – so much so that it needs to be heard to be totally understood. If it’s the last record the group makes – which always seems to be a threat – nearly every interview highlights how different each member is from each other, then holy shit, they went for broke and nailed it.

Given their track record in the last fifteen years, it would also not be surprising to see Fucked Up again reinvent themselves as something less recognizable, more fluid, more daring, and more powerful than we could ever possibly imagine. That’s what they’ve done here, because that’s what truly great bands do.

Dose Your Dreams is out Friday on Merge.

Restorations Tackle The Tough Stuff on LP5000

On Restorations first album in four years, LP5000, the group delivers an emotional wallop over seven songs in a 25 minute span. It’s a look into being in your thirties – appreciating all the things that the age brings – love, stability and the prospect of a bright future still ahead, but sometimes just falling short. In addition, with what feels like a scandal-a-day in the news, the world seems to be retching at this point. Like vocalist/guitarist Jon Loudon says on the creeping, anxious “Nonbeliever”: “I love your protest lines/oh, but who has the time?” coupled with “Got a partner for starters/and a kid on the way/can’t be doing all this dumb shit no more”, it’s pitting ideology vs. reality. How are you supposed to stay engaged when there’s all this other stuff that needs your attention?

That’s just a part of it. “The Red Door,” LP5000’s sweeping, totally anthemic first single addresses the process of  gentrification. “Feel my pulse pick up with/every building that’s built/haven’t we all felt a little/a little in between before?”, Loudon says. Sure, he could be talking about the band’s hometown of Philadelphia, but it also doubles of the transitional point of your life of moving from one constant to something totally unfamiliar. It’s a clever sleight of hand, until the final dead giveaway: “All I want is to see you comfortable/In your own skin/In your own way.” It’s a simple statement conveyed with the disappointment and exhaustion of emotion of watching one of your favorite places being wiped away without a trace in favor of something hollow and empty, or worse, replaced with nothing at all.

LP5000 is a complicated record that has remarkable highs and lows in such a short amount of time. Restorations have always been a band that crushes with dynamic sonic shifts paired with bone-cutting truths. That’s no different here. “And now you can’t afford to live in the town you were born in/When they ask you where you’re from, you tell them the truth/You don’t know, and who does anymore?, Loudon sings at the end of “Remains”. They’re a band trying to live the best they can and admitting it’s fucking hard. We’re people less about where we’re from and more about how we relate to each other through our experiences. In the unbearable nowness of now, it’s the best we can do. It’s good that records like LP5000 exist to remind us of that.

LP5000 is out September 28 on Tiny Engines.