Review: The Dream Walker

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In the past few years, Blink-182 and its members have been in a sort of limbo. Despite a “reunion” of sorts and a new album, the band still isn’t exactly on great terms. Despite this, former guitarist and co-vocalist Tom Delonge has continued churning out great music with his side project, Angels and Airwaves. With their latest outing, The Dream Walker, the band continues their foray into both alt-rock and different mediums for their music.

Angels and Airwaves, stylized as AVA, have been known for pairing up their album releases with explorations of “different mediums” of expression. Following up 2011’s Love: Part II and the subsequent film titled Love, Angels and Airwaves are now releasing their new album with an animated short film called Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker. The fourteen minute film will use the album as a soundtrack, and was directed and written by Tom DeLonge.

Of course, the main focus of the band is their music, not their films. This new album is, according to DeLonge, a darker and more organic than their past ones. This shows, to an extent, but in all honesty this is the same sort of album that Angels and Airwaves have put out recently. It is more creative, energetic, and varied than Love and its companion album, but The Dream Walker is still the electronic stadium rock that fans of the band have come to expect.

The first single for the album, “The Wolfpack”, sets a solid tone for the album, with AVA’s trademark synth and keyboard alternative rock, but different tracks have different styles and are overall more interesting than some of the band’s previous work. Love was particularly iffy in terms of repetitive music, so it’s refreshing to see that the creativity and skills shown in I-Empire is still kicking. Stand-out tracks include the energetic “Bullets in the Wind” and the darkly personal “Tunnels”. The closing track, “Anomaly”, is a more gentle acoustic track that seems like a perfect way to end an album that’s so up and down in terms of both tone and music.

Overall, The Dream Walker seems a little more grounded than some of the band’s previous work. It’s still a sense of grandiosity and spectacle, but the music itself seems almost reserved. It isn’t as much an attempt to tackle existentialism and the human condition, but instead is a more personal and darker journey through the digital age. It’s inspiration seems more rooted in Blink-182’s own Neighborhoods than any of the 1970’s stadium bands that inspired AVA’s earlier work. It’s a positive change from Love and shows that even with constantly shifting line-ups, the band can still produce a solid rock album that’s a joy to listen to.

You can listen to the album on Angels And Airwaves’ SoundCloud account here.

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Preview: “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”

Indie folk rock darlings, The Decemberists, have released a new single and announced a new album. The single, “Make You Better”, is off their upcoming album, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”, which is set to be released on January 20th. Their new single is streaming and available as a download for those who pre-order the album. Check it out here!

For more information, visit the Decemberists’ website.

Review: Fan Dance Party

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When you first start listening to Fan Dance Party, the first full-length album by Kansas-based indie punk band The Havok on Polaris, you might be forgiven for thinking you stumbled upon some lost punk record from the 90’s or early 2000’s. The three-piece band features a stripped-down approach to punk, forgoing all of the theatrics and complexity of some modern bands. It clearly establishes an identity as an album that sets out to both be an homage to the bygone days of punk and prove that even today, pop punk can be relevant without falling into the trappings of many an aspiring band: forgetting that music, first and foremost, can be about fun.

I want to clear something up, right off the bat. When I describe The Havok on Polaris, don’t think of the pop-punk revival bands like Man Overboard and The Wonder Years. Even from the first track, you can tell that this is a band that draws inspiration from the pop-punk of the 90’s. Hell, it even has an X-Files soundbite in it. It’s 90’s through and through.

The entire album seems like it would be right at home on a mixtape with MxPx, Blink-182, and even early Green Day. It’s fun, it’s upbeat, and it’s definitely a style that seems to have fallen out of mainstream tastes as of late. This sort of pop punk has been lacking, and it’s nice to see indie bands like The Havok on Polaris picking up the slack. Steady drum beats create the base for layers of bass and guitars, and melodic vocals and harmonies create a remarkably solid album, especially for the band’s debut.

From a musical standpoint, the album continues the trend of being like old nineties punk. The album title, Fan Dance Party, really is quite fitting. The songs are almost all upbeat and catchy tunes based on solid riffs, with music that’s easy enough to pick up and enjoy.

Fan Dance Party is competent and catchy, but lacking a something. It’s perfectly serviceable and downright enjoyable, but the 24-track album seems like it’s trying to hash out as many songs as possible, regardless their originality and substance. Honestly, this is the only flaw the album seems to have. While it’s clear that The Havok on Polaris is aspiring to match the charged energy and upbeat style of the bands it clearly draws inspiration from, along the way it loses some cohesion. One minute it sounds like NOFX, the next it sounds like early Sum 41. While this isn’t exactly a flaw (and fans of these bands will find it appealing), it means that the band fails to establish any sort of unique identity.

Though really, it might be enough to just emulate the style of bands that have since moved on. Those aching for the days when Blink-182 didn’t use keyboards and synthesizers (looking at you, Neighborhoods), then this is the album for you. It’s a matter of personal taste, but this definitely deserves a listen to anyone that was around for the heyday of mainstream skate punk. It’s a solid album that’s incredibly enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing more from The Havok on Polaris.

Fortunately, if you’re interested, the band is streaming their new album (and their old EPs) here.

Review: Hesitant Alien

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tumblr_inline_nafkx3F4fH1qzxlbnHesitant Alien marks the first studio release for Gerard Way after his former band, My Chemical Romance, split up last year. I’m just going to get this out of the way now: it’s nothing like you’ve heard from Way ever before. This is a bold statement, considering his own band stretched across genres and encompassed punk, emo, and even pop music. Hesitant Alien stands as a bold and interesting debut, and is worth a listen for even those who scoffed at My Chemical Romance’s theatrical antics.

If you had to pin a genre to this album, it’d probably be glam-rock, or maybe even post-punk. It’s certainly taken in influences from acts from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s much more than it has taken in influences from modern music. This includes Way’s own previous songs. In contrast to his old music, Hesitant Alien seems to go out of its way to appear underground, noisy, and vibrant. Deluxe editions of the CD even came with promotional zines. While it’s tempting to call this out as a half-hearted attempt to reach out to a new audience, the surprising thing is that it sort of works. Hesitant Alien does enough new things that it not only distinguishes itself from Way’s past work, but it stands on it’s own as a solid album.

Enough about what it is compared to other things. The album on it’s own is worth a look at. It’s a noisy and chaotic love letter to Britpop and a host of other musical styles that are hashed together that creates an interesting sound. You’d honestly be hard-pressed to find anything to compare this album to. While it isn’t the reinvention of a genre or the creation of a new one, it does enough new things that it’s hard to compress it down into a category. Tracks like “How’s It Going to Be” feature keyboard and synthesizer solos, and “Get the Gang Together” ends with a horn section. It’s verging on eclectic.

While this could make it seem all over the place, the entire album manages to capture some sort of feel. What exactly that feel is is kind of hard to quantify, but it’s certainly interesting. This album isn’t here for dramatic theatrics, poetic lyrics, or even catchy choruses. It’s like Way took all of the genres he likes and smashed them together in a blender. What came out is Hesitant Alien. It’s an interesting album, and is certainly worth a listen. A word of advice, however: don’t go into it with any expectations at all. It’s not something that can be conventionally categorized, for better or worse. It can come off as hip and interesting, or as a cacophony of discord and noise-rock.

Review: All You Can Do

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All_You_Can_Do_Album_CoverFor George Watsky, poet-turned-rapper, the strange is pretty much par for the course. So it really shouldn’t be surprised that he’s released another full-length album less than a year after his previous one. Cardboard Castles was a solid album that passed under the radar for a lot of people, which is a shame because it’s really incredible. Watsky’s established style of rapping and poetry intermixing shone out much clearer than it did on his first self-titled album, and All You Can Do seeks to be a continuation of that. While it falls a little short, it’s still a solid effort, especially given the time it took to make it.

Watsky has never been one to shy away from more serious subjects, and All You Can Do is no exception. While previous outings had him taking on subjects like racism, gentrification, and the state of the world in general, this new album has more of a tighter focus. The cover, his father Paul Watsky, exemplifies this, with the whole album keeping ties to more personal themes. Tracks like “Tears to Diamonds” explore his struggles with epilepsy and prescription medication, and even sillier songs like “Woah Woah Woah” still keep ties to themes like proving wrong those that doubt you.

Musically, All You Can Do feels a little less cohesive than Cardboard Castles. While it’s a good album, it falls into the trappings of sounding like a collection of singles rather than a complete album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and it still features some stellar instrumental parts, particularly with the instrumental outro of Cannonball”. Other stand-out tracks include the melodically somber “Sarajevo” and the single “Ink Don’t Bleed”. Sadly, there seems to be an omission of the more poetry-centric songs that have been present. It’s a hit-or-miss change for most people, but All You Can Do has a much greater focus on musicality and rap, at the expensive of poetry.

All You Can Do is a solid album. While it doesn’t quite match up to last year’s album, it’s a great listen for fans and newcomers alike.

Review: Get Hurt

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Gaslight-Anthem-Get-HurtThe Gaslight Anthem is nothing if not ambitious. The New Jersey heartland rockers have made it no secret that they aspire to be something of a successor to Bruce Springsteen and his trademark brand of Americana rock ‘n roll. The four-man lineup certainly has the aspirations, but Get Hurt, coming out just two years after their previous effort Handwritten, puts this idea to the test.

Frontman Brian Fallon claimed that Get Hurt would be “completely different” from anything the band has done before, citing influences from Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam, of all groups. At first, that actually seems to be the case. The opening track, “Stay Vicious” is dripping with a grungy and heavier sound than the band has attempted before. From a band with such a consistent sound, it was genuinely surprising to hear. From there, the album seems to meander back and forth between rollicking rock anthems that seem true to Fallon’s promise and songs that are, well, more Gaslight Anthem.

This certainly isn’t a bad thing, particularly for fans of the band. Even at their worst, Gaslight Anthem can still put together some compelling heartland rock that does generally nail the blue-collar blues that seem to be the band’s modus operandi. The songs are still fairly solid, especially when they delve into a more hard-rock sound on songs like “Stay Vicious”, “Stray Paper”, and “Ain’t That a Shame”. It’s a pity that the band never seems able to truly break away from their previous sound, especially in light of the claims the band made prior to Get Hurt‘s release. Despite the claims that the band changed their sound, this is the same as ever.

If you take anything away from this review, don’t take away that Get Hurt is a bad album. It’s certainly solid, but it’s not a game-changer. It won’t convert new fans, and it won’t turn off old fans. It’s Gaslight Anthem, through and through. Which means it’s a menagerie of blue-collar anthems and bluesy rock tracks that are a joy to listen to, even if it isn’t quite a departure from what the band has put out in the past.

Update: 8/25/2014

Hello! So those of you who still check this blog may have noticed an absence of posts in recent months. My hiatus is now over, and with the onset of fall comes some changes to TheIndieCritic! Namely, some changes to the structure of this blog and the regularity of posts. The main change is an actual structure!
Previously, posts were made as albums or news came out. This obviously is difficult to maintain, as release dates often coincide with each other, and news can come out at any time. So now, there’s going to be an actual weekly schedule to posts! (Though news will still be posted as necessary!) The weekly schedule will look something like this:

Monday: What We’re Listening To updates. Three new songs a week, with all previous weeks still appearing on TheIndieCritic Spotify channel!
Wednesday: Reviews! This will include a current release, and during periods of time when releases are slow, any backlog of new albums or old albums will be reviewed.

News, of course, will still be posted as necessary.

Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned for future posts!

Pink Floyd to release first album in twenty years

The venerable British rock band Pink Floyd has announced a new album. The album, titled “The Endless River”, is due out in October, twenty years after their previous release, “The Division Bell”. The new album will feature music recorded during the sessions for “Division”, so keyboardist Richard Wright will appear on the album despite his death in 2008.
The new album, which will consist entirely of unreleased songs, was confirmed by David Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson on Twitter, and a representative for Gilmour confirmed it with Rolling Stone.

Needless to say, this is huge news. There is no news of Roger Waters’ involvement, but original members David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason are all due to appear on the album, as well as singer Durga McBroom-Hudson, who toured with the band in the eighties and nineties.