Scene and Heard – CCCXXXIII : Head vs. Heart  – Dreams of Vertigo (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

UnknownHead vs Heart was the second single from the bands Reject University, Pt.1: Freshman 15, so it isn’t exactly new but it was a milestone in the band’s story and if for no other reason than it is a cracker of a song, it’s worth taking another look at. With MxPx front man Mike Herrera contributing vocals and the hallmark vibrancy, energy and drive of the band pilling in behind, the track really gets to the heart of the west coast, pop-punk sound.

And if you think that means a simplistic three chord thrash and an undignified charge to get to the end of the song then think again as Head vs. Heart is a great blend of primal energy and deft song crafting. Yes it drives on a straight out punk vibe but it is how you dress things up that makes you stand out and Dreams of Vertigo are masters at wrapping their songs in clever break downs and powerful crescendos, soaring, white hot riffs and intricate back beats and pulsing bass lines. The result is something that is direct but far from simple, a balance of instant musical gratification and a song that stands up to repeated plays. 

Pop punk often gets a bad name for its frat boy, back to basics image but Dreams of Vertigo prove that there can be a lot more to the genre. Hopefully songs like Head vs. Heart will act as a kind of template, setting a benchmark and forcing some of the also-ran bands to up their game. You can only hope.

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Rad Science  – Eleventyseven (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22860073_10159511871290223_3324345195166671554_oF. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there were no second acts in American lives. He also said a bit about trombone players and jazz music. He also predicted that pop-punk has had its day. Maybe. He was wrong about a lot of it. Eleventyseven are not only back after a three year hiatus, with a new album, but Rad Science is their fifth to date and their first on their own label. This feels very much like a second act to me and pop-punk certainly isn’t dead, it just needed a bit of a polish, a re-tune and is ready for another spin round the block, leaving tyre tracks on the street and the smell of burning in the air and Eleventyseven have proven to be just the people for the job.

But enough of the tenuous car analogies. The band’s chosen moniker for their music is neon-punk and as journalistic labels go it is pretty much spot on capturing their blend of vibrant pop sensibility and punk energy, old-school guitar muscle and cutting edge electronic futurism and Rad Science is neat slice of sassy accessibility and clever genre-splicing.

Holding Out, the current single, leans heavily on the EDM side of their signature sound, weaving together dance vibes and big choruses, a surefire winner with the dancefloor set and compare this with the slick but visceral punk urges of opening salvo New Rock Bottom and you have an idea of the limits of the territory that the band work in. And these limits are wide enough to encompass Kicking The Habit’s futuristic electro-rock, Inside Out’s skittering pop, the hat tip to pop-punk past of New York Minute and the more balladic dance grooves of Microchip.

It’s safe to say that there is plenty going on here, but then again this is a band which has more than earned their stripes, know a thing or two about writing songs which are both commercial and immediate but which also appeal to a more discerning musical palette, and who are about to embark on a really exciting second act. F. Scott who?

New Music of the Day – CLXIV: You and Me – A New Nowhere

15871550_1249568881766080_2358423345234716353_nThere was a point just before the music kicked in that I had a few doubts about what was going to follow. Rock dude wandering through the forest, Donnie Darko-esque creepy, out of context rabbit suit, the distant clattering of drums…cliché classic rock can only be a few seconds away. It was great then when something more nuanced kicked in. It definitely still falls squarely into a rock oeuvre but sometimes it is as much about the journey as the destination and here the direction of travel seems to have taken the band through some punk, grunge and indie detours rather than just having circled the rock heartland. And it is that cross-contamination and musical gene splicing which allows evolution to happen, especially where music is concerned.

As a result the riffs are crisp and melodic, the vocals accessible rather than merely aggressive, the intricacies within the song are relevant rather than the pointless showboating that the genre is prone too. It may not be kicking down barricades and marching into unknown musical territories but then again what’s wrong with just being damned good at your job? Nothing, that’s what!

Iktelan – Zoo Harmonics (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

coverIf you chose to see 2014’s Business in the Front, Party in the Back as a mission statement, that pop-punk can be cleverer and more demanding of itself, then you will also see Iktelan as nothing short of delivering on the promises laid down in that declaration. And although the beats and grooves of what that genre does best, do raise their head from time to time, it does so seemingly only to rip the torch from the beer-soaked hands of the stereotypical image of a skateboarding American man-children in big shorts. Having done so it then wanders off to explore some wonderful new musical territory and that is where the fun really starts.

At its most boisterous the album still uses the primary colours and cartoon effects of the punk oeuvre to paint its soundscapes, but it is when they subtly wash and blend those hues, employ the light and shade of alt-rock, the pay off of pop sensibilities and the accessibility of slick rock melody, that they really start shaping their own world. And what a great world it is, one of high-jinx and high drama, broad strokes and fine detail, staccato punches and fluid movements. Just consider how many generic hops there are between the bounce and groove of Moving Ridge and the plaintive piano that cocoons Boy Named Crow to see how far they are prepared to venture musically.

Whilst many sections of the rock establishment are content to build ever tighter generic constraints around themselves (come on metallers, 259 sub-genres is surely enough, stop it!) Zoo Harmonics fully embrace the post-genre ethic. “It’s all rock and roll to me” may be a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason, they exist because they carry some underlying truth. Once you understand that, and these guys really understand that, then the making music becomes a wild, rewarding and (best of all) unrestricted playground.

New Music of the Day – CLIV: Radio – Peter 118

12654431_746135528820816_6112175244556574472_nHaving been championed by tastemakers across the globe from Vive The Rock in the UK to LA’s KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, it isn’t hard to see the appeal of Peter 118’s latest single. Peter Field takes the punk swagger of his previous bands, Senseless and Ambassadors of Shalom, and welds it on to some gloriously direct, fist in the air, sing-along melodies to create the sound of his new musical vehicle.

Okay, it might not be clever, but it is big and in the pop punk playing field that they now position themselves that is all that matters. If you want something deep and meaningful to reflect on and analyse, then you need to look elsewhere. If, however, you want an adrenaline rush of spiky melodies, raucous, rabble rousing vocals and football terrace pop-chants, Peter 118 are the go to guys.

Cupcake Diaz & The Felt Tip Pens (e.p.) – Cupcake Diaz & The Felt Tip Pens (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13900343_1066118116759487_992033916290305697_nI got to see the band in all its glory before hearing this recently recorded E.P: I’m not sure if that is the equivalent of seeing the film before reading the book or the other way around. Still, in the musical world I don’t think it matters quite so much and probably doesn’t lead to the equivalent of American Literature students stalking Baz Luhrmann with sawn-off blog sites for what he did to The Great Gatsby.

 

What I will say though is that having seen the band live I was intrigued to see just how they were going to capture the live energy they employ whilst on stage. In fact I’m still not sure how they did it, but it is there hardwired into the digital information of the CD, the snotty attitude, the CBGB’s punk/new wave swagger, 90’s college rock alternative vibe as well as their own home grown musical DNA.

 

Yes, it’s punk, well a sort of indie-punk, closer to the fun, cleaner-limbed and sleeker lined early days before the fickle hand of fashion took over and there is more than a touch of The Slits at work here, especially around the vocals of Cupcake Diaz (assuming function follows form and the titular Diaz is the bass-wielding, hair bunched rock chick at the front of the band…I may be wrong as it isn’t properly explained.) And if still using the term punk is a bit retrospective, I prefer to think of them as ahead of the next curve in the repetitive cycle of musical possibility, and that what ever its similarities to classic references from the past, we need to find a new generic name for bands forging through such pastures.

 

But for all the references of yore (or mine for that matter) it is all about making music for all the right reasons. It is fun and forceful, it is pop aware without going for the obvious commercial short cuts, it is in your face without reeking of testosterone and it is melodic but in a punchy, staccato and non-conformist sort of way.

 

I would love to be able to call it pop-punk, as that really is the two main components at work here, one subverting the form whilst the other tries to keep it more palatable, but that label has been stolen by American bores in long shorts trying to pretend they are wacky college loser subversives as they sign the paperwork on their next Beverly Hills mansion. I guess the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter what we call what ever it is that Cupcake Diaz and the Felt Tip Pens do, just as long as they keep on doing it.

 

 

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