Alternative Rock, Pop Punk, Reviews

REVIEW: Above The Mendoza – A Shoulder To Lean On But Not A Crutch

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     I’ve been slightly nostalgic recently with my Alt. Rock/Pop Punk listening habits. Discovering Above The Mendoza fit right into that mold for me. Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they have a fun little EP to rock to. Their music falls in line somewhere between The Starting Line, The Wonder Years, and earlier Brand New. I personally love all three of those bands, and to find something that is new and finds it’s place among them is a welcome surprise. As a whole, this isn’t super hard-hitting in your face Pop Punk music, but rather a more laid back melodic sing-along stylization of the genre. You will definitely feel the influence of the aforementioned bands in the guitar work and vocal melodies throughout this EP, titled “A Shoulder To Lean On But Not A Crutch”.

     A band with 3 guitar players is often something groups will under-utilize. Often times this was a complaint with The Wonder Years until their most recent album “No Closer To Heaven”, where they finally had a wonderful dynamic and melody using all three guitar players. Above The Mendoza, however, seem to have found a good balance between their three players Tyler Fernandez, and Pete & Aaron Long. The songs have a healthy mix of rhythm and leads, which is a difficult task to accomplish with so many strings in the mix. The guitar riffs and leads never seem to get too overzealous and allow the music to breathe naturally. The band’s Alternative Rock roots shine through in the especially chunky sounding rhythm sections, paying homage to bands such as Finch and Brand New.

     Speaking of rhythm, the Drums are handled by Brian Horn, and Bass Guitar by Kevin Irvine. Both players support the songs on this EP with a solid backbone. In my opinion both instruments could be a little more up front in the mix, but there are a few interesting bass lines that cut through and add a bit of depth throughout the release. The drummer makes sure the dynamic flows smoothly from song to song, and the swelling crescendos he adds in create the correct atmosphere for the music.

     Both Tyler and Pete take on singing responsibilities as well as their guitars. There are some interesting layers to the singing on this EP, with plenty of harmonies and overlaps between the two vocalists. They have very similar voices, so everything blends together nicely. Their lyrics tend to deal with what I refer to as the “quarter-life crisis” where someone in their mid-20’s is searching for their purpose and direction in life. The phrasing and lyric patterns could be a little less forced, some of the verses feel like they are trying to cram more words than necessary, creating a rushed feeling occasionally. I would also like to see the vocalists step a little bit outside of their comfort zone, as the vocal melodies sound relatively similar across songs.

     Overall, this EP is an extremely solid entry in Alternative Pop Punk. It’s not often an unsigned act creates something that stands alongside classic releases in the genre. I feel very nostalgic listening to this release, and it wraps itself cozily into my collection. Their best song on this release is, hands down, “Father Time” as it combines extremely catchy vocal melodies with very melodic and bouncing guitar lines. While “A Shoulder To Lean On But Not A Crutch” is nothing extremely groundbreaking or forward thinking, it is an incredibly strong EP with tons of promise for this band. The band is planning on a tour this summer in support of this release, and I highly recommend checking them out.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

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Melodic Hardcore, Reviews

REVIEW: Grail – Still Alive

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     It’s been quite a while since I’ve been into a Melodic Hardcore album. The last time I jammed a Melodic Hardcore release this hard was with Comeback Kid’s “Broadcasting…” in 2007. Enter Grail, from Brooklyn, New York, with their debut EP “Still Alive”. I haven’t been hooked in by flailing melodic guitar leads like this in about a decade. Everything from the meaty chords chosen by guitarists Will Wiseheart and Mark Woodbridge (ex-Driver Side Impact) to the ambient notes ringing out overhead in the heavens above have me loving every second of this EP. We’ll dive a little deeper into the guitars in a minute.

     Still Alive boasts a diverse set of songs that will either make you want to tear out your teeth and punch concrete, or sink into a cool pool of water and sink into the depths where the sunlight wanes. The band has an eagerness to their sound that shows how cohesive their writing ability is, and you can feel the ferocity of their passion for what they play. They retain a certain heaviness while circling the listener with fine-tuned melody, and they aren’t afraid to dial back when necessary.

     The vocals on this…. Oh man, these are some killer vocals. While Stason Bobo keeps a somewhat monotone style to his voice for most of the EP, he has a very gritty voice that shreds into the music and peppers it with emotion and intensity. Both guitar players offer sparse backing vocals, and they certainly mesh well with Stason’s style. His vocal patterns really compliment the guitar-work and drumming, adding a unique complexity to the rhythms you feel. His lyrics are incredibly poetic, and his rhyme schemes are exceptionally distinct from other lyricists in the genre. The grittiness and power behind Bobo’s shouting crafts these already great lyrics into bombshells of emotion and exasperation with the world.

     Andrew Riccatelli weaves his drumming into the music like a fine handcrafted Navajo blanket; full of color, passion, and patterned in just the right way that is pleasing to the eye (or in this case, the ear). His fills are timed extremely well and he knows just when to sit back a bit on the kit and let the rest of the music shine through a little brighter. He doesn’t go crazy on the kit, but the music doesn’t call for overly technical playing. His drumming drives each song forward in just such a way that I find myself constantly bobbing my head to match up with his tempo and rhythm.

     Complimented by Gary Lee Blevins on bass guitar, there are some wonderful bass lines on this record. Gary is unfortunately no longer with the band, but he left his permanent mark on this EP, and I find that to be for the better. He’s what I would describe as a pocket bassist, playing simpler bass lines that truly compliment the drummer and the rest of the music as a whole. His playing lays a solid foundation for everything else to sit neatly atop, balancing out each song with the perfect level of low end that doesn’t become overbearing or draw focus away from other aspects that the listener is focused on.

    Back to the guitars… The guitar work is absolutely incredible on this album, and it’s what really calls out to me and hooks me in. The gravelly guitar tone of the chunky rhythm strumming compliments the soaring ambient leads in just such a way you’ll be left with tunnel vision, paying more attention to the music pounding into your ears than your surroundings. I keep finding myself wanting to go back and listen to the songs again just in case there was a note I didn’t quite hear on my previous listen. There are a lot of interesting chord choices, and there are always a lot of notes melting together to form a story of their own. I personally love when guitar playing like this evokes such emotion in the listener. If it weren’t for the thickness of all the guitar parts blending together, I don’t think I would like this release as much as I do. There’s just the right amount of things going on with the guitar in these songs to really grasp onto and let yourself go along for the full ride.

     The one song that sticks out the most to me on this record is the third track, titled “Suffer”. This song features Jerry Jones from the New Jersey band Trophy Scars, in a cool little guest vocal spot. He adds a completely new element to the song with a little bit of clean singing, and it works a lot better than expected. Suffer has some slower moments that are a nice break from the more frenetic pace of other songs. This track has some of the catchier guitar riffs on Still Alive, and it’s certainly my favorite track on the EP. My favorite lyric line comes from one of the most intense parts of this song, where Stason belts out “I will put up a fight to turn this life around” just before the song sinks into a slower pace and Jerry Jones softly sings a verse, emphasizing the power those words have and embellishing their transcendental meaning.

     Still Alive is an incredible album. It released on March 21st, 2017, and I keep finding myself going back and listening to it again and again over the past 2 months. Grail is putting the “Melodic” back into Melodic Hardcore, and I’m glad I’m here to witness it. There is a bright, bright future ahead of this band if they make a push to get themselves heard, and we will certainly be following up on this band in the future and letting all of you know if there are any cool things planned for them (Tours/Radio Spots/Podcasts/New Music/Etc). If Melodic Hardcore is your thing, then this EP is a MUST have. It’s very very rare that I give out a rating this good, but…

Final Verdict: 9.5/10

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Post-Hardcore, Reviews

REVIEW: Swimmer’s Lungs – No Expectations

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This here is an interesting EP. Swimmer’s Lungs is best described as a Post-Hardcore band with heavy Emo and Screamo influence from the late 90’s and early 00’s. Hailing from Bethlehem Pennsylvania, Swimmer’s Lungs have put out one heck of a debut.

The first track, “Michael Phelps Bong Rips”, instantly pays tribute to bands such as City Of Caterpillar and Pg. 99. The dissonant melodies heard on this track and throughout the rest of the EP really have a unique flavor about them. The EP has some excellent production, and the raw sound of the recording really helps push the band’s intensity. The music is evenly balanced, using melodic guitar breaks to ease up the chaotic hardcore sections.

The vocals on this EP stand out more when the vocalist eases back from his intense shrieks and growls and lets his voice break up a bit. A lot of the more intense sections remain unintelligible, which holds back the lyrics from really resonating. The lyrics are very emotional and moving, and while the unintelligible vocal style works well for this genre of music, I personally believe the lyrics could be a lot more impactful if you could understand what was being screamed more often than not. Also, there is a really interesting clean singing section at the tail end of the song “Final Jeopardy” that opens up a new mood for the music. I would like to see a lot more singing such as this in future releases by Swimmer’s Lungs.

My favorite song on this EP is “Mondovich”, which spotlights the loss of a friend. The song mixes chaotic hardcore with soft guitar melody, and features some really emotional yelling by the vocalist. You can feel the helplessness in his voice, and the song pushes this emotion further by laying a strong musical foundation behind the lyrics.

Overall, this EP is an excellent first endeavor for Swimmer’s Lungs. It lays a strong foundation for the band to work from, and keeps the listener hooked with catchy melody. Originality is difficult to come by in today’s over-saturated underground scene, but you need look no further than Swimmer’s Lungs.

Final Verdict: 8/10

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