Sunday, January 27, 2008

If I Had My Own World ... I'd Build You An Empire ...

As on their debut album, Angels and Airwaves (AVA) continue the epic emo-infused U2 style rock anthems on their sophomore release "I-Empire". Being a fan, although not a rabid one, I was unawares of this new album, until I saw it in the local record store. I was immediately intrigued, but sampled it first to avoid being burned by the crappy follow-up syndrome that can plague mainstream bands. I was not disappointed. In fact this album is a step forward and perhaps more grand.

I only needed to hear the opening anthem "Call To Arms" to be sold on this album. It kicks off the album with their signature keys and thunderous drums intertwined with some electronics only to blow me away with an upliftingly moving anthem. The melody is uber catchy and one of their most emotionally impacting songs. While I don't want to suggest the album is all downhill from here, I will say this is my favourite song on this album and altogether by this band.

"Sirens" is another uplifting energetic song with a bright melody. "Secret Crowds" which falls just shy of my favourite song is a Box Car Racer influenced song whose biting guitar riff exposes the wounded hopefulness in this majestically rousing Anthem. And I just love the bells used in the chorus.

"Rite Of Spring" is another emotional punching bag and probably the most personally raw song Tom Delonge has ever wrote. It has a killer classic rock riff while retaining the melodic and passionate conviction AVA is famous for. "Everything's Magic" is an upbeat, fun and energetic song layered with emotional melodies.

The U2 influence is still present, but is more diluted by AVA's ever-growing unique sound. The album's closer "Heaven" uses the faster, upbeat influence mixed with Blink-like guitar riffs to create a whole new sound although never sounding out of place. "Love Like Rockets" is one of the only songs to feature the spacey-sound effects and electronic sounds that spotted their debut, but used minimally here. It's a thunderously upbeat song with U2 nods.

The electronics are used mainly on the short instrumentals that lead into a couple songs. "Star Of Bethlehem" is a Floyd-ian influenced spacey piece that seamlessly transitions into "True Love". "Jumping Rooftops" electronic technoy beat and familiar keyboard melody leads us into "Rite Of Spring".

"Breathe" is a slower moving piece with what I feel are Peter Gabriel like influences. An airy anthem full of passion. "True Love" builds slowly into a poppy upbeat and hopeful tune. A fun song. "Lifeline" is a stirring uplifting anthem with versatile vocal work by Tom, some of his best I might add.

Angels and Airwaves have delivered again with "I-Empire"s anthemic rock masterpiece that has overtaken a consistent listening position in my regular CD rotation. I'm blown away by the emotionally powerful music that Angels and Airwaves consistently produces. It's everything I've loved about Blink 182 and Box Car Racer and enhanced with influences of some of rocks greatest innovators.

You can't miss their influences, but the band blends them together into one of the more original sounding music I've heard. I just hope they can keep up this kind of caliber. With Tom's track record, I'm not that worried just as long as the "we're making rock n roll history" egotism doesn't sour it.

Up next I'll be heading back to The Metal with a review of funeral doom bands starting with Ahab followed by Catacombs.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Little Death Makes Life More Meaningful

+44 is the band that Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 formed after the disbanding of Blink in 2005. Their name is taken from the UK international area code where Mark and Travis first discussed the project. After finding the rest of the members guitarists Craig Fairbough and Shane Gallagher the band began writing and recording and released "When Your Heart Stops Beating" in fall of 2006.

Of course, being a Blink 182 fan and thoroughly enjoying Angels & Airwaves, I was curious to what direction the other 2/3 rds of Blink were taking musically. What we have here is more pop then punk and more alternative sound with obvious Blink melodies with a touch of Cars style rock at times. Just a bit.

Honestly, the album grows on you, but at first it never really stuck with me the way Angels and Airwaves did. The music is more like newer Sum 41 with more mature lyrics and a reflective atmosphere.

The album starts off with the punky "Lycanthrope" which is like their Blink sound and is hooky with a catchy melody. The title track is punk infused rock with heavy keys influence, as is "Cliff Diving" which adds a sunny poppier beat.

"Baby Come On" slows things down and is very much like "Story Of A Lonely Guy" and "Stay Together For The Kids" in their Blink days. It's a sing a long that is reflective and vivid. "155" is the Cars like song mainly due to the keyboards. It's melodic and rocky, with a pop chorus. The acoustically enhanced version bonus track is essentially the same only with more acoustic.

"Little Death" has an Everlast sound with the rap. Mark's vocals are deep and electronic and monotone until the chorus where he belts it out. "Lillian" is an acoustic driven piece that is passionate and poetic. A nice ballad and one of the strongest songs here.

"No, It Isn't" is a response to the demise of Blink 182 and is a spitfire of those who feel burned. It's darker and bitter with lyrics like ~This isn't just goodbye, this is I can't stand you ~. It's aggressive and sharp with an early Blink punk style to it. Irony?

Victoria Asher makes a guest appearance on "Make You Smile" which reminds me of Straylight Run's "Tool Sheds And Hot Tubs". It has a dancy beat and poppy sound. Not a bad song, but a little out of place.

My favourite song is "Chapter 13" the album closer. It's uber catchy and anthemic alternative style guitars. The vocals are nice and the song is passionate and full of conviction.

Upon further listening of this album, I've come to appreciate the songs and realize it's more then the generic pop/post punk album I originally labelled it. It's not an album I dig out a lot and frankly I'd tend to pick up Angels & Airwaves more. But if A&A annoys you and your longing for a more Blink influenced post punk band +44 have put together a beautiful collection of songs and honestly, with a lot less pretentiousness.

Up next, I'll complete this Blink 182 retrospective with Angels & Airwaves second release, and following that I'll be heading back into some extreme metal reviews with write ups on Ahab and Catacombs to kick it off.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

If Loves A Word That You Say. Say It, I Will Listen

During Blink 182's 2005 hiatus, Tom Delonge hid himself away to write and record "We Don't Need To Whisper" with his fellow Angels And Airwaves band mates in his home studio. At this point Blink 182 was done, the rest of the band just didn't know that at the time.

During my research while writing these reviews on Blink and such, I've concluded that Tom Delonge quite possibly may just be a self-absorbed prick. That, or perhaps a musician who has outgrew his current band, but didn't want to leave. However, he was overflowing with melodies that just didn't fit with said current group.

I don't know. Perhaps Box Car Racer was an attempt to satisfy those creative urges without alienating Blink fans, but back-fired. And perhaps the last Blink 182 album was an attempt to compromise, but created an inconsistent body of work. Who knows except those involved and honestly I don't care (though it is a hot debate over the Internet). What I do know is that Blink is ca put leaving fans with a delicious catalogue of pop/punk gems and those members have split into completely different directions.

I'll start today with Angels And Airwaves since they hit the stores first. So what did Tom accomplish while locked away from the medias attention during 2005. Putting together one of the best albums I've ever heard. I remember hearing a song on a work radio and thinking, oooh Blink 182 has a new album out! (This was before I heard any of the hiatus controversy).

After discovering it wasn't Blink, I went to the record store to check it out Tom's new band. What I heard was a post punk/emo sound that was instantly hooky and memorable. Angels And Airwaves sound blends Box Car Racer with early U2 and space-influenced electronics and effects. What this created was a huge rock sound packed full of emotion and performed with conviction.

"We Don't Need To Whisper" begins its odyssey with "Valkryie Missile" whose ambient space themed intro opens into a U2 inspired rock anthem that's rousing and moving. The first single "The Adventure" continues the U2 inspired guitar work with an upbeat and uplifting song that's catchy and anthemic. "The Gift" which is one of my favourites is similar, yet more moving and passionate and resonates through your soul.

The Box Car Racer influence can heard on "Do It For Me Now" which is rhythmic with airy keyboards and a slower melody. "The War" is probably the rockiest song here with a biting riff that leads into an acoustic march-infused anthem with stellar drums and Tom's Soaring vocals. A truly inspiring song full of conviction. "Start The Machine" continues the Box Car sound with the clinking toy keyboards reminiscent of Box Car's "Instrumental". It's a powerful song that builds into a passionate crescendo blending all their influences into the album closer.

"It Hurts" is an upbeat tune that hammers home an emotional punch about relationships with Tom's signature poetic narrative lyrics. "Good Day" is a slow build with some nice keyboards into a thunderous passionate anthem.

Though I'd say that "Start The Machine" is probably the best song here, the one that I turn to on a regular basis is "Distraction". It's super simple and catchy keyboards and powerful drums create a moving melody both emotionally resonant and sing a long-like. It reeks of relevance as it jumps into a hypnotically crushing chorus. A delightful tune that I can't shake from my head.

Angels And Airwaves to me, is the very definition of post punk emo. Their sound is original and thematic without sacrificing melody or commercial appeal. They blend styles faithfully creating a unique listening experience. One of the complaints I've read is that the songs all sound the same (which I disagree with) However, there is a conceptual theme both musically and lyrically that was fully intentional.

If you ask me, this is something special (perhaps not world changing as Tom would have us think) but certainly a damned good rock album. Despite whatever opinion people have of Tom Delonge (D**khead or Misunderstood) he can write some great music and I plan on continuing to following his career closely.

Up next I'll take a look at the other 2/3 of Blink 182 and their new project +44.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Blink Car Racer

After the bands 2 year hiatus they got together to record a self titled album and the bands last outing. I imagine this is what the band would have put out if Box Car Racer included Mark Hoppus. You can hear the song writing styles of both throughout this album as it's becoming more prominent that their preferences were changing. We no longer have the consistent sound of say "Dude Ranch" and "Enema Of The State", but more of a compromise of songs.

Here we see the band drop all potty humour and stick with a more mature sound both lyrically and musically. I honestly liked this direction the band was taking. How long could they continue singing about masturbation and poo. In fact, only now are Canadian pop/punkers Sum 41 growing into maturity and I'm digging their last couple of releases. After this post I'll be reviewing both Tom Delonge's and Mark Hoppus/Travis Barker's new bands.

This album starts off with the pop/punky "Feeling This" which is moving and shows some nice production styles. It's hooky with Box Car Racer sensibilities. Box Car Racer is present on tracks like "I Miss You" whose acoustic melody is deliciously repetitive as is "All Of This" which features Robert Smith from the Cure as guest vocals. A sombre gothy tune that's haunting.

"Always" features heavy use of keyboards and is more pop then punk and the album closer "I'm Lost Without You" is a slower melodic ballad with a melancholic epicness and a nice drum solo to end it all.

Blink 182's signature sound is not completely lost and I feel this is strongly influenced by Mark Hoppus on songs like "Easy Target", "Go", "Here's Your Letter" and "Asthenia". "Go" and "Easy Target" are fast and aggressive without sacrificing melody or hooks. After a space sound effect intro "Asthenia" is a pop/punk gem which throws back to an"Enema Of The State" style.

The band experiments on tracks like "Violence" which is a funky pop/punk piece that transitions into "Stockholm Syndrome" with a narrative reading of letters written during WWII. The woman is passionate and the simple piano melody create a heartbreaking atmosphere. A very nice bit. "Stockholm Syndrome" is an aggressive punk tune with piano interludes ("Violence" melodies) and some classic dual vocals by Mark and Tom.

"Down"s sombre aggression is uber catchy and has a nice uplifting chorus. "The Fallen Interlude" is the strangest song here. It is a Pink Floyd-ian influenced funk piece with some fine drum work and atmospheric guitars. It's an interesting song which feels a little out of place.

My favourite tracks are the acoustic pieces "I Miss You" and the Cure induced "All Of This", but "Down" is a great song as is "Feeling This". This is not the Blink album I reach for a lot (Dude Ranch and Enema Of The State are my favourites) but I can respect the direction the band was taking. While not completely abandoning their roots, but maturing both emotionally and musically.

It's a shame we won't be getting anymore Blink 182 releases, but as I said, the last couple releases have felt split musically and inconsistent. That said, over the next couple weeks I'll finish this Blink 182 retrospective with Mark and Travis's +44 album and Tom's Angels And Airwaves. +44 is a decent release, but Angels And Airwaves have been on my play lists consistently for over a year with 2 solid releases.

This is coming up next.