Tag Archives: Album Review

[AltWire Review] Fastball celebrates 20th anniversary with ‘Step Into Light’

Even though it's been 20 years since their debut album, they can still rock it.

When someone mentions the band Fastball, I’m sure the first thing that pops into anyone’s head is their 1998 hit single “The Way,” from their breakthrough album All The Pain Money Can Buy.

Since then, the group has been putting out albums and singles with their latest, Step Into Light, being released May 19 on the band’s own label, 33 ⅓ Records. This album shows that, even though it’s been over 20 years since their first album was released, these guys can still put out something solid.

“We aren’t much of a concept-album type band,” Fastball vocalist/bassist Tony Scalzo told AltWire in an interview. “We build our albums song by song, and there was a batch of songs that we had together for this album, and most of them made it onto this record and some of them didn’t.”

The album opens with “We’re On Our Way,” which is made up of a groovy, catchy guitar riff that works well over a steady beat. This track works well to set up the rest of the album, which is filled with all sorts of diverse sounds.

The second track on the album, “Best Friend,” is a pretty self-explanatory album talking about the endless possibilities and magic of having – or being – someone’s best friend. Tony Scalzo’s voice during the chorus gives it sort of an ‘80s synth-rock sound that works well over the steady rhythm.

Moving on, “I Will Never Let You Down” is a cool, groovy-sounding pop rock tune about not letting someone down. I feel like I can really relate to the lyrics of the chorus: “I’m not too pretty once you reach the nitty-gritty / I’m not the nicest guy in town / I might forget what I say, but at the end of the day / I will never let you down.”

The title track, “Step Into The Light,” comes in the middle of the album. It’s a slower song that, according to Scalzo, is a “self-reflection type song where you start thinking ‘Maybe I don’t need all this stuff that I thought I needed back when I was younger.’”

“I think it just means trimming the fat,” Scalzo said. “As older men, I think that we value things that we never thought we would back when we were young rock-and-rollers. We’re middle-aged rock-and-rollers now, with a lot more perspective on life.”

Another standout on the album is “Secret Agent Love:” A fun, upbeat song about secretly falling in love. The last track on the album, “French And The punk,” starts off with a beautiful guitar riff. When Zuniga comes in with his deep voice, the track begins to sound like something my parents would have listened to on their old record player.

“Musically, it’s a great departure from the rest of the record,” Scalzo said. “I think that’s awesome. It’s got a sort of light-hearted, almost like a scene from a movie, with made-up characters.”

It’s been eight years since Fastball put out an album, until now. Step Into Light is a great follow-up to All The Pain Money Can Buy, sporting a diverse range of fun, groovy tracks. The album is in stores May 19.

Fastball is currently on tour with Everclear and Vertical Horizon. For a list of tour dates, visit www.fastballtheband.com, and check back for our full interview with Tony Scalzo.

Album Review: The Ivins – “The Code Duello”

The Ivins will release their debut album, "The Code Duello," on April 28.

The Code Duello is the debut full-length album by Jack and Jim Ivins, also known as The Ivins.

The first single from The Code Duello titled “Stockholm Syndrome,” tells the story of living through an emotionally damaging relationship. The track has an awesome, raunchy bass line and fast drumming (think late-90’s or early-00’s grunge music) under a cool falsetto voice.

One stand-out track on the album, “Tell Me,” is the story of a plane crash Jim Ivins was almost in on the way back from a weekend of college visits as a teenager. The track is everything he was thinking on the plane:, everything from the love he never found (“I couldn’t tell the wife I never had goodbye”) to thoughts of his own mortality.

Musically, “Tell Me” has a groovy bass track and an almost-jazz guitar sound with soft drumming that makes the depressing content almost sound upbeat.

The only love song on the album, “Roam The World,” sounds about as far from a love song as you can imagine. The song has a very Alice In Chains sound, with multi-part harmonies set over heavy guitars.

During an interview with Altwire, singer/guitarist Jim Ivins said the term “immediate” was used quite frequently during the production of the album. Most of the tracks on the album are under three minutes long. This leads to one of the drawbacks of the album: It goes by really quickly, and after a short while, all of the tracks sort of seem to mesh together. If it weren’t for the break between songs, I would have had a hard time keeping up.

The Code Duello will be released on April 28. In anticipation, Jim Ivins has been offering followers an inside look into several of their tracks in a blog he calls the “’Cracking The Code’ Diaries,” which can be found on their website at www.theivins.com.

Related: After “Music Industry Nonsense,” The Ivins Prepare To Release New Album

[Album Review] Falling In Reverse releases “Coming Home”

Growing up, Falling In Reverse frontman Ronnie Radke (formerly of Escape The Fate) taught himself to play guitar with Blink-182 and Green Day songs while rapping along to Eminem and Dr. Dre. He skipped school and went to shows, doing whatever it took to make a life outside of the hardships of his upbringing.

Coming Home is the album Radke always wanted to make. Unfortunately, his on and off-stage antics have landed him in trouble on more occasions than I’d like to count. He channels a lot of this energy into the tracks on this album.

The album begins with a space-rockish title track. The track is something you might expect from a Starset single, complete with voiceovers that discuss communications and self-destruct systems.

This space-rock vibe carries on throughout the album, with pretty, polished synths overlaying the raunchy guitars and fast, steady drums. We don’t hear the normal heavy guitars and double-pedal drums until the later tracks in the album, and the fast rock-rapping we’ve seen on past Falling In Reverse albums is almost non-existent.

The earlier tracks on the album seem to want to tell a story: Growing older, losing friends and loves, feeling out of place, getting in trouble. Towards the end of the album, whatever story was being told seems to have been abandoned.

Coming Home has been advertised as the bands “mature” album. Sonically, the album is tight: The instrumentation is incredibly clean, with heavy layers of production and heavy synths. The maturity of the album helps to overshadow the douchebag-rockstar persona and illegal antics that have seemed to follow Radke since his early days with Escape The Fate.

Lyrically, the highlight of this album is the second to last track, “I Don’t Mind.” The verses show a vulnerable Radke saying that he’s worried about turning into his mother. His addictions are similar to hers, and at one point, he admits that he’s morally unjust and will always be remembered for his antics and discretions rather than the good he’s done and the positive actions he makes. Unfortunately, the blandness of the chorus drags down the emotion of the verses.

Unfortunately, as other reviews have pointed out, most of the lyrical aspect of the album really are the downfall. Radke has such a distinguishable voice, and when he nails a good lyric I want to jump up and shout, but a lot what he uses on this album seems to repeat the angry “I hate my friends” or “I hate the world” mantra. He uses a wide vocal range, but when he goes into his pitched screams, the cleanliness of the music seems to dissipate.

Overall, I enjoyed the album. The tight-knit instrumentals and heavy, produced synths work well to show how the band has grown and matured since their earlier albums, although there’s still improvements to be made.

At the end of the day, if Coming Home is the album Ronnie Radke dreamed about making as a kid, I would say it was worth the wait.

Album Review: Cold War Kids – LA Divine

Review by Liz Pena

Cold War Kids have delivered a broad social awareness and a deep personal honesty on their new record LA Divine. The album is a combination of pained ballads, experimental weirdness, and motivated anthems. Through this, they create a successful balance between political commentary and internal monologue. This music is human and real and sure to thrive in front of audiences.

Cold War Kids have always relied on a combination of brassy, slurred crooning and emotional falsetto on their vocals and for the majority of this album, they maintain that sound. Group vocals, energetic doo-wops, and wandering ooh-oohs are added throughout to create different effects. On “Free to Breathe,” the vocals are smooth, clean, and something we really have not heard much of from the band in the past. This track closes the record like an enchanted disappearing act. It contrasts these smooth, clean vocals and simple instrumentation with an almost feminine falsetto, perhaps the hauntings of lost love.

While one through line of the record is filled with longing and romance, there is also a relevant socio-political side to LA Divine. This is embraced in a subtle way on motivated anthems like “Can We Hang On” and “Ordinary Idols” but it is most clear on the tongue in cheek, experimental “Wilshire Protest.” The track is primarily spoken word – sarcastic, freeform poetry mocking the pseudo-enlightened. The statement is aware and direct, but not overt. They embrace the challenge of finding a place for meaning and intellect in our world in a interestingly punk way.

Experimental tracks are a significant part of the record as it carries on. “Part of the Night” yoyos pitch and emotion while “La River” spins fuzzy distorted noise backwards. “Cameras Always On” is a short, dreamy, vintage piano short that shows a real artistic vision in the flow of the record.

Weird works, but there is also some highly appealing pop hits on LA Divine. “Love is Mystical” opens the record with scream from the rooftops, impassioned romance and instinctive invincibility. They cry out about the “power to believe again,” something we all crave sometimes. “Restless” has a radio-friendly sound similar to hits by artists such as Sam Smith. There is a structured but anguished feel to this slow dance of a song that will reverberate with listeners.

Overall, the record has the most youthful, genuine sound we have heard from Cold War Kids and it has two different types of appeal. There is the lighters-in-the-air, sing-a-long energy that will make this record work on tour but also a developed and forward-thinking sound that creates radio magic. Hopefully this is a new direction for the band as they move into future production. Check out the record and let us know what YOU think.

Album Review: Born Ruffians – RUFF

I like Born Ruffians. I’m a huge fan of the sweet lyrics and soft, carefree guitar and harmonica in “Little Garçon” from their first album Red, Yellow & Blue. By their third album, Birthmarks, I thought they had really found their sound, and I was excited to see what two years would allow them to do: they had the formula for catchy indie pop down, what was next?

On their new album, RUFF, the Born Ruffians have certainly emphasized a different side of them. The album is rough, and not in the way I think they wanted it to be. Their ‘grungier,’ more altrock style just sounds crowded and more whiny. The melodies found on Birthmarks (“Needle” anyone?) are nowhere to be found here and the bouncy beats that Birthmarks had are sucked of all their joy and regurgitated as something more grating and far less enjoyable. For instance: “When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away” sounds like I’m listening to a petty rant for four minutes.

The vocals sound forced and tired, and even if you separate this album from your prior knowledge of the band, it’s still a mediocre album at best. The vocals drag more. The lyrics are lackluster: take “Eat Shit (We Did It)” for example, or the verses on “Let Me Get it Out.” The whole thing is just something I’ve heard before. It’s not bad, it’s generic. Whatever Born Ruffians had or have that differentiates them from all the other indie rock bands out there, they’ve forgotten to put any of it on RUFF. Mostly the album just left me feeling deflated.

It’s not all bad, though. There are songs worth taking a listen to! “Don’t Live Up” is the melody and beat I expect from Born Ruffians: it’s bright and bouncy and catchy. For one of their slower, sadder songs, “Fuck Feelings” is honest and sounds anesthetized in all the right ways.

What did you think?

Album Review: Coldplay – Ghost Stories

Coldplay Cover

I’ve always been told that high expectations lead to high disappointments. Maybe I was expecting more from Coldplay’s latest album, Ghost Stories, released in May, 2014. I was expecting something different from what I’m used to and at first I was disappointed.  I’m a huge Coldplay fan & own every album. I remember when Parachutes came out; I did in fact have mix tapes from the radio with “Yellow” on them. What I failed to realize when I first popped this in was that this album is about a different journey. It took another taste of Ghost Stories to realize what this was and how brilliant it is. Fourteen years after Parachutes, Coldplay delivers an album that is crammed with emotion. Chris Martin is a genius when it comes to being able to soothe our souls with his voice. He can take us to a different reality, fix our anguish, misplace our minds for the length of the album without hesitation.

There are mixed feelings about this album from fans and critics alike, but I think we fail to realize that personally, Martin has been battling his own issues with the separation from Gwyneth Paltrow. We are traveling with him in a journey of heartache. This album incorporates his pains. His sufferings. So yes, it might be a bit somber than the overly colorful joy that was Mylo Xyloto. But bands like Coldplay have originality despite their lack of “fluff”. Their ability to have an exclusive sound yet create a dissimilar album than what they’ve crafted in the past 14 years is singular. Ghost Stories is a different side of Coldplay we have never seen before, still reminiscent of their true nature, still absolutely awesome.

ColdPlayGS

Guy Berryman, Will Champion, Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland

These ballads are still full of whimsical elegance which I believe to be a Coldplay signature. With producers such as Timbaland and Avicii we get a construct of music that is indeed full of emotion.  Tracks like “True Love”, you get the taste of Timbaland; the subtle beat boxing mixed with a hint of drums being led by Will Champion, and the cries of an elaborate orchestra, all wrapped with the tenderness of Martin’s voice: “I’ve lost you now, You Let Me Go, But One Last Time, Tell me you love me, if you don’t, then lie…” You feel the guitar’s crescendo in the core of your soul. It’s the power in the lyric as well as in the instrumentals. Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman have such a great technique with the guitar and bass. It’s engulfing. What makes Coldplay so great is that in the juxtaposition of so many elements, their albums never sound overwhelming. There are still upbeat tracks such as Skies Full of Stars, produced by Timbaland and Avicii, we first experience a lovely piano instrumental intro, EDM influences in the mixing, slowly building up, and bam! We get an explosion of creativity and a lively sound pulsating through the waves; it would be hard for listeners to not nod their head with the beat.

So this album isn’t quite what you expected. That is the beauty in Coldplay. They brought us an album that was probably difficult to create with beauty in the pain. This is why they continue to make great music fourteen years after their first studio release. So, it might not be happy, you might be a bit bummed that this album is making you bummed. Or quite possibly, this could be an album to facilitate in a tough spot. Coldplay keeps über fans like me happy and content. There are no flashy gimmicks in Ghost Stories. It’s an album of conquest. You vs. the heart.  You win.