Review: William Ryan Key – Virtue EP

William Ryan Key - Virtue

William Ryan Key has a lengthy history of songwriting that feels intensely personal. Whether it’s his solo work or his work with Yellowcard, you can tell that he’s writing from a real place. He’s never one who will shy away from the tough subjects or extremely emotional moments. That’s something to be admired. Every now and then, I’ll listen to something mainstream on the radio and at times, it doesn’t feel like there’s much personality to it.

With Virtue, William Ryan Key is focused on the intimacy of these moments that he’s writing about. You can tell just with the lyrics that these songs really mean something to him. Even when the title track builds up to a full band sound, it doesn’t look the personal aspect to it and that’s something I love about the EP.

Earlier in the year, William Ryan Key released Thirteen and I’m glad he went with two EP releases versus one LP. He’s able to focus on specific sounds for each one and do something a little different. Both are enjoyable, but not necessarily for the same exact reasons, which is great. It gives you different flavors of what he can do as a solo artist and still keeps the songwriting as the core focus.

As a sucker for acoustic songs, I loved “Downtown (Up North)” the first time I heard it. It starts with just the acoustic guitar and builds up to a more filled out sound, but not necessarily that full band sound that we hear in “Virtue.” The string section is a pleasant addition as the song goes on and it’s very reminiscent of Yellowcard’s ballads.

The closing track, “No More, No Less,” is the most experimental track on the EP, but it ends it with a bang. It has an intensity that the other songs don’t really have and I’m all for it. The musicianship on it is still enjoyable and it brings you a little surprise to close things out.

If you haven’t had the chance yet, go give this EP a listen (and Thirteen, too). You can also buy a copy on Amazon if you’re interested. I highly recommend this as it’s one of my favorite EPs of the year.

Review: Bayside – Acoustic Volume 2

Bayside

Bayside is one of those bands that has a pretty solid discography. I especially love it when bands will make use of that and give fans some extra music like Bayside has done with their acoustic albums. Acoustic Volume 2 hit fans’ ears recently and it’s a release that I’m excited about.

I’m a sucker for anything acoustic, which makes this release all the better for me. It kicks of with a fantastic rendition of “Sick, Sick, Sick,” which is an excellent choice for an opening track. It then runs right into “Mary,” which is one of the band’s more recent songs off of Vacancy. The album does a great job with mixing in songs from a wide variety of albums.

The track list of this album is key. It has the feel of a live performance. The band has been known to kick off sets with “Sick, Sick, Sick” and close them with “Devotion and Desire.” Then in the fourth spot you have a song like “Duality,” which is again, consistent with some of their live sets.

The whole feel of this album makes you think you’re in the room with Bayside as they play acoustic renditions of some of their biggest songs. It’s easy for me to get lost in the music when I’m listening to stripped down versions of songs with lyrics as strong as Bayside’s. It’s a treat to get something as personal as this from the band. You just get this sense that you know everything they’ve been through and there’s bound to be something relatable within these songs for anyone who listens to them.

Acoustic Volume 2 is a must-listen for Bayside fans. If you are like me and either love anything acoustic or just left getting something extra from bands you really enjoy, this will be up your alley. Bayside continues to put out solid music, even if it isn’t something entirely new.

Rapid Review: Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises

Pale Waves - My Mind Makes Noises

The new Pale Waves album is one I intended on checking out much sooner than I did. However, I’ve been feeling like I’m perpetually behind on everything these days. Too many books to read, too many podcasts to listen to, and let’s not discuss how many albums I have yet to listen to from this year. With that in mind, I wanted to come up with a quick way to get my thoughts out on an album, so here’s what I’m calling Rapid Review (not too clever, I know) and I’m kicking it off with My Mind Makes Noises.

“Eighteen” is a great start to the album. The vocals are great and the music is catchy. This is a song that I could easily see myself listening to a lot even though it feels more like a summer jam than a fall song. “There’s a Honey” follows the same vibe that we get with the opening track and builds on it nicely.

As I continued listening through the album, there’s an importance placed on relationships throughout it. Some, like “Loveless Girl,” aren’t always in a positive light, but it puts you into the situation and you’re able to understand the narrative. “Drive” was a track that instantly got my attention, though. “I drive fast so I can feel something” is repeated throughout and it just stuck with me.

“She” is intensely personal and it stands out as it takes a slower approach. You can tell there’s some resentment in the lyrics and vocals. If I had to pick one song to introduce someone to Pale Waves, it would be “She.” It gives a good look at the kind of band they are and how much potential they have.

“Red” is a song that would fit right in with pop radio. The chorus is infectious and it’s easy to have it stuck in your head. It’s another standout song on this album. While this album does blend together a little too much at times, it’s a big step in the right direction. They clearly have talent and they know exactly who they are. The vocals are appealing and the music is catchy. Just adding a little more variety would be great and I hope we see that from them on future releases. Give Pale Waves a listen if you haven’t yet, though. The band is well worth your time.

Review: Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You for Today

You can count me in on anything Death Cab for Cutie releases. I always felt like I was a bigger fan of Kintsugi than some of my friends and I was perfectly fine with that. I loved the sound of that album and I greatly enjoy the sound of Thank You for Today.

Consistency without growing stale is something I admire in bands. Being consistent doesn’t mean that everything you release has to sound the same. Death Cab for Cutie is one of those bands that remains consistent. Sure, they’ve had their ups and downs, but it’s quite rare that you find a band with a lengthy career that hasn’t hit some bumps along the way.

“Gold Rush” is a song that wants things to stay the same. It isn’t quite to the level of pleading with someone to stay the same, but it’s a pleasant nudge as the song cycles through how some things used to be. Change is something that takes getting used to and it’s understandable to want certain things to stay the same.

While my moving away from home wasn’t quite as dramatic as “You Moved Away,” it’s something I can relate to. I might be back home now, but moving away for college was something full of unknowns. This song takes a look at what people think after you move away and it’s been something that I’ve wondered at times without ever really getting an answer to.

Death Cab for Cutie are still a joy to listen to and I imagine I’ll be spinning this record even more come the fall season. It’s a soothing listen and “Autumn Love” is an appropriate song for the season (as are the rest). Even if you weren’t totally sure about this album when you first heard the singles, I say give it a listen. And if you’re someone who didn’t listen to the singles or haven’t listened to the band, then definitely listen to this album all the way through.

Review: Lori McKenna – The Tree

Lori McKenna

Lori McKenna has been releasing albums since 2000, but I had no idea until her 2016 release, The Bird and the Rifle. I enjoyed that album, but her new album, The Tree, is one that quickly roped me in. I’ve mostly known her work through the songs she writes for other artists, but this new album is one that all country fans should be listening to.

“A Mother Never Rests” immediately sets the tone for the album. The acoustic guitar and McKenna’s vocals go hand-in-hand. Her songs don’t need to have a huge production behind them to be catchy either. You might not hear her on the radio as much, but I’ll just keep playing the album on repeat to get my fix in.

One of the songs that really stuck with me as I continued listening to the album was “People Get Old.” It’s instantly relatable, because there’s really no disputing the song title. People just get older, with the rare exception of tragedies that happen when people are young. We’ve all lost someone simply from old age.

The following song, “Young and Angry Again,” is one that I found myself just wanting to play on repeat. The melody on it is fun and the chorus is catchy. The album closes out with “Like Patsy Would” and I love the nod to Patsy Cline. It’s a fantastic note to end the album on and you can tell that McKenna draws influence from Patsy.

This is a record that I’ll be listening to for quite a while. It’ll probably be one I listen to even more as fall comes around because some albums just go nicely with certain times of year. Overall, I loved this record start to finish.

If you want a copy of The Tree by Lori McKenna, you can pick one up over at Amazon.

Review: Vacationer – Mindset

Vacationer - Mindset

At times, Vacationer might sound like The Starting Line, but despite Kenny Vasoli’s involvement in both bands, Vacationer is inherently different. If The Starting Line is the band that gets you pumped up with its pop-punk hooks, Vacationer is the band you just chill out to. Don’t get me wrong, Mindset still has energy, but it comes in a different form.

Vasoli is joined by Ryan Zimmaro (drums), Michael Mullin (keyboards), Greg Altman (guitar), and producers Matthew Young and Grant Wheeler. Mindset marks the third album from the band, but it’s the first that I really dived into. This is a band that just slipped by me. “Magnetism” was a nice selection for the first single since it encompasses the whole tone that the album is going for.

Summer jams can be anthemic, but this album feels like one a lot of people would listen to all summer long just because of the feel good vibes that it gives off. “Strawberry Blonde” is a light-hearted song that you can’t help but bob your head along to.

The beats on the album never feel overproduced and they know how to take a backseat to the vocals. Some songs are more bass-heavy than others, but that’s perfectly fine. It gives you more dynamic songs as you listen through it from top to bottom.

Mindset comes to a close with the 5 1/2 minute track “Companionship.” The song encompasses the lighter moments with bass-heavy ones as it builds and falls. It’s a nice culmination of the album and there isn’t much more I can say other than telling you to go listen to this album. I was pleasantly surprised when I first hit play and I’ll be spinning this quite a few more times throughout the summer.

You can pick up Mindset by Vacationer over on Amazon.

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Word is Murder

Anthony Horowitz has been writing books for a few decades now. Despite that, I hadn’t read any of his work until I wound up with a review copy of The Word is Murder. The book was released in the U.K. last year, but it’s just now making its way to the U.S. Magpie Murders caught my attention, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it just yet. This felt like the perfect opportunity to dive into a book by Horowitz.

The Word is Murder is a Sherlockian novel where we see that the author inserts himself into as one of the main characters. He’s a writer who follows a former police detective, Daniel Hawthorne, as he solves a mysterious murder. Putting himself in the book is one of the most meta things that Horowitz could do and it works so well.

I found myself not wanting to put the book down because it was such a compelling story. It wasn’t until semi-recently that I binged my way through Sherlock, and this book captured a similar essence that the show did even without Sherlock being in it.

Just when you think you know who committed murder, the story takes a turn and everything you thought was wrong. There are also moments when you’re reading it and your thinking is in line with that of Horowitz in the story. You read this from his perspective, so naturally you might find yourself agreeing with his version of what happened.

The book is clever and fascinating. It’s not often that I fall in love with an author immediately after reading a single book by them, but that’s what happened here. Thanks to The Word is Murder, I’ll be going back and reading previous books from Horowitz. His attention to detail and ability to create an intriguing story make the mystery work so well.

Grab a copy of The Word is Murder via Amazon.

Review: Chuck Palahniuk – Adjustment Day

Adjustment Day

Chuck Palahniuk makes sure that you aren’t prepared for Adjustment Day in any way, shape, or form. The book puts chaos on display as people run for their lives, just trying to make sure they survive it. Gaysia, Blacktopia, and Caucasia play on today’s current political climate in a bit of a terrifying way.

Chuck Palahniuk does satire well and it’s on full display in this book. The story revolves around a manifesto-like book that can be compared to Mein Kampf. This brings about Adjustment Day, which is meant to be a fresh start, should you make it out in one piece. All crimes, warrants, and debts will be erased for those left standing.

While Fight Club is still my favorite piece of work from Palahniuk, I love that he doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at it in this. He calls it “seemingly transgressive.” He also has some fantastic descriptions in this book that just bring the pages to life.

Aside from the Fight Club reference, many other pop culture references can be found throughout. One of my favorites is when the book mentions that it was debated to kill Mr. King. Naturally, the first thought would be Martin Luther King Jr., but instead, they mean Stephen King. Having him killed was debated because he “had almost convinced white people of the majestic uncanny powers blacks kept under wraps.” So not only does he take a jab at his own work, but he tosses Stephen King into the fun, as well.

Adjustment Day is a book that isn’t afraid to offend anyone and everyone. At times it’s harsh and unpleasant, but such is life. While Adjustment Day might not be real, in a way, it felt like it could be if things keep going downhill from here. Once you get going, you won’t want to put this book down.

If you’re interested in buying a copy of the book, you can do so via Amazon.

Review: Hot Mulligan’s Pilot shows us that pop-punk isn’t dead

If pop punk really is dead, Hot Mulligan didn’t get the memo or just didn’t care. Pilot takes the genre to a different level. For a while now, I’ve found myself growing out of wanting to listen to pop punk a lot. There was a stretch where I really enjoyed it and it just kept tapering off for me. Hot Mulligan hit the “refresh” button on pop punk.

If an opening track doesn’t set the tone for an album, you’ll be doomed from the start. “Deluxe Capacitor” instantly let’s you know what you’re in for with Pilot and that’s fantastic. “All You Wanted By Michelle Branch” was the first song I heard off of this album and I still get a kick out of the title.

One things that makes this album stand out is how varied the guitar sounds are. They aren’t strictly using power chords, which pop punks have been known to do. The lyrics are quite relatable, too. “Good Ol’ Mr. Rags” has a line that mention missing someone even though you just saw them. Have you ever been so close to someone that a day without them feels weird? It’s something a lot of people can relate to.

Hot Mulligan gives off a vibe of the band being like a family and it shines at the end of “Scream Mountain” when things get quiet and it’s just an acoustic guitar and their voices. James Shotwell wrote about the band’s live performance in their hometown on March 10 and described the band’s infectious energy, which they also display on Pilot.

Pilot takes you on a journey of growing up, learning lessons, and just living life. We all do it whether it feels like it or not. This albums rips through 11 songs and they’re all worth a listen. I highly recommend doing so.

You can grab a copy of Pilot via Amazon now.

Review: Barely Civil – We Can Live Here Forever

Barely Civil embrace their Midwestern roots on We Can Live Here Forever. The band is currently located in Wausau, WI, which is a town you’ve probably never heard of if you aren’t from the area. However, the band makes you feel right at home with them with this album.

The layered production on the album stands out in different ways as you listen through. “I’ve Been Getting Headaches Lately” is fairly in your face from the start with the music, but then you have a song like “Eau Claire? Oh, Claire.” that starts off on a softer note. The latter adds a level of intimacy, even as the music’s dynamics change.

More often than not, I can’t personally relate to a lot of the songs that I enjoy. My life really hasn’t been all that eventful, but I still understand when songs are relatable for others. Not everyone is going to relate to every single song a band puts out, but Barely Civil brings you in and they let you understand what their lives are like.

You can hear the emotion coming through with every note that Barely Civil plays. The music mirrors when things are intense and when it is time to slow things down a bit. The beginning of “Handwritten House” is a perfect example of this. It’s a stark difference from the opening track, but it still fits in with the album, especially as things build up towards the middle of the song, just to come back down as the vocals start up again.

The back half of the album doesn’t let up one bit. “You With a Cap, Me With a Baseball Bat” starts off the back half with a quick pace. The songs rips. “Stark” is a song about taking things back to the good days and it’s filled with nostalgia. The album closes out with “I Am Drowning,” which is a depressing song title. However, it starts off with “Wait, is there a click or no click?” to lighten up the mood briefly. Acoustic tracks always feel more intimate to me, just because of the fact that it’s usually just the singer and a guitar. That’s how they end the album and it makes perfect sense. They’ve already let you in, so why not end it on an extremely personal note? Some electric guitar comes in at the end and the build up halts just before the album ends.

We Can Live Here Forever shows off not only how skilled the band is, but just how much of an impact their home has had on them. In that sense I can relate. Maybe not with the city I specifically live in, but with Southern California as a whole. There’s no doubt that someone’s home affects them in one way or another and Barely Civil’s way of telling us all about it is through this album.