Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking Back Sunday - Self-Titled Record Review

It's not easy to be Taking Back Sunday. Since releasing Tell All Your Friends back in 2002, the band have endured a staggering number of lineup changes, feuds with other notable acts and a sound that differed with almost every release. But regardless of the constant turmoil, the Long Island outfit have managed to gain a worldwide fan base that has been eagerly awaiting the release of the band's new Self-Titled album.

TBS reinstated guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Copper (both of whom made up the original TBS lineup) in early 2010 after letting go of Matt Fazzi and Matt Rubano. And in the almost year-and-a-half since bringing the two originators back, the band have been touring and excessively working on the new album - one that was promised to be one of TBS' best pieces of work so far.

So how does it stack up to the band's 2009 release, New Again? Better yet, can it measure up to Tell All Your Friends - the only other record to be released featuring all five current TBS members.

Well, this album certainly feels nothing like New Again. In place of the almost slowed down and lighthearted structure found on that record, TBS have come back swinging with a much darker and resilient chunk of rock 'n' roll. It's not punk-rock, it's not hardcore and it's not alternative - it's somewhere in between all of that.

Nolan's familiar screams and backups only help to accentuate lead singer Adam Lazzara's emotionally sparked vocals. In that respect, the Self-Titled effort is on par with Tell All Your Friends. But lyrically, the new record comes across as a more mature sounding TBS. It's not necessarily as literal as some of the band's earlier work. The record wrestles with ideas of religion, happiness and the past, while at most times being open to interpretation. There's a lot going on throughout the album, and the message isn't always clear - a testament to Lazzara's heightened understanding of poetic license.

But musically, the Self-Titled release should please fans. Pair mosh-ready choruses like that found on "This All Now" with the many singalong breakdowns ("Sad Savior") and you're bound to get a record that will resonate with TBS followers. This album dances with the more technical side of the band. Look for a lot of lead guitars, overdriven amps and snare work.

Most of the songs on Self-Titled should translate well to the band's live show. TBS have tried out a number of new songs during their last few tours, and they come across as much more energetic and lively when compared to other recent works in the band's collection.

All in all, this release will mark another interesting chapter in the book of TBS.

While this new, but original, slice of the band is refreshing, it certainly won't define the them. They've managed to say goodbye to their emo-infused past while embracing a purely rock 'n' roll mindset. But let's face it, while a grownup sound might be the new face of TBS from now on, no one's ever going to forget those mic-swinging emo kids from Long Island.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Warped Tour Preview

The Vans Warped Tour kicked off its 17th summer on the road last Friday in Dallas, Texas. And with that sort of longevity comes change. Let's face it, this isn't the same tour that started almost two decades ago.

For many, Warped Tour has represented the punk mentality. A day at Warped is a sweat-filled, filthy free-for-all wrapped around a music scene that celebrates outcasts. But in recent years, the tour has suffered a backlash of harsh words and criticism from the now grown-up teens that were there when the tour began.

Bands like Bad Religion, blink-182, NOFX, Rancid and MXPX were once the punk leading acts that drove the tour, and essentially gave it its reputation for mohawks and studded belts. Replace that with some of the more recent acts on Warped - Katy Perry, 3OH!3, Blood On The Dance Floor, ext. - and you're bound to witness a changing demographic of fans attending the shows.

But does this wave of electro-pop-rap-punk mean that Warped has officially seen better days? Not necessarily. While yes, the majority of fans attending Warped just to see these new school acts are in fact younger than the tour itself, it'd be crazy to write Warped off as outdated or completely irrelevant to the scene today.

Lets' take a look at the high points of this summer's tour. All you pop-punk lifers should be stoked on Set Your Goals, The Wonder Years and A Day To Remember, who are all playing the entire tour. These bands are offering fresh, new music without losing sight of where they came from. No frills, no makeup, no computerized tracks playing over the live set - just a few guitars, a bass and a drum kit. Keeping it simple is back in style.

For those of you that need something heavier, Warped has got you covered. The Devil Wears Prada will be there from day one offering up a mosh-worthy set on the Main Stage. Add to that the Craig Owens fronted supergroup D.R.U.G.S. and the Pennsylvania outfit, August Burns Red, and you hardcore kids have got a full day ahead of you.

No Warped Tour would be complete without some of its originators - those bands there from the very beginning that seem to show up on the bill year after year. Less Than Jake certainly fill that spot in 2011. But with some other old school acts thrown in the mix like Against Me! and the Street Dogs, even the most jaded ex-Warped attendee might consider showing face this summer.

And let's not forget some of the newer acts out there this year that are worth your time. Terrible Things are the can't-miss act of the summer. Bringing a straight up rock 'n' roll element to the tour, you'll want to make sure these guys are on your Warped itinerary. Some other fresh faces to see include Falling In Reverse, who are ready to take back the metal core contingent of the tour.

In terms of the actual music that makes up the festival, the 2011 Warped Tour stands as eclectic as ever. Undoubtedly, organizers will aim for the youth demographic. It seems the new wave acts of recent years are here to stay. After all, they do bring in an awful lot of money. But Warped hasn't lost sight of its past. This year again is packed with notable acts from the punk and alternative scenes.

Fact of the matter is that no one is ever going to be crazy about the entire lineup. There are 114 bands this year alone that will be making appearances on Warped. With those kinds of numbers it will be easy to avoid those acts you want nothing to do with. So if you're thinking about going to Warped Tour this summer, don't get caught up hating those bands you don't want to see. Concentrate on spending your day seeing those acts that will make Warped as fun this year as it was the first time you went.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Wonder Years - Suburbia Review

The last year and a half has been monumental for the Philadelphia outfit, The Wonder Years. Their 2010 release, The Upsides, has become the new standard in pop-punk. The record wove together lyrics about life, touring, friendship, relationships and surviving your mid-20s without hiding behind a veil of words and similes. It quickly became the most straightforward and honest record the scene had received in years - thus gaining the band national exposure and a growing fan base.

So with the release of The Wonder Years' latest album, Suburbia: I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing, the pressure was on to make a pop-punk masterpiece capable of topping The Upsides. Fans would ultimately be looking for something catchy, deeply relatable and on par with the band's earlier work. So did TWY pull it off?

One listen through the new record and it becomes clear that once again we are met with the more intimate side of vocalist Dan "Soupy" Campbell's lyrics. Whether the topic concerns an ex-girlfriend, questioning where home is or whatever happened to the homeless guy that slept in Memorial Park, Suburbia has a way of placing you in the shoes of its outspoken lyricist.

The album's opening track, "Came Out Swinging", gives perspective on what the band have been up to over the last year. It begs the question of where home really is. There's an internal struggle going on that's no doubt brought upon by the band's burgeoning success and non-stop tour schedule. "I came out swinging from a South Philly basement caked in stale beer and sweat under half-lit fluorescents/And I spent the winter writing songs about getting better/Well, if I'm being honest, I'm getting there."

It seems that Suburbia always keeps The Upsides in mind. "Local Man Ruins Everything", one of the album's best tracks, combats the "I'm not sad anymore" mantra with a look into what happened when they finally turned the Logan Circle fountain off and it was time to get back to real life.

Perhaps the most out out place song on the record comes at the middle. "I Won't Say The Lord's Prayer" is the "Dynamite Shovel" of Suburbia. It's the band's obligatory song on what they don't like about Christianity. And while the music itself is catchy, the topic just seems overdone and misplaced. Suburbia wrestles with finding home and making a life for yourself while in a touring band. To drag religion into it again, with virtually the same message, feels like a stretch and makes this one of the more forgettable tracks on the record.

The second half of the album jumps back to that original high intensity level. "Coffee Eyes" explodes in a dark, but quick, introspective on what its like to have some structure in the place you grew up. Later on, "Hoodie Weather" again takes a stab at what it means to be home and the notion that somewhere else is always better. Is the grass really greener on the other side?

Musically, Suburbia is as catchy as TWY's earlier work. There are plenty of layered guitar tracks, bass breakdowns and lots of quick, concise drumming. This is an album that was made for the stage. There are no frills or tricks anywhere that would lead you to believe this record was made by a computer rather than musicians. The band have stayed as honest musically as they have lyrically - a trend that's undoubtedly catching on again as witnessed by their growing success in recent years.

So how does Suburbia measure up to The Upsides? Well, it's not The Upsides. Don't expect anything to blow your mind or change the face of pop-punk... again. However, this is a meaningful record for the scene. It's a natural progression for the band. With Suburbia it seems that TWY have found their stride. This record is the next step in building a solid and memorable discography that might someday influence a whole new wave of pop-punk lifers.

It's worth having in your collection.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Video Interview With Happy Body Slow Brain

It's not easy to break into the music world. With the accessibility fans have to getting your music, often time for little to no money, the outrageous cost of touring and trying to hold down a solid lineup of band members, the industry can often feel like a daunting career. But inevitably, there will be some who refuse to give up trying- building their band one fan at a time.

Happy Body Slow Brain are one of those bands. The do-it-yourself outfit comprised of ex-Taking Back Sunday guitarist/vocalist Matt Fazzi, guitarist/keyboardist Isaac Bolivar and a rotating group of drummers and bassists have spent the better part of the last year and a half writing, recording and touring the entire United States in hopes of gaining a concrete fan base nationwide.

The band released their debut album, Dreams Of Water, last fall. Taking a step away from the alternative sounds of Taking Back Sunday, Fazzi and crew opted for a more synthetic mix of guitars, keyboards and experimental drum beats.

Ultimately, the decision to shy away from the norm has left the band off the beaten path, but they seem happier than ever. In a recent interview with the band, Fazzi told Backstage Press, "It's a refreshing experience to have a DIY thing and really play music that gets me excited. To have a support system like I do with my fiancée, and with my friends and being in a band with other like-minded musicians just makes the whole thing a lot easier."

"It's such a contrast going from Taking Back Sunday to kind of starting over," continued Fazzi, "but it's like the most rewarding contrast ever because I really get to forge my own path and do it the way I really want to do it."

And the hard work and determination seem to be paying off. At the end of the month, HBSB will be hitting the road with the Rx Bandits - a group that has played a vital role in influencing Fazzi along his musical career. After wrapping up that tour, Fazzi mentioned he will continue writing and hopes to get into the studio by the end of the year to begin work on the band's sophomore effort.

For more on HBSB, visit

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Your Summer Pop-Punk Playlist 2011

Summer is here, which means warm weather. And warm weather means pop-punk. So we at Backstage Press have racked our iTunes accounts, old mix CDs and depths of the internet for the best in new, old and maybe even some forgotten about pop-punk tunes. Bump this playlist and you're bound to get your summer started off right. Enjoy.

(The Wonder Years know how to throw a summer BBQ)

Off the Pennsylvania outfit's first EP, "Harbor Water" sums up all that is pop-punk. It's quick, catchy and written about a girl. It's everything you need to get your summer going. With hooks and lyrics reminiscent of some early New Found Glory tunes, your friends will definitely be asking, "Who's this?" at the next BBQ. Also, max combo points to you for picking up on this up-and-coming group of dudes.

A pop-punk summer anthem. This two-minute and fifty-two-second track celebrates being young by wrapping together lyrics about summer love, friendship, the Warped Tour and a certain sense of recklessness that reminds us all that sometimes it's okay to blow off responsibility and have little fun. Paired with an upbeat tempo, "The Rock Show" will always be a popular summer favorite. Plus it's blink, and you've got to get ready for their summer tour somehow.

The song title says it all. Remember driving around town with your friends late at night with nothing to do? Maybe you still do that. Either way, it inevitably led to some sort of trouble that you got into. And this track by pop-punkers This Time Next Year pays homage to those fond memories you've made while you're busy doing nothing. So why not add it to the playlist and cause a little trouble this summer?

Ah, summer 2002. The humble beginnings of The Starting Line brought us some of their best and most loved pop-punk. "Up & Go", the opening track off the band's first full-length, is an honest look into young love and loss. It's catchy with no real frills or tricks - just a few guitars, a bass and drums. And with TSL announcing that their hiatus is coming to a close, it's time to get stoked on having these pop-punk forefathers back for good.

No pop-punk playlist would be complete without a New Found Glory hit. And by now you've probably had your fill of sappy love songs. Well, here's your redemption. "My Friends Over You" is about just that - choosing your friends over your significant other. So when summer love has got you bummed, keep this one on repeat and go hang with your friends. It's too hot to hold anyone's hand anyway.

You loved the show growing up, you're going to love the band, too. "Local Man", which finds itself on the Philadelphia outfit's upcoming release, is one of the most honest and straightforward pieces of pop-punk of the last decade. Lyrically, it's insanely relatable and comes packed with a great message. Even if your summer ends up sucking, remember, "It's not about forcing happiness. It's about not letting sadness win."

Stuck in your hometown for the summer? Hate it? No worries, throw on ADTR's "All Signs Point To Lauderdale" and grab a map. This track definitely comes in as the playlist's hardest song, but it's still packed with plenty of hooks that will remind you why it's pop-punk. It's your total cure-all for those geographical woes. So jump in your car, crank this and take that well deserved road trip.

Remember when Fall Out Boy actually played pop-punk (back when they were actually still a band, of course)? Well, if you do, you'll want this track on your playlist. Coming off the band's first two EPs, "Growing Up" recalls a time when you could find great pop-punk coming from any small club or basement around town. Forget arena shows, clothing companies and lewd photos leaked across the internet, this was Fall Out Boy at their finest. Oh, nostalgia.

A new breed of pop-punk is upon us, kids. And it comes decked out in band shirts and beards. Four Year Strong struck gold with "Wasting Time", which chronicles a summer full of freedoms and firsts. Balanced with quick, chugging guitars and gritty vocals, this track is anthemic in its pop-punk approach. Note, this song lends itself perfectly to steering wheel drumming and air guitar. So be sure to rock out with your buddies on the way to the beach.

Nothing wrong with adding a little quirky twist into the mix. Motion City Soundtrack have always been known for their offbeat antics and fun music. "The Future Freaks Me Out" is the perfect singalong song for you and your friends. Packed with a two-part vocal breakdown, a chorus just about everyone knows and that catchy keyboard, and this track almost seems like a no-brainer for your playlist.
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