People On Vacation – The Summer And The Fall

The words ‘side project’ are equally celebrated and feared by many fans of musicians today. While the chance to hear new, different music from a member of a band you love is exciting, there’s always the fear that it will be too different, too out-there, and perhaps even distract said artist’s attention away from their original band. In the duo of People On Vacation, this effect was doubled, as not one but two frontmen combine to create a new artist. Many will be familiar with Jaret Reddick’s vocal and songwriting styles as the man on the mic for pop-punk legends Bowling For Soup, while there is somewhat less familiarity around Ryan Hamilton, frontman of Smile Smile. (Note – since originally writing this review, Smile Smile have sadly parted ways, with Ryan now splitting his time between POV and a new solo career.) The project formed almost as an experiment by the two involved – their contrasting songwriting styles, Hamilton’s melancholy, adult-oriented indie clashing with Reddick’s bouncy, upbeat pop-punk, led them to wonder if they could combine and each have an effect on the other, creating something that sat somewhere between the two and perhaps leave a lasting effect on both men’s talents along the way.

From the moment one starts this album with stellar opening track “Because Of The Sun”, one thing is obvious: This goal has not only been achieved, they’ve passed it with flying colours. Said opener is one of the strongest tracks on the entire record and sets the path perfectly for what to expect ahead, with laid-back acoustics giving way to melodic soft rock underneath lyrics mourning the end of perfect nights together with people one loves. The pursuit of the fairer sex is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a key theme throughout the album, and although not all songs centre on the quest for love, those that do provide arguably the highlights of the record. And when fans discuss the highlights of The Summer And The Fall in the future, I really can only see one thing opening any conversation – the incredible “Prettiest Girl In The World”. Yes, it’s as hopelessly slushy, cloying and sickeningly filled with puppy-dog love as the title would lead you to expect, but it’s done absolutely perfectly. A true ode to a girl who takes normality and makes it feel like perfection, the song is well-balanced by some lyrics (which one feels were contributed by Reddick) which raise an unexpected laugh, and one of the most addictive choruses on the record. Make no mistake, this is an album full of fantastic songs, but if you want to choose one song to sum up what this project is all about, take this one; it’s simply perfect.

While “Prettiest Girl In The World” may be the stand-out track, by no means do the other songs on the record pale in comparison. Indeed, one can easily tell just how long has been spent working on this album when listening through, as each song brings it’s own thing to the table and you simply cannot pinpoint a single track you’d want to skip when listening through the album. Sure, some songs might stick in your head for longer or make you sing a little louder, but every album has highlights. The difference here is that there are no low points – every song is enjoyable, every track puts a bounce in your step and keeps you hooked until the album’s end. “Lonely Fish” is a great take on the old cliché of there being ‘more fish in the sea’, and features without a doubt the album’s best chorus, one you’ll be singing for weeks after hearing the song for the first time, while “I Get You” is a nice little follow-on from “Prettiest Girl…” discussing finding someone who you click with perfectly, and again puts a smile on the face whenever one listens.

Some songs on the album are brought forward from the band’s only previous release, “The Carry_On EP”, which was released as a split along with a solo EP from Bowling For Soup bassist Erik Chandler. While these songs have been around a little longer, they fit seamlessly into the album and unless one already owns the previous EP, you don’t even notice that they weren’t written specifically for this release. “Rainy Day” is an inspiringly positive song about, well, positivity, while “Where Do We Go”, which closes both the EP and “The Summer And The Fall”, provides a downcast but incredibly well-written ending, centring on the biggest question of all in life, as the chorus is simply a repeat of the line “Where do we go when we die?”.

Overall, fans of both artists will love this album. While the musical style is certainly closer to that of Hamilton’s previous efforts, Reddick’s unmistakeable positive attitude shines throughout and provides highlights across the album. However, the simple reason that this record will please all is simply this – it’s a masterpiece. Not one song feels badly written, rushed or an afterthought, and the result is possibly the best album released thus far this year. If this is Reddick and Hamilton simply taking a vacation, then I for one cannot wait for when they next fancy a little time off.

5 out of 5 high fives!

The New Rochelles/DeeCRACKS – The Smile Of The Tiger [EP]

The idea of a split record is a formula which has stood the test of time in music today, due to its simple principle of exposing new music by each artist to the other’s fan base, thus (in theory, at least) increasing the following of both in one fell swoop. Although through time we have seen examples of larger, more established artists releasing such records – the example of Linkin Park’s “Collision Course” collaboration with Jay-Z springs to mind, albeit as an album of remixes, not split tracks – this trend is most common amongst smaller bands like those two artists featured on this release, The New Rochelles and DeeCRACKS.

Both artists make themselves known as pop-punk bands, although joyously, both seem to lean more towards classic punk traditions than the haircuts and skinny jeans of today’s scene (and yes, fellow folk-troubadour lovers, that was a Frank Turner reference). New Yorkers The New Rochelles band members are listed on their Facebook as Ronnie, Ricky and Rookie Rochelle, in a beautiful throwback to the Ramones, while DeeCRACKS, hailing from Klagenfurt in Austria – which just may be my new favourite place name – simply keep their last initials (coincidentally all C.) in place of surnames, while listing their style of music as “rock’n’roll played fast, like The Ramones”. The influence of the legendary Blitzkrieg Bop-pers is clear amongst the music of both bands, and with the entire 4-track split clocking in at exactly 8 minutes, the term “fast and furious” is not an understatement when discussing the songs contained within.

First up comes the shortest track on the whole record, the New Rochelles’ 1:17 wonder “Cuidado”. However, in proof of the old adage of good things coming in small packages, this is an absolute gem of a track. While there isn’t much variation in the lyrics, even for a short song like this, it is instantly catchy, and the music behind is pure pop-punk wonder, created specifically to get a crowd bouncing or a listener air-drumming in less than a second. A simple refrain of the line “Not your amigo” provides a catchy singalong ending before the track crunches to a halt as quickly as it begun, making way for the second of the two New Rochelles tracks, Nightcrawler. An even more pleasing offering than the opener, this track (yet another pacey track, coming in at 1:25) forcibly reminds one of a Dookie-era Green Day song, which is frankly fabulous news for any pop-punk outfit. The simple repeated lyrics and bouncy backbeat are a joy to behold and frontman Ronnie’s vocals are a perfect fit for this style of music. Although their entire offering on this release comes to a grand total time of 2 minutes and 42 seconds, they leave enough of a lasting impression in that short time that I implore any readers to keep an eye out for this name in the future and snap up anything they have to offer – trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

The record is then turned over to DeeCRACKS to finish off in style. The change in personnel is instantly recognisable. DeeCRACKS play with a harder, heavier edge, complimented by singer Matt C’s rough, throaty vocals. Their own personal opener, 2-minuter Let’s Get Outta Here, is a cracking tune, with just enough time afforded to it to create a couple of verses shaped around a simple but purely irresistible chorus, and despite the throatier growl of Matt’s vocals compared to those found on the earlier side of the EP, it is listener-friendly, crowd-pleasing stuff, pulled off with some style. Somewhat disappointingly, considering the fact that the bands only had two song slots each to fill, DeeCRACKS choose to finish with a cover of the band that seems to keep popping up in this review, playing a version of The Ramones’ “She Belongs To Me”. While the cover is a nice little idea considering the band are the biggest inspiration for the Austrian three-piece, I can’t help but feel the slot would have been better filled by an original composition to better advertise the band’s skills – while this is by no means a bad cover, this is a truly legendary artist we are talking about in the Ramones, and cover versions of big artists like this are perhaps better left for longer, single-band EPs, or even maybe a full-length album, rather than shoe-horned into this release. However, DeeCRACKS still provide a good impression of their talents in pulling the cover off and their one original song on the record is enough to leave the listener wanting more.

Overall, this release does exactly what it is meant to do – shows off the talents and capabilities of both artists and leaves the listener eager to hear more. While maybe The New Rochelles could have benefited from a slightly longer song being included, and DeeCRACKS could definitely have done with going for two original songs, this is still a great release and one I would heartily recommend to any fan of the pop-punk genre. Watch out for these names in the future, and if they come to a town near you, go see them; if this EP is anything to go by, you will not regret it.

4 out of 5 high fives!

The Manix – Neighbourhood Wildlife

The words “pop punk” hold a different meaning to modern music than they did ten or fifteen years ago. Nowadays, when you hear those two fateful words, the images that spring to mind are screaming youngsters, pouting singers, and hooks almost as bouncy as band members’ various hairstyles. The old guard of what some may refer to as “proper” or, God-forbid, “real” pop punk seem to have left us. Bands like Green Day and Blink-182 have grown up and started writing straight-up rock anthems, while Sum 41 are, in all honesty, past their best. Only the heroes of New Found Glory stand proud and declare pop punk “not dead”, and as wonderful as they are, they can’t go on forever. However, just as the future of the genre seems set, The Manix step forward, a band determined to continue NFG’s empowering message.

From the opening drumbeat of “Fingers Crossed”, it’s clear that this album is not your average, middle-of-the-road bouncing pop punk half-hour. The thick bassline and power-chord guitars instantly bring to mind early Sum 41 work, while the gruff vocals of frontman Corey Ayd position this band firmly in the ‘punk’ side of the pop punk camp. Ayd is no stranger to the world of punk, having previously been a part of Banner Pilot, and his experience in the genre shows through as you begin to roll through the tracks. “Where Do We Go?” is a simple but effective bang-along tune, while the intriguingly titled “What’s Myage Again?” (no, not a typo) provides the first big highlight of the album, with a great instant-vocal opening and scream-along chorus providing the basis for what would undoubtedly be a beloved anthem in a live setting.

Fifth track, “A Quiet Wry Anger”, provides another highlight for the simple reason that it’s something a little different. Just as the album begins to feel somewhat formulaic, the slightly more rhythmical guitar and longer instrumental sections provide a welcome relief. However, sadly, this track is an exception, not a rule. The band’s reliance on the punk genre starts as a strength, but soon develops into a negative on the album – to put it brutally honestly, much of this album sounds the same. There are a couple of stand out tracks – the aforementioned couple, plus the absolutely superb closer “This Old House”, which is certainly an example of saving the best for last – but overall, not many of the albums’ tracks sound any different from the others. While some bands (yes, Mumfords, I’m looking at you) have made a career out of playing the same song twelve times and calling it an album, one leaves this particular record feeling plenty entertained, but perhaps lacking a sense of inventiveness. If The Manix don’t find that element, then sadly they may be destined to just stay in the pile in future, yet another punk band trying to drag themselves out of obscurity. But if they pull it out of the bag, then based on the raw talent displayed on this record, the music world could have something huge on their hands.

Three out of five high fives!

Bowling For Soup – O2 Academy Birmingham, 24/10/12

Bowling For Soup are a band who always come with one motto – have fun or go home. Maybe this band is never going to headline a major festival, sell 20 million albums or play in front of the Queen, but one thing that can be guaranteed to the throngs of loyal fans queuing up from early hours outside Birmingham’s O2 Academy is that they’re going to have one hell of a night, and a great laugh to boot.

Live shows are the crown jewel in BFS’ legacy; they always tour the UK twice every year, bringing a stripped back acoustic set in the spring before returning in the autumn with a full band spectacle, and every time they come, they bring an impressive amount of energy to the stage. On that note, tonight’s choice of opening band is nothing less than a masterstroke. The line-up of the tour has been decided by the release of the album One Big Happy, a 3-way split album between all of the bands on tonight’s tour, but even if they hadn’t been on the new record, one feels that Patent Pending would have earned a place on this show simply through pure talent. The band arrive on the stage with roaring guitars and pounding drums, but the appeal of this band is instantly clear – and it’s pouring out of frontman Joe Rogasta in waves. The passion with which he sings, dances and generally throws himself around the stage is jaw-dropping, and he brings the most energy to a live show I’ve seen since letlive.’s famed Jason Butler – those who’ve seen him live know just how much of a compliment this is. He keeps the crowd laughing throughout almost all of his set, but also shows emotion; the impassioned anti-suicide speech he makes before “One Less Heart To Break”, a song written about a friend of the band who commited suicide. The raw love for his craft that Joe obviously brings with him to every show was on display throughout, particularly during a fantastic cover of Smash Mouth’s classic hit “All Star”, before winding to a close with the hilarious “Douchebag” – never winning any points for maturity, but at a Bowling For Soup show, one should expect nothing less.

Sadly, all the energy that Patent Pending brought into the room, The Dollyrots sucked away again the minute they arrived on stage. The members almost seemed superglued to the floor, unmoving in their straightforward “play the songs and leave” attitudes. The frontwoman Kelly Ogden has a sadly nondescript voice, not so much untalented as simply uninteresting; while the few attempts guitarist Luis Cabezas made to join in on vocals were nothing less than painful. They brought a half hour of boredom onto the stage with them, complete with a cover version of folk singer Melanie’s single “Brand New Key” – creating more ridicule within the crowd thanks to, of course, The Wurzels’ famed combine harvester-themed parody of the song. Indeed, many around me (and yes, I’ll admit, I was joining in) were singing the Wurzel lyrics in exaggerated West Country accents to keep themselves amused. The structure of this tour had to be questioned, with most agreeing that the main support slot would have been much better served by Patent Pending than the meagre offerings of The Dollyrots.

All this however was thankfully forgotten once Bowling For Soup’s intro track began filling the speakers of the Academy. The band made their way onto the stage to a tremendous ovation which they graciously took in before launching into a superb double of perennial opening track “My Hometown” and celebrity-satirizing super-hit “High School Never Ends”. From here on out, the show is a glorious celebration of the band’s back-catalogue, from classic Drunk Enough To Dance track “Life After Lisa” to more recent hits like No Hablo Ingles and new single Let’s Go To The Pub. An early cover of a song they are often falsely given credit for, Fountains Of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom”, sets the tone for a set full of self-deprecating humour, filled with the theme of Bowling For Soup now officially being known as ‘The Band You Can Wave To’ (yes, really) and the inevitable jokes about one another’s age, sexuality and even mothers. There was also a strange moment of band-swapping – during the closing riff of “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)”, the entire band were replaced on stage by the members of Patent Pending, who, it has to be said, finished off the song in style.

However, despite the bizarre comedy inbetween, the focus manages to remain largely on the music, a particular highlight of this generously lengthy 25 song set being the classic “Punk Rock 101”, still inspiring the loudest singalong in the venue more than 10 years after it was originally released. Surprises abounded throughout the song choices – I don’t think anyone could honestly have been expecting the sentimental “Friends O’ Mine” to pop up – and a good variation was a theme, although admittedly the setlist did rely slightly more heavily on best-selling album A Hangover You Don’t Deserve than any other. However, this is excuseable; after all, it’s the band’s biggest hit record for a reason, and seeing legendary album tracks like Shut Up And Smile popping up was welcomed warmly by the appreciative crowd.

BFS rounded off the main set with the inevitable 1985, their only truly massive song, breaking out of the rock scene and into popular culture, before beginning an encore by whipping the crowd into a frenzy with the opening riff of hometown legends Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, before somewhat disappointingly fading off into a cover of The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” – still a great song, but perhaps in Birmingham, it is best to either play all of a Sabbath song, or none of it. (The point has to be made, this wasn’t the most bizarre cover of the night – that honour goes to their superb version of Britney Spears’ hit “Baby One More Time”). The night was brought to a close as all the members of Patent Pending and The Dollyrots took to the stage to party once more while BFS played final track “The Bitch Song”, but this was not to be the end as, in a fittingly weird end to a strange night, a fan in a head-to-toe penguin outfit was brought up on stage and proceeded to break-dance to a theme of Jaret Reddick’s beatbox antics.

Overall, Bowling For Soup presented a wonderful night spoiled only slightly by one uninspiring support band, but in the end, the impression from the crowd is probably best summed up by the name of the tour itself – truly, this was One Big Happy.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Castrovalva – You’re Not In Hell, You’re In Purgatory My Friend

With a simple glance at the title of Castrovalva’s newest output, one almost knows what to expect straight away. Any band putting out a record with such an incredible mouthful across the cover is aiming for nothing less than the ostentatious and, with some sadness, I have to state that this is possibly the only thing the Leeds trio do manage to achieve.

From the opening rattled whispers of the short first track “Best Friends Go To Purgatory”, the one thing that reigns throughout this record is utter confusion. The band define themselves as “noise-hop”, and while I’m not sure about the hop, noise is definitely one way to describe this release. An incoherent mish-mash of styles, attempting to combine electronic backing tracks, overtuned guitar riffs and grating screamed vocals, this almost feels more like a failed experiment than a finished product. Immaturity appears to be the key amongst the few vocals that are distinguishable from the audio assault that “In Our Prime” provides, the roaring refrain of “Don’t be a pussy” standing as the best – if that’s even the right word to use – example. However, this is one issue which is admittedly redressed somewhat, as by the album’s fourth track, “Dining With The Pope”, the verses can almost be said to contain some sense and lyrics which might work in a more straightforward musical setting, before descending back into chaos with “Donut” – an accurate description of the songwriter if I ever heard one.

This album is also guilty of what I’ve always felt to be one of the most common crimes in music today – striving to achieve some level of shock value with some of the most gratuitous usage of language they can possibly muster. Of those few vocals which can be understood on most of this album’s tracks, every other word seems to be four letters long. While swearing certainly has its rightful place in music – just ask Motley Crue – and indeed in language in general, pointlessly throwing out f words every few seconds just points to a songwriter’s own uninventiveness, and this album stands as a strong example of this.

If there is any positive that can be taken from this album, it exists purely in the work of drummer Daniel Brader. His beats behind the tracks are the only thing that threaten to force the listener to do anything other than switch off, and the best thing I can say for him is that in another band, in another style, he could become a serious name in the business. Sadly, he’s never going to do that behind a truly awful frontline. Anthony Wright’s bass guitar lines are disjointed and practically sound confused, while frontman Leemun Smith’s vocals are nothing short of painful – either an irritating whine, or an ear-splitting screech, accompanied by some truly shocking attempts at rap; not to mention a misguided attempt at falsetto during the opening of final track “A Vulture’s Eyes”. The band have achieved some success in the past, garnering positive reviews and praise from sources like Drowned In Sound and even the NME. If I may be permitted a dose of brutal honesty to end this review, listening to this release, I truly have no idea how.