The Dopamines – Vices

It’s a wonder these boys ever found time to record a third album. Their schedule seems to be full from now until three premature deaths from alcohol poisoning or liver failure. It’s a good job they managed to muster up the self-restraint to remain conscious for long enough to record Vices, because in doing so they have found a niche which can appeal to both the hardcore punk rockers and the pop-punk kids out there.

The Dopamines’ first two albums were no doubt more raw, unadulterated punk than this latest release. The second album, Expect the Worst, was particularly well received and this culminated in the band winning the Cincinnati Entertainment Award for best punk band of 2011. With such a powerful second album, there’s always a concern for how the third will turn out.

Whether the lads consciously decided to make an album with a different sound to their first two is open for debate, but the change is no bad thing. With Vices the band has found a more polished sound, taking the edge off the aggression. The increase in notable guitar riffs also helps the record appeal more to the pop-punk market than the straight-up punk of its predecessors. This potentially lighter, happier sound still deals with the same dark subject matter as ever. The lyrics cover all of the generic punk-esque topics: from failing and broken homes to the combination of drugs and alcohol. While these are fairly unimaginative and generic topics, they seem more relevant than ever with the western world enveloped in financial turmoil and with people struggling to even secure a dead-end job. The production on the album is obviously crisper than any of the band’s previous releases. It isn’t as if they are holding back, they are just venting their pent up energy and emotion through a fast burning fire rather than a series of rapid explosions like before.

The album opens with an interchange between punk and pop-punk as the first track, “You’re So Vain”, jumps quickly between different time signatures (a little excessive for a song which is only 90 seconds in length). With “Paid In Full” the boys start dealing with the issues of being a 21st century punk: “Now we’re packing our bags, ’cause heaven doesn’t have any room for losers like us…”. They also deliver one of many catchy choruses’ throughout the record, although for The Dopamines this is very much a pop-punk song.

The band also manages to flex a bit of muscle towards the end of the final track “10 Stories”. Out of nowhere they hit in with a strong, heavy instrumental which wouldn’t be out of place on a more progressive album and conjures thoughts of the Young Guns style outro. Unlike the Dopamines’ earlier work, this album may not grab your attention immediately. The album’s more reserved sound means it is much more likely to build up and grow on you, luring you in rather than assaulting you at first listen.

There is an odd point in the album though. Part way through an otherwise promising song “Don’t Mosh The Organ”, the music fades out and then back in again after merely one or two seconds. The reason for this escapes me entirely and whatever the band’s intentions were it just sounds awkward. Other than this blip, “Vices” is a pretty solid pop-punk album even though it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The highlight of the record has to be the bands’ new experiment with the pop side of punk, showing they can do more than get wasted and then write a quick, angry song about it.

3.5 out of 5 high fives!

Skeleton Key – Gravity Is The Enemy

After multiple line-up changes, seven years since their last EP and a decade since their last abum, it must have looked as though as a second album was never going to happen for Skeleton Key. In fact the band, with a newly revamped line-up, took to an online crowdfunding website in order to finance the production on this album. With Slaves to Gravity, it seems as though it was worth all of the time and effort.

Lead singer Erik Sanko descried his vision on the band’s website saying: “I wanted it to sound like the film score to a freight train flying off the tracks, but a freight train that was filled with flowers.” If this seems like an oddly metaphorical way of describing something, then so will the majority of the lyrics on Gravity Is The Enemy.

What Skeleton Key creates is a mesmerising yet eerie sound, which will undoubtedly get stuck in your head. One thing that stands out to the goth/emo inside is how the entire album wouldn’t sound out of place if it was used as the soundtrack to a Tim Burton film. That eerie generally isn’t created by the subject matter of the songs alone. The raspy voice of Erik Sanko certainly adds to the mood Skeleton Key creates. As well as showing the power of his voice, at times it sounds like he’s whispering gothic lullabies. The unconventional sound is also emphasised by the odd percussion of Benjamin Clapp who plays alongside drummer Bob Vaccarelli. It sounds as though Benjamin is hitting pots, pans and any junk he can find; but instead of making the album sound unorganised, it adds superbly to the atmosphere being created.

The album opens with “Gravity Is The Enemy”, which brings in funk-esque bass lines and broken guitar riffs. The whole album has a consistent sound, powering from one raw song to the next. There’s a nice change of pace in the middle of the album, with “I’ll Walk You to the Door” & “The Mowing Devil”. The former takes the creepy sound to a new level, with Benjamin clattering away at his scraps and junk being the only accompaniment to Sanko’s distinctive voice, crowning about an unrequited love. The latter sounds even stranger than you would already expect from Skeleton Key. The banging of junk fills the background as whole band seems to break out in chain gang chants, until the noise subsides leaving only Sanko and a piano – frankly it’s creepy as hell.

A personal highlight from the album is the eleventh track: “Machine Screw”. The verses might sound like a lot of everything else on the album, but the chorus is infectious! It brings back the funky bass lines but delivers them with catchy riffs and a prominent drum beat while Sanko showcases more of his vocal range than anywhere else on the record.
If forced to criticise any point, maybe the final song is a little repetitive. It builds up to a hell of a crescendo of noise and static at the end, but you have to listen to the same verse for four or five minutes before you get there. But otherwise, Gravity Is The Enemy is a masterpiece.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Archimedes, Watch Out! – In Context

Archimedes, Watch Out! – I’m not quite sure why they named themselves after an Ancient Greek mathematician, but I am sure that this is a band worth taking notice of. For fans of Fall Out Boy and New Found Glory, this might be a band for you. Actually, scrap that. It’s not fair to build a band up for a fall, so don’t listen to AWO! expecting FOB take 2, but if that kind of pop-punk is your thing, you really should have a listen to these guys.

AWO! are a six-piece band from Texas who list bands like The Wonder Years and Motion City Soundtrack amongst other inspirations. Following on from their 2010 EP “A Face for Radio”, the band released their debut album this August called “In Context”.

I can’t conclusively say whether or not What About Smee? is meant to refer to Captain Hook’s right-hand man, but I sure hope it is! Peter Pan references aside, What About Smee provides a solid and apt opening to the album. The lead guitar plays away joyfully and the vocals seem promising too. Dalton Claybrook (vocalist) manages to show off his voice with frequent changes in pitch and strength, but the song ends rather abruptly. It conjures memories of the Sopranos season finale where it cuts to black in mid sent…

Inspired By True Events, sadly for me, is a low point of the album. Like in the song before, AWO! try to combine the catchy poppy choruses with enough guitar and fast drums to put the ‘punk’ in pop-punk, but unlike the album opener this seems a little confused. Half way through the song a female vocalist makes an appearance and while this usually makes a nice change, the way she and Dalton sing across each other hits me like nails on a chalkboard.

Bad Tattoos and Breakable Things, songs three and four, quickly make up for this hiccup. Bringing some more punk to the pop with the fast kick-drums, a strong bass line and a synth riff opening, Breakable Things which held promises of a heavier song than AWO! ultimately delivered. This is quite nicely juxtaposed against their ability to stay equally pop-rockish with synth mixed choruses filling Bad Tattoos. Songs five, six and seven carry on in the same fashion, bringing fun, punchy songs to sing-along to. The guitars continue to chirp away happily. It sums up a lot of what the album achieves: that happy sound in the background that can’t help but get lodged in your head and make you smile.

Stranded stands out as a little more sombre than what came previously, but once the vocals come in and join the guitar it doesn’t lead into anything that you haven’t heard before. By itself it is a good song, no doubt about that, the vocals are as good as ever and the guitar is just as infectious as in Bad Tattoos (probably becoming my highlight of the album), but that’s part of the problem – it’s just no different.

Don’t Turn Back Now does bring something new to the table, a nice little acoustic number, but at forty-four seconds it is only one verse long and serves as nothing more than an interlude before songs eleven and twelve. A refreshing change, even if it was only short-lived.

The lyrics throughout may be a little generic for pop-punk, with no real ingenuity in the songs but a lot of potential, especially for a debut album. However the lack of diversity in the album sees the last few songs merge into one. Each song by itself (maybe with the exception of Inspired by True Events) is a song well worth listening to and maybe in an age were less and less people buy full albums, that’s all you can ask for.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Anchors – Lost At The Bottom Of The World

Lost At The Bottom Of The World is the second album from Australian punkers Anchors. The broadly pop-punk band from Melbourne was founded in 2008 and released their first album, called Bad Juju, in 2010. The second album is in many ways a continuation of their first, staying true to their sound but also showing signs of development and further experimentation.

Anchors is a band with much more in common with the punk of the 80’s than most of the pop-punk bands that have circulated in the past decade. They describe their songs as “life songs” rather than songs about love or even politics. They’re not trying to rally for political reform, they’re just sick of what society has to offer and pissed at the rest of us for conforming. Punk as it should be, right?

The album opens with intro Death Rattle and this can be seen as a statement of intent from the band, bringing together 43 seconds of fast paced drums and infectiously catchy yet also powerful guitars, ripping straight into the first full length songEverything’s Amazing And Nobody’s Happy.The fast paced drums typical of punk songs and catchy guitars continue seamlessly from the intro, but now we get to hear the vocalist Brett too and he doesn’t disappoint, delivering aggressive and intense vocals.

With its repetitive feel you could be forgiven if after the first minute or so you felt tempted to skip to the next song, but if you did you would make a big mistake. The bridge of the song shows off the bands hardcore side, the beat slowing and the guitar taking pride of position (I challenge you to listen without headbanging along!).

As if to show that they didn’t discover their more hardcore side by accident, Tour Dogs, the third full length song on the album, hits in and delivers another fast paced track, but one which is both catchy and heavy in equal measures. It features two solos which add a more melodic feel to the song and album more generally, showing off the band’s depth and talent more than some of their more traditional sounding songs do.

Safety First, Then Teamwork comes along in the form of a big, aggressive middle finger to someone who remains nameless. Brimming with pure hatred, Brett aims his lyrics at the target: ”’cause I can’t stand a single thing about you, I can’t believe that anybody likes you!”. Perhaps they aren’t the most eloquent lyrics ever, but punk hardly ever tries to be poetic and the song gets the point across very clearly. The upbeat guitars send slightly mixed messages though, making listeners sing-along happily to Anchors’ greatest “fuck you”.

Another highlight on the album is From Miles Above which has a lot in common with Tour Dogs. Both bring hardcore riffs to the table along with the consistently strong vocals – lead and backup. There is a noticeable divergence though, where Tour Dogsfeatures the punk-y guitar riffs, From Miles Above provides fans with a bit of no nonsense melodic hardcore – definitely moshpit worthy.

The album does have its lower points though. It’s hard to see how Lazarus Sign adds anything new to the album, just sounding like a mash-up of everything that has come before it. Grimes is another song that brings déjà vu with it, reminiscent of Safety First, Then Teamwork in sound and lyrical content.

As the album draws to a close Anchors seem to forget themselves, producing a song which puts the pop in pop-punk called New Limits. This isn’t in itself a bad thing and the song may even be one of the best on the album. It is much more slowly paced, meaning Brett has a chance to try to show off more of his vocal range as the song builds to a powerful crescendo. But for a band that prides themselves on their angry anti-conformist songs it seems a little confused.

As a complete album there’s no doubting its quality and Lost At The Bottom Of The World is sure to help Anchors break out of Australia and establish more of an international fan base. There is still room for improvement though and hopefully we can expect a third album (if and when it comes) to be even better.

3.5 out of 5 high fives!