Robyn’s Top 10 Valentine’s Tracks for 2015

I normally do an ‘anti-Valentines’ playlist every year. I try to be witty, and pick songs that are all about death and hate and horror. ‘Last Caress’ by the Misfits has topped my list virtually every year since I was 18. But this year, I decided that I should actually take the spirit of the season properly and come up with a list of songs that are actually about love and mushy stuff and all that stuff… kind of.

10) Millencolin – Fox

Okay, okay, so I’ve got to get a joke song in there at some point, and I figured I’d get it over and done with first thing. Millencolin’s heartfelt punk rock love letter to their car is brilliant. A perfect example of how great Pennybridge Pioneers is, it’s a fun-filled ride from start to finish.

9) Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – See Her On The Weekend

The whole AM In The Wilderness record is incredible, but there are certain songs in particular that left an impression on me. I’ve found that the older I get, the less I want to hear about your stereotypical adolescent romance, and I want to hear about something real. See Her On The Weekend is one of those such songs – just simple musings about life and the love that comes with it.

8) AFI – End Transmission

Davey Havok’s Bonnie and Clyde-esque tale about running away into the sunset is probably the best thing about Crash Love. The first verse is hopelessly romantic, and even if there aren’t any of signs of Davey’s signature ‘oh!’, it’s still pretty fantastic.

7) Lanterns – Happiness Pt 3

To be honest, I could have picked any of the ‘Happiness’ trio, but Pt 3 just is this perfect exaltation of love. I’d be loathe to say you need romantic love to be happy in life, but ‘Happiness Pt 3’ explains just how happy someone else can make you feel. Plus, it has an absolutely gorgeous build-up towards the end.

6) The Lawrence Arms – Fireflies

‘Fireflies’ is a tale of love long lost, but it’s definitely earned its place on this list. It’s one of the best songs on The Greatest Story Ever Told, and it’s probably the smartest in this bunch. If you don’t totally fall head over heels for Chris’ vocals, then you’re probably soulless.

5) Sugarcult – Lost In You

I adored this record when I was a kid, and I thought that ‘Lost In You’ was the prettiest little thing. Lots of the record was typical pop-punk fare, but ‘Lost In You’ was something deeper. It’s a catchy track, and it made me want to have the kind of love that led to that kind of heartbreak.

4) Descendents – Talking

The Descendents always keep it real. ‘Talking’ is all about frustrating long distance relationships and trying to keep it all together over the phone. In typical Descendents style, it’s as honest as it comes. It’s hard not to fall in love with Stephen Egerton’s infectious riffs, and the line ‘Maybe we’ll fall in love when I get home’ will get stuck in your head for days.

3) Say Anything – Crush’d

Out of all of Max Bemis’ proclamations of love, Crush’d is by far my favourite. Branded with the typical Say Anything wittiness, it’s a gem of a track, lurking on their oft-forgotten self-titled record. It’s a total love letter to his wife Sherri, and it’s bloody wonderful.

2) Candy Hearts – I Miss You

‘I Miss You’ is just lovely, earnest pop-punk joy. If a red velvet cupcake could be a song, then this would be it with sprinkles on top. But it’s also totally real – Mariel’s lyrics indicate a fear of handing yourself over completely to one person, but at the same time, there’s a great sense of excitement about being so in love.

1) Brand New – Soco Amaretto Lime

Do I even need to explain anything? Brand New’s anthem about the end of adolescence is the sweetest love song of all time.

Robyn’s Top 10 Records of 2014

Another year is over, and what a bloody great one it’s been for music. This year has seen records that I know will stand the test of time. Records that are innovative, playful, punk-as-fuck and just plain catchy. Normally, this list is comprised of just albums – I tend to find I sink my teeth into those much more readily – but this year, I’ve had to alter my expectations and a few EPs can be found here too. Here’s my snapshot of 2014 – grab a cuppa and get stuck in.

Leaving is Bristolian punk rock at its finest. Brutally honest, charmingly melodic and just damn good. The perfect antidote to blustery winter days, Leaving is truly quite wonderful, and the kind of record that finds itself clinging on hard to your stereo. As it’s an EP, it’s not that long, and inevitably ends up leaving you craving more. It also happens to be the finest record that Caves have done to date – check out our review for more.

A glorious return from the queen of punk, Diploid Love is a far more mature record than any of Brody’s previous outings. Main single ‘Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy’, featuring Shirley Manson, is probably good enough to enter this list itself, but there’s plenty of fantastic moments threaded throughout. Even the bizarre Casio keyboard. There’s a definite QOTSA influence cropping up in the guitar tones, but that just serves to make Diploid Love even sharper and cleverer. We headed down to the Birmingham show earlier this year and had our minds blown.

NFG’s eighth record, and their first without founding member Steve Klein, is an absolute banger. A fantastic return to form, this record proves exactly why pop-punk isn’t dead. I’ve been a huge NFG fan for years, but it’s not all been plain sailing. However, Resurrection harks back to those early days, with songs reminiscent of the incredible Sticks and Stones, but with a much older and wiser feel. It’s still all about girls and staying posi, but it’s damn catchy. It also makes it impossible to forget who really invented the pop-punk beatdown.

Have The Lawrence Arms ever brought out a bad record? The answer, is of course, ‘no’. Another solid entry to the discography, Metropole has a more down-to-earth feel than some of the band’s earlier records, but it still has that same great storytelling capacity that The Lawrence Arms are famed for. It’s also crazy that this is the first full album since Oh! Calcutta! in 2006, but it was more than worth the wait, if only for ‘Drunk Tweets’ alone.

Imagine if Justin Timberlake and Architects got together and jammed. Got that ridiculous notion in your head? You know, if that ever happened, you’d probably end up with the debut album from Issues. IT’S METALCORE MIXED WITH R&B. The how and why are so far past being relevant right now, you just need to know that it exists and that it’s brilliant. Tyler Carter’s vocals are sublime, the songwriting is surprisingly intricate, and truth be told, I’ve never had so much fun listening to a metal record.

Bangers had the mental idea that they were going to write and record a whole bunch of songs in 48 hours, then put whatever they came up with onto a tape. And you know what? It turned out more than okay. Mysterious Ways is classic Bangers, through and through, but it’s also a lot more spontaneous, as one might expect, and it ends up being a whole lot of fun. If you missed out on purchasing this, just try and find a YouTube upload of ‘Mosquito’ somewhere. Totally worth it.

Hebrews is bizarre. Not content with the usual guitar-bending, synth-melding pop-rock bonanza that usually forms a Say Anything record, Max Bemis decided to enlist a string orchestra and went analogue, baby. Even so, half of the riffs on here (coming from violins) are still some of the punkest sounding things I’ve heard in a long time. Also, in true Say Anything style, Max pulls in all of his buddies to guest star, with some pretty surprising results. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but Hebrews is one of the most mind-blowing records of the year.

Andrew McMahon’s first ‘solo’ album proper is one of the most beautiful pop records you’ll hear this decade. After deciding that it was time to move on from Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew decided to travel from studio to studio, practice space to practice space, and came up with ten incredible tracks. Each song has its own personality and identity in a way that most major pop artists struggle to achieve, and the record as a whole is a perfect example of highly emotionally intelligent songwriting. We were lucky enough to interview him earlier this year, and that’s possibly the coolest thing I’ve done with this zine.

Nervous Like Me totally knocked me for six. I’ve been following Cayetana since their first demo was released and they got picked up by Tiny Engines, but I didn’t expect an album that was so clever, so raw and yet so polished, and ultimately, so incredible. The Philly trio have become masters of melody in just a short time, having formed in 2011 while hardly ever having touched an instrument in their lives. We gave this 5 out of 5 earlier in the year, and wouldn’t hesitate to give that score all over again.

Bold. Brave. Beautiful. That’s what Transgender Dysphoria Blues is. There probably wasn’t any other way an Against Me! record could have gone, after Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, but the result was a cathartic, vitriolic and ultimately enthralling record. Laura’s always been one of the best songwriters in the business, and the sheer variance of sound and style on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, while still sounding like a coherent whole, is testament to that. Everything sounds so good. Even if you can only really sing along to the line ‘you’ve got no cunt in your strut’ in the car on your own. Is it the best Against Me! record? To be honest, I’m going to hazard a yes – no other Against Me! record has ever felt this free, and it’s glorious.

Interview: Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and chat with Andrew McMahon. Andrew, who is well famed in the alternative scene for his tenure in Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, is finally stepping out on his own to do a ‘solo project’ of sorts, entitled Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness. The record is incredible – filled with huge pop numbers and quite possibly, very unexpected given his former bands. I spoke to Andrew about the shift in sound and how it all came together, while discovering a few things about my favourite Something Corporate songs…

This new record is coming out under the name ‘Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’, but throughout your career, you’ve released records under so many different guises. Why the switch to AM in the Wilderness this time?

Well, you know, it has more to do with it being time to move on from Jack’s Mannequin and knowing that Jack represented a certain time in my life, and that it was time to wind that down. When faced with the idea of putting out music again, whether or not to start a whole new moniker and kind of hide behind that, or to come out with my own name, well I thought ‘okay, there’s gotta be Andrew McMahon in this title somewhere’. I felt like it was a little disingenuous not to recognise the amount of collaboration in this project and also to, in a sense, represent the time that I was living in when I wrote these songs. I think that ‘In the Wilderness’ is a pretty fair assessment at what it felt like to be outside of making music for major labels, which has become the norm for me over the past ten or twelve years. It’s also a fair assessment of making music without the cover of a band and of what went into approaching this independent process, instead of one which had a lot of protection.

I take it that your songwriting process has changed throughout these different incarnations, but in particular, how did this record come together?

Some things are a lot different, but other things don’t change at all. I think that my goal for writing a song is very much the same – I want these songs to serve the function of answering questions of my daily life and connecting my subconscious with the universe a little bit. The process of figuring out what’s rattling round in my brain is still the same, and I try to take those things and communicate them in a universal way that makes sense as pop music. Certainly with this record though, I was much more open to collaboration. I had a handful of trusted friends who I got in a room with on and off throughout the course of making this record to bounce ideas off throughout the process.

This record, and The Pop Underground EP, have had more of an electronic influence – why the shift, and what have you learned from it?

Well, there’s a combination of reasons. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, and even if you listen to Everything in Transit, on songs like ‘Dark Blue’ and ‘Miss Delaney’, you start to hear elements of synths trying to crop up. I think it’s a factor of both the classic records that I used to listen to growing up as a kid in the 80s, when there were almost no live, no acoustic instruments on those records, but also a resurgence of electronic music in general at the moment. It’s actually in an evolutionary state now with so many people making music at home on their laptops rather than in proper recording studios. It’s hard to escape that influence, and as a modernist and someone who likes to play into the contemporary sphere of music, I think it was a no-brainer to access those some of those sounds.

When you say people are making stuff in their bedrooms, did you move around a lot and access different spaces and studios when you were recording?

Absolutely! I try in general when I’m working to not to lock into one space particularly so that I can keep it fresh and let the environment itself be a stimulus for the writing and the production. The writing started in a very sparse stage, where I wrote a handful of songs up in this cabin in a place called Topanga Canyon in LA and then I headed over to work with one of my main collaborators and producers, Mike Viola. He has this great little garage, and there’s an element of this record that I’ll always associate with Mike’s garage! But after that, when we were getting to the point of finishing songs, we moved into LAFX Studios. So we moved around quite a bit, and at each stage of the project, you need different things. It used to be that you’d hole up in a studio that cost a few thousand bucks a day but with independent records, you don’t really have the budget to throw that kind of money around, so you go where the gear is that you need for that day.

So, do you think that the different influence that each of these spaces had led to having such a wide blend of musical styles on the record? You’ve got big pop numbers, 80s influenced songs, very piano-led tracks – was it a challenge to thread all of these together in one record, especially when you’re recording all over the place?

When you start a project and you have all these disparate threads of songs, there is always this moment where you think ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to make this work together?’ A big turning point for the record was when James Flanagan, who I wrote ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ with, we did a lot of that production in the first day that we had met and written that song. James ended up being the thread that unified a lot of the sounds of the record. He came in as a co-producer and really focused the vision. We ended up using a lot of the drum sounds and keyboard sounds that James helped match as sort of a unifying thread throughout the record, and that helped in a big way.

The forthcoming birth of your daughter was a huge influence on the record, most definitely in Cecilia and the Satellite (which I think is really the shining star of the record, by the way), but lyrically, you also delve back into past relationships, old memories and so on – how do you balance the old and the new when you write?

Half of it is a step into the future and the other half is looking at the present day and gazing backwards and saying ‘how could things have been different’? I think there was a part of me finally out of the haze of my twenties and the confusion of these post-illness years, and a lot of things happened in the haze of my recovery, and I was trying to say ‘I’m okay with all of this, but I want to talk about it a little bit.’ I wanted to make sense of it, shed some light on it and see how I’m moving forward. The landscape of new sounds allowed me to talk about some of these more nostalgic themes and allowed me to shed some of that, I guess.

One thing that you haven’t lost throughout all of these records is the theme of space, which crops up on all of them in one way or another – what’s its significance to you?

You know, [Andrew laughs], there’s a part of me that feels as if I’m meant to be floating around in space somehow. I have these dreams on a regular basis, that I’ve had ever since I was a little kid, where I’m in space. And it’s funny, because depending on the time of my life, it’s either amazing and I feel totally at home or it’s terrifying, because I’m looking at earth and trying to make my way there. It’s a metaphor that I’ve always connected with, and there’s always the awesomeness of looking out into the distance and thinking ‘wow, we are really just these small beings sitting out there in the middle of the universe.’

Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?

Are you kidding, I think I still do want to be an astronaut!

Last year, you did a solo tour that was literally just you and your piano – I really enjoyed it from an audience perspective, but what was it like as a performer to do that? Would you repeat the experience again some day?

I think I’m actually set to repeat it in February in the UK! It’s funny because for all the years that I’ve been playing and singing, I didn’t start doing these solo shows until a few years ago. There’s a nakedness to it that can be scary, but then there’s also this other side of it where you can connect a little more deeply to your voice and your piano. In that sense, I think it can be both an awesome way to play a show and to see one.

Yeah, I suppose that it’s very conversational and very laid-back – not pretentious or anything like that, but it was just really nice to have that connection.

Like you said, those shows end up being conversational and you can do something in a show like that which you can’t necessarily do with a full band, so I like to do a combination – I’ll do the full band sets, but I’ll build in these acoustic shows so that both me and my fans can experience as many different live atmospheres as possible.

And a bit of a personal ask, but where did ‘Me and the Moon’ come from? It’s really the first instance of a song where it’s not from a personal perspective (and still, one of few even today) – what inspired that?

I remember writing the piano part first, and it was this very intricate melody, and the first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘It’s a good year for a murder.’ Needless to say when that’s the first line of a song, it means you’ve got a lot to live up to, and it’s also a tough thing to sell as a pop song. So I found the easiest way for me to pitch that was as a story about this murder, but more about the idea of suburban sadness. I think growing up in the suburbs, you see a lot of unhappy people, but when you see people who have a lot of these traditionally happy things like a house and a family but aren’t happy, that was really what I was aiming to tackle.

So finally, for anyone just discovering your music, there’s a lot of it to digest, and all with very different styles – where would you suggest they start?

Well first, I’ve gotta say this record, because it’s my brand-new record! I think if you want to get to know me now, then that’s a no-brainer. But after that, I’d go to Everything In Transit, and then Leaving Through The Window – so all the beginnings.

Andrew’s amazing new record, ‘Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness’, is out now on Vanguard Records. Find out more at

Review: Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – s/t

The new record from Andrew McMahon is ambitious. So ambitious, that he’s released it under yet another name. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness is really Andrew’s first solo album proper, given that Jack’s Mannequin became a full-band project, and is very much a pop album in the way that Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate were not.

For the potentially wary, it’s not a huge leap away from his solo EP The Pop Underground, and of course, Andrew’s signature sound is still very much there, loud and proud. However, there’s a much greater electronic influence in AM In The Wilderness than in any previous projects, and there’s plenty of fantastic synth lines running throughout. And that’s just part of it – the sheer breadth of style that AM In The Wilderness encompasses is incredible. From huge pop numbers like ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ to gospel-inspired ‘Canyon Moon’, and beautiful piano-led tracks like ‘Rainy Girl’ to 80s-styled finisher ‘Maps for the Getaway’ (which sounds like it would fit fantastically on The Breakfast Club’s soundtrack), no two songs sound the same. Each track has its own individual timbre, and yet as an album, it all works together perfectly.

The record also holds a delicate balance between old and new. On the one hand, there are plenty of songs about the forthcoming birth of Andrew’s daughter, Cecilia. ‘See Her On The Weekend’, ‘Rainy Girl’ and of course, ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’, which is the shining star of the album, all reflect on this huge event in different ways, culminating in a wonderful tribute to a baby girl. But there’s a lot of looking back and soul searching as well – ‘High Dive’ and ‘Black and White Movies’ are all about past relationships, and ‘All Our Lives’ is simply a fantastic take on life, its potential difficulties and eventually moving on. It’s an incredibly introspective record in places, bold and decisive in others, but ultimately uplifting at every turn. ‘Maps for the Getaway’ in particular is simply about making it through, and it ends the record on a triumphant, yet poignant note.

The fact is that Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness is a lot of different things. It’s a beautiful example of emotionally intelligent songwriting, immersed in stunning melodies and gorgeous metaphor. It’s brutally honest and genuinely heartwarming. It’s daring, and yet another step further from Andrew’s pop-punk roots. And above all this, it has the potential to be his greatest record yet. Fans of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin will love this, but then again, so will everyone else.

5 out of 5 high fives!