It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from punk journeymen Bad Religion, folk-popsters Vampire Weekend, Blues rocker Matt Andersen, and a bunch of songs inspired by a show about dragons and incest.
Bad Religion: Age of Unreason
There isn’t a lot of subtlety to Bad Religion. They play fast, loud and don’t tend to trouble themselves beyond the traditional three-chord punk approach. This is not a bad thing, but if you’re looking for complex orchestral arrangements or six-part harmonies, Age of Unreason probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind a bit of modern punk with biting lyrics, then read on, my friend…
Formed by a bunch of high school students in L.A. in 1980, Bad Religion recorded a self-titled debut EP the following year. The EP was released on Epitaph Records, set up by guitarist Brett Gurewitz, a label that would go on to release albums from bands like Pennywise, Offspring, Rancid and Weezer. Over the next 30 years, Bad Religion would go on to inspire scores of punk, post-punk and hardcore bands by playing their unique style of critical-thinking punk.
Inspired by the band’s contempt for Donald Trump, Age of Unreason is rich with social and political commentary, particularly on songs like Do The Paranoid Style and blistering title track. End of History takes a shot at MAGA-style nostalgia and asks what role the listener is going to play in the impending Armageddon — where do you really want to be at the end of history?
Even if you don’t like punk music, Age of Unreason is worth checking out for the perspective it provides on living in 2019 America. It’s a scary place.
Standout tracks: Chaos from Within, Do The Paranoid Style, End of History
Sample lyric: “I don’t believe in golden ages, or presidents who put kids in cages.” (End of History)
Verdict: 9/10 – not the punk album 2019 needs, but the one it deserves.
Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride
Since their 2006 formation at Columbia University in New York, Vampire Weekend has been one of those bands that it’s cool to hate. To be fair, they didn’t make it difficult, singing songs about Oxford Commas and the Colours of Benetton and appropriating African rhythms, like they had Paul Simon’s Graceland playing on repeat. On the other hand, singer Ezra Koenig and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij did have a knack for writing catchy tunes, so a new Vampire Weekend album is always worth checking out.
Originally titled Mistubishi Macchiato, Father of the Bride has been in development for the last six years, a period which saw the band perform at a rally for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and also the departure of founding member (and original producer) Batmanglij. While the talented multi-instrumentalist appears as a guest artist on this album, his absence is definitely felt.
At times self-aware to the point ofbeing painful, Father of the Bride features a couple of standout tracks, notably Hold You Now and Married in a Gold Rush, both featuring Danielle Haim, from the band of the same name. As a songwriter, Koenig has knack for clever one-liners — as evidenced on Unbearably White, a catchy track that takes an oblique shot at all those critics who have accused them of cultural appropriation (which includes me, I suppose).
Overall, Father of the Bride is a slightly unsatisfying listening experience. Engaging at times, the album often descends into self-indulgence, particularly on tracks like Big Blue and My Mistake. While Koenig and his bandmates are approaching middle-age, it still sounds like the band should be performing at a high school or college dance, providing background music.
Standout tracks: Married in a Gold Rush, Hold You Now, This Life
Sample lyric: “Could’ve been smart, we just unbearably bright.” (Unbearably White)
Verdict: 6/10 — worth a listen for fans of the band.
Shameless Cash-Grab of the Week
For the Throne (Music Inspired by the HBO Series Game of Thrones)
Have you ever wondered what a Mumford & Sons song about Game of Thrones would sound like? No, neither have I, but in the spirit of commerce, here’s an album of songs inspired by a TV show performed by a bunch of one-hit wonders and emerging artists you may or may not have heard of. Sure, you’re probably familiar with Ellie Goulding and maybe the Lumineers, but how about Lemon Stella or that arch-enemy of spellcheck, Joey Bada$$?
Kicking off with the moody Kingdom of One by Maren Morris, For the Thrones picks up momentum with the funky Power is Power, a collaboration between SZA, The Weeknd and Travis Scott. The Lumineers contribute a tribute to the Night’s Watch with Nightshade, while Ellie Goulding gets her Sansa on with the sinister Hollow Crown.
Like any compilation album, there is a fair amount of filler on For the Throne, including the cut and paste hip hop of Baptize Me by X-Ambassadors & Jacob Banks and the well-intentioned but fairly unimaginative Too Many Gods by A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$. Fortunately, not every song on the album feels the need to constantly reference dragons and it will probably take a couple of listens before you pick up all the GOT references, should you be that way inclined.
Standout tracks: Power is Power, Hollow Crown, Nightshade
Sample lyric: “We were surrounded and the ending was near, all of a sudden a ranger appeared.” (Nightshade)
Verdict: 7/10 — a novelty album, albeit one with a couple of surprisingly good songs
Ch.. check it out
Matt Andersen: Halfway Home by Morning
Canadian blues/rock guitarist Matt Andersen has a powerful voice and the musical confidence that comes with 17 years of writing, recording and touring the world. After learning to play at the feet of his grandfather, Andersen’s first professional foray into music came back in 2002 with New Brunwsick band Flat Top, playing hundreds of gigs at tiny bars and wherever else would let them play.
It only takes moments of listening to Andersen sing to pick up the passion in his voice, a lust for life that sweeps you up and carries you away. He addresses some of the same issues that make Bad Religion so angry, but he does it looking for a solution, bringing people together to become greater than the sum of their parts.
Halfway Home by Morning is Andersen’s tenth album, recorded live in Nashville with a group of accomplished session musicians, including bassist Mike Farrington and backing vocalists the McCrary sisters. Amy Helm guest stars on the simmering Something to Lose, while Andersen provides a powerful and consistent vocal presence throughout.
Standout tracks: Something to Lose, What Would Your Mama Say?, Gasoline
Sample lyric: “Let’s start living and forgiving like we’re running out of time.” (Gasoline)
Verdict: 7/10 — authentic and passionate.
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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