The bud that grows, once juvenile in its infancy, blooms into petals of nature’s flowery discontent. And once again, discontent’s ire has fueled the desire for growth and torturous change. The one-time jewels of latrine culled pop punk, Blink 182 have finally gotten to their heads that yes, 30-year-old men singing about being stuck in trees with pants dropped ankle high while purporting questions of age, is just as silly as the color-by-numbers music in which such verse was served upon.
Indeed, 1997’s Dude Ranch was truly a fine moment. The apex point in which pop punk’s most capable manifestation met the lucid charm of potty humor and the stricken heart of teenage romance. With the anthemic push of radio hits “Dammit” and “Josie” and the pinpoint emotional accuracy of gems like “Waggy” and “Apple Shampoo”, Dude Ranch was undoubtedly the soundtrack to a many growing soul, and will remain a modern pop punk triumph. However, as they say, lightning rarely strikes twice and as this San Diego trio fought to contain the energy, they could do no better than the pitter patter slump of meager after-showers and dreary weather.
The multi-platinum selling Enema of the State, while the height of the band’s commercial success, suffered greatly from mediocrity trying in all its earnest to show signs of energetic life while pushing itself up the charts. It thrust Blink’s Teen Beat allure into stratospheres seen in punk’s new acceptance only once back in 1994. And like those previous bands who struggled to shed their image of cover friendly models, Blink’s supposed return to “darker, heavier roots” was an embarrassing presentation that juggled more adult topics while trying to tell the kids, “We’re still cool.” Rightfully so, the painfully titled Take Off Your Pants and Jacket exhibits a band who schizophrenically flailed from painting a picture of America’s troubled parenting situation one moment and then the next, on to the conundrums of the first date. It was the distinct low point for a band who once sang so expressively, “Watching your house fade away in my rear view mirror as I drive away / wishing that I could take back all those words that meant nothing that I didn’t say,” the woe of not understanding love’s embryonic stab.
So with their new eponymous (or untitled, whatever) album, Blink 182 have taken their misdirection to a whole new level. With Tom Delonge manning most of the song writing duties (seemingly still afflicted with a bad case of “sideprojectism”), the majority of the tracks, like Boxcar Racer’s album, confusingly juxtapose artistic rock tints with shades of the up-tempo mannerisms found on Cheshire Cat and the aforementioned Dude Ranch. “Obvious” moonlights as heavy rock mangling before launching into very familiar territory while “Violence” boasts what could very well be (discounting that Macho Man CD) this year’s most inept 01:17 period of a song – stagnant synthesizer beats layered with clicking and fidgeting followed by its gung-ho dive into percussion heavy punk riffs before stalling into static … and sure enough, that ridiculously gauche finger-snapping-like clicking again.
Perhaps if there has been one consistent aspect of the group since Enema of the State, it would have to be the animatedly charged drum work of Travis Barker. The much textured, sonically charged dynamic that settles into the backbone comes into full fruition – Barker is given his cleanest palette yet; and his work is one that shines conspicuously. Unfortunately, it does lead to the album’s biggest downfall. Barker’s ability to experiment and successfully traverse into more rhythm and blues oriented styles is a concept completely lost on both Delonge and Mark Hoppus. So Barker has to lead the charge so to speak, driving countless songs (“Always”, “Stockholm Syndrome”, “I Miss You”) into more acceptable fields. When Delonge and Hoppus are given center stage, the results are disastrous. Witness the drudgery that is “I’m Lost Without You”, over six minutes long and rife with mid tempo sludge of pining and cumbersome words of being alone.
The album’s most welcome moment comes in the form of guest vocalist Robert Smith of The Cure. “All Of This”, while musically simplistic, boasts that plaintive echo evoked by Smith’s voice – and the track works on many levels, easily becoming the best work Blink 182 have done since “Pathetic.”
In regards to budding growth, Blink has shed many a wilting petals. Moments on the album are crystalline in their attempt to don new, more credible skin. However, it would seem, for the most part, their efforts at reconfiguration are far too little, far too late, leaving Blink 182to writhe in spectacular unimportance.
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.