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CJ Ramone – The Holy Spell

CJ Ramone’s The Holy Spell is a fantastic punk rock record.

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Let’s just get this out of the way before we delve into it a little deeper- CJ Ramone’s The Holy Spell is a fantastic punk rock record. It channels the sound made famous by four guys from New York who loved their leather jackets and short songs and does so with great success. Owing perhaps, to the fact that the Ramones are timeless, it manages to come across as current too. What it isn’t, like much of millennial punk rock and pop punk; is tired, terribly depressed, or burdened by the woe-is-me sound of being an absolute bummer. Ok, that’s done, let’s go.

The Holy Spell, CJ’s follow-up to 2017’s American Beauty, is 12 songs of 60s beat influenced punk rock songs that swerve into surf rock, country, and blues. The songs punch with acerbic melody, accentuated by CJ’s easy-on-the-ears vocals and his penchant for writing inescapable hooks that’ll have you singing in no time. From the opening “One High One Low” to the terrific “This Town”, The Holy Spell would fit in very nicely to the Ramones catalog but does better as a continuation of what CJ has been doing as a solo artist; a natural progression from American Beauty. “This Town” is a track of particular note. Its simplicity and laser-like precision accomplish in its tight 2:24 runtime more than most punk rock bands are able to do in an entire album. It is impossible to like punk rock and not like this song.

Songs like “Hands of Mine” takes on a more country-tinged outlook; rustic, and a little more serene. “Stand Up” glosses in its more bubblegum doo-wop, side-by-side and hand-in-hand with the equally bouncy “Postcard from Heaven”.

Most importantly though, much of The Holy Spell deals with a lot of relatable topics like life, death, hope and getting on with things. Yet CJ does them all without the desperate, self-centered plight of the Instagram generation. Instead of trying to shape the world he lives in, CJ does what any good musician and songwriter does- cope, understand, thrive in it. The album closes with the terrific Americana-flavored, gospel-esque tribute to the departed Steve Soto of Agent Orange/Adolescents. It may start on a sad tone, but like much of the album takes life’s hardships with the “fuck it, let’s rock on” mantra that makes the song an enduring one. I can only hazard a guess, but I think Soto would have been proud of this song.   

In “Blue Skies” CJ sings, amongst its slight melancholy, about “doing your best to do your best”. With its sweet hooks and melodies, the song encapsulates in the simplest way you can to “smile when you’re feeling good” because “when the wheel spins round / let the good times roll / they’ll be back like I told you they would”. Uncomplicated and assured, they are lessons for all to learn taught by minimalist rhythm guitars and a good beat.

There is much to appreciate in The Holy Spell. It is the kind of punk rock record that’s hard to put down and hard to dislike. But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that one of the best punk rock records of the year was written by someone named ‘Ramone’.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

Reviews

Void of Vision – Hyperdaze

An adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey

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Void of Vision - Hyperdaze

Void Of Vision, from Melbourne Australia, have been on the fringe of breaking out in the Australian heavy scene for as long as I have been listening to music. While they have clearly got a massive audience, it has always been a question of why aren’t they bigger? It has seemed like they have struggled to find their place within the churning machine that is the Aussie scene, and in the lead up to this release it felt like, as a fan, it was make or break for them. And now, sitting here after having Hyperdaze on repeat ever since I received it, I am happy to say they have found themselves, and they are about to take off.

Hyperdaze features an adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey through the entity that is Void Of Vision. Making it immediately evident that they are taking a spookier approach to their sound with this album, Hyperdaze with the ominous and atmospheric intro track, “Overture”. The slow build of this leads perfectly into the opening hits of “Year Of The Rat”. Immediately punching you in the face with a mix of growling guitars and massive drums, this headbang inducing rhythm alone is enough to set the nightmarish tone for the rest of the album. An atmosphere filled with intensity reigns through the verses, and is released only for a mesmerising sung chorus, that while is nothing ground-breaking, will stick in your head for hours.

“Babylon” opens with a maniacal fast paced intro, leading up to a dreamlike swaying verse. Heavy and hard, it maintains this high level of pressure all the way through to the demonic breakdown that makes up almost half the song. Only 2 minutes long, “Babylon” is short yet sharp. Transitioning fluently into “If Only”, this extra fast paced track implements extra usage of the added dark synth that they’ve merely flirted with thus far. The verses feel like they are throwing you back and forth, as the frantic tempo adds a maniacal edge to the track before it flows into the chorus. One issue that I personally have had with Void over the years, is their sung choruses can sometimes have jarring effects, and can seem like they interrupt and resultingly dissolve any momentum that they had previously built up in the verses. I’m happy to say that through Hyperdaze they have found the balance, and every chorus flows perfectly throughout each song that is relevant. As well as a gorgeous chorus and strong verses, “If Only” features a rare but welcome guitar solo that is a tonne of fun.

“Slave To The Name” closely follows, and is a slower but more mechanical take on the darkness. Injecting a healthy dose of panicky guitars, screeching vocals, and gut-wrenching drums straight into our veins, it leads us perfectly into the absolute fucking vibe that is “Adrenaline”. Clocking in at 1 minute and 31 seconds, this synth-heavy dance track is a wild time from start to finish. Grooving and moving their way into the electronic and house scene, Void of Visionhave now raised the question, “Could Void Sell Out Revs?” Instrumental and well out of left field, “Adrenaline” is the most eyebrow raising and most fun song off the entire album.

Lead single “Hole In Me” is the one that got everyone especially excited for this release, and for good reason. Unrelenting in tone, it was the first sign that Void were about to take the next step up. Bouncy and frantic and featuring some of the snappier snare hits you will find, “Hole In Me” remains to be one of the strongest song releases of the year. “Kerosene Dream” shows the band getting extra inventive with their guitars, and while it is chock full of fun riffs, what predominately draws the listeners ears to it will undoubtedly be the ridiculously tough blast beats, and the ridiculously tough breakdowns.

Psychedelic and cybertronic-baby vocal effects reign through the verses of “Decay” and maintain that the freshness of this sound doesn’t stale towards the end of the album. “Splinter” is opened up with the return of the, to put it in professional terms, “fucking sick” blastbeats that have popped their heads up a few times so far. They lead into ridiculously tight and fast verses and ensure that “Splinter” is one of the heaviest tracks off the whole album. The drums are the MVP of this track, and it is impossible to ignore how integral they are here. Setting the pace and taking control of the entire song, it is the added intensity of drums that gives “Splinter” the added edge it needed.

And thus we have hit the closing/title track, “Hyperdaze”, which ends the album with an added sense of dread. While all the way through it is just another fun heavy song that fits with the tone of the album, the way it ends, with intense nightmarish samples and effects, adds the haunting tone that it felt like the ending of this album deserved.

(UNFD)

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Reviews

Blink-182 – Nine

Bland-182

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blink-182 nine

It’s been an odd few years for Blink-182. The band, now crystallized with the addition of Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba, seems to have fallen into the steadfast routine of existing to remain relevant by doing everything by the book. Nine, the band’s eighth studio album, and now the second without Tom DeLonge, is a natural progression from 2016’s California, but it’s so determined to remain current while checking off every single pop music trope of today that it does everything except have a personality. It’s 15 songs of music that fit anywhere in-between pop songs by Ariana Grande or Post-Malone. The album is just as easy to digest next to Lil Wayne as it is next to Maroon 5, and like all these aforementioned artists, Blink are now so safe, so saccharine, so inoffensive that it becomes such a chore to sit through this latest iteration of their music.

The problem with Nine is that so many of the songs are lacking any sense of urgency and commit the ultimate crime of just being songs that fill a tracklist. From the singles “Blame It On My Youth”, “Happy Days”, and the confounding “I Really Wish I Hated You”- they all come packing the same bouncy, pop-laden hooks, Travis Barker’s skitterish drum work, and singy-songy choruses that have dominated the charts the last decade and are bereft of a willingness or desire to grab the listener by the ears and demand attention. Songs like “Hungover You” sound like half-songs with its whispered, scatter-gun verses that explode into mid-tempo choruses. “Remember To Forget Me” is “Stay Together For The Kids” lite, except that it doesn’t have the impact of the latter’s substance while “Generational Divide” gives off “my first punk song” vibes. Skiba sounds bored half the time, which is a shame really. Even when the album does its best Alkaline Trio impersonation (“Black Rain”) it sounds like a song Skiba left off the last Trio record.

Nine finally hits a spot of excitement in “Ransom” with its uptempo percussion work and (finally) the urge to push the limits. But dumbfoundingly, the song is only a minute and a half long, and while I’m all for brevity, the song ends just as it is about to pick up some momentum. Bizarre.

So who is Nine for exactly? Well, it’s definitely not for old-school Blink fans who first discovered the band with Buddha, Cheshire Cat, or Dude Ranch. But I’m probably just a crotchety old-school listener who has been puzzled ever since 2003’s self-titled album. Nine is really for the average listener who “likes all kinds of music” and loves that so much of popular music today is inoffensive, safe, diverse, and caters to listeners of all genres and backgrounds. For you, the album is fine and will sit happily in your Spotify playlist next to whatever tepid song is currently topping the charts. But for anyone who longs for Blink with a little bit of personality and juvenile attitude, you’ll find none of that here. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the album’s lack of DeLonge either because by the time he did Neighborhoods, his head was already in the stars chasing aliens.

Perhaps it is too much to ask for another song about jerking off in a tree, but this band used to be fun. Now they’re just pedestrian at best. Imagine an average Alkaline Trio hooking up with +44 on the dance floor of some terrible night club and you’ve got Nine. It’s a shame really. Growing up doesn’t always have to suck, but it really shouldn’t be this bland either.

(Columbia Records)

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