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Failing Up – Sword and the Wall

A succinct six songs that leave you hungry for more, Sword and the Wall goes a long way in solidifying the appeal of Failing Up.

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Sword and the Wall

While we have seen countless female-fronted rock bands dominated by a hundred and one Hayley Williams clones, female-fronted punk rock has had the enviable position of featuring an amazing variety of powerful women fronting a cavalcade of in-your-face music. We’ve had in this recent lifetime the opportunity to witness a host of bands both globe-conquering and local who have shredded stages and studios- The Distillers, The Interrupters, White Lung, Tsunami Bomb, Naked Aggression, L7, The Donnas, Deviates- just to name a very select few. All coming from an assortment of genres, but all sharing one commonality; attitude. There is one band that needs to be added to this list immediately, and that is Los Angeles based punk band Failing Up.

Buoyed by the shattering and snarling vocal work of Tanya Delgado, Failing Up are a mesmerizing blend of melodic punk and hardcore. The lovechild of Beat the Bastards-era The Exploited and melodicore heavyweights like Strung Out and Pennywise, the band have just released their latest work, a six-song EP of pummelling riffs accentuated with Delgado’s menacing voice. From the onset of the opening “Deal With This”, Failing Up take no prisoners, lobbing a salvo of blazing guitars, machine gun percussion work and the kind of urgency that goes missing in more serene musical pastures. It is impossible to listen to “Deal With This” and not get amped. Whether it is the soaring “woah woahs” or the breakneck tempo of the song, it does in just two minutes what bands fail to do in entire full-lengths.

“Headlights” takes its sonic cues from Pennywise and early 88 Fingers Louie, while “The Method” cuts a more melodic mid-tempo veneer. It is a nice break away from the pace of the rest of the album but doesn’t sacrifice any of the EP’s urgency for easy to digest harmonies. The EP closes with “Antichrist”, with its hardcore roots in tow, the song burns the right kind of bright in its sometimes sludgy breakdowns and metal-tinged riffage. A succinct six songs that leave you hungry for more, Sword and the Wall goes a long way in solidifying the appeal of Failing Up.

There’s been a long lineage of noted female frontwomen who have dominated the punk rock landscape, a lineage that started with names like Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka, and Siouxsie Sioux, and continued on by the likes of Kathleen Hanna and Brody Dalle. There’s a cavalcade of terrific frontwomen making music today, all deserving of praise, but you can’t argue for adding Tanya Delgado’s name to that prominent list. It may be early on in the piece but Failing Up have got the chops and this EP is proof they are no slouch. While it sounds that Delgado’s terrific vocal work may overshadow the rest of the music, it is not true, her voice is one part (a great part) of a complete persona. This EP comes highly recommended, and if that is not enough to sway you, in the age of easily accessible digital music (free), I bought this and would buy it again.

(Sound Speed Records)

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Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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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.

(Wiretap Records)

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Reviews

Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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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.

(GRNDVW)

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