When Koufax released Social Life in 2002, they immediately became one of my favorite bands. Their cynical and literate lyrics, mixed with classic (but not “vintage”) piano-led pop songs made it extremely hard for me to stop playing the record but Social Lifelacked that something extra. It’s pretty cliché thing to say, but it’s true; Koufax was just a step away from being one of the best bands making music today. And then I didn’t hear from them after a couple of years. I figured they broke up, a major drag. Then one lovely afternoon, I was bored and driving around on the information super-highway, and I come across an advertisement banner for this very release, Hard Times Are In Fashion. Cue unabashed excitement that I haven’t gotten from a record in quite a while.
So after many, many repeated listens, I am left with this conclusion: this record is almost the best record I have ever heard. Koufax did everything a band needs to do in order to improve from record to record. The songwriting is improved and subjects varied, they built upon their “sound”, while not alienating fans, and the musicianship is much tighter than on Social Life. However, a few mediocre songs make this record just short of absolutely brilliant.
The most prevalent element of Hard Times Are In Fashion that will stay with the listener well after the record is finished, is the political commentary of Koufax. While this will turn off some people, Koufax provide political songs in a different fashion (pun very much intended). Rather then participate in sloganeering, like Rage Against The Machine or Anti-Flag, Koufax displays how the Bush administration has affected their lives, as well as other Americans, in their everyday lives. “Color Us Canadian” and “Back and Forth” deal with the growing rift between America and the rest of the world. “Blind Faith” is by far the best political song of recent times. It is pretty much impossible to pick a line from this song to showcase how well written “Blind Faith” is; it’s just a song that you need to hear.
Other songs such as “Isabelle” and, the extremely creepy “Stephen James,” showcase the character study songs that Koufax writes extremely well. “Isabelle” is focused on a girl who moves out to L.A. to be, go figure, a movie star. However, she gets stuck as a waitress, who picks up a coke habit as she is sucked up in the social scene. Bummer. “Stephen James” is about a quiet, just barely unnoticeable neighbor; who has done something unspeakable, causing “two larger men” to tell, presumably, Koufax that they have 13 hours to get out of town.
I could go on and on about the absolutely perfect “Trouble Will Find You,” or even how good the light-hearted “Five Years of Madness” is or even how remarkably catchy “A Sad Man’s Face“ is- but I don’t want to gush too much. Make sure this is the next record you hear. It’s better than whatever you’re listening to.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.