Connect with us


Lisa Loeb – The Way It Really Is

The Way It Really Is is an album stuffed to the gills with stylistic parallels



By their nature, breakup albums are a very tenuous proposition. One would think on the initial concept that your audience is virtually unlimited, being that pretty much everyone with a Walkman and an affinity for your kind of music have probably been similarly jilted in the past. Also take into account the fact that songs of lost love, puppy love or unrequited love are scattered over the vast majority of popular records from the last half century, and one could reasonably posit the assertion that a positive response would be all but guaranteed. As usually happens in human existence, though, common sense occasionally falls by the wayside. There is indeed a fine line to be walked. 

Hit your target sentiment right on the head, with an even keel and a dash of sardonic hindsight here and there, and the audience will empathize with your every word. Come to the party too angry or bitter, though, and your album will come off like a short-fused, visceral effigy fest that puts a little too much emphasis on your eager willingness to demolish whatever is left of the bridge that was built, like Tom Hanks and John Candy did literally in Volunteers. The latter strategy may work for the little teenyboppers who have merely waded in the kiddie pool of romance (prominently evidenced on the current American pop charts), but for veterans of the song trade like Lisa Loeb, true emotional catharsis involves more than just a flippant display of finger-pointing.

Loeb’s latest, The Way It Really Is, came to fruition following her breakup with longtime beau Dweezil Zappa; their coupling lasted six years, or approximately one eon as celebrity relationships go. One might think that courting a Zappa would be asking for trouble. But Dweezil, as primarily evidenced on their culinary-based Food Network romp, Dweezil and Lisa, seemed to be quite the grounded, level-headed boyfriend, silently railing against his clan’s checkered history. The album’s title is lifted from a song on Loeb’s previous album, Cake & Pie (repackaged as Hello Lisa, on Artemis Records following her split from A&M), and it is fitfully descriptive of the material that follows.

The Way It Really Is is an album stuffed to the gills with stylistic parallels, perhaps representing the frequently fluctuating emotions and inherent micro-analyzing that goes on within relationships, unintentionally if not purposefully. The record vacillates from Loeb’s sparse, acoustic coffeehouse tunes to jaunty, noisier electric numbers that belie the insecurities bubbling just below the surface. Loeb purrs her way through the wry, symbolic opener “Window Shopping,” second-guessing herself perchance within the line “the warranty is in the sack / you can always take me back…” She holds steadfast in her preference for the softer material, displaying it prominently on the defiantly blunt “Hand Me Downs” and the piano-tinged “Try.” 

Ever since her ubiquitous hit “Stay” about ten years ago, Loeb had consistently dabbled in radio-ready pop tunes, even if she did stay closer to her low-key, acoustic persona more often than not. “You Don’t Know Me” and “Someone You Should Know” from Hello Lisa had a pop sheen and catchy hook just as worthy as what “Stay” possessed, falling victim only to a musical landscape that had skewed towards a younger audience since “Stay” had risen to the top of the charts. Loeb succeeds here in keeping one foot in the radio-ready material, as proven by the defined resignation of “I Control the Sun” (“I can’t make you see things the way I see them…”), “Probably” and the John Shanks-helmed “Fools Like Me,” the most bona fide of the bunch. Zappa, even as the implied target of the discontent, makes significant contributions, the most prominent of which is the symbolically jagged guitar solo within the bridge on “Diamonds.” Jellyfish expatriate Jason Falkner also makes an appearance, stamping his trademark harmonies and Wurlitzer all over the closing “Now I Understand.” 

Especially on her earlier material, Loeb had a tendency to get caught up in her wordplay, causing some of it to more resemble ramshackle beat poetry than pop music. She knew that she had stuff to say, she just wasn’t quite sure how to present it. Her songwriting here, though, is much more balanced and straightforward, giving the impression that she is maturing as a songwriter as well as a person. The awkward lyrical runs have all but disappeared, replaced by a self-evident confidence and a stronger ear for a good melody. Toss in a few cotton candy hooks for the masses, and you’ve got a genuine, grownup, wholly unpretentious breakup album that any flustered romantic who has grown weary of anything with the surname “Simpson” slapped on it can get lost in.

( Zoe / Rounder Records)


Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance



good riddance

It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).

Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.

In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.

The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).

The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

Continue Reading


Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities




When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.

Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.

What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.

The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.

(Massacre Records)

Continue Reading

Popular Things