Chicago skate punk outfit Much the Same reunited after an 8-year hiatus in 2015, and while the landscape of skate punk has dramatically changed since their initial run in the mid-2000s, the band have found consistency with sticking to what they do best. And what they do best is up-tempo, melodicore that they cut their teeth with on their earliest releases. Now four years after their reformation, their first full length since 2006’s Survive finds them treading on familiar territory. Initially, that may sound like a negative, but as you listen to Everything is Fine, you find that their brand of up-tempo punk remains as fresh and energizing as it was during their initial run.
Much the Same released a terrific Lagwagon cover in 2018- a cover of one of my favorite Lagwagon songs “Making Friends”. The original is a mid-tempo, fuzzed-out grungy song, but Much the Same paint their version with blazing speed, forgoing the slower pace for the kind of skate punk melodics they’re known for. It’s the Much the Same M.O. and Everything is Fine is exactly that. What is immediate is the production quality of the record; it’s got a crisp, full sound that adds texture to the record; a vast improvement to the recordings of their earlier work. That work continues the quality they showed from their Lagwagon cover, showcasing their love for melody, machine-gun percussions, soaring vocals, and some great guitar work. Much the Same love their guitar solos, and in a world bereft of them, it’s fantastic to hear them rip through plenty- from the roaring opener “Burner”, to the wistful sounding “Man Of Science Man Of Faith”.
What makes Everything is Fine a rewarding listen is the record’s pressing attitude towards melodic punk. They’ve taken cues from mid 90s heavyweights like Millencolin and No Use for a Name, while occasionally taking the melancholic route to songs about despair and uncertainty. Songs like “Homecoming” have a certain weightlessness to them, even when they sing of heavy introspection; “Cause you can’t walk away from those things flowing through your veins / So sail away, straight in the grey / Failure’s where best lessons have been taught“. It’s this ability to sing and talk about life’s heavy burdens without it being a burden to listen to that makes much of the album connect. Unlike bands like The Wonder Years and their ilk, Much the Same have been through the same trenches, but fill their records with a hopefulness- no matter how transient it is.
The record closes with the terrific “Passengers”. It’s an unforgettable closing, a little Swellers-esque, but distinctly Much the Same, and a perfect bow to an already great outing. Everything is Fine is a record that holds its own against the best of what No Use For a Name and The Swellers did, and through repeated listens you’ll be able to find just rewards. While Much the Same were cut from a mold seemingly long gone, they are proof that it is by no means forgotten.
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.