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Park – Building a Better _____

The boys of Park are definitely building something; personally I think they’re hard at work on building a better rock band.

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Upon beginning my piece on Park’s latest effort, Building A Better _____, I did what I almost always do. Once I’ve given the record an ample listen, I pull up the band’s website, thumb through the press sheet that had been tossed in with the record, and generally try to figure out a bit of info on exactly where these musicians are coming from. When I got knee-deep into the back story of Park though, my attention was almost waning from reading about the numerous breakups, line-up changes, and general what-not that has gone wrong with this band on it’s sordid path from it’s humble roots back in 1999, to this superb record that it’s taken the collective moniker close to six years to finally make.

The current, and fourth, line-up for the band is Ladd Mitchell on guitar and vocals, Miles Logan on drums, Alex Haycraft on bass, and finally Aaron Bickel on guitar. This seems to be the golden set-up, as the guys have managed to put together a record that will surely be remembered as a turning point in the band’s career; effectively propelling them from obscurity into an indie rock band to be reckoned with. The sound of Park is, first and foremost, unabashed emo rock. Inklings of a more mature Jimmy Eat World are surely present here, as well as ample doses of Further Seems Forever, and Saves The Day. Ladd Mitchell’s vocal delivery is greatly reminiscent of what Copeland’s Aaron Marsh laid down on that band’s superb Beneath Medicine Tree; which works fantastically well for Park; meshing perfectly with the industrial guitar licks, and melodic undertones.

A very literate, though amazingly unpretentious brand of indie emo with instantly likeable pop sensibilities is what Park has brought to the table on this release. Things open fittingly with the catchy, more-than-single worthy songs “The Trophy Wife,” and “Mississippi Burning.” The good continues on with the stellar (and in my opinion highlight of the record) song “Angels and Errors.” There is more than enough here to propel this band to a much-deserved place above the current echelon of dime a dozen emo-rock bands.

This is music for fans of emo rock that don’t just sit around and cry on Friday nights. This is rock with emo undertones—not the other way around. The boys of Park are definitely building something; personally I think they’re hard at work on building a better rock band. Enjoy.

(Lobster 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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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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