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Brand New – Daisy

Daisy isn’t all bad. A very generous “pretty good” that comes with a ‘caveat emptor.’

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The mind of the artist it seems, can be a terrible, terrible place. Both Jesse Lacey and Vin Accardi, primary songwriters for Brand New,  and one time artisans of pop-driven punk songs, have reached the proverbial fork in the road where an artist struggles for definition. Their craft has progressed in a forward motion since Your Favorite Weapon, honing their material into some of the best in bitter emotional introspection highlighted by albums (depending on who you ask) described as the genre’s apex (2003’s Deja Entendu in this case). Progression then, was inevitable, 2006’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me proved that they could fuse together their painful heart sleeves with more cerebral rock; venturing away from standard chords for more esoteric territory. Yet while they did dispose of the “pop punk” element of their sound, their melodic streak kept intact- and we got songs like “Jesus Christ” and “Archers” and the rather magnificent and provoking “Limousine.”

This brings us to Daisy, a record with distinction of being both beautiful (“At the Bottom”) and a complete directionless mess (“Noro”, “Be Gone”). Perhaps this cloud in which we all reside in has Lacey and Accardi thinking that progression and forward thinking is the only way towards acceptance. Or are they just bored? Songs tend to sound unfinished or at best, completed in a creative haze- fighting hard to find new ground with fear of regression. It sounds messy. Cluttered. That piercing balance between lyrical histrionics and razor sharp subtlety has been sacrificed for art rock noise, and art is overrated. We can only hope their artistic creed does not include or become associated with words like “experimental” and “prog”. Seriously, it’s okay to be good at something and stick to it. Would it be such a tragedy if they wrote another Deja Entendu? Maybe they should dig deep into their record collection and find Screeching Weasel’s Boogadaboogadaboogada! (I’m sure one of them has a copy somewhere) and skip over to track #9 (it’s the sentiment baby!). It’ll do them some good. In the meantime, Daisy isn’t all bad. A very generous “pretty good” that comes with a ‘caveat emptor.’

(Interscope)

Reviews

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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