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Saves the Day – Ups & Downs: Early Recordings and B-Sides

Ups & Downs acts like a scrapbook of sorts, where the songs serve as the images. It is a great look at the past and present evolution of the group.

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My first encounter and experience with Saves the Day, was way back in the day in a cold basement in New Brunswick, New Jersey. To me, those were the golden days of the band. Looking back, I’ve been there from the beginning with this New Jersey rock band. I’ve watched the band grow over the years, and I’ve listened to the good times and listened through the not so good times. One thing has always remained constant though, is the ability of Saves the Day to progress and advance as a band from one release to the next. It is very difficult to find bands that progress and develop naturally with their music and aren’t forcing changes. Saves the Day have always struck me as band that has the matchless talents of evolving and emerging in the most untainted aspects possible. This was something that always brought great admiration for the band.

Now there is an album that chronicles how far Saves the Day has come while giving a retrospective look at their musical career. Ups & Downs acts like a scrapbook of sorts, where the songs serve as the images. It is a great look at the past and present evolution of the group. You get to hear songs when Chris Conley was only 15-years-old and you get to hear more current songs that just never made it on any of the full lengths.

The album opens with a great new track, “Ups & Downs,” that was recorded during the Stay What You Are sessions. This is a song that I personally can’t believe was left off that album. Then two of the better Saves the Day songs overall in my opinion, that were recently part of a Vagrant sampler, “Sell My Old Clothes, I’m Off To Heaven” and “A Drag In D Flat” are next in line. There are even some songs from the Sefler days and early demo songs of the band that really displays the more aggressive nature of Saves the Day (in the vein of Lifetime). The album also includes the acoustic driven tracks from I’m Sorry I’m Leaving as well as two well-done cover songs paying tribute to The Descendants and The Clash. Rounding out the CD is a live version, recorded in 2003, of the acoustic favorite, “Jessie & My Whetstone.”

The best feature on this album though falls inside the CD booklet. Vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Conley offers his insight for each and every song in the liner notes. He reminisces on each song and offers a special inside look into them. At times he talks about the story behind the song, the recording process, and various other neat tidbits that only Conley good effectively explain. His liner notes help make this album really personal and intimate. Ups & Downs can be appreciated on all levels by fans of Saves the Day who have been part of the experience from the very beginning. Those just getting acquainted with the band or those who are fans of Saves the Day when they fell into the mainstream, may not fully appreciate this album, but at least they’ll get a little history lesson.

(Vagrant Records)

Reviews

Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth

Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype

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Pretty Vicious

The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.

Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.

There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.

You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.

It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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Sum 41 – Order In Decline

Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler

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Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41 have been remarkably consistent over the course of their last few albums. And while we have never stopped calling Sum 41 a pop-punk band, their last few albums have been less about being fun and bouncy, opting instead for a far more serious flavor of rock music. Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler, replaced instead with songs that do their best to mimic Muse’s big stadium anthem feel while not forgetting their penchant for metal licks and hefty solos. Truth is, it’s quite a shame because when Sum 41 were more about being fun and silly, their songs had this incredible likeability to them. Forget All Killer, No Filler, they were at their most fun with their often silly 2000 debut Half Hour of Power.

So what to expect with Order In Decline, their 7th full length? Well, if you like easy-to-digest pop-punk anthems, you best look elsewhere as much of the album spends way too much time taking itself too seriously. Not that the results are bad; songs like “A Death in The Family” and “Out For Blood” do the faux-hardcore/melodic punk thing really well. The chugga chugga riffs, toe-tapping melodies, and Deryck Whibley’s snotty vocals continue the band’s well-refined sound. Opener “Turning Away” doesn’t shy from being a little metal, a little rock, a little punk, and sets the high energy tone for the album. The return of Dave Brownsound for 2016’s 13 Voices has solidified the album’s two-pronged guitar attack, and Order In Decline’s production helps on that front- it’s a loud album, it just doesn’t seem to say a whole lot at times. “45 (A Matter of Time)” is the band’s anti-Trump song, and while it tries to provoke, sounds loud, its cheesy protests of “You’re something to few / But nothing to me / Someone so twisted and sick as can be / It wasn’t the plan / We gave it a shot / You’ve proven a real man is something you’re not” won’t exactly inspire a raging fire within the listener. I suppose if you’re turning to Sum 41 to change the course of the future, we’re all in trouble.

Sum 41 love their ballads too- and Order In Decline’s lighter in the air moment (phones in the air for you kids) is the piano-strewn ballad “Never There”. It’s OK, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of effective balladry they showed with “With Me”. The album’s best moment is the blitzing “The People Vs…” which trades the stadium rock for more melodic hardcore/thrash that a little akin to some of the goofy stuff they did on Half Hour. The meaty riffs, a great solo and the soaring chorus pumps much needed old Sum into Order In Decline, and it’s only a shame there isn’t more of it on the record.

As the album closes with the radio-ready “Catching Fire”, listeners are left with one of these two thoughts. For those who enjoy Sum 41 when they’re trying to be the best big band they can be, there is plenty to like on Order in Decline. They’ve found a consistent, polished, and well-produced sound they first hinted on with 2002’s Does This Look Infected?. For those who found their juvenile, snotty attitude on Half Hour of Power and All Killer to be the quality they most enjoyed will respond to Order in Decline with indifference. At least I don’t hate it.

(Hopeless Records)

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