Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Album Review: Matchbook Romance "Monsters"

Most bands will stick to that old antidote, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," especially when it comes to rock bands that are contained in the highly profitable rock format known as emo. However, Matchbox Romance has done something quite daring. They have decided to take a chance and make a record that would push the boundaries of not only their genre but also their musical ability.

In a world where rock music is smothered by the egocentric whines of post-hardcore and screamo outfits, it is tough to receive recognition if you are a band botched together in its self-indulgent havoc.

Matchbook Romance, debuted with its album "Stories and Alibis." By 2003 ,screamo was becoming what "grunge" had become for the early 90s, a movement in rock that was diminished by its wide-ranging accessibility and replicated sound. Suddenly the personal dark emotions of grunge weren't so personal when the whole world felt them and the same would follow in screamo's sentiments.

For most screamo bands, the formula can almost be predicted: despairing gentle singing for the verses, and piercing aggressive screaming for the choruses, all in less than three minutes.

Fortunately Matchbook Romance, who could have remained quite secure in its emo/screamo format, decided to stray from its generic emo siblings. With the band's new album "Voices," they haven't reinvented themselves quite yet, but have made huge attempts to do so.

The album immediately grabs listeners from the opening track "You Can Run, But We'll Find You" where it becomes apparent they have shifted in sound. The band's new craftwork is much more reliant on creating melodic hooks, swaying tempos, and epic choruses, bounds away from their debut album and also far more brilliant. The evolving band presents its new strengths with tracks such as "Surrender" that has a more bombastic sound similar to Muse, and "What A Sight" with a hauntingly echoed chorus akin to Coldplay (listen to Coldplay's song "Twisted Logic").

In addition to the superior sound of the album and the even stronger song formations, what is most impressive about Matchbook Romance is its ability to change and step out from the shadow of the emo/screamo format, which would have held them back artistically if they hid in. They weren't scared or intimidated by the populous which would have been satisfied with another mediocre genre specific release.

Now that Matchbook Romance has entered a new stage in its musical life, the question is can they continue to progress into something unique, or will they continue to imitate other bands? Only time will tell.

Give this Track A Second Listen; "What A Sight"

Our rating: 3 ½ stars (out of 5)

This review written for the Quinnipiac Chronicle can be found here;
Original Quinnipiac article

Monday, April 10, 2006

Album Review: Hawthorne Heights "If Only You Were Lonely"

Ten years ago if you asked someone if they listened to emo, they probably wouldn't have known what you were talking about. The operative word here is probably because emo did, in fact, exist ten years ago, but it was nothing more than a small lo-fi subsidiary of punk consisting of a handful of bands that were crushed under the hugely successful alternative and nu-metal acts of the late 90's. Now the little genre that could has exploded into the dominant force in rock music. Emo's newfound notoriety is due mostly to punk's huge comeback in the rock genre and from their omnipresent teenage fan base, whose newfound devotion makes or breaks a band's popularity in the age of MTV and digital music downloading.

It is within the fan base of such bands where problems begin to arise. Because these bands are so momentarily popular, the genre has become a commodity, much like the boy band era of the late 90's. Most of these emo groups who are fresh out of high school speak directly to their teenage fan base and it these same adolescents and their wide range of heartfelt emotions who hang on their every lyric. The record companies who have recognized this pump out new emo bands every other second, including some bands that don't have the credentials or experience to really become all that memorable. Add to the equation that every little detail of teenage life can be expressed through internet blogs and bands can become your 'friend' on MySpace, and you realize emo has evolved more into a style of expression rather than a style of music. This makes the music quality itself not as important as the way an emo band presents its music lyrically and stylistically.

Hawthorne Heights, sadly to say, is one of the commoditized emo/screamo bands. Why commoditized? For one, purchasers of the band's latest disc "If Only You Were Lonely," receive a pre-packaged bonus sampler CD with other homogenized bands in addition to a pullout advertisement for Hawthorne Heights-brand band clothing, gear and accessories. They were a brand even before becoming a real band. The band even discusses their commoditization on their new song "We Are So Last Year" with lyrics like, "We're falling faster, this is the last year….this never happens, changing with fashion, just a few more hours until we are unknown."

Hawthorne Heights' fears may harken back to two years ago when they emerged with their debut "The Silence In Black and White," an effort panned by critics for the group's formulaic screamo, void of any real hook or melody. Although their production values were tight and they sold a gazillion albums anyway, they were still hard to distinguish in the vast ocean of emerging screamo/emo bands that stayed adrift among them.

However, their new LP begins to show cracks in their befitted screamo mold with the creation of some actual distinct melodies. Therapeutic lyrics about breakups, unrequited love and the adolescent experience that personifies emo so well are certainly present, but now the difference is you can sing along to them.

In songs like "This is Who We Are" they prove their worth with a strong contagious chorus that chants "I know it feels like we're never coming back, you tried your best and you knew it wouldn't last." On album closer "Decembers," a piano is actually employed to create a thoughtful, beautiful song about a girl. But the symptoms for something bigger and better from Hawthorne Heights are slowly creeping out.

Give this track a second listen: "Decembers"

Our rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

This article written for the Quinnipiac Chronicle can be found here;
Original Quinnipiac Article

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Album Review: Evans Blue "The Melody and the Energetic Nature of Volume"

Unfortunately for new band Evans Blue, they're entering the music scene at the wrong time. In a market dominated by punk's disintegrative subdivisions; pop punk, emo, screamo, emocore, hardcore, and any other of its off-shoots, the alternative, post-grunge, hard rock scene has all been but diminished and narrowly labeled as "modern rock" or even worse "alternative pop rock." This is mainly due to the fact that most alternative bands today are associated with the "corporate rock" it becomes rather then staying true to its eclectic beginnings. As such, most bands filed under this label are quickly dismissed as another bland sounding hard rock band, void of distinction and never really given a fair chance.

The large majority of bands today find success imitating their peers; focusing on style rather then substance. This, of course, is the harsh cycle of rock musical trends, which starts off with a brilliantly eclectic sound until its energy is corporately harnessed, turning bands into bland sounding duplications, and fading both band and genre into mediocrity. This does not mean, however, that some bands can triumph over these restrictions and still make good music in their subjugated genre.

Evans Blue is a new band listeners can safely file under post grunge and/or hard rock and know they are getting what they paid for. On their debut album, "The Melody and the Energetic Nature of Volume," the band has somewhat successfully merged many different styles and sounds of alternative/hard rock that have recently been crafted haphazardly by their peers.

The band's sound can be attributed to equal parts A Perfect Circle and Staind, both in musical style and also in the way lead singer Kevin Matisyn croons on the disc, offering a vocal performance reminiscent of Staind's front man Aaron Lewis. This sound is especially evident on tracks including "Stop And Say You Love Me" and the disc's lead single "Cold (But I'm Still Here)." A tinge of Evanescence-inspired styling can be discerned on the Sarah McLachlan cover "Possession," putting the group in danger of being labeled "hard rock mediocrity." All things considered, however, "The Melody and the Energetic Nature of Volume" proves to be a strong debut that helps breathe a little life in a mostly stale format.

Give this track a second listen: "Stop and Say You Love Me."

Our rating:
2 1/2 stars (out of 5)

This review written for the Quinnipiac Chronicle can be found here;
Original Quinnipiac Article