In my formative years, pop punk was a genre that helped bridge gaps between the gritty and sugary of pop and rock. Somewhere between Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, Usher, and John Mayer was Blink 182, Relient K, and Danger Is My Middle Name when I scrolled through my 2nd generation iPod color – affectionately nicknamed, the brick. Bands like these in the latter brought enough energy and musical prowess with catchy hooks to create an aesthetic that was both accessible and memorable. I fell out of favor with the style for a bit in late high school and most of college, trading it all in for heavier, harder, faster, and meaner music that those bands never reached the ceiling of. Now that I’m in a phase of life where recovery is probing the nostalgic regions of my mind, I’m beginning to retread this music as a way to unlock many memories I have within that phase of life. It began with finding Neck Deep and The Hotelier – go listen to both of them – and now it’s stumbling upon Modern Baseball.
These Philadelphia homegrown college dropouts have released a couple albums within the mid 2010’s that have undergirded many bands that I have now grown to like concerning influences. In homage to groups like Foxing, I decided to give Modern Baseball a listen, and it came at a time when their newest album released earlier this month, Holy Ghost, was released. I found their first single, Wedding Singer – an endearing confessional of lovesick angst coated by blankets of indie, punk, and pop rock that’s organically produced, and sounds like the soundtrack to late teenage and twenty something years of self-discovery.
Ian Cohen of Pitchfork provides some good commentary about the band’s style and his conclusion, as it is mine, is that Modern Baseball plants a flag in multiple genres within the same cluster that makes itself a bit like an emo, post punk, indie zebra. Though their sound doesn’t really reinvent the wheel, Modern Baseball are the result of their amalgam of influences that go back to bands like American Football (another great group!). I really like this band’s presentation of being down-to-earth and at times cheesily honest about their struggles through college and navigating the vagrancies of social media, teenage wanderings. Not to mention their music is well written, balanced, fresh enough to be interesting, and good enough to make me revisit parts of my musical taste that’s been shelved for a while.
There are times when I look back on previous entries and weave my musical evolution together with how my faith has developed and how I’ve matured (though that latter is somewhat relative). I reviewed Oceano’s (then) single, Dead Planet, on this blog two years ago as a memento to junior college when deathcore was a musical id impulse. My conclusion was that hardcore was becoming more palatable, because the raw aesthetic and emotional prowess proved to be more authentic than down tuned, calculated, bloodlust. So, as a result, I initially didn’t really like it. Some of the bands that I previously enjoyed within the genre became almost unlistenable (and some still are), but I’m surprisingly able to stomach the musical grime of the former again. Consequently… Dead Planet, and the album it’s on, is now awesome for being what it is… heavy for the sake of it. What’s curious about this band, Glass Cloud, is that they take two subgenres of metal that would otherwise have much ado about nothing to do with one another and brought them together in chaotic musical matrimony.
Glass Cloud are an experimental metal supergroup formed by remnants of The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza (yes, this is an actual band), Of Mice and Men, and a couple of graduates from Berklee School of Music. From what I have heard on their debut record, The Royal Thousand, they do it surprisingly well with a dyadic sound that aggressively fuses the melodic with the slamming heavy that culminates into something unique. The novelty of A Thousand Royals made it accessible to me. A couple of Youtube demonstrations from guitarist and mastermind, Josh Travis, pointed me to their last EP Perfect War Forever, which evidently uses some pretty stupid low tunings on 9 string guitars that I’ve only seen After the Burial attempt until now. The morbid curiosity drew me into an EP packed with a lot of the same elements from TTR, but with more intentional focus on ambience. Though this EP loses some of the technicality laced through the former, it makes up for it by providing a lot of fitting atmosphere.
I include this band in my list, because they dare to redefine paradigms of modern metal in ways that I’ve heard few bands do well, let alone at all. Not only that, but it’s allowing me to enjoy some of the heavier extreme metal that I used to be into without having to lyrically rely on lurid maxims of nihilism and with emphasis on songwriting. Much like Oceano, these guys slam hard instrumentally, but juxtapose it with more raw vocal delivery like the hardcore I’m now a fan of. The band is daring to explore with different tunings, and fuse together styles that may hit or miss, but in this day and age of metal becoming pigeon holed to its own subgenres, these guys are a real breath of fresh air for me.
I’ve wanted to review this guy for a while (over a year in fact) since I picked up this guy’s last album, but I think this is the appropriate time to include him on a list like this given his penchant taste for hip hop, jazz, and pop music. I’ve always been a closet pop fan, but for a while tried to distance myself from it in the name of protesting corporately produced radio fodder… or me acting like a hipster. Either way, I now feel that picketing accessible music like this doesn’t really do justice to or make my taste any superior. More than that, I’m only kidding myself if I deny liking songs like Honey I’m Good or late Hilary Duff. With that said, I still have some of the same sentiments about pop music being an oversaturated melting pot seasoned by the same four chords and song structures. Thankfully, Long Island college dropout, producer, writer, director, rapper, pop singer, Jon Bellion puts his own flavor into the mix that sounds fresh and undeniably fun! His album, The Definition, is a theatric and endearing collection of bangers that leaves a lasting impression with ingeniously crafted instrumentals, R&B flourishes laced throughout, and enough diversity that gives each track its own distinct flavor.
What’s even better is the personality at the helm of a macbook bro and beat pad. In the behind the scenes of all these songs, you see a vibrant slice of humble pie, influenced by such a diverse pool of influences that range from Bon Iver to Kanye West. He doesn’t hang nearly as much bragadocia in the links of gold chains and an overly lavish lifestyle as your average artist in his genre. In fact, he’s conscious of the temptation to feel that way with the success he’s had, but struggles with newfound public recognition and the tension it exists in between his family and relationship with God. Like I said, it’s a transparency that I don’t see from many pop artists in this day, especially in an age where social media proliferates see through personalities that hide behind club hits. You hear it on songs like Human and Luxury where he confesses to sacrificing the bond with his mother in pursuit of happiness and wanting to still maintain his homegrown roots despite his fame.
Because of those things, artists like Jon Bellion make me believe that pop actually has some substance that is tangible, relatable, and not hollow barbs of one night stands and drug binges. I’m looking to see Bellion with his live band in Minneapolis this summer, so hopefully I get to experience it in person and up close!
Twenty One Pilots
For better or worse, one of the beauties about college/living in a college town post graduation is that I get to keep an ear to the streets for what music is in vogue. Some of which I come across falls on my half deaf, ringing ears, but more often than not, most of it comes across my Spotify search bar in curiosity. Thank you, Twenty One Pilots, for being such a band/duo/what are you guys anyway??
If you keep reading this review, you’ll hear me say this even more about the next band on this list, but Twenty One Pilots are a double triple edged sword of indie rock, alternative, pop, and hip hop that plays itself out on their new album, Blurryface, in a telling hour of hit after hit. You know those bands that write songs that crawl all over the radio, Youtube, Facebook, your friend’s car, playlists, etc. but you never know the title or artist behind them? That’s basically every Twenty One Pilots song for me, but in the best ways. Songs like Stressed Out and Message Man have these crystalline, spacey beats that envelop you in a bassy echo chamber, while Tear In My Heart take these left turns into indie rock. More surprisingly, We Don’t Believe What’s On TV sounds like a nod to acoustic Mhmm era Relient K… now that I think of it, both members of Twenty One Pilots tip their beanies and gnarly looking red hair to the boys from Canton for being a core influence growing up. Within those hip-hop flourishes that slither through songs like Heavydirtysoul are moments that switch from one musical pole to the other. Though some might say that the lack of cohesion is a weakness, for me it’s an inherent strength, because you can’t pigeon hole them into a genre or two that have crossover appeal. These two guys are what they are and it works well.
I like that Twenty One Pilots have this collective personality that’s consciously aware of the fact that they’re getting older and somewhat critical of the culture at large in their lyricism, but in a lighthearted way. Though Stressed Out has one of the most honest moments of nostalgia, they don’t take themselves too seriously and I think that’s one of my favorite things about Blurryface and ergo the duo at the wheel of the music. Much like Jon Bellion, Twenty One Pilots is making pop music much more palatable for me. I look forward to exploring more of them! Thanks Winona!
Okay, this is an unexpected one that some of my buddies might make fun of me for. That’s okay. I don’t know whether to call these guys a guilty pleasure or just genius, but I found Issues a couple years ago when I stumbled upon their single, Never Lose Your Flames, on a Youtube binge. I was watching the music video, frozen in confliction, because I was loathing and loving this eccentric avant garde of pop, r&b, nu metal, and EDM. At first it sounded like, as one publication put it – Limp Bizkit covering Justin Bieber, but for whatever reason, it began to grow on me as I ashamedly stayed in the closet and cranked it in my headphones. The description may sound like Issues is nothing more than musical entrophy that reaches in too many directions, but in my opinion, they manage to take such an amalgam and pull those influences inwards. The result is understandably polarizing, because in between the articles I found lauding the uniqueness of this record are an almost equal amount of critics who have lambasted this band for the same reason. In all honesty, some of the critique is regarding childish lyricism, which is a valid and agreeable point for me. Irregardless, they are what they are, and what they are to me is unable to be ignored.
Recently, Issues began releasing new songs off their latest record, Headpsace, which caught my curiosity, wondering if the band could somehow pull off a second batch of the same brew. If the singles released before the record dropped were any indication, then yeah, I would say they pulled it off pretty well! Songs like COMA and Blue Wall ride the wave of their respective influences and even manage to still include some novelty… and when I say novelty…. I mean jazz. Yes. JAZZ. The bridge section in The Realest actually has slap bass solo with organ synths that sound straight out of a bebop record in a smokey bar or Seinfeld. But, admittedly, their trek into strange new worlds doesn’t pay as catchy or convincing of dividends. I saw an interview with the band behind the scenes at a video shoot in which the lead singer, Tyler Carter, discussed his affinity for country music, which shows on Yung & Dum laced within this kind of pop punk vibe. I haven’t quite decided on it…. Yet, I’m still listening. Oh, who am I kidding? I’M IN DENIAL.
Issues is one of those bands that is doing what I described Glass Cloud doing, but on an exponential level – soldering genres on opposite ends of the planet that sounds convincingly creative at points and at others incredibly corny. Their material has its moments of falling flat on its face in the concrete, but I celebrate this band for the good, bad, and ugly. Either way, they’re doing something different, accessible, and I’m digging it so far.