Published July 16th, 2008
BEDOUIN SOUNDCLASH: Laid-back and proud of it.
The Academy Is...
Like every band from Chicago, The Academy Is... gained positive reviews and lots of MySpace hits with a debut album that seemed too clever and innovative for another band from the city that brought us Fall Out Boy. Almost Here secured the group as a "band to watch." Unlike others, though, The Academy Is... always gave the impression of a band larger than its indie confines. With its sophomore album, Santi, it channeled some of the rock-star stadium-packed persona of classic rock, but didn't live up to it. While the album received mixed reviews, it did have some standout tracks. "We've Got a Big Mess on Our Hands" is an edgier rock 'n' roll take on the band's signature sound and "Everything We Had" is a pleasing reminder of the music The Academy Is... wrote before its members tried to be rock stars. While the record was a valiant effort, fans fell in love with the band for its emo hooks and insightful lyrics. See if The Academy Is... returns to its roots for its third album when Fast Times at Barrington High comes out in August. — Brittany Moseley
Ask any musician and they will tell you that it's easier to write a sad song than a happy song and that it's easier to write an angry song than an upbeat song. But in a scene inundated with negative sentiments and pessimistic tones, Florida punk band Against Me! isn't necessarily known for happy-go-lucky numbers. It aimed for something uplifting with last year's New Wave. The album was largely written while the band was on tour supporting its previous release Searching For a Former Clarity, formulated during sound checks and eventually sliced down from 25 songs. It perpetuates the group's signature raw, driving punk sound and politically tinged, self-aware lyrics. Against Me!'s recent decision to leave indie label Fat Wreck Chords and ascend the major-label ladder to Sire Records may have left some fans crying "sell out," but the band was unfazed. And despite some of the lyrics on Clarity that decry the music industry as a whole, the band is confident Sire will boost the band's visibility in the music world. — Emily Zemler
Angels and Airwaves
Toward the end of their decade-long career, those potty-mouthed punks known as Blink-182 had finally started to mature. Blink's last album, a self-titled effort, had songs about more serious subjects. That mentality has also carried over to Angels and Airwaves, a relatively new band led by former Blink singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge. To date, it's released two albums — 2006's We Don't Need to Whisper and last year's I-Empire — and there's not a single reference to masturbation between them. I-Empire is a conceptual affair that picks up where the band's 2006 debut, We Don't Need to Whisper, left off. And, according to frontman DeLonge, making the album, which is a bit punchier and more straightforward than the lush We Don't Need to Whisper, was easier. The two albums together form a distillation of DeLonge's various musical interests. While he describes himself as a "modern-rock kid," he also cites Peter Gabriel, the Who and the Cure as influences. He's a fan of contemporary punk and likes electronic music, too. But like the last Blink album, Angels' two discs are often described as showing off DeLonge's "maturity," and that's meant as a compliment. — Jeff Niesel
Another band from the up-and-coming Canadian influence in independent music is Bedouin Soundclash which, unlike its contemporaries (Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire) from the land of Labatt Blue, plays inspired ska and reggae music. Bedouin Soundclash has gained an ever-growing fan base in its native country and overseas since the 2004 release of Sounding a Mosaic. The Canadian number-one hit "When the Night Feels My Song" is as laid-back sounding as it is catchy. Street Gospels, its 2007 release, features the standout song "St. Andrews," which is no doubt played in Caribbean resorts. With its optimism and sing-along chorus, this tune will be sure to inspire fan interaction. The BS catalog is full of many songs that are hooky and uplifting, often reminding us to just relax and take a load off. While not Sublime (pun totally intended) in nature, Bedouin Soundclash hits most of the same notes and often gets similar results. — Ryan MacLennan
The Color Fred
For four years Fred Mascherino was in the background. As guitarist/singer of Taking Back Sunday, he was wing man to energetic lead singer Adam Lazzara. Now, though, he's no longer in the back. After quitting Taking Back Sunday last year, Mascherino released his debut solo album, Bend to Break, as The Color Fred. Unlike the guitar-heavy emo songs his former band is known for, Bend to Break is less tormented teenage anthems and more acoustic pop melodies. From his time in Taking Back Sunday, it was clear Mascherino had talent, but his debut proves he can do more than sing back-up. "If I Surrender" pairs rock riffs with lyrics that expose a vulnerable yet eager side to Mascherino, while "Complaintor" sounds like a song Taking Back Sunday could have one day been mature enough to write if Mascherino had stayed. The closing "Don't Pretend" is six minutes of acoustic heart-on-the-sleeve music that sounds confident and raw at the same time. Compared to Taking Back Sunday's scene-shaping album Tell All Your Friends, Bend To Break is the little record that could, and who doesn't love an underdog? — BM
Although often labeled as psychobilly, the HorrorPops' stylistic identity goes beyond mere punked-up rockabilly. Sure, the group has a lot of Cramps blood in its veins, but the H-Pops also embody the broader spirit of Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux and the B-52's. The HorrorPops are throwbacks to that whole subculture of wild, high-energy rock performed in outrageous outfits and eccentric makeup. The group's latest disc, Kiss Kiss Kill Kill, is a kitschy collection of cinema-themed tunes fueled by scorching guitars and female vocals. The band's recordings are hot stuff, but the ultimate HorrorPops experience is their obsessively staged concerts. The musicians' volatile chemistry and the mania of go-go dancers Rita-tah and Tweek demand to be witnessed live. — Michael David Toth
Jack's Mannequin is the side project of Something Corporate's singer and pianist Andrew McMahon. Jack's Mannequin reveals a more personal storytelling songwriting by McMahon than his work with his other band. Due to release an album in 2008, the band has provided audiences with sneak previews of the much-anticipated record. But for the most part, Jack's Mannequin is famous for tunes from its 2005 release, Everything in Transit, which features songs that are always charming and endearing, often balancing a melodic piano with surprisingly atmospheric drum rhythms. Whether it be a relatable song about escaping the mundane ("Holidays From Real") or the instantly dramatic world of a guitar and drum barrage that's beautiful when undercut by the piano bliss ("The Mixed Tape"), Jack's Mannequin offers a unique brand of piano-dense rock. — RM
Just think: If lead singer Max Bemis hadn't been a depressed, bipolar Jewish kid who spent time in a psychiatric ward, Say Anything's music would be real boring. After his bipolar disorder caused the band to cancel two tours and jeopardized the release date of its debut album, Say Anything released ...Is a Real Boy in 2004. Ironically, what threatened the band's future also made Say Anything popular. Bemis' label as a lunatic/gifted musician made for powerful, blunt, self-deprecating songs. The band's second album, In Defense of the Genre, is just as autobiographical as the first, and it picks up where the debut left off. However, the two aren't identical. If ...Is a Real Boy was about Bemis discovering he was bipolar, In Defense of the Genre is a coming to terms with it, not just for Bemis, but for the whole band. The album is Say Anything's Sgt. Pepper's and with 27 songs, it channels a year in the life of one of emo's favorite bands. Although some may say Bemis is exploiting his disorder for the music, it's an empty accusation. The best musicians write what they know, and no band is doing it better than Say Anything. — BM
Street Dogs singer Mike McColgan has been known for several things beyond his current band: being the singer of Dropkick Murphy's in the late '90s, being an outspoken and highly educated political activist who served in the military during the Gulf War, being a firefighter in the Boston Fire Department. But on Street Dogs' fourth record, State of Grace, it becomes clear that music is McColgan's first love. State of Grace is an impassioned collection of raucous Irish-tinged punk-rock songs that actually sound like they come from the Boston music scene. The songs may not be all that poetic or melodically beautiful, and occasionally even bitter and engaged in tone, but they come across like love letters to music. Speedy, pounding tracks like "Mean Fist" and "Two Angry Kids" overflow with the musicians' adoration for their craft; you can practically hear the joy with which the band executes the songs, particularly "Two Angry Kids," which offers a calm little opening before it explodes into an admittedly catchy punk number. Street Dogs are often overshadowed by their more well-known peers, especially those also from Boston (ahem, the Unseen), but State of Grace is one of those albums that proves this band is helping to keep punk alive for all the right reasons. — EZ
Van's Warped Tour: Opening noon Thursday, July 17 at Time Warner Cable Amphitheater, 351 Canal Rd., 216.241.5555. Tickets: $37.25.