Junior – JuniorLand review

JUNIORCOVERWales is growing in prominence in the pop punk world – Junior are the latest band of many to emerge from the country. The Cardiff based trio consist of members with more than ordinary careers – a professional wrestler, a children’s book author and a head of a non-profit organisation – who bonded over their common love of music. Just like their professions, the members have promised that their sophomore release JuniorLand is far from the usual themes of pop punk music, with the lads not just absorbed by ‘girls and skateboards’.

Whilst openings for other pop punk records I have recently reviewed begin with an in your face introduction, Junior ensure they run things differently from the get go – the first thirty seconds of A House That’s Not Quite A Home instead opts for a stirring quote courtesy of what sounds like an old sample – ‘discouraged, disgruntled, heck no, they’re glad to be here, remember!’. Another difference from the typical opening track is the mellow instrumental that greeted me after the sample – more chilled sounds are reminiscent of circa 2000 Blink 182 and New Found Glory, and I was glad that Junior have been brave enough to venture outside the box. Although in the first half of the song I felt that the lyrics lacked depth, A House That’s Not Quite A Home improves substantially towards the end with powerful rousing repeats of the chorus. Despite the strident, catchy guitar instrumental for second track Maria, dreary lyrics ultimately let the song down. Persuading protagonist Maria to come outside and play with them feels a bit too bland for my personal likening.

That Pretty Dress is a very pretty song and significantly better – there is a step up in the sophistication of the lyricism, complete with an unpredictable guitar rhythm changing from slow to choppy chords, with time for a sweet solo. It is an earnest track that holds its head up on JuniorLand, and captured my attention the whole way through not sticking to expected sounds from a pop punk track. The acoustic feel of Lakeside is enchanting, and it is again exciting to witness Junior try out another new sound, which makes a pleasant easy-listening experience, with passionate meaning behind it.

What remains of JuniorLand is just as spirited as previous songs – barely lasting long enough for you to catch your breath, If I Had the Time I’d Tell You I’m not Sorry is exhilarating through enthralling drum beats provided by Si Martin, and continues with the clever mix of two main vocalists in Matt Attard and Mark Andrews, with their diverse vocals bouncing of each other well. Leading single Anywhere but Here is another gem and was perfect to release as its summery vibe ensures it is memorable. Winding proceedings up, violin invigorated Epilogue (We Hope You Enjoyed Your Stay) concludes with another inspiration and powerful quote.

Junior, I am delighted to say I mostly very much enjoyed my stay listening to your mini album.

JuniorLand will be released on the 16th October on Ambition Records.
You can listen to Anywhere But Here below.

WSTR – SKRWD review

When a group is signed to a major record label based on one EP, you can immediately deduce something about them – they have an awful lot of potential to make a heavy impact in the music industry. You would be correct to suss this out about WSTR – the pop punk outfit have mastered making promising first impressions, as No Sleep Records has eagerly snapped them up on just the basis of upcoming EP SKRWD.

The band open their EP with South Drive, which if it happens to be the first song a listener has the privilege of hearing by them, it will become infectious listening. With its incredibly catchy hook, I guarantee the track will remain in your head all day. A fun opening catchy song, it carries a boisterous bright spark which gives a promising start to the EP.

Fair Weather doesn’t allow itself to drop in quality; another ridiculously fun song, intricate chord changes by guitarists Danny Swift and Kieren Alder give it shape and added dimension. Although I liked all of the track’s lyrics, one line in particular defined the song for me: ‘my friends are dicks, but I would never have it any other way’. We all have people we talk to who are slightly mad and we do not know why we bother with them, but at the end of the day we wouldn’t want them to ever change, and this sentimentally of friendship adds passion to Fair Weather. My only critique is the band could have added another round of the chorus at the end, only as I felt the song ended too suddenly.

A shift in tonality of third track Graveyard Shift from the two preceding tracks ensures the EP doesn’t sound completely the same and therefore safe. Vocalist Sammy Clifford provides poignant reflective lyrics describing the low point of life when it becomes stuck in a rut, but the slightly more negative literate tone is cleverly wrapped in energetic pop guitar melodies.

There is a danger for any band that the second half of an EP or album fades out with quality, but this is not an issue for WSTR, who manage to keep the momentum going with their final three songs, thanks to the contributions of bassist Alex Tobijanski and Kieran McVeigh on drums. Brainsick is laced with summery guitar licks and pays homage beautifully to bands from pop punk’s golden years Sum 41 and Blink 182. Despite its title, penultimate track Aint Great unsurprisingly is very great, with witty and angst-ridden lyrics building a rousing song explaining a situation which clearly the band are a bit miffed off about. Finally, to end the EP on a high, Devils N Demons is an exciting concluding song that will make you wish SKRWD was actually a full album.

WSTR definitely have over-whelming talent and their EP proves this – it is a tribute to all the best parts of pop punk over the last couple of decades. The group deserve SKRWD to be the step that puts them on the path to success that recent pop-punk groups such as Neck Deep have achieved.

SKRWD is due to released on the 4th September on No Sleep Records.

You can watch the video for Fair Weather below.

Best Years interview

BESTYEARSCOVERRecently I reviewed the sophomore EP Drop Out from the pop punk outfit which I loved, and now you can read why they always wanted to make pop punk music, their career highlight, and if they would make music for a Christmas soundtrack…

What pushed your decision to leave ‘reality’ as mentioned in your press release, and fully focus on committing to the band?      
Every band any of us have ever been in had either not worked or run itself into the ground, we all knew that if we dropped everything and focused properly that we could make something of ourselves this time round and so far we’ve done exactly that.

Was pop punk music always the genre you wanted your music to fit in, and for future releases do you want to stay close to the sound you have developed, or explore different sounds?
When we started this was the initial idea, I would like to say “yeah this is what we’re going to do for the rest of our career and it will never change from pop punk”, but you never know what’s going to happen. For now we’re loving it and we want to make a dent in the scene by attempting to bring pop punk back to its roots instead of every band trying to sound like The Story So Far.

What has been the highlight of your band career so far?                                                                                    For me (Ed) I would say playing our first ever show at the Camden Barfly with As It Is which was completely sold out! I’ve seen plenty of bands there over the years and it was pretty surreal. Also having a chance to play with some of my favourite bands from my childhood (Man Overboard).

Where can you imagine the band in a year’s time?
I imagine us still as strong as we are now, even better friends and hopefully smashing it with our newest release… maybe even touring Europe or further. Who knows.

If you were to describe the ‘unique selling point’ of listening to Best Years, what would it be and why?
We’re not trying to be anything we’re not; it’s all natural and we intend to keep it that way. We just want to have fun ourselves and also make sure everyone else does too.

Who would be your dream collaboration?
Dream collaboration would probably be with Good Charlotte/The Madden Brothers, that would be insane and we would be blown away by it I think!

Have you as a band experienced any setbacks – if you have, then how did you learn to deal with them?
We experienced a bit of a setback with being able to afford new gear to gig with and stuff like that, and with only one of us being able to drive it kind of makes it harder to transport all of us and our gear to gigs, but it’s all fun and we have a good time in the Corsa.

If each of you was placed on a desert island, and could only take one album each with you, what would it be and what are the reasons behind your choice?
Joel – Yung Lean / Unknown Death (2002), as it is one of the most emotional albums of all time and would be perfect to listen to for the rest of my life in perfect solitude.
Holland – Transit / Young New England because it has my favourite track of all time on it and it sums my life up perfectly.
Ed – Alt J / An Awesome Wave because I don’t think I could get bored of it and it’s a very chilled and easy to listen to album.
James – Anything by the Foo Fighters they’re the kind of band that really make me think about the important things in life.
Berzins – Slipknot / self titled so I would have a good soundtrack to end my life to and I could also throw up those God damn horns – am I right?!

Would you ever consider making a Christmas-themed track, or contributing your talents to a film soundtrack?
Yeah definitely if it was for the right kind of thing and we all felt comfortable doing it – I guess that would be cool! We’ve had friends who have done some film soundtrack work and it hadn’t worked out that well for them but I guess we would try it.

If you weren’t in the band, what would your dream career be?
Joel – Film/ Multimedia Camera work.
Holland – Navy / Military / Air Force.
Ed – Touring Guitar Technician.
James – Rubix Cube factory worker.
Berzins – Ralph Lauren model.

Drop Out EP by Best Years will be released on the 28th August, and you can listen to Overrated below.

Gilmore & Roberts – Conflict Tourism review

GILMOREROBERTS“Conflict tourism” might at first seem a baffling phrase, but once considered it becomes a thought-provoking one that guides the listening of Gilmore & Roberts’ fourth studio album, set for release on September 18th. A quote from Debra Kamin sets the scene; ‘”People come here every day to see the show,” says Marom, a retired Israel Defense Forces colonel who now works in the tourism industry and brings groups to this point to gaze down on Syria’s bloodletting. “For people visiting the area, it’s interesting. They can go home and tell their friends, ‘I was on the border and I saw a battle.”‘

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominated duo, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts, began to notice themes of conflict in their work; not always the war and destruction type, but internal battles. Over the course of eleven tracks, allow the pair to be your tour guides through personal stories, the vignettes so elegantly trapped in a timeless fashioned, suspended between problem and resolution.

Instantly attractive opener Cecilia blends melting vocals with simple shifts of instrumentation among the earthy, worldly backing. Though a sweet song, it touches on repetitive and becomes sickly-sweet once it’s trapped in your head; the rural sound and honey-coated vocals make this apt on all levels. Four minute Jack O Lantern‘s story telling style holds links to folk music in a more traditional sense, whilst layers eerily whisper in the song’s close – an intriguing touch among modern-folk music, but one that leaves it standing out.

A Sandi Thom style floods in with Katriona’s vocals and stripped back to guitar instrumental. This change aids the emotional side of the music, allowing a raw and sensitive side to be better showcased – continuing into Selfish Man, it’s unsurprising to note how the more heartfelt and appealing numbers are often those delivered in first person. An almost rocky punch to Stumble On The Seam pulls the energy levels up whilst the themes thread themselves through, before three minute snippet Balance / Imbalance provides a minimalistic snapshot.

Again, traditional folk embeds itself in the folds of Peggy Airey, story telling and fiddle solos that are an easy highlight of the album guiding the music, and mandolin takes to the forefront of Time Soldiers On. With nothing to hide behind, the duo’s craft is highlighted – and it really is a craft with something so intricate and delicate. An earnest, dreamy feel to Peter Pan adds to the delicacy and love of the album, a blossoming optimism emerging in the lines, “I’m Peter Pan, I’m never growing old”.

Penultimate Warmonger is a snappy and driven number, before haunting Ghost Of A Ring winds up affairs. Deeply personal, so much so that even listening feels intrusive, it’s an anecdote that’s difficult to shift from the mind. Handcrafted and moving, Conflict Tourism is a heartbreakingly honest assortment of folk-y wonderfulness.

You can listen to Peggy Airey below.

Bullet For My Valentine – Venom review

BFMVVENOMHaving sold over 10 million records, toured the world countless times and sold out arenas including 10,000 capacity Wembley, Bullet For My Valentine know a thing or two about the rough and raring-to-go sound of hard-hitting rock music. Their fifth studio album, Venom, is set for release on Friday  14th August via RCA Records, and they’ve pushed themselves further and upped the ante, plunging further into the harsh edge of rock music whilst retaining the soaring, crowd-friendly hooks.

Despite their new wave of refined power and enthusiasm, the record has a somewhat shaky start with V sounding like it could pass off for backing at a horror house or Alton Towers ride, and No Way Out providing little original content until the chorus hits. This number, the first taster of the album which received a BBC Radio 1 premiere, comes with a warning from frontman Matt Tuck; “hold tight it’s a hell of a ride”. One of the heaviest off the album and as well as the most personal, Tuck adds, “to write this track I had to put myself into a very dark place, a place I hadn’t been to for a while mentally” – this Bring Me The Horizon-esque state-and-face-your-problems style is prominent at several points on the record.

An onslaught of sounds opens conveniently titled Army Of Noise, and keeping up the semantic field the track delivers a battering of riffs with military precision. After the consistent and rigorous sound of Worthless comes another aggressive number with catchy You Want A Battle – though I can’t help thinking there’s a certain We Bring An Arsenal feel to it. This gives them chance to show how they can so deftly switch from harsh to clean vocals, and though a rather safe and formulaic style leaves it feeling manufactured, the gang vocals that open and close the track only boost its earworm sound.

Unfortunately the contrast doesn’t prevail so well in Broken, another one with a promising chorus but where the harsh/clean split is too vague to have the punchy effectiveness they’d previously nailed. Wrongs are righted with the album’s titled track, which would’ve served a perfect opener from the truly gripping opening through the strong, lyric lead meat of the song to the sure-to-stick-in-mind close. Venom is bound to be met with high praise.

After this lull, The Harder The Heart showcases how they can makes even the most cliched lyrics – “no looking back, no more regrets” – sound like absolute belters dressed up with more than a slight edge, another favourite for the split between a heavy foreground of music and lighter undertones. Skin feels rather similar as a follow-on, and the chanted “there’s no escape” of Hell or High Water feels regurgitated from similar heavy artists, but it’s hard to criticise when it’s pulled off so confidently and excellently.

Rough chants surge energy through Pariah, whilst the tracks slower moments give focus to the spectacular instrumental that tends to go unnoticed among the gripping vocals, whilst recently released Playing God pumps the record full of emancipating energy. By thirteenth Run For Your Life, things start to dip too much into repetitive – an electrified solo tries to keep things fresh but even the almost-spoken word of In Loving Memory can’t push out unoriginality forever, and by closing Raising Hell, little feels new; it’s good the standard edition finishes after Pariah.

Their roughest and most personal work to date, Venom is a ready-for-anything, kicking-and-screaming album of promise. Expect to be blown away.

You can watch the lyric video for No Way Out below.