1989

I’m not going to eulogise over how good Taylor Swift’s latest album is, because there’s already plenty of those out there. But I will take a second to note how, unlike any pop album I can think of, it actually hit home.

I’m a firm believer that the best music not only has a catchy melody or a great riff (or whatever gets your particular juices flowing) but can grab a hold of what you feel, where your life is at that very moment. The very best music can make you take stock of all that, and that’s what 1989 manages.

It’s rare that an album will so perfectly capture where you are as a person right at the time that you listen to it. There’s obviously an element of chance involved, but it’s still fleeting. We’ve had albums from Pianos Become the Teeth and Have Mercy in the last month – both bands that I love – and neither of them have struck a chord with me as sharply as Swift’s latest.

It’s interesting that the album is called 1989, probably no coincidence that a record written by a 24-year-old feels so familiar thematically. The potential mistakes you may have made and may be making, the missteps and regrets that we’re all accidentally accumulating as we stumble through our early 20’s with essentially no fucking clue where we’re going. 1989 sounds to me 90% a celebration of these things; 10% reflection on what may be going right or wrong.

It’s this candour and vulnerability, wrapped up in brilliant, 80’s-drenched pop songs, that has caught me a bit off guard with this album, and also why I’d recommend it wholeheartedly – even to those who can’t think of anything worse than sitting through it.

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Learning lessons

Over the course of the past few months I’ve been exploring the idea of sexism in the music industry and feminist movements for equality fighting against it.

I’m still yet to focus on a straight theme or angle for my article (I think you could write on the subject forever, such are the issues and the array of viewpoints within it) but I have been genuinely surprised by the prevalence of something I naively thought was all but non-existent.

None of the women I have spoken to have been lucky enough to never experience sexism; none think that we are anywhere near where we need to be – where we ought to be – in terms of gender equality in our entertainment industry.

I, like I assume many others, saw the vast amounts of women appearing on televisions and radios everywhere and assumed that this was a problem to be moaned about by a minority. I am happy to admit I was wrong, but unhappy that I have to do so.

As I shape my article over the next few weeks I intend to maintain a blog about my doing so – primarily to shape my thought processes, but also to see if a route I am taking is coherent and honest. I do not want to produce a finished work that is short-sighted and disagreeable a matter of weeks after I’v written it.

Blowing through the nostalgia

I had the pleasure of seeing Funeral for a Friend live tonight. Funeral are almost certainly the band that I’ve seen most over the years and so I feel like I’m in quite a privileged position from which to comment on where they’ve come and where they’re going.

The last few times I’ve seen them have been largely for nostalgia purposes – allowing the crowd to pick the setlist in Exeter, playing Casually Dressed in its entirety in London – tonight it was the newer songs that were most impressive. With the release of Conduit at the beginning of the year and their performance tonight, I’m excited about the band again.

They seem revitalised, shaken up and hungry to get back to where they were.  Again showing that they know their best songs, hearing ‘Recovery’ and ‘Escape Artists’ side-to-side with ‘Conduit’ and ‘Travelled’ you’d be hard pushed to guess which album had been their biggest hit.

Casually Dressed was seminal but they have finally released an album that might be able to break the shackles. Encouragingly, they perform like they know it as well.

Welcome back, Funeral. It’s been a while, but it’s great to have you here.

Shit is shit is shit

The last few days have been pretty huge, in music terms. But all that seems to really being discussed is the Fall Out Boy ‘reunion’ (they never broke up?)

Granted, they’ve returned in full force: new song, new video, new tour, new album. All announced in one fell swoop and thus ensuring that they word on everyone’s lips is Fall Out Boy.

The way they announced everything was refreshing, it certainly makes a change from the endless announcements of announcements.

But the song’s shit.

I’m sorry, believers everywhere, it is. And just because you’re a fan of any of their previous output does not mean you have to be a fan of this.

I’ve read numerous ‘believers never die’ and ‘if you were a true fan you’d get behind them regardless’ comments over the last few days and it just defies belief.

If you like the song, fine – but there is no need to like it for the sake of it.

I consider myself a music fan and will incessantly, probably annoyingly, champion anything that I think is worth listening to. There are few things more rewarding than introducing someone to something you know they’ll enjoy.

But there has to be two sides to the coin. It becomes impossible to support good music if you refuse to accept when things are bad. If this means admitting that your favourite band release a bad song, so be it. It just means that your opinion is actually objective when it comes to praising something.

Somewhat forced under the rug by FOB’s omnipresence on the internet, The Story So Far and Alkaline Trio both released new songs over the past few days.

Trio are one of my favourite bands of all time, and TSSF’s Under Soil and Dirt is the best pop-punk album released in the last ten years. But I have no problem in saying that I’m flat-out disappointed with Trio’s new track (and realistically their last 3 albums), and TSSF song left me a little underwhelmed.

I’d like to think that this would mean that when I say Trio are one of the best (pop)punk bands ever, and USAD is the best genre album in the last ten years, it is with a certain credibility.

I guess it just wrangles that FOB can make what is essentially a bad R’n’B song and a vaguely disrespectful video in which they burn their own records (why not just e-mail all the people that have JUST written ten-year commemoratives of Take This to Your Grave a big middle finger and be done with it?) and everything else is ignored and swept under the rug.

If their song had been released under any other name it would have been dismissed and people would already be talking about something else.

If something is shit we shouldn’t be afraid to call it shit, in the same way that we would call not hesitate to call a great song great.

My favourite song of 2012

I’ve been debating this one for quite a while. It’s pretty arbitrary, and there are several contenders – Title Fight’s Lefty and ’45’ by The Gaslight Anthem came close – but it has to be Gates by The Menzingers.

It’s just adorable, one of the most upbeat failed-romance songs I can remember hearing in years.

You’ll carve your names into the Paupack cliffs,

just to read them when you get old enough to know

that happiness is just a moment.

One of the best lyrics on anything released last year as well. Such unabashed fondness for an unhappy observation.

Back in February I wrote, “the melody erupts so stirringly from the verses that it is impossible not to be swept up in the story, vicariously experiencing the display of courage as past sadness is confronted and discarded.”

I stand by that, and how much I love this song. Check it out for yourself.

The album that it comes from, On the Impossible Past, is also one of the best albums released in 2012. It’s been included in pretty much everyone’s top 10 – and topped a number of them – so if you like Gates, check it out.

Ten of ’12

My top ten albums of 2012 has already appeared on the Alter the Press website, but I thought I would publish it again very briefly here, with a few words of explanation as to why I chose what I did.

With no further ado, then, my albums of the year:

Misser10. Misser – Everyday I Tell Myself I’m Going to be a Better Person

Take the sense of melody and soft-centredness that makes Transit good, but ultimately forgettable, and add some muscle, and you have the debut Misser album. Insanely catchy and surprisingly consistent for what is ultimately a side-project, I hope these guys pursue this avenue more in future.

The American Scene9. The American Scene – Safe for Now

Pure Noise records can do no wrong at the moment. Another group clearly influenced by Transit‘s recent success, Safe for Now is a meeting of indie and pop-punk, with a dash of Brand New thrown in for good measure. Acoustic track Untitled is worth the price alone.

The xx8. The xx – Coexist

Understated, intimate, considered, and beautiful. Whilst it may not be too much of a departure from their S/T debut album, Coexist simply improves on everything they got right the first time around.

 

Forever Came Calling7. Forever Came Calling – Contender

Unbelievably, the only pop-punk album on the list. Infectious, direct and frenetic, the whole album is done in less than half an hour. For a genre that disappointed in 2012, Contender retained the energy and hooks that many lacked. Fuck your secrets.

ETID6. Every Time I Die – Ex-Lives

The most aggressive ETID album to date, Ex-Lives is the first true collection of everything they’re amazing at. Still the kings of the riff, Keith Buckley’s lyrics are as impressive as you’d expect, and his voice has never sounded better. The Big Dirty Gutter Phenomenon.

Basement5. Basement – Colourmeinkindness

Reviving the spirit of mid-90’s emo and grunge, Basement produced a remarkably mature record. Sadly, it’s to be their last – the promise shown here and the positive reaction it received hinted at future success. Control is one of the most stunning songs that came out last year.

Menzingers

4. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past

The most uplifting album about past regret that I’ve ever heard. Paints a vivid picture of a bygone Americana, a romantic gin-soaked vision of an innocence lost – and it’s amazing. I imagine this was the cause of many a sore throat last year.

Title Fight3. Title Fight – Floral Green

2012 was the year that Title Fight established themselves as leaders of the pack. Floral Green is as raucous and coarse as you might expect, but with age comes maturity. This is a more experimental effort than 2011’s Shed, heartfelt and with moments of reflection in amongst the noise.

TGA - Handwritten2. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Still the masters of the windows-rolled-down radio anthem, Handwritten is the most personal Gaslight album to date. The characters and metaphors of the past are all but gone, as Fallon and his bandmates bare their rock’n’roll souls to the world. If they weren’t destined for big things before, they are now.

MD&M1. Make Do and Mend – Everything You Ever Loved

Lyrically the best album released last year by some distance, this claims no.1 for the sheer, stunning variety on offer. From the punkier tones of Count and Stay in the Sun to the poignancy of St. Anne and Desert LilyMD&M created a consistently impressive record which defies pigeonholing. James Carroll’s voice, their musicianship and sense of melody all combine to make this fantastic.

Real Friends

The problem with musical fads is that they can get old fast. As a genre gains more popularity, more bands start to surface. The end result is one of saturation, too many bands plying their trade in a style that can become stale as quickly as it became exciting.

The trick then is to discover the bands that are rising above the tide, those groups that are still managing to be exciting where their peers are failing to do so. Bands like Real Friends.

Amongst the spate of sub-standard pop-punk records this year, it has been easy to miss some real gems. The three EPs released by Real Friends this year deserve every bit of attention they’ve received, and then some.

Dropped back in January, second EP Everyone That Dragged You Here is one of the strongest genre releases this year. Opener Floorboards is a pop-punk tour-de-force. It’s energetic, it’s catchy, it’s got all the right breaks in all the right places. It works acoustic. It’s essentially the perfect opening to an EP.

In May, the band released an accomplished acoustic EP, the one new song included showing that the possess song-writing skills away from the typical pop-punk fare showcased on ETDYH. 

This month, Real Friends have come out with Three Songs About the Past Year of my Life, a new three track EP just as strong as Everyone… Middle track Hebron is an astonishing departure from their signature sound, as heartfelt and passionate in its delivery as it is disarmingly fierce.

Vocalist Dan Lambton struggles to contain his emotion as a single guitar chimes in the background. It’s painfully honest, impossible to be unaffected by, and brilliant.

From repeated lyrics about sleepy eyes and boney knees to artwork featuring houses of the leafy Chicago streets the band call home, there is an ultra-personal aspect to Real Friends that instils a vitality to their songs. Theirs is the sound of pent-up small town frustration exploding from your speakers.

For every Floorboards, there is a HebronFor every Anchor Down, Skeletons. Real Friends have shown, over three releases in one year, that they are a multi-faceted, excitingly talented pop-punk band that have distilled exactly what it is that makes the genre so great.

Fans of pop-punk, you owe it to yourselves to give these guys a spin. With the continued rise of The Story So Far, Real Friends may be the next to capture audiences’ attention.

Don’t miss the boat.