When bands put out a new album, there can be cause for concern among diehard fans.
Every so often, there’s a month in music that kind of knocks you down. I fondly remember June 2004 as one of those months. I bought new albums from no less than four bands that I loved at that point, and only one of them remains with me today.
September just left us with a great record from Raekwon, music from the Cribs, They Might Be Giants, Muse, Ace Frehley, Kid Cudi, Every Time I Die, Pearl Jam, Vertical Horizon, Harry Connick Jr., Alice in Chains and Paramore and four great records.
The record that’s been consuming my ears the most is one I’ve been waiting the longest for, AFI’s Crash Love.
For those who aren’t familiar with AFI, the band started as a punk band, then took their Cure and Joy Division influences to heart and became a “dark,” melodic hardcore band.
In 2006, their biggest record to date was released and was by far their worst. All of the things that made me (and many others) love the band were no longer present. Thankfully, some of these things (guitars for one) have returned. No, it’s not the timeless classic that the band has claimed it to be, but it’s a very good record.
“End Transmission” sounds like Johnny Marr writing songs for AFI while “Cold Hands” is something of a proto-metal jam. “Sacrelige” harkens back to the band’s best era (1999-2003). And “OK, I Feel Better Now” is by far the catchiest song Robert Smith never wrote.
What does all of this mean though? Does the success of the band’s newest album wash away the horrid memories of their last? In a way, the worst moments on Decemberunderground are far worse than the best moments on Crash Love are good.
Thrice took a bit of a misstep over the past few years, pulling a Guns N’ Roses and putting out four mediocre albums that could have been one great record. Thankfully, they returned to form and actually expanded on that sound with the great Beggars.
Recorded by the band themselves, Beggars is kind of what In Rainbows was for Radiohead. It’s sparse when it needs to be, it’s big at the right moments, and the songs have a special feeling attached to them.
“The Weight” is as heavy as the band can be at this point, but “In Exile” is the real charmer, sounding like a post-hardcore Bruce Springsteen B-side. The chorus is where Thrice really shines, especially with Dustin Kensrue’s gruff vocal and one of the hookiest lead guitar lines of the year.
Jay-Z put out The Blueprint III, another fantastic hip-hop album from the mogul himself. This record, his first away from his old label and put out by Live Nation, kills from front to back.
“D.O.A.” is a message to all the ringtone rappers, “Run This Town” is the perfect pop-hip-hop radio single, “Empire State of Mind” is Jay-Z’s love letter to the wonders of his hometown, and “A Star Is Born” shouts out his contemporaries in a way that seeps humility.
Album closer “Forever Young” might be Jay-Z’s attempt to memorialize himself to high school dance crowds everywhere, but it might also be the most sincere song on the record, looking back on a life well spent while singing “there is no tomorrow.”
Finally, we come to the most polarizing record on this here short and nonsensical list, Daisy by former pop-punk wunderkinds Brand New. For anyone who’s actually stuck around throughout Brand New’s emotional descent from sad high school kids to completely miserable adults, you kind of knew what to expect when you finished The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.
Starting with the vintage gospel recording to set the stage before blasting off into the raging “Vices,” Daisy is all over the place, beautiful and chaotic and according to a friend and longtime Brand New fan, at points, “unlistenable.”
This is probably the most polarizing record to come from the Warped Tour music scene. How does a band start off with “Jude Law and A Semester Abroad” and end up at “Gasoline”? It took a few years, a few bad breaks and lots of Modest Mouse records, but instead of being a cookie cutter bouncy pop-punk band, they’ve ended up a serious artistic force that’s been compared to Radiohead – lofty comparisons.
The year’s still not over, and there still may be a few surprises left on the agenda, but these four records from September defined the artists who put them out.
Whether a multi-millionaire MC is taking something of a victory lap before his 40th birthday or a Southern California former skate-punk band is defining their musical dreams on their own, this is music to take seriously.
Steve Ciccarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.