The new record from Andrew McMahon is ambitious. So ambitious, that he’s released it under yet another name. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness is really Andrew’s first solo album proper, given that Jack’s Mannequin became a full-band project, and is very much a pop album in the way that Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate were not.
For the potentially wary, it’s not a huge leap away from his solo EP The Pop Underground, and of course, Andrew’s signature sound is still very much there, loud and proud. However, there’s a much greater electronic influence in AM In The Wilderness than in any previous projects, and there’s plenty of fantastic synth lines running throughout. And that’s just part of it – the sheer breadth of style that AM In The Wilderness encompasses is incredible. From huge pop numbers like ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ to gospel-inspired ‘Canyon Moon’, and beautiful piano-led tracks like ‘Rainy Girl’ to 80s-styled finisher ‘Maps for the Getaway’ (which sounds like it would fit fantastically on The Breakfast Club’s soundtrack), no two songs sound the same. Each track has its own individual timbre, and yet as an album, it all works together perfectly.
The record also holds a delicate balance between old and new. On the one hand, there are plenty of songs about the forthcoming birth of Andrew’s daughter, Cecilia. ‘See Her On The Weekend’, ‘Rainy Girl’ and of course, ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’, which is the shining star of the album, all reflect on this huge event in different ways, culminating in a wonderful tribute to a baby girl. But there’s a lot of looking back and soul searching as well – ‘High Dive’ and ‘Black and White Movies’ are all about past relationships, and ‘All Our Lives’ is simply a fantastic take on life, its potential difficulties and eventually moving on. It’s an incredibly introspective record in places, bold and decisive in others, but ultimately uplifting at every turn. ‘Maps for the Getaway’ in particular is simply about making it through, and it ends the record on a triumphant, yet poignant note.
The fact is that Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness is a lot of different things. It’s a beautiful example of emotionally intelligent songwriting, immersed in stunning melodies and gorgeous metaphor. It’s brutally honest and genuinely heartwarming. It’s daring, and yet another step further from Andrew’s pop-punk roots. And above all this, it has the potential to be his greatest record yet. Fans of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin will love this, but then again, so will everyone else.
5 out of 5 high fives!
Guerrilla Monsoon are a band from Birmingham who write big, punk rock bangers. Veterans of the Midlands scene, these guys have been in more bands than you can count. You can hear echoes of days gone past all the way throughout their tunes, but together, they create something completely different and pretty damn exciting. Their forthcoming EP, Big City Plans, is an explosion of melody, gruff voices and fast tempos, and it’s no surprise that the band got picked up by Paper + Plastick and Beach Community before their first anniversary.
I fired a bunch of questions at Lewis Bloor, one of the guitarists/vocalists in the band, and he came back with some pretty interesting answers. Read this, then buy the record because it’s ace.
You guys have got a rich heritage from bands like Cannons and Tanks (who by the way, I adored – went to virtually every show you did in Leamington), Shermer, Hopewood et al. How have you taken that experience and turned it into something which actually sounds quite different to those bands?
Thanks for the kind words! To be honest, I don’t think that we’ve actually changed all that much with regards to our individual playing styles, it kind of all just clicks. Mark is playing his noodley guitar lines, John is letting rip on the drums, I haven’t actually changed the way I’ve played guitar since I was 16 and in bands that basically wanted to be Texas Is The Reason, and Rob plays bass like he’s in The Bouncing Souls. It all just fits nicely. Mark and I do our clean/gruff vocal trade-offs and it just seems to compliment the rest of the music. It’s nice to find a bunch of guys that are happy musically together that fit so well.
You’ve managed to pick up support from two excellent labels, Paper + Plastick in the US and Beach Community over here. What does that mean to you personally, and what does that mean for the band moving forward?
It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. To get this kind of backing as a new band is amazing and totally unexpected. We recorded a few songs at the beginning of the year and just sent them off. It’s pretty old school really – we’re no YouTube hit band, we haven’t got thousands of likes on Facebook, we don’t have a million followers on Soundcloud… We put up a few songs for free on Bandcamp and it all came from there.
Moving forward, it means that we get to do a lot of amazing things that we didn’t think possible. We get to play Fest in Florida for starters… That’s a massive deal for all of us. Hopefully, if people like our record, we’ll get the chance to tour and play with some amazing bands. I think we’re going to totally indulge ourselves with that. On a personal level, that’s one of the main reasons I’m in a band, just so I get to play with bands I like!
Big City Plans is a combination of new tracks and older ones – was the decision to split them like that purely down to that, or was there a bigger reason for grouping the way you have?
We recorded five songs, we then recorded two songs, we then recorded three songs… we put two of them out a few months ago on a split and there were eight left. The “older” songs on there are only older by a couple of months, but we’d already put them up on the Bandcamp. After a little bit of chat we just thought it’d be nice to bung them all on. They were all re-mastered and had a few mixing issues ironed out, but eight seemed like a nice number for a bigger EP or mini-album.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Tears, frustration, anger… actually, it’s quite nice. Mark comes up with songs he writes himself and we work it out as a band, or Rob and I work on some riffs together and songs come from that. Or, we just jam in practice and make a row with some chords and rhythms. Mark writes the majority of lyrics and we both work out our vocal lines from there. I write the odd batch of lyrics but I’m my own worst critic and I’m never really that happy with them.
Where do you take influence from when writing (not necessarily musically either!)?
Life. Write about what you know, it’s a lot more honest and sincere that way. Our influences are pretty much everything we’ve all grown up with. We’re not kids anymore and we’ve all had a fair amount of life experience, love, loss, regret, recovery, ups, downs… pop it all into a great musical blender and leave the top off.
Lyrically, there’s a lot of ground covered on Big City Plans. Is there a unifying theme threaded throughout the record?
Real life. That’s all we know. Changes around us and within ourselves. Our relationships with each other, our parents and our friends.
You’ve been touring the UK at the moment, and you’re headed off to Fest later this month – what’s been your best tour moment so far this year, and what are you expecting for Fest?
We’ve toured with quite a few bands (if you call tour more than three days in a row) and we’ve made some really great friends from that. We’ve got up to some ridiculous things and it’s been a great summer, so it just adds to the experience. Best tour moments are when there are actually people there that have come to see us! Over the last few weeks, we’ve noticed people actually singing along which is amazing! Fest… I’m expecting a hangover. A big hangover.
As performers, what makes the perfect show for you?
We all give it 100% every time – if it goes without hiccup, it’s amazing for us. Things happen though, like the breaking of strings, john throwing his sticks at us, Rob hitting me or Mark with his bass. We take it all in our stride though. Again, if there are a few people watching it’s great!
Who are your favourite bands to tour with?
All the bands! We’ve met so many great people already and we hope this continues for as long as possible.
The new record’s out on 28 October. We’re dead excited, but how would you convince someone who might be on the fence of the power of #team_monsoon?
Haha, this record has already had that many “releases”, it’s quite funny. The digital date for release was the 6th October, but as we were on tour that week it went onto Spotify/iTunes a week early. Then the vinyl turned up in the UK early so we started selling it at gigs. The pre-order for the vinyl for the UK and US went up earlier this week and officially gets sent out on the 28th October just before Fest. We’re so used to doing it DIY style and getting it out there as soon as we can, and we just can’t hold back. I reckon we’ll be a little more organised if/when we get the chance to do an album… And if you’re on the fence, we suggest you get off before you get splinters and come join the party!
Guerrilla Monsoon are Rob, Lewis, Mark and John. Big City Plans is out on 28 October on Beach Community (UK) and Paper + Plastick (US). Check these dudes out on Bandcamp already.
Hailing from Southsea but formed over beers in Hamburg, Misgivings make exactly the kind of noise you might expect them to. They trade in a kind of fast and loose punk style while retaining a melodic edge on this, their debut EP Delete History. And while it might start off promising enough, Misgivings are, unfortunately, a band who find themselves making missteps into pitfalls that many other punk bands find themselves guilty of.
The EP kicks off promisingly enough with ‘Century’, an insanely catchy bit of Bad Religion style punk with gruff vocals ripped straight from a Husker Du release. The writing and arrangement of the song has been thoroughly thought out and it quickly builds to a great, clattering conclusion. There are punk bands the world over who would kill to have a song like this in their catalogue.
Next up is the brilliantly titled ‘It’s a Bone, You Lucky Dog’ which after a sweet, melodic guitar intro turns into a pretty standard pop punk tune. Give it a bit of polish in terms of the production and mix and stick a pretty boy singer in there and you might as well be listening to Blink 182 or Taking Back Sunday. These guys know how to write a catchy song, it has to be noted.
From here on in though, the problems emerge. Misgivings are seemingly constricted by their expectations of what a punk band should do that they forget to have any ideas of their own. The songs on Delete History fail to make much impact when each of them sticks so rigidly to formula. It must be stressed that these are in no way bad songs, but surely there’s only so many times you can hear big intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle 8/chorus before it starts to get dull.
Misgivings are in no way a bad band and they certainly know how to craft a tune. If Delete History demonstrates anything, it is that there are bags of potential on show here, and this band just need to work on finding their own niche. It is a pleasant listen, it does nothing wrong, but will you remember it when it’s over?
3 out of 5 high fives!
Formed from the embers of two recently kaputt Boston bands, The Color and Sound merged together their influences and ideas back in 2012 and released their first EP in the spring of the following year. With a wide range of musical backgrounds, the group have spent the last year or so touring and honing in their varying influences and experiences, creating what they call “a uniquely-tinted blend of a modern indie band”. If that description doesn’t do much for you, try to imagine the love-child or Mumford and Sons and Reliant K, with a dose of Modern Baseball there too.
On the back of the amalgamation of their influences, The Color and Sound have released a new EP Peace Of Mind, through New Jersey DIY label Black Numbers and it certainly is all sorts of indie pop-punk (but easy on the punk). Peace Of Mind is six tracks of optimistic pop-driven rock. Opening track ‘Cigarettes’ uses explosively indie-pop choruses to announce much of what is to follow, with the strong melodic vocals creating a high point.
In Peace Of Mind the group seem to be calling on a number of influences (I’ve already mentioned the unmistakable Mumford-ish sound with smatterings of other indie-pop-rock) and create a sound that is ridiculously upbeat but off-the-wall at the same time. It’s like someone condensed Little Miss Sunshine into an EP. While it is not an entirely unique sound, it is one that they are truly making their own. The EP probably doesn’t have enough punk in it to use the tempting label of pop-punk, although it skirts around the edges, but it has hooks and melodies to keep you bopping along in a happy-go-lucky way.
I’ll be the first to say that it’s not for me. I like that their joyful style really does seem to be a reflection of the band members – check out their lyric video for ‘Cigarettes’ in the style of a karaoke machine or take a look at their Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean – but the optimism is lost on me somewhat. There’s no anger, edge or real overflow of passion, and I need that in a song. That said, if you dance around to Against Me!’s gentler numbers, if you love a bit of Say Anything, or if you lose yourself in an Arcade Fire album, then we may have found your new obsession!
3 out of 5 high fives!
Seattle stalwarts Minus The Bear have been at the forefront of the math rock scene since 2001, combining singalong choruses with head-scratching time signatures and guitar athletics, usually all within the space of a single song. This latest release compiles together an album’s worth of songs that didn’t fit onto their previous three records Planet Of Ice, Omni and Infinity Overhead. An inspired take on the unreleased and rare theme, it certainly delivers the goods, bringing together a range of sonic flavours from riff-rock to electronica via the prog-influenced song structures that have united the band’s output over the years.
Opener ‘Electric Rainbow’ first appeared on the bonus disc accompanying the first editions of 2007 full-length Planet Of Ice and, in this reviewer’s opinion, is an example of the definitive Minus The Bear song. For anyone unfamiliar with the band, it is the perfect introduction, featuring dextrous guitar tapping, some righteous fuzz bass, typically elusive lyrics, and a deliciously singable chorus. It is one of many occasions on this record that make you wonder how such a good song didn’t make the cut for a full album release. Follow up track ‘Surf-N-Turf’ has a funky pop groove that is as radio friendly as 6/4 polyrhythms can get, whilst ‘Broken China’ is a guitar-driven rocker with a enough whammy pedal action to give even Tom Morello foot ache!
Halfway through the record the cracks begin to show, as a couple of the weaker songs reveal why they may have been best left to stew in the cutting room a little longer. ‘Patiently Waiting’ has the potential to be a dreamy atmospheric song that would sit nicely on Planet Of Ice with its smooth Pink Floyd-esque guitar and shimmering keyboard chords, yet the drum machine heavy production and unnecessary faux-reggae middle eight leave it sounding more like an off-cut from Kanye West’s 808’s And Heartbreak. It’s not necessarily bad – in fact there’s a really nice song buried beneath the production – but it lacks context here. In fact, that is the record’s only real weakness. Although the diversity makes for a fantastic snapshot of a band who have proudly gone their own way for more than a decade, it lacks the narrative and cohesive sonic template that usually ties together their albums so well. However, it must be said that this is more a criticism of the b-sides and rarities format in general rather than Lost Loves in specific.
Fortunately, things more than pick up towards the end with closing track ‘The Lucky Ones’, which was originally produced for most recent studio album Infinity Overhead, as it combines searing synth leads with head-nodding staccato riffs and melodic vocals, ending with dramatic closing chords and layered reverse guitar loops. Intelligent yet catchy, it is the perfect closer to a retrospective of a unique band.
Overall this collection cements Minus The Bear’s single-minded individuality over the past thirteen years, from uncompromising technicality to danceable pop hooks and everything in between. Tall Ships, This Town Needs Guns, and any other band who thought ‘hey, maybe we could add an extra beat in here’, pay attention. This band made you.
4 out of 5 high fives!