Album Reviews

The Tyranny of Will by IRON REAGAN


Crossover is an interesting genre. Blending the punk rock aesthetic with the musical competence of thrash metal, Richmond, Va. based IRON REAGAN continues the legacy of bands that all manage to sound the same. But it’s because of this that crossover is an interesting artifact in the metal scene; no one cares that IRON REAGAN is MUNICIPAL WASTE minus the trampolines. No one minds that most of the songs on The Tyranny of Will could be a NUCLEAR ASSAULT B-side.

Maintaining the legacy that has existed since the early 90’s, IRON REAGAN play a no-holds barred brand of metal-influenced punk rock. With a tone dirtier than the basements shows crossover kids grew up on, The Tyranny of Will announces itself as a gritty, angry affair from the opening notes of the title track. Shouted group choruses predominate throughout the record, reinforcing crossover’s primary draw to the listening audience: live shows. While listening to The Tyranny of Will, all one has to do is close their eyes and you’ll find yourself in a dim club full of long hair, sloshed beer, and SICK OF IT ALL back patches.

A track-by-track breakdown for The Tyranny of Will would be a mighty challenge for the detail-oriented reviewer. With so little musical variation between the songs, it’s difficult to distinguish one anti-establishment chorus or grimy rhythm guitar riff from another. But I don’t think that’s the point with IRON REAGAN. They do manage to break-up the straightforward nature of their second full-length record with songs like “Eyeball Gore” and “Rat Shit”. These tunes tell stories that would fit right in on a mid-90’s OBITUARY record if it weren’t for the goofy tone the whole thing carries.

Where IRON REAGAN is most successful is in songs like “Obsolete Man” and “Broken Bottles” where the metal influence is strongest, calling to mind the obvious RVA comparison, MUNICIPAL WASTE; however, the ethos is vastly different from the irradiated zombie party metal of the aforementioned band. Serious subjects deserve serious thought, and IRON REAGAN is coming about as close as crossover can. Powerful, pissed, and proud of it, IRON REAGAN, much like Reaganomics, won’t work for everyone, but there are some serious benefits to those fortunate enough to get it.


Cloud Chamber by A UNIVERSE WITHIN


Harrisonburg, Va. based metal band A UNIVERSE WITHIN recently released their third full-length album after a two-year composition process. That length of time, and the amount of creative energy that that time allowed for, is so important to the feel of the record that it bears mentioning first. The writing is dense, technical, and dripping with instrumental prowess. Featuring six songs and clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Cloud Chamber is an interesting offering from a young, talented band.

Cloud Chamber kicks off with what has been the obligatory intro track to every progressive/technical metal album, well, ever. A rush of surf greets the listener as a piano motif floats in. Accented by twinkling bells and light synth flourishes, “Awakening” does little to capture the feel of the rest of the record and is instead the necessary first airing of what will later be reprised and expanded on in “Dormant”.

For those unmoved by the calming introduction, the beginning of “Rebirth” will surely catch the unwary off-guard. Swirling guitar riffs punctuated by crisp cymbal hits carry a visceral intensity that demands attention. It’s all very exciting, with the melodic edge accentuating the frenetic riffing, rather than replacing it. However, less than two minutes into the song, we’re abruptly greeted by what is A UNIVERSE WITHIN’s biggest problem: they really want to be BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME. The acoustic, almost Spanish-flavored guitar playing over the sounds of a busy restaurant is so reminiscent of “Shevanel Cut a Flip” from the aforementioned’s eponymous record that it’s hard to believe that that album, and likely their entire discography, wasn’t A UNIVERSE WITHIN’s primary inspiration.

Despite this, and several other appropriations, the remainder of the nearly 12-minute long song is an enjoyable assortment of technical leads and tasteful, atmospheric compositions. For instance, the section at the seven-minute mark in “Rebirth” is among the best on the record; the sudden transition from lead to rhythm guitar riffing as well as the dancing cymbal work do well to showcase A UNIVERSE WITHIN’s songwriting skill.

What is arguably the best part of Cloud Chamber is the opening bars of the album’s namesake, “Cloud Chamber”. The bouncing lightness of the riff that immediately follows the piano is simply fantastic. The song is aptly named, as soaring above the clouds feels like a real possibility for those brief seconds. There are many little touches on this song that capture the listener’s attention: the electronically-tinged “drop” at 2:02, the nearly out-of-control lead riff at 2:27, and the entire last 70 seconds featuring some clever bass work and an emotive guitar transition.

The remainder of the record follows in much the same fashion: lightning fast riffing, strange tempo shifts, and a healthy mix of both frenetic and peaceful moods. The BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME influence is everywhere, from the clearly “Selkies: The Endless Obsession”-inspired ending of “Road to Ruin” to the victory march in “Rebirth”, but that’s not necessarily a detriment. The listener can find themselves distracted by the frustrating drum kit tone, especially the cymbals, as it manages to sound both hollow and hissy at the same time. Repeated listens can minimize the impact, but, for a neophyte, the discrepancy between the crisp guitar tone and the lackluster drum sound is grating.

The line between emulation and imitation is difficult to define, and one’s opinion of what constitutes “paying homage” as compared to “stealing ideas” will likely play a major role in their enjoyment of Cloud Chamber. I believe that Cloud Chamber is more emulation than imitation. The compositions are surprisingly complex and interesting for such a young band. According to a recent press release, A UNIVERSE WITHIN are already engaged in writing their third album. I am confident they will be less grounded by what came before as they explore the compositional cosmos.


Vision in Furs by CHEMISTS


Vision in Furs, which is the debut EP by CHEMISTS, is filled with layered, tranquil, ambient songs that tell a different story. The first song “Warm//Forever” evokes just that feeling. The song has a lot going on, in terms of variation and dimensions of sounds, but it’s tempo is what really gives it’s title meaning. The song is slow but has a ton of layers; kind of like the sound of being underwater. Throughout, there is a clinking sound of rustling keys. CHEMISTS’ doesn’t let this overpower the song, instead allowing it to have a sort of nostalgic, charming appeal.

The second song on the EP, “Heirloom Luna”, is different from the beginning track but has still has a ton of layers. In this song, CHEMISTS adds soft vocals and a thumping, electro drumbeat as the base. Chimes replace the rustling keys sound, giving the song an intergalactic feeling just like the song title.

The EP’s song of the same name has a bubbly, upbeat sound. The song is both an electronic and piano-driven song and has no vocals like “Warm//Forever”. The song doesn’t really stand out among the songs, since it’s much more simple in comparison to the others.

CHEMISTS’ finishes the EP with songs that are experimental and soft, even with its heavy electronic influence. The final song, “The Deep Time Virtual”, sums up what listeners have heard from the previous songs. If time travel existed, the song would likely be exactly what it would sound like. CHEMISTS’ purposefully makes the song skip, like a CD in a Walkman, which leads up as a final hoorah to the album.

Vision in Furs is a striking EP, touching on various genres between ambient, techno and alternative. CHEMISTS’ maintains a cohesive theme throughout; the songs sound similar but have distinct traits to them. Listeners will continuously hear something new with each listen, which is what truly makes the EP and ambient music something special.


Setbacks & Letdowns by CENTERFOLDS


Featuring former members of Virginia’s pop punk alumni, COWABUNGA! and BATTLEGHOST, the men of CENTERFOLDS have released their debut EP Setbacks & Letdowns in hopes of ensuring their place as one of Virginia’s pop punk elite.

The album opens with the hard hitting riffs of “Sup”, the intro track for the EP, which really sets the tone and makes me wanna posi jump as high as I can. The lyrics vocalist Tommy Wiseman croons are equally self-deprecating and enthused, which represents the heart of CENTERFOLDS content. Unlike in COWABUNGA!, Wiseman sounds like he is in his element, meshing perfectly with his band’s guitar tones.

Next up is “Break Me,” which is the first song to highlight the recurrent theme of loss and the ending of a relationship. I love the line Wiseman repeatedly sings, followed by gang vocals from the rest of the band, “If you choose to break me / please do it gently / so I can leave the room.” The heavy punk influence is very apparent on this song, and it adds to the intensity of the lyrics very nicely.

The third track, “9/10ths of Yesterday,” was originally released in March 2014, but the band chose to rerecord it for the EP. Though the version is slightly different, it is much more polished, and makes for another great break up anthem.

“Relapse,” which is featured fourth, discusses going back to an ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend) even when you know that they are not the right person for you and the physical and emotional trauma it can cause. My favorite lyric is “I never wanted to be your knight in shining armor,” and I really hope the band chooses to put that on a shirt.

The fifth and final track, which is the title of the EP, does not let down the energy. Wiseman bids his ex farewell, and is not looking back. I think this debut is neither a setback or a letdown for CENTERFOLDS, but rather, it shows that they still have what it takes to be successful.


Lenclair by LENCLAIR


Acoustic trio, LENCLAIR, boast a summery, effervescent sound throughout their self-titled debut album, which clocks in with 12 songs, including two covers by IRON AND WINE and SIMON AND GARFUNKEL. The first thing listeners cling to is the romantic, yet, bleak lyrics. The album begins with the lighthearted number, “Breezeway”, with lyrics including, “Meet me in my breezeway tonight/We can sit around the Christmas lights/Drown my head at time of ten.” Upon accepting the offer, listeners will be hit with the band’s metaphoric brilliance that makes them yearn for understanding. What’s intriguing about the band is that they play around with their vocals, allowing each member to take the lead interchangeably. Especially in the odd, yet thought-provoking track “May 23”. The band asks, “Do you remember? Saturday, May 23?” to the muse saying they had to “Put [you] down again” and wondering, “Was I in love with you?” It’s the constant change through romantic soliloquies, to then somber responses that really make the band’s lyrics compelling. The album finishes with “Philosopher’s Wife”; a song that has a similar build and rhyme that of a Shel Silverstein poem; claiming they could “Write a story/With no ending” and “Write a song/With no beginning” although neither would end nor begin. The band further encouraged the listener claiming, “How you choose to look at this whole life/Is how you want to” an allows them to think critically. Overall, I found that LENCLAIR created a touching, emotive set of songs that build off each other to create a magnificent piece of work.


The Denzel Washington Mixtape by ARYE QUEST


Just under a month ago, Norfolk rapper, ARYE QUEST, released his debut, The Denzel Washington Mixtape. Throughout the EP, ARYE QUEST maintains a quick lyrical flow during his freestyling, and an emotive, speaking voice on his spoken word. The first thing I noticed about ARYE QUEST’s voice was a strong JAY-Z influence. ARYE QUEST’s voice is very similar to the artist; especially on the opening song, “Man on Fire”. In fact, I confused the two upon first listen of the mixtape. The theme of the songs is the titular actor’s movies, with each song being loosely based off the movie it was named after — such as “American Gangster” and “Training Day”, to name a few. The prominent distinction between the two artists is that ARYE QUEST maintains a more stripped-down sound throughout as opposed to JAY-Z’s current crossover to more pop, radio-friendly songs.

In addition, QUEST is a socially conscious rap artist; something that isn’t common amongst today’s more popular rap and hip-hop artists. His main purpose is to “win souls for Christ” through his music. All of the songs on The Denzel Washington Mixtape discuss God. His lyrics touch on issues to create an alternative to the “shallow” music currently being played on the radio. This topic is prominent in the song, “Devil in a Blue Dress” where ARYE QUEST claims, “the more ignorant the flow, the higher on the chart they go”. Overall, I found The Denzel Washington Mixtape is a decent representation of what’s to come in ARYE QUEST’s music career. However, ARYE QUEST needs to create a signature sound that will separate him from the other rap artists in the mainstream and on the horizon.




The nine-track mix tape opens with a song titled “Fuck The Police”, which would be shocking if I didn’t already know from my interview with ROBERT MCFARLAND that the song is actually about racial profiling, taking vocal stabs at the authority for targeting black men, such as Trayvon Martin or Rodney King. The song packs a serious a punch while simultaneously maintaining the throwback, old school hip hop vibe. This is McFarland in his element doing what he does best-creating socially conscious rap with style and flair in the spirit of COMMON, MOS DEF, and PUBLIC ENEMY.

The next track, which is called “The Wire”, is introduced by a clip from the television show of the same name. In the clip, METHOD MAN is reflecting on how to survive, you can’t let your past define you in the streets of Baltimore. McFarland uses this as a call to action to not be defined by his past in Virginia Beach in hopes to move forward to achieve his dreams. His flow is unmatched, and he has the confidence to show it.

“Streets Need It” comes up third, and in this track McFarland raps about how he would “rather spit bars than sit behind them”. It seems to me like the song is about how the black identity is a struggle between making something of themselves or taking to the streets for a life of crime and violence, but McFarland, as stated above, would rather choose the former.

Halfway into the mix is a track dedicated to his girlfriend Holly Fuller, which is titled “Black Queen”. He spits sweet love poetry to his “African queen”, which may at first seem very contrived, but the addition of TATIANA SCOTT’s mellifluous vocals definitely makes the song feel more heartfelt, and it takes the energy of the track up a notch.

The fifth track keeps that energy going strong with his single “MC vs. Rapper”, which has received over 620 views on YouTube. Another song about his identity, McFarland makes it clear that he is more than just a rapper. He is a lyricist and a showman. Definitely one of the strongest tracks in his repertoire, this song shows how he can be himself while also having mass appeal.

“In My Lifetime” questions the meaning of life quite literally, but still leaves the question to be answered. I guess McFarland is still trying to figure that one out?

“Cassius Clay” opens with the swoon of a saxophone and electric piano syncopation. “Life’s a bitch, and then you pass away,” mourns McFarland. TERRY MAK making a guest appearance on the jazzy track about how we so often get sidetracked from our purpose in life by drugs, alcohol, social media. I love the vibe on this one.

The eighth track, “ODE”, which he says is “an ode to my niggas”. It reminds me of the quote from some movie-I can’t quite remember which one-but it goes “you can take the brother out of the hood but you can’t take the hood out of the brother”, and McFarland again trying to justify his goal to get out of the hood, but not forgetting where he comes from. His humility really speaks worlds on this track.

The final track, “1999” reflects on his old school style and how he was on the verge of transitioning into the first decade of his life. He wishes he could go back to then when times were simpler, but “life got realer”. Keeping with the theme of identity of the whole mix tape, though McFarland is nostalgic about the past, at the end of the song he doesn’t seems ready to transition into the new stage of his life and music career. Though with the countdown of the ball dropping to bring in the new year, it proves that he has no choice but to move forward because that’s the only option he has.


Static Scene by STATIC SCENE


It has been two years since the McLean-based indie rock band STATIC SCENE was established. Since then, the band has been hard at work playing house shows and writing songs. Their debut album will be officially released on July 22nd on Say-10 Records, which is based out of Richmond. Their CD release show is scheduled for tomorrow, July 18th at Epicure Café in Fairfax at 7:00 p.m. The band was gracious enough to share it with us for the following review: Beginning with a menacing laugh of whom I assume is drummer Ryan Burke before he counts that rest of the band in, the four-song EP starts off with “Eye for an Eye”, which sets the bar high with the emotional energy of vocalist Zach Caulkins screaming voice, mourning the duality of loss in “two for a two lung for a lung / heart for a heart / what have I done?”. The enigmatic tone of the song hearkens to 90s and early 2000 screamo/indie rock bands, such as THRICE and THURSDAY. Continuing on a softer note, the following song, which is titled “Puzzled By Fire”, Caulkins voice is more stripped down, highlighted by the brilliant guitar notes of Greg Savage, who ties the atmospheric, enigmatic sound together neatly. Caulkins’ voice resonates so well with the music as to not get lost but to compliment it perfectly. If I had to describe the song in one word: Epic. The third track, “The Thief”, keeps the energy flowing at a steady pace. Though the lyrics are somewhat difficult to understand, I love the guitar solo by Caulkins on this track. It keeps with the atmospheric tone of the album thus far and highlights this emotion filled song properly. The EP closes with the longest song on the record. At just over seven and a half minutes long, “Just For The Sound” is much more subdued initially than the previous three tracks, which is very reminiscent of EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY. Caulkins asks, “Was it all that you gave?”, continuing the theme of loss, which seems to be common throughout the record. He begs to his former lover, “Wash me away” in hopes to be cleansed from her memory and to “step into the stars”. Though it is a sad song, it ends on a hopeful note, returning to the energy felt on previous tracks that lifts the listeners’ moods and spirits to new heights.




There’s a point on She – the debut album by Harrisonburg folk-rock three-piece THE DAWN DRAPES – during which the listener is asked the question “When you gonna wake it up?” It’s an inquiry that could be reflected back upon the album itself: Indeed, all six songs are undeniably sleepy and dreamlike. The melodies come slow and steady, like a red-and-orange-speckled river lazily flowing through a valley at sunset. Though it’s true that the album never awakens from its slumber, there is no sin in this, considering that the mellow world THE DAWN DRAPES creates is inviting, unhurried and – most importantly – real. The adjectives “sleepy” and “slow” give the impression that She is a lethargic – perhaps even dull – set of tunes. But this is hardly the case. While at certain turns the albums flirts with becoming what some folks may perceive as “boring,” these moments are few and far between. In truth, there is more than enough subtle action and fine musicianship on this record to keep the listener engaged and entertained – think STEELY DAN run through a ghostly filter. “My Little Dark Side” and “Fever Dreams” stand out as particularly well-crafted pop songs. The former is a brief, upbeat diddy about the difficulty of having a meaningful romantic relationship during your 20s: “If I stay on down this road/I’ll hit 30 all alone,” sings Daniel Rice with a breezy voice that’s seems to embrace his loneliness instead of dwelling on it. It is, by far, the record’s most instantly memorable song. The album’s closer, “Fever Dreams,” sees Michael Sanzo laying down some soulful guitar work. His gentle exploration of the fretboard hits a high point during a smoky solo that ushers in a kinetic ending to an album that, up until then, had rarely raised its voice above a whisper. Clocking in at a little over 28 minutes, She washes over the listener like a concise, vivid dream that lingers for the rest of the day. All told, THE DAWN DRAPES has created a mature piece of art that is remarkably clear in its vision for a debut album. Its genuineness is best illustrated during a moment on “Current State,” when Rice’s fingers squeal as they slide down the strings of his acoustic guitar. This phenomenon, while seemingly innocuous, is something that writer Chuck Klosterman has referred to as listening to the “inside of a song,” and it’s precisely what makes She an organic, worthwhile album to spend some time with. Overproduction be damned; This album feels real and alive because every song sounds like it was recorded in a single take. This, of course, is probably not the case, but the sentiment behind that idea remains intact: the edges haven’t been polished over, and THE DAWN DRAPES’ first release is stronger because of it.


Melodies for the Outsiders by BURN THE BALLROOM


On the Melodies for the Outsiders EP, the NOVA-based four-piece BURN THE BALLROOM fearlessly shifts between genres at a break-neck pace. In just under 22 minutes, this theatric-oriented group of superb musicians sprints from power pop to metal to techno and pretty much every stylistic destination in between. The change in style from one song to the next is often so jarring that it’s hard to believe both songs coexist on the same record. Take, for instance, a moment during the middle of the EP when BURN THE BALLROOM drifts through a flowery, Beatles-inspired pop number (“Crazy”), only to unleash a demonic, screamo metal hell spawn (“Witch”) on the very next track. The genre acrobatics continue with “Believe,” a synth-laden party tune that seems destined for a dance club. The rhythm is relentless and the chorus is painfully addictive; it’s easy to imagine a group of drunken white girls rallying around the refrain “Tonight, we all believe!” Perhaps the crowning achievement of the album is its opener, “Chariot,” which sounds like a Christian hymn siphoned through a Queen-like prism: Alan Gant’s vocals soar to Mercurian heights while Matt “Sterling” Pearson’s blazing guitar solo channels some of that fiery Brian May energy of yore. Keeping in mind all of the stylistic 180’s, it’s no small feat that BURN THE BALLROOM never sound like they’re extending beyond their comfort zone. While all six songs are indeed over the top – pop music pumped full of HGH, if you will – this sense of hyperbole plays to the band’s favor. After all, music isn’t ludicrous if the musicians are purposely flashy, right? Whatever the case may be, the members of BURN THE BALLROOM have a keen feel for dramatics which manifests itself in the “Glee”-like polish dripping off every track. Melodies for the Outsiders plays like a wild and unpredictable ride around a violently-spinning carousal. So if its all-frills hedonistic flower-metal-techno-drama pop you’re seeking, this is the album for you.




SKYWARD describe their third EP, Drift, as “the first to really nail down their unique sound…cohesive and original.” The band isn’t fibbing: Drift does indeed have a distinct and unified sound. But how to describe it? Wrestling the music into words doesn’t come easy. Perhaps space-rock is the first designation to spring to mind – but more toward the robotic, MUSE end of the spectrum than the mellow, PINK FLOYD end. Further confirming the space-rock motif is the Halo-esque cover, which features an intense image of a glowing eclipse. It’s an expansive visual, one that…wait, expansive. Maybe that’s the adjective that best captures Drift‘s elusive sound. Every aspect of Drift seems to be geared toward the idea of expansiveness: the scorching guitar riffs, the sparse piano notes, the bellowing drums, the anthemic vocals…they all coalesce into a grandiose sound that gives the listener a feeling of elevation. Jordan Breeding lays down icy guitar lines on damn near every track, his math-like precision on “Last Parade” and “Drag” proving to be the highlights. Breeding wears his metal and math-rock influences on his sleeve, sporting them with gusto and grace. He’s got chops, working in perfect time with Caleb Gristko’s urgent drumming to create an epic backdrop for vocalist Jonathan Huang to unleash his maddeningly memorable choruses. All of the refrains are catchy in their own right, but “Drag” and “Sing it Back” are earworms of the highest order. They derive their effectiveness more from Huang’s delivery than anything else, his quavering-yet-powerful vocals simultaneously portraying vulnerability and strength (a la Sameer Gadhia of YOUNG THE GIANT). At its core, Drift is a focused record that finds all five members of SKYWARD operating on a unified wavelength. It’s an unquestionably modern-sounding record: There is no mistaking it as anachronistic, or a creation from another decade. It’s apparent SKYWARD had a clear vision for Drift – big, unrestrained, emotional, infinite – and succeeded in achieving the desired effects. Not much is left to chance on these six tracks, which may lead cynical critics to label it as over-produced or contrived. But what cynics may interpret as excessive polish could also be seen as dedication to craft. Discernible from the band’s attention to detail is the fact that SKYWARD was hell-bent on making Drift their most cohesive record to date. And, after a few listens to let the thing settle, there’s little doubt they succeeded in doing just that.


Heavyweight Champs by DON’T LOOK DOWN


DON’T LOOK DOWN put forth an energetic, optimistic blend of emo and pop punk, which the band refers to as “’Slam Dunk Pop Punk,’- music to ball to!” on their Facebook page. That’s intriguing, because it certainly seems like DON’T LOOK DOWN had an absolute ball recording the tracks on Heavyweight Champs. The five-piece comes flying out of the gates with squealing pinch harmonics, thunderous power cords, and driving percussion on the album’s opening song, “Quarter Life Crisis,” and manage to sustain that energy throughout all 11 songs on the album. In fact, the phrase “quarter life crisis” in itself acts as a hint, of sorts, for a theme that is embedded, to some degree, on almost every track: this idea of being caught in limbo between the past and the future, and feeling ambivalent about what the next step should be. We get a sense of the tension between the fiery ambitiousness of youth and mature self-reflection of adulthood on the opening track when lead singer Matt “Breezey” Breeden wails: “Am I flying too close to the sun or am I not flying high enough?” Other tracks address topics that most 20-somethings will find relatable, including the fleeting beauty of young love (“By Your Side”), finding your place in the world (“Somewhere in Between”), and the process of self-actualization (“Who You Are”) But even if DON’T LOOK DOWN is caught in the disorienting, post-teenage mire, the five-piece remain dogged optimists, through and through. Heavyweight Champs is loaded with positive messages and uplifting mantras. Themes of resilience, persistence and self-reliance abound. On “A Melody for Jordan,” Breeden sings: “Some days are bad days but don’t let it get to you/when it hurts too much to breathe just keep pushing through.” On “Invictus”, he pleads to a friend who is having a hard time becoming well-adjusted: “I’m getting tired of all your excuses/there’s no reason for being useless,” and on “This Never Gets Old,” Breeden utters the line that accurately captures the very heart of the album: “I never want to grow up and lose my heart/I always want to stay young.” The band that backs Breeden’s is powerful and tight, owing a heavy debt to those emo ad pop-punk bands that first popularized the no-frills rock subgenre in the mid-to-late ‘90s. On their Facebook page, the Winchester-based band claims their collective philosophy was formed during a conversation between Breeden and drummer Nate McDowell while the two were on a local radio show: “I don’t want to sound cute, like a pretty pop-punk band. I want to sound like five honest guys who like to drink beer and try and make the world a little better.” That’s a damn accurate summation of Heavyweight Champs. DON’T LOOK DOWN are the guys who gather in a dorm room at the end of the hall to crack jokes until four in the morning. They like to have a good time and fall in love, but they’re self-aware enough to realize that one day the fun will come to end. Above all else, they’re a group of dudes who realize that a little bit of positive thinking can go a long way.


Scott’s Run by SCOTT’S RUN


When McLean natives SCOTT’S RUN claim they are influenced by a multitude of genres and artists, they aren’t lying. Their new self-titled album is proof. The album is packed with influences ranging from ska and punk to pop and funk. In total, ten songs make up the album, including their own rendition of FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE’s classic hit “Stacy’s Mom”. Amongst the other songs, the band have FALL OUT BOY-esque moments like on the song “Something More” (which includes a clip of President Obama), to then more straightforward ska and jazz moments like on “Pressure”. Their more punk side is apparent through their vocals throughout their songs and especially in the chorus of “Don’t Feel Sorry (For Me)”. The delivery of their songs is mildly theatric, as if they were made for an 80’s or 90’s “rom-com”. Their sound is incredibly unique; I can’t think of a current band of any degree that is drawing inspiration from their chosen variety of genres. Overall, the album is really impressive. Their lyrics and sound are ample. As is the production of the album which made the album a more refined and structurally pleasing group of songs. SCOTT’S RUN is an excellent start to their musical careers, and I can only imagine them setting their bar higher and higher as they progress.




Out of Place by A COLLEGIATE AFFAIR consists of five songs, all reminiscent of acts such as BLINK-182 and SET YOUR GOALS. The EP starts off with 32 second song, “Intro”. The song, like its title, is a rather simple and purely instrumental. What’s odd about this song is that consists of a catchy time signature but slowly yet abruptly ends. The instrumental chops are impressive which seemingly guides the listener into the next song. This guidance leads into the next song, “One More Thing”. The song touches on breaking away from a person, most likely a significant other, and their subsequent “re-boot”. This song in particular has clear, inspiration from early releases from pop-punk trailblazers like FALL OUT BOY. This leads into the next song, “Twenty Miles”. The song is a bit more fast-paced, and consists of rhyming lyrics which are mildly predictable. “End of an Error”, I believe, is the best song on the album and could potentially be what puts A COLLEGIATE AFFAIR on the horizon. The song is more intricate through its vocal and instrumental delivery and has a more unique sound to the band themselves. The EP ends with a bang with the garage-punk influence with a lyrical theme of telling a girl their relationship just won’t work. All of the songs meld together perfectly by being consistent in sound and themes. The EP itself is a brief look at what A COLLEGIATE AFFAIR has to offer as a band is an excellent debut into the pop-punk scene. The overall delivery of Out of Place reminds me of old school BLINK-182; simple pop-punk, stripped down with a lot of heart.


Uncertainty by CARDINAL


This album has it all—heavy guitars, melodic transitions, and an instrumental introduction. CARDINAL is taking punk music to a new level with their diverse album, Uncertainty. Beginning with “Away From Everything”, a mainly instrumental piece, CARDINAL spares no energy with a heavy beginning, taking a deep look into their musical style and talent with no hesitation. Leading into a more melodic tune, “Uncertainty” is a calmer song, lacking no more emotion than “Away From Everything” but dipping into the other end of the spectrum. CARDINAL captivates listeners with moving instrumental pieces, but does not lack in the vocals nor in the lyrics. Upon listening, it’s easy to take away why Uncertainty was chosen to be their album title, enveloping the CD with a centralized theme. “Gift” is heavier, more upbeat song, taking listeners back to punk rock with enthusiasm and energy. Overall, CARDINAL has created a highly touching compilation of songs, from lyrical motivation to musical trance


Licking Wounds by MY DARLING FURY


From the beginning of MY DARLING FURY’S debut album Licking Wounds, lead singer Danny Reyes makes a connection with the frail and forgotten. On the album’s opening track, “Blots in the Margins,” he sings “If you’re a blot in the margins like me/then hold on to my hand.” If the listener accepts the invitation and chooses to join Reyes and his band in the swirling, atmospheric journey through the highs and lows of MY DARLING FURY’S first full length album, one will find a lot to admire between the lines and in the margins. The first thing that grabs hold of you is Reyes’ crisp, confident voice. Truly a thing of beauty, it’s just as comfortable hovering in the lower octaves as it is soaring to icy falsetto heights. While he doesn’t necessarily sound androgynous, there’s a definite feminine quality to his vocal work. There’s an explanation for this: Reyes, a son of Cuban immigrants, is a gay man. Thankfully, he’s not afraid to vent about the hardships he’s encountered because of his sexual orientation. The album is that much stronger for Reyes’ bravery. The tune with the most overt homosexual themes is “Frail Man,” a song about one of Reyes’ male ex-lovers who left him for a female partner. “I’m not what you want,” he laments. “You want a plastic statuette/I’ll be that she’d make you look real fly/But that’s just not me.” Another is “Schoolyard Warrior,” an anthem for all of those who have ever been bullied as a result of their sexuality, features the lines “I’m a little different and I kind of like it/All the kids won’t listen and I don’t intend to fight it.” On the track, he sings movingly about donning his sister’s dress and doing battle with the haters. Reyes’ willingness to proudly proclaim his sexuality, and his ability to use his struggles as metaphor for those whom might not have experience with that sort of thing, is one of the album’s biggest triumphs. Reyes’ lyrics work for other reasons, too. He’s clever, and his sentiments are relatable without being cliché. On “Friendly Parasite,” he muses about the acidic nature of even the best relationships with the refrain “Love is a bug you learn to like/and that’s alright/a friendly parasite.” On “The End of the World,” he delivers the wittiest line of the album, “I wouldn’t bother buying green bananas if I bought ‘em at all,” insinuating that he might not be around to watch them ripen. This whimsical mixture of cleverness and quirkiness is an effectual recipe. Indeed, Reyes’ soul-gripping voice and quirky expressions are the main attraction. However, it would be an injustice to glance over the contributions of the remaining members of the band. The track that best exhibits the five-some’s exquisite musicianship is “The End of the World,” a six-minute epic about lovers facing the apocalypse hand-in-hand. Alex McCallum’s haunting guitar line sets a grave tone, Todd Matthews’ bass line provides a wobbly backbone, and the music steadily builds before abruptly diving into the abyss. It emerges from the darkness with a vengeance, exploding into a chaotic, pulsating swirl of guitars, drums and vocal harmonies. It’s a powerful track that just may be the high point of the album. At its core, Licking Wounds is an album for introverts, quiet warriors, the poor and the beaten down. It touches on themes of homosexuality during a time when the fight for the legalization of gay marriage is at a crucial point in American history.


Secure Beneath The Watchful Eyes by HEROES FOR GHOSTS


The album from HEROES FOR GHOSTS opens with the song “IED”, which isn’t very explosive as the name suggests, but it does have a certain smoothness and polish that kept me interested. In the next track, which is titled “Clayton Bigsby”, the band ups the intensity with the growls and screams of vocalist Tim Howell, which remind me a little of Keith Buckley of EVERY TIME I DIE and Davey Muise of VANNA. His singing voice isn’t my favorite, but in his defense, he does harmonize well with his bandmates. One of my personal favorites songs on this record is “Hollowman Collapse”, which has varying moments of highs and lows that really make for an interesting composition. When the heavy parts come in, personally I cannot resist banging my head along to it. Another stand out song is “Say It Wicha Chest”, which is a great Kevin Hart reference. This song epitomizes Howell’s vocal range, and really encapsulates the vibe of the whole record.


Dreaming of the World Undressed by ELLA SOPHIA


Dreaming of the World Undressed by ELLA SOPHIA is filled with pure and quintessential folk music. While listening to the songs, I can only imagine the album being the perfect soundtrack in congruence to those for films such as Juno through its overall sound and mood. Sophia’s lyrics are substantial which discusses with a variety of topics such as dreams and frustration and everything in between. Such as the first song, Sophia reminisces on a moment of wanting to drive down the country side of Virginia, and wanting to meet at the place with “the stupid show where the bands are loud” over a rhythmic clap-based beat. Her vocals are sweet and quirky but remarkable; sort of a combination between REGINA SPEKTOR and Rachael Price of LAKE STREET DRIVE. The production of the album adds to my impression; clean but with a little roughness which adds to the classic, folk sound. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the album from beginning to end. I am very interested in her future work as a solo artist as well as with her band MAKESHIFT SHELTERS. Dreaming of the World Undressed is definitely for those who enjoy folk music at its best.




We Are Alive is the second EP release by Richmond rock band OCTOBER WOLVES. Beginning the album with an ambient tone, the song “Fairweather Friends” is an immediate soothing and captivating song. With a comforting lyrical pitch that is prominent through-out the album, We Are Alive maintains a central theme of calming music and meaningful, thought-provoking lyrics. This is especially insightful with their single, “A Final Letter”. A song heavier than “Fairweather Friends”, but keeping the enriching musical complexities intact, “A Final Letter” also includes strong lyrics about regrets and fear in the paths of life. It is an identifying song about the struggles of bad choices, and the desperation to move on elsewhere from current situations, and those fears and mistrusts that hold us back. Heavier songs of the five-song EP include “Behemoth” and “Last of Lions”, but OCTOBER WOLVES end on the same enriching tones that they started the album with, in their final song “Faith”. An album overall filled with meditation like instrumental use, combined with the singer’s unique and identifying tones, it includes heavier guitar usage that adds influence to the lyrical message.




Earlier this year, I was able to interview Dustin Reinink, the vocalist and guitarist of the pop-punk duo WINNING THE LOSER’S BRACKET. I gained insight on what songs Reinink is most proud of, which turned out to be the three off of their EP, Transition. Reinink claimed they were his favorites as they drained him musically and emotionally; a reason I can understand clearly. Strong emotion permeates throughout the EP through the lyrics and the vocal’s tempo and tone. The EP discusses going through changes emotionally while accepting the past and charging towards the future, as well as recalling old memories and moments with friends and family. Their sound is similar to past bands of the pop-punk and emo scene of the ‘90s and ‘00s as well current pop-punk heavyweight, THE WONDER YEARS. All three songs stand on their own and each has their own sound and matter. The first song, “Conflicted Feelings” discusses memories with old friends, to then comparing the past to the current. The song is fast paced and loud in its instrumental and vocal delivery. The lyrics seem to come from a dark place for Reinink that clearly involved significant emotional pain and acceptance. “An Apology” also involves emotional pain, but also specifically finally saying what needs to be said. Both songs contrast the last song “Left/Leaving”, as the song is slower and softer. However, the lyrics are in lieu with the previous songs and touch on strong emotions involving missing friends from multiple cities. Overall, Transition is an interesting EP. The songs are very strongly emotionally driven and relatable. The band is impressive in their clever, yet straight-forward lyrics and their instrumental chops. The band is spot on in creating their own spot in the pop-punk scene and for those who have is in search of something to relate to. or even just a new pop-punk band to add to their music library.


Won’t Forget the Sound by THIRTEEN TOWERS


The chugging, palm-muted power chords that open Won’t Forget the Sound are the first indication that the THIRTEEN TOWERS sound is rooted deeply in ‘90s pop punk. The next indication comes a few seconds later, when energetic lead vocalist Mike Tolbert bursts into Billie Joe-esque vocals that transplant the listener back to a time when Dookie was spinning endlessly in damn near every angsty 11th grader’s Honda Accord. An era in which being zit-faced, stoned, and sexually frustrated made you in with the out crowd. Tolbert isn’t shy about revealing his debt to the GREEN DAY’s and BLINK 182’s of the world, but he isn’t afraid to transcend those influences, either. He’s more resilient than self-deprecating. More active than apathetic. His lyrics are direct and unambiguous - which is what punk rock demands – and most are personal in nature. Songs about getting fucked up (“Almost Five”), issues with the opposite sex (“Meal for Free”) and general iconoclastic tendencies (“Underdog”) dominate the majority of the record. But Tolbert does reach beyond his own skin and dive into the political realm on the album’s second track “In Africa.” That song, which features the lyrics: “In Africa/young girls are currency” and other brazenly honest lines operate as a jarring reminder that “Hey, we’ve got it good here in suburbia, but let’s not forget that things are pretty fucked up in other parts of the world.” It succeeds because Tolbert’s ballsiness won’t allow him to pull any punches for the sake of political correctness. Tolbert’s backing band – which consists of two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a trumpeter and a trombonist – matches his boundless energy track-for-track. They’re tight without being squeaky clean and perfectly metronomic, which adds a welcomed element of rawness to the record. Guitars chug, squeal and occasionally glide into silky smooth solos. Horns squeak and wail, sometimes lifting the music to new heights, other times ushering in cacophony. Perhaps the best collective effort comes on the fifth track, “Twisted”, which features an absolutely killer guitar riff that is repeated in each chorus. The high tones of the trombone and trumpet latch on to (and contrast) the mangy guitar notes. The subsequent effect casts the listener into the middle of a Spanish bullfighting ring or a mid-90s West Coast skating video, depending on the set of ears. The 311 influence is unmistakable, but the song is fresh enough to avoid being tossed aside as a mere rehash. Plus – and don’t tell the members of 311 this – the guys in THIRTEEN TOWERS might be better musicians than the nu-metal/ska/punk/reggae rockers that are worshipped by 21st century hippies all over the states. Above all else, Won’t Forget the Sound is a raucous collection of party tunes and drinking anthems that must be played at maximum volume. It’s music that belongs in a dank basement accompanying Adult Swim and a bowl of fine hash. Or perhaps blaring over the shoddy speakers of a rusty old Accord while neo-Rasta types drink PBR in the back seat. THIRTEEN TOWERS may not be GREEN DAY, 311, or BAD BRAINS, but they don’t need to be. Won’t Forget the Sound is the band’s first full-length album, and it stands in its own space.


Carbon Harbingers by FUGITIVE 9


Carbon Harbingers is the tightly packed and energetic third effort by hip-hop group FUGITIVE 9. The album has a total of 16 songs and is reminiscent of old school hip-hop with its sense of realness through its lyrics, and through its composition which is void of overproduction. The lyrical flow changes throughout the album, but is overall smooth and quick. The first song, “Backspins”, sets the tone with anthemic gang vocals with a solid beat and lyrics that flow throughout with rhyme and cleverness. The group then went a different route on the song “Hydra”, my personal favorite, which sounds similar Kanye West during his early work, but with their own personal touch. Overall, the album is interesting and will likely please those who have a craving for classic hip-hop and rap from the 80’s and early 90’s. Like the group said themselves, this album will “blow holes in your skully”, but in the best way possible.

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