The Sloppy Boys - Dancing on the Wind

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I’m not one to lament the position of rock music in 2019. I respect the greats, but I’ll never pretend that we’re somehow musically worse off now than we were in the 70s. There’s more than enough of a scene out there if you’re willing to look around, but the problem is it’s easy to watch Bohemian Rhapsody or hear grandiose stories of Mötley Crüe partying and romanticize some long-gone era of now-unachievable Rock with a capital “R.” 

While I’m not one of these “born in the wrong generation” music fans, what I do miss about this bygone era of rock music is the cheese. I’m not just talking about clever lyrics or offstage antics; I’m talking about an unabashedly over-the-top cartoonishly-hedonistic approach to life. 

I’m talking about Led Zeppelin penning love songs framed in Lord of the Rings mythology. I’m talking about AC/DC firing a real-life cannon on stage every night. I’m talking about 30-foot puppets and 10-minute drum solos. I’m talking about Twisted Sister catapulting your teacher through the classroom ceiling because he just didn’t get it, maaan. This sort of outlandish commitment to good times is precisely what The Sloppy Boys offer up on their sophomore album Dancing on the Wind.

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Comprised of multi-hyphenate comedian/writer/musicians Mike Hanford, Jefferson Dutton, and Tim Kalpakis, The Sloppy Boys are a “party rock” band hailing from Los Angeles, California. While the three had previously worked together on the cult IFC sketch show The Birthday Boys, it wasn’t until 2018’s Lifelong Vacation that the trio unveiled themselves to the world as the musical force that is The Sloppy Boys. 

With song titles like “Let’s Party,” “Here for the Beer,” and “We Came Here To Rock,” the group has had a clear aim from the very beginning: extol the virtues of partying. While their newest record doesn’t stray far from the path set by their first album, that’s because The Sloppy Boys have already mastered the art of translating good times into song form. 

Opening track “Santa Ana Winds” sees the band depicting their various east coast living situations before explaining how an overpowering wind always seems to bring them back to LA. After a couple of choruses, a Beach Boys namedrop, and a shared dream of avocados (you know, standard California staples) the song takes an immediate left turn as Kalpakis describes a fateful encounter between a Dyson Airblade his manhood. From there, the group suddenly shifts into an upbeat pop-punky ode to California that would make even the Red Hot Chili Peppers blush. It’s an overwhelming barrage of Cali-flavored adoration, but this track also acts as a perfect introduction to the band’s style of humor, setting the tone for the remainder of the record. 

Lifeguard Life” covers the group’s well-trodden “party” territory, this time depicting a lifeguard who prioritizes tanning, drinking, and double-fisting cheeseburgers over his actual job. This is all told in the style of a slightly-more-punk-rock Jimmy Buffet with a hint of the “Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” thrown in for good measure. However, partying isn’t the only thing the band cares about as seen on “I’m Taken,” a horn-infused Springsteen-esque tune about staying true to your marriage in spite of how unspeakably-attractive the opposite sex finds you. Similarly, “Tonight” subverts expectations as a sexy slow jam about the most fulfilling thing a couple can do once the lights are off... getting a good night’s sleep. 

Aside from their commitment to the “bit” (read: lifestyle) of partying, one of the most admirable aspects of Dancing on the Wind is that it’s comedy rock that works. Comedic music is hard; too much humor and it loses the replayability of a standard album, too much musicality and it becomes a normal album that’s trying way too hard to be funny. While it’s easy for bands to fall into the trap of leaning too far in either direction and landing in a less-than-fulfilling middle ground, The Sloppy Boys manage to walk that fine line between genuinely funny and ‘actually good’ comedy music. 

Other highlights include “Bonnaroo,” “The Bands,” and “I’m So Punk Rock” which I won’t spoil here, but all contain hilarious observations, deliveries, and rug-pulls that are guaranteed to catch you off-guard and make you laugh.

Album closer “Classic New York Night” is an 8-minute Meatloaf-level epic that compresses every possible New York stereotype (and even a Disney World trip) into the span of a single night. Mixing up every piece of New York pop-culture into one zany pastiche, the group goes from pounding beers in the Empire State Building and watching the Globetrotters play the Yankees to getting into a St. Paddy’s Day fight. It’s a raucous and relentlessly-funny eight-minutes that feels like a perfect note to send the listeners off on. 

Dancing on the Wind is a joyous and personable listen, often feeling less like an album and more like you’re listening in on a group of friends making music in their living room to entertain each other. It’s clever, cutting, and most importantly, manages to strike that rare balance between “comedy” and “rock” without falling too far in one direction or the other, which elevates it over both in the end.

Ship & Sail - Hymnal

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What comes after death?

That’s a question we may never know the answer to. What we do know, however, is what comes after death for those still alive. The ripples of sadness, loss, and confusion that come with the passing of a loved one are exactly what Colin Haggerty captured on his harrowing 2018 LP From Seeds. Now, less than one year from the release of his debut album, he’s given us Hymnal, a nineteen-minute EP depicting life after loss.

Throughout Hymnal Haggerty finds himself reflecting on the passing of his mother, coping with such a seismic change, and grappling with what it means to move on… if that’s even possible. Death isn’t something you ever truly “move on” from. First you fight it, then you deny it, then you try to reason with it, but death is final. It’s something you have to learn to accept because you’re given no choice. Even when someone’s presence looms constant in your mind, heavy on your soul, and fragments of them remain in your day-to-day life, part of living is learning to continue on with your own existence after such a life-altering shift. 

Music is a vital art form for many reasons, but its transformational ability is second to none. Listening to a song can take you back to the first time you heard it. It can transport you to another life or another world entirely. It can make the sad feelings sadder, or it can turn them on their head. Music can shift your perspective or lead you to new ideas, lifestyles, and communities. Perhaps most importantly, music helps us relate to others, comprehend the world around us, and even recover from personal traumas. 

In these extreme cases, music can help both its creators and listeners cope with emotions too raw for words. Much like Sufjan Stevens reckoned with loss on Carrie & Lowell and Phil Elverum wrestled with grief on A Crow Looked at Me, on this EP Haggerty offers a glimpse at the first steps that come after a loss. 

While From Seeds opens with imagery of hospital beds and oxygen tanks, Hymnal begins with absolute adoration as Haggerty sings “You hum like a Christmas light / When you crawl into bed at night” over a loving guitar and steady drumline on “Get Clean.” Throughout the opener, flashes of color and light emerge in the form of keys courtesy of Whitaker Fineberg (Fallow Land), cello by Noah Wright (Idiobliss), and additional vocals by Hayley McNichol (Bombastic Dream Pussy). Contributions like these throughout Hymnal make the EP feel like a very communal and therapeutic release. 

Most of From Seeds saw Colin playing the songs alone with an acoustic guitar, meanwhile Hymnal is a lush release that swaps out that stark darkness with vibrant explosions of life that still retain Haggerty’s poetic lyricism and measured delivery. Tracks like “One Year Ago” and “Sinner” allow the stories of Ship & Sail to unfold through simple vignettes that are relatable yet laced with deeper meaning.

Placed lovingly in the middle of the tracklist, “Blood Moon” is the EP’s beautifully-crafted centerpiece. Beginning with a solitary acoustic guitar, Haggerty sings “Blood moon over the heads of the meek / We’ll inherit the earth, but we’ll be fast asleep” in a voice that sounds equal parts wounded and resolute. Eventually the song builds and crests with gorgeous swirls of acoustic guitar, cello, and ethereal background vocals, all of which blend together into a singular point of emotional impact.

Hymnal is a vulnerable and precious collection of songs. While Ship & Sail’s prior release reckoned the fragility of life, this new collection of songs celebrate the beauty and love that comes with something so easily lost. It’s a record of acceptance and solemn optimism. It recognizes that life will never be the same, but that was always the case.

You can purchase Hymnal here or stream it on Spotify, SoundCloud, or Apple Music.

Catholic Werewolves - You're Gonna Miss Everything Cool And Die Angry

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Catholic Werewolves’ debut album begins with a collage of humanity. Within 30-seconds, clips of news reports, interviews, movies, and game shows all flash through the listener’s speakers, each punctuated by a short buzz of static. It’s like we’re listening in on an old TV controlled by an impatient person who’s channel surfing until they find something that captivates them properly. No sound bite lingers for more than a few seconds, but the result is something that feels both familiar and relevant: all the pop culture in the world isn’t enough when you don’t know what you’re searching for. 

34-seconds into the opening track, two cymbal taps signal the entrance of the trio who make their way into the frame like a band taking the stage at a house show. Soon the drums, guitar, and bass all whir up to speed, synching up and making way for a bombastic shouted vocal harmony. After a fiery verse, blistering guitar solo, and cathartic group chant, the song ends mid-thought and throws you directly into the remainder of the album. 

I first wrote about Catholic Werewolves back in December when this album was fresh off the presses. At the time, I held them up as an exemplary midwest band that embodied immaculate songwriting, tenacious spirit, and the DIY aesthetic. After spending even more time with their record, I’m happy to confirm that every one of these beliefs is true. 

Clocking in at a mere 15-minutes, You're Gonna Miss Everything Cool And Die Angry is one of the most compact, exciting, and well-thought-out records I’ve heard in recent months. The melodies are catchy, the choruses are sharp, and the instrumentals are tight. The Jeff Rosenstock and Joyce Manor influence is evident from the outset, but it’s also clear that Catholic Werewolves are putting their own spin on it.

Songs never wear on because they don’t have time to. Within the space of minutes, the band can deploy a concept, set the scene with minimal effort, and then bowl you over with everything that they just put into place. It’s economical songwriting that respects the listener’s time but also shows incredible talent and creativity. 

With every song hovering around the two-minute mark, the band spends the release exploring different sonic pallets in a free-wheeling and uncomplicated way. “Instrument of Torture” is a thrashy punk pit-starter. “Title on Screen” is a bouncy and clever song that breaks out into a rapid-fire final verse. “Tom Hanks” is a guitar-led song that somehow manages to be poppy while also hosting the most hardcore screamed vocals on the entire album. “Tuxedo T-Shirt” is a two-minute acoustic pit-stop centered around an infectious melody backed up by strings, piano, and harmonized vocals. “Emotional Sharingan” bears a hard-charging drumline with crashing cymbals and one of the record’s most catchy hooks. “Where Do You Think We Are?” uses a line from Scrubs to springboard into a narrative-driven brush with mortality that evokes the best parts of You, Me, and Everyone We Know. Finally, album-closer “Adult” is a biting, vicious, and hilarious takedown of complacency that sends the album off on punchy a high note.

It’s hard for me to think of a better pop-punk record than this in recent years. I know I’m a sucker for short albums, but the sheer amount of ideas that Catholic Werewolves manages to pack into such a short amount of time is absolutely astounding. Every song is varied, catchy, and speaks to a different concern. The lyrics are razor-sharp, and the production is immaculate. Most importantly, the songs never overstay their welcome and always leave you wanting more. 

One of the reasons the Emo scene feels so exciting right now is because it’s very economical. Bands are releasing more EPs, splits, and singles because those are more affordable. It leads to a genre that feels ever-shifting and constantly-growing where bands can release updates on their lives in short bursts rather than long, bloated stream-chasing records. It leads to a more supportive scene that feels more intimate and interconnected than ever before. 

On this record Catholic Werewolves didn’t half-ass a collection of songs; they honed these tracks down to their bare components and bundled them up in a compact package that’s simultaneously quick to consume and artistically-satiating. It’s an inspiring, accessible, and creative force, and that’s the type of art we need right now. 

Interbellum - Dead Pets, Old Griefs

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Life becomes a cruel joke when you look at it from a cosmic perspective. Our time here is finite, and the only things we know for sure are that you were born, you will die, and a bunch of bad things will happen in between. 

On one hand, you could learn these facts and they could make you feel small. That you are infinitesimal. That you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, you could learn these facts and be comforted by them. Be comforted by the fact that you are infinitesimal. Be comforted by the fact that you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Because if this life is all there is, then everything you’ve ever dreaded will pass. All of your mistakes will be forgotten, and every bad feeling will dissipate. 

Enter Dead Pets, Old Griefs.

Life is a gift, but it comes at a price. The horror of existence is as much of a reality as the beauty. Life’s scarring experiences aren’t something you can bargain away; they’re part of the deal. Experiencing sadness, loss, and displacement are guaranteed at some point in your life, and Dead Pets, Old Griefs has put that feeling into words. 

The second album by Lebanese singer-songwriter Karl Mattar under the name Interbellum, Dead Pets, Old Griefs sees Mattar partnering with Fadi Tabbal and a host of musician friends to make a grand statement of love and loss. 

Focusing on the minute details of the human experience, Mattar weaves visceral tales about navigating the waters of life. With lyrics of healing bruises, red sunsets, and thawing snowfields, the language used is vivid and evocative. Your mind is drawn into the scenes being depicted, which unfold like canvas paintings from a past life. 

As the stories of each song unfurl, the listener begins to place themselves into the world of the album. Decaying particles linger. Shadows cling to the walls. The feeling is dark and inescapable but captured perfectly. 

It’s a release that blurs perception and bleeds into reality. As you find yourself listening to it, your mind will shoot from the experiences contained within the song to your own. It evokes a deep feeling of connectivity between its author and the listener. 

As these flashes of distant lives move throughout your mind, the songs also may evoke a feeling of familiarity, not just between your life and the songs, but between the songs and other music. From Sparklehorse-esque opening track “Distortion” to a pitch-perfect Yo La Tengo-style duet on “Ready To Dissolve.” There are hints of Daniel Jonhston, Vampire Weekend, and Car Seat Headrest just to name a few. The result is an album that feels wide-ranging, familiar, and distinctly indie. 

By the second half of the album, Mattar settles into a heartfelt Mark Linkous-style delivery as he continues to wrestle with the questions of his own existence. As the moments unfold, everything leads to the final track “Weight of Winter” which utilizes airy emo guitarwork as Mattar depicts an escape over a steadily-marching drumline. 

Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a reflective journey of the self. It forces the listener to face life’s inevitable sadness and loss and leaves them no choice but to lean into it. While that may be an uncomfortable journey for some, for others it could be meditative or even revelatory. 

With a title like Dead Pets, Old Griefs, one might expect this album to be an existentially-painful bummer, but I choose to view the album optimistically. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a reminder to enjoy every moment of our finite time and to hold close the things that are dearest to us. It’s a reminder of the light that makes the darkness bearable and the beauty in life that makes it all worth it.

That’s a reminder we all could use sometimes.

Focus / No Angel: Charli XCX’s Two-Track Masterpiece

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Charli XCX has two careers. Her top songs on Spotify are “Girls” (by Rita Ora, featuring Charli, Cardi B, and Bebe Rhexa), “Dirty Sexy Money” (by David Guetta, featuring Charli and French Montana), and “Moonlight” (by Lil Xan, featuring Charli). Her most successful album was 2014’s Sucker, which I enjoy, but sounds just about the same as every song on the pop charts at the time. This year, she toured with Taylor Swift (I love Taylor, but I wouldn’t exactly call her innovative), playing her hits like “I Love It,” “Boom Clap,” and “Fancy,” which were all bolstered by soundtracks or memes. Despite what this list of features may look (and sound) like, Charli XCX is also one of the most innovative and unique popstars making music today, and there’s no better proof of this than her two-track pop masterpiece “Focus / No Angel.”.

In 2017, Charli XCX released two mixtapes largely produced by PC Music’s A.G. Cook and SOPHIE, which harken back the more experimental bent of her early mixtapes and debut album, True Romance. The tapes sound like the pop music of the future and heavily feature other loves of the alt-pop scene including Carly Rae Jepsen, Cupcakke, Brooke Candy, Tove Lo, and ABRA. This year, she has expanded on this alternative catalog with a series of singles including “5 in the Morning,” “Girls Night Out,” “1999,” and finally, “Focus / No Angel.” This two-track single is my 24th most listened to “album” of the last year with 122 plays and counting. Again, it’s only two tracks. And it’s only been out since late June.

“Focus / No Angel” is fiercely infectious. “Focus,” the A.G. Cook-produced opener, is repetitive in the best way. There are only 65 unique words in the songs three-and-a-half minute running time, but somehow Charli’s delivery (combined with the instrumental) make it equal parts catchy and captivating. I played it in the car for my 58-year-old dad, and his only response was “I don’t think this was made for me.” That’s right, Dad. It wasn’t. It was made for me. It’s great in a DJ set—the DJ played it during my college’s LCD Soundsystem-themed ball this fall, and I absolutely lost my shit. It’s also great just blasting in my headphones while I do homework, because I know it so well at this point that I can listen to it even while I’m reading—though there are no guarantees that I won’t put down my work at any point because the urge to dance is too strong.

“No Angel” has a bit more mythos attached to it than “Focus,” as it is one of the Charli XCX tracks that has alternately been leaked and performed live over the last few years, compelling fans to beg for its release. I, by principle, do not listen to leaks, so I hadn’t actually heard the track before its release, but I was aware of its legendary status, and it fully lives up the hype. It shows off a bit more of Charli’s party-focused songwriting mentality and the hook, “I’m no angel, but I can learn,” references the more self-reflective parts of her 2017 mixtapes. All I can say is, she’s got me and she won’t let me go.

I hadn’t really kept track of Charli XCX until 2018. I’ll admit, I was one of those teens enchanted by “Boom Clap” on the Fault In Our Stars soundtrack, but by last year and the disappointing release of Taylor Swift’s reputation, I’d drifted a bit from my poptimistic roots. Charli was all I needed to get right back into it. I listened to Number 1 Angel for the first time around January, and then Pop 2 a couple of months later. I quickly became enamored with Charli’s future-forward pop, but I found myself disappointed with the first of the 2018 singles. The hip-hop-flavored “5 In The Morning” seemed sort of formulaic, repeating the ‘party all night’ sentiments of previous songs like “Die Tonight” and “After The Afterparty.” “Focus / No Angel,” however, in its incessant repetitiveness and format as a two-track single, is the kind of project that begs to be left on repeat. Just when you might get bored by “Focus”’ chorus, you’re drawn in once again by the hook of “No Angel.” The two tracks balance each other out perfectly and not only prove that Charli XCX is the future of pop, but also work together to form one of the best “albums” of the year.


Delaney Neal is a college student splitting her time between Portland, OR, and the Bay Area. You can usually find her listening to Car Seat Headrest and thinking about her dogs. She’s on Instagram @laneyrse.