Sunday, December 13, 2009

We're All Blaming Johnny

I know you guys are all salivating at the mouth for a new group, and I'm sorry it's been a couple of days since I updated. What with my sister's birthday last Thursday, and mine on Saturday (yes all, I am now 19), it was a busy and crammed weekend, and I still had to make time for at least a couple of my college application essays.
But now I'm back, and do I have a group for you. Out of the same Bay Area in California that spawned Green Day and Metallica, I present you with Blaming Johnny, a five-piece ska-punk band that puts a new twist on the reggae-rock sound. Composed of Sierra Harry (vocals), Jan Lembke (guitar), Josh Lippman (guitar), Justyn (bass), and Erik Falkowsky (drums), Blaming Johnny have built a large following both in their home state and online thanks to their unique female vocal-ska style music, and such songs as "Help Yourself" and "1158."
But I'm getting ahead of myself, and nothing will do these guys (and girl) justice but telling the whole truth. Though they have undergone a couple of lineup changes since their inception, Blaming Johnny have soldiered on, releasing their debut recording, The Driving an Escalade EP, and following it up recently in 2008 with their debut full-length album, The Yellow Album. Though this seemed a tad Weezer-ish to me in the beginning, after listening to the first 15 seconds of the first track, I'm floored, and all of my preconceptions evaporate.
This first track is "Part of the Club," and from the first guitar riffs from Lembke and Lippman, I'm already in love with it. Lembke leads in on a sweet Sublime-esque, ska riff, and then Lippman takes it up a notch with a clear and crisp hard-rock riff. Then Falkowsky drum rolls in, and Justyn's bass line are strongly pumping away. Then comes Sierra Harry's voice, and this song is already a five-star track 45 seconds in. With clear, clever lyrics and a voice that just sweeps you away in melody and tone, Sierra proves to be a most powerful frontwoman, and the song is only better for it. I particularly love the slow down-speed up dynamic and rhythm of the song, and along with Lembke's and Lippman's charging guitar riffs, Justyn's bass locks tightly with Falkowsky's drum beats as we're all brought home on Sierra's vocals. Clearly, this song has to be the lead-off single for the album (at least in my opinion), because the minute a record label hears this, they'd have to be braindead not to sign these guys in a heartbeat. Brilliant. 
Track two is one of the tracks that helped Blaming Johnny build their initial following. "1158" starts with with a more mellow, more contemplative set of notes from Lembke, as Falkowsky slowly builds in with a more post-grunge style drum beat. Then Lippman sears away any doubt I might have had with a sweet progression that burns me from outside in. Love it. Justyn's bass, meanwhile, busies itself with providing the perfect ledge for Lembke's and Lippman's guitars to climb out on. Then the whole dynamic changes. We go from Alice in Chains to Evanescence in the blink of an eye as Sierra blasts in on a vocal line that could pull anyone from a static stupor. Though not pushing her voice to the same ranges as Amy Lee might, Sierra still dazzles my ears with her vocals, even as she opts for a lower key and lower range. What's the big surprise in this song, though? If the post-grunge, Evanescence sound didn't really appeal to you, no worries. For the last minute of the song, Blaming Johnny prove how versatile they really are, as amongst drum rolls from Falkowsky and pick-slides from Lippman and Lembke, they pull back to their reggae-rock, ska-punk sound before finishing the song with a true hard-rock finale.     
The third track on my set-list is "Pirate Party/Retrospekt," and from the recording of the first few seconds of the track, I feel like I should ready myself for something out of "Fiddler on the Roof" (for those of you who've never seen it, it's a great movie). Then Johnny moves to a more ska-rock sound as Falkowsky amps up his drums, and amid cymbal crashes, Lembke and Lippman fly in on ska notes and progressions as Justyn's bass pulls back a little, but still keeps time under the other guitars. Sierra's voice here is ska-rock, yes, but there also seems to be something deeper to it, as it takes on a darker tone than it had in "Part of the Club." This is a definite must-hear track on the album. Certainly not a filler track, and not one that anyone could call fluff. 
The last song I listen to is "Help Yourself." This song is fantastic, beginning on a sick guitar riff by Lembke before blasting into rampaging drum rolls and bass notes from Falkowsky and Justyn, respectively. Then Lippman enters, and his palm-mutes are just what the doctor ordered. Next to Lembke's awesome riffing, one of the things I love most about this song is when the guitars drain out and we're left with Justyn's bass notes. This guy must be understated all the time for being the bassist, but the fact remains that he knows his instrument, and he's damn good at it. Above all the organized confusion of Blaming Johnny's instrumental parts, Sierra's voice pours a sweet, tangy, sugar of vocal notes on to an already incredible song, This is truly amazing icing on an already incredible cake. Even if Sierra's vocals sucked, this song would still rock. But they don't, and because of that, this song is definitely my second favorite of the night, right after "Part of the Club." I could not have finished on a better track, and if these are only four songs for their album, I'd love to see what else Blaming Johnny have up their sleeves. Less Than Jake, No Doubt, move over, Blaming Johnny is here to claim the spotlight they truly have earned. 

Sounds Like: No Doubt, Less Than Jake, Mustard Plug, Evanescence

Key Tracks from The Yellow Album: "Part of the Club," "Help Yourself," "1158," "Pirate Party/Retrosepkt"

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