Saturday, December 25, 2010

Turning The Blue Pages

The story this week is one that will have you dancing with your best moves, your worst moves that you think are great, and everything else in between. With a sound that I can only describe as indie dance-pop on an adrenalized cocktail of steroids, The Blue Pages burst through the speakers to my ears and even I, someone not comfortable at all with myself on any dance floor, find myself popping my head and getting into the groove of the songs.
Comprising the tasteful talents of Zac Barnett (lead vocals and guitar), James Adam Shelley (lead guitar), Dave Rublin (bass and keys), and Matt Sanchez (keys and drums), The Blue Pages for me find themselves balanced just right between the techno-pop sound of Owl City and the pop-punk sneer of Eve 6. For The Blue Pages' homebase of Brooklyn, New York, the instrumental execution that these guys clearly pride themselves on throughout their songs is something that the city can rejoice for, and definitely something that they can take a bow for; it's catchy, melodic, and truly one of the best aspects of their music. The melody, however, is compounded by lyrics that are clever and funny and vocals that are clear and lucid enough to provide great choruses and verses to sing along to.
With two EP's released in 2010, The Blue Pages show that they are four guys brimming with talent and are ready to lay down as many tracks as it takes to get them to the top. One thing that sets TBP apart from other dance-pop and powerpop bands is that their songs are unique from one other; they clearly work hard to make each track its own song, and I can't imagine that there are any filler tracks on either EP.
Releasing their most recent EP in July of this year, the Up All Night EP features the hit song "A Little Bit More." Right from the start, I'm drawn in the by key strokes of Rublin and Sanchez before Barnett's voice comes in, distorted and oh-so-addictive. To explain just how catchy this song is, all I can do is call it perfect ear candy. It's got the greatest rhythm, thanks to Sanchez's drums and Rublin's bass notes. Clearly these two musicians are just as proficient on their respective instruments as they are on the key-work that they both share. Barnett, meanwhile, has a voice that seems hypnotic, and his guitar chords, too, are something that deserve a tip of the hat. Shelley seems to be a little more in the background, preferring to drive the song forward with great guitar fretwork than by doing over-the-top pick-slides. Yet as the song zeros in on the final chorus and Barnett's vocals near the pitch that I haven't heard since The Darkness, Shelley's guitar winds up to pack one final punch of melodic heaven before drowning out with the others. Definitely a fantastic track, and one that the Up All Night EP can only benefit from.
Rounding off an EP filled with great tunes and rhythms is the title track, "Up All Night." One thing that immediately sets this song apart from any other is the unique mix of reggae-style beats and electro-pop melodies. Rublin's bass lines are infectious in a funk-ish kind of way, and the keys he and Sanchez lay down lend are catchy and contagious. Barnett's vocals are in a pitch I didn't even know existed, but somehow he makes it work, and while he hopscotches around the funky beats from Rublin's bass, Shelley's guitar trades melodic tricks with the keyboards, back and forth. If the song itself wasn't enough to sell and record label exec or fan that these guys are the real deal, than the music video for "Up All Night" would certainly seal the deal. An all-star track on an EP that's so much more than just one good song, "Up All Night" is a neon sign showing just what these guys are capable of.
I'd love to just keep going and going, because God knows these guys have enough tracks to fill a party playlist to the brim. I don't know what it is that connects The Blue Pages the way they are, but whatever it is, it's something that seems to fuel a collective creativity that results in every song being single-material. Case in point "Slow Down," a synth-heavy track from the Nighthawke EP with a melody and rhythm I could see creeping onto one of the soundtracks for Glee. However these guys make their partnerships work, it's something that spills over into "That 850." If nothing else, this song has a great intro and a verse that would get even the most stiff of people moving. A definite hit and instant Blue Pages classic, "That 850" is easily one of, if not my favorite song of the bunch.
However they market themselves, whether it be as an electro-pop band or a pop-punk band with an electronic twist, The Blue Pages have struck gold again and again with songs like "Up All Night" and "That 850." As long as they keeping pumping out tracks of this caliber, they will have no problem carving out a niche for themselves among the new wave of electronic artists that are starting to grace the alternative scene. The only thing I'm gonna say when these guys are showing everyone else up is, "told ya so."

Sounds Like: Shiny Toy Guns, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs

Key Tracks from the Up All Night EP and the Nighthawke EP (respectively): "A Little Bit More," "Up All Night," "Slow Down," "That 850"

Check out The Blue Pages more at: , and

Friday, December 17, 2010

Eric Shelby's Tape Deck Train Wreck

This is another one of those articles that just seems to have inspired itself. When I came across this new artist a few days ago, I thought I'd only check him out briefly before heading off to bed. Well, that certainly didn't happen. One song led another as I listened, and before I knew it, I had gone through the whole playlist, containing all 11 tracks that make up the album. I knew there was something different about this guy; if I listened to his entire album without realizing it, that's definitely a broad flashing neon sign that there was something special there. And when I went back the next day, I saw just what was lying beneath.
Coming out of Boston, Massachusetts, though now settled in San Diego, California, Eric Shelby is a refreshing breeze of pop-punk in a music scene that seems to have lost that special kinda groove he's selling. Recorded in a tiny home studio in Middleton, Massachusetts, Eric Shelby's debut album, Tape Deck Train Wreck, is a mix of punk rhythms and attitude and pop melodies that seem to come out of nowhere to rest permanently in your mind. One thing that I absolutely love about Shelby's debut effort is that there are no filler tracks here; true some are a little catchier than others, but all that depends on your taste and mood. The bottom line though, is that Shelby has crafted a simple, yet oh-so-effective pop-punk album that rekindles my love in the marriage of simple pop harmonies to punk beats. With backup vocals by Boston native and singer Lauren Vancheri, Tape Deck Train Wreck is certainly my pick this week for "album you'll play over and over again until your speakers explode."
Though tracks abound that will make your ears happy, the first song that really strikes me is "Abandoned Eyes." Shelby's guitar is simple and melodic, and in his vocals there's something addictive. It may be his vocal rhythm or the way his deep-set voice meshes so well with Vancheri's backing vocals, but whatever it is, "Abandoned Eyes" is a song I can't get out of my head, no matter how hard I try. I distinctly remember lying awake for about an hour after hearing this song, just humming it over and over in my head, and if that doesn't say single-gold than I don't know what does. One thing that Shelby certainly doesn't fall short on is his lyrical talent: this guy has lyrics that fit together perfectly like pieces of a puzzle, and when I hear them, I flash over to the lyrics of Owl City and Yellowcard. Funny and clever, yet clearly romantic, Shelby's lyrics paint a tapestry of vivid emotion and feeling. When coupled with Vancheri's backing vocals, the result is solid gold. 
At just over 2:40 long, "Abandoned Eyes" is anything but long. But for a song like that, a short timing seems to fit nicely. I then move to "Turn Up the Twilight" and "Envy," two great tracks that boost Tape Deck Train Wreck in the greatest ways. But it's when I get to the title track about halfway down that I'm simply floored. "Tape Deck Train Wreck" starts with a simple note progression that flies into a hot riff backed by great drums and bass. Shelby's voice is mirrored by Vancheri's, and the melodic dialogue that elapses between the two is just magical. The chorus on this song is something I can't get passed. Shelby's voice just goes up and up, and then down again, leaving me spinning in a flurry of harmonies and guitar notes. This is definitely the lead-off single in my opinion: Shelby can't go wrong with this one, and when listeners get a chance to hear this, they'll be tripping over themselves to hear more. Most certainly Shelby's finest hour, set against an array of other amazing tracks, "Tape Deck Train Wreck" has opened a whole new door for me in pop-punk and pop-rock. Clearly one of my favorite songs this month, this is one I'd immediately suggest to anyone looking for a song to play to set the mood. 
Wrapping up the album is "Serial Thriller." Aside from having a clever title I wish I'd come up with myself, "Serial Thriller" conveys the feeling of leaving behind all that once was for something new on the horizon. The best way to wrap up the album, "Serial Thriller" possesses great guitar with mild distortion and an interesting set of beats behind the backdrop. His voice steady and strong, Shelby finishes his album in a fit of brash grace and raw talent. What sounds like polish here is just the underlying talent and vision this guy definitely has inside him. If I were any sort of record company or radio station, I'd bet big on this guy, he's going places, there's no doubt in my mind. It's just a matter of time before he's opening shows with a who's who list of bands and artists.

Sounds Like: Smash Mouth, Busted, Blink-182, Good Charlotte

Key Tracks from Tape Deck Train Wreck: "Abandoned Eyes," "Tape Deck Train Wreck," "Serial Thriller," "Envy," "Turn Up the Twilight"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Blood Runs Thicker with 51/50s

I've often thought that we live in a new era of music; an era in which genres and sub-genres are getting blended and reblended with the results of sound that we've never heard before. As much as I love the music of the decades before me, and could have definitely seen myself growing up in 1986 or as a teen in 1992, I realize that I would then have to sacrifice something that I as a music fan have come to see as my own: namely the era in music which has seen the rise of new genres and the reemergence of classics with new flavors.
This is no more apparent than with 51/50s, a garage-rock/alternative quartet from the banks of the Thames in London, England. A subtle mix of White Stripes-esque garage-rock sneer with a melodic polish reminiscent of '90s Britpop, 51/50s blend seamlessly an amalgamation of genres that I never thought could work together in a million years. Yet they make it work, and do so with style.
When members Rikki Lee (lead vocals), Ollie Cook (guitar), Jason Gale (bass), and Billy Baker (drums) first got together, I don't think that they in any way could have foreseen what kind of sound would be coming out of their speakers once they plugged in. But that's how the best sounds come to life. Rarely do artists know exactly how it's going to sound, or how they want it, and that's what makes for the most interesting albums and songs. Some lineups are poison to the music they create: prone to infighting and clashes in artistic direction that eventually lead to the demise of a clearly talented group and thoughts of what might have been. I'm no band therapist, but I don't see any signs of that here. Something about their music shows that 51/50s know exactly what they have going, and know how to keep it coming.
With the release of their album Dangerous State of Mind, 51/50s are definitely poised for a garage-rock takeover of the unsuspecting underground masses. The energy that flows from songs like "Heartbleeder" and "Blood Runs Thicker" isn't something you can fake. You either have it or you don't, and these guys really have it. A mix of garage-rock smirk and alternative swagger, "Heartbleeder" showcases 51/50s' fantastic instrumental talents as well as their cleverly written lyrics. With a cymbal-led intro by Baker and a vocal slide-in by Lee, I immediately see influences from JET and The Vines. Gale is on his mark brilliantly, and his bass lines pulse with the energy and attitude befitting a true punk-rocker. Halfway in between classic bass influences like Jack Bruce and Geezer Butler and more modern ones like Flea and Greg K, Gale's bass fills in breaks of the song that would otherwise be lacking without him. Yet his bass lines, funky and sexy as they are, would seem empty without Cook's guitar work. Relying heavily on a great amount of distortion with stop/start chords and catchy melodic hooks, Cook makes "Heartbleeder" a must-hear track on the album.
One of the songs that really impresses me after "Heartbleeder" is "Lies," a poppy, almost theatrical track where Lee shows that he's got something to say. I can only imagine that this would be a great song to hear live, and in my mind I see Lee bounding over the stage to the beat set down by Gale and Baker behind him as Cook's guitar fills in the rhythm and musicality behind him. This song must be a crowd-pleaser, and if the melody and "la, la, la, la" chorus weren't enough to get those fans up and jumping with the beat, then Cook's guitar solo would be. "Lies" is definitely a party song, and any party going on and these guys playing out back is just destined to be legendary. Blending raw energy with party-starter attitude, 51/50s take it to the next level, and I have no choice by to ride shotgun on Baker's pounding drums and Gale's head-bopping bass. If there is anything wrong with this track, I can't find it, and if there is, it doesn't matter anyway: there are just too many things right with this song for it to be brought down by anything. Brilliant.
The party continues with "The Great Pretender." I'm having a hard time finding words just to describe this track. It's so melodic and guitar heavy that I don't know if it falls into alternative-rock or just a category of its own. Cook's guitar is a bit heavier here, but with riffs and chords that you can't help but hum along to. Hell-bent on leaving no fan behind, Lee's vocals pack a punch, leaving your head spinning as Gale and Baker drill into your mind with a rhythmic set that moves the song along at a break-neck speed. Fast enough to keep you guessing, but not too fast to leave you behind, "The Great Pretender" seems to be the epitome of great British rock of the modern age, boasting commendable guitar work by Cook and Gale and drumming that lends just the right of kick to the back-beat. And with Lee as frontman and lead vocalist, the chorus here is something I won't forget for a very very long time, if ever. If every track on Dangerous State of Mind is like this one, I see no stopping any time in 51/50s' future.
I'm so flustered by the catchy and hard-rock nature of their sound that I can't find anymore words to write about 51/50s. Their songs are top-notch, their melodies and rhythms tight-knit, and their hedonism stylistic in its execution. These are the guys that every new band will want to model themselves after, and the one that no one will ever get close to. Like I always say, the mark of a truly great artist is what sets them apart from others, and here 51/50s have set themselves so far apart I wonder if they're even in the same universe anymore. But I don't care; their music is amazing and their collective attitude contagious, and that's something I don't see changing anytime soon. I love it.

Sounds Like: JET, Kaiser Chiefs, Oasis, The Vines

Key Tracks from Dangerous State of Mind: "Heartbleeder," "Lies," "The Great Pretender," "Blood Runs Thicker"

Check out 51/50s more at: and

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Momentum of Asteria

With all the bands I'm giving you guys from outside our time-zones here in the U.S., I figured I'd also give you a few to chomp on that are from right here in our backyard. With so much talent abroad in places like Australia and all over Europe, it can be easy to forget that we have some incredible talent here too. But that's something I don't intend on letting slip from my attention, so today I'm gonna show you a band that's all-American and all-amazing.
From deep in America's heartland, Crown Point, Indiana to be be precise, Asteria is a band that exudes alternative rhythm with pop-punk choruses in a way that has become a little rare these days. It's actually a funny thing, since I discovered these guys a few years ago in 2007 when they released one of their previous albums. It seems that for a couple of years they slipped from my radar, but they're back now, and I gotta say that with their new release Momentum, Asteria are truly an underground group worth knowing about. Not only would these guys find a comfortable home on Warped Tour, but I could see them playing well next to names like Against Me! and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
A five-piece composed of Terrence Kline (lead vocals), Seth Henderson (guitar and vocals), Ryan Gullett (guitar and vocals), Brandon McQuen (bass), and Sam Henderson (drums), Asteria are not your typical unsigned band. These guys have been soldiering on since 2005 with multiple releases that show an intense passion as well as a great collection of creative forces within the band. With the releases A Lesson in Charades (2005), Slip Into Something More Comfortable (2007), their self-titled EP (2008), and now Momentum, released in September of 2010, Asteria's sound has not only matured and evolved over the years, but managed to retain its pure alternative-punk attitude that I fell in love with back in '07 when I discovered them.
The first song I listen to from Asteria's new album is "Hold On (God Damn)," a strong reminder of why I was so struck by these guys back on '07. With flying vocals by Kline and dynamic guitar work and interplay between Seth Henderson and Gullett, "Hold On (God Damn)" is one song I know will sound amazing live any time they play it. McQuen's bass, meanwhile, underlies the guitars and provides a rhythmic lance for Sam Henderson's drums. The rhythm section here is great, and the song only benefits for it. A catchy vocal melody and great cymbal-work by Sam Henderson make "Hold On (God Damn)" a great choice for a lead-off single for Momentum.
"Heartbreaker," too, boasts an under-the-radar rhythm that compliments a fantastic melody to deliver a great song. Gullett's guitar is stop/start, one of my favorite dynamics, and as it synchs up nicely with Seth Henderson's chords and notes, Kline's vocals prove to be a kick in the ass. Sharp-tongued and resting on great alternative chords and drumming, Kline's lyrics sear right through me, and I know that Momentum wouldn't be complete without this track.
While I could go ahead and talk about other great tracks on Momentum like "Candles" and "Shake It Off," I think it would serve more to talk about what struck me about these guys in the first place. The first song I ever heard by them, and still my very favorite to this day, "The Taste The Touch" came out on Slip Into Something More Comfortable. If this song had nothing else going for it, the intro would be ore than enough. The building between Gullett's and Seth Henderson's guitars on top of the driving bass and drums is incredible, and when Kline comes in with those high notes he can hit, I'm shocked and left open-mouthed. "The Taste The Touch" will work its way into the deepest parts of your brain with a great rhythm and a chorus that will drive you insane as you find yourself humming it all day long. I absolutely love this song, and I gotta say it sounds as fresh and brash now as it did when I first heard it in 2007. No Asteria playlist would be complete without this song at the very top. It's gold, pure and simple.
One of my other favorites, though, is from an even earlier Asteria release. The only thing I can say about the title track from A Lesson in Charades is that the guitars will drive you forward and pull you back in a sonic vortex like you haven't experienced in a long time. The vocals are reserved just before breaking out in a brilliant array of notes and the bass is all-encompassing on top of professional-style drums. Apart from lyrics I can honestly say I wish I'd penned myself, "A Lesson in Charades" has a fantastic guitar progression that will have you head-banging in no time.
I can't say anymore about these guys. I know if I do, I'll only ruin what will be a great discovery for you guys. Point stands though, that Asteria is one of the best indie-alternative bands I've heard in a long time. Why these guys are still unsigned after four amazing releases just speaks to the crumbling establishment we used to call the music industry. Then again, it also speaks to the real passion that these guys have behind their music, and with sparks and creativity like that, music lovers can rejoice that real rock ethics are alive and well. True to DIY in the best way, Asteria have proved that they're not going anywhere anytime soon, and the only thing I can think now is I can't wait to see what they have coming next.

Sounds Like: The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Tickle Me Pink, Senses Fail, Rise Against

Key Tracks from Momentum, Slip Into Something More Comfortable and A lesson in Charades (respectively): "Hold On (God Damn)," "Heartbreaker," "The Taste The Touch," "A Lesson in Charades"

Check out Asteria more at:, and!/asteriaband?v=wall

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