The members of Dr. Pants have self-appointed the music they make as geek rock, so it’s not surprising that The Trip, Side 3: Watching the World End opens with a tune about the unsuccessful love life of a man who programs robot spiders that will destroy the human race. But relegating it to only geeks would be doing a grave disservice those not listening: these songs feature a musicianship and lyrical skill that far surpasses your average pop-rock band.
“Natalie” is a perfect example of both categories. Disguised as a late ’90s/early 2000s synth-pop-rock song (think “Flavor of the Weak”/”My Own Worst Enemy”/”The Middle”) is a pop song with a killer hook and strong lyrics that describe a girl playing hard to get. It’s not in the topic, it’s in the execution: the song is airtight, from the opening synth to the guitar solo to the rhythmic patterns in the lyrics to the outraged group vocals in the punchline. It’s just a fantastic tune.
“Dog -> Hurricane” is a lighthearted, acoustic-pop take on the Butterfly Effect; “No Funkies” is a goofy, white-funk retelling of the Good Samaritan. “Collections” is a fun instrumental track, while “I Am Yours” turns up the serious for a Collective Soul sort of tune. Oh, and “Robot Spiders”? It’s the most fun track on the album, telling a story and setting up a satisfying conclusion while throwing down an earworm of a chorus. You will want to hear that one again.
If you’re even remotely interested in sounds that came out of rock in the ’90s, you’ll be all up in The Trip, Side 3: Watching the World End. It’s funny, melodic, consistently witty yet varied; there’s a ton to love here and not that much to dislike– that is, unless you don’t like the ’90s. But man, “Lightning Crashes” “In the Garage” for me, so I’m totally on board with this.
Most ’90s radio rock was just really loud and distorted pop songs. Somebody probably would have noticed eventually that Boston’s “More than a Feeling” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were pretty similar, but Nirvana self-disclosed this by at least once singing Boston’s words and melody over their song.
And while some a lot of ’90s bands took rock way too seriously, some simply wrote great songs; the ones that figured out rock was pretty much loud pop were among the best at this (Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, sometimes Bush) and the absolute worst (Candlebox, Creed, sometimes Bush). Live, on the other hand, took rock very seriously, and they made awesome music too. This isn’t an exclusivity clause.
Still, really loud pop songs make Junebug Spade‘s Extra Virgin Olive Oil my favorite straight-up rock’n’roll release of the year. It takes a lot to get me psyched about ’90s-inspired rock, but a good starting point is a killer melody, and JS has those in spades. Both the guitars and the vocals layer on the catchy, and the results are dynamite. When both of those elements come together on “Slow Your Roll,” it’s clear that Junebug Spade understands this: guys wanna rock, girls wanna shimmy, and everyone wants to sing along, either at the show or in their car. They provide the goods for all of that. This band makes everyone happy. That, my friends, is admirable.
The basic elements of this band are nothing new: a songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Bassist Kyle Mayfield is high in the mix, which is a standard ’90s move that provides a nice counterpoint to the melodies. The drummer wails away. The guitars go after it in the aforementioned awesome way. Vocalist Peter Seay caps off the sound with a slacker-tastic vocal delivery that makes it sound like he’s totally not even working that hard to deliver these songs. It’s not the sterilized/rote vocal performances that sometimes took over radio rock; there’s a non-southern drawl to his vocal, and it fits perfectly over the tunes.
All five tunes are money, but “Public Display of Affection” takes a perky, Strokes-ian riff and totally morphs it with a mega chorus. “Slow Your Roll” employs an awesome tempo change and a wicked slide guitar riff (!) to close out the EP. “Aborigine” has Blur all over the guitar line, and I love it, because Seay’s voice is nothing like Albarn’s, so it sounds like an homage and not a rip-off.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is entertaining all the way through. For a guy who doesn’t cover hardly any straight-up rock anymore, this is a pretty dramatic statement. Fans of rock shouldn’t sleep on Junebug Spade.
School started recently for some folk. Other students are wringing the best out of their last days of freedom. I’m in the former category, as I’m enrolled in grad school after a jaunt in the “real world.” (It’s all pretty real to me.)
Here’s a tune courtesy of The Hue that fits the mood of those last fleeting days: upbeat, but tempered from the gung-ho enthusiasm of June. “The Bump,” indeed.
Also, if you remember how awesome Live was in the ’90s, you’re going to be all about Red Wanting Blue. RWB has a bit more of an organic feel (Gin Blossoms!), but you’ll love it.
I hate Nickelback. But I don’t hate them because of their music. They have every right to be watered-down grunge or roughed-up pop (whichever you prefer). It’s that they legitimately think they are hardcore. It’s obvious to anyone who’s actually heard a rock band that Nickelback is not hardcore, but Nickelback takes themselves as seriously as Live, and they aren’t writing songs anywhere near as good as “Lightning Crashes” to back it up. The depressing thing is that millions of people buy it (literally and metaphorically). They, obviously, have never heard a real rock band, and especially not TiLT 360 or their album Day 11.
Annoying capitalization aside, TiLT 360 is everything that is good and right about modern rock. I’ve been reviewing a lot of modern rock recently (I swear I’m not going to the dark side), but this needs to be the last one so that I can go out on a high note. TiLT 360 plays heavy, dark rock and roll with great melodies, interesting rhythms, and varied vocals. There’s screaming, singing and growling on this album, and each is done with taste and talent. The guitars play in skull-crushing mode just as often as they do in a more pop-oriented mellow style (usually in verses). The drummer knows how to thrash without going overboard. Even the bassist contributes, intertwining his bass lines with the guitarwork in the quiet sections. It’ll never be confused for a Bush album (the band lets its metal roots shine through), but I would say it’s worthy to be considered in the same category as Chevelle and RED in “good modern rock and roll.”
Highlights include the bass-heavy riff-metal of “Point Blank,” the thoroughly aggressive “It Grows,” and the moody tension of standout track “Last String.” The only real lowlight is a poor vocal performance on the title track and opener “Day 11.” If that’s dropped out of the mix, this ten-song album is a pretty stout modern rock offering. If you’re a fan of radio-style modern rock but want something a little heavier to go with it, you should definitely check out Day 11 by TiLT 360.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.