REVIEW | All-American Rejects return with “Sweat”

NEW MUSIC | After a five-year hiatus, the Rejects are back - but their return isn't quite triumphant.

"... It's a record, to me, that sounds like a band trying to find it's next record, and that's cool."

Of all of the groups to make a comeback after not having released music since 2012 - and Kids in the Street was not exactly a critically strong note to leave off on - the All-American Rejects have a tougher job than most. The problem is that the Rejects are indelibly steeped in peak 2000's nostalgia. "Dirty Little Secret" is like the "Mr. Brightside" you keep forgetting about until some radio jockey in rural Wisconsin gets bored one summer afternoon and decided to jolt you back into middle school. "Gives You Hell" is one of the most satisfyingly cathartic shout-along songs that ever graced the airwaves.

But somehow, "I Wanna" was the last single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 - in 2009. None of Kids in the Street ever made it. Though the album itself peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200, it never graced the halls of our memories with more than a passing good-natured head shake at "Beekeeper's Daughter." In Ritter's own words, during an interview with Billboard, "We were throwing paint at the wall on every song and every song has its own little environment. It's a record, to me, that sounds like a band trying to find it's next record, and that's cool."

Then, quietly, the band faded from our cultural awareness. Vocalist Tyson Ritter courted a thriving career as an actor (most regularly in the television show

Parenthood). There was never an announcement, no Fall Out Boy or My Chemical Romance drama, and the legions of fans moved on, as it were. Now, for their comeback, the re-entrance into the limelight has still been relatively muted. Ritter's interview with Billboard, some social media posts, and the announcement of a nation-wide tour with The Maine made up the hype. Clamor was pretty muted. The return - two tracks, titled "Sweat" and "Close Your Eyes," are fittingly toned-down and gentle. Co-written with Benny Cassette (who has produced with Kanye and Miguel), they were dropped with a video (directed by Jamie Thraves) - one video for the pair.

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"Close Your Eyes" finds Ritter waking up the next morning, quietly peeling off his false eyelashes and donning a suit for his (not-so) surprise party, back with his well-dressed wife and perfectly arranged set of friends and family. The facade shatters itself several times - rather, Ritter shatters it - and throughout, the lyrics fade in and out of central focus with perfect timing. Snippets like "When you walked out, your taste was in my mouth, but lipstick on the window, and you were gone" play as Ritter's wife touches his back in a gently uncomfortable gesture, and the space between them echoes as the song reaches its chorus.

"The day you said it, that's when I knew. I'll never forget it. The day you said it, that's when I knew. I'll make you regret it."

The songs themselves are a step past Kids in the Street - a definitive Rejects-in-2017 sound, steeped in Ritter's usual growl, but this time, with synths that could come from a side stage at some mid-sized New York club. The group vocals remain, as do the crashing bass drums, but the guitar is darker, and the lyrics are no longer every angsty boy's anthem. They are, by nearly every standard, really good songs. They're permeated with shadows that feel comforting real in their darkness, but still sound like the Rejects. It feels like the band has grown with us. That's great.

The scrunched-up nose and raised brow, however, comes at the visual. In what feels a lot like actor Andrew Garfield's recent comments about playing a gay man in the latest production of Angels in America ("I am a gay man right now, pretty much, just without the physical act — that's all"), Ritter is trying his hand at lending a lens to a lifestyle often ignored or scorned, particularly the impossibly difficult and painful life of trans women. (Garfield actually already pulled a similar move in the music video for Arcade Fire's "We Exist.") It's all well and good to want to bring visibility to the taboo of sex work and transgender struggles; but simply put - do we need Ritter and Garfield to be the ones to do it, when they take the costume off in their dressing rooms at the end of the day?

Follow ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


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PREMIERE | BRITTANY HOWARD announces her new project Bermuda Triangle

NEW MUSIC | Alabama Shakes' front-woman is starting a trio of perfectly balanced Nashville ladies.

"Musically," Mancari added, "listeners can expect drum machines, heavy harmonies and someone on a standup bass."

The Nashville music scene is well-known for the way its creators tend to form scores of different projects, mixing its musicians like a kaleidoscope for endless harmonies and countless LP's. As of this Friday, the city will see its newest group Bermuda Triangle hit the spotlight, made up of Brittany Howard (known for her iconic work as the frontwoman of blues group Alabama Shakes and punk group Thunderbitch), Jesse Lafser and Becca Mancari.

NPR got the scoop on the new group, and in an email, Howard gave a description of the band that's almost as fittingly mysterious as their namesake. Journalist Ann Powers wrote that "Howard may have been trying to throw this reporter off the scent by saying the threesome met "in a church of Scientology," but her claim that it specializes in 'sad dance hall music' accurately reflects both Mancari's lonesome sensibility and Lafser's loping, smoky singing style."

Bermuda Triangle is yet another departure for Howard from the classic Americana blues that got her acclaim and a three Grammy as the singer and power-guitarist for Alabama Shakes. The band, which last release Sound and Color hit stores in 2015, has climbed the ranks since they were first written about in the relatively obscure pages of Aquarium Drunkard in 2011. So, too, has Howard, who helped found the gritty punk group Thunderbitch during 2015 (it can hardly be said that Howard is idle with her time). Her acclaim from Alabama Shakes, paired with the enchanting fury of the music itself, brought Thunderbitch plenty of critical approval.

via Twitter

Lafser, for her part, comes from a swinging, twanging corner of Nashville. Her most recent release, the 2015 solo album Raised on the Plains, features Lafser looking the perfect picture of how non-locals picture a Nashville lady and a track titled "Darlin', It's A Waste of Time" that has harmonica, country guitar, and that special vocal affectation reserved for singers south of the Mason-Dixon line. She's the answer to the question "what if I'm a wayward soul, but also a woman who's tired of hearing the same men sing the same lines day in and day out?"

Mancari rounds out the trio with some especially spaced-out country Americana. She's got just a single track available for streaming at the moment (with plenty of live YouTube recordings), but her debut solo LP Good Woman is expected to drop sometime this fall. Her sound has drawn packed houses to Nashville clubs, and rounds out her two other bandmates with a softer, and as Powers notes in the Bermuda Triangle announcement, subtler touch. Her guitar scratches without shredding, and her voice is smooth, in contrast than Howard's signature roughness.

Bermuda Triangle is just the latest from these ladies. It's yet to be seen if it's also the greatest, but they're certainly setting the stage to stun.


REVIEW | Anna of the North brings tenderness to her indie pop

HOT | Anna of the North is gently opening her heart on "Someone"

With some elegantly retro dance synth beats and sweetly spaced-out vocals, Anna of the North has graced us with another incredible single off their debut LP Lovers. The musical pair is made up of Anna Lotterud and her partner Brady Daniell-Smith. Lotterud came to Australia on a soul-searching mission after spontaneously leaving her native Norway. Daniell-Smith was a little nearer the continent, hailing from New Zealand originally, but when the two previously lovelorn musicians came together after meeting in a bar where Daniell-Smith was performing, neither of their lives or music careers have been the same.

"Someone," which came out on Friday - the same day where Anna of the North also appeared on the latest Tyler, the Creator track "911 / Mr. Lonely" with Frank Ocean and Steve Lacey - feels, though not in a bad way, like Lana Del Rey with the "disco" dial cranked all the way up. Or perhaps Icona Pop with the tempo turned down. It toes the line between dancey and just upbeat; it's both a love song and a warning by way of explanation.

With nervous excitement, Lotterud tells her lover about her growing feelings. "There's something in the water. I can feel you getting under my skin," she starts. Then, just following, "I don't need another lover - I need someone who understands me." She's not cruel about it, but wants to guard her heart.

via Facebook

Which, honestly, is fair. Because we could all relate - we've all been on strings of semi-successful relationships we tried to shape from Tinder or that one time we thought it would be a good idea to kiss our friend's weed dealer for three days straight. And too many times, our hearts were dropped - not cruelly, but not gently, either - as our lovers said "oh, I'm not looking for anything serious, by the way." So months later, when we found someone we liked spending time with and who kept texting us back without any sense of reservation, it's only natural to want to clarify where we stand. Even if it takes us a few more months of being nervous on really cute dates and cookies made from old family recipes and offered up as casually as our hearts could manage before asking exactly what is going on between you two. Lotterud knows this all too well, as her chorus fully admits to her vulnerability.

"I'm only human baby, sometimes act a little crazy. I'm only human baby, need someone to come and save me."

"Someone" is a happily tender offering. We all, in the end, just want someone to understand us, too. We want to dive in, but damned if the distance to the water isn't a little daunting. Lotterud's perfectly sweet vocals and the Phil Collins-esque drums that recall deep nights of romance without wandering into aggressive bass beats create a soundscape that is as comforting as your lover reaching for your hand or a happy blush on their face.

Anna of the North is on her way to a happy, healthy love, and even more so, on the way to a blossoming time atop the charts. Without a doubt, the upcoming LP is sure to be even more enchanting than her singles thus far.

Lovers will be released on September 8th on Honeymoon / +1 Records / Different Recordings.


ROUNDUP | Music you can buy to combat Trump’s travel ban

BREAKING | SCOTUS has passed a revision of the Muslim ban - here are four albums that can help.
photo via Facebook / Julia Leiby

Emotional release from music is all well and good, but when presidential legislation is not only based on hate and prejudice against a religion but directly threatens the safety and lives of those people and others who are simply on the wrong side of customs, it's time for something a little more concrete than catharsis. (For those who haven't heard, The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that it would "largely implement the President's executive order" with small revisions, according to an official statement.)

These musicians are all selling music whose proceeds currently go to organizations who fight to combat the ban and aid those it affects; check it out and remember to read up on other ways to help combat harmful legislation.

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REVIEW | BELLA THORNE: “Just Call,” won’t you?

HOT MUSIC | Bella Thorne and Prince Fox put it all on the (telephone) line in "Just Call."

"Tell all my friends how much you suck, and they hide my phone..."

What's worse than a phone call you don't want to receive? Not receiving a call at all. That waiting and wondering, worrying about what could possibly going unsaid, is by far the worst part about having phones at all. And if you've ever wanted to sing-shout your feelings about how fed up you are with waiting for someone to just pick up their phone and hit "call," Bella Thorne and Prince Fox are here for you, my friend.

"Just Call," which premiered yesterday on Nylon and was released officially today, is an anthem to shout at anyone who's ever kept you waiting. It's for every waiting-for-that-second-Tinder-date, wondering-what-your-weekend-plans-are, please-just-let-me-know-if-this-fight-is-over moment you've ever had or might have or have totally sympathized with your best friend over. After weeks of hype on social media and much-lauded photo shoots between Thorne, a renowned actress and singer, and Prince Fox, a producer-slash-musician, fans can finally sate their anticipation with what is a satisfyingly unsatisfied hit.

The track trades off between Thorne and Prince Fox singing in what feels refreshingly balanced (instead of merely obligatory). Their laments pair well together - Thorne is frantic and worried, and it's almost easy to see her lying on a bed in the dark somewhere, trying to sleep but actually scrolling through Twitter while waiting for that call.

"It's my demise stuck here in this phone, waiting for your name to light up on my face."

Prince Fox, in contrast, is angrier - "Tell all my friends how much you suck, and they hide my phone because they know that I'd pick up. I shouldn't care about your calls, but I miss your voice and I can't sleep at all." His bitterness, though, is still akin to Thorne's, and the two make a perfect set of fed-up lovers.

photo via Facebook / Neil Favila

"Just Call" follows in the same tried-and-true line that Prince Fox has been laying out with his other recent releases. 2016's "Fragile," featuring the otherworldly Hailee Steinfeld on vocals, and "Oxygen" with the musically towering Michelle Buzz, both go the route of deep-house dance tracks of late, taking advantage of how incredible women are and using their sweet, sweet chops to add flavor to bouncing, zooming beats. Where both those songs feel like club tracks, however, "Just Call" is more fit to be blasted in a car with its windows down than in a club with the lights out. Despite the emotional vulnerability in Steinfeld's lyrics, the track is still undeniably a banger. "Just Call" takes the emotions and lets them run where they well - which is anxiety, bitterness, desperation, frustration.

In the debates that always rage over the annual "song of the summer," it's not likely that "Just Call" will make the final cut. But that's alright - it's not a song one would want to be the soundtrack to their summer. (What a miserable three months that sounds like.) Instead, it's the song for the moments in between the song of the summer. The ones where your friends, your boyfriend, your date, your crush, hasn't made those plans yet. Because they still. Haven't. Called you. And honestly, we could all use a little musical relief in those moments.

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REVIEW | SHAKEY GRAVES is now more than just a bootleg favorite

MUSIC | Finally! Shakey Graves has made more of his music legally accessible and it's like blues Christmas.

Shakey Graves, the performing moniker of Austin, TX born and bred Alejandro Rose-Garcia, is releasing a two-disk set of previously unofficially released recordings. A compilation of his records Nobody's Fool and The Donor Blues, Shakey Graves and the Horse He Rode In On is going to be available, through Dualtone Records, as a digital download or limited-edition clear vinyl pressing, and both will be put on streaming services.

With this move, Shakey is literally going to double the amount of his music that you can legally engage with outside of that special annual period of days surrounding Shakey Graves Day. The situation is so notable that when the blues rocker, equally stunning as a one-man wonder and as a bandleader, announced the release of The Horse He Rode In On, the press release noted that "The Donor Blues is available only via Bandcamp, and Nobody's Fool is currently even harder to find, passed around as an online bootleg by fans." (Never mind that this reporter has had copies of those albums for years; the already not-so-challenging feat of music piracy is made so much easier when the artist in question releases their music for pay-as-you-want once a year and even does you the courtesy of announcing it in their email newsletter.)

The release is a shocking delight to fans who haven't heard about Shakey Graves Day (or who missed it, or haven't been fans long enough to get a chance to experience it). It's certainly a boon to Shakey, whose music can now be streamed on popular services that pay him royalties. Most significantly, Shakey is now that much less of an underground enigma. It's true that he's been far from a fan-kept secret of late; "Dearly Departed," his duet with singer Esme Patterson, made huge waves following its release and "Hardwired" was recently featured in a commercial for Samsung's new virtual reality headset. Both of those songs, though, were from Shakey's sophomore album And the War Came. His debut LP Roll the Bones was so lo-fi that it's hard to imagine it got many synchronization deals, but it did create a loyal fan following. Outside those two albums, listeners had to rely on the (admittedly vast) collection of his live performances on YouTube.

But now, screw YouTube and their questionable practices with the music industry. Forget marking the calendars you don't look at for February 9th. Fans can listen to four separate Shakey Graves albums at will, and they can make sure he gets paid for them, too. Better yet, they can listen to four different Shakey Graves albums. Listeners can opt for And the War Came, Shakey's first step away from solo recording and towards recording with a full four-man band (plus several duets with Patterson). Or, if they're in a darker, more enigmatic mood, the debut Roll The Bones, complete with a borderline-scary cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," classic folksy love songs, and the requisite wanderer's anthem and title track.

And now, the personal and dramatic Nobody's Fool gives a grittier version of Shakey with the added bonus of scratchy recordings of a woman telling bad jokes (see "Haven't You Noticed" for jokes and the title track for personal rumination). Donor Blues rounds out the set with a wholeheartedly folk repertoire, including "Stereotypes of a Blue-Collar Male" and "Family Tree," which toe the line with Shakey's enigmatic smirk between cheesy Americana and achingly melancholy tunes that make you want to sip a bourbon on your front patio before remembering that you neither own a patio nor bourbon. (Well, maybe you have the bourbon, you lucky duck.)

You can order

Shakey Graves and the Horse He Rode In On on the Dualtone Records webstore, and find the rest of Shakey's (legally available) music on the usual channels. He'll also be embarking on a tour of the US and Canada later this summer - see dates on his website