Action Park may be a New York (Long Island, in particular) based band, but they’ve taken their name from the infamously dangerous waterpark in New Jersey, and it suits them well. I grew up going to amusement parks (Cedar Point baby!) and this record reminds me of fun, carefree late-teenage years, when we had the freedom of a car and the money from a summer job to take ourselves out to the roller coasters; yet still something bittersweet hung in the air, youth quickly slipping away with the season. In this way, the title of Action Park’s debut album You Must Be This Tall To Die is a fitting pun.
Billing themselves as “sad but rad,” Action Park are a four-piece consisting of Bobby DeQuillfeldt and Matt Riley on guitar and vocals, Vinny Carriero on bass and vocals, and Aaron Pagdon on drums. They declare their new album is “bound to be the soundtrack to your own personal comeback and then inevitable decline,” and You Must Be This Tall To Die is indeed filled with peppy, poppy hooks accompanied by sometimes less-than-peppy lyrics. Fans of NOFX and Lifetime will find a lot to love here.
Lead track “Wrong” kicks the record off in a catchy manner and that’s how the ride stays for the most part. The general vibe is that of 90’s skate punk with driving, constant guitars, melodic solos, and lively bass pinning things down, all behind shouty-singy vocals with plenty of ‘woah-oh-ohs.’ The fill-laden drums provided by Pagdon are a highlight, keeping the energy kinetic. Standout songs include “24 Months” (which is paired with “Wrong” as the first single) “Call Waiting” and “Breathless (Afrin and Sleeping Alone).”
The only misstep is in the last track, “Vacation Photos”, with an interlude of sampled dialog from Bojack Horseman that distracts from the music, but the intro/outro samples of vintage Action Park advertisements at the beginning and end of the record work perfectly to bookend what is overall an enjoyable romp.
The Great American Novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Online (album cover photo by Christina Casillo)
When putting on the latest record from The Great American Novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Online, find a good, comfy seat with armrests you can really hold onto. If you’re driving, be mindful of that speedometer. If you’re on the street, be aware everyone can hear you singing along. This album explodes from the jump and soars across ten songs of love and heartbreak, with all the hallmarks power pop lovers crave: big, melodic guitars; thrilling harmonies; relentlessly hooky choruses; and a clever, hard-hitting rhythm section.
Singer/guitarist/songwriter Layne Montgomery’s wry wit infuses each tune. The blink-and-you-miss-it opener “Bad News, I Still Love You” is a perfect intersection of power pop and pop punk that sets the table for the album—and as soon as you’ve settled in, it’s straight into the next tune. “Grabbin’ A Slice” is a modern take on the well-traveled tale of boy losing girl, and shows the band leaping one earworm to another and then another. Intro guitar hooks lead right into the immediately hummable verses, building into a soaring chorus capped with well-placed “whoa-oh”s. The tragicomedy of the lyrics subverts the high-flying melodies: “Just like you said, ‘No shit, shithead’/I’m no smarter/I just feel older.”
When the band slows down the tempos, the tunes seem almost arena ready. “Do You Enjoy Being Depressed” could easily be all over the modern rock airwaves, possibly giving Kings of Leon a run for their NFT monies. “Coulda Fooled Me” is an outstanding cut, the midtempo groove allowing the harmonies between Montgomery and drummer Aidan Shepard to reach the full emotion of Montgomery’s heartbroken chorus, “Coulda fooled me/when you said you loved me/coulda fooled me for years.”
The record ends with the too-poignant, too-on-point “This Will Not Be Our Year.” Sure, it’s about a relationship falling apart, but it’s tough not to apply the chorus/title to what we’re currently all living through…again. Montgomery and Shepard’s harmonies are ever-present, along with excellent guitar harmony interplay between Montgomery and lead guitarist Ian Grey.
Beautifully produced by Billy Aukstik (who also contributes backing vocals) and expertly mixed and mastered by Alex Newport and Carl Saff, respectively, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Online is a determined and focused album. The band is in full control of its melodic prowess and rock power, delivering one of the great power pop records of the year.
It is difficult to pin any one genre on this album as it ranges from soulful and vulnerable in songs such as, “Hot Water,” and “I’m A Man,” to glam-psych songs such as “Most Magazines.” It doesn’t just stop there though, proto-punk makes a welcome entrance three songs in with the raucous track, “Money.”
You could be a fan of anyone from The Modern Lovers to Wilco or The Gun Club and thoroughly enjoy this album about love, longing and heartache in the city. What attracts me about the lyrics is the attention to the details of everyday life; the characterization is fully developed and realistic, which in turn feels like a sincere documentation.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jordan D’Arsie said about the songs, “I noticed my songwriting and the voices within the stories were often flickering between a sinister voice and a much lighter and optimistic voice. As the album began to come together, I started to imagine it as its own space and almost as if there were two parallel planes. What is spoken of in the light of day and what is spoken of in the night or simply put Sub Rosa.” Adding, “There’s a symmetry and balance to this record, seven songs on each side and a conscious effort in the songwriting to balance these two parallel worlds, the voices and sounds that accompany them.”
The result is Sub Rosa, a captivating collection consisting of fourteen tracks drawing one into exploring the balance of these two worlds. This balance is reflected in the pace of the album as you move through the unpredictable highs and lows associated with heartache, giving it a slightly raw and unhinged feel. With the band consisting of Kyubae Lee on drums/lead guitar and Greg Watson on bass, the rhythm section is tight and focused; combined with D’Arsie’s renowned songwriting skills, this is an album you need to hear.
The newest release from Brooklyn-based Atlas Engine,When the Compass Resets…Part 1, may be only six songs, but it feels like a much longer journey. (I also love that EPs seem to be popular right now, maybe that’s confirmation bias because I keep getting them sent to me? In any case, thumbs up.) Formerly a solo project of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Nick LaFalce, Atlas Engine now includes Meredith Lampe (keys/vocals), Jeff Fettig (guitar/keys), Patrick Cochrane (bass/vocals), and Brendan McGuckin (drums). Fans of Mercury Rev and Transatlanticism-era Death Cab For Cutie will find a lot to love in this album, with the sprawling yet intimate sound and strong-yet-vulnerable quality of singer Nick LaFalce’s voice.
The album begins with the languid, “As You Are,” rhythms pulsing with little vagaries of timing that almost sound like a skip. It’s calm but not calming, easing the listener in without being sleepy. The pace picks up on the second track, “Modern Mind,” with a motorik-style beat and guitars both ethereal and insistent twining around each other; the bass is really the standout here. A brief, almost ambient instrumental follows, which if you aren’t watching the tracklist feels like a natural, extended outro.
Keyboardist Meredith Lampe features on “All I Want is Everything // Alternate State” and the addition of her vocals brings the track from soaring up to epic. The song, a musing on relationships and always wanting more (“I’m a captain treading water / on a wreckage of my own design… “when even love is still not enough”) is a perfect midpoint.
Shimmering guitars and a marching beat on “Not Enough” underpin the heavy themes, and LaFalce sings “How can it be we lose count of tragedies?” as he addresses something we are all familiar with, the seemingly endless stream of mass shootings and violence in the news every day. The final track, the aptly named “(Thoughts and Prayers)” serves as another instrumental outro.
According to LaFalce, When the Compass Resets…Part 1 deals with “wheels of repetition,” and touches on topics both personal and external, including technology and gun control. Overall, the album and its cyclical nature was inspired by LaFalce’s experience with chronic Lyme disease, of which he says “even when you’re feeling better, you know it’s only temporary. So you just wait for the moment where you have to start all over again.” Perhaps fittingly, LaFalce will be continuing the EP releases with a second part soon.
When the Compass Resets…Part 1 is stunningly produced, by LaFalce himself. The vocal mixes here are particularly impressive, going from solos to an almost choral effect with ease. Part 2 will be out in November, and I am eager to return to this sonic world LaFalce has built. I’d also love to see both sides released as one vinyl LP; the tracks all fade into one another, which must be a lovely effect without the break Spotify inserts.
Atlas Engine are, as many bands right now, unsure of their touring plans, but they do plan on a release show for Part 2 at Baby’s All Right sometime in November. In the meantime, they will be playing at Our Wicked Lady Rooftop with Smock, Groupie, and Safer on 9/29. I’m hoping to catch that show, because I really want to know LaFalce’s pedal set-up.
The powerful Cincinnati cello/drums duo Lung are poised to release their stunning and masterful new album, Come Clean Right Now. As I said when I reviewed one of the earlier singles for the album, “Air” (read here), I was absolutely jaw on the floor blown away the first time I saw them (playing with the great Trophy Wife in the summer of 2016); that awe has not faded since and they have become one of my absolute favorite bands. They continue to raise the bar again and again with every release- a rare feat as every artist hits their slumps or can miss the mark with any given song or album- but that seems to have completely missed this band.
The band has a dark feel musically overall, as one would imagine with a cello in the mix, and thanks to the help of a twin bass amp/distortion pedal combination, they take the tenebrous potential of the cello and combine all of this to create an intense, utterly bombastic tidal wave of sound that is HUGE. If it wasn’t obvious from the description of that setup, this is not chamber music, this is ROCK plain and simple. Big riff energy abounds with a strong hard rock, grunge and punk influence running throughout all of their releases; I can almost hear a metal or hardcore band shredding on any one of their explosive songs.
While they nail the gigantic stadium sized sounds, they also have beautiful layers and nuance as well, particularly vocally as singer/cellist Kate Wakefield is classically trained and sings with an operatic flair to lift these songs up to an entirely other level that not many other vocalists can touch. Taking full advantage of the studio environment, at many points the vocals are gorgeously layered, multiple tracks harmonized with each other, which adds sparkle to her already magical delivery.
Come Clean Right Now is packed full of gems from start to finish, dusky tunes carried through by the persistent cello chug and rock solid drumming of Daisy Caplan; he hits hard to perfectly match Wakefield in delivery without ever stomping over the songs. An overly busy drummer could ruin the vibe, but Caplan is a wizard behind the kit and knows exactly how and when to push and pull with Wakefield to make the most of each moment.
The album is also full of emotions, the songs weaving an expressive tapestry of love, rage, pain, joy and more. The lead up to the album saw the release of three singles, the first being the commanding and mid tempo tune “Sun God.” Here, Wakefield’s vocal prowess is on full display for an absolute highlight of the album. As the song hits its crest, the line “I see the world is filled with senseless beauty, I wish to magnify this sweetness fully,” is repeated again and again with the vocals stacked several times over, and on each layer, she sings something different to bring a complex texture to the mix; I challenge anyone to listen to that and not immediately get goosebumps.
For the next single “Air,” a frantic cello riff opens the track with a complementing rapid fire floor tom pattern keeping pace before the song very quickly e x p l o d e s into the chorus- an absolutely MASSIVE and visceral wall of sound that crashes into the listener like a wrecking ball. The lyrics are a fervent plea to a lover- who is revered, needed more than water or air or anything else- and the strong emotions Wakefield conveys are palpable throughout. “I’m Nervous,” is bouncier and begins with the line “I get so angry that it hurts but then say everything’s just fine,” and if that didn’t hold a mirror up to my face…I absolutely related to the frustration and exhaustion on display here. “Feels like my feet are hanging from a rocky cliff,” another real moment for me and I think just about anyone else after the last several years we have all collectively lived through.
The song “Sorry,” had particular emotional resonance for me and was a very big standout. The chorus is all at once sorrowful but also a damning condemnation of the other party in a failed relationship: “You never really said, never really said, said you’re sorry. But you never were the best, never were the best at being wrong. And you thought I never saw all the little flaws in your story so I always played along.” It’s unclear if this was a romantic connection, a friendship, or a collaborative working relationship and it doesn’t have to be. The pain of the deceit and loss Wakefield feels as a result of the breakdown of this connection pours out here in particular, both via the lyrics and through the punky insistence of the cello paired with Caplan’s bulldozer drum roll, which he adeptly deploys to emphasize the intensity of the emotions. The feelings expressed here are ones any of us can relate to when things go wrong with another person, and unfortunately we can also carry them with us for a long time to come after the other person is gone either literally or figuratively.
Other highlights include the rapid fire syncopated romp, “Sugar Pill,” and the more muted, “Wave,” which starts out with a more classical cello sound only to quickly rip itself apart to reveal a hard rocking chorus to just quickly dip right back again to a lush and beguiling passage. The album closer “Arrow,” which sees some of the same traditional cello sounds starting off before again bursting at the seams then skittering back and forth between these alternating musical approaches. Ending on this high point, the song has a hopeful note, a plea to a lover- that could easily also be applicable to a treasured friend or loved one- a plea we surely all find inside of ourselves as we continue to navigate an uncertain world: “Give me love, give me darkness, as the fates keep changing hands, as the strange world surrounds us, keep my heart from sleeping….And the earth keeps on turning, each day faster than the rest, keep me here in this moment, keep my slow heart burning.”
There simply are so few other bands currently making music at this level, with this emotional resonance and with such innovation and poise. Lung is in a class all by themselves and this album is the just the latest in a string of incredible releases from them. It is expressive, explosive, and an exceptionally powerful gift to the world.
Desert Sharks have long been one of NYC’s great bands, solidifying that rep with 2019’s kickass record, Baby’s Gold Death Stadium. Now a power trio, they can add brilliant interpreters of classic songs to their resume. On the heels of their thrilling cover of ‘Til Tuesday‘s “Voices Carry” (read our review) comes their version of T. Rex‘s glam rock classic, “20th Century Boy.”
Some of the glitter remains from T. Rex, but Desert Sharks give their “20th Century Boy” a more menacing edge with their distinctive veil of gloomy grunge. Guitarist Sunny Veniero enters snarling, putting extra blues swagger into the main riff. Rebecca Fruchter’s backbeat punches underneath, maintaining the original tune’s bounce but giving it significant weight. If T. Rex’s boy was ecstatic, clapping and shimmying, Desert Sharks’ subject sways dreamily to the beat, head down, long black hair hanging and moving in time—the boy is perhaps no less joyful, but he’s in his own world.
On Desert Sharks’ originals, singer/bassist Stephanie Gunther’s voice rises above the high-octane shredding and pounding to provide powerful melodies and hooks. Lots of bands can rock, some can even swing, but it’s the special ones who can do both and have you humming their tunes for days. On the band’s two cover choices thus far, Gunther does what all truly gifted singers do: makes the songs her own. You find yourself engrossed in the song itself, not necessarily the differences between their versions and the originals (that stuff is for nerdy blog writers anyway).
The two covers have been a fun treat this year, two years after their debut full length. We here at FTA are stoked to hear what’s next from a band that only gets better and better.
“20th Century Boy” is out now on Substitute Scene and available on all streaming platforms. They will play a release show for the singles on Friday 8/20 at The Windjammer along with Frida Kill, Ugli, and Basic Bitches.