There’s nothing like the news of a new Descendents album to improve a summer in advance –and, with a particularly slow start to the good weather, their short, sweet blasts of melodic punk are exactly what is needed to counteract the strangely unseasonal Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by leaving the house at least three days a week to find South London rain-drenched and storm-swept.
Hypercaffium Spazzinate, of course, would be a cause for celebration regardless of the weather; the band’s first release since 2004 sees them return to Epitaph, the label under which they recorded 1996’s ‘Everything Sucks’. Does this mean we can draw in depth stylistic comparisons between the two albums recorded under Brett Gurewitz’s label whilst at the same time contrasting them with ‘Cool To Be You’, the Fat Wreck album sandwiched between? Does it bollocks. Bill Stevenson has always had a keen eye to which side his punk rock bread is buttered on and Hypercaffium sits comfortably amongst the band’s previous efforts, offering 16 sometimes deceptively sharp blasts of what can be termed ‘pop punk’, but only once you mentally eschew the taint of saccharine awfulness which the late 90s and early 00s bought to that term.
Opener ‘Feel This’ sets the general pace at 1:14 in length, with only half the songs exceeding two minutes and a grand total of three that get past three. I found myself having to stop the album when I needed to go down and get a beer out of the fridge, in case I missed anything vital. That’s what you get with me, quality professionalism. Anyway, ‘Feel This’ drives full speed into ‘Victim Of Me’, the song which pre-hyped the album to the world and while it may not quite reach ‘Milo Goes to College’ speed, it definitely offers Karl Alvarez’s fingers a workout on a breakneck bass line on a tune which will have you skipping the needle back more than once (or moving the mouse and double clicking like the horrible nowadays bastard you are). ‘On Paper’ slows things down and brings into the mix the self-deprecating humour that Milo’s soulful, very slightly snotty, very slightly roughened voice is so perfectly suited to – the sound that so many vocalists took as a template to fall far short of.
From then on in and for 16 songs the band take the sound which they’ve perfected so well and throw in a number of variables, still keeping hold of their core formula like a control variable in one of Milo’s lab tests. ‘No Fat Burger’ harks back to the band’s earliest days musically, as Bill Stevenson’s lyrics bemoan the doctor’s orders which have stopped him scoffing whatever he wants due to health issues covered in the killer 2013 documentary ‘Filmage’. Just remember as you listen to the primal but supremely controlled beat underpinning every track that the man playing it has survived health issues which would kill five other people at once.
Elsewhere, this may not be a change in style from previous releases but that doesn’t mean that the Descendents are ploughing the same furrow in any way. On the contrary. The hooks which made the likes of ‘Bikeage’, ‘Silly Girl’ and ‘When I Get Old’ such instant classics do the same for much of Hypercaffium. Whether it’s the full pelt race of ‘Human Being’ or the mellower, hook laden likes of ‘Shameless Halo’ or ‘Comeback Kid’, the band sound like they don’t even know what the term ‘twelve year album gap’ means. Closer ‘Beyond the Music’ is a potted history of the band, a microcosm of the personal lean of their lyrics which has definitely played a massive part in them becoming such a worldwide phenomenon.
Despite having almost 40 years of history, and a major place in the history of punk music and numerous musical milestones, they are still writing songs of awkward love, caffeine obsessions and flatulence which strike a chord the world over…and long may they continue doing so.
When you consider that the four Ds (drugs, drinking, depression and death) have been Alkaline Trio’s lyrical stock-in-trade for most of their seventeen (!) year existence, it’s amazing that ‘My Shame Is True’ (their ninth album) sees the Chicago crew sounding so vital.
The opening ‘She Lied To The FBI’ and ‘The Temptation Of St. Anthony’ belt along with the kind of hooks and addictive choruses that bands half the Trio’s age would kill for, replete with Matt Skiba’s black-humoured story telling. So far, business as usual – and business is good. ‘I, Pessimist’, featuring guest vocals from Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, is one of the best things the Trio have ever done, and should sound amazing live.
However, the songs that really colour ‘My Shame Is True’ are those of lost love and regret. Hardly fresh ground for this most endearingly maudlin of bands, but the likes of ‘Kiss You To Death’ and epic closer ‘Until Death Do Us Part’ could teach your average screamo band a thing or two about dealing with heartbreak.
“I hear the telephone works both ways/Think you can make a little effort someday?” croons co-vocalist/bassist Dan Andriano on the piano-laden ‘Only Love’. He sounds troubled, but hopefully he’ll find comfort in knowing that, with songs as good as these, we’ll be listening whenever Alkaline Trio call.
Epitaph have always had a nack of picking the next wave of punk and hardcore so when letlive. where picked as their new signings last year the buzz started to grow. Why? Because not only are they balls out on record, they can make an audience explode just as good, if not better than the best of them.
This February the Los Angeles 5-piece graced our shores for a few introductory shows and blew the roof off of the Underworld in Camden and a secret show at the Old Blue Last in Hoxton leaving those lucky enough to see them blogging wildly about their new favourite hardcore band. So with the trail of aural destruction left behind we decided to get the inside scoop with singer Jason Butler and bassist Ryan Johnson to find out what makes this time bomb tick so loudly.
Welcome to Crossfire lads. So, you recently made your first visit to the UK. How did those shows compare with the first shows you played together on your home turf in LA?
Jason:I suppose since our first shows in the UK were in venues with PA systems that worked and the attendance wasn’t fully comprised of people we knew I’d have to say the disparity lies within the level of punkness.
Ryan: I’m not sure how to say this without discrediting our home support, but, the UK was certainly more attentive and accepting of our idea. The accumulation of recognition we have received in the UK has been unreal. We definitely didn’t expect any of it…
Your live show is raucous to say the least. What’s the worst damage you’ve ever done (to yourself or your surroundings) during a set?
Jason:I like to think of myself as somewhat of a forward thinking gentlemen. I try to keep my eyes focused on the future. With that being said, I think I will one day answer your question with a youtube link to our testimony in court when being charged with arson, in “the people vs. letlive.”
Ryan: We definitely have countless mics and speakers that are left useless – which can get a bit costly… But thankfully we haven’t done any serious damage yet. We have had some sprained limbs and minor gashes – accompanied with the occasional guitar head stock to the face…
Do you think your unique performance skills can translate to bigger stages? Are there any massive production ideas you have in the back of your mind for further down the line when you have more resources available to you?
Jason: Yes. Burning it down.
Ryan: Actually, when we are blessed with those larger stages (it certainly isn’t very often), it seems as though we are given a little more freedom to let go. Although, smaller stages can lead to some pretty exciting situations as well. Production for us hasn’t been a constant conversation, but, I’m sure as it comes in the future, it will be minimal. Definitely don’t want to pull too far away from the fact that people are there to listen to your music.
What is the best musical talent coming out of LA at the moment (apart from yourselves of course)? You previously mentioned knowing Tyler from Odd Future when you guys were younger. Any funny stories about him?
Jason: I don’t want to give the impression that I’m making mention of the young man in order to exhibit relevance, but I will say I really do back what they’re doing. It’s almost as if Odd Future (Wolf Gang Kill Them All) are breathing some new life into that shock aesthetic that alternative culture that has surely been waiting for with bated breath (two metaphors involving breathing; see what I did there?). As for Tyler and company, we all come from the same area. They rep the “Dirty Ladera”, I’m Inglewood all day. They fuck with LA skate culture, I worked at 9star LA. We have few degrees of separation. So to Tyler and Odd Future I say “STAND UP” X “SWAG”. Holla at me.
Ryan: Los Angeles is a difficult place. Other than Odd Future, whom Jason had a loose relationship with, we have a few friends bands such as Touche Amore and Dangers – both of which we enjoy quite a bit. But, the entire culture is a bit lacking as of late…
What would you say the biggest influences on letlive. are – both musical and non-musical?
Jason: letlive.. Please bear in mind, this does not mean the 5 individuals that make up this band; so yeah… letlive.
Ryan: To be frank, a lot of our influences come from moods that we capture from each other, surroundings, and even conversations about current readings. It’s more so channeling the feeling of inspiration. There really haven’t been many defining moments where an artist was mentioned while playing music. We all have our individual inclinations which range from James Brown to Radiohead to Bob Dylan, and Smashing Pumpkins, but not very directly do those artists come through as strong as an influence. We kind of feed of each others mistakes and ideas while playing, and hope it comes out all right.
‘Fake History’ is getting a proper UK release though Epitaph this week, with a few bonus tracks. Are those songs indicative of further future material from the band? How are you getting along with writing for the next album – or is that not happening quite yet?
Jason: Well, not necessarily. The first two tracks are actually 2 alternate tracks that were tracked within the FAKE HISTORY sessions and were opted to remain unattached for the initial release, which, in turn, worked out quite well for the re-release, wouldn’t you agree? As for the final track, this was a more impromptu approach we took when creating, playing, and recording it. We had spoken with Mr. Brett Gurewitz about doing a song together as somewhat of an ode to the rite of passage, so to speak, with our induction into the Epitaph family. With this came limited time to do so granted we have been touring rather heavily this past year. So what we did was go into the studio for two days with a riff we had written just before entering and tracked an ode to whimsical studio sessions. We feel it’s non hyperbolic essence is certainly endearing.
Ryan: Well, the bonus tracks include two b-sides, and one new track. The b-sides were actually the first two songs that we wrote as a band, which is far off from future ideas, and the last track was basically a last minute fluke while preparing to go into the studio with Brett. I wouldn’t say it is a direct foreshadow of what is to come, by any means. We actually currently beginning to write the album for the next month or so, considering it is the only time we are going to be home all year, and we are pretty excited with the way things are going thus far. We are definitely in a better place than we ever have been, musically – considering the amount of time we have spent together and growth we’ve experienced.
Who have been your Top 5 Epitaph acts in the label’s history?
Jason:1981 – present day. Take your pick.
Ryan: I’d have to say Descendents/ALL, Gallows, Converge, and certainly Refused.
How does it feel to know that you are now listed alongside them?
Jason: Like 20ll.
Ryan: It is unreal. Still hasn’t really hit any of us yet. Sometimes when you speak of the bands dealings with others it becomes a reality, and you’re kind of beside yourself. It’s incredibly strange to conceptualize.
You’ve been nominated for a Metal Hammer Award. What would you say is the most metal thing you’ve ever done?
Jason: Yes. We plan on burning the venue down. For sacrificial purposes in the name of the homie Lucifer, naturally. 666777888
Ryan: Hopefully commit to round two amongst the crowd.
Do you ever take your skateboard on tour with you?
Jason: Yes I ever.
Where are the best spots in the world that you’ve encountered for skating?
Jason: Los Angeles, California and that big 5 stair set in Paris, France.
Any favourite up and coming skaters?
Jason: I’d like to shout to my young friend Elijah Berle from LA who recently won Tampa Am. He’s one of the young bloods turning real life skateboarding into “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater”. Good shit, Elijah. As for my favorite skater, that position is taken, unshakably, by Andrew Gallagher of the First Family.
If you could invent a new skate trick, what would it be called and what would it involve?
Jason: Not to sound like an asshole, but…I did. It was aptly dubbed the “Butler bump”. Best explanation for this maneuver would be a switch (or nollie, which I prefer) heelflip underflip. Best pulled from the bag of tricks at a clutch moment during a game of “skate”. A show stopper, if you will. Ask Elijah and Drew.
What can we expect from the band in the next year?
Ryan: The re-release, a lot of touring, and a new record.
On first hearing ‘Le Prologue’, the opening track to ‘Fake History’, it’s easy to assume that you’re about to hear a drawn out, suspense building intro track that you would’ve lost interest in before reaching any kind of semblance to a song… but no, letlive. write off the suspense and unleash an outrageous and calculated assault, aimed straight at your unsuspecting nervous system feet first with big fucking boots on. Before you know it, track two, ‘The Sick, Sick 6.8 billion’, has happened and it’s happened hard, and you don’t get a chance to breath until it’s over.
If you miss the time when Anthony Green was still in Saosin, and Glassjaw had just released Worship and Tribute, ‘Fake History’ is probably going to blow your mind. In terms of a post-hardcore record, it’s near perfect, and considering the fact that it’s basically an hour long, keeping the listener interested is a victory in itself. ‘Fake History’ achieves this with variety. Each track is a journey, both vocally and musically, and this allows the whole record to ebb and flow as a whole. Vocalist Jason Aalon Butler can belt out an ear-splitting scream, switch effortlessly to a whisper, and tops it off by holding those big notes in a way that Andrea Bocelli would most likely have busted a blood vessel or two. The drums on ‘Casino Columbus’ sound like thick, heavy artillery whereas tracks like ‘Lemon Party’ provide rhythms that’ll have your dancing shoes on in seconds. Sure, loads of bands can mix it up in an album, but what sets this apart is that it’s all presented so damn stylishly. All the musicians are solid and it’s undeniable that Butler’s vocal skills are slick as hell and more than accomplished.
If you were fortunate enough to see them at the Old Blue Last for their first UK headline show, then you won’t need convincing. If you missed it, fear not, for it seems clear that letlive. are a bomb that will be exploding into your lives, turning and rolling heads simultaneously, and ‘Fake History’ is lighting the fuse. This album is what you love about post-hardcore. It highlights everything that was good and exciting about the genre: unforgiving and impassioned vocal hooks, a rhythm section that is both restrained and relentless, all of which will get you singing, dancing and generally losing your shit.
The Old Blue Last has played host to many a monumentous gig, having had the likes of titans Steel Panther, Gallows and Fucked Up through their doors. letlive.‘s first headline show in the country is definitely going to go down as one of those “I was there” events. The night before, the band played to a sparse crowd at the Underworld as they took to the stage 15 mins after doors opened as support to Your Demise. Despite the absence of a packed-out crowd, letlive. put on a performance that put almost every other band who has actually headlined the Underworld to shame. So it was with baited breath that the crowd of excited observers began to gather at the Rock Sound Secret Set at OBL the following night.
Hearts Under Fire and The James Cleaver Quintet did their best to get everyone warmed up but it was clear from the first 20 seconds of letlive.’s performance, which saw vocalist Jason pull himself up onto part of the lighting rig on the ceiling and hang down by his feet whilst still ripping impressively through his vocals, that this was letlive.’s night.
Each member of the band was intensely present and playing their role with a stunning mixture of precision, heartfelt emotion and their own unique rambunctious rock and roll flair. Flawless musicianship fronted by a little bit of crazy. One second Jason was on stage, the next he was standing on the bar pouring a pint of dirty water all over himself. One second his voice is breaking in screams for ‘Muther’ and the next he’s crooning the female vocal part from the track.
Even with a sneaky Refused cover snuck into the mix, it’s clear that letlive.’s own songs are something special that the present day rock scene is largely missing. A unique blend of heaviness and melody that certainly draws upon influence from the likes of Deftones and Glassjaw but also brings something entirely new to the table, even if you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what that spark of innovation entails.
letlive. will be releasing their album ‘Fake History‘ in the UK next month but an it’s fantastic. But live is where this band is truly unbelievable. If you miss out on any chance you may get to go and see them, you’re a fool.
For more pics from this show visit our friends at Punktastic