The Arrivals - Volatile Molotov album artwork The Arrivals – Volatile Molotov


Pop-punk bands have always gotten a bad rap. Unfortunately, many great acts have been overlooked because of it.

For every monosyllabic and rudimentary act, there have been countless others crafting intelligent songs and masterful albums. The Arrivals have been doing the latter since the mid-’90s.

The Chicago-based band’s newest Recess Records release is Volatile Molotov. The album is packed full of attention-grabbing sing-alongs and poignant lyrics. At times, The Arrivals are capable of crafting songs as accessible as anything heard on mainstream radio without ever subsidizing its Midwestern grit.

When vocalist/guitarist Isaac Thotz takes the lead, specifically on “Blank State” and “Frontline,” it feels as if he has been writing for the next Gaslight Anthem record. Both of the aforementioned tracks bounce with the indie-pop sensibilities of Ted Leo, but the comparison is more than apt during “Blank Slate.” While Thotz may not have the same vocal capabilities, his emotion is palatable. It seeps through the speakers as he laments “Can’t recall why I’ve been so afraid/Of the dim and quiet life/Head in the clouds and both feet in my grave.”

In recent years, The Arrivals have been forced to shake off comparisons to Minneapolis’ punk rock royalty Dillinger Four. This is due in large part to bassist Patrick “Paddy” Costello holding down the low end in both bands. With Volatile Molotov, the band may have finally distinguished itself.

If Dillinger Four is a raging Saturday night kegger, the Arrivals are a relaxed Sunday afternoon spent on the front porch.

This is not to say the album lacks the punch of previous works. When vocalist/guitarist Dave Merriman takes over vocal duties, he displays that The Arrivals are still completely capable of acerbic punk rock. Opener “Two Years” gives the album an energetic launch and packs a hell of a punch. Sadly, the blow is diminished as the album progresses in a more laid-back manner.

Often the record feels stifled by the bands attempt to lessen its attack and increase its scope. Because of this, there is little that jumps out upon first listen. Even after repeated trips through Volatile Molotov, the album’s tracks end up running together.

Compared to the band’s previous work, Volatile Molotov comes off as the Arrivals attempt to recreate American Steel’s Jagged Thoughts. Tracks such as “The Children’s Crusade” find itself in a mid-tempo rhythm that is too slow for an aggressive reaction, but also too up-tempo for ambivalence.

“Simple Pleasures in America” closes out the album and shows each member taking up vocal duties. While Paddy’s vocals fit into the song as well as they would on any Dillinger Four record, it is drummer Ronnie De Lix’s contribution that shows the band was having a damn good time making this record.

While it may not have transcended the scene that it came from, Volatile Molotov is a worthy addition to the band’s discography. It’s another socially conscious pop-punk record from the Chicago mainstay, only with a little less punk this time around.

Röyksopp - Senior album cover Röyksopp – Senior


Röyksopp’s latest venture plays like the soundtrack to a mind fuck.

With layers of electronics meant to incite a dream like state, Senior is certainly not the Röyksopp of 2009. The fourth album from Iceland dance heroes is one of opposites. While it’s withdrawn and dark, if not sinister at times, do not be discouraged. Röyksopp’s aim with Senior is for an experience outside the dance floor.

Senior is the completion of the duo of concept albums that started with last year’s Junior. The concept is simple, as Röyksopp offers its views on getting older and dealing with demons at the step of death’s door.

Juxtaposed with the youthful Junior, Senior takes on a mature attitude, one that’s reflective and alluring, just as Röyksopp intended.

The tracks are long, well thought out and leave everything up to the imagination. However, venturing deeper into the duo’s musical psyche means ignoring why Röyksopp is relevant in the first place. Senior has much more down tempo to flaunt with ambient instrumentals that ditch the guest heavy club sound of Junior. That’s the point though, to create that opposing view, thus coming full circle.

Short of filler, all vocals have been left out this time as the music is reflective, not active. Even when the tempo picks up on “The Drug,” the ambient wash holds it at a general hum. The same attitude applies throughout the record, bringing in the lighter side of Kraut era synths. “Forsaken Cowboy” builds on the concept, adding an acoustic guitar and drum shuffle to the atmospheric layers, to create, as the name suggests, a western Americana feel.

Those opposing views of light and dark, life and death show themselves most effectively on “The Fear.” Over seven minutes, it digs itself out from the down tempo swirl to become the most optimistic of all the tracks with a trip-hop beat, providing the only two dance worthy minutes on the album.

It is still Röyksopp after all, and that is never strayed from no matter how twisted things get.

Senior is, as intended, a concept album through and through. With track names like “The Alcoholic,” “Coming Home” and “Senior Living,” the duo convey a message of a long life filled with memories, regrets and a sense of time moving all too quickly. The music creates a mood, as the songs are litteral interpretations of their names; “The Alcoholic” is hazy and conflicted, “Senior Living” is nostalgic and surreal and so on.

By creating an album like this, Röyksopp leave its comfort zone behind, yet nothing is alienating. That feature is what makes a concept album work in the first place. Besides, artists are certainly allowed to deviate from self-ascribed norms. However, for Röyksopp’s sake, here’s hoping the band doesn’t get too lost in its conceptual self.

The Black Crowes - Croweology album artwork The Black Crowes – Croweology


I don’t listen to the Black Crowes. I know who they are, have a vague understanding that they had been around the block a few times, and generally have an idea of what kind of music they play. But aside from a cursory listen through 2008’s Warpaint, the seminal post-Lynyrd Skynyrd Southern rock group had completely eluded me. Hell, until I looked down the track list of Croweology, I thought “She Talks to Angels” was a Counting Crows song.

And yet, here it is—a two-disc rework and condensation of the bands’ roots rock hits from the 90s and early 2000s. Croweology is certainly a sight to behold. At over two hours in length, the albums sheer mass should be enough to ward off uninitiated Crowes listeners. The payoff for longtime fans is obvious—this is a reward to devoted listeners for services rendered during the eight-year interim when the Crowes didn’t release a single LP. But the goods provided to a casual listener are less obvious and sometimes less than arresting when discovered. But at its base, The Black Crowes deliver a strange conflagration of Bruce Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions and the Foo Fighters’ Skin + Bones. It is a cocktail that works, even when it seems like it shouldn’t.

Croweology boasts more of itself than the traditional greatest hits record. Singer Chris Robinson and brother/guitarist Rich Robinson are still at the core, but the supporting cast has drastically changed since the landmark record Shake Your Money Maker in 1990, a fact evident given the tempered, but apparent reshuffling of the “Jealous Again” cards. But the positivity given off from such a stellar opening track is blunted by what follows. The Crowes have made a calling card out of bluesy rock that rolls on and on until the 5-minute mark is a distant road sign, but in this massive clearing house form, it’s a feat just to get through the first disc in one sitting. Songs like the Marc Cohn-ish gospel “Soul Singing” keep the vibe going, only to be retarded by an aimless ballad “Wiser Time,” which is itself only a footnote to a better, slower and more purposeful ballad “Ballad in Urgency.” Chronological sequencing can batter a disc like this, and with many of the acoustic reworks sounding a lot alike, Croweology only grows more dauntingly unrelenting with each listen.

This is not to say that the songwriting is anything less than a premium. The more bluesy stompers like “Share the Ride,” “Downtown Money Waster” and “Hotel Illness” are fit for Sons Of Anarchy’s more raucous moments, as the outlaw biker show has typically embraced folksy rock n’ roll as its backing music. Beautiful, subtle moments like “Under a Mountain” and the oddly present Graham Parsons cover “She” are fit for SoA’s intimate montages as well. While loyal fans will rightly eat up Croweology for its myriad merits, casual fans might do well to pick and choose their favorites, as a complete listen through the massive record can leave one exhausted of the Crowes well-established formula.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs album cover Arcade Fire – The Suburbs


Montreal’s indie rock collective known as the Arcade Fire is no stranger to pressure from both critics and fans alike. In 2004, the band released Funeral, an album that would become the talk of the music world and a classic almost overnight. The album was universally praised and many felt that there was no way to suitably follow such a behemoth of a release. Arcade Fire answered in 2007 with Neon Bible, silencing detractors through their Springsteen-esque Americana. With expectations higher than ever, Arcade Fire returns with its third album for Merge Records, The Suburbs, proving it has the capability of adding a huge layer of atmosphere onto its classic sound.

From the very start of The Suburbs, we see that band leader Win Butler’s scope has broadened. While Arcade Fire has always constructed extravagant anthems, songs such as “Ready to Start” and “Month of May” prove to be some of the most accessible songs the band has ever put to tape while retaining the band’s signature jangly indie orchestration. The Suburbs initially appears to be a large departure for the band. The songs are welcoming to the mainstream and much more reserved than the band’s previous work, but it’s not a bad thing.

Arcade Fire’s always been able to showcase a wide range on influence without ever making their songs sound rehashed or like pure idol worship. On The Suburbs, it is obvious that the band has been listening to a lot of Neil Young – so much so that this record feels like the opus that Young never wrote. “City With No Children” is a song full of Young-isms that furthers the album’s theme and displays a new level of creativity for Arcade Fire.

A loose concept album based around its titular theme, The Suburbs avoids many of the pitfalls that could easily arise when addressing the aforementioned subject. While suburban life was a well-tread topic in mid-80s hardcore – The Descendants “Suburban Home” and The Dead Kennedys “This Could Be Anywhere” immediately come to mind – it has become an overwrought and boring endeavor in recent years. By avoiding a one-sided indictment, Arcade Fire paints a picture of suburban life not often seen in music, both beautiful and stifling. While many artists spend time dwelling in its negative aspects, The Suburbs sends the listener on a journey that is as multi-layered as the subject matter it is addressing.

The only faults within The Suburbs are few and far between. The album sets out to be taken as such and focuses less on stand-out tracks than it does the overall feel. However, at 16-tracks – and over an hour in length – the album’s slowed tempos can often blend together and makes The Suburbs a bit of a drag in spots. While the album never lags for more than a track, its sub-par closer, “The Suburbs (continued),” may be the most anticlimactic end to an album in recent memory. These issues aside, The Suburbs stands as a great addition to Arcade Fire’s catalog and an enjoyable listen for fans of Americana and indie rock alike.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - Horse Power album artwork Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Horse Power


Donning Nascar pit crew jackets and cowboy hats, one would never guess that a band with the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. makes such irresistible pop music. One would also never guess that ‘Nascar’ and ‘irresistible pop’ would be in the same sentence.

In fact, there is nothing remotely Nascar about them, musically speaking that is.

Call it being fashionably ironic, but the music speaks for itself and is further proof that Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson will never stop being relevant.

As the debut for the mostly electronic duo, Horse Power is an EP of love songs. Songs about falling in love and searching for love all nicely wrapped up in an instantly relatable package. It’s done using the simplest of pop, with influences and methods that are instantly recognized. This doesn’t cheapen the music, but provides flattery to those the band , in essence, is paying tribute.

The melodies are taken right from the McCartney songbook, drawing heavily from Wilson when it comes to the vocals. While it’s an already well used match up, and has been since either musicians entered the game, it’s one that is fluid in it’s possible uses. Everyone of these tracks carries a charm unique to this duo.

A cover of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds heartbreaker “God Only Knows” is icing on the cake.

Strong doesn’t even begin to describe Horse Power, as the tracks are flat out addicting. The dreamy “Nothing But Our Love” starts out the set of just four tracks slow, with a well-plucked intro, leading into bright tuned up video game synths amidst the drum machine.

As suggested by its title, “Vocal Chords” brings in the harmonies and high notes for the catchiest track of the bunch. It shows, yet again, timelessness of the classic pop formula, as Jr. Jr. rides the chorus for all it’s worth.

The real treat, however, comes with “Simple Girl.” The whistles and playful guitar bring it in as it swims in it’s own vocal play. It strikes a McCartney calling folk-pop sound that gets at the heart of why this album works so well; a back to basics approach to song writing that’s simple, colorful and rewarding.

Nothing about Horse Power is trying to re-invent the wheel, as it shouldn’t. Good pop music is good pop music, it’s that simple, and that’s all this band is trying to make.

Horse Power is a hell of a way for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. to introduce itself. By making catchy music look easy, they are cashing in on the trend of mellifluous indie pop and, for this moment, it feels so right.

Midnight Juggernauts – The Crystal Axis


Taking three years to follow up its debut, The Crystal Axis continues what was already known about Midnight Juggernauts while revealing a side that wasn’t. This is a band on the verge, on the verge of what has yet to be determined.

Not knowing what’s to come means Midnight Juggernauts is still searching for a sound that sticks. The band’s sound now revolves around lots of references to Prince, Bowie and T. Rex. In essence, a glam approach to psychedelic rock that’s danceable when they want it to be. The subdued vocals, and euro dance hall side from 2007 makes an appearance yes, “Virago” does it wonderfully, but for the most part it has been left in the backseat for stripped down guitar based tracks. This falls right in line with the trend of retro rock that’s made a comeback recently, ditching in many ways what worked for the band in the first place. Risky move yes, but more than a few tracks show its worth.

The Crystal Axis starts with the more obvious hook heavy approach on “Vital Signs” and “Life Blood Flow,” but from there quickly divulges into the band’s true intent—to trip out.

Carrying all the confidence and ease of the first record, Axis is an experiment in pop, and in how malleable it can be. The same kinds of intentions from the debut are still here, they’re just much hazier. It starts with the more obvious hook heavy approach on “Vital Signs” and “Life Blood Flow,” but from there quickly divulges into the band’s true intent—to trip out.

This broadened sound makes its first full appearance on “This New Technology.” Made of solid, clean psychedelic rock that loves the retro keys with expansive breakdowns, it makes for the jammiest track to date. “Dynasty” adds a side of theatricality with different Moog effects and an abundance of organ. “Winds of Fortune” takes the opposite approach, keeping things tightly wound around the funk driven guitars and harmonies for the best track on the record.

As is becoming the only consistent pattern for the band, the track titles and themes are sticking with the existential talking about “new worlds in the great beyond.” The key word is escapism, and is meant in the fullest extent. The oddest, “Cannibal Freeway”, has us “stuck in heavy traffic on the cannibal freeway” as it describes a creepy future world. The presence of imagination is heavily felt, this is the soundtrack to whatever world Midnight Juggernauts were imagining at the time.

Imagination aside, this record has the potential to polarize fans. New directions will do that. The good news is Axis puts forth plenty of strengths in that new direction, for what it lacks in continuity, it more than makes up for with earnest hooks. It will take one more album though before Midnight Juggernauts’ aim as a band makes sense. Given Axis, it will certainly be interesting to see where this band goes next.

Grown Ups - More Songs album cover Grown Ups – More Songs


There’s something bittersweet about the volatility of punk rock.

All too often, bands break up well before their time and leave a noticeable absence in their sub-genre. Listeners wait eagerly for the next act that may possibly pick up where predecessors left off. With the release of the appropriately titled More Songs, Michigan City, Ind./Chicago act Grown Ups has become the replacement for the mourned bands Braid and Latterman.

Grown Ups somehow finds a middle ground between uplifting pop-punk and technical post-hardcore and emo. Guitarist Adam Sheets produces some of the most intricate guitar lines to have ever been utilized on pop-punk songs, and it mixes perfectly with vocalist and guitarist Doyle Martin’s rhythm guitar work. Drummer Jacob Bonham and bassist Andy Tokarski provide a solid backbone for Grown Ups.

It is the subtle additions that make each song vibrant and lively.

More Songs is an impressive debut, but culls half of its tracks from previous releases. Someone who has followed the band from the get-go may be let down by this, but the improved production (courtesy of Matt Allison) gives the band a huge forward push sonically. The four songs from the debut EP Songs sound huge and fully realized. Closing track “Are You Shitten Me?” which originally saw the light of day under the title “Are You Kitten Me?” displays a much stronger structure than it had prior. The reworked version shakes off overt pop and hits harder than any other Grown Ups song to date.

Lyrically, Martin doesn’t break any new ground, but his unique balance of self-analysis and optimism keeps More Songs from becoming stale.

“I’m just trying to use the time I’m given” from energetic opener “Weed Science” shows the positivity the band is capable of exuding.  This and lines such as “I woke up to get knocked down/But I still strained to hear that sound of wind against my house/This tired game of cat and mouse” from “Open Sesame” demonstrate the range of content Martin can cover with ease.

More Songs offers up huge sing-along choruses and many tracks give way to irresistibly huge ‘whoas.’ These moments are balanced equally with intricate noodling that would have fit perfectly on an American Football release. The band sends somewhat of a nod to its hardcore influence in “Johnny Edwards.”

Grown Ups borrows a technique from Kid Dynamite at the end of the track when they seem to finish the song only to bust back in with a completely new direction in its closing seconds. The only track that really misses the mark is “Six More Weeks of Winter,” which still features an uproariously fun climax. However, these last 20 seconds aren’t enough to keep a listener invested throughout the rest of the track.

While Grown Ups is relatively young, it’s made up of immensely talented musicians and songwriters. More Songs has all the trappings of a ’90’s emo record but with potential for a mainstream crossover due to their pop-punk sensibilities. While it comes over a decade after the sub-genre’s pioneers flourished, Grown Ups claims its spot alongside them.

It may not be as perfect as Braid’s Frame and Canvas, but it is as close as one may come to continuing that legacy.

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor album cover Titus Andronicus – The Monitor


Titus Andronicus’ debut album The Airing of Grievances displays the band’s ability to combine their adoration of lo-fi shoegaze and straightforward punk. It sounds like they had listened to equal amounts of My Bloody Valentine, Andrew WK and The Ramones in its creation. While it served as a great introduction to the band, it failed to capture the energy of Titus Andronicus’ live performance. The songwriting was solid, but the album’s production makes everything muddled. With Titus Andronicus’ newest album The Monitor, the band takes The Airing of Grievances formula and concocts one of the best albums in recent memory.

Opening track “A More Perfect Union” starts with a spoken word excerpt, giving way to a driving drum beat infectious enough to make even the most jaded scenester toe-tap. The 7-minute track slowly builds to a triumphant, smile-inducing crescendo where singer Patrick Stickles emanates the declarations of lost generations, “Rally around the flag, rally around the flag/Glory, glory, Hallelujah/His truth is marching on.” With this, The Monitor is up and running.

Only two songs are less than five minutes, (“Titus Andronicus Forever” and “…And Ever”) The Monitor appears to be a daunting album to complete. While most artists may stumble over 65 minutes, Titus Andronicus rises to the challenge and proves that they are capable avoiding all miss-steps. This is even more impressive considering that The Monitor is a concept album based on the Civil War and its assorted motifs.

Concept records are often poorly executed due to a songwriters attempt to cut off personal experiences from the lyrical content, something that Stickles carefully balances in “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future.” Lyrics such as “Waking up/It’s rarely worth it/The same dark dread every morning/Senior year here in Mahwah” injects a personal touch, which can be found throughout the record.

Titus Andronicus moves away from its shoegaze influence on The Monitor. It sounds like the love child of Fucked Up and Bruce Springsteen, which amounts to a more frenetic Hold Steady. In short, it is a logical progression. These influences are never bastardized, if anything they serve as one of the greatest testaments to what an unbridled consumption of different genres can accomplish.

Along with the improved songwriting, The Monitor’s production is much more palatable. Whereas The Airing of Grievances at times ran together due to an overabundance of reverb heavy production, each track on The Monitor is easily discernable from one another even though “Titus Andronicus Forever” and “…And Ever” share the same rambunctious repetitions of “The enemy is everywhere!”

As The Monitor weaves itself together into its concept, the 14 -minute closing track, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” serves as an abridged version of the album. The song recalls earlier musical interludes and creates a flashback by allowing the listener to revisit the glorious victories and crippling defeats chronicled within The Monitor.

Titus Andronicus doesn’t waste any time on The Monitor. Each note is expressive, each lyric is crushing and every bit of voiceover is compelling. If this sophomore album becomes the zenith of the band’s career they should be damn proud. The Monitor is damn near perfect.

Liars Sisterworld album artwork Liars – Sisterworld

Angus Andrews’ sighing falsetto is the first sound heard on the Liars’ Sisterworld, before backup accompaniment settles in to complement him. This Gregorian chant-like mantra establishes new territory for this distinct trio originally from Brooklyn.

In addition to being the Liars’ new home, Los Angeles is a constant theme of the fractured, hodgepodge album. The tunes are at times eerie (“Drip”), ethereal (“No Barrier Fun”) and even blissful (“Proud Evolution”). Of course, its brand of manic, punk zeal is present on the musical bridge of the opening “Sister” and the especially ass-kicking song “Scarecrows On a Killer Slant.”

Although this album plays more like a collection of songs brought together by happenstance, each one possesses an absorbing mood meant for enjoyment in its own right. Perhaps, the primacy of mood is the one binding trait.

Whether it’s the dreadful paranoia of “Drip,” or the surging grunge of “The Overacheivers,” Liars is trying to burrow inside the listener’s head to evoke an indelible mix of urban chaos, like that of Los Angeles night life.

Treading new ground is undeniably apparent on “Proud Evolution,” where a slice of Yeah Yeah Yeahs-inspired reverb-drenched guitar establishes a hopeful mood before getting interrupted by a sinister base, followed by Andrews’ subdued vocals.

Next, the rhythm section, with an apparent nod to the band’s first album, employs a dance groove of drum and base precision. A single piano note provides an eerie undertone, but the reverb guitar comes back, as a hypnotizing and cathartic element. Reassuring the senses, the song is the centerpiece of the album and resembles the sun rising on the grimy cityscape after a night of heavy drinking and forgotten expeditions. It is the most beautiful piece the band has written since the close of Drum’s Not Dead.

“No Barrier Fun” finds the group dabbling in trip-hop again, (“Sailing to Byzantium” from Liars) with a quicker and more succinct outcome. The rhythmically tantalizing violin and incessant electronic bleeps/oscillations distill a trance-like atmosphere into the song, while Andrews’ calm delivery amidst the precise drumming confines the crescendo to a murmur.

Although its theme is Los Angeles, Sisterworld never feels like it’s impregnated with the drawbacks or peculiar benefits of a concept album.  Sisterworld, more so than any of the Liars’ other LPs, is about control and restraint and releasing an upsurge of energy at the right moments.

The soft-loud technique is not simply present on the opening track; it also structures the album, signaling the unpredictability and diversity of experiences living in a large, urban environment.

Like most cities, the music’s soul is evoked through the divergent moods portrayed to the listener. Perhaps intolerable at first, or at times too opaque, after living inside it for a while, the music begins to reveal its subtleties and intrinsic magic.

Liars – Sisterworld tracklist

  1. “Scissor”
  2. “No Barrier Fun”
  3. “Here Comes All the People”
  4. “Drip”
  5. “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant”
  6. “I Still Can See an Outside World”
  7. “Proud Evolution”
  8. “Drop Dead”
  9. “The Overachievers”
  10. “Goodnight Everything”
  11. “Too Much, Too Much”
Alkaline Trio - This Addiction album artwork Alkaline Trio – This Addiction


While Alkaline Trio’s self-funded seventh studio album This Addiction is not a return to the band’s stripped down sound in the manner of Asian Man Records, it stands as a great addition to the Chicago-based band’s impressive catalog.

Recording with Matt Allison, the man responsible for producing early Alkaline Trio albums such as Goddamnit and Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, created hope for an album that returned to the band’s early, emo by way of pop-punk roots.

However, This Addiction is more a summation of the band’s progression over the past decade.

The opening titular track is reminiscent of 2001’s From Here to Infirmary, but it doesn’t sound rehashed or lifeless due to Alkaline Trio’s fearless integration of new styles, such as trumpet, paired with the band’s signature Chicago-punk sound. If nothing it else, such risks invite the listener to investigate the album’s direction.

Upon hearing “Lead Poisoning,” it’s evident Alkaline Trio can pull off the new style. The trumpet takes center stage as a replacement for a guitar solo. Initially startling, the inclusion of brass makes more and more sense with each listen, as the hook-laden song gives the rhythm section lots of space to work with.

Meanwhile, Matt Skiba shares his time-strengthened vocals, displaying a penchant for building upon the foundation that he laid twelve years ago. He can still write songs as gripping and earnest as anything on Goddamnit, while avoiding mere pandering by dealing with his recent tribulations in his vintage drunken manner on the track “Dead on the Floor.”

On the other hand, Skiba also contributes the album’s weakest moments. “Draculina” starts strong, but is muddled by melodramatic “Twilight” fan-fiction.

With lyrics such as, “I’ve got a devil inside that has been exorcised/Now I’m bleeding for Draculina,” not even the infectious whoas and harmonies that permeate the track are enough to save it. “Eating Me Alive” starts with distracting Cure-centric production. Only the ending of this song is remotely interesting, when Skiba bellows in an impassioned fury “The time has come and gone/And I’d do anything for you” the song finally breaks away from mediocrity. Unfortunately, this happens two minutes too late.

Also unfortunate is Dan Andriano’s sparse presence on This Addiction, as he contributes only three tracks to the album, all of which are worthy addendums to his repertoire. His progression as a songwriter and musician over the band’s career is made apparent. Each track is dynamic; showcasing that Andriano can write anything from a great punk song such as “Dine, Dine My Darling” to the album closer “Fine,” which sounds as if Tegan & Sara had a hand in the writing process.

Meanwhile, Derek Grant’s drumming makes each song unique and technical through subtle fills and metronomic precision, which is heard on “Fine.” This comes as no surprise, as Grant has produced ravenous work on each album.

This Addiction is neither a comeback album, nor is it a return to form. It is an album that stands on its own merits while being as passionate as Alkaline Trio’s first album and as progressive as its  last.

Cold War Kids Behave Yourself album artwork Cold War Kids – Behave Yourself

“Lord have mercy on me/We’re talkin’ ‘bout two different things.” This is not the first time Cold War Kids’ singer Nathan Willett has expressed that frustration.

When quirky, if not oddly verbose, lyrics are a staple of your indie-rock band, some song meanings are bound to get lost in the translation. However, considering past releases from the Long Beach, CA quartet, the holiday release Behave Yourself is incredibly digestible.

The four-song EP starts with the single “Audience,” one of Cold War Kids catchiest tracks yet. The song maintains a swayable groove, while the hook catches your lips by the second time around. Few songs find a way to move from verse to chorus as efficiently, guaranteeing “Audience” a spot as a crowd favorite at upcoming performances. Following is “Coffee Spoon,” a track, that if slowed down just a bit, would be more fitting in the catalog of The Flamingos, complete with a 1950s falsetto swoon.

“Coffee Spoon” is the album’s most difficult track to figure out. It will take a few listens before even the scholarly are comfortable with lyrics such as “Ascetics wring their hands/This decadent misuse/Inside my china room/You are my coffee spoon.” However, just as you finish choking down the clunky words, a sweet chaser comes in with the funky bass line of “Santa Ana Winds,” a two-and-a-half minute sing-along. Trying to imagine anything other than sand between your toes and a warm ocean breeze on your face is but impossible.

Closing out Behave Yourself is “Sermons,” the slowest moving of the lot. “Sermons” feels all too appropriately titled, as Willett preaches thought-provoking lyrics as his unique vocal tones serve as a podium. At four-and-a-half minutes, it’s the longest track on the EP and provides a strong and fitting finish. The album is less than 15 minutes long, leaving fans yearning for more from the 2009 Loyalty to Loyalty tour that produced Behave Yourself.

For a band with such a unique flavor, Behave Yourself is more of the same, relying heavily on vocals that commandeer most of the mix. The ear may bend to discern a little more of the instrumentation that gives the Cold War Kids its standout sound. However, when it comes to the lyrics, the band still wants you to pay very close attention, lest you miss the one word that help the rest make sense. And while even the Cold War Kids’ catchiest lines can have you scrambling to your dictionary, when Willett sings “I believe the words can change the heart” at the end of “Sermons,” you know he means it.