The Lawrence Arms — ‘Skeleton Coast’
THE GOOD: Chicago punks the Lawrence Arms are back with their seventh album, the first in six years.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What sets the band apart from its peers is having two distinct frontmen. Guitarist Chris McCaughan takes vocal duties on the more reserved (but not TOO reserved) pieces (“Lose Control”), while bassist Brendan Kelly sneers through the totally aggressive bits (“The Demon”). By bouncing back and forth between the two extremes, a 14-track album never feels repetitive.
“Skeleton Coast” is exactly what you expect from a band that’s been bashing about for two decades now. Relentless touring made it tight. The guys haven’t lost their sense of frustration, either; the record’s genuinely angry in spots.
One detects traces of classic Bad Religion, Rancid and Social Distortion throughout the playlist. Comparisons to contemporaries such as Alkaline Trio and Joyce Manor aren’t far off the mark. And “Skeleton Closet” isn’t a bad place for the uninitiated to start.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Idles — ‘Ultra Mono: Momentary Acceptance of the Self’
THE GOOD: British rock group Idles comes back with a blazing third.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Joe Talbot (and the entire band) hates people categorizing Idles as punk, post-punk or hardcore (even though those genres certainly are present). Idles thinks of itself as a tough, working-class rock band, heavily politicized and ready to fight.
“Ultra Mono” carries on traditions established on the group’s first two fiery records. Referencing everything from Donald Trump to Fun Boy Three, the set puts long-running frustrations in the spotlight, reminding us some issues never go away and have been eating at us for years. Tracks such as “War,” “Anxiety” and “Reigns” shout about class struggles, right-wing politics, mental health, racism, wrongful death — the list goes on and on.
Whether the album offers any actual solutions is irrelevant. “Ultra Mono” gets you thinking while smashing you over the head with some razor-sharp riffs and caustic hooks. I guarantee you’ll never be bored.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Hum — ‘Inlet’
THE GOOD: Illinois indie rockers Hum come back with their fifth album (first in over 20 years).
THE BAD: Not bad, but Hum records are better when taken as a whole. Don’t expect many standout tracks. Just enjoy the otherworldly ride for 55 minutes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These guys make fantastic loud “headphones” sets — music with buzzing, layered guitars; crashing yet varied rhythms; slowly building melodies; and psychedelic, spaced-out overtones. Even their biggest modern rock hit, 1995’s “Stars,” didn’t play it totally straight; that divine track had plenty of twists and turns.
“Inlet” now feels like the band never left us, picking up right where 1998’s acclaimed “Downward Is Heavenward” left off. The core lineup that’s been intact since 1993 has returned. Frontman Matt Talbott hasn’t lost his reserved but commanding vocal style. The guitars still gloriously drone on and on.
Even when cuts surpass the eight-minte mark, “Inlet” never feels tedious. Hypnotic? Yes. Thunderous? At certain points. But taken with the proper frame of mind, you won’t lose interest.
BUY IT?: Yes.