Gates - Bloom & Breathe (2014)

I have always wanted to come up with a word in the English language that specifically translates to coming across something exactly when you needed it, but for now I'll just settle with serendipitous. This is exactly how listening to Gates' latest full length, Bloom & Breathe, has felt to me. It is easily one of the smartest releases from Pure Noise Records I have heard this fall. Musically, it is as good as Gates has ever been and it is perfected by Kevin Dye's simple and unpretentious mastery of thematically connecting lyrics.

"Everything That Ever Has Been" is the instrumental number that kicks off the album with Gates' trademark ambient sound that provokes feelings of wonder and hope. It made me think of being out somewhere then hearing a really tranquil song come on, and next thing you know you are thinking about your entire life at 3 P.M., but somehow feeling okay with it – which is, consequently, precisely how this album will make you feel. "Bloom" pauses for a moment before diving in much heavier than the opener. It delivers exactly as a second song always should – captivating the attention of listeners. After the three-minute mark, there is a part that requires close listening because the muffled lyrics delineate the overall themes of the album.

"Persist in Delusion" is one of those songs that talks about being strong and letting go of the things we cannot control. Despite its positive message, the chorus is a little too generic; in my opinion, it's one of the few weak songs on the album, but the great drumming towards the end almost makes up for it. "Not My Blood" is easily the most commercially sounding track with its anthemic chorus – and that's probably why it's the song that got the music video. Don't take away Gates' street cred just yet, though, as this song is brilliant not just because of its sticky chorus, but it also has a hell of a good second verse.

"Light the First Page" falls rather flat compared to the rest of tracks, but it is ironic that Dye sings about being words on a page that no one will ever read and being sentenced to be free of any meaning considering how big this album could be for Gates and their listeners. "The Thing That Would Save You," presumably dedicated to a loved one with mental health or emotional problems, is one of the sweetest songs of the album. It's not one of my favourites, but it will definitely resonate with a lot of people.

While "Nothing You'll Miss" is one of the most mellow tracks on Bloom & Breathe, it highlights the only real critique I have of this album – which is the irritatingly low and indiscernible vocals. While the low vocals do effectively complement most songs, they also make it incredibly hard to properly make out the lyrics sometimes. It is a shame because of how much of this album's lyrics circulate as one theme and deserve to be properly noticed. "At Last the Loneliest of Them" is reminiscent of a lot of bands in the last 10 years; particularly, I hear Circa Survive and Underoath in this song, but the familiarity is appreciated because this is easily one of the most underrated songs on the album. The end is especially haunting with one of the best lyrical and musical climaxes on Bloom & Breathe.

"Born Dead" is not exactly a standout, but it weaves nicely to the theme of accepting mortality that has been building up throughout Bloom & Breathe if you closely listen to it. "Marrow" does the same thing as well and, despite being one of the musically tamest numbers on the album, it makes up for that with all the similar lyrics on the album finally coming in full circle. In short, the lyrics are about Dye, or at least the character he has been singing about and, despite he could be better, he accepts his mortality and the way he is. "Low" is wistful perfection; however, despite its depressing lyrics and tone, this song makes you feel anything but low for some reason. It shows Gates' growth because they have mastered how to evoke intense emotion, but somehow still make their listeners – or at least me – feel light.

"Again at the Beginning" is more of a grower than a shower. Compared to the last great half, it falls a bit short, but it's still good and it's a perfect segue into the closer. "Everything That Always Will Be" mirrors the opener – title and music wise – as a way to nicely round out the album. It also acts as a complete instrumental and is nothing particularly special, but it finishes just as the album started: on a hopeful note.

There are so many more things I could say about this album, especially of its existential lyrics and how they come together wonderfully. Almost every song on here deserves an extensive listen because, the more you listen to it, the more you realize why Gates has grown from playing tiny shows at The Court Tavern to opening up for Pianos Become the Teeth at Webster Hall. Bloom & Breathe is proof that Gates deserves that opportunity and that basing your band out of New Brunswick, New Jersey still upholds to its talented history.

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Xerxes - Collision Blonde (2014)

Xerxes' new album, Collision Blonde, is one that I have been looking forward to for several months now. The write up for this Kentucky four-piece band's new album that No Sleep Records put up on their site peaked my interest even more with every word. When I listened to the first single, I was immediately hooked and wanted more. With each passing day, Xerxes was moving further up my list of bands to watch out for. I finally got the opportunity to listen to and review the album and, while it doesn't live up to my high expectations, it is a good release. Collision Blonde is due to come out October 21 under No Sleep Records.

The opening track, "I Was Wrong," comes in with a steady drum rhythm and heavily distorted guitars layered with even more distorted vocals. This goes on for about two minutes until the next track, "Criminal, Animal," comes on and shows you what Xerxes has been doing under the hood for the past two years since the last full release, This Home Is Our Deathbed. Heavy rock guitar riffs, catchy bass lines and angsty vocal delivery fortified by persistently crushing drum beats makes up this track – as well as the majority of Collision Blonde. The fourth track, "Knife," is much more slower paced than the rest of the album, but it slays all the same.

The fifth track, "Use As Directed," is really bland and just layers screams over talking, much like the band's previous 7", Would You Understand?. The next song, "Chestnut Street," is easily the highlight of the album. With a guitar riff that will get stuck in your head for days, a faster pace and catchy hooks, this track is the one you will find yourself coming back to over and over again. The next track, "Collision Blonde," begins slow but soon picks up the pace as the vocalist tells his story.

"(but here we are)," the ninth track, is just made up of spoken vocals and reminds me of La Dispute. There were even some other moments on the album where I got this feeling, but not as strong as I did on "(but here we are)." This song tends to be the one I always want to skip, as it seems to drag on for a little too long and doesn't feel right compared to the rest of the atmosphere in Collision Blonde. The final track, "Nosedive," is an excellent track to bring this album to a close. It takes every new element that Xerxes has brought with this new album and throws it into one track to finish off Collision Blonde.

With a sound being compared to The Cure, Xerxes displays a monumental amount of growth from its previous release. My main gripe is the amount of filler tracks. Three of the 10 tracks don't feel like actual songs. For an album that is only 27 minutes long, 25 per cent of it feels wasted on these bland, lesser tracks. Collision Blonde's best three songs ("Knife", "Chestnut Street" and "Collision Blonde") were all released as singles, so I felt cheated when I finally got the chance to listen to the album in full. Other than that, Collision Blonde is a solid release. Going for a completely different sound was a bold move by Xerxes, but it was pulled off well enough.

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Gallery: Let It Enfold You 10-Year Anniversary (09/20/14)

Senses Fail played a sold-out hometown show this past Saturday in Sayreville, NJ, and it was the largest date on the tour to that point. Suburban Scum, a hardcore band from New Jersey, hopped on the tour package for just this date and was probably the heaviest band of the night. To the Wind was next, bringing an aggressive sound that reminded me of melodic hardcore bands like Hundredth. To the Wind definitely had the most energy on stage out of all the support and left the crowd and myself intrigued and wanting more. The scorching hot Knuckle Puck was next and had the largest response out of the openers. Knuckle Puck announced that this was the biggest show and venue the band had ever played to this point – a milestone that is sure to be broken sooner rather than later. No Bragging Rights, who has been a band since the late '90s, provided direct support to Senses Fail. After listening to this band for the past five years or so, I was impressed by the live performance and moved by the words that were said between songs.

Senses Fail closed out the night by playing its famed Let It Enfold You in full. The crowd response was huge and it was nothing short of impressive seeing a sold-out crowd get that into an album that is 10 years old. It goes to show how consistent Senses Fail has been in the scene and proved that the band won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Senses Fail played an additional 10 or so songs before closing with "One Eight Seven," a song that was thought to have been retired. Check out some photos from the show below.

Suburban Scum

To The Wind

Knuckle Puck

No Bragging Rights

Senses Fail

Links: Suburban Scum - To the Wind - Knuckle Puck - No Bragging Rights - Senses Fail - Dieter Unrath Photography
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Gallery: Welcome to the Resistance Tour (09/16/14)

Crown the Empire and company played their biggest show yet on the Welcome to the Resistance tour in Howell, NJ this past Tuesday. Youth In Revolt, who subbed in on this tour for The Family Ruin, played to an energetic hometown crowd. Ice Nine Kills, who also has a large following in New Jersey, had a huge response. Secrets had the most crowd surfers that I could see all night then Volumes brought a good mix up to the lineup with their heavier djent sound. Crown the Empire finished off the night in epic fashion, with an impressive light show and a long set that included some acoustic songs. Check out photos from the show below.

Youth In Revolt

Ice Nine Kills



Crown the Empire

Links: Youth In Revolt - Ice Nine Kills - Secrets - Volumes - Crown the Empire - Dieter Unrath Photography
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