Real Friends - Maybe This Place is the Same... (2014)

Real Friends is one of the biggest bands of the current pop punk scene even though the discography consists of nothing but a plethora of EPs and a one-off single. After signing to Fearless Records in late-2013, though, the band announced that its next release would be something that fans have been waiting for: a full-length record! Maybe This Place is the Same and We're Just Changing has an official release date of July 22, though there was a bootleg vinyl release that hit the shelves of some record stores one week in advance.

The record opens with a soundclip of someone setting down keys and walking on hardwood flooring followed by a very calming guitar part. Then vocalist Dan Lambton states, "Maybe this place is the same and we're just changing" in a fairly soft manner. "Maybe This Place is the Same..." isn't anything but an introductory track – but it is a solid one. "I Don't Love You Anymore" is the first actual song, and I was very pleased by the end of the first chorus because the music seems much more inspired and real than what we last heard from the band on Put Yourself Back Together, which I thought was a lackadaisical release aside from two or three songs.

Real Friends wastes no time in "Cover You Up," as it's full of energy and passion from the very first second. The chorus, though it passes by a bit too fast, contains a very relateable lyric ("I only miss you late at night when I can't sleep and get way too honest / I've lost you, so I've got nothing to lose") that is, for the most part, presented aggressively by Lambton. Even more vocal aggression is displayed after the first chorus and after Joe Taylor (Knuckle Puck), who is sure to gain a few new fans of his own, belts out his guest vocal part.

The following two songs, "Old Book" and "Summer," show a bit more of the dynamic sound that Real Friends was going for on Maybe This Place is the Same and We're Just Changing; "Old Book" is more on the emo side of the scale while "Summer" is a catchy pop punk song. Even for Real Friends, though, the lyrics in "Summer" seem extremely clich̩ Рespecially during the mediocre chorus ("I miss you like the summer / Right now I think I need you here, but I don't really need you / I'll get through the winter without you"). Thankfully, the final chorus has much more oomph to it and brings "Summer" to a close on a positive note.

"Loose Ends," which was the first single the band released after signing to a label, is a very high-energy song that is home to my personal favourite chorus, both lyrically and musically. It also features Chris Roetter (Like Moths to Flames), who brings his harsh vocals along with him. "Short Song" acts as an interlude without removing any of the band members to chill things out. It actually does the complete opposite of a typical interlude, as it absolutely explodes after a drum roll near the 50-second mark.

"Sixteen" and "To My Old Self" are two of the slowest, softest songs on the record, and they prove that Real Friends has grown to be more than just a pop punk band. "To My Old Self," in particular, is extremely unique. Emo-influenced, and almost twinkly, guitars drive the main portion of the song while the drumming is fairly laid back. That being said, like in "Short Song," a drum roll near the end of "To My Old Self" sets things up for a big finish – and Real Friends certainly delivers again.

Sandwiched between the two aforementioned tracks is "Spread Me All Over Illinois." The chorus is another huge one, and the instrumentation on this track is definitely different for Real Friends – making "Spread Me All Over Illinois" one of the strongest songs on the record. Similarly, "I Think I'm Moving Forward" is a bit more aggressive than the majority of Maybe This Place is the Same and We're Just Changing, and it reminded me of "Dirty Water" and "Alexander Supertramp" from the three-song EP that Real Friends released in late-2012. The other half of the title track, "And We're Just Changing...," is the final song. Unlike the intro, "And We're Just Changing..." is a song that has all the parts: an intro, verses, a chorus, a bridge and an outro. The title track lyric make a return and the record ends in a very similar way that it began.

Undeniably one of the silliest bands offstage (and even sometimes onstage), Real Friends is anything but that on its debut full length. Yes, sometimes the lyrics are very clich̩, but that also means they're probably relateable. This is also the band's most dynamic release to date, as there are a few soft songs and there are several fast and aggressive songs Рand there are even a handful of songs that lay somewhere in the middle. That being said, Maybe This Place is the Same and We're Just Changing has something for everyone, and old fans should be thrilled to have a Real Friends release that takes longer to listen to than heating up a pizza.

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Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties - We Don't... (2014)

Dan “Soupy” Campbell's concept album, We Don't Have Each Other, under the pseudonym Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties is something I'd been expecting for a while now. With the success of his prominent pop punk band, The Wonder Years, Soupy has begun to receive notice as a poignant, insightful songwriter. It was only a matter of time before he came out with a solo project to showcase his lyrical talent through a different approach. That approach turned out to be the creation of a fictional character, Aaron West, with We Don't Have Each Other as the recounting of Aaron's separation from his wife, the loss of his baby daughter and father, and his subsequent journey across America to find and heal himself.

The album opens with “Our Apartment,” which I personally think is the best song of the release. “Our Apartment” sets the mood of the album (sad as hell) and lays out the main conflict of the story (Aaron's wife, Dianne, has left him). The acoustic guitar, horns and banjo drive home the borderline Americana tone of the album: it's a simple story about a simple man with realistic, yet devastating, problems. Soupy's voice is characteristically melancholy – and suited to the subject. The second track, “Grapefruit,” is a little slower, and even more yearning than its predecessor. The chorus is hooky and vague enough to be relatable; it's a welcome follow to the crippling specificity of the verses, which outline the loss of Aaron and Dianne's baby.

I found “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe,” the third track on the album, to be actually difficult to listen to; the melody is grating and the song is bland, relying on a buildup near the end that comes across as melodramatic. The next song, “Divorce and the American South,” is a solid antidote to “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe.” Where “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” is overblown, “Divorce and the American South” is understated. It makes you feel Aaron's pain with accessible, aching lines like, “Hey Dianne / I know I fucked up / It's just when we lost the baby, I kind of shut off.” “Divorce and the American South” is the last truly stellar song on the album.

We Don't Have Each Other is surely a fantastic album lyrically. Every song has at least one or two exceptionally poetic lines, but ultimately, the story doesn't go anywhere. We're left hanging at the end of “Carolina Coast,” the last song, with Aaron's self actualization unresolved. I would be content with an unresolved plot (after all, life doesn't always resolve) if “Carolina Coast” wasn't essentially the same song as the three that came before it. After “Divorce and the American South,” we get no new information about Aaron's predicament. “The Thunderbird Inn,” “Get Me Out of Here Alive” and “You Ain't No Saint” are all about Aaron's feelings of loss and loneliness. We see that he is unmoored, desperate and fleeing from his past, but these images come without any new revelations in the story. We Don't Have Each Other lays it all out on the table in the first five songs, and then leaves the last four floundering for subject material.

Of course, there are times when I want to listen to nine songs about loss and loneliness, regardless of their contribution to any particular story. Yet, even for this, the last four songs on We Don't Have Each Other fall short because, not only do they come across as one long song lyrically, but also musically. The soft, downplayed vocals on “Grapefruit” and “Divorce and the American South” are traded in for Soupy's signature voice-cracking, passionate vocal buildups; there is an impassioned buildup on every song past “Divorce and the American South” except for “Get Me Out of Here Alive.” While this vocal style is perfect for The Wonder Years, it sounds out of place on We Don't Have Each Other. The unique instrumentation and subtle harmonies that characterized “Our Apartment” are largely absent from the rest of the album, besides the odd harmonica here and there.

When I first sat down to listen to We Don't Have Each Other, I was excited; The Wonder Years are one of my favourite bands and I've always been a fan of Soupy's lyrics. By the time the album was over, however, I was disappointed. While there are three songs on We Don't Have Each Other that deliver really, really well, the rest of the album is unremarkable. The lyrics excel, but the music suffers. The project isn't distinct enough from Soupy's body of work with The Wonder Years and gives the listener the impression that the songwriter can only really write one type of song. I don't necessarily think that's true, but the lack of melodic diversity certainly makes it appear that way. When all is said and done, We Don't Have Each Other comes off more like a collection of The Greatest Generation B-sides than anything else.

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Gallery: Vans Warped Tour '14 (07/10/14)

The Vans Warped Tour, celebrating its 20th anniversary, posted up inside the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA on July 10. Beartooth and The Ghost Inside kicked things off as the crowd blatantly ignored the new "No Moshing" signs. Real Friends, one of the hottest bands on the tour, had a huge response inside the amphitheatre, but Vanna – who was playing in front of hometown fans – might have had the rowdiest crowd all day. Mayday Parade and Yellowcard proved that they still have it on main stage, and Enter Shikari and Motionless In White brought their energetic live shows in full force. A Lot Like Birds had a unique progressive sound complete with the most hair whipping of the day. Check out some photos from the day below then stay tuned for part two of the gallery – which features The Devil Wears Prada, Parkway Drive, The Story So Far, Neck Deep and more.

The Ghost Inside


Mayday Parade

Motionless In White

Enter Shikari



Real Friends

A Lot Like Birds

Links: The Ghost Inside - Yellowcard - Mayday Parade - Motionless In White - Enter Shikari - Vanna - Beartooth - Real Friends - A Lot Like Birds - Dieter Unrath Photography
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