Versus – Modest Mouse: This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About VS. We Were Dead d Before the Ship Even Sank

The Case for This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About

By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director

It’s 1996 and you’re about to embark on the drive from Olympia to Seattle. It’s November and your hand-me-down Accord’s heat is busted. Out of your peripheral vision, you see a cold looking tape under the passenger seat, it’s the one you bought from the openers last week at The Goat House. You figure, “what the hell”, I’ve heard the new Built to Spill tape one too many times anyway, crack open the case and slip it in.

There’s a strange guitar intro that sounds like what a fly would see if it was on ecstasy. It’s hypnotic. A lispy voice spits strained words that you can barely understand overtop a ropy bass and poorly recorded, tight drums. If you had synthesia, these sounds would look like the barren, gray, soon-to-be-constructed landscape you’re driving through. The album slips under your conscious frame of reference, adding to the drive instead of distracting you from it like you originally wanted. When no cars are coming down the two-way you reach down and pick up the tape case you initially threw aside: This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About by Modest Mouse. “Yeah, that makes sense,” you say to yourself and chuckle.

Modest Mouse has always been a quarter-step ahead of anyone in their genre. In the ‘90s they outran the grunge and early indie artists with a sincerity of self rather rather than hatred of the government or romantic garbage, and in one of the most up-and-coming music scenes in the country, that connected with a lot of people. After months of chain-smoking their way through house venues and playing in bars, they were too young to drink in, the band released their now-legendary debut, This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About.

For the mid-2000s fan of the group, This is a Long Drive is a far stretch; the “weird” early album with the ugly artwork, that happens to have “Dramamine” on it. It’s quite a departure from the shiny indie-god tier albums like Good News for People Who Like Bad News and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, that stole the hearts of mid-level hipster suburban kids, myself included. But after a few years of toeing the waters of the band’s newer releases, there’s nothing like the deep sea cuts from their starting point.

This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About’s true charm is in it’s writing. Frontman Isaac Brock has always been known for his wit, but unlike later releases, he’s not pandering to an audience, he’s spitting pure, untethered truth. Brock’s wit comes in the form of one-liners like “Oh noose tied myself in, tied myself too tight/Talking shit about a pretty sunset”, “She sat, she sat in the backseat/The car was plush but had no heat/And no not no one was blushing”, and the instant classic, “I got one two three four/Five, six, six, six”.

Of course in the mid-2000s saga of Modest Mouse, certain gems exist in the forms of “Bukowski”, Spitting Venom” and yada yada yada, however, there’s something lost in translation. We are no longer reaching to grab the tape off the floor, instead, we’re getting screamed at from stadiums while the half-baked crowd waits impatiently for “Float On”. The band deserves the stadiums and the fans, but for a group built on honesty, cynicism and critical statements about mainstream culture, things feel wobbly.

Sure, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank brought clever music videos, new fans and a hell of a concept with it, but was it worth it? Call it the evolution of an artist, call it catering to the masses, call it anything at all, but in these post-Building Nothing out of Something years, personability was traded for danceability. I admit to spinning some of the new albums, even loving some of the newer tracks, but they don’t always feel like Modest Mouse. And I miss Modest Mouse. Their early work feels like the contents between parenthesis that separate the grunge and emo movements in alternative ‘90s culture; a safe haven for those who didn’t find comfort in those scenes. And because they existed in that parenthesis, they aged better than anything reread by everyone else 200 times over.

Modest Mouse continues to release music at a steady pace, and I’ll always be waiting for the next album. And while I hope the poppy-twinges and frumpy instrumentation find their place among the sound I, and many others, grew to love, there was something really special about Isaac Brock, Eric Judy and Jeremiah Green letting us in on some of the small secrets of pacific northwest life, at time when everyone was starring the next thousand years in the face.

The Case for We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

By Tanner Biddish, Staff Writer

Starting in the 90s, as a teenager in Seattle, Isaac Brock has been helming the ship that is Modest Mouse. Each of their releases is characteristic in its own right; all offering an aesthetic of their own, whilst still connected under the artistry of Modest Mouse; much the same way a Wes Anderson film feels distinctly itself, yet has an unmistakable authorship. Definitive of their entire career is the debut, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. It’s bleak, desolate, synonyms. But, at the same time its rife with spirit and guts. Guitars guide the listener through a haunting, introspective trip with Isaac Brock’s idiosyncratic voice – and its multiple personalities – as the only companion (“Gotta go to work! Gotta go to work! Gotta have a job!”). This Is a Long Drive, as Sam will tell you, is fantastic. It’s a pioneering moment for Modest Mouse, with a potential over polish charm that’s unique to being their first work. But it’s not my favorite.

My favorite is a bit of an underdog of an album. Maybe it’s a bias, maybe it’s because it was in my dad’s CD cabinet when I was a younger, and maybe it’s because it was my go to car trip album for five years – but my favorite Modest Mouse record is We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, and I’ll definitely argue that it’s their best. Here’s why:

Firstly, it’s worth noting that their 2007 release sees Modest Mouse engaging a larger musical world. Singing backup on “Florida” and “We’ve Got Everything” is James Mercer of The Shins. Also guitarist of The Smiths, Johnny Marr, contributes. Through writing, recording, and even touring, Marr essentially becomes a member of the band. Don’t be fooled however, Modest Mouse doesn’t sporadically sound like The Smiths on We Were Dead. They retain a quirky and rough instrumentation that’s quintessentially them, while delving into something strange and at times schizophrenic. See “Florida” for instance. Harsh verses that a have vocal resonance of yell-speak-singing are sandwiched between melodic choruses. Then the bridge takes the tonal extreme of both and pits them back to back. The guitars rip while you can feel Isaac tear through the ending lines of the song. This work is a testament to Brock’s vocal capabilities, not just in “Florida”, but through the entirety of the album.

He makes a soft intro in the following track – an album highlight – “Parting of the Sensory”. Each musical shift mirrored in the infliction of his voice, a track that beings so gently develops into something brewing, then angry, then frantic. “Someday, something will die and somehow you’ll figure out how often you will die and something’s gonna steal your carbon”, Isaac panders nonsensically over a musical cascade from a chaotic band. He’s just bleeding with emotion as if he hardly understands what he’s even saying. Juxtaposing this on the opposite side of the album is the bridge of “Spitting Venom”, where the repetitious nature is much calmer, as if it’s meant to comfort. The contrast feels like an earned lesson picked up through the listening of the record.

Song order was keenly thoughtful on this We Were Dead. The intensity of “Parting of the Sensory” is met with the more tender “Missed the Boat”. A gentle and controlled track, that is no less a banger than any of the others. The verse mentioning “the tiny clap of little hands” has particular vocal layering like a growling whisper. It adds unexpected personality to the number, which tends to be a theme of We Were Dead. You can hear it everywhere: the faint callbacks in “We’ve Got Everything”, the aggravated narrative of “Fly Trapped In a Jar”, the low, growly in-your-ear accents in “Education”.

We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank is also not short gems. Aforementioned are “Parting of the Sensory” and “Missed the Boat”, and there’s also the unforgettable “People As Places As People”, “Spitting Venom”, and “Little Motel”. Like a berceuse to someone distant and innocent, “Little Motel” is the black sheep of the record and equally its most emotional moment. Isaac is vulnerable and empathetic. The crash of percussion into the final chorus is cathartic. It’s a powerful track.

The album doesn’t suffer from any serious flaws either. There’s a dedication to nautical motifs that makes itself known, but never steers the ship in a heavy handed way. It peaks its head out in seafaring creeks in the intros of “March Into the Sea” and “Education”, and in the allusions of “Missed the Boat”. And true to Modest Mouse are the relatable sincerities in Isaac’s lyrics: “Both halves are the better half, like a joke trying to make another joke laugh, haha” (“Steam Engenius”), and “We carried all the groceries in while hauling out the trash, if this doesn’t make us motionless I do not know what can” (“Spitting Venom”).

The album ends with yet another banger in “Invisible”. The album sails through its fourteen tracks without missing a beat. It’s never lacking, it’s never dull, and it’s always banging even in the motivated slower movements. This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About sets their career in motion, but We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank takes full advantage of that career. It’s a modern, mature Modest Mouse. This record, hands down, stands at the forefront of their recent career, and in my opinion their entire discography.

 

Versus Gorillaz Edition: Demon Days vs. Plastic Beach

The Case for Plastic Beach

By Justin Cudahy, Staff Writer.

Let me start off by saying that both Demon Days and Plastic Beach are amongst my favorite albums. However, the way I see it, Plastic Beach took everything that Demon Days did right, and brought it to a whole new level. There is a lot more to Gorillaz than just the music. That being said, I’ll also be defending the band’s Phase three timeline, which not only includes the album but everything else associated with it.

When it comes to the music, Plastic Beach is severely underrated. Its songs are often overshadowed by their more popular tracks such as “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE” off Demon Days, which has diverted attention away from their other stuff. “On Melancholy Hill”, “Stylo”, “Empire Ants” … I could go on and list every track off Plastic Beach, but I won’t.

When comparing the opening tracks to both albums, Plastic Beach has Demon Days beat by a mile. “Orchestral Intro” sets up the rest of the album smoothly, while also segueing perfectly into “Welcome to The World of The Plastic Beach”. Plastic Beach also manages to close out the album a lot stronger than its predecessor, thanks to Bobby Womack who provides the beautiful vocals to “Cloud of Unknowing” before finally ending with the chilling yet poetic track, “Pirate Jet” which is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

One of the things that make Gorillaz unique is their constant collaborations with several different artists. They established this style with their self-titled album in 2001, extended it in Demon Days, and then perfected it in Plastic Beach. Guest artists such as Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, Lou Reed from The Velvet Underground, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, and even The National Orchestra for Arabic Music star throughout, showcasing the band’s diversity and arsenal of different styles and genres.

Another thing that Plastic Beach does better is feed into an actual theme. While Demon Days is also a conceptual album, it feels more like a collection of songs rather than an album with a story. Plastic Beach takes on a rather humanitarian approach by providing insightful commentary and taking a stance on ideas such as pollution, war, battling addiction and much more. It’s clever, and the more you listen to the album, the more it will grow on you. While Demon Days was more of a commercial success, Plastic Beach was an artistic success for the band, and real fans will understand that.

Outside of the music, Demon Days beats Plastic Beach in one thing, and that’s music videos. “Dirty Harry”, “El Mañana”, “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE”? Even I know those were some great videos. To be fair, Plastic Beach suffered from budget cuts during its production, which as a result led to the scrapping of the music video for “Rhinestone Eyes” which, judging by the storyboard, would have been sweet. Despite that, the few videos that did come out in this phase were amazing. “Stylo” was filmed as a live-action music video and features Bruce Willis, so that automatically makes it cool. “On Melancholy Hill”, (which is also my favorite Gorillaz’s song)

had an amazing video as well. I mean come on, watching Noodle fire a machine gun on a sinking cruise ship while being shot at by fighter jets? That’s about as badass as it gets.

Another thing that makes Plastic Beach and Phase three for the band so great is the artwork. Despite being an animated band, the members age in real time which leads to a change and progression in artwork from co-creator, Jamie Hewlett. It is during this phase that we see some of the best artwork from Hewlett, which, when compared to Demon Days and Phase two, looks a lot more clean and stylistic. It may not be as important as the music itself, but it is still a factor.

I could go on forever talking about the storyline, live performances and such, but I think I’ve proven my point. Listen to Plastic Beach, and by that, I mean really listen to it, from beginning to end. If you can do that, then you will understand what I mean when I say that this is one of the most important albums of our time.

 

The Case for Demon Days

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director

What’s fascinating about a band like Gorillaz is that they don’t conform to just one specific genre. Obviously, Damon Albarn and co. take influences from several, like rock, hip-hop and other musical styles from various world cultures, but they shape them in a way where all their albums sound different, creating eras within their career. The most matured and aesthetically-interesting era out of them is the middle of their career, when they released Demon Days in 2005, which was arguably the best Gorillaz have ever sounded.

I remember when “Feel Good Inc.” flooded the radio and Apple iPod ads when it first came out. I was seven years old and was just beginning to realize what exactly modern pop culture was, since the only music I can remember liking as a kid was my parents’ Beatles CDs and the original London cast recording of Les Misérables. But when I heard “Feel Good Inc.,” I was blown away at the weirdness of it. It stuck with me until I saw the CD at my local music shop, and I begged my dad to buy it for me. With one listen of that record, my perspective of the music around me changed.

The minute-long intro to Demon Days could only be described as haunting. The haunting atmosphere brought on by what sounds like a droning bass clarinet and an endless sample of the line “Who put chemicals in the food chain?” It sets the mood for this emotionally dense record and continues into “Last Living Souls” and “Kids with Guns,” two extremely catchy tracks that have subtle political commentary. For example, “Kids with Guns” seems like just another song from Gorillaz, but it’s really about child soldiers brainwashed and drugged by rebel armies in certain countries, and how they’re tearing people apart.

“O Green World” and “Feel Good Inc.” are two fascinating tracks that bring a dystopian narrative to the record. Both the sounds and the visual look of the inner album art and music videos bring a dark, grim look to these songs, which have lyrics about the destruction of populations and resisting authoritative power.

The album continues into tracks like “El Mañana,” “All Alone,” “DARE” and “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” continue the story of dystopia, mainly telling tales about death, destruction and war. One of the strongest tracks on the entire album is the title track, which ends the album by saying even though times will always be tough, you’ll make it through and improve your life. It’s a truly remarkable and uplifting end to such a deep and dark record.

Demon Days is for sure the strongest record in the Gorillaz discography, having the band’s best written songs and most creative narrative structure to date. There’s no doubt that whatever Damon Albarn releases this year will be great, but there’s no way it can be better than Demon Days.

Versus: Modern Baseball- Sports vs. You’re Gonna Miss It ALL

The Case for Sports

By Carly Preston, Staff Writer

2013- as I enter the second semester of my junior year of high school-I was depressed. Stuck in a suburb of two mediocre Ohio cities. I was full of mid-west small town angst. I was a mediocre student who loved hanging out at Sheetz with my swishy-haired boyfriend. I was the perfect candidate for Sports by Modern Baseball.

Sports, released through Lame-O Records in late 2012, were the debut album by pop-punk Philly boys-Modern Baseball. The album deals with a variety of themes, from love, loneliness, and how it feels to be a young “stuck” person in American. All quintessential pop-punk themes! However, Sports puts a clever and almost self aware twist on those common “I’m so sad themes”

Sports opens with “Re-Do,” a clear joke on it being the opening song. It wittingly begins with “I wanna start from the top, maybe like a do-over replace the voices in my head with blind innocence.” Immediately, with only one sentence, the tone of Sports is set. We, as listeners are going to hear the band replaying these stories to themselves, all while trying to find the humor in it all.

What follows after is an inter-twinning of narratives and epics. All placed over twanging guitars and a more modern and clean set up to the traditional pop-punk sound. Specifically, the first coupling of songs from “Re-Do” to “@chl03k.” With, arguably the albums best songs, “Tears over Beers” and “The Weekend” wedged in between. These four tracks serve as Modern Baseball’s opening version of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/ The End.” They transition incredibly smoothly all while keeping a tone and new theme each time.

Other notable tracks include the B-side opener “Re-Done” and “Play Ball!” However, the album’s closer “Coals” is the standout track. It’s soft, simple, self-aware, and reflective. The increasingly loud vocals and lyrics like “Eight hours on the top of a bus just to find out in the end I will never stop fallin in love’ show exactly why I spent so many nights crying to this song.

That right there is why Sports is the best Modern Baseball album. It is pure nostalgia. It is crying while breaking up with your high school boyfriend. It is long showers and long drives. It is missing home, but then hating home. It is finding someone you love just as much as that first boyfriend. It is screaming the lyrics to “Tears Over Beers” with all your new college friends. It is milestones that perfectly match larger than life moments.

The Case for You’re Gonna Miss It ALL

By Autumn Johnson, Contributor

Although I had heard, as well as seen, Modern Baseball before their second album release in 2014-You’re Gonna Miss It All is the album that made me fall in love with the Philly band. With 12 songs coming in at just under 30 minutes long, this album released under Run For Cover Records by while the foursome studies at Drexel University is pop punk at it’s best. Since then “Mobo,” for short, has consistently stayed one of my favorite bands today.

There’s a sharpness and clarity in You’re Gonna Miss It All that isn’t present in the bands earlier or later work. The purpose is made clear and achieved strongly all through its half hour run. The sound is more mature and clear than their first album, Sports. With meatier drumming and catchier more emo sounding guitars. All tied up with even shorter and smarter songs. It is more fun, energetic, and obsessively catchy!

The lyrics are gut wrenchingly relatable in You’re Gonna Miss It All; with lines that pull at the heartstrings of anyone worried about feeling young and hopeless in their town. The town of course being Philly, which is referenced much more throughout this album than any other. Like most Modern Baseball lyrics they are clever and extremely descriptive, but in You’re Gonna Miss It All there’s more a quirky and lighthearted nature.

Modern Baseball’s most popular song “Your Graduation,” a pop-punk banger and all around sad-kid staple that can be found on almost any playlist made for eating pizza with your friends. My favorite song “Apartment” sounds exactly like what it feels like to have an embarrassingly strong crush on someone. Being extremely nervous and jittery whenever you see them-fumbling over your words while trying to seem as cool as possible. This is just one of many incredibly relatable and clever tracks on the record.

You’re Gonna Miss It All consistently has one great song after another, with no points I would consider either boring or inconsistent to the album as a whole. It is pop punk at it’s best and Modern Baseball at their best.

Versus: Mitski – Puberty 2 vs. Retired from Sad, New Career in Business

The Case for Puberty 2

By Jon Fuchs, Reviews Editor

There’s one thing I need to get across with this piece right here: Tanner is wrong. Obviously, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is amazing, but her most recent record, Puberty 2, is hands down her best album to date. Just look at the name alone: Puberty 2. What other name perfectly describes the themes and emotions Mitski’s music brings out? Challenging the listener with thoughts about love and sadness similar those one would have during adolescence, Puberty 2 is Mitski’s most honest and beautifully written record to date, with excellent production and instrumentation to match.

The opener “Happy” helps back this up through her storytelling, personifying the emotion of happiness as a lover who only comes to help periodically, leaving her sad and hollow again. It’s a beautiful opener that is just as relatable as it is catchy. The next track, “Dan the Dancer,” shows the diversity of Puberty 2’s influences, as it feels heavier and completely different from the last track. What doesn’t change, however, is Mitski’s soft and gentle vocals, which linger throughout the entire record.

“Once More to See You,” “Fireworks” and “Your Best American Girl” continue the record with lyrics about love, depression and self-identity. These are probably the densest songs on the entire record, with layers upon layers of different kinds of instrumentation, from distorted guitars to 808 bass. “Your Best American Girl” could arguably be considered one of the best tracks of 2016, with its loud, booming chorus and verses that feel the exact opposite, with a guitar melody so quiet, you can hear to metronome in the distance.

My personal favorite song on Puberty 2, “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” is probably my favorite Mitski song period. The song is about being in constantly crumbling relationships, which feels so incredibly real and heartbreaking to anyone who’s ever fallen in love and eventual despair. The opening lines “My baby, my baby / You’re my baby, say it to me,” sung with Mitski’s gentle voice, is so comforting and so depressing, you can’t help but get instantly attached. The track continues with a beautiful harmony between Mitski and the synths, that eventually end with a somewhat uncomfortable chord that fits perfectly with the emotions the track makes the listener feel.

The last few tracks on the record play off as a series of heartbreak. “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars,” easily the most abrasive song on the entire record, is Mitski screaming internally at all of her everyday stress and anxiety. “Thursday Girl” is arguably the catchiest song on the record, with its nice, repetitive hi-hats and beautiful synth textures. The album suddenly ends with “A Burning Hill,” a short, tear-jerking acoustic song about leaving a toxic relationship. It acts as the perfect closure for such an emotionally intense and exhausted record.

It’s probably not as sonically epic or impressive than Retired from Sad, but Puberty 2 is still Mitski’s catchiest and best record yet. It’s got her most personal and poetic lyrics and some of

her best production to date. Once again, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, but this one really takes the cake as the best of the four.

The Case for Retired from Sad, New Career in Business

By Tanner Bidish, Contributor

Mitski Miyawaki, known to most solely by her first name, is an incredibly talented musician. Since 2012 Mitski has put out four albums all dealing with the crisis that is growing up. Speaking to issues of relationships, sex, identity, self-worth, and more, her work has amassed a following of youths in turmoil. This year’s release of Puberty 2 was met with praise and acclaim from across the board, and rightfully so. Puberty 2 is fantastic, and while it’s sure to top many album of the year list in 2016, it’s not quite the best Mitski record. That title would have to be her sophomore release, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.

Retired from Sad was recorded in Mitski’s senior year of college at SUNY Purchase. The academic setting gave her access to recording equipment and resources – including a 60-person orchestra – that allowed her to sound professional even on this keenly experimental album. The record is highlighted by musical decisions that give way to a theatrical atmosphere. This reflects with each listen feeling like a performance in and of itself.

Songs rooted in a relationship with her mom bookend Retired from Sad. Each giving insight to the doubt, admiration, and love felt toward a mother. The hums and swells of strings sooth the eardrums across the entirety. It makes for an unparalleled emotional accompanist to Mitski’s assailing vocal range and skill. The crescendos in “Square” showcase the strength to switch Mitski commands the arrangements. She sore as a lyricist as well. The use of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as backdrop to “Humpty” sets a thematic juxtaposition of innocence and maturity; it’s intelligent and dramatic. And the dramatics don’t relent.

“Shame” seduces the listener under the might of strings, with vague unmusical screeches in the back. Mitski’s voice pulls you in, “It feels so good, and right outside the door and nobody knows.” She lets out a gasp. Reverb hits her voice at the song’s climax. Unfolding is a beautiful embodiment of the guilt and pleasure that can surround young sex. Theatrics continue with the unconventional instrumentation in “Circle”, which deliberately appeals to the track’s narrative form, over musical. The choice is clever, and slick enough that it may go unnoticed.

Retired from Sad, while sorrowfully dripping with emotion, doesn’t stray away from sweeter moments. “Strawberry Blond” is perhaps the happiest song in all of Mitski’s discography. Her bright upper range carries this acoustic ditty. Guitar, piano, violin all blend for a jubilant movement; a choir even joining in for the last hit of the chorus. More bitter than sweet is the piano lullaby, “Because Dreaming Cost Money, My Dear.” Mitski’s cooing vocal melodies pull at feelings of the past, a lost nostalgic hope. Calm brass, and vocal layering at the end pull together the theatric flourishes that are quintessential in this record.

The album takes its curtain call on “Class of 2013.” Naming her senior project with a phrase personally associated with moving to the next stage in life is powerfully. The title fits this piece impeccably. The listener sees her pleading with her mother; a chance to stay home, to be taken care of just a little longer, to not feel so adult. “Mom, am I still be young? Can I dream for a few months more?” The track is raw Mitski; only her voice and the piano.

Sir Isaac Newton is often quoted with saying, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the set of shoulders holding Puberty 2. Puberty 2 is an incredible work, but its themes are – at their core – a further elaboration of what Retired from Sad started. Structurally both operate on similar levels, each even ending with an acoustic ballad featuring Mitski with a single instrument. The 2013 release may not stand taller in the public eye, but Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the essential Mitski record, and her most definitive release to date.

Versus: Set Your Goals – Mutiny! vs. This Will Be The Death of Us

The Case For Mutiny!

By Eli Shively, Contributor

Pop punk really isn’t a music writers’ genre. It’s all simple chords and catchy hooks, paint-by-numbers songwriting and clichéd lyrics. There’s usually nothing to analyze musically nor thematically that goes deeper than what’s heard on the surface, and because of this it’s a little annoying at first to sit back and try to think of why any particular pop punk record is objectively great.

That is, at least, until the striking realization occurs that pop punk isn’t objectively great. It’s subjectively great. Good pop punk records aren’t special because of what you hear, they’re special because of how they make you feel. They work their way into your mind not solely through melodies and lyrics and sounds, but also through energy and passion. It’s a simple, almost barbaric feeling. It’s the way the human subconscious naturally reacts to someone playing something catchy as loud and fast as they can. It’s an exclamation point tacked on the end of an album title and a full-speed ahead mentality so focused it may fly right past you if you aren’t fully prepared. It’s Mutiny! by Set Your Goals.

Mutiny! was the first full-length release by the California “easycore” outfit, and it pretty much represents everything that has, is and will be great about the pop punk genre forever and ever. It’s a classic, it’s essential, and it’s a touchstone for thousands that grew up with stage dives and high fives and Warped Tour and skinny jeans and gang vocals. The songs are littered with shout-along choruses, politically charged rallying cries and prolonged sections of breakneck power chord madness, something the band would later tone down on This Will Be The Death Of Us and especially on the disappointing Burning At Both Ends. It is, possibly for lack of the exact term to describe it, raw.

Aside from all that, the rawness comes in part from small-label charm and production value as well as something that marks a lot of great debut albums — the feeling that the artists has so much to say, prove, and do, but so little time. The record flies out of the gate with “Work in Progress,” a track that is pretty much the structural epitome of getting the listener up to speed, and then never dials the energy or the aggression back one bit. Set Your Goals always had something important to say, and they never lacked the gumption to tell their audience to listen up. This confidence and poise appears on all their records, but Mutiny! shows them at their most ambitious, six bright-faced kids that somehow think they can change the world by shouting in unison over chugged breakdowns. It’s kind of endearing.

So when comparing Set Your Goals records, the choice is obvious — no collection of material showcases what makes them great as much as Mutiny! does. When you’re dealing with a genre that relies so much on youthful energy and unadulterated passion, why would anything but a band’s debut record be their best?

The Case For This Will Be the Death of Us

By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director

We’re 10 months deep into this crap-shoot of a year and what do we have to show for it? Dead legends, droughts, the Olympics, Donald Trump and a new Dawes record. In these times of desperation, may we find joy in the little victories? Luckily for us, the 10 year anniversary tour of Set Your Goals’ debut, Mutiny!, is a heck of a victory; but let’s not get carried away by romanticism and only reminisce over their 2nd best album. Mutiny! might be bringing the poster-children of easycore back into our lives, but the band’s second release, This Will Be the Death of Us, still reigns king. Who ever said anything about a sophomore slump?

All respect to Mutiny! and the influence it left behind, but the learning curve between albums is evident. Set Your Goals greatest addition between albums, falls into the production field. Beefy drums and riffs that stink of summer give This Will be the Death of Us an unmistakable sound when compared to the rest of their discography.

The change in production comes as no surprise, as the album was overseen by renowned producer, Mike Green. Michael Ambrose’s snare has the perfect amount punch, which contrasts the thunderous toms and bass drums, creating a lively, fleshed-out backbeat.

Hidden throughout the album lays hints of anti-establishment and environmental lines. Case-in-point, in “The Few That Remain,” Jordan and Brown’s words are a paragon of rebellion. “Big dollars take the pressure off of hard times, but gluttony is a sin, and hunger will not let you in if you don’t get a grip. Use some self-help to control it.”

Not all songs portray the motif, however, the consistency across several key tracks makes Set Your Goals’ more serious lyrical content evident. Mutiny’s pirate theme was cheeky and amusing, although childish in comparison. Hearing the band dish on more complicated topics adds much more hype to the overall project.

What’s more, This Will Be the Death of Us, has a powerful guest-list, featuring Vinnie Caruana of I Am The Avalanche, Anthony Benedict of Baloni, Hayley Williams of Paramore, John Gula of Turmoil, and Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory. Instead of using big names for the sake of audience recognition, Set Your Goals’ plays into each guest’s strength, allowing the featured artists’ to blend into the band’s sound rather than being placed on a pedestal.

Gula, in particular, absolutely desecrates the heaviest track on the album, Gaia Bleeds (Make Way For Man)”. Alongside him, Jordan and Brown produce what may be their best performance to date on this track, trading off loaded vocal-lines and making way (no pun intended) for Gual to tear into the middle of the song, leading the charge through a ferocious breakdown, leaving behind nothing but dust.

As for Mutiny? It may have paved the wave for easycore and countless pop-punk bands through the years, but This Will Be the Death of Us has cemented Set Your Goals in the hearts of millions of cult fans for years to come.