AJJ – “The Bible 2”

(Photo Credit: AJJ)Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cody’s Theme,” “Terrifyer”

Sometimes, punk bands grow up. There’s nothing that can stop a natural aging process. The Clash embraced reggae, the Offspring started writing about suicide, Green Day wrote a Broadway musical. What often gets mistaken as “selling out” is usually just a band’s members realizing their image is going to fade, and jumping the gun to adopt a new one. AJJ had hinted at this transition on their last album, the excellent “Christmas Island.” It opens with “Temple Grandin” and “Children of God,” two songs that are prime AJJ – fast, acoustic guitar mixed with lyrics that more-than-border on violence and gross imagery. But the album also included songs like “Linda Ronstadt,” which touches on the same loneliness that the band usually touches on, but with less violence, less disguises, and more palpable humanity. Sean Bonnette is better than anyone else in music at masking his own insecurities, faults and dark desires through characters, satire and overblown odes. But that started to chip on “Christmas Island,” and it gets stripped away on “The Bible 2.”

The band, sporting a new drummer, have awarded themselves a re-baptism: they abbreviated their name. AJJ, of course, used to stand for Andrew Jackson Jihad. But now it’s just “AJJ.” Partially because of maturity – I mean, their name was kinda racist for a bunch of Arizona white guys – partially because of an increase in actual Jihadist violence, and partially just because it’s what everyone called them anyways.  Eleven years after their first album, they’ve been re-christened, and it’s allowed them to expand, or decompress their sound and explore what they’ve previously ignored – their stance as an actual, successful band.

AJJ’s most progressive songs on “The Bible 2” aren’t necessarily the most interesting, because they’re slower and more adult than we’re used to. But this isn’t a bad thing; a lack of humanity, although AJJ’s strongest weapon, is also their biggest downfall. “American Garbage” is downright an indie song – a different cry than “American Tune” from only a few years ago. Slap a different band’s name on the song and it might pick up some airplay on college radio. Same goes for “Small Red Boy,” and “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” which seems like a sequel to 2007’s “No More Tears,” but really isn’t. In fact, those two songs work together for a more honest, painfully aware song than any of the early guitar blasts.

All of this isn’t to say that old AJJ doesn’t pop in, too. Songs like “White Worms” and “Junkie Church” have lyrics that could’ve easily passed on any earlier album. “The waiting room was pissing in my ear / So we went and bought ourselves a can of beer / Steel Reserve,” Bonnette sings on the latter. The former: “My teeth are brown / My lips are blue / The grass is green / My tongue is too.” The horrors on this album don’t come as frequently. After years of songs like “Bad Bad Things,” “Back Pack” and “Dad Song,” there’s little that AJJ can sing in a song that’s still shocking. So, they reserve those moments. Opener “Cody’s Theme” has such lyrics, with the chorus: “I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / We had a real long talk / I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / They made the visions stop.” While this is nothing compared to the lyrics of, say, “Darling, I Love You,” they do announce that even if AJJ is growing, changing – they’re still the same at heart.

The secret weapon of “The Bible 2” is actually the songs that manage to place themselves in between ‘old’ and ‘new’ AJJ. “Cody’s Theme,” “Golden Eagle” and lead single “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” all sound strangely reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, with wickedly distorted guitar playing alongside acoustic. These songs almost act as the torchbearers, saying that yes, AJJ is transitioning, and no, they’re not changing completely. They could pass as indie songs, in a way, but it might not be a comfortable passing. “Terrifyer” might be one of the most interesting songs because its use of melody sounds pretty satisfying, while still giving in to the sound of “Sense & Sensibility,” in the best way possible.

Although I personally think the band hit a highest high with 2011’s “Knife Man,” this might be their most cohesive album. Musically, it hits more different territories than ever before. The album’s first half starts with guitar, dips gradually down into piano before revving back up for “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.” And although the lyrics do once again embrace religion, mental illness, and deathly imagery, there’s broader topics at play. By shedding away the masks the band has previously used to hide their desires and delusions within the confinements of people worse then them, they’ve humanized themselves, fully, and even the first-person songs feel more real because of it. This isn’t a criticism of their older music – far from it, what they’ve done lyrically with the use of satire, violence, and irony is amazing – but simply an awareness that it was starting to get old. AJJ ran that line as long as they could, and, now that it’s over, they’re switching gears. While this is a transition album of sorts, there’s a lot to like, and it proves that AJJ might be able to bridge a gap that a lot of punk bands have previously failed – stay yourselves, stay interesting, yet change.

-By Andrew McNally

Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Grade: A

Key tracks: “Burn the Witch,” “Glass Eyes”

This review was originally posted at the filtered lens

By this point, we don’t really need to be reviewing Radiohead’s albums. Their last, 2011’s “The King of Limbs,” shocked audiences by getting a reception that was only pretty good, not great. Nothing noteworthy for other bands, but a huge misfire for them (and, personally, it’s one of my favorite RH albums). They’re a cultural institution, changing themselves and popular music with each release. They’ve done it again here, on their ninth album “A Moon Shaped Pool,” an album that balances emotions just as it balances its instrumentation.

The most immediate sound on the album is the alarming strings of opener and lead single “Burn the Witch.” It’s a very compact song, clocking in at 3:41, relatively short by the band’s standards. It has that catchy, staccato string rhythm that’s somewhat infectious, unexpected for a band that doesn’t exactly have the most whistle-able tunes. The second song and second single “Daydreaming,” hits the much more familiar other-end-of-the-spectrum, a 6+ minute haunting electro-ballad. It’s a gorgeous song, equally enthralling and terrifying. The two songs, released close together and playing back-to-back, are uniquely different in a way that doesn’t exactly work, and to have them kick off the album seems like it’s setting a path for an album of great songs but with a lacking cohesiveness.

This couldn’t be less of the case. Other reviewers have used the word “symphonic” to describe the album, and it settles into that kind of groove. The next four tracks – “Decks Dark,” “Desert Island Disk,” “Ful Stop,” and “Glass Eyes,” act as a massive (and excellent) suite. “Decks” transitions into “Desert,” and although the other songs aren’t connected, there is a real vulnerable and murky tone to the songs that draw the listener for quite a while (about 17 minutes, through the four songs). And just when that set starts to feel a little worn-in, they turn on a dime to the more rhythmic “Identikit,” one of a few songs they’ve recorded for the album after playing them live for years. It’s not an energetic track, but it feels like after the previous five.

Radiohead’s best albums have a real cohesiveness to them, and “A Moon Shaped Pool” is about as cohesive as they come. The biggest outlier is “Burn the Witch,” with a bursting energy not found anywhere else. A majority of the tracks are slow-burning ballads, to varying success, although most are sheer Radiohead brilliance. “Glass Eyes,” the shortest track, is also the most effective. Closing song “True Love Waits” is the same (and another song that Radiohead has been kicking around for years). The album shares a cohesiveness with “Kid A,” but without doing a retread of that album’s murky synths. There is a lot of synth here, but it’s a more spellbinding and complex use of them, and occasional strings and acoustic guitar work to fully complement the otherwise electro-heavy music.

As with some of Radiohead’s other albums, the lyrics don’t take a full priority. Between the importance placed on music, and Thom Yorke’s typically high-flying and jumbled vocals, the lyrics aren’t always the most discernible. Still, “Decks Dark” has a great line, “There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky,” which complements the song’s spacey feel (that would feel in place on “OK Computer”).

This certainly isn’t one of Radiohead’s most accessible or immediately enjoyable albums. In fact, some of the tracks might not even sound great individually. This is an album meant to be consumed whole. Their last two albums, “In Rainbows” and “The King of Limbs,” had pop standouts that you could listen to and love immediately – this album is more of a grower. In time, it’ll go down as one the band’s best albums yet, but we have to give it time to get there. Trust me, give it the time.

-By Andrew McNally

Weezer – “Weezer”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “California Girls,” “Thank God For Girls”

No one really knows what goes on within Weezer. The bandmates who aren’t Rivers Cuomo might not even know what’s going on. But what went on, for many torturous years, was that Cuomo broke Weezer’s very easy-to-replicate formula. Their first four albums – “Weezer,” (Blue), “Pinkerton,” “Weezer,” (Green), and “Maladroit,” were all pretty similar works, even if the former two eclipse the latter two in terms of quality. And then, for whatever reason, the band released four mediocre-to-downright-unlistenable albums, in relatively quick succession. “Make Believe,” “Weezer” (Red), “Raditude” and “Hurley” all have individual songs that are worthwhile, but none were worth the wait. “Raditude” in particular showed the band giving in to their worst desires. 2014’s “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” was a shaky, tentative return to form that left listeners with their fingers crosses, hopeful for the future. And while their new, fourth self-titled album (White) isn’t a masterpiece or even one that really demands a second play, it is reminiscent of the Weezer past. So, it’s exactly what we’ve been asking for.

This has been billed as a concept album, with all ten tracks set during the summertime. I wouldn’t make the “concept album” distinction, however. Hits from their mediocre albums like “Memories” and “Beverly Hills” have been just as summer-y. Once Rivers Cuomo grew up, got that Harvard education and married that Japanese woman he questionably craved in “El Scorcho,” he couldn’t play the role of the nerdy underdog anymore. Whether something in Cuomo changed, or he was/is playing a character, Weezer’s lyrics switched from the very nerdy (“In the Garage”) to the very social (“We Are All on Drugs”). That change may have had an impact on the music, with the band only now relenting and reverting to their older, better style. Again, we can only speculate as to what goes on inside Weezer. But these are summer-y songs, because that’s what Weezer does now.

The average length of a radio single used to be 3:30, and I’m not sure if that still holds, but that seems to be something in the brains of the members. Seven of the album’s ten songs fall within the sex-second range of 3:24-3:30. These are songs built for the convention of pop radio, even if not the band’s focus. They’re fun, breezy, over as soon as they start. There’s not one but three songs with “Girl” in the title, as well as one with “Kids” and one “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori.”

As we’ve learned both the easy and hard ways, Weezer operate best when they’re repurposing older material and ideas. The riff and feel of “Beverly Hills” is essentially repurposed for the great opener “California Kids.” The summer-y lyrics throughout repurpose the best parts of their worse albums, as well as any mid-range Beach Boys. Their influence is felt on this album, even amidst the guitar fuzz. And the crunchy guitar is back to stay, apparently. It’s here throughout, pleasantly buoying Cuomo’s lyrics. There’s no songs that stand out from the crowd, Weezer aimed more for a complete package.

Cuomo’s lyrics might seem bland at first listen (and especially at first glance, with the aforementioned trio of “Girl” songs), but they’re packing some punches. Early single “Thank God For Girls” comes off as a little sexist until you investigate the playfulness of the verses. There’s the not-so-subtle line about a “big, fat cannoli,” and the ode to “strong” and “sweaty” women. I don’t think Cuomo is trying to rewrite “Lola” here, instead remarking on the state of gender roles and attraction. Whether it works or not is up to you (jury’s still out on my end). Elsewhere, there’s predictably weird references to Burt Bacharach, the Galapagos and Sisyphus, among others. All very heady and unexpected for a summer album.

It’s easy to criticize the frustrating lack of originality on this album, because you do come off wishing it had some more zings to it. But when they tried to add those zings, we criticized them more harshly. So, take the album for what it is. It isn’t a great Weezer album, but it is a very good one, and it’s the one we deserve. From the hip “California Kids” to the surprisingly forlorn ballad “Endless Bummer,” Weezer have provided a solid set of songs that could end up going down as one of their better collections. Soak it in, dudes.

-By Andrew McNally

Tancred – “Out of the Garden”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Bed Case” “Sell My Head”

Tancred’s last album, a self-titled album, was an excellent work of little numbers that was weirdly out-of-place. It was released through Topshelf Records, the label home to various emo and pop-punk bands like Into It. Over It., Defeater and A Great Big Pile of Leaves. But Tancred, nee Jess Abbott, really didn’t fit in that club. Even if her songs had a simplistic beauty to them, they were tough to categorize. And in the three years since that album, the scene has become overblown and overstayed. On her third album, Abbott finds herself moving even further away from any emo/pop-punk association, with a collection of fuzzed-up guitar tracks ripped out of the Breeders’ songbook.

There were guitar tunes on her previous albums, but this album’s riffy opener, “Bed Case,” is a stark contrast to “The Ring,” the beautiful, floating song that opened her last album. There is less restraint on “Out of the Garden,” and a lot more volume and energy. The energy isn’t maintained throughout, but more often than not there is enough oomph to keep listener riding down the nostalgia train. Abbott, alongside Terrence Vitali and Kevin Medina, create a world that falls somewhere in the 90’s boom between pop-punk and shoegaze, often swaying one way or the other. “Sell My Head” seems distinctly punk, while “Control Me” falls closer to shoegaze.

Abbott’s lyrics often center around relationships, as well as individualism, something she came into working in a bad section of Minneapolis. On “Sell My Head,” she sings, “I drank you up like wine / Until my teeth were black and white.” She muses on love in regards to self-expression all across the record. “This is how we learned to be happy / This is how we learned the hard way,” on “Control Me.” “Tie me up with ropes made of you,” she sings on “Poise,” and “You look like California / Take me there, take me there / You put me in a coma / But I don’t scare” on “Bed Case.”

90’s revivalists will have a lot to piece through on this album. All members come across well on the album, and while the fuzz-induced boom isn’t quite enough to sustain across the whole album, there’s enough great tracks here to certainly hold up. Tancred has always seemed fitful to place themselves in any genre, and this album is a delightful mix of everything in between.

Watch the video for their excellent single, “Bed Case” below (although not if you have epilepsy):

-By Andrew McNally

Cage the Elephant – “Tell Me I’m Pretty”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cry Baby,” “Trouble”

On their debut album, Cage the Elephant gave us a funky, bluesy version of themselves. On “Thank You Happy Birthday,” we got the grunge version of the band, and on “Melophobia” we were given a garage-soul version of them. On the band’s fourth album, we get a new version of Cage the Elephant – themselves.

With a few big albums and a slough of hit singles under their belt, Cage the Elephant is finally exploring themselves instead of making odes to music past. That may have also come from the production of Black Key Dan Auerbach, who is on his quest to make every artist from Dr. John to Lana Del Rey sound a little more like the Black Keys. Auerbach is a no-brainer for Cage the Elephant, a riotous Midwestern alternative band. Take away a few members and you have the Black Keys.

“Tell Me I’m Pretty” is the band’s most coherent album; ironically, the coherence comes from a wider diversity in emotion. This is easily the band’s most personal and introspective album yet, filled with emotional ballads and tales of loss and separation. In fact, the middle portion of the album is all ballads, until late-album kicker “That’s Right.” Lines like “I been facing trouble almost all my life” (“Trouble”) are expected, but “I think we should just let go” (“Sweetie Little Jean”) is a new, softer side for them. It’s telling that they’ve stripped away other instruments, along with the mania. Here, they’re a band – vocals, drums, guitars, bass.

I’m usually turned off when fun alternative bands start writing slower music (*cough* TV on the Radio), but I’ve always had faith in Cage the Elephant. The band has said that by working on their own identity as a group, they’ve focused on making every song individually different from every other song, and it shows. That’s where the cohesiveness comes in – their first three albums focused on the album as a piece of art, this one focuses on songs. There’s a broader range in emotion and influence. “Mess Around” was an obvious lead single, but each song is so crafted that really any of them would be prepped for rock radio.

The songs on “Tell Me I’m Pretty” might not immediately grab a listener the way some of the songs on, say, “Thank You Happy Birthday” do, they require a little more patience. But each one eventually grabs, even without any hooks or bursts of manic energy (though some do with that, too). The songs here feel more like we’re being let in, like we’ve been invited to finally see the real Cage the Elephant. This might not be their best album, and it won’t have the replay value of their crazier work. But it proves that Cage the Elephant have done their homework and can create music that’s their very own, not an ode to a different era. In this reviewer’s opinion, Cage the Elephant are four-for-four.

If you like this, try: Cold War Kids’ “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts,” another indie band that’s used various influences to create their own, wholly original sound.

Grimes – “Art Angels”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Flesh Without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim”

Grimes has never been known by one genre. She’s sometimes included in witch house, but she defies one of the basic principles of the genre. Her stage name – Claire Boucher, offstage – is short and easy to remember. “Grimes.” Template witch house artists do the opposite, names that can’t be found on Google. Like M△S▴C△RA, or ///▲▲▲\\\ (pronounced ‘Horse MacGyver’), or oOoOO. Her new album, her fourth, is predictable only that we’ve come to expect anything we haven’t heard from Grimes before. “Art Angels” is, more than anything, a pop album.

“Art Angels” is a very mixed album. As always, Grimes blends many influences and ideas to create a wholly original, bastardized sound not unlike the baby on the cover. It isn’t as consistent, this time around, although the high points are just as high as ever. The album takes a much more conventional format, overall. This might be due to Grimes famously scrapping the album she was working on last year because she felt it was “too depressing,” keeping only “REALiTi,” an altered version of which shows up here. Something about the album feels familiar, in the song structures, as if Grimes was leading us by hand into a dark forest but keeping us from being afraid.

Generally, the album’s better songs are the ones that have density and energy. “Flesh Without Blood” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, regardless of lyrical content. There are catchy tunes throughout. “Easily” is a dancy (if not somewhat lacking) song. “REALiTi” and “World Princess, Pt. II,” although similar, are both exceptional and engrossing late-album bangers. “SCREAM,” which heavily features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, is also an excellent track.

“Belly of the Beat” might be the album’s lowpoint, a largely acoustic track that might sound better if there was a different artist’s name attached to it. Some of the ‘lighter’ songs are disappointing. “California” borders on being too poppy, especially as it’s placement as the first real song, after the intro “laughing and not being normal” (which is a great track, while we’re on it). It centers itself as a lyrical ode, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Still, you have to pride Grimes on trying new things. She’s included just about everything she can into her music, and she’s even made conventionality work for her. “Art Angels” tells us that, yes, Grimes can occasionally do wrong. But even when she does, she’ll right it on the next song and she’ll still sound great when she does. Her vocal screams – you know the thing she does – permeate the album, breaking up the songs from being too radio-friendly (“California” lacks them, and suffers because of it). It’s also impossible to ignore the power she holds. Grimes learned how to play multiple instruments after recording her last album, the near-perfect “Oblivion.” She does everything herself now. After realizing that only men were being allowed to use the production equipment for her music, she’s begun producing herself. Now she writes, performs all music, produces, choreographs shows and designs the album art and videos. And the video for “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” is really something. And although she defies all genres, she’s generally lumped in with electronica music, which is chronically male-heavy. Grimes can release albums that aren’t perfect, and it doesn’t really matter, because she can tell young girls listening that they can do this, too. It’s why the collaboration with Janelle Monae makes sense – they’re two drastically different artists, but they’re both energetic, genre-bashing feminist singers.

Sorry. Went on a little tangent there. But Grimes is an incredibly important musician, and even if this album is frustratingly inconsistent, it could stand as her bid for greatness. “Flesh Without Blood” probably isn’t going to pick up any radio play, but it’ll gain more new listeners than “Genesis” or “Go” did. I’m worried about her next projects, that Grimes scrapped an entire album and ended up with an album like “Art Angels,” which flirts with greatness but rarely gets to it. But, she remains one of the most interesting artists in music today, and the album works well enough for the listener to forgive the sagging moments. “Art Angels” works because Grimes makes damn sure of it.

-By Andrew McNally

Nerina Pallot – “The Sound and the Fury”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “There is a Drum,” “Rousseau”

The phrase “The Sound and the Fury” has a history deep in death. Macbeth first utters the phrase in a soliloquy in Act V, after learning of the death of his lady. And, more famously, William Faulkner adapted it as the title for what is arguably his most well-known novel. It doesn’t necessarily work for any real context on Nerina Pallot’s fifth studio album, but it does separate her from other singers. Pallot, by definition a singer-songwriter, incorporates more music (Sound) and darker themes (Fury) into her music than her contemporaries. “Fury,” like her previous albums, is filled start to finish with memorable songs, each brimming with Pallot’s devotion to making every moment unique.

The album’s opening is indicative of her music as a whole. “There is a Drum” starts with a half-minute of pretty, dreamy guitar before stopping completely and giving way to a haunting, disproportionately-loud horn that sounds like it came from the mountains of Tibet. It sets the tone for the album – two parts melodic, one part dark, and filled with music. “Drum” and later track “Spirit Walks” handle inspiration and music from other cultures, a thin line that British native Pallot walks largely with respect.

Other musical highlights on the album include the previously released “Rousseau,” a slower song centered on a steady, picked guitar line that might not sound out of place in an older Coldplay song (alternately – speed it up and it’s almost ska-like). “The Road,” the album’s other single besides “Rousseau,” has a long musical outro that highlights Pallot’s reliance on a full package, not just her. “Boy on the Bus” has a unique, wavey sound, and closer “The Longest Memory” ends the album on a strong musical note (no pun intended).

Most of the album’s songs were released last year. Pallot released an EP a month in 2014, and put the fan-voted best tracks on “Fury,” plus a few new songs. A busy Pallot released 60 songs last year, and this album serves somewhat as a highlights package. But it is cohesive; you wouldn’t even know this borders as a collection. Musically and lyrically, it maintains a tone but each song shoots off of it in a different direction. Some songs are full in sound, some intentionally restrained. Pallot’s earlier releases generally match “Fury” in both tone and quality. Pallot hasn’t broken in America yet; in fact, she’s barely spoken in whispers. I don’t know why this is. Pallot probably isn’t bothered by it. But for me, that’s my “Fury.”

If you like this, try: MisterWives debut, “Our Own House.” It’s got less substance, but it’s also an inherently great and diverse indie-folk work.

The Dead Weather – “Dodge and Burn”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Rough Detective” “Open Up”

Whenever I bring up the Dead Weather, I find myself constantly defending them. I always ask myself ‘why? I think they’re a great band.’ But I get that that their brooding, scuzzy alt-pop is kind of a turn-off to some, and an unnecessary throwback to others. Plus, there’s the whole “Jack White is a dumpster human” thing. But “Dodge and Burn,” their third album, tries to right those wrongs.

Off the bat, there’s a problem with this album – the energy isn’t really kicked in until the halfway point. Their last album, 2010’s “Sea of Cowards,” starts off with a deafening rhythm on “Blue Blood Blues.” No rhythm matches that until “Rough Detective,” the sixth track of twelve. But the Dead Weather are trying to show that they don’t need to up the volume to be weird, to be engaging. It doesn’t always work from the get-go, “Buzzkill(er)” lives up to it’s title. But early tracks like “Three Dollar Hat” show that the band is adapt to minimalism as much as the opposite.

Still, the volume-heavy tracks like “Rough Detective” and immediate follow-up “Open Up” are the strongest – there’s just nothing like them. The Dead Weather show a wider range on “Dodge and Burn,” and although it leaves more room for mistakes, it shows them uniting as a band too. The Dead Weather work best when the listener remembers they’re a band – in paradoxical ways. Sometimes, they’re in unison, and sometimes they’re competing for the spotlight. The Mosshart/White vocal tracks have always been the band’s best, and we get too few, but it’s what makes “Rough Detective” so strong. Unlike White’s other projects, the Dead Weather feels the most like four people, expressing their emotions related to the project. This is reflective in the songwriting credits – each member is credited to at least five songs, with four songs credited to all four members. The Dead Weather are a band, and they reflect it.

The only song with a single credit is the piano finale, “Impossible Winner,” credited solely to Alison Mosshart. It is weirdly toned-down song, too pretty for a Dead Weather. It isn’t a red herring, necessarily, but it isn’t a showcase of talent, either, because we already knew these musicians were capable of it from their other projects. Though a great song on it’s own merit, it sticks out as a mistake on “Dodge and Burn.”

The album does have its inconsistencies, but it does balance restraint and, well, the opposite. It isn’t the strongest Dead Weather album, but it’s a good listen, and nice just to have them back in the first place. We can look forward to their next album, in either eight months of five years.

FIDLAR – “Too”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “40oz. on Repeat” “Overdose”

With track titles like “Punks,” “Overdose,” and “Bad Habits,” it might seem like “Too” is more of the same from FIDLAR. Their first album, mind you, had “Blackout Stout,” “Wake Bake Skate” and “Cocaine.” It might feel like there’s a gambit in song titles that FIDLAR is quickly running through. But, their sophomore album is an album that some people, myself included, didn’t anticipate coming so soon – the conflicting, adult album. Most punk bands grow up sometime – Rancid’s “Life Won’t Wait,” Dads’ “I’ll Be the Tornado.” FIDLAR’s maturity is a very reluctant one – some tracks on “Too” feel like holdovers from still-recent partying years. But as the guys grow up, they’re begrudgingly accepting a more sober life.

One of the best qualities of FIDLAR’s debut album, a personal favorite of mine, was an underlying, barely visible sense of angst. It only came out in certain songs, when the guys were sober enough to see that there were far too many problems in the world. Through the more youthful and the more adult songs on “Too,” the unifying sense is still the slight angst. This time, it’s on a more personal level, as “Too” is heavy on self-reflection. “I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to talk to someone I don’t know,” is sung on “40oz. on Repeat.” “One week sober / and I’m still hungover,” from closer “Bad Habits.” “FIDLAR” was a humorously self-deprecating album, but “Too” ditches the humor. Take the lyrics from “Bad Habits,” set them in an entirely different musical context, and they could fit nicely on an Alice in Chains album.

But they’re still at a crossroads, because there’s still party tracks. “Sober,” despite the title, is almost inarguably the strangest song in the band’s catalog, with the opening third of the song done almost in spoken word (think the beginning of “The Sweater Song”* but with the vocal melody of “Baby Got Back”). And the album’s penultimate track, “Bad Medicine,” is a >3 minute song that feels like one last punk blast, for old time’s sake, the inverse of Renton taking one last injection in Trainspotting.

As with their debut album, the band has an innate and unexpected ability to eschew any one sub-genre of music. The downside is that it leaves FIDLAR without a distinct sound, something important in punk. But the upside is that each song is going to sound distinct. “Punks,” originally (or perhaps erroneously) titled “The Punks Are Finally Taking Acid,” is a heavy song, centered on a guitar riff akin to a quickened “She’s So Heavy,” with pained, screamed vocals. But follow-up “West Coast” is the kind of bouncy sing-along you more expect from the band. It goes back and forth, often reflective of the lyrics, and it adds a cohesiveness to the album. The lyrics are well-rounded, so the music should be too.

“Too” does ask one question that it does not answer – who should FIDLAR’s audience be, now? Their first album was able to answer that question very, very easily – partying punks and skaters. It’s practically a Ten Commandments for SoCal late teens who are gradually becoming less aware of Mat Hoffman. But their second album was made more for themselves, and that’s a dangerous line to cross. Just because we’re being let on on FIDLAR’s internal struggles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something we want to see. I’m genuinely not sure who the intended audience is for this record, as the partyers generally aren’t going to warm up to the sobering songs as much. There’s a mixed audience for the album, and it’s going to be divisive among fans. Still, there’s enough going on that it stands as a solid, and different sophomore release. I’m just worried about what the band is going to have to go through for the next album.

* – I saw FIDLAR a couple months ago in Boston and they covered “the Sweater Song,” replacing most of the verses with the word “meow” repeated over and over again. Inspiration? Probably.

If you like this, try: Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” another album where a punk band suddenly tightened up, but not without a total maturity.

Titus Andronicus – “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Lonely Boy” “Dimed Out” “More Perfect Union”

One of the things that made Seinfeld so great was a general lack of continuity – you can flip on any episode on TBS at 3pm or am and jump in. Sure, there’s recurring jokes – the person getting washed behind the sheet at the hospital George’s mom is in is my favorite. But each episode is pretty standalone, even for a sitcom. So it’s weird that Titus Andronicus stands by their Seinfeld references, in a way. Their fourth album, “The Most Lamentable Tragedy,” is an album that links all three of their previous albums up. It continues the “No Future” trend from “Titus Andronicus” and “The Monitor,” but left off of “Local Business.” One of this album’s best songs, “More Perfect Union,” is a reference to “A More Perfect Union,” from “The Monitor.” And “I’m Going Insane (Finish Him)” is a lyrical cover of their own “Titus Andronicus vs. the Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” from “Local Business.” There’s even the Seinfeld reference, a “Hello, Newman” shout on “Lonely Boy.”

Look, I love Titus Andronicus. I’ve long called them “America’s best rock band.” A picture I took of them at the Brooklyn Bowl has been the background on my phone for a few years. I didn’t ‘stand by them’ when they released “Local Business” – it’s one of my very favorite albums, I listen to it in full nearly once a week. So when they announced a 29 song, 93+ minute rock opera, I went into cardiac arrest. And as I was staring at it after it came out, before I listened, I thought – “there’s few bands that could really pull this off, and I’m not sure +@ even can.” “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” isn’t their strongest album, but in terms of ambition and effort, it is indeed unmatched.

The album is separated into five acts, much like Foxygen’s “…And Star Power” last year. The opera follows Our Hero, as he meets his doppelganger and struggles with manic depression, a reflection of Patrick Stickles’ own struggles. Stickles has reflected before – “The Monitor” reflected his depression, where my favorite +@ song “My Eating Disorder” details his selective eating.

There’s a lot to take in on the album, at 29 songs and over an hour and a half long. Given that the band has always centered itself equally on music and lyrics, there’s rarely one more worthy of attention – and that comes through the most on songs that feel like they could’ve been cut. It runs too long, even as an art project, and the average-lengthed songs start to bleed together a bit. There’s also a surprising number of them – although two of the songs are over nine minutes, and thirteen are under two minutes, most of the other tracks are between 3:00 and 4:30, unexpected for a band comfortable in the 5:00-6:30 range. Some songs, like “Dimed Out” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” feel zipped-up and perfectly sliced because of it, but some songs feel underdeveloped in that range.

The album keeps things interesting by engulfing all of Patrick Stickles’ influences, rather than focusing on one. Early on, especially on “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant” and “Lonely Boy,” the band directly channels their inner Springsteen. As the album gets more indulging, the band expands influences, from hardcore (“Look Alive”) to the Pogues (“A Pair of Brown Eyes”) to the traditional (an unexpected “Auld Lang Syne”). There’s a lot going on here, and it gets switched up so consistently that it feels like where in the manic itself.

“The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is a flawed but strong album. Just when it starts to lag, it winds up again and hits you with another punk blast. And it’s needlessly but joyously self-indulgent, keeping all of the band’s linked narratives going. It’s punk, it’s indie, it’s gospel, it’s anything you’d imagine Titus Andronicus to be. It succeeds just because it has the sheer audacity to demand it so. “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is a beast, and with another dense, lengthy concept album under their belt, it’s safe to say we have no idea where +@ are going next. Their next album might equate struggles with body identity to stories of ancient gods, or it might be a Bon Jovi covers album. It’s tough to say, and that’s what makes +@ America’s best rock band.

If you like this, try: self-immolation

-By Andrew McNally