Waxahatchee – “Ivy Tripp”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Breathless” “<”

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

That’s the first sound you hear on “Breathless,” the opening track to Katie Crutchfield’s third full-length as Waxahatchee. It’s a guitar-wall, a block of fuzz of an electric guitar settling into it’s distortion. It’s similar to the guitar in 2013’s “Misery Over Dispute,” but grittier, more forceful. “Ivy Tripp,” and especially “Breathless,” follows Crutchfield’s trend of increasingly confident electric songwriting, although the electric/acoustic balance is too far in favor of the former.

People that discovered Crutchfield through her 2012 debut, “American Weekend” (like myself), probably wouldn’t have guessed that she was in a punk band prior, cult favorites P.S. Eliot (with her sister Allison – frontwoman for the equally great Swearin’). “American Weekend” was entirely acoustic and lo-fi enough that she could’ve easily opened a recording program and recorded the whole thing in a bedroom. “Cerulean Salt,” one of the best albums of 2013 (a year filled with great albums), was able to mix electric and acoustic. Songs like “Misery Over Dispute” aligned with 90’s alt-rock, with a Weezer-like warm distortion to them. And tracks like the tear-inducing closer “You’re Damaged” proved acoustic ballads could fit right in with the plugged-in songs.

“Ivy Tripp” follows more open, progressive songwriting. It’s her most comprehensive album to date, with piano and synth incorporated at times. And for part of the album, the flow is just as jarring as it was on “Salt.” Right as “Breathless” starts to become droning in it’s fuzz, it gives way to the clean, acoustic opening of “Under a Rock.” Unfortunately, the album’s middle succumbs a few times to electric tracks that don’t have enough oomph to them, and may have worked better acoustic. It picks up again for the final third – two beautiful acoustic tracks, a piano ballad, and a circular, grungy bass-heavy song close out the album.

As usual, most of the songs on “Tripp” are sung to an unknown individual. This album is different from “Weekend” and “Salt,” in that it is as focused on the music as the vocals and lyrics, so there’s less lyrical standouts. But “<” has the repeated line “You’re less than me / I am nothing.” The song is also maybe the most interesting from a musical standpoint, as a building track with discordant guitars. Elsewhere, Crutchfield makes numerous references to water and, on “Air,” sings “I left you out like a carton of milk.”

Like the lyrics, her vocals on this album aren’t as much of the focus. But they’re still commanding, naturally.  They’re the strongest on “Air,” but they’re great throughout. The strongest quality in her music has always been the fact that she sounds like she’s making these albums for her, not for an audience – not a trait that’s usually a good thing. But “Ivy Tripp,” like the albums before, sounds like a work of grievances, of things that she needs to get off her chest. And the songwriting is more expansive, more confident, and comes with the biggest sound yet, but these still sound like songs recorded for her. The audience is merely a factor in her music; she’d like us to be included, but if we’re not, it’s okay. The songs are being made anyways.

If you like this, try: Any album from one of my absolute favorite bands, Laura Stevenson & the Cans. I recommend “Sit Resist.”

Everything Ever – “Solid Ground”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Big Ideas” “Black Cat”

Not every up-and-coming punk band can come out of the gate with a debut album as consistent and enjoyable as “Solid Ground,” but not every punk band gets to open for Arrogant Sons of Bitches, too. When I first saw Everything Ever (then known as Curious Volume), they were the opening band on the line-up on night two of ASOB’s two-off reunion performances (a bill that also included Laura Stevenson, Shinobu, members of MU330 and I think Good Luck). The energy that these young men put into their show really surprised me, they held their own in a huge line-up. Now their debut album is out, brimming with energy and poetry.

I hesitate to call Everything Ever “pop-punk,” because they’re not as cut-and-paste (thankfully). Their music has pop-punk qualities, but it isn’t directly aligned with any punk subgenre. It could equally be called skate-punk with emotion. What is there, however, is big choruses. The band has big choruses and ‘gang’ vocals right out of their Staten & Long Island(s) roots. And there’s a lot of energy, especially in the album’s early songs. The opening trio of songs, “This Destruction,” “Rock Bottom” and “Big Ideas,” come roaring with enough energy and volume to make pop-punk purists smile. Likewise, late-album song “From Below” is a little blast to kickstart into the finale. This is something that has always come easy to the band, a nice benefit to have, and it’s on full display here.

But the band – consisting of Zach Sandel on drums, John Trotta on bass/vocals and Andrew Paladino on guitar/vocals – add some little eccentricities to their music to elevate beyond pop-punk simplicity. Trotta and Paladino put more emphasis on vocals and vocal rhythms than most punk bands, adding some depth to the tracks (I noticed it the most on “Of Guilt”). They also put in musical flourishes that save the songs from being verse-chorus-verse-chorus, etc. There are breakdowns, calmer moments, and just generally motivated songwriting. Listen closely on “Rock Bottom” for a quick, very effective chord change, for example. Absolutely the best example of the band’s songwriting is the finale, “Black Cats,” which does something most pop-punk bands would gawk at – stretches past six minutes. It’s a flowing song and a fitting finale, one that doesn’t sound nearly as long as it is. Everything Ever could be a pop-punk band – but are more one that have launched off of a template.

It could be that I saw the band open for ASOB and that I’m listening to Bomb the Music Industry! as I write this, but there were two things I noticed on the album that reminded me of Jeff Rosenstock’s songwriting – another man whose undefinable punk combined pop- and skate- templates. One example was quick – the pairing of lines “I gotta be more friendly / I gotta sing more passionately” in “Big Ideas” is delivered in a ‘pseudo-optimistic but kinda apathetic’ way that’s reminiscent of Jeff. And the lyrics, in general, have the same kind of poetic self-deprecation that BTMI was overloaded with. While most NY pop-punk bands direct their anger outwards, Paladino’s lyrics tend to focus more inwards, and while they’re maybe not as direct or specific as they could be, they’re still a poetic benefit that isn’t shared in fellow punk bands. So call Everything Ever what you’d like; maybe their name fits them well. “Solid Ground” is a strong debut, one that asks for a few listens. And with the band’s blending of influences, there’s no reason not to give it a few spins.

If you like this, try: Realistically, Everything Ever doesn’t actually sound a whole lot like ASOB/BTMI, even though I just spent a whole paragraph on comparisons. I’d rather align them with the Menzingers’ recent album, “Rented World,” which drifts closer to pop-punk than their earlier albums.

-By Andrew McNally