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I Am Happy

These very sporadic blog posts have been something of a writing exercise for me. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt a small level of guilt or self-criticism for not posting often enough. But I imagine these ramblings as a conversation I have with myself into an empty void. A form of self-therapy. And maybe in posting them, somewhere along the way, some of these thoughts and feelings resonate and connect with others that stumble across them..

I am happy.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that.

I don’t place this out there in a fake-social-media context. Please don’t allow those words to make you think any less of yourself for how you currently feel.

I share my ramblings on the struggles that I go through, it seems only fitting for me to acknowledge the good moments too.

Happiness is an emotion. And like all emotions it isn’t one ever-lasting constant. Contrary to a lot of what we are sold, it is not some perpetual enlightenment. But this general sense of “happiness” feels a lot more comfortable lately. A lightness. An accepting of myself again without incessant thoughts deriding me on repeat. I can feel my personality shining a little like I imagine that it used to. And not in a dour, self-deprecating way (though being British, there’s still plenty of that there too).

This is in part due to a timely culmination of a few moments in my life.

I have placed a lot of work into my mental health. In tracing back some of my behavioural patterns, I have had to explore elements of my past in an attempt to not only find some sort of closure on dysfunctional emotional issues and trauma but also to attempt to break the cycle and correct those repetitive traits.

We are all guilty of those habits and behaviours that we perpetuate into the world, becoming part of a cycle that we cannot break until we confront them within ourselves.

In attempting to address some of my experiences with those involved, more often than not I have found my feelings being invalidated and dismissed. Gaslit. In those instances it becomes even harder to nurse the old wounds.

Recently, and surprisingly, I received two heartfelt and meaningful apologies from people in my life that I love wholeheartedly.

Words cannot describe the overwhelming amount of healing and relief felt in those two moments.

I also finished reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig a few days ago. A book that I devoured within days through tear-filled eyes.

I have never really considered myself to be someone that lives with regret but elements of the book resonated deeply with me and vocalised many of my own hidden thoughts, feelings and fears.

Thoughts of what I could’ve done. What I should’ve done. What I could do. What I should do. Thoughts of feeling trapped and helpless floating in a sea of indecision as life passes you by. Feeling disappointed. Feeling like a disappointment, regardless of whether those sentiments are real or projected.

But also realising that at this moment in time; I want to live.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that too.

I haven’t wanted to actively die in a short while but my feelings on life and death could’ve been summed up as passive and indifferent at best.

Reading the book and being open with people has helped me to acknowledge and respect my own value in the lives of those around me. To quieten the voice that diminishes me and who I am and what I mean, not only to myself but also to the people I care about.

If nothing else, I at least feel less of a burden to others lately. And I take pride in the efforts that I try to place into mental health awareness in those I encounter.

Life is complex and complicated and the pragmatist in me whispers that this feeling is fleeting.

But that’s ok. Because at least for now..

I am happy.

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I Will Be Ok

I’ve felt somewhat inspired by a whole day spent binge-watching the tv series Ted Lasso.

The character’s endless American optimism grates against the ingrained English pessimism.

He rallies against the sentiment; “It’s the hope that kills you”. Calling his team to arms to have hope and believe.

It may seem ridiculous to read but I teared up in that moment. I’ve been feeling hopeless for so long now.

I thought quitting my job would help on renewing that sense of hope. And it did for a very short while.

Until the whole world went to shit.

And there’s been a lot of anxiety and depression festering during the course of the last year. Incessant fear-mongering from the media and constant doomscrolling my feeds have created a toxic concoction with my own quiet worries.

There’s also been a lot of anger. And even if rightly justified, that can’t be carried. There’s too much going on in the world to be angry about for us to individually bear the weight of it all. It becomes sensory overload. It becomes overwhelming.

I’ve buried myself in one distraction or another. And that’s been good. It’s been helpful and productive in most ways. I never get bored. I can always occupy myself.

But it also takes a balance of realising when to distract yourself from ruminating and when to engage in those thoughts and feelings.

And I need to remind myself of that. To stay mindful of the balance instead of letting my natural thought patterns sway towards dismissing and denigrating myself. Avoiding dwelling thoughts of a “wasted” year and seeing the positivity and progression made.

In the wise words of Frank Turner (as inspired by Clive James), I need to remember to “be more kind”.

Especially to myself.

I need to have hope that I’m going to be ok. I need to have belief in myself that I will be ok. And that the world at large can be ok if we focus on doing our part in what we can and do affect around us and in the way we live our lives.

That does take work. But it also takes rest. As with nearly everything in life, it takes balance.

Most importantly for me, it takes less self-punishment.

And I also need to accept that even if and when things don’t go well, I will still be ok.

I have been so far. Just about.

The kinder we are to ourselves, the kinder we are to others.

I just need to take a breath and remember that.

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Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 4 (2020)

Run The Jewels are an alternative hip-hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P.

The two found solo acclaim in the hip-hop community before coming together to collaborate on El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music. With both albums dropping in 2012 the two ventured out on tour together.

The success of the alliance led to the forming of Run The Jewels in 2013, taking their name from the lyrics of Cheesy Rat Blues by LL Cool J.

Their debut self-titled album dropped online as a free digital download and broke the two through to a wider mainstream audience.

The album had a relatively loose flow but showed an energetic interplay between the two MC’s set over exciting alternative beats. They underscored their talk of violence with a wry humour and placed their anti-authority front and centre, occasionally touching upon their political stances.

The debut album was followed by 2014’s Run The Jewels 2 which tightened up their flow to darker sounding, sub-bass tracks.

They delved deeper into their stance against the system and issues with the police force. Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) was notable for a rare appearance from Rage Against The Machine’s Zack De La Rocha in what was to become a recurring collaboration.

Run The Jewels 3 was released at the end of 2016. The sonics of the album felt lighter than the previous release with more guest artists featuring throughout. The lyrical content aimed full-force against the social issues and injustices prevailing the world as the duo fully embraced being music of consciousness.

Run The Jewels dropped their 4th album, Run The Jewels 4 a few days earlier than planned at the start of June 2020. This surprise release was accompanied by a message from the band acknowledging the madness of the world and stating their intention to release this record for their fans during these troubled and tumultuous times.

It’s considered the bands first release on a larger record company through RBC Records and BMG via their own imprint, Jewel Runners. Featuring 11 tracks at a run time just shy of 40 minutes with El-P once again serving as the main producer.

As always the album was released free to download through their website but with a request for donations that go to the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Fund. The Mass Defense Committee being a network of lawyers, legal workers and law students that provide legal support for political activists, protesters and movements for social change.

The album clicks into life with opener Yankee And The Brave, Killer Mike flowing straight in delivering fierce bars over a stuttering beat that drops then passes the verse off to El-P – the dynamic hustlers back at it again.

The self-professed fucked-up version of The Blues Brothers, set the ethos of the band clear; stick-up artists taking what you can in a system designed to keep us down. It takes aim at the current political system.

El-P calls out the disparity of economics – “It’s scammer bliss when you putting villains in charge of shit. All of us targeted all we doing is arguing”. Killer Mike blasts the racial injustices being committed by the police force and the media – “I got one round left, 100 cops outside. I can shoot at them or put one between my eyes. Chose the latter it don’t matter it ain’t suicide. And if the news say it was that’s a god damn lie!”.

The escalating electronica elements build the tension of the track throughout.

Ooh La La is an early standout favourite. It features Greg Nice and DJ Premier of Gang Starr and samples their track DWYCK over the top of a skipping piano melody reminiscent of early 90’s hip-hop such as Jurassic 5 and most specifically Wu Tang Clan (with a shoutout to ODB thrown in).

There is no subtlety in the anti-authority statement Killer Mike puts forth to the masses – “Fuck a King or Queen and all of their loyal subjects. I pull my penis out and I piss on their shoes in public. People, we’re the pirates – the pride of this great republic”. He’s shouting that the public are the true bearers of political power, calling for unity of the people against the system.

This leads into a throwaway satirical spin on Batman as a reference for realising who the establishment is and embracing anarchy – “I used to love Bruce but living my vida loca helped me understand I’m probably more of a Joker”.

Out Of Sight – featuring 2 Chainz and sampling elements of Misdemeanor by Foster Sylvers – and Holy Calamafuck provide platforms for the lyrical dexterity, vocal interplay and offbeat humour of the band. Killer Mike continuing to quip film and pop-culture references whilst El-P revels in delving into his surreal imagery.

Holy Calamafuck is lifted as another early album highlight by its march on a dark, rhythmic beat.

Goonies vs. E.T. sees the tangible anger of this album begin to simmer up in ferocious power. This boils during Killer Mike’s incendiary closing verse – “You’ve been hypnotized and twitter-ized by silly guys. Cues to the evening news make sure that you’re ill-advised. Got you celebrating the generators of genocide”.

My favourite track on the album, Walking In The Snow cracks with raw emotion and frustrated rage. The duo preach for the public to outgrow the outmoded system, to take the opportunity to seize the moment where money does not matter over the cost of human life.

El-P confronts those being incensed by the state and the media into a race-war and those sitting in apathy on the sidelines – “Funny fact about a cage; they’re never built for just one group. So when that cage is done with them and you’re still poor, it comes for you. The newest lowest on the totem, well ‘golly gee’ you have been used. You helped to fuel the death machine that down the line will kill you too”.

Killer Mike’s delivery of the line “And everyday on the evening news they feed you fear for free. And you’re so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper ‘I can’t breathe’” is chilling and hauntingly prophetic of the recent public murder of George Floyd.

Unfortunately these lines become a clear signifier of the prevalent systematic racism and police brutality that the lyrics were in direct reference to. They are about many other incidents within near and distant history but most notably the public murder of Eric Garner in 2014.

The verse ends emphatically – “All of us serve the same masters. All of us nothing but slaves. Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state.”

The beats of Ju$t feel like a spiritual successor to the sounds of the bands previous offerings on Run The Jewels 3. It features Pharrell Williams and the returning Zack De La Rocha as the unofficial third member of the band.

This song rallies against the oppression of poverty and the corruption of politics. The band have been vocal in their belief that money has corrupted the system and that hopelessness has become the tool of the oppressors to keep the public apathetic to that fact.

De La Rocha’s aggressive vocals rage for us to “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar!”. This not only calls out latent systematic racism in the placing of reverence on these problematic historical figures but also that our societies have become a slave to money.

Never Look Back and The Ground Below – featuring sample elements of Ether by Gang Of Four – allow the albums high quality production to shine through. El-P mastering intense hooks and melody-laden beats.

These production elements are elevated by Josh Homme’s impassioned moans and guitar work infused with the emotional resonance of Mavis Staples’ evocations on Pulling The Pin’s spiritual reflection.

Album closer, A Few Words For The Firing Squad (Radiation) continues these reflections as the band explore their emotional conflicts and the pressures of living life in the current system.

This is where Run The Jewels make their final stand. To speak up for those in the struggle. To stand strong with those suffering – “For the truth-tellers tied to the whipping post left beaten, battered, bruised. For the ones whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit. Go hard. Last words to the firing squad was ‘fuck you too!’”. Strange Fruit being a reference to the poem by Abel Meeropol that protests the lynching of black Americans that would later be recorded by Billie Holiday and covered by Nina Simone.

The emotions of the album crescendo into a surging orchestral instrumental before fading into the hidden track Theme Music to close out this latest instalment of Run The Jewels.

This album represents political activism. This is protest music. A rallying call to arms against systematic racism and poverty, political corruption, biased media and fake corporations. This is a powerful call to destroy the status quo.

The band have previously been accused of lacking any change in tempo but on this latest release they inject urgency into a blistering soundscape. The whole production is well composed and structured with nuanced changes in their tempo and flow to keep the listener engaged and invested in what we are hearing.

They improve their sound on each release as their motifs grow in substance, exuding more assurance and swagger on each outing.

Killer Mike has stated that they wanted this album to feel like being punched in the face. To become the soundtrack to progress. The record succeeds in being confrontational and aggressive.

Beneath the exaggerated scenarios the band place theirselves in for dramatic effect, their statements are calling truth to power.

Black Lives Matter.

To affect change you have to educate yourselves and those around you. You have to use your vote to destroy racist laws and racist policies. You have to start at a local level. In the words of Killer Mike; now is the time to plot, plan, strategise, organise and mobilise.

Run The Jewels’ Run The Jewels 4 is not only one of their strongest releases both musically and in the themes they explore but will also be seen as a powerful reflection of our times.

Recommended reading;

⁃ How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

⁃ Natives by Akala

⁃ Talking To My Daughter About The Economy by Yanis Varoufakis

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Poppy – I Disagree (2020)

Moriah Rose Pereira, known as Poppy, started out in 2011 as a social media personality – performing pop covers across festivals and posting videos on YouTube. Her early sound was reminiscent of the contemporary radio pop chart artists of the time.

Around 2014 Poppy began a ‘creative partnership’ with director and musician Corey Michael Mixter, known under the alias Titanic Sinclair. The two began to work on Poppy’s social media presence and to create a unique branding and image.

The essence of the video work and music produced became an abstract conceptual art piece. A performance art inspired by the works of Andy Warhol, David Lynch and Tim Burton. This would later evolve to take on a kawaii J-Pop/K-Pop influence.

A vital component to Poppy’s musical career has been longtime collaborator, Simon Wilcox – a singer-songwriter with many credits on songs in the pop and rock genres for diverse acts such as The Used, Selena Gomez, The Fever 333, Rita Ora and Blink182.

The creative endeavours of the Poppy contingent began in the heavily ska-punk and reggae influenced pop EP, Bubblebath, released in 2016 through her original partnership with Mad Decent Records.

The 2017 debut album, Poppy.Computer, took on an art-pop/bubblegum-pop sound that would define the early impressions of Poppy on the ‘mainstream’ consciousness.

This album also introduced elements of electro and synth and leaned into a Japanese influence, being produced with Ryosuke Sakai.

On her sophmore album, 2018’s Am I A Girl?, Poppy worked with multiple producers to continue her efforts in electro and synth sounds. The back end of this album showed hints of what was to come with the introduction of a nu-metal inspiration.

On the release of 2019’s Choke EP, Poppy experimented further in the terrain of metal genres. This featured a collaboration with The Fever 333 on the track Scary Mask.

During her career, Poppy has navigated further multimedia creative outlets releasing ambient music in 2016’s 3:36 (Music To Sleep To), 2019’s ICU (Music To Read To) to accompany her first graphic novel – Genesis1 – and the forthcoming Music To Scream To for her second graphic novel – Damnation; Poppy’s Inferno.

Poppy’s work has also been stated by some to be a social commentary on internet and social media culture.

This may be exemplified in the creation of Poppy.Church in 2018 – a website that acts as a social media platform – and a book, The Gospel Of Poppy.

I Disagree is the 3rd studio album from Poppy. It’s released through Sumerian Records – an independent label from the metal and prog-metal scene – after an unceremonious departure from Mad Decent. Featuring 10 tracks the record clocks in with a running time of 35 minutes.

This album is produced with previous Poppy collaborators Chris Greatti – known for working with Grimes, Yungblud and Black Veil Brides – and Zakk Cervini – Simple Creatures, Beartooth and Good Charlotte.

It is also worth noting that I Disagree appears to be Poppy’s first album not to feature any association with Simon Wilcox.

The intentions of this record are signified immediately in the cover artwork from Jesse Draxler. This is a darker presentation of Poppy than any imagery that has come before.

Album opener Concrete reveals the new, heavier identity of Poppy’s sound.

Opening with a blaring air raid siren, this track proceeds to hurtle through a panorama of tones; blurring the lines of techno, metal and bubblegum-pop into a new beast that Poppy labels ‘post-genre’.

There is a clear influence of Babymetal in this sound but the track never rests too comfortably in one genre before blistering into the next. Even taking a reprieve into a Beatles/ELO-esque “breakdown” partway through with Queen inspired riffs interlaced to close the track out.

Lyrically, Poppy flatly makes her mission statement clear; “Bury me six feet deep. Cover me in concrete. Turn me into a street”. This lays the old incarnation of Poppy to ground. “I tried to eat ice cream. I tried to drink tea. But I need that taste of young blood in my teeth”. She tried to conform but she is now embracing her new ‘self’.

Title track, I Disagree, is my favourite song on this album. A Die Antwoord inspired dark, sinister vocal delivery provides an undercurrent that boils beneath a chugging techno-metal groove.

This is offset with a chorus that sees a pop vocal delivery of dark lyrics. Lyrics that confront oppression and self-inflicted repression; “Down, let it all burn down. Burn it to the ground. We’ll be safe and sound when it all burns down”.

The tracks Bloodmoney, Anything Like Me and Fill The Crown bring a stomping industrial metal overtone to the record reminiscent of Nine lnch Nails and Marilyn Manson.

Bloodmoney confronts the morals of an individual – “Never forget the excess of a man because the grabbing hands always grab what they can” being a subtle reference to Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts – whilst Anything Like Me rages against perceptions and expectations.

Fill The Crown is another favourite of mine. This has duality in the pop elements preaching a message of salvation – “You can be anyone you want to be. You can be free, you can be free.” – against a metal omen of a corrupting force – “Poison the fountain, empty your mind. Follow the leader, the leader is blind”.

This theme brings the theatrics of the band Ghost to mind – also an element that seems to have inspired the current presentation of Poppy and her band in their live performances.

The featured vocals on this track have created speculation of Marilyn Manson’s uncredited contributions due to the known friendship between Poppy and Manson. There is a contending theory that cites Poppy’s current partner, Ghostemane, as the vocalist.

Nothing I Need and Sit/Stay see the second half of this album somewhat calm the pace and energy. Elements of dreamy, psychedelic trap-pop beats become a more prominent feature of the sound.

Bite Your Teeth brings spikes of energy in a pounding Slipknot-inspired snarl of attitude. Bracing against pain and confronting it rather than shying away.

Sick Of The Sun resumes the trap-pop soundscape and examines depression. Wanting to step away from the scrutiny and attention found in the spotlight.

Album closer, Don’t Go Outside, persues these motifs but with a nihilistic spin matched with an ominous orchestral undertone – a track that seemingly finds inspiration from Black Sabbath and Ghost.

“The TV says you’re out of time. Suck the fear in through your eyes” is a commentary on media inflaming fear. “Everything will be okay” becomes a rising mantra to allay that fear, holding the creeping thoughts at bay.

The themes of the album are brought full circle and summed up through an emotionally fulfilling reprise calling to “let it all burn down”, “bury me six feet deep and just cover me in concrete” but remember “you can be anyone you want to be”.

This first half of this album encapsulates the achievement of Poppy’s new heavier, ‘post-genre’ sound; pop inflections delivered in cohesion with metal sensibilities. Fighting the definitions, creatives parameters and restrictive boundaries of genre.

This sound is angry and finds empowerment in that anger. You don’t have to do as you’re told. Poppy has stated that this album embraces her desire to burn down her past and start over. This is her reinvention.

Where this falters is in the pacing of the second half of the album. Even though there is a simmering sinister undertone to the later tracks, this is where the album sonically feels like two separate EP’s.

The composition on some of these tracks and the track listing itself can be unnecessaryily jarring. It feels as though this issue could’ve been addressed by re-ordering the last five songs to create a gradual dip and lift. As it is, the pacing cuts off the albums momentum and lowers the energy too much and struggles to regain it.

A flaw in the pop construction of the song writing relies on a repetition of lyrics. This means that although the themes and issues Poppy addresses are presented, there feels little substance to the sometimes abstract lyrical content.

This is also reflected in some of the stilted vocal deliveries for the aesthetic of the sound. This may be a conscious choice as an effect of the performance art but this holds the listener back from a deeper emotional investment in these tracks.

Admittedly it may also be that I am not the target demographic for the lyrical content.

This album finds a vast array of inspiration but also brings to mind the question of influence versus imitation. Some elements of these songs feel like complete lifts from those Poppy finds inspiration in, compiled into a mash-up remix track, cashing in on the modern trend of nostalgia.

There is a component of Poppy’s art that bears some thought; how much does satire play into the social commentary and how far does that thread unravel?

That being said, Poppy does deliver a freshness to these sounds on the stand out tracks of the album.

This is Poppy’s first release to start registering on the worldwide charts. The critical reception of the album has been generally favourably received. Even being noted as ‘revolutionising music for a new generation’ but it has been noticed that there is a lack of consistency.

Poppy has recently toured with Bring Me The Horizon and was slated to tour with Deftones and Gojira in 2020.

While there is a chance that Poppy may be divisive to metal fans, the strong singles, theatrical presence and eclectic visuals and aesthetic make their live performance ideal for the main stage of festivals.

Since the release of this album Poppy has abruptly parted ways with Titanic Sinclair. As a result she appears to be dropping the facade of the performance art a little and talking more personally.

It will be interesting to see where Poppy’s next musical forays lead from here.

Poppy’s I Disagree is inconsistent but the first half of this album is more than worth the price of admission. The droning hooks with catchy pop melodies are infectious and will remain as highlights on my playlist for awhile to come.

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I Am Not Well.

I am not well.

I haven’t been well for awhile now.

It’s been over two hard years of maybe-not-so-subtle grieving and a lot of heavy introspection and self-reflection.

In that time – and through somewhat wiser eyes – I think back on growing up.

I contextualise and re-explore a lot of the thoughts and feelings I experienced throughout life.

I’ve suffered through bouts of what those around me labelled as moments of feeling down. Feeling blue. Feeling sad.

I now recognise that I have always engaged with my depression as an emotion. As a sadness. A mental state that can be overcome. A sadness to try and disguise. To try and pretend isn’t there. To try and convince myself I have recovered from.

It was what my society had taught me about my mental health and the emotions I was experiencing. To ‘toughen up’. To think of those around the world so much worse off than me. To stop over-thinking things. To stop being too sensitive.

Whether self-perceived or societally-taught came feelings of weakness. Of inadequacy. Of failure to function as a normal person. Questioning why I was so different. So weird. So negative.

This cycle can become draining.

It starts to feel harder to recover each time.

Everytime I found myself back in that struggling mind frame it became more difficult to draw the will power to re-energise myself.

A lot of my experiences were met with the notion of things magically improving. Getting better with time.

These ideas led to suffocating feelings of despair when the magical moment failed to materialise and the feelings continued to stretch on.

Everything starting to feel daunting. Unmanageable.

And then along comes suicidal ideation.

At times escalating to suicidal tendencies.

Unhealthy habits as a release.

Self-sabotage.

Self-destruction.

Feelings of shame brought on by society. Judgements over suicidal thoughts. Dismissive of symptoms.

These toxic notions undermine the efforts we need to place into working towards some semblance of balance and calmness.

Depression is a disease.

An illness we live with everyday.

Something that won’t just go away in time.

It isn’t something that can be overcome.

It isn’t something that can be cured.

There is no cure.

Like any disease it mutates. It evolves over time. Our mental health deteriorates.

We can manage the symptoms of this disease.

There are coping mechanisms to aid those that are afflicted to traverse the landmine-strewn battlegrounds of their own thoughts.

It starts by recognising the misinformation we may have been given regarding our disease and how we have been taught to cope with it.

It starts by coming to terms with our depression and how it affects us.

It starts be admitting that I am not well.

And that’s ok.

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Four Year Strong – Brain Pain (2020)

Four Year Strong are a modern day pop-punk staple and have become a mainstay in the genre. They formed in 2001 and took their early strides as we left the 2000’s, before going on to gain footing on the mainstage of the pop-punk circuit that had started to empty as we entered into the 2010’s.

Established giants of the scene either parted ways; explored new sounds and genres; or began to slow and trail in their ascendancy.

Along with their peers in bands such as A Day To Remember, All Time Low, The Wonder Years and others, Four Year Strong followed in the path still being paved by bands like the ever-dependable New Found Glory.

Often labelled as the originators of ‘easycore’ – or at least the band to have popularised the sub-genre – Four Year Strong embraced keyboards and synths into their sound on their first four albums; 2005’s It’s Our Time, 2007’s Rise Or Die Trying, 2009’s covers album Explains It All and on what is seen as their major breakthrough album in 2010’s Enemy Of The World.

During this time they worked frequently with the music producer Gene Freeman, known as Machine. Even though Machine had a history of producing bands such as Lamb Of God, Clutch and Every Time I Die, his work with the likes of Fall Out Boy and Gym Class Heroes was also notable.

Band member, Josh Lyford’s keys and synths added a high-key, fun, pop sensibility interlaced with the chugging rhythms of drummer, Jake Massucco and bassist, Joe Weiss and the intricate riffs and dual harmony vocals in the formidable leading duo of Alan Day and Dan O’Connor.

The bands output has dramatically reduced in the last 10 years as they have undergone somewhat of a tonal change since removing Josh from the band in 2011.

On 2011’s In Some Way, Shape Or Form, Four Year Strong chose to adapt and work towards what was stated as ‘a more diverse and mature sound’. The album was produced with David Bendeth – known for working with Paramore, A Day To Remember, Fightstar, Papa Roach and many more – for what was considered to be a more melodic-rock, radio-friendly production.

Four Year Strong departed from their record label, Universal, in 2012 and continued down this path whilst also attempting to reintegrate some of their earlier, defining, signature sound.

They returned to work with Machine for their 2014 EP, Go Down In History, before going on to work with producers from backgrounds in the heavier-side of the genre’s spectrum; Converge’s Kurt Ballou for 2015’s self-titled album and now with Will Putney on Brain Pain.

Putney is notable for his collaborations with artists such as Ice T’s metal contingent, Body Count and Australian deathcore band, Thy Art Is Murder amongst others.

Brain Pain is Four Year Strong’s 7th studio album and their first one in 5 years. It’s released through Pure Noise – an independent record company with ties to many bands in the punk and pop-punk scene – with 12 tracks clocking in at a running time of 42 minutes.

The new album was announced in January with the tracks Talking Myself In Circles and Brain Pain released as advanced singles. My excitement piqued as I gave the two tracks a cursory listen or two. Ok, three! And then I avoided them in anticipation for the whole album to drop. At the end of February, I was excitedly messaging back and forth with friends as we each dived into our own personal discoveries of this latest release.

Straight from the opening track, It’s Cool, Four Year Strong lay the themes of this album bare; the duality and cohesion of their song-writing. Both musically and in their exploration of identity.

The band have said that the album lyrically is about struggling with identity now that they have found a ‘comfort’ in life; of being aware they are no longer the teenagers that began this band 20 years ago; about the fight against routine and trying to find a balance between day-to-day life and the touring cycle.

This song also contains one of my favourite lines on the album; “I can’t feel this way forever. But it still hurts like hell when I try to control my temper.”

Get Out Of My Head and Crazy Pills deliver the beastly pop-punk hooks that the band have become so adept at.

Followed by one of my highlights on the record with Talking Myself In Circles bringing a bass line and drums that you can’t help but nod and tap along to.

The album has a consistent rhythm powering and crunching away throughout that drives the heartbeat and energy of proceedings. Expansive guitar work surging through the catchy riffs adds depth to the soundscape.

They know the emotional investment fans make to their music. They have made use of personal and relatable narratives but purposely keep the lyrics abstract enough to be open to interpretation.

Some of these songs could just as easily be about relationships as they could be about identity, depression, anxiety, doubt, internal conflict or impotent rage.

Learn To Love The Lie highlights the frontmen’s dualing vocals with interspersed harmonies.

This album is filled with well crafted vocal patterns. Earnest lyrical content with solid wordplay and the usual great interplay of Alan and Dan’s interchanging lines and delecate harmonies. Call and response and gang vocal choruses prevail. Passionate, intense and aggressive delivery offset by fragile and emotional vulnerability.

The title track Brain Pain encapsulates the hardcore and post-hardcore influences on the bands current sound. The closing minute of this track even brings Deftones to mind in the somewhat haunting guitar work and vocal echoes ringing out.

Mouth Full Of Dirt introduces a more alternative rock influence to proceedings. Seventeen continuing this with a more stripped back sound. Some of the vocals do sound digitally.. suppressed? Compressed? This effect seems to be rather prolific in modern pop-punk production. This is notable on The Story So Far’s latest album, Proper Dose.

This albums tender moment comes from Be Good When I’m Gone closing out the “breather” portion to the back half of the album. Echoing harmonies and a string accompaniment reminiscent of Oasis Unplugged. Lyrically a song confronting the issues of touring life and the conflict this creates with day-to-day life.

My favourite track on the album, The Worst Part About Me, kick-drums the pounding heartbeat rhythm of the album back into life. So much angst and aggression on this one with a screaming chorus to “go on and rip my beating heart out!”.

The band aimed to catch the live energy and group interaction from their live shows on this record – and they definitely achieved it! Though I do also think this may tie into some of their vocals feeling a little lost in the mixing at times.

Usefully Useless feels like one of the most likely radio-friendly contenders on the album with a near pop sounding chorus. A frantic bridge injects a fury to the self-questioning lyrics.

Young At Heart provides a summation to everything that has been and gone with the album. Finding a feeling of calm in the eye of the storm.  A self-reflecting closing to the chaos before an abrupt silence to end the album.

In all aspects of interpretation, Four Year Strong are confronting mental and emotional health on Brain Pain. The songwriting is a journey of introspection.

The track listing was composed to be listened to front-to-back in a world of shuffle and singles. This results in a well paced album that feels sonically cohesive throughout. It definitely follows the beats of a concert in it peaks and let-ups.

The band completed a 10 year anniversary tour of Rise Or Die Trying in 2018 and they must be keenly aware of the impending 10 year anniversary for Enemy Of The World – the album that I feel holds a heavy influence shining through on this latest album.

They have also stated that they didn’t feel the sound of In Some Way, Shape Or Form captured the authenticity of the band.

To me Brain Pain makes for a hybrid sound that continues the effort – started on their self-titled album – to meld their backcatalogue together. Merging their earlier defining pop-punk sound with the heavier alternative rock/post-hardcore edge that they’ve been exploring on later records.

Brain Pain has been critically acclaimed but within a rapidly evolving industry and amongst a genre that goes through cycles of stagnation and change, the album has seemingly struggled to gain momentum.

I am glad to notice that the band are still being discovered and influencing the upcoming younger generations of the scene though.

Detractors could accuse Four Year Strong of falling back to relying on a formulaic sound to casual listeners.

But it is clear the band are no longer defined by imposed limitations of pop-punk, and they haven’t been for awhile.

Amongst the familiar and enrapturing comfort old fans crave, the band are able to interlace elements to the mix that elavate their material from standard fare – an often times pleasant reward for those with the time and inclination to dig a little deeper into the material.

I think the testament of strength in this album shines through in being able to find enjoyment in each track.

I’m inclined to believe that this may not be a popularity-high album for Four Year Strong but that it will be considered a strongly consistent and highly regarded entry into their discography.

A band rediscovering their confidence and once again embracing what has become their defining sound, whilst also exploring and expanding their creative horizons.

Four Year Strong’s Brain Pain is a solid album. Time will tell for this records lasting legacy but for now I can’t wait to see these tracks performed live and be able to really let loose to them. And that is always the sign of a great album.

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