Review Rundown: Senses Fail, Messengers, Kristian Hoffman, Finlay Morton, Mark Newman

This new edition of the Review Rundown offers reviews of new releases from Messengers, Senses Fail, Kristian Hoffman, Finlay Morton and Mark Newman.

File Under: Standard Screamo/Post-Hardcore
Senses Fail - The Fire (Vagrant): While Senses Fail’s fourth long player, the Fire, could be considered somewhat of a conservative and safe release for the screamo-ers, at least it isn’t a rehashing of 2008’s Life Is a Waiting Room, something many of the bands followers will rejoice over. Even though the Fire could be referred to as ‘safe’ for Senses Fail, you can’t say it’s anything but consistent in terms of sound. This record is once again abrasive and hard-hitting, led into battle by outspoken and talented frontman Buddy Neilsen, as he, with the Fire, sets to wax one of his more complete vocal efforts yet. His skills vocally throughout the years haven’t yet been questioned, though his aptitude as a songwriter has, a fire quickly put out with the Fire (yes, pun fully intended). When listening to this disc, be patient, it gets better as it goes along. The music isn’t anything new and neither are the structures throughout, though the Fire doesn’t fail to entertain through such thunderous vessels as the hook-laden crunch-fest that is “Saint Anthony,” and straight –up guitar-a-thons “New Year’s Eve” and “Irish Eyes.” Be sure to wait things out, as the albums closing barrage “Hold On” cautiously builds before exploding into a bombastic emotional shower, a track well worth the wait. If you have any experience with the bands previous body of work, you should know to conserve your breath because Senses Fail isn’t the type of band to give you the chance to catch it. Sure, the Fire isn’t breaking any new ground for the post-hardcore vets, and while it isn’t doing anything in the way of blazing new trails stylistically, it’s good, which is all that matters, good enough in fact to register as the bands most impressive work since the bands 2004 debut, Let It Enfold You. (
Grade: B
Go Download: "Saint Anthony"

File Under: Scream-y Yawn-Core
Messengers – Anthems (Strike First): Anthems is by no means perfect, that much should be expected going into the latest release from quasi-NYHC-revivalists Messengers. Now, look at that opening bombardment in two parts, first, while it isn’t perfect, at least the band has offered something they themselves can (hopefully) build on in the future, and as far as the band being quasi-New York Hardcore-revivalists, just pop in Anthems for an explanation of that tag. "Shipwreck" and "Creation" personify the bands throwback sound, a tandem of tracks that lend a bit of credibility to the record on the whole. Messengers retro-NYHC vibe gets a bit of a thrashy makeover on cuts like "Judge," a gritty affair that houses both messy vocals and an undeniable heaviness, though not quite everything on Anthems comes up roses for the band. "Palerose" and "Domicile" are two such instances, stale moments that come across all-too-vanilla for the bands own good. While these are two tracks you'll want to pass over, make sure you do not pass over the track that follows, "Weight," one of the best albums best, which effectively brings some potent thrash back to Anthems, a sound that the band probably should have spent a little more time exploring in hindsight. The use of predictable gang vocals notwithstanding, Anthems is an alright jumping off point for the group, a foundation that can probably be built upon in order to create something better down the road. But the fact is the albums pitfalls do detract from its brighter moments, and, as the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Unfortunately for Messengers, Anthems was their one shot. (
Grade: C+
Go Download: ‘Judge’

File Under: Off the Beaten Path Alt-Pop
Kristian Hoffman – FOP (Kayo Stereophonics): Though you may not know his name or his face, there’s a good chance that you know some of Kristian Hoffman’s associates like Rufus Wainright or former band the Mumps, but with FOP that should all change. Hoffman’s latest entry into the indie/alt-pop music arena is pop music done to the lavish and extravagant hilt, and should register as Hoffman’s strongest body of work to date. The seven minute "Something New is Born" opens the luxurious affair with an operatic feel, though it’s a bit ostentatious that Hoffman chose to open the record with such a complex structural piece, since you might find yourself asking, ‘where do we go from here?’ "Out of the Habit" and "Blackpool Lights" work to dispel any negativity, and the trio of "Evil," "Imaginary Friend" and "Hey Little Jesus" infuse copious amounts of slightly pensive fun into FOP, which, on the whole, feels pretty kind-spirited and lighthearted. It is an emotional affair to say the least, though ultimately you won’t get bogged down in such heavy semantics while listening. (
Grade: B-
Go Download: "Something New is Born"

File Under: Troubadour-esque Singer/Songwriter
Finlay Morton – Harvest the Wind (Stoneroom Recordings): With a classic pop feel akin to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, Aberdeen, Scotland’s Finlay Morton’s third long player Harvest the Wind is simple without being overly minimalist and hospitable without being overbearing. Morton’s warm subdued tenor is both welcoming and intelligent, fueling Harvest the Wind with such energy, comfort, and most of all, passion. This disc is only ten tracks in length (though there is a bonus track), but Morton does a admirable job of making all moments count, as the title track, "Do You Believe In Ghosts," "Working On It," and the closing "Babe, You Can't Have My Guitar" showcase Morton’s sharp songwriting and zealous vocals, which, in the end, are the records main selling points, and pretty much the reason you’ll listen to this record in the first place. (
Grade: B
Go Download: "Do You Believe in Ghosts"

File Under: Singer/Songwriter
Mark Newman – Walls of Jericho: Strength and melody run rampant throughout Walls of Jericho, the latest offering from multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Mark Newman, a tag-team of themes that takes center stage during opening salvo “Until the Morning Comes.” Newman’s penchant for powerful and melodic songwriting, not to mention serious six-string skills, takes hold and really fuels the majority of Walls of Jericho, and when combined with his knack for endearing, introspective songwriting, leads to a slew of standout tracks, including “Taking Pictures,” “Fire on the Water” and “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl,” the latter a cover of a tune initially penned by the late Willy DeVille. As a side note, Newman played alongside Deville at one point in time and was even presented with one of Deville guitars after his untimely passing, but that’s a story for another day to be honest. Walls of Jericho is a talented work from start to finish – one with a great smoky feel to it, as if you were hearing it for the first time in the backroom of a New York City rock bar, and that’s definitely not a bad quality to have. (
Grade: B-
Go Download: “Fire on the Water"