3 of 3 thought this review was well written
The Lawrence Arms came roaring out of the Chicago punk scene in the late nineties with their gritty and smart pop-punk sound. Consisting of Brendan Kelly (who shared a band with future Alkaline Trio member Dan Andriano), Chris McCaughan (who had played in Tricky Dick before joining Kelly in The Broadways), and Neil Hennesy (who was currently busy with a band called .baxter.). The three came together as a band, and combined their individual sounds to create the sound that would define the Lawrence Arms. Their b-sides and rarities album, Cocktails and Dreams, is a small peek at the many stages of the Lawrence Arms maturity in growth, even if it is only a slight maturity.
Cocktails and Dreams is a very consistent album and has remarkable flow, especially for a compilation. The band plows through fast and furious punk anthems such as "Faintly Falling Ashes" and "Presenting: The Dancing Robot With The Monkey's Head", both of which take influences to early hardcore as well as catchy pop punk in the vein of Descendents. Melodic, over-driven and intensely catchy, the majority of the songs, though short, are very well thought-out and never come off as repetitive. The interplay with the vocals, switching between clean and growling frequently, perfectly compliments the melodic though sometimes harsh music. Songs like "Intransit" and "Necrotism: Dechanting the Insalubrious Cyborg" owe as much to melody as they do to power.
The band also take a break with slower songs, though not necessarily different in most contexts. The power-chord rhythms, speedy and energetic drums, raw production and vocal interplays are still in the fold, but this time, the song take more of an approach to rhythm then they do to a sheer punk. Songs such as "A Boring Story", "Another Boring Story" and "Turnstiles" are all intensely focused and intense pieces that take more than a few minutes to complete a full circle. The band includes fitfully rhythmical bridges, incorporate lyrics that, though through metaphor, demonstrate clear emotion through the vocals. The band never seems out of their element, no matter how dramatic, emotional or, to be blunt, variable they are. "Old Mexico Way", "There's No Place Like a Stranger's Floor" and "Quincentuple Your Money" are all catchy, driven pop punk pieces laced with hints of the band's slower side, but almost refusing to compromise their overall sound.
Perhaps that is one of the only major flaws with this album. Both of the band's sound, whether fast or slow, are very accessible, fun, and just flat out great. But perhaps a few songs seem to bring neither to the table that well, while still trying to incorporate them. My guess is that these are earlier recordings, as they are rawer and have more edge (though not necessarily a selling point). It's fun to listen to for studying the evolution of the band, but songs like "A Toast" and "The Old Timer's 2x4" are catchy, but never really take off, though the band seem to be doing the right things. Perhaps it's the songs themselves, or the thought of different delivery, but they're overall somewhat disappointing. This is, however, a small problem, but nevertheless still resident.
But in the end, this is an incredibly solid collection of song that never lets go with it's Rasputin-like grip on the listener. Immensely catchy, yet challenging and smart, it houses an intriguing amount of history from the band, as well as represents their overall sound very well. A highly recommended listen if you're already acquainted with the band, but not necessarily if you're just getting into them - in my opinion, work from 2002 to 2006, then go back for their earlier stuff. But that's not to say this album isn't great, but rather a mere window into their songwriting skills.
Thanks for reading,