Friday, September 21, 2018

Night Birds - Roll Credits

Can you believe it's already been three years since Night Birds last released new music? A lot of punk bands' entire careers don't last three years! On that very topic, this year Night Birds mark ten years as a band. It kind of blows my mind that when I first reviewed Night Birds in 2011, they were a relatively new band just getting ready to release their first album. And here they are today, ten-year-veterans of the punk scene and in my book still the best punk band going. Out today on Fat Wreck Chords, Roll Credits is Night Birds' 4th album. Or is it? This is a release inspired by some of the classic 12-inches from the heyday of hardcore (the band mentions Negative Approach's Tied Down and Minor Threat's Out Of Step in particular). Running just a little over 17 minutes, Roll Credits is shorter than Husker Du's Metal Circus but considerably longer than Circle Jerks' Group Sex. So is it an album or an EP? The math is not helping me! Let's just call it a mini-album and be done with it!

So what do the mature, ten-year-old Night Birds sound like? Thankfully, they sound very much like Night Birds! I suppose we'll have to wait until at least the next record for Night Birds to go crossover thrash or post-hardcore. Roll Credits is a little bit of everything that the band does well. Bookend tracks "Pull The String" and "Roll Credits" are first-rate surf instrumentals (discerning ears will recognize the returning presence of Mike Hunchback on guitar!). "The Day I Beat My Brain" can best be described as "vintage" Night Birds, while "White Noise Machine" recalls the breakneck hardcore of the band's most recent album Mutiny at Muscle Beach. Given my personal tastes, I'm quite partial to the dark humor of "My Dad Is The BTK" and the punk/powerpop leanings of "Radium Girls". The latter, along with a terrific cover of Suicide Commandos' "I Need A Torch", demonstrate an emerging pop sensibility in the band's sound that might surprise people. But don't for a minute believe that the band has lost its edge. "Onward To Obscurity", the album's first non-instrumental track, is pure power and fury for all of its 127 seconds. Jerry A from Poison Idea sings backups on this one, and no doubt he hears in the music of Night Birds something near and dear to his heart. I love the lyrics to this song, which poke holes in the bubble of self-importance that so many people live under. And on the subject of great lyrics, "White Noise Machine" is perhaps the most insightful and dead-on response I've seen from any band to the political machinations that have normalized bigotry in modern America.

Whether you call it a mini-album or a 12" EP, Roll Credits is an inspired return for Night Birds. I like that it leaves me wanting more! These guys took some time away, and now they've come roaring back with energy and focus. This release gives me a little of everything I like about Night Birds, plus a little more I was not expecting. I always take record label one-sheets with a grain of salt, but I 100% agree with the line about Night Birds being at the absolute peak of their powers. There is much great music yet to come from this band. But if Roll Credits is indeed Night Birds' Damaged, let's hope that doesn't mean we have to wait three years for the next record!



-L.R.

https://night-birds.bandcamp.com/album/roll-credits 
https://www.facebook.com/NGHTBRDS 
https://nightbirds.oknoway.com/ 
http://www.fatwreck.com/record/detail/107 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Phone Jerks - self titled

WHAT?! Phone Jerks have released an album? On Alien Snatch Records?! One of my favorite bands put out a record on one of my all-time favorite labels, and nobody knew anything about it until a week ago?! Now that was a fiercely-guarded secret! Respect!

Alien Snatch Records has been setting the standard for what a punk rock label ought to be for 20 years now. From assembling a roster including the likes of the Kidnappers, Real Losers, Fevers, Yum Yums, Minds, and Leg Hounds in its early 2000s heyday to releasing brilliant music by current-day bands such as Freak Genes and The #1s, Alien Snatch has remained a go-to for any fan of garage-punk and power pop. Moncton, New Brunswick's mighty Phone Jerks could not be a more fitting addition to the Alien Snatch family. Their debut LP hearkens back to countless beloved garage-punk LPs of the '90s and early 2000s. And I gotta tell you the thing is absolutely KILLER! Upon hearing "Nothing There", you just might find yourself convinced that The Rip Offs have gotten back together! Alien Snatch honcho Daniel has astutely pointed out that he could have released this album in any year of the label's history. These tunes are that timeless. Of course Phone Jerks sound like a band that could have been peers with Loli and the Chones, The Metros, Teengenerate, etc. Yet they also align perfectly with modern-day greats like Gino & The Goons and Sick Thoughts. This, my friends, is garage-punk the way it ought to be: trashy, lo-fi, and intentionally devoid of originality. Why are there not more bands like this in 2018?!

Being four upstanding Canadians who value your hard-earned dollar, Phone Jerks have delivered almost entirely brand-new material for this debut album (along with covers of "Revolution" by Australia's X and "Violence, Anarchy, Baby, Mother, Daddy-O, Dig" by Newfoundland punk legends Da Slyme). No tracks from the Goodbye Boozy 7" have been repeated, and only two songs re-appear from the band's demo tape. The instant you dig into "Bitchiker", you will find yourself fondly recalling a time when every new Rip Off Records release was an event worth celebrating. And come on: how can an album that begins with a song about killing someone not be the best record of the year?! These songs are all so ripping and catchy and tremendously fun to listen to. This is an album that you just have to crank super loud. And half the fun of this record is going through it track by track and asking, "Who are they ripping off here?"! The fact that Phone Jerks have three different lead singers makes it all that much cooler. Emily, Tyler, and Brian each bring something unique to the table (and you know, they all seem intent on smashing that table). The production (kudos Dave Belliveau and James O'Toole!) is spot-on for what budget rock ought to be. You know how modern-day reviewers are so fond of using "crackling" as an adjective? This album is crackling. Literally. 

So why aren't there more bands like Phone Jerks in 2018? I don't know, but maybe there will be after their debut album makes the rounds! Canada is ahead of the curve as always (especially in Moncton, where they observe the Atlantic Time Zone). With me poised to name an Alien Snatch release album of the year, it sure feels like old times!



-L.R.

https://aliensnatch.bandcamp.com/album/phone-jerks-s-t 
https://phonejerks.bandcamp.com/ 
http://www.aliensnatch.de/ 
https://www.facebook.com/ALIEN.SNATCH.RECORDS 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Swingin' Utters - Peace and Love

The calendar tells me that Swingin' Utters have been a band for thirty years and have been releasing albums for a quarter-century. Considering all of that, it's nice knowing that these guys are still at it. At 47, I can fondly recall buying Streets of San Francisco new as a young whippersnapper of 24. It's like Swingin' Utters have grown up with me. But far from merely existing in middle age, the Utters are positively thriving. The band's new album Peace and Love was released by Fat Wreck Chords two weeks ago. I can genuinely say it's one of the best punk albums I've heard in 2018, and I might even rank it in the top five of all Swingin' Utters LPs. With this album, Johnny, Darius, and Jack have practically written the book on how a veteran punk group can mature and still sound, uh...punk! Inspired by the current state of political affairs and energized by a formidable new rhythm section (Tony Teixeira and Luke Ray from Cobra Skulls & Sciatic Nerve), the band sounds full of fire on this 15-song release. This is really the first time the Utters have addressed political issues in their music, and the urgency fueling songs such as "Human Potential" and "Deranged" is palpable. Lead track "Undertaker, Undertake" sounds like it could have come off of 1998's Five Lessons Learned. Similarly, "Drinkist" brings that classic Utters sound which has been often imitated and never duplicated. But truthfully, what makes this album shine is the way so many of these songs incorporate new or unexpected influences. "Sirens" is the Utters at their most "pop", with a distinctly modern feel. On the other hand, "Dubstep" and "Yes, I Hope He Dies" are the band's punkest, most fiery tracks in decades. The instant anthem "Demons of Springtime" demonstrates the mastery level of melody and song-crafting that the Utters have achieved over the years.

Even in their early days, Swingin' Utters were far more than the '77 punk/"street punk" revivalists that reviewers pegged them to be. Their musical and lyrical depths were generally under-recognized, and people going back to those old records may be surprised by how well they hold up. If you've passed on recent Utters releases because you assumed they would suck, now might be a good time to check in on one of our greatest American punk groups. I've never really bought into the cliche that recent political events are going to inspire some great new wave of political punk bands. But in the case of Swingin' Utters, it's hard to deny that a newfound political purpose has sparked some of their strongest music in years. Peace and Love indeed!



-L.R.

https://swinginutters.bandcamp.com/album/peace-and-love 
https://www.fatwreck.com/record/detail/106 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sore Points - self titled

Two years ago when I reviewed Sore Points' demo tape, I knew this Vancouver trio was destined for great things. Now in 2018, we get a proper debut album from Sore Points on the legendary Deranged Records. You could not find a more perfect match between band and label! And I gotta tell you, this album does not disappoint! The band powers through 12 fast & blistering punk tunes a la Vancouver greats DOA and Subhumans. What's not to love here? This is urgent, powerful music played with conviction and fury. Only one track sneaks past the two-minute mark, and it barely makes it! And how killer is that production?! If you fondly recall a time when hardcore and punk were basically the same thing, you need Sore Points in your life. A classic debut!



-L.R.

https://derangedrecords.bandcamp.com/album/sore-points 
https://sorepoints.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/Sorepointsband/ 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Control Freaks - "I Am Crime"

Hey! We have new music from The Control Freaks! "I Am Crime" is the band's third single and first since last year's "No Action"/"Don't Mess With Jessica" double shot. This one, like the previous two, has been released by the venerable Bachelor Records. By now you ought to know that The Control Freaks are very much what you'd expect from a Greg Lowery fronted band. The spirit behind Supercharger and The Rip Offs lives on, minus the super lo-fi recording quality. Both cuts here are originals. A-side "I Am Crime" is a classic GL composition, equally informed by '70s punk and '90s garage trash. If you like fun, snotty punk, you will want to crank this one up all the way. On the flip, "Time's Up" is the first Control Freaks song written by Sherrilyn Nelson.

If you long for the glory days of garage-punk, long no more and enjoy the fact that bands like The Control Freaks and Ruler are around and kicking all kinds of ass. Honestly you need to own The Control Freaks' complete catalog. But "I Am Crime" would not be a bad place to start!



-L.R.

https://shop.bachelorrecords.com/controlfreakscrime 
https://www.facebook.com/ControlFreaksSF/ 
https://www.facebook.com/bachelorrecords/ 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Indonesian Junk - Darkness Calling

Darkness Calling is one hell of a fine title for Indonesian Junk's new EP. And that's because "dark" seems to be the most apt description for these latest songs Daniel has written. Yet in typical IndoJunk fashion, they're all dark in entirely different ways! Lead track "When I Find You" represents my very favorite kind of dark - that being dark humor. Musically, this is one is as poppy and upbeat as it gets. And therein lies its genius. If you're going to write a song about the immense satisfaction of violent revenge, you might as well make it supremely joyful! Why not sing a happy tune on the way to smashing someone's face in? I imagine this song is a huge favorite at Indonesian Junk live shows. It's a true anthem! The KISS cover "C'mon And Love Me" is a brief break from the darkness theme. This version gives you an idea of what KISS might have sounded like if they'd more fully embraced their love for the New York Dolls and Dictators. Truly a ripping rendition! Getting back to the gloom, "I Could Die" is an intense confessional that brings mind a time in history when punk and Goth were closely intertwined. You can just feel the ache in Daniel's vocals! To finish, "See The Light" has a grimy Stooges feel and gnaws on your senses for nearly five minutes. It's definitely a rocker, but there's a creepiness to it that lurks just below the surface.

Coming off a brilliant sophomore LP Stars In The Night that cracked my 2017 top ten, Indonesian Junk keeps the momentum going with this fantastic EP. This is some of Daniel's strongest material yet - touching on his numerous influences yet still bearing his distinctive style. Highly recommended!



-L.R.

https://indonesianjunk.bandcamp.com/album/darkness-calling 
https://www.facebook.com/indonesianjunk/ 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Ruler - "Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie"

I'm gonna make this quick. If I screwed around for a couple weeks trying to compose a "proper" write-up of Ruler's new single, the thing would be sold out before the review even posted! Suffice it to say, this second outing from Fink's new band is a sizzling slab of rock n' roll and an absolute must-buy. On the A-side, Ruler tears into the Eddie Cochran classic "Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie". This version is very much in the spirit of the original, but with that unique Rat Fink vocal treatment. Raw and raucous rock n' roll: what could be better?! On the flip, "(It's Not) Saturday Night" is a Grade A mid-tempo groover. I'm still trying to get a handle on where Ruler fits in relation to Fink's other bands. The first single had somewhat of a '70s punk feel. "(It's Not) Saturday Night" finds the band leaning more to the rock n' roll side of things, but still with those strong pop hooks that defined The Raydios. "Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie" would not sound out of place on a comp of Teengenerate singles. All I can say for sure is that Fink has been making some of the best records of his life in the last few years. That very much continues with this single. It's limited to just 250 copies, so grab it while you can from Secret Mission Records!



-L.R.

https://secretmissionrecords.bandcamp.com/album/second-single 
https://www.facebook.com/Rulertheband/ 
http://www.secretmissionrecords.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/secretmissionrecords/