Saturday, July 4, 2015

New Sensibles 7"!

Yay, The Sensibles are back! If you're picturing me jumping up and down and clapping, that's pretty much on point. This Italian pop-punk foursome released one of my top ten favorite albums of 2013, and I've been a huge fan since 2012. After waiting nearly two years for new material, I certainly can't say I'm disappointed. "Bibi" is the brand-new 7", and I absolutely LOVE it! If you've never heard The Sensibles before, imagine the The Muffs if they'd spoken Italian and been the house band for a children's television show. "Bibi" is upbeat and super poppy, and it nails that perfect blend of sweet melodies and tough guitars. But it's B-side "Little Girl" that really steals the show - pulling back from the dizzying pace The Sensibles are known for and embracing pure power pop with classic '60s influences. I'm pretty sure I'll be whistling that melody for the next 40 days. And I love the positive message about holding out hope through tough times. I highly recommend checking out the video, which is very touching. Stella is an exceptionally talented artist and one of the most likable singers you'll ever come across.

The vinyl for "Bibi" is limited to 200 copies. Supplies will go fast, so email the band if you want to order one. This is the first in a series of three 7" singles. I can't wait for the next installment!


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Meet Hakan!

In what is quickly turning into another totally incredible year for punk/garage/powerpop, a band you probably haven't heard of has delivered a surefire top ten LP. Here's a band concept for you: Italians obsessed with Turkish popular culture, playing a killer mix of garage punk and power pop. That's Hakan for you, and the band's self-titled debut album is a total firecracker. Think early Marked Men with a snottier edge. Andrea from The Snookys is the singer. And while I really dig The Snookys, Hakan is even more up my alley. I mean, come on! How can you not love a band that has its own theme song?! With only one song running longer than two minutes, this album is a glorious display of back to the basics punk rock. This is totally what I'm into: three chords, melodic songwriting, and brilliantly stupid lyrics about loving cats, eating vegans, and fondling one's genitals under the surveillance of a villainous landlord. A line like "Go go go away/Take some crappy plane to some Dutch place" is absolutely genius in my opinion. It's pretty rare to hear poppy punk rock with this much balls, so I've really got to hand it to Hakan. This band has given us a rockin' punk record that's pure catchy fun to the very end. If you're into the garage/'77 punk/power pop thing, you've got to own this LP. It's my favorite punk rock album of the year so far. Get it from One Chord Wonder Records out of Italy or Rufus Recordings out of Spain!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Labor Of Love!

There's no doubt I'll be rocking out to the Ramones, Clash, Stones, and Dictators until the day I die. There are just certain bands that no one ever "outgrows". I imagine the tantrum I'll throw in the retirement home when my digital copy of Too Much Too Soon is accidentally deleted from my iPhone 41. But what about bands from this era? Will any of them join the aforementioned greats on my old man playlist? Without a doubt! And the first band that comes to mind is The Connection. We're talking about the great American rock n' roll band of this time. Over the last several years, I've had the pleasure of following this outfit's ascent from good to great to bona fide best band in the world contender. Labor Of Love, the group's new LP, is worthy of an honored place on my record shelf along side some of my favorite punk/rock n' roll/power pop albums of all-time. It's everything I love about music condensed into ten should-be hits. And while it's way too early to make a call on album of the year, The Connection has surely given us the one to beat!

While so much of what makes The Connection appealing comes down to unassailable influences, that's only part of the story. Just as significantly, this is simply an incredible band. With The Connection, you get one of the best lead singers out there, the finest rock n' roll pianist in the business, and one of the most formidable guitar tandems and songwriting duos you'll ever come across. Blurring the lines between garage, power pop, '70s punk, and golden oldies rock n' roll, The Connection creates a sound that's timeless yet fully its own. When you hear a Connection song, you know it's a Connection song. And Labor Of Love dishes out ten classic Connection songs! After hearing that the band had enlisted the great Andy Shernoff to executive produce Labor Of Love, I surmised that it was going to be something special. I wasn't wrong! Even with my expectations set sky high, Brad, Geoff, and the gang have totally blown me away with this album. This is the record they've been working towards all these years - full of songs that sound great on the radio yet still crackle with the energy of a live rock n' roll performance. The Connection, already owners of five Coolest Songs In The World on Little Steven's Underground Garage, might double that number with this album alone! 

Labor Of Love takes you on a half-hour tour through the history of rock n' roll, with nods to everyone from the Beach Boys via Chuck Berry (the title track) to the British Invasion ("Pathetic Kind Of Man") to '70s Stones ("So Easy") to The Boys ("Don't Come Back") to Road To Ruin era Ramones ("You Ain't Special") to Elvis Costello ("Treat You So Bad"). The title track, with a riff nicked from The Saints' "(I'm Stranded)", is one of the strongest album-openers I've ever heard. It's a party-starter and mission statement rolled into one - a joyful testament to the power and glory of rock n' roll. Just one song that good would have made this album worth buying. But "Labor Of Love" is merely a starting point! Brad and Geoff have totally outdone themselves with their songwriting. "Circles" is pure pop bliss - and easily one of the best Connection tunes to date. "Let The Jukebox Take Me" hearkens back to the classic country ballads of yore. And when the boys decide to let loose and straight-up rock, they come through with absolute scorchers like "Don't Come Back" and "Red, White & Blue". Shernoff, whose impressive producing resume is often overshadowed by his greatness as a songwriter and musician, was the ideal individual to helm this recording. Nobody better understands what it takes to make a great rock n' roll record, and it's obvious that he fully "gets" The Connection. The production dream team of Marino/Palmer/Shernoff has knocked it out of the park like Big Papi crushing a hanging curve! Right down to the flawless backing vocals, knockout guitar solos, and cool as hell lyrics, Labor Of Love couldn't be more perfect. And that's the most awesome album cover I've seen in a long time!

If you're stubbornly holding to the belief that the newer rock n' roll bands are all inferior copies of yesteryear's greats, I urge you to give The Connection a chance. You just might discover your new favorite band! These are wonderful times to be into rock n' roll, and The Connection has a lot to do with that. Labor Of Love is available now in digital and CD formats from Rum Bar Records. Vinyl is arriving soon!


Friday, June 26, 2015

New No Problem 7"!

Over the course of the last few years, Edmonton's No Problem has established itself as one of the best hardcore punk bands out there. If you dig passionate, blistering hardcore in the vein of Canadian greats like DOA and The Subhumans, you're probably already familiar with No Problem. And if you're not, what are you waiting for?! What's been especially cool lately is hearing how this band continues to evolve and grow - most recently embracing the dark & melodic sensibilities of early '80s California punk rock. Without abandoning the power and aggression of its earlier releases, No Problem is really starting to push its sound forward. New EP Kid Killer finds the band sounding darker and more melodic than ever - its three tracks pulsing with echoes of T.S.O.L., The Adolescents, and Dead Kennedys. Opener "Killing Game" is a particular standout - coming on slowly and ominously, then exploding into a firestorm of urgent vocals and breakneck drumming. At the center of this song is a guitar line that's absolutely haunting. As the intensity of the track builds, you just can't shake the sense that you're speeding uncontrollably towards some unspeakable terror. "Eyes Of Isis" is more straight-forward racing hardcore, but every bit as bleak. And then "Never See The Sun" brings back more of the subtle foreboding of "Killing Game". Again, the guitar work completely commands your attention. And I love how the sheer fury of the vocals suits the portentous nature of the words and music. If you're gonna go dark, this is how it's done!

I don't think you can have a conversation about the best punk bands of present day without mentioning No Problem. If you like what recent bands such as Night Birds and Neighborhood Brats have done in terms of infusing hardcore punk with distinctive guitar work and tons of melody, Kid Killer is a record you've got to have. Get it from Deranged or Taken By Surprise Records!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Less Talk, More Rock!

I will be embarking on a journey of career change in exactly two months. This will involve me going back to school for the first time in 22 years. If all goes well, I will have an associates degree in accounting by June of 2017. My plan is to work and go to school - which sadly will leave me little if any time to keep this blog going. With that in mind, I see four possible courses of action for the future of F & L:

Option A would be to tweak the format of this blog. In this scenario, I would continue to share music but stop writing proper "reviews". The focus would be on posting songs for people to stream. Instead of me going on and on and on about a certain release, I would pretty much let the music speak for itself. The write-ups would be brief and to the point. This "less talk, more rock" option seems to be my preferred choice right now. I'd say there's a 45% chance of me going in this direction as of late August. Writing reviews is by far the most time-consuming aspect of doing this blog. And honestly, I don't think people come here to read my clunky prose. They come here to find out about awesome music!

Option B would be to go on an extended hiatus so I could focus fully on my studies. Essentially I'd kill the blog but leave the door open for it to be revived in a couple of years. I would also consider an eventual return to the world of music in the form of podcasting instead of blogging (Maybe after all of these years trying to be Lester Bangs, I'd rather just be Wolfman Jack).

The problem with Option B is that I know I'd miss doing F & L if I had to give it up. Music brings joy to my life, and this blog allows me to share some of that joy with you. But I am considering going this route because of the importance of me succeeding in this career change adventure. Perhaps eliminating all distractions is the soundest way to go. My wife and I are planning to relocate to the Midwest in 2017, and this cannot happen unless I become fully employable. I'd say there's a 35% chance of me going with this option.

Option C would be for me to keep this blog going as usual, but to only do 3 or 4 posts a month instead of the usual 10-15. In a lot of ways, this is an appealing choice. My goal when I started F & L was to only write about music that I really liked. And for the most part, I've stuck to that pretty well. The "problem" is that there's just so much great music out there right now! I already feel like a total asshole when good bands contact me about reviews and I just don't have the time to give them coverage. Now multiply that situation by three, and I would feel like triple the jerk! Still, I'd say there's a 15% chance of me going with this option.

Option D would be for me to keep this blog going as usual and just sleep a lot less. I'd say there's a 5% chance of me going with this option. And that's a very liberal estimate. I need my sleep!

Regardless of which option I choose, I kindly request that nobody send me records without contacting me first and making sure that I am willing and able to do a writeup on your release. I don't want anyone going to the trouble and expense of sending me promotional material unless I can guarantee a positive review. At this point, it's better to contact me with links to streaming sites (Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc.) or YouTube clips that I can directly share with my followers. If you've already sent me something to review, I will be getting to it soon. But going forward, I will not be accepting unsolicited promo packages.

I imagine I will soon begin transitioning to shorter reviews - although brevity has never been my strong suit. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for following F & L, and stay tuned for more updates on the future of this blog!


Monday, June 22, 2015

Another great album from Zach Jones!

Out of all the amazing singers, songwriters, and musicians I've had the privilege of writing about over five hundred and some posts, Zach Jones has got to be one of the two or three most talented. His 2013 album The Days is one of the true pop masterpieces of recent memory, and he's followed it up with the stunning Love What You Love. Stylistically this release is somewhat of a return to Jones's power pop roots following the soul and baroque pop turns of recent albums. But more than anything else, Love What You Love just sounds like a Zach Jones record. Regardless of which musical influences are most palpable, you can count on songs built on a foundation of melody. And that voice? Wow!

Jones, a Maine native now residing in Los Angeles, recorded Love What You Love in his apartment. He pretty much did it all: singing lead and backing vocals and playing guitar, bass, and piano. Yet even without the deliberate stylization of The Days, Love What You Love manages to evoke that same classic early '70s pop-rock sound. It's a recording as warm and sunny as California itself - rife with gorgeous vocals and truly exquisite melodies. And again, Jones has crafted a set of songs unified by a singular theme. Love What You Love is essentially an album about struggles and setbacks in life - and the good that can come from shining a positive light on such experiences. Fortunately, these lyrical ambitions are not wasted on mediocre songs. Jones has really outdone himself with these 10 tracks - delivering some of the most irresistible hooks and memorable tunes of his life. If you heard the first three songs and assumed this was some '70s singer/songwriter's greatest hits collection, I wouldn't blame you!

By design, Love What You Love has a little something for everyone. There are a number of songs that would not sound out of place on The Days, while elsewhere Jones indulges his love for everything from acoustic soft rock ("Song In The Sunshine") to '70s "AM gold" ("Away From You") to sultry rock/soul ("Lucky One") to straight-up power pop (the fantastic "Some Other Day"). Kicking off with the sheer majesty of "Everything's Fine" and unassailable '67/'68 Kinks stylings of "Hate What You Hate", this album starts off strong and continues to delight to the very end. And the song sequencing is perfect - spreading out the handful of ballads to ensure that the album never loses steam. The beautiful "Nothing's Changed", for example, has an even greater impact sandwiched between the record's two hardest-rocking tracks. And given Jones's history of exceptional album closers, it's no surprise that "Out On The Town" leaves a dramatic final impression.

Zach Jones has been remarkably prolific since going solo five years ago. Love What You Love is already his fifth album, and essentially it brings together the best qualities of the previous four. Even with a home-recording approach, he proves he can still turn out radio-worthy pop songs along side sophisticated works of melodic beauty. Without a doubt, he's one of our finest present-day songwriters. If you grew up on the timeless melodies of the '60s and '70s and find that today's music leaves much to be desired, throw some love in the direction of Zach Jones.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blank Pages: the final single

While Berlin's Blank Pages recently announced their decision to break up, at least they are going out on a high note. No Reception is their third and final 7", and it's absolutely fantastic. Both the title track and B-side "Golden Chains" bring more of that dark melodic punk you've come to expect from this band. The frequent comparisons to Red Dons or Marked Men with a Wipers influence are very on-point, and there's also a discernible feel of early '80s post-punk permeating this release. I'm notoriously finicky when it comes to "darker" music, but this record won me over easily. It's very typical of what's so good about the modern punk of recent years, yet at the same time these songs would slide seamlessly onto a mix with, say, Joy Division or The Chameleons. The tone is chillingly beautiful, and the hooks will surprise you. Miscalculations fans will definitely want to take note.

Picking up where the band's lone LP left off, No Reception is a fully triumphant farewell. Get it from Hardware Records in Europe and Dirt Cult Records  in the United States.