Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Haskels - self titled

After 40 years, the lost album from legendary original era Milwaukee punk band The Haskels finally saw the light of day this past November. This release from Clancy Carroll's Splunge Communications was met with an incredible response from the international punk rock community. The album literally sold out in three days!

I find this entire project to be cool for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is the first time ever that the original Haskels have been extensively represented on record (the "Taking The City By Storm" EP was released after the four Haskels splintered into two different bands at the end of 1979). Most of what many of us knew about The Haskels was learned from people who witnessed the band live in Milwaukee during its 1977-79 run. Now we all get to experience the music itself. These 14 tracks, recorded in 1979, have been restored from the original, never-before-mixed tapes and released into the world. And it's immediately clear why The Haskels are an important band in the punk rock history of not just Milwaukee, but the entire American Midwest. I'm notoriously fanatical about first wave punk rock, so of course I'm geeking out over getting to hear some authentic '70s punk straight out of the time capsule. Led by the songwriting/vocalist tandem of Presley Haskel and Richard LaValliere (both sadly no longer with us), The Haskels were typical of the originality and musical diversity that existed within early American punk. You can hear some nods to other punk bands of the time, along with a very palpable Stooges influence. But overall, this is the sound of a band writing its own rules for what punk music ought to be. "Baby Let's French" could be mistaken for a lost artifact from the heyday of New York punk, while "Little Dolls" is steeped in the thumping traditions of garage rock and pre-punk. Songs like "Hard To Smile" and "Stay All Night" embrace the pop sensibilities of the rock and roll of yore. Meanwhile "Psycho Hairdo" and the classic track "Liberace Is Coming" are as offbeat and wonderfully unconventional as it gets. "Body Language" just might be the best song Richard Hell never wrote!

Bringing The Haskels' lost album into proper existence would have been a worthy endeavor even if it had just been for the sake of nostalgia. But when you sell out of an entire pressing in three days, it's not just old fans buying the record. The key here is that this album is genuinely really good. The songs are terrific, and the band's musical chops are formidable. These 14 tracks offer further proof that great punk music in 1970s U.S. wasn't just coming from New York and California. If you're interested in the history of punk music or the Milwaukee scene in particular, this is an essential purchase. But it also stands on its own as a remarkable punk record. To meet demand, a second pressing of this LP has been ordered (and should be arriving soon). You can also get the digital album from Bandcamp. Hello world, here is workers' rock and roll!


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Hayley and the Crushers - Vintage Millennial

In case you were wondering how far I would go into 2020 before anointing a prime contender for album of the year, the answer is exactly 21 days! In lieu of writing a review of Hayley and the Crushers' new album Vintage Millennial, I considered just embedding a video of me jumping up and down and screaming in delight as I was hearing it for the first time. Seriously: I've been freaking out over this thing! I was a big fan of the band's previous album Cool/Lame, but I wasn't quite prepared for how hard Vintage Millennial was going to hit me. This is my cup of tea in a 48-ounce container. Described by the band as "modern snark with an oldies heart", this album finds the California trio elevating its fun-filled brand of soda pop-punk bad girl surf rock and roll to new heights of awesomeness. I was hooked from the first note and delighted all the way to the end. Committed as ever to their signature "poolside glitter trash" aesthetic, Hayley, Dr. Cain, and drummer Benjamin Cabreana have come on with their biggest hooks and most righteous tunes to date. This album is the soundtrack to a beach road trip where the itinerary includes surfing with sea monsters, guzzling Slurpees, and detouring to the nearest late 20th shopping mall still left standing. And that's exactly the escapism I crave in the dead of an East Coast winter.

The songs comprising Vintage Millennial are upbeat, fun, and crazy catchy - yet also full of smarts, substance, and tremendous heart. Opening track "Put A Little Action In Ya" could very well have the Crusherverse taking over the airwaves. This is feelgood punky pop at its finest, with lyrics that are just naughty enough to get the message across. I've always believed that there need to be more songs about enduring love, so I really have a soft spot for "Kiss Me So I Can". From my married guy perspective, I must say this song is both adorable and incredibly truthful. A title like "Gabbie Is A Domme" would be played as a joke by a lesser band. But in the hands of Hayley and the Crushers, this tune is sweet, heartfelt, and a wonderful testament to empowerment. It's got to be the purest pop song I've ever heard this band do. All I have to do is close my eyes, and the instrumental "Forever Grom" places me at a swim-up pool bar by the beach. Elsewhere the trio steps a foot into early '80s California new wave power pop ("If You Wanna Dance"), pays loving tribute to the uncrowned people's champion of Drag Race ("Shoulda Been Shangela"), and imagines the sinister secrets lurking within one of Berlin's most famed landmarks ("Poison Box"). And a couple of covers here are perfect for the vibe of the album. A splendid rendition of Kim Wilde's "Water On Glass" acknowledges what has to be a huge influence. The X classic "Los Angeles" also gets fully Crusher-ized, with certain lyrics updated for more enlightened times.

The slate of full-length albums for 2020 looks to be super stacked, but Vintage Millennial is going to be very hard to beat this year. This is exactly the album that we need right now. And I don't just mean now as in January. I mean now as in the world really needs a band like Hayley and the Crushers that is all about spreading joy, love, and sunny vibes everywhere it goes. Clearly this is a band that ticks all my boxes as a fan of bubblegum punk and power pop. But that's only the half of it. I can't think of a band that does a better job of taking classic influences and reworking them into something that's original and "now" for modern times. And in a music scene where so many acts seem interchangeable, this is one band with personality that's off the charts. No matter what the weather may be, Vintage Millennial needs to be cranked loud with the windows down and your cup-holder occupied by a cold fizzy beverage.


Friday, January 17, 2020

BBQT - "Fever Rocket"

Now here's a collaboration that the world demanded! Gabbie Bam Bam has several outstanding releases under belt with her band BBQT - including the super terrific 2018 full-length Let's Go! Any time I run into F & L readers on the street, they ask me the same thing: "Wouldn't it be the absolute BEST if Gabbie Bam Bam did a record with Travis Ramin?!". Well here we go, folks! Can you handle this? Gabbie recently found herself in Minneapolis where she recorded the hot new single "Fever Rocket" with producer to the stars Ramin - whose glam-tastic drumming can be heard on the title track. You would expect an alliance between these two supremely talented and like-minded individuals to generate mind-blowing results. And this single sure does not disappoint. In the words of Gabbie Bam Bam herself, it's "the best aural you'll ever get!" First up is "Fever Rocket", a foot-stomping mid-tempo rocker that oozes sex and swagger and a general badassery that ought to be the envy of all of us. This is 100% the vintage glam rock and roll action you would expect from the union of this artist and this producer. And I like that the song leaves you wanting more. By the time you change your undergarments or put on your coffee or do whatever you do while you listen to your 45s, you will be ready to drop the needle back on the record. Fans of Suzi Quatro and punk era Joan Jett will dig! On the flip is a new version of BBQT's song "Savage 512" that appeared on the Spaghetty Town Records compilation LP. Gabbie recorded this track with Christopher Balch, Richard Ferguson, and Nick Motrenec backing her. It's a total killer in a sleazy '70s punk style. Gabbie absolutely spits fire on lead vocals, and Balch tears shit up on lead guitar. "Savage" is quickly becoming a signature song for BBQT, and this version is the best yet. It will rock you so hard that you may require medical attention! 

"Fever Rocket" is the stone cold smash that all the kids have been craving! It's currently a free download from BBQT's Bandcamp. Vinyl is available from the fabulous Surfin' Ki Records - a label that is no stranger to Gabbie Bam Bam or Travis Ramin. Only 300 copies were pressed, including 100 on red vinyl. You know what to do! 


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Promdates - Beer Run

When people say they can't stand pop-punk, my main thought is that they're just listening to the wrong bands. If you can put on the new Promdates album Beer Run and still be like, "Eh, no thanks!", I can conclusively say that you hate pop-punk. Because this is pretty much the ultimate pop-punk record. It's nothing but sing-along fun from start to finish. And in the grand tradition of European pop-punk, it freaking rocks! This is definitely on the bubblegum side of pop-punk (just where I like it!), but with totally ballsy guitars and vocals. In these songs, I can hear bits and pieces of so many bands I championed as a young brat back in the '90s: not just your classic Queers via the Ramones moves, but also the lovelorn majesty of the Parasites and the crunching power pop of fellow Norwegians the Yum Yums. I'm notoriously lukewarm on party anthems, but Promdates are speaking straight to my heart with a song called "Beer Run"! Now that is a party song I can fully endorse! From there, The Promdates traverse nearly every nook and cranny of the pop-punk genre. You've got sugar-coated three-chord slammers ("Substitute Teacher"), fierce snotty punkers ("I Hate You"), tearjerker love songs ("Hard To Say Goodbye"), spot-on Ramones rips ("Dammit!"), and tasty slices of bubblegum punk rock ("Do You Wanna Watch TV"). There's nothing about this album that is remotely new or original, and that is precisely why I love it. This is a pop-punk record in the classic style, executed at a ten-out-of-ten level of proficiency. These guys of course have the spirit of the genre down pat, but better yet they are masterfully skilled at writing catchy songs with irresistible hooks. The lyrics can be sappy at times, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Play Beer Run loud, and you will be forever reminded of a time in your life when you were young, perpetually pining over a certain girl or boy, and always chasing a good time. Get it from House Of Rock Records, Mom's Cellar Dwellers (Via Mom's Basement Records), and OUTLOUD! Records!


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Eerie Family - self titled

Here we go with another great release from Alien Snatch Records! Although this one is probably not what you would expect. Eerie Family are Alex and Alyse from Hex Dispensers playing music very much unlike Hex Dispensers. Their self-titled LP just released on New Year's Eve. Call it whatever you like: Goth, death rock, dark wave, or (as the label terms it) gloom pop. Any way you shake it, this is a gorgeously creepy creation that fuses elements of post-punk and synth pop with a spooky worldview and this duo's well-defined predilection for melody. I suppose an "upbeat" Goth song is a contradiction in terms, but opening track "Everybody Disappear" manages to be exactly that. It's as hook-laden as it is creepy, and that's really saying something. It's like a love anthem for ghouls, creatures, and zombies everywhere. "A Ghost Who Lives Inside Your Heart" is a chillingly beautiful number channeling the bleak minimalism of Joy Division by way of The Cure and Jesus & Mary Chain. "Dead Stars Still Shine On Us Tonight" could not be more haunting, yet it pulls you in with captivating melodies and nicely harmonized vocals. "I Am Tarantula", told from the point of view of a feared creature that just wants to be loved, is driven by a fittingly playful synth line. "I Hope the Sun Explodes Today" is an old Hex Dispensers song that you might barely recognize. There's a refreshing simplicity to the structure of these songs. Every drum beat and keyboard note comes off carefully considered, and the vocals are eerie in a way that sounds natural and not comically overplayed (a frequent weak point for this genre of music). I'm not generally a fan of "dark" music, but I have been fully won over by Eerie Family. Beyond all else, this is simply fantastic pop. It certainly doesn't hurt that Alex and Alyse have such splendid chemistry, and overall this is a perfect example of how to take death rock and make it full of life. "You only need enough friends/To carry your casket when you're dead" is some of the most profound wisdom I've encountered in a long time!


Friday, January 10, 2020

The Speedways - "Kisses Are History"

"If all this was meant to be/Then so much for love" 

Your power pop dreams have come true: we've got a brand new single from The Speedways! "Kisses Are History" is The Speedways' second single, and it features the first original material they've released since becoming a proper band. Matt Julian launched this group as a solo project two years ago. Now with Mauro Venegas (guitar), Adrian Alfonso (bass), and Kris Hood (drums) in tow, The Speedways look to be the best new power pop band to come down the pike in a whole lot of years. The London foursome will release a new album called Radio Sounds later this year, and "Kisses Are History" is its lead single. It's every bit the stunner I was expecting - an absolutely beautiful pop song weaving a devastating tale of love gone terribly sour. Boy, can Matt Julian ever write a tearjerker! Thematically, this number is right in line with the band's previous output. But a full band and stellar production take The Speedways to a whole other level. Think British Invasion pop meets '60s girl group melodrama, updated for the 21st Century. Any old band can play this general brand of guitar pop, but Matt Julian has a particular talent for crafting a gorgeous melody and marrying it to a vocal that believably articulates the depths of heartbreak. I can practically see the ghost of Pete Ham nodding in approval. This is a new high point for The Speedways. The backing vocals and lead guitar work are exquisite! On the flip side, "Number Seven" is a snappier power pop tune that would have been right at home on Stiff Records back in the day. It's definitely more of a rocker, but with a sing-along chorus that is not humanly possible to resist. This is the kind of song you've got to have in your repertoire when Kris Hood is your drummer. It delivers the power and the pop in equal doses. Altogether, you've got the perfect "double A side" single here: one song to cry to and another to dance to.

"Kisses Are History" is available now in digital format, with a vinyl release coming very soon from SNAP Records and Hurrah! Música. Pre-orders for the 7" will be available starting Monday. This is about as perfect as pop gets, so press play and enjoy!


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

bauwaves - u r everything

If the name bauwaves is new to you, it's likely because the Austin-based trio is releasing music for the very first time. Out this Friday on Salinas Records, u r everything is the debut album from this band comprised of Lew Houston (ex Wild America), Rob Barbato (Darker My Love), and Art Limon (The Anchor). Yes, Lew Houston is an old friend of mine. And it's a pleasure to finally review his music since I was in the midst of a long hiatus when Wild America was putting out records circa 2009-2010. There's a very personal story behind this record that Lew has willingly made public. Bauwaves came to be in the wake of his extreme personal crisis. He spent the year 2016 mired in a crippling bout of depression that compelled him to contemplate self-harm and quit writing songs for the first time in a decade. Gradually he found ways to get his depression under control, and a new song popped into his head one day in early 2017. So he got out his guitar, started writing, and before long he had created the songs that make up u r everything. The band spent most of 2018 refining the material and finally recorded the album in the spring of last year.

To say that Lew Houston holds nothing back on u r everything would be a tremendous understatement. This album chronicles the horrific year he spent battling depression, and the vocals and lyrics are absolutely intense. Sometimes with loud guitar bands like this, words can get buried in the noise. That doesn't happen here. Lew's vocals are very clear and direct - like he's speaking to you personally and baring his soul. You can absolutely feel the depths of his despair. Musically, bauwaves sound like they've appeared right out of the pages of Our Band Could Be Your Life or an SST Records catalog circa 1987. Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. are obvious points of reference with the huge wall of guitar fuzz and bare bones production. The heaviness and honesty of the lyrics also bring to mind Bob Mould's solo recordings and work with Sugar. I sometimes question the future of the "album" as an art form in the digital age, but u r everything is an example of why I shouldn't. Sure, you can listen to any of these songs in isolation. But this album was clearly intended to be taken in as a whole. It's essentially a non-fiction novel in musical form. It's not always the easiest listen, but it's a powerful experience to follow Lew through the darkness and all the way back into the light. The band skillfully creates contrast between the melodic, energetic music and the often bleak subject matter of the songs. "into the light" and "to the floor" are fierce, ripping punkers; while the likes of "too far away" and "early morning summer" are densely slow-burning confessionals. "it ain't real" is full of thundering power, then suddenly takes a psychedelic turn. "just for kicks" has got to be the darkest Ramones-inspired song I've ever heard.

Human beings create art for a great variety of reasons. One of them is to share personal experience in such a way that others will relate, feel kinship, or at least understand. In this respect, music, film, literature, etc. can genuinely unite us human beings. If you've battled depression yourself, u r everything is an album that will assure that you're not alone in your suffering. If you haven't, it will give you a greater insight into what it's like to be stricken with this affliction. At a broader level, bauwaves are a band that will appeal to anyone who fondly recalls the heyday of 1980s college radio and noisy indie rock. This album is a  brave and uncompromising creation that crackles with energy and intense feeling. It's a fine debut - one that offers great promise of what's to come with bauwaves already at work on a follow-up.