Monday, December 31, 2012

The Lord Rutledge Awards 2012


Good evening to our honored guests, distinguished nominees, and anyone else who may have wandered over from the bar. My sincere apologies go out to anyone who had difficulty finding us tonight. Our scheduled conference room was double-booked by hotel staff due to an expected apocalypse that fell through. I would like to thank the Fans of Steve Guttenberg Marching Band for loaning us this particular space for the next 27 minutes. Let it be known that they do a rousing version of "Who's Johnny?" from the Short Circuit soundtrack - a top five hit for El DeBarge in 1986.

As we do every New Year's Eve, we have gathered together to honor the year's best musical performers according to my humble opinion. I have agonized over many of these choices for weeks or even months. I drew up charts. I brought in focus groups. I sought spiritual counsel. And now the time has come to share my decisions with the world at large. Shipment on the prize trophies has been delayed, but I can guarantee unlimited free soft drink refills for all winners tonight. Act swiftly - the Big K Diet Lemon Line is going fast!

2012 has been a great year for punk/garage/powerpop music. I know I say that every year, but that's only because it's true every year. Those of you who have followed me since the '90s may have observed that these days I'm more positive-minded overall and specifically less cranky about the state of mainstream music. I have no need at this stage in my life to belittle others for the music they listen to. Life is short. Listen to what you enjoy. There's a ton of great music out there if you know where to find it. I'm just trying to spread the word the best I can. My favorite thing about doing a one-man blog versus formerly operating a webzine is that I only have to write about the stuff I like. And in the year 2012, here's what I liked the most...

Album of the Year:
Kurt Baker- Brand New Beat
An absolute no-brainer. Brand New Beat is an instant classic of power pop!

EP of the Year:
Missing Monuments- (I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life
King Louie and company had this one from the get-go. Somehow this band just keeps getting better!

Single of the Year:
No More Art- "Tough To Breathe"
Stunning second release from the international supergroup featuring Milo (Rosie Tie), Will Kinser (Red Dons), and Juan Miguel Pardo (Los Dolares, Leadershit, Etacarinae, Peligro!). Amazing old school female fronted punk rock with melody. The Sugar Stems' "Greatest Pretender" was a close #2.

Compilation of the Year:
Cold Warps - S/T + Endless Bummer
Two cassettes on one LP, and it's pop perfection!

Song of the Year:
Gentleman Jesse- "I'm A Mess"
Just one of many prime cuts off of Jesse's spectacular LP, Leaving Atlanta. I picked this one because it strikes a chord for me personally.



Album of the Year -Masters Class:
The Figgs- The Day Gravity Stopped
This award goes to the best album released by a band that's been in existence for at least 25 years. The almighty Figgs take the crown in their first year of eligibility with an overlooked double album epic.

Producer of the Year:
Wyatt Funderburk
Too often in the modern age, being a "music producer" means being skilled at technological trickery. Wyatt Funderburk, on the other hand, takes me back to the days when producers were true artists. Kurt Baker's Brand New Beat, which Funderburk produced and co-wrote, has that classic late '70s/early '80s feel and sounds especially great on vinyl.

Reissue of the Year:
Avengers pink album
It was about time! 

Music Video of the Year:
Missing Monuments - "(I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life"
Flying Vs, babes, and muffulettas. What more do you require?!



Best New Band:
Livids
This was a hotly-contested battle, as other newcomers like Jabber and The Sensibles became fast favorites of mine. But Eric Davidson's all-star crew takes it! 

Record Label of the Year:
Dirtnap Records
Another close race in the wake of an awesome year from No Front Teeth Records out of the U.K. But Dirtnap, with five albums in my personal top 20, prevails again.

Album I Should Have Bought, But Didn't:
Midnite Snaxxx - self titled 
Fingers crossed for a digital release in 2013! Please?

Music Writer of the Year:
Alt Rock Chick
Although this award was originally based on one particular review of an album by The Connection, this individual is consistently brilliant at her craft. If you are a fan of "old school" rock-writing and appreciate a reviewer who brings encyclopedic knowledge and genuine passion to the table, altrockchick.com is a must-read.

Beer of the Year:
Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale
For further coverage, check out my full piece over at my beer blog.

Burger of the Year: The Bruges Burger
Central Pennsylvania's finest Belgian restaurant, Cafe Bruges, may be best known for its waffles and pomme frites. But it's also got the best burger of this or any year. Read about it on my food blog!

Movie of the Year:
The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson's best movie in years - with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix extraordinary in their dueling lead roles. 

The Championship Belt:
Something Fierce
This award goes annually to my favorite current band. Something Fierce won last year. And although Missing Monuments have vaulted up to a close second, SF did nothing in 2012 to lose the title. Their songs on the Occult Detective Club split were some of their best yet. With both Missing Monuments and Something Fierce expected to deliver albums in 2013, the belt could be up for grabs!

Thanks to you all for reading! Have a great 2013!

-L.R.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top Tens 2012!


Just a few days remain in the year 2012, so without further ado I now present our year-end top tens! Special thanks to Joe Keller for suggesting I revive this tradition from the Now Wave days!

First, here's my top ten album list:
10. Masked Intruder- self titled
9. OFF!- self titled
8. Youthbitch- Don't Fuck This Up
7. Ana Lucia- self titled
6. Mean Jeans- On Mars
5. Randy America- F*ck Vision
4. The Ills- Tuning Out 
3. White Wires- WWIII
2. Gentleman Jesse- Leaving Atlanta
1. Kurt Baker- Brand New Beat

Next, a top ten from Matt Mayhem:  
10. White Wires- WWIII LP
9. Mean Jeans- On Mars LP
8. Half Rats- self titled tape
7. The Cry!- self titled LP
6. Guantanamo Baywatch- "Oh Rats"/"A Boy To Love" 7"
5. Sugar Stems- "Like I Do"/"Never Been In Love" 7"
4. Youthbitch- Don't Fuck This Up LP
3. Suicide Notes-"Hey Baby"/"Wolf Couple"/"Last Chance" 7"
2. Chain Of Love- "In Between"/"Breaking My Heart" 7"
1. Primitive Hearts- self titled EP 
   
All the way from Spain, here's a top ten from Javier Iglesias:
1. The Nomads - Solna
2. Kevin K - Tramp Stamp  
3. Mojomatics - You're The Reason For My Troubles 
4. The Crazy Squeeze -self titled
5. Imperial State Electric - Pop War 
6. Gentleman Jesse - Leaving Atlanta 
7. Joey Ramone - ....Ya Know
8. Redd Kross - Researching The Blues 
9. Sonic Beat Explosion - Sister Psychosis 
10. The White Wires - WWIII

If it is possible to include EPs, I will put in the number 1 of the list: 
Biters - Last of a Dying Breed

Now here's Peter Santa Maria's Top 10 (or so) for 2012:
2012 could easily be labeled "The Year of The Comeback" and people gettin' back to their "roots". More musicians seemed to be reforming their once legendary bands (latest being Rocket From The Crypt!) and/or releasing records that harkened back to their "glory days". Some might call it a nostalgia crisis, but I just call it good music. And hey, there were a few "new" bands that I found out about this year and also really dug. So, never mind the bollocks, here's my top 10 (or so) for 2012!

The Hives - Lex Hives
I was ready to write off The Hives after the incredibly disappointing The Black and White Album, but luckily these stylish Swedes took the time to regroup and wrote one helluva set of songs. It's almost like a best-of compilation, as it takes the best song characteristics from each one of their albums and comes up with one solid representation of everything that The Hives do great musically: fast, short songs, mid-tempo garage stompers, swaggerin' soul, and each one of their songs is full of hooks, smart and catchy lyrics (Howlin' Pete knows how to play with words and really turn a phrase) and pretty much just flat out ROCK. Lex Hives was self-produced by the band, and it definitely was a smart move after the over-produced, too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen mess of  The Black and White Album. Lex Hives has a live 'n' loose vibe and sound, almost like Exile On Main Street. GREAT drum sound here, just sounds like someone bashin' the drums in a BIG room, distrorto bass, clean cut like glass guitars that break-up JUST enough to give them some bite and Howlin' Pete's circus ringleader revival vocals over top of the whole thing. R'N'F'N'R!

Redd Kross - Researching The Blues
The brothers McDonald are back, and thank fuckin' gawd because they were sorely missed by this music listener! This is one of the most solid rock 'n' roll records to come out this year, or in the past 10 years for that matter, and one of Redd Kross' best to date. So many great riffs, hooks, choruses... just GREAT songwriting. Guitar tones go from jangly chords to distorted leads, backed by bashing drums and bouncy bass. "Stay Away From Downtown" is pretty much the perfect rock song and should be blastin' out of car stereos, iPods and transmitting from radio stations every hour on the hour. Mining Beatles to Big Star, 60's garage to 70's glam to 80's punk, Redd Kross is a rock 'n' roll juggernaut and Researching The Blues is their newest testament to everything that ROCKS!

Bob Mould - Silver Age
Another contender for best comeback album is right here. Bob Mould went off and experimented with electronic music, became a DJ, wrote a book... and that's all well and good. Dude can do whatever he wants with his life. But when I want to listen to or pay attention to Bob Mould, I wanna hear that VOICE and LYRICS and just that big, gloriously noisey guitar racket that only Bob Mould can produce. Pure pop power punk! I always equated Mould with being like a punk rock Pete Townshend (and Townshend's attitude was pretty punk already!), a true rock 'n' roll storyteller. Silver Age is definitely one of the best albums Bob Mould has ever released, totally on par with his Husker Du output and rivaling anything that he did with Sugar. Silver Age is full of middle-aged punk rock piss and vinegar, evident from the line "Never too old to contain my rage" in the title track. But the album isn't just all bottled up anger, there's lot's of positive hope too, illustrated best in one of the last songs on the album, "Keep Believing". I can only hope Bob Mould keeps making great albums like Silver Age.

Bouncing Souls - Comet
Always been a fan of this band! Saw them coming up "in the scene" on the east coast in early '90s, was in a band or two that shared stages with them, was always proud of their success and longevity, these guys definitely paid their dues and have earned everything they have gotten. I know they were "experimenting" (there's that word again) with their songwriting and instrumentation on last couple records, which produced mixed results, in my opinion. But with Comet, 'Souls are firing on all cylinders with 10 really strong anthemic punk rock and sing-a-long pop punk tunage. Great lyrics. Great production by Bill Stevenson (Descendents, ALL). Comet is easily one of their best albums.

Nude Beach - II
Jangly power pop and roots rock 'n' roll with heart on your sleeve lyrics and just honest songwriting. No pretense or preening here, and these dudes worship at the altars of past songwriters with names like Westerberg, Petty, Springsteen, Case, and Felice. At times, when I am walkin' around the city listening to this album, these guys come across like a reincarnated Real Kids for the new millenium, and that just makes me smile. Saw them open up for Reigning Sound this summer in Philly, and these guys bring the goods live too.

Heap - Defriended
NYC's HEAP come back with their first release in four years here, a mighty rolickin' collection of power pop rock 'n' roll songs! Songs about hard times, harder drinks, time lost, changin' times and the only thing you can count on in this world is... NYC sound guy extraordinaire Noel Ford. Cheap Trick guitar crunch with Bash and Pop's soul = good rockin'!

The Mess Around - Boner Time
High-energy trashy garage punk rock 'n' roll from NYC! Who knew THAT still existed in NYC?! A boozey cocktail of early-Replacements and Miracle Workers served in a dirty hi-ball glass down under with Radio Birdman, Lime Spiders and Celibate Rifles on the bar jukebox. The Mess Around also win the "Best Album Title of the Year" award (note to editor: awards will not be honored). Another fine release from the quickly burgeoining Drug Front Records rock 'n' roll dynasty!

Born Loose - self tited
Speakin' of Drug Front Records, here is the debut full-length from Larry May's (of Candy Snatchers infamy) new-ish band. Born Loose is a GREAT live band, and that comes across loud 'n' proud on this album. I can smell the sweat and see the on-stage mayhem within a few short minutes of the needle dropping on the vinyl. Sonically, this has more orchestration than any Candy Snatchers album (horn section on opening track, very reminiscent of The Saints), organ/piano ("House of Creeps" and "Bad Baby Faye"), and some more mid-tempo numbers that really lay down a rockin' groove as opposed to just blastin' out a stabbin' slab of punk rock (although there are a couple of those too!) . "China Bus Express" is the best song not written by New York Dolls I have heard in ages.

The Figgs - 1,000 People Grinning
The Figgs have been together... 25 years!
Damn! How many bands can say that? Not many!
This 25 song anthology spans their entire career, and honestly, this should be TWICE as long to really do this band any justice. The Figgs are one of those bands that just write amazing songs that run the whole gamut of the rock 'n' roll genre: fast rockers, mid-tempo stompers, soulful slow burns, powerful pop, punked up anthems, funky love songs, acoustic gems and... the LYRICS! Both Pete Donnelly and Mike Gent seem to be able to say in song things I can never articulate. The Figgs have been there, done that (as far as the major label game goes) and came out on the other side, yet they seem like perennial underdogs (I guess we could call it Replacements-itis or maybe Graham Parker syndrome). It kills me that a band like this is not HUGE. Oh well, pick this up and join the secret society of people with really good taste in music (i.e. FIGGS FANS!)

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Meat and Bone
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's first album of new material in 8 years, Meat and Bone, is much like The Hives' Lex Hives: it comes across like the perfect compilation album of past and present. You get JSBX scuzz noize blooze beginnings and their soulful Stones swagger later period, with a sprinkle of funky fuzz on top of it all. Also this time around, much less schtick, and way more rawk. The songs here feel like real songs and not just "Blues Explosion" spiels. Standout tracks like "Black Mold" sound like a castaway Iggy ripoff, "Danger" sounds like a lost Stooges outtake, "Black Thoughts" and "Bear Trap" are pure slide guitar Stones blues 'n' roll. JSBX turn in a stripped-down, recorded-live-in-a-room rock 'n' roll album with yelps and yells in all the right places, and one of their very best albums to boot!

OFF! -self titled
Keith Morris. Steven McDonald. Mario Rubalcaba. Dmitri Coats.
16 songs clockin' in under 16 minutes.
Artwork by Raymond Pettibon.
Punk.
Fuckin'
Rock.
'NUFF SAID!

Spider Fever - self titled
This band features Mario Rubalcaba (RFTC, OFF!) gettin' out from behind the drums, slingin' a guitar and gettin' in front of the mic to belt out some fuzzed-out Killed By Death riff punk rawk. All killer, no filler on the 9 tracks here. Turn this up, smash and thrash around the room and blow yer eardrums out!

Next, here is Joe Keller's Best of 2012: 
Albums
10. Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast 
There's an ongoing debate in comment sections across the internet - is Municipal Waste heavy metal or thrash or thrash metal or are they crossover? I know very little about heavy metal outside of its now-ancient progenitors (AC/DC, Black Sabbath [including the Dio years], Motorhead, Deep Purple), so applying the correct label on what they do is outside of my abilities - but I can tell you that I can't stop listening to it. Many say MW frontman Tony Foresta has the "DRI voice" which is ok by me - I think that just means his vocals aren't on either end of the ridiculous spectrum (eunuch-level operatic high or cookie monster unintelligible low) which is probably why I am able to like this band (plus, "Dealing With It" rules). This 5th long player from the ‘Waste is perfect for long lift sessions at the gym or blasting out of a car while you and your friend knock down mailboxes with baseball bats while drinking a rack of Yuengling. The overall theme is centered on zombies in space - which sounds like it would be played out at this point because of The Walking Dead on AMC but trust me, the ‘Waste make it work and this record delivers the goods.

9. The Figgs - The Day Gravity Stopped
I am a near-fanatical Figgs fan. It is hard for them to do wrong by me. This double LP (the SECOND double LP in the Figgs cannon) is bigger and sweeter than a 44 oz. fountain coke from Wawa. Side A has some real gems - I read once in an interview with guitarist Mike Gent that the Figgs were huge fans of Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks (I've heard them cover at least two songs from that record) and The Day Gravity Stopped may be the result of their collective Kinks-mania. While there is no general concept that holds the record together as best as I can tell, it is rich with character sketches ("Lovely Miss Jean", "Inspector RT") and timeless quality pop.

8. Sonic Avenues - Television Youth
I was super late on this band - Ken from Dirtnap Records hepped me to them a few months before he released Television Youth, the sophomore effort from Montreal’s Sonic Avenues. Sonic Avenues have their own great sound - fantastic melodies, strong pop songwriting, production with the right amount of grit, and a cool signature guitar sound. Any time I try to concoct a comparison to other existing bands, it always falls apart (best I can muster is The Marked Men with the late Jay Reatard doing early Cure outtakes [see, that was awful - who would want to listen to that?]) which just demonstrates how original this band is (or, just how poor of a writer I am). I highly recommend tracking down their debut self titled LP as well.

7. Sick Sick Birds - Gates of Home
Sick Sick Birds last LP, Heavy Manners, was a great refined punk/post-punk rock album. It was one hell of a debut. Gates of Home is slightly more lo-fi, but the same great band is playing the songs. I think certain bands are the perfect representation of a place. For instance, The Arrivals ARE Chicago to me. The Modern Machines ARE Milwaukee. Sick Sick Birds are Baltimore as far as I'm concerned. I can picture the Baltimore skyline as seen from an I-95 passenger as I listen to "Gates of Home". Few bands can pull of this trick.

6. Black Wine - Hollow Earth
By now, a structural pattern for Black Wine LPs is starting to emerge - a nice symmetry, three singers, three songwriters, three songs apiece, a little double sided Divine Comedy from the Jersey Shore. Black Wine are the sort of band that could have saved SST when they were putting out all of those Zoogz Rift records (which I admittedly have a soft spot for, too). While the blueprint for how they arrange their albums is somewhat static, the songs themselves are not. It's the type of daring underground rock music unencumbered by a stiff musical formula or predefined image that made digging countless record racks and sending away via mailorder all worth it in previous decades. Hollow Earth features some of the best Black Wine, in particular, the haunting "Flatland", which as far as I can tell takes lyrical cues from a Richard Feynman analogy on how explaining the fourth dimension (time) in space-time to humans is like explaining the 3rd dimension to flat bugs that live in a 2D world.

5. Bob Mould - Silver Age
Bob Mould puts his snooze-worthy techno on hold and dishes up some Sugar-esque rockers on this long player. On the skins is none other than everyone's favorite Best Show call-in guest, Jon Wurster (oh yeah, he also plays drums for a little band called Superchunk, as well). This is my favorite Mould since Last Dog and Pony Show, which I have always thought is a bit underrated. Hopefully, Silver Age will not suffer the same fate.

4. Toys That Kill - Fambly 42
Toys That Kill are a weird little band - this summer someone told me that once you cross the bridge into San Pedro, you're on another planet - you're not in LA anymore . Toys That Kill are on another planet. It's herky jerky rhythmic punk music that sounds like squawking cat and or dog humans are singing over it. I mean this in the best possible way.

3. Sickoids - self titled
A killer 20 min long 12" disc from what I might consider the best band from Philly of all time, Hooters be damned! (sorry Roy.) Chorus effect laced guitar cranked out over bass-static and punishing drums. Some tracks even remind me of the more hardcore stuff on Zen Arcade, which is never a bad thing! Had the opportunity to watch this band multiple times this year in multiple sweaty stinky punk houses - they were no joke. They've already sort of broken up, but I'm hoping they recorded some more stuff before they hung up their boots.

2. Cheap Girls - Giant Orange
Cheap Girls dish up their 3rd and best LP to date. It goes down easy like an ice cold beer after a long day of working at a shitty job and makes you forget about the worries in your life like a big fat bar of Xanax. Seemingly from a time when great melodies melded with catchy guitar hooks and straight-forward production (I think they called it "alternative" when it hit about 20 years ago), Cheap Girls are descendents of such Midwest titans as The Replacements, The Goo Goo Dolls, and Soul Asylum - rock bands from the Midwest who grew up and out of the punk scene. However, I would say Cheap Girls has far surpassed The Goo Goo Dolls and Soul Asylum. There are plenty of hits on this one - "Ruby" in particular is a real banger.

1. Screaming Females - Ugly
The New Brunswick power trio have pretty much kicked ass since inception, lighting basement shows ablaze with their guitar pyrotechnics incendiary vocals. Marisa Paternoster's trademark howl and shriek is no doubt an acquired taste, but you know what, so is Frank Black's bellowing and squealing, and Doolittle is one of the best records ever. Ugly is heavy on the riffs and packed with deadly guitar shredding. Everything you've ever read on a blog about Marisa's guitar skills is not hype - none other than J Mascis himself has given her the thumbs up in print. However, often times the Scremales rhythm section is over-looked. Ugly should correct this - with Steve Albini at the recording console the band has never sounded better - I swear it sounds like Dave Grohl playing drums on "expire" and King Mike's fuzzy Rickenbacher has never sounded better than on the epic "Doom 84". This band will be on SNL in less than 5 years, and it will be a joyous occasion.

 Singles/EPs
10. Altered Boys - self titled 7"
Pissed-off East-Coast hardcore - all of those words go together so well. Altered Boys sound a bit more Boston than Jersey Shore, but honestly who cares. They are without a doubt the best hardcore band in NJ right now. If you can catch them live, don't miss 'em.

9. Omegas - NY Terminator
Montreal’s Joy Boys are at it again, delivering brutal hardcore. If you enjoyed their 2011 LP Blasts of Lunacy (perhaps the best album title in the last decade), you will surely revel in slam-skanking to NY Terminator, their newest batch of jams.

8. Lemuria - Varoom Allure
This record was a Record Store Day special - more straight ahead and pop-oriented than their sophomore LP. Great drumming and vocals as always.

7. Sugar Stems - Greatest Pretender
Sugar Stems do female fronted power pop like no other in this present day and age. Aided by veteran axe-man Drew from the Jetty Boys/Leg Hounds, Betsy has penned some of the best jangly, distortion-free power pop this side of Pandoras. This single was a teaser for their 2nd LP that came out a few weeks before the end of 2012 - I regret not being able to purchase it before I made this list!

6. Tenement/Culo split
Tenement continues to amaze. Another band that does not have a preset mold for what they do - any Pitchfork-reading snob who gives you shit over listening to pop punk needs to sit their ass down and listen to this band. Culo is fast hardcore delivered with wild abandon - had a chance to share a bill with them last year in Chicago, and they were great. Did not get a chance to pick up their full length yet, but it's on my to-do list.

5. Young Skin - The Sticky Pages
A super-group comprised of my friends - so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. However, I think I can safely say, personal relationships be damned, there are some great straight ahead grungy, garagey punk tunes on here, particularly "Uneasy", which Miranda Taylor delivers with the perfect amount of melody and snarl.

4. Mikey Erg/Alex Kerns split
...Speaking of biased opinions! Mike's ability to write a song that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you want to pump your fist in unison to the beat has not waned an iota since the passing of our old band The Ergs, as evinced by "Song Against Ian Raymond". The Down By Law cover satisfies the 15 year old in me, but it is no way a match for "Song Against..." and in a way that's good - Mike must have known he had hot shit on his hands so the 2nd song he put on this thing had damn well better be a throwaway or else it would have been a waste of a good song. I am jealous The Ergs never got to perform this one! I predict Mike will make the best pop record anyone's heard in a long time next year. Alex Kern's laconic vocal delivery is one of my faves - the often lyricist and drummer of Lemuria delivers two quirky gems.

3. Big Eyes - Back from the Moon
Big Eyes are named after a top notch Cheap Trick song - should give you an idea where this band is coming from - excellent power-pop-ish rock n roll songs with big crunchy guitars. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Kate Eldridge has been cranking out great stuff for years despite her youth - most notably in Used Kids and her own group Cheeky. This 7" is Big Eyes at their most polished so far and that's not a bad thing at all. The A side is a killer hit complete with "oooh" laden bridge and a chorus I defy you to forget after hearing it just once.

 2. Neighborhood Brats - Ocean Beach Party
This band is the best new find of 2012 for me - and this 7" smokes! The A-side is a great uptempo rocker deriding California beach culture. It zips by in less than 1.5 minutes and totally rules. However, it's the B-side that makes this 7" - the menacing mid-tempo "Shark Beach". It's all wrapped up with a really cool looking black and white front cover - this is the band to watch next year. Their full length is going to be at the top of everyone's 2013 top ten list.

1. Red Dons - Auslander
Red Dons hit the world with the best song, A-side, and 7" of the year with "Auslander, a big, soaring, epic punk song complete with memorable guitar lead and passionate chorus about being an outcast everywhere you go in life ("Auslander" is pejorative term for "foreigner" in German). At this point, I think Red Dons have stepped out of the shadow of The Observers and really carved out their own name.

Also great this year:
Mean Jeans - On Mars
School Jerks - self titled
Guantanamo Baywatch - Chest Crawl
Creem - self titled 12"
Boston Strangler - Primitive LP
Plastic Cross - Grayscale Rainbows
Nude Beach - II

Good Demos/tapes worth checking out:
1. Altered Boys
2. Real Cops
3. Snowdonia
4. Voight-Kampff tape

Next up, we have a top ten from Danny Dysentery:
1. Midnite Snaxxx - self titled LP
A supergroup! Great poppy garagey all around awesomey punk.
 

2. The Gaggers - "Psychosomatic" 7"
My favorite band going.
 

3. Mean Jeans - On Mars LP
The best pop punk album of the year.
 

4. The Anomalys- "Retox" 7"
 The best live band I saw this year and a killer single to boot!
 

5. The No Tomorrow Boys - "Animal Eyes" 7"
Punked up Buddy Holly, Fuck yeah!
 

6. The Paper Bags "II" 7"
Classic punk rock and it came in a paper bag itself, best packaging of the year.
 

7. Neighborhood Brats "Ocean Beach Party" 7"
 My other favorite band going right now.
 

8. Big Box- Die Now LP
Evil pervey hardcore.
 

9. Raveonettes - Observator LP
More gloomy pop songs.
 

10. Teenage Bubblegums - Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, Pray for Tomorrow
Italian pop punk that's all sugar highs. I love it.
 
And lastly, a top ten from Travis Ramin:
10. The return of the Subsonics
One of the most unique garage bands of the '90s is back and sounding just as good!

9. Newly discovered Esquerita material from Norton
The "Hittin' on Nothing" 45 is especially killer (support Norton Records!).

8. Lee Hazelwood LHI Years double album
Great material AND naked '60s ladies all over the cover wearing Lee Hazelwood mustaches!!

7. Dueling 50 year anniversary concerts and subsequent new material from The Beach Boys and Rolling Stones (and the Monkees!)
Even Wyman put down his metal detector and picked up the bass for "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

6. Charlie My Darling
Rolling Stones movie filmed in 1965 and never released. Made to get the Stones used to be around cameras, but they also captured riotous concert footage and hotel room songwriting. VERY COOL!

5. The Midnite Snaxx (all of their releases!)
One of Tina Lucchesi's best bands. As the kidz say.."It's aaaall gooood" (do the kidz still say that?). "80 in the 40" rules!

4. La Sera - Sees the Light LP
An honest to goodness modern yet '60s girl group sound without the phony "doo wop" posturing. The videos are great too. Perfect for the lonely teenage boy type!

3. The New Surfsiders - "Kokomo" b/w "Good Vibrations"
Not to be confused with Lou Reed's The Surfsiders, this is the New Surfsiders. Equally retarded, equally GREAT!

2. Redd Kross - Researching the Blues LP
"Stay Away from Downtown" is the best song of the year and the best song of their career. Everything they have done has led to this song. I haven't played a song over and over again like this in a long time. If released in the late '70s, it would be duking it out on the charts with "Surrender" and the like. Great video too!!! 

1. Wired Up book and companion Hector 45
An AMAZING collection of rare Euro glam rock and bubblegum singles cover art from the early '70s. It's something I've waited for someone to do for so long. It's also a great way to find out about some cool records you might not know about. Even cooler is that it was compiled by Jeremy from the Busy Signals and Mary from the Baby Shakes. It comes out perfect when it's in the hands of rockers and collectors as opposed to some dipshit wannabe Rolling Stone magazine flunky. SLADE, HECTOR, JOOK AND BEYOND!!!!!! YOU WON'T STOP LOOKING THROUGH THIS BOOK  

One More....
Getting to introduce Ronnie Spector and doing WOO HOO with the 5678's, and playing with the Little Girls at the Girls Got Rhythm festival. The Muffs set was absolutely killer too!

Thanks everyone! Happy holidays!

-L.R.

Friday, December 21, 2012

All hail Ana Lucia!


Well! How's this for ending the year in style? Ana Lucia - lead singer of the late, great Busy Signals - has made her first solo album. And our old friend Travis Ramin is her producer/collaborator/bandmate extraordinaire! Needless to say, it sounds unbeatable on paper. Everything Travis Ramin touches turns to gold, and no doubt the Busy Signals were one of the very finest punk bands of the mid-2000s. You have to own this, right? Is The Pope Catholic? Do I like beer? The sales pitch promises a blend of Dangerhouse Records style punk rock and new wave power pop, and that turns out to be remarkably accurate. Recorded at Geza X's Satellite Park Studios by the legendary Paul Roessler (45 Grave, The Screamers), this album boasts enough star power to make the Los Angeles Angels envious. And it does not disappoint. Ana Lucia's got a rich, powerful voice, and in many ways she's a throwback to the classic punk/new wave frontwomen of yore. If anyone's got the attitude and pipes to pull off this Blondie meets The Bags type deal, it is she.

A la her work with the Busy Signals, Ana Lucia's solo debut is the good kind of pop-punk. The songs pack a mean punch, and the hooks are massive. A couple tracks (like the sublime leadoff smash "Mad Man") are typical of a Travis Ramin production. But for the most part, this record is more hard candy than bubblegum. Songs like "Take Take Take" and "Hush Hush" are near perfect specimens of buzzsaw punk infused with tasty pop melodies - and lord knows I have a great weakness for that sort of thing. Across the board, the material is top-notch. "Mess Around" may be the best song Debbie Harry never wrote, and even the spooky "Watcher" (featuring Roessler guesting on keyboards) is hugely infectious. Plus all you punk historian geeks will really appreciate inspired renditions of Sado-Nation's "Gimme You" and The Zips' "Take Me Down"!

With Ramin and Matt Castore (The Pinsch, Condominium) ably backing her, Ana Lucia has delivered an album that ought to make her a star. It sounds as fresh and appealing today as it would have in 1980. Not only is Travis Ramin a genius producer, but he always manages to work with the most talented singers out there. Ana Lucia is certainly in that category. You can stream "Mad Man" over at the Ramo Records Facebook page, and I highly encourage you to do so immediately! I guarantee you'll love it. Vinyl is out on Ramo, and the CD is available from Base Records out of Tokyo. Get excited!

-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/ramorecordsmusic

Monday, December 17, 2012

Neighborhood Brats are back!


It's kind of cliche to maintain that a certain band sounds like it just stepped out of a time machine. But sometimes, ya know, it's true! California's Neighborhood Brats have nailed that VKTMS/Legal Weapon femme-fronted hardcore punk sound so perfectly that you could easily pass off their recordings as unearthed treasures from thirty years ago. In a day and age in which new punk rock modeled on old punk rock too often sounds like a pale imitation, Neighborhood Brats could legitimately stand toe-to-toe with their musical heroes. I could put 'em on a mix with The Avengers and Black Flag, and they'd fit right in. Latest single "Ocean Beach Party" is the best thing the band has released yet - a quick blast of archetypical California punk rock that totally leaves me wanting more. The A-side is fast and furious and instantly classic. Don't be fooled by the title. For sure, it's not that kind of beach party! What I've always loved about old-school California punk is that winning combination of catchy melodies and a decidedly dark tone. Neighborhood Brats have that going on here - particularly on the ominous, surfy "Shark Beach". We've been hearing from this great band in very small doses over the last couple of years, and every time they've brought the heat. Will 2013 perhaps be the year we get a full album? Let's hope!



-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/neighborhoodbrats
http://neighborhoodbrats.bandcamp.com/music

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Ills kill again!


I first reviewed The Ills early this year, and in my usual manner I got pretty excited. I recall running around the house shirtless and frightening the cats. Fireworks were brought out of storage. The neighbors complained I was writing too loud. And, so, having had almost 12 months to get myself fired up for the Iowa City band's debut full-length, I had enormous expectations for Tuning Out. And still, somehow, I was blown away by the thing. What a great freakin' record!

My original take on The Ills referenced the glory days of Rip Off Records and classic bands like The Spastics and Loli and the Chones. And while I won't disavow those associations, over the course of a full album I'm also getting a strong late '70s/early '80s California punk vibe and even a touch of early '90s Olympia. The Ills take a little bit of a horror punk angle on quite a few tracks, and on others they suggest what might have happened if the Angry Samoans had mated with X. The formula, perfect from the beginning, has not been tampered with. No songs run longer than a minute and a half, and the band tears through each one with an awesome mix of ferocity and tunefulness. Dynamo lead Singer Erika E. Bola has got a lot of names on her shit list, and she's not exactly shy about speaking her mind. You may have guessed that "Nominate U to Die" is not a love song. And "1-2-3 Hate U", a master stroke of bratty punk rock, has even cheery old me reveling in misanthropy! 

Tuning Out - with its varied blend of hate, horror, and tacos - reminds me why I fell in love with punk music in the first place. It's fun and loud and brilliantly simplistic. The songs, often over in less than a minute, waste little time in getting to the good part. If I were 15 and heard this record, it would totally inspire me to go out and start a band tomorrow. The Ills have achieved something that's a lot more difficult than it seems - delivering an album as thrilling and satisfying as their debut EP. The newer songs - like "Delete U", "Somewhere Not Here", and the title track - positively smoke. There was a time when great straight-ahead punk records like this were commonplace. Sadly, they are not anymore. Perhaps The Ills will ignite a renaissance. Vinyl coming soon on the legendary Big Neck Records!



-L.R. 

https://soundcloud.com/user2866573/sets/the-ills-tuning-out
http://www.facebook.com/theillsrock
http://www.reverbnation.com/theills

Friday, December 7, 2012

My Favorite Things

If it works for Oprah, why not for me? Here are a few of my favorite things.

Jack Black Beard Lube
This shit rules. I can go a week between shaves, and the beard still comes off smoothly and easily. If you see me sneaking out of an Ulta with a small bag in my hand, the loot is Beard Lube.

Flying Dog The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale
The greatest pumpkin ale ever made. This is my beer of the year runner-up. The winner is being kept secret for a few weeks.

New No Tomorrow Boys video


Kurt Baker
The new king of power pop. He's delivered my album of the year and is in the running for EP of the year. He has cool hair. What can't this guy do? 

American Horror Story: Asylum 
Going into this year it was like, "How can AHS stop last season?" Now it's more like, "Holy shit, last season was nothing!" 

Yogi Bedtime tea 
I love this tea so much that it's cutting into my beer drinking. 

Smashmouth football
Screw four-wide formations and high-scoring games. I want to see power runs, bone-jarring hits, and ferocious goal line stands. After watching quarterback-driven teams rule the NFL for years, it's great to see the 49ers kicking ass this year with a violent defense and a dominant running game. Hell, even the Patriots are pounding the ball between the tackles! And in college, the top two teams nationally in total defense are going to the BCS Championship. Nice.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
If there was any doubt that he's the best actor of the last 25 years...

Gaspari Myofusion Probiotic
The only whey protein I'll ever need. I always get the chocolate flavor.

Jabber 
Yeah, I just reviewed them the other day. I'm still loving their EP!

A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews
Why am I touting a 36-year-old Southern Gothic novel? Because it rules. 

Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready
I've been hearing all kinds of nonsense about how I should boycott Papa John's for political reasons. The only reason I'm boycotting Papa John's is because its product is overpriced crap. For one third of the price, I'll gladly opt for the Hot-N-Ready.

SiriusXM Soul Town
My morning ritual: turn on Soul Town, slather my face with Beard Lube, and make myself pretty. Classic soul. Motown. What more does a man need?

New album from The Ills
So freaking good. Review coming soon!

Sweet potato fries
Regular fries will one day be obsolete.

Kick Out The Jams
A cool blog - even if it's entirely in Spanish.

Grand Traverse Pie Company
Can I say a potential proximity to this establishment is not a factor in my intention to relocate to Michigan? No, because that would be a lie.  

Kevin Love
Currently averaging 19.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per game, the big man is back and spearheading my fantasy team, The Funk Machine. The guy's a beast.

Doomsday Preppers
A fixture on the Fitzledge DVR. The fun part is not quite knowing if these are the least sane people in America - or the most.

-L.R.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cold Warps score once more!


So leave it to me to not review Cold Warps' Halloween single until Christmastime! No matter: like any Cold Warps record, "Don't Haunt Me, OK?" is going to sound great 365 days a year. Look up "pop" in the dictionary, and you just might be directed to this Canadian foursome's Bandcamp page. Once again they've mined the middle ground between the Beach Boys and Ramones. And once again, they've demonstrated that you don't need fancy production when you can write perfect songs. Perhaps the tunes pack a little more punch this time out, but the recording is far from hi-fi. The ghostly title track is a tad creepy but mostly funny, and of course it's pop gold. B-side cut "Stuck On An Island" may be even better. It's classic Cold Warps: lo-fi power pop evoking the fuzzy-scuzzy side of beach bliss. I don't think garage-pop could get any catchier without the written consent of the Center for Disease Control. Given the brilliance of this band's previous output, you might wonder if A) this release is up to the group's usual standards and B) it's necessary to buy yet another Cold Warps record that's so stylistically similar to the others. Surely you know me by now. My answer to both questions is obviously going to be yes. Cold Warps are one of the best bands on the planet. Everything they release is essential. If you're a pop person like me, it's a great time to be alive.


-L.R.

http://coldwarps.bandcamp.com/album/dont-haunt-me-ok-7inch
http://www.facebook.com/coldwarps

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More from Miss Chain!


How about a brand new Miss Chain & the Broken Heels single for an early Christmas present? Please and thank you! A teaser for an LP due out early next year, "Rainbow" is everything you'd expect and more from Astrid Dante and her exceptionally talented band-mates. It's out now on the one-and-only Bachelor Records. As I'd hoped, it continues the melodious pop bliss of 2010's wonderful On A Bittersweet Ride. And if these two tracks are any indication of what's to come, the new album will be the band's best yet!

Miss Chain & the Broken Heels have pulled off quite a tricky feat - they've managed to "mature" as a band without sacrificing any of the qualities that made them great in the first place. While so many power pop-ish bands wear their influences on their sleeves, Miss Chain & the Broken Heels have arrived at that place where they only sound like themselves. "Rainbow" is a twangy pop song with a bouncing beat and extraordinary guitar work. Miss Chain has never sounded better, and the melodies pour forth in sweet abundance. You can still hear hints of garage and '60s pop, but all in all there's a timeless singer/songwriter vibe at play. I like how the lyrics tell a story - and that they're delivered with such passion.

On the flip, "Searchers" is a little more of a straight forward power pop song. It's catchy and upbeat. I love the harmonies, and there's a perfect little hook that'll get you every time. The song is a great mix of the old Miss Chain and the new Miss Chain - reminding us that the difference between the two is more stylistic than qualitative. For the lack of a better term, the band's newer stuff is clearly more "sophisticated" than their early power pop by-the-book singles. But even with an amazing-sounding analog recording and a musically-accomplished band, the real goodness remains in the melodies and the hooks. This is a band that continues to pursue the perfect pop song. Miss Chain is one of my very favorite vocalists, and she and her songwriting partner Disaster Silva have again delivered beautiful and infectious material. Once "Rainbow" gets stuck in your head, you're going to want it to stay there for a very long time. Good times! I wholeheartedly recommend this band to anyone who loves great music.



-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/misschainandthebrokenheels
http://misschainandthebrokenheels.bandcamp.com/album/rainbow-7-2

Monday, December 3, 2012

Meet Jabber!

Oh boy! It took me only a few seconds to go completely bananas for Jabber. From the opening strains of "Maybe Next Year", it was absolute pop bliss of the highest order. And from there, I just knew it was only going to get better.

I've always had a weakness for super-catchy pop-punk with female vocals. Jabber - featuring Danny from The Pillowfights! and Kristia from Dead Ringer on dual lead vocals - are perhaps the next great band in this mold. They just formed in September and have already recorded an amazing EP called Too Many Babes. Of course they have songs that will be stuck in your head all day long. But they also have harmonies to die for and some of the catchiest guitar leads I've ever had the good fortune to hear. And both singers are so wonderfully likable that you just have to root for them. Isn't that what pop-punk music is all about: totally relating to someone else's ups and downs in love? Feeling their pain and sharing in their triumphs? Like some sublime mixture of Discount, the Unlovables, that dog, and Josie and the Pussycats, Jabber takes a tried-and-true musical formula and makes it feel fresh and new. And even when the lyrics tackle the anguish of longing ("Talk To You") or unrequited love ("Girlfriend"), there's such a joy and optimism to Jabber's music that it's bound to brighten your day no matter what. If a line like "I don't want to teach the world to sing/I can barely even play this thing" doesn't make you instantly fall in love with this Bay Area supergroup, you're a tougher customer than I. Yay, Jabber! 



-L.R.

http://jabberpop.bandcamp.com/album/too-many-babes
http://www.facebook.com/jabberpunx

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Remembering: American Punk Records


Although this blog exists ostensibly to promote "new" music, one of the fun things I've been doing is going back into the past and celebrating some of the bands and record labels that were around when I first started doing zines back in the '90s. One of the best labels of that mid-to-late '90s punk heyday was American Punk Records out of Baltimore. Run by Jakkpot lead singer Rudy "Rude A" Castello, A.P.R. released three Jakkpot singles along with seven-inches from like-minded bands such as the Candy Snatchers and Strychnine Babies. The label also released music by perhaps my three favorite bands of the '90s - the Dimestore Haloes, Fuses, and Prostitutes. If not as prolific or as long-lived as some of the other top punk labels of its time, American Punk was every bit as cool!

My personal story with American Punk Records starts in 1996 with a pair of singles by a Baltimore band called Webster. These were two of the best pop-punk singles of the entire '90s, but for whatever reason Webster didn't catch on with "the kids". But Webster would soon re-group as The Fuses, and the rest is history. Released late in 1997, The Fuses' debut Dress for the New Bomb still rates in my book as the best punk single of the entire '90s. And it came hot on the heels of one of The Prostitutes' greatest singles, Living Wreck. 1998 brought not only The Fuses' legendary full-length, I Wanna Burn, but also the classic Shooting Stars EP from the Haloes. Talk about a hot streak! American Punk Records would eventually cease operations after the breakup of Jakkpot, but no doubt the label had one hell of a five or six-year run. The label roster still reads like a who's-who of east coast/mid-Atlantic punk bands circa '95-2000. Some are rightfully perceived as legendary, and others probably should be (remember The Goons?). What follows is, I think, a complete list of official American Punk releases. If you happen to discover any of these titles in your travels, do not hesitate to buy!

Jakkpot- Just One Fix 7" (1995)
Jakkpot- You Ain't Shit 7" (1996)
Webster- Static 7" (1996)
Webster- 1000 Letters 7" (1996)
Candy Snatchers- Bum Me Out 7" (1996)
Jakkpot- Hit Or Miss 7" (1997)
Prostitutes- Living Wreck 7" (1997)
The Fuses- Dress for the New Bomb 7" (1997)
Dimestore Haloes- Shooting Stars 7" (1998)
Strychnine Babies- Kill Society 7" (1998)
Various Artists- This Is American Punk CD compilation (1998)
The Fuses- I Wanna Burn (CD 1998, LP 1999)

The Goons- No Leaders CD (2000)

-L.R.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Let's split (again)!


You know how I feel about splits. I like both sides to have some sort of common thread. I'm not saying that the two bands should sound exactly the same, but I like there to be some similarity or commonality that will make the listener want to flip the record over. Otherwise you just end up wishing that it was the same band on both sides. On that note, a couple of up-and-coming hardcore bands from Brooklyn have just stepped up and demonstrated exactly how a split should be done!

Low Fat Getting High (love the band name!) have a classic post-hardcore sound on their track "Lacoste". They've got the epic tempo shifts, pounding drums, thick bass, and metallic guitars you'd expect. And it's all carried off with a strong sense of melody and a nicely polished crunch. Lyrics and vocals are intensely personal and packed with sincere emotion. The noise factor is there but doesn't get in the way of the music. In a good way, I'd describe this as post-hardcore with modern rock crossover potential - like maybe if Foo Fighters sounded more like, uh, early Nirvana? I'm hella impressed!



The Black Black are in a similar vein but more groove-happy. Their track, "One Blunt Death Party", is definitely in the Fugazi by way of Gang of Four mold of post-punk. These guys are probably not as "metal" as LFGH. But in their own way, they're equally as good. They're incredibly talented from a musical standpoint, and they've got the chemistry to make it all sizzle. Their style is pretty dissonant but still really catchy due to melodic guitar leads and that punching, grooving bass. I'm not usually a big post-punk guy, but this song has sunk its hooks into me for sure.  


All in all, this is an exemplary split. I like that both bands are of an equal high quality. And rather than pad this release with filler, they both picked one standout track that really shows what they can do. When a split is good, it's like getting two bands for the price of one. And this one is definitely good. If you're at all into the post-punk/post-hardcore thing, you will not want to miss out!

 -L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/lowfatgettinghigh
http://www.facebook.com/theblackblack.nyc

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lola-Cola rocka-rolla!


Any band that describes itself as "bubblegum glitter punk" was bound to win me over in a hurry. And with Penny and Shawn from the late, great Dirty Sweets in starring roles, Austin's Lola-Cola was a group I could not wait to hear! Let me tell ya: I was anticipating big things. Dirty Sweets were the shit! Remember their album on Rip Off? But Lola-Cola are even better than I was expecting! Although the look and presentation are very "glam", musically this band has that classic '77 trashy punk rock n' roll sound I can never get enough of. I hear a huge Johnny Thunders influence in the music, and Penny on lead vox brings attitude and charisma in abundance. The band has a 7" out on Ken Rock, and you can stream their four-song cassette on their Bandcamp page (I love it, that in the year 2012, there are still bands doing "tapes"). The "hit", "Tough Love", is an instant classic if there ever was one. Imagine the Heartbreakers fronted by a bad-ass punk rock chick. "You Gotta Mouth On You" is in the same vein, replete with a bouncy bass line and red-hot guitar work. And "A Pair Of Blue Eyes", with its girl group chorus and Chuck Berry-ish solo, brings to mind the mighty New York Dolls. Perhaps four songs is a small sample size. But what a band! Heck, they even have their own theme song! I think every band should have its own theme song! Play the clip below, and you just might find yourself an instant fan. I know I was. L-O-L-A! C-O-L-A!



-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/LolaColaATX
http://lola-cola.bandcamp.com/album/lola-cola-cassette

Friday, November 16, 2012

Legendary, indeed!


I'm not sure what a legendary wing actually is, but I'd like to think it has something to do with fried chicken, a video game, or the hometown hockey team. Regardless, it's a cool name for a band. Legendary Wings are from Kalamazoo, Michigan - birthplace of Bell's beer, Gibson guitars, and football star Greg Jennings. This band managed the rare feat of sending an unsolicited demo to Dirtnap Records and actually scoring a label deal. That means that they're, uh, really good. Their debut album Making Paper Roses is out on Dirtnap, and not surprisingly it fits in quite well with the rest of the roster. Think garagey pop-punk with a double shot of caffeine. But I also hear similarities to other top bands of the moment like Cold Warps and Tenement. These guys are really into the lo-fi pop thing, and they seem heavily influenced by the post Husker Du/Replacements alt rock sound of the early '90s. So while they have a great deal in common with most of their label mates, they're also quite unique in the way they put all these elements together. They remind me of a band I would have loved back in college circa '92-'93. But in a lot of ways they're typical of what I'm into now. In short, Legendary Wings freakin' rule!

Making Paper Roses generally sounds noisy and frenzied, and all in all it has a rough, almost "demo" quality to it that's actually quite appealing. Sometimes with punk music, you just don't need a whole lot of polish. Forget about spending a gazillion dollars making a "perfect" recording. These guys are all about a loose, live energy and quality songwriting. And while some of the hooks are buried somewhat beneath the distinctly Midwestern grime, they do not go unnoticed. This is, from top to bottom, an impressive debut album. If blown-out, hyper-fast songs like "Too Far" and "Time" are typical cuts on this album, they are far from the only tricks in Legendary Wings' bag. "Lover" sounds like the Buzzcocks by way of the Marked Men, while the poppy "I Think I'm Dumb" is like '77 punk meets Minneapolis 1981. "Spacehead" has got a lo-fi Beach Boys vibe to it, while "Cartoon" turns on the jangle to wonderful effect. Surely from a fidelity standpoint, this group will go on to make "better" sounding records. But Making Paper Roses will be a hard record to top. Is it just me, or has this been one of Dirtnap's best years ever?


-L.R.

http://www.facebook.com/legendarywingskalamazoo

Monday, November 12, 2012

Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars!



First off, they've got one of the greatest band names ever. Secondly, they're from Ohio. Thirdly, my old pal Pat Dull (Media Whores, Break Up! Records) is in the band! Really: what's not to like about Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars?! In existence for about a year-and-a-half, BMAC have just released their first single. And hot damn, is it ever a ripper! If you combined the degenerate warp-speed ferocity of the Dwarves with the face-smashing aggression of Black Flag and the fireball tough-chick swagger of more recent outfits like The Loudmouths and Deady Weapons, you'd have a band almost as good as Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars. I believe this is Ms. Machete's first foray into singing, and she sounds like she was born to holler into a mic. Trust me: she is not someone you want to mess with. Think twice before cutting in line in front of her at Kroger. And befitting a band called the Angry Cougars, this group plays with unbridled aggression and pummeling power. "Don't Call The Cops" is a fast and furious burner, while "Book Of Hate" eases off the pedal but strikes with violent force. This is your basic angry punk rock music, and BMAC pull off the style exceptionally well. Sometimes bands like this are erroneously assumed to be all attitude and no talent. But even when it comes to the harder stuff, quality punk rock requires good tunes and tight musicianship. In every department that matters, this band just straight-up kicks ass. If you've been wishing upon a star for a MILF version of OFF! to come along, your prayers have been answered!



-L.R.

http://www.facebook.com/AngryCougars

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Biters strike again!


Best news ever: Biters are back! Atlanta's glam/pop/rock n' roll sensations have returned with their first release in well over a year, and of course it's freaking great. Did you expect anything less?! What I love about any Biters record is that it's guaranteed to be filler-free. This group works under the philosophy that only their A-grade material gets released. It's the reason why they do EPs instead of albums. Biters never compromise quality for the sake of quantity, and that's a big part of what makes them such a tremendous band. Oh, and that seemingly endless supply of incredible songs doesn't hurt either!

While far from the only group to have blended high energy power pop with elements of glam and "classic" rock, Biters are probably the best band going in that category. Hell, they might be the best band going in any category! Last of a Dying Breed, out now on Pipeline Records, continues the grand tradition of power-packed Biters EPs. However, it's far from a mere rehash of previous records. The "hit", "So Many Nights", is vintage Biters and possibly the greatest Thin Lizzy rip ever committed to vinyl. But there are also tracks on this record that are a little different. Although often pigeonholed as "power pop", Biters are a rock n' roll band first and foremost. And this EP is their most rocking to date - rife with the thundering guitars and anthemic choruses of their arena rock heroes. And the way it was recorded, completely without auto-tune, also hearkens back to that golden age of rock. No technological trickery here, folks: just a super-tight band clicking on all cylinders! Opening track "Hallucination Generation" offers a lyrical tip of the cap to Cheap Trick, a band that Biters have been compared to a few thousand times. Sonically, it brings a slightly harder edge compared to previous releases. I dig! "Hell Is For Babies" takes that heavier approach to another level of awesome, infusing a crunching hard rock sound with immensely catchy pop hooks. And "Evil Eye" is almost completely unexpected - a glam-influenced power ballad with an epic feel. If "So Many Nights" is the band's "The Boys Are Back In Town", "Evil Eye" is their "Bringin' on the Heartbreak"!

Last of a Dying Breed had a lot to live up to on the heels of three seemingly perfect EPs. But as usual, Biters have taken their time and given us something special. "So Many Nights" may be the band's best song yet, and I love the move towards a harder, bigger sound. These guys are more than ready for full-fledged rock stardom. Tuk is without question one of the best songwriters out there, and Matt absolutely kills it on lead guitar. I used to think there could be no better part of a Biters song than the chorus, but the guitar solos on this record are just sick! Remember real rock n' roll? Biters sure do! They have turned out a number of hits over the years. Now they're giving us anthems. Crank this bad boy loud!



-L.R.

http://wearethebiters.com/
http://pipelinerecordlabel.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pages/BITERS/177921643983

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mad about Livids!


So perhaps you heard that Mr. Eric Davidson has a new band going with the likes of Jami Wolf (Shop Fronts/Zodiac Killers), Daniel Kelley (Dead Ringers/Complaints/Paper Bags), and Greg Collins (Radio 4). If you think that sounds kinda awesome, you’d be absolutely right! I mean, come on! The greatness of Livids was inevitable. This Brooklyn punk rock supergroup, well-known to tear shit up live, recently went into the studio and banged out an LP. They’ve given us a little preview on their Bandcamp page, and all I can say is wow. Holy shit, man! Obviously if you’re a New Bomb Turks fan, you’ll dig. But as a ‘70s punk fanatic, I think I may end up liking Livids even better than the Turks. We’ll see. Davidson, a living legend if there ever was one, has never sounded better. And his star-studded band more than lives up to expectations. You could easily pass Livids off as forgotten punk greats from punk’s class of 1977 - and not just because they cover “Savage Eyes” by Rollerball. If N.B.T. had been a little less “garage” and even more Pagans/Dead Boys influenced, I’m pretty sure it would have sounded like “Ms. Bluff”. Listen and love!



-L.R.

http://livids.bandcamp.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Livids/268753126513652

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Brand New Beat!


It goes without saying that Kurt Baker's new LP is my album of the year. Heck, it might even be my album of the decade so far. And if you read my review of Kurt's most recent EP, you knew my expectations were sky-high. You can surmise I was not disappointed.

I'll grant you that Brand New Beat may not an album for everyone. It's an upbeat kind of record for upbeat kinds of people. It will elicit smiles and positive feelings. It has lots of songs about girls. If you're not into happy-go-lucky power pop the way I am, you might even be disgusted by this LP. Fair enough. It's a free country. But this is my slice of the blogosphere, and in these parts Kurt Baker is loved. In collaboration with dynamite producer/co-songwriter Wyatt Funderburk, he's turned out a classic pop/rock record that hearkens back to the late '70s and early '80s. Its songs appeal to that part of all of us that's eternally 19 and in the severe throes of young love. Some of the tunes are totally sappy. A couple will make you laugh. Others will break your heart. And every last one sounds like a hit. If Rick Springfield, Elvis Costello, and Butch Walker were one guy, he'd be Mr. Kurt Baker.

While "power pop" might be a good general term for the music Kurt Baker makes, I think Brand New Beat will surprise a lot of people. It's not strictly a power-pop-by-numbers record. "Hit The Ground" kicks off the proceedings with a slick, over-the-top blast of rock. And "Qualified" closes the show in the same vein. These are extremely well-crafted odes to the glory days of arena rock. You say "cheesy", and I say "fun". I just close my eyes and imagine the Kurt Baker Band as the unheralded opening act blowing Journey or Loverboy off the stage 30 years ago. Meanwhile the ballads reach back further to the mid-to-late '70s heyday of singer/songwriters, and they're tremendous. "She's Not Sorry" is like early Billy Joel meets the Beach Boys, while "I Don't Wanna Cry" is a gut-wrenching breakup song delivered with feeling. Both tracks are among the album's best, and the harmonies positively soar. Meanwhile "How Many Times" is a "happy" ballad that totally indulges Kurt's Elvis Costello worship.

Of course the best part of any Kurt Baker record is going to be the pure pop songs, and Brand New Beat is loaded with some of the catchiest cuts of power pop you could ever hope to hear. "Don't Go Falling In Love" would be all over Top 40 radio in a better world. Listen to it and see what I mean. And it's far from the only "hit". I'm totally nuts for the big glossy crunch and joyful spirit of "Everybody Knows" and "Weekend Girls". And the sweet, jangly "She Can Do It All" brings to mind Kurt's handsome and talented pals The Connection. What can I say? I'm just a total sucker for silky backing vocals and infectious pop hooks. Give me a little caffeine and a couple spins of this record, and I'm guaranteed a good day!

What I love about Brand New Beat is that it's so well-done on every level. The songs are great, the production is amazing, and Kurt's band is top-notch. Huge kudos go out to Funderburk (backing vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards), Kris "Fingers" Rodgers (keyboards), Geoff Useless (backing vocals, rhythm guitar), and Adam Cargin (drums) for making this "solo" album what it is. Recorded over a year-and-a-half period at three different studios, this LP was painstakingly crafted. And it shows! It has the feel of a top-selling record from three decades ago, yet it doesn't sound stale or dated in any way. Pop music, when it's this good, is timeless. Your dad will probably like Brand New Beat, but so will your niece. Go buy copies for everyone on your Christmas list!



-L.R. 

http://collectorsclubrecords.bandcamp.com/album/kurt-baker-brand-new-beat
http://www.kurtbakermusic.com
http://www.facebook.com/KurtBakerMusic

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sham 69 or Cock Sparrer?


How about a band battle on the classic Oi! front? This one ought to be a heavyweight fight for the ages. Of all of my battles so far, this one may be the most evenly matched. We're talking about bona fide titans squaring off. In one corner, you have the definitive Oi! band of all-time. In the other corner, you have the band that gave us Shock Troops, one of the greatest albums ever made. In real life, you don't have to choose one or the other. But on the band battlefield, somebody has to win. I love both. You love both. But if you had to pick one of the two, which band would get your vote?

As the "impartial" moderator, I will for the time being refrain from taking a side. You, dear readers, have the power of vote. Sham 69, I think, has the slight edge in overall body of work. But Shock Troops is certainly the single best album made by either band. Single best song? I'd probably go with Sham's "Borstal Breakout". But a strong case could be made for Cock Sparrer's "Where Are They Now?". I know, I know: we could do this all day.

Clearly, these are two of the greatest punk bands ever. I'd say they've been equally influential and equally important. But when push comes to shove, which of the two do you listen to more often? If you were banished to a deserted island and could only take along music by one of these two bands, who are you picking? If you could go back in time and witness only one of these bands in its prime, who would you see?

We are nearing a day of great decision. Now is not the time to sit on the fence. Let your voice be heard. Who are you taking: Sham 69 or Cock Sparrer?

-L.R.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No More Art


We've arrived at my last review of the month. And, boy, do I ever have an awesome band for you to check out! Based out of Hamburg, No More Art are somewhat of a supergroup. Milo from Rosie Tie is on vocals/guitar, and she's joined by the likes of guitarist Will Kinser (Red Dons) and drummer Juan Miguel Pardo (Los Dolares, Leadershit, Etacarinae, Peligro!). But No More Art are very different from any of the bands referenced above. If you're over 40 like me, you might make Dangerhouse Records comparisons. If you're under 25, you might say Masshysteri or Terrible Feelings. Either way, it's a total win! Think classic melodic punk with strong female vocals and super-catchy guitar leads. The band, also featuring outstanding bass player Jonas Ball, has a new single out on Deranged Records that absolutely kills. "Tough To Breathe" is a modernized take on old school punk with a huge, hooky chorus and guitar work that brings to mind The Adolescents. It's definitely got that throwback X/Bags/Avengers type feel, but there are contemporary influences at play as well. "False Confessions" is in a similar vein, propelled by a passionate vocal and powerful drumming. It's almost too good to be a B-side. This is actually the group's second single, and I highly recommend you go listen to both of them immediately. No More Art is hands down the best new punk band of the year. Get these records while you can!



-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/nomoreartmusic
http://nomoreart.bandcamp.com/

Friday, October 19, 2012

1999 Revisited


By popular demand (meaning one person asked), I now present the next installment in my "history project" on 1990s punk. In previous posts on 1996 and 1997, I reminded myself of how many phenomenal punk records were released in those years. To many of us of a certain age, that 1995-2000 revival of "classic" punk music was our 1977. Whether or not that whole scene was at its peak in 1999 or already on the downswing is very much open to debate. As the list below indicates, there was no shortage of outstanding releases in '99 in all the primary sub-genres I'm known for covering ('77 punk, garage-punk, pop-punk). How does this list compare to the ones from '96 and '97? You be the judge!

As always, I'll preface this list by saying it's my current idea of the top 15 punk records of 1999. Some of these titles would have ranked higher or lower had I actually made this list in '99. And some of these albums didn't become favorites of mine until a few years after the fact. There are probably a few LPs I raved about in '99 that did not make the cut this time. And I guarantee you that I forgot about a couple albums that probably should have made this list. But any way you shake it, it was a hell of a good year. Here goes:

15. The No-Talents - ...Want Some More!
"A stiff right uppercut of obnoxious hi-energy trash that's noisy and ferocious, fusing Cecilia M.'s snotty burd vocals and Lili Z.'s (who also bashes guitar for The Splash 4) nasty broken glass power chord blitzkrieg with a pummeling rhythm section that kicks the stall like the primest of the prime Killed By Death slop." I'd call that truth in advertising.

14. The Proms - Helpless Romantic
One of the best bands and best releases in the history of Mutant Pop Records, this full-length debut from The Proms is a forgotten classic of bubblegummy pop-punk.

13. Lillingtons- Death By Television
I never 100 percent warmed to The Lillingtons turning into a sci-fi/horror themed band. I still prefer their earlier releases. But nonetheless, Death By Television is a terrific album, and was very much in the spirit of Y2K weirdness.

12. Lombardies! - Throw Your Love Away
New England youngsters dished out snotty garage-punk with a poppy sensibility and a girl-crazed teenage world view. Released on Lawless Records.

11. Zodiac Killers- Most Thrilling Experience
A lot of people will maintain that Rip Off Records was past its peak by '99. I would vehemently disagree. This is the first of three ROR titles to make this list. Zodiac Killers were Greg Lowery's first band post Infections and sounded like the second coming of the Angry Samoans. This was their first and best LP.  Features the tender love ballads "Feed It To Your Mom" and "Come On & Die".

10. Reducers SF- Backing The Longshot
One of the great street punk bands of the late '90s, Reducers SF had an anthemic, melody-driven sound a la Cock Sparrer/Slaughter and the Dogs/Sham 69. This was their long-awaited debut album, and it was no letdown! 

9. The Wongs- Reanimate My Baby
In my opinion, this album should be remembered as one of the better LPs issued by Rip Off Records. It seems to have been all but forgotten. Catchy garage trash from Arizona with a touch of Pagans/Dead Boys nastiness.

8. Libertine- See You In the Next Life
After a couple of EPs and a fair amount of hype, Libertine really found its groove on its debut LP, infusing its '70s glam/punk sound with the moody melodies of early '80s Brit new wave. Sadly, this would be the band's only proper album.

7. U.S. Bombs- The World
These were the years when the Bombs could do no wrong. One of their best albums!

6. Raydios- Original Demo Recordings
This was Fink and Sammy from Teengenerate doing pure '77 punk. I'm not quite sure why this awesome record went under the radar.

5. Reatards- Grown Up, Fucked Up
Ah, The Reatards! This was their legendary second LP- a blistering onslaught of lo-fi garage-punk informed by Killed By Death comps and fuck-off adolescent rage. An incredibly influential record that's endured through the years.

4. The Metros - self titled
I consider this one of the all-time great Rip Off LPs. Not a typical ROR release, this is a hooky bad-ass rock n' roll record from a band that shoulda been huge. Detroit represent! 

3. Stiletto Boys- Rockets and Bombs
Classic debut full-length from Lancaster, PA's favorite sons. You had your bands that were into the rockin' side of '77 punk, and you had your bands that were into the poppy side of '77 punk. Stiletto Boys were into both, and played at breakneck speed to boot!

2. Dimestore Haloes- Revolt Into Style
All these years later, I still feel the same way about this record. Loved it then, love it now. "Born Too Late" might have been their greatest song.

1. Guitar Wolf- Jet Generation
Imagine if The Ramones had been Japanese, and were into rockabilly and sci-fi movies, and they went out and made the loudest record in the history of time. I put this LP up there with the all-time classics of punk rock.

Honorable mentions:
Dirt Bike Annie- Hit the Rock
Boris the Sprinkler- Suck
High School Sweethearts- Passing Notes 
Romeo's Dead- It's All Your Fault 
TV Killers- Have A Blitz On You

I haven't even touched on all the awesome singles of 1999 (Chemo Kids, The Beltones, The Disappointments, Stitches/Le Shok split...). But the LP list alone tells me that my original perception of that time being "special" was pretty on-point. 1999-2000 was a crazy moment in our history, with technology advancing rapidly and more than a few people expecting the world to end (Hmmm, sounds a lot like this year, too!). For me, it would be my final year doing an exclusively print zine. The very next year, Now Wave Magazine went on-line as a web-zine. I, a longtime resistor of technology, would eventually go 100 percent digital. Some of the stuff I'm doing today - like embedding audio clips into record reviews- would have seemed like science fiction back in the day! But while the way I covered it changed, the music itself did not. Here we are 13 years later, and the punk/garage/powerpop scene is still thriving enough to warrant me doing a blog like this. I think that's pretty freaking cool. Not many of the above bands are still around, but no doubt they all helped inspire what's still happening today.

And, yeah, I know I skipped over 1998. I've been doing this whole project out of order. '98 will be next - then perhaps '95!

-L.R.