Friday, March 30, 2012

Beach bound...


Operation Beach Body has officially concluded. I have put away the tape measure, the Foreman grill, and the Vitamin D-3 tablets. I began this quest January 9th at a body weight of 202.8 pounds. This morning I weighed in at 179.8. I'm no math whiz, but I believe that amounts to 23 pounds lost in 12 weeks. For a 41-year-old with a more than moderate drinking habit, I am in reasonably decent shape. I can, at the very least, confidently rock a swimsuit. Sunday morning, my wife and I will board a plane for Riviera Maya, Mexico. Between now and Easter Sunday, there will be no more counting calories or restricting carbs. Anything goes. We will spend a week swimming in the Caribbean and eating decadent resort foods of varying ethnic origins. I will drink copious amounts of crappy Mexican beer. My pale English skin will prove impervious to the tanning powers of the tropical sun. Barring abduction, natural disaster, or death by food poisoning, I will return stateside next weekend and resume blog activities with a proverbial vengeance. I've got a review of the new Teenage Frames EP in the can, plus a list of greatest Dirtnap Records albums in the works. I'm planning a battle of the Pauls. See you all in ten days. Should I not make it back alive, I would like "All This and More" by the Dead Boys to be played at my memorial service (just because it would be funny). And by all means, if I run into Jimmy Buffett, I'm taking him out!




-L.R.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Meltdown!

Given that Mark Ryan has played on four or five or six of the greatest punk albums of recent memory, it’s no small statement to say that his latest creation is one of his best. The Mind Spiders, originally conceived as a solo studio project, has become a full-fledged (and truly brilliant) band. Joining Ryan (Reds/Marked Men/High Tension Wires) is a veritable Texan punk/garage all-star team. Daniel Fried of Bad Sports and Wax Museums is on bass. Stephen Svacina of Uptown Bums is on guitar. Peter Salisbury of Stumptone plays keyboards. And there are two drummers in Mike Throneberry (Marked Men) and Gregory Rutherford (High Tension Wires). With this powerhouse lineup in tow and a loose sci-fi storyline in mind, Ryan has taken the Mind Spiders to another level on their sophomore LP. Last year’s excellent self-titled debut suggested what might have happened if Brian Eno and Buddy Holly had made a record together. But Meltdown, which achieves a cinematic feel without sacrificing any of the hooks, is a goddamn masterpiece.

Sometimes terms like “experimental” and “post-punk” are just rockcrit speak for “pretentious garbage”. But a la Jay Reatard’s mid-2000s solo work, the Mind Spiders have found an improbable happy medium between synth-punk/dark wave and garage/power pop. If you like dark, creepy, and pre-apocalyptic, Meltdown won’t leave you wanting. Yet at the same time, the album is rockin’, melody-driven, and genuinely fun to listen to. If you listened to just the first three songs, you’d be like, “Neat, the Marked Men have a keyboard player now!” But then you hit track four, “More Than You”, and you’ll swear you’ve been teleported to the Jesus and Mary Chain channel on Pandora. And from there, Meltdown really takes off on a wild ride. The general concept is that humans are under attack by an army of invading spiders, and as the story advances the music becomes weirder by degrees. “Fall In Line” opens with frosty synths, shifts gears with cranked-up guitars, and ends with sounds evoking a laser-gun barrage. “Upside Down” is like The Cars by way of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. And by the time you get to “Skull Eyed” and the harrowing title track, it’s as if the band that started the album has been completely taken over by androids (programmed, it seems, with prodigious talent).

What I love about this album is that it’s truly an album. Sure, you can appreciate individual tracks (like “Beat”, one of Ryan’s best tunes to date). But ultimately, these songs are meant to be heard together, in sequence. In this age when the entire concept of the “album” is falling by the wayside, the post-modern Meltdown is ironically a traditional listening experience. Whether you’re playing it in your car, on the treadmill, or in your basement, it begs to be enjoyed as a complete piece of work. And enjoy it you will! If this is the punk rock equivalent of a science fiction movie, it’s one that you’d actually have fun watching! Makes me wish I owned a turntable. With its two distinct sides, this one would be great to hear on vinyl!



-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mind-Spiders/168482384014
http://www.dirtnaprecs.com/

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Connection return!


It’s well-documented that I love an awful lot of bands. I keep track of them all on a 120-foot scroll I pilfered from the Kerouac estate. But in my personal top five, there’s only room for, uh, five. And The Connection make the cut! I have their album on eight-track and cassette. I wear their concert t-shirt every Thursday. I often waste entire afternoons imagining the sublime societal changes that could be affected if they toured with The Cry. I tried to win Geoff Palmer’s Beatle boots on eBay, but Greg Mongroll beat me out by a penny. What can I say? I’m a fan!

The Connection have got a brand-new EP out, and naturally I’m stoked! You’ve probably seen me periodically dancing in the streets. Or maybe it was just some other guy who likes The Connection too. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to not like this band. They’re just fun! The influence of The Beatles and Beach Boys was all over their LP. Now “Seven Nights To Rock” takes it back even further to the scintillating roots rock n’ roll of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, and from the first note you just can’t resist tapping your toes and bobbing your head. And that’s Mr. Kris Rodgers killing it on piano. Right on! Throwback/oldies rock n’ roll can be a tricky style to pull off. If it’s not done right, it comes off like a goofy novelty thing. But The Connection have a contagious affection for early rock n’ roll, and they are neither a pale imitation nor a hokey gimmick. They make music that legitimately could have been played on the radio in the mid 1960s. You call it retro, I call it timeless. “I Think She Digs Me” is right in The Connection’s wheelhouse: power pop by way of the British Invasion. Who doesn’t love a perfect pop song? This one will put a smile on your face into next week. And while it may seem pointless to cover the almighty Ramones, these guys have at the Joey-penned demo “Yea, Yea” and genuinely make it their own! I love it! It was the perfect song choice given the band’s affinity for the sweet ’60s pop melodies that Joey Ramone so dearly loved. It’s probably my favorite cut on the EP. And how about another cover, kids? How about the Real Kids/Taxi Boys rave-up “Bad To Worse”? The Connection pay homage to another undeniable influence - and their New England brethren at that!

I will admit I was expecting a lot from this EP. The Connection had set the bar sky high with their album last year, and anything short of an amazing follow-up would have been a letdown. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Outside of eating Pop Rocks with Coke, “Seven Nights To Rock” is the most fun you can have for four dollars. Spring is in the air. Good times await. Roll down the windows, crank the volume, put your foot on the gas, and enjoy life!



-L.R.

http://the-connection.bandcamp.com/track/seven-nights-to-rock
http://www.facebook.com/#!/theconnectionRnR

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cold Warps heat it up!

I told you we weren’t done with Canada! This time we hit up Halifax, Nova Scotia (birthplace of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Keith’s beer) and meet The Cold Warps, who describe their sound as “AM radio power-pop poured through fuzz and played faster and louder”. Whoa! Sounds like a band I was born to love. And I do! Comprised of recordings going as far back as December 2009, S/T |Endless Bummer is the first Cold Warps vinyl release. Essentially, it compiles both of the band’s five-song tapes onto one blockbuster debut album. And I love that they did it this way instead of just re-recording all the songs in a “proper” studio. For much of the magic with The Cold Warps is in how they get such incredible results from a minimalist, lo-fi style of recording. I wouldn’t want to hear “cleaned up” versions of these songs when the originals are already perfect! Whereas other bands start with similar Ramones and Beach Boys influences and end up making generic pop-punk music, The Cold Warps have quite a different thing going on. They combine elements of garage and power pop and go for a “Joey Ramone beating Paul McCartney over the head” type vibe. It works, primarily because they write incredibly good yet simple songs (a very hard thing to do). And their understanding of power pop as a genre allows them to get the most out of super-basic guitar solos and no frills vocal harmonies. Everything is stripped down to the essentials of quality pop: a good melody, a catchy chorus, a memorable lyric, a neat little guitar hook. And who can’t relate to “songs about science fiction, teenage apathy, and summer love”? It may have been recorded two-and-a-half years ago, but “Hole In My Head” may be song of the year for 2012. “Let’s Just Fun” is not just a great tune, but also a mission statement for what The Cold Warps are all about. Whether you prefer the dizzying bubblegum rush of “Who Cares, I Guess” or the homespun pop brilliance of “Stupid Tattoos”, it’s darn near impossible to not fall in love with the Cold Warps upon immediate contact. With one band member 900 miles away in Ottawa, I’m guessing rehearsals and gigs are rather, uh, infrequent. So it may be a while before we get another album! In the meantime, this first one is an absolute gem and an early contender for album of the year. And be sure to check out three new demos on the group’s bandcamp page! Pop lovers, this is one band you don’t want to miss!




-L.R. 

http://coldwarps.bandcamp.com/album/cold-warps
http://www.facebook.com/coldwarps

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cyclops Island is where it's at!


Hey, kids! Do you like the rock and roll? How about a brand new music video from garage punk super duo Cyclops?! With the illustrious Jonny Cat on guitar/vocals and the great Tina Lucchesi on drums, you'd expect awesomeness from Cyclops. And awesomeness is what you get! Dig! New 7" out soon on Bachelor Records!

Cyclops - "Cyclops Island" (official video) from JetLag RocknRoll on Vimeo.

-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cyclops/166987293370570

Friday, March 16, 2012

Songstory: "Just Don't Want To Be Lonely"

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken on a writing assignment. But my friend Shawn Abnoxious, fearless co-leader of our Blog Alliance Guild (sort of a Justice League for bloggers…he’s Aquaman, I’m the Martian Manhunter), recently proposed a multi-blog crossover project called “Songstory”. And since I’m never one to back down from a writing challenge, I wanted to be part of it. Here was Shawn’s prompt: “Have you ever found yourself wrapped up in a moment that is represented by the perfect song as its soundtrack?” And so I got to thinking. 

It has occurred to me that most of the indelible soundtrack moments of my life (or at least the non X-rated ones) have taken place in cars. “Joshua” by Dolly Parton always reminds me of riding in my grandfather’s Cadillac en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the summer of 1983, my cousin laughing and pointing at me because my name was in the song. “Big Time” by Rudi always reminds me of the time Dave Getzoff and I missed our exit to Hoboken and got stuck navigating New York City traffic for 45 minutes just to get back into Jersey. “Add It Up” by The Violent Femmes always reminds me of a family trip to Florida, and my dad sitting in the driver’s seat of a rented van, expressing great outrage over being subjected to such decadently foul language. But if there’s one song that I most identify with a soundtrack moment in my life, it would have to be “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” by The Main Ingredient.

“Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” was a top ten hit for The Main Ingredient in 1974. I would not become familiar with the song until December 2007. I was going through a big ‘70s soul phase and was feverishly exploring bands from that era. I had recently put an end to Now Wave Magazine after ten years of doing it. I was burned out on reviewing music, and I was looking to turn a corner in my personal life. A year prior, the sudden and unexpected death of my longtime significant other had thrown me into a state of turmoil. I moved back in with my parents, drank heavily, ate like a pig, and became obsessed with sports talk radio. I threw myself into my work and my zine. I slept a lot. Instead of enjoying my days, I merely got through them. I went on this way for an entire year. Eventually I decided it was time to move forward. There had to be light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to try dating again. And on this one certain day, December 8th of 2007, music and life converged in a way they only seem to in the movies.

I had just emerged from the mall with a silky blue dress shirt I was going to wear on a big first date exactly one week later. The sun was shining beautifully. I had just received a Main Ingredient best-of disc from Amazon, and I popped it into the CD player for the drive home. I know, who doesn’t like “Everybody Plays the Fool”? But it was the second track that truly grabbed me and connected with my mood. And my mood was upbeat. I had a date in seven days! There was no telling how it was going to turn out with this girl, but it just felt right. And so did “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”. It’s everything I love about the smooth soul music of the early ‘70s. It’s got a deliciously grooving bass line, harmonies The Pips would envy, a gorgeous symphonic arrangement, a fuzz-box guitar lead that you cannot get out of your head, and most importantly an all-time charismatic vocal from lead man Cuba Gooding Sr. (who replaced original singer Donald McPherson after his death in 1971). What a jam! Seriously: the vocal alone would have made the song. Cuba Gooding Sr. was flat-out smooth! The song is basically about a dude who sweet-talks a girl into not leaving him, and if you listen to the previous Blue Magic version, it’s quite a different vibe. But as interpreted by our man Cuba, this song is no downer. It’s a symphony of swagger. Like a man really would in this situation, he pours on the charm. From the first note, there is no doubt he is going to get his way. When he sings, “I’d rather have your sweet love, sugar”, you just know this girl doesn’t stand a chance! She’s not going anywhere. Who could possibly resist that velvet voice and that magnetic, masculine confidence? I think I pushed “repeat” five or six times. I would never forget that moment, hearing this exultant pop song and finally feeling good about life again, a bright blue sky smiling down upon me with a boundless optimism. It was as if I knew at that exact moment that a sad chapter of my life had come to a close, and a happy one was about to begin. The Main Ingredient would quickly become one of my favorite bands of smooth soul’s golden age. And “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”, for reasons both musical and sentimental, today rates as one of my three favorite songs ever. The other two are Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”. Sorry, I do not have stories for those two. 

And what happened with the girl, you ask? I married her. 



-L.R. 

Check out Greg Mongroll's Songstory post at Blog Monster!
Check out Stephen Sunday's Songstory post at Unseen Science!
Check out Angie's Songstory post at Rock-N-Roll Hoochie Koo!
Check out Gunther 8544's Songstory post at The Rung!
Check out T-Wray Combs's Songstory post at Dialed In Like a Shortwave Radio!
Check out Shawn Abnoxious's Songstory post at Thwart!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The F & L Hall of Fame: Dimestore Haloes


In the "glory days" (ha ha!) of my writing career, the Dimestore Haloes were without question my favorite band. I loved the Haloes, and I wasn't shy about proclaiming it. When I die, I will surely be remembered for three things: my rugged good looks, my astounding capacity to consume massive ice cream sundaes, and my fervent championing of an underdog punk rock n' roll band from Boston in the late '90s. It pleases me, all these years later, to know that I wasn't totally full of shit. This band was great! And its music, all these years later, passes the test of time. 66 Facebook fans cannot be wrong!

In the beginning, it was probably the idea of the Dimestore Haloes that made me an instant fan. In every way that mattered, they were just really freaking cool. They were The Clash, Johnny Thunders, Chuck Berry, and the Stones all rolled into one, with a beat poet lyrical angle and a look that was equal parts greaser and glam. Their revivalist punk sound owed as much to 1957 as it did to 1977. All their cited influences were bands I already loved or bands I desperately wanted to hear. Yet none of that would have mattered a lick if they'd been a crap band. Long after any band's "gimmick" wears off, you're left with just the music. And the Haloes, in their all-too-brief lifetime, left us with a hell of a lot of fantastic music. To this day, I will maintain that they were one of the greatest bands of their time. 

I first heard the Haloes sometime in 1996. And for sure, I dug 'em! But my appreciation for the band reached a new level entirely when they released their debut album Thrill City Crime Control in the summer of 1997. I've already discussed this record at length over at Dirty Sheets, so there's no point in repeating myself. Suffice it to say that as soon as I heard said album, the Haloes became my favorite band. When I think vintage Dimestore Haloes, I think Thrill City Crime Control. For one thing, it's the only Haloes album that features the band’s "classic" lineup (Chaz Matthews on guitar/vocals, Lorne Behrman on guitar, Marcus Arvan on bass, and the late Jimmy Reject on drums). More importantly, it forever altered the musical direction I'd take as a record reviewer. It inspired me to celebrate a new breed of old punk. If I'm making the ultimate '90s punk mixed tape, "Twentysomething Bad" has got to be on it!

Now if I had to name the best Haloes album, I'd go with their final release Ghosts of Saturday Night. One thing I always admired about Chaz and the Haloes is that they were always striving to take their music to the next level. When you hear Ghosts of Saturday Night, you hear the album Chaz had probably been trying to make for quite a few years. The songwriting, the production, the musicianship - this is where it all comes together like it never had before. Infusing pop hooks and a '70s Stones swagger into the band's signature '77 punk sound, it rates as one of the best punk albums of the 2000s in my (admittedly biased) opinion. By the time it saw the light of day, the band was broken up. So there were no whirlwind concert tours or glossy zine photo shoots. But hey, they did end up on the same record label as The Joneses!

The Haloes were such a huge part of Now Wave Magazine (Chaz and Jimmy, in fact, became regular contributors). It's hard to believe it's been close to a decade since the band officially disbanded. Some of the people who peruse this blog might not even know of the Haloes! I guess that's why I wrote this piece. Give these clips a listen, kids! I think you'll like what you hear!





-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Dimestore-Haloes/138848529536778
http://www.myspace.com/thedimestorehaloes

Monday, March 12, 2012

Boston or L.A.?

Easy question, right? Or is it? If we're talking the early years of punk ('77-'80), the L.A. scene is hard to top. I'll put the likes of The Germs, Bags, Dickies, X, Screamers, Weirdos, and Black Flag up against anyone (London included!). And I'll like my chances a whole lot. But is it really such a slam dunk? Consider Boston punk of the same era. Perhaps as a bunch, La Peste, The Real Kids, The Outlets, Neighborhoods, DMZ, The Freeze, and Unnatural Axe are not quite as celebrated as their L.A. counterparts. But if you really get down to thinking about it, it's a lot closer than you may have thought. Make an ultimate early L.A. punk comp, and then make an ultimate early Boston punk comp. They'd both rule, no doubt. But here's the thing: I can't tell you for sure which one I'd listen to more. L.A. punk as a whole is so iconic, and its renown is more than justified. But classic Boston punk was and still is ridiculously underrated. And if we consider my personal tastes in music, it would be hard for me to not lean the way of Boston. I mean, come on: "All Kindsa Girls", "Just Head", "No Place Like Home"...how do you top that?! But my gut still says L.A. I don't know. I'm very conflicted. What do you think?

-L.R.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Three, Two, One...awesome!

From Long Beach, the Three Two Ones are a power trio to watch! They've got a new single out that I foresee landing in the year-end top ten lists of me and a few of my friends (who might have names like "Dirk" and "Greg"). No doubt, "Jenny" is the hit. It's a flat-out great power pop song with cool modernist lead guitar work and some genuine lyrical venom ("Jenny/You're an asshole!" will surely be one of 2012's most memorable lines). Simply amazing. If 20/20 had listened to more Television records, they might have made a song like this.

On the flip, "Fake And A Fraud" is another quality pop tune with a restrained tempo and lyrics that pull no punches. It's got a dark, almost paisley pop tinge to it, and the interplay between lead guitar, bass, and drums is dynamic in more ways than one. The vibe to me is a timeless strain of southern California punk/pop/new wave goodness. You hear it, and you can't decide if it would fit in better on Surf and Destroy radio or the Valley Girl soundtrack.

What a terrific teaser we have here. I want to hear what else the Three Two Ones have in store for us! In the meantime, do not be surprised to hear "Jenny" burning up the punk radio/podcast circuit over the coming weeks and months. I'm telling you, it's gonna take off! You hear it once, and you just know it's a hit! Today Long Beach, tomorrow the world!

-L.R.

http://www.reverbnation.com/threetwoones
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Three-Two-Ones/171360342957843

Friday, March 9, 2012

Top Twelve Albums of 2002!

This year I've already counted down my top ten albums of 1982 and 1992. Part three of this listing extravaganza takes us back to 2002. It's hard to believe these albums are already a decade old! '02 was a vintage year for Now Wave Magazine. The print version had been all but phased out, and the web-zine was really starting to take off. Every day, I did a split shift at work and spent the afternoon hours pounding away on record reviews. I had four or five staff writers and at least nine loyal readers. The late '90s resurgence of "old school" punk was winding down but still burning hot. And the neo punk/powerpop thing was just starting to take off. In prior years I had made my name championing the likes of the Dimestore Haloes, Dead End Cruisers, Stiletto Boys, Moral Crux, and the U.S. Bombs. But 2002 belonged to a whole new wave of bands – a few of which would never be heard from again. Ultimately, it was a fun year to write about punk/garage/powerpop music. How many of these albums do you remember?

12. The Leg Hounds- self titled
Released on Rev. Norb's Bulge Records, this was the debut long player from these Wisconsin Devil Dogs disciples. A flat-out smoking slab of good old punk rock n' roll! Great, underrated band.

11. Modern Machines/Fragments split CD
Who remembers this tag team attack of Midwestern melodic punk? MoMacs went on to become one of my fave bands of the decade. I don't know what happened to The Fragments, but their half of this split may have been even better.

10. Dirty Sweets- Bubblegum Damaged
A forgotten gem of female-fronted Rip Off Records snot-punk. If you still own it, give it a spin tonight.

9. Stitches- 12 Imaginary Inches
This was it: the long, long awaited Stitches debut full-length. In retrospect, it probably deserved more hype than it ended up getting. A classic punk album - just as expected!

8. Beards- Funtown
An eagerly anticipated super group collaboration between Lisa Marr and Kim Shattuck, Funtown did not disappoint! Or at least Lisa's songs didn't.

7. Epoxies- self titled
Remember when everyone and his brother was geeking out over Epoxies circa 2001/2002? Those were fun times! This, their debut album, lived up to the hype and then some. If The Rezillos had made a baby with Gary Numan...

6. Yum Yums- Blame It on the Boogie
These Norwegian pop gods also made my 1997 list with their debut album. Their sophomore LP somehow improved on perfection.

5. Guitar Wolf- UFO Romantics
Guitar Wolf only at #5?! That's how good of a year it was!

4. Mallrats – Fall In Love All Over Again
Here's one that flew way under the radar. Overshadowed by Screaming Apple label mates The Exploding Hearts, this Sacramento trio quietly put out one of the greatest mod powerpop albums of its time. In a style quite similar to that of hometown heroes The Decibels, The Mallrats fused Beatle-esque guitar pop with high-powered mod-punk a la The Jam/Lambrettas/Purple Hearts. In a lot of other years, this could have been the #1 album.

3. M.O.T.O. - Kill MOTO
Absolutely one of the classic '77 style pop/punk records of the 2000s or any era for that matter. Contains the legendary tracks "Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance To The Radio" and "I Hate My Fucking Job".                                                   

2. Reigning Sound- Time Bomb High School
While the mainstream was starting to go nuts for corporate-sponsored "garage" rock, the real deal went largely unnoticed. Mixing the styles of Memphis soul, '50s rock n' roll, the British Invasion, old-time country & western, and '60s garage rock, Greg Cartwright and co. gave new life to old sounds with punky grit and absolutely brilliant songwriting. Probaby the poppiest Reigning Sound album, and probably my favorite. It sits at #2 instead of #1 only because of the...

1. Exploding Hearts- Guitar Romantic  
A lot of people will tell you this was the best album - and best band- of the entire 2000s! I would not argue.

So there you have it. I'm sure I forgot one or two, but it's been ten years and I've killed a lot of brain cells since then. I would gladly spin any of the above titles today. A few are albums I still listen to on a regular basis. By golly, 2002 was genuinely a good year! Now if I could only remember all the singles and EPs...

-L.R.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hey, kids! It's a new Kung Fu Monkeys record!

The Kung Fu Monkeys are without question one of my favorite bands of all-time. Their music is aural happiness of such potency that it ought to be bottled for humanity’s sake. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve heard a peep from James Cahill and friends, but I’m happy to say the KFMs are back with their 13th EP. And do I dare say the band has never sounded better? I do!

Out on Surfin’ Ki Records (Italy) and Waterslide Records (Japan), Son of the Incredibly Strange Case of the Mysterious Mystery is the follow-up to The Incredibly Strange Case of the Mysterious Mystery EP (which, unfortunately, has yet to see the light of day). It continues the story from “Heloise’s Epiphany” (a bonus track off of the KFMs’ Christmas for Breakfast compilation). The premise: “The young and charming Eloise appealing to the vegetal queen of the underworld to spare humanity from the apocalypse, for which the disappearance of the North American honey bee is taken to be an ominous portent.” That might sound like pretty heavy stuff if you weren’t already familiar with the Kung Fu Monkeys! But fear not. James has not gone dragon metal on us. If the KFMs have always been 100 percent pop, they somehow found a way to bump it up to 110! The baroque pop aspirations of the band’s more recent output come into full fruition here, with the group’s finest production to date and an expanded lineup that includes strings and a glockenspiel player! The sweet spot here is a Zombies/Left Banke/later Beach Boys kind of pop majesty with  touches of twee, psych, and blue-eyed soul. It’s like honey to the ears. And even with slightly portentous lyrical themes in play, this is a record that’ll have you smiling on your worst day. The A-side, “Persephone Please”, is one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard. James sounds absolutely great - his vocals soaring in tandem with a to-die-for melody. Click on the vid below, and you’ll hear what I mean! On the flip, “A Nudie Suit Made of Bees” recalls the Jolt Cola rush of the band’s early recordings, thanks in no small part to a brisk tempo set by masked drummer El Capitan (Hey, I think I might know that guy!). I love the vocal interplay between James and backup singer Kelly Lynn. You like hooks, right? This song’s got a hook that could snag a great white shark! I can’t believe I’m saying this in light of the bliss trip that is “Persephone Please”, but “Nudie Suit” is the hit! I think it’s going to be permanently stuck in my head, and for that I am most grateful. It’s truly a sprightly number. You don’t hear the word “sprightly” used in music reviews very often, but it sure does suit the Kung Fu Monkeys! And while there’s a certain irony in a blog called “Faster and Louder” extolling the virtues of a release featuring piano, tambourine, strings, and glockenspiel, this record rules as much as anything I’ve reviewed to date! My friend “Poppy” Robbie Phillips ordered 12 copies. If everyone did the same, the world would be a better place.

My goodness, it’s great to have the Kung Fu Monkeys back! There was a time when KFM singles were regular occurrences, and even then every single one felt like a birthday present. I guess this one was a birthday present as well - literally! At 41, I’m every bit the fan I was at 26. The Kung Fu Monkeys bring joy into the world. Now more than ever, we need them.



-L.R. 

http://www.facebook.com/surfinkirecords?sk=wall
http://www.myspace.com/kungfumonkeys

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Cheat Meal Chronicles: Part One

Eight weeks into Operation Beach Body, you’d expect me to be going insane. As of yesterday morning, I’d dropped 19 pounds since January 9. I’m on track to be under 180 pounds by April 1st. But progress has come at a price. Eating right every night, restricting calories, limiting myself to one beer a day, depriving myself of sweets and pop and night time snacks…it has not been fun. I’m drinking tea every night! But my wife and I, both committed to this project, have found a little sanity every seventh day. The weekly cheat meal has become a ritual of ours. When one cheat meal ends, we start planning the next. We talk about it nightly. We often consult charts and graphs and ancient texts full of wisdom. And when you only allow yourself to pig out one day a week, you have to make it count. Previous cheat meals have consisted of such courses as chili and chicken wings, Famous Dave’s barbeque, Canadian poutine and burgers, hog maw (pig’s stomach), and bratwurst with sides of kraut, red cabbage, and German potato salad. In a typical week, I will lose 2-5 pounds, only to gain half of it back in one day. But it’s so worth it. Cheat Day is like Christmas, my birthday, and The Super Bowl all rolled into one. There are balloons, costumes, and theme music. I will now count down my top ten ultimate cheat meals. It is my goal to hit every one of these before the year is out.

(in no particular order)

Famous Dave’s
As referenced above, we have already done this one once. And we’re going back next week. This is far and away the best chain restaurant barbeque out there. The chili is out of this world. The brisket cannot be beat. I think I’m passing on the chopped pork next week and going straight for the ribs. Good sides, too. Mmmmm, corn bread!

Cheesecake Factory
I will always wait for a seat at Cheesecake. And it’s not just the cheesecake. They make the best Cuban sandwich this side of the 30th parallel. The appetizers are appetizing. The entrees are immense and delectable. And oh yeah, that cheesecake.Yeah. Yeah!

Friendly’s
So the food is nothing special. But since early childhood, I have made an art form out of destroying the five-scoop Reese’s Pieces Sundae in short order. Precede that with a burger and fries, and you’re talking epic pig-out! Hell, I might even order a Coke!

“Loaded” fries
Lots of sports bar type establishments offer something along these lines. And given that cheat day is the only day I allow myself unlimited calories, it’s my only chance to indulge the loaded fry sort of deal. Basically, you’re talking melted cheese over a couple pounds of fries, with bacon and sour cream in the mix as well. I call this light fare.

Bojangle’s
Gimme a breast and a wing, some dirty rice, a tall sweet tea, and two biscuits. Now that is eating! We tried a cheat meal once with KFC - it just wasn’t satisfying!

Irish pub grub
I love Irish pubs so much that I think I’d like to live in one. When I go to a brew pub, the beer is primary and the food is secondary. It’s the other way around at an Irish pub. Bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie for the main course, preceded by loaded potato skins and brown bread. My uncle likes to believe that The Rutledges are at least partially Irish. It would be cruel to argue and break his heart. 

Steak N’ Shake
With all due respect to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, if I’m going to cheat with a cheeseburger, it’s going to be a Steak N’ Shake double. Add fries (double order!), a vanilla shake, and a Coke with cherry syrup. I can die happy.

Chicken Wings
Fill two buckets full of wings. Make sure the sauce brings the heat. Fetch me one beer, one water, and one milk. Watch me eat.

Sausage decadence
One Polish kielbasa, one German bratwurst, one Hungarian sausage. No sides necessary. Just spicy mustard.

Grand Traverse Pie Company

We have to go all the way to Michigan for this one, and we most certainly will. Prime rib pot pie. Apple crumb pie. Absolutely to die for. And if the Michigan cherries are in season, do not pass on the cherry pie!

We have less than four weeks to go until Operation Beach Body concludes. At that point, all dietary restrictions will be suspended while we vacation in Riviera Maya. Upon our return, it will be back to healthy living...six days a week.

-L.R.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Flipping for the Flip-Tops!

So The Flip-Tops are still a band - and thank your lucky stars for that! Granted, they may not be the most prolific recording artists in the world. But when The Flip-Tops have released music, it’s been absolutely killer. Without hesitation, I put Joel Jett in the top two for the greatest punk rock vocalists of my generation (along with his friend Kevin McGovern). Scrolling through the press clippings on the band’s ReverbNation page, I see I wasn’t alone in perceiving that The Flip-Tops may have been, at one time, optimally enjoyed in small doses. Their music was so raging, so ferociously destructive, that most mortals couldn’t absorb it in large chunks without reaching for the ibuprofen and the speed-dial for their therapists. A full decade since their last full-length album, it would be erroneous to say The Flip-Tops have mellowed. “Customer Service”, lead track off of The Flip-Tops Are Still A Band (out now on Bachelor Records), is as fast, frenzied, and furious as anything the band’s ever done. No band back in the day better infused pissed-off hardcore ferocity into the trashy garage-punk sound, and all these years later Jett and friends still hurl sonic fireballs capable of destroying bearded hipster douches and anything else in their path. But if you listen to the rest of the album teasers the band’s posted on-line, it becomes immediately obvious that the old criticism of The Flip-Tops no longer applies. Not only are The Flip-Tops still a band, but they’re an even better band. Ten years between albums will do that for you! They’ve retained all their power and intensity but have mixed in all these crazy-catchy melodies and bona fide pop hooks. “Perfect World” has got to be the punk rock song of the year. It’s melodic as all get-out, yet it absolutely blasts. And Joel Jett is in prime form - so enraged, so pumped full of vitriol, with the lyrics to back it up (“The television says we’re under attack/Our minds are bleeding/We’re too busy eating!”). Perfect world? More like perfect song! And it’s no fluke. “Boyfriend Street” sounds like The Undertones on steroids, while “Retard Love” is the closest The Flip-Tops will ever get to “pop-punk”. Great, great, great! Forget about small doses. I want mass quantities! More is better! Bring on another album - and please let it come out before 2022!

-L.R.

http://www.reverbnation.com/thefliptops
http://soundcloud.com/gimp-o-rama/the-flip-tops-retard-love
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Flip-Tops/306428192710328
www.bachelorrecords.com