Monday, July 29, 2013

Let It Rock!

Hot damn! I've been a big fan of The Connection pretty much from the first days of this blog (this is my fourth time posting on the band). A new Connection record is always an event worth celebrating. But nothing could have prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of the band's brand new LP. Let It Rock!, The Connection's second studio album, is very similar in spirit to its excellent 2011 debut. But sonically, it's at another level entirely. It's superbly produced and boasts a "bigger" sound. Its songs are stylistically more diverse. You'll still hear plenty of nods to early rock n' roll and the British Invasion. But this record throws in a little country style and some early '70s Stones type jams. And the use of additional instruments (piano, steel guitars, acoustic guitars, sax) really gives some of these songs a different feel. If New England's Newest Hitmakers was a pure nostalgist's treat, then Let It Rock is just a great rock n' roll record, period.

The thing that puts The Connection in the top tier of today's rock n' roll is its songs. In the last couple of years, Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer have stepped up their songwriting chops in a major way. At this point, I'd put these two up there with all the top songwriting tandems in today's pop/rock n' roll scene. Let It Rock! is so laden with A-grade material that it could pass for some long lost best-of collection from 40 years ago. "All killer, no filler" is such a rockwriter's cliche that I'm usually loathe to use it. But in the case of this album, I've got to make an exception. "Wrong Side of 25" opens the record with a winning combination of power pop and rock n' roll that brings the Real Kids to mind, and I quickly assumed that it had to be "the hit". Well, I was kinda wrong - the whole album is hits! From the Beatle-esque perfection of "She's A Keeper" to the Beach Boys via Chuck Berry fun of "Crawling From The Wreckage (Of A Saturday Night)" to the Stonesy swagger of "Girls In This Town" to the peppy country pop of "Susan", Let It Rock! is stacked with the kinds of songs you wish they still played on the radio. Heck, you actually can hear some of these songs on the radio if you turn your SiriusXM dial to 21! Little Steven loves these guys, and so do I!

Combining the non-stop hooks of a perfect power pop record with the energy and excitement of pre-hippie rock n' roll, Let It Rock! has pushed The Connection into my top five list of current fave bands. Of course I dig "classic" Connection songs like "Not How It's Gonna Be". But every bit as pleasing are the band's efforts to try new things. "Nothing About Me" integrates beautiful melodies, amazing backing vocals, and killer guitar work into the country rock equation. "Haze" sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain minus the noise. There's simply nothing close to a weak track on this record. You get the whole way towards the end of the album and come across songs like "Melinda" - most bands wish they could write one song that good! With this kind of music, there's always going to be the discussion about the difference between "retro" and "timeless". To me, The Connection are definitely the latter. Although their influences are obvious, I don't think of them as a "tribute" or "revivalist" band. They are proof of rock n' roll's staying power and continuing relevance to our everyday lives. There's no shelf life on music that makes you feel good and gets you up and dancing. If you put these guys on a time machine and sent them back to 1966, they could totally hold their own. Yet even in the present day, their sound is fresh and invigorating. In what is turning out to be a blockbuster summer for albums, Let It Rock! is up there with the best of 'em! 


-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/theconnectionRnR
http://the-connection.bandcamp.com/album/let-it-rock

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The 25 Greatest Punk Rock Singles of 1977


Earlier this month I posted my list of the top ten punk rock albums of 1977. But since much of the best punk music of '77 was issued only on seven-inch vinyl, I knew this would have to be a two-part project. I mean, come on. You can't talk about the punk music of '77 and not mention X Ray Spex or The Adverts! I was not sure exactly how long I should make this list. Ten selections seemed like way too few; 40 seemed like a little too many. So I settled on a top 25. And here it is:

25. The Killjoys - "Johnny Won't Get To Heaven" b/w "Naive"
24. Eater- "Outside View" b/w "You"
23. Users- "Sick of You" b/w "I'm In Love With Today"
22. Menace- "Screwed Up" b/w "Insane Society"
21. Penetration- "Don't Dictate" b/w "Money Talks"
20. Chelsea- "Right To Work" b/w "The Loner"
19. Lurkers- "Shadow" b/w "Love Story"
18. The Dils- "I Hate The Rich" b/w "You're Not Blank (So Baby We're Through)"
17. The Boys- "I Don't Care" b/w "Soda Pressing"
16. Ramones- "Rockaway Beach" b/w "Locket Love"
15. Generation X - "Your Generation" b/w "Day By Day"
14. The Clash- "Complete Control" b/w "City of the Dead"
13. Buzzcocks- "Orgasm Addict" b/w "Whatever Happened To?"
12. The Jam- "In The City" b/w "Takin' My Love"
11. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers - "Chinese Rocks" b/w "Born To Lose"
10. Avengers - We Are The One EP
9. Adverts- "One Chord Wonders" b/w "Quick Step"
8. The Damned- Neat Neat Neat EP
7. Dead Boys- "Sonic Reducer" b/w "Down In Flames"
6. Buzzcocks- Spiral Scratch EP
5. Ramones- "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" b/w "I Don't Care"
4. Real Kids- "All Kindsa Girls" b/w "Taxi Boys" 
3. X-Ray Spex- "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" b/w "I Am A Cliché"
2. Sex Pistols- "God Save The Queen" b/w "Did You No Wrong"
1. The Clash- "White Riot" b/w "1977"

If you're keeping score at home, the likes of 999, Slaughter and the Dogs, Crime, Saints, Pagans, Viletones, Weirdos, Zeros, and even my beloved Dictators did not make the cut. This was not an easy call. I hated to leave out so many highly deserving bands. And there's also the dilemma of what does or does not count as "punk". If you want to dock me for excluding Devo or Eddie & the Hot Rods, I will take my punishment without protest.

Perhaps I should have made this a top 40! The quality and the quantity of punk music released in the year 1977 is probably unsurpassed in history. Although some might argue that 1978 proved to be an even better year for punk music. But that's a topic for another time. Hmmm....

-L.R.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Liberator!

Wow! The long awaited third LP from the Stiletto Boys is finally here, and to say that it doesn't disappoint would be a severe understatement. We're talking about one of my favorite bands of all-time. And even by the boys' lofty standards, Liberator is a stunning achievement. If this is truly the band's parting opus, what a way to go out!

The story behind Liberator is pretty incredible. The first version of the album was recorded back in 2008, but Stiletto Boys singer Sean Wolfe wasn't 100 percent happy with the final product. In a bold move, he decided to scrap the whole recording and start over from the beginning. He had an idea in his head of how he expected Liberator to sound, and he wasn't going to be satisfied until it was perfect. Lesser artists would have just said, "Ah, good enough" and released the album as it was. But "good enough" is not in the Stiletto Boys' vocabulary. Come hell or high water, they were going to get it right. A lot of people probably figured that Liberator would never see the light of day. But Sean never gave up. He and guitarist Eric Benner recorded, produced, and mixed the album over a period of five years with band members tracking recordings in three different states. And now here it is - a pop masterpiece that was every bit worth the wait! It is, in my opinion, the best Stiletto Boys album.

Arriving nearly 13 years after the release of 2000's Buzzbomb Sounds, Liberator is the band's most sophisticated and mature release to date. Yet it does not lose sight of what made the Stiletto Boys such a great band to begin with. The group's music remains rooted in the powerpop and classic melodic punk of the late '70s. But over a long career, the boys have cultivated a sound that is uniquely and fully their own. From the first strains of phenomenal opener "Cannon Fodder", you know this is a Stiletto Boys album. And for that, you are grateful! You know how sometimes you'll have a friend that you haven't seen in years, but as soon as you meet up with them again, it's like you never spent a day apart? That's what it's like listening to this album. When that first chorus hits, it's magic. Every time the Stiletto Boys make a new record, you can hear how their sound has progressed from the last one. They are never content to repeat themselves. But with each step forward, they manage to retain their knack for gorgeous melodies and flawlessly constructed hooks. And while I will always love the energy and immediacy of the band's earlier recordings, Liberator is equally satisfying in a very different way. Instead of whacking you in the head upon first contact, these songs grow on you. I've been hearing them in my sleep (not that I'm complaining)! In this age of instant gratification and bands rushing to get their music out there, it's great to hear a group that has clearly worked hard at honing its craft and realizing an artistic vision.

Liberator is truly the punk/powerpop album the world needs right now. While there are some love songs on the record (the gut-wrenching "Happy Endings" is one of the boys' best songs ever!), the scope and variety of the lyrics are beyond what anyone would have expected. If Liberator is "about" anything, it's about making one's way in a scary modern world and getting wise to the powers that are conspiring against us. Lyrics run the gamut from deeply personal ("Basement") to contemporary dystopian ("Follow The Leader"). And through a combination of insightful lyrics and highly pertinent sound bites, this album really implores people to stop being willing participants in their own oppression. While sometimes music serves as mere escape from the harsh realities of life, in certain cases it can actually inspire people to get out there and do something. The bad guys don't necessarily have to win. There's definitely meaning in the title of this album.

Hats off to Sean, Casey, Benner, and Garvin for making a truly special record. And kudos to Ron from Zodiac Killer Records for believing in the band and this project. Anyone who questioned the time it took to make Liberator will be eating their words once they hear the album. Every time Sean insisted on re-doing a song, it was only because he knew they could still do better. And now the proof is in the pudding. The production is impeccable (listen to those harmonies!), the songs are brilliant, and Benner's guitar work is positively sick. I never cease to be amazed at how talented these guys are. Liberator gives you everything from bouncy powerpop gems like "Self Destruction" to masterful minor key ballads like "Ttwsyf". Yet no song seems out of place. This is not just 15 songs randomly thrown onto a CD. It's a true album - which may be a dying concept in the digital age. Go to http://www.zodiackillerrecords.com/ for ordering information - or download it immediately from iTunes!

-L.R.

http://www.zodiackillerrecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/ZODIAC-KILLER-RECORDS/243039189478

Friday, July 12, 2013

Meet The Mandates!

This is turning into a summer of blockbuster albums, and one that should not be overlooked is the self-titled debut album from The Mandates. The Calgary foursome does that '77 punk meets powerpop type thing that I can never get enough of, and fist-pumping anthems like "Daggers' Girl" should be a lock for everyone's summertime mix. In the music of The Mandates, I hear the strong influence of '77 style punk both classic (Boys, Dead Boys) and contemporary (Exploding Hearts, Clorox Girls). If their sound seems to lean just a little bit more towards the latter, it's probably because they enlisted the legendary Pat Kearns to mix and master the album. And of course it sounds great! If you're into newer bands like Youthbitch, The Cry!, and Barreracudas, surely The Mandates will be right up your alley.

While still a relatively new band, The Mandates are made up of seasoned veterans of the Calgary punk scene. Guitarists Brady Kirchner (Sudden Infant Dance Syndrome, The Funfuns) and Matt Wickens (The Tension Slips, Hollywood Gods, Mossleigh) are joined by Jimmy James (Knucklehead) on bass and Warren Oostlander (The Throwaways, No Problem) on drums. Kirchner and Wickens share singing duties and team up for a dual guitar attack that channels Thunders & Sylvain via Terry Six. Opening track "Is She Coming Back?" comes on with high energy glammy swagger a la New York Dolls/Hollywood Brats, and overall there's a major rock n' roll element in this band's music that you don't always hear in contemporary variations on punk/powerpop. Songs like "Gotta Forget That Girl" and "I Stayed At The Arcade" show plenty of Exploding Hearts love, and I've got no objection to that whatsoever. And when these fellas slow down the pace and find that perfect powerpop groove, they really hit the target with hooky gems like "Daggers' Girl". All in all, this is a super-good debut from a band that's got plenty of talent to go with all that impeccable taste. The guitar work (clearly a point of emphasis for mixmaster Kearns) is killer, and the whole album works up a goodtime energy that's ideal for summertime listening. Song lyrics revolve around being young and girl crazy - Who can't relate to that? This is what some might call a "party record". Even the songs about heartbreak and rejection are tremendous fun. If "Tonight" doesn't get you revved up for a night of teenage kicks, perhaps nothing will!

Alright! The Mandates have delivered a dark horse contender for my year end top five. Get the cassette from Shake! Records. Vinyl still available from Mammoth Cave!



-L.R.

http://mandates.bandcamp.com/album/s-t
https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mandates/197923143559474
https://www.facebook.com/shakerecs

Thursday, July 11, 2013

1,2,3,4! Dumbgums!

Alright! I've got another Ramones-core band for you to check out! And this one is somewhat local to me, hailing from Philadelphia. The Dumbgums, like any self-respecting Ramones-core outfit, make no attempt whatsoever to hide their true inspirations. They love The Ramones, and they aren't afraid to show it. There have been lots of bands like this over the years. Some have managed to pull off the style quite well, and others have not. The Dumbgums, in my mind, pull it off better than most. They've put a couple of tracks up on their Bandcamp page, and so far I'm totally loving what I'm hearing. Super great stuff!

Sound-wise, I'd put The Dumbgums somewhere in between The Riverdales and Mutant Pop era Wanna-Bes. Their approach is classic buzzsaw punk with just the right amount of bubblegum melody to it. For demo tracks, these recordings are surprisingly crisp and well-produced. And I love some of the little touches - like the "dumb and dumber" vocal tandem and the insanely catchy hook line to "Too Innocent". It takes a special kind of genius to turn a complete rip-off of "Glad To See You Go" into a memorable and instantly likable tune. The Dumbgums have more than just a gimmick going for them - they show strong instincts for writing simple songs that will get stuck in your head all day long. And they pound out those three chords as if their lives depended on it. This is just a really fun band to listen to. These cretins have tremendous enthusiasm for what they're doing, and somehow they get away with a schtick that often seems tired or pointless when other bands try it. Admittedly, I'm reacting to just two songs. It remains to be seen if I'll be as high on The Dumbgums once I've heard a full album. But if I had to predict, I'm pretty sure I will be. Along with the likes of the Little Richards, these guys are poised to lead the next wave of Ramones-inspired pop-punk. Where are my Chucks?


-L.R.

http://thedumbgums.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TheDumbgums

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Born To Die In Suburbia

Yessssss! It's finally here: the best album I've heard since I started this blog two years ago! I've had the calendar circled for months! I'm declaring today an unofficial holiday. You will find me dancing in the street, dressed like Snake Plissken. I have procured celebratory fireworks. Night Birds über alles!

I have been known to sometimes go a little overboard in my reviews (Who, me?). But in this case I'm far from the only individual who's raving about Night Birds' long-awaited second LP. For my money, this is the best punk rock band of present day. And as awesome as their debut album was, Born To Die In Suburbia is at another level entirely.

Out today on Grave Mistake Records, Born To Die In Suburbia is the soundtrack to a modern world on the verge of collapse. While not quite a concept album, Born To Die paints a grim portrait of a society ravaged by addiction, dysfunction, and soulless consumerism. In terms of musical approach, Night Birds haven't messed with a winning formula. The foursome continues to draw from the ripping melodic hardcore of early '80s California and points beyond (Zero Boys, Naked Raygun), and the band's trademark surf guitar is as prominent as ever. But this album is far from "more of the same". Two years on and strengthened by hundreds of live performances, Night Birds have come on with a tighter and considerably more powerful attack. If these guys had any more chemistry, Walter White would have them on speed dial. Perhaps most significantly, primary songwriters Joe and Brian are in such a zone that I suspect they may be taking performance enhancers for the brain. This is the band's finest and most varied collection of songs to date. For sure, frantic burners like the title track and "No Spoilers" will have you raging in your bedroom and jacking up the volume. And the surf instrumentals shred as expected. But there are songs here - like "Less the Merrier" and "Golden Opportunity" - that break the fast and furious mold of previous recordings. And Night Birds may have given us a career defining song in the haunting epic "Nazi Gold".

As always, I'm blown away by Night Birds' ability to take inspiration from the classic punk sounds of yore and make them fresh for current times. Born To Die, while certain to thrill fans of early '80s beach/skate punk, is very much an album for now. It's got an urgency to it. The lyrical content is particularly pertinent - mixing scathing social commentary with character sketches of despairing souls doomed to hapless existences. The title track, built on a premise that a lesser band would play for laughs, illuminates the reality of a dying American dream. And "Modern Morons" is a remarkably truthful indictment of contemporary society ("We elect whores who should to be shot/Watch TV with no fucking plot"). Joe Keller is hands-down my favorite lyricist out there, and he's never written more compelling material. The intriguing and mysterious "Nazi Gold" is his magnum opus.

Given that Night Birds went through a major personnel change last year (P.J. Russo is in on guitar for the departed Mike Hunchback), it would have been reasonable to wonder how the band would be affected. But really, the transition has been seamless. Rather than attempt to imitate his predecessor, P.J. brings his own (and equally awesome) style to the table. And that has certainly played a vital role in the growth of the band's music. This is pretty much the same old Night Birds, but in some ways it's not. It's incredibly difficult in punk rock to move forward without dramatically changing your sound. But Night Birds have pulled it off, and they've delivered a punk rock classic for the end of days. As a wise man once said: Pretty good. Pretttttttty, pretttttttttty, pretttttty good!



-L.R. 

https://www.facebook.com/NGHTBRDS
http://gravemistakerecords.bandcamp.com/album/born-to-die-in-suburbia
http://gravemistakerecords.blogspot.com/

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lipstick Homicide v. The Turkletons!

 Ah, pop-punk! Don't you just love it? Actually, you might not. But I sure do. It was '90s pop-punk that first inspired me to start writing about music all those years ago. And I still love all that stuff. Today we don't have the sheer quantity of pop-punk bands that we used to, but the quality has gone way up in my opinion. A case in point is We're Gonna Need A Bigger Coat... - a new split 7" on It's Alive Records featuring Midwestern up-and-comers Lipstick Homicide and The Turkletons. My goodness! If I'd heard this record in 1995, I probably would have erected a monument in its honor and issued a 50-page press release extolling the virtues of both bands. It really reminds me of why I fell in love with this kind of music in the first place. Most pop-punk can be classified as either good or bad. But there's an additional category of great - and that's where both of these bands belong!

I think what I love best about Lipstick Homicide and The Turkletons is that they fully embrace everything that pop-punk should be about. If you're gonna do pop-punk music, you can't be halfhearted about it. These groups write catchy three-chord songs about love & relationships and whatnot, and perform them with energy and enthusiasm. They're about having fun and creating music that puts a smile on your face. Why are so many people against that? Given my "the poppier, the better" philosophy regarding pop-punk, it's no surprise that these are two of my favorite bands of the moment.

In particular, I'm a huge fan of Iowa's Lipstick Homicide. I do have a well-publicized fondness for pop-punk bands with female vocals, but there's something particularly special about this trio. Both of the band's tracks here are high-spirited and totally infectious, driven by gutsy vocals and hooky guitar leads. Think classic Lookout! Records meets Josie and the Pussycats (Yeah, I know!). You'll swear that that's Mike Dirnt on bass! "Not That Easy" is pretty much the perfect pop song. Oh, and they've got a new album out. Expect a full report soon!

The Turkletons, out of Minneapolis, make a perfect pairing with Lipstick Homicide. Again, we're talking old school pop-punk that doesn't apologize for drenching you with melody and harmonies. Yet it's still rough around the edges in a totally good way. Imagine early Teen Idols with boy/girl vocals. The guitar hooks are so catchy, and the likability of the vocals/lyrics is off the charts. It's impressive that The Turkletons keep doing splits with phenomenal bands (first Masked Intruder, and now Lipstick Homicide) and have no problem holding their own.

Few would argue with the contention that It's Alive is one of the greatest pop-punk labels of all-time. Just look at the bands on its roster! And without a doubt, I'd say this is one of the best records the label has ever put out. This is pop-punk for people who love pop-punk - made by people who love pop-punk. What could be better?



-L.R.

http://itsaliverecords.bandcamp.com/album/were-gonna-need-a-bigger-coat
https://www.facebook.com/lipstickhomicide
https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Turkletons/129345953742092

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Ten Greatest Punk Rock Albums of 1977



Back in 2007, I decided to celebrate the 30th anniversary of punk rock's "breakout year" by doing a series on the best punk records of 1977. But I never finished the series. In the midst of a personal crisis, I abruptly "retired" from writing about music in November of 2007. The series probably got somewhere into the top ten before Now Wave Magazine went "off the air". It always left a bad taste in my mouth that I never finished the job. So now, six years later, I'm starting over. I'll begin with the LPs. It seems like most of these choices are kind of obvious, but it's always fun to decide who makes the cut and how to order my selections. Who have I placed at the top of punk rock's first graduating class? Let's find out!

10. Vibrators - Pure Mania
The question of whether not they were "real punks" will be eternally debated. My response would be, "Who the fuck cares?!" Fashion and politics come and go, but great music is eternal. Rooted in pub rock and stripped down to the essence of three-chord rock n' roll, Pure Mania helped to define the sound of '77 punk.

9. The Boys - self titled
With roots in glam rock and a shameless affection for bubblegum melodies, The Boys were founding fathers of pop-punk. Each of the band's first two albums is an all-time classic, although I slightly prefer the pure punk adrenaline of this landmark debut. I'm gonna be, gonna be sick on you!

8. Dead Boys- Young, Loud & Snotty
The title pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

7. Wire - Pink Flag
I think Wire has made a lot of great music over the years. But if I'm going to listen to Wire, it's going to be the minimalist punk brilliance of Pink Flag. This record re-invented '77 punk yet still epitomizes it.

6. Sex Pistols- Never Mind The Bollocks
So much has been made of this album in terms of musical influence and cultural impact. But sometimes people forget what a phenomenal rock n' roll record it is. The opening strains of "Holidays In The Sun" still give me chills. And for the record, "God Save The Queen" is my favorite punk rock song ever.

5. Saints - (I'm) Stranded
Inspired by The Stooges, MC5, et al, The Saints more or less "invented" punk rock simultaneously with The Ramones. Recorded cheaply and quickly, this scorching debut has all of the energy and power we equate with punk without comforming to any of its "rules" (several tracks are in the 4-5 minute range).

4. Damned- Damned Damned Damned
They'd later become known for their gothic and psychedelic imprints on the punk style, but I liked The Damned better when they just played raw, electrifying rock n' roll. Cranking up "Neat Neat Neat" and playing a mean air bass never stops being fun.

3. The Clash - self titled
London Calling is a probably the best Clash album. But when I feel like listening to The Clash, I usually crave the urgency and passion of songs like "White Riot", "London's Burning", and "Career Opportunities". The later U.S. reissue improved the product by swapping out a few tracks. But even in its original state, The Clash is one of the five greatest punk albums ever made and a true embodiment of why they're "the only band that matters".

2. Ramones - Rocket To Russia
I'm not saying it was a coin flip between this one and Leave Home, but it was pretty darn close.

1. Ramones- Leave Home
You'd think I'd have the more accessible Rocket To Russia ranked higher than Leave Home since I'm a "pop guy". But I'm a purist when it comes to The Ramones. I like the rougher edge of their first two albums. Those two LPs will never be topped by anyone in any genre of music. Why have aliens not taken over our planet? Because they heard The Ramones and had to accept the superiority of the human race.

Just missed the cut: The Jam - In The City, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers - L.A.M.F., Eater-The Album

So there you go. When I talk about "'77 punk", I'm referencing music in the style of the above bands/records. I was only six years old in 1977, so it's not like I have any kind of nostalgic attachment to this era. But I will forever maintain that early punk rock is the greatest music ever made. If you don't own all of the above albums, it's time to go shopping!

-L.R.