Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Lord Rutledge Awards 2014



So again we've found ourselves on the final day of the year. Congratulations to all of us for making it to the "mid 2010s"! Tomorrow we will all look a little different. I traditionally entertain myself on this particular holiday with a variety of annual rituals such as timing myself in the 40-yard dash, arranging my collection of Lou Diamond Phillips movies in order of their artistic merit, and convincing close relatives that I now prefer to be addressed as "Turk". I reflect on what I accomplished in the past year (learning how to correctly type "Cincinnati" without spellchecker, going through an entire football season without throwing anything at the television) and what I might wish to accomplish next year (read the entirety of Crime and Punishment, place top five in a pierogi-eating contest). If I get really crazy, I might go up to my walk-in closet and see if I still remember how to tie a tie. And of course it wouldn't be New Year's Eve in Rutledge Manor without my annual awards post - which I will now endeavor to complete if I can just manage to pull myself away from the Law & Order: SVU marathon on USA Network. 

It's been a long time since we've had as good of a year for punk, power pop, and rock n' roll music as we've had in 2014. I remember one year ago thinking that 2013 would be extremely hard to top, but there were probably twice as many great albums released this year as there were last year. And last year was a very good year. In just about every area of music that I like to cover ('77 punk, power pop, garage punk, pop-punk), I had plenty of quality music to write about. I already announced my top ten albums of the year a couple days ago, but there were also a number of outstanding EPs and singles to consider. So, then, without any further delay - let's get to the awards! 

Album of the Year:
The Cry!- Dangerous Game
You may remember that I reviewed this release on the first day of 2014 and predicted it would be album of the year. Little did I know how fierce the competition would be! Los Pepes, Mother's Children, and Sugar Stems all came really close to taking the top spot. But in the end, it came down to this: the first Cry! album is a modern classic, and Dangerous Game is even better.

Short Form Album of the Year:
Gino and the Goons- Shake It!
We all know that 4 songs are an EP and 12 are an album. But what about eight songs? Is that an LP or an EP? I don't know! What I do know is that Gino And The Goons' Shake It! is one of the hottest rock n' roll records I've heard in a long time - and surely deserving of its own category.

EP of the Year:
The New Trocaderos - Kick Your Ass
When Geoff and Brad from The Connection got together with Kurt Baker last year to record a couple songs penned by their friend Michael Chaney, The New Trocaderos proved to be every bit the super group I hoped they'd be. They returned this year with Craig Sala on drums and Kris "Fingers" Rodgers on keyboards and delivered an EP so good that it even beat out that awesome Lovesores 10" for this award. If you enjoy power pop and traditional rock n' roll, The New Trocaderos ought to be your new favorite band!

Single of the Year:
Barreracudas- "Promises" 
This was a fine year for singles - with the likes of Ricky Rat, Terry & Louie, Nasty Rumors, Neighborhood Brats, The Plain Dealers, The Connection, Jenny Dee, and late entrants The Mandates all receiving consideration for the big prize. But I had to give it to Barreracudas - because "Promises" was the one single I played this year more than any other. In what kind of sick world do we live in where this song is not a massive hit?!


Song of the Year:
Sugar Stems- "Some Might Say"
From my #2 album of 2014. I still can't stop playing this song! 


Album of the Year (Masters Class):
Real Kids- Shake Outta Control
This award goes to the best album released by a band that's 25 years or more into its existence. This was a very good year for punk rock oldtimers. '77 punk greats like The Boys and Buzzcocks produced excellent LPs, and Stiff Little Fingers turned out a really solid album as well. But the big prize goes to the Real Kids - who came through in classic form on a proper second album that was 37 years in the making.

Label of the Year:
Taken By Surprise Records
Three albums in my top ten (The Cry!, Mother's Children, Neighborhood Brats) plus another great one from Piss Test and some killer singles to boot (Piss Test, The Mandates). Tonight I gladly raise a glass of fine Bavarian pilsner in honor of this outstanding German label!

Garage Punk Album of the Year:
Rev. Norb & The Onions- self titled
An absolute smasher of an album from the great American Midwest. 

Pop-Punk Album of the Year:
The Bat Bites- self titled
Holding off formidable competition from The Putz, this long awaited debut from The Bat Bites is probably my favorite pop-punk album of the last several years. 

Power Pop Album of the Year:
Sugar Stems- Only Come Out At Night
How does this band manage to keep improving upon perfection?!

Album I Regret Not Yet Hearing:
Flesh Lights - Free Yourself
Hopefully that will be rectified soon.

Best Cover Song:
Scantron - "Shot Down"
If The Sonics were the proto punk version of Little Richard, then there's definitely some genius in taking a signature Sonics song and making it sound like Little Richard himself could have recorded it!


Best Song Of 2013 That I Didn't Hear Until 2014:
honeychain - "Lucky One" 
This was like the best new Muffs song in 15 years until The Muffs actually made a new record!


Producer of the Year:
Ed Valauskas
You might know Ed Valauskas from his playing with The Gravel Pit, The Gentleman, and Graham Parker. As a producer, he's worked with a variety of Boston greats such as Andrea Gillis and Muck and the Mires. He's also a band member and producer for his wife's group, Jenny Dee & The Delinquents. Electric Candyland, the band's new record, sounds absolutely stunning in every way. Somehow this album recalls the late '70s productions of Jeff Lynne and sounds thoroughly modern.

The Patrick Bateman Prize For Excellence In Music Criticism: 
Dale Merrill - Smashin' Transistors
I can't remember if I've ever honored Dale with this award before. At the very least, I know I haven't since I started this particular blog. When it comes to writing about rock n' roll, he's probably the best guy in the business. And on top of that, he does beer reviews as well - a feature I've long considered adding to this blog but have never had the guts to follow through with. For a sample of his work, check out this killer piece he did on Sick Thoughts.

Radio Show Of The Year:
Jazzed Up And Bonkers!! 
If you could somehow combine Dr. Demento with Little Steven's Underground Garage, it would sound like this.

Comeback of the Year:
Charles Matthews
Sometimes people construe "comeback" to mean some sort of return to form after a prolonged period of decline. But in this case, I'm referring to Charles Matthews literally coming back to the world of music after a decade spent writing toilet paper jingles and wrestling bears in the wilderness. It had been nine years since the former Dimestore Haloes singer had officially released music, and his presence had been greatly missed. The Cheap Cassettes, a duo he formed with longtime bandmate Kevin Parkhurst, did not disappoint with their long-awaited debut long player (my #7 album of the year). Think a more power pop Dimestore Haloes. Or maybe Wham! with better haircuts. 

Vault Treasure of the Year: Gun Fury - Complete Studio Recordings
Gun Fury was a very important band in my musical life - a local group from my younger days that heavily influenced me getting into '77 punk. It always bothered me that this band was never really known outside of central Pennsylvania. And since most of my '90s record collection is no longer in my possession for a variety of reasons, the music of Gun Fury had long existed only in my memory. But thanks to the magic of modern technology, Gun Fury's entire recorded output lives again. And it sounds just as good as I remembered!


Blog of the Year:
just some punk songs
I've always thought that F & L would be a much better blog if I didn't, you know, write so much. Mick Fletcher's just some punk songs is a blog I'd like to emulate - featuring similar styles of music but with much shorter write-ups that allow the music to speak for itself. Plus he posts new stuff just about every day - so there's always something for me to look forward to when I click into the Internets every morning. I like the fact that he promotes new punk music and classic punk music with equal fervor. And his on-going feature of having individuals from the punk world listing their ten favorite songs is something I enjoy very much.

Best New Band:
The Shanghais
Every year, I hope to discover that one new act that immediately cracks my top ten list of favorite bands. Two years ago, it was Livids. Last year, it was L.A. Drugz. And this year, it's The Shanghais from Oakland, California - who burst on the scene with two super awesome EPs. Runner-ups: Scraps and Lexxi Vexx & The Modern Gentlemen.

Compilation of the Year
Jake and the Stiffs - The Singles
Long before the '77 punk/powerpop thing was even remotely "in", Delaware's mighty Jake and the Stiffs were making amazing records that only a handful of people gave a damn about. Finally this year, Randy America remixed and remastered all of those original singles from 1993-97 and released them on one brilliant collection. With just a few clicks of a mouse, classic songs like "Jennifer", "All I Said", and "Scrappy Come Home" can be yours today! Given the inflated prices of adult magazines, The Singles is the greatest reward you will ever get out of $6.

The Championship Belt:
The Cry! 
This title is annually awarded to my current favorite band. Something Fierce has held the belt since its inception. But given that we've been waiting a couple of years for Something Fierce to release new material, I thought it was only fair that they surrender the belt and perhaps regain the title next year when they blow my mind with their new album. In the meantime, The Cry! just can't be denied. If I had to name the best five albums that have come out since I started this blog, The Cry! would have two of them! 

Alright, that's another great year behind us! Hopefully an equally great one awaits. Happy New Year, everyone! Be safe tonight, and I'll see you in 2015!

-L.R.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014


And now it can be told! I'm so obsessed with my annual album of the year list that I literally start composing it 11 months before I ultimately publish it. Once I get to the latter part of the year, the list is revised, re-ordered, and thoroughly reexamined on a daily basis. I meditate at length on my choices and often seek the counsel of highly qualified professionals. Not even Santa Claus is as meticulous with his list (I mean, come on, he only checks it twice?). This year's top ten, like last year's, is absolutely stacked. Consider that The Muffs made their best album in nearly two decades and still missed the cut. I think I liked this year so much because it was such an incredible year for power pop. But with bands like Neighborhood Brats and The Gaggers coming through with absolutely phenomenal albums, punk rock ruled the year as well. So here, then, is my painstakingly thought-out top ten. As I did last year, I've included links to all of these selections so you can listen for yourself. Most of these albums can be streamed for free.


10. (Tie) The Number Ones - self-titled
The Solicitors- Blank Check
For a while this year, I was referring to a "summer of power pop". But really, it turned out to be the year of power pop. And these two albums (full-length debuts in both cases!) had a lot to do with that. I couldn't bear to leave either one out of my top ten, so they share the #10 spot. In almost any other year, both would have easily made the top five.

9. Needles//Pins- Shamebirds
Prior to 2014, you would have had every right to ask me, "Why in the hell have you never written about Needles//Pins?!" I can't say I accomplished much this year besides the on-going cycle of working and going to the gym and watching TV and writing record reviews. But I can say that in 2014, I finally got hip to this great band from up north. That's an accomplishment, right? Needles//Pins now hold a prominent spot in my personal top ten list of favorite bands. Yeah, I know: I have a problem with lists.

8. Maniac - Demimonde
This time last year, I identified Maniac's then-forthcoming debut as a contender for 2014 album of the year. And Demimonde did not disappoint! 
 
7. Cheap Cassettes - All Anxious, All The Time
This album was so many years in the making that even Axl Rose complained. But it was definitely worth the wait. Great power pop meets scruffy rock n' roll from ex Dimestore Haloes heartthrobs Charles and Kevin. Somebody put this thing out on vinyl!

6. Neighborhood Brats - Recovery
This was another album I'd been waiting on for a couple of years, and boy did Neighborhood Brats ever kill it! As good as a lot of the classic early '80s California punk albums that inspired it. 

5. The Gaggers - Blame You
Belongs on your record shelf next to all your classic '77 UK punk albums. 
 
4. Mother's Children- Lemon
Being the best band in Canada is like being the best hockey player in Canada - it's pretty much the highest honor you can receive. Lemon rockets Mother's Children to the top of the Canadian punk charts.

3. Los Pepes - Los Pepes For Everyone   
If you, like me, can never get enough of your Buzzcocks, Boys, and Undertones records, here's a new band you ought to be listening to.

2. Sugar Stems - Only Come Out At Night
A masterful power pop album that proves that "maturity" doesn't have to be synonymous with "boring". Betsy Heibler, without a doubt, is one of the finest songwriters working today.

1. The Cry! - Dangerous Game
I consider The Cry!'s first album to be a modern classic of punk/powerpop. It arrived on my radar too late for me to include it in my 2011 album of the year list. But if I were to re-do that list today, The Cry! would be top two for sure. Dangerous Game, released this past March, is an even better album than its predecessor. It's a perfect mix of power pop, '70s glam/punk, and oldies rock n' roll. I recently declared The Cry! to be the best band going right now, and I'll gladly stand by that statement. These kids are throwbacks to a time when succeeding in rock n' roll was about having genuine talent and writing incredible songs. And like so many bands these days, they're doing it 100% DIY. Having revamped its lineup, The Cry! is poised to record new material in 2015. Might they make a run at back-to-back albums of the year? We shall see!

Just missed the cut:
The Keefs - Better Late Than Never
Sonic Avenues- Mistakes
Piss Test - Biggest Band In Europe

So there you have it. If you're keeping score at home, that's five American bands, two from the U.K., two from Canada, and one each from Ireland and Australia. Truly an international list! If I re-did last year's top ten, I'd probably slide The Connection into the top three behind Radioactivity and Night Birds. But generally, I still pretty much agree with what I wrote a year ago. How will I feel next year about this year's list? That's an interesting question - since I debated with myself at length as to how I should order my top four. I just know that 2014 was an awesome year for music, and I fully expect 2015 to be one as well!

-L.R.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Watts rock!

Flash Of White Light is the third album from Watts - and it's the kind of record that will make you wish you could catch these Boston rock n' rollers live! I love that this album makes zero concessions to the past 35 years of "progress" in popular music. It's exactly what we need more of in today's world - straight-up rock n' roll full of hot licks, high-powered riffs, and superbly-crafted hooks. Imagine if you could edit down your local classic rock station so that it only played the good stuff (Rolling Stones, Faces, AC/DC, early Aerosmith). Watts would fit right in on that channel!

When it comes to the current generation of no-frills rock n' roll, you have your bands with swagger and you have your bands with songs. It's rare to hear a band that's got both, and that's why Watts really stand out. John Blout and Dan Kopko, who tear it up on lead and rhythm guitar like a modern day Mick Taylor and Keith Richards, also excel in the singing and songwriting departments. And with drummer Johnny "Rock" Lynch (Neighborhoods/Dirty Truckers) and bassist Tim McCoy rounding out a phenomenal lineup, it's hard to find a better current rock n' roll band than Watts. Flash Of White Light sounds like it could have been issued in 1978 - not just for stylistic reasons, but also because it recalls a time when there was no shame in aspiring to write a hit song. In the case of Watts, the band has basically aimed for a whole album of hit songs! I would go so far as to say that you could easily slip a track like "Wasted Angels" or "Rocks" in between Cheap Trick and KISS on just about any rock oldies station, and people would be like, "This song is great! Why haven't I heard it before?" But I'm hesitant to use a word like "retro" to describe Watts, because that would imply that their music sounds out of time in the modern age. I prefer the term timeless - especially when you consider that real rock n' roll has never gone away no matter how widely it's been ignored by the mainstream in recent decades. And now more than ever, we need music like this.

Like so many of those great rock albums of yore, Flash Of White Light finds that perfect mix of sing-along rockers (the crackling title track), melodic mid-tempo numbers ("The Mess Is The Makeup"), and genuinely good ballads ("Better [For A Girl Like You]"). Of course the guitar work is electrifying, but it's a credit to the band that it never overshadows the songwriting. This is definitely one of those albums where every song is a little different and not just a rehash of the previous track. And even the deep cuts are gold. "Flying Over With Bombs" is like the "Sweet Child O' Mine" of 2014, while the Stones-y "Sidewinder" brings to mind unsung greats of the recent past like The Dragons and Bash & Pop. And while the band has great fun pointing out the derivative nature of its music on album-closer "Trick", the song itself is a complete triumph and a textbook example of why Watts rule. I've never cared a lick if something I'm listening to is breaking new ground. I just want to rock, ya know?! Watts rock hard, write great tunes, and live for that moment when they get to hit the stage and fill a room with energy. Flash Of White Light is highly recommended not just to classic rock fans but to anyone who craves music that is exciting and vital. Get the CD from Rum Bar Records, and vinyl lovers can still pick up the "Flash Of White Light" 45 while supplies last!



-L.R.

http://kingyumrecords.bandcamp.com/album/flash-of-white-light-cd-koozie-combo 
https://www.facebook.com/wattsrock 
https://www.facebook.com/RumBarRecords 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Introducing Blockhouses!

If you're a Figgs fan, Guy Lyons needs no introduction. Not only was he an original Figg, but he also wrote two of my favorite Figgs songs ever in "Bad Luck Sammie" and "Said Enough". He recently joined his former bandmates on stage for a live performance celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of one of the greatest rock n' roll records ever made - The Figgs' debut album Lo-Fi At Society High. Can you believe it's really been two decades since that album came out? Seems like only yesterday! 

Anyway, back to Guy Lyons. Last year he formed Blockhouses, a new band with bassist Christopher Peifer (The Kowalskis) and drummer Bill Wolf. With Jim Balga taking over on drums this year, the band's current lineup was set. Blockhouses just released a new single, "One More Time To Get Home" b/w "Little Sweetie". It's actually the New York City trio's third single this year, and of course it's totally killer! A band named after a fort should be rock solid, and that's clearly the point. Longtime Lyons fans will be pleased to know that he has not strayed a bit from the high energy power pop/rock n' roll he's known for. This single, as expected, delivers that perfect blend of muscular guitars and catchy melodies on a pair of high quality tracks. "One More Time To Get Home", once it gets in your head, is sure to stay there.

It goes without saying that Figgs fans will dig Blockhouses. And in fact, those two bands recently wrapped up a joint tour. While always one of rock's great sidemen, Lyons is a fine songwriter and singer in his own right. And again he finds himself fortunate to be part of an absolutely dynamite band. Check out all of Blockhouses' singles over at their Bandcamp - and let's hope for more from this band in 2015!



-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/blockhousesmusic 
http://blockhouses.bandcamp.com/album/one-more-time-to-get-home-b-w-little-sweetie 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Meet Scraps!

One thing I love about the digital age is that I can read an interview over at Audio Ammunition and immediately discover one of my favorite new bands. That really just happened! Scraps are Liam, Bobby, and Kris - fellas you may already know from bands like The Gaggers and Miscalculations. This London trio recently released its debut 7" on No Front Teeth Records, and it's an absolute smasher! These lads play a raw and ripping brand of '77 style punk that reminds me a little of classic bands like Menace, Slaughter and the Dogs, and Eater. No doubt, these guys are inspired by some of the best music to ever exist (Ramones, The Clash, Dead Boys). But in no way are they trying to imitate those bands. They take the sound and spirit of '77 punk and put their own signature on it - aggressively pushing the tempos and infusing the darker tones of modern-day melodic hardcore. The energy and passion these guys put into their music is palpable in every note they play. And I love to hear a band in today's world that dares to fashion a punk anthem like "Time Has Come". We will always need more anthems, and we will always need more bands that genuinely have something to say. This is one of the best new bands I've heard in quite some time, and I will definitely be holding Scraps responsible if all of this violent head-bobbing eventually causes me physical harm.



-L.R.

http://scrapslondon.bandcamp.com/album/scraps-st
https://www.facebook.com/scrapslondon

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Mandates single!

Mandates, a foursome out of Calgary, had one of my favorite punk rock LPs of 2013. In fact, I'd say it's one of the most underrated albums of the last couple years. The Canadian punk scene continues to blow my mind with its unceasing awesomeness, and Mandates are definitely one of the best bands going up north. So when I saw that these guys had a new single out, I was pumped! And let me tell you: "Suspicion" does not disappoint! While not too much of a departure from the '77 punk meets rockin' power pop vibe of the album, the title track dials up the rock n' roll in a major way. Think early Cheap Trick with AC/DC's guitars - with all the hooks and livewire energy you'd expect from such a combination! It's just pure excitement, and it's almost criminal for recorded music to be this much fun! Be ready to pump your fist and show off your air guitar skills! On the B-side, "Wastin' Time" is another awesome mix of punky powerpop and straight-up rock n' roll. I know it's a cliche to pull out the "double A-side" description, but I genuinely believe that either song could be considered "the hit". I wonder if they flipped a coin! Again Mandates enlisted the great Pat Kearns for mixing and mastering duties, and surely these tracks benefit from his Midas touch. After the year-and-a-half wait for new material from Mandates, this single comes through in a major way. A new album should be out early next year, and I can't wait!



-L.R.

http://mandates.bandcamp.com/album/suspicion-b-w-wastin-time 
https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mandates/197923143559474 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Jenny Dee is back!

You may recall my review of Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents' most recent single, "Don't Tell Me". In what has been a truly phenomenal year for music, "Don't Tell Me" is one of the best singles I've heard all year. So it's hardly surprising that Jenny, Ed, and the gang have now delivered a full-length album that's also one of the year's finest. What I enjoy about this album is that it seamlessly combines every phase of Jenny Dee's musical progression into one delightful and unified package. Given that this encompasses everything from Motown & girl group inspired R & B to rootsy rock n' roll to turn of the '80s new wave pop, Electric Candyland can be counted on to offer plenty of variety. Yet it all flows together beautifully - a testament to Jenny's compelling vocal presence and formidable songwriting chops.

About half of Electric Candyland carries on in the direction of recent singles - suggesting what Blondie might have sounded like if they'd recorded with Jeff Lynne for the Xanadu soundtrack. Ed Valauskas is a truly amazing producer, and his skillful integration of strings, synthesizers, and lush background vocals is nothing short of majestic. If you liked the "Getaway" and "Don't Tell Me" singles, you'll be happy to know that both songs reappear here along with like-minded tracks such as "Bite Your Tongue" and "Livin' Alone". Yet by no means does it seem like you're listening to a different band when the action shifts to upbeat rockers like "Lookin' For Clues" or show-stopping soul numbers such as "Wake It Up". If there's one thing that unifies the different musical eras and styles that inspire Jenny Dee, it's the importance of great singing - both lead and backup. And this album is loaded with great singing. There aren't a whole lot of lead vocalists today who can hold a candle to the likes of Gladys Horton or Debbie Harry. But Jen D'Angora is definitely one of them. Listening to the stunning doo-wop ballad "That Moon Was Low", it's easy to understand why Graham Parker gave her that song to record.

How many times have you heard a band roll off a hot streak of singles, only to disappoint when it was time to make an album? Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents have avoided that fate, and it's no accident. Electric Candyland supplements a wealth of existing material (five of the six single sides are on the album) with some fantastic new songs. And it doesn't hurt that The Deelinquents are a red-hot band! This is not really a "garage" album or a "soul" album or a "new wave" album. It's a Jenny Dee album - and a worthy purchase for anyone who appreciates great music of all kinds.



-L.R.

http://jennydee.bandcamp.com/album/electric-candyland 
https://www.facebook.com/jennydeemusic 
http://jennydeemusic.com/ 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New album from Legendary Wings!

It's been two years since Kalamazoo, Michigan's Legendary Wings released their debut album, Making Paper Roses. Without question, I'd say that Making Paper Roses is one of the most underrated titles to come out on Dirtnap Records in recent years. And Legendary Wings, in my opinion, are one of the six or seven best bands on Dirtnap. Now they're back with a new album called Do You See - which I hope will be less underrated and more...uh....widely acclaimed! 

One of the things I liked best about Making Paper Roses was its raw, lo-fi charm. I wondered if Legendary Wings would be as appealing if they made a more "professional" recording. Luckily, that question seems moot in the wake of the release of Do You See. Essentially, Legendary Wings' second album is just a leaner, stronger version of their first. They haven't lost any of that rawness, and they have largely returned to the formula that worked so well last time: a back-and-forth between fast, catchy garage-punk and jangly fuzzy pop. Again this band finds a way to combine "classic" Dirtnap influences (think Marked Men, High Tension Wires) with a post Husker Du, early '90s college radio type sound ("Missed Connections" could almost pass for a Buffalo Tom demo!). These guys seem way more interested in tightening their chops and perfecting their songwriting craft than they are in polishing their sound in the studio. So even with the messy, rough-edged fidelity still very much in tact, you can totally hear a progression from the last album.

In the grand Midwestern punk tradition, Legendary Wings still exhibit an unassuming, "Let's plug in and let it rip!" approach to their music. This comes through gloriously on hard-chugging numbers like "Fatuous" and the crackling album closer "Use". But while Do You See is a total blast in every sense, it has way more going on than you might sense at the surface. "Weather Advisory", with its haunting chord progression and cleverly ominous lyrics, forecasts rough sailing on the relationship front. And the wistful jangler "Separate Rooms" will just about tear your heart out. These more melancholic pop songs are quickly becoming a signature for Legendary Wings. And when they're thrown into the mix with the more upbeat tracks and a few funny soundbites, it really makes for a well-rounded album.

In terms of both total running time and number of tracks, Do You See does not approach the sheer quantity of its 16-song predecessor. But perhaps this is what an album should be: just ten songs and nearly all of them fantastic. Legendary Wings have left me wanting more, and I keep hitting that repeat button once the music stops. Combining the best aspects of garage, pop, and punk, Legendary Wings have emerged as a genuinely original force in today's scene. And Do You See is a record that ought to make people notice.



-L.R.

http://dirtnaprecords.bandcamp.com/album/legendary-wings-do-you-see 
https://www.facebook.com/legendarywingskalamazoo 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Solicitors on 45!

In recent years, I have fully embraced digital music as a format. I possess a rather extensive iTunes library, and I stream new music on a daily basis. I don't hold on to any snobbish notions about the "inferiority" of the format. That said, I do have a strong personal attachment to vinyl. Maybe it's just my generation (growing up in the '70s and '80s), but I just like records! I like having a tangible product that I can hold in my hands. I love the packaging and artwork of vinyl records. And of course I get a rush from dropping the needle onto a record that I'm playing for the very first time. It seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way, and that explains why vinyl is still going strong in our little corner of the musical universe. For example, I think it's incredibly cool that Germany's All Star Manufacturing Records came back from the dead after an 11-year hiatus for the sole purpose of giving The Solicitors' "If You Let Me Hold You" single a vinyl release. Tomo from All Star Manufacturing, like me, is a big fan of this Melbourne-based power pop band. And so this release is a true labor of love.

In what has been a great year for power pop, "If You Let Me Hold You" has stood out as one of the year's best songs. And now you can hear it on vinyl, backed by another previous digital single, "Quicksand". I have such a soft spot for The Solicitors because they remind me so much of all those new wave pop bands I grew up with (The Knack, Squeeze, Vapors). But more importantly, I think Lee Jones is one of the most talented songwriters to come on the scene in recent memory. He has this way of articulating things that almost all of us have felt but perhaps never found the words to fully express. "If You Let Me Hold You" really nails what it's like when you know you're in a relationship that's over - yet you still desperately cling to anything that that special someone is still willing to give you. And if you've ever had a give-and-take friendship with someone who did all the taking, "Quicksand" will definitely hit home. Both tracks are in The Solicitors' signature style of high energy power pop with sweet melodies chasing bitter lyrics. If you're still unfamiliar with this band, this single is the perfect gateway to the melodious wonders of The Solicitors. And if you're already a fan, here's your chance to experience two of the band's finest songs on your turntable! Pressing is limited to 300 copies (100 on white, 200 on black), so move fast if you want in on the action!



-L.R.

https://allstarmanufacturingrecords.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/TheSolicitors 
https://www.facebook.com/allstarmanufacturingrecords 

Monday, December 15, 2014

New album from Spastic Hearts!

Sometimes everything you need to know about an album is revealed in its title. No Girls No Fun is the second album from Youngstown, Ohio's Spastic Hearts (ex Johnie 3, The Hi-Life). And of course it's full of songs about girls and fun! Out now on Jolly Ronnie and Swamp Cabbage Records, No Girls No Fun is relentlessly upbeat and loaded to the brim with highly infectious melodies. The sound is textbook pop-punk informed by late '50s/early '60s rock n' roll - with slick production that plays up all those stacked harmonies and melodic guitar leads. I get that some people just aren't pop-punk fans. But listening to Spastic Hearts, it's hard for me to fathom anyone not loving this band! They're just fun! These folks tear into these songs with boundless energy and unbridled enthusiasm. And with major nods to The Ramones and more recent greats like Teen Idols, they remind us that pop-punk done well is one of the purest forms of rock n' roll. No Girls No Fun is your soundtrack to joyous nights of dancing and romancing. And much like that Bat Bites album I reviewed a few weeks back, it speaks to the soul of the true pop-punk fan - that individual who still believes in love even in these most cynical times. Surely Spastic Hearts are the kind of band that can put a huge smile on the face of even the grumpiest live show attendee. They have a way of winning you over. And without a doubt, that same energy comes across on record. These 12 catchy tracks will get your toes tapping, your head bobbing, and your heart racing. Whether you're en route to a rendezvous with your sweetheart or heading out in hopes of meeting that special someone, blast this album loud and seize the moment!



-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Spastic-Hearts/293415424090397
http://swampcabbagerecords.bandcamp.com/album/scr-039-the-spastic-hearts-no-girls-no-fun-lp
https://www.facebook.com/JollyRonnie

Friday, December 12, 2014

Meet Bullet Proof Lovers!


It seems like Kurt Baker is everywhere these days: cranking out Coolest Songs In The World, playing bass for Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems, co-fronting The New Trocaderos, singing duets with The Bat Bites...I'm pretty sure I just saw him scoring a touchdown for the Patriots and announcing a run for president. Now he's fronting Bullet Proof Lovers - a great new rock n' roll band out of San Sebastián, Spain. The band was formed earlier this year when Baker and some of his pals were bonding over a shared love for great rock n' roll. His friends happened to mention that they were starting a band but didn't have a singer. The rest, as they say, is history. Joining Baker in the group is a stacked lineup of experienced musicians. Guitarist Luiyi Costa (Txorlitöhead, Lolas Club), guitarist Juan Irazu (Discípulos de Dionisos, Gran Yate Especial), drummer Joseba Arza (Brigada Criminal, Señor No, Ladislao), and bassist Gonzalo Ibáñez (Nuevo Catecismo Católico, La Perrera) are all fixtures in the Spanish music scene. And if you know anything about the Spanish, you know they're crazy about rock n' roll. So it's no surprise that Bullet Proof Lovers sound like they could rock the roof off of every club or bar in the free world. And when you add in Baker's power pop sensibilities, it makes for a really cool blend of influences. Essentially Bullet Proof Lovers play a melodic brand of hard rock with a huge sound and huge choruses. What's not to love about that?!

Out now on Ghost Highway Recordings, the debut EP from Bullet Proof Lovers is a throwback to a time when it wasn't a sin to make fun music for people to play loud. This is the kind of record that you crank up while you're out with your friends on a Friday night in search of good times and pretty girls. And whether it's Cheap Trick influenced rock n' roll ("It'll Be Alright"), thundering arena pop ("She's Gonna Leave"), or a vintage Kurt Baker power ballad ("Breaking Down"), the hooks are god-like. And so are the guitar solos! Surely I'm not the only person who's listened to Kurt Baker in the past and wondered when he was going to inject his power pop skills into a full-on crusher of a rock record. Well he's done just that with Bullet Proof Lovers - and we are quite fortunate that fate brought this singer together with this band. And credit producer Wyatt Funderburk for capturing that big, clean, and punchy sound that this record totally deserved.

Whether you're a Kurt Baker fan or just someone who enjoys hard rocking music with melody, this debut EP from Bullet Proof Lovers should put a huge smile on your face. The song title "Never Too Loud" pretty much says it all. And that closing cover of Shrapnel's "Master Of My Destiny" is so joyfully anthemic that it will surely cause a lot of people to seek out the long overlooked music of Shrapnel. No doubt, these guys in Bullet Proof Lovers are tremendously talented. But just as importantly, they're fans of rock n' roll. And that comes through fully in their music. Turn it up and rock out!



-L.R.

http://bulletprooflovers.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/bulletprooflovers 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gino And The Goons shake it!

I can't let 2014 come to an end without spotlighting one of the best rock n' roll records you could ever hope to hear. Gino And The Goons hail from St. Petersburg, Florida but sound more like New York City circa 1977. And I don't mean Blondie or Talking Heads. I'm talking Ramones, Heartbreakers, Testors - but with a lo-fi/budget rock recording aesthetic that I freaking love! Forget garage rock - these guys record in the living room! Really! Shake It! is a 12" record out on Slovenly Recordings. And it just plain rips! At eight tracks, it could be considered either a long EP or a short album. But ultimately, it doesn't matter what you call it as long as you drop that needle and crank this bad boy loud! This trio blasts out three-chord rock n' roll that's trashy, fun, and catchy as hell. And this record will quickly have you up & dancing and looking for a lady to romance. If you miss bands like the Devil Dogs and Spaceshits or wish that more punk groups worshiped at the altar of Chuck Berry, this is a band for you. Shake It!, along with that new Lovesores 10", proves that real rock n' roll is alive and thriving! 



-L.R.

http://slovenly.bandcamp.com/album/gino-and-the-goons-shake-it-lp 
http://www.reverbnation.com/ginoandthegoons 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Maniac makes an album!

It was a year ago when I first identified Maniac as a possible contender for 2014 album of the year. I was blown away by the L.A. band's debut single and sensed that its then-forthcoming LP could be something really special. Well, after a full year's worth of high anticipation, we finally do have that debut album from Maniac. And all I have to say is WOW! Maniac completely lives up to its name on the sensational Demimonde - which crackles with frantic energy and an unrelenting sense of urgency. And as much as I enjoyed the more straight-forward '77 pop/punk stylings of that last single, I was genuinely thrilled to hear Maniac break that mold and realize such a unique and exciting sound. While by no means lacking in tuneful melodies or punchy classic punk riffs, Demimonde has an angular, hyperactive feel to it that really sets it apart from your more typical genre exercises. It makes just about everything else in my record collection sound painfully average! It's as if these guys heard that the planet was coming to an imminent end, imbibed dangerously large quantities of Red Bull, and endeavored to power out a punk record that the world just had to hear.

What I really like about Demimonde is that it brings together the myriad of musical influences existing within Maniac's stellar lineup. Lead singer/bassist Zache Davis is well-known for his work with The Girls and Cute Lepers. Rhythm guitarist Justin Maurer (ex Clorox Girls, Red Dons) and drummer James Carman (Images) are currently band mates in the supergroup L.A. Drugz. Along with amazing lead guitarist Andrew Zappin, these guys represent the perfect combination of everything that's cool about melodic punk and power pop. Davis has written some truly outstanding songs, and he sings them with conviction and desperation. Maurer and Zappin play off of each other in creative, compelling ways. And with a dynamo like Carman ably pushing the pace, this is an album bound to leave you short of breath. I feel like I need to run around the house in a full sprint and start jumping on furniture - just to keep up. My cats would be traumatized.

By the time I first absorbed the chorus to "Live Like Bats", I knew that Demimonde was going to be everything I was expecting and then some. Lately I've found myself repeating that chorus just about everywhere I go. It's just so catchy! Fast, fist-pumping tracks like "Wendy, Same Thing" and "Party City" proceed to ratchet up the energy in a major way. And once the band hits full stride on the frenetic "Dans Le Sang", it's obvious that this thrill ride isn't going to stop until it ends with a magnificent crash (the manic racer "Alright, Okay"). With echoes of everything from The Ramones to early Wire to modern-day greats like The Briefs, Demimonde hits that perfect blend of catchy '77 punk and jittery new wave. And with all due credit to Mark Rains (engineering) and Hadji Husayn (mastering), this album just sounds phenomenal. Davis, long an underrated figure in punk music, is more than ready for his close-up. And the exceptionally talented Zappin is quickly becoming one of my favorite lead guitarists. In one of the best years for music that I can ever remember, Maniac has delivered a surefire top ten album. Downloads available now, and the vinyl ships next month!



-L.R.

http://latidarecords.bandcamp.com/album/demimonde-ltdr-lp003 
https://www.facebook.com/WeAreManiac 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Dirty Gems Christmas!

Every year around this time, there are certain Christmas songs that I just have to hear. It's not really Christmas if I don't hear Frank Sinatra's take on "Let It Snow" or Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". My Christmas is never fully merry without Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" or The Yobs' naughty "12 Days Of Christmas". My holiday playlist is a sacred thing and has remained unchanged for decades. Well, actually I should say had remained unchanged. Because this year I've made two additions! One is "I Feel Fine (It's Christmas Time)" by The Connection - an absolute instant classic in my opinion. And the other is the equally good "Can't Spend Another Christmas (Without You)" by Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems. Both of these songs have been fixtures of my seasonal celebrations this year - and will continue to be for many years to come. Readers of this blog may recall my glowing post on Rodgers' excellent new album Headlines. And like his good pals The Connection, he's delivered a holiday-themed release that's as strong as any title in his catalog!

"Can't Spend Another Christmas (Without You)", a Rodgers original, kicks off a three-song EP called A Dirty Gems Christmas. This song combines two of the most timeless themes in the history of popular music: Christmas and unrequited love. It's a vintage Rodgers tune - mixing the rockin' side of Elton John/Billy Joel with a touch of Joe Jackson power pop. This is actually the perfect Christmas song for people who hate Christmas music - because it's a powerful ode to what it's like to be dying inside while the rest of the world is celebrating. Rodgers sings with such fire and soul that you can't help getting wrapped up in the emotion of the song. Featuring glistening production and lyrics that so many people will relate to, this tune has "monster radio hit" written all over it. It's one of my favorite songs of this year, period. And for those of you who do enjoy Christmas music, Rodgers and his bandmates have also treated you to a couple of nifty covers. They do an incredible version of "What Christmas Means To Me" off of Stevie Wonder's 1967 Christmas album. And while it would have been an obvious choice for Rodgers to tackle Elton John's 1973 smash single "Step Into Christmas", he goes outside the box and covers the B-side instead - the delightful "Ho Ho Ho (Who'd Be A Turkey On Christmas)".

Depending on your point of view, A Dirty Gems Christmas could either make your holidays more bearable or enhance your Yuletide joy. In keeping with the gifting spirit of the season, Rodgers has made the EP available as a name-your-price download over at his Bandcamp page. Check it out - and be sure to get hip to Headlines if you aren't already!



-L.R.

http://krisrodgersmusic.bandcamp.com/album/a-dirty-gems-christmas 
http://www.krisrodgersmusic.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/krisrodgersmusic 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ten more inches of Lovesores!

Lately I've been thinking that this has probably been my favorite year for new music since the fabled 1997. Yeah, really! And if I needed one last release to take it over the top and certify the all-out supremacy of 2014, now I've got it! Portland's Lovesores - whom we haven't heard from since around this time last year - are back and killing it as always! Focke-Wulf Vs. Spitfire, out on Germany's Hound Gawd! Records, is the band's second ten-inch EP. That's a very underrated format, don't you think? Perhaps the only thing cooler than ten-inch vinyl is Scott "Deluxe" Drake himself - who continues to lead the greatest punk rock n' roll band on the planet. Lovesores welcome new guitarist Saul Koll and do not miss a beat - continuing to power out sweaty, high-energy rock n' roll with the snarl and sleaze of '70s punk. As a guitar tandem, Koll and Adam Kattau are absolutely red-hot. If you like a heavy dose of rock n' roll guitar in your punk music, you're gonna go nuts for this release! And in the event you were expecting signs of mellowing out from Drake after a quarter century of slugging it out in the scene, you will be pleased to discover that he's still a wild man on the mic. I'm telling you, folks: he hasn't lost anything!

If there's a plus side to Lovesores having not yet released an album, it's that the quality of their recorded material has been consistently high. These guys haven't turned out a single song that I didn't think was great. If you combined all of the band's EP tracks into one collection, you'd have an album every bit as good as those early Humpers classics. And the trend continues here - with four more smashers that will have you screaming in delight if you've been lamenting the near-extinction of real rock n' roll. Hearing Drake shout, "You better stop...before somebody gets SHOT!" gives me chills - because I know there's no other person alive who can pull off that line quite the way he does. It's clear that he's having the time of his life fronting this phenomenal band - and these days he's giving us some of the most exciting and inspired music he's ever put his name on. And the addition of sax man Graham Coslett infuses another element of awesome into this fine EP. The title track will just about melt your face off, while "Desperation Now!" is the latest and greatest testament to the immortality of Johnny Thunders. And "Get Off" is my cup of tea all the way: snotty '77 punk with scathing fuck-you lyrics. I would bet the house that crowds go totally crazy for this one.

The question of whether or not two ten-inches are better than one 12-inch is impossible to pose without opening a Pandora's box of dirty jokes. But as far as I'm concerned, Lovesores can plan releases on 8-track, reel to reel, or any format they want if they continue to make music this great! Focke-Wulf Vs. Spitfire, like all the band's prior recordings, is a 100 percent essential purchase. And if next year does bring us a full Lovesores LP, 2015 has a chance to be an even better year than 2014!



-L.R.

http://lovesores.bandcamp.com/album/focke-wulf-vs-spitfire-ep
https://www.facebook.com/TheLovesores
https://www.facebook.com/HoundGawdRecords

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Meet Skategang!

Lately France has been on a bit of a roll with excellent up-and-coming bands like Departure Kids and Tomy and the Cougars. Now the hot streak continues with Skategang. This Paris outfit features Mathis & Paul from The Dolipranes along with Maxime from Youth Avoiders. French labels Requiem Pour Un Twister and Gone With The Weed have teamed up to release Freya Police - which was originally issued last year on cassette tape. Now it's available as a 12" mini LP, and I'd say it totally merits an existence on a vinyl format! Skategang are like the French cousins to all those great powerpop/punk bands on Dirtnap Records (think Marked Men, Steve Adamyk Band, White Wires) - and they bring a ton of energy on these seven tracks along with some catchy, upbeat melodies. With every song right around two minutes long, this is a snappy, briskly-paced platter that really gets my toes tapping. The sound is youthful and fun - and punchier than usual for today's powerpop/punk. "Critical Girl" reminds me quite a bit of The Kidnappers - one of my favorite bands of recent years. And on the title track, these guys prove they know how to craft a chorus that will get you singing along. I hear a touch of Real Kids rock n' roll in "Peplum" - which can only be a good thing. All in all, I really get a kick out of this record. Skategang, more than anything else, understand that a band should have a really good time playing this kind of music. Listening to this record, I can't help envisioning a live show where people are pumping their fists and jumping around like maniacs. If you're into the Dirtnap scene or newer French powerpop bands like Protokids and Crusaders of Love, give this one a listen!



-L.R.

http://skategang.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Skategang/315079688594584
http://store.requiempouruntwister.com/product/skategang-freya-police
https://www.facebook.com/requiempouruntwister

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My ten favorite albums...ever!


More than once, someone has asked me, "What's your favorite album?" or "What are your favorite albums?" And, you know, it's not always easy for me to come up with an answer. Having been a fan of music for three and a half decades, I find it darn near impossible to list just five or ten all-time favorite albums out of the thousands I've enjoyed. But I'm never one to back down from a challenge. Sure, I could go all the way to a top 50 or even 100 to be more fully inclusive. But that would make it too easy - and where's the fun in that?! So ten it shall be. Here goes!

10. Exploding Hearts- Guitar Romantic (2002)
It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years since Guitar Romantic came out - and over 11 since this band came to such a tragic end. I remember giving this album such an over-the-top rave review that I shamed myself into replacing it with a toned-down "revised" version. But looking back, I was right the first time! Guitar Romantic has been in heavy rotation in my car CD player for a decade, and without a doubt I would put it up there with the all-time great punk rock and power pop LPs. Thinking about today's punk/powerpop scene and some of the amazing young bands I write about, I can't help wondering how many of them would even exist without the inspiration of the Exploding Hearts. They were that important. And while listening to Guitar Romantic often fills me with sadness, the music always brings me great joy. If you see some crazy dude in his car singing along to "Still Crazy" at the top of his lungs, it's probably me.

9. Replacements - Tim (1985)
It's been said that the Replacements never made a truly great album - that even at their absolute peak, they would bog down their LPs with joke songs, failed experiments, and all other sorts of filler. While I generally agree, I'd say that the, uh, unpredictability of the 'Mats' recorded output was a large part of the band's greatness. Tim, in addition to being the Replacements album that I listen to the most, is probably the closest the band ever came to making a front-to-back masterpiece. It's got the perfect mix of tear-out-your-heart ballads ("Here Comes A Regular", "Swingin' Party"), outsider rock anthems ("Bastards Of Young", "Left Of The Dial"), and charming, rootsy pop songs ("Kiss Me On The Bus", "I'll Buy"). The underrated "Little Mascara" is one of my favorite 'Mats tunes, and even throwaway rockers like "Lay It Down Clown" are great fun. If you ever bought a Replacements record and thought to yourself, "I just don't get it!", I would urge you to purchase Tim and see if that changes your mind.

8. Generation X - self titled (1978)
The U.K. punk rock sound of '77 has long held a special place in my heart. Generation X, along with The Clash and Sex Pistols, define that sound for me. I prefer the American version of Gen X's debut due to the inclusion of "Wild Youth" and "Your Generation".

7. The Who - Who's Next (1971)
The music geek in me wants to say, "But their '60s stuff was so much better." However, I was raised on classic rock. As a kid, I always liked the Beatles and the Stones - but I loved The Who. Who's Next found the band making the seamless transition from mod pioneers to arena rock gods, and a full two-thirds of the album has been in heavy rotation on classic rock/AOR radio for 40 years plus. Even after thousands of listens, anthems like "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" still implore me to rock my air guitar and air drum moves like nobody's business. As an aspiring natural bodybuilder during my teen years, I often designed entire posing routines set to "Behind Blue Eyes". Thank God there is no footage of this. 

6. Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)
A staple of my car's tape deck for many years. This is the album I play for people when they ask me what punk rock sounds like.

5. Billy Joel- Glass Houses (1980)
This selection doesn't seem to fit in with the rest, eh? Billy Joel, really? Glass Houses is another childhood favorite of mine that has stood up quite well over the years. I like it so much that I've owned it on just about every format imaginable. Originally written off as a transparent attempt to cash in on the "new wave" craze, Glass Houses infuses the "feel" of 1980 into a timeless pop/rock n' roll record. "You May Be Right" is still just about the most bad-ass song ever, and the sentiment of "It's Still Rock N' Roll To Me" rings truer than ever in today's world. 

4. AC/DC- High Voltage (1976)
With all due respect to Brian Johnson, I've always been more of a Bon Scott guy. I love all of AC/DC's albums with Bon, but High Voltage is the one that's stuck with me the most. I don't think a better rock n' roll record has ever been made. There's nothing like being 12 years old and hearing "T.N.T" for the first time - your adolescent mind completely blown by such staggering lyrical brilliance.  

3. The Clash - London Calling (1979)
When a punk rock band aspires to broaden its horizons and craft an epic rock record representing a myriad of musical genres, it's either going to be the best record ever or the absolute worst. The Clash tried this twice and got both results. I still can't sit through the entirety of Sandinista!, but I will never tire of London Calling. Side Two, in my opinion, is the best side of any album ever. 

2. The Clash - self titled (1977)
While I will acknowledge that London Calling was The Clash's true masterpiece, it's not the Clash album that I listen to the most. Usually when I feel like listening to The Clash, I go for the fire and fury of that first album and urgent anthems like "London's Burning", "White Riot", and "Garageland". I've gone back and forth for many years as to whether I prefer the original U.K. release or the later American issue. But for the moment I'm siding with the original LP - mainly because I think "Janie Jones" is a way better album starter than "Clash City Rockers".   

1. Vapors - New Clear Days (1980)
New Clear Days is my clear #1 selection for both musical and sentimental reasons. "Turning Japanese" was one of the first songs I got into when I first discovered popular music as a fourth-grader. Listening to New Clear Days is like time traveling back to my Cold War childhood. On top of that, I consider it the best new wave power pop album ever made. The Vapors were a clever, talented, and criminally underrated band that had the guts to walk away from the world of music rather than kowtow to the demands of its record label. If you've written The Vapors off as a one-hit wonder, give New Clear Days a listen and discover for yourself that the entire album is as good as "the hit". I've always preferred to play Side Two first - just so it starts with the band's best song, "News At Ten".

So there you have it. I was going to list a few honorable mentions, but that would be cheating. As you can see, I tend to favor "older" music. I'm thinking I need to plan a sequel to this post in which I'll only list my favorite albums post-2000. That would be interesting. 

-L.R.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, Napalmpom!

If "air guitar rock" is an actual genre, it's very underrepresented in today's scene. And that's a shame, since I partake in robust air guitar activities on a daily basis (let's hear it for gyms that still play classic rock on the PA!). Sadly these days when you do hear a band employing epic guitar solos or larger than life arena rock choruses, it's usually dismissed as some kind of ironic joke. Everyone throws up the horned hand and has a good chuckle. I don't get what everyone finds so totally hilarious about bands that aspire to rock out. Are you all trying to make Dee Snider cry?!

The good news for me is that riff rock is alive and well and thriving in the great city of Calgary. Is it a coincidence that The Flames have been winning ever since Napalmpom released an album? I think not! If Napalmpom are sometimes mistaken for a parody band, it's perhaps because they don't take themselves very seriously. They have a funny name and write epic rock n' roll songs about such topics as Greg Ginn's sweater and Nick Cave's ill-fated Gladiator 2 screenplay. But just because a band likes to joke doesn't mean it is a joke. And I can assure you that these fellas are completely serious about rocking. Having established themselves as one of Calgary's most beloved live bands, they're now poised for world domination with a debut LP that's chock full of arena-ready anthems. They refer to The Unconditional Love Of Napalmpom as "nine love letters to the history of rock & roll". And with a sound described as "MC5 bombast with Thin Lizzy dual guitarmonies, AC/DC showmanship, hooks only The Exploding Hearts could write and the down-to-earthedness of early Black Flag", this is definitely a band that swings for the fences. In the way it celebrates all things that rock, The Unconditional Love is a throwback to a time when kids plastered their bedroom walls with rock posters and flocked to packed stadiums to witness their musical heroes in all their deafening glory. I can't help but like a band that isn't kidding when it cites Boston as an influence.  

While I naturally relate to Napalmpom on a kindred spirit level, it's also important to consider that these guys are exceptionally talented. Shawn Petsche and Craig Evans are a powerhouse guitar tandem in that Gorham/Robertson and Young/Young mold - firing out enough killer riffs and awesome solos to fuel a full night of air guitar heroics. PJ Lavergne definitely has the pipes and personality to front a bigtime hard rock band, and that rhythm section is tighter than the lid on a pickle jar. Calgary scene legend Lorrie Matheson (Fire Engine Red, National Dust) produced The Unconditional Love and really gets credit for pushing the band to make a debut album it could be proud of. Matheson and the band went to great lengths to capture a truly massive sound - and the result is a record that practically begs you to crank up the volume. Bookended by the natural show-starter "Guided By Volume" and the farewell/theme song "Napalmpom National Anthem", this set of songs does somewhat approximate the feel of a live rock n' roll event. And if these tracks are any indication, Napalmpom surely puts on one hell of a show! Running the gamut from '70s arena sing-alongs ("Get With Me") to Thin Lizzy-ish power balladry ("Feint Of Heart") to thumping Detroit rock ferocity ("Seamstress") to full-on stoner thunder ("Ashes Ashes"), this is an album that rocks hard but also rolls with the best of 'em. I'd like to rate it a ten out of ten, but it seems more appropriate to give it an 11 out of 11.

Napalmpom has made a rock n' roll record that's largely about rock n' roll. Such a concept will only seem silly if you're not a true believer in the power and glory of rock n' roll. When I think about today's music scene and what might be missing from it, full-blown rocking out is pretty high on the list. If more bands had their own theme songs and wrote lyrics about "riding a riff so good it caused a train to derail in Calgary", surely the world would be a better place. Or least a way more fun place. Blast this album at the loudest possible volume. And if someone walks in on you air-drumming like a maniac, don't even think about stopping!



-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/napalmpom 
http://napalmpom.bandcamp.com/album/the-unconditional-love-of-napalmpom-2

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christmas with The Connection!

Now it begins! Thanksgiving night is when I traditionally kick off my Christmas season. I pour myself a pint of Tröegs Mad Elf, break out The Dean Martin Christmas Album, and put up the tree. If I'm feeling my oats, I'll put on a Santa hat as well. Christmas music is a guilty pleasure of mine, although I generally avoid all of the Yuletide-themed recordings of contemporary artists. And by "contemporary", I mean anything after 1970. All jokes aside, The Connection have given us A Christmas Gift For - literally the best Christmas album in 40 years. Unlike the has-been yacht rockers and flavor of the month industry shills that turn out phoned-in holiday collections to the collective groan of the earth's populace, The Connection is a great rock n' roll band at the peak of its creative powers. A Christmas Gift For is crafted in the spirit of all the classic Christmas albums. But musically, it's completely true to what The Connection is all about - and thus an essential purchase for anyone whose favorite Christmas songs are by Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Ronettes.

Sticking to their infectious blend of the British Invasion, bubblegum, garage rock, and the Ramones, The Connection have made a Christmas album that's genuinely up to the standards of the rest of their recordings. One highlight has to be "I Feel Fine (It's Christmas Time)" - which the band co-wrote with the legendary Andy Shernoff. How often do you get the chance to collaborate with one of the greatest songwriters who's ever lived? And the result is no disappointment! There's one naughty little lyric in there that might prevent this song from being embraced by the more mainstream outlets. But otherwise, this sounds like an instant holiday classic - celebrating annual family traditions and the joy of being in love at Christmastime. I hope they save me a slice of that Christmas pie! The equally upbeat "The West Coast" offers a sunny beach pop counterpoint to all the usual odes to sleigh bells and snowfall. And "Rock N Roll Christmas" is a song that just about any reader of this blog will relate to. Why ask for toys when what you really want Santa to bring you are some rock n' roll records?!

What ultimately makes A Christmas Gift For a superior holiday album is that it's not all good cheer and happy times. What if you're alone and miserable at Christmastime? What if you have a lady friend who thinks the true meaning of Christmas is you spending lavishly on her? What if Santa drank a little too much and was a day or two late in his deliveries? "Christmas Bells Are Ringing", "Money, Honey, Baby", and "Better Late Than Never" address these questions and contribute to a well-rounded Christmas album experience. And "Poor Boy" sticks up for the kids who aren't fortunate enough to enjoy the material rewards of the holiday season. It's another standout of the album - sounding like what "Father Christmas" might have been if The Kinks had attempted it a decade sooner.

I think I prefer older Christmas music because it reminds me of a more innocent time in our world. For that very same reason, The Connection is one of my favorite bands. While holiday-themed collections are not for everyone, I would say that A Christmas Gift For will delight the majority of The Connection's followers. Just as importantly, I think this album will end up bringing the band a lot of new fans - many of whom will be pleasantly surprised to discover that The Connection have a substantial back catalog of amazing music. I don't envision pushing Dean Martin out of the picture. But I'm definitely going to make a place for The Connection in my annual holiday ritual.



-L.R.

http://the-connection.bandcamp.com/album/a-christmas-gift-for 
https://www.facebook.com/theconnectionRnR 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's up with Images?

It's been a couple years since I last posted on L.A. powerpop standouts Images. When he's not busy drumming for F & L favorites Maniac and L.A. Drugz, James Carman is a drummer/singer for Images - one of the best punk/powerpop bands going in my opinion. While Images haven't been particularly prolific, the music they have released has been all gold. Check out the very cool video for their new song "Space Invader" - directed by Sean Christopher Johnson. I think all fans of this blog will dig!



-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/imagesmusic
http://www.reverbnation.com/images

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rev. Norb & The Onions make an album!

Now we're talking! Following two killer EPS, Rev. Norb & The Onions have delivered a self-titled album that does NOT disappoint! The Onions - the pride of Manitowoc, Wisconsin - were already a terrific band before they took on the fabled front man Norb (Suburban Mutilation, Boris the Sprinkler). But in joining forces, these two entities have created a veritable dream team of garage/punk/rock n' roll goodness. Somehow this outfit combines everything I've ever loved about all of Brad X's prior bands with everything I loved about Boris the Sprinkler. Mix those elements together, and you'd expect some raw & ripping garage punk imbued with the oddball vocal stylings and lyrical high strangeness that could only originate from Norb's peculiar brain. Throw in a dash of kick-ass surf guitar, and that's pretty much it! If Boris the Sprinkler was too "pop-punk" for your tastes (to me, their sound was more classic '77 punk), you'll be happy to discover that Rev. Norb & The Onions are more of a sock-you-in-the-face kind of band. And who doesn't love a good face-socking? Forget what the hipster element is trying to sell you. This is the true spirit of garage punk: trashy, lo-fi rock n' roll recklessly unfurled by beer-guzzling Midwestern degenerates subsisting on a steady diet of The Stooges, Fun Things, and Killed By Death compilations. I have always associated the state of Wisconsin with bands like this - the travel brochures of my mind depicting joyous nights spent sampling fine beer & cheese whilst observing legions of garage punk greats bringing the noise in their natural habitat. Whether The Onions are reviving this tradition or merely sustaining it, I will continue to believe that there's something very special in that Lake Michigan water. 

With seven of this album's 12 tracks clocking in at under two minutes, it's obvious that Rev. Norb & The Onions aren't screwing around. Norb will always be Norb - and the world is better for it. But with The Onions, he has reigned in the schtick and returned to the form that helped make him a legendary figure in American hardcore. Songs like "Teenage Tantrum", "Bore Me", and "I'm Shit" rip with speed and fury, while "Negative 13" brings to mind some of the "harder" Boris The Sprinkler songs. The band deviates from its primary course just enough to keep things interesting. Nods to '60s party garage ("Oddy Knocky") and pure '77 punk ("She's A Stain") are true standouts. And "Where Zombies Chill" sounds like the MC5 crashed a Misfits Halloween party and burned the place to the ground. If you've been following The Onions in recent years, this album is every bit the smasher you were expecting. And if you're a Norb fan, this is easily the best album he's been a part of since the late '90s. This is a surer thing than Aaron Rodgers against the Eagles' secondary. Buy immediately!  



-L.R.

http://theonionsmanitowoc.bandcamp.com/album/rev-norb-the-onions-s-t 
https://www.facebook.com/revnorbonions