Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ZipGun Bomber features Nate Doyle on guitar and lead vocals. A veteran of one of the more beloved pop-punk bands of recent memory (The Guts), Doyle is well established as a songwriter of considerable talent. Back in 2011, he got together with Jake Gardner and Steve Benson and formed ZipGun Bomber. I'm somewhat ashamed that Paper Airplanes has been out there for three years and I'm just now discovering it! As soon as the opening notes kicked in, I was taken right back to the sounds that first got me into punk rock twentysome years ago. Jumping off with the heartfelt & energetic "Chase That Feeling", this EP manages to recall Lookout! era Green Day in all the best ways. This band definitely belongs to that "heart-on-sleeve" category of pop-punk that was so prevalent in the early-to-mid '90s. And for sure, it's nice to hear that sort of thing still being done well today. Like all the best pop-punk singers, Doyle comes off naturally endearing. You just can't help rooting for him, and he sure knows how to pen a catchy tune! This release pretty much encapsulates what quality pop-punk is all about: good songs, tight execution, and lyrics people can relate to. And with top guys like Dean Baltulonis (recording) and Justin Perkins (mastering) involved in the production, it's not a surprise that that this EP sounds so amazing!
If my dream tour back in 1995 would have been something along the lines of Parasites/MTX/Green Day, ZipGun Bomber sounds like the up-and-coming band that might have snagged the opening slot. But what I really like about ZGB is that this is a band that proves what an enduring musical form pop-punk truly is. I'm reminded of so many great bands I adored in my 20s, but in no way does Paper Airplanes sound dated. The Guts were one of a handful of bands that kept the pop-punk scene awesome throughout the 2000s. So it makes complete sense that ZipGun Bomber is doing the same for this decade. I'd put Paper Airplanes up there with the best four or five pop-punk releases I've heard in recent years. Pop-punk fans, this is not one to miss. I should know!
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Monday, February 16, 2015
A View For Glass Eyes is the perfect follow-up to Miscalculations' excellent 2013 debut. It generally sticks with what worked so well last time- angular guitars, ominous and fiercely intelligent lyrics, and just enough synthesizer to create a tone. Most of the tracks are somewhere in the neighborhood of two minutes long, and the album advances the band's musical vision while still retaining the jagged punk minimalism of the last record. Essentially this is the album I wish Wire had made in 1979. Rather than abandoning punk's primal punch in favor of post-punk experimentation, it fuses the two together and adds elements of more recent Swedish hardcore. And while this album is probably even darker than its predecessor, it's also more developed in terms of hooks and pop melody. If the most sinister thing you can do in music is craft a chorus that compels you to gleefully sing along to highly unpleasant thoughts, then "Cutting Room Floor" and "Recreational Anasthesia" have to be considered master works of evil genius.
Something I really like about A View For Glass Eyes is its inclusion of two of Miscalculations' most extraordinary 7" tracks - the electro version of "Factory Life" and the absolutely chilling "Clairvoyant Stare". Given how quickly 7" vinyl sells out, there have to be quite a few fans who don't yet own these songs. More importantly, both tracks fit perfectly on this album - expertly sandwiched between the spasmodic "Alsatian" and the haunting "Pain As A Language". Clearly this is a band hitting the proverbial next level in full stride. Unnerving and beautiful at the same time, the guitar work on this album is truly stunning. And fantastic songs like "Severing The Spine Of Confidence" find Miscalculations less interested in changing their formula than they are in completely perfecting it. Still, there are clear signs of an evolving artistry. Like a nagging itch that drives you near mad, epic closer "Science In Reverse" sticks with you long after the music stops.
Due to my late discovery of Miscalculations' first LP, the band was robbed of a spot in my 2013 top ten. That will not be the case this year. Six weeks into 2015, I've got A View For Glass Eyes atop my album of the year big board. Even with formidable competition on the way, this one's going to be hard to supplant.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Soundcloud, and let's hope there is much more to come!
Monday, February 9, 2015
10. (tie) Ramones - Halfway To Sanity
It's not without reason that the Ramones' late '80s output is much maligned. Starting with Animal Boy's ill-fated attempts at sounding current and culminating with the seemingly phoned-in Brain Drain, '86'-'89 clearly marked the irreversible decline of the greatest band that has ever existed. But to me, Halfway To Sanity was a final gasp of inspiration - and the last Ramones album truly worth buying. If not fully successful, it was at least an attempt to get back to that classic Ramones sound of yore. Sonically, the band hadn't sounded this aggressive in years. And while the album has its share of clunkers, it has its ace tracks as well. If I'm making an ultimate Ramones best-of mix, "I Wanna Live", "Weasel Face", and "Go Lil' Camaro Go" are making the cut. While not a great Ramones album, Halfway To Sanity is at least a good one.
Moral Crux - self titled
Moral Crux was one of those rare bands carrying the torch for '77 style punk in the mid-to-late '80s - combining the pop stylings of the Ramones and Generation X with intelligent lyrics about politics and social issues. The band would become a celebrated part of the '90s pop-punk scene, eventually signing to Ben Weasel's Panic Button Records. And while I love all of this band's albums, the self-titled debut remains one of my personal favorites. I love the way it marries catchy pop melodies to early '80s hardcore punk influences. "Kick It Over", "Strange World", "Voices Of Reaction", and "Law + Order" are classic tracks from one of the best and most criminally overlooked punk bands of the last 30 years. New 7" coming out this year on Mooster Records!
9. Fastbacks - ... And His Orchestra
While a little rougher around the edges than later Fastbacks albums, this long-awaited debut (the band had been going since 1979) is pretty close to a classic in its own right. Great poppy punk from Seattle's original alt rock sensations. Who doesn't love "Seven Days" and "K Street"?
8. Thee Mighty Caesars - Wiseblood
This was trashy garage punk before they actually had a label for such a thing.
7. Descendents- All
This is supposedly a "lesser" Descendents album, yet it's got "Pep Talk", "Clean Sheets", and "Coolidge". That tells you a lot about the greatness of The Descendents.
6. Mad Parade - A Thousand Words
In the era of crossover thrash, at least one band stayed true to the classic SoCal punk sound...
5. Husker Du - Warehouse: Songs And Stories
About the only thing I don't like about this album is that dreaded "late '80s production". I swear there was a conspiracy among recording engineers back then to make all drummers sound terrible! Otherwise, it's amazing how consistent this double LP was. Here was Husker Du coming out with their fourth album in three years, and they were not lacking for quality material. For a lot of bands these days, four albums is a career. If it's apparent that Mould and Hart were going in way different directions at this point, you can't accuse either of coming up short. Warehouse melds the adult pop leanings of the previous year's Candle Apple Grey to the buzzing melodic punk of the band's classic mid-'80s albums. All in all, not a bad way to bow out!
4. Celibate Rifles - Roman Beach Party
In the mid to late '80s, it seemed that most bands had either forgotten the roots of punk or were running away from them at full speed. But that was not the case in Australia - where Birdman and The Saints were still worshiped and Detroit rock loomed large. Celibate Rifles were equal parts Ramones and Stooges, and the hard-hitting Roman Beach Party is probably their best album. Kicking off with the scorching "Jesus On T.V.", this should have been the album that made them huge. But alas, who had any use for ferocious, intelligent rock n' roll in 1987?
3. Red Kross - Neurotica
Neurotica is one of those albums that made a modest impact in sales but an immeasurable one in influence. Here you had these legends of early '80s LA punk who had not fully outgrown their loud/fast hardcore roots. Yet into the mix, they had thrown The Beatles, KISS, and a whole array of '70s pop culture references. If you heard this album, you couldn't quite define what it was. Punk? Bubblegum? Metal? Power pop? It was a little bit of all of that, and uniquely Red Kross. Numerous alt rock and "grunge" bands in the early '90s would capitalize on the idea of mashing up punk, metal, and pop. But I'll take Neurotica over any of those bands' albums - Nevermind included!
2. Pink Lincolns - Back From The Pink Room
The classic debut album from one of the most underrated punk rock bands of all-time. These Floridians were doing snotty-as-hell three-chord punk rock when almost no one else cared to. These guys caught on in the '90s due to a close association with The Queers and Screeching Weasel. But Back From The Pink Room has just in much in common with, say, Black Flag or the Angry Samoans. "I've Got My Tie On" is pretty much the best song ever.
1. Replacements - Pleased To Meet Me
Having recently proclaimed that Tim is the best Replacements album, I'll add that Pleased To Meet Me comes a very close second. Perhaps The Replacements were never quite the same without Bob Stinson. But Paul Westerberg's incredible run of songwriting circa the mid-'80s peaks on Pleased To Meet Me. And while Jim Dickinson's production scrubs clean any last remnants of The Replacements' rough edges, the big, soaring sound is a perfect fit for these tunes. "Alex Chilton", "Can't Hardly Wait", "The Ledge", and "Skyway" are up there with the best of the best Replacements songs. "Valentine" is one of Westerberg's most overlooked gems. And even seeming throwaways like "Shooting Dirty Pool" remind us that The Replacements were still at heart a rock n' roll band. That, sadly, would not be the case on subsequent releases. But Pleased To Meet Me, like Tim before it, is an album that justifies The Replacements' standing as the great American band of their time.
So I suppose I should start working on my 1985 list next...unless I get sidetracked by another "challenge"!
Friday, February 6, 2015
Thursday, February 5, 2015
San Diego, California's Spent Idols formed in 1992 out of the ashes of the hardcore band Spent Idol (1979-81). Lead singer Mike Spent made the slight name change to go with a new lineup and a new sound rooted in original '77 punk. The band was very active circa 1994-1996, with numerous releases on various formats. Although the group initially split in 1997, they have reformed periodically over the years. A co-release between Rawkunroll Records out of Venezuela and Spent City Records, the brand-new Land Of The Lost is the first Spent Idols album in 18 years. Angelo from Rawkunroll is The Spent Idols' #1 fan, and he went to great lengths to make this project a reality. Limited to a pressing of 310 CDs, this compilation is an absolute treat for diehard fans. It functions in two parts - with one side containing unreleased studio recordings and the other featuring mono/lo-fi tracks from rehearsal tapes and cassette masters. And what I love is that both sides are equally essential to the collection as a whole. The title track, with its mix of '77 and old school SoCal punk sounds, rates up there with all the classic Spent Idols songs. And speaking of classic Spent Idols songs, the 2003 studio version of the band's anthem "The Living Dead" is absolutely indispensable. But I'd say the odds and ends on Side Two are going to be what most people will enjoy the most. It's great fun to hear the band tear into iconic punk songs like "I Wanna Be Your Dog", "Baby Baby", and "Love Cums In Spurts". An alternate take on "Emotional Wreck" comes off like a long-lost Vibrators song, and the Little Richard re-do "Can't Help It" has me fondly remembering a time when the band's For Your Ears Only cassette ruled my tape deck.
While not actually a "live" album, Land of the Lost was assembled in the spirit of Iggy & The Stooges' Metallic K.O. and Sid Vicious's Sid Sings. Those two albums largely informed Mike Spent's idea of what punk rock was supposed to sound like. And so we have Land of the Lost - which proves that you don't need "professional" production to capture the essence of The Spent Idols. This is punk rock the way it should be: raw, imperfect, and 100 percent from the heart. Well before it was fashionable to revive the sounds of the Pistols, Dead Boys, and Johnny Thunders, The Spent Idols were doing it. Longtime fans will absolutely love this 17-track collection, and now a whole new generation of punk rockers can experience this great, unheralded band. The album is out now in Venezuela, and an American release party is scheduled for March 20th at the Til-Two Club in San Diego. For more information, check out this press release from Rawkunroll!
Sunday, February 1, 2015
The advantage of waiting a few years to get a debut album out is that it really gives a band time to hone its songwriting chops and develop its sound. The Disconnects, at this point, are completely on top of their game. What impresses me about ...Wake Up Dead is its nice mix of song styles. Harder, faster tracks like "Sick! Sick! Sick!" and "She's A Fink" sound straight out of 1977. But these guys also show an ability to slow it down and focus on their melodic side. The brilliant "Lonely Boy" sounds kinda like Johnny Thunders fronting The Undertones, while "I Don't Mind" is a dead ringer for an early Replacements ballad. And I like that the album is sequenced to highlight the variety of its material. For example, the sonic fireballs "Makes Me Wanna Kill" and "No Life Like The Low Life" are sandwiched by the downright pretty "For Mindy". There are 13 great tracks here, and none of them feel unnecessary.
It's been a full decade already since Red Invasion's I'm Not Too Young To Die set the modern standard for Dead Boys/Thunders inspired punk n' roll sleaze. I've pretty much been waiting ever since then for another band to come along and top it. And that's exactly what The Disconnects have done with ...Wake Up Dead. Hearing any band revive the timeless sounds of American '77 punk always makes me a happy dude. But to hear a band that's this good at it totally gives me goosebumps! Rather than fashion a pale imitation of yesteryear's greats, The Disconnects have taken these classic inspirations and made them feel urgent and fresh in 2015. ...Wake Up Dead is liable to change the minds of a few stubborn souls who refuse to believe that great punk rock is still being made today. And it's certain to turn some younger fans on to some amazing music from the past. That, my friends, is what we call a win-win!