Thursday, June 14, 2018

Firestarter - First Album and Livin' On The Heat

Can you believe it has been 18 years since Firestarter released its debut album? That was a release that helped define punk/powerpop as the genre we know today. That and the band's 2003 followup Livin' On The Heat are stone cold classics - two of the greatest albums released this century. Would you have expected anything less from 3/4 of Teengenerate? In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Firestarter, Secret Mission Records has re-released both of the band's albums on vinyl. The bummer is that the label has already sold out of copies of the self-titled album (although you still might be able to snag it from some distributors). And supplies of the Livin' On The Heat reissue are very limited! If you're a huge fan of modern day punk/powerpop and have somehow never heard Firestarter, you at the very least need to acquire the digital versions of both albums. This is the first time that these two LPs have been released outside of Japan, and it seems only right that a whole new generation of punk and power pop fans will have the chance to enjoy them.

Given that the marriage of garage punk and power pop is so common today, it can be easy to forget that it wasn't always that way. Along side the Marked Men (Mark Ryan and Jeff Burke have remastered these two albums for vinyl), Firestarter paved the way for a new era of hooky but still tough as hell punk music. Listening today, I'm struck by how well both Firestarter albums have held up. It's a wonderful thing that Secret Mission has brought this essential music back into circulation. Move fast if you want a vinyl copy of Livin' On The Heat!


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wassup Rocker Radio Presents: Sick Sounds

You know what I love about being into music in the digital age? There are so many ways to hear cool tunes. That's why I don't waste a single second bitching about mainstream music. Who cares what they're playing on commercial radio? You can go onto The Internet anytime you want and hear totally rippin' music. In particular, Internet radio is thriving. One of the best programs going is Alex Kish on Wassup Rocker Radio out of Toledo, Ohio. WRR plays the best in garage rock, punk, glam rock, and rock n' roll. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who likes the music I cover on this blog. You can listen every night of the week on various Internet radio outlets or stream/download episodes at your convenience. Today I'm featuring a very special project from Wassup Rocker Radio: a free digital compilation featuring 32 of the hottest bands from the world of punk/powerpop/garage. It's called Sick Sounds, and it is stacked with killer tunes! Check out this lineup: The Connection, Geoff Palmer, Brad Marino, Devious Ones, Lucy and the Rats, Küken, The Crazy Squeeze, Teenage Frames, Criminal Kids, Faz Waltz, BBQT, Gino and the Goons....and that's not even the half of it! This is a great way to snag some free tracks from a whole lot of amazing bands. And perhaps, like me, you'll discover some groups you've not heard before. After hearing The Matt Truman Ego Trip, Black Heartbreakers, and The Exbats for the first time, I will surely have a lot more to say about those bands going forward!

If you buy a ton of music, you might already have a lot of these songs in your digital collection. Otherwise, Sick Sounds is a great way to sample some of the truly excellent punk, garage, and rock n' roll music that's out there right now. And the Gino and the Goons track "Lay With Me" is previously unreleased! This compilation also gives you a good idea of the type of stuff you'll hear if you tune into Wassup Rocker Radio. Check out the WRR web site or Facebook page for lots more info!


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Please Stop! - Built To Die

How about a full-length album on a 7"? Is such a thing even possible? If I had any doubts, Please Stop! has erased them entirely. 11 songs clocking in at just a tick under 13 minutes is absolutely an album in my book. So let it be said that Built To Die is the debut full-length from this Midwestern punk powerhouse. It follows last year's superb EP Power Suit and Dead Bodies, and it's out on No Front Teeth Records. Call it hardcore punk, call it snotty punk, call it whatever you like. This is some of the fiercest, smartest, and most ripping punk music you could ever hope to hear. And while no punk group is better at hitting you in the mouth with its music, Please Stop! is first and foremost a band with something to say. The lyrics on this release are remarkable. They're provocative, often unsettling, and open enough to interpretation to really make you think. A lot of these songs can be seen as social commentary - but not in a way that's obvious or heavy-handed. Staysee, as always, is a force of nature on the mic. Her vocals are the perfect combination of pissed-off, crazed, and just straight-up bad-ass. And her bandmates match her power and fury at every turn. Songs like the title track and "Faults" deliver a jolt like only the best hardcore punk can. "Born Again" and "Kill That Thing" slow the pace just a little but are equally bruising and doubly menacing. Man, Danimal sure knows how to get a raging sound on his guitar!

If you're looking to hear what's great in punk music in 2018, Please Stop! is one of the first bands you need to check out. Power Suit and Dead Bodies was a formidable debut, and Built To Die is even better. I'm amazed at how this band can pack so much substance into songs that rarely run much longer than a minute. Each of these 11 tracks hits you quick but definitely leaves an impression. Punk rock with power, intelligence, and a relentless fighting spirit is something we will always need more of. Built To Die is available in two versions from No Front Teeth: a standard edition and a limited edition with a translucent sleeve. Get on it!


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Speedways - Just Another Regular Summer

And just like that, The Speedways have come and gone! This band was by design a one-off project. They made an album, played one show, and that was that. But if you're only going to make one album, it ought to be as good as Just Another Regular Summer! The Speedways was Matt Julian from The Breakdowns going for a classic power pop sound. Power pop was certainly a huge influence on The Breakdowns as well. But with The Speedways, Julian laid the glam and punk influences to the side and concentrated purely on the pop. On this album, he plays guitar, bass, and keyboards and performs all of the vocals. His old band mate Dec Burns is along for the ride on drums. Lyrically, this album is full of classic power pop themes like heartbreak, longing, and unrequited love. Basically Just Another Regular Summer is an album for power pop purists, and it's an exceptional one at that.

I have mixed feelings about this being the last Speedways release. On one hand, that's kind of a bummer. But on the other hand, I feel like this is such a perfect power pop album that it would be pointless to try and top it. Julian wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel here. This album is a tip of the cap to the timeless sounds of '70s guitar pop, recalling everyone from 20/20 to Tom Petty to Elvis Costello to the Paul Collins Beat. With his songwriting honed in on tuneful melodies, hook-laden choruses, and poignant lyrics, Julian comes off like someone who was born to create this kind of music. "In Common With You" sounds like a lost AM radio hit from the days of my youth, while "Don't Tell Me" could have come out of the American heartland 40 summers ago. And even though this is a digital release, it has the feel of a vinyl record. The title track and "Reunion In the Rain" conclude their respective "sides" in gut-wrenching, highly dramatic fashion.

Just Another Regular Summer is everything you could want from a classic power pop album. Julian sure knows how to write a catchy tune, but at a deeper level he just "gets" what this type of music is all about. Almost all of us have known heartbreak, and almost all of us have continued to put ourselves in its line of fire. That's part of the human condition, and that's why love songs will never go out of style. I have to chuckle when people dismiss songs about human relationships as "lightweight". Come on, what could be less lightweight? There will always be great worth in music like this, and kudos to The Speedways for carrying it off so splendidly.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Everybody Knows - Hello Hello

Behold my personal nomination for song of the summer! I absolutely flipped the first time I heard "Hello Hello" by The Everybody Knows, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Based out of Joensuu, Finland, The Everybody Knows of course took their name from the song by The Incredible Kidda Band. That's really cool! The band has only been around a couple years but has now released two 7-inches. Hello Hello is the latest one, and it's available digitally from the group's Bandcamp for just €1. The title track is just so tuneful and infectious. It's truly a perfect power pop song.

The Everybody Knows recently completed a two-week tour of Finland and the Baltics with the mighty Fashionism. These guys are major up-and-comers in the power pop world, and I think we will be hearing a lot more from them going forward. In the meantime, be sure to acquire "Hello Hello" and play it on repeat! Hit up the band on Facebook if you want to order a physical copy. 


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Real Sickies - Get Well Soon

Wasn't I just talking about how many killer LPs have come out in just the last few weeks? You all are gonna go broke buying all of this stuff! Add one more to the list. Real Sickies are the best thing to come out of Edmonton since Wayne Gretzky's mullet. They knocked my socks off a few years back with their demo tape, and just last year they finally released an excellent debut single called "Cool Club". Get Well Soon is the band's debut album, and it's brought to you by a host of labels including This Is Pop, Dirtyflair, Monster Zero, and It's Alive Records. With names like those associated with this release, you know it's gotta be good! Real Sickies openly worship at the altar of the Ramones and Teenage Head, and there's not a damn thing wrong with that in my book. If you're looking for new ground to be broken, Get Well Soon is not the album for you. But if you're like me and can never get enough great punk/powerpop/rock n' roll, this record is not to be missed! From the opening strains of the title track all the way to the end, this release is just total fun. Past hits "Go Away" and "Cool Club" reappear here along with great new songs like "C'mon Baby" and the raucous shaker "Everywhere You Go". This is a cool mix of songs covering everything from old school pop punk ("Very Large Failure", "I Don't Wanna Be Here") to high energy rock n' roll ("Time Out") to dramatic balladry ("Runaway With You"). And a cover of The Barracudas' "Summer Fun" leaves no doubt as to what Real Sickies were going for on this debut long player. Get in the car, crank this album loud, and enjoy your summer!


Friday, June 1, 2018

MANIAC - Dead Dance Club

Man, have we ever had an astounding flurry of new album releases over the last couple of weeks! The barrage continues with the second album from MANIAC, who have been a little quiet since releasing brilliant singles back in 2015 and 2016. I would definitely consider myself a MANIAC, so of course I was eager to hear the long-awaited Dead Dance Club (out today on Hovercraft and Dirt Cult Records). The band's first LP Demimonde from late 2014 is, in my opinion, an overlooked gem of present-day punk albums. I wouldn't change a thing about it, but I appreciate that Dead Dance Club is a little different. Sure, MANIAC can still do fast and frantic punk rock with the best of 'em. The opening 1-2 punch of "City Lights" and "Subject To Change" might lead you to believe that this album is headed down the same dizzying path as the last one. But then comes the moody and modern "Neutral Libido", and it's quickly apparent that the band has upped its game. It all still sounds very much like MANIAC - edgy, energetic, and forged in the storied traditions of West Coast punk and pop. But the band has really pushed itself to expand its sound on this release. There is no shortage of ripping tracks, but standout numbers like "Modern Love" and "Post Post World" really give the album atmosphere and room to breathe.

One of MANIAC's greatest strengths is that it has four songwriters and four essential contributors. Singer/bassist Zache Davis is probably considered the "front man", but on quite a few of these songs he trades off vocals with his band mates. F & L favorite Justin Maurer authored some of the album's strongest tracks. Andrew Zappin is one of my favorite lead guitarists working today. James Carman, in addition to being an incredible drummer, is a tremendous pop songwriter and vocalist. That's a whole lot of talent, but it's the way it all comes together that defines MANIAC. You can hear that in the interweaving of the two guitars, the sophisticated layering of the vocals, and Carman's soaring harmonies. Davis, quickly emerging as a modern master of odes to failed relationships, contributes the deliciously bittersweet "Neutral Libido" and crackling "Living In Stereo". The latter brings to mind a Cali-soaked Buzzcocks. Maurer's songs cover a range of topics from youth and the loss of innocence ("Children of the Dirt") to how our contemporary society no longer believes in anything ("Post Post World"). The reappearance of three 7" tracks was music to my ears because they were just too good to leave out ("Calamine", to me, is a top five MANIAC song). And then there's "Dead Dance Club", which I absolutely love! It's completely unlike anything the band has done before, yet it fits so perfectly on this album. This song has me envisioning MANIAC as a band in a John Hughes movie! 

MANIAC is a band like no other - distinctively part of the modern wave of powerpop/punk yet so undeniably influenced by the art and multiculturalism of Southern California. Those last two singles suggested that MANIAC was on the verge of a significant step forward, and Dead Dance Club fully confirms that. "Maturity" in punk groups is often considered risky or downright counterproductive. In this case, however, the advancements in songwriting and production really hit the spot. Demimonde was a very good album. Dead Dance Club is a genuinely great one.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Geoff Palmer - "Velcro Shoes"

Ok, now I'm getting a little worried. With these new recordings from Geoff Palmer and Brad Marino being so off the hook good, might they both ditch The Connection for solo mega-stardom?! All kidding aside, this is turning into the best summer ever for fans of The Connection guys. Marino's Four Track Attack releases in June, and Palmer is in the midst of a series of digital singles releasing every month. "Velcro Shoes" is the second in the series, and boy is it ever a ripper! This one was recorded with Adam Cargin, who many of you already know as one of the best drummers out there. On "Velcro Shoes", Cargin shows he can rock out on guitar and bass as well! Dude is bringing it! Like last month's "This One's Gonna Be Hot", "Velcro Shoes" is a high energy, sing-along banger. This time Palmer is all about the rockin' power pop, and of course he nails it. This tune is just so upbeat and catchy - which is absolutely perfect for a summertime release! How amazing do those backing vocals and guitars sound?! And those lyrics are an absolute hoot! That's two singles in two months from Mr. Palmer, and they're both legit hits. I'm so stoked to hear what's coming next. Luckily, we won't have to wait very long!


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Emm Gryner - Only of Earth

Review by Mike Kimmel

I'm always looking for new music. While that doesn't necessarily mean new – as in age-in-years – music, it does mean music I haven't heard before. Writing for Faster and Louder has given me a whole new appreciation for Bandcamp. I was familiar with it before (anyone familiar with The Dollyrots knows a lot of their freebies and preview stuff comes out there), but not near as much as now.

I found a site several years ago that has introduced me to some really good music that sadly not many will ever hear.

It's both fortunate and unfortunate for me because I spend a LOT of money there at They have brand new bands, barely established bands, and bands that have been around for years who are trying to fund their projects by selling digital versions of the new releases, some dynamite swag (autographed CDs, t-shirts, in the case of Uriah Heep you could get a chance to perform the Uriah Heep song of your choice on stage with the band, and with Kitten you got a phone call with Chloe Chaidez – which was, incidentally, extremely pleasant!).

That's how I learned about Emm Gryner. She was raising funds to put out Only of Earth, and there were a few samples available. I liked what I heard and, as I am often wont to do, opted to take a chance on an artist of whom I'd never heard. (Again, my propensity toward female artists rears its ugly head. Ugly on MY part – certainly NOT on her part at all!)

Oddly enough, my first thoughts after a few listens through Emm Gryner's latest release – Only Of Earth – were that she reminded me of a sort of cross between a mellower Uriah Heep and David Bowie. Then, I wound up getting to head out to a Uriah Heep concert mere weeks later – good grief do I love that band – and it reinforced that opinion! In fact, there are time Gryner sounds as heavy as Heep – especially when the guest musician with a Hammond B-3 in tow shows up.

During my Gryner research, I found several instances where she is seen performing with Bowie, shortly after which I learned that she has not only performed with Bowie on occasion, but she was also a keyboardist/vocalist in Bowie's band for a period of time.

I ordered Gryner's new release through, and I was not disappointed. In fact, in all my dealings with PledgeMusic, I think there has been one time that I've regretted getting involved in the effort of an artist to release a new CD, and (unfortunately) that was an artist with whom I was already familiar. Everything else has been two thumbs up!

Well, on with the show!

First up is a nice instrumental I'd describe as "heavy ambient", which will hopefully make sense to someone. I like it, and it does give you a hint as to the twisting, winding melodic ride you're about to take.

"Shadow Girl" is where the lyrics start, and I mentioned much of this disc reminds me of a mellower Uriah Heep or a David Bowie. This tune reminds me of both at the same time.

Here's a lyric:
 "I hold you deep inside floating on a wildwood sky.
All your antics chase away the pain.
Stay here in the garden. Don't leave my lonely earth.
I'll never love again. I am the shadow girl.
And you'll find me by the moonlight on the water."

"Imagination" is much the same, sonically, but leaning more toward Bowie.

"Warping space what for? So the universe can't give, then take it away.
Take the silence to mean true love Magical. Dimensional.
Sound waves on acres. Dodge the enemy and be done."

The track that confuses me the most follows here. "Blood Balloons" starts heavy on keyboards and drums, and that's how much of the song is driven by both. It's one of the better songs on the album, but here are parts of some verses. It's not that I don't understand the words (c'mon now – I dump enough of them into your eyes often enough – I must know a few, right?), but I can't figure what exactly they all mean when they're packed into the same story.

"They say 'Be careful with that road 'cause nobody know if it'll stay true.'
They say 'Be careful with that girl 'cause every month she's someone new.'
I am what I am. Let it fly. Put the blood balloons up in the sky."

Then three minutes into the song, some tasty guitar kicks in. 30 seconds later, the lead gives way to the repeated chorus, then it's over with a cliff-hanger ending and I STILL don't know what it means.

"Something Tells Me" has some nice sax at the intro with a bit of flute sprinkled in for good measure. It starts with David Rhodes's vocals throwing it more into the Bowie arena than any other. The saxophone and flute continue intermittently through the song. At first I didn't much care for this song, but the more I listened to it the more it kinda grew on me – especially listening in headphones.

"I know we could step into that room. Melt to one from two. But I'll never get close enough to you. Something tells me."

After that line, you think you see where this track is going. But then the end tells you that you were wrong.

"Battered birds, we're tagged and true. One day I'm gonna give my love to someone like you."

Maybe the moral is that nice guys DO finish last.

"A Mission" (featuring Greg Lowe – more on him later).

This might be a song of regret and hope. Yes, at the same time.
"Oh my heart is not the same as it was when my feet first touched the soil.
Comets call. The reeds grow evermore over all the things I dreamed as a girl.
Now I'm on a mission. Torch all the fields. I'll burn the sorrow that you brought here.
It sounds like…
New hearts cry. The moors send back an echo over all the things we vowed in younger days."

One of the two tracks here that really remind me of some good Uriah Heep (oh, sure – like there's such a thing as BAD Uriah Heep!), "The Passing of Ayro".

"And I believe it as you lay at the gates. Struggling for air you need double what it takes. I should have walked you home."

From about two minutes to about three and a half, a rocking interlude featuring heavy duty keys (Leonard Shaw on what HAS to be one of the most integral keyboards to heavy duty rock and roll – the Hammond B3), guitar, drums… Yeah, I guess pretty much everyone gets involved in opening the can of instrumental whoop-ass here. Then the instrumental break slows considerably for about 30 more seconds. Still very good. Moody, in fact.

"We're zombie-like. Lost your love in the moonlight. I should have walked you home."

And then, one of the best songs on the CD is over with another kind of cliffhanger ending that makes it that much more effective.

Greg Lowe on some gorgeous and very fitting acoustic guitar that sounds almost classical is a big part of "Whatever Wind" and the accompanying lyrics like "Though the dark fills the sky I will come out a champion. Come out on the mountain top. Whatever wind." Then, Lowe again with the electric guitar break. Another good song, although the pace is slowed somewhat throughout. And I DID only say "somewhat".

Good gawd Gertie! Rock my socks, please! "The Spark" is another rocker and another Heep-like tune. I love this song a whole lot. Guitars, great vocals, thudding heavy drums when needed transitioning to time-biding cymbal ticks, and Emm's bass is quite noticeable here. It makes you wish she'd crank it further toward the front more often.

"Cowards strike in the in the dead of night. That's when they roll. From X Acres I have come and quietly I won't go."

"Burn the land that we shared and leave behind debris. Blind eyes! Ticking time! You're not fooling me!"

"There's no love on the horizon. Nobody owns my heart. I wait for no man. I am the spark."

"Creatures live in the river blood. That's where they roam. Navigate or plan escape. How you gonna keep from cold?
There’s little time, before we know it we're hanging by a thread. Blind eyes! Ticking time! I remember what you said!"

"Comets Call" is just Gryner on vocals, piano and synthesizer. That said, it's obviously a slower song but it's another good one – both musically and lyrically.

"Blame. I put it on me. When I search the past it's clear to see
That you became a ghost. My signal-seeking heart needed you most.
The more I looked the more you set adrift. What is it worth to say you were always what I missed?"

So it's obvious it's about a relationship gone slowly and maybe excruciatingly south. The pain didn't stop at the end of the relationship, but continues with the analysis of the who's, what's, and whys. Then, the regret:

"Comets call once a lifetime. You were mine, I know it's frightening. Now you're gone, long gone. Oh, what comes next? Forcing out a breath I send an S.O.S."

Gryner's Bowie influence shows through again on "Silent Steps". Layers of choir-like vocals in the background, unusual bass (unusual isn't exactly the word I wanted, but it's all I could come up with at the time – it's good and fits, but it's different), and a synth solo by Emm.

"I got a map I can't keep track of. Oh, this bloody heart keeps waiting for a beat like rational youth. I thought I had a head start."

"But all my loves have dies. Can't tell illusion from music; love from lies."

"I got to move. Breathe. When it makes no sense. Put one foot in front of the other. Move. Breathe. Take silent steps."

Then the album wraps up with "Reprise" starting off with keyboards that make you feel like you've set sail, but then you have a remnant from "Prologue" jumping in. Around 30 seconds, you hear the drums (well, actually, just cymbals at this point) hinting at a bit of dance/techno (ish) remix of the opening track.

Then, if you're like me, about 20 or 30 listens into the song you realize that the reprise is a sort of summary. Any good speaker knows you do three things during your presentation:

You tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em.

You tell 'em.

Then you tell 'em what ya told 'em.

Do you recognize any of these lyrics?

"I'm on a mission. I'll torch the fear. I'll burn the sorrow that you brought here."


"The universe can't give, then take it away."


"All my loves have died."

Or (finally),

"I won't lie."

Yes'm. They're from different songs through the release. If it's good enough to say once, it's good enough to say twice. Trust me, please. The stuff on Gryner's latest release IS "good enough" and then some.

The information Gryner provides about the concept behind Only of Earth is, as stated on her PledgeMusic page:
"Only of Earth is a soundtrack to a story, inspired by true events and fiction. Inspired by the mystery of childbirth, the work of motherhood and the intrigue of love, life and loss, Only of Earth is a multi-media experience that will incorporate music as much as sketches, videos, a book and eventually, a live show."

I mentioned earlier there would be more about Greg Lowe (guitars on several tracks) later in the story.

It's now "later in the story". Lowe was quite active and very well-respected in the Canadian music scene with bands like The Lincolns, The Chess Club, and others as well as projects such as arranging and performing four Mozart opera pieces for a rock combo. In fact, his excursions took him to rock, acoustic, classical, symphonic, jazz, Latin, film/television/radio productions, and even (oh the horror) heavy metal!

Regarded as a premiere guitarist, it's a testament to Gryner's work to have a musician of this caliber contribute to the project and seem directly at home with every part in which he was involved. Gryner never had to "up her ante" to keep up and Lowe never had to play down – they seemed to balance each other out nicely.

Lowe died in 2017 after a battle with cancer.

The acknowledgements from the booklet accompanying the Gryner CD ends with the single line:
"In loving memory of Greg Lowe (1957-2017)"

None of the information about Lowe is intended to take anything away from the subject of the story, which is Emm Gryner and her Only of Earth project. For an artist as involved in music as she has been and as recognized as she has been, it's hard to understand why I never got to any of her work earlier than this.

Ah well. No matter. I have now, and I assume I'm going to do a lot more investigating!

 -Mike Kimmel 

Monday, May 28, 2018

An Interview with MANIAC

You've probably deduced after seven years that this blog doesn't do band interviews. Well apparently there's a first time for everything. MANIAC is one of my favorite bands, and when they came a calling I wasn't about to say no. So I dusted off my long-dormant interview chops in anticipation of MANIAC's new album Dead Dance Club, which releases later this week. On to it!

Zache Davis (ZD): vocals, bass 
Justin Maurer (JM): vocals, guitar 
Andrew Zappin (AZ): lead guitar 
James Carman: (JC): drums 

F & L: Hi MANIAC! Your new album Dead Dance Club strikes me as being very socially and culturally relevant to our present moment. Was that intentional?

AZ: All great art is a carefully constructed reflection of the times in which it is made. So, to answer to your

F & L: Musically, how is this album different from the last one? Were there any particular influences or ideas that shaped the sound of Dead Dance Club?

JM: This record was recorded after 2 west coast tours, a European tour, and a gazillion local shows, so this record sounds like how we sound live: tight, loud, and combustible. We were also real comfortable after recording 2 previous times with Mark Rains at Stationhouse Studio. Mark had his dog Darkness roaming around the studio, we ordered Thai food, it felt like home. The 3rd time with Mark was definitely the charm. As far as influences or ideas, we all work off of each other, it's a collaborative effort and we enhance each others' songs with our own individual parts. Team MANIAC has been through the ringer, so a lot of that toughness comes out in the music.

ZD: Thematically speaking, this record is a therapy piece for me. The first record was all about fun and academic experiences. The songs I sing on Dead Dance Club are much more personal and I confronted a lot of issues that I had been dealing with for a long time. It's cliché to say that your second record is more mature than your first, but it is.

F & L: Those last two singles were rippers! I was glad to discover that most of those tracks were re-recorded for Dead Dance Club. Was there any hesitation about having those songs on the album?

JM: Thanks! I like the single versions of these tunes, but like I said before, playing these songs out live on tour really gives them some dimension. The album re-recording of these tunes really gives them a lot of volume, if that makes sense. Ya know, like hair. Thicker hair, more volume, more personality. No hesitation from the MANIAC camp on putting these tunes on the LP.

ZD: Not at all. I think we knew we were going to include the three songs on the record after we recorded them the first time. Especially with "Precision Accuracy". That was one I really liked but wasn't 100% confident in until I heard it played back the first time.

F & L: When I'm listening to MANIAC, I can feel the band's environment in the music. It's like Los Angeles and the West Coast inhabit these songs. How do you do that? Beyond just the subject matter of the songs, what would you say is distinctively Californian about MANIAC?

JM: This city can really get a grip on you in a good way and a bad way. I think we all love this city, and we all have a different perspective on the 4 corners we live in and our own personal stories that come from this place. Me and Zache also both have history in the Pacific Northwest, so that Pacific Northwest sound is definitely present, but to me we sound like MANIAC. If we were in the Midwest or the east coast, we would definitely sound differently. It's interesting how regional influences actually affect the sound of a band. I mean, there's crappy punk bands everywhere and we are most certainly superior. We think, therefore we am. What makes MANIAC distinctly Californian? Zache surfs, Andrew is a filmmaker, James reminds me of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and my dad was a disco dance instructor and Catholic seminarian who also sang in a new wave band called The Defenders in 1980. I'm pretty sure that couldn't happen in any other state.

F & L: You've got four people in this band, and everyone is contributing to the songwriting. Yet it's not easy for me to go through a record and pick out who wrote what. How do four guys all write songs and manage to maintain such a cohesive musical identity?

AZ: In many cases, we write songs live. Someone comes up with a riff or a beat, and we all add a piece until there's a fleshed-out whole; like Frankenstein (the monster not the song). Even when a member brings in a complete song, the band gets its hands on the thing and shapes and molds it and eventually that song becomes a full-fledged MANIAC tune.

ZD: Every song on that record, whether written in solitude or in the space with three additional contributors, ultimately still takes on the "MANIAC" sound. We all differ from mild to extreme with individual playing styles and influences. I think that's what keeps our music interesting for me––it's that we often don't agree on a base for a song, but we work through every idea anyways. And sometimes after everyone adds their particular style, well that's just MANIAC.

JM: A hint is that the person who is singing the song probably wrote it. Andrew writes a lot of songs too. He is just shredding too hard to sing. James's drum parts and vocals also really tie the room together. Sometimes musical partnerships just work out well. We are blessed to have each other. Thank fuck no one in our band likes Nickelback, Creed, or Smashing Pumpkins. Oh wait, I take that last one back.

F & L: MANIAC has such great energy on record. How does this translate to your live shows? Do you generally find that crowds respond enthusiastically?

AZ: Actually, I think it's the other way around. We translate our live energy to the album in the studio. We play live in the studio, and we have a great engineer in Mark Rains at Station House; so it happens pretty naturally.

ZD: Crowds are a mixed bag, it really depends on the city, show, venue, audience. We make it a point to deliver high-energy performances for every gig. Sometimes crowds respond to that and sweat with you. Other times they stand and stare.

JM: I personally try and play every live show as if it was the last show I will ever play. If I'm not out of breath and nauseous and sweating and holding onto the wall for dear life after we're done playing, then I haven't done my job correctly. Our best audiences to date have probably been in Germany, Spain, and Vancouver BC. This town tends to take its bands for granted. When MANIAC are on, we're like a well-oiled machine, high kicking dangerously close to faces, singing mostly in-key, and sometimes losing control and falling into the drums (sorry James).

F & L: Underground music in the digital age is this immense, almost infinite universe. Almost anyone can create and release music. Getting that music heard is a different story. As artists, how do you view the world of 2018? Is it ever a frustration to put so much into a record and then wonder how many people will actually hear it?

ZD: When we record something, of course we want as many listeners possible to hear it. And of course, it can be frustrating. However, I'd rather put that energy towards writing more songs than worrying about how many people will hear them.

JM: Yeah, agreed, there's a lot of over saturation, over stimulation, sensory overload. It's pretty hard to get people to listen or pay any attention as people have such a short attention span these days. It's cool that people around the world can listen to your music on their smartphone for "free", but it's an uphill struggle. I find it insane that bands (sometimes us included) pay to advertise on Facebook, a multinational corporation that earned almost 5 billion in the 1st quarter of this year. Small independent bands who hardly earn any money actually pay Facebook to advertise so that they can try and get noticed in an extremely overcrowded room. It's a wiggly world we live in, but we don't have a choice, we live in 2018 and we're playing in a rock and roll band. Sometimes it feels like we're the last of the Jedis, playing in a band the old way, but trying our best to adapt to the present. I do kinda miss the old days of making copies of flyers at Kinko's with a stolen copy key and hitting the city with posters and flyers. It was a more innocent time. The song "Post Post World" on our new record is kind of about this. In these times, we are beyond postmodern, we're actually post, post, postmodern. We're part of a subculture of a subculture of a subculture. We're a little insignificant bacteria, but hopefully we'll get a lot of people sick with our infection. The good sick.

AZ: I've spent my entire life tossing lovingly created, personal work into the abyss of public consumption. So, not really, I'm pretty used to it by now. Personally, I have no expectation that anyone will hear MANIAC's music or be affected by it, so that, if and when they do, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

F & L: What are your hopes for how this album will be perceived?

AZ: If it is perceived at all, I hope it makes people jump around and jiggle their butts and titties and dongs and whatever other body parts they have that move when bitchin' tunes play.

JM: I think people will like it. I just want Steve Jones to play us on Jonesy's Jukebox and Henry Rollins to play us on KCRW. And I wanna play Japan and Australia! Thanks for the interview, man, really appreciate it! And thanks to the dozens of MANIAC fans out there reading this now.

MANIAC's new album Dead Dance Club will be out June 1st on Dirt Cult and Hovercraft Records. 


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Whiffs - self titled

The Whiffs' self-titled LP came out just last week, but part of me insists that this album had to have been recorded in 1978! Hailing from Kansas City, The Whiffs seem to have more in common with the likes of Shoes, Dwight Twilley, or 20/20 than they do with any modern day band you could name. Out on the always-dependable Drunken Sailor Records, this eight-song long player is a quintessential slice of great American power pop. One listen had me feeling like I was 17 again. These songs will have you instantly recalling the thrill of first loves and the utter devastation of first heartbreaks - and the tunes you might have heard on the radio as it all transpired. This is the way power pop music ought to sound: punchy and hook-laden, but with a rawness to it that suits the pure emotion of these songs. "Baby Tonight" could easily pass for some obscure collectible A-side from 40 years ago, and I'm still not even sure it's the best song! Limiting this release to just eight tracks, The Whiffs really valued quality control here. It's good stuff the whole way through, from the rousing melancholy of "Forget Your Name" to the rollicking energy of "She Lies" to the epic longing of "Backseat".

This debut album from The Whiffs was originally released on cassette under the title Take A Whiff.  Drunken Sailor wisely determined that the whole world needed to hear it and pressed it onto an LP. There was really no need to re-record these songs since they're already perfect as-is. In what is quickly turning into another great year for albums, this is up there with the best of 'em. Power pop fans, prepare to meet your new favorite band!


Monday, May 21, 2018

Kurt Baker Combo - Let's Go Wild!

Seeing the title Let's Go Wild!, you can quickly surmise that the new Kurt Baker Combo album is not exactly heavy on ballads. When I reviewed the Combo's last album In Orbit back in 2016, I talked about it being the most rockin' Kurt Baker release to date. Well apparently that was just a warm-up for Let's Go Wild! 

I had read somewhere that with this album, Baker was heavily influenced by contemporary bands like White Reaper and Death By Unga Bunga. That got me very intrigued, because that big hooky rock thing is something I particularly enjoy. And with a high energy garage rock n' roll force like the Combo backing him, Baker was in perfect position to kick up the rock another notch or two. Lead single "So Lonely" (a cover of a 1980 B-side by Swedish band The Radio) will thrill the garage purists who've come to love the Combo in recent years. It sounds like the 1964 Beatles stepping off a time machine to meet up with Elvis Costello and The Attractions. It's a thrilling, joyful jolt of rock n' roll (even with the sad lyrics). In the past, Baker has proven that he's not afraid to open an album with a cover. That works again here so well. What a way to kick off a record! "Foolish Stuff" follows in a similarly dance-inducing manner, then the tuneful hard rock of "No Fun At All" suddenly finds The Combo ready for the arena. From there, the album offers up plenty of variety with no shortage of hooks. "Beg to Borrow" finds Baker unleashing his inner Phil Lynott, while "Let's Go Wild!" is The Combo's stab at a stomping glam rock instrumental. "Don't Say I Didn't Warn Ya" and the terrific "Sick Of Waiting" are the big crushing power pop numbers I was hoping to hear on this album. They do not disappoint! Perhaps the best track of them all is "Yesterday Today" - an infectious pop/soul shaker that really highlights the Combo's instrumental chops.

Let's Go Wild! is just awesome! What I love about the album is that it fully captures what the Kurt Baker Combo is all about. It's a high-spirited and thoroughly enjoyable rock n' roll record. Put it on, and immediately you get a feel for what it's like to experience the Combo live. It's got plenty to offer fans of garage rock and power pop while also tapping into Baker's love for bands like Cheap Trick and Kix. This is definitely the Combo's best album yet! Get it today from Steven Van Zandt's Wicked Cool Records!


Friday, May 18, 2018

Devious Ones - Plainview Nights

There are few things in life better than getting totally floored by an album that you've been looking forward to for a really long time! I've been a huge fan of Devious Ones going back to 2015, and the Detroit foursome's debut full-length was one of my most-highly anticipated LPs of this year. True to form, the band has stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park! A co-release between Hold Fast Vinyl in the U.S. and No Front Teeth Records in the U.K., Plainview Nights sets the bar for what power pop influenced punk rock ought to be in 2018. This album couldn't be any more up my alley, and song-wise this is Devious Ones' best stuff to date.

On the heels of three seven-inches and a self-titled cassette, Devious Ones could have taken the easy way out and re-recorded a whole bunch of old songs. Instead, they chose to go almost entirely with new material. "Djarum Summers" is the only 7" track to reappear on Plainview Nights. The rest of the tracks are previously unreleased with the exception of last year's digital-only single "Rust Is Imminent". It's no secret that I'm a huge '77 punk and power pop guy, and this album is a perfect example of what that musical style sounds like when it's done well. These 10 tracks brim with energy and pack a tremendous punch - with knockout hooks to boot. From the songwriting to the production to the sheer tightness of the band, everything about this record is on point. If you're craving great straight-forward powerpop/punk, songs like "Eyes Off You" and "Young Relic" will totally hit the spot. Elsewhere the band works elements of garage rock ("GarbagePicker"), '60s pop ("My Romance [In Somnambulance]"), and rootsy rock ("Southwest Sunrise") into its catchy punk attack. The high point for me is the title track: a four-and-a-half minute toe-tapper that merits instant anthem status. I first heard this track two weeks ago, and I've been whistling that melody and singing that hook ever since. If this album is Devious Ones' love letter to Detroit and the Midwest, then "Plainview Nights" is clearly its centerpiece. And the equally anthemic "Rust Is Imminent" adds the exclamation point.

Devious Ones are that rare band that can pull off first wave inspired punk without making their influences too obvious. They don't really sound like any other band. Heck, they don't even sound like any of their own bands! It has been a pleasure to follow Devious Ones' ascension from promising up-and-comers to truly one of the best punk groups on Earth. Plainview Nights is the band at the very top of its game, delivering an A+ debut album. The American LP release is limited to 500 copies and can be ordered here. Locals can pick up a copy at the LP release party tomorrow night at Sanctuary Detroit in Hamtramck. Doors open at 8:00!


Monday, May 14, 2018

The Peawees - "Stranger"

I am super stoked on this new single from the legendary Peawees! After more than two decades in the game, this Italian foursome only gets better with age. Its most recent album Leave It Behind (2011) was by far its best to date, and a new one titled Moving Target is slated for release in September. Out on Wild Honey Records, "The Stranger" gives us a preview of the new LP. It's exactly what you'd expect from a world-class punk rock n' roll more! I'm really digging the piano and '60s girl group inspirations, and all in all this song is chock full of the things that make The Peawees so great. The killer songwriting, formidable musical chops, and top-notch vocals from Hervé are all there in abundance. What a tune! If this is an indication of what's coming on the new album, we're all gonna be floored! The B-side is a really cool cover of "Reach The Rock" by Paul Simonon's post-Clash unit Havana 3AM. It's a great rendition that really fits The Peawees's musical aesthetic.

With both The Peawees and Wild Honey Records, you can always count on quality. "Stranger" lives up to any expectations you'd have for this band and label. It's one of the year's best singles for sure. I can't wait for the new album!


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Häxxan - The Magnificent Planet of Alien Vampiro II

The Slovenly Recordings winning streak remains very much in tact with the terrific sophomore LP from Israeli trio Häxxan. A title like The Magnificent Planet of Alien Vampiro II promises something pretty remarkable, and the album delivers just that! While Häxxan generally fits the garage/psych genre of music, this is one of those releases that cannot be properly categorized. It's all over the place in an entirely good way. On "Intro", the band comes on like a heavy riffing power trio with chops for days (that drumming is unreal!). A single lyric is repeated over and over: "Open up your mind/What you gonna find?" I'd say that qualifies as a mission statement, and it's damn good policy in the year 2018! The band takes a quick turn towards straight-ahead hooky punk on "Jeff Casanova", then nails the indie rock thing with the loud/soft dynamics and sneaky catchy melody of "Silkworms". Up next is "Circle Of Quantum", an instrumental so rocking and riveting that words would have ruined it. So now I've mentioned the entire first half of the album, and none of these tracks are quite what you'd expect from a psychedelic garage band. I like that! Fear not, though. The back half of the album offers up plenty of garage and psych for you to sink your teeth into. "Nothing Ever Changes" is a snappy number that ought to have Black Lips fans bobbing their heads in approval (no complaints about that chord progression reminding me of "Sonic Reducer"!). And the band's musical chops shine again on the nine-minute epic "Hunter" - a plunge into deep psychedelia that seems to take as much from Black Sabbath as it does from Ty Segall.

With Häxxan being so well recognized as a live force, there will always be the question of whether or not its recorded output measures up. In the case of this release, I'd say it absolutely does. If you've never seen Häxxan live, The Magnificent Planet of Alien Vampiro II will make you wish you had. On tracks like "Intro" and "Circle Of Quantum", it feels like the band is right there in the room with you and kicking all kinds of ass. Other songs highlight a songwriting prowess that is clearly a cut above. Of course I could pitch this album directly to the garage crowd, but it seems more appropriate to recommend it to anyone who wants to hear some wonderful rock n' roll. Big thumbs up!


Monday, May 7, 2018

BBQT - Let's Go!

No Front Teeth Records doesn't generally release a large volume of full-length albums. So when you do get an LP from NFT, you can expect it to be a crackler! The debut album from BBQT is no exception. BBQT is Gabbie from The Bam Bams doing '70s style glam rock with big, radio-worthy hooks. Let's Go is the name of the album, and it's a wonderfully satisfying throwback to the heyday of Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett. The title track kicks off the party in style, setting the tone for 10 tracks of hand-clapping, foot-stomping fun. Gabbie Bam Bam not only writes damn fine rock n' roll songs but also has that swagger that's necessary to make this style of music fully convincing. Listening to this record, I choose to imagine that she's singing these songs to an arena full of diehard rock n' rollers who are shouting along to every word and having the time of their lives. I dig the variety of the material, which covers everything from '50s inspired revved-up rockers ("Golden Twenty", "All Day Night") to catchy power pop leaning numbers ("Inmate", "Angel Sweet") to vintage glam stompers ("Tuff'n Up", "Play Rock N Roll"). And it's all top-notch stuff. There's not a dud track to be found on the album!

If you're looking for a great summertime rock n' roll record, Let's Go is absolutely it! It's the perfect soundtrack for whatever good times you plan on having. Gabbie Bam Bam doesn't just play rock n' roll. She IS rock n' roll! Digital album is available from BBQT's Bandcamp. Click here for the scoop on how to order yourself a vinyl copy!


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Geoff Palmer - "This One's Gonna Be Hot"

Last week I promised you all some solo Geoff Palmer. So let's get to it! "This One's Gonna Be Hot" is the first in a series of digital singles that The Connection guitarist is doing with various friends of his. This track was recorded with his pal Adam Cargin, and man oh man is it ever a banger! Here Geoff dusts off his pop-punk chops and delivers the ultimate party song. It sounds like Mike Love fronting The Ramones, and it's pretty much the best thing ever! Before I even heard this song, I assumed it was gonna rule just based on the title. I was not wrong! In a perfect world, this tune would be a top ten smash on every continent of the globe. 

Eventually all of these solo Geoff Palmer tracks will be compiled onto an actual record. But you won't wanna wait that long to own "This One's Gonna Be Hot". This is the ultimate warm-weather driving song - one that's guaranteed to get you primed for countless nights of good times. It's everything that's fun about rock n' roll distilled into two glorious minutes. Play it often, and play it loud!


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ditches - 1000 Elephants

Today we've got more great stuff from Sweden! Ditches are a newer band out of Stockholm who released their debut cassette last year. Sound-wise they walk a fine line between garage punk and power pop punk. Out now is their first 7" called 1000 Elephants, and you're likely to notice it was mixed and mastered by Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan. Of course it's a little reminiscent of bands like Marked Men and High Tension Wires, but it also has those darker undercurrents that make it sound uniquely Scandinavian. I enjoy the back and forth between the breakneck-paced punk tunes ("Isolated State", "My Head") and the less-hurried, power pop leaning numbers ("Running Out Of Time", "Under The Sun"). I really like what I'm hearing: this is a tight band with some impressive songwriting chops. I've always enjoyed this type of sound, and Ditches do it really well. This five-track EP definitely leaves me wanting more. The digital version is very reasonably priced over at Bandcamp. Vinyl will be available for sale on-line soon!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Neon Bone - That Dog Won't Hunt

Today I've got one for the pop-punk faithful! That Dog Won't Hunt is the third album from German recording artist Neon Bone. Monster Zero and Mom's Basement Records have collaborated on this release, which ought to give you a good idea of what to expect. And what I mean by that is that you should expect it to be awesome! For those of you who long for the days when Lookout! Records was king, this one will be very much to your liking. For those of you who don't, I suppose you don't need to read beyond this point! The one-sheet had me sold when it compared this record to "drinking big German beers at the high school prom". If there's anything in the world I love as much as catchy pop songs, it's German beers! These 12 songs indeed go down as easy as a cold pint of Ayinger Celebrator. Totally hits the spot! 

If you're gonna do pop-punk, you might as well be all-in. So I appreciate that Neon Bone isn't afraid to go ultra-poppy. And with late '50s/early '60s rock n' roll influences mixed in there as well, you can expect one catchy sing-along tune after another. This is textbook stuff, right down to the melodic leads, heart-on-sleeve vocals, super-smooth harmonies, lovelorn lyrics, and sweet melodies churned through buzzsaw guitars. What more could you need as a fan of pop-punk?! I have to admit that there's always an added charm when this type of music is sung with a European accent. And, man, those melodies! I've been whistling them everywhere I go!

As someone who has a great appreciation for simple pop songs, I must say that Neon Bone is remarkably good at writing 'em. And that's a very underrated skill set. While That Dog Won't Hunt is without doubt spiritually derived from that '90s heyday of pop-punk, I like that it digs back several decades further to the ultimate roots of three-chord pop. If you doubt that pop-punk as we know it could ever have existed without Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers, Neon Bone is gonna be your kind of music. Prost!


Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Connection - Wish You Success

For those of us who've long been awaiting new material from The Connection, payday has arrived! I've not been fully committal on identifying a favorite band in recent years. But if you bought me a beer and really pressed me on the issue, I'd admit that The Connection are it. They are the perfect mix of everything I love in music: a little bit of power pop, a pinch of American '70s punk, and a whole lot of rock n' roll! They are a true example of rock n' roll being fully alive and as thriving as ever in 2018. Honestly, I didn't really mind the three-year wait for a new record. The thing that makes The Connection (arguably) the best band going these days is the way they combine pure rock n' roll energy with absolutely top-of-the-line songwriting. I really appreciate that the band took the time to work up a fantastic collection of songs. Wish You Success, out on the New Jersey label 2WIN DISC Records, is a stacked set of Marino/Palmer originals that more than holds it own against its formidable predecessor Labor Of Love. At one point in the past, I may have said that Labor Of Love could never be topped. I was wrong!

So after three years between albums, you had to wonder where The Connection would go next. Thankfully, the band has chosen not to mess with a good thing. Wish You Success is simply a great rock n' roll record. It pulls off the tricky task of honoring influences from 50-60 years ago while still belonging to a new generation. "You Know" is the sort of crowd-pleasing number you'd expect to kick off the record - a straight-up rocker that punches up the guitars and gets the blood pumping. The Geoff Palmer penned "Checking" quickly steers things into mid-tempo power pop rock n' roll territory, and I might be inclined to call it my favorite Connection song ever! One thing I quickly noticed with this album was how good the lyrics are. That is especially true on this song. "Checking" is the ultimate statement on the stresses of life in the modern age, and I can't imagine there's anyone who wouldn't be able to relate. This track also demonstrates how you can take a great song and make it even better if you know how to make your guitar sing. Are you convinced that within The Connection, Brad is the "rock" guy and Geoff is the "pop" guy? Marino's "Color Me Unimpressed" kind of shoots that theory to shit. It's such a perfect '60s-inspired pop number that I can't help imagining The Muffs covering it. And those wonderfully bitter lyrics will surely have Elvis Costello smiling in approval.

So I only mentioned the first three tracks, but I hope most of you have stopped reading and just gone and bought Wish You Success! In case you were wondering: that strong start is no tease. The band just keeps on bringing it. The title track is an upbeat rootsy rocker that lays out some serious hard truths in the lyrics. "The Girl Is Trouble" is a winning nod to the Buddy Holly/Bobby Fuller school of rock n' roll. "Heaven Or Hell" finds the band back in that familiar '70s Stones groove, while "In The End" hits that sweet spot where Dave Edmunds intersects with The Ramones. "What A Shame" is vintage Geoff Palmer '60s pop majesty. If much of today's "alt-country" has largely dampened your enthusiasm for country rock, "Thinking Out Loud" should fully restore it.

I suppose I'm out on the limb now. I told you that The Connection have outdone themselves, and surely I will be inundated with angry correspondence if y'all buy this record and are let down. Let's just say that any claims above were issued with the highest level of confidence. Whether you're a garage geek, a '60s rock n' roll fanatic, or a power pop enthusiast, you gotta love The Connection! Both musically and lyrically, this is the band's strongest set of songs to date. Brad and Geoff have never sounded better on their guitars, and this latest rhythm section (Bobby Davis on bass and Zack Sprauge on drums) matches their energy at every step. Wish You Success is out today. Hit up the 2WIN DISC Bandcamp to order on vinyl or CD. Digital album is available from The Connection's Bandcamp. Marino and Palmer fans stay tuned. I'll have much to say about some solo releases of theirs in the coming weeks!