Monday, December 31, 2018

F & L Best of 2018



I've been teasing my best of 2018 lists all month on Facebook, but I always save my official lists for the very end of the year. Once again, the amount of great music released this year far exceeds my capacity to keep up with all of it. So what follows accounts for only a fraction of the best punk, power pop, and rock n' roll music released in 2018. On to it!

Top 20 Albums of 2018
Honestly, I could have easily done a top 25 or top 30 albums and not run out of worthy contenders. Streaming links have been provided when available.

20. Hakan -  III
Hakan's third album wasn't too different from its second, which wasn't too different from its first. If it ain't broken, why fix it? Garage pop/punk done right!


19. Sore Points - self titled 
Sometimes nothing less than pure blistering punk rock will do. A classic debut from this Vancouver trio recalling the heyday of DOA and The Subhumans.


18. Jagger Holly- The Last of the International Playboys
The best pop-punk album in at least five years.


17. Freak Genes - Qwak Qwak
The dynamic duo of Andrew Anderson and Charlie Murphy return with 17 more songs marrying the experimental/arty side of '70s UK punk to modern-day garage and pop. Now with 100% more synthesizers! Somehow this album manages to be both weirder and catchier than its predecessor.


16. Extra Arms - Headacher  
No longer just a vehicle for solo Ryan Allen, Extra Arms are now a full-fledged rock band playing alt rock/power pop of the crunching later '90s vintage. Recommended if you like Superdrag, Sugar, Foo Fighters, etc.


15. Blockhouses - Greatest Hit Songs Of All-Time 
Long-awaited debut from NYC power trio featuring Guy Lyons (ex Figgs) on guitar and vocals. If you like power pop that doesn't stray far from the blueprint of good old rock n' roll, this is the album for you.


14. The Peawees - Moving Target
After more than two decades as a band, The Peawees somehow manage to keep getting better. Moving Target remains faithful to the band's punk rock n' roll roots while also incorporating the influence of soul music, new wave, and Springsteen anthem rock. Their best album yet?


13. The Speedways - Just Another Regular Summer 
This was the surprise power pop delight of 2018: a one-off project from Matt Julian (The Breakdowns). 12 brilliant tracks that would not sound out of a place on a compilation of the best of '70s power pop.


12. Nick Piunti -  Temporary High
The creative run that Nick Piunti has been on in recent years really needs to be appreciated. Temporary High is his fourth album in six years, and it's another clinic on how to write perfect pop songs with clever lyrics.


11. Tommy and the Commies - Here Come...
Debut album from Sudbury, Ontario powerpop/punk trio will have you pushing the repeat button all day. Like the Dickies? Like the Buzzcocks? You'll like this!


10. Shanda and the Howlers - Hurt For Me 
This band's debut Trouble was one of my favorite albums of 2017, and the follow-up did not disappoint! Hurt For Me compared to Trouble has a rawer sound and digs deeper into old blues and roots R & B. If you're on Spotify, check out "Baby, You're The One" for an example of perfection in soul music. I can't understand why Shanda Cisneros is not yet recognized as an international singing superstar!

9. The Cavemen - Nuke Earth 
The title pretty much says it all. Blood and guts rock n' roll extraordinaire from the world's most dangerous band.


8. Rich Ragany - ...Like We'll Never Make It
Following three Role Models albums in three years, Rich Rags releases his solo debut...and it's brilliant! No longer confined to the arenas of glam-punk and power pop, Ragany emerges as a singer/songwriter of tremendous talent and broad appeal. A truly stunning effort.

7. The Kurt Baker Combo - Let's Go Wild! 
Kurt Baker is such a prolific talent that it can be easy to take his output for granted. That would be a mistake! His second studio album with the Combo is a great example of how to take the live energy of the best garage rock n' roll and actually capture it on record.

6. The Connection - Wish You Success 
You know 'em, you love 'em, and they've come through again! 11 brand-new Palmer/Marino originals that were well worth the three-year wait. America's best rock n' roll band.


5. Neighborhood Brats - Claw Marks 
This album is proof that great punk albums are still being made in 2018. The style is still classic SoCal punk, but with this album the Brats show a greater melodic sensibility and a fondness for the pummeling sounds of the Stooges and Saints. With meaningful lyrics of both a political and personal nature, this is your soundtrack album for the real life dystopia we are currently experiencing.


4. Lovesores - Gods of Ancient Grease 
Hot take: this is as good as any Humpers album.


3. Terry and Louie - ...A Thousand Guitars 
The super-duo of Terry Six and Louie Bankston finally release their long-awaited debut album, and it's every bit the face-melting masterpiece Louie told me it would be. American release coming in late January!

2. Devious Ones - Plainview Nights 
A+ powerpop/punk that reads like a love letter to Detroit and the entire American Midwest. The title track is an instant classic.


1. Phone Jerks -  self titled 
Did I step through a portal to 2003?! Alien Snatch Records has released my favorite album of the year, and it sounds like a combination of every classic Rip Off Records LP ever issued. This is garage punk as garage punk ought to be: trashy, primitively recorded, and so transparently derivative that you can make a drinking game out of identifying the stolen Teengenerate and Supercharger riffs. This is exactly the album I've been waiting for someone to make the last few years. And it couldn't have been made better! Make sure your liquor cabinet is stocked.


Honorable Mentions:
Dark Thoughts - At Work
Lucy and the Rats - self titled
Real Sickies - Get Well Soon
The Mandates - Dead In The Face 
Maniac - Dead Dance Club 

Looking at the above list, I must say it was a fine year for LPs. I ended up leaving out quite a few albums I really liked, and of course there were a number of albums that I intended to listen to but never got around to hearing. Perhaps I will rectify some of that over the next week or two. Anyone who claims that there's no good music out there these days needs to dig a little deeper!


Top Five Singles of 2018
5. Fashionism - "Come On My Baby"
Sounding more pop than ever, and you know I'm not complaining!


4. Midnite Snaxxx - "Let Me Do What I Want"  
Last year's F & L album of the year winners came back strong again in 2018. This was their second of two excellent singles.


3. Amyl and the Sniffers - "Some Mutts (Can't Be Muzzled)" 
I'm rarely in agreement with the "cooler" precincts of the punk press. But in this case of this band, all of the hype is justified. I love "Cup of Destiny" so much! 


2. Control Freaks - Double Dose of Hate
Best single yet from Lowery and company. Two songs, and they're both about hate. Gotta love it!


1. The Cheap Cassettes - "Kiss the Ass of My Heart"
Technically an EP, but half of the songs are from a previous single. So I count it as a single. Either way, this one should have sold millions and made tabloid celebrities out of these power pop heartthrobs. In a just world, people would be shouting this chorus in the streets! 



Top Six EPs of 2018
5. Justine and the Unclean - Heartaches and Hot Problems 
Justine Covault is emerging fast as one of my favorite songwriters.  


5. Indonesian Junk - Darkness Calling 
Yes, I'm aware I have two number number fives. I just could not leave either of them out! Pound for pound, this might be the strongest IndoJunk release to date. If Joey Ramone, Stiv Bators, and Iggy pop somehow all fathered the same baby...
 
4. Gino and the Goons - "She Was Crushed"
They also released an album this year, which I only recently discovered was available to hear online. I like this EP even better. "Wrong Side of a Cigarette" is the Ramones rip all Ramones rip-offs wish they could write.  


3. The SUCK - self titled
Street rock has taken over, and there is just no turning back. Debut album coming sooner than you realize.


2. The Dahlmanns - American Heartbeat
Songs written by Bjôrne Frôberg/Chips Kiesby and performed by The Dahlmanns. If you think that sounds epic, you would be very right! 


1. Night Birds - Roll Credits 
You could argue that this was actually an album, but the band was going for its own version of some of the classic hardcore 12" EPs that came out in the '80s. So I will respectfully follow the band's format definition. Although, you know, it is longer than Circle Jerks' Group Sex...




Top Debut of 2018:
Character Actor - self titled
New Jersey dad rock supergroup featuring Jeff Schroeck (Black Wine, Ergs!), Brian Gorsegner (Night Birds), and Evan Kiel (Forward To Death) plays loud, fuzzy pop that wouldn't sound out of a place on a mixed tape between Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. I could sit around all day reading lyrics by Jeff Schroeck! 


Top Album of 2018 (Masters Class):
Swingin' Utters - Peace and Love
I have traditionally awarded this honor to the best album released by a band that's 25 years or more into its career. Don't let the title fool you into thinking the Swingin' Utters have gone soft. They've never sounded more impassioned or overtly political, and Peace and Love is absolutely a "vintage" Swingin' Utters release. These guys are practically writing the manual on how to achieve longevity as a punk band. 


Top 2017 Cassette Released as an LP in 2018:
The Whiffs - self titled 
Originally titled Take A Whiff, this debut album from Kansas City's The Whiffs sounds like a lost classic of American power pop circa 1978. Second LP due out in 2019!


Top Singles Collection of 2018:
Geoff Palmer - All The Hits and Some Other Shit 
If I had not conveniently classified this as compilation, it would have been one of my top ten albums!


Top Vinyl-Only Release of 2018:
Jonesy - self titled 
I wish I had been able to review this one, but it is not available via any digital format. Debut album from Montreal trio follows in the spirit of its infamous debut single. Catchy New York style '77 punk with lyrics that make the Dead Boys sound like choir boys! 


Top Label of 2018:
Bachelor Records
I could easily have given this one to Drunken Sailor Records again, but how about some love for Bachelor Records in the year it put out its 100th release? Not only did Bachelor release my #3 album of the entire year, but it also issued two of my top ten singles in Control Freaks' "I Am Crime" and Midnite Snaxxx's "Let Me Do What I Want". And that rescuing of The Reekys' debut album from the dustbin of history was a wonderful surprise! Let's hear it for Bachelor Records - still going strong after 13 years!  


So there you have it. 2018 was a great year for new music. I know I say that every year. But let me tell you: the year I stop saying that is the year that I stop doing this blog! Bring on 2019!


-L.R.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Final Thoughts: 2018


On the eve of New Year's Eve, I reflect back on this blog's eighth year of existence and look forward to its ninth. When I started F & L, I didn't really have a vision for how long I would be doing it. But I certainly never imagined it going on as long as it has. I would attribute its longevity to the same thing that surely frustrates a lot of you who submit music to me: I'm very selective about what I write about. If you haven't figured it out by now, I have a personal philosophy of only writing positive reviews. I have limited hours to work on this blog, and I will not waste my time writing about stuff that I'm not excited about. Moreover, I try to "stay in my lane" of punk rock, power pop, and rock n' roll. Honestly, I get a lot of submission that are quite good that I simply don't have time to get to.

That said, if I do have a 2019 "New Year's resolution" for F & L, it's to make more of an effort to write about new bands. There was so much great music this year from bands that I have previously covered, and my focus on all of that took me away from seeking out newer groups. I just think this is a great time to be into punk, power pop, and rock n' roll. You will never find me complaining about how terrible mainstream music is. Seriously, who cares what's being played on the radio? Between podcasts/Internet radio, streaming services, and online platforms like Bandcamp, there are SO many ways to hear music that doesn't suck. Especially within the general style of music that I follow, there are as many great bands out there as ever. That's what motivates me to keep this blog going. Frankly, I foresee myself writing an even smaller quantity of reviews in 2019. And of course I will have much to say about personal favorites of mine (Pale Lips and Nato Coles, you're on deck!). But I also plan to discover a whole lot of new bands - or at least bands that are new to me (probably already covered by Mick Fletcher years ago! Ha!). I'll be back tomorrow with my best of 2018 list, and then it's on to a new year!

-L.R.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Geoff Palmer - All the Hits and Some Other Shit

This will likely be the last proper review I write in 2018, and I can't think of a better way to wrap up such a fine year in music. This really has been the year of The Connection. The band released the brilliant Wish You Success -  its first new album in three years. On top of that, Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer both released a number of digital solo singles. Palmer released so many singles this year that I wasn't able to keep up! Luckily he has compiled them all onto a digital collection called All The Hits and Some Other Shit. For whatever price you choose, you get all eight (!) singles plus four bonus tracks. And let me tell you: this is not a bunch of throwaway stuff that Palmer released just for kicks. These are smokin' tracks! The name of the first single was "This One's Gonna Be Hot", and I suppose it isn't boasting if it's true! I've really enjoyed hearing Palmer return to his pop-punk roots with these solo recordings. Covering the likes of Sinkhole, The Invalids, and The Vapids, Palmer has made this project a veritable tribute '90s/2000s pop-punk. And on the terrific original "I Like Murder Too", he has written the ultimate anthem for all of us who are way too obsessed with true crime shows on television. Elsewhere Palmer shows off his power pop chops on the hilariously self-deprecating "Velcro Shoes" and indulges his '60s pop worship on the magnificent "That's What You Do". The latter brings to mind his stellar contributions to The New Trocaderos. If Palmer ever did a full album of Beatles/Beach Boys inspired songs, I would be SO into that! 

Part of the fun of this project was Geoff Palmer allowing himself to record songs that might not have fit on a Connection release. On top of that, he had the opportunity to work with talented friends like B-Face and Adam Cargin. Perhaps he didn't set out to make one of the best albums of 2018, but that's sure what he ended up with! Whether you're a Connection fan or go even further back to Palmer's previous band The Guts, you would be crazy to pass up all of this pop and punk goodness!



-L.R.

https://geoffpalmer.bandcamp.com/album/all-the-hits-and-some-other-shit-singles-collection 
https://www.facebook.com/GeoffPalmerMusic/ 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Wes Hollywood - Dynamite

Let's not bury the lede here: Wes Hollywood describes his own music as "Ray Davies and Elvis Costello having a punch-up in the front row of a Cheap Trick concert". That could not be more accurate! So you can understand why I am a fan of his new album Dynamite. It really hits that spot where '60s British Invasion and '70s new wave pop intersect. Hollywood (Kingsize, tenniscourts) is a longtime fixture in the Chicago underground music scene, and he does give his largely British influences somewhat of a Midwestern power pop treatment. Nothing about Dynamite reinvents the wheel, but there's something very admirable about a guy who acknowledges his inspirations and just sets out to write really good pop songs. He's particularly adept at penning plaintive yet lovely melodies ("Nothing To See Here", "No One Loves You"). "When Sunday Roll Around" could not possibly be any more Kinks-like, yet I honestly don't mind. The Costello worship is very up-front right down to the look, so it's hardly a surprise that many of the album's better tracks are reminiscent of EC's "classic" (first three albums) period. Okay, so maybe this isn't quite The Jags. But then again, what is? I just have a soft spot for anything that reminds me of new wave and power pop circa 1978-80. And in the case of this particular record, I must say the style is carried off well. How many other songwriters out there are name-checking Bram Tchaikovsky as an influence?! Thanks to Dany Laj for turning me on to this record! 

  
-L.R.

https://weshollywood.bandcamp.com/album/dynamite 
https://www.facebook.com/WesHollywoodMusic 
https://soundcloud.com/weshollywoodmusic 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Antidon'ts - We Reap What You Sow

I had rave reviews for The Antidon'ts a couple years back, but I must say the Florida punk trio has really outdone itself with its new album We Reap What You Sow. Musically, this release is largely vintage Antidon'ts - raging like the best of '80s hardcore/skatepunk with a touch of surf. But lyrically, it's absolutely intense and a perfect summation of present-day youthful despair. Different bands have been inspired by our current state of affairs in many different ways, and in the case of The Antidon'ts that means going very, very dark. And while the bleak outlook of this album is a tough pill to swallow, you have to admire the band for really telling it like it is. The band for the most part avoids the obvious political statements (although "Keep That Shit Out Of Our Scene" is a scathing indictment of bigotry) and instead probes into our deeper malaise. These are songs about our inability to avoid the noise and manipulations of the media, about how both sides of the political spectrum are misinformed and overly reliant on the opinions of others, about the way people have become willing participants in their own oppression. While hardly the first band to comment on the falsity of the American dream, The Antidon'ts have done so here in a way that rings particularly true in 2018. And as dark as the album gets, the message is not so much "We're doomed!" as it is "We're doomed if we don't wake the fuck up!". When the songwriting turns personal on the powerful "Confessions Of A Nihilistic Alcoholic", there's similar light peering at the end of the tunnel. It's a dark tale, but one that ends with hope and positivity.

As impressed as I was by The Antidon'ts previously, I'm pretty blown away by how far they've come in just a couple of years. They clearly put a lot of thought and effort into writing these songs, and that shows in both the music and the lyrics. We Reap What You Sow finds the band more stylistically diverse than ever, and the conviction driving these songs is undeniable. This album is a perfect reminder that when it comes to using music to articulate meaningful ideas and inspire free thought, punk rock is as vital of a force as ever.



-L.R.

https://theantidonts.bandcamp.com/album/we-reap-what-you-sow 
https://www.facebook.com/theantidonts 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Wheelz - Top 10 Super Hits!

So do you like snotty '77-style punk? I sure do! And this new album from The Wheelz called Top 10 Super Hits! has me fondly recalling a time when this type of sound was all the rage. The Wheelz hail from Tulsa, Oklahoma and play catchy-as-hell sing-along drunk punk that takes me straight back to the '90s. Out on Wanda Records in Europe and Boulevard Trash in the States, Top 10 Super Hits! is the perfect album to crank loud when you're in a foul mood and just want everyone around you to fuck off. This album is just straight-up fun! Those gritty vocals, fist-pumping choruses, and humorous/brilliantly dumb lyrics make for a winning formula, and the somewhat jokey album title is not too far off from the truth. These guys may come off as obnoxious louts, but they sure know how to write a good song! "Throwaway" is nothing short of an instant drunk punk classic. Play it once, and you'll be singing it all night. Do they still call this sort of stuff "street punk"? I call it brilliant! 


-L.R.

https://wandarecords.bandcamp.com/album/top-10-super-hits
https://www.facebook.com/TheWheelz/
https://boulevardtrashpunk.com/
https://www.facebook.com/wandarecords/

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Reekys - self titled

Now this was a wonderful, out-of-the-blue surprise! Formed in Munich way back in 1996, The Reekys were one of Europe's leading gangs of teenpunk Ramones disciples in the late '90s/early 2000s. They released two seven-inches (one a split with fellow Germans The Boonaraaas!!!) and were immortalized in song by The Highschool Rockers. In 2005, they recorded a full-length album that never saw the light of day...until now! For its 100th release, Bachelor Records' has finally issued this "lost" debut album from The Reekys. And given the current status of Ramonescore as a thriving genre of music, perhaps this was the perfect time for a Reekys LP to come out. As it should be, this album makes no attempt to stray from the Ramones blueprint of simple and stupid punk rock. 9 of 14 tracks clock in at under two minutes, with lyrics addressing the big issues like girls, wrestling, and being an idiot. This is Ramonescore by the book, and I must say it holds up well! Whether this release brings back fond beer-soaked memories of your youth or simply speaks to your love for fun three-chord punk rock, Bachelor Records has done us a great service in unearthing it. It's limited to 500 copies, so get one before they're all gone!



-L.R.

https://thereekys.bandcamp.com/album/self-titled 
http://bachelorrecords.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/bachelorrecords/ 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Monitor Shocks - M.Rutt - Soft Device

As a lover of music and literature, I find it very cool when those two arts forms come together.  Monitor Shocks is the name of a project that combines music, comics, and short fiction. It's the creation of Charlie from Red Cords, Freak Genes, etc. I've been a big fan of his music in recent years, and I'm really into the idea of this project. This particular installment of Monitor Shocks centers around a fictional character named M.Rutt - a young man who's addicted to his portable electronic device. That's a very relatable theme in 2018. My personal tendency to check my smart phone a thousand times a day is something I would very much like to change. In the case of M.Rutt, his inability to concentrate drives him to write short punk songs. Those songs are very much in line with what we've heard from Charlie's other bands. And I must say that's a very good thing! These tracks are the perfect combination of Ramones simplicity, Devo-like quirkiness, and garage punk economy. If you're just interested in the music, this EP can stand on its own as a fine example of modern-day synth punk. If you would like to experience all aspects of this project, the literary portion is available at the Monitor Shocks web site. I highly recommend going all-in with this thing, since the songs make even more sense within the context of the larger story. Either way, Monitor Shocks is well worth checking out!



-L.R.

https://monitorshocks.bandcamp.com/releases 
MonitorShocks.com

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Nasty Rumors - Straight To Your Heart

It has been a couple years since I last reviewed Nasty Rumors, and the Swiss foursome has been quite busy in the interim! Nasty Rumors have now released five singles, a compilation album, and a proper full-length LP recently released by the ever-reliable Wanda Records. Straight To Your Heart is the name of the new album, and I must say that the band's classic punk sound goes straight to my heart! This is the sound I've always loved and don't hear nearly enough from bands these days: pure '77 style punk/pop a la Ramones, Buzzcocks, and Generation X. This album totally hits the mark with 11 tracks ranging from the pogo-worthy "Riot Girl" to the straight poppy punk of the title track to the almost pure power pop of "Vis A Vis". Everything about this record is on point for me. I love the guitar sound. I love the vocals. And I love that all of these songs were seemingly crafted with the intention of people singing along. Punk music can be a lot of different things, but I'm glad that sometimes it's still fun. Straight To Your Heart is a perfect case in point. It's got hooks for days and a spirit that will take you straight back to 1977. Hats off to Wanda Records for putting music like this into the world!

 
-L.R.

https://wandarecords.bandcamp.com/album/straight-to-your-heart 
https://nastyrumours.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/nastyrumours 
https://www.facebook.com/wandarecords/

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Blockhouses - Greatest Hit Songs Of All-Time

Essential album alert! It's hard to believe that four years have passed since I first reviewed Blockhouses - the New York City power pop rock n' roll trio featuring ex Figg Guy Lyons on guitar and vocals. The band's lineup has remained in tact with Chris Peifer (The Kowalskis) on bass and Jim Balga on drums. With three singles in the books, the band returned from a hiatus this year to complete its first full-length album. And so here it is, aptly titled Greatest Hit Songs of All Time. This album is a power pop enthusiast's dream - full of catchy, high energy tunes that just plain rock. Lyons authored several of my favorite Figgs songs on the Banda Macho and Couldn't Get High LPs, and the songs he writes for Blockhouses have a very similar appeal. If Greatest Hit Songs of All Time sounds like it could pass for a long-lost Figgs album, then it should come as no surprise that it was produced by none other than Pete Donnelly!

A couple things are apparent about Guy Lyons: 1) he's a highly underrated songwriter and 2) he sure knows how to surround himself with incredible musicians. Peifer and Balga make up the formidable rhythm section that really drives these songs. Sometimes "power trio" is just a euphemism, but I can't think of a more fitting way to describe Blockhouses. It's clear that these songs were written not just to sound good on record, but also to be fully rocked out on stage. And while the album title is obviously tongue-in-cheek, there's some real truth to it. This thing is packed with tracks that could have been A-sides to singles (a couple of them, in fact, actually were!). Opener "Love To Get You High" is something of a Blockhouses classic by now. If you wanted a textbook demonstration of how to put the power in the pop, this song is it. Punchy guitars? Check. Driving energy? Check. A chorus that will be stuck in your head from the first time you hear it? Check! In a similar vein, songs like "Be Free", "Always Have To Fall", and "Waste Our Time" are what all loud, catchy pop should aspire to be. Could "Last Love" be any more Figgs-like? And even when the band slows the pace a tad, the results are no less satisfying. "What You've Done" hits that later Replacements/solo Westerberg sweet spot, while the pure melody and sentiment of "A Night To Remember" really highlight Lyons's tremendous talent as a songwriter. To close it all out, "Tell Me You Miss Me" is a raunchy Stonesy rocker that ends the album on an even higher level of energy than it started with. I bet people go crazy for that one live!

It took a few years, but Greatest Hit Songs Of All-Time is every bit the knockout debut album I expected from Blockhouses. The songs from the singles sound better than ever, and the new material is every bit as strong. To me, the best power pop is the kind that sticks closest to the blueprint of good old rock n' roll. Blockhouses are the perfect case in point. They know it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. They're all about writing great tunes with memorable hooks and rocking the heck out of them. I can't imagine any regular reader of this blog not loving this album. Get it on compact disc from CD Baby. Click here for download and streaming options!



-L.R.

https://blockhouses.hearnow.com/ 
https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/blockhouses2 
https://www.blockhouses.net/ 
https://www.facebook.com/blockhousesNYC/ 
https://blockhouses.bandcamp.com/ 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Terry & Louie - ...A Thousand Guitars

I shared my preliminary top five albums of the year list on social media the other night, and a major caveat was that it was all subject to change with the imminent arrival of Terry & Louie's debut long player. And sure enough, ...A Thousand Guitars has me reshuffling my list! I've had high hopes for this release since one particular member of this celebrated duo contacted me 20 months ago to warn me that "this album is gonna have your ears melted down the sides of your face". Let me tell you: he wasn't wrong! Terry & Louie spent a number of years writing this material and getting the recordings just the way they wanted them. I must say that was time well invested.

A lot of people will assume that a joint project involving Terry Six and Louie Bankston (of the late and beloved Exploding Hearts) would have to be the ultimate power pop experience. But while there are some great power pop songs on ...A Thousand Guitars, I think trying to cram this album into one particular genre pigeonhole does it a great disservice. This is a record that touches on nearly every significant style of rock n' roll from the last 60 years. It incorporates everything from punk to power pop to glam rock to '60s pop to pub rock to new wave to '70s arena rock. Many of these songs are reminiscent of both artists' previous bands, but ultimately what defines Terry & Louie is the way their individual talents come together to form a unique songwriting partnership. These are two tremendously talented dudes, and the musical chemistry they possess as a duo is undeniable. As the one-sheet for this album eloquently puts it, their story stems from loss and heartbreak. Fortunately for all of us, that story continues on.

You may recognize that the album title ...A Thousand Guitars is a Nick Lowe reference. It's also a perfect descriptor for this release - which delivers riffs, licks, and solos to the highest degree. Supported by drummer Aaron Hill (Missing Monuments), bassist Chad Savage (Battleme, The Savage Family Band), and mix-master to the stars Pat Kearns, Terry & Louie have turned out ten stellar tracks representing the finest in hook-laden rock n' roll. The duo comes out shooting fire on opener "Rebel Ways" - a glammy rocker worthy of anthem status. And while tracks such as "Broken Forever" and the immensely danceble "It's All Mine" tow the expected power pop line, I love that this record is full of surprises (which I suppose I'm about to ruin!). "Pink Razor Blade" brings together melodramatic vocals, doo-wop harmonies, bubblegum handclaps, a thunderous rock chorus, and a guitar break worthy of Thin Lizzy. "Cheated By Love", which successfully alternates between reggae and radio pop, sounds like something Joe Jackson might have written 40 years ago. Within seconds of my first listen to "(I've Got The) Highway To Take", I thought Malcolm Young had come back from the dead. The title track's marriage of riff rock boogie and ringing melodies brings to mind the immortal Big Star. I've gone through all ten tracks numerous times, and I can't find a clunker in the bunch. Start to finish, this is an album that shows you what great songwriting is all about.

Available now from Bachelor Records in Europe, ...A Thousand Guitars will have its American release next month on Terry's label Tuff Break. Somehow the band was able to sneak this album onto some of the streaming platforms a while back without anybody actually noticing. But with vinyl set to ship from Bachelor HQ, I hope people will save spots on their year-end top ten lists for this long-anticipated release. Years ago, long before Terry & Louie formed as a duo, I secretly hoped that they would make music together again someday. Those first two singles did not disappoint. But they were merely a prelude to ...A Thousand Guitars. The fellas knocked it out of the park with this one!



-L.R.

https://shop.bachelorrecords.com/terry-and-louie 
https://tuffbreak.bandcamp.com/album/a-thousand-guitars 
https://www.facebook.com/Tuff-Break-631422973643943/ 
https://www.facebook.com/bachelorrecords/ 
https://open.spotify.com/album/4Yp1vDVcTlSDulpcFDaoPU 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Vista Blue - The Carols That We Sing

By now some of you must be getting pretty sick of me writing about Vista Blue! But quite a few of you are surely going the other way and wishing I would write about Vista Blue even more. This post is for those of you on the latter side - the ones who would be perfectly content if I wrote about Vista Blue every week and perhaps even made a televised event out of it ("Joining us tonight are Brian Wilson and Homer Bailey!"). And come on, is it really Christmas anymore without a Vista Blue Christmas record? This year's offering is called The Carols That We Sing, and it's not your typical selection of holiday standards. The two originals are both homages to notable Christmas movies. "I Made My Family Disappear" is a virtual plot summary of Home Alone, while "Silent Night, Deadly Night" is inspired by the film of the same name. What could be better than Christmas songs and Christmas movies? Songs about Christmas movies! I'm not sure how a song about Silent Night, Deadly Night manages to sound so warm and upbeat, but that's exactly what Vista Blue has pulled off here! Of the two covers, you are more likely to be familiar with "Merry Christmas, Baby" - a song off of the Beach Boys' 1964 Christmas album. "Santa", on the other hand, is a rather obscure doo-wop oldie by The Roomates. If you don't already know The Roomates' version, it's very much worth checking out. You might wonder why it's not an accepted classic of the Christmas song genre. I sure do! I absolutely love Vista Blue's arrangement of the song - which finds the band hitting its pop-punk/oldiescore sweet spot. Those harmonies are on point!

Now that Vista Blue has released four Christmas EPs, the time was certainly ripe for a compilation of all of the band's Christmas songs. Available soon from Radiant Radish Records, The Christmas Collection CD compiles 20 songs including one track recorded for a film and two unreleased acoustic demos. You can pre-order here or purchase the digital version from the Radiant Radish Bandcamp. Once again, Vista Blue does not disappoint with its annual holiday release. I will be cranking these songs daily for the next two-and-a-half weeks. Now all I really want for Christmas is for Bryce Harper to sign with the Phillies...



-L.R.

https://wearevistablue.bandcamp.com/album/the-carols-that-we-sing  
https://www.facebook.com/wearevistablue/ 
https://radiantradish.bandcamp.com/album/vista-blue-the-christmas-collection-vol-1 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Justine and the Unclean - Heartaches and Hot Problems

Alright, there's just no questioning it now. I don't have a top ten list of current favorite bands. But if I did have one, Justine and the Unclean would be on it! It was exactly one year ago that I reviewed the Boston foursome's fantastic debut album Get Unclean. Now the group is already back with its second release, Heartaches and Hot Problems. It's out on the eternally dependable Rum Bar Records. If there's any justice in the world, Malibu Lou will be so besieged with demand for this release that he'll have to contract with Santa Claus for help with distribution. One great release could have been a fluke. Two great releases cements Justine Covault's place in the upper echelon of present-day songwriters.

Recapping from previous reviews: Justine Covault (Malachite, Grand Theft Auto, Quest For Tuna) is on guitar and vocals. Her Malachite partner-in-crime Janet Egan King (also of Heidi, Swank, and Tulips) is on bass. Charles Hansen (Rock Bottom, Tom Baker & the Snakes, Gymnasium, The Handymen) is on lead guitar. The legendary Jim Janota (Upper Crust, The Bags, Rock Bottom) is on drums. With a star-studded lineup like that, it's no wonder that Heartaches and Hot Problems crackles with arena-ready rock power. While Get Unclean positioned JatC as up and coming powerpop/punk standouts, this mini-album broadens the band's appeal in a big way. If you still crave more of what worked so well last time, "Heartache Knows Your Name" and "Be Your Own Reason" will satisfy you completely. You just won't hear punky power pop done better. But also on the menu, you'll find big, hooky rock ("This System Is Set To Self-Destruct"); mature, sophisticated power pop ("Monosyllabic Man"); a Joan Jett inspired mid-tempo rocker ("Margaritas and Secondhand Smoke"); and even a legitimately good ballad ("Love Doesn't Know A Thing"). At a lean six tracks, this release adheres fully to the "all killer, no filler" approach. "Heartache Knows Your Name" and "Be Your Own Reason" may be the obvious hits upon first listen, but it's growers like "Monosyllabic Man" and "Margaritas and Secondhand Smoke" that really make this album for me. As I've played Heartaches and Hot Problems over and over, those are the two songs that have really stuck with me. Some of that is the cleverness/humor of Covault's lyrics, and some of it is simply great hooks. Overall, Covault really shines as a lyricist. The subject of love and relationships is one of the defining themes of the human experience, and she writes about these things from a unique and relatable perspective. In the hands of a lesser artist, a song called "Monosyllabic Man" would probably be mean-spirited. Coming from Justine Covault, it's anything but.

With Dave Minehan again at the producing helm, Justine and the Unclean have delivered a sophomore release stacked with songs that ought to be all over rock radio - if such a thing still existed. Anyone into rock, pop/punk, power pop, or just great songwriting in general ought to be delighted to find a copy of Heartaches and Hot Problems under the Christmas tree. At just six tracks, it will leave you wanting more. But isn't that the whole point?!



-L.R.

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/heartaches-and-hot-problems 
https://www.facebook.com/justineandtheunclean/ 
https://www.facebook.com/RumBarRecords 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pale Lips - "You're A Doll"

Wow! It's no secret that Pale Lips are one of my favorite bands, and I must say that the Montreal foursome's first new music in over a year was well worth the wait! I could not be happier! "You're A Doll" is the first single off the band's forthcoming album After Dark - due out early next year on Alien Snatch, Spaghetty Town, God's Candy, and Waterslide Records. And if this teaser track is any indication, this album is gonna be HOT! (Not that we didn't already know it would be!) "You're A Doll" is everything that's great about rock n' roll condensed into three minutes of infectious fun. You'll be up and dancing within the first 30 seconds, and then that melody will be stuck in your head into next week. It's gonna be a smash hit! The track is available via Pale Lips' Bandcamp and is surely the best dollar you'll spend all year!

 
-L.R.

https://palelips.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/palelips 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Brad Marino - Almost Here

Brad Marino has been releasing new music way faster than I can keep up with it! Since my review of Four Track Attack back in June, Brad has released another four digital singles and now a brand-new Christmas EP! It's like every time I blink, I miss another essential track! So I decided to put my time off this week to good use and play some catch-up! Almost Here features two Marino originals along with a cover of "Blue Christmas". The title track hits so close to home for me. It has that wonderfully festive feel right down to the sleigh bells, but ultimately it celebrates a quiet Christmas spent with your significant other. The lines "But this year it will be only you and me/Because we don't need gifts under our tree" describes my own Christmas experience to a T! If you prefer more traditional holiday sentiment, "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" is a perfect combination of every happy Christmas song ever written. It's an instant classic in my book, and you know how suspicious I am of any Christmas song written after 1970! The "Blue Christmas" cover is terrific - but would you expect anything less from Brad Marino?!

I suppose, given my tardiness on the Brad Marino front, I ought to say a few words on the recent digital singles. Here are my words: go buy them! "Broken Clocks" and "It's Not Right" are Marino originals, while "Fit To Be Tied" and "Don't Do The Crime" were written by Michael Chaney. Brad plays guitar, bass, and drums on all of these tracks with Kris Rodgers joining in on keyboards. I'm especially partial to the rocker "Don't Do The Time". With great lyrics from Chaney about a drug smuggler done dirty by his lady, this one has a definite New Trocaderos feel. "It's Not Right" is another highlight for me. It sounds like something Joey Ramone might have written, and you know I'm a sucker for that sort of perfect pop!

Given that The Connection Christmas album is one of my go-tos at this time of the year, it's no surprise that I'd be into a Brad Marino Christmas release. While sometimes I'll use the word "free" to describe a "name your price" download at Bandcamp, I will highly encourage paying for this one. Brad is donating all proceeds to St. Jude Children's Hospital. Now that is the true spirit of Christmas.



-L.R.

https://bradmarino.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/bradmarinomusic 

Friday, November 23, 2018

McLovings - Love Strike

When I first reviewed McLovings back in 2016, I knew that they were my kind of band! This fab foursome from San Sebastián, Spain is back with its third release and like the previous two it can be had for the very reasonable price of free! What I enjoy about Love Strike is that it's one of those records that just makes you feel good. Both tracks are upbeat power pop that will have you singing along and furiously bobbing your within seconds. Seriously: no matter how crappy things are going, you simply can't have a bad day if you listen to these songs! "She Brings Me Coffee" boasts a hook you won't be able to get out of your head, and I like that it ends with an extra jolt of energy. Man, this one ought to be a hit! That melody is contagious. "The Place Is Here, The Time Is Now" actually dials up the energy with an even faster tempo. It's a perfect example of why I've always had a soft spot for European power pop. I can just imagine this song being performed live and seeing people going crazy dancing!

In my years of covering music, I've been struck by how much passion for rock n' roll exists within the borders of Spain. In that country, they just totally get it! Such an environment produces bands like McLovings, and the world is better for it!



-L.R.

https://themclovings.bandcamp.com/ 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Vista Blue - 1621

It's Thanksgiving here in the good old U.S.A., and this year Vista Blue has released new music in honor of the holiday. There are literally thousands of Christmas songs, but how many Thanksgiving songs do you know of? Not many, right? Well Vista Blue is gonna fix that for us! 1621, a free download over at Vista Blue's Bandcamp, is essentially a pop/punk symphony in three movements. It's based on the historical first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts (which residents of Virginia will claim was at best the second Thanksgiving, but let's not get into that!). Basically this sounds like any other Vista Blue release, which is a very good thing indeed. "They Stole Our Corn" is a song I would have loved just as much when I was 7 as I do now at 47. It would have fit perfectly on the band's recent EP of kid-friendly songs. You can't really tell the tale of the first Thanksgiving without acknowledging that the natives were robbed! "Plymouth Rock!" is an upbeat instrumental that leads into "Massasoit Crashed the Party" - a clever and impossibly catchy rendering of the Thanksgiving origin story. That chorus could very well be stuck in my head until next Thanksgiving!

If you've never heard of a band doing a Thanksgiving-themed release before, leave it to Vista Blue to be the first! Listening to 1621 is about to become an annual Thanksgiving tradition of mine - along with such things as rooting against the Cowboys and breaking out my Christmas beers for the season. And if you don't share my immense enthusiasm for Thanksgiving songs, stay tuned for Vista Blue's new Christmas EP releasing tonight!



-L.R.

https://wearevistablue.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/wearevistablue/ 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Neighborhood Brats - Claw Marks

If I had polled you all at the beginning of the year on which 2018 album release you were most looking forward to, there's a good chance that Neighborhood Brats' Claw Marks would have been the #1 choice. After waiting four long years for a follow-up to the band's brilliant 2014 debut LP Recovery, a lot of us were super-stoked about Claw Marks finally coming out. Well now it's out, and my cliched response would have been to say that it does not disappoint. But the hell with that! Claw Marks does far more than not disappoint. It's even better than I thought it would be! If I were stating my case for Neighborhood Brats being one of our greatest present-day punk bands, this album would be exhibit A!

Out on Dirt Cult Records, Claw Marks is a great example of a punk band building off of its core sound. It's immediately recognizable as a Neighborhood Brats record, yet it displays songwriting chops far beyond what Jenny and George would have been capable of a few years back. There are still plenty of nods to late '70s/early '80s California punk, but this album also incorporates a heavy Aussie punk influence along with the dark melodic sensibilities often associated with "modern" punk rock. As always, Jenny's impassioned vocals are perfectly in sync with the sheer power of the band's music. Digging deep into these songs, you'll find tremendous meaning in what Jenny is singing. Sometimes her lyrics are topical/political; other times, they are intensely personal. Put it all together, and you really do have a soundtrack album for the real-life dystopia that is 2018 America ("Late Stage Capitalism" just might be THE protest song for our times). From the furious, vintage Neighborhood Brats banger "Misery Parade" to the thumping, Aussie-inspired "Dumpster Values" to the made-for-singing-along anthem "Down 3rd" to the pitch-black apocalyptic pop of "Touching The Void", this album is full of memorable songs in a wide variety of styles. The inclusion of "Night Shift" and "Comfort Women" from the band's most recent EP was a smart choice; those songs fit the sound and tone of the album so perfectly that it would have seemed wrong to leave them out.

Speaking of that aforementioned EP: Night Shift was the first new music from Neighborhood Brats in nearly four years, and it quickly showed that a long hiatus had not diminished the band in the least. On the strength of that EP, I expected Claw Marks to be something special. And that's exactly what it is. If you long for the days when punk music meant something, I'd urge you to check out Neighborhood Brats and discover that it means more than ever.



-L.R.
  
https://dirtcultrecords.bandcamp.com/album/claw-marks 
https://neighborhoodbrats.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/neighborhoodbrats 
https://www.facebook.com/dirtcultrecords 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Rich Ragany -...Like We'll Never Make It

I've been saying for years that Rich Rags is one of our greatest living songwriters, and he sure is making me sound less crazy with every new release. ...Like We'll Never Make It, his solo debut, ought to be the album that lands him on the covers of magazines and onto the mainstream pop charts. He has really outdone himself with this release - which is being hailed as his "singer/songwriter" album but is actually a logical progression from Role Models' brilliant third LP Dance Moves. Rags has grown from a great punk rock and power pop songwriter to a great songwriter, period.

For this solo endeavor, Rags assembled a backing band so superb that they have since become a permanent entity called Rich Ragany and The Digressions. Gaff (Glitterati and Dedwardians) is on guitar and served as Rags' right hand in the creation of this album. Also on board are Ricky McGuire (UK Subs, The Men They Couldn't Hang) on bass, the incomparable Kris Rodgers on keyboards, longtime Role Models producer Andy Brook on piano, Kit Swing (Mallory Knox) on backing vocals, and Role Models' own Simon Maxwell on drums. While we may often dread our favorite artists' ascent into "maturity", that's exactly what I've been waiting for in Rags' case. He has too much to offer the world to be eternally pigeonholed as a power pop guy. ...Like We'll Never Make It is the work of a masterful songwriter who has come fully into his own. The story he's telling is his own, but in a way it's all of ours as well. This is an album about what it really means to be alive. In particular it celebrates the mistakes and missteps that are so crucial to a life fully lived. The album title is a reference to leaving regrets behind and always moving forward in life. Who can't relate to that? What's so immediately striking about this album is Gaff's jangly and absolutely beautiful guitar tone. It's perhaps the one element that distinguishes ...Like We'll Never Make It from a Role Models album. It lends the album a warm, soothing feel that meshes marvelously with Rags' earthy everyman vocals and straight-from-the-heart songwriting. And while the album does have Rags' name on it, a lot of these songs would not be what they are without the contributions of his band mates. Kris Rodgers on keyboards has a long history of making great songs even better, and you'll hear that here for sure. And if you doubt the importance of a backing vocalist in a band, listen to the impact Kit Swing has on "Your Distance" and "Later Than It Is".

Considering that Rich Rags is a Canadian living in London, perhaps "Americana" is not the best label to apply to his debut solo album. But on this release, he definitely takes a seat next to great American alt-rock songwriters like Paul Westerberg, Dave Pirner, and John Easdale (vocally, he resembles the latter two quite a bit). ...Like We'll Never Make It is the perfect album to play while you're sitting quietly on a Sunday morning and reflecting on your own triumphs and failures. If that makes it "dad rock", well then this ought to be the gold standard of the genre! Of the album's ten tracks, all feel like essential pieces. "That World" is vintage Rags and will appeal immediately to longtime fans. "Your Distance" stuns with beautiful simplicity. "Like We'll Never Make It" is the life-affirming anthem you'd expect from one of the album's pivotal tracks (hopefully Mike Mills doesn't hear that chorus and decide to file suit!). "Lose With Me", the album's other pivotal track, is a gorgeous country ballad that leaves us with the crucial words "I've never felt more alive". Elsewhere Rags turns to Faces/Mott barroom boogie on "Scotty Thompson", exquisite mature pop on "Heart's Souvenir", and stripped-down acoustic soul-bearing on the brilliant closer "Easy". It's always tremendously satisfying to get to the final track of an album and discover that an artist has saved the best for last. "Easy" is the song on this release that has stuck with me the most, and I keep going back to it to soak in every word. Rich Rags just may have written his own "Here Comes A Regular"!

Coming off of three Role Models albums in three years, Rich Rags could have been excused for taking a break from this whole making records thing. But let's all be thankful that he didn't! Once again working with the PledgeMusic platform, Rags was able to fund, record, and release this remarkable album. And in typical Rags fashion, I believe he's already working on songs for his next album with The Digressions! Let's enjoy this one for now. In a just world, Rags would achieve worldwide popularity to rival Ryan Adams - or better yet, Bryan Adams.



-L.R.

https://glunkrecords.bigcartel.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/Rich-Ragany-And-The-Digressions-2171895866419543/