Sunday, October 13, 2019

Poppy Robbie - The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck

When your name is Poppy Robbie, your avenues for musical progression are rather limited. Thrash metal is pretty much out of the question. A noise rock turn would cause great discontent within the fan base. Pop country would be way too obvious - not to mention kind of lame. American roots music, on the other hand, seems like a perfectly workable point of entry.

I always feel like the old man running kids off his lawn when I reference obscure early 2000s pop-punk. It's like, "What do you mean you don't remember The Koopas?! You lousy punks don't realize how great music used to be when bands made records like Sex, Lies, and Video Games!" I bet my man Ralph Rivera will back me up on this: The Koopas were one of the best bands working that genre circa the turn of the century. But it's been 17 years since The Koopas split, and no one would expect front-man Poppy Robbie to still be writing songs like "Shut Up" in 2019. On his solo debut The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck, Robbie has essentially made his own Nebraska. This is about as stripped-down and DIY as it gets. It's like you're hanging out on the back porch with the native Texan, now Oregon-based Robbie. He's got his acoustic guitar, and he's playing country, blues, and folk ballads. He even did the packaging by hand - with the CD designed to look like a vinyl record! That knack for melody and wordplay that allowed him to ascend to the elected position of Dictator of Pop still shines through on these five tracks. But here he's fully embracing his Texas roots and stepping into the role of the storyteller. There are moments where you can imagine these demos as fully flushed-out studio recordings that would definitely be considered "pop". "Goes Around Comes Around", if you added a full band and some slick backing vocals, would be bang-on pub rock. "Twist and Pout" isn't far from the lo-fi Buddy Holly approach that I figured would be present somewhere on this release. I know: you've gotta be really lo-fi to be a lo-fi Buddy Holly!

If your reaction to me reviewing Poppy Robbie is "Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time", you may be interested to know that the complete Koopas discography is also available from Poppy Robbie's Bandcamp. And while you're renewing old memories of the pop-punk of yore, why not also check out what Robbie is up to these days? Six bucks gets you digital versions of The Complete Koopas (In Reverse) and The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck. Ten bucks gets you both on cdr. The first person who asks me "What's a cdr?" is getting whacked with my cane.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Do You Remember Me? A Tribute To Head

I'm not usually one for tribute albums. But without question I will make an exception for a tribute to the almighty HEAD. If the Ramones are God, then HEAD are Jesus. Everyone else is merely mortal. And while HEAD are eternally revered within Ramonescore and pop-punk circles, they have managed to maintain a certain air of mystery about themselves for over 25 years. The music largely speaks for itself. Do You Remember Me? has been compiled and released by Mom's Basement Records, and I've gotta say that John went all-out to make this thing awesome. Pulling from his own label roster and beyond, he enlisted a veritable who's-who in modern-day Ramonescore and pop-punk music to record their own versions of HEAD classics.

Who's on this comp? The question should actually be who ISN'T on this comp! Amazingly, this release squeezes 24 tracks onto one LP, plus five more digital bonus tracks. Ratcliffs must have won the cage match to determine who got to over "35 Years Older Than You" (the "Stairway To Heaven" of Ramonescore), and predictably they nailed it! All of the songs that just had to be on this release are here. You've got The Putz doing "Don't Go Looking In The Closet", Flamingo Nosebleed tackling "Am I Fresh?", Tough having at "I've Made My Peace With the Hippies", the SUCK taking on "No One Likes A Snitch", and Ratbones absolutely crushing "Do You Remember Me?". Other standouts for me are Neon Bone ("The Sissy"), The Young Rochelles ("Teacher's Pet"), and the legendary Manges ("Senor Itchy"). And somehow how I still haven't mentioned NECK, DeeCracks, Parasites, Geoff Palmer, Black Russians, and many more?! Since all of these bands properly play these songs in the sanctioned HEAD style, this is about as close as you can get to an actual HEAD album without actually being a HEAD album. And hearing all of these tracks in one place serves as a quick reminder of why HEAD is worshiped. You could argue that this collection is mostly for fans, and I would not disagree. But if you've somehow fallen into Ramonescore fandom without any familiarity with HEAD, this album should lead you on the righteous path of beating up whoever you have to in order to secure the original versions of these songs. An amazing comp!


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Slow Faction - Unilateral Declaration Of Independence

Slow Faction has a new album out, so of course you can presume it's full of songs about pretty girls and celebrity gossip. Just kidding. The London foursome is more politically-charged than ever on its third long player, firing up anthems left and right in the timeless Clash/SLF/Angelic Upstarts mold. In the two years that have passed since the release of Under Heavy Manners, we have fallen even deeper into this modern-day twilight zone where heads of state normalize white supremacy and anti-fascism is suddenly an "extreme" position. Slow Faction are not about to stand silent, and they've responded with a full album of thundering statement songs. The musical style has not changed, and why would you want it to? This is '77-style British punk the way it ought to be - coming on with impassioned force and huge sing-along choruses. Of course a song like "Breitbart Boys" could not be any more on-point. But on this record, Slow Faction are less concerned with extremists than they are with those who enable them due to either apathy or political convenience. "You make a stand or you stand for nothing," cries lead singer John Youens on "The Blank Generations". And that is more or less the theme of this entire album. These songs ask us all to take a look in the mirror and ponder our own complicity in all of this madness. Elsewhere, the band explores the ways that governments have failed the people they are entrusted to govern. "And Never Said A Word" powerfully depicts the human price of politicians' war-mongering. "U.D.I." is specifically about the failures of the U.K government, yet its description of a nation in despair rings painfully true on my side of the pond as well:

Public services at breaking point
The hospitals are full
And hungry children in our schools
Homeless people dying on our streets
No shelter for the sick and ill
Universal credit kills
The suicide rate's on the rise
As a nation's hopes are allowed to die

Clearly, Slow Faction is not a band that's "mellowing" with age. They're writing quality punk songs, and they're doing so with purpose. I get that politically-minded bands are not for everyone. But my belief is that all people who write songs should write about what they are passionate about. Slow Faction's passion is fighting for social justice and against fascism. Sure: a thorough reading of this album's lyrics is not the most pleasant experience (closing track "No Country For The Young" is a particularly bitter pill to swallow). But isn't that the whole point? Unilateral Declaration Of Independence is the work of a band that would like to change the world. Can individuals or bands actually change the world? Who knows? But it's when they stop believing they can that all hope is lost. Give 'em hell, boys!


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Dogmatics - She's The One

Here it is: the first new record by the mighty Dogmatics in 33 years! Rum Bar Records proudly releases She's The One this week on both 7" vinyl and CD. I won't delve too deep into the legacy of this band since I've already devoted a couple of posts to that. Suffice it to say that the Dogmatics are one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Boston. Here they are in 2019 with classic era members Jerry Lehane, Pete O'Halloran, and Tom Long all in tow. Jimmy O'Halloran holds down bass duties with tremendous love and respect for his late brother Paul. And while I would have been completely overjoyed with any new music from the Dogmatics, She's The One is no run of the mill comeback. This thing's a stone cold triumph!

What I've always enjoyed about the Dogmatics is that they were so many things at once. They had that rockabilly thing going on, but they were a punk band at heart. They wrote perfect pop songs but played them with absolute irreverence. In essence, they were precursors to nearly every band I champion today. Three decades on, these guys are older, wiser, and perhaps a little more musically proficient. But really these are still the same old Dogmatics - that one band you can always count on when all you wanna do is crack open a cold one and listen to some fun rock and roll. Jerry Lehane has penned three new songs for this release, and they are all top tunes. "She's The One" is a hot shot of power poppin' pub rock with a driving beat you will not be able to resist. If you're a longtime fan, you'll get chills hearing Jerry and Pete's unmistakable dual guitars launch into action! This is at worst my third-favorite song to ever be titled "She's The One". "I Love Rock and Roll" has more of a thumping '60s garage flavor to it. As the title suggests, it's a song that celebrates rock and roll. It pays tribute to all of the great music of the past and offers tremendous hope for the future. Songs like this can sometimes be unbearably corny, but they can also be totally fantastic. You can probably guess which side of the column I'm checking off here. This track would not have sounded out of place on the last Dogmatics album in 1986! "The Ballad of Wilbur Ross" is the one major surprise on this release. It's a very traditional-sounding Celtic folk ballad - done so well that you might mistake it for an actual traditional Celtic folk ballad!

Digital and CD versions of She's the One feature really cool bonus covers of two of the greatest punk groups to ever come out of New England. "Black Plastic Shoes" was originally recorded by The Reducers and appeared on their classic debut album from 1984. "Summertime" was a track off of Unnatural Axe's legendary 7" They Saved Hitler's Brain. Both of these songs were previously available only on tribute compilations. And in true Dogmatics fashion, the band puts its stamp on both of these songs. I was beyond stoked when I heard that the Dogmatics were joining the Rum Bar Records family and releasing new music. Now that the record is here, I could not be happier! If you already love this band, you will love these songs for sure. And if this is your very first encounter with the Dogmatics, I hope it leads you on a lifelong journey into their classic back catalog. What a damn great band!


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Devious Ones - "She's Waiting For Me"

You ought to know by now that I'm a huge Devious Ones fan. One thing I especially love about these guys is that they're always surprising me. When they released "Djarum Summers" as a single, it was a song unlike anything I'd heard from them before. The highlight of their album Plainview Nights was the title track - again a tune that was totally unexpected and absolutely great. Well here they go again! New single "She's Waiting For Me", released in conjunction with the band playing its 100th show tonight, is nowhere close to the blazing garage punk you might have anticipated. And, hey, I'm always in favor of punk groups boldly expanding into new territory (I mean, come on, my favorite band is The Clash!). "She's Waiting For Me" is just a great rootsy-sounding rock and roll song. Featuring the splendid piano work of recording engineer Adam Cox, this track finds Devious Ones flexing some serious bar band chops. I don't think there's anything more universally appealing in music than a really great breakup song. This one is very well-done, thanks in no small part to a heartfelt and very believable vocal from Eric Villa. And while songs about lost love are nothing new in music, this one has a hopefulness to it that really sets it apart. I imagine it as a crowd favorite at live shows. On the flip, "The Straggle Is Real" is pop with a capital P! This tune has a great bouncy energy to it, with top-notch melodies and an irresistible sing-along hook. It's so freaking catchy that I've been whistling that melody for days on end. And man, I love that guitar solo!

"She's Waiting For Me" is Devious Ones' fourth single and every bit as essential as the previous three. It's got an A-side you can never play just once and a B-side that will keep you flipping the record over. Fingers crossed for many more singles and several hundred more shows to come!


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Baby Shakes - Cause A Scene

It's certainly very rare for a band to make its best album 15 years into its existence. But Baby Shakes have gone and done just that! Cause A Scene is the New York foursome's third LP since 2015 and fourth overall. It's crazy to think that I first reviewed this band was way back in 2005. At the time, I'm not sure I could have even foreseen that Baby Shakes would still be around in 2019. I mean, how many bands actually last 15 years? How many last even 10? And not only are Baby Shakes still around in 2019, they are also at the very top of their game. If I could recommend just one Baby Shakes album that best represents what this band is all about, Cause A Scene would be the one without a doubt. It's pretty close to a perfect record from one of the defining punk/power pop bands of its time.

Released on the band's own label Lil' Chewy Records, Cause A Scene is immediately recognizable as a Baby Shakes record. The upbeat rocker "Nowhere Fast" kicks off the album with a perfect shot of the band's signature punky rock and roll. It'll have you tapping your toes and bobbing your head in no time. The smash hit title track (my god, that hook!) and "Cruisin'" follow in a similar vein. With its hand-claps, red-hot lead guitar, and bubbly harmonies, the latter is the quintessential Baby Shakes song. If this band ever stopped doing songs like this, that would be a total bummer. But what I love about this record is that it stretches well beyond the group's core sound. The gorgeous, Beatles-inspired "Wasurenai Wa" and wistful Angels cover "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" ought to have power pop fans standing to applaud. "Down" and "Love Song In Reverse" find the band rocking harder than it ever has before. "Modern Girl Renegade" is beachy and '60s-inspired in a way that brings to mind early Go-Go's. And in closing track "Let's Go, JetGlo", Baby Shakes have launched a glam rock anthem into outer space! 

After not recording for several years, Baby Shakes have been absolutely on fire since their 2015 comeback. And with every new release, they just seem to get better. If you've ever pigeonholed Baby Shakes as a "singles band", Cause a Scene just might lead you to change your mind. I'm struggling to find a track on this thing that isn't totally spectacular. And whether you favor the power pop, punk, or glam side of Baby Shakes, this record has got you covered. Vinyl available here


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Dany Laj and the Looks - Everything New Is New Again

It may be true that you can't judge an album by its cover. But the cover of the new album by Dany Laj and the Looks sure tells you an awful lot. The new record is a six-song effort titled Everything New Is New Again. Dan Parent (yes, THE Dan Parent!) did the cover art, which would totally make you want to buy the album even if you didn't already know that Dany Laj and the Looks were the best! Dig that scene: you've got people dancing and romancing and having the absolute best time while the band joyfully rocks out on stage. Talk about fun city! Many of you who've seen the band will surely attest to the authenticity of that image.

Dany Laj, the Montreal-based (by way of northern Ontario) songwriter, describes his music quite simply as "pure pop". I would say that's very accurate, and you know that's something I can wholeheartedly endorse. He and his band mates Jeanette Dowling (bass) and Victor Tremblay-Desrosiers (drums) recorded Everything New Is New Again last year at NY Hed Studios in New York with Rocio & Matt Verta-Ray (who also played on several tracks). For some reason, I'm getting a real 1980s feel from this record. The style is that straight-forward rock and roll with melody-driven songwriting that we've come to expect from Laj and friends. There aren't a whole lot of bands that do it better. Laj knows how to turn out a memorable riff ("Hold For Love") or hooky chorus ("Annie") that can totally make a song. The sweet spot Laj and his band hit here falls somewhere in between Tom Petty and mid-'80s Replacements. With its creative guitar lines and cool keyboards, the verhy catchy "My Head" brings to mind that moment in time when new wave pop-rock was king. It's probably not fair to hold Laj and co. to the standard of "Left To Right One" or "Mister Screaming Attitude" every time out. But honestly, there are several songs on this album at that same level. For my money, this is Laj's strongest and most consistent set of songs to date. And since I'm always a fan of a good "deep cut", I must commend the nearly six-minute closer "Small Town Miner". This is a song that's very meaningful to Laj - who comes from a small mining town. It shines a light on the struggle of unprotected miners - who have worked hard all of their lives to provide for their families but could still lose everything at any moment. It's a powerful song and performance and definitely one of the best things Laj has ever written.

In support of Everything New Is New Again, Dany Laj and the Looks have been touring North America since last month and will continue to do so through next month at least (Hopefully the Habs will be comfortably in first place by the time they wrap up). The next two weeks alone, the band is making its way through the great American Midwest. You can find the tour dates over at the band's web site. LP is available from Yeah Right! Records. Transistor 66 has the CD and digital release of the album - which tack on French language versions of "Annie" and "My Head"! This is pure pop indeed, and ya gotta love it!


Friday, September 27, 2019

Johnathan Pushkar - Straighten Up

Johnathan Pushkar's debut full-length is like the Wonders album that never was. Produced by Wyatt Funderburk and released by the legendary JEM Records, Straighten Up is ten songs of perfect British Invasion inspired power pop crafted by one of music's brightest young stars. While still only in his early 20s, the Pennsylvania born and bred, now Nashville-based Pushkar has already been playing in bands for a decade. I'm pretty close to theorizing that he wasn't actually born in the '90s but rather sprung out of a time machine that he boarded in 1964. Here he is in 2019, completely unaware that rock and rollers aren't supposed to be wholesome and perpetually smiling. He writes songs as if the past five decades never happened - connecting with that part of all us that's forever 16 and dreaming of true love. It had to be fate that this young man would wind up making a record with the guy who wrote "What If"!

From the opening strains of "The Girl Next Door", Johnathan Pushkar can easily be identified as a '60s pop classicist. And it's not just that unmistakable Rickenbacker tone. His scholarship of power pop music and its roots goes all the way back to Buddy Holly (at least). His affection for the timeless craft of the three-minute pop song comes through in every note he plays and sings. If you love jangly guitars, sweet-sounding melodies, and beautifully-executed harmonies, you'll be hooked by track one. And there's no fall-off from there. "The Girl Next Door" was the album's lead single and has been blowing up the indie charts all summer. But the next two tracks "We Could Be Together" and "Isabella" are smash hits in their own right! Elsewhere, Pushkar proves himself to be an endearing and relatable storyteller on the keyboard-tinged "Boyfriend". "Smile", with its gorgeous melody and pure-hearted sentiment, is an absolute gem of a pop song. "Hackensack" is, of course, a cover of the Fountains of Wayne classic. It would be impossible to improve upon the original, but Pushkar comes darn close to matching it. To pull off this song, you need a voice full of vulnerability and a heart you freely wear on your sleeve. Those qualities shine through again on the album's outstanding closing number "I Can't Help The Way I Feel".

Straighten Up is an album for diehard believers in true love and simple pop tunes (Aren't they one and the same?). Johnathan Pushkar specializes in songs that are hopeful and sweet and life-affirming. Everything he stands for is the perfect antidote to the misery and cynicism that plague our modern world. If you're looking to make a great power pop record, the first thing you ought to do is get Wyatt Funderburk to produce it. Pushkar did just that, and he also enlisted respected musician friends like Sandy Gennaro (Joan Jett, The Monkees), Bill Cinque (Neil Diamond), and Jeff Alan Ross (Badfinger) to play on the record. Call this album "retro" if you want. I prefer to think of it as timeless. Johnathan Pushkar isn't old enough to be nostalgic for the British Invasion, but he's wise enough to know that these sounds ought to be forever revived for new generations. The future of power pop sounds an awful lot like its past, and I could not be happier!


Indonesian Junk - Spiderbites

Wait, was I actually right about something for once?! 37 days ago, I predicted that Indonesian Junk's third album would be its best record yet. That was really just an educated guess based off of one song plus the material from last year's Darkness Calling EP. But man oh man, I sure wasn't wrong! Spiderbites, out today on Rum Bar Records, far surpasses all previous IndoJunk efforts. But in a way, that was to be expected given the incremental strides that this Milwaukee trio has taken with each new release. Spiderbites sounds like the record that Daniel James and the gang have been working towards all of these years: a tour de force of Midwest-tough rock and roll formed from equal parts power pop, hard rock, and old school glam punk. If you can't find something here to like, you're looking at the wrong blog!

While the 1970s New York punk comparisons that have followed this band since its inception are in no way off-base, they only touch the surface of what Indonesian Junk is all about. You can pick out influences pretty easily if you want. But at this point Indonesian Junk really just sounds like Indonesian Junk. On this release, the band attains its hardest, hugest sound yet - with the hooks to match! This is not a band that's afraid of trying something different every now and then. The anthemic mid-tempo pop of "City Lights" and pitch-black balladry of "I Could Die" are pretty much without precedent in the IndoJunk catalog. "See The Light" finds the band fully mastering that epic Stooge-y vibe it's been flirting with for years. But what I like best about Spiderbites is that it lets loose the rock in a way that the band's prior albums never quite did. I love hearing Daniel and company lay the pedal to the metal and just kick some ass! "Mean Christine" has everything you need from an opening track: huge riffs, a stick-in-your-head chorus, and some absolutely sick lead guitar! "Wild, Wild Party" and "Headbanger" are like KISS rock anthems if they'd been way more into Johnny Thunders. "Through the Night" is an absolutely blistering rocker that ought to have you pumping your fist and shouting along regardless of what you're doing (be careful in libraries and funeral parlors). "When I Find You" is straight-up one of the best songs released by anybody in 2019. Who doesn't love revenge served up as a cheerful pop song?!

Spiderbites is an absolute blast of an album. Throw it on wherever you may be, and you've got yourself a party! Indonesian Junk give me a little bit of just about everything I desire in music: radio-worthy hooks, powerful guitars and drums, clever and often very dark humor, the spiritual presence of dearly departed punk greats, an energy that excites, ripping solos, and a lead singer with genuine personality. I've been fond of this band from day one, but it's Spiderbites that really blows it over the top for me. This is the best of '70s stadium rock, first wave punk, and American power pop combined into one damn tasty Milwaukee brew. If you haven't been informed yet, take note now: Indonesian Junk is a rock machine! Don't be the last on your block to join the fan club.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Nervous Jerk - 1994

I've had a 25-year "career" in reviewing records, but it honestly feels like it was only yesterday when I started. That's especially the case when I hear a band like Nervous Jerk, who remind me so much of the bands that made me want to start writing about punk music in the first place. This New Zealand trio plays a straight-forward style of punk rock that's both catchy and totally ballsy. New EP 1994 features three up-tempo numbers that absolutely rip but still lend themselves to singing along. I recommend checking out the video for the title track, as the inclusion of the lyrics really helps you get to the deeper meaning of the song. All in all, this is a super fun record. I might describe it as pop-punk that can be enjoyed even by people who don't like pop-punk. This is easily one of my favorite newer punk groups of the moment. Whatever is in that Aussie air appears to be spreading east!


Friday, September 20, 2019

The Middle Ages - self titled

I'm always excited to hear anything that Dan Wood lends his name to, and that immediately makes the debut album from The Middle Ages essential listening in my book. Wood (The Pets, Razz, Tropical Sleep) recently returned to his native Seattle after many years as a fixture of Bay Area garage and punk. Back in the Pacific Northwest, Wood has assembled a new band that's every bit as formidable as his previous outfits. Also on board are Cris Wood on bass/vocals and Donny Hilstad (The Statics, The Dutchess and the Duke) on drums.

Dan and Cris are true collaborators with this band: co-writing the songs and singing them together. Those interwoven vocals and old school punk style will make X comparisons inevitable. And while I'd say those comparisons would not be off base, there's a lot more to The Middle Ages than that. This band has an approach of taking elements from a number of musical styles/eras and forming a sound that's all its own. The Middle Ages draw equally from punk, garage, pop, and rock and roll - crafting punchy tunes with first-rate hooks and a likeability factor that's off the charts. The songs cover all the bases from revved-up rock and roll ("Whoa Yeah") to big crunching power pop ("Runaway") to infectious sing-along punk rock ("Bad Man"). Fans of Dan's recognizable guitar style will not be disappointed. The riffs on this thing are absolutely filthy! Yet the creative partnership between Cris and Dan gives The Middle Ages a very different feel from, say, The Pets. I can't think of another band out there that sounds quite like this. Lean and mean at just nine tracks, this a filler-free and simply terrific debut from a band I expect we'll be hearing about a lot in the upcoming years. The band released the record on its own label Ripe Records, and you can order it here. There were only 300 copies pressed, so get on it!


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Los Pepes - "Automatic"

This has been a great year for you if you love Los Pepes (as I do)! Less than six months after releasing their fourth album Positive Negative, Los Pepes have followed with a fantastic new EP! "Automatic/Here Comes The Darkness" will be released on vinyl soon on Wanda and Beluga Records. But with an autumn tour of Europe imminent, the boys decided to go ahead and release these songs a little bit in advance. I must say this is my favorite Los Pepes release in quite a while. I'm always a fan of the "all killer, no filler" approach to releasing music. The two titular tracks are big-time hits. "Automatic" roars out of the gates with guitars on fire and a ton of melody. Man, this is how you do power pop with BALLS! And you know that's what Los Pepes are all about. "Here Comes The Darkness" crackles like early Who doing '77 punk. Doesn't that sound great? Of course it does! If you dig loud pop, you just won't hear it done much better than this. This EP's "deep cuts" prove to be formidable in their own right. "Your Justice" is another shot of thundering power pop with a touch of '80s beach punk influence in the guitars and backing vocals. And for the knockout blow, "This Is Rock and Roll" is an absolutely scorching cover of the classic track by The Kids! Not only does this song acknowledge an important influence on Los Pepes, but it also serves as a veritable mission statement for this tremendous band. This sure IS rock and roll, and we should be very thankful! Familiarize yourself with these songs now so you can sing along on the tour dates listed below! 

26/09/2019 D-Bochum, Wageni
27/09/2019 D-Berlin, Urban Spree
28/09/2019 D-Kassel, Goldgrube
29/09/2019 D-Hamburg, Hafenklang
30/09/2019 D-Dresden, Chemifabrik
01/10/2019 D-Karlsruhe, Alte Hackerei
02/10/2019 D-München, Folks
03/10/2019 D-Frankfurt, Klapperfeld
04/10/2019 FR-Tranqueville-Graux, La Bazka
05/10/2019 FR-Paris, ESS’pace
06/10/2019 FR-Blois, L’Auakera


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Sore Points - "Not Alright"

Whew! Sore Points are back with a new 7", and they have not tempered their sonic fury in the slightest! "Not Alright" is the Vancouver trio's third release overall and first with Slovenly Recordings. The band's sound burns hotter than ever on this four-song EP (longest track: one minute, 43 seconds!). As always, Sore Points seem to exist in an eternal 1980 - when first wave punk and early hardcore smashed straight into each other and spawned some of the most exciting records ever cut. The band isn't fooling with the formula at all. This is fast, furious, and absolutely blistering punk rock fueled by pummeling guitars, a rapid fire rhythm section, and just enough melody to get your toes tapping. I think "On The Wire" is the "hit", but I swear "Not Coming Back" is the most thrillingly scorching track Sore Points have recorded to date. If you dig hardcore punk rock but wish more of it still had a foot in rock and roll, this is the band for you. LP on Deranged is top-notch, but this is the best stuff yet from Sore Points!


Friday, September 13, 2019

Mystery Girl - "Heartbreaker"

Now here's a band that's had a productive past couple of years! Mystery Girl's new single  "Heartbreaker" is already its fourth release since the early part of last year. This Albany, New York based foursome is so totally up my alley that I'm kind of embarrassed that I've never reviewed the band before! I checked out "Heartbreaker" on a tip from Alex Kish, and I was immediately into it. The title track falls somewhere in between glam-punk and power pop, and it's a total earworm. It's got really catchy lead guitar work, a memorable chorus, and some top-notch backing vocals. What a damn good tune! I've been whistling that melody for a week! B-side "Salted Slug" turns to some straight-up Johnny Thunders inspired punk rock and roll. I of course have a soft spot for this sort of thing, and I must say that Mystery Girl pulls off the style quite well. That hook is legit, and again the lead guitar sounds amazing. This song is so impressive that I actually checked to make sure it wasn't a cover of some obscure Heartbreakers tune!

Alright, this is how you do a 7-inch! You've got a pair of songs that are quite different from each other yet equally good. If you dig glammy punk rock with a pop sensibility, this is a band worth looking into!


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Smart Shoppers - self titled

Hey! I've got a debut for you today that I'm totally stoked on! The Smart Shoppers hail from Green Bay, Wisconsin and play exactly the sort of punked-up goofball new wave I've been longing for of late. The Smart Shoppers as they appear on this debut EP include Joe from The Last Sons of Krypton on lead vocals along with Aaron on guitar and Jash on drums. The legendary Rev. Norb recently joined on bass to round out the lineup. The Smart Shoppers, like a lot of bands, started out as just a fun side project. They were never supposed to be a "real" band. But you know how it goes. These guys kept practicing, realized that they actually liked their songs, and went ahead and made a record. And after a couple of years of perfecting their craft in Jash's basement, they finally played their first two shows a couple weekends back...with The Control Freaks! Greg Lowery compared them favorably with The B-52s Wall of Voodoo, and that's definitely on point. They're going for a more aggressive Devo/Minutemen type sound, and that really hits the sweet spot for me. Call it new wavey punk or punky new wave. Either way, it's goofy and fun and catchy and wonderfully weird. I haven't heard a record like this in a long time. It gives me those nostalgic '80s kid tingles but also some nostalgic '90s punk tingles. The band has been prolifically writing new songs since Norb joined, so stay tuned for much more from The Smart Shoppers!


Monday, September 9, 2019

TV Crime - Metal Town

Well here it is, after many years of great anticipation! TV Crime, the Nottingham-based foursome that wowed so many of us the moment its debut track "Hooligans" went on-line three and a half years ago, has finally released a debut album. We've had little in the way of new material from TV Crime over the years - just a pair of singles released in 2016 and 2017. But all the while, the band was taking its time to craft a debut full-length it could be truly proud of. Listening to Metal Town (out now on Alien Snatch Records), one could hardly deny that the band's commitment to getting it right has paid off handsomely. Individuals I hold in the highest esteem have already chimed in with high praise, and I can only echo those sentiments.

Metal Town is nothing short of the brilliant debut that was fully expected from TV Crime - a pub rock extravaganza informed by power pop, first wave UK punk, and '70s glam and arena rock. If you think that sounds like something I'd be especially into, you could not be more correct! Over the course of 13 tracks, the band puts on a clinic on how to play powerful punk rock and roll with all of the hooks and melodic appeal of the best power pop. Kicking off with a new-and-improved version of "Hooligans", this album takes little time in showing us how far TV Crime has come. The group's sound has grown bigger and cleaner - while still retaining the soul and guts befitting a proper pub band. These songs evoke comparisons to everyone from The Jam to Elvis Costello to Thin Lizzy, but not in a way that feels retro or consciously derivative. Essentially, this is great pop music played with the force and vigor of punk rock. From the big hooky rock of "Neo Waltz" to the quintessential sing-along punker "In The Gutter" to the footballer pop anthem "Match Day Programme" to the adrenaline rush of the title track to the pub-hardened Buzzcocks dash of "Never Been In Love", the material is consistently well-crafted and carried off with an energy that thrills. When the band slows the pace a tad (consider its "theme song", "Television Crime"), it comes off like a pop group that ought to be all over the charts. The 7" tracks re-recorded for this release have never sounded better - a testament to both the first-rate production and the tightened chops of a band firing on all cylinders.

I've heard "album of the year contender" mentioned in conjunction with Metal Town by more than one individual. Who am I to argue? I anticipated a great deal from TV Crime on its debut album, but honestly Metal Town manages to exceed what I was expecting. You would have to look far and wide to find a band and album better suited to this blog's readership. And in a wonderful occurrence of history repeating itself, it seems we have returned to the days of Alien Snatch Records being the undisputed king of record labels. I'll drink to that!


Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Safes - Winning Combination

When Frankie O'Malley told me that Winning Combination was going to be a "progression" for The Safes, he sure wasn't kidding! "I like when bands step out and try something different and it's good," he explained. If that was the goal for Winning Combination, I would say The Safes have succeeded...and then some!

Having hinted at a psychedelic era Kinks/Who/Beatles direction in the past, The Safes have gone full-on chamber pop on this, their fifth full-length album. But that's not even the half of it! Always the quintessential family band, The Safes have taken that idea to a whole new level. For this project, the Brothers O'Malley have assembled a veritable orchestra of cousins, nieces, and nephews to add new dimensions to their sound. In total, this album features 19 different brothers and sisters playing together - with violins, clarinets, cellos, vibraphone, and several other instruments building on the usual guitar, drums, and bass. Frankie O'Malley alone plays guitars, drums, bass, piano, Wurlitzer, vibraphones, accordion, sleigh bells, organ, sitar, and melodica on this release! The fact that this album could even be made is remarkable. How many people in this world could find 15 capable session musicians that are all related to them?! Now that's a talented (and very musical) family! Yet as amazing as this concept was, it easily could have flopped if had not been executed so beautifully. It's a credit to The Safes that all of these orchestral touches enhance the songs rather than distract from them.

The O'Malleys have stepped boldly out of their hard-driving pop rock and roll comfort zone, but they remain as devoted as ever to the craft of melody-driven songwriting. The elevated sophistication and added musical layers advance The Safes' sound but do not fundamentally change it. This is still one of America's finest pop bands. And even with everything that's going on throughout this record, the melodies and lyrics are still what shine most brightly. Opening track "It's True" is not just "different" - it's one of the Safes' finest and most striking songs to date. It opens the album in a bright & jaunty fashion, with lyrics that vividly evoke the fresh air that meeting someone special can breathe into our lives ("Circles spinning into light /Exploding joy like dynamite/A century of Saturdays replace a decade of malaise"). That melody will grab a hold of you in a way that seems almost effortless, and it will stay with you. Laden with majestic harmonies and intriguing lyrics, "Open Your Eyes" could just about pass for a Ray Davies composition circa 1967-68. "The Rest of My Life", so delicate and mellow in a musical sense, is so relatable lyrically that it practically stings ("I can't live like this for another day/But I can't seem to live any other way"). Similarly, "Make or Break" is as devastating in its words as it is gorgeous in its melodies. "Dreams That Ignite" is picture perfect chamber pop - featuring exquisite harmonies, lush piano-driven melodies, and nary a loud guitar in earshot.

If Winning Combination had just been a progression for progression's sake, that would have been admirable enough. But if you're going to swing for the fences, you might as well hit the ball out of the park. You don't want people saying, "Well, this is neat, but I'd much rather listen to Tasty Waves or Record Heat." The O'Malleys didn't just set out to try something different - they were determined to uphold the quality of their previous releases. The comparisons to The Kinks' Something Else, The Who Sell Out, and The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle are likely to be frequent with good reason. Those aren't just albums that stand out in those bands' catalogs - they're records you go back to again and again. Winning Combination wonderfully celebrates The O'Malley family and family in general. But I'm not going to put this in the "for fans only" category. This is a new high point for The Safes - and an absolutely a perfect starting place for anyone looking to get into this band. It's available now from the Spanish labels Action Weekend and Bickerton Records! 


Friday, September 6, 2019

The Control Freaks - She's The Bomb

I know what you're probably thinking: "Is this another Control Freaks album already?!" You're damn right it is, and it's truly an occasion worth celebrating! Take the day off and blare this thing until the neighbors beg to come over! She's The Bomb follows 2017's (rightfully) acclaimed debut Mindless Entertainment. It's out today on Slovenly Recordings - the planet's preeminent record label for shit-hot garage punk rock and roll!

If you've been keeping score at home, you're likely aware that The Control Freaks released an impressive four singles in between albums. If you missed some or all of them, Greg Lowery and the gang have got you covered. Ace 7" tracks "I Hate Your Face", "Hate List", "I Am Crime", and "Don't Mess With Jessica" all appear on the new album. It would have been kind of a shame if they didn't, because they are killer tunes! But fear not: if you have been a loyal Control Freaks supporter and dutifully kept up with every new release, there are still plenty of new songs on She's The Bomb that'll knock your socks off. I would describe this album as the best of everything Greg Lowery has ever been about. In these songs, I can hear the budget rock spirit of Supercharger, the genius dumb songwriting of The Rip Offs, the '77-style punk leanings of The Infections, and the gleeful snottiness of the Zodiac Killers. And with covers of lesser-known first wave punk classics quickly becoming a signature of this band, you'll be delighted to discover that this album features not one but TWO covers of Aussie '77 punks Babeez! (I checked the rule book: this sort of maneuver is extremely rare but completely legal!)

As good as Mindless Entertainment was, She's The Bomb totally blows it away (no pun intended, I swear!). The Control Freaks have fully hit their stride, and Lowery's chemistry with singer/guitarist/keyboardist Sherrilynn Nelson is a joy to behold. Whereas there were three or four tracks that really stood out for me on Mindless Entertainment, She's The Bomb is stacked with smash hits from start to finish. And Nelson's zippy keyboards definitely add something cool and new to the Control Freaks sound. Given that I am striving to be less prone to hyperbole in my old age, I won't come out with some sort of "this is the best record that Lowery has ever put his name on!" type hot take. But I will say that this album is very comparable to the classic records he's had a hand in creating. If the title track sounds like the perfect combination of Supercharger and The Rip Offs, doesn't that make total sense? "Tell Me Why" ought to elicit a "Hell yeah!" from any diehard budget rocker, while "Time's Up" is such a prime slice of sing-along '77 punk that The Control Freaks might accidentally cover it someday. "Creep You Out" gives me the same goosebumps I got the first time I dropped the needle on Kill...The Infections. The only thing preventing "Hate List" from being adopted as the new national anthem is that "I Hate Your Face" might be an even better choice.

After nearly 30 years of being top dog in the garage punk world, Greg Lowery shows no signs of passing the torch or changing his approach to music. And why would he if can continue to make records this awesome? I suppose if you're looking for musical innovation, state of the art production, or deeply sensitive lyrics about the frailty of humankind, you might take a pass. But if you're dying for a fucking perfect garage punk album, She's The Bomb is exactly what the doctor ordered! First aid kit sold separately.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Radioactivity - "Erased"

For its 50th release, Wild Honey Records has something really special for you! "Erased" is the first new song from Radioactivity since its 2015 LP Silent Kill. The band did release the "Infected" single on Wild Honey in 2017, but that contained a pair of songs that were intentionally left off of the album. These songs are literally hot off the presses - having just been completed August 22nd! "Erased" was written after Radioactivity finished recording Silent Kill, and it definitely picks up where the album left off. It features that melancholic style of songwriting that we've come to expect from Jeff Burke, but it damn sure rocks hard! The song is driven by a tough, punchy riff that contrasts perfectly with its bittersweet melodies. The balance between the punk and pop here is just right! On the flip, "Fear" is a song that Burke wrote way back in 2011 when he was living in Japan. Although it dates back to his days with Radioactivity precursors The Novice, it actually fits Radioactivity better. It's dark and reminiscent of the Buzzcocks - the kind of stinging moody number that Burke should never stop writing. And I sure dig that guitar solo!

"Erased" is available in two limited edition versions: one green and one pink. Artwork is by English artist Jami Morrison. Move fast if you want a copy!


Monday, September 2, 2019

Vista Blue - Tricks and Treats

While I was preparing for this review, it suddenly dawned on me that Vista Blue is my favorite pop-punk band. Perhaps that was obvious to you all after the first 18 times I reviewed this band. But Vista Blue has always existed in this unique place where pop-punk, power pop, alternative rock, and The Beach Boys co-exist. Hearing the band concentrate almost completely on pop-punk for a whole album was a really delightful experience. Tricks and Treats, out next month on OUTLOUD! and Ratgirl Records, is of course a Halloween-themed album. But I've never been a big horror guy, and I still love this record! I imagine that those of you who love pop-punk and horror will go nuts for this thing!

Being a Halloween-themed Vista Blue record, Tricks and Treats is of course loaded with songs referencing horror movies. On this record, the band pays homage to such films as Doll Boy, Sleepaway Camp, Wishmaster, and Children of the Corn (Hey! I like that one!). There's also a cover of the doo-wop golden oldie "Zombie Walk" by The Magics. But what really endears me to this record is the way it takes more traditional pop-punk themes and applies them to the Halloween season. "I Don't Wanna Trick Or Treat With You" is like a kid-friendly twist on the Ramones. If someone dissed my Drew Brees costume and ate all of my Twix, I wouldn't want to trick or treat with that person either! The nerve! "My House Is Haunted" is an upbeat number about being so in love that you literally don't care that you're living in a haunted house. It's essentially a scarier "Let It Snow". How many lovelorn teens will relate to "I Think Your Boyfriend Is A Zombie" this fall? "I'm Gonna Be You For Halloween", the ultimate pop-punk kiss-off, brings new meaning to the idea of having a scary ex.

Tricks and Treats is such a splendidly executed pop-punk record that it makes me feel like I'm 25 again. It just puts a massive smile on my face. Vista Blue blasts through these 11 tracks with the rocket-fueled simplicity of the Ramones, the candy-coated gleefulness of the Kung Fu Monkeys, and the literate vulnerability of the Mr. T. Experience. It was bands like this that made me love pop-punk, and it's band like this that make me love it still. While this album will not be available until next month, pre-orders are now live for the digital album on Vista Blue's Bandcamp and the cassette on Ratgirl Records. OUTLOUD! will be releasing the CD. Scarier than LSU's front seven and catchier than a zombie infection, Tricks and Treats is truly the Halloween record for all seasons.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Civic - "Selling, Sucking, Blackmail, Bribes"

If you have been dissatisfied with how pop-heavy this blog has been in recent weeks, I've got some relief for you today! I first reviewed Civic in April of last year and hailed the Melbourne outfit as one of the best of this amazing new breed of Aussie punk rock and roll acts. The band's new single on Anti Fade and Total Punk Records does nothing to diminish my original evaluation. Believe it or not, "Selling, Sucking, Blackmail, Bribes" somehow rips even faster, harder, and meaner than the songs from the band's debut 12"! The approach is the same - as the band unleashes a furious attack inspired by the Stooges and old Aussie punk. The main difference is how totally scuzzy this track sounds. I just love the rawness and pure sonic barbarism of this number! It lets loose a veritable firestorm of guitars, which singer Jim McCullogh fully matches with vocal rage. This sort of trashy garage punk played with the force of hardcore is hardly anything new. But it's sure been a while since I've heard it carried off this convincingly. This song will just about knock your head off! On the flip, "Velvet Casino" is a little less frenzied but still totally pummeling. It reminds me a little of early Saints, which can only be a good thing.

Now with an American release to its name, Civic is no longer Australia's little secret. If you're not yet hip to this band, get with it!


Friday, August 30, 2019

Mean Jeans - Gigantic Sike

I've reached the point where Ramones-inspired bands are an all-or-nothing proposition for me. Either I totally love 'em, or I am completely uninterested. There's not much middle ground. I've always considered Mean Jeans to be one of the better Ramonescore/pop-punk bands out there, but I must admit that my interest in this trio had been waning for a while. Well let me tell you: just when I thought I was out, Mean Jeans have pulled me back in! Their fourth LP Gigantic Sike (out today on Fat Wreck Chords) is the kind of album that affirms the eternal awesomeness of buzzsaw pop-punk. Singer/guitarist Billy Jeans has admitted that the band "tried to hard" on its previous release Tight New Dimension. For Gigantic Sike, Mean Jeans simplified their approach and just tried to bang out killer punk tunes. What results is an exciting and totally fun poppy punk record - but with a surprising lyrical depth.

What happens to America's definitive party punk band when it's time for responsible adulthood to kick in? That's the general theme of Gigantic Sike. It's a record about the "bleak existence of a party boy", with songs exploring the grave consequences of long-term substance abuse and the loneliness  that awaits when all your old pals outgrow the party-hard lifestyle. On opening track "Party Line", Billy Jeans goes as far as to sing out his actual phone number. The sad twist is that no one's calling. I must say I really love this particular iteration of Mean Jeans. I am notoriously a non-fan of party anthems. But this darker, sadder, and intensely self-reflective songwriting angle is totally up my alley! The "gigantic sike" referenced in the album title is the idea that a band trapped in an identity it never fully intended to create can free itself by playing its entire existence off as a joke. You find yourself yearning to jump in a time warp and re-do the entire past decade of your life. But while this is certainly the most "serious" record Mean Jeans have ever made, they've never sounded more like themselves. They stick closer than ever to the Ramones blueprint - mixing no-frills three-chord slammers ("Stuck In A Head", "Buddy's Leaving") with poppier numbers that'll stick to your skull like glue ("WTF Is Up Tonight", "Time Warp"). These guys really wrote a strong batch of tunes here, and they execute the tried-and-true pop-punk style to perfection. And even with the somewhat bleak point of view, this record won't cheat you out of a Wayne's World reference, a little profanity, and a visit to outer space. This IS a Mean Jeans album, after all!

I would never discourage bands from trying new things and progressing creatively. But I must admit that I'm extremely delighted to hear Mean Jeans embracing simplicity on Gigantic Sike. The aversion I sometimes have to Ramones-inspired bands is that they just make me wish I was listening to the real thing. But a band like Mean Jeans proves that it's still possible to start with a Ramones influence and do something interesting and unique with it. Thankfully, Gigantic Sike doesn't actually void the entire existence of Mean Jeans. It adds a new chapter to the band's story - one I find incredibly compelling. If Gigantic Sike was the first thing you ever heard from this band, it would make you want to hear a whole lot more!


Monday, August 26, 2019

Baby Shakes - "Love Song In Reverse"

It's hard to believe I've been writing about Baby Shakes since 2005! Over these past 15 years, Baby Shakes have become the definitive modern-day power pop punk rock and roll band. And I've become...much older! Having fully perfected its signature sound over three terrific albums and numerous singles, this New York foursome is poised to try some new things on its forthcoming long player Cause A Scene. While by no means abandoning their love for Chuck Berry, the Ramones, and '70s power pop, Baby Shakes have some surprises in store for us on this album. Cause A Scene promises to be a back-and-forth ride through a myriad of rock and roll styles. They've given us a sneak peak with an advance track called "Love Song In Reverse". This isn't so much a love song as it is an anti-love song - a snappy rocker with sweet hooks and some not-so-sweet lyrics. I find the idea of a love song in reverse to be a pretty neat concept. The heartbreak is not something that's eventually arrived at - it's promised right off the bat! Propelled by a bad-ass, surf-tinged riff and the instantly memorable lyrical couplet "You're outta your mind/Don't put your heart on the line", "Love Song In Reverse" sounds like the song of the summer for an eternal 1980. Ya gotta love it. And you gotta be stoked for the full album! It releases September 20 on Baby Shakes' own label Lil' Chewy Records!


Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Battlebeats - self titled

I can always count on Alex Kish to know what I like! On his recommendation, The Battlebeats sent me their debut EP. I pushed play and was immediately blown away! I suppose "their" is a misleading pronoun since The Battlebeats are actually just one guy. His name is Andresa, and he hails from Bandung, Indonesia. Andresa recorded this debut using only a Jaguar guitar through a 15-watt amp, floor-snare, and tambourine. On a regular basis since I started this blog, I have complained about all the modern-day garage punk bands that are neither garage nor punk. Well, my friends, The Battlebeats are garage punk the way it ought to be! Teengenerate is a huge reference point here, and how can you go wrong with that? Fifi gave Andresa the band name, and Fink gave him permission to cover the classic track "Dressed In Black" (the greatest garage punk song ever made!). In keeping with the spirit of raw and wild lo-fi trash, four of the five original songs here were written within five days of the recording session! From the moment I heard Andresa scream "Are you ready to rock and roll, motherfucker?!" at the beginning of "You Stabbed Me In The Back", I knew this EP was going to be great. Andresa tears through these songs with an energy and attitude that are off the charts. The '90s budget punk influence is undeniable, but I'm also picking up old school '60s garage rock vibes on tracks like "I'm A Piece Of Shit". Don't let the "one man band" thing scare you off. It would ordinarily take at least three people to kick up a racket this raucous! If you long for the days when the likes of Teengenerate and The Reatards reigned supreme, The Battlebeats will be music to your ears. Don't let me catch you playing this at a low volume!