Friday, December 6, 2019

The Whiffs - Another Whiff

Alright, power pop fans. Here's the one you've been waiting for! Since releasing their mini album Take A Whiff in 2017, Kansas City's The Whiffs have added Joey from The Rubs to their lineup and transformed themselves into a road-tested powerhouse. Another Whiff, out today on DIG! Records, was recorded over a year's time in the band's basement practice space. With Rory, Zach, and Joey all contributing songs, you would expect The Whiffs' proper debut album to be something really special. And let me tell you, it sure is! Again the band hearkens back to the mid/later '70s heyday of American power pop (Big Star, Raspberries, Dwight Twilley) with additional nods to the best of 21st Century pop-leaning punk (Exploding Hearts, Gentleman Jesse). But on this 14-song long player, The Whiffs expand their sound to incorporate the aching ballads and beer-soaked anthems of heartland rock lore. This album just feels like America. It transports me to some mythical dive bar where The Replacements, Tom Petty, and Cheap Trick still rule the jukebox. The band still delivers gorgeous melodies, three-part harmonies, and memorable choruses in spades. But while Another Whiff is steeped in power pop classicism, it doesn't limit itself to that. This album is as universal as music gets - packed with songs about heartbreak, lost love, and whatever magic it is that keeps us going back for more.

My greatest appreciation for Another Whiff comes from comparing it to Take A Whiff and realizing how far this band has come. I was so stoked on Take A Whiff that I could not have imagined much room for improvement. But Another Whiff is indeed better by leaps and bounds. Certainly adding another talented songwriter to the band didn't hurt. But clearly The Whiffs benefited from taking their sweet time and honing these songs to their complete satisfaction. This is a rare case of me having no clue which song is supposed to be "the hit". This record is chock full of songs that would be all over the radio in a world where 1980 never ended. Songs like "Shakin All Over" and "Dream About Judy" are pure power pop bliss. "Please Be True" follows that Petty by way of the Byrds blueprint to perfection. "On The Boulevard" is the perfect song for that particular moment when you can't decide whether you'd rather cry in your beer or start dancing. The wonderfully nostalgic "Seventeen" channels Alex Chilton not just in style, but also in spirit.

Another Whiff was one of my most highly anticipated albums of 2019, and it turned out even better than I hoped. It's a great power pop album and a great album, period. You will be seeing this record pop up on a lot of people's year-end top tens, and it will certainly rank very highly on mine. Vinyl available now from DIG! Records!

  
-L.R.

https://digrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/the-whiffs-another-whiff-dig009 
https://digrecords.bigcartel.com/product/the-whiffs-another-whiff-lp-pre-order 
https://www.facebook.com/The-Whiffs-1016638245091111/ 
https://www.facebook.com/digrecordcompany/ 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The OC Rippers - Demo


Greg Mongroll has been tipping me off to great new bands since the days when he was one of the three people who followed this blog. He never lets me down, which ultimately means he never lets you down! His latest find is The OC Rippers, a new project hailing from Ocean County, New Jersey (hence the "OC" in the band name!). The OC Rippers have emerged with a demo tape that you can download for free or purchase on cassette by emailing the band. What I like about this demo is that it reminds me of my early days in the punk world - when it was always so cool to discover a demo tape from a new band. A little bit of that magic has been lost in our modern-day digital world, when bands post "demos" online that often just sound like studio recordings. But The OC Rippers' demo actually sounds like a demo I would have played the hell out of in 1995. It's lo-fi but not really "garage". This is just good stripped-down old school punk. Sometimes the band comes out ripping it fast and hard ("Never Coming Down"). Other tracks like "Look Your Best" are slower in tempo and crudely performed in a charming pre-punk/early punk way. I love that there's nothing I can compare this band to directly. If they have influences, they're not made obvious. The keyboards on some of the tracks are a neat touch as well. I still don't feature new bands as often as I'd like to, so I must thank Greg for helping me out a little. Be the first on your block to get hip to The OC Rippers!



-L.R.

https://ocrippers.bandcamp.com/releases 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Sick Bags - Only The Young Die Good

Fresh off a killer debut EP released early this year, Virginia's Sick Bags are back with six more tracks of fierce and filthy punk rock and roll. Again, guitarist Tony Leet (ex Dirty Fingers, Ladies) has penned some raw and rocking punk tunes that ascend to another level on the strength of Mel Medina's bad-ass vocals and Paul Kirk's scorching guitar leads. Only The Young Die Good, poised for a vinyl release in late December/early January, is a potent mix of Stooges/MC5 thunder, early American punk grit, and even a little '80s glam metal sleaze. Sometimes you just need a record like this that kicks you straight in the teeth, and I like how everything builds up to the epic and blazing "Halfway to Hell". There's nothing fancy going on here: just tough, straight-forward punk rock with attitude for days. Already recognized as one of Richmond's must-see live acts, Sick Bags are rising stars of the trashy punk scene. Physical release of Only The Young Die Good coming from two of the best labels out there: No Front Teeth and Spaghetty Town Records!



-L.R.

https://sickbags.bandcamp.com/album/only-the-young-die-good 
https://www.facebook.com/getyoursickout/ 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Anxieties - Mission Failure

The Anxieties' latest album has been quite a long time in the making. Seriously: in the years it took the Portland foursome to get Mission Failure made, the band's lyrics had to be re-categorized from science fiction to non-fiction. All of that paranoia, distrust of the government-entertainment complex, and wariness of constant surveillance don't seem too far-fetched at a time when our televisions are literally recording our conversations and artificial intelligence can recognize our faces in photographs. Alexa, play The Anxieties!

To the best of my knowledge, this is the Anxieties' first full album of new material since Under Surveillance, which was recorded back in 2009-2010. The band started writing Mission Failure a decade ago, but a series of lineup changes led to a number of delays in the completion of the record. One thing led to another, and suddenly Scott Von Rocket and company were considering that the album title was turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perseverance ultimately prevailed, and here we are in 2019 with a new Anxieties full-length finally in our possession (LP release to be announced). Man, do we ever need this band more than ever! Mission Failure is probably the most focused display yet of The Anxieties' musical vision. These songs re-imagine the surf-inflected melodic punk of early '80s southern California for our 21st Century dystopia, with a touch of that post Dirtnap Records garage punk/pop in the mix as well. The title track has the band emphasizing melody more than ever before, while "Atlantis Rising" flexes surf rock instrumental chops in a major way. But more than anything else, this album finds The Anxieties ripping it up old school style. Six of 14 tracks don't even hit the two-minute mark, and several more barely exceed it. Songs like "Blank Stares", "Hypnotised", "Panic Room", and "Radio Silence" are fast and frantic thrillers - fully exuding the anxious tenor of our times. There's a spastic quality to many of these songs that has long been a hallmark of Von Rocket's bands. And that perfectly fits The Anxieties' brave new world vibe. While many of these songs were written by a much earlier version of this band, the new lineup sounds amazing and definitely manages to put its own stamp on the material. Pretty much everyone who's been in The Anxieties over the past decade has had a hand in making this album what it is. And you never really mind waiting for a record when it turns out this awesomely. Mission Failure is highly recommended listening whether you're skateboarding, circle dancing, or privately contemplating your growing dread of science gone too far.



-L.R.

https://theanxieties.bandcamp.com/album/mission-failure 
https://www.facebook.com/theanxieties 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Vista Blue - Keep It All Year

If it's Black Friday and I'm not listening to new Christmas music from Vista Blue, then it doesn't really feel like Black Friday. Keep It All Year is 2019's installment of Vista Blue holiday merriment. The title sure seems to imply that songs of this nature are appropriate listening for all seasons. I will absolutely concur with that. We are talking about a band that leaves free music under our trees several times a year! I am continually amazed by how this band can be so very prolific yet still always deliver top quality songs. Keep It All Year features three original songs: one written by Todd, the other two by Mike. If you are normally put off by the excessive cheerfulness of Christmas songs, you might enjoy the snarky humor of Todd's crunching punker "Merry Christmas To Me". "Secret Santa", on the other hand, is an upbeat love song that's as sweet as punch ("And the twenty dollar limit's not enough to let you know what you mean to me/'Cus I'd buy you all the stars, yeah/And the sun and moon too"). Man, this one goes straight to my heart. LOVE IT! Wrapping up the EP is a holiday sentiment we can all agree upon, "I Want New Ramones Songs (For Christmas)". I've gotta say that although we'll never actually get new Ramones songs for Christmas, this track might be as close as we come. If I were walking through the mall and heard this song piping through the speakers, I would literally jump for joy. I've heard lots of bands imitate the style, but very few ever capture the true spirit of the Ramones this perfectly.

My holiday season could not have gotten off to a better start. The Cowboys lost AND I have great new music from one of my favorite bands?! If you refuse on principle to partake in Christmas music, just think of this as a Vista Blue EP that happens to be set at Christmas time (like a pop-punk Die Hard or something). Or if you hold a more progressive world view, well....keep it all year!



-L.R.

https://wearevistablue.bandcamp.com/album/keep-it-all-year 
https://www.facebook.com/wearevistablue/ 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ceremoney - The Reaction

Alright, power pop fans. I've got a real treat for you today! Ceremoney hail from Palma, Spain but sound like they just stepped out of England or Northern Ireland circa 1979! The band's new EP The Reaction has been released by the Spanish label Cero en Conducta Records. Don't let the cover art fool you. The sound here is classic power pop riding the edges of mod-punk and new wave. The label cites bands such Strangeways, Starjets, and The Letters for comparison, and I definitely agree. There's a great punky energy to these four tracks, but melody and quality songwriting are always at the forefront. "Five Years" reminds me a little of The Vapors, while "Little Norway" is skinny tie power pop by way of the British Invasion. The label guy Pepe told me, "The first time I listened to these songs, I couldn't believe it." And I know exactly what he means! I am so excited to have discovered this band, and I imagine many of you will feel the same way. My love affair with Spanish rock and roll continues!

 
-L.R.

https://www.facebook.com/Ceremoney/
https://www.facebook.com/ceroenconductarecords/

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Telegenic Pleasure - self titled

Now here's a real super-duo for you! Telegenic Pleasure is Marco from No Front Teeth Records, The Gaggers, Miscalculations, Disco Lepers, Stalin Video, etc. teaming up with Rob from Isolation Party, Klazo, Mononegatives, etc. You could say that both of these guys are kind of prolific! Together they've just released their killer debut album on No Front Teeth. This is London, England meets London, Ontario, and you know to expect something unique and cool with these two involved! I love the vibe of this record - it's synth-punk with an emphasis on the punk. These songs are dark and weird and raw and sharp, perfectly mixing first wave U.K. punk with art-damaged new wave and post-punk. Marco's snot-bomb vocals are immediately recognizable, and there is much shared musical DNA here with his other bands. I'd say Telegenic Pleasure is a little more "punk rock" than Miscalculations and clearly more electronic/futuristic than The Gaggers. But these songs also have Rob Brake's signature all over them. He has envisioned a chilling soundtrack for a doomed post-modern world. Songs run the gamut from abrasively raging ("Sealed Off") to more robotic dystopian ("Vision Burns"), with stops at all points in between. Whether you're more into the synth or the punk, this is an album you are sure to enjoy (although I don't know if "enjoy" is the most suitable word!). As is often the case with NFT releases, there are multiple versions of the LP release for you to check out if you're a collector of cool things. Get on it!



-L.R.

https://telegenicpleasure.bandcamp.com/releases 
https://www.nofrontteeth.co.uk/ 
https://www.facebook.com/No-Front-Teeth-Records-117591658310943/ 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Les Breastfeeders - "Trois Nuits de Chien"

How about another ripper of a single from Les Breastfeeders! It was just seven months ago that I posted on the Montreal band's first new record in eight years, "Ma Mort D'avant Ma Mort". Les Breastfeeders have quickly followed with another single on Blow the Fuse Records. "Trois Nuits de Chien" is a top-notch psychedelic leaning garage rocker that combines a wild '60s punk energy with some more nuanced musical touches (e.g. mellotron, harmonica, haunting vocal harmonies). Compared to "Ma Mort D'avant Ma Mort", this might be even more of a vintage Les Breastfeeders sound. It's definitely psychedelic rock and roll with the emphasis on the rock and roll - which is exactly the way I like it! I especially like the passion and intensity in the lead vocal. On the B-side, the band pays homage to Quebec's own '60s garage/yé-yé standouts Les Hou-Lops with a cover of their 1967 raver "J'etudie Mon Grec". To put it lightly, Les Breastfeeders' version is quite spirited! This song makes me wanna dance around the house until I'm dizzy. Of course I highly recommend the original as well. Les Breastfeeders capture the same spirit but definitely infuse some modern-day garage rock gusto.

Coming off a strong showing with "Ma Mort D'avant Ma Mort", Les Breastfeeders have kicked it up a notch with "Trois Nuits de Chien". I tend to prefer my garage rock in these smaller doses, and this smokin' pair of tunes really hits the spot. A damn fine single! 

  
-L.R.

https://lesbreastfeeders.ca/album/trois-nuits-de-chien-j-tudie-mon-grec 
https://www.facebook.com/lesbreastfeeders 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Black Feathers - Demo

No one will ever confuse me with a death rock enthusiast, but I definitely have a soft spot for macabre post-punk when it's done in a very particular way. Black Feathers can be seen traipsing through various graveyards, remote wooded areas, and witches' lairs throughout Portland, Oregon if you look closely enough. Singer Thin Lizzy Borden and bassist GG Allin Poe strike an uncanny resemblance to Lexxi Vexx and Scott Von Rocket from Lexxi Vexx & The Modern Gentlemen. Joined by Kevin Cross Eddie Van Helsing and David Lee Goth, these mysterious figures seek to restore Goth rock's good name on a four-song demo that hearkens back to the heyday of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and The Cure. Undeterred by confronting his evil twin, Scott Von Rocket produced this EP with great attention to every last frightening detail. "The Deck" is some first-rate dark wave featuring spooky keyboards and lead vocals from Ms. Borden that will give you both the good and bad kind of chills. Dear god, what a voice! Reading the lyrics, I'm unsure whether I should be amused or afraid to ever leave the house again. The band theme "Black Feathers" sounds like the death rock song you always wanted X to record. "Big Shiny Bomb" is a cover of a song by Lexxi Vexx & The Modern Gentlemen (imagine that!) remade from punk into Goth...and you'll be convinced it was written to sound like this! "Thursday" is a ghastly slow burn and definitely the creepiest of these four songs.

The closest I ever get to following horror is watching the news, but The Black Feathers check off all my necessary boxes for haunting and pitch-black post-punk. If you long for the days when Goth rock had a punk rock attitude, perhaps you will dare to seek out this demo.



-L.R.

https://blackfeathers.bandcamp.com/releases 
https://www.facebook.com/blackfeatherspdx/ 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Midnite Snaxxx - Music Inside

Is there anything better than when a band you love completely surprises you in the most wonderful way? Sure, Midnite Snaxxx could have made another record just like its last one. And I would have been more than happy. But knowing that the Snaxxx had a record like Music Inside in them, I am delighted that they dared to break their own mold. I won't quite say that this sounds like a totally different band. You can put on Music Inside and still tell it's Midnite Snaxxx. But it's Midnite Snaxxx taking the risk of trying something different - and the results are stunning. You don't even have to take my word for it. The entire album is streaming below!

You could argue that Music Inside (releasing December 6th on Slovenly Recordings) is a natural progression for Midnite Snaxxx. But it's a huge leap forward - one that may leave a lot of people screaming, "Wow!". And that's the good kind of wow, folks! In my mind, 2017's Chew On This remains this decade's finest work of pop-leaning old school punk. For Music Inside, the band has gone in a very different direction. With a sound based on sophisticated rhythms, nifty guitar/bass interplay, and a seamless melding of musical influences, this album allows all four members of the band to shine as musicians. This is a record heavily inspired by the post-punk/new wave of the late '70s and early '80s. Yet it's also got the energy and spirit of early L.A. punk and '90s DIY. Collectively, those influences come together in a way that sounds fully contemporary and original. The Snaxxx recorded this album in L.A. with Eric Big Arm, who beautifully captured the intricacies of the band's sound. The band makes great use of Camylle's formidable talents on this release. Almost all of these songs prominently feature her bass, which does a very intricate dance with those modern, minimalist guitars. Chris on guitar and Sammy on drums really stand out here as inventive, exceptionally skilled players. Dulcinea on guitar and vocals has found new and interesting ways to write punk rock songs with a pop sensibility.

Music Inside is in many ways the perfect punk rock record for 2019. It's reflective of personal and political frustrations that are certainly specific to Dulcinea yet also common to the current human experience. And I love the idea that one's inner rage can be channeled into something as exciting, powerful, and totally bad-ass as this record. "Music Inside", a tone setter for the entire album, is a triumph of infectious rhythms and playful melody. "Baby" and "She Don't Want That" are fierce and furious yet sure to make you want to dance. "Lights Out" brings that old L.A. punk influence into the light (and darkness) of present day. "Disconnected" and "Cyborg" rage at a hyper, near-hardcore pace yet conform to almost none of the conventions of punk rock. "Gold Chains" and "Out of Control" are so sneaky catchy that you'll never even notice those hooks latching into your skull.

Midnite Snaxxx have pulled off an impressive feat in growing creatively while remaining a punk rock band through and through. I can hear bits and pieces of past greats that this band would probably cite as essential influences (Slits, Bags, Kleenex, Wire). But mostly what I hear is Midnite Snaxxx - four extremely talented musicians creating their own extraordinary sound. It's no secret that this is one of my favorite bands. And Music Inside only makes me a bigger fan. Some may say that there can never really be anything new in punk music. Thankfully Midnite Snaxxx have other ideas.



-L.R.


https://slovenly.bandcamp.com/album/midnite-snaxxx-music-inside-lp 
https://midnitesnaxxx.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/Midnite-Snaxxx-105627569476640/ 
https://www.slovenly.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/slovenlyrec/

Saturday, November 16, 2019

More Kicks - self titled

If you asked me to sum up More Kicks' debut album in just one word, I'd simply say pop. And if you think that's a bad thing, you're clearly visiting the wrong blog! The London trio fronted by Sulli from Suspect Parts has fully delivered on the "pop explosion" it's been promising all along. Out on Wanda Records, Dirt Cult Records, Beluga Records, Adrenalin Fix Music, and Snap Records, the band's self-titled LP is full of splendid tunes that combine the best elements of '60s pop, '70s punk/new wave, and '90s/2000s Brit-pop. As he's already demonstrated with his contributions to Suspect Parts, Sulli is a brilliant songwriter who really knows how to turn out a melody. He's formed the ultimate power trio with Paolo on bass and Kris Hood (Speedways/Los Pepes) on drums.

More Kicks knocked out this album in just two days, recording everything live to tape. Sometimes I ponder what sort of wizardry is involved in making a power pop record sound so, uh, powerful. In this particular instance, I would say it was a case of a tight band coming as close as possible to its live sound. It's a real treat to have a full album of Sulli songs, and his songwriting style becomes clearly defined here. He really excels at writing songs that sound upbeat but frequently prove to be bitter and hilariously savage if you're paying close attention. Combine that with his knack for turning three-minute pop songs into fully-rounded stories, and you can definitely view Sulli as a songwriter from the Ray Davies/Elvis Costello lineage. Of course it's great fun when he's cleverly scathing ("She's A Reaction" and "Rock n Roll Again" are top-notch), but he also excels at turning that brutal honestly inward. "Blame It On The Satellite" is a brilliant reflection on taking personal responsibility for your own failures. "Ain't That Just The Way" is that rare break-up song that's honestly self-aware.

While I won't quite deign to employ the old "this sounds like a greatest hits record!" cliche, I will say that this debut from More Kicks is remarkably strong all the way to the end. You've clearly got a lot of confidence in your material if you can save "the hit" for the track nine position! Heck, it might be the penultimate cut "Young Enough" that boasts the best hook on the entire record. Three of the 7" tracks were re-recorded for this release, and with good reason. It's hard to imagine a More Kicks album that didn't include "On The Brink" (how devastating are those lyrics?!) and "It's A Drag" (the best song the Buzzcocks never wrote). I love some of the little touches too. The keyboards on "She's A Reaction" give a fun, party vibe to what might otherwise have been a downer song. And I'm absolutely loving the Gary Numan knockoff/homage bass line on "What You Thinking". As a power pop fan, I'd be hard-pressed to find a record more satisfying than this one. This is one of the 2019's best LPs, and that's saying a lot considering what a phenomenal year this has been for music. How soon before Kris Hood is drumming for every great band?



-L.R.

https://morekicks.bandcamp.com/album/more-kicks-debut-album 
https://www.facebook.com/morekicksmorekicks 
https://wandarecords.bandcamp.com/album/same-4 
https://dirtcultrecords.bandcamp.com/album/more-kicks 
https://belugarecords.bandcamp.com/album/more-kicks 
https://snaprecordsspain.bandcamp.com/album/more-kicks-more-kicks-funlp-027 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Gino and the Goons - Do The Get Around

Any "greatest rock and roll band on earth" conversation that excludes Florida's Gino and the Goons is hereby declared illegitimate! And fortunately we now find ourselves in the season of Gino and the Goons - the music gods' reward to us for persevering through trying times. It began in September with Black Gladiator/Slovenly's full-fledged release of the band's phenomenal third album Rip It Up (the world demanded more than 300 copies of that thing!). It continues today with the arrival of the band's fourth album Do The Get Around. It culminates next month with the release of the band's fifth album Off the Rails (on the venerable Big Neck Records!). So unless you were one of the lucky few that got your hands on Rip It Up last year, you're looking at getting three new Gino and the Goons albums in one three-month period. As they say: Christmas has come early!

Rip It Up was perhaps the most acclaimed record of 2018 within budget rock/garage punk circles. The Black Gladiator reissue ensures that this blistering slab is now available to all who desire it. And with digital mastering handled by Tim Warren, you are guaranteed to have your ears melted upon contact. Head on over to the Slovenly Recordings Bandcamp to get in on the action! Out today on the always terrific Drunken Sailor Records, Do The Get Around is far from a rehash of its predecessor. If Rip It Up was the best '90s garage punk record released this decade, Do The Get Around is its rowdier, sleazier, and far more boozed-up companion. It's definitely an album fit for a drunken sailor! Gino and the gang dig even deeper into the blues, country, and primitive rock and roll on this 10-track smasher. The songwriting is so authentically old school that I had a few of these tracks pegged as possible covers. But besides the 1959 Dale McBride rockabilly side "Prissy Missy", these are all Gino and the Goons originals. "Pills In My Pocket" brings to mind The Replacements when they were young, wild, and rarely sober. "Take It Off" is quintessential budget trash and not exactly politically correct (hint: it's not about reducing the federal deficit). "I'm Your Man" is punked-up rhythm & blues slop that could just about bring Johnny Thunders back from the dead. The raucous "SAMF" is most definitely NSFW.

What can be said about Gino and the Goons other than that this band has just got it? You look to some bands for the bad-ass attitude, others for the killer tunes, others for the musical chops, and others for the unassailable set of influences. But Gino and the Goons are the rare band that can check off all of those boxes. They get that rock and roll ought to be raw, unruly, and played excessively loud. Put on Do The Get Around, and whatever space you're currently occupying will be transformed into your own personal dive bar. With you possibly having to choose between three Gino and the Goons albums for purchase, you may be seeking my guidance on how to prioritize. I will gladly oblige. Sell a kidney, donate some sperm, and settle for the cheaper toilet paper. You gotta have all three records! Order your Do The Get Around vinyl here!



-L.R.

https://drunkensailorrecords.bandcamp.com/album/do-the-get-around-lp 
http://www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk/categories/drunken-sailor-records 
https://ginoandthegoons.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/GINO-and-the-GOONS-269493892726/ 
https://www.facebook.com/DrunkenSailorRecords/ 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band - Flyover

Flyover, the second studio album from Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band, has been a great many years in the making. The period between this album and its predecessor Promises To Deliver now approaches six and a half years. For context, consider that the year Promises To Deliver came out, the Houston Astros were a 51-win team! But if this is what we get after all of this time, then every last bit of the wait was worth it. Out tomorrow on Don Giovanni Records, Flyover is exactly the album you would expect from one of THE great American rock and roll bands of present times. It does not redefine what Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band are all about. The Minneapolis outfit continues to be the quintessential garage/punk influenced bar band - playing traditional rock and roll with grit, soul, and an impressive flair for storytelling. And from the first spin, this album absolutely knocked me out. Coming in at ten tracks, Flyover is honest, straight-forward rock and roll done so well that you wouldn't want it to be anything else.

While I have heaped plenty of accolades upon Nato Coles as a singer, songwriter, and general man of the people, I have not said nearly enough about the Blue Diamond Band. The group's formidable chops are the result of years of continuous touring and an undying commitment to rocking the roof off of every dive bar, pub, club, social hall, amphitheater, shopping complex, picnic pavilion, water park, coffee shop, bowling alley, gambling den, and basement venue that will have them. The band as constituted on this 2017 recording is Sam Beer on lead guitar, Mike Cranberry on drums, Luke Lecheler on keyboards, and Bill Rohla on bass. Beer is an absolute force on this release. I don't know whether to describe him as Nato's own Mike Campbell or as a combination of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Either way, he's one of my favorite guitarists working today (It figures that I'd be huge fan of a guy named "Beer"). From the opening strains of "Under The Flyover", the Blue Diamond Band sounds plain hot on this release. Cranberry and Rohla mightily drive the rhythm while Lecheler works the keyboards with exemplary old school R & B flair. And while his band fires on all cylinders, Nato delivers a stunning set of rockers, ballads, and anthems.

Given the years elapsed between albums, Flyover might be considered Nato's own Darkness on the Edge of Town (although it's probably closer to The River!). He had to be dying to get some of these songs on record. Like any Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band record, Flyover transports you to a world where the bright lights and hot sounds of transcendent rock and roll spring weary souls to life. Propelled by a big hook chorus and Beer's guitar heroics, "Under The Flyover" is absolutely the huge opening statement this album required. This is the sort of magic we expect from the Blue Diamond Band, and Nato's lyrics vividly complete the picture:

It's a hub of glorious hell in a west Wisconsin town/
I won’t stop coming around/
The last time we came through we raged until the dawn/
Count the bottles and bodies on the lawn… allright!

"Under the Flyover" is one of several standout rockers on this album. While slightly slower in tempo, "L.P.'s Yard" is even more powerful and emotion-packed (in Nato's own words, the song possesses a nostalgia "usually reserved for songs about great victories against the odds in battle"). "Standing On the Corner Alone" (previously heard on 2016's Live At Grumpy's) and "Michelle of the City" are vintage BDB sing-along anthems. "The Roadrunner" is a high energy barroom rocker replete with a moral ("Don't you waste no time/You know tomorrow's thine"). "Demolition Man" is completely over the top swagger-rock with lyrics to match ("I'm your real live, bonafide, nationwide, rippin' tide, living eyed, triple-wide, chicken-fried, double A-side"). If it's rock you crave, it's rock you shall receive! But Nato and the Blue Diamond Boys have reached the point where their ballads and quietly reflective numbers just might outshine their rockers. "Phoenix, Arizona (1989)" offers the indelible lyric "If this is what I wanted, why do I feel so haunted?" and leaves the Blue Diamond Band with at least one song in its back pocket should it ever find itself performing at Bob's Country Bunker. "Milo and the Bars" finds Nato excelling as a storyteller and expert chronicler of the human condition. In my book, it's the finest songwriting of his life. The roots/folk/Americana ballad "Disposable Camera" finally delivers Nato his "Here Comes A Regular" moment. While "epic" may be a term overused by music reviewers, I cannot think of a more appropriate way to describe closing number "The Avenue of the Saints". 

Flyover demonstrates why I'm such a fan of Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band. It's an album full of memorable characters, compelling stories, and eternal truths - all presented in the context of great American rock and roll. This is an album that could be enjoyed equally by a Fest attendee and your (admittedly hip) grandfather. It's full of songs that remind us to savor the remarkable moments in our lives and take the time to get to know the people we encounter in this world. I know I was a little surprised that "Dangerous" and "Midnight In Memphis" from the split with State Drugs were essentially leftovers from this album's recording sessions. But now having heard Flyover, I get it. These ten songs belong together, and I wouldn't change a thing. Compact disc release coming next month on Rum Bar Records!



-L.R.

https://natocoles.bandcamp.com/album/flyover 
https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/flyover 
http://natocolesandthebluediamondband.blogspot.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/natocolesmusic 
https://dongiovannirecords.bandcamp.com/music 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Cheap Cassettes - See Her In Action!

God, I love these crazy far-out digital times! You can wake up to what you think will be an another uneventful Tuesday, and suddenly a quick foray onto social media has you discovering that one of your three favorite bands on the planet has released a new EP that you didn't even know was coming out! Considering that most bands tease their new stuff weeks or even months in advance, that sort of surprise is a real treat! See Her In Action! is The Cheap Cassettes' third EP and first to be released exclusively in the digital format (at least for now). I know you'd probably expect me to say that this is the best thing this band has ever done. And of course I'm going to say it, but only because it's true! These tracks were recorded in June by drummer Kevin Parkhurst and subsequently mixed and mastered by living legend Kurt Bloch. And so here we are!

While generally typecast as a "power pop" band, The Cheap Cassettes could just as easily be filed under catchy punk or rootsy rock and roll. I think what strikes me the most about these songs is how they reflect Chaz's recognizable style as a songwriter far more than any sort of conformance to a genre. In these songs, I'm picking up on many of the same qualities that first made me a fan of Chaz's 23 years ago. He's older (although some of us have our suspicions about that), wiser, and more seasoned in his craft. Yet this is classic Chaz, and it doesn't hurt to have amazing players like Kevin and Izzy bringing out the best in him. This record is full of his signatures. There are the lyrics that just knock me out ("Disco dancing with the alpha males/No, not this one/She's got a necklace made from the teeth/Of all the boys who called her cheap"). There are the references to old Hollywood and classic literature. There's that grand romance that practically bleeds from his poetry ("We were mini brutes in our punk rock boots/Throwing shapes up to the gods"). "See Her In Action" is melodic guitar pop in all of its punchy glory, propelled by a simple but perfect hook and the instantly classic line "even your god is a she". "Only Lovers Left Alive" sure feels like a throwback to the Dimestore Haloes days, right down to those red-hot rock and roll guitars and lyrics romanticizing the resilience of punk rock lifers. Given that the majority of this blog's readership is probably comprised of forty-something and fifty-something musicians, I imagine the line "If we got old, we are the last to know" will strike a chord with a lot of you. And speaking of songs that might say a lot to me about my life, "Lil' Bit Everyday" is the greatest love song to alcohol that anyone has written in years.

See Her In Action! made me think of a recent interview with Ken Burns. He was asked about why so many of his films resemble each other. His response was, "What you're referring to is style, and mine works because it's authentic to me." That quote seems to perfectly sum up The Cheap Cassettes to me. They've been perfecting their own style for the last eight years, and consequently the records just keep getting better. This EP is everything I love about pop and punk and rock and roll all in one shot. It doesn't sound like any other power pop band out there, but it sure sounds like The Cheap Cassettes. I wondered if Chaz would ever be able to top "Kiss The Ass of My Heart", but I'd say he's definitely done it with "See Her In Action". And yes, that "cover model" is Hedy Lamarr - legendary Hollywood beauty and the inventor of frequency hopping. Now go give The Cheap Cassettes three bucks!



-L.R.

https://cheapcassettes.bandcamp.com/album/see-her-in-action-ep 
https://www.facebook.com/cheapcassettes/ 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Kurt Baker Combo - "Can't Go Back"

What a great run of new music we've had this fall! That continues with the latest single from the Kurt Baker Combo. The new record is called "Can't Go Back", and it's out now on Wicked Cool Records. These tracks come from the same sessions that resulted in the Combo's outstanding summer 2019 single "(I Can't Help) Failing In Love". This single was produced by Mike Mariconda and post-produced by Wyatt Funderburk under the watchful eye of executive producer Steven Van Zandt. What I love about Baker's records with the Combo is that you never know what you're gonna get. Garage rock? Power pop? British Invasion? Pub rock? You can expect any of that and more. Baker co-wrote "Can't Go Back" with Andrew Rice, his former band-mate in The Leftovers. I sometimes think of The Combo as a modern-day version of The Attractions, so the vintage Elvis Costello flavor of this track just seems fitting. And with a guest appearance on 12-string guitar by the supremely talented Johnathan Pushkar, there's a more than palpable Beatles influence as well. What a great little pop song! On the flip, "No One's Home" is a song Baker co-wrote with Mark O'Flaherty, his band-mate in The Gold. This one's straight-up old school rockabilly and ought to have you reaching for your dancing shoes. I like how this track really lets The Combo turn loose its chops: Jorge Colldan tearing it up on lead guitar while Juancho Lopez & Sam Malakian steer the beat like the pros that they are. If this song doesn't get your toes tapping, nothing will!

Baker and the Combo enlisted a whole slew of talented friends to make "Can't Go Back" a cool record. Additional "guest stars" include Dani Niño on baritone saxophone, Maika Maikovski on backing vocals, Kris Rodgers on keyboards, and Manuel Machín contributing hand-claps. These two songs were definitely tailor made to be paired on a 45, and I imagine a lot of you will be playing the heck out of this thing! This is my tenth time reviewing a Kurt Baker record (or 21st if you include other releases he's played on). How long will it take until I've reviewed ten more? I'll start taking your bets now...



-L.R.

https://kurtbakerwcr.bandcamp.com/album/cant-go-back 
https://www.facebook.com/KurtBakerMusic 
https://wickedcoolrecords.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/WickedCoolRecords 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Midnite Snaxxx - "Music Inside"

Yes, you read that right! We get a brand new song today from the mighty Midnite Snaxxx, which I'm "leaking" with the blessing of the band and its record label Slovenly Recordings. "Music Inside" is the opening track from the album of the same name, which will be releasing December 6th on Slovenly. I don't want to spoil too much for you. So I'll just say Music Inside is a very different record for Midnite Snaxxx - in an entirely good way. "Music Inside" is essentially a mission statement/tone setter for the whole album, and I've been going nuts for the song for the past month without being able to tell anyone about it. Well now the world can hear what I'm so excited about! I think fans will be surprised, but above all else, really delighted by this track. It's a killer tune, and the band sounds absolutely amazing. I will have much more to say about the full album in a couple weeks. But for now, enjoy "Music Inside"!



-L.R.

https://slovenly.bandcamp.com/album/midnite-snaxxx-music-inside-lp 
https://midnitesnaxxx.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/Midnite-Snaxxx-105627569476640/ 
https://www.slovenly.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/slovenlyrec/ 

New Rochelles - Animal Boy

I have officially come full circle on Ramones cover albums. I went from thinking they were the coolest thing in the world to finding them utterly pointless. I had gone a decade plus without having the slightest urge to listen to any of them. But the New Rochelles covering Animal Boy in its entirety has pulled me back in. This, to me, is where it starts to get truly worthwhile to revisit the Ramones catalog. Animal Boy was released in 1986 - essentially the mid-point of the Ramones' existence. Is it a great Ramones album? Well that depends on who you ask. A good portion of the fan base will still defend a lot of the songs. But can anyone really defend the production? Certainly the Ramones struggled for most of the '80s to find a producer that "got" them. But Animal Boy seems the most blatant example of a failed attempt to commercialize the greatest band to ever walk the earth. It's certainly the most "'80s" sounding release in the band's catalog - and not in a good way. With the New Rochelles being true believers in all things Ramones, they were more than worthy candidates to re-make Animal Boy and perhaps demonstrate what the album could have been. This is the debut release on Hey Pizza! Records - a new pop-punk label with a whole lot of hot stuff in the works!

What's noticeable about the New Rochelles' interpretation of Animal Boy is that it has great reverence for the original - warts and all. You can tell they love this record and wanted to pay proper tribute to it. The band chose to retain the use of keyboards, and I was struck by how similar the vocals on "Somebody Put Something In My Drink" sound to Joey's on the original version. Even when you're dealing with a somewhat polarizing Ramones album, you probably don't want to reinvent the wheel. But while all these versions are largely faithful to the originals, I am pleased to report that the dated '80s production has been updated to sound more like a modern pop-punk record (Yeah, I know some of you wise guys will say that that's even worse!). In particular, "She Belongs To Me" and "Something To Believe In" have been made over in such a way that ought to appeal to fans of post Lookout! Records pop-punk. I'm definitely having a "Hey, are these songs better than I thought?" moment with those two tracks. 

Beyond the collectable/novelty factor, I think the whole point of covering an entire Ramones album is the attention it brings to the original version. It had been a while since I'd sat down and listened to Animal Boy. Of course "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg" is great. But upon revisiting the album, I was reminded of several other tracks I absolutely love (the title track, "Love Kills", "Crummy Stuff"). In much the same way that Boris the Sprinkler's version of End of the Century caused me to re-think my entire stance on that particular Ramones album, the New Rochelles have led me to see Animal Boy in a more favorable light. I can't imagine a fan of the New Rochelles not already owning all of the Ramones albums. But if this is your introduction to Animal Boy, it ought to make you want to hear the original. And if this is your first time hearing the New Rochelles, you may be impressed enough to seek out their excellent full-length It's New Too! Anything in this world that encourages more Ramones worship is a worthy endeavor in my book. So I'm giving a big thumbs-up to all parties involved in this project. Now who will dare to take on Halfway To Sanity?



-L.R.

https://heypizzarecords.bandcamp.com/album/new-rochelles-animal-boy
https://thenewrochelles1.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/thenewrochelles 
https://www.heypizzarecords.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/HeyPizzaRecords/ 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Speedways - Just Another Regular Summer (Deluxe CD Edition)

Back in the summer of 2018, I reviewed an absolutely tremendous record by The Speedways that to my mind has never received its due acclaim. At the time, it was intended as a one-off solo project by Matt Julian. But you know how things sometimes work out, and before long The Speedways became a proper and permanent band. Julian and his band-mates are now hard at work on a second Speedways album likely coming out next year. In the meantime, Rum Bar Records has given that stunning debut Just Another Regular Summer new life in the U.S. with a shiny new CD reissue. This deluxe edition includes all 12 songs from the original album plus both tracks from the band's "Seen Better Days" single and three acoustic demos. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best power pop albums of recent years. It absolutely merits some renewed attention. When it comes to writing songs about heartbreak and lost love, there's nothing more authentic than writing about actual heartbreak and lost love. Just Another Regular Summer is a concept album Julian wrote about his real-life summer of 2014. He really wore his heart on his sleeve penning these tracks, which take inspiration from '70s new wave and power pop and the timeless sounds of '60s pop. Hearing this album for the first time, I felt as if I'd encountered not just a talented songwriter, but also a kindred spirit. I am super stoked that Malibu Lou shared my affection for this record so deeply that he was willing to release it in America. Bonus material includes the band's warmly received cover of the Kirsty MacColl classic "They Don't Know". If you love power pop, you need some Speedways in your life!



-L.R.

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-another-regular-summer-deluxe-edition 
https://thespeedways.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/JustAnotherRegularSummer/ 
https://www.facebook.com/RumBarRecords 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Wyldlife - "Neon Nightmare"

Oh boy, a new Wyldlife single! Out now on Wicked Cool Records, "Neon Nightmare" is the New York City foursome's third 7". As usual, the band serves up a welcome reminder of a time when they still played rock and roll on the radio. Well, actually they do still play rock and roll on the radio - just not on commercial radio! But man, it sure would be super cool to hear a song like "Neon Nightmare" while I was shopping for produce or getting my teeth cleaned. This thing is a HIT! As always, Wyldlife finds that perfect blend of hook-laden power pop, old style punk, and arena-sized rock and roll. Dave delivers his usual charismatic performance on vocals, and Sam launches into guitar heroics worthy of a Thin Lizzy record. This is how you do it, man: write a great pop song and rock the hell out of it! On the B-side, the band digs up a real oldie-but-goodie. "I'm Just Losing That Girl" was originally recorded in 1983 by the French band Dogs. The original is a power pop classic, and Wyldlife definitely adds that unique Wyldlife touch.

When it comes to winning formulas for 7-inch records, it's hard to beat an A-side smash and a cool cover on the flip. Wyldlife has really nailed this one. For sure, one of the best singles of the year! 



-L.R.

https://wyldlifewcr.bandcamp.com/album/neon-nightmare 
https://www.facebook.com/wyldlifeband/ 
https://www.facebook.com/WickedCoolRecords

Sunday, November 3, 2019

David Quinton - Overlook Road

What comes to mind when you see the name David Quinton? You most likely know that he played on Stiv Bators's LP Disconnected and authored the classic track "Make Up Your Mind". You probably also know that he was the teenage drummer for The Mods - one of Canada's original punk groups. What you might not be aware of is that Quinton had a solid run as a solo artist in the early '80s. Shortly after his 20th birthday, he made a debut album that was released on the Canadian label Bomb Records. He demoed several more tracks in preparation for a second album that was ultimately never released. Having recently found the master tapes from several of his recording sessions from the early '80s, Quinton worked with Secret Mission Records to give them a proper release. And so now we have Overlook Road - a beautifully packaged 12-track LP!

The album title refers to Overlook Road in Silver Lake, Ohio - where Quinton once lived with his friend George Cabaniss (also a member of the Stiv Bators Band). Overlook Road is where Quinton wrote many of these songs on piano. One doesn't usually think of teenage punk rockers writing songs on piano, but that is the true origin of many of these tracks. A number of these songs were recorded from 1980-81 and are alternate versions of favorites from the original album (of course including Quinton's own recording of "Make Up Your Mind"). Several more were recorded for that ill-fated second album. Cumulatively, these songs document the work of a talented and often overlooked songwriter. The songs from the album are top-notch turn of the '80s power pop ("Make Up Your Mind" is every bit the equal of Bators's more well-known version). The tracks intended for Quinton's second album suggest that it would have been quite a different record. The likes of "That's All I Want", "Scene of the Crime", and "Afraid of the Light" (all recorded 1982) find Quinton's songwriting craft growing more sophisticated and contemporary. It's not hard to imagine "Scene of the Crime" as a radio hit in 1983.

It's somewhat miraculous that Overlook Road even exists. The master tapes unearthed for this release were in extremely poor condition and in serious need of repair. Anton Evans really did a bang-up job of repairing and refurbishing these recordings - which now sound as good as new! Quinton wrote the liner notes and provided photos from his personal collection for the full color insert. If you're a big fan of Quinton in particular or new wave era power pop in general, you ought to be very interested in this album. This was a true passion project for Secret Mission Records, and boy did the label ever go all-out to make it super cool! It's a deal and a steal for $15!



-L.R.

https://secretmissionrecords.bandcamp.com/album/david-quinton-overlook-road 
https://www.facebook.com/secretmissionrecords/ 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Nick Piunti - "All This Time"

Nick Piunti has been one power pop's shining stars in recent years. He has released four albums since 2013 - all of them absolutely brilliant. He's got another one in the works for 2020, which will be his first with his band The Complicated Men. Out now on Jem Records, new single "All This Time" is a little sneak preview of the forthcoming full-length. The Complicated Men are Jeff Hupp (bass), Ron Vensko (drums), Kevin Darnall (keyboards), and special guest Ryan Allen (guitar, harmony vocals). Given that Piunti is so well-known for the substance and smarts of his lyrics, it's appropriate that he and the band have released a lyric video for "All This Time". There are few things more powerful than songs lamenting lost love, and I gotta say this one really cuts deep. "You got a lot of nerve to say I'm overserved," sings Piunti. "It's not the drink that did me in, can't find no comfort in my skin." If I said those lines sounded Westerberg-ian, well I certainly wouldn't be the first person to make the comparison! This is just a devastating postmortem on a relationship, building up to the powerful refrain "All I wanna do is wake up without you on my mind". Musically this one is right in Piunti's "power pop for grownups" wheelhouse. And with a terrific band backing him, he sounds in top form. So give "All This Time" a listen (and a look!). The new album is slated for release early in the new year and will include ten songs. And if you need to get caught up on all the previous albums, now is a great time to do it!



-L.R.

https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/Nick-Piunti-The-Complicated-Men-542524509124050/ 
https://www.nickpiunti.com/ 
http://www.jemrecordings.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/Jem-Records-607560186079388/

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Vista Blue - Hit The Floor

Milestone time: this is my 20th Vista Blue review! I feel like the band ought to come out of this with commemorative varsity jackets or at least its own set of F & L glassware. How is it that I've come to review a band 20 times in less than four years? Perhaps it has something to do with me and Mike Patton having many shared interests in sports and Abita beer. But in all seriousness, I think it's because Vista Blue is one of the finest pure pop bands out there. And there's nothing I love more than pure pop.

To me, the measure of a great pop-punk band is that they would be just as good if they slowed things down and were simply a pop band. If you get rid of the buzzsaw guitars and racing tempos, what do you have with Vista Blue? A terrific pop group that values melody and perfectly executed vocal harmonies above all else. That's been apparent on the 19 DIY recordings I've reviewed previously. But Hit The Floor! is where Vista Blue fully demonstrates its chops as a pop band. This was the release the band funded via Kickstarter - its first record made in a "real" studio. And that real studio happens to be Ardent Studios in Memphis. Yeah, I'm talking about THE Ardent Studios - where Isaac Hayes made Hot Buttered Soul, Big Star made #1 Record, and ZZ Top made Eliminator! How wild is that!

Having went all-in on pop-punk on its recent album Tricks and Treats, Vista Blue wanted Hit The Floor! to be its definitive power pop release. Perry Leenhouts from Travoltas (speaking of punk bands that are great pop bands!) was enlisted to handle the mixing and mastering. You've never heard Vista Blue sound this big and clean on record - and that really accentuates what the band does best. "Summer Wonderland" is full of pristine harmonies and gorgeous melodies playing up VB's long-held affections for the Beach Boys and '60s pop. It comes darn close to hitting the four-minute mark, and every last second sounds perfect to my ears. "Big Stars", featuring Leenhouts' unmistakable harmonies, is upbeat power pop celebrating Mike's humble beginnings in music. It's also a love song, and I must say it really tugs at my heartstrings! I think this is my favorite Vista Blue song ever! "Three Chord City" is a cover of an absolutely CLASSIC song by New Orleans power pop legends The Cold, written by Vance DeGeneres. Vista Blue does a great version of this song, and I hope fans will be inspired to seek out the original and learn more about The Cold.

While Hit The Floor! is very much in the spirit of all of Vista Blue's music, there's no denying it paid off for the band to go all-out and aim for a great-sounding pop record. This was a different experience for Mike - who usually has to tend to every detail of the band's home recordings. This time he got to sit back and let the professionals work their magic. That includes studio engineer Mike Wilson, along with talented band mates Richard Bates (who kills it on guitar!), Reese Chism (drums), and Mark Crowley (bass). And once Leenhouts added his special touches, you had to know this thing was going to be gold. Digital EP is available now - featuring extensive liner notes by Wyatt Funderburk. Vinyl should be out just in time for Christmas!



-L.R.

https://wearevistablue.bandcamp.com/album/hit-the-floor 
https://www.facebook.com/wearevistablue/ 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Mad Rollers - "I Need Your Love"

Sometimes all you need is some really good rock and roll! Rome's Mad Rollers have released their latest single - a follow-up to their 2017 debut on Surfin' Ki Records. These guys keep it classic with an awesome mix of pub rock, glam, and proto punk. They aren't aiming to break any new ground, and why would you want 'em to? "I Need Your Love" is an upbeat, catchy rocker with big hooks and some absolutely smoking lead guitar. Mad Rollers cite Eddie and the Hot Rods and Slade as influences, and that definitely comes through in the music. Throw in some early Cock Sparrer, and you'll know exactly what sort of soup these guys are cooking. This is your soundtrack to a night of drinking and dancing and all those other fine things in life. B-side "Did You See" is in a similar vein but with a little nastier edge to it. All in all, this is a top-notch single. Label it however you want - in the end, it's just damn good rock and roll. Vinyl out on Sister Raygun Records out of Philadelphia, USA!



-L.R.

https://madrollers.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/sisterraygunrecords/
https://sisterraygunrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/madrollersband/

Friday, October 25, 2019

Extra Arms - Up From Here

As a huge fan of Detroit foursome Extra Arms, I was excited to find out that we were getting a second album from the band just one year after the release of its first. Headacher, Extra Arms' debut as a full band, was a gem of an album and absolute treat for anyone who fondly recalls the huge, hooky alternative rock of the later '90s. I am very happy to report that Up From Here is an absolutely extraordinary follow-up. What I'm not so happy to report is that it was inspired by a really terrible year in the life of front-man Ryan Allen. Ever since I heard his solo effort Heart String Soul four and a half years ago, I've considered him one of my favorite songwriters. Listening to Up From Here's opening track "F.L.Y." is like hearing a friend in distress. But while Allen is very up-front about this album being about the end of his marriage, this is in no way the depressing divorce record you might expect. Allen has always had a knack for writing about his personal experiences in a way that makes them come across as universal. And that's what he's done with Up From Here. Yes, these songs are extremely personal to him. But at a broader level, they're about encountering an unexpected loss and figuring out how to make a new, better life for yourself. You take your punches (literally and figuratively), and little by little you work yourself back to a good place. Who can't relate to that?

While the Sugar/Superdrag/Superchunk influences that powered Headacher are still very much at play on Up From Here, the feel of this album is a little different. Running just 22 minutes, it's got a punkier bite to it - especially on the first few tracks. And that perfectly suits this powerhouse of a band (also including Michael Gallacher on guitar, Ryan Marshall on bass, and Daniel Stover on drums). "F.L.Y." and "Disruptor" rip hard & fast and find Allen fully embracing his punk rock roots. "Secret Friend" is the heaviest track this band has done to date. Allen's narrative begins in a very dark place, and the music is reflective of that. You can hear the lyrics for yourself, but let's just say that Allen doesn't hold anything back. With the full force of kick-ass band behind him, he really lets it all out. Some of these songs are flat-out intense! You can feel the tide turning as the album progresses - Allen moving from rage and despair to self-reflection, acceptance, and finally genuine hope. "Comes In Waves" and  "Hold Me (All The Time)" are thundering shots of radio-worthy power pop that are perfectly suited to Paul Miner's massive production. "No Enemies" is a rocker that would make Bob Mould proud. And the title track is the soaring, optimistic closer this album needed to step fully into the light.

I cannot emphasize enough how much Extra Arms rock (Stover on drums is an absolute animal!). This is one of those groups that puts the power in power pop - like Cheap Trick or Material Issue back in the day. No wonder Allen didn't feel right putting his name above these other guys! I think some people will hear "divorce record" and automatically presume it will be full of mopey ballads. But Up From Here is about as far from that as you can get. Its mix of crunching power pop and powerfully emotional punk is carried off with an energy that is undeniable. There's part of me that feels guilty about enjoying this record so much: like, is it right that another person's pain should bring me such pleasure? But isn't that essentially the history of most great art and popular music in particular? Life has kicked all of our asses at one point or another. But we come back from it and find new beginnings. Allen has daringly laid his soul bare for all the world to witness, and it's my hope that more than a few people will be comforted or encouraged by this record. Music always makes things better. Whether you're invested in the story or just want to rock out like the '90s never ended, Up From Here is the best record that Ryan Allen has ever lent his name to. Although, technically, he didn't lend his name to it. Vinyl is out on Dadstache Records in the U.S. and Get Party! Records in Canada. Full stream available here!



-L.R.

https://extraarms.bandcamp.com/album/up-from-here-2 
https://getparty.bandcamp.com/album/up-from-here 
https://www.extraarmsband.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/ryanallenandhisextraarms 
https://www.facebook.com/GetPartyRecords/ 
https://dadstacherecords.com/