Friday, June 14, 2019

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads - "Kelly's Gone Insane"

How about some "heavy melody power pop punk" from the co-lead singer of one of the greatest bands of all-time? Count me in! When it comes to the pop side of original era punk rock, I put no band above The Boys except the Ramones. Forty-some years later, Boys singer/bassist Duncan Reid is again making some of the best punky power pop music out there with his current band the Big Heads. With the Big Heads, Reid has now released three LPs with a fourth in the works. The first of those albums, 2012's Little Big Head, is getting the reissue treatment on splatter vinyl with bonus tracks. To go with this reissue, the band is releasing a new 7" single with our friends Crocodile Records. The A-side is "Kelly's Gone Insane" - a track off of Little Big Head. It's backed by "Pretty Little Rachel" and "Baby Baby". The former was previously available only as a digital bonus track. The latter, to the best of my knowledge, is previously unreleased. "Kelly's Gone Insane" is one of the band's most popular numbers and was a natural choice for a single. It really highlights Reid's skills as a songwriter - as he takes very dark subject matter and still manages to turn out a song that's totally catchy and irresistible. "Pretty Little Rachel" is classic power pop in both a musical and spiritual sense, drawing from '60s pop influences and spinning a timeless tale of a man's powerlessness in the face of female beauty. "Baby Baby" might be the true gem of the lot. You can hear strains of The Boys on this track for sure, and that hook is worth its weight in gold.

The mere fact that Duncan Reid is still making music in the 2010s is a wonderful thing. What's even better is that he's making music of exceptional quality. This is one of the legends of power pop leaning punk (or vice versa), and he has not strayed far from his wheelhouse. Perhaps at this point it's a little less punk and a little more power pop. But isn't that where The Boys were already headed by the turn of the '80s? If you are a fan of The Boys or just great melody-driven pop in general, "Kelly's Gone Insane" makes for a fine introduction to Duncan Reid and the Big Heads. It officially releases Monday and will be limited to just 300 copies. This one will move fast, so be sure to hit up Crocodile Records on Facebook for ordering information!


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Prozacs - Ambivalence

Ambivalence is the title of the album, but J Prozac is clearly anything but ambivalent about his devotion to pop-punk. Supported by a revolving cast of players, he has kept The Prozacs going strong for now nearly 20 years. The Prozacs were always that band that bridged the gap between pop-punk's Lookout!/Mutant Pop salad days and the genre's recent run of unprecedented glory. In fact, you will now find The Prozacs label mates with the likes of Jagger Holly, Black Russians, and Radio Buzzkills - the best of the best of pop-punk's new generation. Ambivalence is the Prozacs' fifth album - but only their second of this decade. In recent years, Jay has branched out with an absolutely wonderful solo album and other projects like Stiletto Bomb and Doubtfire. Ambivalence finds him channeling some of that artistic growth into The Prozacs brand while still remaining ever faithful to the pop-punk music he so dearly loves.

Ambivalence is the first Prozacs album to feature longtime drummer Jimmy Craig. It would not exist without a great amount of perseverance on the part of J Prozac. This record took nearly a year to record and required the contributions of three different bass players. Yet the band powered through and ultimately produced what is probably its best album in a very long time. Opening cut "Rocking Out" celebrates the pursuit of playing punk rock for the sheer love of it - and it's really a statement about where The Prozacs are at this point. The group sounds energized, fully committed, and more than happy to be standing side by a side with a great new generation of bands it helped to inspire. Then suddenly the band tears into "Outta My Face" - almost certainly the "angriest" sounding Prozacs song I've ever heard. It's the kind of song you can only really pull off with an absolute killer manning the drum kit - and Craig is more than up to the task! Two songs in, and it's firmly established that this will not be one of those pop-punk albums where every song sounds the same. J Prozac, after all of these years in the game, has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. "Party's Over" proves that the Screeching Weasel songwriting formula can still yield fantastic tunes. The deceptively upbeat "Out of Time" is a sing-along anthem for our doomed world. "Wishing & Waiting" is thoughtful, sincere, and a fine example of the kind of song an adult pop-punk musician should aspire to write. "Lost In The Waves" is the latest case of J Prozac knowing how to end a record in style. It's a quasi-instrumental that blends pop-punk and surf in a very unique way. And while many of the songs on Ambivalence rail against the hardships and frustrations we encounter as we try to make it through day-to-day life, this song finds the album circling back to the optimistic note on which it began.

What Ambivalence makes clear is that The Prozacs remain a first-class pop-punk act. And while the word "maturity" is almost always the kiss of death within this genre of music, Jay has proven that pop-punk can grow up and still be really awesome. He worked like hell to get this album just the way he wanted it, and that commitment to a vision really paid off. Ambivalence is right at home on OUTLOUD! Records' star-studded roster!


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Creechers - Triple Feature

It had been a while since I'd heard some really good budget rock. Well Creechers sure fixed that! The Pittsburgh trio, featuring members of The Spectres, will be releasing a lathe-cut EP called Triple Feature later this month. I've reviewed The Spectres a couple times in the past, and Creechers are cut from similar cloth. I'd say the difference is that Creechers are a little on the poppier side of budget rock. You know I've got no complaints about that! From the opening strains of "Knife Stick", this EP gets my toes tapping and my head bobbing. "Get With You" would fit right in on any budget rock comp tape you made for yourself in 1992. "Get Off The Phone" is not a Heartbreakers cover, but it sounds like it could be. What a fun record! Sloppy and poppy is damn sure how I like my garage rock! Release party for the lathe-cut EP is on June 22nd at Babyland in Pittsburgh. Any copies not sold that night will be made available on Bandcamp the next day. Download is available now for just three bucks. I told you it was budget rock!


Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Candy Snatchers - Moronic Pleasures

Lately I've been feeling the urge to revisit The Candy Snatchers. It's not that I think the band was at all overlooked back in its late '90s/early 2000s heyday. It's just that so much of what we made of Larry May and company always came down to how wild, chaotic, and flat-out incredible their live performances were. But even if you set the Snatchers' stage show aside and just focused on their studio releases, I'd say they ought to be remembered for producing some of greatest garage punk rock n' roll music ever committed to record. Their self-titled debut album from 1996 is an absolute classic of sleazy and destructive punk rock n' roll. Compared to a lot of similar albums of its time, I think it holds up far better. I can put it on today, and my immediate response is still "Holy shit!". This may have been as close as the '90s got to recreating Iggy and the Stooges - with echoes of the Dead Boys, Misfits, and New York Dolls thrown in for good measure. Subsequently, The Candy Snatchers went to Compactor Studio in Brooklyn in 1997 and tracked what was arguably an even better second LP. It was to be called Moronic Pleasures. And for reasons I still cannot fathom, these recordings were rejected. After a second failed attempt to make this album, the band re-recorded many of the same songs in New York with Dean Rispler in 1998. This became the second Candy Snatchers LP, Human Zoo. Human Zoo is a beast of a record in its own right, but it never sat right with Snatchers super-fan Jake Starr that Moronic Pleasures had gone unheard all of those years. He took upon the task of rescuing this unheard Candy Snatchers album, which he released digitally on his label Fandango two years ago. And now thanks to Hound Gawd! Records, Moronic Pleasures has finally been released on LP. If it hasn't crossed your mind to buy a Candy Snatchers record in a couple decades, this sure is the one to get!

Jake Starr sums it up perfectly: "Don't get me wrong. Human Zoo rocks like a motherfucker. But Moronic Pleasures as recorded at Compactor Studio is the Candy Snatchers at their zenith." If I were trying to explain the greatness of The Candy Snatchers to someone, I would just play them Moronic Pleasures. The band has never sounded rawer, wilder, or meaner than it does here. Larry May sounds like a freak of nature on lead vocals - wailing away as if he's starring in some sort of psychotic opera. The guitar work from Matthew Odietus (RIP) is straight out of the Johnny Thunders and James Williamson playbooks. And with then-new drummer Sergio Ponce pounding the kit, the "classic" era Candy Snatchers sound is in full force. 11 of the 19 songs captured here were re-recorded for Human Zoo, but by no means does that make the purchase of this album unnecessary. Signature tracks like "No Time To Waste", "Burn It To The Ground", and "Pissed Off, Ripped Off, Screwed" burn even hotter in their original form. And then there are eight more songs here that did not appear on Human Zoo. Fans will surely recognize songs like "Run You Down", "Ass Casserole", and the Stooges cover "Fresh Rag" from later Snatchers releases. They fit in perfectly here - creating a 19-track scorcher of an album that is your definitive Candy Snatchers long player.

Jake Starr knew what he was doing when he brought Moronic Pleasures back from the dead. And he did it right - securing the original masters from the Compactor sessions and enlisting Dennis Kane to mix and master the album. The "lost" classic second album from The Candy Snatchers is no longer mere legend or rumor. Thanks to Oliver at Hound Gawd!, it's an actual vinyl record that you can order today and soon play on your turntable. This record proves that no conversation of the greatest garage-punk rock n' roll bands of the '90s can exclude The Candy Snatchers. And with the band back and playing live shows with a new lineup featuring Johnny Yeagher on guitar and Doug "Goose" Duncan on bass, let's be sure not to limit The Candy Snatchers to the past tense!


Friday, June 7, 2019

Local Drags - Shit's Lookin' Up!

While I've long been a big supporter of pop-punk by the book, I have lately been especially enamored with artists who take a pop-punk influence and do something a little different with it. I have to admit I was predisposed to liking Local Drags as soon as I saw singer/guitarist/bassist Lanny pictured posing with a cat on the one-sheet. But even without any feline involvement, I would have been into this record. You may know Lanny Durbin as co front-man in the new wave power pop punk band Starter Jackets. Well Local Drags are kind of like a less '80s-inspired, more classically Midwestern power pop version of Starter Jackets. This band retains the influence of pop-punk and modern melodic punk, but the prevailing vibe is power pop by way of '90s indie/alternative. Big guitars and even bigger melodies are in order here. I'm hearing a lot of Cheap Trick & Replacements worship informed by pop-punk, and I am fully on board with that! 

Shit's Lookin' Up! is the debut full-length from this Springfield, Illinois duo (which also includes Matt Sailor on drums). It's a co-release between It's Alive and Stardumb Records - a truly legendary pairing of pop-punk labels! The title, which references a lyric in opening track "Can Probably Wait", is really a perfect tone-setter for the whole album. This is for the most part an upbeat, crank-it-up-loud sort of pop record with some mellow moments to soak in while you sip on your glorious cheap beer. "Plot Holes", with its crunchy guitars and epic hook, is modern-day power pop at its finest. "500 Hours Free" is in a similar vein. "Hidden Track" is deeply emotional in a totally satisfying '90s alt-rocking way. With Lanny being so strongly in control of this project, Local Drags are a bit more of his vision compared to the group effort of Starter Jackets. But if you dig Starter Jackets, I would say you are likely to dig Local Drags as well. Shit's lookin' up? Sure is!


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

honeychain - "Go Away"

Imagine my thrill when Bernardo from Jarama 45RPM Recs. asked me to give a listen to his latest release and it turned out to be....honeychain! God, I love this band so much! And I love this label so much! Talk about a marriage made in heaven! This is already the 8th single to be released by Jarama 45RPM. And believe it or not, this is honeychain's first-ever 7" record! I am still baffled as to why this LA alt-rock/power pop trio is not totally massive and selling gazillions of records. I can't think of anybody alive who's better than Hillary Burton at writing radio-worthy pop hits about heartbreak and the devastation of love gone bad. honeychain's full-length album Crushed is one of the best power pop albums of recent memory. If you don't own it yet, I highly encourage you to rectify that immediately! Now with "Go Away", the band has delivered another song that would be all over the radio in a better world. Compared to past releases, the sound is a little less slick with a bit more edge to the guitars. It's got a Buzzcocks meets Go-Go's vibe to it, with wonderfully bitter lyrics and a perfect sing-along hook. I love the energy of this song. If you're gonna tell off the one who tore out your heart, you might as well do it with glee! On the flip is the band's cover of Material Issue's "Goin' Through Your Purse". With this being my favorite song by one of my three favorite bands of all-time, I knew there was the great possibility of disappointment. There are only a handful of bands on earth that should have even dared to touch this song. Luckily, honeychain are one of them. They manage to honor the original version while still putting their own touch on it. And Hillary Burton, to me, is a true kindred spirit to the late, great Jim Ellison. Covering this song was a win-win: I think it will cause some Material Issue fans to discover honeychain and some honeychain fans to discover Material Issue.

I was pumped to hear that "Go Away" was coming out, and I sure wasn't let down! This is punky power pop at its finest! The record officially releases tomorrow. Hit up the Jarama 45RPM Bandcamp for ordering information!


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Pat Todd & The Rankoutsiders - The Past Came Callin'

Can it be that Pat Todd's "new" band has now been around for 15 years? Well, the math sure doesn't lie! Pile a couple of decades of the Lazy Cowgirls on top of that, and you're talking about a guy who's been one of our finest rock n' roll songwriters for 35 years and counting. And here's the thing: Pat Todd in 2019 isn't resting on his laurels. With the Rankoutsiders, he's been making some of the best records of his life. And new album The Past Came Callin' is a perfect case in point. It's the fifth album from Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders - and the second to be released on Hound Gawd! Records. Like any top-notch songwriter, Todd will go to great lengths to preserve his musical inspirations. A few of the songs on this release were written many years ago but for varying reasons were never recorded. With this album, Todd found the perfect spot for these old songs to fit. And together with some terrific new material, they showcase one of the great overlooked treasures in American rock n' roll. As always, Todd and his band-mates stick to the tried-and-true blueprint of roots rock n' roll and country. There's nothing fancy going on here: just tremendous songwriting and first-rate playing from the best damn bar band you could ever hope to hear. Backing Todd on this release are Nick Alexander on guitar, Kevin Keller on guitar, Steven Vigh on bass, and Walter Phelan on drums.

Kicking off with the quintessential Rankoutsiders rocker "If Only I Could Fly Backwards In Time", The Past Came Callin' is not without its scorching moments. "The Ballad Of Crystal Valladares" is a raucous barroom blaster that brings to mind kindred spirits Supersuckers. "Goin' Nowhere" was resurrected from the 14th & Nowhere sessions and packs the expected punch. But many of the album's finest tracks veer from the frenzied punk rock n' roll you might associate with this band and label. I love hearing the Rankoutsiders take the foot off the pedal and show total mastery of country/western, ballads, and middle of the road heartland rock. "Call You On Sunday Night" sounds like it ought to already be a fixture on dive bar jukeboxes all across middle America. "Run" is a song you can play for your Jimmy Buffett loving friends in hopes of turning them to the light side of the force. "Yeah, Ya Had A Bad Night" is finally seeing the light of day after two decades, and I can't listen to it without imagining crowds singing along in unison as they hoist their beers. And one thing I respect about Todd is his willingness to put his own spin on existing songs. "Down In Old Boerne" is an old Texas folk song receiving the Rankoutsiders treatment. The band's version of William Bell's 1962 Stax side "Any Other Way" might be my favorite track on the whole album. "Idle Time", written by Dale Hollon of Sons of Hercules, is breezy country rock fit for 1970s radio. "Somewhere Down The Line" is, of course, an old Lazy Cowgirls song. It was re-recorded because of how perfectly it fits this particular band.

Working again with producer Earle Mankey, Pat Todd has crafted yet another stellar addition to his catalog. The man is one of our great American songwriters, and he's backed by a band that can rock the hell out of even his most reflective material. The Past Came Callin' is such a fitting album title because it reflects both the life experience that inspired a lot of these lyrics and the fact that some of these songs had been lingering in Todd's mind for years. This is just a brilliant album from start to finish - an essential purchase for both longtime fans and anyone who enjoys good, solid rock n' roll with a country influence.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Lucy and the Rats - "Stick To You"

How about a new Lucy and the Rats 7" co-released by the splendid Surfin' Ki and Stardumb Records! You know that's gotta be good! But here's the surprise twist: for this release, Lucy Ellis has handed lead vocal duties over to guitarist Joe Tolosa! With Tolosa (Johnny Throttle, Los Perros) taking his turn on the mic, the band takes on a slightly different identity. Its previous output has been pretty much pure power pop. "Stick To You" leans more towards old school poppy punk. The one-sheet mentions Teenage Head & The Boys, and I won't argue with that at all. We all love Lucy, but Joey proves to be a really cool singer in his own right! This an upbeat, high energy number with killer lead guitar and a beat that ought to get your toes tapping. I dig! On the flip, "True Romance" is a perfect example of how to do pop-punk and still make it totally rock. It has that "classic Stardumb Records" feel to it that seems appropriate given that particular label's involvement. If you like a sound that's equal parts pop, punk, and rock n' roll, this one ought to hit the spot for you. I don't think any fans need to worry that Lucy has retired from fronting the Rats. But if you have two good singers in your band, why not take advantage of that? Like the band's previous singles, this one is absolutely essential. Order the vinyl from the links below. Digital release is through Dirty Water Records!


Friday, May 31, 2019

Geoff Palmer - Pulling Out All The Stops

I believe we've found our album of the summer! If you're like me, you heard all of Geoff Palmer's digital singles last year and thought, "Damn, these songs are WAY too good to not be on an actual record!". Well, a couple of pretty swell label guys were thinking the exact same thing. And in relatively short order, Geoff Palmer's solo debut album has been willed into existence. Out today on Stardumb Records in Europe and Rum Bar Records in the U.S.A., Pulling Out All The Stops is the pop-punk album for people who usually only listen to power pop. Or is it the power pop album for people who usually only listen to pop-punk? Either way, it's one of the best albums we'll hear this year. This all started out as a fun project for The Connection singer/guitarist Palmer. He wrote some solo songs and recorded them with pals like Brad Marino, Adam Cargin, Craig Sala, and B-Face. For good measure, he set out to cover songs by everyone from The Invalids to The Vapids to Gino and the Goons. Once these tracks started hitting the old Internet, even Palmer's biggest fans were blown away by how good they were. We all had to wonder why Palmer had taken so long to reveal his magnificent solo artistry to the world!

If Pulling Out All The Stops had just been a vinyl pressing of Palmer's digital singles, nobody would have complained. But Palmer took it a step further. Pulling Out All The Stops of course features smash hits such as "This One's Gonna Be Hot" and "Velcro Shoes". But even if you already heard all of the singles, a lot of the songs on this album will be new to you. 8 of 14 tracks are previously unreleased. We got a little taste of the new songs thanks to recent videos for "Giving In" and "All The Hits". The former is a big, slick power pop number that brings to mind Palmer's pal Kurt Baker. The latter finds Palmer digging deep into his pop-punk roots and goofing on classic bands that load their live sets with the dreaded "new material". The rest of the new songs are of the same caliber and run the gamut from punky power pop ("Cha-Ching") to kick-ass Ramonesy punk ("Everything Is Cool") to British Invasion/'60s pop goodness (the Michael Chaney co-write "Paper Heart") to pop-rock worthy of late '70s/early '80s radio ("Make It"). This might seem like a weird thing to say about the guy who co-fronts the best damn rock n' roll band on Earth. But this album demonstrates to me that Geoff Palmer is an immensely underrated songwriter! As much as I've praised his bands over the years, I don't think I've ever given him enough credit. He just has a knack for writing really great pop songs, and he has a particular flair for lyrics that are both funny as hell and totally on-point. If the likes of "Velcro Shoes" and "I Like Murder Too" have you chuckling because they hit a little too close to home, I can assure you that you're not alone!

In a day and age of pronounced divisions between the pop-punk, garage, and power pop camps, Geoff Palmer has delivered an album that makes all of that seem really stupid. Of course the pop-punk faithful will go totally nuts for these songs. But I bet Little Steven heard "Paper Heart" and cried tears of joy. I really dig the idea of an album where covers of Sinkhole and Gino and the Goons fit in equally well! While Palmer wears his Ramones/Queers/Beach Boys loving heart on his sleeve, he also draws inspiration from just about every great era of rock n' roll. Even if you usually hate pop-punk, this could be the album that turns you to the dark side. Download is just four bucks via Bandcamp. Vinyl and CD are available from the fine establishments linked below!


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

No Collusion - Sticking Sets

I am always a sucker for '77-style punk, and here we have a new band from Northern Ireland pulling off the style brilliantly! No Collusion is a young trio from Derry that just recently released a debut EP called Sticking Sets. I've seen some comparisons of this band to The Chats - which seem spot-on given No Collusion's penchant for amusing storytelling and fondness for regional slang. "Aw Naw", which recounts the unfortunate tale of some stolen controlled substances, is sure to be one of the punk rock smashes of 2019. I'm not quite sure what's going on in "Jim" - but it sure sounds like a good time will be had by all. "Shams" tells the story of how No Collusion started out as a shitty band and quickly became a not-so-shitty band. "Fuck Politics" might be a specific commentary on Brexit, but on a deeper level it's about how governments screw over the people they are entrusted to serve. That's sadly true regardless of which side of the pond you find yourself on.

All in all, this debut from No Collusion is tremendously promising. Fans of first generation Oi! and the rawer side of '77 UK punk should be very interested! 


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Prostitutes - "Cheap Highs"

Can I name another band besides The Prostitutes that I've been touting for the entire span of my years reviewing music? I don't think so! My first review of The Prostitutes dates back to 1996 (it was the band's debut 7" on Pelado Records). The Prostitutes would go on to become perhaps my favorite punk band of the '90s. And although I left them for dead a time or two or three, Kevin McGovern has managed to sustain this veritable institution of American punk rock through numerous changes in personnel and relocations from the East Coast to the Midwest to the West Coast and back to the East Coast. And even with all of those changes, the one thing that remains the same is that The Prostitutes still sound like The Prostitutes! The band's most recent EP Don't Want A Future (2017) is one of the strongest releases in its catalog. Now with new band-mates JR Matthew (guitar) and Barry Jewels (drums), McGovern has The Prostitutes back and sounding as good as ever. A new EP is in the works, as is a split 7" with the mighty Pegs. "Cheap Highs" is a little taste of what's to come - recorded earlier this month in the band's current home base of Baltimore with Don't Want A Future producer Tim Schock. I'd describe this track as "classic Prostitutes" with that modern edge to the guitars that Schock is so skilled at capturing. You hear that voice, and you immediately know what band you're listening to. And with lines like "self destructive pose/the midnight show/an image that always cracks", you're getting the sort of poetry that could only have come from the mind of Kevin McGovern. If you're a longtime fan, you should be so stoked for this song! And if The Prostitutes are still new to you, you would be wise to dive into the Bandcamp page and discover one of the greatest punk bands of the last 25 years. Stay tuned for more!


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Amyl and The Sniffers - self titled

I know some of you may be alienated by the hype over Amyl and The Sniffers. But I've never been one to blame a band for its press clippings. And I've certainly never held success against any band. I wish the same thing for every group I write about: the opportunity to sell a lot of records and play shows to large, appreciative crowds. If a band from our world can "make it", more power to 'em! It's not like Amyl and The Sniffers made some sort of calculated stab at mainstream recognition. I mean, come on: worshipping at the altar of the Cosmic Psychos, sharpie rock, and Aussie murder punk would be one of the least likely paths for a band gunning for the big time! Whatever bizarre circumstances led such a band to Dave Matthews' record label, Gucci campaigns, and mega features in NME will by no means dissuade me from enjoying its music. And if esteemed colleagues of mine like Mick Fletcher and Alex Kish are touting a band, that's a wagon I want to be riding!

The way I approach Amyl and The Sniffers' debut album is to put any hype or expectations completely out of mind. Based entirely on its own merits, it's an exciting and tremendously enjoyable blend of punk and hard rock in the storied Aussie tradition. Clearly this is a far less raw-sounding version of Amyl and The Sniffers. Yet a more "produced" sound actually beefs up the band's attack. Producer Ross Orton really seems to understand what this band is all about. He elicits a tougher, more powerful sound that really plays up the Sniffers' love for '70s rock riffs. Just listen to how much harder the album version of "Cup Of Destiny" hits compared to last year's single (which I also loved)! And given the elapsed years between the recording of this album and the previous EP Big Attraction, it's no surprise that the band shows considerable growth on this release. "GFY" is raging, pissed-off punk rock at its finest. It's the perfect song to crank loud in the car as you vent your frustrations after a shit day. In a similar spirit, the pummeling "Gacked On Anger" is a veritable anthem for a generation of young people who are underemployed, broke, and at their wits' end. The aptly-titled "Punisha" is a swift kick in the teeth, NWOBHM style. On the other end of the spectrum, it's hard to imagine the Amyl and The Sniffers of two years ago being able to pull off songs as overtly "pop" as "Angel" and "Got You". And "Shake Ya" is the kind of sing-along hard rockin' anthem that I've been dying to hear on the mainstream airwaves for the past 25 years!

Having been such a big fan of the more straight-forward '77 style punk of Big Attraction, I did question whether I'd be as enthusiastic about the direction the band was taking with this album. But I have to say I like this record a lot. Inspired quite obviously by multiple generations of Aussie bands, the Sniffers combine punk and hard rock in a way that feels totally natural. I suppose Amy Taylor's vocals are something you either love or hate. For me, they will always be the very best thing about this band. Everything else flows out of her charisma, sass, and sheer force of personality. I don't think it would be possible for Amyl and The Sniffers to be anything other than a punk band. They certainly have not gone mainstream. The mainstream has come to them. In the meantime, they'll just keep on tearing the roof off of every pub, club, and basement venue that will have them. This really is one hell of a band. Let's enjoy them.


Friday, May 24, 2019

The Sweet Things - In Borrowed Shoes, On Borrowed Time

Holy crap! After waiting four years for New York's Sweet Things to put out a full-length debut, I expected a really great album. But I don't know if I was quite anticipating this! Out today on Wendigo Productions NYC and Spaghetty Town Records, In Borrowed Shoes, On Borrowed Time absolutely blew me away upon first contact and has only gotten better with subsequent listens. Ladies and gentlemen, The Sweet Things have made themselves a goddamn masterpiece!

Spiritually, you could say In Borrowed Shoes is The Sweet Things' Exile On Main St. It runs the stylistic gamut from trashy rock n' roll to blues to country to soulful ballads - striking a perfect balance between Saturday night debauchery and Sunday morning regret. The band really pulled out all of the stops to make this a grand-sounding affair. Session players include Rob Clores (Black Crowes, Jesse Malin) on piano and keyboards, members of the Uptown Horns (James Brown, Rolling Stones) on horns and sax, Brian Hurd (Daddy Long Legs) on harmonica, and Liza Colby & Alejandro Escovedo on backing vocals. Yet the heart of this album is an amazing set of songs and tremendous performances by the members of this band (Dave Tierney on vocals and guitar, Lorne Berhman on guitar, Sam Hariss on bass, and Darren Fried on drums). Tierney, in my book, is one of the finest singers in today's rock n' roll. Much of the ragged, boozy spirit of the band's music emanates from his raspy pipes. And at an even deeper level, his vocals are full of heart and soul and a character that I find rare.

Certainly this album raises a bottle to '70s Stones and Johnny Thunders. But The Sweet Things definitely have their own sound which they've been honing for quite a few years now. I love that "Liquor Lightning" comes on like a drunken mess, takes a somewhat bizarre turn, then explodes into a sing-along party for the ages. And that guitar solo: wow! If you like good, straight-forward Stonesy rock n' roll, "Dead Or Worse" and "Almost Faded" will not fail to satisfy. Elsewhere, the band delivers stunning country rock gospel soul on the title track, an absolutely ripping rocker in the wonderfully over-the-top "Coke'n", sloppy Thunders-inspired brilliance in "Fix To Kick", and a true grand finale in the heartfelt ballad "Feed My Dog". The absolute highlight for me, though, is the band's new version of "Through the Cracks of the City". I didn't think there was anything wrong with the old version - until I heard the new one! These guys really worked out how to take a killer song and make it even better. From the vocals to the lead guitar work to the chorus, this song is the essence of sleazy rock n' roll!

Dave Tierney had a very interesting quote when he was asked about the process of making In Borrowed Shoes. "I like listening to music," he said. "But sometimes when I'm listening to an album, I think, 'Wow this is cool, but it'd be even cooler if it was better.' So we decided we would do that, make an album but make it better." That seems like such an obvious approach, but clearly The Sweet Things worked very closely with producer Matt Chiaravalle (Debbie Harry, Warren Zevon) to get everything about this album 100 percent to their satisfaction. And the results are stunning. I can go back to the previous singles and hear a really good band - one with the potential to be great. In Borrowed Shoes, On Borrowed Time, on the other hand, is the work of a truly exceptional rock n' roll band firing on all cylinders. The legacy of great bands from New York City is a rich one, and The Sweet Things have put themselves in that conversation. My friends in the U.K. can catch them on tour in just over a week!


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Internal Credit - II

Who says all sequels suck?! Falmouth's Internal Credit return with their second EP, which turns out to be every bit as crackling and frenetic as its predecessor. Our second dose of Internal Credit arrives just four months after the first - a testament to both the roll this band is on and the more sublime possibilities of our digital age. Again these guys are really pushing the tempos. At a running time of just two minutes & ten seconds, opening cut "Find You're New" is the "epic" of this set. Otherwise, tracks are whizzing by in well under two minutes. I would still describe the sound as garage/post-punk with an emphasis on the punk, but with poppy hooks and a speed approaching hardcore. That's a whole lot of cool stuff going on, but the execution is thrilling in its simplicity. Within seconds of pushing play, I find myself running wildly around the house and pumping my fist in triumph. Internal Credit just sounds like a band that has tremendous fun playing punk rock, and not surprisingly that leads to music that's tremendously fun to listen to. When I first checked in on Internal Credit, they were still preparing for their first gig. Now they've got gigs under their belts, t-shirts for sale, and a second EP to their name. Blink and you might miss a feature film and triple album!


Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Decibels - Scene, Not Herd

It gives me immense pleasure to report that it's 2019 and The Decibels still sound like...The Decibels! This Sacramento foursome was one of the first "new" power pop groups I ever got into back in the '90s. The band's 1997 debut album Create Action! remains my favorite non major label power pop album of the '90s. I dug through my archives to see if I still had a copy of the review I wrote 21 years ago. Sadly, I do not. That's probably for the better since I find everything I wrote in my 20s cringe-worthy. Heck, I even find things I wrote in my early 40s cringe-worthy! Suffice it to say, I owe my love of power pop partially to The Decibels. And after a taking a long break from 2003-2017, this band is back and sounding great!

The Decibels have two recent albums out on Screaming Apple Records with plans for a new 8-song release this year and another album album next year. Scene, Not Herd is the latest LP - the band's first album of original songs since 2003. As expected, it's a power pop fan's delight. These guys haven't changed much from their mod power pop by way of the British Invasion beginnings. The formula remains very much the same: ringing melodies, punchy guitars, and classic '60s inspired pop songwriting. But what I appreciate is that they've made the kind of record you would expect from an older, wiser version of The Decibels. A lot of the lyrics are reflective of the wisdom we gain as we become proper adults and discover what's truly important in life ("And I wish that I could cancel/Due to lack of interest/All the things I thought of aloud" is one of my favorite lines of recent memory). I doubt the 1997 version of this band could have written a song like "Hey Emily" - which is tender and heartbreaking, yet ultimately full of hope. If anything, The Decibels have become even greater students of power pop and its musical origins. Over the course of this album, you'll hear the influence of everyone from the early Who to The Beatles ("Misery") to The Byrds to classic power pop bands like Shoes and The Nerves. "Stupidity" reminds me a little of Material Issue, which you know is positive in my book! If you were concerned that Dean, Joe, Brent, and Brian might have lost some of that old magic after a decade and a half apart, you will be happy to discover that they've picked right up where they left off. The band's melodies remain exquisite, and there's not a single dud among these 12 tracks.

The Decibels recently created a Bandcamp account to share their music with old fans and hopefully plenty of new ones as well. If you're a longtime Decibels fan, you should be thrilled to sink your teeth into Scene, Not Herd and its companion piece Big Hits (plus 12 more!) - a collection of covers that gives you a glimpse at the band's musical inspirations. And if you've lost your old copies of Create Action! and The Big Sounds of The Decibels, you can purchase digital versions of those as well! The Decibels will be heading up to Seattle this coming Friday May 24th to play with my pals The Cheap Cassettes. Be there or be square!


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Moral Panic - self titled

Alien Snatch Records just keeps on killing it! Out now on the legendary German label is the second self-titled album from Moral Panic. It follows up the band's 2017 debut on Slovenly Recordings, and I must say that this Brooklyn trio sounds even better the second time around! Formed out of the ashes of the absolutely terrific Livids, Moral Panic plays scorching garage punk smashing head-on into late '70s Midwestern punk rock (the band even covers "Not Now, No Way" by the almighty Pagans!). What's not to love about that?! The label makes a Carbonas comparison, and I will not argue with that at all. Hot damn, is this album ever a face-melter! In just 19 minutes, it delivers 10 blistering tracks chock full of pissed-off vocals, red-hot guitar leads, and legit catchy tunes. And Jeff Burke's magic touch with mixing and mastering sure doesn't hurt. If you're into fast and furious punk with hooks, this is about as good as it gets!


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Real Boys - Teenage Shitheads

One thing I love about the Bandcamp platform is how I can stumble upon something super awesome that I would otherwise not be aware of in a million years. I can find no evidence anywhere that The Real Boys from North Bay, Ontario actually exist. Yet there's the EP streaming on the ole' Bandcamp and downloadable for free! It's called Teenage Shitheads, and it sounds exactly like you would expect it to given that particular title. I'm talking snotty and fantastically dumb punk rock in the old school style. Opening track "Population Control" reminds me of Fear, and I was pretty much hooked from there! "Outta Place In The Human Race" is a song that just about everyone ought to be able to relate at one time or another. "Toxicity" might as well be the theme song for planet Earth in 2019. I like the rawness and pure raging energy of this release. I'm reminded of the days when you would unexpectedly come across some punk band's killer demo tape and play the hell out of it. I suppose streaming demos are the new demo tapes! If you dig early '80s hardcore or snotty punk rock in general, this one is worth snagging. My love affair with Canadian punk rock continues!


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Guitar Gangsters - "Being Stupid"

Yeah, you read that right: London's Guitar Gangsters are still at it! Out on the ever-dependable Wanda Records, new single "Being Stupid" is the latest installment in a recording career that dates back 30 years. And if you appreciated that Guitar Gangsters were one of the few punk acts in '89 that were still keeping the faith to the spirit of '79, you ought to be very happy about what they sound like in 2019! Now as always, the Ley brothers are all about the classic melodic punk of late '70s Britain. And they show they can still craft a damn catchy tune. "Being Stupid" is a nice snappy number recalling The Jam by way of The Kinks. If you're looking for a strong melody or a hook to grab ya, this song should do the trick. On the flip, "The Losing Side" burns with an urgency that most younger bands would be wise to emulate. I'm always a sucker for an anthemic chorus, and this song delivers exactly that! How can you not admire a song that can get you pumping your fist and still leave you with a melody you'll be whistling all week?

I always turn to Wanda Records for the best in new '77 punk, and "Being Stupid" sure makes a fine addition to the catalog. A tremendous showing from a veteran band that has never gotten enough credit!


Friday, May 10, 2019

Weird Numbers - Minotaur Dreams

With me being such a big fan of Zache Davis and his wonderful band Maniac, I was of course eager to check out his new project Weird Numbers. Davis formed Weird Numbers in 2017 with his former Girls band-mate Colin Griffiths and Ethan Jacobsen (Griffiths' band-mate in Tourist). These three have been friends going way back to the early 2000s, and Weird Numbers may make some of you nostalgic for the Seattle punk scene of that era. Out on Dirt Cult Records, Minotaur Dreams is the band's excellent debut EP. I'm really digging these five songs - which make a fine mashup of new wave, post-punk, and power pop influences. The Zache Davis style of songwriting is immediately recognizable. I might describe "Dolphin Encounters" and the title track as Maniac-like, but even more "pop". In a good way, "Switching The Code" sounds like it could have been a modern rock hit in 2006. "Uzis and Bikinis" takes a deep dive into post-punk with exquisite angular arrangements and a melody that will haunt you. This is how I like my post-punk: mixed with a generous portion of well-crafted pop! And Davis, one of the most interesting and imaginative lyricists out there, continues to shine in that respect. Vinyl available here!


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Justin Maurer - "Falling on Deaf Eyes"

Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls, Maniac, Suspect Parts) has been a favorite of this blog for many years. Today I want to feature something he is doing outside the realm of music. He has written and produced a play called "Falling on Deaf Eyes" that will be premiering next month at Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019. "Falling on Deaf Eyes" is an autobiographical comedy about a single Deaf mother raising a family of teenage punk rockers in a small town. This production incorporates music, sign language, storytelling, and theatrical visuals along with a team of sign language interpreters to ensure access to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The play is being directed by Jevon Whetter and will feature the performances of a talented cast of actors and musicians. I had the pleasure of discussing "Falling on Deaf Eyes" with Maurer. Here's what he had to say! 

F & L: "Falling on Deaf Eyes" must be an extremely personal project for you. Have you written about your mother's experiences raising you and your siblings before? How did it come about that this story became a stage production?

JM: The title "Falling on Deaf Eyes" is a play on what my mom used to call her "Deaf eyes". She wouldn't miss anything because her vision was so astute. I remember one time, I walked into the room and she turned her head. I asked her how she knew I was in the room because she couldn't hear me. She said, "I saw the curtain move in the corner of the room...Deaf eyes!"

I did write a few true stories in some chapbooks that were published. I had my dad thrown in jail when I was 16 for assaulting my sister, and I've written a little bit about that. It's a therapeutic experience to just let stuff like that go, and by writing about it, you can also hold the responsible parties accountable. We ended up getting a restraining order against him and moving into low-income housing. My mom was a part-time ASL teacher at the high school, and sometimes we had to eat canned food from the local food bank. Punk rock was a very important outlet for me at this time. And going back and looking at the strength of my mom, I wanted to write something that could show her resilience during this time.

As far as this becoming a stage play, I realized that punk can have a limiting audience, and book readings can have a limited audience. I also realized by working as a freelance ASL Interpreter that many of my performances weren't accessible for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. I wanted to put together a show that everyone could enjoy, and to also try something new. I've been recording and touring with punk bands since I was 15. I'm 35 now and wanted to give myself a new challenge.

F & L: You are working with some tremendously talented individuals in this production. How did you go about bringing these people into the fold?

JM: You're right! I'm very lucky to have them all on my team. I met Jevon Whetter as he was a striking Deaf teacher during the L.A. teachers' strike. I was friends with his brother Del who told me how experienced Jevon was at acting and directing plays for the National Theatre of The Deaf and Deaf West Theatre. Since this is my first time writing and producing a play, I wanted someone experienced, and also wanted a pair of Deaf eyes on the play to make sure that it's also entertaining for a Deaf audience. Jevon suggested Deaf actor Lisa Hermatz for my mom's character. She is very charismatic, and I think she's perfect for the role. Voice actor Jann Goldsby will be voicing for Lisa. We have Canadian singer/songwriter STACEY writing an original score on piano for the play, and she will be playing it with us live for all of the performances. We also have some very talented ASL interpreters George Balayan and Andrew Leyva working with us. Del Whetter is producing.

This thing all seemed to come together pretty effortlessly. Now we need to put the work in and put some finishing touches on the script and rehearse quite a bit for the four weeks leading up to the show!

F & L: What is your previous experience with stage productions?

JM: In high school on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where the play is set, I worked with the legendary Bob McCallister. He had been in loads of music videos, directed and wrote many plays, and was an all-around inspiration. I remember I was too broke to buy or rent a suit for our high school prom, and he let me borrow a suit. I was in a bunch of plays with him in high school, and since then have not set foot on a theatre stage. I have written quite a bit, though, and all of these mediums are related - scripts, short stories, books, treatments, etc. Luckily for me, I have some very experienced theatre folks on my team who will help bring this vision to fruition.

F & L: Aside from the entertainment value of this production, are you anticipating this being a highly educational experience as well? What would you like people to learn about American Sign Language?

JM: Sure, I'd like hearing people to be aware of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing American experience. They're often a voice that isn't listened to or disregarded. I would like people to expand their curiosity about American Sign Language, but also be aware that along with a language, there's a very rich culture. Storytelling is an important part of this culture as well as performances in ASL. Hopefully we do it justice.

F & L: You've received a great deal of recognition for your work as an ASL Interpreter for the LA teachers' strike. What was that experience like for you?

JM: It was an incredible experience. It was emotional. It was tense. It was inspiring. 32,000 teachers picketing and marching for six days in the rain was a real sight to behold. The rallies had around 50,000 people attending, and included musical performances from groups like Ozomatli, Wayne Kramer, Aloe Blacc, and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. Being up on that stage in front of city hall with all of the teachers screaming and chanting, it was something else, man. I won't forget it for the rest of my life. It was such an honor to be a part of, and I have so much respect for all of those teachers who put everything on the line for their students and their communities. As far as the recognition, I was just doing my job. It was an emotional moment, so many of the speeches were filled with passion and emotion. My interpretation reflected this emotion. It was my job to provide equal access to communication for all of the Deaf educators on strike as well as the Deaf and Hard of Hearing parents and students at home who were watching on TV for updates. The strike affected millions of people, and there's approximately 800,000 Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in Southern California, many of them in LA County, with kids in the LA Unified School District. An interpreter should never be the center of attention. But as I was on TV interpreting the press conferences, and was up there on stage interpreting the speeches and musical performances, I did end up getting some attention. I think it's important to note that I was there to provide equal access to the Deaf Community, not for any other reason. I'm so fortunate to have been able to have been a part of that inspiring movement.

F & L: How did the experience of growing up with a Deaf single mother inform you as an artist?

JM: My mom could feel music, but being profoundly Deaf, she couldn't hear it. She loved feeling the bass in the car. So I could blast music driving around with her. She was supportive, although she wished I would spend more time studying or doing school work rather than spending endless hours playing guitar and drums. She also saw punk fashion as being directly related to people who used drugs. She also was confused by the bondage thing, spiky hair, mohawks. She didn't really understand that part of it. She was ostracized her whole life for being different; she just wanted to fit in. Having kids with green mohawks certainly didn't help that ambition of hers. But that said, she let us have band practice in the basement, she let us throw shows in the basement. So she was cool as a mom; she was supportive of us in that way. God bless her for putting up with us.

F & L: I see you have seven performance dates scheduled for this production. Do you envision continuing this production again in the near future?

JM: Yes, there are seven shows as a part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I would love to tour with the show. We've gotten a little interest up in Seattle, where this show is set. So I'd love to go up there and do it. I also found out that the Bainbridge Island Museum is doing an exhibit on Bainbridge Punk and Youth Culture. This show is set on the 1990s on Bainbridge Island, so I would personally love to do a performance on Bainbridge as well as in Seattle. It's amazing that the museum up there is legitimizing all of the trouble we caused as a legitimate form of art 20 years later. Back then the cops would shut down many of our shows. We'd have to hide in the bushes 'cause we were drinking underage. Neighbors would call the police on our band practices and our shows. It's nice to see the adults on Bainbridge now perhaps changing their perspective on the music we made and the shows we threw. We created something out of nothing. Kind of like this play.
More info and tickets to "Falling On Deaf Eyes" are here: 

IG: @fallingondeaf
IG: @maurerjustin
Twitter: @justinmaurer17

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Black Russians - Death By Communism

Good god, has there ever been a lot of great pop-punk stuff coming out lately! Those of you who are connoisseurs of the genre are probably wondering what took me so long to get to this killer debut album from Black Russians. Well, you know: I was very busy renovating my nuclear war bunker. Out on the fabulous OUTLOUD! Records, Death By Communism is 13 tracks of ripping pop-punk rock n' roll that never wavers from a Soviet Union/Cold War theme. If you're looking for something different from the usual "songs about girls" motif, well this ought to do it for you! In some totally twisted way, this album actually makes me nostalgic for the Cold War days. And given my professed love for dark humor, there was just never a doubt that Black Russians would be right on my wavelength. Some of these songs had me absolutely rolling. But the band gimmick would not be worth much if the songs weren't so freaking good! Black Russians really know how to write catchy three-chord pop songs, and I really dig the band's tough, hard-hitting execution of the pop-punk style. There's even a metal/hard rock influence integrated into a few of these tracks that takes me back to my own Cold War era adolescence.

It's remarkable that in this age of information leaks, the identities of Black Russians 1 through 4 have remained a well-guarded secret. And isn't it much better that way? I choose to believe that the '80s never ended and this band still lurks behind the Iron Curtain. Even if you completely took away the concept of Death By Communism, you'd still have a kick-ass pop-punk album! Jump on this one if you dig Lillingtons, Connie Dungs, Sloppy Seconds, et al.!


Monday, May 6, 2019

The Dick Dastardly's - ブラック魔王 - Burakku Demon King

If there's one thing I often find myself craving more of from today's punk rock, it's dirtiness. So when the email came in on Italy's The Dick Dastardly's and mentioned them being "one of the dirtiest bands around", I knew I needed to pay some attention! Out on Slack Records and S.F.A. Records (both from the east coast of Italy), ブラック魔王 - Burakku Demon King is the debut album from this Talacchio-based five-piece. These guys sound like they cut their teeth on the entire Crypt Records catalog - most specifically The Pagans and New Bomb Turks. Throw in a touch of Zero Boys/DOA proto-hardcore, and you've got yourself some filthy punk rock n' roll that you can really sink your teeth into! If you saw this album on a store shelf, you'd probably be like, "What the fuck is this?!". But a quick glance at song titles like "Hard Drugs" and "Peepshow" will give you a clearer idea of what The Dick Dastardly's are all about. They keep it fast and raw, tearing through ten scuzzy tracks in just 18 minutes. And if they seem to be stuck in the '90s ("Third rule is don't listen to ska!"), I would be very happy to be stuck there with them! This is the way I like my punk: ripping and chock full of attitude - yet still catchy enough to get the old toes tapping. Crypt Records forever!