Sunday, October 13, 2019

Poppy Robbie - The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck

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

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

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


Friday, October 11, 2019

Do You Remember Me? A Tribute To Head

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

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


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Slow Faction - Unilateral Declaration Of Independence

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

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

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


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Dogmatics - She's The One

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

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

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


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Devious Ones - "She's Waiting For Me"

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

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


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Baby Shakes - Cause A Scene

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Dany Laj and the Looks - Everything New Is New Again

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

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

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