Back in March, I wrote about a delightful 7" record by Berlin-based punk group The Roxies. This band is three quarters German and one quarter English, which sounds an awful lot like my DNA. The musical DNA is a match as well: I can never get enough of high-energy old school punk with a touch of pop. At the time of my review, The Roxies were fresh off of a well-received tour of Northern England and building all kinds of momentum. Then came the pandemic. And like every other band in the world, The Roxies found themselves grounded. While they have not yet had the opportunity to play for live crowds again, they did perform at the legendary Berlin club Wild at Heart a couple weeks back without an audience. The entire performance was live-streamed, and you can now view the whole thing on YouTube. Watching this video, you'll get a great feel for the energy of The Roxies. Even though there's no crowd directly in front of them, they give an enthused and lively performance. Plus you get to see what an incredibly cool venue the Wild At Heart is! Having only heard a few songs from this band before, I was pleased to hear more. If all goes well, some of these newer tracks will turn up on the album The Roxies plan to record later this year. For now, check out this amazing set which also features a fun little interview with the band. They sure seem like lovely human beings! I want to drink beer and eat fish and chips with these people! The Roxies are all about spreading the love and giving people the chance to get out and have a sweaty good time. Someday the actual live shows will resume, and this is a band you're gonna want to see!
(You will need to click on the link to watch the video on the YouTube site. Action starts at 3:45!)
On June 27th, 2020, the first live music festival returned to New Jersey since February 29th and the legendary "Leap Day Festival" in Atlantic City! Since March 13th, ALL bars and clubs have been shut down - basically killing every tour, live date, and record release for months now. Well guess what, my friends? Leave it to New Jersey to break the seal and put on the first live bands, public gathering, benefit show, FULL ON BBQ since the world came to a grinding halt!
Before I get into reviewing how great every band was, this is completely dedicated to one man and one man alone: Mr. Jay Baluski. This dude has been a NJ fixture probably as long as me. He completely organized this show, got the bands on board, and found a non-political reason to get the ENTIRE NJ scene together in a matter of TWO DAYS! All hails to you, my brother!
So here we go. An absolutely beautiful NJ summer Saturday, and it's go time. We got six bands from all genres of the "underground" gathered in one of the most beautiful parks at the Jersey Shore. For over 20 years, Hebrew Park has been the site of the annual "Angry Drunk BBQ". A Jersey tradition if there ever was one. Too many bands to even list. But I digress. This was a donation show for our local animal rescue shelter Popcorn Park Zoo, which if you're ever around the Jersey Shore, you should check out. From what I heard, we raised THOUSANDS of dollars! NOW on to the bands. If you can imagine this, OC Rippers OPENED this show! In my humble opinion, the best band in NJ right now. They started out full throttle and just NEVER let up! With originals that will get you dancing to amazing covers that if you didn't know the lyrics, you'd never recognize. These guys just totally set the mood for the entire day. Ending with an incredible cover of the Nervous Eaters' "Just Head", I could only WISH I could be in a band this good. Next up was Coffin Void, a local grindcore band that the bass player from OC Rippers plays guitar in. I'm not the biggest fan of that style, but DAMN they were tight and got the entire crowd out in the pit. Next up was my friend Ian's band USELESS. I've known this dude since the '80s, and I knew this was gonna be HEAVY. After watching these guys plow through a half hour of tunes that I can only call "sludge rock", I was converted. Neurosis meets Sabbath meets REAL rock and roll! They did a cover of "Ain't No Sunshine" that I shit you not should be played on EVERY radio station! Next up was a band I just heard of, but they have no Bandcamp. So I went in blind. From Asbury Park, New Jersey, let me introduce you to one of your new favorite bands, Tiki Torture! I was talking to their guitar player/singer for a while. He was telling me they were surf metal. I was on board already because that's pretty much what I play. These guys hit the stage, and it was all over! EVERYONE moved up to check these guys out. Starting out with a couple standard type "punk" songs, they slowly went into DK/Agent Orange mode. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. By the time they launched into their epic song "MooseKnuckle", I was converted. Supposedly they have an LP coming out soon that will be available on Bandcamp, but we only got Soundcloud for now. At that point, it was time to socialize, take more pics, and get reacquainted with some people I hadn't seen in 20-30 years.
The ENTIRE NJ underground scene came out for this show. ALL OF US! Old friends, new friends, seeing children for the first time - IT WAS ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL! I've never seen so many people so happy just to see each other again! And believe it or not - we're already planning another show just like this! You can't stop punk rock! This was the first live music show in MONTHS, and EVERYONE came out for a good cause and just to feel alive again. I thank EVERYONE that made this happen, and I'm so blown away that there were at least FOUR generations at this show and everyone got along with no bad vibes whatsoever! It's time to live again, my friends! Thank you, Josh Rutledge, for giving me this chance to show people that things ARE going to get better! Stay underground and stay strong!
Well here we go: the album I entered 2020 looking forward to the most is finally here! Radio Sounds is the second LP by London-based foursome The Speedways - and its first as a proper band. Based on the two singles released in advance of Radio Sounds, my expectations for this album were sky-high. But somehow this record has actually surpassed what I was hoping for. Singer/guitarist Matt Julian has always excelled at crafting three-minute pop songs in the classic tradition. But having found the perfect band-mates in guitarist Mauro Venegas, bassist Adrian Alfonso, and drummer Kris Hood, he's made absolute magic on this 12-track full-band debut.
Radio Sounds is spiritually aligned with 2018's spectacular Just Another Regular Summer. But this album is bigger, better, and even more emotionally wrenching than its predecessor. The playing and production are immaculate, and the songs are truly magnificent. Julian is really in his element here, turning out song after song about heartbreak, longing, and the sadness of love lost. He has quite a flair for combining the melodic punch of new wave power pop with the drama and romance of '60s girl groups and teen idols. Radio Sounds, as the title suggests, draws inspiration from the timeless pop hits of yore. The influence shows not just in the melodies, harmonies, and choruses but also in Julian's lyrics. Of course he can write a catchy song that will have you humming along and hopping merrily around the house. But as enjoyable as these tunes are on the surface, they're also songs that you can really feel. I consider Julian a true soul singer. When he sings of heartache, despair, and bitter disappointments in love and life, every word rings authentic. He's lived his music. And that is the secret formula for great pop - to create joy by making others less alone in their misery.
From start to finish, Radio Sounds is packed with remarkable songs. If lead single "Kisses Are History" doesn't move you to tears, you probably weren't listening very closely. "The Day I Call You Mine" is perhaps my favorite Speedways song to date. The protagonist in this tale is willingly throwing himself into heartbreak's line of fire, and I relate to that on a personal level. Even as I listen to this song and think "This guy's in for it!", I know I would be in the same boat. If you believe in love, you sometimes have to take your punches. If you stop believing in love, that's a far bleaker existence in my book. "Empty Pages", another choice cut, manages to be devastating and hopeful all at once. That chorus will pull at your heartstrings all day long! "Good Girls Don't Break Hearts" and "Telephone Lies" are vintage Speedways numbers - bitter pills that go down easy. If 1980 had never ended, these would indeed be radio sounds. "Your Brown Eyes Look So Blue" is snappy R & B that ought to have you dancing into the night. And just as Julian did on Just A Regular Summer, he places the album's two most dramatic, epic songs at the end of each side. "This Is About A Girl Who Loves The Sun", which eerily employs Marilyn Monroe's "I'm generally miserable" quote as a backdrop, will absolutely tear your heart out. Album closer "In A World Without Love It's Hard To Stay Young" sounds like it should be playing over the closing credits to a powerful cinematic love story. That title is truly profound, and the song seems the perfect culmination to an album that ultimately asserts that the heartbreak we endure in life is absolutely worth it. I've played this song dozens of times over the last few weeks, and it never ceases to take my breath away.
The Speedways worked meticulously to make Radio Sounds the strongest album it could be, and they have succeeded spectacularly. As great as Julian was on his own, he's even better in tandem with the like-minded and talented Venegas, Alfonso, and Hood. This album rings with the echoes of everyone from Buddy Holly to Phil Spector to Elvis Costello to the Exploding Hearts. It's a classic style pop record that manages to sound fully contemporary in 2020. Radio Sounds isn't just the best power pop album of the year. It's the best power pop album in a whole lot of years! It's available now from Snap! Records/Hurrah Musica, Beluga Records, & Alien Snatch Records!
Having already released one of this year's most delightful singles in "Susie Survived Chemotherapy", Boston's Kid Gulliver is back for an encore! "i wanna be a pop star" is another perfect shot of power pop that brings together the best elements of '60s pop, early '80s new wave, and '90s alternative rock. Featuring the songwriting talents of David Armillott and the magnificent voice of Simone Berk (Sugar Snow), Kid Gulliver is all about timeless melodies and choruses you can't help singing along with. "i wanna be a pop star" is my kind of pop song for sure. I love how it pairs the sweetest vocals and melodies with lyrics that could not be more bitter and sarcastic. Armillott's indictment of the superficiality of pop stardom and the absurd idolatry it inspires is very much on point. This song delivers an irresistible sing-along hook, and in an alternate universe Kid Gulliver probably would be pop stars. Of course I speak of an alternate universe where fame and radio airplay were actually based on musical talent. This track was produced by Brian Charles at Zippah Studios in Brighton, Massachusetts, and it sounds absolutely amazing. Power pop is a genre made for the three-minute single. Kid Gulliver are quickly turning into masters of the form.
Power pop fans rejoice! An official Tommy Ray SoundCloud now exists for your listening pleasure! Now you can stream Tommy Ray's entire catalog for free. That includes his recent solo album First Hits Free, both of The Cry's classic LPs, and the 2019 release PDX Punx by The Decayed. It's an exciting time for Tommy Ray, who recently completed a second solo album called Handful of Hits that will be out October 1 on the German label GadM. What a treasure trove of pop hits we have here! If you like what you hear, all of these titles are available for purchase on the Tommy Ray & The Cry! Bandcamp. First Hits Free is one of the finest albums to be released this year so far, and I promise that Handful of Hits will be just as good. For now, head on over to SoundCloud and dig into Tommy Ray's existing catalog!
I don't write about a whole lot of "indie rock". But today I'm featuring a band from that universe that I've been enjoying tremendously. Concrete City hails from Baltimore, Maryland and is comprised of a star-studded cast of players from that great city's punk/indie scene. The lineup is Mike Hall (The Thumbs, Sick Sick Birds) on lead vocals, Tim Baier (Roads To Space Travel) on guitar, Elena Fox (Squaaks) on bass, and Lee Ashlin (The Fuses, ADVLTS) on drums. These four individuals bring together a wide array of musical influences, and what results is a cool, contemporary take on indie/alternative/college rock. I'm definitely catching the vibe of '80s British post-punk - particularly The Cure and New Order. But the influence isn't super obvious, and there are touches of more recent modern rock and indie pop in the mix as well. Concrete City has not one but two new-ish singles that are well worth checking out. "Break Up The Band" and "Strange Bodies!" are both available via Bandcamp. The latter is a $3 download, while the former is free. As you would imagine given the players involved, the musicianship and songwriting are top-notch. This is a great example of how to make rock music that's moody and sophisticated but not the least bit pretentious. And these songs have legit hooks to boot. This is really extraordinary stuff. If you long for the days when alternative rock ruled, this band will take you straight back there. A full album is in the works and should be out by year's end or whenever conditions allow. I'll keep you posted!
Exciting news: Hurtin' 4 Certain, the new EP from Tommy and the Commies, releases July 17th on Slovenly Recordings! It has been nearly two full years since Slovenly released the instant classic debut long player Here Come Tommy and the Commies. Hurtin' 4 Certain is the first new music since then from this sensational mod/punk/power pop trio out of Sudbury, Ontario. The title track premiered last month on Slovenly's 2020 Isolation Sampler. I am very pleased today to debut two more tracks from an EP that will have you all going absolutely crazy and begging to be inducted into the fan club. "Impulse Action" and "One Arch Town" are vintage shots of Tommy and the Commies' signature "hooligan pop". I know everyone likes to throw around Buzzcocks comparisons, and I certainly won't disagree. But "Impulse Action" is a little less Love Bites and a little more Spiral Scratch. "One Arch Town" sounds like a song The Dickies might have written if they'd ever gotten serious for a moment. For real: this band has never sounded tougher, punchier, or more energetic on record. Even if you ordinarily hate "pop" punk, you will love this. These are songs you will want to play at an obnoxiously loud volume while you dance wildly around the house and pump yourself up for some hooligan-ish antics of your own. Power poppers, '77 punks, mods, and garage freaks unite: your next favorite record arrives in 24 days!
So I got an email the other day with the subject line The best single you haven't heard...yet! I have to admit I was suspicious. I get some really weird submissions sometimes - stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of music I review. But let me tell you: Mom's debut record is exactly the kind of thing I like. And it was indeed the best single I had not yet heard! Mom are Donny, Luke, and Frank. They hail from Malmö, Sweden and play awesome power pop with a '70s bubblegum glam feel. "Tonight" is the first of two singles Mom is releasing in advance of a debut album expected out this fall. The title track is a stone cold smash. It's upbeat, hooky, and a whole lot of fun. I'm talking Pop with a capital P! This song sounds like something that would pop up on a playlist in between Nick Gilder, Milk 'N' Cookies, and the Bay City Rollers! The B-side is a cool poppy version of The Miracles' classic "The Tracks of My Tears". I am digging this record and can't wait to hear more from Mom! Download is available for just a dollar. Teenage rock and roll forever!
Well I guess the cat's out of the bag. Goodbye Boozy Records, that veritable institution of lo-fi trash, has identified the previously mysterious TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects as the home recorded solo project of Tyler from Phone Jerks. This revelation accompanies the label's release of the latest ear-battering product of Tyler's recording under the influence. This EP is available as a digital release from Goodbye Boozy's Bandcamp. In addition, 14 cassette copies were made - of which none remain at the time of this review (I guess if you've ever considered Tyler a sellout, you are now technically correct). The release of exactly 14 copies seems like an oddly specific choice. Was this based on a meticulously-calculated projection of how many people world-wide would actually buy it? Does it represent the number of adult beverages that fueled the conception, recording, and production of the EP? Is this a subtle tribute to Maple Leaf great Dave Keon?
This release is something quite different from Phone Jerks, and it's actually quite different from the previous TJ Cabot demos. It's...what's the word I'm looking for...weirder? Yeah, that's it! "What's In It" is really great Devo-inspired minimalist punk rock, the second in what we can all hope will be a long string of songs written about Tyler and Emily's beloved greyhound Donair. "On The Menu" sounds like a rare Stooges cut that could have been released as a Rip Off Records 45 (and if it couldn't be on ROR, Goodbye Boozy is surely the next best thing!). It's the most straight-forward punker track on this EP - a raging ball of hate hurled at some of the most despicable individuals known to humanity: foodies. I can laugh at this one become I'm kind of a foodie myself (If Tyler ever does a song about craft beer dudes, I'm really in for it). I appreciate that this track sounds less like the work of one man at home and more like the creation of a full band that routinely caps off its recording sessions with fistfights and crime sprees. To finish, "Kissin the Causeway" is a weird as fuck cover of a song by Cape Breton, Nova Scotia legends Buddy and the Boys. Common reactions to this track so far have been "What the hell is this?!" and "God, turn that off!". But if you consider the TJ Cabot project to be an on-going tribute to the land of Tyler's upbringing, then this cover choice makes perfect sense. Goodbye Boozy, a label with the stated mission of releasing "crude and minimal records", has most definitely found a kindred spirit.
Behold one of the most "pop" albums ever made! And with a title like For Those About To Pop!, anything less would have been a huge letdown! For Those About To Pop!, the fifth album by Norway's long-running power pop sensations The Yum Yums, will be released on LP two weeks from today on the venerable Screaming Apple Records. Waterslide Records out of Japan, Rum Bar Records out of the USA, and House of Rock Records out of Norway will all be releasing the album on CD. And let me tell you: if you're a fan of The Yum Yums' previous four albums, you're gonna go WILD for this new one!
For Those About To Pop! of course sounds like a classic Yum Yums album. I'll take that a step further and say that this is the band's best album yet! Morten Henriksen is a true pop god, and he's at the height of his powers here. This is the ultimate feelgood pop record. It's bursting with catchy melodies, punchy guitars, soaring harmonies, fun lyrics, and some of the most addictive choruses you'll ever have the good fortune to encounter. Henriksen follows the same recipe that has worked for the past 27 years: take one part Ramones, one part power pop, and one part early '70s glam & bubblegum; mix it all up, and pour it out with maximum enthusiasm. The Yum Yums were one of the first bands in the '90s to bring power pop into the punk world, which put them at the forefront of a genre we now call powerpop/punk (Seriously, how many punk rockers did you know in 1993 that were into The Barracudas and Paul Collins Beat?). For Those About To Pop! proves that The Yum Yums are still masters of this musical aesthetic. It's perhaps the most energetic and optimistic of all the band's albums. Henriksen has certainly authored his share of bitter love songs, but the vibe on this album is full-on upbeat. He's written a bunch of songs about falling in love, being in love, and hoping to fall in love. Heck, he's even written a couple of love songs to pop music itself! A good many of you will want to adopt the title track as your new personal anthem. In a better world, "Baby Baby" and "The Kind of Girl" would be massive, million-selling radio hits. "Crush On You" has me reliving the glorious new wave summers of my youth. "First Move" (featuring lyrics written by the illustrious Wayne Lundqvist Ford) and "Can't Get Enough of Your Lovin'" take it even further back to the heyday of teenybopper glam rock. Honestly, I could have singled out any song on the album. It's nothing but gold from beginning to end!
With seven years having passed since The Yum Yums released their last album Play Good Music, it's no surprise that For Those About To Pop! is so stacked with hits. Even better, this album feels like a statement. It's not just another Yum Yums album. It's the ULTIMATE Yum Yums album! It seems redundant to talk about this being an especially "pop" Yum Yums record, but that will make complete sense when you hear it. Clearly this was an album designed to be experienced in the warm weather months. It's a celebration of summertime fun, love in full bloom, and the pure magic of melody. Be prepared to sing along, dance a little, and have these songs stuck in your head until the end of time.
I know I'm sounding like a broken record, but I'll say it again. When it comes to Ramones via Lookout! Records inspired pop-punk in 2020, The Putz is as good as it gets. Today the Indiana trio releases its fourth album Rise and Shine on two of the best labels out there: Eccentric Pop Records and OUTLOUD! Records.
The Putz is one of those pop-punk bands that manages to be totally obvious about its influences while still infusing its music with its own style and personality. Much of that is owed to Billy Putz being such a likable vocalist. Even when he's singing not-so-nice things, he sounds like a guy you'd totally want to hang out with. And as a songwriter, he excels at writing three-chord pop songs that are catchy and totally fun to sing along with. I've always maintained that writing really good simple songs is one of the hardest things to do in music. It's only perceived as easy because bands like The Putz make it seem so effortless! On Rise and Shine, Billy Putz, guitarist Patrick McVay, and drummer Dougie Tangent flawlessly execute the fundamentals of great pop-punk. You won't hear a tighter trio in this genre of music. And when it comes to finding that sweet spot between pop and punk, these guys hit it bang-on. Rise and Shine is an absolute blast, and it comes out firing with one of the strongest 1-2-3 opening sequences I've heard on a pop-punk record in a while. "Cut the Shit" is snotty, high-spirited, and straight out of the early '90s Queers playbook. "She's a Brat" is upbeat and super poppy - always a winning formula in my book. "Laserblast" is The Putz doing what The Putz does best: making a fun sing-along out of putting some insufferable asshole in his place. But while this album does revisit the snotty theme on a couple of tracks ("Grow Up" is especially fantastic), I like that we encounter the many different moods of this band. "You're the Kind of Girl That I Like" shows the sweeter side of The Putz, while "Another Autumn" is tinged with longing and sadness. "Invitation Only" touches on the classic pop-punk themes of feeling uncool and unaccepted. The title track clocks in at over four and a half minutes (an eternity in pop-punk music!) and delivers a very serious message about making the most of your life. Closing number "All The Time In The World" is a sentimental love song that reaffirms my long-held contention that all great pop-punk can be traced back to Buddy Holly.
Rise and Shine is everything I could have wanted from a new Putz album. It doesn't try to fix what isn't broken. You know who the influences are, and you probably own all of their records. Yet at the same time, this album features a cool variety of songs and shows a definite progression from the band's earlier work. And beyond all else, it's just really damn good. You could say this album is a throwback to the heyday of pop-punk. But my hot take is that right now is the heyday of pop-punk. Get your mitts on Rise and Shine while supplies last!
So I was on social media yesterday and caught Ralph Rivera's review of the new Rum Bar Records sampler. He was particularly touting a track by a Spanish band called Heatwaves. Right away, I knew two things: I needed to listen to this comp, and I needed to hear everything that Heatwaves have released. Done and done! Somebody Out There Is Having A Party Vol 2 is a deluxe free sampler featuring 33 bands/artists that are either on the Rum Bar roster or part of the Rum Bar extended family.
As you know if you're a regular visitor to this blog, Rum Bar is one of my favorite labels. But Malibu Lou puts out such an incredible volume of music that I have struggled greatly to stay caught up. Literally two-thirds of the tracks on this sampler are by artists I have not reviewed before! This was a great way for me to catch up on some of what I've missed. And for the amazing price of free, Somebody Out There Is Having A Party Vol 2 is an easy way for anyone to become familiar with one of the planet's finest independent record labels. Stylistically, it covers garage, rock and roll, punk, power pop, dirty blues, glam rock, heartland rock, country, psychedelic pop, pub rock, and everything in between. The variety across these 33 tracks is tremendous. Of course this collection highlights many top bands from the Boston area (The Hi-End, Justine's Black Threads, Watts,The Dents, Muck & The Mires, Dirty Truckers, Stop Calling Me Frank, Jay Allen and the Archcriminals). But the Rum Bar family extends well beyond its Boston hub, and you'll also hear ace tracks from the likes of Florida's Cheap Gunslingers, Spain's K7s, Switzerland's 45 Rally, Rockford, Illinois's Mono In Stereo, and Ken Fox of the legendary Fleshtones (doing power pop!). There's even a golden oldie from The Heartdrops, who were a fixture on Lou's old label Melted Records. While most of these tracks are from Rum Bar's existing catalog, I was tickled pink to hear unreleased songs from Justine and the Unclean (the spectacular "Fourth Love"), Indonesian Junk ("Nothin' I Can Do", an old Daniel James Gang favorite), and the aforementioned K7s (one of the best pop-punk bands on earth!). The Heatwaves track "Vampire" alone justifies the price of admission. Wait, there is no price of admission! Even better! Download this sampler today and make it part of whatever socially-distanced summer parties you've got planned. And then go buy all of these bands' records. At the rate Lou is putting out great music, he's gonna need a bigger bar.
How about another cool tune from The New Brutarians? Yes, please! When we last checked in with Adam and Christina, they had just given us a preview of their debut 7". I don't know if the record has even been released yet, but now they're back with a track off of their second EP due out in September. "New Muse" again finds the duo hitting that sweet spot where pop art, glam rock, and proto-punk intersect. It's probably the band's most overtly "pop" song yet, but it's still art damaged enough to frighten off the squares. Last time I mentioned that The New Brutarians would be rounding out their first EP with a track called "(Rock Me) I'm A Dadaist" (Oh my god: best song title ever!). They've since posted that one on the digital platforms as well. Let me just say that when you begin a song with the lyrics "I'm living like a hologram/I dined on Alice Cooper's brain", you can't possibly go wrong! If you're a fan of Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, The Only Ones etc., head on over to Bandcamp or SoundCloud and get a whiff of what The New Brutarians have been cooking!
14 Lashes is the perfect name for Chain Whip's debut album. Every song on the record hits with force and fury, and each successive strike will leave you begging for more. This Vancouver foursome originally self-released this album last summer. Now it's getting a European vinyl release on Drunken Sailor Records - a label that's no stranger to modern classics of punk rock. This is an absolutely flawless hardcore punk record in the style of the early '80s. It rips through 14 tracks in less than 20 minutes, each song a pummeling shot of power and aggression. This album features all the marks of great hardcore: punishing guitars, insane drumming, and super pissed-off vocals from lead singer Josh. And yet these songs aren't just raging - they're really fucking good! Even as these guys shred your eardrums, they're sneaking in legit hooks. On top of that, this is a perfectly produced hardcore record. It sounds raw but totally powerful, and those guitars and drums hit so hard. You could put any of these songs on a playlist with DOA, Poison Idea, Circle Jerks, etc. and they would fit right in. 14 Lashes is an angry record for angry times. Play it at a ridiculously high volume, and you will be properly fired up to take on anyone or anything. Official release date is June 26th, but you might wanna jump on this now while copies are still available!
When it comes to pop-punk, I tend to gravitate towards the more "bubblegum" side of things. On that note, The Hawaiians are my kind of pop-punk band! They are part of that Queers/Beatnik Termites/Travoltas lineage which of course traces back to the Ramones and Beach Boys. I totally love the idea of a Hawaiian-obsessed band from northern Germany, and it's incredibly cool that this group has been able to sustain this theme over the course of three equally great albums. Out on Kamikaze Records, the band's new album Invading The Summer is like the soundtrack to a '60s beach movie full of surfing, teenage romance, fun in the sun, and unexpected visits from Martians, astronauts, and Bigfoot. If you're enticed by bubblegum melodies, a heavy dose of harmonies, songs about girls, and buzzsaw guitars, The Hawaiians will be right up your alley. They've taken a tried-and-true formula and executed it to perfection. Invading The Summer dishes up a perfect mix of beach party rockers, tenderhearted love songs, and quintessential pop-punk tunes. Put on this album, close your eyes, and you'll suddenly be 18 again and basking in the Hawaiian sun. How much fun would this band be to see live? Maybe next summer!
The Fallout's new album could not be any more of a soundtrack to this moment. It's packed full of fist-pumping punk rock anthems railing against injustice, inequality, and the systemic oppression of the people. It's music in the grand tradition of late '70s/early '80s political punk rock and the protest folk that inspired it. This Toronto-based band has been active since 2004 and strives to write "songs of unity, inclusion, solidarity and struggle". It's inspiring now to see so many people finally waking up to injustice in the world and getting angry about it. The Fallout have been angry from the start, and they're ready as always to take up the fight.
Out on Rebel Time Records and Discos Machete, The Times Have Never Changed opens with the premise that the protest music of the past promised change that has yet to be delivered. That's not a cynical statement so much as it is a message that the struggle has yet to be won. Over the course of 15 tracks, it's clear that The Fallout reserves all of its cynicism for institutions of power, which must be resisted and confronted if real change is to ever occur. So don't let the album title fool you. These guys are true believers in the idea that songs can change the world - or at least that songs have the power to inspire the people who will change the world. If you can watch authority clash with dissent at this moment and honestly side with authority, this is clearly not the band or album for you. The Times Have Never Changed rages against everything from endless wars to partisan politics to institutionalized homophobia to organized religion to police brutality to the marginalization of sex workers. It's full of urgency, passion, and absolute conviction. Sometimes the whole idea of "political punk" can turn people off because the music tends to be generic at best or an afterthought at worst. But The Fallout is a throwback to a time when protest punk was just as much about the tunes as it was about the message. These guys write catchy songs that are tailor made for you to shout along with. The music is powerful and aggressive but also fun to listen to. And that's the way it ought to be. If a song is going to inspire people, it has to be inspiring. Songs like "Red Light Union" and "Raise Your Flag" will have you fired up to run through a brick wall for the cause! This is "street" punk in the truest sense of the term - music for the people that is relevant to what's actually happening on our streets.
Certainly when this album was being prepared for release, the band and labels had no idea it would arrive on the eve of a mass protest movement of historic proportions. But the injustices and inequality that ignited this movement have persisted for geneerations. I used to assume that most people had the sense to know that racism is wrong and fascism is bad. But in this modern-day Bizarro World where anti-fascists are suddenly "terrorists" and not wanting cops to murder people of color is a "divisive" position, it's clear that nothing is obvious. We can't take for granted that sanity will prevail or that progress is inevitable. We must resist and keep resisting. And we will listen to awesome music while we do it.
There are so many wonderful things I can say about the new sampler/comp from Bloated Kat Records (the title alone would merit a full book of praise). But what I dig most about this project is how perfectly it aligns with my own mission at F & L. Whether you call it melodic punk, pop-punk, powerpop/punk, or something else entirely (I do like the ring of "an unstoppable force of hooks and riffs"), this music we love is going stronger than ever in 2020. Kat Music For Kat People Vol IV - The Longest Fe-Line seeks to showcase some of the top artists making poppy punk music right now. Quite a few of these bands are on the Bloated Kat roster, but many are not. If you follow today's scene super closely, you might know most of these songs already. But the sheer volume of this collection makes it extremely likely that you will be hearing at least a few of these bands for the first time. I also think this comp does a fine job of demonstrating how diverse this scene is. If you're of the mind-set that all "pop-punk" sounds the same, these 35 tracks will strongly refute that. Some of these bands lean more punk than pop and vice versa. Some are pure power pop. Some bring to mind the grand old days of indie/alternative rock. Not all of these tracks are for everyone, but there's something here for everyone. I take a good deal of pride in being a geek for this type of stuff, and I was entirely unfamiliar with at least half of these songs. I am not worthy! Now I've been busy digging deeper into the likes of Big School (powerpop/punk from Canada - how did I not know about these guys before?!), Peachier (old school indie pop from Maine), The Headies (pop-punk from Delaware), The Sleeping Aides and Razorblades (awesome Japanese power pop), and Robot Bachelor (a pop-punk supergroup I have no excuse not to have known about). Perhaps this comp will send you on an odyssey of musical discovery as well. This is a great time to be into poppy punk rock
because there are so many awesome bands out there. And there are several really excellent record labels that specialize in this particular niche. Bloated Kat Records is one of them, and it merits your further exploration (and mine too!).
Continuing my series on the bands I championed in my early years as a music reviewer, we turn to a group that has been keeping the faith for 30 years now. It always struck me as odd back in the '90s that all of my favorite old punk bands were from the U.K., yet I wasn't really listening to any new bands from the U.K. That all changed the first time I mail-ordered an Apocalypse Babys 7" from Underground Medicine (the American distro that shaped the musical taste of an entire generation of punk/garage freaks). It was amazing to hear a current U.K. band that sounded very much like all of the classic English and Irish punk groups whose records I was playing on a daily basis. I soon began ordering new releases from Apocalypse Babys every time they turned up in an Underground Medicine catalog (Remember when we still ordered records from catalogs?). When Jim from Underground Medicine started his own label Rapid Pulse Records, Apocalypse Babys were his very first release! What I liked about this Derbyshire-based outfit was that in addition to its music being powerful and often political, it was also very melodic. It was a throwback to a time when punk groups weren't ashamed to write a song with a hook. Singer Dave "Asterix The Brat" Moran formed this band in 1990, and it's still going strong to this day (the group has released albums in each of the last three years!). The Apocalypse Babys to me are one of the most under-appreciated punk bands of our time. I'm particularly partial to later '90s singles like "Nuclear Rain", "I Don't Wanna Be A Nazi", Apocalypse Now, and Local Heroes. Most likely because it wasn't super easy for people to get a hold of its records on this side of the pond, this band has always been largely unknown in the U.S. Its newer stuff may be even more obscure since I don't believe it's available on any streaming platforms. So if you're going to get into Apocalypse Babys, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way and track down the records. It'll be well worth the effort if you're into the classic Brit-punk sound!
If you're a fan of Justine Covault's terrific pop/rock/punk outfit Justine and the Unclean, perhaps you've expressed the thought that she would be a great country singer. She certainly has the perfect voice for country music. And of course her lyrics about heartache and doomed romance translate beautifully to that particular genre. I am happy to report that Justine's Black Threads confirm everything that we suspected. The trio features Covault on vocals and guitar along side Jimmy Scoppa on guitar and Johnny Sciascia on upright bass. Out today on Rum Bar Records, Cheap Vacation is the band's debut EP. The sound is old school '50s/'60s country with really no hint of a modern influence (thank god). The production is really raw and "live", which puts all the focus on Covault's voice & lyrics along with the truly outstanding musicianship of her two band mates. Sometimes people hear the term "alt country" and think of something from 20 years ago. Black Threads are more along the lines of Loretta Lynn or Sun Records era Johnny Cash. But even without punchy guitars and slamming drums (or any drums at all!), this is vintage Justine Covault music. She excels as always at writing relatable songs about lousy boyfriends, love gone bad, and the plight of the brokenhearted. And if you never fully grasped what an exceptional singer she is, you'll get it now. The original songs are terrific."He Never Reminds Me Of You" is a spirited and scathing kiss-off that you may find yourself dedicating to some of your own exes."You and Me Against You and Me" is more of a straight bitter pill chronicling the downfall of a relationship that once seemed invincible. This is a timeless theme in country music, and it couldn't be any more in Covault's wheelhouse. Capping off this EP are two truly excellent covers. "Needles And Pins", of course, is the Jackie DeShannon/Searchers classic from the early '60s. The way Black Threads play it, you'd swear it was written to be a country song! This is my favorite version of this song ever done by a band not named the Ramones, and it perfectly fits the tone of the EP. "The Other Side of a Six Pack" is more of a modern classic, originally written and recorded by label mate Tad Overbaugh. I love this rawer, stripped-down version. It's a toe-tapper for sure, and Covault's vocal really taps into the song's darker undercurrents. Four songs about heartbreak and one about drinking is pretty much a can't-miss recipe for a great country record. And as far as the ratio of originals to covers goes, I think Justine's Black Threads have it just right. I like a 60/40 mix of new material and creative interpretations of really great songs. These three musicians sound absolutely tremendous together, and Covault really does sound like she was born to play this kind of music. My only complaint about Cheap Vacation is that five tracks of this band is not nearly enough. What a great little EP!
Well here we've got another great release from Alien Snatch Records. And you know I wouldn't have expected anything less! Dangereens hail from Montreal and have kind of a different sound for Alien Snatch. Hell, they've got kind of a different sound, period! And that's what I'm especially digging about this group. You can't quite put Dangereens into any obvious category. At first listen, you think maybe they're into the sleazy glam rock thing. But over the course of their debut album Tough Luck, they touch on everything from rhythm & blues to '70s jam rock to boogie woogie to rockabilly. When was the last time I compared a band to Mungo Jerry? "Streets of Doom" makes me think of Eternally Yours era Saints, but not quite. "Hearse Driving Boogie" channels Dave Edmunds via The Replacements. "Twelve Below Zero" sounds a little like a lost deep cut from The Kinks. You could slot "Love Jive" into any oldies station's nightly '70s block and fool almost everyone into thinking it was genuine AM gold. "(Bye Bye) Little Uptown Girl" is a an R & B rocker as righteous and rousing as anything the J. Geils Band ever did. I'm not always a fan of piano, sax, and trumpets in rock and roll. But holy cow, does this band ever pull it off! Hugo Chartrand has got legit star presence on vocals, and Felix Brisson on lead guitar can play like a motherfucker! Dangereens describe themselves as "elegantly decadent rock and roll". That could not be more spot-on! The musicianship and production on this record are about as professional as it gets. But first and foremost, Chartrand writes appealing songs that are well-suited to the effortless cool he exudes as a performer. If you favor more straight-forward glam rock, I recommend the band's new single "Lucky In Love". But I think the full album really gives you the best feel for what makes Dangereens a special band. Has anyone noticed that three of the last four Alien Snatch releases were by Canadian bands? Daniel knows what's up.
For the first time in my life, I had to rewrite an entire record review. When I'm writing about Hayley and the Crushers, it's my natural inclination to take a joyful, carefree tone and to romanticize the eternal pool party that lives within the band's music. But clearly a joyful, carefree tone is neither possible nor appropriate while a nation is grieving. This does not mean, however, that music can't still bring hope and happiness into our lives. With a hurting heart, I take comfort in a couple of wonderful songs from one of my favorite bands. The "Jacaranda" 7" arrives courtesy of Canada's Reta Records and Italy's Surfin' Ki Records. Fresh from releasing the phenomenal Vintage Millennial (still my #1 album of the year so far), Hayley and the Crushers have turned out another gem of a record. "Jacaranda" has that perfect early '80s new wave power pop sound with a spirit to match. I love how it's both an upbeat pop song and something far deeper than that. It's a song full of emotion and meaning, reminding all of us of the importance of living our lives fully and embracing the great big world that exists outside of our little bubbles. As I reflect on the state of things and what I can do to make this world a better place, I find this tune inspiring. That chorus is magical. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have one of my very favorite musicians, Dougie Tangent, sitting in on drums. The Go-Go's are the most obvious comparison here, but I'm reminded just as much of Holly and the Italians. In keeping with the early '80s Southern California vibe, "Angelyne" is a loving homage to the Hollywood icon. It's got a bit of a Missing Persons/Berlin new wave feel to it, but with guitars that really crunch. I love how this band can continually take the best elements of a bygone era and blend them seamlessly into a fresh, modern take on surf/punk/pop.
While I scrapped the whole "song of the summer" angle of my original review, I will say that both tracks on this latest Hayley and the Crushers single have brought me joy and will continue to do so for a long time to come. Music heightens our best times, but it's also capable of making our worst times more bearable. I've been spinning Vintage Millennial as I type this, and it feels like a ray of sunshine on my soul. As disheartening as current events are, it's very encouraging to see the way the masses are coming together to demand the dismantling of systemic racism in America. I've been comforted by the goodness I see in the majority of individuals - particularly in our underground music community. This gives me hope for a brighter times ahead, and for future summers when all are free to enjoy pool parties, beach getaways, and cruising with the top down.
Here's a really wonderful surprise to start a new month! Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls, Suspect Parts, Maniac) is a great friend of this blog and one of my favorite people in music. Today he debuts a new solo project called JENNY that he created with the help of a couple of luminaries from the world of underground pop. If you're a fan of Justin's other bands, you will not be disappointed by JENNY. Three of these tracks were recorded by James Carman (whom I just talked about last week!). The other two were recorded by Matt Rendon of The Resonars.
JENNY came about after Maniac broke up. Maurer was working on some songs that were shaping up in a power pop direction. Naturally, his friend Carman was a perfect choice to record the songs and contribute drums and backing vocals. The first three songs on the EP are from the sessions with Carman. The final two tracks were recorded in Tuscon last Christmas with Rendon, who also played bass, drums, and lead 12-string guitar as well as singing backing vocals. Even though this is a true solo project, I appreciate that Mauer allowed his collaborators to put their stamp on these recordings. The songs Maurer recorded with Carman are in the style of late '70s power pop/punk-pop and recapture a great deal of the magic the two made together in LA Drugz. The tracks recorded with Rendon have a distinctive '60s pop flavor. In terms of the sound of the recording, The Everly Brothers were a big inspiration. If you're a big Maurer fan, you may recognize "Song For Sadie" from a recent Suspect Parts release. The JENNY version sounds so different that it's practically a new song! I dug this tune before, but this particular arrangement has me feeling the emotion of the song tenfold. The bare bones percussion is an homage to the Los Lobos song "Christmas and You", which Mauer was enamored with at the time of the recording
JENNY will soon be released as a one-sided 12-inch by the always fabulous Wanda Records. Digital is available now via Bandcamp, so go check it out!