Saturday, September 26, 2020
Friday, September 25, 2020
Hands down, my favorite song released this year is a cover of John Prine's "In Spite Of Ourselves" recorded by Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis. No matter how bleak life gets or how doomed this world seems to be, one listen to this recording always gives me a reason to smile. Palmer had been wanting to record this song for years, but it just never quite fit in with any of the records he was making. But once it became apparent that 2020 had been "canceled", Palmer reached out to his good friend Ellis and asked her if she would record "In Spite Of Ourselves" with him. She quickly said yes, and Palmer brought in his pal Zack Sprague to round out the band. In the wake of Prine's death from COVID-19 in April, the Geoff & Lucy version of "In Spite Of Ourselves" proved to be both an extraordinary tribute and a ray of hope in very dark times. Then came the delightful news that this was just the beginning of the Palmer and Ellis duets!
"In Spite Of Ourselves" was originally intended to be one half of a single on Stardumb Records. But these two had so much fun collaborating on recording and chatting about music over Zoom happy hours that they decided to just keep going! Not knowing for sure if any labels would release it, they made an eight-song mini-album. Out today on Stardumb Records on 10" vinyl and Rum Bar Records on CD, Your Face Is Weird includes six covers and two original songs. The idea of these two individuals forming an intercontinental super duo is beyond exciting. They are two of my favorite people in music today. They both have roots in the pop-punk scene and have since grown into two of our finest modern-day creators of pure pop songs. What I love about this project is that these songs are not bound to any specific genre. The idea was for Palmer and Ellis to just record some songs they loved that would be fun to cover. They also wrote a couple of originals that perfectly fit the vibe of the album.
If you're a fan of these two artists as I am, you surely had high hopes for Your Face Is Weird. Well I'm here to tell you: it more than lives up to expectations! The original number "SWIM" matches the pure delightfulness and joyful vibes of "In Spite Of Ourselves". It's a sweet pop song not too far removed from Lucy and the Rats - but with an obvious Geoff Palmer touch as well. In these cynical times, we need songs like this that bask in the wonders of falling deeply in love. It will warm my heart to no end if someone makes this their wedding song. That chorus ("Do that thing you do where you move slowly...") is nothing short of magical. It gives me the feels every single time! The other original "Crash" is a high-energy rocker reminiscent of the Beach Boys and first album era Connection. It's just so much fun. If Mike Love had sung co-lead on a Nikki and the Corvettes track, it would have sounded an awful lot like this! And with this album being three-quarters cover songs, it's fortunate that they're all terrific. Where else are songs by Kieran Kane, Blag Dahlia, Burt Bacharach, and Sam Cooke going to sound like they were meant to be on the same album? I love that these two weren't afraid to take on beloved songs that some people would probably consider untouchable. Seriously: no one will ever do "In Spite of Ourselves" better than John Prine and Iris DeMent. But Palmer and Ellis have come darn close, and in the process they've turned countless individuals into John Prine fans. And while Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" is one of the most perfect pop songs ever written, Palmer and Ellis just might have made my second-favorite version ever (and that's no slight to The Speedways or Tracey Ullman!). How do you top Sam Cooke's "Having a Party"? Well, you don't. But if you're Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis, you work up a super fun version that essentially serves as a theme song for the entire album.
It can be hard to view the glass as half full (or even a quarter full) in a year like 2020. But when Geoff Palmer found himself with time to kill, a door opened to a duet with Lucy Ellis that quickly turned into a full-fledged musical partnership. Had 2020 gone a different way, this dream pairing of pop titans may have never occurred. As expected, these two sound great together. And Your Face Is Weird definitely gives you a taste of what those virtual happy hours were like! To wish for a sequel seems a little greedy, so I'll just focus on enjoying one of this year's true feelgood albums. Vinyl is available in Europe from Stardumb Records and in the USA from The Machine Shop. You can also get the CD from Rum Bar Records and the cassette from Memorable But Not Honorable!
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
The Beatersband out of Italy operates under a cool concept. Formed in 2018, this trio aims to modernize the vocal music of the '50s and '60s by re-arranging it in a punk/pop/rock and roll style. In its choice of covers, the band especially emphasizes the rock and roll, girl groups, and doo wop music of the pre British Invasion years (1955-63). On its first release last year, the band produced a lively set of covers of Ritchie Valens, The Crystals, The Ronettes, Paul Anka, Bobby Freeman, and Elvis. Now The Beatersband are back with a second volume of covers. This time, the group tackles such songs as the Goffin & King/Shirelles classic "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", Neil Sedaka's 1960 smash "Calendar Girl", the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby", and The Chantels' early girl group favorite "Maybe". Expanding their repertoire from just American music, The Beatersband also take on 1960s European hits by i Ribelli and Francoise Hardy as well the folk standard "If I Had A Hammer" in the style of Rita Pavone's cover version. I don't think I've ever reviewed a cover band before, but I really love the idea of this band and the way it's executed. Singer/guitarist Donatella Guida has a lovely, appealing voice. And while all of these songs have been given fresh arrangements, they retain the soul of the original versions. Whether you're into punk rock and roll or just plain rock and roll, you are sure to enjoy The Beatersband. I mean, come on: who doesn't love oldies?!
Sunday, September 20, 2020
The mighty Heap returns! Legends of New York City punk rock and roll since the mid-'90s, Heap have a new self-titled EP out on Rave On Records. Produced by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, this three-songer is truly all hits and no shit! On this collection of tunes, Tim Heap shows why he's the patron saint of fuck-ups, beautiful losers, tough luck cases, and perpetual outcasts everywhere. This man is one of the most underrated songwriters out there. He continues to combine boozy rock and roll a la Johnny Thunders, The Replacements, and the Dogmatics with a clever, insightful, and devastatingly funny lyrical vision. "No Mas" is of course inspired by the famous Roberto Duran quote. On this trashy rock and roll meets power pop number, Heap reflects on "things that used to be that aren't anymore". Lyrics like "I've never been the right amount of drunk...or punk" are truly classic Heap! "Renting" is literally about renting - and figuratively about how we're all fighting an uphill battle until the day we die. Who can't relate to that? The high-energy rocker "You Remind Me of Me" is one of those "it's funny because it's true" type songs - exploring how we often take an immediate dislike to people who remind us of the worst parts of ourselves. "You remind me of me...when I'm being an asshole" has to be the line of the year!
It has been a number of years since Heap released new music, and clearly the band had some great material stockpiled for this new release. Any of these three songs could have been an A-side in its own right. Together, these tracks form an absolutely unstoppable release. Tim Heap has written a trio of profound songs touching on the universal themes of impermanence and self-loathing. And as always, he and his band mates (George Chambers on lead guitar, Paul Koenigsberg on bass, and Frank Saitta on drums) demonstrate how to play rock and roll with hooks and heart. If this EP leaves you wanting more, head on over to Bandcamp and dig into the classic Heap long players Don't Call Us We Already Broke Up and Heap on the Cheap!
Friday, September 18, 2020
Out today from Boston foursome Field Day, "Everything, Everyone"/"The Next Day" is essentially a pair of singles released on one 45. Field Day features former Boston Globe rock critic Joan Anderman and her longtime colleague Dan Zedek on guitar and vocals. As you might expect, this duo's songwriting and musical aesthetic bring to mind the classic indie rock of '80s and '90s Boston. These new songs were recorded at Boston's Q Division studios with Rafi Sofer. What makes this such an appealing release is that the two tracks are so different from each other.
"Everything, Everyone", featuring Anderman and Zedek on dual vocals, has a warm, jangly feel to it that I would describe as textbook indie pop. I like that the song is on the mellow side but still packs a solid punch. Anderman and Zedek are a likable pairing on vocals, and the lead guitar on the track is absolutely dazzling. If you fondly recall late '80s/early '90s college radio, you need this song in your digital collection. "The Next Day", featuring Anderman on lead vocals, proceeds in a darker, more mysterious direction. The band achieves an extraordinary tone on this slow-burning rocker. The song is cool, elegant, and haunting all at the same time. I love the way the hard-striking bass lines and angular guitars support Anderman's captivating vocals and lyrics. I've been completely fascinated by this song - hanging on every word and taking it in as if it's a short film or story. I could not be more impressed. "The Next Day" is a true work of art. At no point could I just casually hear it in the background. I'm compelled to immerse myself in it.
"Everything, Everyone"/"The Next Day" is that rare pairing of four minute+ songs that don't drag. Each track unfolds into a beautifully developed work of passionate & literate rock. These tracks are being released as a limited-edition 7" record on Light of Day Records. They're also available via the usual streaming platforms. If you like what you hear, be sure to also check out Field Day's three excellent EPs via Bandcamp!
Out today on the legendary and iconic JEM Records, Calliope is the fantastic second album from American garage rock duo The Bookends. Karen Lynn (vocals, guitar) & Sharon Lee (vocals/bass/keyboards) have a special kind of chemistry. They are first cousins and have been inseparable since birth - hence the lifelong nickname "The Bookends". As the band The Bookends, Karen & Sharon blend their voices beautifully and dig deep into their shared affection for 1960s pop music. The 14-track Calliope was designed to be uplifting and exuberant - a veritable amusement ride for the soul. This is music that makes you feel good, and the absolute joy that went into this album's creation is apparent at all points. Musically, these songs touch on everything from the British Invasion to '60s garage rock to power pop to psychedelic rock. Evocative of amusement park fun and child-like wonderment, the title track demonstrates how to make a Beatles influence feel new and exciting in 2020. Listening to the bright and energetic "Face The Facts", I can't help picturing The Bookends performing on a '60s TV show. "Stop Right There" is flawless 1970s-style power pop, while "Keep Keeping On" will have you merrily dancing around the house all night. Bursting with melodies and harmonies, "Make It Alright" and "Got To Tell You" are the blasts of sonic sunshine I truly needed at this moment in human existence. "She's Got It" sounds like it was lifted from the soundtrack of a '60s spy thriller. The radiant and symphonic "World" brings this ride to a blissful conclusion. It's not lost on me that "Calliope" and "World" are meant to bookend (no pun intended!) the upbeat and hook-laden rock and roll of the 12 tracks in between. The former is a tone-setter for an album that's sure to lift your spirits. The latter is like a warm summer breeze that comes upon you and assures you that everything is going to be alright. I always love an album that ends in such a way that I want to go back and listen to the whole thing again!
2020 will be forever remembered as the year of "pandemic rock". Isolated in their homes without anything to do but what they live to do, musicians of all walks of life have been recording in their bedrooms, basements, garages, kitchens, closets, and showers for several months now. In many cases, these artists have created this music just to stay sane or derive some enjoyment in trying times. But what happens when you make music just for the sake of making music - and suddenly you realize you've really got something? That's what recently happened to Cayley O'Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom). They created the project Self-Cut Bangs as a way to kill time during quarantine. It started with writing and recording one song. This quickly grew into a tradition of spending every Saturday creating a new song, just for themselves. At some point, they listened to what they had and thought, "Hey, this is actually really good!". They decided to share their recordings with the world, and today the debut album from Self-Cut Bangs officially exists!
Beyond the fact that Self-Cut Bangs is the greatest possible band name for a pandemic year, I'm very thankful that O'Neill and Petsche did not insist on keeping their recordings private. They've given us one of the year's best albums. It doesn't really sound like Dark Time or Napalmpom. Heck, it doesn't really sound like anything else out there. This record is a combination of numerous cool things. In these nine songs, there are elements of everything from post-punk to power pop to glam to garage to punk to straight-up rock and roll. If anything, I might say that is a throwback to the indie and alternative rock of the '90s and 2000s. It's got huge hooks, thundering guitars and drums, and really fantastic lyrics that have meaningful things to say about our world. If "modern rock" were still a viable commercial radio format, I could easily imagine a number of these songs being hits. I'm kind of shocked that this album was home-recorded, because it sounds so massive. I had to wonder if these two actually live in a recording studio! In all seriousness, the very talented songwriter Lorrie Matheson mixed and mastered these tracks and did an an absolute bang-up job. "Pillow Talk" and "Perfect Posture" form as good of a 1-2 punch to start an album as I've heard this year. Both songs deliver knockout choruses that ought to compel the masses to sing along. The rest of the album ain't so bad either. I dig the variety, as Self-Cut Bangs maneuver their way through new wave/post-punk ("Ace"), crunching '90s alt-rock ("Time With You"), mega-cool glam rock ("Shapeshifter"), retro synth-pop ("Legends"), big riff hard rock ("Dying Is An Art"), and everything in between.
Minus the pressures and expectations that usually come with making an album, Self-Cut Bangs have produced an original and tremendously exciting work of rock and roll. Time will only tell if this turns out to be a one-off project or the start of the biggest band in the universe. But either way, the birth of Self-Cut Bangs must be considered one of the bright spots of 2020.