Sunday, May 19, 2024

Kevin McGovern - "Don​’​t Wanna Be You"

My history of writing about Kevin McGovern's music dates back to 1995 and covers several musical entities. Yet I've never had the pleasure of discussing something he released under his own name — until today. It seems funny to say this, but "Don't Wanna Be You" is his first-ever proper solo release. Even though many of the more recent Prostitutes releases were essentially Kevin's work, "Don't Wanna Be You" feels like a new chapter for him. Sure, it's not that far-removed from The Prostitutes, and that voice would be instantly recognizable even if Kevin were fronting a polka band. But without a band name attached, Kevin is free to represent where he's at in 2024. This is probably the punkiest thing he's done in a number of years, yet there's a freshness and progressive boldness to it that separates it from previous releases he has worked on. More than anything else, this sounds like Kevin McGovern — an artist with a distinctive style who has nonetheless never allowed himself to stagnate or recycle ideas. If you're a longtime fan, you will love "Don​’​t Wanna Be You." If you've never heard of Kevin McGovern or The Prostitutes but love raging yet modern punk rock, you too will dig this track. This is the work of an artist who understands that you don't put your name on a piece of music unless it's your absolute best effort. In this case, Kevin has put his actual name on it. 


Cool Blog: Takin' A Ride

Check this out, folks! Takin' A Ride is a new blog created by former Flipside writer (and owner of the late '90s punk label Scam-O-Rama Records) Drunk Ted. With Takin' A Ride, Ted presents a mix of current show and album reviews, reflections on past shows and experiences he's had in the world of music, and interviews from the past and present. He describes Takin' A Ride as "a blog celebrating rock ‘n roll, rock, punk rock, garage rock, alternative rock, action rock, and all things that doth rock." That sure sounds like my kind of thing! Given Ted's nearly four decades of involvement with the underground music scene, this blog is sure to be a treasure trove of amazing stories, photos, and remembrances. If you came of age in the '90s punk underground as I did, Takin' A Ride will remind you what an incredible time that was to be into music. But the thing about Drunk Ted is that he has continued his enthusiasm into the present day, so he also uses this blog to champion bands that are out there right now making great records and rocking out on stage. If you enjoy my blog, you'll love Ted's as well!

Norcos Y Horchata - "Unkind Sometimes"

Well, this was inevitable: the I-94 Recordings Detroit covers series now includes one of Detroit's best present-day bands, the mighty Norcos Y Horchata! There's nothing cooler than seeing one of your favorite bands working with one of your favorite labels. And this team-up is no letdown. "Unkind Sometimes" is the 11th installment in the series, and it finds NYH tackling "Don't Come Crying To Me" by Detroit '77 punks Cinecyde. The movie theme on the cover art is a tribute to two members of Cinecyde running the legendary Thomas Video in the Detroit area back in the day. On the A-side, "Unkind Sometimes" is something a little different from NYH. The band takes some risks on this song, and they all pay off handsomely. The long introduction, the deliberate, almost tribal drum beat, and the dueling shouted vocals in the chorus all contribute to this song's distinct feel. NYH's tough, anthemic punk rock 'n' roll style remains fully in tact, but this song is unique in the band's catalog and instantly memorable because of that. While this band began as Amado's quarantine solo project, it has grown into a true group. Dougie, Roman, and Annie all make essential contributions to this song. This is a killer track, and of course the Cinecyde cover totally smokes. You know you need this record! There are 13 color variations of the vinyl with old school movie ratings on the sleeves. Happy shopping!

Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men - "Bottle It"/"Get the Feeling"

As I was enjoying Nick Piunti's cover of "Ruby Tuesday" on the soon-to-be-released JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards compilation, it occurred to me that it has been a minute since Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men last released an album. Right on cue, the band has released a new two-fer of digital singles in advance of their forthcoming long player Up and Out of It (due out on JEM this fall). On "Bottle It" and "Get the Feeling," Piunti and The Complicated Men (Joe Daksiewicz on lead guitar, Kevin Darnall on keyboards, Jeff Hupp on bass, and Ron Vensko on drums) continue to churn out melody-driven pop rock of the absolute finest quality. Piunti is not just a master tunesmith but also a remarkable lyricist, and here he has given us a couple earworms of tremendous substance. "Bottle It" is truly a song for our times —a defiant call to not allow popular opinion and societal expectations to dictate who you are, how you live your life, and what you love. Piunti makes keen observations about the power we allow social media, technology, and advertising to have over our lives — much to our detriment in most cases. The song explores some of the most timeless themes of music and art (individualism, nonconformity, the finite nature of life) in a context that could not be more relevant. This is a tune you can feel good about singing along with! "Get the Feeling" is another first rate pop rocker featuring the clever refrain "Not a liar, not a cheat, just a vampire needing sleep." The entire song is a tour de force of personal, deeply self-aware songwriting, and of course it has hooks for days. 

Here's the thing about Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men: You always know what you're going to get from them, yet it never grows tiresome. And that's because melody, well-crafted songs, and smart, relatable lyrics are eternal in music. This band has set the standard for what "mature" power pop ought to be. All we need to do is sit back and enjoy this amazing run of albums that Piunti began a decade ago and has continued with The Complicated Men. "Bottle It" and "Get the Feeling" are available now from all the major streaming platforms.

My Ten Favorite Punk Rock Albums of the 21st Century

So once I published my list of my ten favorite power pop albums of the 21st century, the wheels in my head started turning. I knew I'd be compelled to also list my ten favorite punk rock albums of the 21st century. Now keep in mind we all have our own definitions of "punk rock." I have no interest in defending my definition or criticizing someone else's. And of course I'm not trying to identify the "greatest" or most influential punk rock albums of this century. These are just the ones I love the most personally. And many of these albums would rank amongst my all-time favorite punk LPs, period. So while I'm notoriously geeky about first generation punk and the 1990s revival, I've always made an effort to keep up with the newer bands and never allow myself to get jaded about this genre of music. Hats off to Mick Fletcher, who has been posting new punk rock music almost daily for over a decade and was ultimately responsible for introducing me to the band that holds the top spot on this list! 

It blows me away when I realize that the 21st century already covers a period of nearly 25 years. Picking just ten favorite punk rock albums from that time period was a difficult task. That's why I included a bunch of honorable mentions. But I feel good about these choices. I hope you all discover something new from this list — or at the very least reconnect with a record you haven't heard in a while. On to it! 

10. The Gaggers - Rip You Apart (2011)
Snotty '70s-style razorblade punk rock hadn't sounded this good in decades!

9. The Dimestore Haloes - The Ghosts of Saturday Night (2004) 
My favorite '90s punk rock band actually released one of its best albums in the 2000s.

8. Midnite Snaxxx - Chew on This (2017) 
Dulcinea Gonzalez just might be the most underrated punk vocalist/songwriter ever.

7. The Kidnappers - Neon Signs (2006) 
One of the least "Rip Off–ish" albums ever released by Rip Off Records, and also one of the best albums ever released by Rip Off Records.

6. Night Birds - Mutiny at Muscle Beach  (2015) 
100%, this record can stand toe-to-toe with all the classic beach/surf–punk albums that inspired it. How prophetic was "Left in the Middle"?! 

5. Something Fierce - Don't Be So Cruel (2011) 
Basically I liked this album so much that it made me want to write about music again!

4. Hayley and the Crushers - Modern Adult Kicks (2022) 
Over the course of three albums from 2018 through 2022, Hayley and the Crushers progressed from good to very good to truly great right before our eyes and ears. This was no accident: this was a band working on its craft, honing its musical vision, and maturing into something extraordinary. Modern Adult Kicks is the definitive post-pandemic record and proof that punk rock for grown-ups can still kick ass. I actually feel a little guilty about leaving it off the podium!

3. The Bobbyteens - Not So Sweet (2000) 
The '60s girl group–inspired wing of garage punk rock 'n' roll has been a major force in the 21st century, and this is the album that started the party.

2. Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic (2002)
This is the only album to appear on both this list and my corresponding power pop list. Of course the Hearts were a huge part of the modern power pop revival, but to me, Guitar Romantic sounded just as much like '77 punk as it did vintage power pop. The influence of the likes of The Jam ("I'm A Pretender"), The Clash ("Rumors In Town"), and The Boys ("Boulevard Trash") on this record is palpable, and no modern band has been more important in reminding us that so much of the best first wave punk holds up because it was also great pop music. I've lost track of how many times I've listened to Guitar Romantic over the past 20+ years, and I never tire of it.

1. Pale Lips - After Dark (2019) 
I would not fight you if you told me that you prefer Wanna Be Bad. But for me, After Dark has been my ultimate Pale Lips go-to, and it's hard to name many records that are more emblematic of what rock 'n' roll music is all about. This, my friends, is 12 tracks of sheer unbridled joy which prove you can have smarts and substance in your songs and still be all about fun. This was a true group in the best sense of the term. You had the total rock star guitarist, a vocalist who exuded the true spirit of punk rock, and two powerhouse rhythm players who held it all together. In my book, After Dark is worthy of classic status. If you have young people in your life and want them to understand why punk rock is the best music ever and why they should immediately start their own bands, After Dark ought to be part of your gift package. 

Honorable Mentions 
The Prostitutes - Kill Them Before They Eat (2009) 
Stiletto Boys - A Company of Wolves (2000) 
Phone Jerks - self-titled (2018) 
Girl Drink Drunks - self titled (2017) 
The Melmacs - Good Advice (2022) 
The Control Freaks - Get Some Help (2021) 
The Busy Signals - self titled (2007) 
Los Pepes - For Everyone (2014) 

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Dahlmanns - "Lucky"

Wow! This is how you come back from a hiatus! The Dahlmanns have been favorites of this blog since (literally) day one. They are truly the perfect pop band, and their singles never fail to stun. Not counting their split with Tommy and the Rockets in 2020, the last time The Dahlmanns released new music was back in 2018. With that in mind, many of us freaked out over news of a new 7" on the always-great Snap!! Records. Was "Lucky" worth the wait? Let's just say I was not disappointed! The full vinyl release will be out this summer, but the A-side is already available for your streaming pleasure. "Lucky" is vintage Dahlmanns in every way: a magnificent slice of hard candy power pop that combines heartbreaking lyrics with absolutely intoxicating vocals and melodies. Line has never sounded better, and that chorus will propel you into a state of bliss. If you want to hear the perfect guitar sound for a power pop record, lend this song your ears. "Lucky" instantly joins the list of smash hits in The Dahlmanns' catalog. The 7" will also feature a couple of excellent cover tunes. One of the best things about this band has always been its selection and interpretation of cover material. You can always count on The Dahlmanns to pick amazing songs and make them their own. On this release, they tackle "Blue Letter" from Fleetwood Mac's 1975 self-titled LP and "Thing About You" from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' album Hard Promises. If you didn't already know it was a cover, you might mistake "Blue Letter" for a Dahlmanns original. The band's rockin', upbeat rendition of this classic rock deep cut is the very epitome of powerful pop. Dare I say it's better than the original? It's always gutsy to cover Tom Petty, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of rock 'n' roll. But The Dahlmanns more than do justice to "Thing About You," honoring a classic song but also putting their signature on it. 

The Dahlmanns have not missed a beat following their long time away. "Lucky" is as good as anything they've ever done, and no fan of power pop will want to miss out on it. The world is always a more joyful place with The Dahlmanns in it. A little birdie told me they're working on new material, and that's got to be the best news of the year. Send an email to to inquire about pre-ordering the 7"!

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Extra Arms - RADAR

Extra Arms have been a go-to band for me for a number of years, so I'm always excited to hear new music from southeastern Michigan's finest loud pop foursome. The band's new album RADAR is its first in two years, but it's the first album the band has made together in the studio since 2019. 2022's What Is Even Happening Right Now? was a terrific record, but the band members recorded all their parts remotely due to pandemic restrictions. And when it comes to a rock band like Extra Arms, chemistry and live connection are everything. So if you want to call RADAR the first "real" Extra Arms album in nearly five years, that's not entirely inaccurate. 

Extra Arms — Ryan Allen on lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards, Ryan Marshall on bass, Daniel Stover on drums, and Jordan Wright on guitar — have come through with their best album by far. RADAR, named after Marshall's dog, takes everything you loved about Extra Arms and makes it bigger. Every aspect of this record — from the production to the hooks to the ambition of the songwriting  — feels more massive than before. Being someone who lives under the delusion that it's only a matter of time before real rock music re-takes the commercial airwaves, I can almost convince myself that I could turn the radio on right now and hear one of these songs. Perhaps that ship has sailed, but Extra Arms belong spiritually to a bygone era when there was honor and artistic merit in crafting a perfect pop song that could rock your face off. RADAR doesn't mess much with the band's musical approach, but it refines it and takes it to the next level. The sound is equal parts power pop, indie rock, and the good parts of classic rock with the spirit of punk and new wave bubbling under. If you think that sounds like something I'd be into, you'd be very right! Allen is one of my favorite vocalists, and he excels at condensing six decades' worth of melody-driven songwriting tradition into something that sounds far more timeless than retro. He manages to toss bits and pieces of Cheap Trick, The Replacements, The Cars, The Kinks, Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello, and Bob Mould in a blender and concoct something that sounds contemporary yet pleasingly familiar. Lyrically he really pushes these songs into the present, mixing personal reflections on modern life with some sharp social commentary. 

Allen and his band-mates Marshall, Stover, and Wright form a well-oiled machine; RADAR soars on the strength of thunderous guitars, tight and powerful rhythm work, and silky vocal harmonies. The album doesn't veer far from Extra Arms' usual M.O., but it does find the band incorporating some new tricks and taking full advantage of the talents of some guest musicians. "Space and Time" is a touching country rock ballad  featuring Dave Feeny on pedal steel. Jessi Dills' trumpet adds a new dimension to the band's core sound on "All Good Things Take Time." Album closer "Sit Back Up," featuring Matt Jones on saxophone, is almost Springsteen-esque. "Shut 'Em Down" is a fight-the-power anthem worthy of a packed stadium. While the album as a whole is less overtly '90s-sounding than earlier Extra Arms efforts, "Mad Dog Blue" instantly transports me to a moment when hearing Teenage Fanclub for the first time was life-changing. 

Finally given the chance to properly get the band back together, Extra Arms did not waste the opportunity to make the record of their lives. Engineered by Geoff Michael at his Big Sky Studios, produced by Ryan Allen, and mixed and mastered by Paul Miner, RADAR sounds like a million bucks — with songs that are absolutely worthy of all that studio sheen. And as polished as this album is, none of that comes at the expense of energy. Call it power pop. Call it alternative rock. Call it rock n' roll. It doesn't really matter. If you like rocking pop songs with hooks for days that come straight from the heart, RADAR needs to be on your radar.