Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Family Township - 20th Century Wasters

Earlier this year, I reviewed an absolute smash of a single from The Family Township called "Cross the Line (Oh Andrea)." That song and ten others make up The Family Township's new album 20th Century Wasters. This long-running Boston-based band is made up of Marc W. Pinansky on vocals and guitar, John Sheeran on bass, Peter MacLean on drums, Alejandro Necochea on guitars and backing vocals, and James Rohr on keyboards and backing vocals. I would characterize The Family Township as a real rock band — something most people assume no longer exists. On its 7th full-length album, The Family Township is here to show you that big hook arena-style rock very much still exists and is, in fact, going strong. I usually refrain from quoting directly from a press release because it seems like lazy reviewing, but I can't help repeating the band's description of these songs: "Bristling with the fury and frustrations of the modern age, longing and love, layers of melody ebb and flow as each song reveals more of itself upon repeated listens." I literally could not have said it better than myself. You can tell that this band lives in the world of classic rock but isn't just trying to make something that sounds like the best rock album of 1978. If you could play and sing like these guys (Pinansky can freaking belt it!), you'd want to rock out too! Sometimes these guys go for an "FM radio hit of yore" vibe ("Youngblood," "Straight to Your Heart"). Other times they rock hard and over the top ("(It's a) Heartbreak," "Out of Control"). In all cases, they play with tremendous passion and without a trace of irony. The Family Township is a tight and powerful band with a boatload of killer tunes. If old school AOR radio still gets your blood pumping, give 20th Century Wasters 40 minutes of your time.

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Scunthorpe Yobs - We Are The Yobs

I absolutely flipped out when I was looking over the new releases from No Front Teeth Records and saw a debut album from a band formed from the ashes of Bladder Bladder Bladder. Bladder Bladder Bladder were one of my favorite punk rock bands back in the '90s, and I was always a bit outraged that they weren't absolutely massive. So it's a thrill to come across The Scunthorpe Yobs — who represent the next chapter in the Bladder Bladder Bladder saga. The mighty Mick Bladder can still shout and offend with the best of 'em! Also on board are some heavy hitters from the last 25 years of California punk rock. The band's lineup features past and present members of Oil!, The Generators, The Randumbs, Gross Polluter, The Feelers, Trust Fund Babies, Smash The Granny, Outsiders, and The Shrinks (just to name a few). Now that's a supergroup (or at least a super group!). On their debut long player, We Are The Yobs, The Scunthorpe Yobs tear through a dozen loud-and-proud shout-along Oi! anthems in the Sham 69/Angelic Upstarts/Blitz mold. While based in Los Angeles, the band plays songs reflecting life on the streets of Scunthorpe. This is the classic Oi! sound: boisterous and hard-hitting yet still catchy as hell. If you fondly recall Bladder Bladder Bladder (is there any other way to recall them?), you'll find much to like about The Scunthorpe Yobs. Similarly, fans of any of the bands referenced above will want to get their hands on this LP (many of them already have, so don't dilly-dally!). You'll be holding a pint with one hand and hoisting your fist with the other as this record plays at an obnoxiously loud volume. We Are The Yobs is a next generation street punk classic!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Cindy Lawson - Don't Come Crying To Me

Cindy Lawson is without a doubt a legend in the Minneapolis music scene. Yet it would be hard to deny that she's making by far the best music of her life today — nearly four decades into her recording career. Out on Rum Bar Records, Don't Come Crying To Me is Lawson's second solo EP in two years and an absolute gem of a pop record. Again working with producer Steve Price and a super-talented cast of Twin Cities–based musicians (guitarist Jerry Lefkowitz, bassist Dave Randall, drummer Mark Devaraj), Lawson has turned out an all-killer, no-filler collection of songs inspired by '60s pop, garage rock, and a myriad of other influences. Right off the bat, her voice grabs you. She's one of the finest singers in today's independent music scene, but she's also a terrific writer of melodies and a formidable lyricist. Any of these six tracks could have been the "hit," but certainly the title track was no-brainer choice for the EP's lead single. It's an absolutely ripping garage rocker with timely lyrics about the inevitable consequences of dishonesty. Paired with the scorching-hot "Screamin' White Jezus," it kicks off the EP with a bang. "Go Find Another Heart to Break" finds Lawson seamlessly blending her classic '60s pop sensibilities with Matt Pahl's stellar saxophone. "I'll Be Around" pairs powerful vocals and lyrics with an irresistible rhythm & blues inspired beat. "What if She Followed Him to Nashville" is gorgeous country-pop that has me reflecting on the way our lives are defined by our choices (Jon Duncan from Trailer Trash guest stars on piano and takes the song to a whole other level). Bringing the EP to a delightful conclusion, "I Don't Want You Anymore" is a super-fun kiss-off that channels classic girl group pop with a punk rock edge.  

It would not be accurate to call Cindy Lawson a "late bloomer." Instead she's more like a fine wine, inspiring all of us who refuse to accept that our best years are behind us. She and Price have the perfect artist/producer relationship and have now collaborated on two flawless collections of rocking pop songs. Credit Miss Georgia Peach for hearing New Tricks last year and knowing that Malibu Lou would want to put it out. As they say, the rest is history. And now people all over the world have had the good fortune to enjoy Lawson's music. My only criticism of Don't Come Crying To Me is that it leaves me wanting more. But let's be real: that's not actually a criticism! Any time I'm sad the EP is over, I can just listen to it again. And I have a feeling that more new music from Cindy Lawson is forthcoming. If you want to hear a fantastic singer with fantastic songs backed by a fantastic band, you too will feel blessed to have Don't Come Crying To Me leave you wanting more.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Ralphie's Red Ryders - "I Didn't Say Fudge"


Ralphie's Red Ryders, America's favorite A Christmas Story themed pop-punk band, is back with a brand-new single! And on this release, Ralphie, Flick, and Schwartz pay homage to one of A Christmas Story's most iconic scenes. The song is called "I Didn't Say Fudge," so you know exactly which scene I'm talking about. It's quite surprising that RRR had already released 14 songs but had not yet waxed poetic on Ralphie's uttering of the queen mother curse word. I was excited to hear how this song would turn out, and all I can say is that these guys nailed it. It's pure buzzing energy with a chorus worthy of a major award. Even Miss Shields would grade this as A+ pop-punk. On the virtual B-side, "Notafinga" pays tribute to the greatest furnace fighter of them all: Old Man Paker. The song is 65 seconds of genius fake cursing. You'd swear you're hearing the Old Man himself, although he does sound suspiciously like Reese from Vista Blue. Having been schooled by my own father in the fine art of profanity, I've always had a soft spot for the furnace scene. You have to love the way these two songs connect to one another. Ralphie's Red Ryders only release music once a year, but they always make it worth the wait! 

Vista Blue - Christmas Every Day

Every year I wrestle with the question of how soon is too soon to alienate my handful of readers with reviews of Christmas music. November 21st does seem a little early to commence F & L's Christmas season, but I couldn't resist acknowledging the special occasion of Vista Blue's double Christmas release. For the first and perhaps only time, Vista Blue and its alter egos Ralphie's Red Ryders have simultaneously released music today. If they can go to the trouble of releasing two EPs at once, surely I can go to the trouble of posting two reviews at once. It's remarkable that Vista Blue can manage to be so incredibly prolific yet still delight me with every single release. Clearly these guys are due for a misfire just based on the pure math of it all, but somehow they keep beating the odds. Their 2023 holiday release Christmas Every Day is a must-hear for all who love pop-punk, Christmas, or both. Leading off is "It's Christmas Time" — perhaps the most traditional Christmas song Vista Blue has ever done. It's everything a Christmas song ought to be: instantly memorable, cheerful, and full of lyrics about people coming together to celebrate the season. If you think that's sappy, well that's the whole point! Had it not been for the references to Rodney Bingenheimer and Christmas ales, I might have mistaken this song for an old standard that the band rearranged. "What Are You Gonna Get?" is a sweet song about getting good presents ("You deserve something great, like 10s and 20s and real estate"). I'm surmising the title track was inspired by the William Dean Howells story, and it's absolute gem of a song. "The Rain Washed the Snow Away" is exactly what the title suggests — adding an amusing and realistic twist to the "songs about snow" Christmas trope. 

Christmas Every Day is not just the best Vista Blue Christmas release yet. It's one of the band's best releases, period. These guys put a lot of love into this EP, and it shows. You might ask yourself, "How can Vista Blue possibly get any better?" Well, Vista Blue is always better when Richard Bates is featured on lead guitar. And he absolutely kills it on this EP. I know some of you aren't ready for Christmas music two days before Thanksgiving (or ever!). But if Christmas tunes are your thing, Christmas Every Day is not to be missed.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Shiverlane - "Aeroplane Driver"

It was just a couple weeks ago that I wrote about a terrific power pop single from Boston-based foursome Shiverlane. Wasting no time whatsoever, Shiverlane already has another terrific power pop single out called "Aeroplane Driver." I really dig the idea of a rock 'n' roll tune about a jetfighter pilot. The lyric "living on jet fuel and steel" is quite memorable, and it could almost be describing the song itself with its booming guitars, hyperactive drums, and soaring sing-along hook. I also appreciate the way the song ends, with silky harmonies lifting the chorus skyward as thunderous power riffs propel you to burst into air guitar heroics. Ya gotta love a band that knows how to stick a landing.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Autogramm - Music That Humans Can Play

Time goes by so quickly that I had not realized Autogramm hadn't released new music in over two-and-a-half years. The band's second album No Rules came out in April 2021 — still prime pandemic time. A follow-up, recorded in the summer of last year, has finally made its way into the world. Listening to Music That Humans Can Play is like catching up with an old friend you haven't seen in a while and picking right up like you had just talked yesterday. The title hints at the wonderful irony surrounding Autogramm. Here's a band that relies heavily on synthesizers yet still writes some of the warmest and mostly deeply human songs you'll ever come across. In its early days, the band occupied the new wave side of power pop and existed in what seemed like an eternal 1979. While still a pop band at heart, the now foursome has grown more sophisticated in its craft and deftly propelled its time machine into the 1980s. Having lived through the golden age of MTV circa 1981–83, I find it remarkable how authentically Music That Humans Can Play captures the sound of those times without coming off like a calculated recreation. Much of that has to do with the myriad of inspirations in the mix. Autogramm isn't trying to sound like one or two particular bands. Rather it's channeling an entire era of popular music, and what results is a blending of new wave, synth-pop, power pop, new romantic, and pure pop influences that evokes the spirit of the early '80s in a way that still feels current. It certainly doesn't hurt that four different band members are all injecting their own style and point-of-view. And above all else, Autogramm distinguishes itself from the modern new wave pack (if there really is such a thing) by writing genuinely great songs.   

No Rules was a really fantastic album and a fine example of a good band finding its footing and becoming something even better. 31 months later, Music That Humans Can Play arrives with considerable expectations. And it delivers in a big way. Joined by new guitarist Lars Von Seattle, Jiffy, The Silo, and CC sound more adept than ever at turning out well-crafted, hook-laden songs that somehow manage to sound timeless even as they recall a very distinct moment in music. With its opening 1-2 punch of "Born Losers" and "WannaBe," this album comes flying out the gates with anthemic aspirations. As so many reviewers have commented, these songs sound like they were made for '80s movies soundtracks. And I love the positive vibes here. With the state the world's in now, we should be using our strength to lift others up rather than pulling them down. "Born Losers" would be goofy if it weren't so darn genuine, and there's a special genius in being able to write a song that walks that sort of tightrope. "WannaBe," which advocates unconditional love for others based on who they are underneath all the surface manifestations of being, delivers a beautiful message for these times and all times. "Be my alien" is a mantra we should all live by. As the album continues, the hits keep coming in different styles. "Hey Allie" and "Love Is for Fools" are fully on the pop side of new wave and could pass for forgotten radio hits from four decades ago. "Why Do We Dance?" sounds a little like Devo venturing into dark wave, and I dig every second of it. The bouncy "Plastic Punks" walks the line between punk and new wave circa 1977 and sounds like the best song Jeffrey McCloy never wrote. The stunning "(Always Gonna) Be My Girl" manages to be gloomy and beautiful all at once. "Dive Right In" finds the album ending the way it starts — reminding us to embrace failure rather than being dismayed by it.  

I can't help thinking that the good vibes of Music That Humans Can Play are a reflection of Autogramm's own emergence from the pandemic. It confronts failure and disappointment but looks for the brighter light ahead. Lyrically, the band is taking things deeper than ever. Yet that doesn't mean that the songs can't be fun. These are very serious songs that you can sing along with and dance to, and ultimately this album is exactly what the title suggests. Available now from Stomp Records in Canada and Beluga Records in Europe, this third album from Autogramm is one of the year's best.