Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Randells - "Karen"

The calendar and the weather tell me it's still February. But it's always summertime when a Randells song is playing! The Swedish trio was considerate enough to drop a pair of digital singles to warm our souls in the middle of this winter. The latest, "Karen", is a classic blast of surf-tinged bubblegum punk rock that falls right in line with fellow Scandinavians Psychotic Youth and The Yum Yums. "Karen", featuring a guest appearance on vocals by Valentina De Rosa, is a tearjerker punk-pop tune for hopeless romantics and teenage delinquents alike. It arrives fast on the heels of "Gum In My Hair", a high-energy jolt of big hooks and buzzing guitars. In a perfect world, you'd hear these songs on the car radio while you were driving to the beach with your friends. This pair of tracks will chase away the winter blahs in a hurry. And yay! A new Randells album is due out this spring on Monster Zero!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Airport 77s - "(When You're Kissing On Me Do You Think Of) James McAvoy" music video

Last month I joked that the debut LP by The Airport 77s was my #1 album of the first 14 days of 2021. Well it's still holding strong as my #1 album of the first 51 days of 2021! More importantly, it has also received praise from far more reputable publications such as I Don't Hear A Single and Dagger Zine. The Airport 77s just released a music video for my favorite track from the album,  "(When You're Kissing On Me Do You Think Of) James McAvoy". The video is really fun, and I won't spoil it by saying anything further (beyond mentioning that your wives/girlfriends may be disappointed that James McAvoy is not in the video!). Those of you who are fans of this blog but not yet familiar with The Airport 77s may be intrigued to discover that the Airport 77s Radio channel generated by Spotify's artificial intelligence features the likes of Kurt Baker, the Speedways, the Reflectors, and Radio Days. Now that's some mighty fine company! So be sure to check out the video along with the Airport 77s' album Rotation if you haven't done so already!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Genya Ravan/The Shang Hi Los - split 7"

Now here's a dream team-up from the Rum Bar Records hit factory! Genya Ravan (Goldie & the Gingerbreads, Ten Wheel Drive) is a true legend of rock and roll. The Shang Hi Los were my #1 new band of 2020. Both artists share real estate on a new 7" release that Malibu Lou has been raving about to me for months. And let me tell you: he had reason to rave! Ravan's contribution to this split is an absolutely amazing cover of the soul classic "I Who Have Nothing" (a Leiber & Stoller adaptation of the Italian song "Uno Dei Tanti"). As Ravan began work on the recording of this song, it occurred to her that the legendary Nile Rodgers needed to play the rhythm guitar. So she reached out to Rodgers, who immediately agreed to play on the song. Needless to say, he absolutely kills it on this track. And Ravan, now with six decades in the industry under her belt, has never sounded better! Working with a red-hot band that also includes Bobby Chen, William Brady, Dennis DiBrizzi, and John Lee Cooper, Ravan breathes new life into this old classic with a powerful and passionate vocal performance. There's a funky, down-and-dirty energy to this version that gives it a unique place in the storied history of this song. We're talking about a song that has literally been recorded over 100 times. Yet there are certain artists (Ben E. King, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack) who have had the chops to truly make it their own. I would most definitely add Genya Ravan to that list! 

Ravan, the famed singer and record producer, is best-known to many in more recent years as a radio personality. She continues to support the bands and artists that are keeping rock and roll alive today. One of her favorite present-day singers is Jen D'Angora, so the idea of a Genya Ravan/Shang Hi Los split makes perfect sense. The Shang Hi Los' side of this split features the band's track "Sway Little Player". Since I have already written at length about this particular song (it topped my list of singles released in 2020), I'll just add that that I'm excited it's finally available on vinyl! It's usually bullshit when a record is described as a "double A-side", but in this case it's the absolute truth. Which song is the "hit"? They both are! If you buy the single from Rum Bar's Bandcamp, you'll also get Ravan's cover of Little Willie John's 1960 King Records side "I'm Shakin'" as a digital bonus track. It features guest vocals from none other than Jen D'Angora. How's that for a pair of powerhouse singers? And, hey, I would gladly listen to Genya Ravan cover R & B classics all day! Officially out today, this split is more than worthy of a place in your rec room jukebox or your case full of 45s!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Hayley and the Crushers - Fun Sized

There were literally only two things that could have made me love Rum Bar Records even more than I already did. One would have been if the label started bottling its own beer. The other would have been for the label to sign Hayley and the Crushers. While the former has not happened (yet), the latter most definitely has. Needless to say, I'm pumped! The Crushers' Rum Bar debut is called Fun Sized. And as the title suggests, this is a nice little snack-sized taster of the band's incredible 2020 output. It compiles all three songs from both of the singles released by the band last year - which were previously unavailable on compact disc. Rounding out the disc are two tracks from last year's magnificent long player Vintage Millennial and an absolutely stunning cover of the Ramones' "Suzy Is A Headbanger" - which was previously available only in digital form. I just love that this CD exists. If you've yet to become fully initiated in the Crusherverse, Fun Sized would serve as a fine introduction to this band for the nice price of $7 (or only $5 for a download). And for those who do own Vintage Millennial but didn't pick up the "Jacaranda" and "Church of Flag" singles, this is a convenient way to grab both at once! 

As the dark clouds of 2020 slowly begin to lift, "Jacaranda" is the perfect song for this optimistic moment. It's a song about getting out there, meeting people, and opening one's self up to all that this beautiful world has to offer. It was a terrible irony that Hayley and the Crushers did not have the chance to perform this ultimate summer song for anyone last summer. But perhaps things will be different in 2021! "Church of Flag", which celebrates keeping the punk rock faith into old age, was a late-year release that went a little bit under the radar. The arrival of Fun Sized breathes new life into both of these songs, which will surely be crowd favorites once the band is again able to take its act on the road. The "filler" material rounds out this disc nicely. "Kiss Me So I Can", in my book, is one of the best tracks on Vintage Millennial. "Water On Glass" is a wonderfully Crusherized cover of Kim Wilde's 1981 hit. And my god, this CD would be worth buying just for the "Suzy Is A Headbanger" cover alone! If I close my eyes, I can convince myself I'm floating in a swimming pool and catching a whiff of the ocean. With meteorological spring less than two weeks away, it's by no means too soon to start daydreaming about lounging by the pool, soaking up the sun, and frolicking with sea creatures. Equal parts punk, pop, surf, and rock and roll, Hayley and the Crushers never fail to deliver the soundtrack to eternal summer. Pop Fun Sized into your car CD player, and you'll have sunshine on even the most dismal day!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Freak Genes - Power Station

It is interesting that many modern-day "post-punk" bands will maintain a signature sound for years - as opposed to the bands that influenced them that were always evolving at a rapid pace. But then you have Freak Genes, who in less than four years have practically become a whole new band. Power Station, out now on Feel It Records, is already the U.K. duo's fourth LP. The band's growth between 2017's quirky, poppy Playtime and the strikingly synthetic Power Station has been dramatic and impressive. Yet if you listen to all four albums in sequence, you'd have to admit that the progression has been logical. Andrew and Charlie formed Freak Genes in the spirit of experimentation. Together they found a place where oddball songs of theirs that didn't quite make sense for their other musical projects could fit together perfectly. And while Playtime was brilliant, the band could never consider repeating the formula - because there never was one to begin with! And so Andrew and Charlie pushed onwards, gradually creating a musical identity for Freak Genes that's been distinctive yet constantly evolving. With each record, the duo has increasingly experimented with synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic sounds. And that takes us to Power Station, which the band has described as "synthetic pop for problem times". The vibe of this record is a fantastic cross between 154 era Wire, synth-pop circa 1981, and early '80s arcade game sound effects. Everything from the cover art to the album title to the songs themselves screams 1980s retro futurism. And yet this record is more of an update on '80s synth-pop than it is a proper throwback. This is no rehash of the old wave - it's the start of a new one. And after 40 years, I'd say it's about time. 

Andrew and Charlie walk a very fine line on Power Station. On one hand, the album so fully embraces the electronic/synthetic aesthetic that one has to listen very closely for evidence that any "traditional" musical instruments were utilized in its creation. But the success here is that this largely machine-made album is by no means devoid of emotion or humanity. Across their bold and interesting evolution, Freak Genes have remained a pop group through and through. Personality prevails, and the machinery is just the means to an end. These songs still possess honest-to-goodness melodies, which have come into fruition through tremendous creativity and a skillful melding of electronic sounds. This is unquestionably the "darkest" Freak Genes record, which seems completely appropriate at this moment in time. Yet it's far from a fully bleak affair. It still has its "pop" moments ("Chat" has all the basic elements of a "classic" Freak Genes song; "Let's Get To Work" is a snappy little piece of electro-funk; the title track summons the spirit of new wave era Devo). The longer, more sophisticated compositions ("Followed It Down", "Ford Fairlane", "You're Taking Me Over") are something akin to futuristic symphonies. And ultimately, these "deeper" cuts are the ones that have impressed me the most as I've spent more time absorbing Power Station as a whole. As with every successive Freak Genes release, this album is a more cohesive and fully realized creation than the one that preceded it. Given that I am most often inclined to prefer simplicity over invention in popular music, it's somewhat surprising that I am so fond of this album. But perhaps what pleases me is that these two have found a way to experiment with their craft without losing the most essential qualities that make them such a delightful musical duo. They seem to have stumbled upon an artistic path that is limited only by their collective imagination. And so I'll close with one of my go-to reviewer clichés: I can't wait to hear what they do next!

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Wheelz - Twenty/Twenty


Tulsa, Oklahoma based trio The Wheelz have returned with four more tracks of absolutely perfect sing-along punk rock! In December 2018, the band released its debut album Top 10 Super Hits! - which yielded the instant classic track "Throwaway". Out on Boulevard Trash & No Front Teeth Records, new 7" Twenty/Twenty is a worthy follow-up to the immensely enjoyable Top 10 Super Hits! This latest release again finds The Wheelz drawing from the influences of snotty '77 punk rock and old school anthemic street punk. Yet it's far from a replay of the last record. I wonder if I can say this without ruining the band's reputation, but Twenty/Twenty feels less obnoxious and far more "serious" compared to Top 10 Super Hits! Don't get me wrong: these songs still have that same snotty edge to them. But this time through, The Wheelz are in less of a jokey mood and more, uh, pissed off! While Twenty/Twenty is not necessarily about the events of last year, it does tap into the anger and frustration of the moment. Lead track "Politicians" is that rare modern political song that's fully nonpartisan. It rails at elected officials of all stripes who have failed the people they've been entrusted to serve. The equally anthemic "Washed Anyway" rages against corporate interests that systematically suck the souls out of American cities. "Generation Turncoat" calls out those who have abandoned their ideals and fallen into complacency. "Two Little Boys" is a very fine cover of the early 20th Century war anthem. All in all, Twenty/Twenty is a splendid example of what a pure punk rock record ought to be. It sounds like it could have come out on TKO Records in 1998! All of these songs are urgent and powerful, but also full of strong melodies and memorable choruses. This is a classic sound executed superbly. Vinyl copies are going fast, so get on it!

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Kid Gulliver - "Beauty School Dropout"

Here's something I will never tire of: great pop songs from Kid Gulliver! "Beauty School Dropout" is the Boston foursome's new single on Red on Red Records. And no, it's not a cover of the showtune from Grease. Kid Gulliver's "Beauty School Dropout" is an original song written by guitarist David Armillotti. In typical Kid Gulliver fashion, it delivers a great mix of power pop ear candy and lyrical substance. I love the sound of this track - it's got an early '80s new wave pop vibe to it. It kind of reminds me of a Vapors song with the way the bass totally pops in the mix. And in terms of melodies, I don't think it's possible to write a catchier tune. This song is an A-grade earworm! As usual, Simone does a wonderful job of putting voice to David's thoughtful words. This song, while telling a singular sad tale, offers a great deal of commentary on the superficiality of the "beauty" industry and society's restricted definition of what it means to be beautiful. In a better world (or a bygone era), this song would be somewhere on the dial every time you turned on your car radio. Kid Gulliver's hot streak continues!