Monday, October 25, 2021

The Amplifier Heads - SaturnalienS

, the third full-length album by Boston's The Amplifier Heads, has been rightfully described as a "graphic novel for the ears and head". It's a throwback to a time when you'd put on your headphones and just sit there getting lost in a rock and roll record. Does anyone still do that? SaturnalienS was written and produced by singer/guitarist Sal Baglio, who has been writing rocking, hook-laden tunes for 40 years plus with bands such as The Stompers and the recent supergroup The Peppermint Kicks. With Baglio, you always know you're getting a highlight reel of the coolest sounds in the history of rock and roll. Running the gamut from roots rock and roll to the British Invasion to garage rock to glam to '70s arena rock, SaturnalienS launches these classic sounds into a fantastical outer space odyssey full of ghost stars, rocket boys, earth girls, young dolls, and beheaded amps. SaturnalienS plays like the hottest-selling album in the solar system -- garnering rave reviews and heavily rotated airplay on every rocket ship, space station, and extraterrestrial watering hole from the moon to Uranus. Those of you who couldn't get enough of Baglio's contributions to The Peppermint Kicks' debut album will be delighted to find that SaturnalienS is in a very similar vein. Needless to say, glam rock is at the center of this sonic adventure. "GlamoRama" is that rare tribute song that can stand toe-to-toe with the iconic music it celebrates. "Bat Shit Crazy" will have humans and aliens alike clapping and stomping with whatever appendages they may possess. "On the Moon" evokes the spirit of David Bowie in epic fashion. But in typical Amplifier Heads style, this album dishes out a tremendous variety of amazing rock and roll tunes. "Ghost Star Rider" is a surf rock instrumental gone to space, while "Earth Girls on the Loose" is the ultimate in wild, high energy rock and roll. "Peppermint Kicks" will scratch your itch for classic riff-driven hard rock. "The House of Young Dolls" is upbeat, jangly pop straight out of 1964. 

As cool as its concept may be, SaturnalienS succeeds on the strength of its tunes. Baglio's affection for the heyday of rock and roll is not mere nostalgia. He and his bandmates appreciate the timeless art of two-to-three minute rock and roll songs with roaring guitars, memorable melodies, and choruses made for the radio. In a modern world full of bands filling ultra-specific niches, The Amplifier Heads still aim to be a great rock and roll band, period. On this planet and beyond, such a thing will never go out of style. SaturnalienS is out now on your home of the hits --- the mighty Rum Bar Records!

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Airport 77s - "Losers Win"

Look who's back! On the very first day of 2021, The Airport 77s self-released Rotation -- which remains one of my most highly rated albums of the year. This fantastic power pop trio from Silver Spring, Maryland recently signed with the legendary JEM Records. Now there's a match made in heaven! Out today, the band's JEM debut is comprised of two digital tracks -- "Losers Win" and "The Illustrated Book of Cupid". Written by guitarist Andy Sullivan, both songs highlight this band's flair for harmony-laden power pop with big hooks and witty lyrics. My first reaction to these tracks was that they totally rock! If you like your power pop with equal parts power and pop, you should already be cranking up "Losers Win"! I dig the way this song builds slowly to a knockout chorus that's gonna be stuck in my head for the rest of the year at the very least. Somehow this song squeezes a novel's worth of storytelling into three and a half minutes. Check out this snippet:

He's got a photo with Sammy Hagar
And a tattoo says, Aloha
He's got a scar that runs from his elbow to his watch
Hung up on the baby sitter
Stepping in your kitty litter box
He got it in his socks

Now that, my friends, is true poetry! 

On the digital "flipside", "The Illustrated Book of Cupid" is a clever & hard-rocking love song that worships at the sacred altar of Cheap Trick (How stoked are Airports 77s to be on the same record label that first imported Live At Budokan to the U.S.? ). Is it just me, or do I hear cowbell and handclaps? Never underestimate the importance of percussion!

It was a tremendous surprise to discover that The Airport 77s had joined forces with one of my favorite record labels. And "Losers Win" sure does not disappoint! Whether you consider this one two-song single or two separate singles (Who can really tell these days?), this is a formidable pair of songs from one of the hottest up-and-coming bands on the power pop scene. If you're headed to International Pop Overthrow in New York next month, you can catch The Airport 77s on night three with label mates The Grip Weeds and the Anderson Council!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Mitochondriacs - Antonymous Mitochondrial Release

For those you who take the "All that shit sounds the same!" position on Mutant Pop Records, I present to you a Mutant Pop release that doesn't sound like anything else on the label (or any other label, for that matter!). The Mitochondriacs are a punk rock supergroup from Chicago comprised of the legendary John Jughead, Sex Dream's Maria Surfinbird, and Eddie & Marky from The Kobanes. Surprisingly, the band fronted by Screeching Weasel's guitarist has turned out one of the least Screeching Weasel sounding releases to ever come out on Mutant Pop! Antonymous Mitochondrial Release, out now as part of Mutant Pop's short-run compact disc series, is comprised largely of digital singles previously released by Laptop Punk Records. The singles were designed so that each "side" contained a concept that was the opposite of the concept on its counter side. Antonymous Mitochondrial Release adds another pair of contrasting song ideas to create a single concept album. Musically, this release is hard to pigeonhole. It's mostly straight-forward punk rock in a late '70s/early '80s style, but it also veers off into frenzies of noise and dashes of brilliant weirdness. On vocals, Mr. Pierson is far more reminiscent of Johnny Rotten or Jello Biafra than he is of any iconic figure in pop-punk. With its Anthem for a New Tomorrow vibes, the wonderful instrumental "Happily" is the one instance of fan service on this release. Otherwise, The Mitochondriacs are nothing like you'd expect them to be (unless you expected them to take a delicate folk tune and abruptly turn it hardcore). This is intelligent, interesting punk rock that has a great deal to say about the inherent opposition in human existence. The CD comes with a lyric sheet which is well-worth inspecting closely (My favorite line: "Sometimes I want my pants and a pair of socks to be their own country"). In his liner notes, Timbo calls this album a "work of art". I'd say that hits the nail on the head. This is exactly the kind of release that deserves to exist in a tangible form. For those of you who are not fans of compact discs, the album is also available from The Mitochondriacs' Bandcamp -- with all digital profits being donated to worthy charities. Not bad for a bunch of membrane-bound organelles!

(CD available for $5 plus $3 postage from Mutant Pop Records, 5010 NW Shasta Ave., Corvallis, OR 97330)  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Hard-Ons - I'm Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken

Sometimes we set the bar a little lower for classic bands putting out new material. We're often happy if they simply manage to not embarrass themselves. It's as if we want to congratulate them just for still existing -- which is not unreasonable, actually! But no such curve grading is required for the latest album from legendary Aussie punk rockers The Hard-Ons. I'm Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken, the band's first release with new singer Tim Rogers (You Am I), isn't just a really good album for an old band. It's a really good album, period! Honestly, this is a vintage Hard-Ons recording. It would have sounded good 20 or 30 years ago, and it sounds good now. The album title could not be more perfect. After nearly four decades as a band, The Hard-Ons have made it obvious that they're never really going to change. And why would you want them to? These folks were playing pop-punk before the genre even had a name. They were putting metal riffs into punk songs years before the world had ever heard of grunge rock. They came on the scene at a time when melody was fading from punk music and helped bring it back in a major way. I'm Sorry Sir.. easily rates as a top-notch Hard-Ons album. Bringing in Rogers on lead vocals sure seemed like a match made in heaven, and it's quickly obvious what a perfect fit he is for the band. Alternating as usual between straight-forward punk-pop songs ("Hold Tight", "Shoot Me In the Back"), ferocious punk rock rippers ("Back Pack Sweat", "Humiliated/Humiliator"), metal-influenced rockers ("Fucked Up Party", "Pucker Up"), and songs that remind us that this band helped define modern alternative rock ("Lite as a Feather", "Needles and Pins (sic)"), The Hard-Ons are in top form across these 12 tracks. If you've never heard The Hard-Ons before, this is not a bad place to start. And if you're a longtime fan, you will not be disappointed. The album is available now from Cheersquad Records! 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Lorne Behrman - When I Hit The Floor

I have been  an admirer of Lorne Behrman's musical talent for 25 years. As a member of the Dimestore Haloes, Dead Tricks, and The Sweet Things, he has made immense contributions to music I've raved about both in print and online. After thirty plus years as a premiere guitar gunslinger, Behrman has finally stepped into the spotlight as a lead singer and songwriter. His first solo EP When I Hit The Floor has just been released on the ever-reliable Spaghetty Town Records. Knowing what an excellent writer Behrman is, I had high hopes for his debut as a lead artist. But I must say that this EP exceeds all expectations. These are truly powerful songs, and I am absolutely blown away by the honesty & fearlessness of Behrman's narrative voice. 

When I Hit The Floor takes you straight into Behrman's soul. It plunges into the dark places he's gone to as well as the light that led him out. He puts it all out it in the open here: his struggles with alcoholism, surviving sexual abuse as a child, and enduring a period of time when he wasn't sure he wanted to go on living. Over the course of this EP, he confronts his pain and ultimately arrives at hope and salvation. As the one-sheet brilliantly states, on the closing track "Oh Lord, Give Me Time", "Lorne gets as close to a come-to-Jesus-moment as a Jewish NYC rock n' roller can." Musically, this EP comes off like a love letter to 1970s New York City. These songs summon the spirits of Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, Jim Carroll, and Robert Quine (among others). It's poetry meets punk rock with a touch of that '70s Stones sensibility that is permanently embedded in Behrman's musical DNA. From the old school art-punk vibes of the title track to the intensely haunting "Sandcastles" to the anthemic "I Won't Fade Away" to the soulful Dylan-esque ballad "Oh Lord, Give Me Time", this EP shows us sides of Lorne Behrman we've never glimpsed before. Of course his guitar playing is fantastic, but he also proves to be a natural at crafting sophisticated rock and roll songs with many dimensions. While Behrman is responsible for all of the guitars and lead vocals on this release, he did enlist a formidable ensemble of supporting players including veteran producer Matt Chiaravalle, drummer Hector Lopez (Alejandro Escovedo, The Sweet Things), keyboardist Rob Clores (Jesse Malin, Black Crowes, Alejandro Escovedo), and singer Dana Athens (Jane Lee Hooker). The production and musicianship on this release are truly top notch. The care and attention to detail that Behrman put into this EP over the past two years have fully paid off. 

When I Hit The Floor is inspiring on multiple levels. It's one thing to preach about how surviving the dark times can lead you to the light. It's another thing to live it. Behrman has lived it and bravely bared his soul on record. He has accomplished one of the most noble goals of art: taking the pain of human experience and turning it into something that generates hope and makes others feel less alone. And with this stunning debut, Behrman has set a fine example for some of us who've reached a certain age and wrongfully assumed that we've squandered our creative powers. It's never really too late to be a late bloomer. Bouncing back from his rock bottom moment, Lorne Behrman has rediscovered hope and happiness and life and come into his own as a musical artist. I hope I'll be writing about him for another 25 years at least.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Rabbit - Gone

When it comes to the Aussie variant of power pop, the power is almost always in abundant supply. That is certainly true in the case of Rabbit, a new foursome out of Hobart, Tasmania. Out on Hobart's Rough Skies Records, Rabbit's debut EP Gone delivers three tracks of loud, hooky pop that owes just as much to old school Aussie punk as it does to new wave radio hits. This is one of those bands that falls into the category of "It's pop and punk, but not really pop-punk". You've thundering guitars and thumping drums, killer hooks, strong vocals from Maggie Edwards, and energy out the wazoo. All three tracks here are gems, and the EP will definitely leave you wanting more. Rabbit is that rare power pop band that achieves a sound that it is both original and classic. Vinyl is limited to 150 copies, so you ought to pounce if you're interested!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Wallys - Give It Back

Now here's a real throwback Thursday for you: I'm going to review a release that is only available on compact disc and cannot be streamed, downloaded, or even purchased online! When was the last time I closed a review with a label's mailing address? The triumphant return of Mutant Pop Records is in full swing, and Timbo has revived his short-run compact disc series in a major way. For my first Mutant Pop review in two decades, I'm tackling The Wallys' Give It Back. This 12-track release was recorded in 2001 and is just now seeing the light of day. Luckily these songs hold up extremely well. I don't recall ever being a huge Wallys fan, but Give It Back totally makes me a believer! With its blend of '90s pop-punk stylings and more traditional rock and roll and pop influences, it's very much in line with the kind of pop-punk I enjoy today. It checks off so many boxes for me: super-catchy tunes, rawer production, endearingly dorky vocals, amusing lyrics and song topics. I also appreciate that I can listen to it in its entirety on my 14-minute drive to the fitness club. "Give Me Back My Radio" kicks off with a riff that channels Moral Crux by way of The Clash. I heard that song and was instantly hooked! I'm always a sucker for songs about listening to rock and roll on the radio! "Bad Breath" brings to mind The Automatics in their "Golden Greats" mode. "Jody is a Cannibal" manages to live up to its intriguing title. "My Girlfriend is a Rock" is a really cool cover of the Nervebreakers classic. And I can't help but love a band that can go from the near-hardcore of "No Sleep" right into a song about soda pop. This is just a super fun album from a band I clearly underrated back in the day. 

The success of the Mutant Pop relaunch hinges almost entirely on one essential question: Do people still buy CDs? When I asked Malibu Lou how he sells so many CDs with his label Rum Bar Records, he told me that the label's over-50 demographic still listens to music on that format. The average Mutant Pop fan is probably closer to late 30s/early 40s, but I hope that the same principle applies. And I have to admit that there's still something incredibly cool about getting an actual mail order catalog from a record label! If you've read this far through a Wallys review, I would imagine you're already receiving the catalogs. But if not, you can email your street address along with the message "I love CDs!" to to get on the mailing list. A lot has changed in the world since Mutant Pop's heyday, but Timbo's aesthetic has not. In more ways than one, Give It Back is a vintage Mutant Pop release. It can be yours for $5 plus $3 postage!

(Mutant Pop Records, 5010 NW Shasta Ave., Corvallis, OR 97330)