Monday, July 04, 2022

Danny Despicable - All the things I wish that I could say

Seldom in life does it work out that when you're left wanting more, you actually receive more. But in the case of Danny Despicable's new EP, I have been fortunate to have more than doubled my exposure to this exceptionally talented songwriter. Danny Despicable is Daniel Seliski, guitarist in Breaklights. On Breaklights' new album Wind Down, Dan wrote and sang three tracks. I was especially blown away by the songs "Aging Well" and "Fairview, 1991" -- two of the album's standout numbers. Immediately I found myself looking forward to more "Dan" songs on future Breaklights releases. Much to my delight, it was brought to my attention that no waiting was necessary since Dan has released a solo EP as well. All the things I wish that I could say marks Dan's triumphant return after a 15-year hiatus from writing and singing his own songs. As he struggled adjusting to pandemic life in 2020, he found solace in writing new material. A few of those tracks ended up on Wind Down, but another five became All the things I wish that I could say. The title pretty much says it all: these are Dan's deepest thoughts and emotions conveyed through song. Listening to his songs on Wind Down, I was blown away by Dan's honest reflections on dealing with life's disappointments and unexpected turns. I was hoping for some similar songs on the solo EP, and I was not letdown. So if any of you enjoyed Dan's contributions to Wind Down as I did, I highly recommend checking out All the things I wish that I could say as well. A couple of tracks are straight-forward pop-punk, but my favorite songs here are in what you'd call a "singer/songwriter" style. I like the intimate feel of songs like "Everything I've Got" and "Better Or Worse." The arrangements are simple, and Dan focuses on pouring out his heart. On "Everything I've Got," he agonizes over what could never be. "Better Or Worse" could almost be a companion piece to "Aging Well." One of Dan's strong suits as a writer is in confronting how life rarely unfolds as planned. This can be true for an individual or for two people growing and changing together. 

While officially a Danny Despicable solo effort, All the things I wish that I could say also features the contributions of Steve Lopez, Mark Reed, Bryan Bush, and Tron Carter. Dan has written more songs for this project and intends to make it a full-time band by the end of 2022. The "rockers" on this EP (especially "Norway Bound") are great fun, but for me it's the three ballads that justify the price of admission. I'm not usually a big ballad guy, but these ones are tremendously well-done and really moving. You can stream this EP from Apple Music or order a copy on compact disc from Otitis Media Records!

Saturday, July 02, 2022

The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club - Please Stand By

I have had the pleasure of reviewing a few singles from The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club in the recent past, and today I get to dig into a full album from this Chicago-based power pop group! Please Stand By is the band's first album since 2019. The title is an amusing nod to the lull between albums precipitated by an unprecedented global pandemic. Weren't all of us trapped in "please stand by" mode at some point over the last couple of years? For a while, it was uncertain if this band would even live to make another record! But here we are in the summer of 2022, and The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club is ready to resume its regularly-scheduled programming. Singer/guitarist William Giricz wrote 27 songs for this release, giving the band plenty of material to choose from as it assembled this 12-track long player. What results is an album very typical of The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club: a collection of hooky, rocking tunes overlapping the worlds of power pop, '70s arena rock, and '90s alt-rock. This release worships at the altar of a certain band from Rockford, and that can only be a good thing (especially when you've got a singer with pipes like Giricz!). 

If you missed out on the BDSC's superb run of singles over the past year ("Tremor Control II," "Hold You Up," "Fifty Foot Woman"), you're in luck: they're all included on the album. Other obvious hits include the big rocking opener "Pony Up" (a song which dares us all to go out there and live it up), the textbook power pop of "Joni, It's Not Like That," the frenetic glam rock of "Silverball," and the unabashedly Cheap Trick-ish "Taking A Dive." Giricz and powerhouse drummer Dave Boenzi put on a rock clinic over the course of these 12 tracks, treating us to a tasty selection of should-be radio hits and premium deep cuts (on "Bah Bah Bah (Sing Along Song)," Giricz summons his inner Freddie Mercury to delightful effect). An album three years in the making, Please Stand By has a triumphant feel to it. The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club has been un-paused and turned loose to rock. This is a perfect album for the mid-summer and a highly recommended release for those who like their power pop with plenty of power. It's available now from Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify!

Friday, July 01, 2022

Mikey Erg - Love At Leeds

After listening to Mikey Erg's new album Love At Leeds, all I could say to myself was "Holy crap!". It's not that I'm surprised that Mikey Erg made a great record. It was 22 years ago that I wrote my first rave review of an Ergs! release. I have consistently referred to The Ergs! as THE greatest pop-punk band post-2000, and I have not been disappointed whatsoever with Mikey's recent run of solo albums. That said, Love At Leeds is next level stuff. Of course I'd be burying the lede if I didn't mention that this release fulfills Mikey's life-long dream of recording an album with Steve Albini. With his talented Tentative Decisions players (Jeff Rosenstock, Alex Clute, and Lou Hanman) in tow, Mikey headed out to Chicago last year to make a record with the legendary sound engineer. Mikey had always wanted to capture the "Steve Albini sound" on record (Nirvana's In Utero is one of his favorite albums), and he fully realizes that ambition on the extraordinary Love At Leeds. Does that mean that this is Mikey's "grunge" record? Not quite. This still sounds very much like a Mikey Erg album -- albeit one sonically influenced by '90s indie/alternative rock. It continues the direction of Tentative Decisions and 2019's superb Waxbuilt Castles -- occasionally dipping its toes into the pop-punk pool but also drawing from Mikey's myriad of influences in the larger worlds of pop and rock. 

It's necessary to mention that Love at Leeds sounds amazing. This was Mikey Erg's first-ever all-analog recording, and the results do not disappoint. I don't know if this is a "power pop" record per se, but it's very powerful and very pop. The guitars and drums in particular sound like a million bucks. Yet what matters the most is that this is as strong of a batch of songs as Mikey has ever written. Songs like "Caroline Told Me So" and "Almost Like Judee Still" reaffirm that this guy is a master of the pop-punk craft. But this album hits its high points when Mikey strays from formula. "Always Like This" is dark, hard-rocking, and packed with raw emotion. "Goodnight Vienna" is pure pop done to perfection. The standout "Landmines" manages to acknowledge Mikey's love for Nirvana without trying to be Nirvana. "On a Carousel" is exactly what a Hollies cover recorded by Steve Albini ought to sound like. 

You have to wonder if the Mikey Erg of 22 years ago ever dreamed that someday an album of his would be recorded by Steve Albini and mastered by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. He's probably still pinching himself to make sure this is all for real! From the moment I first heard the likes of "Thinking With My Heart" and "Blue" all those years ago, I knew Mikey was destined for great things. He really is one of the finest singer/songwriters in the modern-day pop word, and he's only getting better at his craft. Love At Leeds is his crowning achievement to date. Get it now from Don Giovanni Records! 

Vista Blue - Stay Gold

One of my favorite bands has done a full-length tribute to a classic work of American literature? Sign me up! Stay Gold, Vista Blue's tribute to S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel (and later Francis Ford Coppola's motion picture) The Outsiders, has just received its digital release in advance of physical releases expected late this year or early next year. If you love The Outsiders (who doesn't?) and/or love Vista Blue, you just can't go wrong with Stay Gold. As you would expect, the band shows tremendous love for the book and the movie. You can tell this album was made by Outsiders super-fans. Just as importantly, Vista Blue has made a record that truly does justice to this iconic tale. A lame Outsiders tribute would have been a bitter letdown. But this just might be Vista Blue's very best out of 50+ releases so far! The songs loosely follow the plot of the story, and the lyrics are inspired by quotes from the novel (OF COURSE an album about The Outsiders would have to start with a song called "Paul Newman and a Ride Home"!). Stylistically, this is vintage Vista Blue stuff: think buzzing guitars, stellar harmonies, and choruses that will take you straight to pop heaven. But I love how this album stretches beyond pop-punk in ways that seem suitable to a tale set in 1960s America. Featuring vocals by Reese Chism and red-hot lead guitar from Chris Billiot, the rock and roll ripper "We Turn It Up" is a delightfully unexpected turn from Nashville's pop heartthrobs (best lyric: "We think the Beatles are rank/but Elvis is tuff"). The band fully flexes its power pop chops on the Mike and Andy Miller penned "So Tuff." "Marcia," guest starring the great Jeff Schroeck on lead guitar, would slot nicely on a playlist between The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. As you would expect and hope for from a pop-punk-ish Outsiders homage, there's a smash hit titled "Cherry" and a track called "She's a Soc." Perfectly, the album concludes with the 1-2 punch of "Rumble at the Vacant Lot" and the epic "In the Country." I'm not crying -- you're crying! 

Out of Vista Blue's many brilliant ideas for themed releases, Stay Gold is easily one of the most inspired. The Outsiders is a beloved piece of American popular culture and a tale well-suited to Vista Blue's musical and lyrical style. It's kid-friendly but equally relatable to adults. Seriously: what could be more "pop-punk" than songs about teenage gangs, loud music, and unattainable girls? This was a wonderful concept for an album, and its execution could not have been better. I would most definitely rank tracks like "Friday Night," "Rumble at the Vacant Lot," and of course "Cherry" in the highest echelon of Vista Blue songs. I have a feeling this release will lead more than a few people to read (or re-read) The Outsiders. So now you've got something to add to your summer playlist and your summer reading list. Stay Gold is currently a free download from Bandcamp!

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Dropped Out - Get Lost

My stripped-down review of Dropped Out's new album Get Lost would read like this: pop-punk done right. That will entice some of you and send others running for the hills. But I think you all catch my drift. Austin-based trio Dropped Out makes no claims of reinventing the wheel. These guys are all about '90s pop-punk, and they execute the style exceptionally well. Out now on Otitis Media Records, Get Lost is full of tight, well-crafted songs with likeable vocals and lyrics. Influence-wise, I'm picking up on everything from Screeching Weasel to Green Day to Teen Idols to Parasites. So this band is definitely in my sweet spot for pop-punk. Some songs touch on classic pop-punk themes of heartbreak and relationship woes. Others exhibit a self-deprecating sense of humor. I like that these 10 tracks deliver a nice mix of really poppy mid-tempo tunes (definitely my cup of tea) and fast-paced '90s style melodic punk numbers (not always my cup of tea, but surprisingly pleasing to my ears in the case of this band). If you're cynical about pop-punk as a genre, Dropped Out is not going to turn you to the dark side. That said, Get Lost is everything a good pop-punk record ought to be. It's fun, catchy, and relatable to love and life. If I could somehow go back in time and play "Nicola" for 1996 me, he/I would have absolutely flipped!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Battlebeats - You Don't Know Me

Boom! The greatest '90s garage punk band of the 2020s continues soothe our ears with its gloriously thumping racket! Out now on the legendary Big Neck Records, "You Don't Know Me" is the third 7" release from Bandung, Indonesia's The Battlebeats -- and the second of three singles due out from this band in 2022. In the same vein as the recent EP Killed By Boredom, "You Don't Know Me" updates The Battlebeats' primitive budget rock assault with a tougher edge and a higher quality of production. While Teengenerate and '90s Goner Records remain the obvious reference points for Andresa's songwriting, these tracks also dig back into the primordial ooze of '70s American punk rock and old school garage rock. These are killer tunes -- some of Andresa's strongest yet in terms of both composition and performance. This is the kind of record that Big Neck would have been proud to have released 25 years ago. How fortunate we are to have this label still going strong at a time when bands like The Battlebeats are on the rise! If you're looking for some real deal garage punk rock and roll to rip through your earhole, this is the noise you need!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Norcos Y Horchata - Forever Disheveled

There's nothing more rewarding as a music fan than watching super talented people blossom into true artists. Amado Movado (Devious Ones, Bump-N-Uglies, Bill Bondsmen) has long been one of the finest guitar players in the modern punk rock world. In the early stages of the pandemic, he started the solo recording project Norcos Y Horchata as a means to hold on to his sanity. Before long, his pals Dougie Tangent and Roman Wonsul joined in. And just like that, Norcos Y Horchata was a real band! Recorded last summer with Jim Diamond, Forever Disheveled is the band's debut album and the first-ever release made up entirely of songs written and sung by Amado. Essentially this album is Amado's rookie effort as a frontman, and it's quite spectacular! 

I previously raved about "Almost Lost My Thumb (to the Pinewood Derby)," a delightful sing-along tribute to Amado's grandfather. That was such an amazing song that I had to wonder: did Amado have more songs of that caliber in him? The answer is a resounding YES. Forever Disheveled is an absolute treat for anyone who likes catchy punk rock with a whole lot of grit. Amado takes quite well to being the face (and voice) of a band. His gruff everyman style perfectly suits lyrics that are honest, heartfelt, and down to earth. Musically, Norcos Y Horchata inhabit the shared space between the more tuneful side of street punk and the tougher side of rock and roll. Forever Disheveled conveniently arrives in this first week of summer and is best enjoyed in the company of good friends and the coldest, cheapest beer you can find. Over the course of these 10 tracks, Amado reflects on the consequences of his choices ("Forever Disheveled," "Clutter, Debt & Disarray"), dispenses some solid life advice ("There's Always Something New," "Oysters"), and laments a human race gone terribly wrong ("Chords Against Humanity," "...Out For Smokes"). Of course Amado has a knack for writing appealing and catchy three-chord rock tunes. Better yet, he's the kind of songwriter you can't help relating to. As he confronts his failures and shortcomings on the album's title track, he could just as easily be describing most of us. And on the timely "...Out For Smokes," he puts into words the thoughts that bring distress to almost any rational human at the moment:

It's like the whole world got dropped on its head/
Dropped on its head all at once/
And now it’s looking like some contest/
To crown the biggest dunce

We talk about COVID silver linings all the time, and Norcos Y Horchata is yet another example. This band may never have existed if Amado Movado hadn't found himself on the verge of losing his mind two years ago. He started writing these songs because he had to. Yet in spite of its despairing origins and moments of hard-to-swallow truths, Forever Disheveled is a really enjoyable and uplifting punk rock record. These are songs that are fun to sing along with -- perhaps even more so because they say something genuine about the present human experience. Amado the amazing guitarist is now Amado the amazing singer/songwriter, and we are all better off for it. LP ships in early August!