Sunday, October 02, 2022

Guerrilla Teens - "Halfway To Maybe"

Guerrilla Teens first came to our attention back in the year that cannot be mentioned, releasing numerous socially-distanced recorded demos throughout the year. This was an exciting moment for the rock and roll world as this new band featured some prominent ex Humpers/Lovesores and a couple more Portland punk rock luminaries. Those digital releases were made available with the caveat that they would soon disappear. And disappear they did. Now Guerrilla Teens have delivered their proper debut release, a ripper of a single called "Halfway To Maybe." The demos were promising, but this is what we were all expecting from Guerrilla Teens. Out come those guitars in full fury. In comes Scott "Deluxe" Drake bellowing, "Can't make up my mind to save my life/Indecision's such a pointless crime/Remember how they said 'If not now, when?'/Well tell me what to do, and I'll lose again." Then that chorus hits, and you're shouting along, fist thrust forcefully in the air. Yeah, kids, this is rock and roll! You know the magic happens when Scott Drake and Jeff Fieldhouse make tunes together, and "Halfway To Maybe" is the perfect re-launching point for their songwriting partnership. On the B-side, "The Other End of the Leash" is a raging shot of American-style '77 punk rock and roll. It's a thumping, gritty number that builds to a chorus that smashes you in the teeth. Drake is in prime form here — fully channeling the wrath of a chained animal. And it's a thrill to hear the righteous guitar racket that Fieldhouse and Saul Koll can kick up as a tandem. Ably driving this rock and roll machine is the formidable rhythm section of "Anna Bananas" Anderson and "Teenage Tim" Connolly. What a lineup. What a band! 

"Halfway To Maybe" is coming out soon as a 7" record, but you can grab the digital version now from Bandcamp for $3. If all you punk rock and roll fanatics aren't already going ape over Guerrilla Teens, you will be soon!

Saturday, October 01, 2022

More Kicks - Punch Drunk

The second album from More Kicks arrives nearly three years after the first, yet somehow it seems like it's been longer that. That's easily explained. More Kicks came out in November 2019 — just a few months before the shit hit the fan for the entire world. In "pandemic time," it's as if we haven't heard from More Kicks in half a decade. So what a wonderful return Punch Drunk is. It's being said that this album (out now on Stardumb and Dirtnap Records) is a significant departure from the more straight-forward power pop of the band's debut. In many ways, that's very true. It would be an injustice to try to nail this record down to any specific genre. Yet if you think of "power pop" as a broad, non-restrictive concept, Punch Drunk just might be the ultimate power pop record. It sure is pop, and good lord is it ever powerful! 

I've had the pleasure to follow the career of James "Sulli" Sullivan over a number of years now, and I consider him to be one of the finest songwriters going these days. He was on a bit of a hot streak at the time COVID hit, and there's no denying that he took it hard when he suddenly found himself unable to play shows or even properly rehearse with his band-mates. He ended up making the brilliant solo album Light Years, but you knew he was itching to finally get the band back together. The title Punch Drunk refers to Sulli's state of mind as he was putting this new record together in what he calls a "horrible moment" for himself and the world. And yet the feel of this album is triumphant and energized. You can sense the excitement Sulli, bassist Paolo Mantovani, and drummer Kris Hood had in finally being able to (in the near words of Ray Davies) rock out and have fun again. This album hits harder than any More Kicks recording ever has — when it wants to. And sometimes it goes softer than the band has ever gone before. Palpable influences range from Brit-pop to noisy indie rock to first wave punk to the Replacements/Paul Westerberg. Yet it all sounds familiarly like More Kicks. 

Sulli as a songwriter and singer has an immediately recognizable style. With this album, he's added a pinch of what worked so well on Light Years to More Kicks' established power trio sound. Nobody is going to hear this album and protest about it being too different. All the different is good different. It's like the band thought, "Let's make an album that rocks harder but is also more pop...and noisier and punkier." Somehow Punch Drunk manages to be all those things and more. Tracks like "Hurts Like Hell" and "Come Home" are on the punk side of power pop, which is always a sweet spot for me. "Color Me Stupefied" is quintessential Brit-pop and magnificent at that. "Seven Ways," which is rough and raw yet still fundamentally pop, brings to mind the golden age of college radio. If you looked up "perfect pop song" on a search engine, new single "Terminal Love" ought to show up. I heard "Rest of Our Lives" and immediately jotted down the words "vintage Sulli." But when this album veers from the hard pop style, it veers significantly. The recent single "Animal" sounds like a post-punk band did a mash-up of "My Sharona" and Pete Shelley's "Homosapien." It's quite possibly the best song More Kicks have ever done. With its loose charm and brilliantly self-effacing lyrics, "Phoney Middle Aged Art" is wonderfully Westerbergian. "Got Lucky" is intimate and reflective  — just a guy pouring his heart out over sparse keyboards and a drum machine. "Goodnight Goodnight" is literally and figuratively a marriage of solo Sulli and the full band rock and roll of More Kicks. I hate to keep making Replacements references since I find the influence to be more spiritual than stylistic. But there's definitely that similarity here where the ballads/slow songs end up being high points of an album. 

This was supposed to be the part where I assured you all that you will love Punch Drunk. But because I'm a terrible slacker and now a couple weeks late on this review, I might as well just say that I already know you love it! I've seen the rave reviews, and I concur with them fully. This is the work of not just an exceptional songwriter but also a truly fantastic band clicking on all cylinders. The pandemic had More Kicks down but never out. They've come roaring back with the album of their lives. I suppose we can say this for COVID and More Kicks: it took the sophomore slump off the table! If you follow this blog, you need to own Punch Drunk.

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs - All The Covers (And More)

I often talk of how 1995 was my 1977. The late '90s revival of '70s punk rock is a subject near and dear to my heart and one I may someday write a book about. Those bands were my gateway to all the first wave punk rock I now consider to be the greatest music ever made. One band from that movement that has held up particularly well is L.A.'s Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. Maximum Overdrive, a compilation of the band's debut album and early singles on Alive/Bomp! Records, is an essential purchase for fans of '70s style punk from the '90s. It combines a gritty and roaring Stooges/Dead Boys punk rock and roll style with some seriously underrated melodic songwriting. Still going strong after 27 years plus, the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs have never lost sight of their mission to fill the world with high energy rock and roll. And they've never ceased to wear their influences on their sleeves. On their two-disc set All The Covers (And More) (out today on Rum Bar Records), they show the love to all the bands that inspired their very existence. 

Featuring extensive liner notes by singer/guitarist Frank Meyer, All The Covers (And More) is a deluxe package comprising 38 covers of punk, proto-punk, and rock and roll classics. Essentially, these are the songs that made the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. This album is a window into the soul of the band. It features both studio tracks and live cuts. I'm not always a fan of covers albums or live recordings, but I've got to say that I've been enjoying the hell out of this release. It makes me nostalgic for a time in my life when I was first discovering so many of the bands covered here. I can remember what it was like when I first got my hands on records by the Stooges, MC5, Dead Boys, Radio Birdman, Saints, and Dictators and had my mind totally blown (To this day, I can't hear any version of "Sonic Reducer" without screaming along until I'm hoarse). I'm envious of anyone who might be introduced to these bands through this release. The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs are providing a road map for a formal education in punk rock! And the cover selections go beyond the obvious choices. The band pays homage to its more "pop" influences with two Cheap Trick covers and a rousing take on The Boys' "Kamikaze." There are also nods to greats from the worlds of hard rock/metal (Motley Crue, Iron Maiden), glam punk (Hanoi Rocks, Smack, Dogs D'Amour), and classic L.A. punk (X, Fear). The performances, both live and in the studio, properly capture the powerhouse energy and wild aggression of the songs' original versions. Standout cuts for me are The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" (featuring Cherie Currie on lead vocals), the aforementioned Dead Boys "Sonic Reducer" (featuring Jimmy Zero), X's "Los Angeles," Cheap Trick's "Hot Love" (featuring the B-Movie Rats), Motley Crue's "Live Wire," The MC5's "Kick Out the Jams," and (of course!) The Dictators' "Faster and Louder." 

I appreciate that the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs didn't just want to do a covers album. Instead they wanted to release all their covers in one shot  — which provides a complete picture of the varied influences that formed them. Some of the vital influencers (Wayne Kramer, Sylvain Sylvain, Deniz Tek) even make appearances on this collection. It seems weird to say that this album could be a perfect introduction to the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. But honestly, it just might be! The band will surely be playing a lot of these songs as it tours the West Coast in support of All The Covers (And More) in November and December. Featuring over two-and-a-half hours of music, this two-disc set is an absolute treat for fans of both the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs and old school punk rock and roll in general.

The Airport 77s - We Realize You Have a Choice

I didn't want to make any puns about The Airport 77s "taking flight" or "reaching new heights" on their new album We Realize You Have a Choice (out today on the world-famous JEM Records). But then I read the press release about how this album "finds the fly boys of power pop spreading their wings" and thought, "Yeah, that totally nails it!" The Airport 77s (guitarist Andy Sullivan, bassist Chuck Dolan, and drummer John Kelly) have graduated to four-stripe status on their proper full-length debut. If you didn't already know there was more to this D.C. area trio than new wave nostalgia and hilarious costumes, you'll find out soon enough once you push play. We Realize You Have a Choice is packed with hits from front to back. I feel it would be reckless of me to say that this is the best album JEM has ever released. So I'll show some proper restraint and just say that JEM has never released anything better than this. 

The name of the album is funny largely because it's true: the choices for a music consumer in 2022 are literally limitless. There's so much music out there competing for your time, attention, and disposable income. You will be well-served to give all of the above to We Realize You Have a Choice — one of the finest power pop/rock albums to come out in quite some time. This release proves that the best way to make a power pop album is to not make a power pop album. Don't get me wrong: this release features a couple of perfect power pop songs. Latest single "One Good Thing About Summer" has been tearing up the indie radio charts for weeks, and "All Torn Up Over Tina" (co-written by Kelly and the great J.P. McDermott) could pass for a lost classic from the early '80s. But rather than supplement these A+ power pop songs with lesser power pop songs (as many, many bands do), The Airport 77s have elected to apply their mastery of hummable melodies, clever wordplay, and earworm choruses to a variety of musical styles. Are you feeling some '80s AOR pop-rock? Could you dig a synth-pop dance track? How about a little arena rock, lounge pop, indie rock, hard rock, and even a birthday song? The Airport 77s can fly you anywhere you want! 

We Realize You Have a Choice is that rare album where there's no drop-off from a great single. The aforementioned birthday song, "Birthday Girl," has all the makings of a new standard. One part sweet love song and one part party anthem, it's destined to become a staple of birthday girls' nights out everywhere. I love how the song comes on unassumingly enough and then just knocks you out with that chorus! Bar owners: get this song on your playlist, and you will sell drinks galore! "Losers Win," which packs an entire short story into three and a half minutes of massively catchy rock and roll, also highlights the band's flair for epic choruses. "Somebodies," with its stacked lead vocals and anthemic feel, sounds like something that could have been on the radio back in the '80s — when pop music still moved small-town kids to dream big. That line "I'll never be nobody with somebody like you" could have been cheesy, but The Airport 77s make it sound genuinely inspirational. Plus it models how to properly use a double negative. "The Way She Moves" takes things into full-on hard rock territory and is genuinely awesome. "Bad Together" would not sound out of place on the Valley Girl soundtrack. "Alone Together" has made me a believer in jazz-influenced power pop (Yeah! Really!). Back in storytelling mode, "Drinking Alone" finds its heartbroken protagonist spiraling towards rock bottom — but bouncing back to a regular shaving routine and a steady diet of wheatgrass smoothies and spinach shakes. Did I mention something about earworm choruses? Bonus points must be awarded for an REM reference that doubles as a DC–adjacent geography joke. 

With We Realize You Have a Choice, The Airport 77s have made a rock album for people who love power pop. Or is it a power pop album for people who love rock? This release has it all: should-be radio hits, arena-sized rockers, and even some stellar deep cuts ("Since the Circus Left Town" snuck its way into my brain and has been residing there for weeks). It captures the essence of classic music from the '70s and '80s without getting itself stuck there. If you'd like to hear some great pop-rock made by stellar musicians and singers, you'll want to book your reservation in short order. Every seat on this flight is first class.

The Melmacs - Good Advice

I've been teasing it for months, and now it's finally out! Good Advice, the knockout debut album from The Melmacs, releases today through a collaboration between Wanda, Barkraufarfita, and Tape Or Die Records. The punk/powerpop world has given us many excellent LPs this year, and Good Advice is without doubt one of the very best of the lot. The Melmacs have been releasing absolutely wonderful music since early 2019 — which means I failed you all for three long years by not alerting you of this awesome band's existence. The shame I carry is considerable. For penance, I will binge-watch ALF all weekend. This foursome based out of Leipzig and Dresden, Germany plays old school power pop punk rock and roll that will make you wanna jump up and down, sing along with the utmost enthusiasm, and forcefully launch positive vibes into the universe. As advertised, the band delivers the perfect mix of "jab jab guitars, jub jub keyboards, pow pow drums, and boom boom bass." This is the epitome of a fun band, and Good Advice is a fun record through and through. Yet at the same time, The Melmacs have a special talent for filling their upbeat, catchy tunes with true lyrical substance. Lead track "Good Advices" is about the wisdom people gain from learning from their mistakes. Elsewhere, the band tackles topics such as bigotry ("Watch Out"), fear ("Stage Fright"), crippling regret ("Retrospective Life"), and the power of persistence ("Carry On"). The Melmacs promised some good advice, and they have delivered. They know how to be really serious without ever taking themselves seriously, and that's the magic recipe for meaningful music.    

A royal treat for any punk/powerpop fan, Good Advice offers up a nice variety of musical selections. Songwriters Bimmi, Remo, and Max complement many energetic punk rock numbers with some pure power pop ("Retrospective Life", "Carry On"), lighters-up arena sing-alongs ("Saturday Night"), and a rousing finale that channels '60s girl groups ("Planet Melmac"). To celebrate the release of Good Advice, today the Melmacs have released the fifth single/music video from the album, "Low Life." Be warned that if you listen to this song, you will most likely need to listen to it dozens of times. It's that catchy. Before you know it, half your day will be gone. But what a way to spend half your day!  

Unfortunately the vinyl has been delayed, but Good Advice is available now from all the major streaming platforms. My good advice is to stop whatever else you're doing and go listen to this album now!

Monday, September 26, 2022

the SUCK​/​Johnny Terrein And The Bad Lieutenants - split 7"

I kind of don't like Ramonescore  — except for when I totally love it! There are a handful of bands in existence that can pull off this very specific genre of music. More often not, for reasons no one can possibly explain, these bands are Canadian. So it makes sense that a Canadian record label would put out a really good Ramonescore record. Faster and Louder Records out of Ontario is responsible for a split 7" pairing London's Johnny Terrein and the Bad Lieutenants with the SUCK from Harrisburg, PA (717 represent!). Of course the SUCK is at a disadvantage in lacking Canadian citizenship. But given that three different American states are in conflict over being able to claim the SUCK, the band's geographical ties are still up in the air. The concept of this release is that each band covers one of the other's songs and also contributes an original song. The headline is that Johnny Terrein and the Bad Lieutenants had the balls to cover THE BEST song by the SUCK: the street rock anthem "Partytown USA." The second headline is that the SUCK's second-best song is on this very record! That's right: I'm going to jump "Cult of the Fonz" over "Fantasy Beer League" on my big board of SUCK songs. It was not an an easy decision, but I carefully considered it over many beers and evenings. I feel like "Cult of the Fonz" is much bigger than just a song. It's practically a way of life. It should be an actual cult. Can you imagine gangs of middle-aged dudes running around in leather jackets? What would that be like? 

Each band here does a very credible job of covering the other. I wasn't sure I could accept any band but the SUCK performing the hallowed "Partytown USA." But Johnny Terrein and the Bad Lieutenants pretty much crush this song! Their original, "Prisoner," is excellent as well. Perhaps the lesson here is that you can never go wrong with pop culture references. I also like that both of these bands are Ramones-inspired without being Ramones clones. If you like simple and solid no-bullshit three-chord punk rock, this record and these bands are well worth your attention. The 7" officially releases October 1st (the same day the SUCK plays its first-ever live show at Mom's Basement Fest in Youngstown, Ohio!). Blue vinyl is limited to 101 copies, and black is limited to 202. Faster and and Louder Records has no affiliation with this blog — other than that we both had the good sense to steal from the best.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Candy Snatchers - "Shame Shivers"

Installment #5 in the "Detroit cover" 7" series from I-94 Recordings is something truly special: the first new recordings from the legendary Candy Snatchers in 12 years! On the A-side, "Shame Shivers" is an absolutely blazing track that finds Larry May and company in vintage form. Hans Molnar (of The Hellbenders) is on guitar, capably stepping in for the late, great Matthew Odietus. Doug "Goose" Duncan and Sergio "Sgt Stash" Pone pick right up as one of the greatest rhythm sections in modern-day punk rock. And Larry May is...well, Larry May! It would be an understatement to say that he has not mellowed over the years. He still hollers with fury, and I love how fired up he sounds on this blistering number. If you're craving some fast and ferocious punk rock and roll, you've come to the right place! Clocking in at just 76 seconds, "Shame Shivers" will pummel you senseless before you even know what hit you. It leaves you wanting more, but at least you can keep dropping that needle and play it over and over. In keeping with the theme of this 7" series, the B-side had to be a cover of a Detroit artist. The Candy Snatchers chose "Must Be the Cocaine" by the mighty Trash Brats. Talk about a classic! Larry May has referred to the 7" version of this tune as "the greatest song of all-time," so there were certain expectations that these guys would do a great version. I mean, come on: if ever a band was born to cover "Must Be the Cocaine," the Candy Snatchers are it! And now they've gone and proven that on record. This version does not disappoint. I don't want to say they've topped the original, but they've sure made it a Candy Snatchers song! 

"Shame Shivers" is an absolute must-have. It's the freaking Candy Snatchers, man! The single is selling fast, with nine of the colored vinyl variations already gone. You know what to do!