Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Glad Machine and Golden Richards - Summer Blast Split Single

The title pretty much says it all! Out on Chicago power pop label Big Blast Records, Summer Blast Split Single is meant to be played in the car with the top down or cranked up loud by the pool. If you're not yet familiar with Big Blast, the two bands featured here will give you an instant feel for what this label is all about. Up first is The Glad Machine with a track called "Baby, It's You". This song falls somewhere between late '70s power pop and the more contemporary stylings of Jellyfish. Those melodies will hit your eardrums and quickly make their way to all of your pleasure centers. With its strong lead vocal and majestic harmonies, this the definitive melodic pop song. Golden Richards, a band I've reviewed a few times already, follow with what is easily their best track to date. "C'mon C'mon (The Makeout Song)" is, as advertised, a song to make out to! This is a fun, sunny pop tune with an absolutely massive hook. It tells a tale of a chance encounter on the beach with the girl who got away -- and you know what ought to happen next! Golden Richards really went all-out here to craft a Grade-A pop hit. This song has got it all: a classic sing-along chorus, a definitely summery guitar riff, a sweet bridge, a nifty outro, and even dueling guitar and keyboard solos! It's a timeless summertime rocker that appeals to the eternal teenager in all of us. 

Summer Blast Single is a blast indeed. Just push play, and you've got yourself an instant good time! Both of these songs would be fine additions to your summertime pop playlist. And if you don't have a summertime pop playlist, what in the world are you waiting for?

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Vista Blue - Back to the Summer Olympics

Sequels are almost never as good as the original, but every so often they are. Five years ago, Vista Blue released "At the Summer Olympics", an absolutely magical ode to the 2016 Rio Games. And now with the 2020 Summer Olympics in full swing, Vista Blue is back with a sequel appropriately titled "Back to the Summer Olympics". It's the lead track off of the band's new EP -- which you can download for free from Bandcamp. In preparation for reviewing the sequel, I revisited the original and judged it to be in the top tier of all Vista Blue songs. But I've got to say that "Back to the Summer Olympics" belongs in that rare category of sequels that equal or even surpass the original. It's got everything you could want from a Vista Blue song: a tuneful melody, strong harmonies, endearing lyrics, and an absolute earworm of a chorus. You even get a keyboard solo! And without spoiling anything too much, I'll just say that you should listen to this track before you dismiss it as just another Vista Blue "sports song". How does this band manage to be so incredibly prolific yet still delight me every single time? Rounding out the EP are a couple of splendid tracks. "Hey Anthony" clocks in at just a couple ticks past a minute-and-a-half and finds Vista Blue worshipping at the church of the Ramones. It's not easy to write a song this simple and still have it be so catchy and irresistible, but that's exactly what Mike and Mark have pulled off here. To say this track lends itself to singing along would be the understatement of the year! If a song like this had existed when I was six years old, I might have actually started listening to punk in 1977! "It's Summertime Again" is a song that Vista Blue originally contributed to the Ramonescore Radio Records compilation 20 Original Summer Hits. This is the ultimate summertime track. It's an upbeat tune about having fun in the sun, listening to music, and destressing after a difficult year (a very pertinent message for this particular summer!). Did I hear a Zatopeks reference?! If you dig this track, I recommend checking out the full compilation, which features a whole slew of today's top pop-punk and power pop bands. 

I have it on very good authority that several more Vista Blue releases are due out by the end of this year. I say bring 'em on! "Back to the Summer Olympics" is the "Let's Twist Again" of pop-punk!

Friday, July 23, 2021

Geoff Palmer - Charts & Graphs

Geoff Palmer has been a favorite of mine since the earliest days of F & L. With The Connection, The New Trocaderos, and Kurt Baker Band, he's been a huge part of several albums that have influenced the musical direction of this blog. As a a solo artist, he's been one of the brightest stars of contemporary pop-punk and power pop. Last year, he and Lucy Ellis almost managed to redeem 2020 with a delightful collection of duets titled Your Face Is Weird. So when I heard that Palmer was releasing a new LP this year, it immediately became one of my most looked-forward-to albums of 2021. Out today on Stardumb Records, Rum Bar Records, and Memorable But Not Honorable, Charts & Graphs is Palmer's second solo LP. And it does not disappoint! 

Like 2019's Pulling Out All The StopsCharts & Graphs rolls together power pop and pop-punk in a way that's pleasing to fans of either genre. And much like Your Face Is Weird, this album finds Palmer expanding his core sound with songs in a variety of musical styles. If you're craving "vintage" Geoff Palmer punky pop tunes, songs like "Many More Drugs", "Don't Be", and "Tomorrow" are guaranteed to satisfy. But some of the true gems of this album are more unexpected. The title track, written by Emma Tobin, is a poignant breakup song that's both clever and devastating. The country rocker "Count Me In" pairs an upbeat, hard-driving energy with highly philosophical lyrics about the nature of the afterlife. "What Would Paul Westerberg Do" has a lot to live up to based on its title, but it proves to be a satisfying homage in every respect. And I'm totally obsessed with "This Monkey", a song Palmer co-wrote with Zack Sprague. It's unlike any song Palmer has ever recorded before. It's kind of poppy, kind of modern rock-ish, and so sneaky catchy that it'll be stuck in your head before you even know what hit you. The vocal exchanges between Palmer and Sprague on this track are pure gold! 

Charts & Graphs is everything I wanted it to be and more. It shows the many sides of Geoff Palmer while still embracing his roots in pop-punk. In a modern-day power pop punk scene that can sometimes get a little "samey", Palmer is one of the true originals. When you hear one of his songs, you know it's him. His personality comes shining through on Charts & Graphs. Whether he's recounting amusing tales of misheard song lyrics, reflecting on the importance of not being an asshole, lamenting love gone wrong, or pondering the upside of eternal damnation, he's super likeable and always great fun to listen to. For my money, he's one of the best songwriters in rock and roll today. I highly recommend Charts & Graphs to all fans of good music!

The Peppermint Kicks - self titled

So you like the pop side of rock and roll, but you still need it to really rock? Well then The Peppermint Kicks are the band for you! Co-fronted by Dan Kopko (Watts, The Shang Hi Los) and Sal Baglio (The Stompers, The Amplifier Heads), The Peppermint Kicks are a throwback to the days of CREEM magazine, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, $7 arena shows, and band posters all over your bedroom wall. The band's self-titled debut album releases today on the mighty Rum Bar Records. This ten-song long player would not have sounded out of place on your teenage turntable alongside T. Rex, Cheap Trick, the Ramones, and The Who. Equal parts glam rock, power pop, first wave punk, and big hooky classic rock, The Peppermint Kicks sound has been likened to "a cool drink of strawberry lemonade, with a sprig of mint and a gut-punch chaser". Yum! Kopko and Baglio are both longtime fixtures of the Boston rock and roll scene. Combining the musical visions of both of these artists (much of it shared), you get a killer rock and roll band steeped in the timeless traditions of pop songwriting. What could be better?

I love that The Peppermint Kicks have come out big! The band kicks off its debut album (and entire discography) with a full-on rock anthem in "When Rock & Roll Met Your Dad". An epic love letter to rock and roll, this is the perfect introduction to The Peppermint Kicks and what they're all about. It's immediately followed by "Hey Fanzine!", which takes us back to the glory days of the rocking power pop radio hit. Building off such an auspicious start, the album proceeds to take you on a whirlwind tour of the coolest sounds of rock and roll's heyday. "Strawberry Girls" is a snappy, melodic tune that sounds like it could have sprung from the later '60s U.K. "I Don't Hear A Single" is a timeless pop song that ironically sounds...like a single! "Johnny D's (Play It Again)" is a vintage Danny The K fists-in-the-air sing-along rocker. "Shag '72" is an old style rock and roll toe-tapper with hooks for days. "Stooge" channels peak-era Rolling Stones. To my absolute delight, "Rock & Roll Rampage" embraces nearly every arena rock cliché in the book. 

It is 100% safe to say that any fan of Watts or The Amplifier Heads will love The Peppermint Kicks. You get the best of both bands here. Kopko and Baglio both sing, play guitar, and contribute some piano and percussion. Lead songwriting duties are split 50/50. Legend has it that the ghost of Little Richard commanded these two individuals to join forces. I, for one, do not doubt that narrative. This band and this album are a celebration of a moment in time when rock was king. Every song is a hit -- unless it's an anthem. And while no one is getting rich these days writing rock and roll songs with great hooks, you know you've made it when the likes of Palmyra Delran and Genya Ravan are singing your praises. Whether you were a teenager in the '70s or simply wish you could have been, this pop-rock cocktail ought to hit the spot!

Pale Lips and The Sorels - Do The Rumbar Rumble

The latest chapter in the momentous alliance between Pale Lips and Rum Bar Records is a very special split CD release. Do The Rumbar Rumble pairs of two of Canada's biggest rock and roll sensations in Montreal's Pale Lips and Winnipeg's The Sorels. Now sadly this is not new material from either band, but it does compile the tracks from each band's long out of print first two seven-inches. The first three Pale Lips tracks date all the way back to 2015's debut single Got A Sweet Tooth. I had not listened to these songs in a long time. Upon revisiting them, I've found that I still really like them! These were the songs that made me a Pale Lips fan. They're definitely a little rawer compared to later recordings, but I kind of like that. From the start, the band's smarts, sense of humor, charm, and flair for fun catchy tunes were simply undeniable. If you're out and about and see some crazy person in headphones joyfully singing the lyrics, "I'm dreaming of killing you", it's probably just me. The progression between that first single and 2017's Should've Known Better! is quite striking. "Don't Take Your Switchblade to New York" remains an essential Pale Lips track (and essential life advice!).  

The four Sorels tracks on Do The Rumbar Rumble are the only four songs that this band has officially released. These songs originally came out on two singles co-released by Reta Records and Surfin' Ki: 2019's "She's In The Gang" and this year's "Spring Break". And since those two records sold out before you even had time to blink, this CD is your best hope of procuring these tunes in a tangible format. Both of the A-sides mix pop hooks with punky rock and roll energy and classic girl group influences. The B-sides, "School Girl Blues" and "Palo Santo", find the band embracing its tougher-edged glam and rock side. Just you wait until The Sorels release an album...you're all gonna go nuts! Join the fan club now before the lines get too long! 

So who wins this rumble between two of Canada's finest? That's easy: we all do! It just makes sense for all of these songs to be on the same album. Pop this disc into your CD player, and you've got yourself a party for the next 23 minutes. And that artwork? Oh my god!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

JENNY - "Trajinero"

As you may know, JENNY is the solo project of a great friend of this blog -- Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls, Maniac, Suspect Parts). "Trajinero" is JENNY's debut Spanish language single and second release overall. It will be coming out as a 7" record on Wanda Records in Europe and Dirt Cult Records in North America. "Trajinero" is something a little different from Maurer. He recorded the track with Jacobo Fernandez (Las Bruscas, Les Tragiques, Desobedientes) and Gabriel Lopez (Espectroplasma, Sonido Gallo Negro) in Mexico City in November of 2020. Co-written by Maurer and Fernandez, the song is loosely based on the plot of Emilio "El Indio" Fernández's 1943 film Maria Candelaria. Its protagonist is a lovelorn working-class trajinero who commits a crime of passion and must face the consequences. In just a few lines, the song tells an epic tale. Yet even with such dramatic themes, this is an immensely fun song that ought to have you dancing and singing along in short order. Man, I love those keyboards! A truly amazing music video for "Trajinero"  (embedded below) was animated by Miguel Jara and Celestial Brizuela. 

"Trajinero" is backed with "Kids of Today", which Maurer recorded in Los Angeles with his former LA Drugz bandmates Cezar Mora, James Carman, and Johnny "JD" Reyes. The track is a classic shot of power pop punk in Maurer's signature style. What a powerhouse single! The digital release of "Trajinero" is available now from JENNY's Bandcamp. Hit up Wanda Records or Dirt Cult Records to pre-order vinyl! 

Friday, July 16, 2021

JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson

In continuation of its series of tribute compilations to the icons of rock, JEM Records today releases an excellent collection of Beach Boys/Brian Wilson covers. JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson has been released in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Beach Boys. Just like last fall's marvelous tribute to John Lennon, this album demonstrates the amazing things that happen when you put legendary material in the hands of creative and immensely talented musical artists. It features 15 tracks from nine of the top acts on the JEM roster. Each band/artist was given free reign to pick a Brian Wilson song and interpret it uniquely. What results is a tribute album that will restore your faith in tribute albums. 

Covering Brian Wilson is an awful lot like covering John Lennon. You've got to do something pretty special when you're tackling material this magnificent and this beloved. If you stay too close to the original version, it's dismissed as pointless. If you stray too far, it's considered sacrilege. Your primary task is to celebrate a legendary artist, but you still have to make the song your own. With all of that in mind, I've got to say that the JEM roster has absolutely nailed this tribute to Brian Wilson. The songs selected range from classics to deep cuts, with the majority culled from the Beach Boys' Capitol Records heyday. My first reaction to The Weeklings' opening pairing of "The Warmth of the Sun" and "Help Me, Rhonda" was, "Wow, that's really good!" As I listened to the remainder of the album, I had the same reaction several times. All of these bands and artists have managed to put their own signatures on these classic songs. The Grip Weeds (covering "You're So Good To Me") and The Gold Needles (Covering "Love and Mercy" off of Wilson's debut solo album) interpret Wilson's artistry through their own unique lens of modern-day psychedelic pop. Both versions are stellar. Nick Piunti does the best cover version of "Hang On To Your Ego" that I've heard to date. Johnathan Pushkar's rendition of "Please Let Me Wonder" from The Beach Boys Today! is simply beautiful and wonderfully reflective of his unique charm as an artist. Richard Barone's take on "In My Room" suggests what the song might have sounded like if it had been recorded in 1966 instead of 1963. And the highlight of the album has to be Lisa Mychols and Super 8's stunning, girl group inspired version of "Don't Worry, Baby". It gives me chills! 

JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson does what all tribute albums ought to do: it allows us to view the creations of a legendary songwriter in a different light. It's enjoyable in its own right, and it also makes me want to go put on some Beach Boys records. It's not that any of us have ever forgotten how great these songs are. But hearing them again as interpreted by some of the finest power pop and pop-rock artists of present-day gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for the immensity of Brian Wilson's talent. Even if you cast aside the imagery and mythology that has made the Beach Boys an American icon, you're still left with some of the most remarkable songs and beautiful melodies ever written. And as this collection proves, these songs sound just as good in 2021 as they did decades ago. Kudos to Marty Scott for having faith in his artists to pull off a Brian Wilson tribute that would live up to expectations. And as a special added touch, the liner notes for this album were penned by Ben Greenman, co-author of I Am Brian Wilson, A Memoir. JEM has set quite the high bar with the first two installments in its tribute series. Can it continue to deliver at this level? I have no doubt!