Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Lord Rutledge Awards 2011

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was a grand New Year's tradition called the Lord Rutledge Awards. Every December 31st, the true believers gathered in a top secret location revealed by hidden codes printed on the undersides of beer bottle caps. Individuals attired in tall hats and formal garb eagerly awaited proclamations of world-altering significance. There was food and drink and music and dancing…but no clowns. Clowns were strictly forbidden. A few were maimed to make a point. Winners of these awards paraded down major thoroughfares hoisting their trophies towards the sky while children danced gleefully in the streets to the sounds of their recordings. Videotapes of these festivities, once housed in the Now Wave Magazine Hall of Fame and Sausage Shop in Strongsville, Ohio, were lost in a flood. You will have to take my word for it. 

Now Wave Magazine is no more, but the Lord Rutledge Awards live again. A number of occurrences of recent months have led to the revival of these awards. More than one elected public official played a critical role. There was a letter-writing campaign and an Occupy Five Guys demonstration. I was moved to action by a vivid dream involving a talking walrus, a headless Wal Mart greeter, a Wham! comeback tour, neon green Oreos, and the fictional landlord Stanley Roper. But mostly, it all comes down to the music. If it weren't for all the great bands who released so much outstanding music in the year 2011, we would have nothing to celebrate this evening. Thank you to all who have come here tonight. Some of you traveled a very long way. In honor of our guests from overseas, we will be serving only German beer tonight. If you did not receive your bag of burgers at the door, there will be another pass-around momentarily. Much appreciation goes out to Shawn Abnoxious and Gunther 8544, who have agreed to sit in, on standup bass and beatbox respectively, with Greg Mongroll on a special live medley of songs from the forthcoming Mongrolls album. I will be grabbing my cowbell and joining in for a rousing cover of "Gimme Danger". It should be an entertaining and fun-filled evening. And without any further ado, let's get to the awards!

Song of the Year:
The Dahlmanns- "I Love You Baby (But I Hate Your Friends)"
So what if they didn't write it? Andy Shernoff wrote it, and Andy Shernoff is the man! My hearing a pop song this good on the radio was a major impetus behind my return to music reviewing. You may recall that The Dahlmanns took a fair run at Album of the Year honors. They came up just a little short, but having the best song of the entire year ain't too shabby! Runner-up was "Victory Lap" by Missing Monuments.

Best New Band:
The Cry!
This was a close one, because on the punk rock side of things the Dead Tricks from New York City arrived with a bang in their own right. But you know I'm a sucker for pop, right? And in the pop department, The Cry! from Portland straight up blew my mind. Seriously - this band's gonna be special! Expect a review of their debut album within the next couple of weeks.

EP of the Year:
Nuclear Santa Claust (self-titled)
In a knife fight between The Pagans and Spits, somebody has to get hurt.

Single of the Year:
Midnite Snaxxx - "Guy Like That" b/w "Jackie"
Tina Lucchesi and Dulcinea "Loudmouth" Gonzalez band together to play garage/powerpop/rock n' roll, and the results are predictably sublime.

Record Label of the Year:
Modern Action Records
It was a close call since Dirtnap Records was again a force this year. But Modern Action takes it on the strength of sheer quantity of A-level releases. Sharp Objects, Amoebas, Modern Pets, Complaints*, Neighborhood Brats…I could go on and on! 

Burger of the Year:
Steak 'n Shake
This was an F & L post not to be missed!

Beer of the Year:
Rogue Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale
A mighty and delicious red ale. See my beer blog for more details!

Read of the Year:
"The Last American" by Shawn Abnoxious
I may not have read a great novel in the year 2011, but I did read a short story for the ages! If this doesn't make it into next year's Best American Short Stories anthology, me and someone at Mariner Books are gonna throw down! Click here for more information and a link to a free download.

Man of the Year:
Kevin McGovern
Remember in pre politically correct times when Time magazine annually gave out a "Man of the Year" award? I've always wanted to do that. So here ya go! This year I'm giving it to the longtime Prostitutes frontman. Just because.

Television Commercial of the Year:

"I'm taking the bus, and you will NOT see me at the pancake social tomorrow!"

The Patrick Bateman Prize for Excellence in Music Criticism:
Zach Braun
In the past, I gave this award based on one particular outstanding review. This year, I'm opting to recognize the best reviewer/blogger of the year for his cumulative efforts. I marvel at the depth of Zach's musical knowledge. His reviews are always well thought-out, well-researched, and well-written. And his passion for what he does is truly inspiring. Take a look at Random Old Records. You'll learn something. You'll be entertained. You'll discover some great new bands! It's like The Big Takeover with better musical taste.

Album of the Year- Masters Class:
Adolescents- The Fastest Kid Alive
This award goes to the best album released by a band at least 25 years into its existence. While the likes of the New York Dolls, Rocket from the Tombs, and Gang of Four turned out credible releases this year, the latest from the Adolescents smokes 'em all. I know this is far from the original Adolescents lineup (only Tony and Steve remain). And no doubt Tony's voice has mellowed over the years. But this is the closest the band has come to reviving the "classic" Adolescents sound in a whole lot of years. If you liked the OFF! album, this is very comparable. These adolescents may now be pushing 50, but they can still bring it!

Album of the Year:
Something Fierce- Don't Be So Cruel
Here's the full list.

Album I Should Have Bought, But Didn't:
Giuda- Racey Roller
Oh well, there's always next year.

Album of the Year 2010:
Kidnappers- Will Protect You
I was not around to give out this award one year ago. Tonight I do so retroactively. The cash prize has been upgraded to account for the declining value of the American dollar.

The Faster and Louder Championship Belt:
Something Fierce
This is a new award which goes to my reigning favorite current band. I feel that, as a follower of music, I need a favorite band. So if someone comes up to me and asks, "Who's your favorite band now?", my answer today is Something Fierce. Will they manage to retain the belts for another year? We shall see! I foresee  formidable challenges from Midnite Snaxxx, The Cry!, and others. Thrilling times ahead!

Happy New Year, dear readers! Thanks so much for taking the time to follow F & L! May you all have a healthy and prosperous 2012! For the new year, expect more postings on the best in new punk rock and power pop. Food coverage will be expanded into new territories (wings? chili?). Of course you can look forward to the usual lists and band battles...and perhaps a few new features including an F & L Hall of Fame! See you next year! Drive safe!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Got no complaints about Complaints*!

A sad development I started to notice in the middle-to-late 2000s was the decline of the great punk rock record label. You know what I'm talking about. There were certain labels, and you knew that every single thing they put out was gonna rule. You could take it to the bank. You always knew what you were getting, too: straight-up punk rock in the classic style. In a punk scene that was becoming increasingly infiltrated by hipsterism and "modernization", you could count on these labels to steer clear of such nonsense. Call me a genre geek if you want, but I like my punk music to be steeped in the tradition of The Ramones and Thunders and Iggy and The Clash.

Flash forward to the year 2011. The great punk rock record label may be a dying breed, but the ones that remain are freaking awesome. If Modern Action Records takes me back to the day when labels like Pelado and Radio Records reigned supreme, there's a good reason for that. Modern Action rose out of the ashes of Radio Records, and lately the label's been on a roll! Two of my top ten LPs of 2011 were Modern Action issues, and the seven-inches have been just as good. The latest is from San Francisco punk rock supergroup
Complaints*. The band features members of the Swingin' Utters, Lowdowns, Radio Reelers, and Western Addiction and plays good old-fashioned high energy punk rock n' roll. If I say this is a "classic Radio/Modern Action" type of release, you don't have to guess what I mean. Do you like The Stitches? Do you like The Bodies? Then you'll like Complaints*! *No Action is their fourth seven-inch, and it contains six short, to-the-point songs full of rockin' guitar leads and sing-along choruses. There are no surprises here and no attempts at changing the playbook. This is tried-and-true punk rock, and it's damn good! "I'm a Fool" and "Outcast", the standout tracks here, ride that fine line between '77 style and early '80s American punk, rifling out catchy high-powered tuneage at an accelerated pace. A concluding cover of "Cranked Up Really High" reminds you where these guys are coming from - as if you didn't already know!!!

One of the best EPs of the year!

- L.R.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Album of the Year

Most people probably start thinking about their Album of the Year lists in November. Me, I was already working on mine back in June! That's just how my mind works. Nearly every title on this list was mentioned, at the time I reviewed it, as a serious Album of the Year contender. Partly that's because I'm notoriously prone to overstatement. But mostly it's because this was a really great year for punk music. It was the emergence of awesome new bands (like The Keefs) and the incredible strides made by old ones (like Something Fierce) that compelled me to "unretire" from music reviewing this year. And once I got myself going again, I sure didn't have any trouble finding more bands to write about! I'm confident in saying that this Top Ten is the strongest I've put together in a lot of years. The running joke is that I've been internally debating the order of the list to the point of obsession. Much sleep was lost. I re-wrote the list so many times that I contracted writer's cramp. But now that the moment of truth has arrived, my choice for #1 is hardly surprising!

10. Cute Lepers- Adventure Time (1-2-3-4 Go!)
Another really good album from one of the best modern-day '77-style punk bands.  

9. Tenement- Napalm Dream (Mandible Records)
My mandatory Wisconsin entry. "Classic indie" stylings a la Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. updated for the new punk generation.

8. Amoebas- self titled (Modern Action)
The debut from Grand Rapids, Michigan up-and-comers did not disappoint. Great snotty punk rock. It's like 1997 all over again!

7. Bad Sports – Kings of the Weekend (Dirtnap)
Ramones-inspired punk rock with power pop sensibilities. I was considering this for the #1 position as recently as September 23rd!

6. Barreracudas- Nocturnal Missions (Douchemaster)
Their singles were merely okay, but the album was a beast. A great mix of punky power pop and '70s style rockin' glam. Bonus points for an album title that would make Beavis and Butthead chuckle.

5. Night Birds- The Other Side of Darkness (Grave Mistake)
Breakneck early '80s California hardcore transplanted to 2011 Brooklyn and the Jersey shore- with requisite surf motif. In most other years, this would have easily made my top two.

4. Missing Monuments- Painted White (Douchemaster)
The great King Louie makes his "power pop" album, which sounds to me like rootsy rock n' roll! Classic.

3. The Dahlmanns- All Dahled Up (Pop Detective)
Ramones-inspired female-fronted power pop featuring Andre from the Yum Yums and his wife Cecile Line. This would be a multi million seller in a better world.

2. Sharp Objects- self titled (Modern Action)
From The Crowd to The Adolescents to Smogtown and numerous bands in between, there's been one hell of a California beach punk legacy. "Two guys from The Bodies, one guy from The Briefs, and a guy from Puerto Rico" are the latest to inherit the torch. For the record, this was Greg Mongroll's Album of the Year.

1. Something Fierce- Don’t Be So Cruel (Dirtnap)
Something Fierce was my favorite up-and-coming band when I shut down Now Wave Magazine four years ago. But the Houston trio has grown by leaps and bounds since then, and Don't Be So Cruel is the album that's taken them to the next level. It sounds like the album you wish The Clash had made in 1982, yet at the same time its feel is very "modern". Always skilled at writing simple pop/punk songs, this band has demonstrated that even more sophisticated material can be laden with hooks. Just as impressively, the album's lyrics manage to make serious statements about political and social matters without coming off lame or preachy. And while Something Fierce have something to say, that doesn't mean they don't have fun doing it! Don't Be So Cruel brings a funky, frenetic energy propelled by a playful dynamic between guitar and bass. Niki Sevven is the female Paul Simonon!

There you have it. 2011 will forever be remembered as an awesome year for albums! And just in case you're wondering about EP of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Band, and a host of other high honors, stay tuned! The 2011 Lord Rutledge Awards are coming in ten days!

- L.R.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Some Rock n' Roll from The No Tomorrow Boys!

I'd be hard-pressed to name a single greater era of music than punk rock 1977-79. But American rock n' roll 1955-59 just might have it slightly beat. Sadly with modern bands that take inspiration from the latter, you rarely hear the danger and wildness of the original sounds. Too many '50s style bands soften the edges of rock n' roll and come off "cute" or "old-fashioned". The fuck-off attitude somehow gets lost in translation. Thankfully there are exceptions. Coming on like an Americanized Guitar Wolf or The Cramps sans the horror theme, Portland's No Tomorrow Boys get it right! On their debut single, these three fellas uncork a pair of primitive rippers that would not sound out of place on a mixed tape with Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Link Wray, and Little Richard. This is the REAL DEAL, kids! Any old band can ape the style, but The No Tomorrow Boys have the fire in the soul to genuinely capture the unholy essence of early rock n' roll. It has been a while since I've come across a new band in this mold, and let me tell you it's a real jolt to hear music like this again! These tunes are wild and fun and supercharged with sex (in other words, the opposite of what typically passes for "indie" rock in the year 2011!). If classic late '50s motorcycle gang leather jacket-and-switchblade rock n' roll replete with a bawdy backbeat, howling juvenile delinquent vocals, and red-hot guitar action sounds good to you, well then you have good taste. And The No Tomorrow Boys should be right up your alley! Remember that Richie Cunningham and his pals had a band? They were kind of soft for a rock n' roll outfit! I bet The Fonz would have far preferred to bone his babes while listening to The No Tomorrow Boys. Dig!

- L.R.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Burger of the Year

While the full slate of Lord Rutledge Award winners will not be announced until New Year’s Eve, certain categories of exceptionally high importance have been afforded “extended coverage”. Album of the Year gets its own article, and so does Burger of the Year. In preparation for this list, I’ve been deep in thought for many weeks - often with a burger (or two) in my mouth. I took notes. I explored my feelings. After much reflection and extensive research, I have identified and ranked the ten best burgers of 2011. Behold, burger lovers! The list has been posted! Learn it. Know it. Live it.

10. McDonald’s McDouble
While very little of the post-breakfast Golden Arches menu is suitable for human consumption (even their “angus” burgers taste like Soylent Green), the old school McDonald’s hamburger has changed very little in my lifetime. This is the classic McDonald’s burger, double-stacked for your pleasure and priced well under $2. Yeah, I know it sucks they changed the name and took it off the dollar menu. It’s been three years - get over it.

9. Bob Evans Big Farm Smokehouse Burger
The price point on this thing is kind of ridiculous, but let’s not quibble. At least it’s not Applebee’s. This is a good burger, and toppings like Monterey-jack cheese, Memphis spice-rubbed bacon, and chipotle sauce send the flavor over the top. They don’t make this one in the microwave.

8. Fuddruckers ½ Pound Three Cheese Burger
“World’s Greatest Hamburgers”? More like the world’s eighth-greatest hamburgers. Ya gotta love that fresh produce bar, though. Nine times out of ten, I’ll just opt for the buffalo or wild boar burger.

7. Wendy’s Baconator Double
My wife is boycotting Wendy’s these days because she objects to their new “premium” pickles. I’m with her - what was wrong with the old pickles? Not a thing! The Baconator, though, has no pickles.

6. DuClaw Brewing Co. Spanish Kobe Burger
This is the only non national chain burger on the list. Turns out that the food at DuClaw Brewing Co. is actually better than the beer! How does a charbroiled Kobe beef patty topped with prosciutto, piquillo pepper aioli, and melted manchego cheese on a toasted brioche roll sound? Yeah, I know!

5. Chili’s Jalapeno Smokehouse Burger
As we well know, certain “casual” dining chains are not always known for quality. This joint is an exception. And the JSB is one hell of a fine burger.

4. Burger King Whopper
Still an American classic. 

3. Hardee’s 1/3 Pound Original Thickburger
Made with 100 percent black angus beef, and it shows. Didn’t Hardee’s used to suck? Yes, it sure did. It doesn’t anymore.

2. Five Guys Cheeseburger
Why is Five Guys so great? Their regular cheeseburger is a double cheeseburger! If you only want a single patty (Lightweight!), you have to ask for a “little” cheeseburger. This ain’t no health food chain. Greasy, juicy goodness reigns supreme in this house. Toppings are free. The meat is fresh - the place doesn’t even have a freezer! And the bun rules as well.

 1. Steak ‘N Shake Original Double n’ Cheese Steakburger
78 years old and going strong, the Original Double n’ Cheese has yet to be topped. Made from real steak and housed in a toasted butter bun that’ll bring your mouth to orgasm, this bad boy is a bargain at $3.99. Don’t forget fries!

Notice in the photo above, Handsome Dick is taunting me because he can have White Castle burgers and I cannot. I vow to get to a White Castle in the year 2012. I also vow to, for the first time since the early 1970s, try putting ketchup on fries. How will these developments affect my next burger list? Tune in next year!

- L.R.

Friday, December 16, 2011

All Dahled Up!

Merry Christmas to me! The Dahlmanns album is out! Talk about joy to the world! If you bottled the feelgood powers of The Dahlmanns' music, that shit would fly off the shelves. Even Ebenezer Scrooge would have found himself smiling and dancing within the first 20 seconds of "Get Up, Get Down". The Grinch would have geeked out to "Teenage City". Norwegians do it right! 

Given my innate weakness for girl-fronted power pop and long-standing love of The Ramones, The Dahlmanns were destined to be Faster & Louder favorites. They were, in fact, the second band I ever reviewed on this blog. And in just a few weeks, I will officially award them my 2011 Song of the Year title for their flawless interpretation of Andy Shernoff’s "I Love You Baby (But I Hate Your Friends)". Here's what I love – that song isn't even on the album! They didn't need to pad their debut LP with a hit from months ago. Instead, they went out and wrote a whole slew of new hits! Andre Dahlmann, of the legendary Yum Yums, knows a thing or two about how to write a pop song. And his wife Line Cecile Dahlmann brings a sugar-rush of vocal exuberance that warms the soul like a Christmas cookie bender. Even when she's singing sad songs ("Love the Haters") or creepy ones ("Candypants"), you can't help feeling uplifted in spite of the lyrics. There's just a brightness to this band that is all prevailing. When Santa Claus gets the holiday blahs, this is the band he listens to to regain his good cheer. The big man loves his bubblegum punk!

While the new album does slow the pace in spots to explore more downbeat material, the results are absolutely golden. The jangly "This Time" is a sad love song with absolutely beautiful melodies, and it really demonstrates how pretty of a voice Line Cecile has. Think "Questioningly" by The Ramones with Frida from ABBA on vocals. Superb! And if the Dahlmanns are largely inspired by The Ramones and Primitives, the latter's influence is most palpable on the outstanding track "Going Down". The variety is nice! But I'd be lying if I said my favorite songs on the album weren't the more "classic" Dahlmanns type numbers. "Shake Me Up Tonight" is a stone cold hit. It's got everything: driving guitars, an unstoppably upbeat energy, harmonies out the wazoo, and infectious melodies oozing from every note! It ought to be a #1 single! And "Bright City Lights" might be even better. It's a perfect pop song with such an emotionally charged chorus that it seems it ought to be playing over the closing credits of a feelgood '80s movie! This, my friends, is POP! In an ideal world, "Teenage City" would be the album's third chart-topping single, and The Dahlmanns would perform it on network TV with a gazillion fans tuned in. 

Goody, goody gumdrops! The Dahlmanns have delivered! Especially down the homestretch, All Dahled Up is an invigorating, fun-filled ride that typifies everything power pop is supposed to be. I had been eagerly awaiting this album for many months, and after all that buildup it would have been easy to have found myself at least slightly disappointed. Am I? Not even a little! All Dahled Up is everything I expected and then some. If it's not quite Album of the Year, it's firmly top three. And that's saying something considering that 2011 has been one hell of a year for music! Now bring us some figgy pudding! 


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nuclear Santa Claust

You may have guessed that Nuclear Santa Claust is not a wholesome group of Christmas carolers. Far from it! Imagine instead The Pagans and Screamers massacring each other in a knife fight and coming back as zombies to play Ramones songs under the lights of Armageddon. Most of the time you can tell when a "new" band is trying to play an old style, but that is not the case with this Brooklyn-by-the-way of Cleveland punk rock trio. NSC do not sound like they're from this time. Hell, they don't sound like they're from this planet! On top of that, they're just freakin' great! Remember when punk music was threatening? "Bikini Island" will blow your head clean off! My forthcoming album of the year selection may be shrouded in secrecy, but EP of the year is a stone cold mortal lock for NSC's self-titled debut. If you're a Killed by Death fanatic or a lover of early American punk, you'll want this record under your tree this Christmas!


Friday, December 09, 2011

Top Ten Albums...of 2001!

With the end of the month rapidly approaching, I have been working feverishly to complete this highly-anticipated top ten list. I’ve not been answering the phone. I’ve been missing airings of Man V. Food Nation. I’ve been eating only six times a day. But the hard work has paid off, and I now present you with the finished product. This is not my top ten albums of 2011. That list is far from finished. This is my top ten for 2001.

If you’ve been following me through the years, you may have noticed I have a slight (ha ha!) tendency to rush to judgment. A record is either the greatest thing I’ve ever heard, or it’s the absolute worst. I have been known to retract negative reviews. I’ve also been known to rave about a certain record and then never play it again the rest of my life. So sometimes my year-end lists embarrass me when I look them over at later points in time. But I thought, hey…What if I gave myself ten years to come up with a year-end list? Wouldn’t I get that one right? So I endeavored to reconstruct the list I published a decade ago based on how I feel today. A full decade’s worth of deliberation, reflection, research, and repeated listens have led me to this, my 2001 top ten V.2! Some titles made both lists; others did not. Join me now, faithful readers, as we take a trip back in time. The year was 2001. Now Wave Magazine still existed in print form. I turned 30 years old. I dismissed reality TV as a passing fad. George W. Bush was inaugurated. 9/11 shook the world. Linkin Park had the best selling album of the year. The first Harry Potter movie came out. Albert Pujols was the National League Rookie of the year. PlayStation 2 was still the shit. And these were the ten best punk LPs of the year:

10. U.S. Bombs- Back at the Laundromat
Out of all the “punk revivalist” bands of the late ‘90s, very few were legitimately comparable to the all-time greats. The Bombs were one of those few, and Back at the Laundromat is one of their finest albums.

9. Richmond Sluts- self titled
Remember this band? I do!

8. Zodiac Killers- Have a Blast
By 2001, a lot of folks were pretty sure that Rip Off Records was starting to go downhill. It was easy to poo-poo the Zodiac Killers for not being The Rip Offs or The Registrators or Loli and the Chones. But that was a whole lot of bullshit. If you’re a fan of early ‘80s hardcore punk, this and all the Zodiac Killers albums belong in your collection.

7. Slash City Daggers- Backstabber Blues
I will always regret panning this band’s debut album. This, their sophomore effort, was one of the best New York Dolls influenced records of its time.

6. American Heartbreak/Libertine- You Can’t Kill Rock N’ Roll
Whatever happened to Coldfront Records?! The AH half of this split was a worthy follow-up to the classic debut album Postcards from Hell. The Libertine half is golden as well. The Psychedelic Furs go punk.

5. Smogtown- Domesticviolenceland
Looking back, I really should have played this more.

4. Beltones- Cheap Trinkets
Hard to believe this is the only studio album The Beltones have ever done. Probably one of the ten best punk bands of the ‘90s.

3. Stiletto Boys- Buzzbomb Sounds
Apparently I wrote the liner notes. It was so long ago that I don’t even remember. As great as the band’s first album was, time has proven their second to be even better. Pelado Records later put out a CD version called A Company of Wolves. New album Liberator will be out in 2013.

2. Tina and the Total Babes- She’s So Tuff
Hands down, one of the five greatest power pop albums ever issued. Super groups don’t get any more super than this.

1. The Dictators- D.F.F.D.
One of the greatest bands of all-time put out what I believe to be their best album. Who will save rock n’ roll? The Dictators, dummy!

Not a bad year, eh?! Apologies go out to any bands I forgot. This whole project would have been much easier if I had actually kept copies of my original writings!

- L.R.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Amoebas! Again!

You may remember me somewhat frothing at the mouth over Amoebas a few months back. I was pretty, uh, excited. Well now the fearsome foursome from Grand Rapids has a 12-inch out, and let’s just say it’s no letdown! Issued by label-of-the-year frontrunners Modern Action Records, this self-titled eight-songer absolutely kills. It’ll make my year-end top five for sure. Amoebas are the modern-day answer to not just the snot-drenched antics of late ‘90s greats like the Stitches and Prostitutes but also to the proto-hardcore racket of early Black Flag. And at the same time, they put their own modern-day twist on these classic stylings. So although this is “old school” punk music, it feels fresh and new. If this is what the future of punk rock sounds like, then punk rock is in damn fine shape!

Amoebas s/t reprises all those smash-your-face punk hits I raved about last time - like “Nervous Wreck” and “Gimme a Fix”. Yeah, they still rip with snarling vocals and slashing guitar leads. And the songs that I hadn’t heard before demonstrate that this band just keeps getting better! “You Shake Me” slows the tempo for a more classic ’77 punk feel with lots of melody and just a hint of new wave flavor. Shades of Johnny Thunders for sure, and this is by far the best songwriting these guys have done. Outstanding! “Hollywood Trash” infuses overt catchiness into a snotty punk n’ roll attack and brings to mind forgotten Pelado Records greats like Red Invasion. And I love record closer “Blackout”, which blazes down the homestretch at the speed of light and puts a furious exclamation point on a tremendous debut album! This is the way to do it – come hard with eight short-and-sweet songs that kick a whole lot of ass and leave you wanting more. Sonically, this is a great sounding punk record with clean production that packs a punch (to the face!). Not only do Amoebas have a cool style, but they’ve got talent as well. No longer can we refer to these guys as “up-and-coming”. They’ve fully arrived, and no doubt they rate as one of the best punk bands going today. Don’t mess with the Midwest!

- L.R.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Suicide Notes- WOW!

What in the hell have they been putting in the water in Portland the last ten years or so? The flow of great bands out of that city in recent years has been absolutely ridiculous. I think a colony of robots may be responsible. Maybe it’s all that rain. Every year that I’ve written about new music, Portland has loomed large. 2011 has been no different. The Cry! blew my ass away a couple months back, and now The Suicide Notes have my jaw dropping. Given the involvement of Portland punk rock stars Patrick Foss (Pure Country Gold), Tim Connolly (Epoxies), and Howie Hotknife (Mean Jeans), it’s easy to see why this new band is such a force of nature. Those dudes would be a super-group in their own right. But teamed up with not one or two but three talented female singers, they’re taking it to another level entirely. Imagine a macabre Shangri-Las with a punk edge, and you get the idea. Jessi Lixx, Miss Joseph, and Double A harmonize like they’ve been singing together forever, and already they’ve got a whole slew of amazing songs. “Hey Baby!”, probably their most conventionally “pop” song, is without doubt in Song of the Year contention. But even with its gorgeous harmonies, knock-your-socks-off chorus, and contagious upbeat energy, it’s far from your typical love song. I love how these ladies sing so cheerfully while delivering hilariously dark and twisted lyrics. Same goes for the punky surf-pop gem “Suicide Note”, which is extra ultra-peppy in spite of lyrical content that’s kinda, uh, sick! There’s definitely an early Ramones influence in this use of gallows humor, and it works especially well given the effervescent charms of all three singers. Think of this band as the sonic equivalent to the Halloween candy apple with a razor blade inside. And I love that no two songs sound the same. The danceable “Wolf Couple” comes off like a modernized Rezillos, while the near-epic “Beach Song” suggests a female fronted Simpletones or perhaps a non-futuristic Epoxies. “How Do You Know” sounds like an evil version of the Betty Everett classic “It’s In His Kiss”, while “Something at the Window” walks the fine line between creepy post-punk and poppy new wave. Damn! This is not just another “Hey, that sounds pretty good!” type band. This is more along the lines of a “Holy shit, I cannot believe how incredible this group is and I better plan my next calendar year around their record release schedule!” kind of thing. You know how I am when it comes to pop bands. I’m all about the pop. The Suicide Notes are one of the best new pop bands I’ve heard in years. You hear a lot of bands that can do amazing things with harmonies, and you hear a lot of bands who can write great catchy pop/punk songs. But rarely do you hear a band that can do both - AND pull it off with such panache and originality! Stay tuned - The Suicide Notes are gonna be special. It’s never too early to start thinking about Album of the Year 2012!

- L.R.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Registrators or Teengenerate? (Or Guitar Wolf?)

The Japanese may not have invented rock n’ roll, but they damn sure perfected it. Outside of the British Invasion and the first wave of punk rock, I don’t know if one country, in a single era, has ever produced a greater trio of bands than Teengenerate, The Registrators, and Guitar Wolf. If you’ve followed punk and rock n’ roll music within the last 15 years, surely you bow down to the indubitable supremacy of all three groups. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? It’s band battle time again, and since it’s the holiday season I figured I should take it to an epic level. So, then! If you had to pick one of the above, who would it be? Teengenerate, godheads of garage-punk? The Registrators, who took punk music a thousand years into the future? Or would it be the prolific and all-powerful Guitar Wolf? I know, I know: it seems almost cruel to make you choose. So I’ll play along.

You could make a strong case for The Registrators, who may have released the best two Japanese punk albums in Terminal Boredom and Sixteen Wires. You could make an equally strong case for Guitar Wolf, who’ve been criminally underrated in spite of a two-decade run of unceasing greatness. But I’m going with my gut here. Teengenerate demonstrated that the best rock n’ roll doesn’t necessarily come from sophisticated composition or technical proficiency. Instead, it comes from the heart and the soul. Rock n’ roll is freedom. It’s danger. It’s sex. In all those respects, Teengenerate “got” rock n’ roll. Hell, Teengenerate WAS rock n’ roll! With just three chords, crappy production values, and sloppy instrumentation, Teengenerate made some of the most exciting and inspired rock n’ roll music this world has ever known. If they weren’t the single best punk group of the 1990s, they were at least in the conversation. Guitar Wolf may have outlasted them, and The Registrators may for a time have surpassed them. But all things considered, Teengenerate was the greatest.

The floor is yours, dear reader.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sharp Objects can be dangerous!

Hot damn, did I ever pick a good year to get back into music reviewing! Or did the year pick me? My Album of the Year shortlist has become somewhat of a running joke as it becomes increasingly larger seemingly every time I post a new review. It’s been that kind of year. When I started F & L, I knew there would be no shortage of good music to write about. What I didn’t anticipate, though, was getting flat-out blown away. Case in point would be the debut album from Sharp Objects. It’s not just one of the best punk albums of the year. It’s one of the best punk albums of the last several years. When my man Dirk Le Buzz talks about it being potentially classic, I’m right there with him. With all due respect to the Missing Monuments, Barreracudas, and others, the Album of the Year 2011 battle comes down to a steelcage death match between Something Fierce and Sharp Objects. It’s gonna get bloody.

Comprised of “2 guys from The Bodies, 1 guy from The Briefs, and a guy from Puerto Rico”, Sharp Objects could rightfully be called an “all-star” band. These guys’ bodies of work (no pun intended, I swear!) are well-known and beyond reproach. As a band, they could have been forgiven for not quite meeting expectations. But instead, they’ve far exceeded them, coming through with perhaps the best album any of these men have played on to date. I know that’s approaching hyperbole on my part, but with guys like Dirk on my side, I’ll take my chances. Stylistically, Sharp Objects hearken back to early ‘80s So-Cal punk a la TSOL/D.I./Agent Orange. But whereas a lot of bands can fashion a respectably second-rate replication of yesteryear’s Suburbia/Another State of Mind sound, Sharp Objects are legitimately up there with the all-time greats. Like their counterparts a few hundred miles down the coast, Smogtown, these dudes are defining a new era of Cali-punk. It’s obvious which bands they emulate, and they’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. But having found their niche, they fill it with full-on ferocity. This style of music has never been played better, and Sharp Objects s/t has all the makings of a classic debut. From the scintillating opener “Plasticland” to knockout closer “Lost in the City”, this ten-song platter is a filler-free adrenaline rush of racing melodic punk with deliciously dark overtones. One song after another comes at you hard and fast, leaving you breathless with pummeling hooks and whiplash guitar leads. Far from Social D light or Adolescents re-hash, songs like “Suckcess” and “Livin in the Shadows” are punk anthems for our fucked-up times.

Just when you gave up all hope that anything resembling good taste still exists in this world to any degree whatsoever, something amazing happens like this Sharp Objects album selling out in one day. That’s right, folks: this LP, just issued on Halloween, is gone, gone, gone! Never fear, though: downloads don’t ever sell out! Get it on CD or procure a yourself a digital “copy”. Then play it often, at earsplitting volumes, and pray for a re-press! This shit oughta be framed!

- L.R.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Look out for Ruleta Rusa!

With their Spanish lyrics and fast & ferocious attack, San Francisco’s Ruleta Rusa will remind many of legendary hardcore outfits like Los Olvidados and Sick Pleasure. But Ruleta Rusa are no revivalists. They combine that old school skate-punk vibe with a snarling ‘77 punk rock n’ roll style to create a sound that’s all their own. The band’s debut single, “La Ley”, was released on Mexican Independence Day by the always on point Modern Action Records. And for sure, the thing flat-out kills. Pow! I love 7” records like this: two songs that both rock, and if you’re left wanting more you can just play it again! Jose of Peligro Social fame is on lead vocals. And although I have no idea exactly what he’s saying, he’s sure saying it with conviction! Damn! Basically this is just great snotty punk rock. Catchy, snarling, and hard-hitting, both numbers absolutely blast. The production is really outstanding and gives both of these tunes a raging muscularity to go with the attitude-drenched vocals. The rhythm section is on fire, and I love the integration of rocking guitar leads. We in the reviewing biz often get too caught up in classifying sub-genres and whatnot. But when it comes right down to it, there are only two words you need to describe Ruleta Rusa: PUNK ROCK. A formidable debut!

- L.R.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Masters Class: The Greatest Punk Albums Ever Recorded By "Old" Bands

The great myth about punk rock is that it’s a “young people’s” music. Well, maybe in the beginning it was. But if you were 16 in 1977, you’re 50 now. If you grew up on punk, you probably still like it now. Will we all still be listening to punk music when we’re in our 70s? Without a doubt! I’m 40, and I’m guessing that’s pretty close to the median age of the punk rock record-buyer these days. And unlike the world of athletics, where aging diminishes performance, it seems to have the opposite effect in music. Older, more experienced punk bands often put their younger counterparts to shame. And if you think maturity lessens the energy and intensity of a punk group’s performance, clearly you haven’t witnessed an Avengers or Seven Seconds show in recent years. Perhaps the best current punk band going, OFF!, is fronted by a 56-year-old Keith Morris. And on record, some of my favorite albums have been made by what you could call “senior” citizens of the punk world. Here, now, are the ten greatest in my estimation. All of these albums were made by bands at least 20 years into their careers.

10. Chelsea- Faster Cheaper & Better Looking (2005)
Chelsea’s career trajectory resembled that of a lot of punk first-wavers’: early greatness, followed by an unsuccessful adaptation to the changing musical landscape in the early-to-mid ‘80s, followed by a long breakup, and culminating in an eventual return to form in the new millennium. Faster Cheaper & Better Looking reunited Gene October with James Stevenson and Chris Bashford from the “classic” Chelsea lineup (along with Buzzcocks bassist Tony Barber). Just as importantly, it’s a complete return to the textbook ’77 punk style of the band’s heyday. October sounds as pissed-off as ever. And as a collection of songs, FCL is a worthy follow-up to Alternative Hits…a quarter of a century later!

9. Dickies- All This and Puppet Stew (2001)
If not quite as frenetic or brilliantly whacked-out as The Dickies’ classic early albums, Puppet Stew at least redeemed the band after phoned-in efforts like Idjit Savant and Second Coming. With pop-punk all the rage in the mid-to-late ‘90s, it was not surprising that a truly pioneering band of the style would want to come strong and show the young ‘uns how it was supposed to be done. Easily the best Dickies release since Stukas Over Disneyland, Puppet Stew reaffirms Leonard and Stan’s preeminent place in the pantheon of powerpop/punk. 

8. Stiff Little Fingers- Guitar and Drum (2004)
While SLF made some really run-of-the-mill records after reuniting in the early ‘90s, Guitar and Drum found Jake Burns and co. rediscovering the plot in a big way. Returning to the “melodic punk rock with impassioned lyrics and vocals” m.o. of their heyday, the Irish punk greats offered a “mature” take on their classic sound. Anyone who’s ever caught SLF V.2 (with Bruce Foxton on bass) live can attest that this incarnation of the band takes no back seat to the original lineup. Guitar and Drum finally translated that live magic to the studio.

7. T.S.O.L.- Disappear (2001)
Over the years, TSOL went from hardcore to gothic punk to hair metal, and by the early 2000s the band had come full circle back to its punk roots. With Jack Grisham, Ron Emory, and Mike Roche all together again, the new TSOL sounded an awful lot like the old TSOL. Disappear, in all the best ways, is vintage TSOL – imbuing furious old school punk with poppy melodies and creepy overtones that surely suited the tenor of the times. I had a hard picking between this album and 2003’s Divided We Stand- which also rules!

6. Buzzcocks- Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)
Unlike some of the bands on this list, the Buzzcocks have never made a bad album. So Flat-Pack Philosophy wasn’t so much a “comeback” as it was a slight return to form in the wake of the oddly dark-sounding self-titled album that preceded it. FPP is classic ‘Cocks all the way, and one of their best LPs.

5. Social Distortion- Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)
Somewhat famously, Social D’s new album has been harshly received. But its predecessor, the band’s first album without the late Dennis Dannell, is among the finest in the SD catalog. You never really replace Dennis Dannell, but the brilliant lead guitarist Jonny Wickersham was a more than adequate stand-in. And Mike Ness, the band’s only constant, came through with maybe the best lyrics of his career in addition to perhaps his catchiest-ever set of songs.

4. Descendents- Cool To Be You (2004)
Like Bad Religion (see below!), The Descendents have made an art form out of stylistic stagnation. The Descendents will always sound like The Descendents, and on Cool To Be You they came through with their most consistent collection since I Don’t Want To Grow Up.

3. Bad Religion- New Maps of Hell (2007)
You could argue that if you’ve heard one Bad Religion album, you’ve heard them all. But while the formula never changes, sometimes they make good albums and sometimes they make great ones. New Maps is one of the great ones, and it sounds like a band hopped up on rejuvenation pills. Faster, catchier, and more aggressive than they’d sounded in years, the reenergized Bad Religion of New Maps make you wish for 20 more B.R. albums!

2. Cock Sparrer- Here We Stand (2007)
The worst thing you can say about Here We Stand is that it’s no Shock Troops. But Shock Troops is probably one of the ten greatest punk records ever made. You’d be happy with an album even 75 percent as good as Shock Troops. Ok, check. But then you listen a few times and you realize it’s even better than that. Maybe it is as good as Shock Troops! If it’s not, it’s damn close. A classic effort from a classic band, and you know it’s anthems galore!

1. Dictators- D.F.F.D. (2001)
Released 28 years into the Dictators’ career, D.F.F.D. was intended to be the band’s final studio album. And if this indeed is the last we’ll hear of new Dictators material, what an amazing way to go out! Anyone would have been happy with a record that merely compared favorably to the titles from the band’s heyday. But D.F.F.D. surpassed those expectations by a mile. If it’s not THE best ‘Tators LP, it’s at least in the conversation. Just look at the songs: “Who Will Save Rock and Roll?”, “Pussy and Money”, “I Am Right!”, “Avenue A”, “What’s Up With That?”….True classics! Handsome Dick has never sounded better, Andy Shernoff has never written better songs, and guitarists Ross and Top Ten have never been more on fire! Straight-up, one of the best rock n’ roll albums ever made!

So there you have it. I’m sure I forgot or overlooked a few worthy choices. So pipe up and help me expand the list!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Great Band You Forgot: The Johnnies

There have probably been over 700 classic bands out of the Boston punk scene, and most of them we all know well. But some flew under the radar. Without a doubt, I’d list The Johnnies (previously Johnny Bravo) in the top ten of any Boston band EVER. That’s how great they were. In that monumental year 1997 (the greatest year of the punk revival), they put out one of the year's best LPs, 12 Steps to Nowhere. For whatever reason, they never had the acclaim or record sales of a lot of bands of that time who frankly were not nearly as good. But the music endures. Imagine if Cheetah Chrome had joined forces with The Undertones and they listened to a lot of Dogmatics. Listen up and love it:

Check out this one, too:

The entire album is this good. Track it down at any cost!

R.I.P. Mike Scag.

- L.R.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nato Coles: rock n' roller!

Other kids in the early ‘80s rode bikes or built model cars. Me, I was a peculiar boy. I preferred to play with jukeboxes at pizza joints. There was nothing better than dropping a quarter or two or three into the jukebox and magically hearing the music I loved. I miss those days. Digital jukeboxes are just not the same. And the crap music you tend to find on them is too depressing to ponder at length. I’d like to think that the best jukeboxes still exist in dive bars, where the cheap lager flows abundantly and the Stones, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and Thin Lizzy still reign supreme. What I love about the new single from Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band is that it would fit in perfectly with that type of jukebox. It is, as advertised, high energy rock n’ roll. It’s two songs, both great, that lift the spirits. Call it heartland rock, call it Midwestern punk, call it Americana, call it whatever. What it is is great frakin' music!

Nato Coles was a great friend to Now Wave Magazine. His Modern Machines was one of our favorite bands of the early-to-mid 2000s. He was a regular on our message board. And God bless him, the man has not stopped rocking! Post Modern Machines, he relocated to Brooklyn and was in the Radio Faces and Used Kids. Then he moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul and got together with the Blue Diamond Band. “Play Loud” is the band’s second single, and hands down it’s one of the year’s best. Both cuts rule in sort of a Springsteen meets Replacements way. You know what I’m talking about: real catchy blue collar rock n’ roll with cool guitar leads and sing-along choruses. Aces! And I like that the B-side “Runnin’ From the Law” is as good if not better than the A-side! Hell, let’s just call it a double A-side! A style this simple is sometimes overlooked, but do not sleep on Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band! These are incredibly well-written tunes combining radio-ready hooks and killer bar band chops. What could be better?! And I love that there’s a quality to both songs that makes me want to play them over and over. This is feel-good music! Grab a PBR tallboy out of the fridge, go to the Nato Coles Bandcamp page, download this single to your “digital turntable”, and have yourself a time! Nato, I promise we’ll take good care of Jim Thome.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Punk Rock Starter Kit

Imagine you had the opportunity to mentor a young kid on the ways of punk rock. He could be your child, your nephew, your grandchild, a friend’s kid, or just the cashier at Wawa. Let’s say this kid has not had much prior exposure to “underground” music. But he’s heard some crap band on the radio that is “supposed” to be “punk”, and now he’s showing an interest. So, do you tell him he’s a fuckface for liking that homogenized corporate crap? Hardly. You’re not an a-hole. You’re a mentor. It’s time to step in. Let him like what he likes. But tell him, “If you’re into punk rock, you might like The Ramones.” And you play him a Ramones song. Thus begins the Punk Rock Starter Kit. You give the kid a list of classic titles to check out. Or better yet, you buy the stuff for him as a gift. Come on- he’s a kid! You’re the responsible adult! You think he’s gonna drop 100 bucks out of his hardly-earned allowance on a bunch of albums by bands from the Stone Age? Consider this a small financial sacrifice that could have world-altering implications. The future of civilization is at stake!

We all have our own ideas on exactly which recordings would be essential listening for a punk rock newbie. Here are mine:

The $100 Starter Kit:

 The first three Ramones albums
A best-of collection won’t do. One or two of the three won’t do. This is the freaking RAMONES, man! Don’t be chintzy! Any list of the greatest punk rock albums ever made must start with Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia. This is your starting point. Do not deviate.

Sex Pistols – Nevermind the Bollocks
There are some who’d lead you to believe that the notoriety, scandal, media hype, and general worldwide infamy surrounding the Sex Pistols somehow diminish the value of their music. Those people would be very wrong. This is the first album to get after you procure the first three Ramones albums. Every punk newbie should have the lyrics to “God Save the Queen” memorized and perhaps even tattooed on some prevalent body part. If the opening chords to “Holiday in the Sun” don’t make your heart race, you probably belong to the Nickelback fan club.

Iggy and the Stooges- Raw Power
You might say The Stooges are more “proto-punk” than punk rock per se. But let’s not split hairs. The Stooges are punk rock! The Stooges INVENTED punk rock!! A punk education without Raw Power is like film class without Citizen Kane. Truth be told, all three Stooges studio albums are must-owns. But Raw Power in particular is the demon seed that spawned everything from the Pistols to the Damned to the Dead Boys to Black Flag.

The Clash – self-titled (UK version)
Granted, the later U.S. issue is probably a superior product. But given that this is a punk rock starter kit, the historical value of the original British pressing is unsurpassed. This record captures The Clash at their rawest and “punkest”. It’s fire and fury and righteous indignation. It’s the only band that matters, when they mattered most. If your protégé isn’t moved by “White Riot”, there may be no hope for him.

Buzzcocks- Singles Going Steady
Granted, the studio albums are essential in their own right. But the Buzzcocks were first and foremost a singles band. This is the best singles collection ever issued…in any genre of music.

The Misfits- Walk Among Us
It shouldn’t be much of a challenge to get a kid to dig The Misfits. What teen doesn’t enjoy blood, gore, horror, and zombies? But besides the shock value and parental annoyance factor, those early Misfits records constitute some of the most enduring and superbly-crafted punk music ever made. The gimmick itself was awesome – but the songs were even better.

The Damned- Damned Damned Damned
I’ve got nothing against later Damned, but for me the first album is where it’s at. Lightning fast punk rock, influenced by the Stooges and MC5, propelled by one of the greatest punk rock drummers ever. Who doesn’t love air-drumming to “Neat Neat Neat” at ungodly volumes?!

The Pagans- Shit Street
Any compilation of classic Pagans material will do, but Shit Street is probably the easiest and cheapest to procure at this point in time. They may not have worn the punk rock uniform or sung about anarchy. But along with The Ramones, The Pagans were THE defining American punk band of the late ‘70s. Younger, louder, and snottier than fellow Clevelanders The Dead Boys, The Pagans deserve nothing less than a 5000-foot gold shrine outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I envy the punk newbie’s experience of hearing “What’s This Shit Called Love?” for the very first time - the volume cranked to full blast and all of life’s problems temporarily obliterated by the surge of sonic fury.

The $200 starter kit includes all of the above plus:
The Adolescents- self-titled
The Saints- (I’m) Stranded
Black Flag- Damaged
Stiff Little Fingers- Inflammable Material
Dead Boys- Young, Loud and Snotty
Avengers- self-titled
New York Dolls- self-titled
Stooges- self-titled and Funhouse
MC5- The Big Bang (best of)

So there you have it. This is by no means a complete primer on punk music. It’s lacking in Oi! selections and only scratches the surface of hardcore punk. It includes nothing released within the past 30 years. But it’s a start. Put these 10 or 20 albums in a kid’s hands, and from there it’ll be hard to go wrong!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Barreracudas!

Aw shit, here we go again. I thought album of the year was a mortal lock. I wasn’t losing any more sleep over potentially excruciating decisions. I could concentrate on other things like deciding between Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy and the BK Chef’s Choice. I was able to work on my tennis serve and catch up on reruns of Storage Wars. Something Fierce had earned the title belt, and it was going to be a slam dunk. Well, I still might end up giving it to Something Fierce, but The Barreracudas are making a late push for the big prize and all its accompanying benefits (free Slurpees on Tuesdays, a pot of gold, tickets to the Faster and Louder pancake social 2012). Among these five fellows from Atlanta, a few played with the very great Gentlemen Jesse and his Men (they were, uh, the men). So of course you should expect power pop, and that’s exactly what The Barreracudas deliver. But this isn’t just power pop. It’s some of the best power pop I’ve heard in a long time, mixed in with elements of glammy rock n’ roll to create a sound that’s flat-out HOT! Think Twilley and Seymour. Think Cheap Trick and The Boys. Think Sweet and the Flamin’ Groovies. Yeah, baby, this is the stuff! From the hip-shaking party-starter “Numbers” to the brilliant album-ending cover of “C’mon, C’mon”, the band’s debut long player Nocturnal Missions keeps the hits coming. Whether you prefer the pure power pop bliss of “Baby Baby Baby” and “Girl”, the raunchy rock n’ roll of “Feet”, or the “I can’t believe that’s not a Boys demo!” awesomeness of “Because” and “I Won’t Wait”, there’s much here to love if you’re a punk/powerpop freak like me. I’ve said this about bands before, and I’ll say it about The Barreracudas now: this is a classic “Lord Rutledge” kind of band. You know the kind of music I like, and these guys are most definitely it. This album is chock full of songs that would be hit singles in a perfect world (or could have been hit singles in 1978). Praise Paul Collins! This is what music should be. It’s fun. It’s catchy. It’s energetic and impossible to resist. Nocturnal Missions is one of those albums that you throw on, and instantly it makes your day better. Hey kids, do you like hooks? Of course you do. Five stars!

- L.R.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Last American

The Last American, at its most basic plot level, is a story about a guy who pukes at Applebee’s. On premise alone, that makes it a short story everyone should want to read. But there’s so much more to The Last American than just premise. It’s a tour de force of superb storytelling, deliciously descriptive writing, spot-on symbolism, and scathing satire of everything that went terribly wrong with our nation after 9/11. I have spent my entire adult life believing that Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor is the greatest short story ever written. I may now need to reconsider this opinion.

I first came to know Shawn Abnoxious sometime in the mid-to-late ‘90s when he and I were both churning out text-dominant fanzines that dared readers to, uh, read. This was a time when most zines were all about the graphics and layout. I sensed a kindred spirit in this fellow from Cincinnati, and more importantly I noticed that he was simply a damn good writer. Great writers are born, not made. And this guy had it! Over the years, Shawn would go on to fulfill his writing talent by penning dozens if not hundreds of brilliant poems. He published a number of poetry chapbooks that I highly recommend. And now, in the year 2011, he has finally tackled my favorite genre of literature: the fiction short story. As far as I know, this is the first short story he’s ever written. Clearly, he’s a natural.

As a reviewer, it’s tricky to talk about a piece of fiction because you don’t want to give too much away. The Last American is full of so many pleasant surprises, vivid images, memorable characters, and quotable lines that it would be sinful to reveal any of the particulars. But having lived through that very strange freedom fries/shock and awe/Patriot Act period of our nation’s history, I can at least tell you that The Last American hits the nail straight on the head. For a story that’s uproariously funny from the get-go, this is a tale that has a lot of insightful things to say about our nation in general and the military/industrial/entertainment complex in particular. Dwight D. Eisenhower is surely looking down and nodding in firm approval. And in typical Shawn Abnoxious fashion, the structure of this story is quite creative. There are two preludes, an epilogue, and a bonus question that’s worth up to ten points. Should you doubt that a 6,000-word story about a man vomiting is something of high literary merit, let me just say that the descriptive account of the puking act is some of the most extraordinary prose I’ve ever read. And the ending? It’s the stuff of legends.

The Last American is available as a free download e-book. I implore you to read it! Click here for more information! You’ll never think of Applebee’s the same way again.

- L.R.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meet the Dead Tricks!

"The Dead Tricks came together with a shared commitment to the punk scene, keeping the passion of the way things used to be in New York in the late 1970s and the 1970s-loving 1990s, but without slavish nostalgia or jaded revisionism. This is a gang that obsesses over The Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders, The Dictators, as well as The Stooges, The Damned, MC5, Link Wray, The Cramps, The Gun Club, Hanoi Rocks, and The Misfits, but also realizes, hey it’s 2011— best way to show you love your influences is to try to equal them in songwriting quality and musicianship. It’s called inspiration."

Maybe it’s just a “writer thing”, but I’m a total sucker for a kick-ass band bio. How could you possibly read the snippet above and not immediately want to go running out in hot pursuit of Dead Tricks CDs, t-shirts, matchbooks, and bobbleheads? Hot damn. I wish I had written that blurb! But what’s great is that the music lives up to the teaser. I’d say, in fact, that it surpasses it. I always enjoy touting new bands, and New York City’s Dead Tricks are easily one of the best new bands to arrive on the punk rock scene in recent years. And while I’ve been known to champion revivalist-type outfits who brazenly rehash yesteryear’s punk rock glories, The Dead Tricks are not that kind of group. As advertised, they are very much a punk band for now. They don’t sound like any other band. They are not stuck in 1978. And by both honoring the past and embracing the present, they’ve secured themselves a fan base aged 13-70.

Long-time readers of mine will surely remember Dead Tricks guitarist Lorne Behrman from his days in the “classic” lineup of the Dimestore Haloes circa the mid-to-late ‘90s. He was a terrific guitar player then, and he’s an even better one now. He joins charismatic vocalist James Donovan and powerhouse rhythm players Manya Kuzemchenko (bass) and Kevin Cardwell (drums) in this supremely talented, rapidly up-and-coming punk group. You hear a Dead Tricks song, and you know it’s a Dead Tricks song. Frontman Donovan, in all the best ways, is 100 percent rock star. Vocally, he’s got flair. Think Andrew Wood meets Stiv Bators meets Axl Rose meets Billy Hopeless meets Mike Monroe - yet still completely one-of-a-kind. Teamed-up with Behrman and his Clash-caliber melodic leads, he propels that classic lead singer/lead guitarist chemistry that has defined so many of our favorite punk bands over the years. And as is the case with any great rock and roll band, it’s the stellar, unsung rhythm section that holds everything together.

The Dead Tricks’ debut EP, You Should Have Worried About It, was self-released and produced by Agnostic Front’s Mike Gallo. Demonstrating that DIY doesn’t have to mean amateurish, this disc sounds like a million bucks! This is what a punk recording should sound like - clean, crisp, and hard-hitting, with a sonic clarity that allows all four band members to shine. The EP’s got a real rock “edge” to it that strikes me as very current. And although it’s in no way “pop”, it’s absolutely loaded with hooks. If you like big, sing-along choruses, well-orchestrated backing vocals, and memorable, finessed guitar lines, you’re gonna want these tunes on your iPod yesterday! “Chocha Wave”, in addition to being hilarious, is a stone cold hit. Or at least it would be if they still played good music on the radio. The sophistication and range of the band’s songwriting yields a rewarding mix of material, from the radio-ready mid-tempo crunch of “Don’t Get High (Without Me)” to the delightfully creepy vibes of “Go-Go the Bone Mobile” to the raging hardcore ferocity of “Worm Travesty”. And while far too many run-of-the-mill punk bands opine dogmatically on political matters or wear the songs-about-girls motif to death, The Dead Tricks’ preference for twisted humor and horror themes brings to mind scene forebears like the Ramones, Dictators, and Misfits. Rather than imitating any of the above, The Dead Tricks instead carry on the lineage of great NYC punk, just like D Generation and the Napalm Stars once did, and just like other bands will continue to do until the end of time. New York punk rock, 37 years old and counting, remains a force to be reckoned with. And The Dead Tricks, if this debut release is any indication, are gonna be in the thick of it. Best new punk rock band of 2011, hands down!

- L.R.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Lash Outs rock out!

The Texas punk rock pipeline continues to gush with goodness! This time we head down to Dallas and say a big hello to the Lash Outs. And I’m guessing the Lash Outs would say hello right back to us, because they seem to be a hospitable bunch based on their fun, upbeat music. Their album Elation and Shame is one of the year’s best, and it’s right up my punk/powerpop alley. From start to finish, it’s an enjoyable and high-spirited ride that fuses frenetic energy with a sunny, unashamed poppiness. Most of their cited influences are either the usual suspects of the old school (Undertones, Buzzcocks, Adverts) or somewhat obscure power pop greats (Scruffs, Toms, Fast Cars). Yet the group doesn’t come off derivative in any way, and there’s something distinct and contemporary about these guys that has surely garnered them fans of all ages. Maybe it’s lead singer Joey’s smooth, almost crooner-ish vocals. Maybe it’s the clean, crisp production, well-honed harmonies, or slick guitar work. But there’s definitely something about the Lash Outs that keeps them from sounding like a copycat wanna-be ‘77 punk band (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). And I like that they write funny lyrics about everyday life and its inevitable frustrations. They won me over off the bat with the thundering Dictators guitars on opening track “Fruits of My Labor”, and from there it only gets better. “I Got a Fear” is one of my favorite songs of this year. It’s got a Green Day meets Pointed Sticks meet The Dickies sort of a vibe, and it’s just plain damn infectious! Ditto for “Contemporary Music”, which, as you might have guessed, is about the band’s feelings on contemporary music. Hint: they don’t like it. And I enjoy some of the band’s departures from the standard punk/powerpop formula. Because they have real pop chops, they come up winners when they slow the tempo down and really embrace those melodies and harmonies. “I Get Nervous”, largely because of the vocal stylings, has me thinking Smoking Popes. And when these fellows pick up the pace a notch or two or three, fun times result. In a purely good way, “Guilty Pleasures” has a modern pop-punk feel to it. It’s what “mall punk” would sound like if it didn’t suck balls.

One of the great under-the-radar surprises of the year - check out this band!

- L.R.