Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Ten O Sevens = Punk Rock!

I’ve been nuts about old English punk for a long, long time. But I’ve never kept up too well with new English punk. In 13 years of reviewing punk records, I only covered a handful of bands from the Rutledge ancestral homeland. Seems kind of odd, doesn’t it? The ones I did write about were awesome. Remember the Apocalypse Babys? The Pits? Barse? Formed in the fall of 2008, London’s Ten O Sevens represent for a new generation of English punk bands. And in this case, new English punk sounds an awful lot like old English punk! If you know me, you can guess that I have no complaints about that whatsoever! The Ten O Sevens are freakin’ bad-ass! They’ve got a classic snotty ’77 sound with a serious rock and roll accent to it. Think early Saints meets Vibrators meets Slaughter and the Dogs meets Eater. They also remind me a little of the great German punk band The Pack. These lads have two seven-inches out on No Front Teeth (including a sold-out split with The Hateful), and at least six of their songs are playable on-line. They’ve some got killer tunes. “We Are the Brigade” seems to be their anthem, but personally I’m partial to “TV 13”, the rockin’ “Gash”, and the super-fast “Unforgivable”. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for straight-up ‘77 punk. But whereas some bands try to revive the style and come off like pale imitators, there’s something undeniably legit about The Ten O Sevens. They are serious up-and-comers in the punk world and can only get better. Let’s pogo!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

1997 Revisited

If the two greatest eras of punk rock were the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s, then the mid-‘90s are a solid #3. There was so much awesome music coming out that it inspired me to start a zine back in 1995. 16 years later, here I am still. After the dark years of the mid-to-late ‘80s when punk got really shitty, the early ‘90s offered hope in the form of burgeoning garage and pop-punk scenes. The sudden “mainstream” success of certain punk bands was lamented by purists as a sign of the apocalypse, but in actuality the genre’s exploding popularity had an almost entirely positive impact on underground punk. More people were getting into punk music. More people were starting bands. By ’94-’95, there was a full-on “old school” punk revival in place with groups like the Spent Idols and Stitches emulating the style and sound of ‘77. Cool new labels like Pelado and Mutant Pop had arrived on the scene. If ’95 was a great year for punk, ’96 was even better. And ’97 was epic! Looking back, it was probably the greatest year for punk rock since the early ‘80s. And although it was a tremendous year for singles (Fuses, Stitches, Bobbyteens, Stiletto Boys), ’97 was truly the year of the album. I remember how I originally ranked the best punk albums of ’97, and today my list isn’t really that different. So here goes:

15. Mr. T. Experience- Revenge is Sweet and So Are You (Lookout!)
MTX was the top shelf of ‘90s pop-punk. Coming a year after the band’s best album Love Is Dead, Revenge was more of the same and remains one of the most underrated MTX titles.

14. The Spaceshits- Winter Dance Party (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
A classic garage punk title. Why is it only #14?

13. Boris the Sprinkler- Mega Anal (Bulge)
All in all, this may be the best Boris album. Contains the classic tracks “Weird Lookin’ Woman” and “(She Digs My) New Wave Records”.

12. Various artists- This Is It: Punk Rock That’s Real (Pelado)
THE definitive comp of the old school punk revival. Featured Pelado mainstays the Dimestore Haloes, Bladder Bladder Bladder, and the Prostitutes plus the likes of Moral Crux, the Spent Idols, Workin’ Stiffs, Dropkick Murphys, Reducers SF, The Suspects, and Dead End Cruisers. Who else remembers The Cheatin' Hussies?

11. The Cheeks- Have Some Real Fun... (Screaming Apple)
Happy go lucky German youths obsessed with 1979 power pop turn out a classic of the genre.

10. The Johnnies- 12 Steps To Nowhere (Lawless)
Boston’s best band of the mid-‘90s. Imagine the songwriting of the Undertones with the guitars of the Dead Boys and a sound not unlike The Dogmatics. Shoulda been huge!

9. U.S. Bombs- War Birth (Hellcat)
Still probably the best Bombs album.

8. Dimestore Haloes- Thrill City Crime Control (V.M.L.)
A brilliant debut and the only Haloes album to feature the "classic" lineup of Chaz, Lorne, Marcus, and Jimmy. Thanks, Vinny, for the pink vinyl copy!

7. The Yum Yums- Sweet As Candy (Screaming Apple)
Just about the greatest power pop album ever made.

6. Beat Angels- Red Bade of Discourage (Epiphany)
If not quite as good as the previous year's Unhappy Hour, it's still a timeless distillation of Johnny Thunders guitars, Bay City Rollers pop hooks, and Westerberg-ian lyrics.

5. The Humpers- Plastique Valentine (Epitaph)
Definitely the best thing ever released by Epitaph Records.

4. The Prostitutes- Can't Teach Kids Responsibilty (Pelado)
Snotty punk rock of legendary proportions. If the Pagans had made a record for Dangerhouse in 1978, it might have sounded like this.

3. Loli and the Chones- P.S. We Hate You (Rip Off)
This garage punk classic would have been the #1 album of almost any other year. Teengenerate meets the Angry Samoans.

2. The Infections- Kill The Infections (Rip Off)
Ex Rip Offs indulged their inner Heartbreakers.

1. The Donnas- self titled (Super*Teem)
Nikki and the Corvettes meet The Ramones in Supercharger’s garage. A masterpiece.

High honorable mentions go to Guitar Wolf's Planet of the Wolves and The Motards' Saturday Night Special Ed. Surely I'm forgetting quite a few great punk LPs from '97. What can I say? I'm getting older, and my memory fails me. I'd love to come up with a few more and make this a full Top 20. Help a brother out!

- L.R.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A fine taste of The Biters

Taking their cue from poppy glam (Slade, T. Rex), glammy punk (The Boys, Slaughter and the Dogs), and most obviously the almighty Cheap Trick, Atlanta's Biters take me back a decade to when bands like American Heartbreak and TSAR seemed poised to bring radio pop back to the radio. Sadly, it didn't quite turn out that way. But thanks to certain factors that did not yet exist ten years ago - like Facebook and satellite radio - The Biters actually could make it big. If you're holding it against them that they've got quite a buzz going or that they look "hip", you're missing the point entirely! Pop music is meant to be popular. Great pop songs are made to be heard. If The Biters end up posing for the cover of Rolling Stone and playing "Born to Cry" on American Idol, the world will be a far better place for it. For although there's a decidedly "modern" feel to the Biters' music, at heart these lads are like time travelers from a long-gone era in which great songs ruled over all else. The world needs more bands like The Biters.

The Biters' third EP All Chewed Up brings on seven more radio-ready hits that combine '70s glam-pop catchiness with a contemporary rock edge. If you're like me and can never get your fill of fist-pumping choruses, infectious melodies, and thunderous guitar riffs, you'll really appreciate the superior craftsmanship that went into these songs. Tuk and his mates know how to write a catchy tune, and they truly understand the art of the three-minute pop song. And while they look back to forefathers like Nielsen and Bolan for stylistic inspiration, their sound isn't "retro" so much as it is timeless. Sure, if you grew up in the day when the likes of Sweet and Thin Lizzy were chart-topping acts, songs like "Hold On" and "Breakin' Your Heart Again" will swiftly renew your faith in the future of rock and roll. But because there's something genuinely "current" about The Biters, I can see them winning over the younger demographics as well. They manage to take everything you loved about mid-'70s glam, first wave punk, and classic arena rock and put the proverbial "fresh spin" on all of it. Three EPs in, and they've yet to deliver a bad track. Sure, they're not revolutionizing music. But that's the whole point. Whatever happened to great songs on the radio? Who remembers a time when rock music was still fun? The Biters do, and they're bringing it back that way.

- L.R.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Top Ten Punk Albums- 1981

One objective I have for this blog is to revive certain features from the early days of Now Wave Magazine. One of my favorite Now Wave components was list making. Man, I loved my lists! Even at the end, I was still doing 'em. In 2007, I started counting down the 20 greatest punk records of 1977 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of, uh, 1977. I got somewhere close to finishing before the zine folded. So what the hell! It's 2011. How about we go back 30 years and count down the 10 greatest punk albums of 1981? This list will be nowhere near as awesome as the '77 list. Punk was changing. The first wavers had, for the most part, broken up or stopped playing punk. It was the dawn of hardcore. But still, these are some classic albums! If I've forgotten, overlooked, or omitted any essential titles, I trust that you'll let me know!

10. Adicts- Songs of Praise
One of the few bands of their era that stuck to a melodic '77 punk style. I'm still pretty sure that's secretly Robert Smith on vocals.

9. Replacements- Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
Not their best album, but even playing sloppy punk these guys were genius.

8. Angelic Upstarts- 2,000,000 Voices
Classic band, underrated effort.

7. Agent Orange- Living in Darkness
Probably should have ranked it higher!

6. TSOL- Dance With Me
Hard to beat early TSOL!

5. SLF- Go For It
Obviously not as "punk" as the band's first two albums, but bloody good nonetheless. The older I get, the more I appreciate mid-period SLF.

4. X- Wild Gift
Call me a blasphemous, but I think this is their best album.

3. Black Flag- Damaged
I know: Rollins was probably the third or fourth best Black Flag singer. But there's no denying that Damaged is a beast of an album and a true classic of hardcore punk.

2. D.O.A.- Hardcore ’81
This one is up there with the all-time classics of early punk. If all "hardcore" sounded like this, I’d like hardcore a lot more!

1. Adolescents- self-titled
In my opinion, the third-greatest punk album of all-time. Check out my review over at Dirty Sheets!

- L.R.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Dictators or the Dolls?

The Dictators or the New York Dolls? I mean, if you had to pick one of the two. It’s a compelling question, is it not? My partner in bloggery, one Gunther8544, likes to pose this query to friends, associates, and people on the street. I’m guessing the majority response is the Dolls, given that they along with the Stooges and MC5 are generally considered the immutable holy trinity of proto punk. G himself would vote for the ‘Tators, as would I (What’s the name of this blog?).

Here’s how I see it. It’s almost too close to call. You’re talking about two of the greatest rock and roll bands this world has ever known. There’s no wrong answer here. So it comes down to personal preference. I really like the Dolls. But I fucking LOVE The Dictators! The Dolls’ gender-bending urban sleaze aesthetic was cool. But the ‘Tators world of TV and wrestling and fast food and babes was even cooler. Maybe if I were more into guitar playing, I’d favor the Dolls and the world-altering greatness of Thunders/Sylvain. But I’m more into great songwriting, and in that department it doesn’t get any better than Andy Shernoff. The dude belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

The concept of greatness by association is quite subjective, but it usually works. If I meet someone who’s into the Dolls, I know right off this person has awesome taste in music. But if I meet someone who’s into the ‘Tators, I know right off this person and I were meant to be friends. True story: my long friendship with Now Wave consigliere Dave Getzoff actually began a decade ago when he burned me a copy of D.F.F.D. Dave’s favorite song of all-time is “Stay With Me”. I’m betting he’d pick the ‘Tators over the Dolls too! How about you?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meet The Mongrolls

The Mongrolls have been a one-man band ever since a series of grave misfortunes befell the classic lineup you may remember from the pages of Tiger Beat. Mere days after drummer Elvis Mongroll left the band to pursue a career in Revolutionary War themed pornographic films, second guitarist Moses Mongroll was kicked out for inappropriate touching of singer Greg’s ultra prized Ebenezer & The Bludgeons seven-inch. And with bass player Snake Mongroll currently doing 10-20 years in state prison for stealing military issue Twinkies, Greg Mongroll carries on valiantly and single-handedly. It takes great versatility and laborious effort for one man to do the work of three or four, but clearly there are benefits to such an arrangement. The band can never really “break up”. And there are no arguments about “musical direction” or whose songs to use. Having already self-released four CDs in five years, The Mongrolls are due to drop a new album soon. In the meantime, head on over to the band’s ReverbNation page and enjoy tons of great music for the bargain price of free.

The pride of Middleboro, Massachusetts (the cranberry capital of the world), The Mongrolls could perhaps be described as Teengenerate fronted by Oscar the Grouch. Greg’s mix of lo-fi trash, catchy punk, and Killed by Death inspired proto hardcore really takes me back to the days when garage punk was king. Ya gotta love that raw, filthy guitar sound that tears through your speakers like a chainsaw. And the vocals are something else: pissed-off, foul-mouthed, and just a little psychotic. It’s hard to believe that one guy is playing everything, because the music totally makes me picture a bunch of crazy dudes just killing it on stage and playing the living hell out of every note of every song. These tunes flat-out rip! I mean, you’ve never heard “Teenage Kicks” like this before! But with the Mongrolls, you don’t just get generic thrashing. Especially while spinning ace tracks like “All Alone” and “Kiss Kiss Bye Bye”, you can pick out an exceptionally well-honed melodic structure buried beneath all that raging, raucous noise. Greg takes it to 11 in every respect, but it’s not enough to say these songs are fast or furious or oozing attitude. One has to add that said tunes are really freaking good. There was a time when bands of this nature were a dime a dozen, but even in that era The Mongrolls would have been top shelf. If you don’t like “Rock & Roll”, then you don’t like rock & roll.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hey! There's a new Kidnappers album!

The Kidnappers have been one of my favorite rock and roll bands for a very long time, but they haven’t exactly been the most prolific group of recording artists. We waited three years for their second album to come out and almost five for their third. And although Will Protect You has now been out several months, it’s still just sinking in that a new Kidnappers LP actually exists and that I didn’t just dream that I heard it after a night spent drinking too much dunkel. But what do you know? I’ve been pinching myself, and it’s 100 percent real! And they’re back on Alien Snatch Records! Was it worth the wait? You betcha!

So our favorite German twin brothers Philipp and Chris, along with drummer Netzhemd-Timo, have followed up 2006’s Neon Signs with an album that takes the group’s long held Stiff and Bomp! Records fixations to its logical conclusion. The lo-fi recording aesthetic has been ditched. And although a few full-blown rockers are thrown in to avert monotony, the prevailing theme is power pop a la 1979. So if you liked songs such as “Trainticket” and “How Long Will It Take” off of Neon Signs, you will straight-up LOVE Will Protect You! Opening number “Milkshake” could pass for a long-lost late ‘70s classic unearthed for a Teenline or Power Pearls comp. If this is your re-introduction to The Kidnappers, you will not be disappointed. It’s just so cute and sweet and immediately infectious, like a great power pop song should be! It’s up there with “Spanish Girls” as my favorite Kidnappers song ever. Hell, with songs like “Heartbeat”, “Message in My Mirror”, and “Out in the City” all delivering the goods in a similar manner, these three have made half of a Teenline comp on their own! But lest you assume that The Kidnappers have mellowed in recent years, songs like “Sally”, “Chickenhead and Cigarettes”, and “Nothing’s Gonna Change” find these handsome lads even more raging than they were as teens - tearing it up like some nefarious mix of the Hives and Dictators. Songs like these remind us that regardless of their ever-advancing mastery of classic power pop, the Kidnappers will always at heart remain a loud and crazy rock and roll band, as at home in a dingy Hamburg bar as they would have been opening for Nick Lowe on his Labour of Lust tour. I can practically taste the bratwurst and smell the flowing doppelbock (I’d like some of each, please!). And judging from the lyrics to “Nothing’s Gonna Change”, the twins enjoy American cuisine and adult beverages every bit as much as I enjoy the culinary delights of Deutschland. If you’ve been waiting your entire life for a punk band to sing about eating chicken sandwiches and Texas brisket, your ship has come in!

Appropriately enough, Will Protect You brings it on home with a chivalrous title track completely in keeping with the ’79 power pop motif. At times a bumpy ride (“Sally, “Nothing’s Gonna Change”), for the most part it’s smooth sailing on this outstanding third LP from The Kidnappers. Yeah, they can still rock balls out when they want to. And no doubt, they will never take themselves seriously. But the twins are more than ready to assume their place in the pantheon of world renowned pop idols! Songs about hookers and floozies notwithstanding, they have made their most female friendly album to date. Nothing wrong with that, man. Nothing wrong with that at all! Truth be told, I think this band is actually getting better. Power pop lovers of either gender will not want to miss this one.

- L.R.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Powerlifting Playlist

I am relatively new to the music downloading thing. I'm kind of a traditionalist when it comes to my media. I like to watch TV and listen to the radio. I still buy newspapers. Hell, I didn't even warm to CDs until the early 2000s! So it was hardly a surprise that I resisted MP3s and downloads for so long. Surely I rationalized my technophobia by asserting that music loses its "warmth" when it's compressed and digitalized. But I've now owned an iPod for about a year, and I have to admit I really dig it. It's cool to be able to buy new music instantly. And considering that my entire CD collection was recently, uh, taken without my permission, downloading has been a good way to start re-building my tune stockpile.

I play my iPod in the car, and sometimes I play it at work when I'm eating lunch. But mostly I play it at the gym. It's become a necessity. The music they actually play at the gym is hardly conducive to heavy lifting. Half the time it's the local Top 40 station, and half the time it's one of those "light hits of the '70s and '80s" formats. That will not do. A man needs to get himself fired up for a set of deadlifts or heavy bench presses. This cannot be accomplished with Jimmy Buffet or the Black Eyed Peas coming through the house speakers. I will not set a personal record on the clean and press while The Script is moping into my eardrums. If I am to pull 400 pounds off the floor within the next nine months, Jackson Browne will be no help. To lift heavy iron, a man needs heavy music. So I've been forced to take matters into my own hands. I downloaded a bunch of songs that would get me fired up, and I put them together to make a lifting playlist. The list is essentially comprised of aggressive, powerful tunes that stir the inner beast. I originally thought it would be mostly metal tunes, but the "harder" side of punk seems to have the edge at the moment. Through trial and error, I've made additions, deletions, and re-arrangements. Here's what works for right now:

Black Flag- "Rise Above"
Agent Orange - "Bloodstains"
Danzig- "Mother"
Motorhead- "Ace of Spades"
Zero Boys- "Civilization’s Dying"
Anti-Nowhere League- "Animal"
Turbonegro- "Good Head"
Pantera- "Fucking Hostile"
Fear- "Let’s Have a War"
Guns N’ Roses- "My Michelle"
The Dils- "I Hate the Rich"
Adolescents - "Creatures"
Motorhead- "Bomber"
Anti-Nowhere League- "I Hate People"
Dead Boys- "Sonic Reducer"
Iggy and the Stooges- "Search and Destroy"
The Clash- "1977"

I have found that for medium rep deadlifting, nothing gets me dialed in like "Bloodstains". For max pulls I turn to "Rise Above" or "Fucking Hostile". "Mother" and "Ace of Spades" are my favorites for the bench press – unless I’m doing high reps in which case I go with "Civilization’s Dying". "Search and Destroy" is not the balls-out rage inducer I expected it to be – I'll blame David Bowie for that. Some of these songs, like "I Hate the Rich", were "borrowed" from my California Punk playlist and ended up staying on. "1977" was pulled from my '77 Punk playlist.

This list is very much a work in progress, and all suggestions for further additions will be highly appreciated. Stay hungry!

Mean Streets - Philly's Finest!

If you know Mean Streets guitarist Andy Mehos, one thing you'd say about him is that he has the best ever taste in music. And he's been that way since the mid-'90s and probably before that. If I should die in a gruesome bear attack and they make a La Bamba style movie about my life, I'd want Andy hired as soundtrack consultant. What you really have to admire about Andy is that not only does he like great music, but also he's been able to make the same kind of music with his own bands. I could never do that. That requires talent. It also requires exceptional band mates. The fine taste to emulate the right bands is certainly important. But what I love about the men of Mean Streets is that they're not copyists. They're terrific musicians, skilled songwriters, and distinctive enough in their artistry to put their own spin on old punk rock.

That said, there's no denying that Mean Streets is right up my alley (no pun intended). I've always been nuts for the melodic side of early UK punk, and Mean Streets has that classic sound. Reminiscent of bands both vintage (Chelsea, The Professionals) and contemporary (One Man Army, U.S. Bombs), Mean Streets imbues its hard-edged throwback punk with a refined pop sensibility. And while certain genre hallmarks are absolutely spot-on (running guitar leads, chanting backing vocals), you really have to appreciate how much thought and skill goes into this music. New release Rewired is a terrific little EP. It opens strong with the two "hits", "Good Luck, Charm" and "Genesee", both catchy up-tempo numbers that are surely sing-along favorites live. From there, the pace slows considerably, bringing emphasis to singer Billy's gritty, emotionally charged vocals and Andy's classically melodic guitar. I especially like "Where Do We Go?", which culminates with an amazing, near epic guitar solo that sounds quite a bit like the instrumental break at the end of The Vapors' "Letter from Hiro" (surely a co-incidence, but still really freaking cool). Topped off with the very Yobs-esque "I Ruined Christmas", Rewired is lean, mean, and so very worth your six bucks!

If Mean Streets is also the name of a classic Martin Scorcese movie and the best Van Halen song, where does Mean Streets the band rank in that trinity? #2 and rising, I'll say!

- L.R.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cheesesteaks 101

1. There are only three completely essential ingredients to a Philly cheesesteak: thinly-sliced rib eye steak, melted cheese, and a long Italian roll (preferably Amoroso's). Grilled onions, while in essence the fourth ingredient, are optional.

2. Additional toppings such as mushrooms, tomato sauce, and peppers are commonly ordered but in no way define an authentic cheesesteak.

3. If you ask for lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo on your cheesesteak, that is not a proper cheesesteak but rather a cheesesteak hoagie.

4. Contrary to what you've heard, Whiz is not the one-and-only true authentic cheesesteak cheese. If you really want to get "old school" about it, provolone is THE cheese. Whiz is by far the best-selling cheesesteak cheese. American cheese ranks second, ahead of provolone. John Kerry infamously tried to order a cheesesteak with Swiss. Such behavior is not acceptable and may, in fact, be illegal.

5. The steak on a cheesesteak, after being thinly sliced, may be chopped (a la Pat's King of Steaks) or not chopped (a la Geno's Steaks).

6. The first cheesesteaks, sold by Pat and Harry Olivieri in the early 1930s, actually did not have cheese on them. They contained only chopped steak and grilled onions. "Cocky Joe" Lorenza, a manager at one of the Pat's locations, later added provolone cheese.  

7. The proper way to order a Philly cheesesteak: for a steak with Whiz and onions, order "Whiz Wit". For a provolone steak without onions, order "Provolone Witout".

- L.R.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Something Fierce is, well, fierce!

Houston's Something Fierce was coming onto the scene just as I was getting out. They were one of my favorite bands of those final years of Now Wave. I remember reviewing their second demo and first CD and predicting good things to come. Little did I know how right I'd be - new album Don't Be So Cruel (the band's third) is freaking great! It far exceeded my expectations, and I was expecting a lot.

It's been three-and-a-half years since I've reviewed or even heard a new LP. Yeah, really! In the ensuing years, I met a girl, fell in love, bought a house, converted to Catholicism, got married, started shopping at Old Navy, digitalized my music collection, and turned 40. I listened to a lot of old music. And at then at some point, thanks to Facebook and whatnot, I became aware of really good new music I was missing. So here we are again. Hope you've all been well! I departed a big fan of Something Fierce, and I return an even bigger fan of Something Fierce. I've never heard an album before that sounds quite like Don’t Be So Cruel. Still influenced by '77 punk rock, Something Fierce somehow progressed their sound and got even poppier. But while evolving from straight-up punk to a more new wave styled sound has been done by a lot of bands, Something Fierce has done it very differently. Don't Be So Cruel doesn't sound "moody" or "dark" or "cold" or "weird". Imagine instead the album The Clash could have made after London Calling if they'd ditched the dub and rap experimentations in favor of a more contemporary new wave pop direction. Yet somehow, the album feels contemporary to these times as well. It's classic and modern all at once, and after three albums Something Fierce has clearly established a distinctive sound. Steven Garcia's melodic style of guitar playing has taken on new dimensions of texture and sophistication. And Niki Sevven is totally out of her mind on bass, coming on with bouncy, funkified hooks like she's Paul Simonon, Dave Allen, and Bruce Foxton all rolled into one. But while both players are exceptional on their own, what's even cooler is the way they play off of each other and blend their guitars as if they were dual leads. Taking on lyrical subject matter pertinent to the sad state of humanity and the mess we've made of the world, Something Fierce come off here not as Clash copyists, but more so their true successors. And this is what the world's been missing - a band that can opine on worldly issues without spouting clich├ęd slogans, and a band that understands that the  message is meaningless if the songs aren't great.

Ah yes, the songs! No longer simply catchy and melodic, the songs of Something Fierce have grown more complex and overtly pop in structure. The melodies are stronger and more pronounced, and there's just a lot more happening musically. No one's gonna stop playing the delightful co-ed Buzzcocks meets Marked Men blitzkrieg of the earlier records, but admittedly the controlled tempos here give the songs more room to breathe. A quirky, jerky feel is accentuated by the addition of keyboards, but it never goes overboard. This is fully a guitar/bass driven record, with Garcia's leads and Sevven's bass lines hooking you in at every turn. Early on, songs like "Future Punks" and "Afghani" Sands" take an '81-'82 Clash vibe and make something genuinely great out of it, while "When You Hurt" is the best Northern soul number you've heard in decades (if only the Style Council could have been this good!). The back half of the album takes on a poppier feel and is equally good. If "Bad Choice" were any catchier, the CDC would ban it. And "Dying Young These Days" typifies the evolution of Something Fierce. Clocking in at nearly five minutes and imbued with kind of an introspective sadness, it's a very "grown-up" sounding take on Buzzcocks-influenced pop.

Something Fierce has made a special kind of record here. It's full of heart, intelligence, and passion; and it really tries to say something about the world we live in. Yet it retains the sense of fun and unrestrained joyfulness that have oozed from every note this band has ever played. I haven't really had a current "favorite band" since the Dimestore Haloes broke up. Something Fierce could be a serious candidate!

- L.R.

Burger Wars: Part One

It is my firm belief that trademarks should be earned, not bought. Fuddruckers’ trademark, “World’s Greatest Hamburgers”, may or may not be accurate. And based on personal experience, I’m more likely to say not. Fudds doesn’t even have the best burgers in my hometown – much less the world. If you’ve got a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in your hometown (or three, as we do in York!), then you too are likely to call shenanigans on Fudds’ claims of world supremacy. There ought to be some kind of world series of chain burgers – a nationally televised event, held yearly, pitting Fudds and Five Guys head-to-head. Judging would be a panel of burger lovers from all corners of the planet. The winner would get the world’s-greatest title.

It’s not that I doubt Fudds’ intent to produce the “World’s Greatest Hamburgers”. They use 100 percent premium-cut beef, and their cattle are free-roaming and fed a strictly vegetarian diet. Like Five Guys (and Wendy’s), they don’t freeze their beef, and the product is fresher for it. I am a discerning consumer and quite willing to pay a little more for high quality eats – so it’s not like I think it’s outrageous that one has to drop somewhere around $10 for a burger/fries/drink combo at Fudds. It’s just that a similar meal at Five Guys (if you get the single patty) will generally run you a couple dollars less – and, in my book, it TASTES better! And the fries…forget about it! They’re fresh cut, right out of the freaking potato sack, and the serving size is ridiculous. A small is big, and a large is practically a tub. Fudds and their standard issue wedges can’t even attempt to compete, which is probably why they don’t claim to have the “World’s Greatest Fries”. And what to make of Fudds’ famous “Build Your Own” fixings bar? Overrated! Big deal- tomatoes, onions, pickles, lettuce…You can get that at ANY burger joint! I’m not as big of a bun freak as some burger lovers are (it’s all about the meat with me), but at the very least Five Guys runs neck-and-neck with Fudds in the bun department. They’re both above average and freshly baked. It comes down to the patty in the end – as it should.

Always cooked well-done and maximally juicy, the Five Guys burger is the best-tasting “fast” food burger I’ve had. Its greasy goodness leaves Fudds in the dust. Now if we bring sitdown chain Steak N’ Shake into the conversation - with their family friendly prices, deliciously buttery buns, crunchy shoe string fries, and juicy, paper-thin beefsteak patties – Five Guys and Fudds might both go down in defeat. But that’s a story for another time...

- L.R.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Getting to know your friendly neighborhood blogger

My favorite color is blue. My favorite food is bangers and mash. My favorite Stooge is Moe. My favorite ball club is The Phillies. My all-time favorite TV show is The Sopranos. My all-time favorite writer is Kurt Vonnegut. My all-time favorite filmmaker is Martin Scorsese. All easy choices. But I've had a hard time picking an all-time favorite band. For almost my entire adult life, I've had two favorite bands: The Clash and Bon Scott era AC/DC. It's just been too close to call. I love both. I could never put one over the other. They were 1 and 1A. But it's time to get off the fence. A final decision must be made. I hate being non-committal. So today, I'm going on the record.

AC/DC has a lot working in its favor. I've been a fan since the age of nine (I didn't get into The Clash until I was in my 20s). Bon Scott is my favorite rock and roll singer ever. Angus Young is my favorite guitar player ever. The Clash only had three great albums, whereas AC/DC with Bon Scott had twice that many.

However, The Clash has a strong case in its own right. London Calling is my favorite album. Self-titled (U.S. edition) is probably top five as well. "Guns of Brixton" is my favorite song. And if you add in all their early B-sides and non-LP tracks plus the good songs off of Sandinista! and Combat Rock, The Clash probably rivals AC/DC in terms of sheer volume of classic songs.

Musically, it's a dead heat. The fiery anthems of The Clash versus AC/DC's simple, perfect rock and roll. They both get ten out of ten in my book. So it all comes down to the gut. And the gut tells me to go with The Clash. AC/DC is great. AC/DC is Animal House. AC/DC is The Hangover. But The Clash is freaking Braveheart! The Clash is The Only Band That Matters! I'm a happily married man of 40. Song after song about banging chicks, while still appealing to that part of me that will always be 16 years old, doesn't quite speak to me the way "Clampdown" or "White Riot" does. That shit gets me fired up! The Clash is the sort of favorite band a man can grow old with. Their music is about fighting against the powers that oppress. Their music is about dissent. Their music is about questioning the so-called "truths" most people blindly accept. The day I stop relating to AC/DC is the day I go to my doctor and ask about testosterone replacement therapy. The day I stop relating to The Clash is the day I know my soul has died. "When they kick at your front door/How you gonna come?/With your hand on your head/Or on the trigger of your gun?" Fuck yeah! I want those lyrics on my tombstone!

- L.R.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Pop go The Dahlmanns!

Featuring Andre Dahlmann of The Yum Yums on guitar/vocals and his wife Line Cecile Dahlmann on lead vocals, and boasting a signature song written by the great Andy Shernoff, Norway’s Dahlmanns could practically be considered a pop-punk supergroup. And if they’re not quite a supergroup, they’re at least a super group. The Shernoff-penned “I Love You Baby (But I Hate Your Friends)” is not just my favorite song of the year – it’s probably my favorite song of the past several years. Combining unabashed Ramones worship with the Euro-fied throwback power pop stylings of the Yum Yums, The Dahlmanns come off as perhaps the most upbeat sounding band on the planet. And what’s not to love about that? This band is all about high energy and big hooks and total fun – all the things you want in your summertime rock and roll! Line Cecile is a total natural on lead vocals - like a cross between Josie Cotton and a young Debbie Harry. Combine her charms with her husband’s command of classic power pop, and there’s just no way you can go wrong! If you’ve worn the grooves out of your Nikki and the Corvettes LP, this is the band for you.

The Dahlmanns’ latest EP – their second – comes on with two songs that would be #1 singles in my proverbial perfect world. “I Love You Baby (But I Hate Your Friends)”, on the strength of Shernoff’s master-crafted melodies and the band’s bright, buoyant delivery, rates as an instant classic of female-fronted power pop. If you don’t love it, there is something irreparably wrong with you. Right there with it is “Candypants”, a crunchy, driving number with a great chorus and an equally great lead vocal. “Smash You” tops off the EP in more of a rockin’ vein but switches seamlessly to a pop feel when the chorus hits. And that’s that – three songs, no filler, and you’re left wanting (much!) more. There’s a full album supposedly in the works, and I can’t imagine it disappointing given the band’s brief but flawless track record. Who wouldn’t want a half hour’s worth of Dahlmanns tuneage on hand for backyard barbeques and dance parties and Sunday housecleaning? But as a power pop guy, I do have a soft spot for music in the EP/singles format. So as long as they keep the killer singles comin’, I’ll be a happy camper. Great pop is all about that perfect three minutes – and it doesn’t get more perfect than “I Love You Baby (But I Hate Your Friends)”. If music is the best antidepressant, this is the premium stuff.

- L.R.

Just when I thought I was out...

So this time I stayed “retired” for three and a half years. But here I am again, back to my old habits. I can’t help it. I like to review music! I suppose there are far worse things a guy could be into (pyromania, assisted suicides, Jimmy Buffett...). But if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it right. The things that drove me away from this racket on more than one occasion must be avoided at all costs. Ground rules must be set.

Rule one is that I’m only reviewing music that I like. I won’t be panning anything. I won’t be “critiquing”. Instead I’ll just rant and rave, which is really what I do best anyway. I will not be accepting promo. I will only review music I already own (of course I’ll be open to suggestions about bands I should check out). I will only be reviewing “my” niche of music – old school punk rock and its immediate variants. The quantity of reviews I write will be greatly diminished compared to the old days (which, in theory, means the quality should be better). What usually passes for “punk rock” in the year 2011 is not what I consider to be punk rock. But I’m not here to debate what is or is not punk. That’s just stupid. I’m here to spread the word about bands that I like. Occasionally I’ll wax nostalgic about old bands or make silly lists or talk about food. But generally speaking, what I’m going for here is kind of a “new generation of classic punk” angle.

My friend Kevin McGovern, in expressing his disdain for the current state of underground rock journalism, hilariously told me he couldn’t care less about “the latest Killed by Death reissue or gunk punk reunion”. I totally get what he means. I’m not saying I can do better, but I can at least offer something different. This new-fangled “modern” underground stuff just isn’t for me. I don't get my kicks off of bands who sound like orgasming robots or malfunctioning industrial machinery. I’m into the classics. I love The Clash, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Chuck Berry, the Stones, New York Dolls, and (duh!) Dictators. And I dig bands who keep that vibe alive. Stay tuned. It's gonna be fun.

I pity the fool who doesn't like The Keefs!

Social media are rightfully blamed for facilitating the heinous endeavors of such entities as child predators, professional spammers, and Sarah Palin supporters. But on the good side, we self-appointed “critics” of music have been rendered far less harmful by this current state of technology. In the olden days, I could go on and on about how amazing a certain band was, and ultimately you had to take my word for it. If I sold you on a band, you were then required to shell out sizable sums of your hard-earned money, send away for a certain recording, and wait days or even weeks to receive it in the mail. And in the end, if you disagreed with my glowing review, you were out 4 to 20 bucks that could have been better spent on Nintendo games or VHS movie rentals. Technophobes and traditionalists may lament our brave new world. But in a lot of ways, it’s so much better these days. If I talk up a band, you can go instantly to one of their social networking type pages and listen for yourself. Hell, you don’t even have to read another word of this blog post if you don’t feel like it. There are links at the bottom of the page. If you agree with Martin Mull and believe that writing about music is as pointless as dancing about architecture, I’ll bid you adieu and kindly ask you to go check out The Keefs.

The first rule of rockwriting is that when a band can describe itself better than you ever could, you let them. So then: The Keefs play a “blend of old-school punk and rootsy rock & roll with the melody and hooks of power pop and hints of glam rock sheen”. Yep, that nails it. Sounds freaking awesome, doesn’t it? Makes you wanna join the fan club immediately, eh? If you don’t think so, you’ve probably arrived at this blog on accident whilst searching for the Rise Against Facebook page. I’ll go as far as to say that if you don’t think The Keefs are a good band, you probably won’t like any of the bands I plan on reviewing from here on out. That's right - this is a test. It’s not like I randomly picked this to be my first post! Now I’m not nearly as hip to new music as I used to be (there’s just so much TV to watch these days). But from what I've heard of the current wave of punk rock bands, The Keefs might be the best of the lot.

Songs like “The Let Down” (off The Keefs’ debut EP) really make this Delaware/Philly/New Jersey foursome stand out from the pack of typical punk revivalists. Singer Dave Janney has a raspy type voice that’s a little reminiscent of Mike Ness or Johnny Bonnel, but he’s no copy cat. He’s very appealing as a singer, bringing grit, guts, and a genuine soulfulness to his craft. I love the way this song integrates the contrasting aspects of the group’s sound - it’s hard-edged and powerful yet very catchy and melodic. Lead guitar hooks a la the Buzzcocks are awesome and abundant. And when the chorus hits, it really grabs you. You can tell you’re listening to a tight, clicking-on-all-cylinders band. From the high-powered guitars of Janney and Jimmie the Weed to my man Algy Suicide’s nimble bass work to “Two N” Kenn’s hard-hitting drumming, everything comes together like it should. Other songs like “Compromise” and the smokin' new demo “Tell Me When It Hurts” are very much in the same vein - aggressive and tuneful and straight-up great. The Keefs can slow it down (“Lemonade”) or put the pedal to the metal (“Luv Drugs”), and either way you’re getting memorable, rockin’ tunes. And although you might think it pointless to cover one of the greatest songs of all-time, “Bastards of Young”, the Keefs’ version rips so hard that I guarantee messieurs Westerberg and Stinson would wholeheartedly approve!

What I love about The Keefs is that it’s not their style that defines them. Sure, they play a genre of music that’s near and dear to my heart, and that counts for a lot. But more importantly, this is an out and out great band. They can play like nobody’s business. They write fantastic songs. They’ve got a likable, crazy good lead singer. And perhaps most importantly, they manage to put a fresh, remarkably non-derivative spin on a well-worn style of music. Of course they emulate all the right bands (look who they named the group after!). But at the end of the day, they don’t sound like The Clash or Dead Boys or Ramones. They sound like The Keefs. Bring on the album!

- L.R.