Friday, July 29, 2011

The 11 Greatest Bands: 2000-2009

Way back circa the early 2000s, I did a Now Wave list on the greatest bands of the ‘90s. Of course it was probably way too soon to construct such a list – which was half the fun of it! Back then the 2000s seemed so fresh and new…I can barely believe we’re now into the 2010s already! At some point I’ll take a second shot at listing the greatest bands of the ‘90s – my perspective enriched by the passing of another ten years. But first, I want to tackle the 2000s. I’m going to stick to “my” musical realm - punk rock and power pop. And I’m trying to pick bands that were around for a few years at least. I’ve excluded one-off projects (like Tina and the Total Babes), bands that were in decline by the 2000s (like The Registrators), and older bands that weren’t consistently recording throughout the decade (like The Dictators). I’m sure that none of these selections will be surprising to anyone who knows me. Oh, and just because a top ten seemed insufficient, I’m doing a top eleven. You get a bonus band! Why? Because I like you.

11. The Hives
So everybody and his brother had a raging boner for The Hives in the year 2000. But once the band had major label muscle distributing its records, it was suddenly convenient to dismiss The Hives as an emblem of corporate America’s “manufactured” garage rock revival. Fuck the hipsters. Veni Vidi Vicious is one of the greatest garage-punk albums ever made, and underrated follow-up Tyrannosaurus Hives was darn near as good.

10. Marked Men
I suppose the only argument anyone would give me here is that this band should be ranked higher! Fair enough. Ex-Reds Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan burst onto the scene in 2003 with their debut album on Rip Off and have been going strong ever since. Their Texas-flavored take on the Buzzcocks/Ramones ’77 pop/punk style practically created a new sub-genre of music that spawned other great bands like Something Fierce.

9. The Kidnappers
The twin brothers from late ‘90s German garage-punk sensations the High School Rockers resurfaced in 2002 as two-thirds of The Kidnappers, a Teengenerate style garage-punk outfit with a surprisingly poppy sound. Debut album Ransom Notes and Telephone Calls was an absolute classic. Having modified their style with an influx of power pop, the ‘nappers struck again with the brilliant single “Spanish Girls” and the Rip Off Records issued Neon Signs (2006). Their new album Will Protect You is great, too!  

8. Dimestore Haloes
While the late ‘90s may have been the Haloes’ “classic” period, truthfully the band made its best music in the early 2000s. Listen to swan song LP Ghosts of Saturday Night, and you hear the greatness to which the Haloes had always aspired but never quite attained. If Hanoi Rocks, the Heartbreakers, The Replacements, and the ‘70s Rolling Stones had been one band, they probably would have made a record like Ghosts of Saturday Night.

7. The Briefs
Just as the ’77 punk revival of the mid-to-late ‘90s was starting to die down, The Briefs gave it a kick in the pants with their classic debut LP Hit After Hit. Equal parts Weirdos and Adverts, with a provocatively absurdist sense of humor a la The Dickies, The Briefs were flat-out fun.  “Poor and Weird” has got to be one of the classic punk songs of all-time. And just when the world needed a song about killing Bob Seger, The Briefs came through. Oddly enough, it seemed a lot of folks turned on The Briefs even as they continued to crank out terrific albums throughout the decade. This may have been partially due to an ill-fated alliance with Interscope Records but was more likely an indication of how fickle “punk” fans can be. Mad respect to this band for sticking to its pogo-punk ways and not caving to the shifting trends of the mid-to-late 2000s underground.

6. Turbonegro 
Having already produced the greatest album of all-time, Apocalypse Dudes, Turbonegro had its work cut out going into the 2000s. Scandinavian Leather and Party Animals were only disappointing if you were expecting another Apocalypse Dudes. There could never be another Apocalypse Dudes! Apocalypse Dudes was a once in every 75 years phenomenon, like Halley’s Comet. Nonetheless, Turbonegro did nothing in the 2000s to diminish its status as the greatest rock n’ roll band on Earth.

5. The Ergs
If you think The Ergs were “just” a pop-punk band, then you’re “just” an idiot. Meshing a contemporary pop-punk sound with elements of just about every classic SST Records band of the ‘80s, The Ergs were dynamite live and amazingly prolific in the studio. I believe they put over 500 7-inches. Mike Yannich is up there with the best songwriters of the decade. 

4. The Figgs
You might think of The Figgs as a ‘90s band, but they may have been even better in the 2000s! Sucking In Stereo (2000) is probably their most immediately satisfying power pop/rock n’ roll record, while the ambitious double-disc Palais (2004) may be their finest album overall. The Figgs in the 2000s released four albums, gigged relentlessly, and showed every night why a lot of people consider them to be the best live rock n’ roll band in the world. And having released the well-received The Man Who Fights Himself last year, The Figgs may very well appear on my “Greatest Bands of the 2010s” list a decade from now!

3. Bobbyteens
I still don’t think the Bobbyteens have ever officially disbanded. It’s just that they haven’t made a record in seven years. The two they made in the 2000s were both classics. Not So Sweet (2000) , in its ‘60s girl group meets power pop mold, was a hint at what was to come with Tina and the Total Babes. The sadly overlooked Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’ (2004) took the B-teens back to the garage and was nothing but trashy throwback rock n’ roll fun.

2. The Reigning Sound
Greg “Oblivian” Cartwright is arguably the greatest songwriter of his generation. Rooted in pre rock n roll rhythm & blues and country, the music of Cartwright’s Reigning Sound gradually took on a high-powered garage rock feel a la The Sonics. If you count the band’s 2007 LP backing Shangri-Las singer Mary Weiss, the Reigning Sound put out a total of five great albums in the 2000s. If you like songs, get Time Bomb High School. If you like to rock, get Too Much Guitar. If you like good music, buy both plus all the rest.

1. The Exploding Hearts
Although the Hearts managed to put out only one album before their existence was tragically cut short, that one album in my mind ranks up there with the all-time great ’77 punk LPs. Guitar Romantic is genuinely a perfect album, and there’s no point in playing the game of speculating about what this band “could have” become. They were a great band, period. Their “(Making) Teenage Faces” 7” on Vinyl Warning is also one of the best punk singles ever. Will I still be listening to this band in another ten years? Bet the house on it!

So there ya go. Pretty good decade, eh? Now tell me who I forgot!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Should I ever be sentenced to execution for suspected acts of revolt against the Powers That Be, I do hope I will be granted a last meal request. I’d have many options to consider. Personal favorites like kielbasa, brats, a Philly cheesesteak (with onions and Whiz), a Steak N’ Shake triple (with fries, a vanilla Coke, and a vanilla shake), bangers & mash (at The Still in Timonium, Maryland), a Miami-style Cuban, and a Primanti Brothers kolbassi and cheese (with egg!) would all be in the running. But the ultimate winner would be Tony Packo’s - an icon of Toledo, Ohio since 1932 and home to the best hot dogs you’ll ever taste. A hot dog at Packo’s is not a hot dog in the traditional sense but rather a Hungarian sausage on a bun. It’s thick and juicy and supremely delicious, and when you take that first bite you get that nice crunch from the casing. Mmmm! No other dog can touch this! With this being my last meal and all, I would not screw around. I’d get the M.O.A.D. (“mother of all dogs”), which is four times the size of a regular Packo’s dog and comes on a foot-long roll topped with chili and shredded cheese. I’d take that bad boy down and then do my best “Freedom!” cry a la Mel Gibson in Braveheart. My sides would be paprikas dumplings and sweet hot pickles, and I’d stretch out my stomach with a cup of chili. I consider myself quite the connoisseur of chili. I’ve had chili everywhere, and Packo’s has the very best. It’s all in the Hungarian spices! And although some of the Packo’s locations only serve swill beer, I’ve come to associate the Packo’s experience with exactly that. I always have my Packo’s meals with a draught of Labatt Blue (arguably the best of all swill beers), and that’s how I like it. If any of you are co-conspirators of mine and wind up along for the last meal ride, surely you’ll find something to your liking on the Packo’s menu. The stuffed cabbage, chili mac, fried green pickles, chili sundae, and chicken paprikas are all the stuff of legend – or at least they should be. A Packo family feud now has this T-Town institution in legal and financial trouble, and should it be forced to close I will weep openly for days if not weeks. Oh, you mighty M.O.A.D.! I will see you in ten days!

- L.R.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Night Birds: beach punk, East Coast style!

Based out of New York and North Jersey, the Night Birds are like the super team Phil Leotardo could have had if he’d joined forces with Tony Soprano instead of whacking half his crew. With the release of the band’s first studio album just a few weeks away, it’s high time to check out the foursome’s recent collection Fresh Kills Vol. 1. How about that title! Isn’t that just about the greatest album title of all-time? And guess what: it lives up to the name! The Night Birds - Brian, Mike, Joe, and Ryan- play classic hardcore punk with a surfy twist. For sure there are obvious hints of the Adolescents, Agent Orange, Circle Jerks, and other early ‘80s Cali-punk bands in their music. But this influence does not come off in a copycat or pointlessly rehashed way. The Night Birds are no one’s clone, and there’s something surprisingly contemporary about their fast-and-furious attack. Imbued with a stealthily melodic sensibility, songs like “Killer Waves”, “Midnight Movies”, “Bad Biology”, and “Thrilling Murder” absolutely shred. And the surf-rock guitars are integrated so seamlessly and awesomely that you’ll wonder why in the heck more hardcore bands don’t follow suit! Basically this is the Night Birds’ very own Black Flag First Four Years. It compiles three 7” EPs plus the band’s ultra-rare demo in its entirety. Spitting out 15 blistering tunes in well under a half-hour, this disc totally kills (sorry, pun intended). If the only possible criticism of the collection is that it leaves “room to grow”, the soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Darkness will no doubt convert the skeptics. While some may contend that nobody plays hardcore anymore “like they used to”, the Night Birds are proving them way wrong. Dig!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

King Louie's Missing Monuments? Great, of course!

If “King Louie” Bankston isn’t the greatest songwriter in contemporary rock and roll, he’s at least in the conversation. Needless to say, I was stoked to hear that this titan of the underground (Persuaders, Royal Pendletons, Bad Times, Exploding Hearts) had started a “power pop” band. I love Louie, and I love power pop. The Missing Monuments could not miss, right? Right! But perhaps what’s most endearing about debut album Painted White is that it’s far from typical power pop. Louie couldn’t make a generic sounding album even if he tried. He’s just too much of a unique guy, and that always comes out in his music. If you’d expect a King Louie power pop album to sound more like rootsy rock and roll, you’d be right!

So I’m not going to say Painted White is better than Memphis Treet, Louie’s 2007 LP with the Loose Diamonds. But that’s hardly a dis. “Gypsy Switch” is my single favorite song of the last 10 years, and Memphis Treet makes my list of the ten greatest albums issued in the 2000s. It’s far too soon to be similarly touting Painted White. That said, Painted White is freaking great and will no doubt merit album of the year consideration. Backing Louie are the incredible lead guitarist Julien Fried and a rhythm section comprised of bassist Bennett Bartley and drummer Aaron Hill. So while the Missing Monuments may be a power pop group from a songwriting standpoint, musically they’re the hottest bar band this side of the Mississippi. And that combination is what’s too often missing from so-called “power” pop. Opening track “The Girl of the Nite”, so catchy and sugary sweet that it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Teenline comp, is the only song on the album lacking a rock and roll feel. And while it is a perfect pop song, it kind of pales in comparison to “It’s Like XTC” and “Victory Lap”, which bring the same level of catchiness but with way more power. And if power did not matter, we would all be listening to Barry Manilow.

Regardless of which genre of music he’s working in, Louie Bankston is a soul singer. And he’s not just a soul singer – he’s a great soul singer! He has that great, gruff voice that makes him sound like he’s been drinking and smoking since birth, and every last note is conveyed with feeling. You can talk all you want about the hooks (which are abundant) and the melodies (which are more infectious than chlamydia on a college campus), but ultimately Louie’s voice and lyrics are what take Painted White to the top. I mean, if you’re gonna sing a power pop love song, why not sing one like “Victory Lap” that’s full of honest-to-goodness pain? And while more than a couple songs here tip the cap to Louie’s buddy Paul Collins, variety prevails in the end. “Dance All Nite” and “Nite Fall” are ‘50s flavored slow dance jams, while the mega-awesome “Broken Hands” reminds me of really poppy ‘70s arena rock. “Hot Class” is pure greasy fun. This is just a good old rock and roll record – something you rarely hear these days. For sure, you’d don’t put together a band like the Missing Monuments and then squander all those rock and roll chops on wimpy bubblegum pop. Maybe some people will wish there were more songs like “The Girl of the Nite”, but I for glad the Missing Monuments are closer to the Compulsive Gamblers than they are to Milk ‘N’ Cookies. Bet you never thought I’d say that, eh?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amoebas! Amoebas!

Pat Grindstaff recently joked that – now that I’m writing again – he should revive Pelado Records. Well if Pelado were to be rebooted at some point, Amoebas ought to be the first band Pat signs! Based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan (home to America’s greatest beer, Founders), Amoebas are without doubt one of the best up-and-coming punk bands I’ve heard in recent years. Their sound takes me back to the glorious mid-‘90s - when The Stitches dominated Maximum Rocknroll top ten lists and an upstart label out of Coasta Mesa, California unleashed the almighty Prostitutes upon an unsuspecting punk world. You just don’t hear many bands like this anymore - which is part of the reason why I stopped doing Now Wave Magazine in the first place! Amoebas take that classic “snotty” punk rock style and infuse it with a touch of early ‘80s California proto-hardcore (they may or may not have taken their name from the Adolescents song). The “hit” is “I’m A Nervous Wreck”, a flat-out ripper of a tune that combines fuck-off attitude and simple catchiness in all the best ways. It’s got everything – cool bass lines, melodic guitar leads, a raging rock and roll backbeat, and a supremely snot-nosed lead vocal. Killer! Also great is “Gimme a Fix”, the A-side from the band’s sold-out debut 7” on Gimme Gimme Records. Young, loud, and snotty never goes out of style! I dig those Steve Jones by way of James Williamson guitars, and I always love a band that can deliver a ripping tune in two minutes or less. I really like what I’m hearing so far (the song title alone tells you that “Perverts and Rats” is gonna be an awesome track!), and at this point the only question is whether or not these guys can keep the killer songs coming. I really hope they’ve got a full album in ‘em, because the world needs more bands like this. I’ve always wanted to visit Grand Rapids so that I could finally taste a Founders Dirty Bastard on draught. Now I have a second reason!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My favorite bands, in no particular order, part one: X-Ray Spex

I’m seldom affected by celebrity deaths, but Poly Styrene’s recent passing at the age of 53 absolutely broke my heart. I can’t say exactly why I took her death harder than those of, say, Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone. Maybe it was because she was out of the public eye for so long and had remained, in my mind, eternally 19. And unlike Joe and Joey, who continually produced music for a good quarter-century, Poly left us wanting more. Imagine how great a second X-Ray Spex album could have been! After the band split, she recorded the jazz new wave solo album Translucence in 1980 and wouldn’t really be heard from again until the partial X-Ray Spex reboot Conscious Consumer came out in 1995. Generation Indigo, her long-awaited return to popular music, came out just one day after she died. What a tragic irony. It’s not that any of us are complaining- she had perfectly good reasons to not be making music all those years. And considering some of the really awful music made by ex-punks in the ‘80s, it might have been for the better that she sat out that entire decade. But it’s hard not to wish she’d come back sooner, lived longer, and shared more of her extraordinary artistry with the world. There were lots of unforgettable personalities to come out of punk’s first wave. You’re talking the likes of Rotten, Strummer, Bators, Thunders, and Weller. Legendary dudes for sure. Poly Styrene was as great as any of them.

X-Ray Spex, along with The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Generation X, is one of my four all-time favorite English punk bands. In contrast to a lot of other bands who formed in response to seeing the Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex was far from a conventional punk group. Yet they were still totally punk. I love that they used saxophone to mimic a punk style of lead guitar. I love that Poly’s lyrics read like excerpts from dystopian sci-fi novels. I love that in a scene dominated by angry young twentysomething white men, a half-Somali teen girl with a mouth full of braces rose to iconic status. “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” is rightfully recognized as the singular most important influence on “feminist punk rock”. But aside from its influence, it’s got to be one of the five greatest punk rock songs ever recorded. I’ve often maintained that early punk rock is the best music that’s ever been made, and there are a handful of recordings upon which I rest my case. “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” is one of them. If I were making a mixed tape for a space alien who wanted to know what “punk rock” sounded like, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” would be one of the first songs I’d pick. That ’76-’77 era of X-Ray Spex - with 16-year-old Lora Logic on saxophone – produced just one single. But what a single it was! As documented on the Live at the Roxy album, early X-Ray Spex was amateurish and discordant in only the best ways. Spearheaded by Lora’s off-key sax and Poly’s screeching vibrato, the young band more than atoned for a lack of instrumental competence with exhilarating levels of attitude, nerve, and youthful abandon. 34 years on, and “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” still hasn’t been topped. And ever notice that 90 percent of the singers who’ve tried to imitate Poly’s singing style have only come off as annoying? The girl was flat-out special. 

By the time X-Ray Spex got around to recording a proper album in 1978, they’d really come into their own musically. Germ Free Adolescents is one of the classic LPs of early punk and the 1970s in general. I could play it 1000 times and still not get bored with it. The band’s musical attack had solidified into a classic ’77 pop/punk style with the more accomplished Rudi Thompson now on sax. And Poly Styrene had really emerged as a writer, fashioning an album’s worth of songs opining on consumerism run amok, technology gone too far, and the dehumanizing effects of it all. It’s fascinating to read some of those lyrics today knowing they were penned in the comparatively low-tech ‘70s – long before such things as The Internet, electronic billboards, product placement, social networking, and smartphones proved her prophetic. And in her understanding that the ultimate powers-that-be weren’t politicians but rather corporations and advertisers, she was WAY ahead of her time. While her contemporaries were singing about smashing the state or going out with girls, Poly Styrene was speculating on how genetic engineering could “create the perfect race” and envisioning the world turning Day-Glo. Better yet, she did it with humor (“I eat Kleenex for breakfast/And use soft hygienic Weetabix to dry my tears”) and a remarkable perception of where the world was heading (“I wanna be instamatic/I wanna be a frozen pea/I wanna be dehydrated/In a consumer society”). In its deft mixture of driving, upbeat punk (“I Live Off You”, “Obsessed with You”) and vaguely sci-fi ish mid-tempo pop (“Plastic Bag”, “Germ Free Adolescents”), Germ Free Adolescents manages to epitomize just about everything that was great about the new wave. It’s near the top of any list I’ll ever make of punk rock albums everyone should own. And by everyone, I do mean everyone. You, your next door neighbor, your mom, your nephew, your barber, your boss, your evil twin, your personal trainer, your dog, and your dentist should all own this classic recording. Disliking X-Ray Spex wouldn’t just be unfathomable. It would be unhuman.

Rest in peace, Poly.

- L.R.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Hey Hey, They're The Cheap Cassettes!

If you've been wondering what Charles Matthews Morrissey has been up to since the Dimestore Haloes broke up, well it's been a long, strange trip. He bought a shrimp boat like Forrest Gump. He started a one-man John Denver tribute band called Country Roads that was banned from several live venues due to excessive drunkenness. He did something so unmentionably perverse for a Klondike Bar that I cannot in good conscience share specific details. He bought a Shake Weight but never uses it. Lord knows we've missed his presence in our little slice of the music world. I know I'm biased because he's a friend of mine, but I think he's one of the best songwriters to come out of the punk rock underground since I've been following it. The world is a better place with his music in it. If you're a Haloes fan, you've got to be stoked about The Cheap Cassettes - a new collaboration between Chaz and his old bandmate Kevin "Mess" Parkhurst.

Separated by the 5,000 or so miles between Boston and Hawaii, Chaz and Kevin aren't exactly rehearsing five nights a week. But through the magic of modern recording technology and occasional teleportation, they've managed to record one-third of their debut album and share it with the world on their Band Camp page. While some might say that The Cheap Cassettes sound like the Haloes, that's kind of like saying that Tony Montana reminds you of Michael Corleone. There are some obvious similarities, yes, but this is a new band entirely. Spiritually and stylistically, The Cheap Cassettes are all about the power pop. Citing unassailable influences such as the Plimsouls, Cheap Trick, Material Issue, Elvis Costello, and The Paul Collins Beat and operating under the mantra of "big guitars and big hooks", this duo is more than worthy of being named after a Figgs song. And a no-frills, relatively lo-fi recording aesthetic gives their music a rough-around-the-edges charm that's too often missing from "power" pop. These two may have pop in their hearts, but they've got rock n' roll in their blood. Dwight Twilley would approve. Alex Chilton would have, too!

So how's the album sounding so far? Pretty great! Hands down, the "hit" is "My Little Twin". It's just so fucking catchy, and it's got this rambunctious energy to it that kinda sorta brings to mind early Replacements covering Big Star. Love it! "Get Low" ain't bad either. It's got a nice down-tempo beat and a sing-along chorus you won't be able to get out of your head without extensive professional help. Do you like handclaps? Awesome guitar solos? Yeah, me too! No one's gonna mistake Chaz for Kyle Vincent vocally, but I really think that works for The Cheap Cassettes. It gives their songs grit. Chaz will always sound like Chaz, which makes him somewhat unique in a scene full of wannabe Stivs and imitation David Jos. If you're a fan of his solo release Amazing Graceless or the last Haloes album Ghosts of Saturday Night, it's a money-back guarantee you'll like The Cheap Cassettes just as much. It's probably not a co-incidence that the Haloes made their best recordings after Kevin joined the band. He's a talented dude, and from what I hear he's completely obsessed with obscure power pop recordings from the '70s and '80s. He and Chaz flat-out click as a duo, and with The Cheap Cassettes the two are fully indulging their mutual love for power pop. I highly approve! And what's not to love about a free digital album that keeps growing and growing? Today it's four songs. Maybe tomorrow it'll be five. You don't have to wait two years until the album is "complete". They finish a new song, and you get a new song. Instant gratification, folks! It's the way of the future! Far out!

- L.R.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Here are Midnite Snaxxx!

Tina Lucchesi is my favorite rock n' roller for a variety of reasons - not the least of which being that she might actually agree with my statement that the Real Kids' "All Kinsda Girls" and the Dictators' "Stay With Me" are the two greatest songs ever recorded. Even though she's Italian and I'm of British stock via Virginian hillbillies, I'm pretty sure she could be my long-lost older sister. I don't think she's ever played on anything that I haven't full-on head-over-heels loved. Now she's back with another group (by my count her 57th), Midnite Snaxxx. Don't you just love it that the band name references food?! There truly is something to be said for a band that loves vegetarian nachos and Cheap Trick records with an equal fervor. And if you're predicting typical Tina-band awesomeness from this Oakland trio, you would be very much correct. Dig!

Midnite Snaxxx are Tina on drums, the great Dulcinea Gonzalez (formerly of the legendary Loudmouths) on guitar, and Renee Leal of LaTeenos on bass. These gals bring back fond memories of the "budget rock" strain of garage punk that ruled the Bay Area in the '90s. If you like early, "Firecracker" era Bobbyteens, you're gonna cream your jeans for Midnite Snaxxx! Talk about a supergroup! The Loudmouths were freaking awesome - hands down one of the best punk rock n' roll bands of the '90s. If they'd been on a "hipper" record label, they would have been worshipped. They probably should have been anyway. And although Tina is one of the most dynamic performers I've ever seen on lead vocals, it's really cool to hear her drumming again. Tina and Dulcinea together are everything you'd expect and then some. Raw Deluxe issued the band's debut single, "Like Lightning"/"Giving Me the Business", late last year. Copies are surely hard to come by at this point. I fully advocate resorting to all necessary means in order to secure one for yourself. Even if it involves murder or public nudity, you could not be blamed. The record is everything a 45 should be: two killer, short-and-sweet songs that leave you wanting (much) more. "Like Lightning" is classic powerpop with tons of raw energy and filthy low fidelity. B-side "Giving Me the Business" comes on fast and furious but keeps it catchy. Maybe it's a little more Loudmouths than Bobbyteens, but for sure it's 100 percent Midnite Snaxxx. Classic stuff all the way! A new 7", "Guy Like That" b/w "Jackie", is now out on Total Punk Records and sure to sell out in short order. And if you're without a turntable, do not despair. There are some top shelf M.S. songs currently playable on-line. "Spend the Night", with its trashy garage punk meets '60s girl group vibe, is vintage Tina tuneage. And if you're more inclined towards rockin' powerpop/punk, "Heart Full of Doubt" will hit 'ya right where you like it! Boom Boom! I loved Top Ten and Deadly Weapons, but I gotta say this is the coolest Tina band since the Total Babes. And did I just read that there's a full album coming out later this summer?! For reals? A Midnite Snaxxx LP? NICE!! Barring the unforeseen announcement that a Steak N' Shake franchise is coming to town, this will be the best news I get all year! I'm counting the days, girls. Could I possibly be disappointed? Not a chance in hell!

- L.R.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Ten Greatest American Punk Bands of All-Time

Yeah, I love old English punk. But on this Fourth of July, it's all about American punk bands. Here are the ten greatest ever in my opinion.

10. Dickies
They join the Buzzcocks and Ramones in the holy trinity of pop-punk.
9. Misfits
Often lost in the imagery and idea of the Misfits is that the music itself was freaking incredible! One of the few bands that was still representing for classic melodic punk well into the ‘80s.
8. Bad Religion
Gotta love it that these guys were playing melodic and thoughtful punk at a time when angry high testosterone thrash ruled the day. They put out the classic Suffer in 1988 and have been killing it ever since.
7. Black Flag
I especially love their early stuff that was a cross between ’77 punk and ’82 hardcore, but even with Rollins this band was awesome.
6. Pagans
Perhaps the most underrated "classic" punk band. Check out my review over at Dirty Sheets.
5. Avengers
Three decades on, and all their old stuff still blows me away. Some of the most passionate and powerful music ever made in any genre of music.
4. Dead Boys
This one doesn’t need elaboration.
3. Descendents
Like Bad Religion, these guys were making great punk music at a time when almost nobody else was. Possibly the second greatest pop-punk band of all-time.
2. Dictators
You could argue that The Dictators weren’t really a “punk” band. You really could. But you’d be wrong.
1. Ramones

So there you have it. Let the debating begin - especially if you're a fan of the Circle Jerks, X, Weirdos, Germs, Angry Samoans, Social Distortion, TSOL, or Dead Kennedys!

- L.R.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Miss Chain & The Broken Heels? Yes, please!

Italy’s Miss Chain & The Broken Heels were another band that was coming onto the scene just as I was getting out. I remember them for their throwback power pop sound a la Nikki and the Corvettes and The Shivvers. Now Wave Magazine was defunct before they got a proper record out, so I don’t believe I ever reviewed their music. But I was a fan. I think they were Myspace friends of mine. That tells you how long ago it was. Does anyone still have Myspace friends?  

Anyway, I liked Miss Chain & The Broken Heels as power pop up-and-comers. But they’ve come a long way over the years, and I like ‘em even better now. You can still hear a touch of a classic ‘70s power pop influence in their sound, but it’s mixed in with all kinds of other good stuff like ‘60s girl group pop, ‘60s ‘beat and garage, French pop, soul-pop, paisley pop, and ‘80s twee. Lead singer Astrid “Miss Chain” Dante has really come into her own as an artist, and debut album On a Bittersweet Ride is an aptly named delight. It’s got enough punch and pep to keep the fan base satisfied, but all in all this is a record that sounds like nothing else out there. Miss Chain has a lovely voice (imagine an Italian Frida Lyngstad), and she imbues these 12 songs with a captivating array of emotions. By turns heartbroken, gloomy, happy, despairing, and lovestruck, the many moods of Miss Chain give a unique tone to lively pop songs, sunny garage jams, and pretty ballads. In the manner of some of the great girl group vocalists, Miss Chain can lift your spirits with an upbeat song and absolutely break your heart with a sad one. But even with so much ‘60s flavor to it, On a Bittersweet Ride comes off very contemporary. You can hear all the nods to the sounds of yesteryear, but this is truly a band and an album for today. It’s not about who Miss Chain & Broken Heels sound like, because they sound like themselves. Thanks to distinctive, endearing vocals; phenomenal guitar work from Disaster Silva; and flat-out great songs like “Flamingo” and “Rollercoaster”, this has the makings of an album that will itself be imitated in the very near future. And if I’m tardy in just now touting a recording that was released five months ago, I’ll say in my defense that this is the perfect “summertime album”. Buy it, get in the car, turn it up, drive, and enjoy life. This is as pop as pop gets.

- L.R.

The Ten Most Awesomely Rocking Movie Soundtracks

Who doesn't love a great movie soundtrack? Sometimes an amazing soundtrack helps to define a movie's greatness (The Graduate, Harold and Maude). Sometimes the soundtrack is the only decent thing about a movie (Xanadu, anyone?). In rare cases, I hate a movie so much that I start to dislike the songs in it (The Big Chill). While the cinema lover in me can appreciate the perfect use of any style of music in a film, the following list will be specific to the general musical niche to which this blog caters. So we're talking punk rock, power pop, and rock and roll. Yeah, I know that Garden State has a really awesome soundtrack. But come on: it doesn't rock. An additional rule: biopics, documentaries, and concert films don't count. I'm only counting movies in the traditional sense with characters, plot, etc. Alright: let's do this thing!

10. Repo Man (1984)
Ah, the days of "punk rock movies"! This soundtrack would be higher on the list if it didn't have Suicidal Tendencies on it. But Fear's "Let's Have a War" and Black Flag's "TV Party" alone make this an essential soundtrack. Plus you've got the Circle Jerks, Plugz, and Iggy Pop (performing the titular number). Repo Man is the opposite of The Big Chill.

9. Angus (1995)
One effect of underground punk groups signing to major labels in the mid-'90s was that sometimes you got to hear their music in mainstream movies. Green Day, the Smoking Popes, and The Muffs all have songs in this 1995 teen dramedy, as do the still "indie" Riverdales and Tilt. Talk about a pop-punk all star team! Throw in highly credible alternative rock bands like Ash and Love Spit Love, and you've got yourself a freaking cool soundtrack.

8. SLC Punk! (1998)
I'm not saying the movie was good. But for the most part, the makers of this film got the music right. Including such songs as Fear's "I Love Livin' in the City", the Stooges' "1969", The Ramones' "Cretin Hop", Dead Kennedys' "Kill the Poor", Adolescents' "Amoeba",  Minor Threat's "Look Back and Laugh", and Generation X's "Kiss Me Deadly", the soundtrack is true to a punk rock movie set in 1985. Whatever happened to Matthew Lillard?

7. American Graffiti (1973)
From the mind of a post THX 1138, pre Star Wars George Lucas. As a primer on early rock and roll and doo wop circa the late '50s to early '60s, this soundtrack deserves high marks. You wonder about some of the omissions (Where's Little Richard? Jerry Lee Lewis?). But it's hard to go wrong with Bill Haley and the Comets, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, the Beach Boys, Del Shannon, and the Five Satins. If you're going to do a period piece about teens cruising in 1962, you have to get the music right. Lucas did.

6. Adventureland (2009)
With its 1980s setting, this film's soundtrack could easily have gone the novelty/cheese route a la Wedding Singer/200 Cigarettes. Instead, its period selections mine the top artistic tier of '80s pop hits ("Your Love" by The Outfield and "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House) and the glory days of college rock (Violent Femmes, Jesus and Mary Chain). Most significantly, power pop and punk are represented with the New York Dolls ("Looking For a Kiss"), Big Star ("I'm In Love With a Girl"), Nick Lowe ("And So It Goes"), Husker Du ("Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely"), and The Replacements ("Bastards of Young" and "Unsatisfied"). Damn: I wish I had been that cool in the '80s. I was listening to Dokken in 1987!

5. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Duh! You've got the almighty Ramones in their absolute heyday playing all the hits, plus the MC5's "High School", Nick Lowe's "And So It Goes", and Eddie and the Hot Rods' "Teenage Depression".  A no-brainer.

4. Detroit Rock City (1999)
I love this movie, and I love its soundtrack. It reminds me of my childhood days when rock music was fun and arena rock was all about the perfectly crafted hit single. Of course the KISS songs rule, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Songs by Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, Sweet, AC/DC, Ramones, Cheap Trick, The Runaways, and Angel fit in perfectly with the glam-pop/arena rock motif.

3. Times Square (1980)
If you're looking for a movie with a classic late '70s "punk/new wave" soundtrack, Times Square is it! Allan Moyle would later direct another film noted for its soundtrack, Pump Up the Volume. But Times Square is way cooler. How many other mainstream movies have ever had The Ruts and Tubeway Army on the soundtrack? Really! The Cars, XTC, The Ramones, Pretenders, Patti Smith, Joe Jackson, Suzi Quatro, and a very early version of The Cure, among others, make this soundtrack a primo new wave artifact.

2. Goodfellas (1990)
Part of what makes Goodfellas one of the best movies ever made is its masterful use of popular music. True to the historical periods it covers, its uses the sounds of doo wop (Otis Williams and the Charms, Moonglows, Cadillacs), girl groups (The Marvelettes, the Crystals, Ronettes, Darlene Love), and Martin Scorsese's beloved Rolling Stones ("Gimme Shelter", "Monkey Man", "Memo from Turner") to epic effect. Watch this movie, and you'll never think of the piano outro to "Layla" the same way again. And has there ever been a more perfect song to close a movie than the Sid Vicious version of "My Way"?

1. Up the Academy (1980)
Up the Academy was supposed to be Mad magazine's version of Animal House. The only problem was that it wasn't funny. It was so unwatchable, in fact, that Mad quickly divorced itself of any association with the film. Directed by Robert Downey Sr. and featuring Ralph Macchio in his first starring role, this "comedy" about teen misfits at a military school is historically bad. But its soundtrack is historically good. Check out this list of songs that appeared in the movie:

Iggy and the Stooges- "Gimme Danger"
Dwight Twilley Band – "Trying to Find My Baby"
Blondie- "X Offender"
Eddie and the Hot Rods- "Do Anything You Wanna Do"
Modern Lovers- "Roadrunner"
Boomtown Rats- "Rat Trap"
Iggy Pop & James Williamson- "Night Theme"
Nick Lowe- "Heart of the City"
Cheap Trick- "Surrender"
Lou Reed- "Street Hassle"
Blondie- "One Way Or Another"
Ian Hunter- "We Gotta Get Out of Here"
David Johansen- "Girls"

And just to show you that the makers of this movie had no fucking idea what they were doing, only three of the above songs actually made it onto the soundtrack album!

- L.R.