Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Italian Subs 101

Tomorrow begins that most wonderful time of the year – football season. For the next 23 weekends, all activities in the Rutledge household will be arranged around the television gridiron schedule. And since the Marzen (a.k.a. Oktoberfest) beer season generally begins around the same time, the arrival of September is always a doubly glorious occasion in my life. One ritual of ours is to consume Italian subs on game day (i.e., when Notre Dame plays). I’ve found that you can get a sub almost anywhere, but a genuine first-rate Italian sub is hard to come by. I, for one, think everything on the menu at Subway is gross. Luckily there’s a local establishment called The Deli of Italy that claims to sell “the best sandwiches in York”. Of course they’re making a truthful claim (it’s not like there’s much competition in that department!). Better yet, they are one of the few shops in the entire state that can properly make an Italian sub. A first-rate Italian sub has begun to rival the Philly cheesesteak for the title of most popular sandwich in our home. And since most people’s idea of an Italian sub is to just stuff some salami and ham into a roll, I will now summarize the key components to this heavyweight of the sandwich world:

The Roll
As is the case with a cheesesteak, a quality roll is crucial to the success of an Italian sub. Preferably, your roll is of the Italian style, slightly crunchy, and fresh-baked. A foot-long hot dog roll will not do.

The Meats
There’s nothing wrong with your basic deli ham. But for maximum flavor I prefer Italian cured pork cuts (Capocollo, Prosciutto) and bolongas (Soppressata, Mortadella) in tandem with Genoa or Sicilian salami. Some of these cold cuts may seem “chewier”, but from a taste standpoint they’re spicier, smokier, and far tastier than run-of-the-mill lunchmeat. As is the case with my beer-drinking habits, I have expensive tastes when it comes to cold cuts. I’ll think nothing of dropping nine bucks on a 12-inch Italian sub made with top-of-the-line imported meats. It’s worth it.

The Cheeses
Provolone is king, and fresh mozzarella is flat-out to die for. Come on: who puts American cheese on an Italian sub?

The Toppings
Start with your traditional hoagie toppings: lettuce, tomatoes, onions. Then pile on hot peppers. The topper should be a spicy, oil-and-vinegar based Italian dressing. Mmmm!

Our go-to Italian sub comes with Sicilian salami, capocollo, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella. My wife likes to special-order hers, substituting mayo for the oil and provolone for the fresh mozzarella. She also skips the onions and hot peppers. I’m more of a traditionalist and love the zing of the peppers and oil. Either way, it’s the roll and the meats that really make the sandwich. I’ve not been able to replicate a Deli of Italy sub with store-bought ingredients, but I can at least mimic the spicy kick by using hoagie spread (a glorious mix of crushed red peppers and vinegar that’s popular on the East Coast) and Tallarico’s hot chip steak peppers. These two ingredients can give any ordinary sandwich that special “Philly” flavor. And while a Philly hoagie and an Italian sub are not necessarily the same thing (“Hoagie” in these parts is just regional slang for any sub), they’re at least close relatives. If you live in Maine, you probably think the Italian sub was invented there by Italian immigrants around the turn of the 20th Century. But it’s just as likely that Philadelphia’s first versions of Italian subs, hoagies, were developed at the same time or even prior to it (in kind of the same way that The Ramones and Saints both “invented” punk rock in the early ‘70s without any knowledge of one another). The sub sandwich, like punk rock, has evolved somewhat over the decades. I like to think of the modern-day Italian sub as The Registrators' 16 Wires of hoagies – the best and most highly evolved! Seek one out and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Pegs KILL it!

Hey, folks! I got a good one for 'ya today! Up there with the all-time greats (The Crowd, Adolescents) and the best of their contemporary antecedents (Smogtown, Bonecrusher), The Pegs play classic surf-inflected Orange County hardcore. If you’re not yet familiar with this San Clemente five-piece, you’re missing out on one of the best current day punk bands. Together for a decade now, The Pegs have put out a bunch of seven-inches on world-renowned labels like Hostage and No Front Teeth Records. If you’re into streaming tunes on social networking sites like I am, there are some absolutely scorching Pegs songs playable on their ReverbNation and Myspace pages! “Livin’ at the Surf Motel”, “3 O’Clock Stop”, “Robot Romance”,  and “This Town” would not sound out of place on any compilation of O.C. punk classics - regardless of whether it was released in 1980, 2005, or any time in between. These dudes play it fast and furious, oozing attitude and coming hard with sing-along choruses and ripping guitar leads. Any way you slice it, this is just a great fucking band. Their sound is tight and powerful and ferocious like a pit bull - while exhibiting that knack for melody that seems to be hard-wired into every southern Californian’s DNA. Anyone who claims that today’s punk can’t possibly compare to “the old stuff” has obviously never heard The Pegs. Tune in. Play loud. Go nuts!

- L.R.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crazy for the Crazy Squeeze!

Not since the Traveling Wilburys has there been a supergroup as universally anticipated as The Crazy Squeeze. If you were into the underground punk/rock n’ roll scene in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, you know who these guys are. You own their records. You bought them shots. You friended them on Myspace. And now they have joined forces to create a veritable justice league of punk rock! Where else but in Hollywood could Johnny Witmer (of The Stitches), Frankie Delmane (of Now Wave faves the Teenage Frames), Chris B. (of the Richmond Sluts), and Johnny Sleeper (of the Superbees) have come together to combine their prodigious & complementary talents for the betterment of the free world?! The Crazy Squeeze - now with Dat Ngo of the Shiteland Ponies in on bass - are everything you’d expect and then some. Combining vintage glam wham-bam (New York Dolls, Slade) with straight-up rockin’ punk, their sound is pure raunchy fun with hooks out the wazoo. You know: music for fucking! It’s just got that swagger. Of course Witmer is on fire on guitar, doing the Berry/Thunders thing like he was born for it (because, ya know, he was!). And with the criminally underrated songwriter Delmane involved, you know the songs are gonna be aces. If you like high-energy, sing-along rock n’ roll with ripping guitars and an irresistible backbeat, go straight to “Boys Are Gonna Be Here Soon” and “Out of My Head” and fall in love! Yes, sir! “All Lies” slows the tempo and brings a harder edge, but it proves to be equally great. With a full-length album due out soon, the Crazy Squeeze are poised to be the next big thing in punk rock n’ roll. If you enjoyed the Dolls, Joneses, Loose Lips, or any of these guys’ old bands, it’s time to get on board the Crazy Squeeze bandwagon. Pour yourself a hard drink and shake it!

- L.R.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Husker Du or The Replacements?

You had to know this one was coming. This one’s a stone cold classic in the annals of band battles. It’s a Twin Cities throwdown! And it’s hard! You’re talking about two of the greatest bands of all-time. You’re talking about two of the most influential acts ever on this punk/indie/alternative thing we’re all so crazy about. You’re talking about two bands that flat-out changed the world.

Let me say that I love, love, love, love, love, love The Replacements. In my list of all-time favorite bands of any genre, The Replacements come in at #4 or 5. But Husker Du is my #3. If I had to pick here (which is the whole point of the exercise!), I pick Husker Du without a moment of hesitation. Husker Du was my gateway band into the world of punk rock. “I Apologize” literally changed my world forever. I heard it, and it was as if this was the kind of music I’d been waiting for all my life. I loved buying all their tapes (yes, back then we listened to tapes!) and discovering the many phases of their much-too-brief career. The early hardcore punk stuff, the epic boundary-pushing of Zen Arcade, the classic melodic punk of New Day Rising, the more “adult” proto alt-rock of their Warner Brothers albums...I loved it all. The Replacements would come on my scene later, and no doubt that was a life-changing development in its own right. But a man never forgets his first love. It’s a cliché to say, “There will never be another band like that again”. But in the case of Husker Du, it’s the truth.

Now it’s your call. Who ya gonna take: Husker Du or The Replacements?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An important announcement...

I had, for a number of years, been fairly certain that “Search and Destroy” was the greatest rock n’ roll song ever recorded. But another song, “All Kinsda Girls” by the Real Kids, always seemed worthy of “co-greatest” consideration. I tried to avoid any drastic revisions of my list by just saying that “All Kinsda Girls” was the greatest pop song ever recorded. But the implication, then, was that “All Kindsa Girls” was somehow less “rock n’ roll” than “Search and Destroy”. And truthfully, “All Kindsa Girls” is as rock n’ roll as rock n’ roll gets. Some people call the Real Kids “power pop”. Others might call them “punk”. But I say they’re straight-up rock n’ roll. Publicly, I can no longer have my cake and eat it too. If “All Kindsa Girls” is really the greatest song ever, then it has to surpass “Search and Destroy” on my list of the greatest rock n’ roll songs of all-time. They can’t both be #1. Alright, then: let the record show that alterations have been made! This is a milestone moment for me! And if I’m going to tinker with my list, I might as well be 100 percent happy with it. On that note, The Dictators’ “Stay With Me” now holds the #2 position. “Search and Destroy” has been bumped to third. Position #4 goes to “Pill Box” by The Joneses. The fifth spot is up for grabs…

Don’t believe the hype

Dream team, my ass! My Eagles will be lucky to go 9-7 this season. Sure, they upgraded in the secondary. Sure, they’ve got weapons all over the field on offense. But they’ve got perhaps the worst linebacking corps in the NFL, a mediocre-at-best offensive line, and a star quarterback who never adjusted once defenses figured out how to stop him late last season. If Mike Vick plays a full season without sustaining a major injury, it will be a minor miracle. And if freaking Vince Young has to take over at quarterback for more than a couple games, forget about it! Season over. Seriously, if this team somehow wins the NFC East, I will publicly admit that Andy Reid is the greatest coach in the history of the franchise. Maybe I should anyway.

Elsewhere, here’s how I see it playing out:

The winner in the NFC East will be neither this year’s paper champion Eagles nor last year’s paper champion Cowboys. I like the Giants to take the division with a 10-6 record. The Packers and Falcons will cruise to division titles, and the NFC West will be a mess as always. The 49ers will play well for new coach Jim Harbaugh, but poor quarterback play will be the team’s undoing. The same fate awaits the Cards and Seahawks. In the end, St. Louis will be the default division winners at 9-7. Look for Sam Bradford to surpass 3500 yards passing and 25 touchdowns. Wildcards will be one surprise (Detroit) and one non-surprise (New Orleans). The Lions are probably still another year away from really breaking through, but I think they’ll slide into the playoffs at 9-7 (beating the Cowboys in a tiebreaker).

I forecast a very predictable year in the AFC, with the usual suspects dominating. New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and San Diego - perennial powers led by franchise quarterbacks – will be landslide division winners. Baltimore, a great all-around team stuck in the same division as the Steelers, will be a wildcard at 11-5. The obvious choice for the second wildcard is the Jets, and a lot of people are talking up the Texans. But I’m predicting a surprise renaissance for the Denver Broncos and new coach John Fox, who will go 9-7 and get the second wildcard spot. The Jets and Texans will both go 8-8. Also look for the Cleveland Browns to make a serious playoff push.

In the playoffs, the 13-3 Falcons will ride home field advantage all the way. The AFC games will be fiercely contested, with the Patriots the last team standing. The Pats will win the Super Bowl in a rout, giving Bill Belichick his fourth ring. The “Andrew Luck bowl” will be won by the 2-14 Bengals, although the Redskins and Bills will stay in the running to the end.

Take these insights to Vegas. If you win big, all I want for my cut is a four-pack of Founders Breakfast Stout.

- L.R.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Album of the Year Contender...

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed the Cute Lepers! I think the band had one 7” out at the time I put Now Wave to bed, and in the ensuing years they’ve done at least another six EPs and three full-length albums. That tells you how long I was out of the game! But it’s never too late to start championing a great band, and latest LP Adventure Time easily makes my album of the year short-list (current tour mates Something Fierce still lead that field, by the way!). Call me nuts, but I think I might like the Cute Lepers just a little bit more than The Briefs. It’s really close. Both of Steve E.’s bands faithfully cling to an unrepentant ’77 pogo punk M.O., but with the Cute Lepers the added new wave/power pop angle really suits my personal tastes. If you’re like me and treasure your Rezillos, Vapors, and Elvis Costello records just as much as your Gen X and Buzzcocks titles, this is an album you are sure to dig. I’ve read multiple reviews of Adventure Time that find fault with its lack of an “edge”, and that just makes me chuckle. This isn’t supposed to be a hardcore record. It’s the Cute Lepers, man! It’s supposed to be poppy! And it sure as hell isn’t supposed to be original! What it is, though, is high quality and infectious fun from the get-go. Put this album on, and you just have to smile (and jump around, too!). Steve E. and co. may be punk rock classicists, but they are not pale imitators. If they stick to the tried-and-true, it’s because they’re really freaking good at it! Catchy, up-tempo songs prevail a la the band’s previous two albums, so you might find this all a pointless re-hash if you’re the type of person who minds, uh, “stylistic stagnation”. But this is my blog – we celebrate stylistic stagnation! As far as I’m concerned, the Cute Lepers can make ten more albums just like this one if they continue to write songs this good. I dare you to deny that “All This Attention Is Killing Me” would fit in perfectly on any compilation of classic ’77 punk songs! And it’s not like there’s been zero progression from the last record. Saxophone and piano effectively add new wrinkles on nifty album opener “Tribute to Charlie”, and the infusion of girl group harmonies hits a high note on tracks like “Head Over Heels” and “She Liked Helter Skelter”. Adventure Time is pretty much an instant pogo party. There surely are individuals who question why such a thing should exist in the year 2011. Those people, thank God, do not read this blog.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Project 175: The Battle Begins

Losing weight, no matter how interesting you try to make it, is not nearly as fun as gaining weight. Operation 200 was ultimately a failure, but boy did I enjoy it! It was ten days of unrestrained gluttony in the American Midwest as I freely indulged in all three of my essential food groups: the meat group, the beer group, and the sweets group. I laid around, relaxed, and fattened myself up with great diligence. Having missed the milestone 200 mark by approximately two pounds, I was unable to raise my fist in the air victoriously. But no worries! A new endeavor begins on this day - the first of “fall” 2011 on the Rutledge calendar (which revolves around my wife’s teaching schedule). Project 175 commences, and it will be far tougher than Operation 200. The task is to “cut down” to 175 pounds for a couple reasons. #1, I am a man of 40 and need to worry about such things as cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. #2, my wife and I are planning to partake of a Caribbean beach vacation early next year, and I want to be shredded for the beach (because, you know, I’m a vain, self-obsessed A-hole).

And so it goes. I arose this morning and weighed in (198 on the home scale). My waist line measured an out-of-hand 36 ¼ inches. I turned on my XM radio and tuned in to Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel. For the purposes of ceremony, I blasted the rock n’ roll and shaved my nine-day-old beard. My cat walked by and meowed out of respect. The game face is on. It’s time to get down to business. I will hereby be limiting myself to one beer per day. Sweets are out. Pop is out. Late night snacking is out. Branched chain amino acids and whey protein will be purchased in bulk. My first objective is to get down to 190 within three weeks. Workouts will no longer be devoted to hoisting ego-boosting poundages. I’m training for function. I’m training for performance. If Armageddon comes between now and the end of the year, I will be fit for hand-to-hand combat. Mad Max would understand. So would Rambo.

If you hear a scream around Eastern Time tonight, it’s just me jonesing for oatmeal raisin cookies.

- L.R.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Beaten Hearts rock!

Ever notice that the long-running joke about Canadian bands sucking doesn’t pertain to punk music? I don’t know what it is about Canadians, but they’ve always “gotten” punk rock. Maybe there’s something in the water. I once knew a guy who came back from a trip to Canada and swore that the beer tasted different…

Hailing from the beautiful Maritime province of New Brunswick, the Beaten Hearts are the latest in a long line of excellent punk bands from north of the border. Featuring the talents of lead singer Brian LaManna (ex Valentine Killers), Ray Auffrey (ex Bad Luck #13), Fear of Lipstick’s Derek Lounder and Jeremy O’Neill, and red-hot lead guitarist Tyler Boutilier, this Moncton five-piece is not exactly a gang of newcomers. And it shows in their music. Remember good old “punk rock n' roll”? It was kind of a happening thing circa the early to mid ‘90s when the likes of the New Bomb Turks, Humpers, and Devil Dogs reigned supreme. The Beaten Hearts take me back to those days. And, damn, they do this style well! Blending elements of early rock n’ roll with the flamethrower ferocity of its ‘70s punk antecedents (Dead Boys, Saints, Teenage Head), the Beaten Hearts make no attempt to be current or cool or progressive. They just put the pedal to the medal and rock. And while the cliché about bands of this particular style is that they’re “a lot of fun live”, what I appreciate about the Beaten Hearts is that they know how to make good records as well. Like any band with a ‘50s influence, they really understand the importance of a simple and well-written song. Debut single “Red Line Gurls” is one of the catchiest tunes of this (or any!) year. It’s full of tasty guitar hooks, handclaps, and ooh-and-ah backing vocals. Hear it once, and it'll be stuck in your head all day. “Rhonda Lynn” is another revved-up toe-tapping rocker, while second single “Badlands” shows a harder, nastier edge a la the Pagans/Rocket from the Tombs. And for something completely different, “Red Line Gurls” B-side “(This Is) How It Ends” slows the tempo for a melancholic but ballsy pop vibe. It’s pretty “rock”, but in a really good way. Cool tune!

Without a doubt, this is one of the best of the new bands to come on the scene since I stopped doing Now Wave. So you can see a big reason why I’m writing again - because it’s exciting to know that there’s great rock n’ roll out there. And if you have the good taste to like great rock n’ roll, check the Beaten Hearts out! The “Red Line Gurls” 7” is out Sonic Jett, and “Badlands” is out on the band’s own Maladroit Records. So hey, go buy some vinyl!

- L.R.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Modern Pets are not so tame!

If you’re like me and make no apologies for loving tried-and-true pogo punk, Germany’s Modern Pets are probably already on your radar. Formed around Stuttgart two years ago and now terrorizing the great city of Berlin, the Modern Pets combine the best elements of early Briefs and later Stitches. If that doesn’t sound completely awesome to you, then why are you reading my blog?! The band’s latest EP, “Vista Alienation”, is out on Modern Action Records here in the States. Hot damn, is this thing ever a jolt of energy! Spin it a couple times, and you won’t even need that can of Spike Shooter! Wild, crazy, and snotty as fuck, all three songs burn it up at just over two minutes a pop. I’m reminded a little of primo mid 2000s French bands like the Hatepinks and Neurotic Swingers – and that can only be a good thing! Now it’s the Germans’ turn to seize the stripe-shirted torch. These lads from the land of brats do the memory of The Pack and PVC proud. They have cool names like Automatic Axel, Toby Dishrag, Jay Hell, and Hustler, and they come up with highly sensitive song titles like “Killing Sounds for Rotten People”. But what really matters is that their music is freaking great! The style is basic, but it is executed with manic gusto and maximum catchiness. This sort of herky-jerky, “’77 punk on amphetamines” trip may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But I’ve always been a sucker for an unbridled pogo party. And the Modern Pets are one of the best bands in this vein to come down the pike (or autobahn!) in quite some time. A full-length album is in the works and will surely blow all our sorry asses away. In the meantime, order “Vista Alienation” or download it off iTunes if you’re “modern” like me (ha!).

- L.R.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Faster and Louder readers' poll!

So perhaps you read about the Rolling Stone readers' poll. Readers of the venerable rag were asked to select the greatest punk bands of all-time. Demonstrating what a bad idea democracy can sometimes be, RS readers named Green Day the greatest punk band of all-time. Hopefully this honor does not come with certain benefits – like a large cash prize or an arsenal of super powers – that should have gone to the Ramones estate. But come on. Can anybody actually say they’re surprised by the selection of Green Day? It was, of course, a poll of RS readers, not writers (who probably would have picked an even worse band for #1!). The shocking thing, considering that this was the general public making the call, is that they got so much of the list right. The Clash, Ramones, Stooges, and Sex Pistols, who’d all make my list, made this one too. Misfits and Black Flag were solid choices. I can even abide Bad Brains cracking the top ten. Some selections made me shake my head a little (Social Distortion?), and others were easy to predict (Dead Kennedys). But, you know, it could have been so much worse. I would have bet money that Rancid was going to come in ahead of The Clash!

Listing the ten greatest punk bands of all-time is probably not as easy as it sounds. What the heck, I’ll give it a try:

1. Ramones
2. Clash
3. Stooges
4. Sex Pistols
5. Buzzcocks
6. The Damned
7. Avengers
8. Stiff Little Fingers
9. Pagans
10. Saints

If I re-did the list tomorrow, it would probably be slightly different. Clearly I played it safe, picking no bands from the ‘90s or even the ‘80s! I considered Black Flag, The Misfits, X, and a few others from that time period. I would not have ruled out Cock Sparrer. I considered Teengenerate from the ‘90s. But when it comes to punk music, I’m most definitely a traditionalist. Guilty as charged! You know what I’m asking for next: your top tens. Come on…let’s have it!  

Neighborhood Brats are where it's at!

If you’re into classic female-fronted hardcore punk, you’re gonna go apeshit for San Francisco’s Neighborhood Brats! Jenny Angelillo (ex Orphans) and George Rager (Roofie and the Nightstalker) teamed up with Jasmine Watson and Kirk Podell (Neo Cons) late last year to form this fearsome foursome, and already the band’s got an EP out on Modern Action Records. And by the way, it’s great! Song titles like “Fast and Loose” and “Trampage” are not ironic – this is full-on blistering old school hardcore in a Circle Jerks/early Black Flag vein, with the vocal feel of The VKTMS. Good stuff! Available in CD, digital, and one-sided 12” formats, this five-songer flat-out rips. Every song is right around one minute and forty-five seconds long, and nothing is held back! I am talking total smash-you-in-the-face ferocity, but with catchy tunes a la Deadly Weapons. The Orphans were cool, but the Neighborhood Brats are twice as good and still on the rise! Dig “Lurking the Loin”, which will get you off if you like, uh, OFF! From what I’ve been told, this band absolutely destroys live, so it seems likely you’ll be hearing a lot more from Jenny and co. And by all means, check out Modern Action – the best new label going! It’s run by Johnny (The Bodies/Radio Records) and friends, and they are quickly cornering the market on all the best bands out there! They’ve already done releases for Smogtown, The Stitches, the Modern Pets, and Sharp Objects among others. Coming next is an Amoebas full-length!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dead Boys or The Pagans?

Time for another band battle. And let me tell ya, this one is tough. I’ve lost sleep over this decision. I consulted my therapist, my parents, and Dick Clark, and still no one could help me. I knew I was on my own. Cleveland’s greatest beer is Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. Cleveland’s greatest athlete is Jim Brown. Cleveland’s greatest actor is Paul Newman. But who’s Cleveland’s greatest band: the Dead Boys or the Pagans?

I’m guessing that if you polled the public, the Dead Boys would win in a landslide. But given my highly informed and most specific readership, I’m anticipating a photo finish. Unlike the Dead Boys, who recorded two LPs for a major record label, The Pagans never even made a proper album during their 1977-79 heyday. Their legacy is an extraordinary run of self-issued singles that rate with the best 45s of any early punk band. The Dead Boys may have coined the phrase “young, loud & snotty”, but the Pagans were just as loud and no less snotty.

Any way I look at it, it almost itself feels like it has to be a tie. I’d list Mike Hudson amongst the ten greatest punk singers of all-time. But I’d say the exact same thing for Stiv Bators. “Sonic Reducer” is one of my favorite songs ever, but I can’t say I like it any more than “What’s This Shit Called Love?” or “Street Where Nobody Lives”. The Dead Boys are to me the definitive American-style ’77 punk band with their flamethrower guitar leads and degenerate rock n’ roll stylings. But the Pagans, with their thumping ferocity and guitars that spewed noise like alien destruction machines, were the archetypes of Midwestern punk. I maybe give the Dead Boys a slight edge in terms of quantity of killer tunes. But then again, I can’t really say they had a third-or-fourth best song as good as “Eyes of Satan”, “I Juvenile”, or “Boy Can I Dance Good”. The Dead Boys took the influence of the Stooges and New York Dolls to the logical next step. The Pagans played rock n’ roll as if inspired by a chemical-induced rendezvous with God or perhaps the devil. But who was better? Hmmm.

Oh well, I guess it’s just like choosing between kielbasa and bratwurst. There is no wrong answer. I love both bands. But if you put a gun to my head, I’ll cast my vote for the underdog Pagans. The ball is in your court, dear voters!

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Boulevard Beat = Power Pop

There’s a really unfair stereotype about power pop bands from southern California being lame and superficial and poser-ish. And although I “get” where it comes from, it’s a really dumb generalization. Good music is good music whether it’s from New York City, the Trans-Siberian Railway, or Paducah, Kentucky. L.A.’s Boulevard Beat is the real deal. These guys don’t have a 16-page press kit chock full of professionally spun superlatives. They don’t sound like Third Eye Blind. If they look “cool”, it’s more in a throwback, Plimsouls sort of way. And even then, that’s not the focus. It’s really about the craft of classic power pop, with a bit of a modern interpretation to make it interesting. I first came to know of this band because friends of mine with 100 percent impeccable taste – like Peter from Jukebox Zeros and Pat from Pelado Records – “liked” them on Facebook. And if you also consider that they’re doing a record with No Front Teeth - one of the best “old school punk” labels in the world – it all adds up to the Boulevard Beat being the opposite of lame and superficial and poser-ish! 

Formed just two years ago, the Boulevard Beat sounds like a band that’s still working out its sound. I kind of like that. They show all the classic hallmarks of power pop – the sing-along choruses, the vocal harmonies, the guitar-driven songwriting aesthetic, etc. But there’s still a nice rawness to the songs. These guys don’t come off polished or “slick”, and I can just sense that they’re really in their element rocking out live. Soon-to-be single “8 Track Breakdown” is their signature tune and a cool one at that. It’s kind of like an old LA power pop sound meets the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”. The real hook is a super-catchy lead guitar part that keeps coming back and lodging itself deeper into your head. Heck, all the lead guitar work on this song is killer! All in all, “8 Track Breakdown” is not really a wow-you-off-the-bat type number but rather a subtle grower that really shows a skillful sophistication in the writing department. It’s four minutes long but doesn’t drag – a very good thing in my book! I also really like “Call the Doctor”, which is so raw that it sounds like a demo. Sure, it may not be radio-ready. But it’s really in the right spirit of power pop – fun and catchy but with aggressive, ringing guitars and a loose rock n’ roll feel. Think early Cheap Trick or even mod-era Who! I’m reminded quite a bit as well of a band I used to love back in the late ‘90s called Pat Dull and his Media Whores.

I think you’ll be hearing a lot more from The Boulevard Beat in the coming months. They look to be major up-and-comers in the power pop world, and what’s not to love about that?! EP out soon on No Front Teeth!

- L.R.