Friday, September 30, 2011

Say hello to the Sore Subjects!

It’s my last September post, and I’m ending the month with a bang! Sore Subjects out of Chicago are far away one of the very best of the new generation of old-style punk bands. They’ve got a 7” out on No Front Teeth Records that may or may not be already sold out, and if we’re lucky there will be many more releases to come! This band gets it right, playing thumping mid-tempo punk that’s simple, catchy, and straight-up bad-ass. Think Ramones meets Rip Off Records with boy/girl tandem vocals and a cheap-beer drinking (Schlitz? Yes!), leather jacket wearing modus operandi. Who can’t relate to that?! Their songs are primitive three-chord bashers, but they’re perfectly conceived and darn near impossible to get out of your head. This, my friends, is fun music. This, my friends, is PUNK ROCK. Let us hope that Sore Joey, Marissa DNA, and Charlie Trashcan have a full album in store for us. There are not enough bands like this left in the world!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sometimes it's good to be a Bad Sport!

Some things never change. Back around the time I bowed out of this music-reviewing game, Dirtnap was far and away the best label going. Four years later, I jump back into the fray. And what do you know? Dirtnap is still the big dog of punk labels! How do you like them apples?! Ken may very well have put out the two best albums of 2011 so far. You know how I feel about Something Fierce’s Don’t Be So Cruel. And now we have the sophomore effort from Bad Sports right on its heels! Yep: Ken Dirtnap knows good music.

If there were a family tree of Dirtnap bands, Bad Sports would be on the “Texas branch” with Something Fierce, Marked Men, and High Tension Wires. The first thing I thought when I heard new album Kings of the Weekend was that it sounded like something that would have come out on Rip Off Records in the early 2000s. And that’s meant as high praise, brother! Bad Sports have that Texas garage punk meets catchy ’77 punk type thing going on that the Marked Men popularized back in the day. And Mark Ryan himself sat in the producer’s chair for this album. But Bad Sports are not Marked Men wannabes. They’re their own band entirely, and they’re doing Denton, Texas proud. This is the kind of music you just don’t hear enough of these days: straight-up kick-ass punk with balls, melody, and energy out the wazoo. There’s an obvious Ramones influence in play, but not in a wimpy pop-punk sort of way. These boys rock! Ryan’s production is clean and crisp. But rather than sanitizing the Bad Sports’ sound, it actually makes it more powerful. And with songs this well-written and exuberantly played, who wouldn’t want sonic clarity?! The album title makes you think of good times and simple fun, and that’s exactly what the Bad Sports bring. Rarely do you hear a band that can deliver both a fast-and-furious adrenaline rush of punk rock and perfectly-crafted hook-laden pop songs. But Bad Sports do exactly that. Kings of the Weekend is a total blast. It’s the kind of album that you can throw on anytime, and immediately it makes your day better. Every song is good, and only two of 14 tracks clear the two-and-a-half-minute mark. As the Road Warriors used to say - what a rush! We can throw around buzz words like “garage” and “power pop” if we want, but ultimately this is just good old-fashioned punk rock. And Kings of the Weekend is quite simply a freaking great album. So is it my #1 album of the year, or only my #2? I’m not telling!

- L.R.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Ten Greatest UK Punk Albums!

Inspired by Gunther’s declaration that Damned, Damned, Damned might be the best-ever UK punk album, I decided it was time to work up another one of my famous lists. It’s been a busy week with me having to empty my Netflix queue and sample the new Steakhouse Thickburger at Hardee’s. But I’ve come through. These are, in my opinion, the ten greatest UK punk albums ever made:

10. Eater- The Album (1977)
True: they could barely play, and every song sounded pretty much the same. But that was part of what made them great! In a first wave English punk scene dominated by older bands affecting youthfulness, Eater were bona fide teenagers who flouted base sexual urges and an adolescent level of humor (“Get Raped”). The Album is such a classic of high-speed fuck-off punk that it makes this list over landmark issues by the likes of the Buzzcocks and The Jam.

9. X-Ray Spex – Germ Free Adolescents (1978)
As I’ve mentioned previously, this is one of my favorite albums of all-time.

8. The Boys- Alternative Chartbusters (1978)
First album was great, but Alternative Chartbusters took it to another level. One of the all-time great albums to ride the fine line between powerpop and punk.

7. The Adverts- Crossing the Red Sea (1978)
Hands down, the most underrated band of first wave punk. This, their first album, is a stone-cold classic.

6. Generation X (1978)
I would have ranked this higher if the UK issue had included “Wild Youth” and “Your Generation” (both wisely added to the American version).

5. Vibrators- Pure Mania (1977)
Maybe they did cut their hair and jump on the punk bandwagon. But you can’t deny that when it comes to the ’77 punk sound, Pure Mania is one of the all-time definitive records. From start to finish, it’s pretty much a perfect album.

4. The Damned- Damned, Damned, Damned (1977)
This is the only Damned album I ever really listen to. Gunther and I aren’t too far apart in regards to its place in history.

3. Sex Pistols- Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)
Of course!

2. The Clash (1977)
Although I kinda maybe sorta have to admit the later U.S. release was the superior product, the original U.K. issue is the “definitive” version of The Clash. Anyone who says The Clash was overrated needs to listen to this album six times in a row at max volume. “London’s Burning” is the balls!

1. Cock Sparrer- Shock Troops (1983)
I’m going just a little outside the box here, but I honestly can’t think of a greater UK punk album than Shock Troops. Almost every song is a classic. And although it didn’t come out ‘til ’83, the sound was of a ’77 vintage. When we talk about “anthemic” punk, this is what we mean.

Yeah, I know: there’s nothing on here to represent the time period after 1983. That should hardly surprise anyone considering who I am and what I like. Was I supposed to slot the freaking Artic Monkeys ahead of X-Ray Spex? Come on! I do feel bad about excluding Wire’s Pink Flag. Ruts were on the bubble, as were The Anti-Nowhere League. I wanted to get The Rezillos in there as well (Yes, Scotland is part of the U.K…Look it up). But come on…it’s a top ten list. There are supposed to be some tough decisions! Comment away, gentlemen!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sex Pistols or The Damned?

Another band battle! And it's a veritable clash of titans! I've got no idea who's gonna take this one. Both bands are among my favorite groups of all-time. Both bands were near the top of the class of my favorite era of music: '77-'79 punk rock. Do I give it to The Damned because of longevity? Do I go with the Pistols due to "historic importance"? Hmmm. I love Damned Damned Damned, but Never Mind the Bollocks could be my favorite punk LP ever. How many times, in the formative years of my punk rock education, did I play that tape?! Hundreds, probably. This one's so close that I won't even attempt to make a logical case. The logical case would be for The Damned, who continued to make good-to-great records long after the Pistols disbanded. But my gut says the Sex Pistols. The Damned were cool, but the Pistols were even cooler. I like Dave Vanian, but I love Johnny Rotten. Some may slight the Pistols by saying their fame was largely the product of marketing and controversy, but that's b.s. considering the music more than lived up to the hype. If I had to pick just one song to play for visitors from another galaxy who wanted to know what "punk rock" sounded like, I'd pick "God Save the Queen". And when you consider that certain legendary-in-their-own-right bands like the Buzzcocks and X-Ray Spex became what they did largely because they'd seen the Pistols, it kind of blows the mind.

So there's my vote. You're up next!

- L.R.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Other Side of Darkness

I had been eagerly awaiting the release of Night Birds’ debut album The Other Side of Darkness for a number of months. I was psyched! I was checking on-line for updated release dates on a bi-weekly basis. I kept inspecting the prospective cover art so that my guy at the tattoo shop would have something to work with. I scheduled two vacation days in Mid-September so I could circle dance in my living room and go surfing on the Codorus Creek. Too often in life, such highly anticipated things end up disappointing. There was that date in college with Gina Millaveski, who turned out to be both a bra-stuffer and an obsessed fan of Jesus Jones and EMF. Vanilla Coke was a complete and utter bust. And I’m still waiting for George Lucas to refund the $6 I spent to see The Phantom Menace. But Night Birds - they were not about to let me down. I expected The Other Side of Darkness to be album of the year material, and that’s exactly what it is!

By now it’s been well established that Night Birds fly under the influence of early ‘80s California hardcore and surf-punk. But that’s just a frame of reference, not a band-definer. Yeah, these guys have heard their fair share of Adolescents, Agent Orange, and Dead Kennedys records. But they are not copyists. They are very much a band for now. Musically, their 13-songs-in-22-minutes breakneck ferocity is hardly novel. But in combining a slight eeriness with a zany sense of humor and pure hardcore aggression, Night Birds exhibit the kind of distinctiveness that separates great bands from not-so-great bands. Plus they’re just really freaking good at what they do. If you have doubts that punk rock can remain a vital musical form some four decades after The Stooges spat out “I Got A Right”, this album ought to erase them fast. And I do mean fast! Faster and louder? This is IT! While Night Birds’ arsenal is expanding and maturing (a little!), there’s no drop-off in terms of speed or intensity. This record flat-out rips. Invite some friends over and get a circle pit going. Or just crank up the volume to 11 and piss off the neighbors! I always appreciate bands who know how to tap into the zeitgeist of their time – and songs like “Demon Haunted World” and “Paranoid Times” do just that. If this is what punk rock sounds like in the year 2011, then punk’s in damn good shape. Five stars!

- L.R.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Right hot dog, wrong bun!

Hey kids! Remember music videos? Here’s one for you. It’s our old pal Travis Ramin (The Fevers, Tina and the Total Babes, Candygirl, Nikki Corvette and the Stingrays, The Short Fuses, etc., etc.) doing the solo thing a la Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello. And he’s singing about food (kind of)! This smash hit is rising fast up the pop charts. Don’t believe me? Look out your window – people are dancing in the streets! And not just because Dallas lost! Raminmania is in full flight! Get on board while the getting is good! Right hot dog, wrong bun! Who can’t relate to that?!

- L.R.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Food of the Year: The Contenders

By popular demand (actually just the singular suggestion of Dr. Shawn Abnoxious), I am publicly announcing the nominees for this year’s Faster and Louder Food of the Year Award. The victor, along with all the rest of the 2011 Faster and Louder Award winners, will be declared at a black-tie event to be held New Year’s Eve at a top secret location. Many of the following food items have already been mentioned in this very blog space. Some have not. Pay attention. You may be quizzed on this material at a later date.

The nominees:
Tony Packo’s hot dog (Toledo, OH)
Steak N’ Shake double steakburger
The Slice of Heaven sub at The Deli of Italy (York, PA) (Sicilian salami, capocollo, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella)
Hardee’s Original Thickburger combo
The Original Philly cheesesteak at Philadelphia Steaks & Hoagies (Camp Hill, PA)

I had originally nominated the gyros at Gyro X-Press in York, but upon further review the fifth and final nomination must go to Hardee’s. First of all, Hardee’s has by far the best fast food French fries going (McDonald’s be damned!). And the 1/3 pound Thickburger – made from angus beef – is up there with the Wendy’s double at the very top of its class. Hardee’s, once a declining power in the fast food world, has made itself over in recent years by emphasizing quality at a slightly higher price point than its competitors. Driven by my latest numerical imperative, Mission 350 (the objective is to deadlift 350 pounds, without straps, by the end of the year), I have been visiting Hardee’s on an average of twice a week in pursuit of extreme nutritional fortification. I recommend that you do the same.

Other honors to be handed out at the 2011 Faster and Louder Awards may include:
Album of the Year
Song of the Year
Beer of the Year
The Championship Belt (awarded to the reigning Greatest Band on Earth)
Album of the Year Masters Class (only bands formed prior to 1986 are eligible)
Best New Band
The Patrick Bateman Prize for Excellence in Music Criticism
Least Sucky Mainstream Hit Single
The Faster and Louder Lifetime Achievement Award

Tickets for this first annual extravaganza will soon be available from your local purveyors of Polish sausage, craft beer, plus-sized pornographic films, and strongman training equipment. Andy Dick is tentatively signed on to host. The Mongrolls will be playing songs from their new album and debuting their two new members who were recently smuggled into Cape Cod via row boat. ESPN 4 will have the live broadcast. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New England's newest hit makers, indeed!

If I often praise certain bands for ignoring the past thirty years of “progress” in popular music, then surely I have to like a band that’s ignored the past fifty. It’s 1962 all over again when I’m listening to The Connection. And since ‘62 predates my birth by nine years, my love for this band has nothing to do with nostalgia. What it has to do with is great music. I was raised on oldies radio. And back then, “oldies” meant The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Chuck Berry. You know….the best music ever made! Ever notice that today, “oldies” radio now means The Eagles and Jimmy Buffet? Hell, you might as well listen to Top 40! Thankfully some people still appreciate real rock n’ roll. You might remember the names Brad Marino, Geoff Palmer, Chris Faulkner, and Andy Casey from bands like The Guts, The Queers, The Rydells, and Red Invasion. Now they are The Connection - the pride of Portsmouth, New Hampshire! If you love real oldies radio like it used to be, you’re gonna love The Connection. New album New England's Newest Hit Makers takes it all the way back to the classic sounds of the early ‘60s - most notably the British Invasion and early Beach Boys. Whether you prefer the Mersey Beat/proto power pop bliss of “All You Gotta Do” and “I Want You”, the surfy splendor of “Little Lies” and “My Baby Likes to RnR”, or the ’50s flavored goodness of “It’s All Right”, you’ll just have to smile listening to this record. There’s no posturing here. There’s no pretending to be “tough” or even trying to be “punk”. Straight-up, this is fun, feel-good rock n’ roll of the highest quality. The songs are great, the energy is contagious, and the style is timeless. What’s not to love?! This is the debut album The Oneders could have made. If you say it sounds like something your grandma would like, I am pretty sure The Connection would take that as a high compliment. A+!

- L.R.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Great Band You Forgot: The Metros

The Metros, from Detroit, had a really catchy punk n' roll sound. They put out one of the best albums ever released on Rip Off Records. Yet nobody seemed to notice, and the band disbanded with little fanfare in the year 2000. I don't know why The Metros never picked up the same level of hype as some of their "big name" labelmates. I don't understand why nobody talks about The Metros anymore, or even remembers them. They were the shit! Remember this one?

How about this one?

Let's show The Metros some love!

- L.R.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Tenement rules, okay?

Blending the sounds and styles of Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., and early Replacements into that noisy basement pop-punk thing that’s been big in the Midwest for years, Appleton, Wisconsin’s Tenement has firmly established itself as one of the top bands going these days. Long-awaited debut LP Napalm Dream, released this summer, has got to be in the album of the year conversation. It’s really freaking great. Ultimately it makes no difference whether you perceive of Tenement as an indie-fied punk band or a punkified indie band. Because at the end of the day, this power trio fronted by Chinese Telephones drummer Amos Pitsch hearkens back to a time when people weren’t so obsessed with labeling underground music. Great music was great music. Hell, it still is! And Tenement makes great music. The way this band combines melody, aggression, and crackling guitar noise, you’re sure to be reminded of the classic bands it emulates.  But at the same time, Tenement’s music is legitimately “now” sounding. Ultimately, it’s the distinctiveness of the band’s sound and the top-shelf quality of Pitsch’s songwriting that separate Tenement from any of a number of run-of-the-mill indie-classic revivalist type groups. If you like full-throttle rockers, songs like “Stupid Werld”, “Earwig”, and “Skyscraper” are raging, hook-laden, and immediately satisfying. But there are plenty of nice surprises as well, such as “City Bus #30”, which shifts tempos numerous times and demonstrates that finessed songwriting can still kick ass. And “Rock Eating People” sounds like what early ‘90s indie rock would have sounded like if it had actually, uh, rocked! I’ve heard more than one person say that Tenement “owns” pop-punk music these days, and I don’t doubt that for a second. But to some people, “pop-punk” still means wimpy three-chord pop and insipid lyrics about girls. Tenement is more like a band that would have fit in perfectly on your mid-’80s Descendents/Husker Du mixed tapes (yet still, improbably, sounds contemporary in 2011). Napalm Dream, delivering 13 hits and zero misses, will have fans in both “the kids” and oldsters like me. If I owned a record store, I’d file it in the “awesome” section.

- L.R.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hello, Angora Debs!

I was an Angora Debs true believer the instant I read the band bio blurb “Oakland's answer to Pete Shelley and Dan Treacy attempting to write pop songs and smile between meltdowns”. Late of early 2000s faves the FM Knives, Zack and Patrone teamed up with Marie D. (The Bananas) and Thiemann (The Yahmos, Crash & Britany, the Pretty Girls) to form this notably up-and-coming punk/powerpop outfit. They don’t have that much music out there just yet, but a quick YouTube search will lead you to a dandy one-two punch of pop hits. “If I Go Back” and “Cross Your Fingers” both combine Buzzcocks style punk with high energy lo fi-ish powerpop and hints of the British Invasion. None of this is particularly surprising based on what we remember of the FM Knives. But I’m inclined at this point to say the Angora Debs might be even better than the FM Knives. I love the hooks. I love the ringing melodies. I love the contrast between the upbeat music and the emotionally distraught lyrics. “Nick Lowe on an amphetamine bender with the Buzzcocks”? Sounds good to me! Consider this group an early favorite for Band of the Year 2012!

Same as it ever was...

Given that I am and have always been a ‘70s punk/new wave guy, I know I’m supposed to like Talking Heads. And so I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve made every effort. I’ve been open-minded. I’ve given Talking Heads a good three decades to win me over. But when it comes right down to it, I kind of hate their music. Yeah, I know. “Psycho Killer” is cool. And “This Must Be the Place” is pretty great. But that’s pretty much it. David Byrne bothers me. I thought he sucked when I was 12, and I think he sucks now. And I generally don’t mind “punk” bands with an art school influence. But for whatever reason, I can’t stand Talking Heads. The closest I come to loving a Talking Heads song is “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club. And having been bombarded with 30 years of critical and fan acclaim for Talking Heads, I can only gather that there’s something wrong with me, something I’ve yet to “get”. It’s not them, it’s me. Two questions, then, faithful readers. First, does anyone else out there think Talking Heads suck balls? And second, do any of you dislike certain universally acclaimed bands? Is there a band that everyone else likes that you, for whatever reason, have never been able to get into? Inquiring minds want to know!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Situations, Situations...

Dave Getzoff, America’s most beloved punk rock D.J., is three-quarters of Tricky Situations. He plays guitar and bass. He sings lead. Legend has it he even bought himself a cowbell in preparation for an epic cover of “Gimme Danger”. Much like other virtuoso multi-instrumentalists such as Prince and Greg Mongroll (who, it turns out, are 12th cousins twice removed as evidenced by matching purple pinky rings), Dave has begun preparations to have himself cloned in order to facilitate live performances. For now, it will have to suffice to enjoy Tricky Situations as a “studio project”. Recorded this summer with drummer Graham Diguiseppi and producer Cedric Crouch (a veritable legend in southeastern Pennsylvanian punk circles), TS’s six tracks are predictably forged in the old school punk style (You didn’t expect party rap music from Dave, did you?). Sounding quite a bit like the early Dimestore Haloes, Tricky Situations take inspiration from everyone from Johnny Thunders to The Ramones to Slaughter and the Dogs (I’ll give you a donut if you can tell me where they got their band name from!). Simple, no-frills punk tunes like “On My Mind” and “Under the El” ought to find favor with long-running readers of mine or anyone else who enjoyed the ‘90s renaissance of ’77 punk. Although the songs are quite raw, this “digital EP” of sorts is great fun and delightfully devoid of any “modern” influences whatsoever. All in all, damn cool! For sure: you can still do a lot with three chords and some tasty guitar hooks!

- L.R.