Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meet the Dead Tricks!

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

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

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

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

- L.R.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Lash Outs rock out!

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

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

- L.R.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Black Flag or The Circle Jerks?

Continuing along epic lines, how about a band battle that’s positively hardcore?! Sometimes I propose these throwdowns and kinda think I know how they’ll turn out. But this one is a total mystery to me. I can’t even begin to guess who’s gonna take it. We’ve got THE two preeminent California hardcore bands facing off. Someone could get hurt! Both helped define hardcore punk as we know it. Both made some classic records and some not-so-classic records. Both featured Keith Morris on vocals at one point. We’ll call this Battle Keith. It’s so close. 51 percent of me is leaning one way, and 49 percent is leaning the other. Black Flag, especially the early stuff, cannot be fucked with. But the C.J.s’ Group Sex, man, that might be the one album that best epitomizes hardcore punk for me. Wow. This is difficult! By the slimmest of margins, I’ll give it to the Circle Jerks! There's nothing quite like cranking up Group Sex to ear-shredding volumes on a day when I'm pissed off at the world and jonesing to punch someone in the face.

Alright, then, my friends! The power is in your hands. Vote early and often!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Great Band You Forgot: The Pink Lincolns

Having cut my zine-making teeth in the mid-‘90s, I often get nostalgic for the punk music of that time period. Those were great times to be writing about music! One band that was awesome in the mid-‘90s and never really got its due acclaim was the Pink Lincolns out of Tampa. Somehow they got lumped into that whole Screeching Weasel/Queers scene, but really there was nothing “pop” about the Lincolns’ brand of punk. If you like straight-up old school punk rock with a nasty edge, check out this classic from the band’s 1988 debut album:

Way closer to early Black Flag than it is to The Ramones, eh?! And here’s my all-time fave P.L. cut, from their ‘90s heyday:

A veritable monster of a track (no pun intended)! These guys ruled in the late '80s and '90s. Remember great albums like Suck and Bloat and Pure Swank? That shit was gold. As far as I know, this band never broke up. So maybe we haven't heard the last of the Pink Lincolns!

- L.R.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, the Ex-Gentlemen!

Here’s one for you fans of the “classic” Now Wave/Faster & Louder sound! Citing influences from early UK punk (Generation X, Stiff Little Fingers, Sham 69) and the power pop of the same era (Cheap Trick, Starjets), L.A.’s Ex-Gentlemen have “taken traditional power pop and blown a ’77 snot rocket on top”. Sweet! Where do I sign up?! And while bands sometimes come at you with a description like that but proceed to totally disappoint, The Ex-Gentlemen live up to every word of their billing. They really do bring back the old Gen X sound, and I think Billy Idol would have to be impressed. I can never get enough of shit like this: poppy ’77 style punk with anthemic choruses, massed backing vocals, and melodic guitar leads that get into your head and refuse to leave. Check out “Sunset Strip” or the video clip below, “Untouchables”. Pure gold, I say. Pure gold! This is a band that gets it. They’re not trying to change music or exploit a current market niche. They’re all about the music. Great songs in a classic style, done right, can never fail. I hope that we’ll be hearing much, much more from The Ex-Gentlemen!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Oh my, it's The Cry!

Credit Greg Mongroll via Something Fierce with the assist on this big score. And I do mean big score. I’d never heard of this group until 2:15 PM yesterday, and already The Cry! is pushing for a spot in my top ten current band list. I was instantly blown away. It’s tempting to call these Portland youngsters “up-and-comers”. But they’re not exactly coming…they’ve already arrived! I’ve been in the mood for some punky power pop lately, and The Cry! hits the spot! Wow- “Modern Cinderella” is a HIT. It’s a stunner of a pop song, laden with supreme guitar hooks, gorgeous melodies, and a super-catchy chorus you’ll be singing along with in no time flat. Killer stuff...shades of Cheap Trick, The Boys, and that great first TSAR album. Song of the year material here, folks! And it’s not like these kids just got lucky and wrote one decent song. They’ve got serious talent. “Sleeping Alone”  infuses poppy goodness and spiky energy into a ‘50s throwback sound, while “Waiting Around” suggests what Nick Lowe might have sounded like in the late ‘70s if he’d tried doo wop. The peppy “Wouldn’t Last” is very Exploding Hearts-ish, but not in a lame knock-off sort of way. Awesome tune! This band totally gets what pop is all about. Yeah, they have the style and the look down. But more importantly, they know their musical roots and really understand the craft of pop songwriting. They work intricately on their harmonies. They construct hooks that are built to last. And the lead guitar player rules! If you’re a pop guy, you have to be excited. Jump on board now - this band’s gonna be special.

- L.R.

Friday, October 07, 2011

O Canada!

In honor of the beginning of hockey season (an event always worth celebrating through the imbibing of hearty adult beverages from north of the border), I will briefly and without elaboration list my top ten Canadian punk bands of all-time. Here goes:

10. Modernettes (Vancouver)
9. The Hanson Brothers (Vancouver)
8. Chixdiggit (Calgary)
7. The Viletones (Toronto)
6. The Spaceshits (Montreal)
5. The Subhumans (Vancouver)
4. Forgotten Rebels (Hamilton)
3. Pointed Sticks (Vancouver)
2. Teenage Head (Hamilton)
1. D.O.A. (Vancouver)

Not bad, eh? Yeah, I know The Diodes are great too. They would have been #11.

Go Flyers!

- L.R.