Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Mongrolls Return!

The Mongrolls hold a particularly special place in F & L lore. They were one of the first bands I ever reviewed for this blog. I use the word "they" loosely since it's really just one guy doing everything. Vocals, guitar, bass, drums, recording, CD pressing, publicity, mail order - Greg does all of it. He is a true renaissance man. When the long-awaited third Mongrolls album Truth or Dare arrived in the mail, I explained to my wife that Greg Mongroll is like Prince. "So he's short and pretentious?" she replied.

There are two things I especially love about The Mongrolls. One is that they don't sound like a one-man band. The other is that while Greg brings a variety of musical influences to the table including power pop, first wave punk, and old-school hardcore, the end product always sounds like The Mongrolls. And we need more bands these days that sound like The Mongrolls. If you miss that classic '90s lo-fi garage punk sound, Truth or Dare will be music to your ears. Given the years of anticipation leading up to the release of this album, you might say this is Greg's Chinese Democracy. Except Greg can't afford the services of Tommy Stinson, and there are no songs that sound like Nine Inch Nails. Instead think Teengenerate, the Spider Babies, and countless Rip Off Records one-hit wonders. Truth or Dare, far from an homage to Madonna's high fashion electro-pop era, is 100 percent vintage Mongrolls. Trashed-out bargain basement production? Check. Ear-battering distortion? Check. Vocals that are a cross between a ranting professional wrestler and a deranged Ralph Kramden? Check! There's even the usual assortment of cover songs, all done up Mongrolls style. There's no denying Greg's considerable songwriting prowess ("Smash It" and "Drunk Again" are modern classics of garage punk in my book), but I always enjoy his interpretations of other bands' material. This time he has a go at Loli and the Chones, Unnatural Axe, Menace, and The Minds. Yeah, I know: that's some great taste in music. Plus they're cool versions. It seems like in the current age, people look down on cover songs like they're filler or something. Compare that to say, in the '60s, when the craft of interpreting someone else's song was rightfully viewed as artistry itself. I mean, where would this world be without Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect"? So there you go. Greg Mongroll is like Prince. And Aretha Franklin.

I do believe that while a handful of copies of Truth or Dare saw the light of day last year, technical difficulties at the pressing plant (i.e. Greg's house) delayed a full-blown release until recently. But having finally heard the album, I have to say it was definitely worth the wait. And for seven bucks post-paid, you won't find a better value anywhere. Plus now it's a really short wait until the next Mongrolls album, Get Dumb. That's due later this year! Two albums in one calendar year? I told you he's like Prince!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Feels like the First Times

You think Finnish punk, and probably Hanoi Rocks and Smack come to mind. What you don't think of is female-fronted punky powerpop a la Nikki and the Corvettes. But maybe that's about to change. Take away the Euro-accent in the vocals, and you might think Helsinki's First Times were from sunny California or the American Midwest! Seriously, "(I Don't Wanna) Party No More" sounds like something Bomp! Records would have released in 1980! And you damn well know that's my cup of tea! Wow, man, where did this band come from? Well, actually, I know where they came from: Finland. Is this the new Finnish sound? If so, I might have to move there! I've been searching for my ultimate summer record of 2012, and I do believe I've found it. First Times have posted two tracks from their forthcoming EP on their Bandcamp page for your listening pleasure. And I do mean pleasure. With its revved-up Chuck Berry backbeat, mega-catchy chorus, and spunky lead vocal, "(I Don't Wanna) Party No More" is the epitome of summertime fun! It's a stone cold hit. Dig, kids: this is gonna be your favorite song of the summer! And then you have "Girl On the Run", a hook-laden tale of heartbreak in the vein of the Paul Collins Beat. Nice! This, my friends, is what one calls a "teaser". You're gonna hear these two songs, and then you're gonna want the record. You'll get the record, and then you're gonna want a t-shirt, a tattoo, a cassette tape of all their demos, and the bobblehead doll collection! Yes, sir. First Times fever is upon us! This is my favorite new band of 2012 - and perhaps yours too!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Return of the King!

In my humble opinion, "King" Louie "Loomis" Bankston is the greatest living songwriter in all of rock n' roll. The man's already written my favorite song of this century ("Gypsy Switch") plus a few more that are modern classics in my book. Last year's debut LP by his Missing Monuments was a five-star blend of candy-coated power pop and deep-fried Cajun rock n' roll. It could have passed for a greatest hits collection! I picked "Victory Lap" as my runner-up for song of the year. And at this point in 2012, brand-new jam "(I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life" is far and away my favorite song of the year. It's set for a vinyl release next month on HoZac, but it debuted a few weeks back as a music video directed by Art Boonparn. It's so good. Seriously, this might be the best song that Loomis has written to date! This tune has everything: a great riff, a melody that you'll be whistling all day, well-placed oohs and ahhs, a memorable hook, a ripping guitar solo, and a cool, abrupt ending. And the video, well, it's something else! What could be better than bikini girls and muffulettas? How about bikini girls eating muffulettas?! And not one but two Flying V's? Now that's rock n' roll! If this song and "Another Girl" are any indication, Missing Monuments are somehow getting better - as if they weren't a completely phenomenal band already! Keep your eyes peeled for the new 7". And for now, enjoy the video!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The freaking Gaggers, man!

Holy crap, did it really take me a year to finally write about the almighty Gaggers?! Shame! Better late than never, I suppose. If we're talking the greatest punk rock bands walking the Earth today, The Gaggers are top five at least and making a frantic push for #1. And for sure they've got to be the best band to come out of England in...well...a long fucking time! If you played a Gaggers record for someone, you could easily pass it off as some forgotten gem of punk greatness from the first wave. With most bands you can tell that they're newer groups emulating the sounds of long ago. Not so with The Gaggers. They are 110 percent the real deal. I haven't heard a new punk band sound this delightfully raw and fantastically snotty since The Prostitutes first set fire to my eardrums back in the mid-'90s. High praise for sure, and this band more than merits it. Any time people talk Gaggers, certain references pop up. Pagans. Jabbers. Dead Boys. Germs. I don't disagree, but The Gaggers don't sound like they're copying those bands. They sound far more like a band that could have existed alongside those groups 35 years ago. Their guitar sound is filthy and ferocious. Their lyrics are nasty and uncouth. They play with destructive abandon, yet their songs are catchy as hell. And if you like "snotty" vocals, these guys have the best out there right now. When these blokes say they play "in your face, spit in their arse punk rock", they're not kidding!

Already on its second pressing (the first sold out in a day!), new single "Psychosomatic" is the first Gaggers release to feature their new-and-improved four piece lineup. The title cut just might blow your head off! In my book, it's an instant classic. Think Registrators' Terminal Boredom meets Stitches' 8 x 12. You Killed By Death geeks are gonna go bananas! On the flip, "Can't Control My Eyes" is another snot-rocket set to explode in your face. Prepare yourself!

Why is this record selling like hotcakes? Uh, because it's freaking awesome! If you don't like this, you're either half-dead or a closet Nickelback fan. Bring on that new LP!


Saturday, June 09, 2012

F & L First Anniversary Special!

Exactly one year ago, Faster and Louder debuted with a post on The Keefs. Hard to believe it's been a year already! In honor of this blog's first birthday, I figured something special was in order. I wanted to do something fun, something that could perhaps become an annual tradition. So I thought to myself, "How about my top five list of greatest rock n' roll songs of all-time?" I keep top five lists of everything: favorite movies, best chili, dream jobs, worst beers, coolest celebrity mustaches, tastiest Slurpee flavors, most underrated '90s sitcoms (Herman's Head all the way!), most overrated name it, I've listed it. Of course these lists change over time, and in particular my "top five greatest rock n' roll songs of all-time" list has gone through its fair share of additions and subtractions. Today I unveil the latest version of the list. It's a little "outside the box". There are no obvious choices here. No "Satisfaction", no "Louie Louie", no "Johnny B. Goode". There was no logic or critical perspective considered. I went straight with what my gut was telling me. If aliens rang my doorbell and asked me to introduce them to the rock n' roll music of the planet Earth, these are the first five tunes I'd play for them. Without any further ado, the list:

1. Real Kids - "All Kindsa Girls"
Some people might think this is more of a power pop song than a rock n' roll song. I say it's both. I mean, come on! If you don't think the Real Kids are rock n' roll, you don't know rock n' roll. One thing's not disputable: this song is sheer perfection.

2. Dictators- "Stay With Me"
I named this blog after a Dictators song for a reason. This is their greatest song. Their second greatest song, "Who Will Save Rock N' Roll?", is also in my top ten. 

3. Stooges- "Search and Destroy"
This used to be my #1. Now it's #3. I don't like to think of that as a demotion. I think of it as a promotion for "All Kindsa Girls" and "Stay With Me". Or we could just blame David Bowie.

4. Joneses- "Pill Box"
The best song Johnny Thunders never wrote. 

 5. Bobbyteens- "Firecracker"
You're probably wondering what this song is doing in my top five. I'm wondering why it's not at #1! "Firecracker" is one of the band's earliest songs - an absolutely genius amalgamation of lo-fi garage punk and '60s girl group pop, delivered with trashy abandon and libidinous glee. Tina Lucchesi's vocal on this track is absolutely classic. Listen and love!

Alright! Barring an unexpected apocalypse or unforeseen imprisonment, I will be back in 365 days with an updated version of this list. I guarantee you there will be changes. "Baby, I'm A King" by The Devil Dogs is currently #6 with a bullet!


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Meet Piccolo Pete!

Piccolo Pete, out of Long Beach and Huntington Beach, California, strives to create a “wonderful place where the sound of punk, pop & rock can happily coexist”. If you think that sounds like the kind of band I’d be into, you are, uh, absolutely right! Guitarist Nick Hanick and drummer Paul Sakry (from What Do I Get?) have teamed up with the legendary Jim Kaa to form this newest sensation of So-Cal punk rock. Inspired by the classic punk songwriting of Shelley/Diggle and Strummer/Jones, Piccolo Pete make no secret of their influences. But at the same time, they’re taking these classic sounds and “making them their own” (I know, I know, that’s a rock writer cliché- subtract points accordingly!). Brand new album Who The F*ck Is...Piccolo Pete is available for download on the trio’s Bandcamp page, and I highly recommend that you check it out. It’s awesome…and free

Typical of a band comprised of punk rock veterans, Piccolo Pete exhibits tremendous musicianship. So while a lot of today’s bands in the Buzzcocks/Jam mold come on in a caffeinated frenzy, these guys leave their music more room to breathe. Their style is “mature” in the best sense of the term. Think more A Different Kind of Tension than Spiral Scratch. The songs are well-crafted, lyrically witty, and full of instrumental breaks emphasizing the interplay between guitar and bass. As a musical unit, these three are as tight and crisp as it comes. They’ve got the harmonies and guitar sound of vintage Buzzcocks down to a T. There’s even a bit of a Shelley/Diggle type thing going on with the lead vocals. And Kaa, best known for his guitar work in The Crowd, is an absolutely sick bass player. While a couple songs like the terrific “You’re Never Near” are snappy pop/punk by the book, the best tracks are less hurried and a little more sophisticated. A couple really stand out. “Seen One, Seen Them All” cleverly finds parallels between our manufactured culture and one man’s female troubles, while “As the Summer Fades” is a touching recollection of childhood fun in the pre-Internet age. Truthfully, there’s not a bad song in the bunch. These guys can do anything from 100 percent pure pop (“Above the Water”) to balls-out rockin’ punk (“New New Girlfriend”). Even the covers (Buzzcocks’ “Walking Distance” and The Jam’s “All Mod Cons”) are keepers.

I love it that Piccolo Pete is so excited about its new record that it just wants to people to hear it free of charge. I’m thinking that a lot of individuals will like it so much that they will end up paying for a hard copy. Of course I’ve always been a sucker for this particular sub-genre of punk. But truthfully I’ve never heard a band play it quite like Piccolo Pete does. As musicians and songwriters, these guys are a cut above. Among the ever-growing list of top ten worthy albums of 2012, here’s one that will be very hard to deny.


Monday, June 04, 2012

Husker Du or Sugar?

This debate started on Mike Frame's Facebook wall. Mike wondered if he's the only person who likes Sugar better than Husker Du. This got me to thinking. I love Sugar. They were one of the best and most underrated bands of their time. But I've always considered Husker Du one of the two or three greatest bands of the entire 1980s. Moreover, Husker Du is my third favorite band of all-time, trailing only The Clash and AC/DC. Could Sugar possibly be better?

When I really break it down, it's a closer call than it seems. For starters, in Sugar's favor the sound quality of their recordings is far superior. Husker Du, as great as they were, suffered from some lackluster production on record (especially their Warner Brothers releases, with that awful mid-'80s tinny drum sound). And if we're comparing rhythm sections, Sugar wins that one going away. And probably, if I had to name the single best album that Bob Mould has ever played on, I'd go with Sugar's Copper Blue. My favorite Bob Mould song? "If I Can't Change Your Mind".

But then we turn to some points in favor of Husker Du. There was a point in my life when I never imagined I'd say this, but here goes: Husker Du is better than Sugar because Sugar didn't have Grant Hart. I'm not talking about his drumming. I'm talking about his songs. Husker Du would not have been the same without songs like "Turn On the News", "Books About UFOs", "Diane", "Pink Turns To Blue", and "It's Not Funny Anymore". I'm still more of a Mould fan, but I like the yin/yang effect that Hart brought to the group. And if Copper Blue is the single best Bob Mould record, the rest of my top five would all be Husker Du titles: Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, Metal Circus, Everything Falls Apart. And if Metal Circus doesn't count, Flip Your Whig is next. The gist of Mike's argument was that Sugar in general had a higher percentage of A-grade material versus filler/throwaways. That may be true (except for Beaster, which should have been called Bob Mould Shits On Your Eardrums). But for me, I just can't ignore the sheer volume of incredible Husker Du songs. Perhaps it's not a fair comparison since Sugar only made two proper albums and Husker Du made six or seven. But if I was going to make a compilation of both bands' best 20 songs, I think the Husker collection would be considerably better. Plus I love the variety of Husker Du's body of work - how they started out doing thrash/speed punk, then practically invented melodic hardcore, then became icons of "alternative" rock.

All things considered, I give the edge to Husker Du by a hair (off of Greg Norton's mustache). Who's with me? Who's with Mike? Speak now!


Friday, June 01, 2012

Get OFF!

Saying that OFF! is a great band is about as insightful as proclaiming that The Pope is Catholic or that LeBron James is good at basketball. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple years, you're well aware of the group's greatness. But how's that new album? Well, some people will tell you that another OFF! album in the exact same vein as The First Four EPs is pretty much pointless. While others will insist that OFF! self-titled is an instant classic of its genre. Me being me, I'm bound to agree far more with the latter view. Sure, at this point we've lost the surprise value of OFF! reviving the Nervous Breakdown era Black Flag sound like 1978 never ended. But come on: it was never the "novelty" of OFF! that made you buy their records and go to their shows. OFF! worked (and continues to work) not because it's a neat concept, but rather because the band itself is fucking incredible. Keith Morris, at age 56, still puts every teenage punk rock screamer out there to shame. And his band mates absolutely crush it, exhibiting a tightness and fury that are pretty much unsurpassed in today's punk world. Forget comparing it to The First Four EPs. On its own merits, OFF! totally rips. By no means has the playbook been altered. But, really, did it need to be? Keith is still really pissed off about a whole lot of things, and he's in raging form throughout this 16-song, 16-minute smackdown of textbook hardcore punk. Greg Ginn in his prime had nothing on Dimitri Coats. And that rhythm section is relentless! Nothing fancy here, folks. OFF! come fast and hard and leave nothing but a trail of destruction. This is one of those "crank it to max volume and scream along 'til you're hoarse" type albums that you'll want to put on whenever you're in a super foul mood or just feel like getting out some aggressions. "I Got News For You" is directed at a certain someone, but for your purposes its hostilities can easily be transferred to whomever is enraging you at the moment. And given our current eve of destruction zeitgeist, tracks like "Toxic Box" and "Borrow and Bomb" come off like veritable anthems for 2012. When you can bring the fire the way OFF! does, the issue of stylistic stagnation is pretty much a moot point.

Ever notice that when some douche bag pulls up next to you on the road and he's got his car stereo blasting at earsplitting levels, he's always listening to shit music? And then you want to get out of your car and punch the dude in the face? Just once, I'd like that to not be the case. It would make my day if I came across a fellow driver jamming to "Wiped Out", "503," or "Cracked" at an obnoxiously loud volume. Hell, it would probably make my year! Buy this album, and you have my permission to dial up the decibels! Is OFF! essentially a rehash of the singles? Uh, yeah. And I wouldn't want it any other way.