Thursday, July 26, 2012

The No Tomorrow Boys are back!

I have a theory that when punk music started to take a wrong turn (circa the mid-'80s to early '90s), it was because it had lost touch with its rock n' roll roots. You didn't hear much Chuck Berry or Johnny Thunders or even Iggy Pop in crossover thrash or D-beat hardcore. I like my punk to rock, ya know? So it goes to figure that I'm going to have a soft spot for bands that not only acknowledge the rock n' roll element of punk music but also embrace it. To me, the definitive musical moment of '77 punk rock was The Avengers covering "C'mon Everybody". It was two eras converging - one band paying tribute to the sounds that begat punk rock and at the same time showing just how far they'd run with them. Who was the single coolest dude of first wave punk? Darby Crash? Sid Vicious? Nah, I'm gonna go with Billy Zoom, with his pompadour and silver leather jacket, wailing away on lead guitar like he was Chuck Berry's delinquent son. And when punk rock got really good again in the '90s, who was the band that propelled me into the thick of it? The '50s inspired Dimestore Haloes!

These days, the happy marriage of '77 punk and '57 rock n' roll lives on in bands like Portland's No Tomorrow Boys. I first reported on this trio late last year after they released their first single. And now they've got another record on the street - an endeavor of such magnitude that it took three labels to put it out! Based on their look, you might think, "Oh, so they're rockabilly." Well, not exactly. On this record, I'd describe their sound as '77/garage punk with a '50s rock n' roll influence. My cup of tea for sure! For lack of better terms, they sound more "punk" and less "retro" this time out. Yet they've retained all the switchblade swagger of their debut. Do you like The Gears? Teenage Head? Ever wondered what it would have sounded like if Gene Vincent had been in The Stooges? Then you're gonnna dig "Animal Eyes"! As good as the last record was, this one is even better. I really hear a band coming into its own and figuring out how to blend all these elements together and create a distinct sound. They're not the new Cramps. They're not the next Devil Dogs. They're the one-and-only No Tomorrow Boys! "Animal Eyes" is the shot of adrenaline you need to take your day to the next level. I'm talking wild, primitive rock n' roll without a trace of corniness, brimming with lusty energy and bona fide attitude. If this number doesn't have you off the couch and jumping around like a maniac in ten seconds flat, there may be no hope for you whatsoever.

The B-side is aces as well. "(You Gotta) Romeo It" is surely a crowd favorite when NTB play live. You just have to sing along. They really push the tempo on this one. I mean, they're flying. Reminds me a little of some of those early Beltones records that I loved back in the '90s where it was going a million miles an hour. These fellas are clearly having fun, and so are you if you're listening at home! "Hang On Baby" is no less frantic, and just as much of a blast! This band has done a very impressive thing: take the energy and spirit of music from 55 years ago and turn it into something fresh and happening enough to win over today's young 'uns. In a year full of fantastic 7-inches, this one may turn out to be the very best of the lot. Get hip to these cats!


Monday, July 23, 2012

The Lovesores make a record!

Featuring the two founding members of perhaps the greatest punk rock n' roll band this world has ever known, Portland's Lovesores were surely expected to wow us off the bat. And they have. When you've got Scott "Deluxe" Drake on vocals and the man Jeff Fieldhouse on guitar, anything outside of a Humpers style sound would just seem wrong. No worries - Scott, Jeff, and friends haven't strayed from the formula one bit! As the devil intended, The Lovesores play boozy, sweat-drenched rock and roll. They aspire to nothing more or nothing less. On their debut single "Fast Friends", they kick up a hellfire racket of trashed-out '70s punk by way of Chuck Berry. If the masses had any taste, millions of people would have lined up outside of record shops last week to score a copy. I mean, come on. If you like this kind of music (which you clearly do if you're reading my blog!), it just doesn't get any better than this. It's Scott motherfucking Drake! The man's not getting older - he's getting better! And he's got one hell of a band backing him these days. With Boz Bennes and Adam Kattau (of Fast Takers) and Alex Fast (of LSD & D) on board, I'd say this lineup could go toe-to-toe with the mighty Humpers in their prime. This style of music, in the hands of lesser practitioners, can come off as cheeseball cliche. But The Lovesores are what you'd call the gold standard of this genre. "Fast Friends", with its red-hot leads and full-bore degenerate swagger, will have you feeling like it's 1995 all over again. If it doesn't stir your soul, you're a closet Nickelback fan. LP coming out on Devil's Jukebox Records!


Friday, July 20, 2012

The Pegs kill it (again)!

I continue my reviewing spree of No Front Teeth/Rapid Pulse co-releases with the latest from the almighty Pegs. This is my second time posting on The Pegs, and it would be an understatement to say that my enthusiasm for this band has not diminished over the past year. If you, like me, are keen on the classic Orange County punk sound, surely you are already a fan of The Pegs. And if not, well, where in the hell have you been the last ten years?! Already sold out on No Front Teeth's end (because the English know what's up!), Nobody's Listening Anyway is still available from Rapid Pulse/Underground Medicine for a measly $4.50 plus postage. It's a deal and a steal! A-side cut "Ricky Don't Surf"is an absolute ripper of a song. Put it on a mix with classic tunes from the likes of The Crowd, Smogtown, D.I., and Agent Orange, and it'll fit right in. What I love about The Pegs is that they've got every element of the signature So-Cal punk sound down to a T. You've got The Skipper's in your face vocal testosterone. You've got Rikk Agnew/Kerry Martinez style guitar brilliance from Adam Smash. You've got a powerhouse rhythm section. In the grand tradition of So-Cal punk rock, "Ricky Don't Surf" comes on hard and fast but brings a ton of melody. Listening to this song is like taking a kick in the teeth and realizing that you loved it. No doubt, you could easily pass this tune off as a long-last O.C. classic from 1980 (or 1998, same difference).

On the B-side are two songs: a Mariachi instrumental and a faithful cover of Celine Dion's "The Power of Love". Just kidding. These guys do not stray from attack mode. "Phoney Tough" in particular is vintage Pegs, with its anthemic chorus, melodic leads, and surprisingly finessed harmonies. One part of me wishes that this band were more prolific. But the other part of me is glad that they're not. When you only put out a handful of singles in a decade, you know that every song they release is going to be gold. Case in point: this very record. Nobody's listening? The accounting department at No Front Teeth would beg to differ!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Forever In Mean Jeans!

I cut my teeth writing about pop-punk music, so it's a little strange that I've been doing this blog for over a year without reviewing a single pop-punk band. That changes today, and boy did I ever pick a good band to feature! Mean Jeans have given us not just the best pop-punk album of this year but possibly the best pop-punk album of the last ten years. It's been a long time since I've heard a pop-punk record that could legitimately rival the best stuff that was coming out on Lookout! Records circa the early '90s. On Mars totally does! This particular sub-genre of music is oft-criticized, sometimes with good reason. When pop-punk is bad, it's really bad. But when it's good, it's pretty much the best music ever. And being a "glass half-full" kind of guy, I'd rather focus on the latter. Mean Jeans make pop-punk music the way it was meant to be: simple, stupid, and impossible to get out of your head. There's a very fine line between being inspired by The Ramones and flat-out copying The Ramones. A lot of bands cross that line, but Mean Jeans drunkenly walk it without stumbling over. If I think about where pop-punk in general has gone wrong over the last 10-20 years, it's that it's gotten farther and farther away from rock n' roll. And if the rock n' roll has been largely missing from pop-punk in recent years, Mean Jeans have put it back in!

Never mind that it was released three months ago. On Mars is the summer album of 2012. Put it on, crank it up, and you've got yourself an instant beach party or pool party (assuming you're actually at the beach or the pool). It's just straight-up good times. Compared to the band's last album, On Mars is poppier and less frenzied, but no less fun. With the tempos brought down a little, all those infectious bubblegum hooks really get the chance to shine. In both the vocals and the songwriting, the influence of Joey Ramone can be heard all over this record. And old Joey would have loved these guys. They may come off as hard-partying goofballs from outer space, but don't believe for a second that they're not immensely talented and extremely dedicated to their craft. Everyone knows it takes real smarts to make music this dumb. For sure, "Ready 2 Rip" is the instant classic opening track that every truly great album's got to have. But it's only the first of many tunes that'll have you yelling, "Holy shit, that song's awesome!" That little hook that comes in at the end of the chorus to "Life On Mars" has been lodged in my brain for weeks. It ain't leaving anytime soon. "Hangin' Tuff", "Crummy Crummy", and "Don't Stop Partying" run well past three minutes and subsequently feel like "epic" pop-punk songs. They're just that good. As song titles like "Total Yo-yo" and "I'm A Pile" suggest, Mean Jeans' musical progression has not in any way involved these guys taking themselves seriously. Sure, a couple songs here are self-reflective and genuinely sad (even yahoos have feelings!). But at the end of the day, these are still the same macaroni-loving, Jager-swilling, sci-fi obsessed party dudes you've known and loved for years. You want stupid, catchy fun, and Mean Jeans don't have the heart to let you down.

Have Mean Jeans reinvented pop-punk? Not even a little! But unlike far too many generic pop-punk groups of years past, this is a band you will not soon forget. And ultimately what matters most is that they're just really good at what they do. I always knew that the next great pop-punk band would not be the one to take the sub-genre into the future, but rather the one that reminded us all why we fell in love with this kind of music in the first place. May the party never end!


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mo's Bacon Bar

I have my share of obsessions: craft beer, first wave U.K. punk rock, Philly sports, chili, bad reality TV, Polish food, early '70s movies based on dystopian novels. Add another one to the list: gourmet chocolate. It's my latest fascination. It's emptying my pockets and fattening my waist line. I'm not talking Hershey bars or anything like that. I'm talking bars retailing for $7+ with somewhat exotic flavor combinations. My wife and I may or may have not spent over $100 on relatively small on-line order from DeBrand Fine Chocolates  in Fort Wayne. It may or may have not been insanely delicious.

I've been trying it all: chili chocolate, beef jerky chocolate, Cajun chocolate. But bacon chocolate takes the cake. I've found that everything is better with bacon - especially chocolate. Mo's Bacon Bar is one of many offerings from Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a company founded by French-trained Chicago chocolatier Katrina Markoff. I've never really considered myself an up-scale "haute cuisine" kind of guy, but in the case of candy I may be willing to make an exception. Yummy is yummy, ya know? Markoff's chocolate itself is out of this world. But when you add in the complementary flavors of something like bacon, that takes it to another level entirely. Inspired by Markoff's indelible childhood experience of eating chocolate chip pancakes and syrup with bacon, this bar is made for those of us who dig the sweet-and-salty thing. Hickory-smoked applewood bacon is chopped into bits and cooked into the milk chocolate along with a pinch of Alder salt. Perhaps bacon lovers might quibble about there not being "enough" bacon in the bar, but clearly this was a case where balance had to be considered. To my mind, it's just the right amount of bacon bits. The chocolate, so sweet and creamy, is still the star. But the addition of the saltiness and crunch of the bacon makes for an incredible flavor combination. It's a fairly large bar (three ounces), and surely sane people do not eat the whole thing in one sitting. I am not a sane person. Sure, I always intend to eat a quarter of a bar and save the rest for later. But it never works out that way. Once I start to eat a Mo's Bacon Bar, I know I'm going to finish it. I do not have the will power to stop. I will say, however, that this is one of those cases where it's "worth it" to be a pig. If I'm going to pay almost $8 for a candy bar, I'm 100 percent all-in. Calories be damned! It's not like I'm eating one of these things every single night (well, usually not).

I wholeheartedly recommend all the Vosges products (the Organic Peanut Butter Bon Bon bar is truly orgasmic), but my "pick" is Mo's Bacon Bar. I really do want to lose 11-14 pounds before my wife and I go to the beach next month, so certain sacrifices will have to be made. Ice cream, cupcakes, gourmet chocolate: something's got to go. Well, I could cut back on beer. Yeah, right! Perhaps the beach body aspirations need to be put on the back-burner. There's always next year.


Friday, July 13, 2012

It's The Ricky C Quartet!

Remember 10-15 years ago when there were hardly any good English punk bands? Now there are so many great ones that even the "side projects" are freaking phenomenal. Seriously, the current crop of U.K. punk groups has to be the best in at least 20 years. And when members of The Blowouts, Johnny Throttle, and the Ten-O-Sevens start a band based on a mutual love for Slaughter and the Dogs and Radio Birdman, you just know it's gonna be the balls. The Ricky C Quartet, formed just last year, have dropped their debut single. "Small Species", another No Front Teeth/Rapid Pulse Records co-release, brings to mind the harder edge of classic Brit-punk infused with a heaping dose of Aussie adrenaline. In short, this band is 100 percent as advertised. Both tracks here deliver some snarling rock n' roll with pissed-off lyrics and red-hot guitar leads, backed by bass lines that'll get your booty bouncing. And let's face it: nobody spews profanity with the panache of the English. A sing-along refrain of "Don't fuck around me!", so delightfully acrimonious here, wouldn't sound nearly as cool if these guys were from, say, New Jersey. Both "Small Species" and "Tonight" imbue a profuse fuck-off sentiment with serious catchiness - a formula that can't lose when it's done well. All in all, this is an absolutely ripping debut record. Nothing fancy or unexpected here - just great punk played furiously and brilliantly. Where have all the boot boys gone?


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fun with The Funfuns

What is it about Canada that makes it a breeding ground for some of the catchiest powerpop/punk the world has ever known? Your guess is as good as mine. Finally out on P. Trash after a few years in limbo is the one-sided LP from Calgary's late, great Funfuns. Singer/guitarist Andrew Payne has since gone on to form Ottawa's Zebrassieres, who also have a release or two out on P. Trash. Recorded by the venerable Pat Kearns, this seven-song spinner is a must-own for fans of Mother's Children, Steve Adamyk Band, Tranzmitors, et al. And in old school Pacific Northwest terms, the vibe I'm getting is something along the lines of Clorox Girls meet Epoxies. Any way you look at it, this band definitely had the right name! From start to finish, this record is high-speed fun chock full of melody and pep, with just a touch of new waviness. "Heart Attack" strikes gold with chirpy keyboards and a stick-in-your-head chorus. "My Head" is hyper and sugary, like an aural Red Bull. If "Wait Forever" were any catchier, the Canadian health care system would have a crisis on its hands. Wait forever? Well we almost had to for this record to come out! But it's never too late for great music. If these songs leave you wanting more, well that's the whole point of a one-sided LP. And while it's a bummer that The Funfuns are no more, the slightly different Zebrassieres are awesome in their own right. Canada, I bow to you!


Monday, July 09, 2012

Crazy Squeeze = Crazy good!

So after four-and-a-half years in deep storage, my old turntable has been unearthed from the bowels of the parental estate. It was about time. What kind of punk rock blogger doesn't have a working record player in his home? And sure enough, the thing still works! I gotta admit it: the instant gratification of streaming a song on-line still pales in comparison to the classic thrill of dropping the needle on a rock n' roll record!

Let the record show that the first thing I played on my new old turntable was the debut 7" by The Crazy Squeeze. You may recall I reviewed this punk rock super group last summer. As I'm known to do, I hyped them up pretty good. I saw some of the label spiel on-line, and I'm like, "Who wrote this bullshit?" And I realized, yeah, it was me. But, you know, it's not like I was wrong. And on their debut single, this fantastic four of punk rock n' roll have delivered the proverbial goods. Co-released by two veritable titans of labeldom - No Front Teeth and Rapid Pulse Records - this bad boy is a traditional 45 RPM record with a big hole and two songs. You have the "hit" on the A-side and a cover on the B-side. "Gimme A Kiss", featuring drummer Johnny Sleeper on vocals, is a rockin' blast of poppy glam action that falls somewhere in between The Boys and the New York Dolls (I guess that means it sounds a little like the Hollywood Brats? Sure!). Great tune! It's more fun than BOGO night at the whorehouse, with hooks at every turn and Johnny Witmer channeling Johnny Thunders on the lead guitar. It seems kind of absurd to say that Witmer is underrated in The Stitches. But when you hear him playing this kind of sleazetastic rock n' roll, you gain a deeper appreciation for his talents. The dude's a killer! He takes the mic on the flip, a rip-roaring rendition of Cock Sparrer's "I Need A Witness" (Yeah, going way back for that one!). As expected, it's first rate dive bar rock n' roll (or as they say on the No Front Teeth side of the pond, "pub rock"). You can practically smell the booze permeating the room, and Witmer and Frankie Delmane kick up a dual guitar racket that would do AC/DC or the Stones proud.

So what's next for The Crazy Squeeze? Hopefully an album - which I know they've been working on for a couple of years. Given the stature of the members' other bands and the group's growing reputation as one of the best live acts in southern California, expectations for The Crazy Squeeze were bound to be high. But on their first turn at bat, they've freaking crushed it. And we haven't even gotten to their best songs yet! Any old bunch of jerkoffs can form a band and play this style of music. But it takes one heck of a band to play the style well. The Crazy Squeeze are top shelf glam punk rock n' roll. They've got the chops. They've got the tunes. They've got the chemistry. Do yourself a favor and buy "Gimme A Kiss"...and everything else this band puts out!


Friday, July 06, 2012

The Throwaways throw it down!

Hey! I've got another Canadian gem for you! The Throwaways list their influences as "candy, pizza, and teenage drinking parties". Nice. And from the sounds of this co-ed trio, I can tell they really like The Ramones as well. Talk about a winning formula! The band's recently released self-titled EP takes me back to the glory days of female-fronted garage-punk circa the late '90s. When they thrash it out full throttle ("Closer", "Irksome"), it's like we're right back in the heyday of The Loudmouths and Loli and the Chones. And when they switch it up to their fun, pop side ("Taco Belly"), it's shades of early Bobbyteens or Bitchschool. Gotta love that, eh?! If you're looking for a hit, "Friday Date" is classic teenage punk. If you don't like it, there's something seriously wrong with you. What can I say? This band is just freakin' great. They play simple, fun music with great enthusiasm and boundless energy. I don't know how a band this young got hooked on the hot punk sounds of 16 years ago, but boy am I glad they did! Best thing to happen to Calgary since Lanny McDonald's mustache!


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Greatest American Punk Albums

One year ago, I celebrated The Fourth of July with a list of the greatest American punk bands of all-time. For an encore, today I'm listing the greatest American punk albums of all-time. In honor of revolutionary America's 13 colonies, I've decided to make it a top 13. Plus it was too hard to limit it to just ten LPs. I'd always shied away from this kind of list before since I thought it would be goofy to have the top four selections all by the same band. But fuck it. It's America's birthday! Let's have fun!

As for ground rules, I wanted to keep it to proper albums. Compilations don't count (sorry, Avengers, Weirdos, and Pagans). And I'm sticking with the punk era (1976 to present), so hopefully that will eliminate the "Where the hell are The Stooges and MC5?" comments.

Alright, then. Let's get to it!

13. The Fuses- I Wanna Burn (1998)
This, in my humble opinion, was the greatest punk album of the '90s. Imagine Wire playing the first Clash album at hardcore speed on the eve of armageddon. One of these days, I've got to do a retrospective on American Punk Records.

12. Dictators- D.F.F.D. (2001)
Ah, the legendary Dictators. You can't talk great American punk rock without talking about the 'Tators. Bloodbrothers is their acknowledged classic. But D.F.F.D., released 27 years into the band's existence, is for my money the best overall Dictators album.

11. Dead Boys-Young, Loud & Snotty (1977)
The title says it all, doesn't it?

10. Exploding Hearts- Guitar Romantic (2002)
A decade ago, I claimed that this album ranked up there with the classic pop/punk albums of the late '70s. I still feel the same way.

9. Descendents- Milo Goes To College (1982)
The Descendents are one of those rare bands that everybody loves. It doesn't matter which sub-genres you dig. If you're into punk, you like The Descendents. That's because they rule. When we put on Milo Goes To College, we all become 17 again for 22 minutes and ten seconds.

8. Misfits- Walk Among Us (1982)
Just as it was becoming fashionable to suck the melody out of punk music, The Misfits put it back in with a vengeance. Horror never goes out of style.

7. Angry Samoans- Back From Samoa (1982)
How about this for a list idea: the all-time greatest sophomore albums. This would be one of 'em!

6. Black Flag- Damaged (1981)
Three decades on, and this remains the gold standard for hardcore punk. Give Rollins his due: he was the perfect singer for Black Flag as the band fully blossomed into a powerhouse of anger and ferocity. Even a lot of genuinely great hardcore albums seem weak compared to Damaged.

5. Adolescents (1980)
The holy grail of the So-Cal punk sound.

4. Ramones- Rocket To Russia (1977)

3. Ramones- Road To Ruin (1978)

2. Ramones- Leave Home (1977)

1. Ramones (1976)
Ask me tomorrow, and I might completely invert the order. But these four Ramones titles are an iron-clad top four. Each one is a stone cold classic. I might have to do a future list where I just rank the best Ramones albums! Maybe next year.

So...who did I miss? Who should have I cut? Have at me!


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen...DimeRunner!

It's been a good year for California punk. Well, actually every year is a good year for California punk. In just the past few months alone, I've posted on Images, The Three Two Ones, The Hitchhikers, and Piccolo Pete - all from southern California, and all fucking great. Now I've got another good one for you: DimeRunner from Fullerton. These dudes play fast and frantic punk rock with snotty vocals and sing-along choruses. They refer to their musical style as "punk with a pop twist". Sounds like the kind of band I'd be into, doesn't it?! And if you're a fan of Orange County punk rock both new and old, I think you'll be into 'em too!

DimeRunner has two new-ish 7-inches out. If you're digitally inclined, you can check out the A-sides of both on the group's ReverbNation page. "Recharged Rejects" will thrill fans of The Stitches, while "It's An Emergency" adds a touch of synth damage to a frenetic punk attack. Both tunes are top drawer. These guys just have a knack for coming up with these classic hooks that make you wanna shout along to the chorus and pump your fist high in the air. I believe that's the "pop twist" they are referring to. So it's not really "pop" per se, but the hooks are undeniable. Think more along the lines of old school O.C. punk meets new school O.C. punk with a hint of new wave. It's a "California sound" all the way. Fans of the Modern Action/Hostage Records scene will want to grab both singles and stay on the lookout for more to come. Bring on the full length, fellas!