Tuesday, September 25, 2012

1,2,3! Dahlmanns!

The Dahlmanns, I believe, are the first band to be reviewed three times on F & L. They should probably get some kind of award for this. I'm thinking maybe a large trophy or perhaps matching motorcycle jackets. How about a year's supply of premium bubblegum imported from the good old U.S.A.? I don't know - I'll have to consider the matter further. Dumb Me Down is the band's third CD EP on Pop Detective Records - the fine label run by my fellow native Pennsylvanian Mark Hershberger. If you're a hardcore Dahlmaniac, you probably already know the songs "Dumb Me Down" and "Go Getter" from the split 7" with Nikki Corvette. But if you're not, or you don't own a turntable, your ship has come in! The title track was written by Francis MacDonald (BMX Bandits, Eugenius, Teenage Fanclub). It's the latest in a long line of great covers by these Norwegian pop sensations, and it's a little different from the band's usual "if the Ramones each had a child with Blondie" pop/punk sound. Think more along the lines of the best Liz Phair song you ever heard. It's a great little pop song that once again affirms this band's considerable interpretative powers. Line's voice is in fine form, and the playing and production should serve as a model for any band that aspires to make this type of music. "Go Getter", on the other hand, is classic Dahlmanns - and one of the band's best songs yet! A la Nikki and the Corvettes, it's high energy power pop with a fun, rockin' feel. Oooh, I love this one! It's upbeat, catchy, and truly impossible to not love. The lyrics make me smile. Why in the world is it not a massive, multi million-selling hit? I really wish I knew.

The "bonus material" on this release consists of acoustic indie-pop versions of two Dahlmanns favorites - "I Want You Around" and "This Time". Sometimes with power pop bands, something crucial is lost when they go the "unplugged" route. But with The Dahlmanns, the stripped down approach accentuates just how talented they are in terms of their writing, vocals, and musicianship. If anything, the twee pop vibe makes Line's voice sound even prettier! Sure, I think we'd all like to hear some brand new material, but no doubt that's coming down the pike soon enough. And in the meantime, Dumb Me Down is a must-have whether you're a huge fan of the band or just a connoisseur of great guitar pop. It's one of the year's best EPs, but that goes without saying. It's the freaking Dahlmanns, man!



Friday, September 21, 2012

All hail the Crusaders Of Love!

There are few things in life better than "classic" power pop. It's a recipe that you don't have to mess with. Just write great songs with killer hooks, and no one's gonna care that your style is unoriginal (well, some people will care, but they don't like good music in the first place). Cut out of the same cloth as previous Euro power pop sensations The Yum Yums and The Cheeks, France's Crusaders Of Love take on the tried-and-true '79 style and sprinkle in a touch of Exploding Hearts worship (nothing wrong with that at all!). Out on FDH Records, Take It Easy...But Take It is the band's second LP. And it's a dandy! With a sound recalling both power pop's forefathers (like Paul Collins) and its modern day masters (like Gentleman Jesse), the Crusaders Of Love were bound to win me over. I'm a sucker for power pop by-the-book! But there are a couple of things I especially like about this band. One is that they don't neglect the "power" component of the power pop formula. Take It Easy doesn't skimp on loud, punchy guitars, and the muscular production evidences the band's garage/rock n' roll roots. Just as importantly, I really feel these songs. It's nice to hear someone sing about heartbreak and actually sound heartbroken. Although I'd generally describe this as a "fun" album, many of the standout tracks have melancholic overtones (love, after all, is not for the faint of heart). The band name is not deceiving - these Frenchies really know how to craft a good love song! For my money, "It All Ends That Way" and "Ready To Show Our Love" are the "hits". But the album is truly solid the whole way through. Covering all angles from the Exploding Hearts echoes of "Off The Street" to the wistful '60s-inspired jangle of "Next Summer" to the rock candy crunch of "Lonely City", Take It Easy hits the sweet spot and never grows stale. It's the kind of record that might fly under the radar a little, lost in the shuffle of punk/garage/power pop overload. But when the year is over and the dust settles, you just can't deny it a spot in your top ten. Don't sleep on this one, kids!



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Sensibles bring the pop!

Alright! Let's meet my favorite new band of 2012! Ok, they're not exactly "new". They've actually been around since 2009. But they're new to me. And their debut 7-inch is still hot off the presses. I suppose that's close enough! Hailing from Milan, Italy, The Sensibles sound exactly like the kind of band you'd expect me to be crazy about. You know how I am about bubblegum punk and girl-fronted power pop. And this band offers an infectious and winning take on these styles. I'm talking top shelf. Imagine if the Beatnik Termites had a female singer, and they were Italian. Needless to say, I was won over within 15 seconds of the first song!

Buoyed by bright, propulsive guitars and Stella's bubby vocals, The Sensibles have got a fun, high energy sound that transports me straight to my happy place. The self-titled EP offers up four songs that are short and sweet (literally!), with melodies that will thankfully be stuck in my head all day. I'm having a hard time picking a standout track, because all four are exuberant blasts of aural sunshine. And those hooks are relentless. When it comes to this kind of music, it just seems like Europeans (especially Italians) really "get" it. Pop music is in their blood. Naturally I've been busy digging into the rest of this band's recorded output (a demo from last year plus four tracks off a four-way split disc). But nonetheless I'm still dying to hear more. Where has this band been all my life? Muffs and Unlovables fans, take note!



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tonight We Strike!

Spending as much time as I do on Facebook, I see a lot of talk about Kickstarter. Some people really like it. Some people really hate it. Personally, I don't see any down side. It's a great way for independent artists to fund their projects. Think about it from a musician's perspective. You want to get your music out there. Your fans are loyal enough to pre-order the record or even donate funds. Everybody wins. I know it's not how things "used to be done", but this is a new age of DIY. Anything that's helping underground bands is a good thing in my book.

Tonight We Strike have launched a one-month Kickstarter campaign. There's a ton to like about this band before you've even heard a note of their music. They tout a message of "free thought and positive social change". They've made their demo available for free on-line. They're from the Delaware Valley. The great Donnie Switchblade is in the band. They have one of the coolest band names ever. But you know I wouldn't be writing about them if they sounded like Nickelback. Tonight We Strike freakin' rock! They play a modern variant of melodic punk with heart and grit. Think Bad Religion meets Swingin' Utters with a touch of Social Distortion and some obvious sonic and spiritual parallels to The Clash. You can hear the entire demo over at ReverbNation. For more information on the band's Kickstarter campaign, click here for the particulars. They're trying to raise $2500 to put out a 7-inch EP. Quite a noble goal, wouldn't you say? It's great to stream digital tracks, but there's nothing quite like dropping the needle on a vinyl record. Donors of $400 or more will receive a personal ukulele lesson from guitarist Kyle DeMilner. Hey - it never hurts to ask!



Missing Monuments don't miss!

In case you missed my previous post on "(I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life", I'll reiterate that it may be the best Missing Monuments song to date. And that's really saying something - the band's debut LP Painted White was pretty much flawless from open to close. I expect the next one (due out next year) to be even better. Out now on HoZac, the "(I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life" seven-inch is hands down the best single of 2012 so far. Damn! Could Missing Monuments actually be getting better? I think so! What I love about this latest release is that it's in no way a straight rehash of previous material. The basic approach is the same - southern-fried rock n' roll meets classic late '70s power pop. But Loomis and the gang are surprising in pleasant ways.  "(I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life" sounds like it could have been a massive radio hit back when they still played good music on the radio. It's rock! It's pop! It's awesome! And I can't get enough of "Another Girl" - an energetic, immensely catchy blast of Louisiana lightning that will have you dancing into next week. It's somehow punkier and more rock n' roll than anything you heard on Painted White. What a jam! And the music video, well, it's something else! There are bands that do perfect pop, and there are bands that rock like a motherfucker. But how many bands can genuinely do both? Missing Monuments sure can, and they are making a serious run at the title of my favorite band of the moment. These guys bring the poppy rock n' roll that I can never resist, and with a Cajun flavor to boot! Outstanding. Now I'm seriously jonesing for a Popeye's four-piece washed down with an Abita TurboDog. All that and a bag of chips- Zapp's chips!



Friday, September 07, 2012

Time to split!

Aw, man: splits. They seem like such a fantastic idea on paper. Two bands for the price of one! How can it possibly lose? But in a lot of cases, splits end up disappointing. Usually it's because you like the one band way more than the other and wish they had contributed all of the songs instead of just half. And another common problem with splits is that the two bands just don't "go" together. How many times have you heard a split where there was just no logical reason for the two bands to be on the same record besides the fact that they were friends with each other? I hate when that happens! But leave it to Dirtnap Records to show the world how to do a split! Out now is a limited edition split 10-inch featuring Dirtnap's own Something Fierce and fellow Texans Occult Detective Club (only 1,000 copies pressed!). Not only does the split commemorate the bands' 2012 joint tour (which hits Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver this weekend), but it also makes a great pairing from a musical standpoint. These two go together like peanut butter and jelly! Or is it chocolate and peanut butter? It's no big secret that Something Fierce is my favorite present-day band. And having finally heard Occult Detective Club, I have to ask - How did I not already know about these guys?! They're totally up my alley and have two albums out. I get a big fat "F" for missing the boat. Oh well. I guess these things happen when you "retire" for three-and-a-half years.

Something Fierce's half of the split consists of three brand-new tracks, which pick up where Don't Be So Cruel left off and advance the ball even further down the field. What I love about this band is that they've reached the point where they only sound like themselves. You hear any of these three songs, and right away you know it's Something Fierce. They've retained the pop sensibility they've always been known for yet have genuinely managed to "progress" as artists. And that is not an easy thing to do! The musical synergy between Steven Garcia on guitar and Niki Sevven on bass, such an enjoyable aspect of Don't Be So Cruel, has been taken to another level. I mean, how often in punk music do you find yourself actually looking forward to the instrumental parts of a song? When it comes to Something Fierce, it's actually what I look forward to the most! The cliche about power trios is that they're supposed to be "tight". Something Fierce, with outstanding drummer Andrew Keith holding the beats, are as tight as it gets. They've been saddled with Clash comparisons all these years, but at this point they're more like a poppy Gang of Four or a post-modern Ruts, demonstrating that you can be really good at playing your instruments and still be "punk". And God, those hooks! We can throw around buzz words like "post-punk" and "new wave" if we want, but too often those terms suggest a formulaic type sound. Something Fierce are doing their own thing entirely, based on their distinct talents. If songs like "Get On Or Get Off" are any indication, their next album will be their best one yet!

Denton's Occult Detective Club contribute four tracks to the split. And I must admit that I like their half of the record just as much as the Something Fierce half. They play an aggressive style of melodic punk with gruff vocals and catchy guitar leads. The songs are short and simple but come off with great power and heart. Killer stuff! Think '70s punk meets early Husker Du with a modern twist. I fucking love these guys! A little four song taste of O.D.C. makes me want to hear a lot more. You can be assured I'm going to check out both of their albums pronto! And in the end, isn't discovering new bands one of the best things about splits? Damn right! Texas delivers again!



Monday, September 03, 2012

1996 Revisited

For a lot of us, the mid-to-late '90s were a golden age for punk music. I started doing zines in 1995, but it probably wasn't until '96 that I found my true niche as a music reviewer. I latched on to a burgeoning '77 punk revival and never looked back. Last year I listed the best punk albums of 1997- the year I perceive as the pinnacle of that era. But while things really took off in '97, the prior year may have been the real turning point for the return of "classic" punk rock. The two bands who'd become my favorites of that period - the Dimestore Haloes and Prostitutes - came out with debut singles. Pelado Records arrived on the scene. The release of Terminal Boredom by The Registrators ushered in an age of domination for Rip Off Records. And while pop-punk as a genre had already become oversaturated, the cream of the crop had a pretty legendary year. What follows is my list of the best punk albums of '96. This is not necessarily how I ranked them then, but rather how I rank them now.

15. Mr. T. Experience- Love Is Dead
A lot of people consider this to be Dr. Frank's magnum opus. I don't necessarily agree (I'm personally partial to Our Bodies Our Selves), but no doubt this is one of the best MTX albums, and a genuine classic of the pop-punk genre.

14. Descendents- Everything Sucks 
That rare "comeback" album that doesn't suck. 

13. Swingin' Utters- A Juvenile Product of the Working Class
Sure, it's no Streets of San Francisco. But so what? This was an excellent, underrated follow-up. This band has been so good for so long that sometimes it gets taken for granted!

12. New Bomb Turks- Scared Straight
Like all their other albums, fast and furious punk n' roll trash par excellence. And you could buy it at the mall!

11. The Queers- Don't Back Down
Probably the second greatest Queers album next to Love Songs For the Retarded, this had a nice mix of Beach Boys style pop songs and snotty-as-hell punk rippers.

10. The Lillingtons- Shit Out of Luck
There are six or seven bands I put in the top tier of '90s pop-punk, and The Lillingtons are one of them. This was their debut album, and I don't think they ever topped it."L.I.! L.L.! I.N.G.! T.O.N.S.!"

9. Showcase Showdown- Appetite Of Kings
Superb debut from Boston's beloved pogo punkers. Remember "Oi Oi Deacon"?!

8. U.S. Bombs- Garibaldi Guard
When I think "classic" U.S. Bombs, this is the first album that comes to mind. Perfect blend of '77 and old school Orange County punk.

7. The Strike- A Conscience Left to Struggle with Pockets Full of Rust
Great leftist punk rock from the American Midwest with a heavy Stiff Little Fingers influence.

6. The Automatics (self-titled)
One of the best bands of the '90s, and criminally overlooked to this day, The Automatics played lo-fi pop-punk with balls. This was their first and best album. Contains the smash hits "My Life Is Shit" and "She Likes Girls".

5. The Humpers- Live Forever Or Die Trying
The Humpers' first release on Epitaph. Surely they "commercialized" their sound for a big label, right? Wrong! One of their fiercest and finest albums.

4. The Slobs- Down the Tubes
Cincinnati legends. Shawn Abnoxious calls them "the Pagans of the '90s". Sounds good to me!

3. The Oblivians- Popular Favorites
This is as good as rock n' roll gets. Accept no imitations.

2. Registrators- Terminal Boredom
Imagine the first Damned LP played at twice the speed and sung in sublimely mangled English. Or imagine a catchier Teengenerate. Either way, you're talking about one of the greatest pure punk rock albums of any era.

1. Beat Angels- Unhappy Hour
The later '90s were the heyday of glam-punk. You had the Dimestore Haloes. You had the Trash Brats. And then you had probably the best of the whole lot, the almighty Beat Angels. They should have been huge. They should have been massive. Produced by Gilby Clarke of G n' R/Candy fame, Unhappy Hour is the missing link between Cheap Trick, The Replacements, The Raspberries, and Generation X - 11 tracks of glitzy power pop full of bubblegum hooks and heartrending Bukowskian lyrics. A masterpiece.

So there you have it. High honorable mentions go out to the the Crumbs' self-titled LP, the Beatnik Termites' Bubblecore, the Spent Idols' Hugs Und Kisses/Tonite, Chixdiggit self-titled, and the Nobodys' Short Songs For Short Attention Spans. What a year, eh? Plus there were some legendary seven-inches like The Spastics' self-titled single, the Pink Lincolns' Sumo Fumes 3, and Snotboy's The Coolest Girl In The World. Hmm. Now that I went and wrote it all down, I'm not so sure that 1997 was the year. '96 might have been even better! And at some point, I will need to subject '98 and '99 to further inspection as well! Stay tuned. This "history project" is just getting started!


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Youthbitch for the win!

I can't decide if Youthbitch is the worst band name ever - or the absolute greatest! Either way, this young foursome from Portland has made one of the year's best LPs. These fellas take a few of my fave musical styles - power pop, garage, and pop-punk - and mash 'em all together into a raw and energetic hodgepodge of awesomeness. Out on the venerable Jonny Cat Records, Don't Fuck This Up! arrives just a few months after the release of the band's debut long player. But considering the improvement/development between the two albums, you'd think it had been several years. Youthbitch have made the jump from "promising" to "freaking awesome", and I'm seriously thinking that Don't Fuck This Up! might be a darkhorse contender for album of the year. But, thankfully, that doesn't mean that they've "cleaned" up their sound. They've merely solidified it. Compared to the typically polished bands of today's punk/powerpop, Youthbitch are still rough around the edges in all the best ways. And even though they're working in a highly familiar genre of music, they don't "sound like" any other band. It takes a unique bunch of dudes to write songs about wanting to die on the toilet and craft near five-minute epics exploring the need to vomit. If you're looking for some catchy poppy punk that's not straight off the cookie cutter, Youthbitch should be right up your alley!

Don't Fuck This Up! has its obvious "hits", of course. The hyper "Heart Attack" and the mid-tempo jam "The Kids Don't Dance" are no-brainer picks to click. And "Just Like Elvis" puts the band's bizarre sense of humor and spazzy disposition on brilliant display. But truly I like every song on the record, with styles ranging from the garagey rock n' roll of "Bad Mood Tonight" to the genius pop-punk stupidity of "Juvenile Delinquent" (I dare you to resist singing along!). There are times when they slow things down a little, but for the most part they just let it rip and have a whole lot of fun. As song titles like "Baby, I'm An Asshole" and "Bitchmouth" might indicate, these guys are not quite the in-touch-with-their-feelings type of pop-punkers. And thank God for that! Don't Fuck This Up! is idiotic and juvenile - and I mean that as high praise! We've already got enough bands in the world trying to make "statements" or break new ground. Youthbitch bring the hooks all day long, and they're a blast to listen to. What's not to love?!