Monday, October 29, 2012

Sham 69 or Cock Sparrer?

How about a band battle on the classic Oi! front? This one ought to be a heavyweight fight for the ages. Of all of my battles so far, this one may be the most evenly matched. We're talking about bona fide titans squaring off. In one corner, you have the definitive Oi! band of all-time. In the other corner, you have the band that gave us Shock Troops, one of the greatest albums ever made. In real life, you don't have to choose one or the other. But on the band battlefield, somebody has to win. I love both. You love both. But if you had to pick one of the two, which band would get your vote?

As the "impartial" moderator, I will for the time being refrain from taking a side. You, dear readers, have the power of vote. Sham 69, I think, has the slight edge in overall body of work. But Shock Troops is certainly the single best album made by either band. Single best song? I'd probably go with Sham's "Borstal Breakout". But a strong case could be made for Cock Sparrer's "Where Are They Now?". I know, I know: we could do this all day.

Clearly, these are two of the greatest punk bands ever. I'd say they've been equally influential and equally important. But when push comes to shove, which of the two do you listen to more often? If you were banished to a deserted island and could only take along music by one of these two bands, who are you picking? If you could go back in time and witness only one of these bands in its prime, who would you see?

We are nearing a day of great decision. Now is not the time to sit on the fence. Let your voice be heard. Who are you taking: Sham 69 or Cock Sparrer?


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No More Art

We've arrived at my last review of the month. And, boy, do I ever have an awesome band for you to check out! Based out of Hamburg, No More Art are somewhat of a supergroup. Milo from Rosie Tie is on vocals/guitar, and she's joined by the likes of guitarist Will Kinser (Red Dons) and drummer Juan Miguel Pardo (Los Dolares, Leadershit, Etacarinae, Peligro!). But No More Art are very different from any of the bands referenced above. If you're over 40 like me, you might make Dangerhouse Records comparisons. If you're under 25, you might say Masshysteri or Terrible Feelings. Either way, it's a total win! Think classic melodic punk with strong female vocals and super-catchy guitar leads. The band, also featuring outstanding bass player Jonas Ball, has a new single out on Deranged Records that absolutely kills. "Tough To Breathe" is a modernized take on old school punk with a huge, hooky chorus and guitar work that brings to mind The Adolescents. It's definitely got that throwback X/Bags/Avengers type feel, but there are contemporary influences at play as well. "False Confessions" is in a similar vein, propelled by a passionate vocal and powerful drumming. It's almost too good to be a B-side. This is actually the group's second single, and I highly recommend you go listen to both of them immediately. No More Art is hands down the best new punk band of the year. Get these records while you can!


Friday, October 19, 2012

1999 Revisited

By popular demand (meaning one person asked), I now present the next installment in my "history project" on 1990s punk. In previous posts on 1996 and 1997, I reminded myself of how many phenomenal punk records were released in those years. To many of us of a certain age, that 1995-2000 revival of "classic" punk music was our 1977. Whether or not that whole scene was at its peak in 1999 or already on the downswing is very much open to debate. As the list below indicates, there was no shortage of outstanding releases in '99 in all the primary sub-genres I'm known for covering ('77 punk, garage-punk, pop-punk). How does this list compare to the ones from '96 and '97? You be the judge!

As always, I'll preface this list by saying it's my current idea of the top 15 punk records of 1999. Some of these titles would have ranked higher or lower had I actually made this list in '99. And some of these albums didn't become favorites of mine until a few years after the fact. There are probably a few LPs I raved about in '99 that did not make the cut this time. And I guarantee you that I forgot about a couple albums that probably should have made this list. But any way you shake it, it was a hell of a good year. Here goes:

15. The No-Talents - ...Want Some More!
"A stiff right uppercut of obnoxious hi-energy trash that's noisy and ferocious, fusing Cecilia M.'s snotty burd vocals and Lili Z.'s (who also bashes guitar for The Splash 4) nasty broken glass power chord blitzkrieg with a pummeling rhythm section that kicks the stall like the primest of the prime Killed By Death slop." I'd call that truth in advertising.

14. The Proms - Helpless Romantic
One of the best bands and best releases in the history of Mutant Pop Records, this full-length debut from The Proms is a forgotten classic of bubblegummy pop-punk.

13. Lillingtons- Death By Television
I never 100 percent warmed to The Lillingtons turning into a sci-fi/horror themed band. I still prefer their earlier releases. But nonetheless, Death By Television is a terrific album, and was very much in the spirit of Y2K weirdness.

12. Lombardies! - Throw Your Love Away
New England youngsters dished out snotty garage-punk with a poppy sensibility and a girl-crazed teenage world view. Released on Lawless Records.

11. Zodiac Killers- Most Thrilling Experience
A lot of people will maintain that Rip Off Records was past its peak by '99. I would vehemently disagree. This is the first of three ROR titles to make this list. Zodiac Killers were Greg Lowery's first band post Infections and sounded like the second coming of the Angry Samoans. This was their first and best LP.  Features the tender love ballads "Feed It To Your Mom" and "Come On & Die".

10. Reducers SF- Backing The Longshot
One of the great street punk bands of the late '90s, Reducers SF had an anthemic, melody-driven sound a la Cock Sparrer/Slaughter and the Dogs/Sham 69. This was their long-awaited debut album, and it was no letdown! 

9. The Wongs- Reanimate My Baby
In my opinion, this album should be remembered as one of the better LPs issued by Rip Off Records. It seems to have been all but forgotten. Catchy garage trash from Arizona with a touch of Pagans/Dead Boys nastiness.

8. Libertine- See You In the Next Life
After a couple of EPs and a fair amount of hype, Libertine really found its groove on its debut LP, infusing its '70s glam/punk sound with the moody melodies of early '80s Brit new wave. Sadly, this would be the band's only proper album.

7. U.S. Bombs- The World
These were the years when the Bombs could do no wrong. One of their best albums!

6. Raydios- Original Demo Recordings
This was Fink and Sammy from Teengenerate doing pure '77 punk. I'm not quite sure why this awesome record went under the radar.

5. Reatards- Grown Up, Fucked Up
Ah, The Reatards! This was their legendary second LP- a blistering onslaught of lo-fi garage-punk informed by Killed By Death comps and fuck-off adolescent rage. An incredibly influential record that's endured through the years.

4. The Metros - self titled
I consider this one of the all-time great Rip Off LPs. Not a typical ROR release, this is a hooky bad-ass rock n' roll record from a band that shoulda been huge. Detroit represent! 

3. Stiletto Boys- Rockets and Bombs
Classic debut full-length from Lancaster, PA's favorite sons. You had your bands that were into the rockin' side of '77 punk, and you had your bands that were into the poppy side of '77 punk. Stiletto Boys were into both, and played at breakneck speed to boot!

2. Dimestore Haloes- Revolt Into Style
All these years later, I still feel the same way about this record. Loved it then, love it now. "Born Too Late" might have been their greatest song.

1. Guitar Wolf- Jet Generation
Imagine if The Ramones had been Japanese, and were into rockabilly and sci-fi movies, and they went out and made the loudest record in the history of time. I put this LP up there with the all-time classics of punk rock.

Honorable mentions:
Dirt Bike Annie- Hit the Rock
Boris the Sprinkler- Suck
High School Sweethearts- Passing Notes 
Romeo's Dead- It's All Your Fault 
TV Killers- Have A Blitz On You

I haven't even touched on all the awesome singles of 1999 (Chemo Kids, The Beltones, The Disappointments, Stitches/Le Shok split...). But the LP list alone tells me that my original perception of that time being "special" was pretty on-point. 1999-2000 was a crazy moment in our history, with technology advancing rapidly and more than a few people expecting the world to end (Hmmm, sounds a lot like this year, too!). For me, it would be my final year doing an exclusively print zine. The very next year, Now Wave Magazine went on-line as a web-zine. I, a longtime resistor of technology, would eventually go 100 percent digital. Some of the stuff I'm doing today - like embedding audio clips into record reviews- would have seemed like science fiction back in the day! But while the way I covered it changed, the music itself did not. Here we are 13 years later, and the punk/garage/powerpop scene is still thriving enough to warrant me doing a blog like this. I think that's pretty freaking cool. Not many of the above bands are still around, but no doubt they all helped inspire what's still happening today.

And, yeah, I know I skipped over 1998. I've been doing this whole project out of order. '98 will be next - then perhaps '95!


Monday, October 15, 2012


The White Wires are my kind of band. If you know me, and you know The White Wires, surely you knew it was only a matter of time before these Canadian sensations got reviewed on F & L. And just in case I wasn't already sufficiently impressed with their quite good first two LPs, they decided to go out and make their "pop" album. Say what?! A pop band aspiring to go even poppier? You had to know I was gonna be all over that!

Sure enough, WWIII is as advertised. While The White Wires came on as a formidable but typical punk/powerpop/garage hybrid, they have since hopped a train to Popsville and really separated themselves from the pack. They've kept the recording basic and rough around the edges, but all in all the tempos are dialed back and melodies loom larger. The focus seems to be more on writing great songs than it is on fashioning any particular "sound". On their bandcamp page, The White Wires say, "We wanted to make a record that had some dynamics, with lots of ups and downs. At the same time, we wanted to still have a lot of variety on the album from one song to the next." WWIII thus has the feel of a "classic" pop record like you might have heard back in the late '70s. No doubt, the raw production and the economy of the songwriting (nearly every track runs right around two minutes) keep the band connected to its garage/punk roots. And the influence of bands like The Undertones is more than a little obvious (just listen to "Jackie & Donna"!). But I'd still recommend this record even to people who aren't into punk music. Anyone who's a fan of loud, hooky guitar pop will love what these three are doing. And the key is that they've written some great material for this album. I don't even want to mention a particular standout track. For my money, just about every song on the record could be considered "the hit".

What I appreciate most about WWIIII is that its approach is so simple. I don't think there's anything harder to do in music than successfully write simple pop songs. The melodies on this record are just so catchy, and who can't relate to lyrics about love, life, and being in a band? The White Wires' fondness for the roots power pop of Rubinoos, Poppees, etc. is more palpable than ever. But I also hear strains of contemporary greats like M.O.T.O. and some nods to the classics (The Who-like power chords in "It's Been A While", the Motown-ish bass intro to "And Then You Told Me"). Basically, WWIIII is a timeless pop/rock n' roll record. And it just might be my favorite LP of the year. Highest recommendation!


Friday, October 12, 2012

It came from Ohio...

Northeastern Ohio, with its fantastically flat highways and long lineage of great Americans (Clark Gable, Ed O'Neill, Thurman Munson), holds a special place in my heart. Where else in the world can you buy Bertman Ballpark Mustard at a turnpike stop? And while the region is frequently noted for its significance in the ancient history of punk/indie/alternative/whatever-you-call-it music, two of its own are among the best new bands going now. They've teamed up on a split EP - the first vinyl release from Lion's Care Recordings. This is not the first time I've commended the efforts of the some of the principal players involved. David Bay Leaf singer/bassist Robert Glen Ledyard III was in Radar Secret Service, a band I raved about a decade ago (God, time flies!). And Batt Lion singer/guitarist Kenny Halbert (Cheatin' Hussies, Kill The Hippies, Cock Spaniels, Menudo, Village People) has been a longtime favorite of mine. But like Mark McGwire, I'm not here to talk about the past. We are moving boldly forward. Northern Ohioans do not rest on their laurels. They are innovators. They are visionaries. They defend the Lake from northern invaders. And while I'm going a little outside my normal range of musical expertise, I have to say that David Bay Leaf and Batt Lion are two of the most impressive underground bands I've heard in a long time.

Out of Akron/Kent, David Bay Leaf  are somewhat of an area super group. Gabe Schray from Houseguest is on baritone guitar, and Scott Davidson from Sexual Tension is on drums. They join the exceptionally talented Ledyard to form a different kind of power trio. Think vaguely gothy post-punk meets the good kind of indie rock. The hauntingly pretty "Open To Experience" is poppy in a pleasingly oddball way, while "Boring Grotto" is an eerie slow burn of tribal beats and entrancing bass lines. Schray's guitar work is incredibly beautiful, and it works in perfect harmony with Ledyard's robot man vocals and the generally dark atmosphere of the music. And although there's a lot going on instrumentally, there's a classic simplicity to the hooks. These songs invade your brain and stick around all day. Memorable lyrics like "I'd be open to experience/If I was ever in the mood/But I'm rarely ever in that kind of mood" and "You can assume somewhere/Someone's up to no good" add an extra dimension of awesome. You've won me over, fellas. I'm ready to hear more!

Youngstown's Batt Lion are like no band I've heard before. Lots of groups talk of mixing multiple genres into a unprecedented aural hodgepodge, but these guys actually went and did it. If grunge meets psychedelic garage meets noise-core meets '70s metal meets surf meets folkie soft rock meets back-in-the-day Ohio punk sounds like something you've heard before, you're probably lying! "Part Earth" opens with jangly guitars and treads softly until Kenny's vocals usher in a tidal wave of weird. It whets the appetite. The main course is "Witch's Wheel", which comes on with some sludgy Stooges via Sabbath guitar heaviness, opening slow but quickly kicking into another gear or two with lots of power riffing and epic wanking. You can definitely tell that these guys are inspired by the thundering guitar rock of yesteryear, but that's merely a starting point. This ain't your dad's stoner rock. Or your brother's. More like an alien's. And you know the aliens have better drugs and exponentially superior technology.

In the wake of my recent statements about why splits frequently disappoint, I've got to say this one is top-notch. Go ahead and shell out those five bucks. Do it for Ohio. Ohio would do it for you.


Monday, October 08, 2012

Kurt Baker wants you around!

Admit it: you've all been thinking it. I'm supposed to be this big power pop nut. I've got a closet full of skinny ties, and I listen to the first Romantics album every other Thursday. I have a secret tattoo of the Bomp! logo. So when in the hell am I finally going to get around to reviewing Kurt Baker?! I've been doing this blog how long? Well, okay. Today is the day!

In my book, Kurt Baker is one of the modern day greats of power pop. His modernized take on the timeless melodies of '60s pop is not to be missed. And he's turned out an EP that is running neck-and-neck with the new Missing Monuments record for the title of F & L single of the year (watch the news tomorrow for the latest update). There's lots to like about Kurt Baker - his voice, his songwriting chops, his awesome backing band, his cool hair. But what I might like best about him is that he takes me back to a time when "commercial" wasn't a dirty word and pop hooks ruled top 40 radio. I first fell in love with popular music circa 1980-81 when I was nine and ten years old. Those were the days, man. Other kids my age were playing with toys. I was busy plugging quarters into pizza shop jukeboxes and reading Billboard magazine. Kurt's younger than I am, but he seems to recall that era like he lived it. Heck, on this record alone he's managed to cover songs from two of my three favorite albums of all time! And Rev. Norb's narration recalls a time when the radio D.J. was king.

The title cut "Want You Around" is the only original on the record, but it's total gold. Think The Knack meets Rick Springfield with a modern pop-punk sheen. I cannot get enough! In some alternate universe where 1980 never ended, this upbeat number has gone top ten in a dozen countries and spawned a new dance craze! It was actually written a number of years ago for Kurt's old band The Leftovers. It gets new life in 2012 with some help from Dan Vapid on backing vocals. If this were a one-song single, you'd still have your money's worth. But wait! There's more!

All three covers are from that '80-'81 era of hit radio I hold so dear. "News At Ten", the best track off of The Vapors' New Clear Days, gets the Kurt Baker treatment good and proper. It's a really good version - true to the original but not a carbon copy. Vocally I'm reminded of the old Philly power pop band The A's. Kurt also has at "Sleeping With The Television On" off of Billy Joel's Glass Houses. That happens to be my second-favorite album ever next to The Clash's London Calling (New Clear Days is third!). It was Billy Joel's (very successful) attempt to cash in on the new wave pop craze, and kudos to Kurt for recognizing a somewhat forgotten power pop-ish gem in "Sleeping With The Television On". Again, he plays it straight and does a great rendition. The third and final cover is Thin Lizzy's "Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)", off of their 1981 LP Renegade. What a splendid choice! It's one of my favorite Lizzy songs, and an unheralded minor hit from late '81/early '82. Who doesn't love a rock epic? Kurt's version, I'm happy to report, is as hard-rocking and hook-laden as the original. If that chorus doesn't give you tingles, I have to wonder about you. Thin Lizzy, like the Dictators, are one of those bands that separate the men from the boys when it comes to good taste in music. If you like Thin Lizzy, you know good music. And Kurt Baker loves Thin Lizzy.

Alright! As much as I enjoy hearing Kurt Baker pay tribute to great songs written by other artists, I must admit I'm looking forward to hearing more of his material. We've heard him tackle the pop hits of yesteryear, but surely he's been busy writing the pop hits of tomorrow. Luckily, I will not have long to wait. A new album is due out at the end of the month, and it's going to feature ten original tunes. I can't wait! I heard the first single, and I just about flipped my lid. The record's gonna be something else! Check out Jolly Ronnie Records for the skinny on Brand New Beat. And pick up Want You Around, damn it!


Friday, October 05, 2012

Jabroni alert!

There seems to be some difference of opinion amongst the punk rock faithful when it comes to Ramones-core as a genre of music. Some people love it. Others think it has no need to exist. I've heard a number of people say things along the lines of "Dude, if I'm gonna listen to The Ramones, I want the real thing!" But while I understand where the naysayers are coming from, I personally don't find Ramones-core to be pointless. I kinda dig it, in fact. I mean, come on. How about Head, The Hanson Brothers, and The Riverdales? Aren't they all terrific bands in their own right? Haven't they all made records that were as good as or better than a lot of later Ramones albums? Wouldn't you be losing out if you refused to listen to those bands simply because of the imitative nature of their music? My stance, then, is that Ramones-core rules when it's done well. Which brings us to the Jabronis from Portland, Oregon. Their debut album On The Ropes is as fine of an example of Ramones-core as you could hope to find. It's a fun record. It rocks the roof off. What more do you need?

The #1 rule of Ramones-core is that you have to go all-in. You must live to blatantly rip off the first two Ramones albums (or the first three if you're "progressive"). For sure there are lesser degrees of Ramones worship out there, but it's not really Ramones-core unless you're full-on committed. These Jabronis fit the bill right down to their wardrobe, cover art, and kayfabe familial ties. They blast out pummeling three chord ditties with no excess wanking and lyrics that appeal to the pinhead and cretin in all of us. If these four "brothers" sound suspiciously like Portland's wonderful Anxieties, that can hardly be considered a bad thing. The band is a powerhouse, and the record flat-out rips. If you're gonna ape the mighty Ramones, this is how it should be done! Nine of 14 tracks don't make it past the two minute mark, and the "epic" of the album is the three minute, three second "Hanging Out At The Berlin Wall". I love it that a couple of songs ("Jabroni Juice", "Total Jabroni") reference the band name. And for sure, a song like "Girl's Name (Is A Noun)" is worth its weight in gold Chuck Taylors. You could argue that a group like this is one step removed from a cover band. But isn't that the whole point?


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Meet The Bidons!

The Bidons are from southern Italy and formed in 2005, but I would not be surprised to learn that they're actually time travelers from five decades back. Someone inspect the tags on their suits! On their debut album Granma Killer!!!, they kick up a hip-shaking neanderthal racket in the vein of '60s garage rock/teen beat, and a sweaty good time surely awaits all who partake! Clearly they've studied the classics - Count Five, Seeds, Shadows of Knight, Sonics - and have emulated those '60s punk sounds with an energy and attitude that also bring to mind The Hives in their earlier days. There's no misunderstanding what The Bidons are all about. They're garage rockers through and through. They're not trying to make some kind of bold artistic statement or impress you with musical complexity. They just want to have fun and get you up and moving your feet. They've come for a rock n' roll dance party, blasting up-tempo jams with silly/fun lyrics and a beat that never quits. And while the style is nothing new, these fellas pull if off with pizazz. At just eight tracks, Granma Killer!!! isn't going to overstay its welcome. It's all over in a few ticks under 17 minutes. That's probably a good thing, because otherwise you might collapse from too much dancing!

As bands of their type tend to do, The Bidons have supplemented their original material with primo cover selections from the garage heyday. They have a go at The Strangeloves' 1965 top 40 hit "Night Time", and even better is a ripping rendition of the period classic "Be A Caveman" (the second single by Bakersfield, California's legendary Avengers). But it's a credit to the band that their own songs don't fare badly in comparison. "No!" is a garage rock anthem in its own right - and seems especially pertinent in this time of anti-corporate fervor. And "Granmakiller" bridges the gap between retro garage rock and modern garage punk. It reminds me quite a bit of The Kidnappers - one of my favorite bands of recent years. Thankfully, it does not seem that any granmas were killed during the making of this song.

The Bidons put the rock in garage rock. Check 'em out!


Monday, October 01, 2012

Run! It's Masked Intruder!

Oh, what a year it's been for pop-punk! First you had Mean Jeans delivering the best pop-punk album in years, and now we have the instant classic debut album from Masked Intruder. First of all, I love their gimmick - these masked miscreants claim extensive criminal histories mostly related to stalking the women they love. In the grand tradition of The Ramones, their brand of humor is kinda sick but totally hilarious. Yes, of course they're joking. Surely some p.c. types will be outraged. But at the end of the day, all this band is doing is taking pop-punk's most enduring theme - unrequited love - to the next level. '90s pop-punk, the band's obvious frame of reference, was largely made by and for guys who didn't get the girl. Countless anthems of the genre centered around the tribulations of young men who hopelessly adored gals who did not return their affections. Masked Intruder is essentially that same guy, tragically smitten with some lovely thing who wants nothing to do with him. And it's tearing him up. Except he's gone to the lengths of following her home, and he may or may not be wielding a knife. Trust me, it's not as creepy as it sounds. Or maybe it totally is. I don't know for sure. That's why this band's shtick is so brilliant.

Here's the thing - the concept of Masked Intruder only works if the music is great. And it is. The whole album takes me back to a time when the Parasites were my favorite band in the world and Screeching Weasel ruled my turntable. At the time I regularly listened to dozens upon dozens of bands who, like me, sported leather jackets and had terrible luck with the ladies. It would be an understatement to say I related. Looking back, I have to ask myself: Was I obsessed with love because I liked pop-punk, or did I like pop-punk because I was obsessed with love? I don't know. God, those were miserable years. But today, in happy times, I still love the music. Masked Intruder are throwbacks to those glory days of pop-punk, gleefully pumping out simple three-chord pop songs packed with sugary melodies, catchy guitar leads, and gooey, doo-wop inspired harmonies. No, it's not rocket science. But these guys pull off this style so well. Creepiness notwithstanding, lead singer "Blue" is an endearing vocalist that you can't help rooting for. You hope, when he gets out of his prison, that he'll finally find true love. And unlike the typical pop-punk group that just works the formula, this band really aspires to write great pop songs. That's where they really get me. Never in my life have I heard a pop-punk band and said, "If only they were more 'punk'!" But I've heard plenty of bands that just weren't, uh, "poppy" enough for my tastes. Masked Intruder do not fall short in that department. They embrace everything you ever loved (or perhaps hated!) about pop-punk, and they do so shamelessly. They are fully committed. Or maybe they should be committed.

Ultimately, I don't think this album is going to turn anyone to the dark side. If you hate pop-punk, you'll likely hate this record. But if you love pop-punk, you're probably already reserving a prime spot in your all-time top ten. Perhaps you've even looked up and down your body, wondering where your Masked Intruder tattoo should go. "How Do I Get To You" is destined for legendary status within the annals of the genre, and really the whole record is brilliant. And while the creepy stalker songs ("Hello Beautiful", "Why Don't You Love Me In Real Life?", "Heart Shaped Guitar") are a hoot, some of the best tracks are really sweet ("25 To Life") or just plain sad ("Breakin'"). I always had a soft spot for bands like this, no matter how much grief they got from my fellow punk rock reviewers. But Masked Intruder have taken this style to a whole new level. The desperation is greater. The songs are catchier. Gimmick or no gimmick, they've made one of the best pop-punk albums ever. Yeah, I said it. Captain Hyperbole is back. Did you miss me?