Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Remembering: American Punk Records

Although this blog exists ostensibly to promote "new" music, one of the fun things I've been doing is going back into the past and celebrating some of the bands and record labels that were around when I first started doing zines back in the '90s. One of the best labels of that mid-to-late '90s punk heyday was American Punk Records out of Baltimore. Run by Jakkpot lead singer Rudy "Rude A" Castello, A.P.R. released three Jakkpot singles along with seven-inches from like-minded bands such as the Candy Snatchers and Strychnine Babies. The label also released music by perhaps my three favorite bands of the '90s - the Dimestore Haloes, Fuses, and Prostitutes. If not as prolific or as long-lived as some of the other top punk labels of its time, American Punk was every bit as cool!

My personal story with American Punk Records starts in 1996 with a pair of singles by a Baltimore band called Webster. These were two of the best pop-punk singles of the entire '90s, but for whatever reason Webster didn't catch on with "the kids". But Webster would soon re-group as The Fuses, and the rest is history. Released late in 1997, The Fuses' debut Dress for the New Bomb still rates in my book as the best punk single of the entire '90s. And it came hot on the heels of one of The Prostitutes' greatest singles, Living Wreck. 1998 brought not only The Fuses' legendary full-length, I Wanna Burn, but also the classic Shooting Stars EP from the Haloes. Talk about a hot streak! American Punk Records would eventually cease operations after the breakup of Jakkpot, but no doubt the label had one hell of a five or six-year run. The label roster still reads like a who's-who of east coast/mid-Atlantic punk bands circa '95-2000. Some are rightfully perceived as legendary, and others probably should be (remember The Goons?). What follows is, I think, a complete list of official American Punk releases. If you happen to discover any of these titles in your travels, do not hesitate to buy!

Jakkpot- Just One Fix 7" (1995)
Jakkpot- You Ain't Shit 7" (1996)
Webster- Static 7" (1996)
Webster- 1000 Letters 7" (1996)
Candy Snatchers- Bum Me Out 7" (1996)
Jakkpot- Hit Or Miss 7" (1997)
Prostitutes- Living Wreck 7" (1997)
The Fuses- Dress for the New Bomb 7" (1997)
Dimestore Haloes- Shooting Stars 7" (1998)
Strychnine Babies- Kill Society 7" (1998)
Various Artists- This Is American Punk CD compilation (1998)
The Fuses- I Wanna Burn (CD 1998, LP 1999)

The Goons- No Leaders CD (2000)


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Let's split (again)!

You know how I feel about splits. I like both sides to have some sort of common thread. I'm not saying that the two bands should sound exactly the same, but I like there to be some similarity or commonality that will make the listener want to flip the record over. Otherwise you just end up wishing that it was the same band on both sides. On that note, a couple of up-and-coming hardcore bands from Brooklyn have just stepped up and demonstrated exactly how a split should be done!

Low Fat Getting High (love the band name!) have a classic post-hardcore sound on their track "Lacoste". They've got the epic tempo shifts, pounding drums, thick bass, and metallic guitars you'd expect. And it's all carried off with a strong sense of melody and a nicely polished crunch. Lyrics and vocals are intensely personal and packed with sincere emotion. The noise factor is there but doesn't get in the way of the music. In a good way, I'd describe this as post-hardcore with modern rock crossover potential - like maybe if Foo Fighters sounded more like, uh, early Nirvana? I'm hella impressed!

The Black Black are in a similar vein but more groove-happy. Their track, "One Blunt Death Party", is definitely in the Fugazi by way of Gang of Four mold of post-punk. These guys are probably not as "metal" as LFGH. But in their own way, they're equally as good. They're incredibly talented from a musical standpoint, and they've got the chemistry to make it all sizzle. Their style is pretty dissonant but still really catchy due to melodic guitar leads and that punching, grooving bass. I'm not usually a big post-punk guy, but this song has sunk its hooks into me for sure.  

All in all, this is an exemplary split. I like that both bands are of an equal high quality. And rather than pad this release with filler, they both picked one standout track that really shows what they can do. When a split is good, it's like getting two bands for the price of one. And this one is definitely good. If you're at all into the post-punk/post-hardcore thing, you will not want to miss out!



Monday, November 19, 2012

Lola-Cola rocka-rolla!

Any band that describes itself as "bubblegum glitter punk" was bound to win me over in a hurry. And with Penny and Shawn from the late, great Dirty Sweets in starring roles, Austin's Lola-Cola was a group I could not wait to hear! Let me tell ya: I was anticipating big things. Dirty Sweets were the shit! Remember their album on Rip Off? But Lola-Cola are even better than I was expecting! Although the look and presentation are very "glam", musically this band has that classic '77 trashy punk rock n' roll sound I can never get enough of. I hear a huge Johnny Thunders influence in the music, and Penny on lead vox brings attitude and charisma in abundance. The band has a 7" out on Ken Rock, and you can stream their four-song cassette on their Bandcamp page (I love it, that in the year 2012, there are still bands doing "tapes"). The "hit", "Tough Love", is an instant classic if there ever was one. Imagine the Heartbreakers fronted by a bad-ass punk rock chick. "You Gotta Mouth On You" is in the same vein, replete with a bouncy bass line and red-hot guitar work. And "A Pair Of Blue Eyes", with its girl group chorus and Chuck Berry-ish solo, brings to mind the mighty New York Dolls. Perhaps four songs is a small sample size. But what a band! Heck, they even have their own theme song! I think every band should have its own theme song! Play the clip below, and you just might find yourself an instant fan. I know I was. L-O-L-A! C-O-L-A!



Friday, November 16, 2012

Legendary, indeed!

I'm not sure what a legendary wing actually is, but I'd like to think it has something to do with fried chicken, a video game, or the hometown hockey team. Regardless, it's a cool name for a band. Legendary Wings are from Kalamazoo, Michigan - birthplace of Bell's beer, Gibson guitars, and football star Greg Jennings. This band managed the rare feat of sending an unsolicited demo to Dirtnap Records and actually scoring a label deal. That means that they're, uh, really good. Their debut album Making Paper Roses is out on Dirtnap, and not surprisingly it fits in quite well with the rest of the roster. Think garagey pop-punk with a double shot of caffeine. But I also hear similarities to other top bands of the moment like Cold Warps and Tenement. These guys are really into the lo-fi pop thing, and they seem heavily influenced by the post Husker Du/Replacements alt rock sound of the early '90s. So while they have a great deal in common with most of their label mates, they're also quite unique in the way they put all these elements together. They remind me of a band I would have loved back in college circa '92-'93. But in a lot of ways they're typical of what I'm into now. In short, Legendary Wings freakin' rule!

Making Paper Roses generally sounds noisy and frenzied, and all in all it has a rough, almost "demo" quality to it that's actually quite appealing. Sometimes with punk music, you just don't need a whole lot of polish. Forget about spending a gazillion dollars making a "perfect" recording. These guys are all about a loose, live energy and quality songwriting. And while some of the hooks are buried somewhat beneath the distinctly Midwestern grime, they do not go unnoticed. This is, from top to bottom, an impressive debut album. If blown-out, hyper-fast songs like "Too Far" and "Time" are typical cuts on this album, they are far from the only tricks in Legendary Wings' bag. "Lover" sounds like the Buzzcocks by way of the Marked Men, while the poppy "I Think I'm Dumb" is like '77 punk meets Minneapolis 1981. "Spacehead" has got a lo-fi Beach Boys vibe to it, while "Cartoon" turns on the jangle to wonderful effect. Surely from a fidelity standpoint, this group will go on to make "better" sounding records. But Making Paper Roses will be a hard record to top. Is it just me, or has this been one of Dirtnap's best years ever?



Monday, November 12, 2012

Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars!

First off, they've got one of the greatest band names ever. Secondly, they're from Ohio. Thirdly, my old pal Pat Dull (Media Whores, Break Up! Records) is in the band! Really: what's not to like about Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars?! In existence for about a year-and-a-half, BMAC have just released their first single. And hot damn, is it ever a ripper! If you combined the degenerate warp-speed ferocity of the Dwarves with the face-smashing aggression of Black Flag and the fireball tough-chick swagger of more recent outfits like The Loudmouths and Deady Weapons, you'd have a band almost as good as Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars. I believe this is Ms. Machete's first foray into singing, and she sounds like she was born to holler into a mic. Trust me: she is not someone you want to mess with. Think twice before cutting in line in front of her at Kroger. And befitting a band called the Angry Cougars, this group plays with unbridled aggression and pummeling power. "Don't Call The Cops" is a fast and furious burner, while "Book Of Hate" eases off the pedal but strikes with violent force. This is your basic angry punk rock music, and BMAC pull off the style exceptionally well. Sometimes bands like this are erroneously assumed to be all attitude and no talent. But even when it comes to the harder stuff, quality punk rock requires good tunes and tight musicianship. In every department that matters, this band just straight-up kicks ass. If you've been wishing upon a star for a MILF version of OFF! to come along, your prayers have been answered!



Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Biters strike again!

Best news ever: Biters are back! Atlanta's glam/pop/rock n' roll sensations have returned with their first release in well over a year, and of course it's freaking great. Did you expect anything less?! What I love about any Biters record is that it's guaranteed to be filler-free. This group works under the philosophy that only their A-grade material gets released. It's the reason why they do EPs instead of albums. Biters never compromise quality for the sake of quantity, and that's a big part of what makes them such a tremendous band. Oh, and that seemingly endless supply of incredible songs doesn't hurt either!

While far from the only group to have blended high energy power pop with elements of glam and "classic" rock, Biters are probably the best band going in that category. Hell, they might be the best band going in any category! Last of a Dying Breed, out now on Pipeline Records, continues the grand tradition of power-packed Biters EPs. However, it's far from a mere rehash of previous records. The "hit", "So Many Nights", is vintage Biters and possibly the greatest Thin Lizzy rip ever committed to vinyl. But there are also tracks on this record that are a little different. Although often pigeonholed as "power pop", Biters are a rock n' roll band first and foremost. And this EP is their most rocking to date - rife with the thundering guitars and anthemic choruses of their arena rock heroes. And the way it was recorded, completely without auto-tune, also hearkens back to that golden age of rock. No technological trickery here, folks: just a super-tight band clicking on all cylinders! Opening track "Hallucination Generation" offers a lyrical tip of the cap to Cheap Trick, a band that Biters have been compared to a few thousand times. Sonically, it brings a slightly harder edge compared to previous releases. I dig! "Hell Is For Babies" takes that heavier approach to another level of awesome, infusing a crunching hard rock sound with immensely catchy pop hooks. And "Evil Eye" is almost completely unexpected - a glam-influenced power ballad with an epic feel. If "So Many Nights" is the band's "The Boys Are Back In Town", "Evil Eye" is their "Bringin' on the Heartbreak"!

Last of a Dying Breed had a lot to live up to on the heels of three seemingly perfect EPs. But as usual, Biters have taken their time and given us something special. "So Many Nights" may be the band's best song yet, and I love the move towards a harder, bigger sound. These guys are more than ready for full-fledged rock stardom. Tuk is without question one of the best songwriters out there, and Matt absolutely kills it on lead guitar. I used to think there could be no better part of a Biters song than the chorus, but the guitar solos on this record are just sick! Remember real rock n' roll? Biters sure do! They have turned out a number of hits over the years. Now they're giving us anthems. Crank this bad boy loud!



Friday, November 02, 2012

Mad about Livids!

So perhaps you heard that Mr. Eric Davidson has a new band going with the likes of Jami Wolf (Shop Fronts/Zodiac Killers), Daniel Kelley (Dead Ringers/Complaints/Paper Bags), and Greg Collins (Radio 4). If you think that sounds kinda awesome, you’d be absolutely right! I mean, come on! The greatness of Livids was inevitable. This Brooklyn punk rock supergroup, well-known to tear shit up live, recently went into the studio and banged out an LP. They’ve given us a little preview on their Bandcamp page, and all I can say is wow. Holy shit, man! Obviously if you’re a New Bomb Turks fan, you’ll dig. But as a ‘70s punk fanatic, I think I may end up liking Livids even better than the Turks. We’ll see. Davidson, a living legend if there ever was one, has never sounded better. And his star-studded band more than lives up to expectations. You could easily pass Livids off as forgotten punk greats from punk’s class of 1977 - and not just because they cover “Savage Eyes” by Rollerball. If N.B.T. had been a little less “garage” and even more Pagans/Dead Boys influenced, I’m pretty sure it would have sounded like “Ms. Bluff”. Listen and love!



Thursday, November 01, 2012

Brand New Beat!

It goes without saying that Kurt Baker's new LP is my album of the year. Heck, it might even be my album of the decade so far. And if you read my review of Kurt's most recent EP, you knew my expectations were sky-high. You can surmise I was not disappointed.

I'll grant you that Brand New Beat may not an album for everyone. It's an upbeat kind of record for upbeat kinds of people. It will elicit smiles and positive feelings. It has lots of songs about girls. If you're not into happy-go-lucky power pop the way I am, you might even be disgusted by this LP. Fair enough. It's a free country. But this is my slice of the blogosphere, and in these parts Kurt Baker is loved. In collaboration with dynamite producer/co-songwriter Wyatt Funderburk, he's turned out a classic pop/rock record that hearkens back to the late '70s and early '80s. Its songs appeal to that part of all of us that's eternally 19 and in the severe throes of young love. Some of the tunes are totally sappy. A couple will make you laugh. Others will break your heart. And every last one sounds like a hit. If Rick Springfield, Elvis Costello, and Butch Walker were one guy, he'd be Mr. Kurt Baker.

While "power pop" might be a good general term for the music Kurt Baker makes, I think Brand New Beat will surprise a lot of people. It's not strictly a power-pop-by-numbers record. "Hit The Ground" kicks off the proceedings with a slick, over-the-top blast of rock. And "Qualified" closes the show in the same vein. These are extremely well-crafted odes to the glory days of arena rock. You say "cheesy", and I say "fun". I just close my eyes and imagine the Kurt Baker Band as the unheralded opening act blowing Journey or Loverboy off the stage 30 years ago. Meanwhile the ballads reach back further to the mid-to-late '70s heyday of singer/songwriters, and they're tremendous. "She's Not Sorry" is like early Billy Joel meets the Beach Boys, while "I Don't Wanna Cry" is a gut-wrenching breakup song delivered with feeling. Both tracks are among the album's best, and the harmonies positively soar. Meanwhile "How Many Times" is a "happy" ballad that totally indulges Kurt's Elvis Costello worship.

Of course the best part of any Kurt Baker record is going to be the pure pop songs, and Brand New Beat is loaded with some of the catchiest cuts of power pop you could ever hope to hear. "Don't Go Falling In Love" would be all over Top 40 radio in a better world. Listen to it and see what I mean. And it's far from the only "hit". I'm totally nuts for the big glossy crunch and joyful spirit of "Everybody Knows" and "Weekend Girls". And the sweet, jangly "She Can Do It All" brings to mind Kurt's handsome and talented pals The Connection. What can I say? I'm just a total sucker for silky backing vocals and infectious pop hooks. Give me a little caffeine and a couple spins of this record, and I'm guaranteed a good day!

What I love about Brand New Beat is that it's so well-done on every level. The songs are great, the production is amazing, and Kurt's band is top-notch. Huge kudos go out to Funderburk (backing vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards), Kris "Fingers" Rodgers (keyboards), Geoff Useless (backing vocals, rhythm guitar), and Adam Cargin (drums) for making this "solo" album what it is. Recorded over a year-and-a-half period at three different studios, this LP was painstakingly crafted. And it shows! It has the feel of a top-selling record from three decades ago, yet it doesn't sound stale or dated in any way. Pop music, when it's this good, is timeless. Your dad will probably like Brand New Beat, but so will your niece. Go buy copies for everyone on your Christmas list!