Monday, December 31, 2012

The Lord Rutledge Awards 2012

Good evening to our honored guests, distinguished nominees, and anyone else who may have wandered over from the bar. My sincere apologies go out to anyone who had difficulty finding us tonight. Our scheduled conference room was double-booked by hotel staff due to an expected apocalypse that fell through. I would like to thank the Fans of Steve Guttenberg Marching Band for loaning us this particular space for the next 27 minutes. Let it be known that they do a rousing version of "Who's Johnny?" from the Short Circuit soundtrack - a top five hit for El DeBarge in 1986.

As we do every New Year's Eve, we have gathered together to honor the year's best musical performers according to my humble opinion. I have agonized over many of these choices for weeks or even months. I drew up charts. I brought in focus groups. I sought spiritual counsel. And now the time has come to share my decisions with the world at large. Shipment on the prize trophies has been delayed, but I can guarantee unlimited free soft drink refills for all winners tonight. Act swiftly - the Big K Diet Lemon Line is going fast!

2012 has been a great year for punk/garage/powerpop music. I know I say that every year, but that's only because it's true every year. Those of you who have followed me since the '90s may have observed that these days I'm more positive-minded overall and specifically less cranky about the state of mainstream music. I have no need at this stage in my life to belittle others for the music they listen to. Life is short. Listen to what you enjoy. There's a ton of great music out there if you know where to find it. I'm just trying to spread the word the best I can. My favorite thing about doing a one-man blog versus formerly operating a webzine is that I only have to write about the stuff I like. And in the year 2012, here's what I liked the most...

Album of the Year:
Kurt Baker- Brand New Beat
An absolute no-brainer. Brand New Beat is an instant classic of power pop!

EP of the Year:
Missing Monuments- (I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life
King Louie and company had this one from the get-go. Somehow this band just keeps getting better!

Single of the Year:
No More Art- "Tough To Breathe"
Stunning second release from the international supergroup featuring Milo (Rosie Tie), Will Kinser (Red Dons), and Juan Miguel Pardo (Los Dolares, Leadershit, Etacarinae, Peligro!). Amazing old school female fronted punk rock with melody. The Sugar Stems' "Greatest Pretender" was a close #2.

Compilation of the Year:
Cold Warps - S/T + Endless Bummer
Two cassettes on one LP, and it's pop perfection!

Song of the Year:
Gentleman Jesse- "I'm A Mess"
Just one of many prime cuts off of Jesse's spectacular LP, Leaving Atlanta. I picked this one because it strikes a chord for me personally.

Album of the Year -Masters Class:
The Figgs- The Day Gravity Stopped
This award goes to the best album released by a band that's been in existence for at least 25 years. The almighty Figgs take the crown in their first year of eligibility with an overlooked double album epic.

Producer of the Year:
Wyatt Funderburk
Too often in the modern age, being a "music producer" means being skilled at technological trickery. Wyatt Funderburk, on the other hand, takes me back to the days when producers were true artists. Kurt Baker's Brand New Beat, which Funderburk produced and co-wrote, has that classic late '70s/early '80s feel and sounds especially great on vinyl.

Reissue of the Year:
Avengers pink album
It was about time! 

Music Video of the Year:
Missing Monuments - "(I'm Gonna) Love You Back To Life"
Flying Vs, babes, and muffulettas. What more do you require?!

Best New Band:
This was a hotly-contested battle, as other newcomers like Jabber and The Sensibles became fast favorites of mine. But Eric Davidson's all-star crew takes it! 

Record Label of the Year:
Dirtnap Records
Another close race in the wake of an awesome year from No Front Teeth Records out of the U.K. But Dirtnap, with five albums in my personal top 20, prevails again.

Album I Should Have Bought, But Didn't:
Midnite Snaxxx - self titled 
Fingers crossed for a digital release in 2013! Please?

Music Writer of the Year:
Alt Rock Chick
Although this award was originally based on one particular review of an album by The Connection, this individual is consistently brilliant at her craft. If you are a fan of "old school" rock-writing and appreciate a reviewer who brings encyclopedic knowledge and genuine passion to the table, is a must-read.

Beer of the Year:
Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale
For further coverage, check out my full piece over at my beer blog.

Burger of the Year: The Bruges Burger
Central Pennsylvania's finest Belgian restaurant, Cafe Bruges, may be best known for its waffles and pomme frites. But it's also got the best burger of this or any year. Read about it on my food blog!

Movie of the Year:
The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson's best movie in years - with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix extraordinary in their dueling lead roles. 

The Championship Belt:
Something Fierce
This award goes annually to my favorite current band. Something Fierce won last year. And although Missing Monuments have vaulted up to a close second, SF did nothing in 2012 to lose the title. Their songs on the Occult Detective Club split were some of their best yet. With both Missing Monuments and Something Fierce expected to deliver albums in 2013, the belt could be up for grabs!

Thanks to you all for reading! Have a great 2013!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top Tens 2012!

Just a few days remain in the year 2012, so without further ado I now present our year-end top tens! Special thanks to Joe Keller for suggesting I revive this tradition from the Now Wave days!

First, here's my top ten album list:
10. Masked Intruder- self titled
9. OFF!- self titled
8. Youthbitch- Don't Fuck This Up
7. Ana Lucia- self titled
6. Mean Jeans- On Mars
5. Randy America- F*ck Vision
4. The Ills- Tuning Out 
3. White Wires- WWIII
2. Gentleman Jesse- Leaving Atlanta
1. Kurt Baker- Brand New Beat

Next, a top ten from Matt Mayhem:  
10. White Wires- WWIII LP
9. Mean Jeans- On Mars LP
8. Half Rats- self titled tape
7. The Cry!- self titled LP
6. Guantanamo Baywatch- "Oh Rats"/"A Boy To Love" 7"
5. Sugar Stems- "Like I Do"/"Never Been In Love" 7"
4. Youthbitch- Don't Fuck This Up LP
3. Suicide Notes-"Hey Baby"/"Wolf Couple"/"Last Chance" 7"
2. Chain Of Love- "In Between"/"Breaking My Heart" 7"
1. Primitive Hearts- self titled EP 
All the way from Spain, here's a top ten from Javier Iglesias:
1. The Nomads - Solna
2. Kevin K - Tramp Stamp  
3. Mojomatics - You're The Reason For My Troubles 
4. The Crazy Squeeze -self titled
5. Imperial State Electric - Pop War 
6. Gentleman Jesse - Leaving Atlanta 
7. Joey Ramone - ....Ya Know
8. Redd Kross - Researching The Blues 
9. Sonic Beat Explosion - Sister Psychosis 
10. The White Wires - WWIII

If it is possible to include EPs, I will put in the number 1 of the list: 
Biters - Last of a Dying Breed

Now here's Peter Santa Maria's Top 10 (or so) for 2012:
2012 could easily be labeled "The Year of The Comeback" and people gettin' back to their "roots". More musicians seemed to be reforming their once legendary bands (latest being Rocket From The Crypt!) and/or releasing records that harkened back to their "glory days". Some might call it a nostalgia crisis, but I just call it good music. And hey, there were a few "new" bands that I found out about this year and also really dug. So, never mind the bollocks, here's my top 10 (or so) for 2012!

The Hives - Lex Hives
I was ready to write off The Hives after the incredibly disappointing The Black and White Album, but luckily these stylish Swedes took the time to regroup and wrote one helluva set of songs. It's almost like a best-of compilation, as it takes the best song characteristics from each one of their albums and comes up with one solid representation of everything that The Hives do great musically: fast, short songs, mid-tempo garage stompers, swaggerin' soul, and each one of their songs is full of hooks, smart and catchy lyrics (Howlin' Pete knows how to play with words and really turn a phrase) and pretty much just flat out ROCK. Lex Hives was self-produced by the band, and it definitely was a smart move after the over-produced, too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen mess of  The Black and White Album. Lex Hives has a live 'n' loose vibe and sound, almost like Exile On Main Street. GREAT drum sound here, just sounds like someone bashin' the drums in a BIG room, distrorto bass, clean cut like glass guitars that break-up JUST enough to give them some bite and Howlin' Pete's circus ringleader revival vocals over top of the whole thing. R'N'F'N'R!

Redd Kross - Researching The Blues
The brothers McDonald are back, and thank fuckin' gawd because they were sorely missed by this music listener! This is one of the most solid rock 'n' roll records to come out this year, or in the past 10 years for that matter, and one of Redd Kross' best to date. So many great riffs, hooks, choruses... just GREAT songwriting. Guitar tones go from jangly chords to distorted leads, backed by bashing drums and bouncy bass. "Stay Away From Downtown" is pretty much the perfect rock song and should be blastin' out of car stereos, iPods and transmitting from radio stations every hour on the hour. Mining Beatles to Big Star, 60's garage to 70's glam to 80's punk, Redd Kross is a rock 'n' roll juggernaut and Researching The Blues is their newest testament to everything that ROCKS!

Bob Mould - Silver Age
Another contender for best comeback album is right here. Bob Mould went off and experimented with electronic music, became a DJ, wrote a book... and that's all well and good. Dude can do whatever he wants with his life. But when I want to listen to or pay attention to Bob Mould, I wanna hear that VOICE and LYRICS and just that big, gloriously noisey guitar racket that only Bob Mould can produce. Pure pop power punk! I always equated Mould with being like a punk rock Pete Townshend (and Townshend's attitude was pretty punk already!), a true rock 'n' roll storyteller. Silver Age is definitely one of the best albums Bob Mould has ever released, totally on par with his Husker Du output and rivaling anything that he did with Sugar. Silver Age is full of middle-aged punk rock piss and vinegar, evident from the line "Never too old to contain my rage" in the title track. But the album isn't just all bottled up anger, there's lot's of positive hope too, illustrated best in one of the last songs on the album, "Keep Believing". I can only hope Bob Mould keeps making great albums like Silver Age.

Bouncing Souls - Comet
Always been a fan of this band! Saw them coming up "in the scene" on the east coast in early '90s, was in a band or two that shared stages with them, was always proud of their success and longevity, these guys definitely paid their dues and have earned everything they have gotten. I know they were "experimenting" (there's that word again) with their songwriting and instrumentation on last couple records, which produced mixed results, in my opinion. But with Comet, 'Souls are firing on all cylinders with 10 really strong anthemic punk rock and sing-a-long pop punk tunage. Great lyrics. Great production by Bill Stevenson (Descendents, ALL). Comet is easily one of their best albums.

Nude Beach - II
Jangly power pop and roots rock 'n' roll with heart on your sleeve lyrics and just honest songwriting. No pretense or preening here, and these dudes worship at the altars of past songwriters with names like Westerberg, Petty, Springsteen, Case, and Felice. At times, when I am walkin' around the city listening to this album, these guys come across like a reincarnated Real Kids for the new millenium, and that just makes me smile. Saw them open up for Reigning Sound this summer in Philly, and these guys bring the goods live too.

Heap - Defriended
NYC's HEAP come back with their first release in four years here, a mighty rolickin' collection of power pop rock 'n' roll songs! Songs about hard times, harder drinks, time lost, changin' times and the only thing you can count on in this world is... NYC sound guy extraordinaire Noel Ford. Cheap Trick guitar crunch with Bash and Pop's soul = good rockin'!

The Mess Around - Boner Time
High-energy trashy garage punk rock 'n' roll from NYC! Who knew THAT still existed in NYC?! A boozey cocktail of early-Replacements and Miracle Workers served in a dirty hi-ball glass down under with Radio Birdman, Lime Spiders and Celibate Rifles on the bar jukebox. The Mess Around also win the "Best Album Title of the Year" award (note to editor: awards will not be honored). Another fine release from the quickly burgeoining Drug Front Records rock 'n' roll dynasty!

Born Loose - self tited
Speakin' of Drug Front Records, here is the debut full-length from Larry May's (of Candy Snatchers infamy) new-ish band. Born Loose is a GREAT live band, and that comes across loud 'n' proud on this album. I can smell the sweat and see the on-stage mayhem within a few short minutes of the needle dropping on the vinyl. Sonically, this has more orchestration than any Candy Snatchers album (horn section on opening track, very reminiscent of The Saints), organ/piano ("House of Creeps" and "Bad Baby Faye"), and some more mid-tempo numbers that really lay down a rockin' groove as opposed to just blastin' out a stabbin' slab of punk rock (although there are a couple of those too!) . "China Bus Express" is the best song not written by New York Dolls I have heard in ages.

The Figgs - 1,000 People Grinning
The Figgs have been together... 25 years!
Damn! How many bands can say that? Not many!
This 25 song anthology spans their entire career, and honestly, this should be TWICE as long to really do this band any justice. The Figgs are one of those bands that just write amazing songs that run the whole gamut of the rock 'n' roll genre: fast rockers, mid-tempo stompers, soulful slow burns, powerful pop, punked up anthems, funky love songs, acoustic gems and... the LYRICS! Both Pete Donnelly and Mike Gent seem to be able to say in song things I can never articulate. The Figgs have been there, done that (as far as the major label game goes) and came out on the other side, yet they seem like perennial underdogs (I guess we could call it Replacements-itis or maybe Graham Parker syndrome). It kills me that a band like this is not HUGE. Oh well, pick this up and join the secret society of people with really good taste in music (i.e. FIGGS FANS!)

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Meat and Bone
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's first album of new material in 8 years, Meat and Bone, is much like The Hives' Lex Hives: it comes across like the perfect compilation album of past and present. You get JSBX scuzz noize blooze beginnings and their soulful Stones swagger later period, with a sprinkle of funky fuzz on top of it all. Also this time around, much less schtick, and way more rawk. The songs here feel like real songs and not just "Blues Explosion" spiels. Standout tracks like "Black Mold" sound like a castaway Iggy ripoff, "Danger" sounds like a lost Stooges outtake, "Black Thoughts" and "Bear Trap" are pure slide guitar Stones blues 'n' roll. JSBX turn in a stripped-down, recorded-live-in-a-room rock 'n' roll album with yelps and yells in all the right places, and one of their very best albums to boot!

OFF! -self titled
Keith Morris. Steven McDonald. Mario Rubalcaba. Dmitri Coats.
16 songs clockin' in under 16 minutes.
Artwork by Raymond Pettibon.

Spider Fever - self titled
This band features Mario Rubalcaba (RFTC, OFF!) gettin' out from behind the drums, slingin' a guitar and gettin' in front of the mic to belt out some fuzzed-out Killed By Death riff punk rawk. All killer, no filler on the 9 tracks here. Turn this up, smash and thrash around the room and blow yer eardrums out!

Next, here is Joe Keller's Best of 2012: 
10. Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast 
There's an ongoing debate in comment sections across the internet - is Municipal Waste heavy metal or thrash or thrash metal or are they crossover? I know very little about heavy metal outside of its now-ancient progenitors (AC/DC, Black Sabbath [including the Dio years], Motorhead, Deep Purple), so applying the correct label on what they do is outside of my abilities - but I can tell you that I can't stop listening to it. Many say MW frontman Tony Foresta has the "DRI voice" which is ok by me - I think that just means his vocals aren't on either end of the ridiculous spectrum (eunuch-level operatic high or cookie monster unintelligible low) which is probably why I am able to like this band (plus, "Dealing With It" rules). This 5th long player from the ‘Waste is perfect for long lift sessions at the gym or blasting out of a car while you and your friend knock down mailboxes with baseball bats while drinking a rack of Yuengling. The overall theme is centered on zombies in space - which sounds like it would be played out at this point because of The Walking Dead on AMC but trust me, the ‘Waste make it work and this record delivers the goods.

9. The Figgs - The Day Gravity Stopped
I am a near-fanatical Figgs fan. It is hard for them to do wrong by me. This double LP (the SECOND double LP in the Figgs cannon) is bigger and sweeter than a 44 oz. fountain coke from Wawa. Side A has some real gems - I read once in an interview with guitarist Mike Gent that the Figgs were huge fans of Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks (I've heard them cover at least two songs from that record) and The Day Gravity Stopped may be the result of their collective Kinks-mania. While there is no general concept that holds the record together as best as I can tell, it is rich with character sketches ("Lovely Miss Jean", "Inspector RT") and timeless quality pop.

8. Sonic Avenues - Television Youth
I was super late on this band - Ken from Dirtnap Records hepped me to them a few months before he released Television Youth, the sophomore effort from Montreal’s Sonic Avenues. Sonic Avenues have their own great sound - fantastic melodies, strong pop songwriting, production with the right amount of grit, and a cool signature guitar sound. Any time I try to concoct a comparison to other existing bands, it always falls apart (best I can muster is The Marked Men with the late Jay Reatard doing early Cure outtakes [see, that was awful - who would want to listen to that?]) which just demonstrates how original this band is (or, just how poor of a writer I am). I highly recommend tracking down their debut self titled LP as well.

7. Sick Sick Birds - Gates of Home
Sick Sick Birds last LP, Heavy Manners, was a great refined punk/post-punk rock album. It was one hell of a debut. Gates of Home is slightly more lo-fi, but the same great band is playing the songs. I think certain bands are the perfect representation of a place. For instance, The Arrivals ARE Chicago to me. The Modern Machines ARE Milwaukee. Sick Sick Birds are Baltimore as far as I'm concerned. I can picture the Baltimore skyline as seen from an I-95 passenger as I listen to "Gates of Home". Few bands can pull of this trick.

6. Black Wine - Hollow Earth
By now, a structural pattern for Black Wine LPs is starting to emerge - a nice symmetry, three singers, three songwriters, three songs apiece, a little double sided Divine Comedy from the Jersey Shore. Black Wine are the sort of band that could have saved SST when they were putting out all of those Zoogz Rift records (which I admittedly have a soft spot for, too). While the blueprint for how they arrange their albums is somewhat static, the songs themselves are not. It's the type of daring underground rock music unencumbered by a stiff musical formula or predefined image that made digging countless record racks and sending away via mailorder all worth it in previous decades. Hollow Earth features some of the best Black Wine, in particular, the haunting "Flatland", which as far as I can tell takes lyrical cues from a Richard Feynman analogy on how explaining the fourth dimension (time) in space-time to humans is like explaining the 3rd dimension to flat bugs that live in a 2D world.

5. Bob Mould - Silver Age
Bob Mould puts his snooze-worthy techno on hold and dishes up some Sugar-esque rockers on this long player. On the skins is none other than everyone's favorite Best Show call-in guest, Jon Wurster (oh yeah, he also plays drums for a little band called Superchunk, as well). This is my favorite Mould since Last Dog and Pony Show, which I have always thought is a bit underrated. Hopefully, Silver Age will not suffer the same fate.

4. Toys That Kill - Fambly 42
Toys That Kill are a weird little band - this summer someone told me that once you cross the bridge into San Pedro, you're on another planet - you're not in LA anymore . Toys That Kill are on another planet. It's herky jerky rhythmic punk music that sounds like squawking cat and or dog humans are singing over it. I mean this in the best possible way.

3. Sickoids - self titled
A killer 20 min long 12" disc from what I might consider the best band from Philly of all time, Hooters be damned! (sorry Roy.) Chorus effect laced guitar cranked out over bass-static and punishing drums. Some tracks even remind me of the more hardcore stuff on Zen Arcade, which is never a bad thing! Had the opportunity to watch this band multiple times this year in multiple sweaty stinky punk houses - they were no joke. They've already sort of broken up, but I'm hoping they recorded some more stuff before they hung up their boots.

2. Cheap Girls - Giant Orange
Cheap Girls dish up their 3rd and best LP to date. It goes down easy like an ice cold beer after a long day of working at a shitty job and makes you forget about the worries in your life like a big fat bar of Xanax. Seemingly from a time when great melodies melded with catchy guitar hooks and straight-forward production (I think they called it "alternative" when it hit about 20 years ago), Cheap Girls are descendents of such Midwest titans as The Replacements, The Goo Goo Dolls, and Soul Asylum - rock bands from the Midwest who grew up and out of the punk scene. However, I would say Cheap Girls has far surpassed The Goo Goo Dolls and Soul Asylum. There are plenty of hits on this one - "Ruby" in particular is a real banger.

1. Screaming Females - Ugly
The New Brunswick power trio have pretty much kicked ass since inception, lighting basement shows ablaze with their guitar pyrotechnics incendiary vocals. Marisa Paternoster's trademark howl and shriek is no doubt an acquired taste, but you know what, so is Frank Black's bellowing and squealing, and Doolittle is one of the best records ever. Ugly is heavy on the riffs and packed with deadly guitar shredding. Everything you've ever read on a blog about Marisa's guitar skills is not hype - none other than J Mascis himself has given her the thumbs up in print. However, often times the Scremales rhythm section is over-looked. Ugly should correct this - with Steve Albini at the recording console the band has never sounded better - I swear it sounds like Dave Grohl playing drums on "expire" and King Mike's fuzzy Rickenbacher has never sounded better than on the epic "Doom 84". This band will be on SNL in less than 5 years, and it will be a joyous occasion.

10. Altered Boys - self titled 7"
Pissed-off East-Coast hardcore - all of those words go together so well. Altered Boys sound a bit more Boston than Jersey Shore, but honestly who cares. They are without a doubt the best hardcore band in NJ right now. If you can catch them live, don't miss 'em.

9. Omegas - NY Terminator
Montreal’s Joy Boys are at it again, delivering brutal hardcore. If you enjoyed their 2011 LP Blasts of Lunacy (perhaps the best album title in the last decade), you will surely revel in slam-skanking to NY Terminator, their newest batch of jams.

8. Lemuria - Varoom Allure
This record was a Record Store Day special - more straight ahead and pop-oriented than their sophomore LP. Great drumming and vocals as always.

7. Sugar Stems - Greatest Pretender
Sugar Stems do female fronted power pop like no other in this present day and age. Aided by veteran axe-man Drew from the Jetty Boys/Leg Hounds, Betsy has penned some of the best jangly, distortion-free power pop this side of Pandoras. This single was a teaser for their 2nd LP that came out a few weeks before the end of 2012 - I regret not being able to purchase it before I made this list!

6. Tenement/Culo split
Tenement continues to amaze. Another band that does not have a preset mold for what they do - any Pitchfork-reading snob who gives you shit over listening to pop punk needs to sit their ass down and listen to this band. Culo is fast hardcore delivered with wild abandon - had a chance to share a bill with them last year in Chicago, and they were great. Did not get a chance to pick up their full length yet, but it's on my to-do list.

5. Young Skin - The Sticky Pages
A super-group comprised of my friends - so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. However, I think I can safely say, personal relationships be damned, there are some great straight ahead grungy, garagey punk tunes on here, particularly "Uneasy", which Miranda Taylor delivers with the perfect amount of melody and snarl.

4. Mikey Erg/Alex Kerns split
...Speaking of biased opinions! Mike's ability to write a song that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you want to pump your fist in unison to the beat has not waned an iota since the passing of our old band The Ergs, as evinced by "Song Against Ian Raymond". The Down By Law cover satisfies the 15 year old in me, but it is no way a match for "Song Against..." and in a way that's good - Mike must have known he had hot shit on his hands so the 2nd song he put on this thing had damn well better be a throwaway or else it would have been a waste of a good song. I am jealous The Ergs never got to perform this one! I predict Mike will make the best pop record anyone's heard in a long time next year. Alex Kern's laconic vocal delivery is one of my faves - the often lyricist and drummer of Lemuria delivers two quirky gems.

3. Big Eyes - Back from the Moon
Big Eyes are named after a top notch Cheap Trick song - should give you an idea where this band is coming from - excellent power-pop-ish rock n roll songs with big crunchy guitars. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Kate Eldridge has been cranking out great stuff for years despite her youth - most notably in Used Kids and her own group Cheeky. This 7" is Big Eyes at their most polished so far and that's not a bad thing at all. The A side is a killer hit complete with "oooh" laden bridge and a chorus I defy you to forget after hearing it just once.

 2. Neighborhood Brats - Ocean Beach Party
This band is the best new find of 2012 for me - and this 7" smokes! The A-side is a great uptempo rocker deriding California beach culture. It zips by in less than 1.5 minutes and totally rules. However, it's the B-side that makes this 7" - the menacing mid-tempo "Shark Beach". It's all wrapped up with a really cool looking black and white front cover - this is the band to watch next year. Their full length is going to be at the top of everyone's 2013 top ten list.

1. Red Dons - Auslander
Red Dons hit the world with the best song, A-side, and 7" of the year with "Auslander, a big, soaring, epic punk song complete with memorable guitar lead and passionate chorus about being an outcast everywhere you go in life ("Auslander" is pejorative term for "foreigner" in German). At this point, I think Red Dons have stepped out of the shadow of The Observers and really carved out their own name.

Also great this year:
Mean Jeans - On Mars
School Jerks - self titled
Guantanamo Baywatch - Chest Crawl
Creem - self titled 12"
Boston Strangler - Primitive LP
Plastic Cross - Grayscale Rainbows
Nude Beach - II

Good Demos/tapes worth checking out:
1. Altered Boys
2. Real Cops
3. Snowdonia
4. Voight-Kampff tape

Next up, we have a top ten from Danny Dysentery:
1. Midnite Snaxxx - self titled LP
A supergroup! Great poppy garagey all around awesomey punk.

2. The Gaggers - "Psychosomatic" 7"
My favorite band going.

3. Mean Jeans - On Mars LP
The best pop punk album of the year.

4. The Anomalys- "Retox" 7"
 The best live band I saw this year and a killer single to boot!

5. The No Tomorrow Boys - "Animal Eyes" 7"
Punked up Buddy Holly, Fuck yeah!

6. The Paper Bags "II" 7"
Classic punk rock and it came in a paper bag itself, best packaging of the year.

7. Neighborhood Brats "Ocean Beach Party" 7"
 My other favorite band going right now.

8. Big Box- Die Now LP
Evil pervey hardcore.

9. Raveonettes - Observator LP
More gloomy pop songs.

10. Teenage Bubblegums - Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, Pray for Tomorrow
Italian pop punk that's all sugar highs. I love it.
And lastly, a top ten from Travis Ramin:
10. The return of the Subsonics
One of the most unique garage bands of the '90s is back and sounding just as good!

9. Newly discovered Esquerita material from Norton
The "Hittin' on Nothing" 45 is especially killer (support Norton Records!).

8. Lee Hazelwood LHI Years double album
Great material AND naked '60s ladies all over the cover wearing Lee Hazelwood mustaches!!

7. Dueling 50 year anniversary concerts and subsequent new material from The Beach Boys and Rolling Stones (and the Monkees!)
Even Wyman put down his metal detector and picked up the bass for "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

6. Charlie My Darling
Rolling Stones movie filmed in 1965 and never released. Made to get the Stones used to be around cameras, but they also captured riotous concert footage and hotel room songwriting. VERY COOL!

5. The Midnite Snaxx (all of their releases!)
One of Tina Lucchesi's best bands. As the kidz say.."It's aaaall gooood" (do the kidz still say that?). "80 in the 40" rules!

4. La Sera - Sees the Light LP
An honest to goodness modern yet '60s girl group sound without the phony "doo wop" posturing. The videos are great too. Perfect for the lonely teenage boy type!

3. The New Surfsiders - "Kokomo" b/w "Good Vibrations"
Not to be confused with Lou Reed's The Surfsiders, this is the New Surfsiders. Equally retarded, equally GREAT!

2. Redd Kross - Researching the Blues LP
"Stay Away from Downtown" is the best song of the year and the best song of their career. Everything they have done has led to this song. I haven't played a song over and over again like this in a long time. If released in the late '70s, it would be duking it out on the charts with "Surrender" and the like. Great video too!!! 

1. Wired Up book and companion Hector 45
An AMAZING collection of rare Euro glam rock and bubblegum singles cover art from the early '70s. It's something I've waited for someone to do for so long. It's also a great way to find out about some cool records you might not know about. Even cooler is that it was compiled by Jeremy from the Busy Signals and Mary from the Baby Shakes. It comes out perfect when it's in the hands of rockers and collectors as opposed to some dipshit wannabe Rolling Stone magazine flunky. SLADE, HECTOR, JOOK AND BEYOND!!!!!! YOU WON'T STOP LOOKING THROUGH THIS BOOK  

One More....
Getting to introduce Ronnie Spector and doing WOO HOO with the 5678's, and playing with the Little Girls at the Girls Got Rhythm festival. The Muffs set was absolutely killer too!

Thanks everyone! Happy holidays!


Friday, December 21, 2012

All hail Ana Lucia!

Well! How's this for ending the year in style? Ana Lucia - lead singer of the late, great Busy Signals - has made her first solo album. And our old friend Travis Ramin is her producer/collaborator/bandmate extraordinaire! Needless to say, it sounds unbeatable on paper. Everything Travis Ramin touches turns to gold, and no doubt the Busy Signals were one of the very finest punk bands of the mid-2000s. You have to own this, right? Is The Pope Catholic? Do I like beer? The sales pitch promises a blend of Dangerhouse Records style punk rock and new wave power pop, and that turns out to be remarkably accurate. Recorded at Geza X's Satellite Park Studios by the legendary Paul Roessler (45 Grave, The Screamers), this album boasts enough star power to make the Los Angeles Angels envious. And it does not disappoint. Ana Lucia's got a rich, powerful voice, and in many ways she's a throwback to the classic punk/new wave frontwomen of yore. If anyone's got the attitude and pipes to pull off this Blondie meets The Bags type deal, it is she.

A la her work with the Busy Signals, Ana Lucia's solo debut is the good kind of pop-punk. The songs pack a mean punch, and the hooks are massive. A couple tracks (like the sublime leadoff smash "Mad Man") are typical of a Travis Ramin production. But for the most part, this record is more hard candy than bubblegum. Songs like "Take Take Take" and "Hush Hush" are near perfect specimens of buzzsaw punk infused with tasty pop melodies - and lord knows I have a great weakness for that sort of thing. Across the board, the material is top-notch. "Mess Around" may be the best song Debbie Harry never wrote, and even the spooky "Watcher" (featuring Roessler guesting on keyboards) is hugely infectious. Plus all you punk historian geeks will really appreciate inspired renditions of Sado-Nation's "Gimme You" and The Zips' "Take Me Down"!

With Ramin and Matt Castore (The Pinsch, Condominium) ably backing her, Ana Lucia has delivered an album that ought to make her a star. It sounds as fresh and appealing today as it would have in 1980. Not only is Travis Ramin a genius producer, but he always manages to work with the most talented singers out there. Ana Lucia is certainly in that category. You can stream "Mad Man" over at the Ramo Records Facebook page, and I highly encourage you to do so immediately! I guarantee you'll love it. Vinyl is out on Ramo, and the CD is available from Base Records out of Tokyo. Get excited!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Neighborhood Brats are back!

It's kind of cliche to maintain that a certain band sounds like it just stepped out of a time machine. But sometimes, ya know, it's true! California's Neighborhood Brats have nailed that VKTMS/Legal Weapon femme-fronted hardcore punk sound so perfectly that you could easily pass off their recordings as unearthed treasures from thirty years ago. In a day and age in which new punk rock modeled on old punk rock too often sounds like a pale imitation, Neighborhood Brats could legitimately stand toe-to-toe with their musical heroes. I could put 'em on a mix with The Avengers and Black Flag, and they'd fit right in. Latest single "Ocean Beach Party" is the best thing the band has released yet - a quick blast of archetypical California punk rock that totally leaves me wanting more. The A-side is fast and furious and instantly classic. Don't be fooled by the title. For sure, it's not that kind of beach party! What I've always loved about old-school California punk is that winning combination of catchy melodies and a decidedly dark tone. Neighborhood Brats have that going on here - particularly on the ominous, surfy "Shark Beach". We've been hearing from this great band in very small doses over the last couple of years, and every time they've brought the heat. Will 2013 perhaps be the year we get a full album? Let's hope!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Ills kill again!

I first reviewed The Ills early this year, and in my usual manner I got pretty excited. I recall running around the house shirtless and frightening the cats. Fireworks were brought out of storage. The neighbors complained I was writing too loud. And, so, having had almost 12 months to get myself fired up for the Iowa City band's debut full-length, I had enormous expectations for Tuning Out. And still, somehow, I was blown away by the thing. What a great freakin' record!

My original take on The Ills referenced the glory days of Rip Off Records and classic bands like The Spastics and Loli and the Chones. And while I won't disavow those associations, over the course of a full album I'm also getting a strong late '70s/early '80s California punk vibe and even a touch of early '90s Olympia. The Ills take a little bit of a horror punk angle on quite a few tracks, and on others they suggest what might have happened if the Angry Samoans had mated with X. The formula, perfect from the beginning, has not been tampered with. No songs run longer than a minute and a half, and the band tears through each one with an awesome mix of ferocity and tunefulness. Dynamo lead Singer Erika E. Bola has got a lot of names on her shit list, and she's not exactly shy about speaking her mind. You may have guessed that "Nominate U to Die" is not a love song. And "1-2-3 Hate U", a master stroke of bratty punk rock, has even cheery old me reveling in misanthropy! 

Tuning Out - with its varied blend of hate, horror, and tacos - reminds me why I fell in love with punk music in the first place. It's fun and loud and brilliantly simplistic. The songs, often over in less than a minute, waste little time in getting to the good part. If I were 15 and heard this record, it would totally inspire me to go out and start a band tomorrow. The Ills have achieved something that's a lot more difficult than it seems - delivering an album as thrilling and satisfying as their debut EP. The newer songs - like "Delete U", "Somewhere Not Here", and the title track - positively smoke. There was a time when great straight-ahead punk records like this were commonplace. Sadly, they are not anymore. Perhaps The Ills will ignite a renaissance. Vinyl coming soon on the legendary Big Neck Records!


Friday, December 07, 2012

My Favorite Things

If it works for Oprah, why not for me? Here are a few of my favorite things.

Jack Black Beard Lube
This shit rules. I can go a week between shaves, and the beard still comes off smoothly and easily. If you see me sneaking out of an Ulta with a small bag in my hand, the loot is Beard Lube.

Flying Dog The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale
The greatest pumpkin ale ever made. This is my beer of the year runner-up. The winner is being kept secret for a few weeks.

New No Tomorrow Boys video

Kurt Baker
The new king of power pop. He's delivered my album of the year and is in the running for EP of the year. He has cool hair. What can't this guy do? 

American Horror Story: Asylum 
Going into this year it was like, "How can AHS stop last season?" Now it's more like, "Holy shit, last season was nothing!" 

Yogi Bedtime tea 
I love this tea so much that it's cutting into my beer drinking. 

Smashmouth football
Screw four-wide formations and high-scoring games. I want to see power runs, bone-jarring hits, and ferocious goal line stands. After watching quarterback-driven teams rule the NFL for years, it's great to see the 49ers kicking ass this year with a violent defense and a dominant running game. Hell, even the Patriots are pounding the ball between the tackles! And in college, the top two teams nationally in total defense are going to the BCS Championship. Nice.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
If there was any doubt that he's the best actor of the last 25 years...

Gaspari Myofusion Probiotic
The only whey protein I'll ever need. I always get the chocolate flavor.

Yeah, I just reviewed them the other day. I'm still loving their EP!

A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews
Why am I touting a 36-year-old Southern Gothic novel? Because it rules. 

Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready
I've been hearing all kinds of nonsense about how I should boycott Papa John's for political reasons. The only reason I'm boycotting Papa John's is because its product is overpriced crap. For one third of the price, I'll gladly opt for the Hot-N-Ready.

SiriusXM Soul Town
My morning ritual: turn on Soul Town, slather my face with Beard Lube, and make myself pretty. Classic soul. Motown. What more does a man need?

New album from The Ills
So freaking good. Review coming soon!

Sweet potato fries
Regular fries will one day be obsolete.

Kick Out The Jams
A cool blog - even if it's entirely in Spanish.

Grand Traverse Pie Company
Can I say a potential proximity to this establishment is not a factor in my intention to relocate to Michigan? No, because that would be a lie.  

Kevin Love
Currently averaging 19.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per game, the big man is back and spearheading my fantasy team, The Funk Machine. The guy's a beast.

Doomsday Preppers
A fixture on the Fitzledge DVR. The fun part is not quite knowing if these are the least sane people in America - or the most.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cold Warps score once more!

So leave it to me to not review Cold Warps' Halloween single until Christmastime! No matter: like any Cold Warps record, "Don't Haunt Me, OK?" is going to sound great 365 days a year. Look up "pop" in the dictionary, and you just might be directed to this Canadian foursome's Bandcamp page. Once again they've mined the middle ground between the Beach Boys and Ramones. And once again, they've demonstrated that you don't need fancy production when you can write perfect songs. Perhaps the tunes pack a little more punch this time out, but the recording is far from hi-fi. The ghostly title track is a tad creepy but mostly funny, and of course it's pop gold. B-side cut "Stuck On An Island" may be even better. It's classic Cold Warps: lo-fi power pop evoking the fuzzy-scuzzy side of beach bliss. I don't think garage-pop could get any catchier without the written consent of the Center for Disease Control. Given the brilliance of this band's previous output, you might wonder if A) this release is up to the group's usual standards and B) it's necessary to buy yet another Cold Warps record that's so stylistically similar to the others. Surely you know me by now. My answer to both questions is obviously going to be yes. Cold Warps are one of the best bands on the planet. Everything they release is essential. If you're a pop person like me, it's a great time to be alive.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

More from Miss Chain!

How about a brand new Miss Chain & the Broken Heels single for an early Christmas present? Please and thank you! A teaser for an LP due out early next year, "Rainbow" is everything you'd expect and more from Astrid Dante and her exceptionally talented band-mates. It's out now on the one-and-only Bachelor Records. As I'd hoped, it continues the melodious pop bliss of 2010's wonderful On A Bittersweet Ride. And if these two tracks are any indication of what's to come, the new album will be the band's best yet!

Miss Chain & the Broken Heels have pulled off quite a tricky feat - they've managed to "mature" as a band without sacrificing any of the qualities that made them great in the first place. While so many power pop-ish bands wear their influences on their sleeves, Miss Chain & the Broken Heels have arrived at that place where they only sound like themselves. "Rainbow" is a twangy pop song with a bouncing beat and extraordinary guitar work. Miss Chain has never sounded better, and the melodies pour forth in sweet abundance. You can still hear hints of garage and '60s pop, but all in all there's a timeless singer/songwriter vibe at play. I like how the lyrics tell a story - and that they're delivered with such passion.

On the flip, "Searchers" is a little more of a straight forward power pop song. It's catchy and upbeat. I love the harmonies, and there's a perfect little hook that'll get you every time. The song is a great mix of the old Miss Chain and the new Miss Chain - reminding us that the difference between the two is more stylistic than qualitative. For the lack of a better term, the band's newer stuff is clearly more "sophisticated" than their early power pop by-the-book singles. But even with an amazing-sounding analog recording and a musically-accomplished band, the real goodness remains in the melodies and the hooks. This is a band that continues to pursue the perfect pop song. Miss Chain is one of my very favorite vocalists, and she and her songwriting partner Disaster Silva have again delivered beautiful and infectious material. Once "Rainbow" gets stuck in your head, you're going to want it to stay there for a very long time. Good times! I wholeheartedly recommend this band to anyone who loves great music.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Meet Jabber!

Oh boy! It took me only a few seconds to go completely bananas for Jabber. From the opening strains of "Maybe Next Year", it was absolute pop bliss of the highest order. And from there, I just knew it was only going to get better.

I've always had a weakness for super-catchy pop-punk with female vocals. Jabber - featuring Danny from The Pillowfights! and Kristia from Dead Ringer on dual lead vocals - are perhaps the next great band in this mold. They just formed in September and have already recorded an amazing EP called Too Many Babes. Of course they have songs that will be stuck in your head all day long. But they also have harmonies to die for and some of the catchiest guitar leads I've ever had the good fortune to hear. And both singers are so wonderfully likable that you just have to root for them. Isn't that what pop-punk music is all about: totally relating to someone else's ups and downs in love? Feeling their pain and sharing in their triumphs? Like some sublime mixture of Discount, the Unlovables, that dog, and Josie and the Pussycats, Jabber takes a tried-and-true musical formula and makes it feel fresh and new. And even when the lyrics tackle the anguish of longing ("Talk To You") or unrequited love ("Girlfriend"), there's such a joy and optimism to Jabber's music that it's bound to brighten your day no matter what. If a line like "I don't want to teach the world to sing/I can barely even play this thing" doesn't make you instantly fall in love with this Bay Area supergroup, you're a tougher customer than I. Yay, Jabber!