Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jabronis hit the road!

Jabronis have a new album out?! It seems like it was just yesterday that I reviewed their first one! Actually it was seven months ago, but I'm still amazed at the rate these guys churn out top-notch Ramones-core. I think one of the biggest misconceptions in music is that "simple" songs are easy to write.

With Ramones-core, the biggest stylistic question a band faces is which particular era to emulate. For the most part, Jabronis remain purists and stick with the early Ramones formula on new album Hit The Road. And they're very good at it - bashing out perfectly executed facsimiles of Ramones classics with titles like "I Don't Wanna Remember Anything" and "Now I Wanna Hear Some Good News". But whereas last year's On The Ropes was Ramones-core by the book, I can definitely hear some modest progression on this record. Seven of the twelve tracks actually exceed the two minute mark. And you can't say that every song sounds the same. "I Wanna Walk You Downtown" and "I Can Make It Alright" embrace a poppier Road To Ruin type sound. And the ripping "Mercenary" surely has Dee Dee nodding in approval from the great beyond. I like that a couple tracks really stand out on their own - meaning that they'd still be good outside the context of straight Ramones imitation. If I heard "This Isn't My Life" on a mixed tape or on the jukebox at a pizza joint, I'd be like, "Hey! That's a really good song!"

How long can Jabronis keep this up? And what will they do to try and top what they've already done? I'm sure we'll have answers in less than a year!



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lightning Round

It's taken me many years to admit it, but I have to say that the U.S. version of the first Clash album is vastly superior to the U.K. original.

I've often thought it would be hilarious if "All This And More" by the Dead Boys were to be played at my funeral.

Gwyneth Paltrow is no Blythe Danner.

After ten years of listening to the Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic, I still have the same favorite track: "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades". Second favorite: "Jailbird".

I resent it when porn shops put their BBW videos in the "fetish" section.

One band that people loved in the '90s that I could just never get into: Scared of Chaka.

For my money, the best all-around player in baseball is Robinson Cano.

My favorite Dictators albums, in order: D.F..FD., Go Girl Crazy!, Bloodbrothers, Manifest Destiny.

Am I the only person who doesn't find Robin Williams funny?

I need to listen to Naked Raygun more often.

1993 called. It wants its frozen yogurt trend back.

What's the second best Real Kids song? I say it's "My Baby's Book".

If I could endorse just two products, they would be Old Navy underwear and Gaspari Myofusion protein.

The new Stooges album is a lot better than you think.

Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz should be forced to fight to the death. 

The best punk rock album released since I got back into reviewing is Something Fierce's Don't Be So Cruel. That will change on July 9th.

Beef jerky is ridiculously overpriced.

I'd put Hootenanny in the top four of Replacements albums. 

While watching Graham Parker perform in the film This Is 40, my wife says to me: "This guy sucks - you probably enjoy him."

How in the hell is Thin Lizzy not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New one from Nikki Corvette!

Hey, guess what? Nikki Corvette has a new single out! And it's SO good! Backed by her all-star Romeos (HervĂ© from Peawees and Franz and Bruno from Miss Chain & The Broken Heels), Nikki continues to show why she's a legend in the world of power pop. This is her first record with The Romeos, and it's total power pop heaven. No doubt these four have tremendous rock n' roll chemistry. They must have been a blast to see on tour!

Sometimes the expression "double A side" is big load of crap. But in the case of this record, it's absolutely true! Both songs could be the "hit". Each track was co-written by Nikki and Hervé. "He's Gone" is a classic heartbreak ballad in the style of '60s girl groups. Nikki's voice sounds great, and the band is flat-out amazing. Everything about this track - the production, the vocals, the music - is just fantastic. If you loved the Reigning Sound album with Mary Weiss, this tune will be right up your alley.

On the flip is "Rockin' Romeos", Nikki's loving tribute to her illustrious Italian band mates. If there's such a thing as "classic" Nikki Corvette, this would be it. Put this song on a mixed tape in between "Back Seat Love" and "I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend", and it will fit right in. It's a joyful, upbeat number that just plain rocks! Your summer playlist will not be complete without it.

Limited to a pressing of 300, hard copies of this record are just about sold out. But you can stream or purchase the songs over at the group's Bandcamp page. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best records Nikki has ever made. The material is top-notch, and I don't think she's ever had a better backing band. Let's hope that she and The Romeos will continue their fruitful union for a long time to come! 



Friday, May 17, 2013

Rapid Pulse Records - The Top Ten Singles

While my label history series is off to a pretty good start with pieces on Dirtnap, Pelado, and American Punk Records, I'm really just scratching the surface. There were so many cool labels during that "second golden age" of punk rock circa the late '90s/early 2000s, and eventually I'd like to cover most of them. Rapid Pulse Records may have been the coolest of them all!

If you were into the '77/garage/punk rock n' roll thing back in the '90s, you almost definitely ordered records from Underground Medicine. You could always count on Jim to distro all the releases you wanted to buy. And if he was touting some unknown band, you knew you had to have their 7". U.M. was perfectly in tune with my taste in punk music - and probably ended up influencing it as well. All these years later, I still look at what Jim's carrying for ideas on bands I should be reviewing.

In 1997, Jim took the big leap and started his own label - Rapid Pulse Records. I know it's a cliche to say it, but it seems like only yesterday that that first single by Apocalypse Babys came out. Now here we are 16 years later. Underground Medicine/Rapid Pulse is still a going concern, and I'm still writing about punk rock. With a catalog numbering somewhere around 40 titles and a roster representing seven countries, Rapid Pulse has put an incredible amount of great punk rock n' roll into the world. I'd consider a number of the label's releases to be "classics" of their day - although Jim would tell you he wishes they'd sold like classics! In all seriousness, though, what's always been great about Rapid Pulse is that Jim has never aimed to put out big sellers. He's aimed to put out great punk rock records - in many cases by highly deserving obscure/underdog type bands. Who else was going to stand up for the likes of NY Whores and Paul E. Ester and the Cruel Shoes?

Compiling a top ten list of Rapid Pulse singles was no easy task, but it was an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Circa 2002-03 especially, Rapid Pulse was probably the best label going. And this list definitely reflects that. I decided not to count any of the releases the label has done since it's reboot last year, but they're all awesome too.

How many of these did you have?

10. (tie) Nikki Corvette - "Love Me" (2003)
The Sellouts - "Hey Mofo" (1998)
After being out of music for 23 years, Nikki Corvette teamed with producer/songwriter Travis Ramin and proved she was still the queen of power pop. She's been going strong ever since. The Sellouts were from Brazil and played killer snotty punk rock that would have been right at home on Rip Off Records. They did another single for Rapid Pulse and a couple other releases that were equally awesome. Brazil's best punk band ever? I think so!

9. The Bomb Pops- "Everything (Looks Like Her)" (2002)
The Bomb Pops were D.D. "Machine" Davis on guitar/vocals plus the Devil Dogs' rhythm section, and as far as I know this was their only release. The trio played classic power pop mixed with '70s punk/rock n' roll, and I went nuts for their single upon hearing it. Why didn't anyone else?

8. Deadly Weapons- "You're So Selfish" (2003)
You know I'm a huge fan of Tina Lucchesi. Deadly Weapons, one of her most underrated bands, dished out ferocious old school hardcore a la The Lewd and VKTMS. This was their second of two totally great EPs.

7. The Pits - "Introducing My New High" (2001)
English punk rock was largely ignored in the '90s and 2000s - but not by Rapid Pulse Records! The Pits hailed from Sunderland and had an authentic '77 Brit-punk sound in the vein of Chelsea and the Sex Pistols. This was their first of two singles on Rapid Pulse. The Pits were one of my favorite bands from my Now Wave webzine heyday.

6. The Saviors- "Ruby Gloom" (2003)
Most people know Dimitri Monroe from his zine writings. But like Andy Shernoff, he's a dual threat! He teamed up with his guitarist pal Brian Morgan to form The Saviors - literate glam/punk throwbacks in the Clash/Thunders/Hanoi Rocks mold. The title track was a mid-tempo hard pop gem, while the B-side turned on the heat a la the Dead Boys. I'm pretty sure there were a few more Saviors songs released elsewhere, but it's been ten years and I've killed a lot of brain cells. So I could be wrong.

5. The Double Nuthins- "Got Into A Fight In Special Ed" (1999)
Out of Providence, Rhode Island, this trio played fast, catchy garage punk with a hint of The Simpletones' juvenile delinquency. They didn't stick around very long, but they did release one more single on Baby Doll Records. The late '90s were the heyday of obscure but great garage punk bands, and The Double Nuthins were one of the best of that lot.

4. Trust Fund Babies - "Can't Trust Me" (1999)
Featuring former members of The Spites and Shifters and future members of The Shrinks and Radio Reelers, Trust Fund Babies were a phenomenal but short-lived band (sensing a pattern here?). This was their debut single. They did a second single for Radio Records and a superb LP for Rapid Pulse. Then they broke up. I still don't know how Rip Off Records missed out on these guys.

3. Apocalypse Babys- "Local Heroes" (1997)
This was the record that started it all- which I ended up proclaiming to be the best single of 1997. I could still probably pass this off as a lost pop/punk classic from 1977 UK. From the tiny English town of South Normanton, the Apocalypse Babys formed way back in 1990...and are still at it today! I once traded three of this band's singles for the first Plimsouls LP. It was a good trade, but I sure missed those singles.

2. The Sleazies- "Gonna Operate On Myself" (2003)
I know I say it all the time, but here was a band that should have been huge. The Sleazies were kind of like an East Coast version of The Briefs - except poppier and way more inappropriate. They followed this single with a CD on Pelado Records - an overlooked masterpiece of goofball pogo punk. Rapid Pulse later reissued it on vinyl.

1. Inversions- "Domestic Disturbance"/"Hung By The Phone" (2003)
Technically, this was two singles. But they were released at the same time and had the feel of a double 7". This was Kevin McGovern's first project after the implosion of The Prostitutes. In my opinion, the Prostitutes were the greatest punk band of the '90s. And The Inversions were a total continuation of that drug-addled awesomeness. "Hung By The Phone" is an all-time classic of snotty punk rock!

Just missed the cut:
Barse - "Council Estate", Bingo/Thee S.T.P. split, The Hore Hounds- "No Time For You"

If you want to read a more thorough discography of Rapid Pulse's original run, check out the label's web page. For the scoop on some of R.P.R.'s more recent releases, go to http://www.undergroundmedicine.com/. Ya gotta have that Lovesores 10"!


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Say hello to The Solicitors!

What is it about Australia and power pop? There's got to be something in the water down there! Or is it the vegemite? The latest in a seemingly infinite line of excellent Aussie power pop groups, Melbourne's Solicitors are set to release their debut EP next month on Popboomerang Records (the "Stiff Records of Australia"). In the meantime, you can stream it for free over at the label's Bandcamp page.

The Solicitors specialize in the skinny tie variety of power pop - inspired by new wave era stalwarts like Elvis Costello, The Knack, and Nick Lowe. Hmmm, have these guys been raiding my record collection? They even cover "Back of My Hand" by The Jags! For sure, they have "the sound" down pat. But just as importantly, they've also delivered a very strong collection of songs on this five-track debut. Made To Measure abounds with energy and crunch - along with hooks that would have been made for the radio if it were still 1980. As the label puts it, this is "good old-fashioned rock 'n roll to dance and drink and make out to". And while the feel of the music is fun and upbeat, the influence of Costello (and probably Joe Jackson) is palpable in Lee Jones's fantastically sardonic lyrics. The hook line to "Pretty Penny" is so brilliantly scathing that I won't dare spoil it for you. And surely the toxic relationship woes of "I Love Your Love" will strike a chord with a whole lot of people.

While the style here recalls '79/'80 power pop with a touch of off-kilter new wave, there's nothing "dated" about these songs. The Solicitors do a bang-up job of updating the pop sounds of yesteryear. Their melodies are strong, the production is top-notch, and Jones is a songwriter of considerable potential. Stiff Records fans and power pop geeks in general, listen up!



Monday, May 13, 2013

Night Birds are back!

It's been rumored that when the new Night Birds single showed up in my mailbox, I flipped out like Steve Martin in The Jerk and ran up my street screaming, "THE NEW NIGHT BIRDS 7" IS HERE!!" Frankly, I did not expect that information to get out. I could have sworn that no one saw me. It was very early in the morning.

Having waited two years for new material from Night Birds, I was wondering if they'd still sound the same. Two years is a long time in the life of a band. Over the past 24 months, Night Birds easily could have gone through an electronica phase or committed themselves to the meticulous imitation of Village People circa their "new wave" album Renaissance. But thankfully they did not. Maimed for the Masses is essentially the same old Night Birds we've loved for years - except somehow even better. I don't know how they do it, but these guys continue to draw inspiration from the surf-inflected punk/hardcore sounds of early '80s California without sounding like copycats or second-raters. And like only the best punk bands can do, they create a sound that's true to a classic period yet still highly relevant to present times. Released last week on Fat Wreck Chords, Maimed for the Masses is an appetizer for the band's forthcoming LP Born To Die In Suburbia. The title track will appear on the album, and the other three songs are exclusive to this release. It goes without saying that this is the best record of the year - until the LP comes out!

"Maimed for the Masses" is everything you've ever loved about Night Birds condensed into 96 seconds of tuneful aggression. It's got it all: scintillating surf guitar, speed of light drumming, an anthemic chorus, a ripping solo, frothing incantations from frontman Brian Gorsegner, and backing vocals that would have made the young Adolescents envious. Befitting a song written in tribute to pro wrestling legend Mick Foley, it's a blistering statement about what it means to sacrifice your own body for some greater good (with obvious parallels to the life of a touring punk rocker). If Night Birds haven't exactly re-invented themselves, they've definitely taken things to a higher level of awesomeness. Their attack is tighter and more powerful than ever, and their songwriting chops show considerable progression. Even if the band had filled the B-side with dead air, a xylophone rendition of "We Will Fall", or actual audio of Michael Richards at the Laugh Factory, Maimed for the Masses would still be a must-own.

But truthfully, all three B-side tracks are first-rate and would have made a formidable EP by themselves. It's a nice problem to have when you write so many good songs that you can't fit them all on one album! The breakneck hardcore of "Barred Out" revels in high anxiety and prescription pill addiction, while "Last Gasp" is a throttling ode to autoerotic asphyxiation (yeah, they went there). One thing that's always been awesome about Night Birds is their dark lyrics - which are as delightfully unwholesome as ever! And even when there are no lyrics, this band still kills it. The instrumental "Boat Trash" is a perfectly punked up shot of classic surf rock, reaffirming that there's more than just speed and rage to Night Birds' music. No doubt about it: these dudes can really freaking play!

Man! If this is just the "teaser", consider me properly worked up! July better hurry up and get here! The album's gonna be sick!



Thursday, May 09, 2013

Meet The Recordettes!

The Recordettes are the most fun band I've heard in a very long time. And that's just my take-away from their record. I bet they're twice as fun live! Influenced by the likes of '60s girl groups, power pop, bubblegum, golden oldies rock n' roll, and classic garage rock, this Brooklyn foursome will have you smiling and dancing in no time flat - unless you hate life. Their debut EP is out on the U.K.'s ever-reliable No Front Teeth Records, and of course it's a total blast. If you ever wondered what The Ronettes would have sounded like if they played budget rock and had a male lead singer, "Candy Store" could be your new favorite song. It sure is mine! I love the melody, and the little touches make all the difference. Sometimes in garage rock, the keyboards are there "just because". But here Sacha Chernoff's keyboards are critical to the awesomeness of the tune. And I love that guitar solo!

So is "Candy Store" the "hit"? Maybe. Or maybe not! "Shower Request" is an excellent garage/surf instrumental, and I'll bet you a bag of gumballs that closing track "John Waters" is the #1 crowd favorite at Recordettes' shows. With its catchy bass line and simple sing-along hook, this high-spirited number could turn a bad day good and a good day even better. Like a song about John Waters should be, it's lovably campy and joyfully trashy. I cannot get it out of my head! Obviously this band gets an A+ for personality, but the quality of the material is exceptional as well.

To learn much, much more about The Recordettes, check out this really cool interview from One Chord Progression. Then give their record a spin! It'll make you wish you owned a jukebox!



Sunday, May 05, 2013

How about some Warm Soda?

I've had my eye on Warm Soda ever since last summer's pop smash "Reaction", and the band's debut album Someone For You is by no means a letdown. Formed last year by Matthew Melton after the Bare Wires literally imploded on stage, Warm Soda comes on like an even poppier version of Bare Wires. Melton and his new crew (bassist Chase Oren, guitarist Rob Good, and drummer Ian McBrayer) have made a mellow power pop album that's perfect for the warm months ahead. Melton's breathy vocals are a bit of a curveball, and at first they turned me off a little. But I came around rather swiftly. Some songs, like the title track and the excellent "Waiting For Your Call", sound like The Strokes made a baby with Shoes. But really, you know, that's kinda cool. The compressed, lo-fi production conjures childhood memories of listening to '70s AM radio on a cheap transistor. And Melton does not attempt to mask his affection for the glammy pop hits of that era. But all in all, Someone For You exhibits a cool modernity that keeps it off the "retro" track.

If there's an obvious strong suit of Warm Soda's game, it would be Melton's mastery of the pop hook. You've got to be pretty confident in your talents when you're leaving a killer single like "Reaction" off the LP. Why rehash old material when you can just go out and write even better stuff? "Jeanie Loves Pop" ought to be on everyone's summer playlist this year. And album closer "Lola" is sheer pop majesty. I like that Melton draws from a wide enough range of inspirations to keep you guessing as to who he's "borrowing" from. "Diamond Ring" hearkens back to early '80s new wave, while "Strange As It Seems" kinda sounds like Buddy Holly experimenting with Brit pop. And "Star Gazer" wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Bomp! Records compilation thirty-some years ago.

After hearing the hook part of "Sour Grapes", you might seriously wonder why Matthew Melton isn't rich and famous, living in a mansion and penning mega-hits for manufactured pop stars. The dude knows how to write a song! Always a tremendous talent, he has rebounded from Bare Wares' demise in a big way. It's probably premature to call Someone For You the best record he's ever played on. But it's a damn fine album, and Melton has definitely found the right bandmates to help him take his songwriting to the next level. I've got a feeling I'm going to be writing a lot about Warm Soda over the next couple of years!



Friday, May 03, 2013

My Favorite Power Pop Bands

A recent post over at the very cool blog White Trash Soul commanded, "Name your favorite power pop band quickly." It was a really neat write-up on the flaws of some of the perceived "greats" of the genre versus the near perfection of The Nerves. It got me to thinking. Who are my favorite power pop bands? If I had to list a top ten, who would make the cut? This is not really an attempt to list the greatest power pop bands. It's more the ones that I personally like the best. So I went back into my entire history of power pop fandom and tried to think of the bands I've listened to the most. And let me say that this was really, really hard. I tried to steer clear of groups who were big influences on power pop but not really power pop bands per se (Cheap Trick, Big Star). And I also avoided punk bands that sometimes get lumped in with power pop (Undertones, Exploding Hearts). I had to make some tough decisions (Holly and the Italians were an agonizing final cut), but ultimately I came up  with a top ten I'm pretty happy with. So let's get to it!

10. The Figgs
Okay, so The Figgs probably outgrew the "power pop" tag years ago. But their first two albums plus the later effort Sucking In Stereo fit the bill to a T. And if you've ever had the privilege of seeing The Figgs live, you know they're the very epitome of pop with power. Lo-Fi At Society High and Banda Macho were major label issues that should have been huge. I hope Capitol Records fired the guy who chose "Girl, Kill Your Boyfriend" as a single over "Bad Luck Sammie"!

9. The Plimsouls
Perhaps it's a bit of an upset that the Paul Collins Beat didn't make this list (they would have been #12). But my favorite post-Nerves band has to be The Plimsouls. Their first EP and debut album are classics of the power pop genre. And Peter Case has to be one of my favorite songwriters, period. "Zero Hour" = perfection.

8. The Yum Yums
Probably the best of the modern-day power pop "revivalists", Norway's Yum Yums have been at it since 1993 and made four LPs including the classic debut Sweet As Candy.

7. Romantics
I always dug how cool these guys looked on the cover of their first LP- the whole band clad in red leather jackets. And the feel of that album is classic power pop to me - punchy, fuzzed out rock n' roll steeped in a love for the British Invasion. Subsequent albums weren't the best but definitely had their moments.

6. Teenage Fanclub
TFC has run the gamut of power pop sub-styles, from the Big Star meets grunge brilliance of Bandwagonesque to the Byrdsy splendor of their masterpiece Songs From Northern Britain. After 24 years and ten albums, it's safe to say the Fannies have withstood the test of time.

5. Candy
This band improbably combined a glam image with a teen hearththrob pop sound and made it all work. Whatever Happened To Fun is hands down one of the greatest pop albums ever made. For a good time, check out "Kids In The City".

4. The Knack
Massive success may have made this band the enemy of the underground back in the day. But 34 years later, all that hating just doesn't hold up. Get The Knack is stacked with perfect pop songs inspired by Buddy Holly and the early Beatles. "My Sharona" is a classic rock n' roll anthem, not a joke song that should be enjoyed ironically. If I catch you enjoying it ironically, I'm kicking you where it hurts.

3. 20/20
If I had to pick just one favorite power pop album, it would be 20/20's self-titled debut. It's pretty much a perfect record. Favorite song has to be "Cheri". Nah, it's "Backyard Guys". Make that "Jet Lag". Or better yet, "Remember the Lightning". Ah, I give up!

2. The Vapors
This band will always remind me of being a kid at the height of the Cold War. New Clear Days is one of my all-time favorite albums in any genre, and the very strange follow-up Magnets was at least half a great record. If you've written this band off as a one-hit wonder, you're really missing out. "News At Ten" is pretty much the best song ever.

1. Material Issue
If you've ever heard live recordings of Material Issue (or were lucky enough to see them play), you know this band injected plenty of power into their pop. That didn't always come through in their studio records, but the songs were so brilliant that I never quibbled about the production. First two albums are stone cold classics, and 1994's criminally overlooked Freak City Soundtrack finally nailed the power component thanks to producer Mike Chapman. Jim Ellison remains one of my two or three favorite songwriters of all-time. He is greatly missed. Someone please upload "Li'l Christine" to YouTube!


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Meet Greenback High!

Vancouver's Greenback High describe themselves as "pop music for punks" - playing "power pop ringed with tragedy, political commentary, and straight up good times". If you think that sounds like a band I'd be very much into, you are absolutely right! The lineup is Robbie Beardo of Vicious Cycles on bass/vocals, FloorTom Jones of DOA on guitar/vocals, Joshy Atomic of The Jolts on lead guitar/vocals, and J.J. Heathen on drums. These guys have been together for a couple of years and recently issued their debut 7". Their sound combines the anthemic side of '70s punk (Clash, Sham 69, Stiff Little Fingers) with high energy power pop. A-side "Bombs Away" is definitely the band's signature song - it's short and snappy and makes quite a statement. On the flip, "All Of Us Or None" runs nearly twice as long but sacrifices no energy whatsoever. The lead guitar work is nothing short of superb, and the urgency of the vocals/lyrics is a genuine throwback to the classic bands these four emulate. If you miss the days when "political" punk music didn't shy away from melody and hooks, Greenback High will be music to your ears. Can't wait to hear more!