Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Meet Protokids!

How long has it been since I reviewed an Alien Snatch release? A while! Back in the heyday of my "career", Alien Snatch was the gold standard for all record labels. When a package from Alien Snatch showed up in my mailbox, it was like Christmas morning! And while Daniel doesn't put out the sheer volume of stuff that he used to, he's still got impeccable taste. Out of Paris, Protokids are the newest addition to the Alien Snatch roster. And they've got a "classic" Alien Snatch sound for sure. Without hesitation, I'd say their 7" Geometric Boy is one of the best things the label has ever released. If you loved all those old UK and Irish bands that blurred the lines between power pop, mod, and '77 punk, you're gonna go totally nuts for Protokids!

In a style that brings to mind everything from the Power Pearls comps to the classic sounds of Good Vibrations Records, Protokids power through four tracks of punky pop that could easily pass for genuine artifacts of 1979. This is probably the most Brit/Irish sounding French band I've ever heard, and clearly that's due to the group's obvious affection for greats such as Protex, The Jook, Incredible Kidda Band, and Rudi. The title track is fast-paced and super catchy, but to me the "hit" is the punchy and passionate "Please". Also great is "Teenage Bore", which splendidly marries pop melody to a punk edge. "Self Conscious Over You" is an Outcasts cover and a perfect reference point for what this band is all about. Within this genre of music, Protokids are definitely in the top tier. So if you're thoroughly convinced that today's powerpop/punk has nothing to offer, I'd urge you to give this band a chance. You could put this record in with your stack of obscure singles by the likes of the Moderns and Rousers, and most people wouldn't know the difference. They're bang-on with the style, and they really understand how to write a good pop song. And from a production/recording standpoint, this record blows the band's previous recordings out of the water. Power pop fans, this is one you will not want to miss. Your "Best of Summer 2013" mix is incomplete without "Please"!



Friday, August 23, 2013

Retro Reviews: Dogmatics 1981-86

When it comes to all the fabled punk rock scenes of "back in the day", I'd probably take Boston over New York, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, or even L.A. And my favorite Boston band, by far, would have to be the Dogmatics. To me, they're pretty much the definitive Boston garage/punk band. Their music is Boston. Although the group's recording career was cut short by the tragic death of bass player Paul O'Halloran, the Dogmatics produced more legendary songs in a six-year period than most bands turn out in decades. Originally issued on CD by Shredder Records in 1995, Dogmatics 1981-86 is one of the all-time essential compilation albums. It's a must-own for anyone who reads this blog or digs the kind of music I write about. Seriously: I'm giving you all 30 days to acquire it. There will be inspections.

By the mid-'80s, punk music was largely turning away from the melodic sensibility and rock n' roll roots of its early days. But the Dogmatics didn't fit in one bit with that trend. They were pure fun. They played sloppy, poppy punk rock n' roll with a heavy rockabilly influence. They were like Eddie Cochran, Johnny Thunders, the Ramones, and early Replacements all rolled into one. And at a time in which punk rock was becoming very political and overly serious, the Dogmatics preferred writing songs about chasing girls, guzzling beer, and enduring the terrors of tyrannical Catholic school nuns. The classic track "Hardcore Rules" hilariously goofs on the bonehead direction punk music was beginning to take circa the early to mid '80s. It's my favorite Dogmatics song. Never ones to take themselves seriously, the Dogmatics were the class clowns of mid-'80s Boston punk - Irish/Catholic hooligans in search of teenage kicks playing shambolic three-chord rock n' roll with melody and guts. Comprised primarily of the band's LPs Thayer St. (1984) and Everybody Does It (1986), the 20-track 1981-86 is pure gold from start to finish. It sounds like a "greatest hits" collection, and in a certain respect that's precisely what it is. I'll put the likes of "Hardcore Rules", "Shithouse", "Teenage Lament", "Drinking By the Pool", "Sister Serena", "Gimme The Shakes", and "Thayer St." up against the classic songs of any garage/punk band of the Dogmatics' day. While these guys may have presented themselves as marginally talented degenerates making simplistic party music, they truly had a knack for writing perfect punk/rock n' roll songs. They shoulda been huge.

Brothers Pete (guitar/vocals) and Paul O'Halloran (bass/vocals) and Jerry Lehane (guitar/vocals) were Catholic schoolmates and childhood friends for eight years at St. Matthew's in Dorchester. Although separated for several years when both families moved out to the 'burbs, they stayed in touch and reconnected in Boston as young adults. Paul, who'd previously played in the Savage Beasties, recruited Pete and Jerry to join him in a new band along with drummer Dan Shannon. Tom Long eventually replaced Shannon on drums, and the permanent Dogmatics lineup was set. As their band bio says, "The Dogmatics would eventually end up playing every shitty little club and backyard party in most of the United States." At a time when the likes of Gang Green, Lyres, Outlets, SSD, Classic Ruins, Negative FX, Unnatural Axe, Jerry's Kids, and Mission of Burma made Boston a true hotbed for underground music, the Dogmatics and their Thayer St. loft were at the heart of the city's thriving scene. Paul's death in a motorcycle accident in 1986 essentially ended the band - it just would not have been the same without him. In recent years, the Dogmatics have done a number of reunion shows with Paul's brothers Johnny and Jimmy O'Halloran taking turns filling on on bass. I, along with my fellow Now Wave writers Brian Mosher and Vinnie Bratti, was lucky enough to see one of those shows - on Cape Cod back in the summer of 2007. It was without doubt one of the ten greatest performances I've ever witnessed. Several top bands of recent years, such as The Locomotions ("Saturday Nite Again") and Heap ("Whipped"), have kept the music of the Dogmatics alive by covering their songs. And while 1981-86 has been long out of print on the CD format, you can still buy it in digital form off of iTunes or Amazon. While the Dogmatics are rightfully revered in their home territory, outside of Boston I'd still consider them to be criminally underrated. Their Facebook page has a mere 790 likes. Come on, world! You're missing out!



Thursday, August 15, 2013

My 20 Favorite Punk LPs of All-Time

Those of you who follow social media are probably aware of a recent list by LA Weekly ranking the 20 greatest punk albums of all-time. While some of the choices were questionable and a lot of people complained, to me that's part of the fun of doing that kind of list. Why just go with safe choices? Most would agree, however, that LA Weekly did much better when they gave Henry Rollins the opportunity to list his very own top 20. One major difference was that Rollins just listed his favorite punk albums instead of attempting to identify the 20 "greatest". As I was looking over his list, I realized that I would have made a lot of the same choices. So it got me to thinking. What are my 20 favorite punk albums of all-time? How about if I made my very own "Rollins list"? So here we are.

This list probably says a lot about me. I do enjoy the classics. 13 of my 20 picks are pre-1980. But this is an "all-time" list. So I did make an effort to include a few albums from the '90s and beyond. This was actually one of the easiest lists I've ever done because all I had to do was think of the albums I've listened to and enjoyed the most over the years. I'm not arguing that these are the 20 greatest punk albums. They're just my personal favorites. If my house were on fire and I could only save 20 punk rock LPs from burning to a crisp, these would be the ones that I'd grab.

In somewhat chronological order....

Ramones- self titled
I told you I like the classics.

The Clash - self titled
If I ranked these in order of my preference, this would be my #1.

Sex Pistols- Never Mind the Bollocks
This would be my #2. 

Ramones- Leave Home
Favorite track: "Commando". 

The Saints- (I'm) Stranded
One of those records that defines good taste in my mind. If you like The Saints, you know good music!

The Damned- Damned Damned Damned
Honestly the only Damned album I ever listen to. 

Dead Boys- Young, Loud & Snotty
Disclaimer: I highly prefer the rough mix that was later issued under the title of Younger, Louder and Snottier. But the "official" release is no slouch either.

X-Ray Spex - Germ Free Adolescents
This is in my top five, no question about it. 

Generation X- self titled
Probably my third favorite English punk band next to the Clash and Pistols. A la the first Clash album, I think the U.S. version of this LP is considerably better than the original U.K. issue (although I still think "Wild Dub" is shit).

Adverts- Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts
An overlooked masterpiece. In my list of the most underrated punk bands of the classic era, The Adverts were #2. 

Stiff Little Fingers- Inflammable Material
Another lock for my top five. I often go hoarse attempting to sing along.

Undertones- self titled
A true piece of pop/punk perfection.

Dickies- Dawn of the Dickies
This was the last album I picked for this list. It came down to this one and the first Boys album. But there are no songs on the first Boys album inquiring about the whereabouts of Sammy Davis Jr.'s missing eye. 

Adolescents- self titled
When I think "classic" So Cal punk rock, this is the album that always comes to mind. Definitely my favorite "pre-hardcore" record.

Descendents- Milo Goes To College
You could argue that as a pure pop-punk band, Descendents didn't hit their stride until a few years later. But I like this era of the band, when they sounded more like Black Flag's bike-riding, girl-crazed little brothers.

Cock Sparrer- Shock Troops
Any short list I've ever done of the greatest punk albums of all-time has included Shock Troops somewhere near the top. Nearly every track is a classic.

Prostitutes- Can't Teach Kids Responsibility
Hands down, the best punk band of the '90s.

Dimestore Haloes- Thrill City Crime Control
1997 was my 1977. My wife recently found this LP in our walk-in closet. "Why is there a record in the closet? Is it a special record?" Indeed!

Dictators- D.F.F.D.
Definitely my favorite Dictators album. And, in my opinion, their best. "I saw The Stooges/Covered with bruises/Who will save rock n' roll?"

Exploding Hearts- Guitar Romantic
This disc has been a fixture in my car since I first bought the car. I never go more than a few weeks without popping Guitar Romantic into the disc player. "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades" never gets old. Hard to believe it's now been ten years since this band's tragic end.

So there you have it. I only counted studio LPs, so compilations like the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady and The Avengers' pink album did not qualify. Otherwise, they would have been high-ranking selections.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kurt Baker does it again!

There are summertime records, and then there are summertime records. The new 7" from the Kurt Baker Band is pretty much the ultimate summer smash. It reminds me of the hot weather days of my youth, when I would drink glass bottles of Coke by the pool while basking in the crunchy guitars and massive hooks of the latest radio hits. With last year's Brand New Beat (F & L's 2012 album of the year) still part of my regular rotation, it was a wonderful surprise to discover that Kurt has returned with another offering of pop awesomeness. Is it as good as expected? Duh! If anything, Kurt and the Party Animals have kicked it up a notch with a more guitar-heavy sound. A-side "Girl's Got Money" brings a more rockin' edge without straying from the infectious power pop style that is Kurt's bread and butter. In a perfect world, you'd still hear this kind of song on the radio: punchy, high-energy rock n' roll with a chorus that you just have to sing along with. The lyrics are totally hilarious, and I truly believe this could be a HUGE hit if someone in the "industry" had half a clue. I mean, come on. Who doesn't love a song with a synth solo?! I did not think that Brand New Beat could be topped, but "Girl's Got Money" is Kurt's best song yet!

B-side cut "Yeah? Yeah!" is in a similar vein - just a straight up perfect pop/rock song that sounds totally upbeat and happy until you listen to the lyrics. Songs about heartbreak never go out of style, and again I'm hearing a song that the masses could totally relate to. If there's one major difference between Kurt and a lot of his late '70s/early '80s pop heroes, it's that he doesn't put throwaways on his B-sides! "Yeah? Yeah!" could totally have been an A-side by itself.

All in all, this is looking like a stone cold lock for single of the year. Major credit goes out to Kris Rodgers (keyboards), Geoff Palmer (guitar), Josh Malia (guitar), Zack Sprague (drums), and Kip Brown (lead guitar) for their incredible work backing Kurt on this release. Lots of bands play lip service to the idea of putting the power in power pop. But here we have a band that's actually gone out and done it. I always dig that combination of a hard-rocking band and sugar sweet melodies. When you've got several guys from The Connection in your band, it's hard to go wrong! And this marks the third time that Landon Arkens (mastering) has worked on the production of a Kurt Baker release. I just love that big, crisp sound. You can tell it's a professional job, but the power of the music is heightened rather than dulled. If you haven't already, click that play button and dial up the volume! You'll want to own this record! Act now if you want the vinyl - it's limited to 200 copies and going fast!



Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Missing Monuments: the new album!

And now the album of the year conversation gets really complicated. It has truly been a blockbuster summer for LPs, and the self-titled effort from New Orleans foursome Missing Monuments just might be the crown jewel. Out this week on Dirtnap Records, this follow-up to 2011's excellent debut Painted White was probably my most highly anticipated release of this year. Yet somehow, the album is even better than I thought it would be!

Missing Monuments is precisely what I've been craving: a red hot rock and roll record combining power pop hooks with arena rock guitar shredding. For my money, Louie Bankston is the best songwriter out there. And clearly the list of bands on his resume (Royal Pendletons, Persuaders, Bad Times, Exploding Hearts, Kajun SS, Loose Diamonds, Black Rose Band) is beyond impressive. But Missing Monuments just might prove to be his best band yet. Formed four years ago by Louie and his lead guitarist pal Julien Fried, Missing Monuments really gelled as a unit when Benny Divine (Wizzard Sleeve) joined on bass in 2011. The difference in the band really shows in this new record. Compared to Painted White, the album rocks harder and sounds more like the work of a true band firing on all cylinders. And from a production standpoint, this record sounds totally amazing.

While a lot of reviewers like to lump Missing Monuments in the "garage/power pop" category, that's really an oversimplification of what this band is about. I don't think there's another group out there that sounds quite like Missing Monuments. These guys have made a gritty, soulful rock n' roll record with a uniquely southern/Cajun flavor. I can name a number of Louie songs that are among my favorites of this or any era. But I don't think he's ever written a better collection of songs than this one. There's not a sub-par track on the whole album. Songs like the big statement opener "Answer The Call" and the scintillating "Crash Landing" (Southern rock meets the Dead Boys?) really bring the heat, while "Super Hero" is the latest in a long line of "classic" Louie pop gems. Reprised from last year's EP on HoZac, "Another Girl" is still the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And I love the passion and intensity of Louie's vocals on a lot of these songs. Whether it's a heartbreaking ballad ("Tru Luv"), a ripping jolt of melodic punk ("Heart and Soul"), or a balls to the wall rocker ("I Don't Share"), Louie really excels at injecting his personal stories with genuine emotion. When he sings of loss and betrayal, you really feel it. In that respect, his songwriting truly transcends genre. And as a band, Missing Monuments tear into these songs with tremendous power and energy. Julien's lead guitar work is absolutely sick, and that rhythm section (Divine and drummer Aaron Hill) is a machine.

The CD version of this release is a deluxe package - tacking on the band's first LP in its entirety plus the HoZac 7" for a total of 23 tracks. What a deal! If this is your first time buying a Missing Monuments release, you will definitely hear a discernible evolution from where the band was a couple years ago to where it is now. But I never bought into the whole "power pop" pigeonhole in the first place. As far back as two years ago, I was comparing these guys more to the likes of the Compulsive Gamblers. And they've continued to carve their own identity as a band. Who else out there is doing poppy Southern-ish rock n' roll with dueling Flying V's and epic metal solos? It's definitely a distinctive mix of things that makes Missing Monuments the spicy musical gumbo that they are. And while it all starts with Louie's raspy voice and brilliant songwriting, that's not where it ends. I think what we have here is the next great American rock n' roll band. And they're just hitting their stride!



Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Mystery Date

Attention, power pop geeks! We've got a real treat for you! I say "we" because Greg Mongroll did all the heavy lifting on this project. Mystery Date is his find. He scouted these guys out and brought them to my attention while I was lying in a hammock eating grapes. I immediately fell to the ground in amazement. I compensated Greg with some scrap metal and a Gerry Cheevers rookie card. All that's left for me to do is write the review. That's the easy part. Should sales of Mystery Date's debut 7" skyrocket due to the 47 views this post receives, remember that Greg's birthday is July 24th of every year. He likes records.

On to the music! Mystery Date hails from Minneapolis/St. Paul and does absolutely CLASSIC power pop in the late '70s U.K. mold. Their single, "Dreaming In Black and White", is out on Three Dimensional Records - home to the likes of Boys Club and Real Numbers. With its mix of power pop, mod, and late '70s-ish pop/punk, this release could easily pass for some long lost Power Pearls obscurity. It's that good and that on-point to the period. "Yeah, I remember Mystery Date. They were lovely chaps. Played a few shows with Protex and Excel before breaking up so the singer could go to clown college full-time. Whatever happened to those guys?" The title track has a bittersweet feel and really reels you in with a captivating melody that will invade your brain for hours or even days. B-side cut "Endless Nights" is a little punkier and more heavily '60s inspired. It reminds me quite a bit of the Stiv Bators singles on Bomp! Records. As far as power pop goes, this is absolute A+ stuff. The songwriting is aces, and Mystery Date's brand of power pop has some real balls to it. As the label spiel says, it's neat to hear music like this coming out now when you can get the record for a mere $5. Mystery Date also has a self-titled cassette out, and you can get a little taste at the group's Bandcamp page. But enough of my babble. Go click play, and you can thank me later. Actually, you should just thank Greg. He done good!



Thursday, August 01, 2013

It's The Whipshades!

Alright! How about some good old meat & potatoes punk rock n' roll?! Straight out of Fredrikstad, Norway come The Whipshades, and they ain't fooling around! Self-described as "fast, loud and primitive rock n' roll!", the band's sound imbues a ripping '70s punk attack with the spirit of Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Sound good? Of course it does! Their single "Where the hell would I be without Rock n Roll?" sounds like it ought to be an anthem, and it totally is! Think Devil Dogs/Dictators style action with a touch of Demolition 23. This is how I like my rock n' roll - with energy and guts, but also hooks. As the title suggests, this one's a total sing-along. And on lead guitar, Stefan Lindberg tears it up like Johnny Thunders incarnate. Brilliant! B-side cut "Bloodshot Eyes" is very much in that same vein of driving rock n' roll with a '70s punk feel. Reminds me a little of one of my favorite bands from the '90s, the Dead End Cruisers. That's gotta be a good thing! For sure, this is one of the best singles I've heard all year. You can stream both cuts over at The Whipshades' Bandcamp page and also dig into a couple of tunes these guys recorded live back in March. "Stay Out All Night" is a total monster!

If you dig the punk rock n' roll thing, you need to jump on The Whipshades train immediately. These fellas are the real deal. Seems like these European bands always "get" it!