Sunday, September 29, 2013

The #1s score!

Oh my God! If love power pop, you've got to check out the brand new song from Dublin's The #1s! Just out on Alien Snatch Records in Germany and Sorry State Records in the States, the band's second single is totally worthy of going to, uh, #1! "Sharon Shouldn't" is like a long lost Power Pearls gem! Think classic skinny tie power pop meets '79 style Irish pop/punk. Better yet, don't think at all. Just listen and love! This is power pop perfection. You know you need it!


Monday, September 23, 2013

Fun with Gaggers and Stitches!

Woo! So after 16 years, Jim at Rapid Pulse Records finally gets the one band he's always wanted to have on his label. No doubt he's released stuff from bands similar to The Stitches, but there's nothing like the genuine article. Mission accomplished! Jim can now retire to a luxurious life on a 500-foot yacht. He will welcome visitors every other Tuesday.

Rapid Pulse and No Front Teeth have proudly collaborated to release perhaps the snottiest split 7" in the history of time. Featuring exclusive tracks from the Stitches and Gaggers, it simply can't miss. And it doesn't! On one side, you have the long-ruling degenerate legends from southern California. On the other, you have the unruly up-and-comers from London who are poised to inherit the throne. And the winner here, the record buyer!

With its snotty, demented vocals and flamethrower guitar leads, "Without You" sounds like classic mid-to-late '90s Stitches. Oddly enough, it's a leftover from the 12 Imaginary Inches sessions. If it didn't quite fit in with the Stitches' early 2000s art-damaged direction, it's still up there with the better stuff from the band's storied heyday. And since the pure '77 snot-punk sound is more my thing anyway, I'm a happy camper. Hard to believe this full-on rager is just seeing the light of day in 2013. Lohrman sings like he has totally lost his mind! If you're like me and cherish your vinyl copy of 8 x 12 like it's a precious jewel, "Without You" will be your favorite Stitches song in years.

While I led this piece with the Stitches, I could just as easily have declared The Gaggers the main attraction. "Gag On This" just might be the band's signature song - a frenzied blast of snot and scum that will leave you feeling violated (and thoroughly delighted!). It's seriously got one of the best vocals I've ever heard on a punk rock song, and again The Gaggers sound like they just stepped out of a time machine from 1977. Take whatever you imagine to be snotty punk rock and double the snottiness. Hell, just go ahead and triple it. That's what The Gaggers sound like. I hear an obvious Stitches influence along with a big dose of the Jabbers, and the guitars remind me of early Buzzcocks. Those who lament the loss of good old fashioned "fuck you" sentiment in contemporary punk music will have their hearts warmed by the Gaggers' unrelenting depravity and hate. This track is everything punk music should be - raw and wild and sure to offend the delicate sensibilities of everyone you truly despise. It's the best pure punk song I've heard since The Inversions' "Hung By the Phone" ten years ago (which, by the way, was also released on Rapid Pulse!).

So here's the deal, folks. This is the single of the year by far and a true instant classic of punk rock. It's one of the greatest bands of today versus one of the greatest of all-time. I think anyone would have been happy with just any two songs from these bands, so it's especially cool that they both came through with A-grade material. So quit your bitching about the punk rock of today being sub-par and cough up six bucks! Operators are standing by!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Meet Bishops Green

Bishops Green describes itself as a "melodic, hard-hitting street-punk band". If you think that sounds like my cup of tea, you're totally right! Remember when I used to review bands like this all the time? Those were the days. I'm getting nostalgic for 1998!

When it comes to this particular genre of music, Bishops Green is the best band I've heard in a really long time. Formed in 2011, the Vancouver foursome cites influences ranging from classic Oi! (Blitz, Partisans, Cock Sparrer) to early '80s American hardcore (Minor Threat, Naked Raygun) to first wave punk greats like The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. Fronted by ferociously gruff-voiced Greg Huff (Alternate Action, Lancasters, Subway Thugs), Bishops Green delivers a blend of toughness and melody that you just don't hear often enough these days. The band's latest EP has me fired up to hoist a pint of brew and shout along to each and every chorus. And lyrically, you can really hear the influence of the aforementioned classic bands in songs that have something serious to say about the state of the world and the plight of the common man. Opening tracks "Tumbling Down" and "Blinded" are as furious and anthemic as it gets. And even when they slow down the tempo on songs like the totally great "Senseless Crime", they sacrifice none of the power or intensity. With its sing-along choruses and impassioned lyrics, Bishops Green is a total throwback to the glory days of street punk. Play their EP loud! New album coming soon.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Retro Reviews: The Pagans - Shit Street

"The Pagans were as unwrought, impudent and gnarly a buncha rock'n'roll bedlamites as America's ever spewed outta its queasy underbelly."
-Mark Trehus


Of all the classic first wave punk bands, The Pagans are hands down the most under-appreciated. It's unforgivable that they are usually left off of people's all-time great lists while vastly inferior bands get the glory. Never able to get a proper album out during their first incarnation, the red-hot Cleveland foursome nonetheless amassed enough killer material between 1977 and '79 to allow for the legendary posthumous compilation Buried Alive. Even more definitive, the Crypt Records issue Shit Street compiles the entirety of the original Pagans' studio cuts with a 13-song live set from August of '79. If your list of top-tier class of '77 bands does not include The Pagans, you ought to give Shit Street a listen and get your pen and paper ready. You will need to do some revising.

Unlike many of their contemporaries who formed in the wake of Sex Pistols hysteria and more or less copied the formula, The Pagans were making punk rock music before anyone knew what to call it. The Hudson brothers had been playing in bands together since 1974, years before "Anarchy in the UK" was even conceived. Perhaps they were influenced by the true first punk song, Iggy and The Stooges' "I Got a Right". More likely they were influenced by Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1970s - a crumbling blue collar city on the verge of bankruptcy, beset by burning rivers, mob wars, and perennially losing sports teams. Most likely they were influenced by extremely large quantities of drugs and alcohol. Whatever the case, the resulting music was wild and ferocious and straight up on fire. As snotty as their fellow Clevelanders the Dead Boys, no less unsavory than those rotten Pistols, as sonically destructive as the Stooges, and more lunkheaded than the Ramones and Dictators combined, The Pagans were the archetypical first wave punk band. And although their influence on modern-day sub-genres such as "punk rock n' roll", "garage punk", and "snot-punk" is undeniable, there has never really been another band that sounded quite like The Pagans. Only the American Midwest could have given birth to such a violent force of sonic nature. The Pagans were the best band to ever emerge from Cleveland, and that's saying something!

Shit Street has all the songs you know (or ought to know!): both sides of the "Street Where Nobody Lives"/ "What's This Shit Called Love" 45 from '78 (one of the five greatest punk singles EVER!), the gloriously awfully-recorded 1977 classic "Six and Change", the blistering, demented "Eyes of Satan", the Denny Carlton penned shaker "Boy Can I Dance Good", the Cleveland manifestos "Dead End America" and "I Juvenile", and the tasteless proto speed punk of "She's a Cadaver" (surely the Angry Samoans were fans!). And although a handful of the studio tracks were either too hastily recorded or simply not as inspired, the best stuff here absolutely kills. From the very opening notes of "What's This Shit Called Love", you know you're hearing something extraordinary - Tim Allee's thick, stabbing bass lines and Brian Hudson's abusive drumming laying the ground for Mike Metoff's guitars, which growl like alien destruction machines. And then in comes Mike Hudson with his powerful, wailing vocals, and forget about it! Try to name some punk singers better than a young Mike Hudson. Come on, try! You won't get very far.

The live cuts capture The Pagans in their natural habitat, the fabled dive Pirate's Cove, and give you a tiny taste of what it would have been like to have caught these guys in their prime, when they gigged relentlessly, drank heavily, fought internally, trashed hotel rooms, and delivered the goods on-stage to the delight or horror of whomever happened to show up that night, their savage & frenzied brand of rock n' roll arriving at least a decade too soon for any kind of recognition from the "respectable" world. And once Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero join the fellas on stage for bang-up renditions of "It's All Over Now" and "Search and Destroy", you're gonna wish so badly that you had been there! The Pagans were soon to break up, and they'd come back to life a few years later with a new lineup and turn out the not-unworthy Pink Album. But come on, man. There's nothing like early Pagans. Your classic punk collection is not complete - or even truly started - without a copy of Shit Street

An earlier draft of this piece appears on the blog Dirty Sheets.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Crazy Squeeze, please!

It's been a couple of years since I last posted on the world famous Crazy Squeeze, and the glam/punk supergroup has since turned out a debut single and self titled LP to deafening acclaim. You may have heard the details on Entertainment Tonight. Girls screamed, men raged in envy, and there was unprecedented mayhem in dive bars and hair salons up and down the left coast. Rampant dancing in the streets spurred severe legal measures on the part of irate Hollywood officials. A Rolling Stone cover shoot was unfortunately scrapped due to the antics of a temperamental giraffe. After many months spent waiting with bated breath and writing strongly worded letters to the powers that be, we finally get the band's second single. Brought to you by intercontinental label titans Rapid Pulse and No Front Teeth Records, it further propels The Crazy Squeeze into the thick of the "best band in the world" conversation.

LP track "Younger Girl" sounds so much like The Boys that I had to double check 16 times to make sure it actually wasn't The Boys. This is the stuff, man: glammy, super poppy punk rock n' roll lamenting every rock heartthrob's most perplexing moral dilemma ("What can you do/With a girl like that?"). This one will have you shaking your ass in no time flat, and that chorus is dangerously contagious. No doubt Johnny Witmer is a living legend of punk rock, but I don't think I truly realized just how good of a guitar player he was until I heard him in this band. And even within our tiny little slice of the underground, Frankie Delmane is a criminally underrated songwriter. It's simply unfair that the man doesn't own a mansion or at least have a sandwich named after him.

Not content to just emulate The Boys, The Crazy Squeeze went so far as to cover the classic "Terminal Love" on the B-side. Honest John Plain approved so highly that he actually went in and played lead guitar on this track! This rendition is faithful to the original but far from a straight copy. They've given the chorus a bit of an extra bite, and I dig what they've done with the harmonies. File this one under, "I love the original, and I love the cover". This is not the same version that appeared on the band's CD, so prepare to pay up if you're a Crazy Squeeze completist!

All in all, this is everything a great rock n' roll single should be. You get a stone cold smash hit, a B-side you'll actually want to listen to, and cover art suitable for framing. Five bucks no longer gets you a six pack or a decent adult magazine, but it will land you this hot slab of wax. Pop on over to Underground Medicine for ordering info. If you don't love this record, you're crazy. Pun intended.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Face The Bird

As one-half of one of one of my all-time favorite songwriting tandems, The Figgs' Pete Donnelly has awed me for years with his talents. Not once in a quarter century has the songwriting on a Figgs record struck me as even remotely uninspired. And I'd say Donnelly has been responsible for at least half of my favorite Figgs songs. So I was more than enthused to recently hear that Donnelly had a new solo album coming out called Face The Bird. Clearly Donnelly and Mike Gent are magical together. But they've both proven that they can step out on their own and make tremendous music outside of the Figgs mold. Face The Bird is a perfect example of exactly that - a different yet completely delightful collection of pop songs.

Given the growing stylistic diversity of Donnelly's contributions to recent Figgs albums, longtime fans won't find Face The Bird's eclecticism the least bit off-putting. But this is not a Figgs record. It's a Pete Donnelly solo album - a project that has allowed an amazingly talented artist to try things that might not "fit" on a Figgs release. If you're expecting punchy power pop or sweaty rock n' roll, you're sure to be let down. But any true Donnelly fan will be absolutely thrilled with this album. It's so good. Even as Donnelly explores a wide variety of musical styles and influences, he mostly sticks to the melodic pop sensibility he's so well known for. And from a lyrical standpoint, he's never written more personal or powerful songs.

Largely recorded last fall in a makeshift home studio in an unused Ocean City, New Jersey storefront, Face The Bird is the product of Donnelly's quest to retreat into the isolation of an off-season resort town and indulge his creative muse 24/7. It's no surprise, then, that the "feel" of this album is a little different from anything we've previously heard from Donnelly. In many ways it's a throwback to the classic singer/songwriter albums of the '70s, but with enough acknowledgement of modern styles and recording techniques to keep it fresh and current. Particularly on the front end, the material is some of Donnelly's strongest in a long time. The breezy soft rock of "Always Something" is AM gold for a new generation, while the funky "Hunger Like" is a contagious shot of blue-eyed soul. And while I hear echoes of everyone from Bruce Springsteen (the great "Got Caught Up") to Paul Westerberg ("A Thing Or Two) to Jackson Browne ("Hear It From Me First"), this is uniquely a Pete Donnelly creation. His melodies dazzle as always, and it's a pleasure to encounter his many moods within the framework of a single album. The dramatic and intense "Delicate Elocution" just might be his magnum opus, and the happy-sounding title track is surprisingly profound.

After recording sessions for Face The Bird were cut short by the devastating arrival of Hurricane Sandy, the album was finished in several locations in the Philadelphia area. The ups and downs of making the record are reflected in its wide range in tone and style. It's an ambitious, bipolar achievement. Yet it flows beautifully as a whole, and it has me hoping that there will be many more Pete Donnelly solo albums to come. I wholeheartedly recommend Face The Bird - not only to fans of The Figgs, but to anyone who enjoys good music in general.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Modern Pets still killing it!

Inexplicably, I have not written about the Modern Pets since before their first album was released. And now they've got a second album out! Where did the time go? This was actually one of the first bands I ever reviewed for F & L, way back in August of 2011. I recently looked over that post, and not much has changed since. "The Modern Pets combine the best elements of early Briefs and later Stitches"? Yep, that's still the basic blueprint. But by now, the Modern Pets have reached the point where they only sound like themselves. Whatever greatness I predicted has been fully realized. New album Sorry. Thanks. takes the band's hyperactive new wavey punk sound and makes it even better. Somehow these German miscreants have managed to make a record that's both catchier and more raging than the last one. Songs like "Pilsator" and "The Walking Contradiction" continue the group's penchant for updating classic '77 snot-punk for these modern, manic times. And while these guys have always played fast, tracks such as "I'm Not a Brick" take things to a whole new level of light speed. I like that the band has continued to do what it does best without turning out a redundant or phoned-in sophomore effort. It's an electrifying, fun ride - with seven of ten tracks failing to cross the two-and-a-half minute barrier. You can hear them integrating more pop melodies into the songwriting, and that lead guitar work is literally out of this world. Having seen the references to the Adverts, Buzzcocks, and Generation X in Dead Beat's product description, of course I was highly enthused to hear the record. And by no means was I disappointed! I have not yet seen a lot of rave reviews of Sorry. Thanks., and that really baffles me. This album is hot!


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Wyatt Funderburk goes solo!

F & L readers may be familiar with Wyatt Funderburk because he produced Kurt Baker's fantastic LP Brand New Beat. But while he is a great music producer, he's so much more than that. His talents as a songwriter and singer make him a true triple threat, and he has finally graced us with some solo recordings. Out now are a brand new LP and single. I'll tackle the album later, but today I'll weigh in on the single.

In the spirit of the late '80s collaborations between Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, "Love Will Lead The Way" is a perfect slice of melody-driven pop/rock. And while the vibe of this track may take you back 25 years or so, it does demonstrate the timelessness of such things as quality songwriting and sparkling production. Wyatt's got a really nice voice, which is perfectly suited to this kind of song. "Love Will Lead the Way" may be a simple pop tune, but it's beautifully constructed and speaks to a subject of eternal importance to our existence. Listen once, and that melody will be in your head all day.

B-side cut "The Reason" was penned by Geoff Palmer of The Connection, and it's exclusive to this release. No pun intended, it's the reason to buy the single. It's a straight ahead pop song that sort of brings to mind that Fastball/Wallflowers slice of '90s alt-rock. It's just so pleasant and blissfully tuneful, with lyrics that really make you think. And those harmonies are to die for! You just don't hear music like this on the radio anymore, and that's a damn shame. Call it what you want: mainstream, M.O.R., "dad rock". Any way you shake it, it's freaking great. Trends come and go, but melody and craftsmanship are eternal.

There's a line in Wyatt's bio that says, "Whether he is singing, playing, or producing, Funderburk's knack for crafting catchy hooks and classic pop sounds shines through on everything he touches." I think that pretty much says it all. He's incredibly talented, but just as importantly he understands the craft of the perfect pop song. He exists on a plane where the three minute radio hit still thrives. I'm not opposed to innovation or uncompromising artistry in music. But at the end of the day, what I ultimately crave are lyrics that I can relate to and a melody I can whistle while I'm standing in line at the post office. This single has been brightening a lot of days for me lately - and isn't that the ultimate compliment one can extend to a piece of music? If you don't like Wyatt Funderburk, you don't like pop.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

It'z Glitz

It's been a crazy good year for albums, and there were a few gems I missed when they first came out. So over the next couple weeks, I might play a little catch-up. I'll start with the debut LP from Glitz - a sure shot to make a lot of people's year-end top tens. There are a number of bands at the moment riding the line between glam and power pop, and Glitz is perhaps the best of the lot. And while I get the comparisons to the likes of Warm Soda and Gentleman Jesse, I'd say they have even more in common with, say, Giuda or the Crazy Squeeze. These guys are like the long lost sons of Donny Denim!

Featuring members of such bands as Apache, The Cuts, Personal & The Pizzas, Wild Thing, Hunx and his Punx, Lenz, and Impediments, San Fran supergroup Glitz plays a style of music it likes to call "street glam". It's a sound that combines the muscular riffs and red-hot leads of pub rock with bubblegum melodies and vintage glam-rock stylings. Think Sweet meets '70s Stones meets Milk 'N' Cookies. Or better yet, imagine putting the band's cited influences (Flamin' Groovies, Real Kids, 1910 Fruitgum Company) into a blender and mixing up a hearty and truly delicious concoction. Bands in this vein sometimes come up short - they're often too much pop and not enough rock (or vice versa). But Glitz totally hits all the right spots. These dudes freakin' rock, and the eternal teenager in me cannot get enough of that ripping lead guitar work. Yet the pop lover in me is just as impressed with the hooks. I'd say "the hit" is "Unconditionally", which sounds like Nick Gilder on steroids. But on any given day, I might say that "Sugar" or "(She) Don't Listen To Music" is even better! And just when you think the album is in danger of getting a little formulaic, killer tracks like "Punktual Punk" and "Halfway House" turn up the heat down the stretch with some full throttle '70s style punk rock n' roll action. With three songwriters contributing material, It'z Glitz is refreshingly devoid of filler. And unlike a lot of groups in the glam/pop scene that come off like total pretenders, Glitz is an honest to goodness bona fide ROCK AND ROLL band. If I'd heard this album ten or 15 years ago, I would have run out into the street and started screaming for joy. But while this type of music is far more common in today's underground than it used to be, that's no reason to take Glitz for granted. In a year loaded with incredible LPs, this is one of the very best!