Saturday, June 28, 2014

TV Freaks

How about something a little harder to cap off the month! Yeah! Hamilton, Ontario's TV Freaks typify the awesomeness and diversity of the current Canadian punk scene. These guys are a pure sonic force - walking the fine line between garage and hardcore punk with touches of noise and Stooges filth. The band's latest release, "Leeches", is a three-song 7" just out on the Toronto/Vancouver label Hosehead Records. And it's a total ripper! If you enjoyed the group's previous output, let's just say that "Leeches" shows no signs of any mellowing out! The title track is a bruising assault on the senses - with clanging guitars, throbbing bass lines, and raging vocals that rise to full explosion in the chorus. I'm not quite sure what this dude is singing, but he's hella pissed! The 54-second "Mommy's Place" is pretty much pure '82 hardcore, and "Lose It" brings the EP to a frenzied and ferocious close. "It's not how you win/It's how you lose it!" is about as anthemic of a refrain as you could ever hope to hear, and all in all this track should have you going totally crazy. Grab your morning coffee, pop this EP on the turntable, and get yourself pumped for a day of taking no shit from anyone. TV Freaks kill!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meet The GTVs!

Sam Steinig, who for 19 years led Philly garage greats Mondo Topless, is back with another killer band. The GTVs - featuring Steinig on organ and vocals, Pat Wescott on guitar, Scott Galper on drums, and Jude Dandelion on bass - have just come out with their debut album on the Italian label Teen Sound. And while Steinig's work on the Hammond organ is unmistakable (and marvelous!), The GTVs are by no means a carbon copy of Mondo Topless. The GTVs have more of a Stax soul based sound - think less Sonics and more Booker T and the M.G.s. That requires a hot band to pull off that kind of sound - and these fellas are very much up to the task. Galper and Dandelion are a perfectly in sync rhythm section, and Wescott's solos are out of this world. Yet The GTVs are still very much a true garage band - playing with energy and grit and never allowing their considerable instrumental prowess to devolve into "jamming".

Nearly half of the tracks on Sh'Bang! are instrumentals, and the band's choice of cover material really makes it clear where The GTVs are coming from. They take on Booker T.'s "Be My Lady" (done in the style of The Artwoods' cover version) and The Martinis' 1967 single "Bullseye". They also cover the old Ray Charles favorite "You're Just About To Lose Your Clown" (quite well, I might add!). And while original instrumental selections like "RnBnD" and the dynamite title cut are probably the album's high points, the vocal tracks are no slouch either. "Walk Right Up To You" is a premium shaker that's sure to get you up and dancing, and I hear echoes of The Animals on the soulful ballad "Pull You Down Below".

True to the nature of a band that's best experienced in a live setting, The GTVs aren't trying to wow you with their technical proficiency. Of course they can play, but it's more about having a good time and feeling the groove than it is about showing off. And it's just so much fun! If you loved that slice of '60s garage rock that was heavily influenced by American soul music, Sh'Bang! will take you back to your happy place. As a fan of this very particular genre, I've got to say that The GTVs really nail it. To call them "revivalists" would suggest that this sort of music went away in the first place. I prefer to think of them as keepers of the faith - and they do their musical heroes proud!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Retro Reviews: The Automatics - self titled

"Scurrying from the rain-soaked basements of Portland, Oregon like hyperactive chimps with bad haircuts come The Automatics and their poppy three-chord buzzsaw attack on your brain. Crisp vocals and deep harmonies deliver the goods over a steady wall of guitar grind."
- from the original Mutant Pop one-sheet 

Ah, '90s pop-punk! Either you loved it, or you hated it with a murderous passion. I loved it - and honestly it was the reason I started doing zines in the first place. I recently declared that my holy trinity of '90s pop-punk albums consists of Green Day's Dookie, The Queers' Love Songs for the Retarded, and Screeching Weasel's My Brain Hurts. Perhaps they all seem like safe choices. Fair enough. Assuming that Parasites' Punch Lines is my number four, I'll round out my top five with a less obvious selection. I'm going to go with my favorite band on my favorite '90s pop-punk label: The Automatics. Released in 1996 on Mutant Pop Records, the band's self-titled debut CD seems to be mostly forgotten. But in my humble opinion, it's aged pretty well over the last 18 years. And I can't say the same thing about all the pop-punk releases I touted back in the day.

The Automatics were one of the bands I most frequently and favorably reviewed in the mid-to-late '90s. I sought out their numerous recordings with a zeal I now reserve for German lagers and pastrami sandwiches. There were two things that put this Portland, Oregon trio near the top of the Clinton-era pop-punk class. Number one, they went back to the source for their inspiration. They weren't aping Screeching Weasel or Green Day. They drew their sound largely from the first two Ramones albums – rarely a bad thing in my book. Number two, the two Jesses (Kimball and Sutherland) were exceptionally talented songwriters who understood the perfect simplicity of early rock n' roll. Compared to the typically polished '90s pop-punk offering, The Automatics comes off raw and lo-fi. Rather than obscuring the consistently great songs and hyper-energetic playing, this actually highlights them. The band could have re-cut this album a thousand times in a better studio with a bigger budget, and not once would they have been able to top the minimalist genius of what they already had on tape.

The Automatics is one of those albums that you can just put on, and you've got yourself an instant party. It's total fun from the first note, mixing primal Ramones-ian thump with the harmonies and high spirits of bubblegum (they even cover "Chewy Chewy"!), a dash of Angry Samoans insult comedy, and a dancy garage-pop vibe a la The Hi-Fives. The hooks are all over the place, and the melodies are more infectious than Chlamydia on a college campus. It's a delirious, fast-paced romp, 17 songs whizzing by in well under a half hour. Yet it all comes off with a totally ballsy vocal delivery (something quite rare in the '90s pop-punk specimen), and the tough, scratchy guitars kick way harder than anything that was coming out of Sonic Iguana studios at the time. With song topics ranging from personal dissatisfaction ("My Life Is Shit") to good girls gone bad ("Prom Queen") to old-fashioned misanthropy ("Hate The Human Race") to the ultimate in unattainable females ("She Likes Girls"), there's something here for everyone. "All the Kids Just Wanna Dance" will make you wanna, uh, dance, and "I Can't Cope" is as good of a straight Ramones rip as the Riverdales or Head ever did.

Who knows if you'll ever see this particular disc in your travels? There were probably only a couple thousand of these ever pressed, so it's not like you can just find it anywhere. But if you do find it, given that the whole world has apparently forgotten The Automatics ever existed, it'll probably be tagged for less than five bucks. Money well spent, I say! The Automatics is everything punk music should be: fast, fun, simple, stupid, sometimes in poor taste, and so utterly listenable that you'll wear out the disc before you ever grow tired of it. Let's steal!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Meet Tomy & The Cougars!

Tomy & The Cougars, along with like-minded bands such as Departure Kids, just might be turning Marseille, France into a hotbed of punk/powerpop! Who knew? There must be something in the bouillabaisse! Tomy and the Cougars seem to be crazy for their old Nerves and Beat records, and it's very hard to go wrong with a starting point like that! They've got a new 7" out on Surfin' Ki Records - and it completely won me over in about 15 seconds! These lads mix up a 50/50 blend of classic skinny tie power pop and Exploding Hearts influenced punk, lacing it with their own unique style. I love that Tomy's vocals are distinctly French accented, and his less-than-perfect command of the English language makes the lyrics twice as cool. "Girls think that I'm a woman eater/But it's not the way I look that make me good" has to be my favorite couplet of the year. And hearing a line like "Heartbreakers gonna be heartbreaked/Because I'm not afraid of fear", I can't help thinking that that's the perfect summation of my personal philosophy on life.

No Way Out includes three songs, and they're all dandies. "I Want Go" is probably the hit, propelled by a melody you'll be whistling all day and Lully's hooky guitar leads. It falls somewhere between the Nerves and classic pop/punk bands like The Modernettes. That "Cause you really got to do that" line in the pre-chorus has been stuck in my head all week! The wistful "Swallow My Tears" steps up the Paul Collins worship in a major way, while the bouncy "Run Away" hits me right in my sweet spot - where '77 punk and power pop meet head-on. All in all, super great! 

Kudos to F & L scoutmaster Greg Mongroll for this major find! This band used to be called Tomy & The Cougars With Heart, and the minor name change seems to herald a slight change in sound as well. The more pop direction seems to suit their talents, and of course it suits me just fine! Do they really have a rhythm section made up of guys named Fu and Fel? There's nothing about this band that isn't awesome!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reckless Relations!

Continuing my series of posts on the great Zodiac Killer Records, I've got a real gem here dating back to 2009 (can you believe that's already five years ago?!). The Adjusters were a young band out of Wigan, U.K. that were totally up my alley. Sadly, I missed the boat on these guys while they were still around (they split two years ago). But the good news is that it's never too late to discover awesome music. The Adjusters' debut album Reckless Relations is one of the best things that Zodiac Killer has ever released, and that's really saying something! These kids were all 20-21 years old and totally got it - demonstrating that trashy rock n' roll and Johnny Thunders worship will never go out of style. And it wasn't just that they played the right kind of music. It was that they freaking rocked! Opening track "Drinkin' Red Wine" is as great of a Heartbreakers/Joneses rip as you'll ever hear, and the band injects plenty of its own attitude into the mix (sample lyric: "You're a high class hooker/Just like your mother"). And there's no let-up from there. Led by charismatic vocalist Ash Corner, The Adjusters kinda came off like a younger, snottier Humpers. Reckless Relations is a non-stop romp of sleazy punk rock n' roll with lyrics addressing all the finer things in life: chasing women, getting trashed, and chasing more women. Echoes of the Dead Boys, Stones, and New York Dolls abound, but The Adjusters definitely put their own spin on a classic sound. Whether you're talking about sonic fireballs like "Can't See" or the good old glammy rock n' roll of "Kickin' Down The Doors", Reckless Relations is chock full of killer tunes that will hit the spot whether you're looking to raise hell or just feel like dancing. It's still available from Zodiac Killer on CD, and you can buy it off iTunes or Amazon as well. Definitely one of the better '77 punk rock n' roll albums of the last 5-10 years - go get it! 


Monday, June 16, 2014

More from Los Pepes!

The "loudest powerpop band on Earth" is back with its third 7"! London's Los Pepes first caught my attention with their half of a recent split with Ladykillers, and now they've got a new EP that just about blew my head off! This band combines kick-ass rock n' roll punk a la The Testors and Nervous Eaters with the hooks and harmonies of classic late '70s U.K. pop/punk. And that added dimension of power really sets these guys apart from a lot of otherwise similar bands. Out on Wanda Records, the four-song "Tonight" is mandatory listening for anyone who prefers the ballsier side of tuneful punk rock. The title track is everything that's good about punk and pop and rock n' roll all rolled into one big ball of awesome. "Too Late, Too Late", with its blistering guitars and fist-pumping chorus, sounds a little like one of the Dictators' classic anthems. The B-side moves more to the power pop side of things and could probably pass for an artifact from the Good Vibrations Records vaults. "Somebody Else" is pretty much the perfect power pop song. It's SO good! It sounds like it could be a cover of some obscure single from 1979, but as far as I know it's an original!

If you're currently unfamiliar with Los Pepes, head on over to their Bandcamp and listen to everything they've done! Even at this time when there are a ton of good bands doing punk/powerpop, these guys really stand out. Please tell me there's an album in the works!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Monster Surf!

Today Night Birds join the short list of bands that have been featured five times on this blog. This entitles them to quite the array of prizes - including a complete set of F & L beach towels, a case of WWE ice cream bars, two dozen collectable golden medallions bearing the images of various Fastbacks drummers, and a year's supply of puffy shirts. And while their entry into this exclusive five-timers club indicates that they've been putting out a healthy amount of music in recent years, to me it's more about the quality of their output. At no point have Night Birds settled for repeats of previous releases. They're always pushing themselves to be more awesome. With every new record, they offer something new or different or unexpected. New EP Monster Surf totally fits that description. If you're a fan, you're sure to love it. But in no way has the band done a record quite like this before.

The idea behind Monster Surf is genius. Since Night Birds have always included surf instrumentals on their records and in their live set, wouldn't it be kind of cool if they did an entire EP of nothing but surf instrumentals? Absolutely! So here it is - out on Wallride Records. And it does not disappoint! One thing I've always admired about Night Birds is that their instrumentals are something to look forward to. They're not "filler". When you hear them do an instrumental track, your reaction isn't "I wish this song had vocals." It's more along the lines of "This freaking rules!" Perhaps the only concern you could have about this EP is that it seems a waste to have one of punk rock's greatest front men riding the pine. But while Brian does step away from the microphone on this release, he moves over to synthesizer duties and really adds something cool to the mix. Joe and P.J. have worked up three original instrumentals along with a killer arrangement of "Hope For The Best (Expect The Worst)" from the classic Mel Brooks film The 12 Chairs. Listening to this EP, I'm really struck by Night Birds' chemistry and musical skill. P.J. tears it up on guitar, and that rhythm section gets to show off chops that are sometimes obscured by the sheer velocity of the band's "regular" attack. And the addition of horns is a neat touch. I've never been surfing, but "Pyongyang Bound" makes me feel like I actually have. I can practically smell the ocean. "Agent Zero", on the other hand, has me picturing Snake Plissken surfing a tsunami in Escape From L.A. "Hope For The Best (Expect The Worst)" is immediately recognizable, yet somehow these guys make it sound like it was written to be a surf song! Hopefully this record will inspire a few people to check out The 12 Chairs - one of Brooks' best and most underrated films. If Night Birds ever did a full album of Mel Brooks covers, I'd buy that in a heartbeat. I bet they could knock "Springtime For Hitler" out of the park.

Whether you're a hardcore Night Birds fan (pun fully intended) or just a lover of surf rock in general, Monster Surf is a mandatory purchase. And if for whatever reason you're morally opposed to instrumentals, you'll be happy to hear that Night Birds are writing new material and preparing to invade Europe this summer. Don't these guys ever rest?!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Meet The Drendas!

Out of Norfolk we've got ourselves a bad girl punk/garage trio that gets it right! The Drendas channel the Runaways by way of the Pandoras and Shangri-Las. Maybe it's just Holly's original and very cool vocal style (imagine if Donita Sparks and Iggy Pop had had a child), or maybe it's that the band's debut EP was recorded in its practice space. But there's something about The Drendas that just rubs me the right way. They've got personality! 

Boy Trouble absorbs the aforementioned influences into a really primitive '70s punk style sound - simple song structures, thumping power chords, and a bad-ass disposition. Think early Ramones with a Joan Jett attitude. With snarling kiss-offs to unwanted suitors ("Problems"), cheating boyfriends ("Bad Boy"), and boys who've worn out their welcomes ("Get The Hook"), this EP lives up to its title and then some. And although The Drendas have been together for almost two years and are by no means sucky at their instruments, they have the smarts to sound like they just learned how to play! The Drendas show quite the knack for crafting catchy tunes (I especially love the use of backing vocals in "Get The Hook" and "Bad Boy"), but no one is going to accuse them of being "pop". This is a fun debut from a fun band - and I can't wait to hear more!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The F & L Hall of Fame: Beat Angels

Out of all the great unheralded bands I championed in my late '90s heyday, Phoenix, Arizona's Beat Angels might have been the greatest and most unheralded. Everyone I know who's heard the band's two albums would probably consider them both to be classics of glam/punk/powerpop. Sadly, I'm only talking about a handful of people. Although the Beat Angels were beloved by local crowds and allied with a big name in the music industry (producer Gilby Clarke - formerly of Candy and Guns N' Roses), they were one of those bands that just never quite caught on with the punk underground or the alternative nation. Thankfully, their music is still out there - although not easy to find. 

When the Beat Angels formed in 1994, they viewed themselves as descending from a lineage of bands like the New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Rolling Stones, and Cheap Trick. And as hard is it may be to believe it now, that put them at odds with what was going on in underground music at the time. You could say they were behind the times, but more likely they were ahead of them. Looking now at how many bands I come across that swear allegiance to the glam/trash and power pop greats of yore, it seems like good taste has come back around. But in a day and age when everyone and his brother was trying to be the next Kurt Cobain, it was far from "cool" to worship the The Clash, Raspberries, Johnny Thunders, and Badfinger. Like kindred spirits the Trash Brats, the Beat Angels bucked the trends of the times and fully embraced punk's glam roots. The group's albums Unhappy Hour (1996) and Red Badge of Discourage (1997) were not big sellers. But if they'd never existed, I'm not sure the glam-punk scene would be where it is today.

Singer Brian Smith (ex Gentlemen Afterdark) and guitarist Michael Brooks (ex Motorcycle Boy) had known each other from crossing paths in late '80s Hollywood. And after becoming reacquainted in Phoenix, they recruited Detroit-bred guitarist Keith Jackson (longtime fixture in the great, criminally overlooked Glass Heroes). Those three would form the permanent nucleus of the Beat Angels - and their collective set of influences helped make the band what it was. Smith and Brooks were veterans of the L.A. glam scene. Jackson was (and still is!) a '77 punk diehard. Clarke, having played on Candy's power pop classic Whatever Happened To Fun, clearly "got" the sound the band was going for. Unhappy Hour and Red Badge of Discourage were perfect syntheses of glitter-tinged '70s punk and sing-along power pop - with lyrics informed by beat/pulp/noir literature and the seedy underbelly of Hollywood glamour. Inspired by his own hard luck experiences and the writings of authors like Jim Thompson and Harry Crews, Smith used the three-minute pop song as a vehicle for vivid, powerful storytelling - weaving tales of beautiful losers, broken dreams, strippers, addicts, drunks, and glamorous women with dark secrets. I've previously documented what a legendary year 1996 was for punk albums, and Unhappy Hour was the best of the whole lot. Red Badge of Discourage is darn near as good - and some fans will tell you it's better! 

Anytime I listen to the Beat Angels, it's like I enter a portal to an eternal cocktail hour. I walk into the lounge and punch up "Hungover With Jenny" on the jukebox. I see Dean Martin chatting up some lovely thing at one end of the bar, Don Draper schmoozing some suit at the other. Cigarette smoke permeates the air, and sad souls drink alone - pondering the hopelessness of existence and reflecting on dreams deferred. I eye up some faded starlet in the darkest corner of the room, and I can read her tragic life story with one glance. That's the kind of writer Smith was - a Paul Westerberg or Ian Hunter for a certain generation of '90s punk rockers like me. After the Beat Angels split, Smith moved to Detroit and became managing editor of the Metro Times. I've often wondered if he's continued to write songs and make music. His presence in the world of underdog rock n' roll is still dearly missed.

The Beat Angels did record a third album in the early 2000s - again with Clarke producing. But for a variety of reasons, it was never completely finished or properly mixed. I know this unreleased, "lost" Beat Angels album was circulating on-line for a time - but I think it's disappeared from the face of the earth. Perhaps that's for the better given that the band's two official releases are so flawless and an unfinished product might not be up to the same standards. Meanwhile, I've been waiting for a long time for some label to reissue both of the band's classic albums. Perhaps I shouldn't hold my breath. We are, after all, living in times when even legendary bands like the Buzzcocks have to resort to crowdfunding to get their new music released. Unhappy Hour and Red Badge Of Discourage can still be had for a reasonable price from a few sellers at Amazon. And if you were lucky enough to have seen the Beat Angels live back in the day, I envy you!


Friday, June 06, 2014

Meet The Flintettes!

Boasting recent releases from awesome groups like Needles//Pins, Maniac, and the Steve Adamyk Band, La Ti Da Records has to be considered one of the best labels out there. What a roster! The latest essential release from La Ti Da is the debut EP from The Flintettes. With a lineup including Mike Flintoff (The Tranzmitors), CC Rose (Vancougar), and Marissa Johnson (Dizzy Eyes), this star-studded Vancouver trio arrives with considerable promise. And they do no disappoint! By all means, I think Tranzmitors fans will approve. But the two bands are quite different. The Flintettes are less powerpop/punk and more pure pop - like if you took those Costello/Weller influences and fast forwarded them from 1977 to 1980. Think jangly pop with a touch of northern soul in the vocal arrangements. I'm warning you now that if you listen to "Open Your Eyes" a couple times, it will be stuck in your head until next Tuesday. It has a great melody, and those backing vocals are so on point. "It Could've Been Love" is equally stellar and hearkens back to Elvis Costello's classic period without coming off like an imitation. I'm having a hard time deciding which song here is the hit ("What Was One" is great as well!). So I'll have to give the record 50 more spins and get back to you.

Limited to 300 copies, this EP is gonna go fast. The Flintettes are a pop lover's dream - and a proverbial breath of fresh air in a garage/power pop scene full of sound-alike bands. Having had this little three song taste, I'm dying to hear more!


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Top Ten Punk Rock Albums of 1984

Recently, my time machine traveled 20 years back to 1994. The next stop on my musical journey through decades past takes us to 1984. Looking back to this particular year in the history of punk music, it's evident how much things had changed since the end of the '70s. The "original" punk sound had faded into the background, with hardcore and post-punk stepping into the forefront. In addition, a lot of bands that had started out as punk or hardcore groups were beginning to branch out musically and defy genre pigeonholes. So as I worked up this list of the top punk albums of '84, I tried to be more liberal in defining what "punk" really meant at the time. As much as I enjoy the purity and power of good old three-chord slop, I will be the first person to acknowledge that some of the best punk music to ever exist was created with disregard for the "rules". Keeping in mind what was happening in the world in '84 both politically and culturally, I think it's only fitting that much of the year's best punk music did not conform to any "accepted" model. The times, they were a changing. And looking back, we should really thank the likes of Ronald Reagan and Phil Collins for giving us so much to rebel against.

Onto the list!

10. Reagan Youth - Youth Anthems for the New Order
At a mere seven songs, this may be more of an EP than an LP. But I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Reagan Youth are sometimes overlooked in the pantheon of New York hardcore punk, and their existence was ill-fated due to tragic circumstances surrounding singer Dave Insurgent. But Youth Anthems holds up extremely well three decades later, and recalls a time when hardcore was still rooted in punk rock and angry youths railed with all their might against the mainstreaming of fascist ideologies. "New Aryans" and "Degenerated" are as pertinent and powerful today as they were 30 years ago.

9. Partisans- The Time Was Right
Underrated second LP from these legends of UK street punk.

8. Battalion of Saints- Second Coming
In this heyday of hardcore punk, it seemed like every year brought us 2 or 3 classic LPs. This sophomore effort from San Diego's finest was definitely one of 'em.

7. Cock Sparrer- Running Riot in '84
If any other band had issued this record, it would have been hailed as a triumph. But coming on the heels of Shock Troops, one of the greatest punk LPs ever made, Running Riot in '84 is often perceived as a letdown. But if you can get over the darker, slightly different sound and just appreciate it for what it is, you'll hear a classic Cock Sparrer album. "The Sun Says" would have fit in perfectly on Shock Troops, and "They Mean Murder" remains one of the band's finest songs.

6. Hanoi Rocks - Two Steps From The Move
Were Hanoi Rocks a hard rock influenced glam punk band or a glam punk influenced hard rock band? Who cares! This was the band's major label debut - and, tragically, the last album that they'd ever make due to the death of drummer Razzle. This band and this LP were huge influences not just on the likes of Guns N' Roses - but also on countless glam/punk bands I adored in the '90s and 2000s. That's "punk" enough for me!

5. Agnostic Front- Victim In Pain
Far different from Agnostic Front's later forays into crossover/thrash, this debut album is pure hardcore punk and a true classic of the genre. 

4. Reducers - self titled 
30 years later, you'd still swear this band came from London, England and not New London, Connecticut. These guys took classic U.K. pub rock and '77 pop/punk influences and, as they say, made them their own. If you're into the powerpop/punk/rock n' roll thing and don't own anything by The Reducers, it's time to get shopping! Absolutely one of the greatest and most criminally overlooked bands ever, and this was where it all started.

3. Husker Du- Zen Arcade
While their mates The Replacements had long outgrown their punk roots by '84, Husker Du was redefining what it meant to be a hardcore band. The double LP Zen Arcade, for all of its ambition and epic aspirations, holds up so well because it's the finest collection of songs the band ever assembled ("Turn On The News" and "The Biggest Lie" are both among my top five Du songs). It was the first "punk rock opera" - and still the best by far!

2. Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime 
Legend has it that Double Nickels was The Minutemen's response to Zen Arcade. Leave it to the Minutemen to make Zen Arcade sound almost conventional by comparison! Combining the brevity of hardcore with the improvisational sensibilities of jazz, the rhythmic structures of funk, and the smart-assed minimalism of early Wire, Double Nickels is a sprawling, genre-bending masterpiece from one of the most musically proficient punk bands to ever exist. Not just one of the finest punk albums of the '80s, but one of the finest albums of the '80s, period.

1. Ramones - Too Tough To Die
There's a perception about the Ramones that they "slipped" after their first four albums. And perhaps that was true. The band's early '80s releases may have been hindered by musical differences and disharmony within the band. And certainly the band worked with a few producers who didn't truly "get" the Ramones. All of that changed, temporarily, on Too Tough To Die. With Tommy Ramone and Ed Stasium co-producing and the band unified for a return to form, Too Tough To Die is a classic Ramones album all the way. As the title suggests, it's a harder, tougher sounding Ramones - a reinvigorated sonic force re-staking its claim as the greatest band on earth. If you only listen to their early albums, give Too Tough To Die another chance.

Honorable mentions:
Die Kruezen- self titled
Effigies- For Ever Grounded
Government Issue - Joyride
Black Flag - My War
Angelic Upstarts - Last Tango In Moscow
Vandals - When In Rome Do As The Vandals   

So...who did I forget? 


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Muck and the Mires, baby!

For over a decade, Muck and The Mires have been one of the world's preeminent garage/neo British Invasion bands. Poised to release a brand-new LP called Dial M For Muck, these Boston greats are back with a new single produced by living legend Kim Fowley. And while Muck and The Mires have never failed to deliver killer rock n' roll recordings, "Double White Line" is without doubt one of their finest releases to date. As you might expect, it could easily pass for a long lost prized 45 from the U.K. circa 1963-64. The title track, a punchy up-tempo rocker, is a teaser for the new album. B-side "Three Steps", exclusive to this release, is perfect melodious pop along the lines of early Beatles meet Road To Ruin era Ramones. Both tracks really highlight the qualities that make this band so good: amazing, true to the period songwriting and formidable musical chops. I love the way these two songs fit together: pure R & B/rock n' roll energy on the A-side, and pretty melodies to make the girls swoon on the flip. And if you're planning on buying the album and wonder whether the B-side alone merits picking up the single, I'd say that's a major affirmative. Only a true historian could hear this track and be able to tell whether it was recorded in 1964 or 2013. "Three Steps" is a staple of the band's live show, and of course an old pro like Fowley was dying to put his own stamp on it. The results are not disappointing!

Even by Muck and The Mires' lofty standards, "Double White Line" is totally top-notch. It's a double dose of awesome from one of the best bands out there. Get it from King Yum Records!


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Mother's Children to the next level!

I don't communicate with any of my music friends via text message. But if I did, I would have been sending a whole bunch of "New Mother's Children! OMG!" texts over the last few weeks. Rising stars of the recent Canadian powerpop/punk explosion, these fun-loving Ottawans have vaulted to the head of the class on the strength of an astoundingly good sophomore LP. Out on Germany's Taken By Surprise Records and poised for North American releases on Mammoth Cave & Resurrection Records, Lemon is THE summer record of 2014. Beyond that, it's probably my favorite powerpop/punk album of the last couple years. So, yeah, I kinda like it.

Mother's Children released their debut album back in 2010, and it would be an understatement to say that the band has improved over the last four years. But Lemon is not particularly "different" from what you'd expect from Mother's Children. The band has made a classic sounding record in a power pop meets '70s punk meets old-fashioned rock n' roll vein. And if all these years of tearing it up live and turning out killer EPs haven't exactly altered MC's approach to music, they've definitely made the band tighter and more proficient at songwriting. The melodies are stronger, the hooks are bigger, and the songs are catchier. What more do you need in life?! 

The first time I heard opening track "The Gang Is Back", I was floored. It's like Teenage Head crossed with The Boys, and it comes on like a lightning bolt of adolescent fun. But Lemon is no one-hit wonder. It builds off that fast start and never looks back - propelled by ridiculous drumming from Tim Ostler and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hit-worthy tuneage. Rather than opting to reinvent the wheel, Mother's Children chose to make a textbook power pop record. Recalling everyone from the Ramones to the Real Kids to solo Stiv Bators to countless skinny tie greats of the late '70s, the band tears through these 12 tracks with a crispness and energy that are completely infectious. Yeah, man: this is power pop with some real power to it! Favorite tracks of mine include the near flawless "Blue Citron Haze", the snappy "Talk To Her", and the frenzied rocker "Convince Me". But while choice individual tracks are bound to make their way onto your 2014 summer mix, Lemon is one of those albums that's best enjoyed in its entirety - preferably while you're headed to the beach or enjoying the company of a pretty girl. Every song on the album is good - and the majority of them are great!

If you've heard Mother's Children's most recent single, you know these guys are power pop super fans. But so are a lot of other bands that aren't nearly as good. What Mother's Children seems to "get" that some similar groups don't get is that the best power pop needs to be rooted in real rock n' roll. Lemon isn't just inspired by all the right bands. It's just plain inspired! The result is an album that's not only reminiscent of the classic power pop and pop/punk records of the late '70s but also capable of standing up beside them. It's been rumored that upon first hearing this album, I went out into the streets screaming for joy and forced 16 of my neighbors to listen to it. That is total exaggeration. It was only 15 of my neighbors.