Thursday, August 28, 2014

Meet Radiohearts!

Due to new developments in my working life that will be demanding large amounts of my time over the next few weeks, I have decided that there will be no F & L posts during the month of September. I just won't have the time to do a proper job of listening to and reviewing new music, so I'm going to take a month off and see you all back here in October. I figured, then, that I should leave you all with something really, really awesome!

If you've been following my writings over many years - or even just in recent years - you'll know exactly what I mean when I say Radiohearts are "my" kind of band. As a young man, I used to go to record shows and vinyl shops and dig for any obscure 7" I could find from '77-'79 that looked like it might be punk rock or power pop. Even though those two scenes were supposedly very different, to my tastes they were closely related. Punks in 1979 might have wished to nuke The Knack, but in the '90s I had no problem putting "Good Girls Don't" or The Nerves' "Hanging On The Telephone" on the same mixed tape with songs from the Buzzcocks and Generation X. The Long Beach trio Radiohearts are a band born of that thrill of finding some rare power pop or punk single from that golden age of music. They marry classic new wave and power pop sounds to the melodic side of '70s punk, and their new EP "Nothing At All" could genuinely pass for one of those rare records referenced above. And while there are a lot of bands out there doing the '77 punk/powerpop thing, the cool thing to me is that Radiohearts don't sound like just another clone of the style. They have their own sound - highlighted by strong vocals from Ed Stuart and Mike Yager's nimble bass work. Here they've delivered four high quality songs - all around or under two minutes in length. I could easily slide any of these tracks onto one of my old mixed tapes! If you like upbeat, high energy punk music with a strong emphasis on hooks and melodic song structures, this EP is going to be hard to beat. Check it out!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Swears: new album!

Every New Swears album is essentially a concept album - and that concept is rocking and rolling all night and partying every day. Last year's Funny Isn't Real has to be considered one of the greatest party records ever made - and that's not hyperbole. It's just the truth! So the big question is how in the world can you top a masterpiece of debauchery like Funny Isn't Real? And the answer, I'd say, is that you don't even have to try. New Swears are back with a new LP called Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever, and it's everything I hoped for and then some. This album boasts greatly improved production, and the songwriting shows tremendous growth along with a playful openness to trying new things. But ultimately, New Swears are still New Swears. And you know what that means: crazy times and catchy songs!

The thing about New Swears is that their schtick isn't really schtick at all. Anyone who's met them or seen them live will confirm that they really are party animals of the highest order. And while Funny Isn't Real seemed to revel in these guys' depraved actions and questionable life choices, Junkfood Forever shows a tremendous awareness of the path they've chosen and its inevitable consequences. This album spends a lot of time in that moment of aftermath - when you've woken up from another night of hard partying and can't help taking stock of what all these antics might be costing you. But fear not - none of this self-awareness has yet caused New Swears to abandon such time-honored pursuits as drinking, drugging, and soliciting ladies of the evening. Junkfood Forever builds off the garage/pop/surf stylings of Funny Isn't Real and takes it to another level. Even if these lads can see that they're on a fast path to nowhere, they seem completely intent on enjoying the ride!

It takes about ten seconds for "Midnight Lovers" to establish itself as an instant anthem, and right off you just know Junkfood Forever is going to be no letdown. A song like "Main Stream" shows that New Swears have come a long way with their songwriting, yet little has changed philosophically ("Some band already did that/But we don't really give a shit/We're just having way too much fun/To care about the bull shit"). And "Stay Gold" is probably the high water mark of New Swears' career so far - starting as an honest examination of the heavy toll that too much partying can take on a person's life and concluding as a resounding celebration of the lifestyle they've chosen. I've never taken a drug in my life, and yet I can't resist the urge to sing along to a line like "I wanna smoke all my weed for free"!

I really like the feel of this record - it's a little more mellowed-out overall, but still great fun and chock full of melodies I'll be whistling for months. The acoustic number "Candyland" recalls The Replacements when they were young and fucked up, and breezy album closer "No Fun" is unlike anything New Swears have done before - showing considerable musical sophistication and a rather serious lyrical tone. Major credit goes out to the band and studio engineer Yogi Perogi for creating an album that demonstrates that New Swears actually have talent while still maintaining the fuck-all spirit of prior releases. Junkfood Forever isn't quite a sequel to Funny Isn't Real. It's more like the next chapter in a tale that will somebody be considered epic. Our boys are growing up - but not too much. Stop whatever you're doing, grab a cold brew, and get lost in the sheer awesomeness of this album! You can stream it via the Bandcamp link below and purchase the vinyl from the great Bachelor Records! North American release is coming on Dirt Cult Records on July 31, 2015.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Hail, hail, The Great Dismal Swamis!

Fuck YES! Just as I was lamenting the dearth of quality bands today playing straight-up snotty punk rock n' roll, the latest 7" from Norfolk's Great Dismal Swamis has exploded onto my radar as if by divine providence. Those of you who were around in the late '90s and early 2000s will recall just how hot that Virginia garage/punk rock n' roll scene was back in the day. Featuring members of such bands as the Candy Snatchers, Big Bobby & The Nightcaps, and The Hydeouts, The Great Dismal Swamis more than live up to their impressive pedigree on the four-song rager Phantom Toolbooth. This record immediately takes me back to a time when bands like The Stitches, Prostitutes, and (of course!) Candy Snatchers ruled the earth. I like punk music that hits me hard in the mouth yet still has a rock n' roll undercurrent to it - and that's why the Swamis have blown my ass away. Yeah, man! This is THE STUFF! "Box Wine Bitches" sets fire to my eardrums with a perfect mix of ripping '77 punk n' roll and Estrus/Crypt garage trash. "I Wanna Get Ripped" could easily pass for some obscure Killed By Death classic. I can't really find suitable words to convey how much this record rules. Just listen and discover for yourself! I'd say we definitely need more bands these days like The Great Dismal Swamis - and more vocalists like Jason Rowland! Don't miss out, folks! 


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Solicitors strike again!

Oooh yeah! The arrival of a new Solicitors single is always a celebrated event in my life, and this time the Melbourne based foursome is teasing its long-awaited debut album! If the last 33 years had never happened, surely this band would have already scored a handful of top ten singles. English-bred songwriter Lee Jones is one of the modern-day masters of the radio hook, and his penchant for crafting hit-worthy material just might be inexhaustible. Recent gems like "Quicksand" and "Help Me Forget" seemed like they'd be impossible to top. But now we get "If You Let Me Hold You", and I'm already wondering how The Solicitors will top this one! Again the frame of reference is the spiky new wave pop of the early '80s - replete with another music video in the old school style. The Solicitors' signature seems to be the catchy, sing-along chorus. And this chorus, I assure you, will definitely grab you and and compel you to sing long. You could catch a whale with that hook! With a Lee Jones song, there's always some kind of clever twist on the conventional ode to boy/girl relations. That's certainly the case here, with the sentiment of the song revolving "around emotional detachment in the face of unrequited love, but requited lust" and "the painful irony of getting what you want but not what you need". As usual, people are going to relate.

While undoubtedly influenced by the power pop and new wave greats of the late '70s and early '80s, The Solicitors continue to sound thoroughly modern and fully unique. They're riding quite the hot streak, and I am so stoked about their upcoming album, Blank Check! Look for it in October on Pop Boomerang Records! 


Thursday, August 14, 2014

A new Missing Monuments record? Indeed!

If you follow social media, you may have noticed that Missing Monuments have gone, uh, missing. No Facebook, no Twitter, no ReverbNation, no Soundcloud, no nothing. It's like Louie and the gang have disappeared from the face of the earth. Thankfully, they actually haven't! The New Orleans foursome is back with its fourth single - a co-release between the Spanish labels Kick Out the Jams, Blondes Must Die, and Ghost Highway Recordings. And it's no surprise that this thing rules hard!

Continuing in the direction of last year's superb LP on Dirtnap, the brand-new Too Many People... will surprise anyone who still perceives of Missing Monuments as a "power pop" band. It brings the heat big time! These cats take elements of garage, punk, pop, hard rock, and good old greasy rock n' roll and blend it all together until the concoction is uniquely their own. You never quite know what you're going to get with Missing Monuments, but you can always expect it to be freaking great. That's especially the case with this record - which shows that Missing Monuments have plenty of new tricks up their sleeves. "Too Many People Live In New York City" is probably the most "punk rock" the band has ever sounded. If you didn't know any better, you might think this song was unearthed from the vaults of the Southern California punk scene of the early '80s. It's got a dark, surfy vibe to it, and as always Louie and Julien tear it up on guitar! Lord, have mercy! I love the vitriol in the lyrics, and few people will disagree with the sentiment of the song. Just click play, and you will likely be singing along almost instantly. This is beach punk for people who prefer to surf the Gulf Coast. Pass the jambalaya! 

While "Too Many People" shows us a side of Missing Monuments we've never heard before, "War Is In My Eyes" infuses some familiar moves with a heavy dose of Detroit rock grime. Louie's vocal stylings are unmistakable, and of course he comes through with a big hook when you've got to have one. But don't call this power pop, man. This is kick-ass rock n' roll! I'd say more, but it's time for you to stop reading and get to buying! This release is limited to 350 copies on black vinyl, and then it's GONE. So hop to it while the hopping is good! Americans can order this title from Goner Records.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The F & L Hall of Fame: Bladder Bladder Bladder

The mid-to-late '90s revival of '70s style punk will always hold a special place in my memory. And while I fondly recall so many great bands and recordings from that time period, at the core was a trio of bands that all happened to be on the same label - Pelado Records. Since this blog began, I've written a number of times about the Dimestore Haloes and Prostitutes. But before today I had not posted on the third arm of the triumvirate - the mighty Bladder Bladder Bladder. 

Bladder Bladder Bladder were real English punks residing in Hollywood. That sounds a little bit like a movie premise, but it's the god's honest truth. They actually predated most of the '77 revivalist bands of the day - releasing their first single in 1991. The band was originally formed in England by Mick Bladder (vocals) and Alex Van Der Chaos (bass). After undergoing a number of lineup changes, the Bladder boys relocated to Los Angeles - "their cynical outlook sitting uneasily beside the swimming pools and palm trees." In L.A., they met up with London expat guitar slinger Sterling Paramour - and the classic American Bladder Bladder Bladder lineup was born. Given that English punk circa 1977-79 is my favorite music ever, it was no surprise that I immediately took to Bladder Bladder Bladder. Or more likely it was partially because of this band that I became such a geek for '77 U.K. punk. From the moment I heard Bladder's split 7" with the Dimestore Haloes, I was hooked. These guys were like nothing else that I was hearing in the punk world of 1996. They had swagger, style, and a sense of humor above all else. Their lyrics explored such topics as the glories of heavy drinking and the high strangeness of American life from a Brit's perspective. And their sound was steeped in the timeless traditions of The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Generation X. In 1997, the Pelado compilation Punk Rock That's Real gave us perhaps the two most defining songs of the band's career in the anthems "Crime Pays" and "Living A Lie". I eagerly awaited a full EP, which arrived a year later and did not disappoint. A brilliant and sadly overlooked full-length album - On The Job - followed in 2000. And just like that, the band was done - bowing out that same year with the "No Control"/"Slots Of Fun" 7" on 77 RPM Records. 

It always disappointed me that the punk world at large never fully embraced Bladder Bladder Bladder. For sure, they had a decent local following in L.A. and played shows with many of the big So-Cal punk bands of the day. And their records garnered some solid reviews in the major punk rags. But it never seemed like American punks fully "got" this band. Perhaps they were "too English" or too over the top in their mission to swankify the western world. These guys, the self-proclaimed "international ambassadors of the Britannic punk rock", may not have garnered a following like the Stitches, U.S. Bombs, etc. But if you followed that whole scene, you probably have fond memories of the compilations listed below and might have owned a single or two from Bladder Bladder Bladder. And looking at the great number of English punk bands playing in the classic style today, Bladder Bladder Bladder (along with like-minded outfits such as Apocalypse Babys) deserve much credit for keeping the fire burning back in the '90s. Check out the clips below if you're not yet familiar with this great, much-missed band. And the original records, if you can find them, are well worth owning.

Bladder Bladder Bladder Discography

Band releases
"Down Town"/"Passport To Women" 7" (Blart Records, 1991)
Bladder Bladder Bladder/Dimestore Haloes split 7" (Pelado Records, 1996)
No-Go Girl 7" EP (Pelado Records, 1998)
On The Job CD (Pelado Records, 2000)
"No Control"/"Slots Of Fun" 7" (77 RPM Records, 2000)

Compilation appearances
"Designated Drinking Driver" - on Battle For The Airwaves, Volume 1 7" EP (Radio Records, 1996)
"Crime Pays" and "Living a Lie"- on Punk Rock That's Real CD (Pelado Records, 1997)
"U.S. Dole Queue", "White American National Killer", "No Control", "Crime Pays", "Living A Lie", "Demand The Impossible" - on The British Punk Invasion Volume 5 CD (High Society International Records, 1998)
"U.S. Dole Queue" - on Scene Killer Volume 1 CD (Outsider Records, 1998)
"On The Wagon" - on Three Minute Heroes CD (Pelado Records, 2002)



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brand New B-Sides!

You may recall that my Album of the Year for 2012 was Kurt Baker's Brand New Beat. I would still probably list Brand New Beat as my favorite album of the 2010s so far. I haven't stopped listening to it in a year and a half! What you might not know is that when Baker got together with producer/pal Wyatt Funderburk to write and record Brand New Beat, they actually came up with enough material to fill two albums! The idea was to only use the best songs for the album and save the rest for singles and overseas bonus tracks. Baker and Funderburk - two of my favorite songwriters in the world - clearly knew what they were doing. But just because the track selection for Brand New Beat was flawless doesn't mean that the outtakes weren't terrific in their own right. And so now we get to hear all of them on Brand New B-Sides - available now on Bandcamp and due out on CD next month on Rum Bar Records! If you didn't know these songs were leftovers (no pun intended), you'd probably think, "Wow, Kurt Baker just put out another awesome record!"

As expected, Brand New B-Sides brings the same vibe as Brand New Beat. It's a fun pop/rock n' roll record brimming with positive energy and radio worthy hooks. Truthfully, any of these songs could have been on Brand New Beat. There's no garbage in this collection. Baker and Funderburk surely had to make some tough decisions in leaving gems like "Emma Stone" and "Quit Dancing With My Girl" off the album. But no worries - having such amazing songs in reserve allows Baker and Funderburk to tide us fans over while they work on a follow-up to Brand New Beat! The songs here hit all the usual reference points for a Kurt Baker record - with echoes of Elvis Costello (the loungey "Since You've Been On My Mind"), Thin Lizzy ("On The Run"), and even Butch Walker ("Lost In Translation"). There are also a couple of pleasant surprises in the Motown flavored shaker "Think It Over" and the near epic "City Lights" - which allows Baker to imbue late '80s synth and drum machine sounds with his special flair for pop melody. Throw in covers of Nick Lowe's "So It Goes" (given an arena rock makeover!) and Sylvain Sylvain's classic solo track "What's That Got To Do With Rock N' Roll?", and you've got yourself a damn fine album!

Alright, Kurt Baker fans! It's been a while since we've heard new material from Mr. Baker - and surely his next album will be a year or two in the making. But while you wait, dig into the special treat that is Brand New B-Sides. When even your "rejected" material is this good, that is true talent. Most bands/artists in the power pop world wish their best album was of this caliber! If I wanted to get the melody to "Emma Stone" out of my head, I'd probably have to consult a brain surgeon. Straight up, Kurt Baker is the king of power pop. Brand New B-Sides, like everything else in his catalog, is an essential purchase. 



Friday, August 08, 2014

The Number Ones make an album!

Summer 2014 - which I've deemed "the summer of power pop" - is one I'll remember for years to come. We've had amazing albums from Mother's Children, Needles//Pins, and Sugar Stems all hit the store shelves since the weather turned warm - and it's a safe bet that all three will make my year-end top five. Throw in great releases from the likes of Departure Kids, The Legal Matters, and the Steve Adamyk Band, and it's hard to deny that power pop has owned this summer! But the fun is not over! There's still plenty of summer left - and as we head down the home stretch we can now enjoy the long awaited debut album from Dublin's Number Ones!

Having wowed me in recent years with a stunning succession of 7" material, The Number Ones had me wishing and hoping that they'd finally make an album. An LP from these lads was my (no pun intended) number one musical want for 2014. And now here it is - and it's no disappointment! Essentially it's all the songs from The Number Ones' two singles plus their Italia '90 demo - along with a couple new tunes that make it clear why these guys are the hottest thing going in the power pop world!

If you're still unfamiliar with The Number Ones, think classic Irish pop/punk (Rudi, Protex, Moondogs, etc.) meets late '70s power pop. You could, in fact, convince most people that the band's debut album (out on the U.K.'s Static Shock Records) was set to be released on Good Vibrations Records in 1979. In terms of both style and fidelity, the sound is totally authentic to the period. Here, on one nifty collection, you get all your favorite Number Ones songs along with some new hits like the brilliant "Heartsmash"! A few folks might gripe about the small quantity of previously unreleased material. But I like that they did it this way and included all the old songs. 7" records tend to sell out in a jiffy these days, and there's no sense for a band to force its fans into overpaying for an out of print single just so they can hear some "exclusive" track. And the songs from the band's demo and first single have been newly re-recorded for this release. This is exactly what I want to hear from a power pop band: songs about girls, everything under three minutes, and not a trace of filler! Previous A-sides "I Wish I Was Lonely" and "Sharon Shouldn't" shine as always, while the new songs maintain or perhaps even raise the level of quality. "Heartsmash" is the kind of perfect pop song that I live to hear, while the punchy "Favourite Game" hits me straight in my '77 punk/pop happy zone.

Quite a few Irish bands over the years have been hailed as the second coming of The Undertones. The Number Ones have perhaps come the closest to being precisely that! They've certainly delivered a debut album that's up to the task - a perfect soundtrack for the optimal enjoyment of warm sunny days, time off from school, and lovely young ladies parading around in scant attire. In a perfect world, "Heartsmash" would actually take The Number Ones to #1. It, along with this whole album, will be in heavy rotation in my house for many weeks to come.


Sunday, August 03, 2014

New Muffs album....ahhhh!

What you've heard is true! The almighty Muffs have returned from a decade of inactivity with their best album since Blonder and Blonder! Can you believe it's already been ten years since Really Really Happy came out? Where did the time go! Truthfully, I don't think this band has ever made a bad record. But it has been quite some time since The Muffs truly sounded like The Muffs. Know what I mean? Obviously, you're going to stockpile some exceptional material when you wait ten years between albums (especially when you're a gifted songwriter like Kim Shattuck). But it's more than just that that brings life to Whoop Dee Doo. Returning with a renewed energy and vastly improved production, the legendary pop/punk trio is genuinely rocking again. And Kim's voice hasn't sounded this good since the mid-'90s! She howls and hollers like only she can on opening tracks "Weird Boy Next Door" and "Paint By Numbers" - a couple of songs that would not have sounded out of place on either of the band's first two albums. And from there, it only gets better. While it would be absurd to suggest that The Muffs haven't grown musically over the past two decades, this album does prove to be a return to the form of The Muffs and Blonder and Blonder. If you love those records and have been waiting for The Muffs to make another album along those lines, your ship has finally come in!

With Whoop Dee Doo, we get the best of both worlds: the punch and growl of The Muffs' early work combined with the more sophisticated, '60s pop influenced songwriting that have characterized the band's more recent releases. I feel like veteran rockers such as Kim Shattuck have so much to offer the world due to the life experience and seasoned musical chops they bring to the table. This Muffs lineup - unchanged for 20 years - sounds like it has taken a dip in the Fountain of Youth. It really shows that the band had fun making this record. Kim's lyrics - by turns scathing, tender, and hilarious - are probably the best of her career. And of course she shows her usual knack for crafting perfect pop songs. "Cheezy" and "Forever" stun with gorgeous, Beatle-esque melodies. "Up And Down Around", with its lush backing vocals and hugely hooky chorus, is the very definition of classic Muffs. And with more than a few rockers thrown into the mix ("Take A Take Me" rejoices in the band's garage rock roots), this album successfully revisits the formula that worked so well on the band's first two albums. I like The Muffs as a pure pop group but truly love them as a punky pop group. 

And at a time when so many current power pop/punk bands cite The Muffs as a huge inspiration, Whoop Dee Doo reminds us exactly why that's the case. Along with punk greats like OFF!, The Muffs are representing for the masters class and showing the young 'uns how it's done. Whoop Dee Doo will delight longtime fans. And if you missed out on The Muffs in their '90s heyday because you, uh, weren't born yet - this is as good of a place to start as any.


Friday, August 01, 2014

Earth Girls are awesome!

This is probably old news to most of you, but Earth Girls freakin' rule! The Chicago trio formed just last year and has already delivered a terrific five-song demo and one of this summer's tastiest pop treats - a delightful debut EP out on Grave Mistake Records. Singer/guitarist Liz Panella (Libyans, Siamese Twins, Broken Prayer), drummer Jeff Rice (Daylight Robbery), and bassist Joey Kappel (Broken Prayer, Boilerman, Embarrassed Teens) are all veterans of the Chicago punk/hardcore scene - and they've come together to create some of the catchiest and most high-spirited sounds I've heard in quite some time. The band plays upbeat, tuneful music that cannot be defined in terms of just one genre. It's power pop, garage punk, and indie pop all at the same time - full of energy and hooks and the undeniable sense that the band is having fun! Panella is a super likable presence on vocals, while Rice and Kappel propel the band's sprightly tunes as if they're hopped up on Red Bull. 

Released in June, Wrong Side Of History was recorded at the same time as the band's demo. It definitely possesses the fuzzy fidelity and overall rawness that you always hope to hear from the best garage bands. But you can tell they worked hard at crafting quality songs with strong melodies. This is the kind of record that will immediately put you in a good mood no matter what kind of day you're having. Think twee pop on steroids: bubbly and infectious, but with buzzing guitars and the speed & simplicity of punk. Only one of four tracks exceeds two minutes, and the energy level remains high without ever reaching the point where you have to stop and catch your breath.

On the heels of a highly acclaimed demo, Earth Girls still saved plenty of "A" material for this debut EP. I'd say that "Unavailable" and "Wrong Side Of History" rank up there with the very best tracks off the demo. I've played all the band's songs over and over, and I can't shake the feeling that I'm craving more. How fortunate, then, that they're already working on an album! If you want to feel good about life, listen to Earth Girls!