Thursday, January 29, 2015

Meet Duck & Cover!

In the tradition of so many outstanding Boston-based bands, Duck & Cover know how to freaking rock! On their self-titled debut 10", these scene veterans pull off one of the hardest feats in the book - mixing straight-ahead punk rock with hard rock/metal in a way that totally honors both styles. No doubt these fellas can really play. But they entirely avoid excess or self-indulgence, instead using their talents to deliver a sonic kick to the balls. The band is Chris Brat (The Acro-brats, The Throwaways, Black Cheers) along with Damien Pianka (Coffin Lids, The Throwaways, Vampire Lezbos), Daniel Sussman (Acro-brats), and Rich Hoss (Bang Camaro). I really like Chris Brat's vocal style - it's passionate and gutsy in a way that totally fits these hard-driving songs. Storming out of the gates with the killer 1-2 punch of "Alienate" and "Nowhere Fast", Duck & Cover waste no time in establishing what they're all about. These are two crushing musical blows, but at the same time they'll have you bobbing your head like a maniac. And closing track "Knock em Down" is the kind of tune that you crank at the loudest possible volume as you rejoice in the world-altering powers of rock. But this band is far from one-dimensional. "Stand Corrected" has the soaring anthemic feel of '90s melodic hardcore, while "Gather Your Strength" is a gritty blue collar rocker with a chorus that's bound to get stuck in your head. I love that Duck & Cover kick so much ass, but I also hear a songwriting prowess that has me looking forward to future releases.

Duck & Cover just had the release show for their EP last month, so I imagine that they still have some copies of the 10" (on Coke bottle green vinyl!) left to purchase. So hit up the band on Facebook if you're interested, or you can get the digital download from Bandcamp. Boston, as always, is where it's at!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Here's Fashionism!

I am unable to explain precisely why Canada seems to be owning the punk/powerpop/garage world these days. I think it might be because the beer is superior up there, but I can't say for sure. What I do know is that if you're looking for a label that's totally plugged in to the hot sounds currently emanating from up north, Hosehead Records deserves your attention and some of your cash to boot. Hosehead has worked with just about every awesome Canadian band of recent memory, and now the label is turning me on to a whole new wave of incredible groups. Average Times had one of the top LPs of 2014, and Nervous Talk's full-length debut promises to be one of this year's best albums. But my favorite new band - from Canada or anywhere else on the planet - is Fashionism. The Vancouver foursome's debut EP is out now on Hosehead, and it's ridiculously good!

Fashionism is the latest band from Jeff McCloy of Tranzmitors fame. And with members of The Jolts and New Town Animals also in tow, you would be right to anticipate something really great. Fashionism largely pick up where the Tranzmitors left off - delivering high energy poppy punk in the classic late '70s style. The difference, though, is that Fashionism injects a heavy glam influence into the mix. The three-song Smash Your State (With Your Face) brings to mind The Boys, Teenage Head, and even the first Exploding Hearts demo. The title track is every bit the sing-along funtime anthem you'd expect it to be - and it's not even the best song on the record! I'd give that honor to "Where Have All The Rock 'n' Roll Girls Gone?"- a song so buoyantly catchy that it may provoke a worldwide epidemic of jubilant youths dancing in the streets. In a similar spirit is a rousing cover of "Breaking Out" off the soundtrack to the Rocky Horror follow-up Shock Treatment. It's been a while since a band's debut has knocked my socks off like this. It's going to take a couple more top-notch releases before I proclaim Fashionism the new kings of Canada. But, wow, what a great start! If you've been digging what's been cooking up north or just love the powerpop/punk thing, this is a band you've got to check out!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Say hello to Küken!

There are already a great number of albums I'm majorly looking forward to in 2015, and one of them will be the full-length debut from Hamburg, Germany's Küken. You may know Chris and Philipp as the twins from The Kidnappers - one of my favorite bands of the past 10-15 years. Now they've started Küken, which is a clean break from the more recent power pop leanings of The Kidnappers and more of a return to basic smash-you-in-the-face garage punk. If I had to make a Kidnappers comparison, Küken sounds more like the first album and not much like the later two. The band has already released a debut single called "Black Rose", which brings to mind vintage Rip Off Records trash by way of the tougher side of '70s punk rock. As much as I love power pop, it's really cool to hear these boys going back to a leaner, meaner sound. It suits them well, and by no means have they lost their flair for catchy songwriting. They've merely channeled it in a more aggressive way, and "Black Rose" is an essential purchase if you don't own it already. Debut album is coming very soon, and you can catch a preview right here!


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mystery Date makes an album!

I've been very keen on the St. Paul, Minnesota power pop trio Mystery Date since early last year. And even with my expectations set sky-high, the band's first proper LP has totally blown me away! Not content to just rehash what they already did on their outstanding demo and singles, Mystery Date have attempted an ambitious and thematically coherent debut album. And in every way, they have succeeded in crafting a power pop masterpiece.

I've always thought of Mystery Date as a long-lost British mod revival band from the late '70s that accidentally stepped through a portal to the future and developed a fascination with early 2000s Japanese power pop. So, then, it seems perfectly natural that the group's debut album would be themed around Cold War paranoia, international espionage, and romance under surveillance. With its darker, nuclear era tone, New Noir strikes me as an album that could easily have been made in 1980. Yet it feels all the more poignant given the current state of the world. Musically, it brings together a variety of sources of inspiration. I hear some of Elvis Costello's vocal mannerisms, The Jam's punchy guitars, the Only Ones' tortured romanticism, the Buzzcocks' melodic chord progressions, and First Alert's vibrant modern inflections. Yet overall, Mystery Date have really found their own sound here. Jagged guitars work in perfect unison with a sharp, snappy rhythm section. And Johnny's vocals, full of understated despair, are ideally suited to articulate these tales of forbidden and ill-fated romance. The songs have a way of slowly sneaking up on you - with hooks that require repeated listens before they really sink in. But once they do sink in, it's absolute melodic bliss.

While still operating within the bounds of mod-punk and power pop, Mystery Date have managed to do something genuinely different. I wouldn't call this new wave, but there are major elements of that going on. I wouldn't call this garage, although the minimalist production does fit the bill. I would call this a bold and highly creative work of loud guitar pop. Its vision is cinematic without being pretentious, and its songs will be stuck in your head for weeks. Listening to "Foreign Affairs" or the back-to-back gems "Cosmos" and "Wouldn't You Like To Know", I'm struck by the progression Mystery Date have made in such a short amount of time. Sure, they could have made a debut album that sounded exactly like their singles - and nobody would have complained. But New Noir is a delightful surprise. In its explorations of Cold War romanticism, it has a great deal to say about what it means to live and love in today's society. New Noir kicks off what looks to be another amazing year for albums. Get it from Piñata Records!


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Los Breakdowns do America!

In all my years following music, I can't remember a scene that ever thrilled me more than that wonderful late '90s strain of glam-punk. That was an incredible time to be into glamorous rock n' roll. You had a whole new generation of bands doing power pop and melodic rock by way of the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, and Hanoi Rocks. With very little recognition or adulation, bands like the Beat Angels, Trash Brats, D Generation, Teenage Frames, American Heartbreak, and my beloved Dimestore Haloes made some of the most exciting and enduring music of their time. And now, delightfully, the latest album from Los Breakdowns takes me back to those days. 

Los Breakdowns - out of Nottingham, U.K. - have been making excellent power pop and rock n' roll for a decade now. Rock 'N' Roller Skates is the band's third LP - and it's poised for an American release on the fabulous Rum Bar Records early next month. I highly recommend all of this band's previous releases, but Rock 'N' Roller Skates takes things to a whole other level. This is the strongest and best-produced collection of Breakdowns songs to ever see the light of day, and again this band is a tremendous combination of just about everything that's good in pop, punk, and rock n' roll. Cheap Trick and the Ramones remain obvious reference points - along with Hanoi Rocks, the New York Dolls, and glam-pop greats like Candy. From the hard riffs and handclaps of "UK Youth" to the high-spirited pub rock of "Dancehall Disaster", this album is absolutely stacked with smash hits. And given that this record was written over a fairly long period of time, the great variety of song styles is not surprising. From the candy-sweet power pop of "Waiting On Perfection" to the doo-wop balladry of "It's Only Love" to the exultant Ramonesy thump of "Stick 'Em Up Buddy", there's something here for everyone. "Rock City Limit" sounds like a long-lost D Generation anthem, while "Mainline Waiting" is classic glam power pop in a Candy/Beat Angels mold. Lead guitarist Matt Julian is a gifted songwriter and one of the shining stars of a vibrant underground rock n' roll scene in England. If he's the Andy McCoy of the band, Joe Maddox is Los Breakdowns' own Michael Monroe - a charismatic singer perfectly suited to the glammy side of rock n' roll and power pop.

While Los Breakdowns remain largely unheralded in the States, an American release for Rock 'N' Roller Skates could change that in a big way. This is definitely an album that ought to have people mentioning Los Breakdowns alongside all the top garage/power pop/rock n' roll bands of the moment. And it certainly won't hurt that they're now label mates of The Connection and Kurt Baker! Rum Bar Records has quickly become one of my favorite labels, and it's great to see the label looking beyond its New England base and signing one of the finest bands the U.K. has to offer. Rock 'N' Roller Skates has been a fixture in my car CD player since I first popped it in there ten days ago. I imagine your experience will be very much similar to mine. These songs are just so catchy and fun, and it's been a little while since I enjoyed a new album this much. This is glam-punk just the way I remembered it - and it's sounding as timeless as ever.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Meet The Spectres!

Who's up for some really good garage stuff?! The Spectres are a two-piece out of Pittsburgh who recently issued a demo you can download for free or purchase on cassette. Sometimes when you hear "demo", you expect garbage fidelity and a lot of songs that might be considered "works in progress". But What Will It Be is not that kind of demo. For a garage release, I'd say this is an album-quality offering. Is it raw? Of course it is. But that's the whole point! And what really sets The Spectres apart is that these two know how to write good, rockin' tunes. With one guy playing guitar and the other playing guitar and drums, this is a duo that actually sounds like a full band! Style-wise, Dan and James recall both classic '60s garage rock and the lo-fi garage punk of a more recent vintage - with some instrumental surf thrown in for good measure. Tracks like "Loving Touch" and "My My My" are high quality blasts of Nuggets/Back From The Grave type action, while "I Want Her So" and "I Know" suggest '90s budget rock with a late '50s/early '60s rock n' roll influence. "I Still Want You" brings to mind a trashed-out Dion and the Belmonts - something really freaking cool in my book! These guys hope to enter a studio in the near future to record some new tunes and perhaps re-record a few songs off this demo. If What Will It Be is any indication, a proper release from The Spectres is definitely something to look forward to in 2015. These fellas do garage rock right! And it's always great to see cool bands representing for my home state!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1995 Revisited

These 20-year flashback posts are always a lot of fun, but this one has been especially enjoyable to prepare. 1995 was the year I got my start in the record-reviewing racket. And while my brief "retirement" circa 2008-2011 precludes me from truly saying I've been in the zine/blog game for 20 years, I feel a special nostalgia now that we're exactly two decades removed from 1995.

I came upon the punk world a little differently than the typical person. I grew up on classic rock and metal and did not, as a teen, have much awareness of any music outside of the mainstream. That very much changed in the wake of Nirvana mania, and the latter half of my college years were largely spent in vast explorations of this new and exciting world of indie/alternative/underground music. I read every alt-rock rag I could get my hands on and bought all kinds of new music without any regard for specific sub-genres. Some of it I liked, and a lot of it I didn't. And after a couple years of trial and error, it became obvious to me that the punk stuff was what really spoke to me. So much of what was passing for "alternative" music struck me as a little too high-brow or just simply not my taste. But punk rock was pure simplicity and excitement, and I just loved the way it mixed a primal aggression with catchy songs you could sing along with. I knew this was my music. And while I didn't particularly care for the offerings from the bigger punk labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck, the underground pop-punk scene and nascent '77 punk revival were so exciting to me that I was inspired to start spreading the gospel via the printed word. These were exciting times to be a fan of punk music. You'd see an ad or a review in Maximumrocknroll, stuff some cash in an envelope, and wait by the mailbox for 2-3 weeks anticipating the arrival of your prize. There was never any guarantee that you were going to love every record you bought, but there was always that thrill in taking chances on bands and labels that were entirely unknown. As I look at my list below of the best punk rock records of 1995, I realize that I had not heard of most of these bands prior to that year. And it should also be noted that many of these bands became longtime favorites of mine. That's what I mean when I say that 1995 was my 1977. 

On to the list!

Top 12 Albums of 1995

12. The Loudmouths - self titled
Straight from the band bio: "In the hell for leather tradition of three-chord sleaze n' roll, The Loudmouths spit out angst-ridden, feline-charged power trash and booze-soaked thrash that taps into the energy of early '80s hardcore and leaves behind a trail of blown ears and broken beer bottles." Yeah, that pretty much sums it up! Two decades later, Dulcinea is still going strong with Midnite Snaxxx!

11. Green Day- Insomniac 
I always liked Green Day and never particularly cared whether they were "punk" or not. My first "big move" in the zine world was to make it clear that I did not side with the punk purists and anti major label zealots who made a sport out of bashing Green Day in the mid-'90s. My favorite Green Day albums are still the first three, but I'd put Insomniac in a dead heat with Nimrod for fourth. 

10. Trash Brats- The Joke's On You
The glam-punk thing was still a few years away from really catching on, but in 1995 the Trash Brats were already longtime fixtures in Detroit's rock n' roll underground. With its perfect marriage of Cheap Trick and the New York Dolls, The Joke's On You was perhaps five years ahead of its time (or maybe 18 years behind it!). Either way, this album is a true classic of its form. If "Downtown Nowhere" doesn't make you happy to be alive, there's probably no hope for you.

9. Riverdales- self titled
Say what you want about old Ben Weasel, but this album is a fine example of what Ramones-core is supposed to be.

8. Electric Frankenstein - The Time Is Now!
Electric Frankenstein was one of the bands most responsible for reviving "old school" punk in the mid-'90s. Released on the heels of several outstanding singles, this monster collection combined the aggressive guitars of Detroit rock and Aussie punk with the snarl and sleaze of bands like the Dead Boys. Over the years a lot of bands would come on the scene with their own blends of hard rock and punk, but nobody did it better than E.F.!

7. The Queers- Move Back Home
If it seems like The Queers put out a great album every year between 1993 and 1996, that's because they did! Absolutely the greatest pop-punk band of the '90s.

6. Boris The Sprinkler - Saucer To Saturn
Still the Boris album I'm most likely to listen to. Fave tracks: "I Wanna Get To Third Base With You" and "Superball Eyes".

5. Motards - Rock Kids
A true classic of down-and-dirty drunken garage punk awesomeness. Then, as now, Austin had it going on.

4. U.S. Bombs- Put Strength In The Final Blow
When I think about '90s punk rock and why it ruled, the Bombs are always one of the first bands to come to mind. They put their own So Cal spin on the classic '77 sound and consistently made great albums. I don't think they fully hit their stride until War Birth, but I do love the pure rawness of this debut LP.

3. The Muffs- Blonder And Blonder
In my personal experience, the debate as to whether the second Muffs album is better than the first Muffs album has led to many shouting matches and late night brawls. I still think the self-titled album is just a little bit better overall than Blonder And Blonder. That said, I will say that side one of Blonder And Blonder is as good as any album side I've ever heard. It still boggles my mind that this album was on a major label at the absolute peak of the alternative rock craze and still couldn't get a lick of radio support. What kind of clueless fucktard actually thought that Jars Of Clay or Dishwalla were more worthy of airplay than The Muffs? No wonder the "music revolution" failed!

2. Oblivians - Soul Food
Without question one of the most important and enduring artifacts of '90s garage punk, Soul Food managed to throw The Stooges, Sonics, and Killed By Death comps into a blender with the traditional sounds of Memphis to create a musical concoction unlike anything the world had ever heard. A masterpiece of wild and trashy rock n' roll.

1. Swingin' Utters - Streets Of San Francisco
The Utters in the mid-'90s were pegged as modern disciples of The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, and to a certain extent that was true. But they were so much more than that. Their songwriting (largely by guitarist Darius Koski) took some influence from traditional American genres like folk and bluegrass. And lyrically, the band was surprisingly poetic for a group so often pigeonholed as "street" punk. In more recent years, the Utters have more overtly embraced the sounds of Americana. But circa Streets Of San Francisco, they were still incorporating the spirit of those influences into a straight-ahead punk rock sound. Streets Of San Francisco is fiery, passionate, and hands down one of the best punk LPs of the 1990s. 

Honorable mentions:
Beatnik Termites - Taste The Sand 
Gaunt - Yeah, Me Too
Zoinks! - Bad Move Space Cadet
Sicko - Chef Boyrudum

As good as the LPs were in '95, the EPs and singles are what I recall the most fondly. A top ten would be insufficient - so here's 20!

Top 20 Singles/EPs of 1995

20. Moral Crux/Boris The Sprinkler split 7"
19. Hormones- Cartographer Of Love
18. Parasites- Burnt Toast
17. Dead End Cruisers- The Suave The Distant The Gay The Scummy 
16. Connie Dungs- Missy And Johnny
15. The Invalids - Punker Than Me
14. The Queers- Surf Goddess
13. Vindictives- Alarm Clocks
12. Registrators- Monkey
11. Jake and the Stiffs - Spike  
10. Boris The Sprinkler- Drugs and Masturbation
9. Automatics - All The Kids Just Wanna Dance
8. Problematics - Blown Out
7. The Crumbs- I Fell In Love With An Alien Girl 
6. The Rip Offs - Go Away
5. Johnny Bravo- She's Walking Out Again
4. The Beltones - Lock And Load
3. Teengenerate - Out Of Sight
2. Nobodys - Politically Incorrect 
1. The Stitches - 8 x 12

Honorable Mentions:
Teen Idols/Mulligan Stu split 7"
The Rehabs- Here Come The Rehabs
Grieving Eucalyptus- Johnny Made Me Do It

Of course the above lists don't even begin to summarize the wide variety of punk music that came out in 1995. But they do give you an idea of what I was listening to in '95 and why I might have been inspired to start writing about music. I didn't really start getting into garage punk until a couple years later. But when it comes to the '77 and pop-punk stuff on these lists, I pretty much bought all of it when it was new. And if it seems my tastes haven't changed a whole lot in 20 years, I'd say that's very true!


Monday, January 12, 2015

Return of The Ex-Gentlemen!

Having last reviewed The Ex-Gentlemen way back in 2011, I was delighted to discover that this L.A. outfit is still alive and kicking! The band recently issued a new EP called Better Late Than Never - its first new music in four years. And given the significant time between releases, it's no surprise that the group's sound has evolved a little. When I first reported on The Ex-Gentlemen, they were doing a  straight blend of '77 punk and old school power pop that hit me right in my sweet spot. And while I still hear some of the same influences (Cheap Trick, Generation X), this new record leans more in a pure pop direction a la U.K. standouts Role Models. On this excellent five-song effort, the band embraces massive production and melodramatic choruses reminiscent of '80s radio hits. "Bloodshot" kicks things off with some sing-along punky pop that could not be any catchier. It's a great example of how a gifted songwriter can take downer lyrics and somehow craft the feelgood song of the year! And once you get to "Make You Love" and "Brazen Bets", it's clear how far The Ex-Gentlemen have come. I just love those backing vocals and lead guitar hooks! I can't help thinking this is what those late '80s Cheap Trick radio hits should have sounded like. Closing number "All Night" seems a slight tip of the cap to Billy Idol, and that's not a bad way to go at all. I'm impressed that this record is way different than the last one - yet equally good. If commercial power pop were still actually, uh, commercial, these guys would be the hottest thing in SoCal!


Thursday, January 08, 2015

So What!

If you're not yet familiar with the hot new sound known as "hard 'gum", that's because the term was only recently coined by the Oakland foursome So What. As you may have gathered, hard 'gum is short for "hard bubblegum". So you know what to expect: sticky-sweet tunes, but with a sharp enough edge to do some serious damage to your teeth! Hailing from an area that's become quite the hotbed for bubblegum and glam rock in recent years, So What are worthy ambassadors for a hard 'gum craze that's poised to go global and perhaps even intergalactic within the next calendar year. In terms of sound and packaging, the band's debut 45 could easily pass for a long-lost junkshop glam single from the early '70s. That's completely by design, as So What indulge their love for the likes of The Jook, Slade, pre-disco Giorgio Moroder, and (especially!) The Equals. "What You Do To Me", penned by Jason Duncan (The Easys, Just Add Water Records), is a high energy rocker with a total "clap your hands, stomp your feet" vibe to it. Punch this baby up on any jukebox, and the dance floor will light up! It was written as an homage to The Equals, and I have a feeling it's going to have a lot of people seeking out more information on one of the most criminally overlooked bands of all-time. B-side "Creeper Joe", written by Robbie Van West, brings more of a classic bubblegum glam sound. It's got those hard, crunchy guitars and a chorus that will compel you to sing along the instant you hear it. And since everyone knows someone like this song's titular character, any violence suggested in these lyrics will be unanimously applauded. Good god, what a catchy tune!

With So What already working on a full album and perhaps another single as well, "What You Do To Me" is a great opportunity to get in on the hard 'gum ground floor before all your friends and neighbors beat you to it! You get two killer tunes with classic mono sound - and the artwork/packaging is stunning! That's a deal and a steal for six bucks! Or if you're thoroughly modern and just want the download, that's the best $3 you'll spend all year. Whether you're a longtime glam rock fanatic or just someone who loves great rock n' roll with hooks, So What is a band you need to hear!


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

New Beat Angels song! (Sort of)

I'm gonna keep this short since you need to hurry up and get to downloading! For a limited time (meaning exactly a week), Heritage Hump Records has made "She Shoots Starlight" by the late, great Beat Angels available as a free digital single. It goes without saying that this is an absolute gem of a pop song. It's off the famously unreleased third Beat Angels album - recorded with producer Gilby Clarke back in 2001. Who knows if that album will ever get a proper release? And next Wednesday, "She Shoots Starlight" will either disappear from the face of the earth or become absurdly priced-up. So download it today and join me in wondering why Beat Angels weren't loved by millions!


Monday, January 05, 2015

Meet The Jeanies!

Being someone who loves power pop, I was completely in my glory in 2014. I can't remember a better year for power pop in my adult life, and it was finished off in style by a wonderful debut album from The Jeanies. Released December 19th on King Pizza Records, the Brooklyn band's self-titled cassette recalls a particular strain of classic power pop that's very close to my heart. A la Dwight Twilley, Shoes, Phil Seymour, and 20/20, The Jeanies favor minimalist production and timeless songwriting inspired by the ringing melodies and romantic sensibilities of  '60s pop. In a modern context, a lot of people might hear The Jeanies and call them "garage". And that's perfectly okay with me, because it underscores the fact that this is a rock n' roll band first and foremost. If there's one area where newer power pop bands sometimes falter, it's in not having that rock n' roll foundation. The Jeanies get it right - taking their cues not just from a legendary wave of power pop bands, but also from Brill building pop, '60s soul, the British Invasion, girl groups, and doo-wop. And all the way down to the use of analog cassette equipment, the band's sound is so authentically '70s power pop that it could easily pass for the real McCoy. So, yes, The Jeanies bring to mind all those '60s-inspired power pop bands of the late '70s and early '80s. And if you don't understand why that's a really good thing in 2015, you probably aren't reading this blog in the first place!

What I appreciate about The Jeanies is that they capture not just the sound of classic power pop, but also its spirit. Singer/guitarist Joey Farber is a fine songwriter with a deep affection for an era of rock n' roll that celebrated teenage romance above all else. If you share my mindset that there is nothing better in life than falling in love and nothing worse than breaking up, The Jeanies are a band you will surely "get". Farber is like a modern day Marshall Crenshaw or Tom Petty - a rock n' roll traditionalist with a keen ear for melody. And he's crafted a splendid collection of songs on this excellent debut. Opening tracks "I Seen Her Dance" and "I Think You're The Wrong One" (the best 20/20 song I've heard in decades!) would both be hit singles if 1979 had never ended. But while power pop has always been a singles genre, the best bands always manage to deliver front-to-back strong albums. And that's exactly what The Jeanies have done here. Touching on everything from rootsy rock n' roll ("The Girl's Gonna Go") to Byrds via Petty jangle ("Believe Me Jenny") to doo-wop/girl group harmonics ("That's The One") to '66 Who stylings ("The Kids Are No Good"), this album is like a tour through the history and pre-history of power pop. And it's given such a fresh treatment that it will appeal not just to teenagers at heart, but also to actual teenagers (albeit ones with very good taste).

At some level, this is music built on a nostalgia for a time long passed - when young men still daydreamed of accompanying pretty girls to malt shops and three minute pop songs ruled the radio. But The Jeanies aren't so much attempting to turn back the clock as they are trying to keep a timeless musical form alive. I can't help but be impressed with the quality of the song craftsmanship and the crisp execution of the harmonies. I've been collecting classic power pop records for most of my life, and The Jeanies' first album easily slides in there with the best of 'em.


Friday, January 02, 2015

New Piss Test 7"!

So who's the best punk rock band out there right now? Whenever this question comes up, I can always think of four or five bands that have to be in the conversation. And one of them, without question, is Piss Test. In 2013, this Portland, Oregon trio debuted with one of the greatest punk rock EPs of recent memory. A follow-up album in 2014 was freaking killer as well, and now the band is back with another ripper of an EP. Out on Germany's Taken By Surprise Records, this is the second self-titled EP from Piss Test. And how can Piss Test get away with having multiple self-titled EPs? Because they're Piss Test, and they can do what they want! The band is billing this new release as ST EP2. Taken By Surprise calls it Second 7". I refer to it as the "black and white record". If all of this seems highly confusing, I would just recommend buying everything Piss Test has released to date and then making up your own titles. To me, that's a solution that benefits humanity as a whole.

Whatever you choose to call it, this new record is every bit as raging as I anticipated. Piss Test continues to play awesome snotty punk rock in a Killed By Death/early '80s hardcore vein, and again Zach lives up to his billing as the angriest man in Portland. Except now I'd say he's earned a promotion to angriest man west of the Mississippi. Expect the medal ceremony to be televised. As always, his ability to combine scathing mockery with clever observational humor makes him somewhat of a lyrical genius. No doubt, songs like "Leather Jackets In The Heat" and "Nick Cave Phase" will have people screaming, "Oh my god! He's so right!" Zach is an intelligent and provocative songwriter, and it's always fun to find out what he's going to say next. But it's not just what he says - it's how he says it. The dude's just an incredible punk singer. I love how his vocals teeter between super pissed-off and downright maniacal. And musically, Piss Test has never sounded more fierce. If you were hoping for another sing-along anthem along the lines of "Frigid Punks", "Leather Jackets In The Heat" is exactly that. And "Bad Seed" takes the band to new heights of ferocity.

For the third time now, Piss Test has blown me away with a totally smoking release. And by all accounts, these folks are even better live! Is this one of the best punk rock bands out there right now? No doubt about it!


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Meet Pronto!

It seems like one of my annual rituals for the month of January is to post on an album from the previous year that probably would have made my year-end top ten if I'd only heard it on time. And even as stacked as my 2014 top ten turned out to be, the debut album from Pronto would surely have cracked the list or at least earned an honorable mention. Given that it's totally up my alley, I'm somewhat embarrassed that I did not get hip to When You're Gone far sooner than I did. I became aware of the album very late in the year and just didn't have the time to give it multiple spins until the clock had run out on 2014. But when it comes to discovering great music, it's never too late. So I'm kicking off a new year on a strong note! 

Pronto is a Melbourne punk group made up of members of Gentlemen, Chook Race, Chugga and the Fuckheads, School Damage, and Drug Sweat. The band set out to be a classic power pop group a la Milk 'N' Cookies or The Quick but quickly realized that its talents were more suited for straight-up punk rock. And that turned out to be a stroke of good fortune - because Pronto has captured a sound that's unlike any other band's. These guys take '70s pop/punk and power pop influences and infuse them into a raw and aggressive punk style that brings to mind Killed By Death comps and the best of '90s garage-punk. If you normally pass on today's powerpop/punk stuff because it's too clean or lacking balls, When You're Gone will be music to your ears - literally! I know they aren't stated influences, but I can't help being reminded of the first Damned and Clash albums. There's such rawness and explosive energy to the music, but with genuinely great tunes. And I love the idea of a band trying to write pop songs but playing them like punk songs. Pronto thrashes through these 11 tracks with wild abandon, and you're gonna love every minute of it!

When You're Gone pulls you in with two of its poppiest tracks. "Cry" is rambunctious, catchy, and perfectly placed as an album opener. With its its chugging tempo and shout-along backing vocals, "Sick Of You" is an absolute blast. But once you get to "Daddy", it's obvious that Pronto is no power pop group. And that's when this record really hits its stride! Jack might not sing "pretty", but he can scream and shout with the best of 'em. And Pronto is really in its element playing furious, fist-pumping numbers like "Shut Up" and "Soldier". Even when the songwriting is overtly melodic ("Call You Up"), you get the sense that anyone could learn how to play this music. And that's the beauty of Pronto. They play punk rock the way it was meant to sound - simple, exciting, and fantastically primitive. Without even trying, Pronto has essentially made a classic 1977 punk record. Blast it at max volume while you jump around like a maniac!