Wednesday, April 29, 2015

LA Drugz: back and killing it!

I love it when a band surprises me in an entirely delightful way. L.A. Drugz first burst upon the scene with the Outside Place EP - a stone cold power pop gem and my favorite overall release of 2013. Having waited over a year for a follow-up, I would have been completely happy with "more of the same". But "All Burned Down" is something quite different - and a clear example of a band fully coming into its own sound. L.A. Drugz are a band informed not just by particular influences ('60s garage and pop, late '70s/early '80s punk) but also by the rich musical history of Los Angeles. This is an L.A. band through and through, and I think that really comes across on this amazing new single.

"All Burned Down" is a new high point for L.A. Drugz - a stunning re-imagination of late '60s pop chock full of poignant lyrics and angular, modern guitars. Big, beefy bass lines work in tandem with highly creative guitar work, and that chorus is nothing short of majestic. Of course the hooks are plentiful, and I have to recommend this track to all fans of Justin Maurer's previous bands. But this is far from a Clorox Girls sound-alike. I can think of no other band right now that's making music that sounds quite like this. 

On the flip, "Runnin'" is something new from L.A. Drugz: fast and furious punk rock. It's exciting to hear these guys put the pedal to the metal and just freaking rock out! Yet even playing with this kind of speed and urgency, the band doesn't forget about quality songwriting. The chorus is impossibly catchy, and this is a classic case of a song that's got way more going on musically than you might first realize. Just because a song is short doesn't mean it wasn't brilliantly constructed.

Having recently added Andrew Zappin (guitar) and Sharif Dumani (bass) to its lineup, L.A. Drugz may sound a little different on its next record. But as "All Burned Down" demonstrates, different can be good! I was so stoked to hear new music from this band. And now that the new single is finally here, I can't imagine it being more perfect.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nervous Talk makes an album!

I came into this year with a short list of albums I was really looking forward to hearing in 2015. The debut LP from Vancouver's Nervous Talk was most definitely on that list. I kept hearing good things about this record - months before it was actually set to release. People I respected promised it would be the next great powerpop/punk album. And I have to say: those people were right! I still can't tell you what it is about Canada that produces so much excellent music of this kind. But I can tell you that you will go crazy for Nervous Talk if you enjoy the recordings of label mates like Average Times, Mother's Children, and the Steve Adamyk Band. Out on the always dependable Hosehead Records, Nervous Talk's self-titled debut is an absolute treat for fans of both late '70s power pop and modern-day garage punk.

Taking cues from everyone from Pointed Sticks ("Introductions") to Buzzcocks ("Already Gone") to Marked Men ("Close To Death"), Nervous Talk finds the ideal blend of punky power pop and poppy punk rock on this 10-song corker. Catchy lead guitar hooks have become the hallmark of this genre of music, and the ones on this record are the strongest I've heard in a number of years. Seriously: they're perfect! Wasting no time at all, the band grabs you with the impossibly hooky "Different Person". That chorus combined with those guitar leads make for an unstoppable combination - one that will be stuck in your head all day and perhaps into tomorrow as well. And from there, there's little or no drop-off. "Already Gone" sounds like the best song the Buzzcocks never wrote, while the new wavey "No Invitations" will have you dancing and jumping around like a pre-teen on a sugar binge. And just when you think this album is going to leave you breathless to the very end, closer "Way To Go" proves that this band can slow things down and still deliver consummate power pop.

Nervous Talk's first album is everything I need a pop/punk record to be. The tunes are killer, the guitars are punched up way high in the mix, and it's not hard to imagine how crazy fun it would be to hear this record performed live. With all due respect to the late '70s and early '80s, the greatest period ever for Canadian punk rock is going on right now. And Nervous Talk is right in the thick of it.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

New single from The No Tomorrow Boys!

Can you believe this is my fifth time reviewing The No Tomorrow Boys?! It seems like only yesterday that I wrote about these Portland heartthrobs' first single. But actually, that was nearly three and a half years ago. And since then, NTB have proven to be one of the best bands in the punk/rock n' roll universe - turning out two more killer singles and a scorching debut album. With such a perfect track record, I was wondering what these fellas could possibly do for an encore. Well, now I know! For their fourth single, NTB have again hooked up with Germany's Hound Gawd! Records. This is the band's second release on Hound Gawd following the European issue of its LP. And while "Who Killed Johnny?" is as great as expected, it's also very surprising. The title track - a hypothetical look at the mysterious death of Johnny Thunders - trades in the band's usual punked-up '50s rock n' roll sound for something much closer to proto punk. And, boy, does it freaking rip! Imagine Iggy & The Stooges on a Back From The Grave kick, with Mr. Thunders himself joining in on guitar. I'm used to NTB really pushing the tempo, but here they hit you with a four-minute slow burn full of primal howling and epic guitar slinging. Brilliant! 

On the B-side, NTB continue their tradition of amazing cover songs. This time, they take on "Get Out Of Denver" - from Bob Seger's 1974 album Seven. The original is pretty formidable in its own right, but this version takes it to another level. It's fast, furious, and crackling with energy - a rendition Chuck Berry might have done if his band mates had gobbled amphetamines and set the recording studio on fire. This, my friends, is rock n' roll!

Hound Gawd! Records has been wowing me with its excellent taste in punk rock n' roll and uncanny knack for securing top-shelf material from all of its bands. This release is no different - by far the best single yet from The No Tomorrow Boys. Don't miss it!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Stalin Video: the debut album!

If you described Stalin Video as The Gaggers meet Now in 3D, you'd be literally correct. The trans-Atlantic super-group Stalin Video features members of these two recently defunct bands joining forces and merging their signature sounds. Animalistik is the band's debut album, and it's a Grade A ripper. Throw the snotty punk rock of The Gaggers into a blender with the scuzzy synth-punk of Now In 3D. Toss in a lyrical obsession with murder, torture, and large scale brainwashing. The resulting concoction is hard to swallow yet nothing short of extraordinary. What else would you expect from a band with a genocidal authoritarian dictator for a mascot?

Don't let the synths and robot man backing vocals fool you. Animalistik is not some brooding post-punk art piece. It's a punk rock record all the way - and a crackling one at that. Imagine The Screamers on a dystopian sci-fi bender, covering an entire volume of Killed By Death. The lyrical vision is deeply disturbing, yet fantastically open to interpretation. Is this a glimpse at a nightmarish future, or are we already there? It's chilling to envision killer dogs roaming the streets and evil doctors experimenting on live subjects. And "My Face On Your Head" is a mind fuck I'm still struggling to process. Yet songs like "Animalistik Journalist" and "Suspekt" seem more topical than speculative - reminders that the human horror show is already well in progress. Terminal Gagger, reborn here as Vinny Stalin, spits out every gruesome detail with a fury bordering on delirium. And musically, Stalin Video is the best of the two worlds its unites: fast and frantic, with a whole lot of electro creepiness bubbling under. This may seem like an odd choice of words, but this is a thrilling record. These songs have a way of compelling you to sing along - which is a total blast until you realize what's coming out of your mouth. I'll never look at a Lincoln Continental the same way again.

Animalistik is that rare punk rock album that manages to be different yet completely great. I have to admit I'm usually lukewarm on synth-punk. But to me, this record would not have worked without the synths. The precise combination of influences that makes up Stalin Video has yielded something truly special. And so far, it's definitely the punk rock record of the year. If you're bummed that The Gaggers are no more, the dark offerings of Animalistik ought to lift your spirits. Get it from Wanda Records!



Friday, April 17, 2015

Angry Cougars are back!

Back with their third and fourth singles, Betty Machete and The Angry Cougars just keep on killing it. For Record Store Day 2015, these Columbus, Ohio maulers are offering up an ace new single called "Guts" along with a split with hometown mates Hexers. "Guts" finds BMAC slowing the pace down a little but hitting even harder (if you can imagine that!). Think less hardcore punk and more straight-up ferocious rock n' roll - with thundering guitars and a positively menacing vocal from Ms. Machete. The brilliance of this song is that you can't tell if it's a metaphor or if she literally intends to disembowel someone. And as always, this band really excels at coming up with that perfect little hook that you never see coming until it's already stuck in your head. If you soon find yourself horrifying friends and neighbors by repeatedly singing the line, "There's no escaping/Because I love your guts!", take comfort in knowing you won't be the only one.

"Guts" is backed with an absolutely raging cover of The Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You". If you've been waiting all these years for an angry punk rock version of this alt-rock classic, BMAC have finally made that a reality. Seriously, this rendition eats the Circle Jerks' version for breakfast! From the first note, this is a band hell bent on destruction. That "I'll come picking at your bones" line, coming out of Betty Machete's mouth, has never sounded more convincing.

On the BMAC/Hexers split, the two bands take turns covering one of the other's songs. Hexers re-imagine "Damnation" as a saxophone-driven r & b shaker. I bet you never knew this was a party song! BMAC tackle "Kill For Fun" and definitely make it their own. The way the band blasts through this hard/fast ripper, it seems impossible to believe that they didn't write it! The download that comes with the record also includes the original versions of both songs - allowing you to appreciate both bands' formidable interpretations.

If you live in or around Columbus, you will find both of these new singles at area record shops starting tomorrow. Buy or be sorry!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Return of The Decline!

Long Beach punk greats The Decline are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style - with a brand-new single on Hostage Records! I first reviewed this band back in 1998 - when their debut EP The Loaded Gun was Hostage issue #8! I was blown away by the band's TSOL/CH 3 inspired sound and couldn't wait to hear more. Fast forward to 2015. Hostage remains THE SoCal punk rock label, and The Decline sounds as powerful and urgent as they did all those years ago. "Radio Revolution" is a tribute to all the legendary bands of punk rock's first wave - who came out of nowhere to change the world forever. With its raw energy, hot bass lines, and anthemic chorus, it suggests what The Clash might have sounded like if they'd been from southern California. You know I love the '77 sound, and this tune totally nails it. Whether you're 16 or 66, "Radio Revolution" will remind you of how exciting it was when you first discovered punk rock.

On the flip, "Loser Machine" is a harder, nastier blast of punk rock n' roll, SoCal style. Slot it between Bonecrusher and The Humpers on your next mix, and you will be unstoppable! It sometimes sounds disingenuous to claim that both sides of a single are equally good. But in this case, I can't imagine anyone arguing with me! While The Decline have not been heard from on record for a very long time, they never really went away. They just kept on representing for Long Beach punk rock. And when it came to the business of releasing new music again, there was little doubt they'd be bringing it hard! These are two incredible songs from a band and label that never miss. And a bonus download card gets you access to a 15-song collection of demos and lost tracks - a nice consolation for anyone who wishes The Decline had released more music over the years. Limited to 550 hand-numbered copies, this title ought to demand your immediate attention. Here's to many more years of The Decline!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Prava Sessions: American Pinup

It is my great pleasure today to spotlight an amazing band and an extraordinary endeavor from Prava Creative Studios in nearby New Holland, Pennsylvania. The Prava Sessions feature live recordings from bands of varying musical styles. The concept is simple: the studio invites bands it likes to come record live. There are no overdubs, no autotune, and no pitch correction. These are 100 percent real live recordings. Each episode features 4-5 songs broken up with interview footage of the band. The studio treats these sessions like they're making real records - minus any technical trickery. It's like a modern-day Peel Sessions. All of the recordings are fully mixed and mastered, then released on iTunes, Spotify etc. Streams/purchases from these sources support the bands and the show directly. 

One of things I appreciate about The Prava Sessions is that the studio only invites bands it genuinely loves. And it only invites bands that can hack recording live with minimal takes. The bands cover genres from punk rock and power pop to singer/songwriters, Americana, and psychedelic. The next episode, launching April 21st, should be of particular interest to readers of this blog. White Plains, New York's American Pinup has released two full-length LPs, another EP, and a split album with Lost In Society. I've always been a sucker for female-fronted pop/punk, and American Pinup offers an energetic and highly original take on the style that adds elements of indie and alternative rock. Below I have embedded a sneak peak at the band's Prava Sessions episode. Give it a look, and you'll see that this band is the real deal all the way. "Shelter" originally appeared on the 2013 album Change Machine. This live take sounds every bit as good as the studio version. And it's very clear that Lauren West's powerhouse voice requires no technological enhancement! I should add that the lyrics to this song completely blew my mind. If one of the major objectives of this series is to feature bands with actual talent, then American Pinup is a perfect fit.

The audio EP version of American Pinup's Prava Sessions can be ordered here. Going forward, Prava plans to release a new episode of these sessions every three weeks. You can access all existing episodes at the studio's web site. And if you've never heard American Pinup before, you can listen to and buy all of the group's excellent releases over at its Bandcamp. Go check 'em out!


Monday, April 13, 2015

The Easy Lovers make an album!

Having first gotten into punk rock largely due to an obsession with the Ramones, Queers, and Screeching Weasel, I'm always pumped to hear newer bands that take me back to the excitement of those times. Hailing from Norman, Oklahoma, The Easy Lovers play ballsy pop-punk with a sick & twisted sense of humor. What's not to love about that?! Get A Job, the band's long-awaited debut album, has me feeling like it's 1995 all over again. Seriously: I can close my eyes and smell the leather jacket of my youth! And while The Easy Lovers definitely fall into that familiar style of pop-punk, I don't get the feeling that I've heard this band a hundred times before. These guys take what I've always loved about this genre of music and add plenty of their own personality. You've got bratty lead vocals in the neighborhood of Sloppy Seconds or Needles//Pins, slashing guitars a la Johnny Thunders, Clash-like shout-along choruses, and lyrics I can only describe as hilariously inappropriate. I've always maintained that the best pop-punk groups are rock n' roll bands at heart, and The Easy Lovers further confirm this theory.

In a word, Get A Job is just fun. You can't have a completely bad day if this record's on your turntable. You sometimes think pop-punk and assume it's going to be a bunch of sad-sap songs about lovelorn shy guys and the girls who don't know they exist. But judging from some of these songs, I'd say that girls are well aware of these fellas' existence. And some of them probably regret it! But while the "I can't believe they went there!" effect of "Dirty Secret" or "Minute Man" is a large part of The Easy Lovers' appeal, this is far from a joke band. The awesome "Fall For You" proves that these guys can do a straight love song when they want to, while "Pills For Pills" strikes me as a pertinent commentary on our over-medicated society. And if you've ever struggled to find a niche for your band in a bar/club scene dominated by assholes and crap music, you will surely relate to the fist-pumping anthem "Blacklist".

Adding elements of '77 punk, power pop, and good old rock n' roll to the tried-and-true three-chord formula, The Easy Lovers give modern-day pop-punk a much needed kick in the pants. If I had heard Get A Job when I was 24, I probably would have run out into the street and screamed for joy until the authorities hauled me away. My actual reaction at age 44 was only slightly less excessive. Have I just made an addition to my top ten list of favorite bands? I believe so!


Thursday, April 09, 2015

New Mad Parade 7"!

Probably the most underrated of all the great southern Californian punk bands, Mad Parade has stayed true to its classic sound for over thirty years. The legends from the San Gabriel Valley are back and sounding better than ever with a new single on the almighty Hostage Records. What I like about "The Fool" is that it demonstrates why Mad Parade is such a significant band to SoCal punk rock. This is not a case of a group resting on its laurels or trying to cash in on what it used to be. If you know nothing of this band's past, hearing this record will make you wish you did! And for those of you who are longtime fans, you will not be surprised to discover that these two songs totally kill! Mad Parade, like so many veteran punk outfits, benefits from decades of musical and life experience. This band is a well-oiled machine with profound insights into life and the world we live in. But unlike so many of its contemporaries, Mad Parade has never found the need to "outgrow" the fire and fury of its early days. "The Fool" is the absolute definition of anthemic punk rock - a powerful, driving number built around a massive sing-along chorus. Even listening in my basement, I'm jumping out of my chair and pumping my fist every time that chorus hits. It's a true thrill to be able to shout along to lyrics that truly speak to me. And Billy sounds great! On the B-side, "Lovers & Strangers" is the consummate SoCal punk blaster - right down to the melodic lead guitar and stirring backing vocals. This is the vintage Mad Parade sound: aggressive and tuneful, with the kind of chorus that will make you wish you could run up on stage and join the refrain.

As Hostage releases often do, "The Fool" is selling fast. Jump on this bad boy while supplies last! In addition to these two all-new smashers, you get a download card for 10-song collection of demos, outtakes, and lost tracks from various points in Mad Parade's glorious history. This is an incredible value for $5 - an absolute treat for hardcore fans and a must-own for anyone who loves the SoCal punk sound. And with another new 7" coming out on Record Store Day, Mad Parade is totally owning 2015!


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Hot new Born Loose single!

Having recently released the Lovesores' phenomenal 10" Focke-Wulf Vs. Spitfire, Germany's Hound Gawd! Records has returned with yet another essential slab of real deal punk rock n' roll. It's like 1996 never ended! "I Loathe You" is the fourth single from Born Loose - by many accounts the best band going in New York City these days. Seeing a lineup comprised of Larry May (Candy Snatchers/The Crums), Suke (Snuka/Iron Prostate/Candy Snatchers), Shane Konen (Live Ones/Ghetto Ways), and Eric Robel (Heroin Sheiks/Nova Express), you'd assume that Born Loose has to be an incredible band. And you'd be completely correct! "I Loathe You" is an absolute ripper - a veritable hurricane blowing through your speakers. And the B-side, "Today's The Day", could have been a monster single in its own right!

If you long for the days when the likes of The Humpers, New Bomb Turks, and Candy Snatchers tore apart beer-soaked dives from coast to coast, "I Loathe You" will have you rejoicing in a great new era of Stooges/Dead Boys inspired punk rock sleaze. Hound Gawd is quickly establishing itself as a label that gets the best material from the best bands, and that's certainly the case with this fireball of a single. Larry May - in my opinion one of the greatest punk vocalists to ever shout into a mic - has never sounded better. If you're going to sing a song called "I Loathe You", you have to really mean it. And, boy, does he ever! Right off the bat, he lets out a scream that will have you questioning his mental state and/or the immediate safety of anyone in his vicinity. Then he launches into his vocal and proceeds to rip someone a new asshole. Ya gotta love it! Meanwhile, you've got lead guitars going crazy and a rhythm section propelling the action like a reckless driver aiming for a pole at 100 miles per hour. This, my friends, is the gold standard of pissed-off punk rock!

"Today's The Day" dials back the pace a little but hits just as hard - with Larry turning out another raging vocal and Suke employing his guitar like a weapon of mass destruction. I'm pretty sure that that chorus could inspire even the most mellow soul to start breaking shit and knocking heads! The song doesn't even reach two minutes, yet it leaves you out of breath and wondering what in the hell just hit you.

To the point: this is the best punk rock single I've heard in a couple of years. Procure it by any means necessary.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Küken makes an album!

Here is the entire Bachelor Records press release on Küken's debut album:
"Punkrock from Hamburg. Loud, fast and simple = good. Take a sip of this if you dare." 

Given my wish to attain greater brevity in my writing, I think that's a brilliant one-sheet. And more importantly, it totally gets it right! Küken is the new band featuring Chris and Philipp, the twins from The Kidnappers. I've been a huge fan of these guys going back to the late '90s, and I continue to be one now. Imagine The Kidnappers stripped of all their powerpop tendencies, but retaining their knack for memorable tunes and solid hooks. That's Küken. The whole band seems to be a tribute to simplicity - right down to the minimalist cover art and songs that almost never exceed two minutes. So of course the album is self-titled! I definitely sense an effort to get back to the basics of punk rock - more of a three-chord '77 type sound meets '90s garage punk. Personally, I never found any fault with The Kidnappers' musical direction. But I can't deny that Chris and Philipp sound fully energized by this return to their roots. The tougher, nastier sound really suits their talents - and they power through these 11 rippers with an energy and enthusiasm that will remind you why you fell in love with punk rock in the first place. This is an album that's very much at home on the world's premier garage punk label. The song titles alone ("5$ Trick", "House Horse Pig", "Stickmeat") make it clear that Küken is a very different band from The Kidnappers. But that's totally okay by me. Sometimes you just feel like putting the powerpop records aside and blasting the first Ramones and Saints albums until the walls shake! If you dug The Kidnappers' first LP or thought their last one could have benefited from more songs like "Nothing's Gonna Change", you're gonna love Küken!

I had very high hopes for Küken's debut album, and the boys have come through with an A+ effort! Loud, fast, and simple does equal good. Küken - alongside Needle Exchange and Modern Pets - leads a new holy trinity of German punk rock.