Friday, June 26, 2015

New No Problem 7"!

Over the course of the last few years, Edmonton's No Problem has established itself as one of the best hardcore punk bands out there. If you dig passionate, blistering hardcore in the vein of Canadian greats like DOA and The Subhumans, you're probably already familiar with No Problem. And if you're not, what are you waiting for?! What's been especially cool lately is hearing how this band continues to evolve and grow - most recently embracing the dark & melodic sensibilities of early '80s California punk rock. Without abandoning the power and aggression of its earlier releases, No Problem is really starting to push its sound forward. New EP Kid Killer finds the band sounding darker and more melodic than ever - its three tracks pulsing with echoes of T.S.O.L., The Adolescents, and Dead Kennedys. Opener "Killing Game" is a particular standout - coming on slowly and ominously, then exploding into a firestorm of urgent vocals and breakneck drumming. At the center of this song is a guitar line that's absolutely haunting. As the intensity of the track builds, you just can't shake the sense that you're speeding uncontrollably towards some unspeakable terror. "Eyes Of Isis" is more straight-forward racing hardcore, but every bit as bleak. And then "Never See The Sun" brings back more of the subtle foreboding of "Killing Game". Again, the guitar work completely commands your attention. And I love how the sheer fury of the vocals suits the portentous nature of the words and music. If you're gonna go dark, this is how it's done!

I don't think you can have a conversation about the best punk bands of present day without mentioning No Problem. If you like what recent bands such as Night Birds and Neighborhood Brats have done in terms of infusing hardcore punk with distinctive guitar work and tons of melody, Kid Killer is a record you've got to have. Get it from Deranged or Taken By Surprise Records!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Less Talk, More Rock!

I will be embarking on a journey of career change in exactly two months. This will involve me going back to school for the first time in 22 years. If all goes well, I will have an associates degree in accounting by June of 2017. My plan is to work and go to school - which sadly will leave me little if any time to keep this blog going. With that in mind, I see four possible courses of action for the future of F & L:

Option A would be to tweak the format of this blog. In this scenario, I would continue to share music but stop writing proper "reviews". The focus would be on posting songs for people to stream. Instead of me going on and on and on about a certain release, I would pretty much let the music speak for itself. The write-ups would be brief and to the point. This "less talk, more rock" option seems to be my preferred choice right now. I'd say there's a 45% chance of me going in this direction as of late August. Writing reviews is by far the most time-consuming aspect of doing this blog. And honestly, I don't think people come here to read my clunky prose. They come here to find out about awesome music!

Option B would be to go on an extended hiatus so I could focus fully on my studies. Essentially I'd kill the blog but leave the door open for it to be revived in a couple of years. I would also consider an eventual return to the world of music in the form of podcasting instead of blogging (Maybe after all of these years trying to be Lester Bangs, I'd rather just be Wolfman Jack).

The problem with Option B is that I know I'd miss doing F & L if I had to give it up. Music brings joy to my life, and this blog allows me to share some of that joy with you. But I am considering going this route because of the importance of me succeeding in this career change adventure. Perhaps eliminating all distractions is the soundest way to go. My wife and I are planning to relocate to the Midwest in 2017, and this cannot happen unless I become fully employable. I'd say there's a 35% chance of me going with this option.

Option C would be for me to keep this blog going as usual, but to only do 3 or 4 posts a month instead of the usual 10-15. In a lot of ways, this is an appealing choice. My goal when I started F & L was to only write about music that I really liked. And for the most part, I've stuck to that pretty well. The "problem" is that there's just so much great music out there right now! I already feel like a total asshole when good bands contact me about reviews and I just don't have the time to give them coverage. Now multiply that situation by three, and I would feel like triple the jerk! Still, I'd say there's a 15% chance of me going with this option.

Option D would be for me to keep this blog going as usual and just sleep a lot less. I'd say there's a 5% chance of me going with this option. And that's a very liberal estimate. I need my sleep!

Regardless of which option I choose, I kindly request that nobody send me records without contacting me first and making sure that I am willing and able to do a writeup on your release. I don't want anyone going to the trouble and expense of sending me promotional material unless I can guarantee a positive review. At this point, it's better to contact me with links to streaming sites (Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc.) or YouTube clips that I can directly share with my followers. If you've already sent me something to review, I will be getting to it soon. But going forward, I will not be accepting unsolicited promo packages.

I imagine I will soon begin transitioning to shorter reviews - although brevity has never been my strong suit. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for following F & L, and stay tuned for more updates on the future of this blog!


Monday, June 22, 2015

Another great album from Zach Jones!

Out of all the amazing singers, songwriters, and musicians I've had the privilege of writing about over five hundred and some posts, Zach Jones has got to be one of the two or three most talented. His 2013 album The Days is one of the true pop masterpieces of recent memory, and he's followed it up with the stunning Love What You Love. Stylistically this release is somewhat of a return to Jones's power pop roots following the soul and baroque pop turns of recent albums. But more than anything else, Love What You Love just sounds like a Zach Jones record. Regardless of which musical influences are most palpable, you can count on songs built on a foundation of melody. And that voice? Wow!

Jones, a Maine native now residing in Los Angeles, recorded Love What You Love in his apartment. He pretty much did it all: singing lead and backing vocals and playing guitar, bass, and piano. Yet even without the deliberate stylization of The Days, Love What You Love manages to evoke that same classic early '70s pop-rock sound. It's a recording as warm and sunny as California itself - rife with gorgeous vocals and truly exquisite melodies. And again, Jones has crafted a set of songs unified by a singular theme. Love What You Love is essentially an album about struggles and setbacks in life - and the good that can come from shining a positive light on such experiences. Fortunately, these lyrical ambitions are not wasted on mediocre songs. Jones has really outdone himself with these 10 tracks - delivering some of the most irresistible hooks and memorable tunes of his life. If you heard the first three songs and assumed this was some '70s singer/songwriter's greatest hits collection, I wouldn't blame you!

By design, Love What You Love has a little something for everyone. There are a number of songs that would not sound out of place on The Days, while elsewhere Jones indulges his love for everything from acoustic soft rock ("Song In The Sunshine") to '70s "AM gold" ("Away From You") to sultry rock/soul ("Lucky One") to straight-up power pop (the fantastic "Some Other Day"). Kicking off with the sheer majesty of "Everything's Fine" and unassailable '67/'68 Kinks stylings of "Hate What You Hate", this album starts off strong and continues to delight to the very end. And the song sequencing is perfect - spreading out the handful of ballads to ensure that the album never loses steam. The beautiful "Nothing's Changed", for example, has an even greater impact sandwiched between the record's two hardest-rocking tracks. And given Jones's history of exceptional album closers, it's no surprise that "Out On The Town" leaves a dramatic final impression.

Zach Jones has been remarkably prolific since going solo five years ago. Love What You Love is already his fifth album, and essentially it brings together the best qualities of the previous four. Even with a home-recording approach, he proves he can still turn out radio-worthy pop songs along side sophisticated works of melodic beauty. Without a doubt, he's one of our finest present-day songwriters. If you grew up on the timeless melodies of the '60s and '70s and find that today's music leaves much to be desired, throw some love in the direction of Zach Jones.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blank Pages: the final single

While Berlin's Blank Pages recently announced their decision to break up, at least they are going out on a high note. No Reception is their third and final 7", and it's absolutely fantastic. Both the title track and B-side "Golden Chains" bring more of that dark melodic punk you've come to expect from this band. The frequent comparisons to Red Dons or Marked Men with a Wipers influence are very on-point, and there's also a discernible feel of early '80s post-punk permeating this release. I'm notoriously finicky when it comes to "darker" music, but this record won me over easily. It's very typical of what's so good about the modern punk of recent years, yet at the same time these songs would slide seamlessly onto a mix with, say, Joy Division or The Chameleons. The tone is chillingly beautiful, and the hooks will surprise you. Miscalculations fans will definitely want to take note.

Picking up where the band's lone LP left off, No Reception is a fully triumphant farewell. Get it from Hardware Records in Europe and Dirt Cult Records  in the United States.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

New Jeanies single!

We've definitely entered a new golden age for power pop, and The Jeanies are right in the thick of it. My review of the band's debut album remains one of the most warmly received F & L posts ever. Time and time again, people have told me how much they love that record. It goes without saying that I feel the same way. I've been known to include "I Think You're The Wrong One" and "Gotta Get Back To Judy" in my mixes of classic power pop songs. And before any of us even had the chance to get antsy for new Jeanies material, the Brooklyn foursome has delivered a new single that does not disappoint!

With "Amilee" and "Bad Side", The Jeanies pick up right where they left off on their LP. Again, it's all about ringing melodies and beautifully-crafted songs in a timeless style. "Amilee" is what you might call "vintage Jeanies". Think Phil Seymour meets 20/20 - with guitars teetering between melodious jangle and full-on boogie. The main hook is simple yet so utterly perfect. And that guitar solo totally knocks me out! After just one listen, you'll be whistling this tune all day. "Bad Side" is as pristine as pop gets - sounding like a lost Big Star gem from 1972. The melody is absolutely gorgeous - as are the vocals. It's becoming clear that Joey Farber is far more than a mere disciple of the power pop greats of yore. He's a tremendously talented singer and songwriter in his own right.

In a cool touch, The Jeanies have added an early acoustic demo of "Amilee" to this release. It's really neat to hear how the song started out and compare that to how it ended up. This is a fascinating glimpse into the process of perfecting a great pop song.

While The Jeanies set awfully high expectations with their debut LP, this new single meets or perhaps even exceeds them. If you like power pop, "Amilee" has got to be in your music collection.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Mandates + Mother's Children = YEAH!

When I heard that Mandates and Mother's Children were doing a record together, I absolutely couldn't wait for it to come out! A Mandates/Mother's Children split struck me as an incredibly great idea. Here you've got two of the best bands out there - friends, tour mates, and leading players in a Canadian punk/powerpop scene that's been setting the world on fire the last few years. Really, the only way this collaboration could have failed would have been if the bands had contributed sub-par material. But come on: did you really think Taken By Surprise Records was going to sign off on a release that wasn't absolutely killer?! On the heels of a recently completed Mandates/Mother's Children European tour, TBSR presents a vinyl team-up of these two superb bands. Each group contributes an A-side caliber slice of power poppin' rock n' roll goodness. If you're a fan of one or both of these bands, you will not be disappointed. And if for some reason you're not familiar with these fine Canadian outfits, this split serves as a perfect introduction to what they're all about. Warning: this is highly addictive music. Be prepared to go buy everything that Mandates and Mother's Children have ever recorded!

This split is a power pop lover's dream. Both songs come in well under three minutes. Mandates are up first with "Sycophantic Romantic" - which mixes the bigger, tighter sound of the band's new album with a revved-up rock n' roll style that's pure thrills. This number is vintage Mandates - with guitars punched up all the way and hooks at every turn. Right on! Mother's Children follow with "No Rules", which could easily pass for some long-lost power pop rocker from the late '70s. With its hot leads, snappy beat, and infectious chorus, this song fully captures the spirit of adolescent fun. It'll make you wanna get in a car with a bunch of your friends and drive way too fast with the music cranked!

Having waited a full year to hear a new recording from one of my favorite bands, I'm 100 percent delighted with "No Rules". What an awesome song! I can't quite say that Mother's Children "won" this split, but that's only because the Mandates' half is equally great. Let's just call it a tie and proclaim the fans the true winners!


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, Pale Lips!

Not too long ago, I proclaimed Fashionism my favorite new band of 2015. But now I might have to change my mind - or at least call it a tie! Montreal's Pale Lips recently released a debut 7" called Got A Sweet Tooth. It's out on No Front Teeth Records - one of the best labels out there. Good god, I love this record! And it goes without saying that it lives up to its title!

Pale Lips sound like Nikki and the Corvettes ransacking a candy store. They describe their music as "drippy mascara-slopped rock n roll with sprinkles". Seriously: what's not to love about that?! If you're into the bubblegum punk/power pop/garage thing like I am, Got A Sweet Tooth is the treat you need! "Candy Song" is the ultimate ode to the sweet things in life, while the punkier "Sweet Dreams" imbues a sonic sugar rush with far darker ruminations (catchiest sing-along of the year: "I'm dreaming/Of killing you"). "Soda Kat" marries the two primary themes of Pale Lips' music: tasty treats and cute boys. It's hard to pick a standout track because all three could have been "the hit". I really dig the late '50s/early '60s feel of these songs, and the production is perfectly lo-fi. It's nice to hear a garage band that actually sounds like it records in a garage! I don't think it's humanly possible to make a record any more fun than this one. The brilliance/cleverness of their lyrics really set Pale Lips apart from a lot of similar bands. You wonder: can they keep coming up with these great ideas for songs? I don't doubt it for a second!

Once you finish enjoying Pale Lips' debut 7", be sure to check out their equally great demo tracks - which can be streamed free over at Bandcamp! If you long for the days when Darin Raffaelli was producing classic budget rock singles for the Bobbyteens and Donnas, "Rock n'Roll Dipshit" just might be your new favorite song!


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Meet Mono In Stereo!

A few years back, I used the term "heartland punk" to describe Nato Coles. If heartland punk is not a recognized genre of music, it probably should be. And Mono In Stereo is its next great band. Hailing from Rockford, Illinois, Mono In Stereo is largely made up of members of '90s pop-punk stalwarts Mulligan Stu. The band's debut album Long For Yesterday is out soon on Rum Bar Records - one of my two or three favorite record labels on the planet. Malibu Lou is really starting to expand the geographic base of his label. First he went across the pond to sign Los Breakdowns. Now he's got his foot in the Midwest - and it doesn't get any more Midwestern than Mono In Stereo! This band brings the true sound of the heartland: melding the seemingly disparate influences of Bruce Springsteen, '80s hardcore, modern-day alt country, and classic Midwestern punk. I'm talking sincere songwriting, no-nonsense rocking tunes, and choruses that practically explode out of your earbuds. While in many ways similar to more recent bands like The Gaslight Anthem, Mono In Stereo owes just as much to the Midwestern legacy of Husker Du, The Replacements, and Naked Raygun. Equal parts anthems, ballads, and straight-ahead rockers, Long For Yesterday throws it back to a time when alternative rock was king.

If you followed Mulligan Stu's career, you won't be shocked that Mono In Stereo has come so far from its pop-punk roots. Rare for its time, Mulligan Stu was a pop-punk band willing to evolve and constantly embrace new influences. Mono In Stereo takes that evolution to another level - demonstrating that loud guitars and big hooks still have a place in "mature" rock n' roll. Kevin, Mike, and Billy (along with new drummer Jordan Acosta) have made the best record of their lives. Far from sounding disinterested or over the hill, these guys have clearly been energized by this new chapter in their history. Typical of the work of a veteran band, Long For Yesterday pulls from a lifetime of musical influences yet comes together in a fully identifiable way. It's an album that has a lot to say about life - full of reflections on the past and hopes for the future. Fiery anthems like the title track and "Monty Nolder" ought to induce mass levels of fist pumping, while "What We Sang" is perhaps the most heartfelt love letter to the rock n' roll underground since The Replacements' "Left Of The Dial". By turns reminiscent of Jesse Malin ("Late Night Confessor"), classic post-hardcore ("Born Again To Lose"), Dramarama ("Never Coming Down"), and Steve Earle ("Another Man's Time"), Mono In Stereo's songwriting shows impressive range and a real flair for tunes that stick in your head.

Being of that generation that came of age buying tapes from SST Records and listening to early '90s college radio, I feel a strong personal connection to Mono In Stereo. This is a band that reminds me of how great "alternative" music was before it all went to shit. But I don't think you have to be of a certain age to appreciate Long For Yesterday. It's one of those albums that's just damn good. No matter what's new or "hot" in the world of music, we will always go back to those bands that craft great songs and write lyrics that speak to the human experience. The sound of the American heartland is timeless. Pop open a cold one, have a seat on your lawn chair, and let these songs sink in. It's gonna be a fine summer.


Friday, June 05, 2015

New Raydios smash!

Is it just me, or are The Raydios beginning to approach the greatness of Teengenerate? Perhaps that sounds like crazy talk, but the proof is in the pudding. It seems that The Raydios are on one of those runs where they can do no wrong. When the "Do You Wanna Walk With Me?" 7" came out in 2013, I thought it was by far the band's strongest single yet. Then "No Expectation" proved to be even better. Now "Brand New Kid" comes along and raises the bar another notch higher! The story is that Fink was so energized by playing a Teengenerate reunion that it inspired him to start writing punchier material for The Raydios. And if that was his intention, this single proves he fully succeeded! While not quite the lo-fi trash of Teengenerate, "Brand New Kid" is certainly the hardest-hitting track I've heard yet from The Raydios. The guitars are raw and absolutely ripping, and who doesn't love to hear Fink shout like he really means it?! And hidden behind those scorching leads and exuberantly shouted backing vocals is a melody you can whistle all the way home. Top notch! This is the kind of tune that we've come to expect from The Raydios: straight-up rockin' punk with quality hooks. But while "Brand New Kid" doesn't re-invent this band, it begins to wipe away the notion that The Raydios are merely the next best thing to a full-on Teengenerate re-boot.

On the flip, "My Way Back Home" opts for a pummeling slow burn a la the Dictators or Stooges. Monster riffs meet angular lead work in a way you could describe as uniquely Raydios-ish. And once that sing-along part arrives, it's pretty much impossible to avoid joining in. All in all, an ace B-side!

A co-release between Slovenly Recordings and Tokyo's Mangrove Records, "Brand New Kid" is another opportunity for those of us outside the Japanese market to score some Raydios vinyl. And if you haven't bought a Raydios release in recent years, this is definitely the one to get!


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Long overdue: my first Impo & The Tents review!

Granted: this post is a full year late. I am somewhat embarrassed it took me so long to get hip to the GREAT second LP from Impo & The Tents. But I won't let that dampen my enthusiasm! Old news or not, it needs to be said that these Swedish sensations have made an album that every reader of this blog absolutely has to hear. I'm talking five-star punk/powerpop. Don't even bother to read the rest of this review. Just scroll down, click play, and enjoy! Peek After A Poke, released on Alien Snatch Records, can be added to the list of incredible power pop albums that came out in 2014.

Impo & The Tents are very much my kind of band. Mix one part '79 pop/punk (Dickies/Undertones/Pointed Sticks) with one part late '70s DIY power pop (Shivvers/Fast Cars/Speedies). Sprinkle in some bubblegum, British Invasion, and new wave pop. Shake it up, pour it out, and savor the sweet taste of punky power pop done right! The label's description of the album is "a rollercoaster ride with 12 firecrackin' soda cans while everyone is seated in spinning bananas". That is genius. Not in a million years could I state it better than that! I knew within the first 15 seconds that I was going to love this album. And over the course of a dozen immensely catchy tracks, my instincts were proven correct! With an average length of two minutes and four seconds, you don't have to wait around for any of these songs to get to the "good part". It's off to the races and straight to the hook! For the most part, the songs are fast and upbeat. From "Yesterday's Girls" to "Peek After A Poke" to "On A Saturday Night", this album is full of songs so infectious and fun that you might not stop smiling for a week. It's like a 24-minute sugar rush of melody. If Leonard Graves Phillips had fronted Josie Cotton's band in 1982, the result would have been a song like "Shutterbug". But this group also shows quite the knack for songs that cut deeper - as evidenced by the bittersweet jangle of "That She Knows" or the '60s inspired melancholy of "Quarter To Nine".

Adding Peek After A Poke into the mix of amazing LPs from Los Pepes, The Cry!, Mother's Children, and The #1s, I have to declare 2014 to be the greatest year for punk/powerpop in 35 years. And you can be damn sure I won't sleep on any future releases from Impo & The Tents!


Monday, June 01, 2015

Introducing 12 Gauge Pinup!

Nothing gets me more pumped than reviewing The Prostitutes or any of Kevin McGovern's other bands! So it's fitting that this is F & L post #500. On multiple occasions, I've named The Prostitutes as the greatest punk band of the '90s. Kevin McGovern proved to be a force again in the 2000s - first with the short-lived Inversions and later with a California-based reincarnation of The Prostitutes. Now residing in Las Vegas, McGovern has begun a proper assault on yet another decade. And the world may never be the same. His new band is 12 Gauge Pinup. After only a couple of months together, the group has produced a debut EP called Grind. And just as I anticipated, it's a total ripper!

No matter where he lands or whom he plays with, Kevin McGovern always delivers the same level of quality. Unquestionably, he's one of the best punk vocalists of my generation. And he's one of the few genuine originals left in the punk world. He's in top form on Grind - and as fired-up as ever! We may have to wait a few more years, it seems, for a mellower Kevin. As the new band name suggests, this is not just The Prostitutes V. 4. It's a slightly different sound: darker, and with the added element of Dale Behringer's saxophone. But if you loved The Prostitutes, you will love 12 Gauge Pinup. I guarantee it! "Movin' Away" is classic Kevin McGovern, right down to the fierce, near-manic vocal. Give it a couple listens, and you too will be shouting the lines "I don't hear a single thing/When you talk talk talk talk to me!" in your best mock Kevin voice. You don't hear a lot of saxophone in punk music, but it fits in so perfectly here that you have to wonder why more bands don't try it! But while "Movin' Away" may be the obvious "hit", it's "Vegas Grind" that best showcases the distinctions between 12 Gauge Pinup and Kevin's previous bands. It builds from a menacing slow burn to the exploding raw emotion of the chorus - incorporating sax sounds that bring to mind those early Psychedelic Furs LPs. Fittingly, the song reeks of sleaze and sin and all things Las Vegas. 

Grind, along with the entire Prostitutes back catalog, is available as a free download over at Bandcamp. If you're a huge Kevin McGovern fan like I am, it goes without saying that this EP is mandatory. And for those of you not yet turned to the dark side, you can't deny that the price is right!