Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Stops make an album!

Self-described as "5 girls playing punk", The Stops are quickly becoming one of my favorite new bands. Set for release on Dirt Cult Records (USA) and Sabotage Records (Germany) is the debut LP from this fab Portland outfit. Nameless Faces is the name of the album, and it definitely adds to Portland's reputation as an epicenter for dark melodic punk (see also: Observers, Red Dons). The Stops are talented individuals who've cultivated a unique sound - combining the seemingly disparate influences of The Wipers, Adolescents, and early Go-Go's. They kinda come off like an American counterpart to Terrible Feelings - except they're more straight-forward punk rock and not quite as bleak. Still, if you enjoy that blend of melodic hooks and darker lyrics, The Stops are a band you won't want to miss. Lead guitarist Ruby is an absolute force. Out of the many guitarists of the moment playing in that classic Rikk Agnew style, she's one of the best I've heard. This record is loaded with top-notch guitar hooks, and they fit in perfectly with the band's songwriting style.

Sometimes bands with "darker" musical visions come off a little cold, but The Stops are not that kind of band. They're at their best on emotionally charged tracks like "Strangers" and "Wasted Excuses". These gals really nail that hard-to-attain combination of all-out urgency and more subtle ominous touches. And with its mix of fiery, lashing punk ("Repulsive") and more refined dark pop ("Another Day"), this is not an album that's going to succumb to "every song sounds the same" syndrome.

Recorded with Adam Becker at Red Lantern Studios and mastered by Daniel Husayn at North London Bomb Factory, Nameless Faces is a huge leap forward for The Stops in terms of production. But even if you dug the home-recorded sensibility of the band's demo from last year, I think you'd have to admit that the cleaner, crisper fidelity only enhances the power of this band's music. Nameless Faces is an excellent first effort from a very promising up-and-coming band. It's available for download now, and vinyl releases in September!



Monday, July 27, 2015


I talked last month about major changes in my life leading to major changes to this blog. In exactly four weeks, I will become a college student for the second time in my life. I will be losing approximately 14 hours per week of free time. Clearly, I will not have the time to keep F & L going the way it's been going (I spend at least 3 hours per week maintaining the blog now). After pondering multiple courses of action, I have come to the conclusion that completely ending this blog would be taking it way too far. When it comes to budgeting free time, I'd much rather sacrifice a few hours of perusing Facebook or watching junk television than give up a blog that's this fun to do. And truthfully, the type of music I feature is going so strong right now that I simply can't not write about it! I mean, come on. Did I ever really believe I wasn't going to review the new albums from Night Birds and Kurt Baker?! I'm just not ready to put F & L to bed. In a worst-case scenario, I might take a brief hiatus in September to give myself a chance to acclimate to the life of a full-time employee and half-time student. 

What I've decided to do instead of killing the blog is to cut back on both the length and frequency of my posts. My attempts to start transitioning to shorter reviews this month have not been overly successful. But, you know, I'm trying. And just for the sake of my personal sanity, I will need to limit myself to only 3 or 4 reviews per month. In a way, that will be the best thing for F & L. I don't perceive of myself as an authority on music or as an exceptional writer. What I think I have going for me is a sheer love for music and a knack for expressing enthusiasm. I like the idea of getting back to my original vision of only writing about the releases that I'm most excited about. Of course, this means that I won't be able to review even half of the music that bands and labels submit to me. I apologize in advance. Please keep in mind that I'm just one guy blogging in his spare time.

So this is important: please do not send me records! I don't want anyone going to the trouble and expense of sending me physical review material when there's no way I can guarantee it will be reviewed. I do love hearing from bands and labels, but I must insist that all submissions be digital.

I thank all of you who have followed this blog over the last four years. I appreciate all the recent feedback on how I should proceed, and I am eager to continue spreading the gospel. F & L, I believe, will actually benefit from a streamlined format!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Say hello to The Furies!

Have you ever found yourself cleaning your house, and then suddenly you unearth a $20 bill that you never even knew you had? There's nothing sweeter than spending that money. It's like a gift from the gods. That's kind of how I felt recently when I was going through my old drafts. I came upon some notes I'd taken on The Furies out of Portland. I had started this review back in March. And for whatever reason, I got sidetracked. The draft literally got pushed out of sight. When I rediscovered it, I played the EP and had my mind blown. Right off, I knew this had to be my next F & L post. So here you go, world: the review that took four months to complete!

I suppose you could describe The Furies as a garage/rock n' roll/power pop super group. This band is Matt from The No Tomorrow Boys along with members of The Cry! and Youthbitch. Yeah, I know: that sounds like a band I should have written about months ago! Sometimes you put a lot of cool people into the same band, and the results end up disappointing. Well, that is definitely not the case here! The Furies' debut EP is a $4 download from Bandcamp and worth every penny. What I love about these guys is that they take inspiration from classic '60s rock n' roll yet don't sound like the typical revivalist band you've heard so many times. They have a unique sound with a lot of different dimensions to it. "Hey Little Girl" is jangly and surfy and positively mesmerizing. "Hey Mister DJ" would fit perfectly on a compilation of late '50s/early '60s heartbreak ballads. "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me" is a cover of an old western standard - performed like you've never heard it before. "Kim", which just might be my favorite song of the year, carries the torch for Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller. That melody has been stuck in my head all week, and I couldn't be happier!

The Furies are a band that should appeal equally to oldies rock n' roll nostalgists and avid followers of today's garage/punk/powerpop scene. While they're clearly inspired by the golden age of rock n' roll, they're far from stuck in it. And they definitely hit the darker edge of garage power pop (think Stiv Bators or The Barracudas). As far as I know, The Furies don't yet have any kind of social media presence. So much about this band remains shrouded in mystery. Luckily, the music speaks for itself. Push play and discover one of the best new bands out there!



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Meet Genuine Parts!

With so many bands today vying for the role of the modern-day Nikki and the Corvettes, I've found myself wondering who might step up to fill the shoes of The Runaways. I believe I may have found that band in Genuine Parts - a foursome out of Oakland's thriving denim and leather rock n' roll scene. The lineup is Danielle Agnew (guitar and vocals), Layla Cooper (drums and vocals), Rachel Chavez (guitar and vocals), and Analisa Six (bass and vocals). The band just played its first show in May, and a recording session with Terry Six at Tuff Break followed in June. I like to imagine these gals all rode motorcycles to the studio. Up now on Bandcamp are two official demos - and they're killer! "Never Slow Down" is great straight-forward rock n' roll with cool lyrics about a totally bad-ass chick ("Watch out boy, she'll steal your heart/Watch out boy, she'll tear you apart"). I dig the Joan Jett via Chuck Berry feel of this number, and the chorus offers words to live by. This is sounding like the next great rock n' roll anthem. That guitar solo is hot! "Wild Tonight" slows the pace and flirts with power pop tendencies. It's got a solid hook, and again the solo is gold. The theme of this song is living free and refusing to be tamed. It's a message that resonates more than ever in today's world. Why is nobody writing these kinds of songs anymore?!

While it's only two songs, this demo has me very excited about Genuine Parts. If you're a big fan of The Runaways, Girlschool, Bobbyteens, etc. or just find yourself craving some real rock n' roll, you ought to be excited too!



Monday, July 20, 2015

Here's Car Crash!

While the Japanese garage/punk scene is running hotter than ever, it has been trending more in the power pop direction in recent years. But there are exceptions. One is Car Crash - a new trio with a debut 7" out on Mangrove and Secret Mission Records. Car Crash plays pure punk rock with not even a trace of power pop. This band really takes it back to the glory days of Teengenerate and the Registrators: blown-out fidelity, a deranged singer shouting unintelligible lyrics, lead guitars sharp enough to draw blood, ultra-exuberant backing vocals, and songs played so crazy fast that you'd swear the entire band has been gobbling amphetamines like they're M&M'S. The band name says it all. This is a motor vehicle careening out of control at a highly dangerous speed - with complete destruction the inevitable outcome. And while it's impressive enough that these three can play so fast and recklessly without songs falling apart within 30 seconds, the more important point is that they're so freaking good!

If you're one of those individuals who's dismayed by how polished and proficient most punk bands are these days, Car Crash ought to be much more to your liking. This is a band that embraces one of punk rock's fundamental truths: that enthusiasm and sheer fury matter way more than technical skill. Limited to 200 copies, the "Bright Future?" 7" is blistering, chaotic fun. "Execution" and "I Don't Care" will set your hair on fire before you even know what hit you. The title track is more of a straight-up '70s style punk smasher - but with elements of weirdness & noise damage that make it uniquely Japanese. Simply put, this is exciting music. "Bright Future?" is the kind of record you just have to play with the volume cranked to neighbor-annoying levels. If you worship at the altar of Killed By Death or yearn for the heyday of Japanese lo-fi trash, this is a 100 percent mandatory purchase. Grab a copy before they're all gone!



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Radioactivity: the second album!

I've been eagerly awaiting Radioactivity's second album ever since the first one was released. Let's review: Radioactivity is Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan from The Marked Men along with Daniel Fried and Gregory Rutherford from Bad Sports. It's tempting to think of this band as a continuation of The Marked Men. But that's not quite accurate. Whereas The Marked Men is an equal creative partnership, Radioactivity is Burke's vehicle. Still, there's no denying that good things happen when he and Ryan get together to make music.

After all these years, Burke has developed a signature style as a vocalist and songwriter. What he's been doing with Radioactivity is taking that style and evolving it a little. Silent Kill, the new album, manages an ideal combination of familiarity and pleasant surprises. If you're looking for differences in this album, they're very subtle. Burke isn't trying to re-invent his approach to songwriting. Silent Kill's marriage of electrifying garage punk and tuneful power pop is straight out of the Jeff Burke/Marked Men playbook. With so many devotees and imitators out there these days, it's a pleasure to hear the master showing everyone how it's done. Scorching tracks like "Battered" and "No Alarm" provide instant gratification for anyone craving the "classic" Jeff Burke sound. The guy still knows how to sneak stellar hooks into a fast and aggressive shot of punk rock adrenaline. But it's the slower-paced songs that ultimately make the greater impression. The songwriting sensibility is melodic but not over the top "poppy". I love how Burke and co-producer Ryan were able to use the smallest touches (a haunting backing vocal here, an inventive guitar lead there) to bring a unique tone to mid-tempo pop songs like "Stripped Away" and "Where I Come From". The feel is darker and more contemplative, and it's carried off well. "Way Out" almost out-Buzzcocks the Buzzcocks!

Silent Kill is a logical successor to the first Radioactivity album. It gives you a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new. One minute it's leaning power pop, the next it's kicking up enough punk vigor to power a major city. This album throws a few bones to longtime fans, but by no means can it been written off as just another installment in the Marked Men franchise. Very often, we expect our favorite musicians to stick with what they do best yet not repeat themselves. Seems like an impossible task, eh? But that's essentially what Burke and the gang have been doing with Radioactivity. And as long as Burke continues to write songs as good as "Pretty Girl", I will eagerly await each new record. Silent Kill is a first-rate work of garage/punk/powerpop - brought to you by some guys who helped invent the genre. Get it from Dirtnap Records!



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Sweatshop Boys 7"!

After 20 years of doing what I do, I should have reviewed a band from Israel before today. But for whatever reason, Sweatshop Boys are the first Israeli band I've ever written about. I'm pretty sure they won't be the last! I've been hearing very good things about the state of the Israeli garage/punk scene. And if Sweatshop Boys are any indication, it seems all that talk is right on the money! Always Polite, Never Happy is the band's latest 7". And if you're a fan of the bands I typically tout on this blog, Sweatshop Boys will be right up your alley. This is a straight-up killer band - whipping out the kind of punchy, melodic sound I always go for. "No Pity In The City" brings to mind numerous Dirtnap Records standouts of recent years - splitting the difference between tuneful powerpop/punk and racing garage punk. I love the passion and feeling in the vocals. And all in all, this track is a total ripper. Hearing this song, I have to surmise that Sweatshop Boys are an absolute blast when they play live. That drummer is a beast! "Special Mood" and "Try Hard" are two more top quality shots of aggressive melodic punk, and then "Slow Dive" saves the best for last. It's a classic sounding punk rock anthem that will have you on your feet and pumping your fist like a maniac. Good luck getting that chorus out of your head! I dig the poppier '77 punk style sound, and the lyrics remind us of the futility of trying to control every aspect of our lives.

Sweatshop Boys play catchy punk rock that's fun to listen to and also lyrically profound. This is a band that has a lot to say about life and the human experience. But at the same time, its music will make you want to jump around and enjoy yourself. I'm somewhat ashamed that the band's excellent LP The Great Depression escaped my detection back in 2013. I highly recommend picking it up if you like what you hear from Always Polite, Never Happy. This is definitely one of the better up-and-coming bands in the world of garage/punk/powerpop. Sorry I'm late to the party on these guys!



Friday, July 10, 2015

Introducing Patsy's Rats!

A few weeks back, F & L talent scout Greg Mongroll emailed me a link to the Patsy's Rats Bandcamp page. I clicked play, and my jaw dropped almost instantly. I just love it when music totally wows me! If we actually lived in a world where the best songs were the most popular, "Rock & Roll Friend" would be the #1 pop hit of the summer.

Patsy's Rats are a self-described "pop rock and roll" band led by Portland indie fixtures Patsy Gelb (daughter of Giant Sand's Howe Gelb) and Christian Blunda (Mean Jeans). The foursome's debut EP will be released on vinyl by La-Ti-Da Records later this summer. The digital version is available now and well worth your hard-earned cash. "Rock & Roll Friend" was written for Mikey Hodges (Pop Zeus, Boom!, the Memories), who tragically passed away in a motor vehicle accident last year. This loving tribute truly captures the mixed emotions of such a devastating loss. There's unbearable sadness - but also great joy in having had the privilege of knowing an extraordinary human being. Given whom it's about, it's fitting that "Rock & Roll Friend" is as fun and life-affirming as a pop song can be. No doubt, this is a tune Hodges would have loved. It's just perfect pop - replete with a hook that no sentient being could possibly resist. Reminiscent of the synth-driven new wave pop of the late '70s/early '80s, this song is a throwback to a golden age of radio hits. It ought to be blaring from poolside stereos, car speakers, and ballpark PA systems all over the land this summer. Prepare to wear out your repeat button!

While "Rock & Roll Friend" is clearly "the hit", this is an outstanding EP all the way through. "It's Gonna Hurt" and "Hard Time Karen" are excellent cuts of power pop meets new wave meets indie/alternative. Both songs come on slowly and build up to choruses that totally knock my socks off. This is definitely a band with a flair for hooks that stick with you. Going forward, I think Patsy's Rats might be the next big thing in power pop. If you enjoy terrific pop that's just different enough to stand out from the pack, this is a group that needs to be on your radar. Greg, the check's in the mail!



Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, The Sweet Things!

When it comes to sleazy rock n' roll inspired by the Rolling Stones & Johnny Thunders, I can never get enough. I wish there were more bands doing that sort of thing these days. The Sweet Things are a new band out of New York City who totally nail that style. Over the years, I have raved about guitarist Lorne Behrman's previous bands the Dimestore Haloes and The Dead Tricks. Without a doubt, he's one of my favorite lead guitarists. Recently he teamed up with vocalist/guitarist Dave Tierney (Sharp Lads) to form The Sweet Things. Veteran NYC players Sam Hariss (Stiletto, The Kee Kartel, and The Bowery Boys) and Darren Fried (Mazard, Tongue) round out a formidable lineup on bass and drums. Bridging the gap between the classic rock (Faces/Black Crowes/Izzy Stradlin) and trashy punk (Joneses/New York Dolls) sides of Keith Richards worship, The Sweet Things are a real treat for anyone who loves guitar-centric rock n' roll with a whiff of booze. Tierney and Behrman lead the way with their raunchy riffs and hot licks. And with songs running in the neighborhood of 4-5 minutes, these two have ample opportunity to rock out good and proper! Beyond that, these guys definitely know how to write a good rock n' roll song. And I love that Tierney's voice sounds like the product of too many years of drinking, smoking, and generally unclean living. The Sweet Things have been taking their recordings directly to their fans via YouTube. They've posted three songs so far, and it's all great stuff. The brand new "Cocaine Asslicker Blues" is their best song yet. It's got a little bit of a harder edge to it, which I totally dig. And Tierney delivers a great snarling vocal. You'll wanna crank up the volume and blast this bad boy until the walls shake! If AC/DC had made a baby with The Heartbreakers, it would have sounded a lot like this. 

You can check out The Sweet Things' songs below. If you enjoy what you hear, like these guys on Facebook to stay up to date with the newest sensations in NYC rock n' roll!  



Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Maniac is back!

The last time I discussed Maniac, I proclaimed the L.A. band's debut LP one of my top ten albums of 2014. It would probably rank even higher if I had to re-do that list today. That's how much I like Maniac. For the uninitiated, this is the band featuring singer/bassist Zache Davis (Cute Lepers, The Girls) along side Andrew Zappin, Justin Maurer, and James Carman (all currently in the great L.A. Drugz). Maniac had the unenviable task of having to follow such an amazing LP. But new single "Chola Queen", out on No Front Teeth Records, does not disappoint. It's an absolute crackler - and probably the best release yet from this fantastic band. Maniac takes that '77 punk/powerpop thing I'm so into and totally makes it is own - infusing frenetic, new wavey guitars and pushing tempos that will leave you breathless. Few other bands could cover '70s Swedish pop star Harpo and make it sound like one of their originals. "Chola Queen", featuring Davis on lead vocals, is a scorching reinterpretation of Harpo's 1974 single "My Teenage Queen". Oddly enough, this cover tune is the perfect introduction to what Maniac is all about. It's pure energy from the jump, propelled by super-punchy guitars and Carman's exuberant drumming. "Calamine", featuring Maurer on lead vocals, somehow kicks the pace up another notch. There's a cool Clash-y riff at the heart of this tune, and Zappin's guitar solo is sheer perfection. If you're having a lackluster day and need a quick jolt of awesome, this song will be good for whatever ails you. It's like aural Red Bull!

Before I sign off, I must mention how incredible "Chola Queen" sounds.  It was recorded by Mark Rains at Station House Studio in L.A. and mastered by Daniel Husayn at North London Bomb Factory. If someone ever asked me to describe the way a punk rock record ought to sound, I'd simply advise that person to go listen to anything that's ever come out of the NLBF studios. This Maniac record would rule no matter what. But that Daniel Husayn magic mastering touch takes it over the top. This is one of your prime contenders for single of the year. It's right up there with the latest from - you guessed it - L.A. Drugz!



Saturday, July 04, 2015

New Sensibles 7"!

Yay, The Sensibles are back! If you're picturing me jumping up and down and clapping, that's pretty much on point. This Italian pop-punk foursome released one of my top ten favorite albums of 2013, and I've been a huge fan since 2012. After waiting nearly two years for new material, I certainly can't say I'm disappointed. "Bibi" is the brand-new 7", and I absolutely LOVE it! If you've never heard The Sensibles before, imagine the The Muffs if they'd spoken Italian and been the house band for a children's television show. "Bibi" is upbeat and super poppy, and it nails that perfect blend of sweet melodies and tough guitars. But it's B-side "Little Girl" that really steals the show - pulling back from the dizzying pace The Sensibles are known for and embracing pure power pop with classic '60s influences. I'm pretty sure I'll be whistling that melody for the next 40 days. And I love the positive message about holding out hope through tough times. I highly recommend checking out the video, which is very touching. Stella is an exceptionally talented artist and one of the most likable singers you'll ever come across.

The vinyl for "Bibi" is limited to 200 copies. Supplies will go fast, so email the band if you want to order one. This is the first in a series of three 7" singles. I can't wait for the next installment!



Thursday, July 02, 2015

Meet Hakan!

In what is quickly turning into another totally incredible year for punk/garage/powerpop, a band you probably haven't heard of has delivered a surefire top ten LP. Here's a band concept for you: Italians obsessed with Turkish popular culture, playing a killer mix of garage punk and power pop. That's Hakan for you, and the band's self-titled debut album is a total firecracker. Think early Marked Men with a snottier edge. Andrea from The Snookys is the singer. And while I really dig The Snookys, Hakan is even more up my alley. I mean, come on! How can you not love a band that has its own theme song?! With only one song running longer than two minutes, this album is a glorious display of back to the basics punk rock. This is totally what I'm into: three chords, melodic songwriting, and brilliantly stupid lyrics about loving cats, eating vegans, and fondling one's genitals under the surveillance of a villainous landlord. A line like "Go go go away/Take some crappy plane to some Dutch place" is absolutely genius in my opinion. It's pretty rare to hear poppy punk rock with this much balls, so I've really got to hand it to Hakan. This band has given us a rockin' punk record that's pure catchy fun to the very end. If you're into the garage/'77 punk/power pop thing, you've got to own this LP. It's my favorite punk rock album of the year so far. Get it from One Chord Wonder Records out of Italy or Rufus Recordings out of Spain!



Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Labor Of Love!

There's no doubt I'll be rocking out to the Ramones, Clash, Stones, and Dictators until the day I die. There are just certain bands that no one ever "outgrows". I imagine the tantrum I'll throw in the retirement home when my digital copy of Too Much Too Soon is accidentally deleted from my iPhone 41. But what about bands from this era? Will any of them join the aforementioned greats on my old man playlist? Without a doubt! And the first band that comes to mind is The Connection. We're talking about the great American rock n' roll band of this time. Over the last several years, I've had the pleasure of following this outfit's ascent from good to great to bona fide best band in the world contender. Labor Of Love, the group's new LP, is worthy of an honored place on my record shelf along side some of my favorite punk/rock n' roll/power pop albums of all-time. It's everything I love about music condensed into ten should-be hits. And while it's way too early to make a call on album of the year, The Connection has surely given us the one to beat!

While so much of what makes The Connection appealing comes down to unassailable influences, that's only part of the story. Just as significantly, this is simply an incredible band. With The Connection, you get one of the best lead singers out there, the finest rock n' roll pianist in the business, and one of the most formidable guitar tandems and songwriting duos you'll ever come across. Blurring the lines between garage, power pop, '70s punk, and golden oldies rock n' roll, The Connection creates a sound that's timeless yet fully its own. When you hear a Connection song, you know it's a Connection song. And Labor Of Love dishes out ten classic Connection songs! After hearing that the band had enlisted the great Andy Shernoff to executive produce Labor Of Love, I surmised that it was going to be something special. I wasn't wrong! Even with my expectations set sky high, Brad, Geoff, and the gang have totally blown me away with this album. This is the record they've been working towards all these years - full of songs that sound great on the radio yet still crackle with the energy of a live rock n' roll performance. The Connection, already owners of five Coolest Songs In The World on Little Steven's Underground Garage, might double that number with this album alone! 

Labor Of Love takes you on a half-hour tour through the history of rock n' roll, with nods to everyone from the Beach Boys via Chuck Berry (the title track) to the British Invasion ("Pathetic Kind Of Man") to '70s Stones ("So Easy") to The Boys ("Don't Come Back") to Road To Ruin era Ramones ("You Ain't Special") to Elvis Costello ("Treat You So Bad"). The title track, with a riff nicked from The Saints' "(I'm Stranded)", is one of the strongest album-openers I've ever heard. It's a party-starter and mission statement rolled into one - a joyful testament to the power and glory of rock n' roll. Just one song that good would have made this album worth buying. But "Labor Of Love" is merely a starting point! Brad and Geoff have totally outdone themselves with their songwriting. "Circles" is pure pop bliss - and easily one of the best Connection tunes to date. "Let The Jukebox Take Me" hearkens back to the classic country ballads of yore. And when the boys decide to let loose and straight-up rock, they come through with absolute scorchers like "Don't Come Back" and "Red, White & Blue". Shernoff, whose impressive producing resume is often overshadowed by his greatness as a songwriter and musician, was the ideal individual to helm this recording. Nobody better understands what it takes to make a great rock n' roll record, and it's obvious that he fully "gets" The Connection. The production dream team of Marino/Palmer/Shernoff has knocked it out of the park like Big Papi crushing a hanging curve! Right down to the flawless backing vocals, knockout guitar solos, and cool as hell lyrics, Labor Of Love couldn't be more perfect. And that's the most awesome album cover I've seen in a long time!

If you're stubbornly holding to the belief that the newer rock n' roll bands are all inferior copies of yesteryear's greats, I urge you to give The Connection a chance. You just might discover your new favorite band! These are wonderful times to be into rock n' roll, and The Connection has a lot to do with that. Labor Of Love is available now in digital and CD formats from Rum Bar Records. Vinyl is arriving soon!