Thursday, October 29, 2015

Check out Bryan Howell and The Standalones!

Out of the great state of New York, Bryan Howell and The Standalones ride the boundary between power pop and good old rock n' roll. That combination, when it's done well, is something I find hard to resist. Welcome To The World, Howell's second EP, first appeared last year and recently became available on Bandcamp. Whether you're a power pop fanatic or more of a classic rock/oldies person, these four tracks offer plenty to like. With songs running in the neighborhood of 4-5 minutes each, you might assume that these tunes are full of pompous guitar wanking and other unnecessary indulgences. But truthfully, that's not the case at all. It takes a really good songwriter to keep a song enjoyable past 4 minutes, and Howell is clearly up to the task. "Blindside" and "Oh Please, Valerie" boast choruses so catchy that you'll be singing them to yourself all day. "Nothing To Give You (But Everything)" is that rare power ballad that's genuinely good. And "Baby, Don't Look Back" is a quality rocker that brings to mind Bruce Springsteen's early days.

In a scene full of sound-alike singers, Howell is a refreshingly unique artist. He reminds me a little of a young Van Morrison, and I also hear hints of guys like Mick Jagger and Peter Wolf. But he's not trying to be anyone but himself, and there's something very cool about how quickly his voice grew on me. If you like everyman rock n' roll with gritty vocals, red-hot guitar, and a bedrock foundation of hooks & melody, Welcome To The World is well worth checking out. And with a live single just out and a proper studio LP in the works, I should have plenty more to say about Bryan Howell and The Standalones in the near future!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unlovables & Dirt Bike Annie Reunion Show!

Wow! Am I just dreaming this, or did two of the greatest pop-punk bands of all-time come out of a combined 17 years of inactivity to make a split album for the venerable Whoa Oh Records? The Unlovables are officially one of my 25 favorite bands ever, and Dirt Bike Annie is still the best live band I've seen in my entire life. So, yeah, you could say I'm a little excited about this release! Excuse me while I go jump up and down for an hour or six.

Let me be honest. These two bands probably could have recorded anything, and I would have been perfectly happy. Hallie could have sung Lucas Duda's advanced stat line over dueling kazoos, and I would have been lauding The Unlovables' triumphant comeback. Dirt Bike Annie could have covered '70s cop show theme songs in the style of Milli Vanilli, and I would have been on my feet applauding. These two bands have brought me so much happiness with their music, and it's just awesome to have new recordings from both. But what I really appreciate about this project is that both bands went all-out and created something truly special. I don't have to wax nostalgic about how great these bands used to be. Even if you've never heard The Unlovables or DBA before, these 11 songs will make you an instant fan.

Jumping off with the fantastic "Miracle Braves", the Unlovables side of Reunion Show picks right up where the band left off. Hallie is still in top form - creating upbeat and super catchy tunes even when she's writing about really serious stuff. Her lyrics, as always, are clever and relatable and all-around awesome. And she remains one of the most likable lead singers you'll ever hear. Whether you're a longtime pop-punk fanatic or just someone who appreciates great music in general, songs like "1996" and "2nd Date" will have you smiling and dancing around in no time flat. I think it's incredibly cool that when Hallie came up with these tunes, she knew they had to be Unlovables songs. There was just no doubting that she had to share them with the world. So here we are, eight years after Heartsickle came out, enjoying as good of a collection of songs as The Unlovables have ever turned out. Yay!

To the best of my recollection, the Dirt Bike Annie side of Reunion Show is the band's first new music in at least ten years. And what a way to come back! After a decade-long breakup, Adam, Jeanie, Dan, and Mike (the "classic" lineup!) have re-grouped and quickly found that old magic. Seriously, this is the best stuff I've ever heard from DBA! And the production is out of this world! This is definitely a case of a band benefiting from so much time passing between recordings. You're talking about a bunch of immensely talented people who have grown personally and musically over the past decade - and that really shows in these songs. While still a pop-punk band at heart, DBA mixes in elements of power pop, indie/alternative, and straight-up rock n' roll to create a sound that is evolved yet distinctly its own. You can still tell it's DBA, but it's like DBA on steroids! Listening to "Ambitious Heart", I can't help picturing an ultra-enthused live crowd singing along to every word. And if "Chik A Walk" doesn't fill you with a complete and utter joy over being alive, you may have serious problems.

If you wondered whether or not new music from The Unlovables and Dirt Bike Annie could possibly be as good as the old stuff, the answer is a resounding YES! Reunion Show is a sure-fire top ten album for 2015. It's now out as a digital release - available from iTunes and Bandcamp. Vinyl coming soon!


Monday, October 19, 2015

New Night Birds album....WOW!

Holy shit, have you heard this new Night Birds record?! Unbelievable, right?! Of course I expected the album to be really freaking good. After months of eagerly awaiting its release, I was anticipating nothing short of complete excellence. But, DAMN! I don't think I was quite prepared for this!

On their brilliant second album Born To Die In Suburbia, Night Birds showed us growth and variety and a fully realized musical identity. It was the perfect sophomore album - forever silencing the notion of Night Birds being overly indebted to their musical influences. But with the bar set so high, I wondered how they'd possibly go about topping themselves. I considered the possibility that they'd make a totally great third album and I'd still be like, "Ahh, it's no Born To Die In Suburbia." But nothing of the sort happened! If you expected Night Birds to lose their edge now that they're on a big label, fear not. They actually went the other direction! Following the creative refinements of Born To Die In Suburbia, the Fat Wreck Chords release Mutiny at Muscle Beach is pure raging adrenaline. It's the sound of four dudes channeling their collective life frustrations into a fast and furious hardcore punk assault. Never before have Night Birds sounded this ferocious, this urgent, this hell bent on obliterating everything in their path. Mutiny At Muscle Beach is the kind of record you turn to when you're pissed off and on edge and fully disgusted by the human race. You're primed to destroy whatever or whoever gets in your way. Nothing but punk rock will alleviate your distress. You lock your door and drop the needle on the vinyl. You crank the volume so loud that the walls shake. You thrust your fist in the air and scream along to every lyric. All that energy flows through you, and you get an indescribable rush. For the next 25 minutes, all is right in your world. And if you assumed that nobody makes those kinds of records anymore, Night Birds are here to set you straight!

No doubt, new drummer Darick Slater has given Night Birds' sound a huge kick in the pants. I suspect the guy may be an alien - or at least part robot. He and Joe Keller let it rip like the second coming of Chuck Biscuits and Randy Rampage. You just won't hear a punk group with hotter chops, and producer Chris Pierce deserves massive kudos for capturing every bit of that scorching intensity in the studio. But the difference in this album is more approach than personnel. From the songwriting down to the musical performances, it's as if the intention of this release was to completely blow our heads off! Half of the tracks don't even clear two minutes, and the longest one comes in under three. On lead vocals, Brian Gorsegner summons anger and desperation from a very real place within himself. In an entirely awesome way, he sounds like he's on the verge of losing his mind. I don't feel like Brian has ever gotten quite enough credit as a singer, and in a lot of ways his vocals are the force propelling this entire album. And I love how the rest of the band is so perfectly in sync with his fired-up mindset. Yet even with the step-up in aggression, Night Birds remain committed to tuneful melodies and catchy as hell choruses. From top to bottom, this is the band's strongest collection of songs to date. Blistering tracks like "(I'm) Wired" and "Lapsed Catholics Need Discipline" will leave you battered and gasping for air, while the slow-burning "Son Of Dad" is a menacing change of pace. Looking for something a little different? "In The Red/In The Black" sounds like Milo Goes To College era Descendents surfing on Adderall. And while everyone likes to place Night Birds' musical time machine somewhere in the vicinity of Orange County 1981, the Kinks cover "King Kong" sounds more like L.A. circa 1978.

If you're craving "vintage" Night Birds ("Golden Age Of TV", "Left In The Middle") or surf instrumentals ("Miskatonic Stomp"), Mutiny At Muscle Beach will not leave you wanting. But by no means is this a case where owning the previous LPs makes the purchase of the new one unnecessary. Night Birds worked extremely hard to create a strong debut for Fat Wreck, and they came through with an absolute stunner. This is one of the best punk groups of its generation at the very top of its game. As a huge fan of the classic albums of Black Flag, DOA, Zero Boys, etc., I would absolutely consider Mutiny At Muscle Beach to be their modern day counterpart. It will get you pumped up for whatever challenges you face in your daily life, and it has a lot to say about the state of society. At a time when the world needs punk music more than ever, it's important to recognize that there are some really great bands out there. I'd put Night Birds at the top of the list.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Dahlmanns goodies!

I have a special affection for The Dahlmanns because I reviewed them on the day this blog debuted: June 9, 2011. The group describes its sound as "mixing the Ramones with bubblegum, glam, and 60's girl band pop", and that's totally dead-on. Shockingly, it's been over three years since I last posted on this wonderful band out of Norway. Today I thought it would be nice to update you on a couple of new Dahlmanns releases that you should buy immediately. Ghost Highway Recordings has released the band's smash hit "He's A Drag" on vinyl. You may recall that this Kurt Baker-penned gem was a Coolest Song In The World last year on Little Steven's Underground Garage. It's now available as a 7" record backed by a fantastic cover of the New York Dolls' classic "Teenage News". It's limited to 250 hand-numbered copies, so move fast if you want one!

Also new from The Dahlmanns is a single on Pop Detective Records called "Girl Band". You can order it today from CD Baby. The A-side is an original song written by Michael Chaney from The New Trocaderos. One thing I've always respected about The Dahlmanns is that they have no objections to playing other people's songs. They are secure enough in their songwriting talents to not turn down opportunities to record amazing songs. Having already worked with incredible songwriters like Baker and Andy Shernoff, now they give one of Chaney's tunes the full-on Dahlmanns treatment. And, man, they totally kill it! "Girl Band" is exactly what you'd expect from a collaboration between The Dahlmanns and Michael Chaney: harmony-laden power pop rock n' roll with clever lyrics and a million dollar hook. Line delivers her usual outstanding vocal performance, and I like how the synths give the song an unmistakable '80s new wave feel. That sensibility continues with a super awesome cover of Men Without Hats' 1987 chart hit "Pop Goes The World" (ahh, high school memories!). I really like the original, but I love The Dahlmanns' version! 

Straight-up, The Dahlmanns are one of the best bands out there. Their music brings joy into the world, and they'd be huge if there were any justice. Check out these new singles along with everything else they've ever released! 


Friday, October 09, 2015

Devious Ones' debut single!

When I first reported on Detroit's Devious Ones early this year, I had the feeling I had stumbled upon one of the best up-and-coming punk bands out there. By all accounts, this band completely kills it live. And now Devious Ones have a debut 7" to their name - released on East Grand Record Co! The record is called "I'm Allergic To You", and it's a total smasher. Devious Ones play a style of music that you just don't hear enough of these days - straight-up non-hyphenated punk rock! The title cut is a great example of how to play catchy punk rock with plenty of balls. On the B-side, "Synchronize Or Vaporize" is hard-driving and tuneful - bringing to mind the classic punk sounds of the late '70s and early '80s. You may know some of these guys from their other bands (Amado is in Bump-N-Uglies and Bill Bondsmen; Dougie is in The Putz). But heading into 2016, Devious Ones will be a name everyone ought to know in the punk world. These guys are a fine addition to Detroit's proud legacy of killer punk rock. More music from these guys is high on my wish list for next year!


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The return of Moral Crux!

What a thrill it is, in the year 2015, to again be writing about Moral Crux! When I was a young pup coming up in the world of punk rock record reviewing two decades ago, Moral Crux was one of the first bands I championed. Releases like the 7" "Victim Of Hype" and the LP Something More Dangerous were among my favorite records of the '90s. Today I would cite Moral Crux as not just one of my favorite bands of all-time but also one of the biggest influences on me coming to love '77-style punk rock. And after a 12-year break, we finally have new material from this incredible band! The record is called Revolution, and it's coming out on 7" vinyl on the excellent pop-punk label Mooster Records. Moral Crux, I'm happy to report, hasn't changed a bit over the past dozen years. Hell, the band hasn't really changed over the past 32 years! What has worked for decades continues to work now: a classic poppy punk sound a la Ramones/Buzzcocks/Generation X with intelligent political lyrics. With dissent and social protest gaining traction in recent years, now seems like the perfect time to have Moral Crux back on the scene. Lead track "Revolution (Shouldn't Be So Hard)" is vintage Moral Crux. It will have you bobbing your head and humming along, but it also has a great deal to say about the state of the world. James T Farris X remains one of our great social commentators, and a song like "Timeclock" finds him more inclined than ever to rail against the military-industrial complex. The record also contains a newly recorded version of "Heart On Trial" - a Moral Crux classic from its 1993 album ...And Nothing But The Truth. Hearing how well this song holds up after 22 years, I really have to commend this band for the timelessness of its music and its message. And truthfully, I would not be able to say the same thing about a lot of other political bands.

Revolution is now available for download from iTunes, Amazon, etc. You can pre-order the vinyl here. Snag the limited purple vinyl while the getting is good! For more information on Moral Crux, check out the band's ReverbNation page!


Monday, October 05, 2015

Lovesores v. Born Loose!

Let's keep this simple. Lovesores and Born Loose are the two greatest punk rock n' roll bands on the planet. Just don't ask me to decide who's #1 and who's #2. Pondering such a choice would cause my head to explode. The connection between these two groups dates back to the '90s glory days of booze-soaked punk rock n' roll - when Scott "Deluxe" Drake was fronting the legendary Humpers and Larry May was fronting the legendary Candy Snatchers. Both men are going strong these days with phenomenal new bands, and a Lovesores/Born Loose split is literally one of the greatest ideas in the history of humankind. And now it's a reality - issued on beautiful 7" vinyl by Catastrophe Records. Here's the premise: Lovesores cover the Candy Snatchers, Born Loose covers The Humpers, and each band contributes a ferocious original. On the cover is a picture of a unicorn with an apparent substance abuse problem.What's not to love about this record?!

I'd honestly say that Lovesores' output so far rivals the best of The Humpers, and that continues with the ripping "Crossed-Eyed Cat". This is down and dirty '70s punk n' roll just the way you like it - smeared in Thunders/Dead Boys street grit and featuring a knockout vocal from the ageless SDD. Yeah! Lovesores then put their distinctive twist on the Candy Snatchers' "Nightcrawler" - and of course it's a mind-blowing rendition! Two songs in, the price of the record has already been fully justified. But flip that bad boy over, and you'll get an equally awesome side from Born Loose!

I recently declared Born Loose's "I Loathe You" 7" the best punk rock single of the last couple years. And here on this split, New York City's finest band continues to destroy all comers! "Whiskey Holiday" is pure sonic debauchery featuring Suke's smoking lead guitar and a signature fire-and-fury vocal from Mr. Larry May. Now that is the kind of holiday I can really get behind! Born Loose then boldly tears into The Humpers classic "Fast, Fucked & Furious". It takes some big balls to cover this song, and almost any other band would fail miserably. But Born Loose is not any other band, and Larry & co. absolutely kill it with their version!

Alright! This split is an essential purchase for longtime Humpers/Candy Snatchers fans and anyone else who loves wild and sleazy punk rock n' roll. Both bands came through with top-tier original songs, and the covers are freaking great! Whatever you gotta pay to get your hands on this thing, do it!


Friday, October 02, 2015

New Fashionism 7"!

In less than three months, I will officially announce my favorite new band of 2015. I envision a parade, a formal speech, and perhaps a cash prize. I have not yet identified the winner, but I can say that Fashionism is one of the front-runners. Early this year, I totally freaked for the band's debut 7". Now we have single #2 from Fashionism, and of course it's fantastic! It's called "Quit Looking At The Time", and it's out on the venerable Zaxxon Records.

To summarize: Fashionism is the latest band from Jeff McCloy (The Tranzmitors). He's joined by members of The Jolts and New Town Animals - making Fashionism somewhat of a Vancouver powerpop/punk super-group. Think The Tranzmitors with more of a glam influence. What I like about the new record is that it shows two sides to Fashionism. "Quit Looking At The Time" picks up where the last record left off - coming on with a rush of pure energy and delivering a chorus that you won't be able to stop singing. That hook is unstoppable, and the rockin' guitars are a killer touch. If this song doesn't have you jumping around like a maniac, I may have to demand a doctor's note! On the B-side, "We've Got It Wrong" slows the pace and comes in more on the new wave/power pop side. It still packs a punch, but it manages to capture a sense of despair and longing that really tugs at the heartstrings. It's the perfect pop contrast to the '77 punk jolt of the A-side. You could easily slot it on your next mix in between the Buzzcocks and Exploding Hearts. And how great are those backing vocals?!

Without simply rehashing what worked so well on its debut 7", Fashionism has come through with a crowd-pleasing second single. "Quit Looking At The Time" is the band's catchiest song yet, and "We've Got It Wrong" is beautifully crafted power pop. This band is the real deal. I eagerly await a full album!


Thursday, October 01, 2015

Kurt Baker plays it cool!

Having had three years to ponder the matter, I can say without hesitation that Kurt Baker's Brand New Beat holds a spot in my top ten list of all-time favorite power pop albums. I would definitely call it a contemporary classic, and following it up had to be a tall order for Baker and his songwriting collaborator Wyatt Funderburk. If Baker and Funderburk had simply turned out a new album that was a carbon copy of Brand New Beat, that would have satisfied the fan base just fine. But there was no way that was going to happen. These guys are two of the best songwriters out there, and clearly they were determined to take their time and come up with something truly special. The result is Play It Cool, an album that infuses Baker's signature power pop/pop-rock style with a live rock n' roll energy. As I mentioned in the press release for this album, these songs capture the feel of seeing Kurt Baker in concert. And what that translates to is fun for everyone! Play It Cool revisits all the things you loved about Brand New Beat but adds so much more - rocking harder and drawing from a wider array of influences. I could be wrong, but I predict that most fans will think Play It Cool is even better than its predecessor!

Play It Cool kicks off with "Sends Me To Mars" - a rock n' roll ripper penned by Portland, Maine garage/punk legend Kip Brown. It was originally recorded in 1986 by Brown's band The Wild Hearts. Not only is this song a wonderful tribute to a prolific and under-appreciated artist, but it's also a perfect tone-setter for an album that's an absolute blast all the way through. Baker and friends launch this rocket right out of the gates, and quickly you get the sense that this is going to be a different kind of record. Close your eyes, and you can easily picture bodies flying all over the stage while Kris Rodgers pounds those keys like his hair's on fire. You'll be tapping your toes within 10 seconds and jumping out of your seat within a minute. And from there, the album only gets better! If you're craving some "classic" Kurt Baker, you won't be disappointed. "Enough's Enough" ought to be a massive radio hit. "I Got You" will put a smile on your face no matter how bad your day is going. "Monday Night" reminds us that it's never the wrong day of the week to have a good time. "Just A Little Bit" sounds like Elvis Costello fronting Thin Lizzy. But ultimately it's the variety of the song selection that makes this the most enjoyable of all of Baker's albums. Running the gamut from '80s pop-rock throwbacks ("Play It Cool") to raucous garage rockers ("Doin' It Right") to pretty Beatle-esque janglers ("Talk Is Talk") to Raspberries-inspired sing-alongs ("I Can't Wait") to wonderfully sappy ballads (the magnificent "Back For Good"), these 12 songs demonstrate how crucial melody and quality hooks can be to almost any style of music. And backed by an all-star supporting cast (Rodgers and Geoff Palmer from The Connection, Adam Cargin from Screeching Weasel/Riverdales), Baker fully delivers on the promise of a high energy, fun-to-the-end musical performance. If you've never witnessed The Kurt Baker Band live, Play It Cool will make you wish you had!

Play It Cool is a rock n' roll album first and a power pop album second. And that, I'd say, is the natural order of things. If you've soured on today's power pop because the power part of the equation is so rarely emphasized, this could be the record that turns you to the dark side. And for those of you who are huge Kurt Baker fans and have been looking forward to this album for a long time, you're going to love what you hear! Seriously: Baker and Funderburk have totally knocked it out of the park with these songs! I'm talking an A++ effort! I suppose only time will tell whether or not Play It Cool surpasses Brand New Beat in my heart. But my gut reaction is that this is the best Kurt Baker album yet! Get the download from Baker's Bandcamp and the CD from Rum Bar Records. Vinyl will be out later this fall on Eccentric Pop Records, Ghost Highway Recordings, and Jolly Ronnie Records!