Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Lord Rutledge Awards 2015

I know: I'm early this year. The Lord Rutledge Awards are traditionally posted on New Year's Eve. But I'll be off work until January, and my laptop at home is on its last legs. So this will be my final post of 2015. Once again, it's been a year full of great music. Below are some bands and individuals who helped make 2015 awesome:

Album of the Year:
The New Trocaderos - Thrills & Chills 
Read my full list here!  

Song of the Year:
Kurt Baker - "Back For Good" 
In a year full of first-rate punk smashers and genuine power pop hits, I went with a ballad for my song of the year? But truthfully, "Back For Good" is the one song from 2015 that I just can't stop playing. There is a certain irony that the best song on the most rockin' Kurt Baker album to date sounds like something that ought to pop up on Barry Manilow's Pandora channel. But let me tell you: "Back For Good" is sheer pop perfection! That chorus is nothing short of divine, and how can you not love that the bridge is a nod to Huey Lewis?! If they still played good music on the radio, Kurt Baker and Wyatt Funderburk would be living in mansions. 

Single of the Year:
L.A. Drugz- "All Burned Down" b/w ""Runnin"
So many bands (The Raydios, Born Loose, Maniac, The Dahlmanns, The Sensibles) turned out formidable singles in 2015. It was hard to pick just one winner! But I have to go with L.A. Drugz - who managed to marry '60s pop melodies with modern guitar work and a quintessential Los Angeles vibe on the stunning "All Burned Down". B-side "Runnin" is something new for this band: straight-up fast and furious punk rock. 

EP of the Year:
Lovesores/Born Loose split
The two greatest punk rock n' roll bands on the planet on the same record! 

Album of the Year (Masters Class):
Angelic Upstarts- Bullingdon Bastards 
This award goes to the best album released by a band that's 25 years or more into its existence. Bullingdon Bastards is the first Angelic Upstarts album in 13 years - and it's easily the band's best LP since the early '80s. It's that classic Upstarts sound all the way - with lyrics that have much to say about political issues of current relevance. A truly inspired return. 

Best New Band:
This was a particularly strong year for new bands. I get the feeling that I'm going to be writing about the likes of Pale Lips and Devious Ones for a very long time to come. But the award goes to Fashionism - a new Vancouver band featuring Jeff McCloy of the Tranzmitors on lead vocals along with members of The Jolts and New Town Animals. This is the ultimate F & L band - offering up a glammy take on '77 punk/powerpop. For fans of The Boys, Teenage Head, and Exploding Hearts. The band has released two superb singles so far, and I've got my fingers crossed for an LP in 2016! 

Producer of the Year:
Chris Pierce
Sometimes producers get overlooked in punk music. A lot of bands would prefer to have 100 percent control of the recording process. And producers are more often blamed for "ruining" punk records than they are credited for contributing to them. But truthfully, a skilled and sympathetic producer can play a vital role in making a punk rock record everything it ought to be. Good production is not about fancy equipment or studio trickery. It's about really knowing a band and helping them realize the sound they're going for. Night Birds were already the best punk band out there and would have made an incredible third album no matter who was producing. But working with Chris Pierce, they found the proverbial "next level". Mutiny At Muscle Beach captures Night Birds at their hottest and most ferocious. It's urgent, crackling, and fully representative of the band's must-see live rep. If I were in a punk band, I'd want this dude producing my records!

Songwriter of the Year:
Michael Chaney
If you like incredible melodies, awesome lyrics, and a variety of song styles that's rare for today's rock n' roll/garage world, The New Trocaderos' Thrills & Chills is the album for you. Michael Chaney's songwriting brings to mind those classic late '60s albums by The Kinks, Rolling Stones, and Beatles - but in a fully original and relevant way. Remember when producer/songwriters were respected as artists in their own right? Michael Chaney might be bringing those days back!

Compilation of the Year:
Various Artists - We're Loud: 90s Cassette Punk Unknowns
A joint project between Slovenly Recordings and Black Gladiator, the double LP We're Loud is like a Killed By Death for the '90s - compiling 33 tracks by 19 unknown bands covering the years 1993-99. All tracks originally appeared on limited release or unreleased cassettes and come from the personal archives of Jaime Paul Lamb. Considering that this era is my wheelhouse for underground punk music, I was pretty amazed that I'd never heard of any of these bands! An absolutely essential collection of obscure '90s punk running the gamut from classic KBD fare (Mega & The Nyrdz, Fucking Pigs) to '60s garage (Van Buren Wheels) to lo-fi power pop (Les Fleurs du Mal) to top-shelf budget rock (Winners).

Reissue of the Year:
Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band - Promises To Deliver  
One of my favorite albums of the 2010s receives the deluxe reissue treatment on Rum Bar Records! Includes all the songs from the original LP plus six bonus tracks.  This is the album Bruce Springsteen would have made in his heyday if he'd been obsessed with The Replacements and Husker Du.

Label of the Year:
No Front Teeth Records
No Front Teeth has been one of my favorite labels for years. And when I look back at all the amazing releases on NFT this year (Radiohearts, Maniac, The Ills, Disco Lepers, Pale Lips, Gaggers, Sick Thoughts, the Scraps/Needle Exchange split, etc.), how could I possibly give the award to anyone else?!

Most Welcome Digital Reboot:
The Automatics' Bandcamp page
Rescued from the dustbin of history: the complete recordings of one of my favorite bands of all-time!  

Album I Most Regret Not Reviewing:
Royal Headache - High
Seriously! How in the hell did I miss this one?!

The Patrick Bateman Prize for Excellence in Music Criticism:
Dom Daley
I first came to follow Dom Daley because he was writing about many of the same releases that I was writing about. He's the go-to guy at Uber Rock for glam/punk, punk rock n' roll, power pop, and '77 type stuff. But beyond his impeccable taste, he's a brilliant writer as well. He has a really cool way of describing music with enthusiasm and humor, and I always look forward to his reviews. Read his piece on the new Born Loose album, and you're going to want to buy the record immediately!

Comeback of the Year:
Moral Crux
After 12 years of no music from Moral Crux, we finally got a new EP. And the band picked right up where it left off!

The F & L Championship Belt:
The Connection 
The championship belt is awarded annually to my current favorite band. Reigning champions The Cry! will be releasing new music soon and will have ample opportunity to regain the title in 2016. The same goes for previous title holders Something Fierce. But The Connection, on the strength of its best album to date, finally takes the crown. Having been reviewed an amazing seven times on F & L, The Connection is more than worthy of the title belt.

And on that note, I sign off for the year. I imagine I'll be "downsizing" F & L in a big way as I enter my second semester at college. I will have to be much less prolific when it comes to churning out reviews. But with much more great music awaiting us in 2016, I remain excited about spreading the gospel! Happy holidays, everyone!


Archive of Lord Rutledge Awards:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Top Ten Albums of 2015

Well, it's that time of the year again! We are coming fast towards the end of 2015, and we can look back at yet another wonderful year of punk, garage, and power pop LPs!

It has always been hard for me to limit my favorite albums of the year to just ten titles. I probably heard at least 25 LPs this year that I considered to be top ten caliber. But forced with the task of identifying the absolute cream of the crop, I've come up with a top ten list that I'm really happy with. But don't take my word for it. I've included Bandcamp links so you listen for yourself! On to the list:

10. Hakan - self-titled 
This one seemed to fly under a lot of people's radar, and that's a shame. Great power poppy garage punk from Italy featuring Andrea from The Snookys. An essential purchase for fans of The Kidnappers and Marked Men.

9. Radioactivity- Silent Kill

8. Role Models - The Go-To Guy
Long-awaited full-length debut from Rich Rags' London-based glam/power pop/rock n' roll outfit. Highly recommended to anyone with a soft spot for early '90s college radio. 

7. Party Lights- I See The Lights
Garage and girl-group influenced power pop greatness from New York City. If Blondie, Cheap Trick, and The Knack had been one band, they would have been Party Lights!

6. Jukebox Zeros- Count To Ten 
Philly's finest! The first Jukebox Zeros album in a decade is an absolute smasher. No unexpected turns here: just great trashy punk rock n' roll in the tradition of Johnny Thunders, The Stooges, Dictators, and early Replacements. 

5. Ryan Allen- Heart String Soul
Indie rock vet Allen (Thunderbirds Are Now!, Friendly Foes, and Destroy This Place) embraces his power pop side on this brilliant solo effort. This very personal and autobiographical record will turn you into an instant fan.  "Angela '97" is pretty much the best song ever.

4. Night Birds- Mutiny at Muscle Beach
For their first release on Fat Wreck Chords, Night Birds step up the power and aggression and turn out a raging hardcore punk album that will leave you breathless. This is the band's third appearance on one of my year-end top ten lists. I'm pretty sure that's a record. 

3. The Connection- Labor Of Love
The best Connection album yet - executive produced by Andy Shernoff! Referencing everyone from Chuck Berry to the Beatles to the Stones to the Ramones, Labor Of Love is all killer, no filler! Anyone claiming that real rock n' roll no longer exists should seek out this title immediately.

2. Kurt Baker - Play It Cool
Recipient of my 2012 album of the year honors, Kurt Baker (along with his songwriting collaborator Wyatt Funderburk) nearly did it again! In fact, Play It Cool is probably an even better record than Brand New Beat. In almost any other year, it would have been #1 with a bullet.

1. The New Trocaderos - Thrills & Chills
It's a full podium sweep for The New England Mafia! I've known for a while that The Connection, Kurt Baker, and The New Trocaderos had the top three locked down. The only thing I had to work out was the order of my selections. So I locked myself in my study and listened to all three albums on constant repeat until I was ready to render a decision. It came down to this: Thrills & Chills is the strongest front-to-back rock n' roll album I've heard in a whole lot of years. Every song is a hit! And while The Connection and Kurt Baker are both amazing on their own, it's like chocolate and peanut butter when you put them together! Kudos to Michael Chaney for the creative vision and incredible songs!

Honorable Mentions:
Nick Piunti- Beyond The Static   
The Bloodtypes - Pull The Plug 
Nervous Talk - self titled 
Thee Tsunamis- Saturday Night Sweetheart
Unlovables/Dirt Bike Annie- Reunion Show split LP

Special honorable mention goes out to The Disconnects' Wake Up Dead - which was technically a late 2014 release. Had it been officially released in 2015, it would have made my top ten.


Monday, December 21, 2015

New Bloodtypes Album!

Woo hoo! The long-awaited second album from The Bloodtypes has arrived! What a wonderful way to finish off a great year for music!  

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, The Bloodtypes are one of my favorite present-day bands. I just love what this group represents: a return to the energy and fun of '77 punk/new wave and early '80s synth-pop - with lyrics that walk a fine line between sci-fi silliness and serious social commentary. It's been three-and-a-half years since The Bloodtypes released their first album, and the brand-new Pull The Plug does not disappoint! These are the catchiest and strongest songs yet from this most excellent band! If you were looking forward to more Rezillos/Blondie/Epoxies type new wave action, well there's plenty of that to be found here. But on this record, the band integrates all kinds of influences into its distinctive punk/wave sound. Taking on styles ranging from full-on early '80s hardcore ("Panic", "Rejected") to melodic synth-pop ("Modern Love", "Television Dreams") with additional hints of dance, prog, and garage rock, The Bloodtypes are not about to give you a chance to get bored! Seriously: there's no other band out there quite like this! Schneck Tourniquet continues to impress on lead vocals - showing the spunk to propel the album's more upbeat tracks along with a tenderness and humanity so crucial to slower songs like "Back From Space". And what a lovely voice she has! As you'd expect from a Bloodtypes album, songs cover such topics as S & M, spies, boyfriends in space, and the mass murder of aliens. But the band also tackles contemporary concerns about technology and society on this record. A lot of these songs have a great deal to say about how we're being manipulated into our own unhappiness by television, electronic devices, and a larger cyber-universe that distorts our realities. That said, the "message" of this release is not heavy-handed in any way. This is a fun record that will make you want to dance, jump around, and enjoy life. And if it also makes you think a little, well that's icing on the cake!

Pull The Plug is available now as a digital download directly from The Bloodtypes' Bandcamp. Visit the P.Trash Records and Bomb Pop Records web sites for information on how to order this release on LP and CD! I strongly urge all of my European friends to catch The Bloodtypes on tour in January. This is a show you won't want to miss! Click here for tour dates!


Friday, December 18, 2015

Another great Miscalculations album!

They've done it again! Miscalculations are the brainchild of Shaun Clark and Marco Palumbo Rodriges - now joined by Mauro Venegas (guitar) and Robert Persson (bass). The London outfit is setting a new standard for post-modern punk music, and now we have the second brilliant album this year from Miscalculations! Kill The Whole Cast is the band's third album overall. The title makes it clear that this group has not suddenly decided to start writing songs about pretty girls and milkshakes - unless those pretty girls are secretly cyborg assassins and the milkshakes are laced with chemicals that could drive a man to madness. I'm really impressed that Miscalculations have managed to be this prolific yet still top themselves with every new release. And while the band's sound continues to evolve, it remains firmly rooted in late '70s U.K. punk and post-punk. If you're looking for the best qualities of Wire, the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Gary Numan, The Screamers, 2000s Stitches, The Vicious, and Masshysteri combined into one band, Miscalculations are exactly that.

Kill The Whole Cast, like its two predecessors, is like sci-fi noir cinema set to music - evoking visions of cold concrete urban wastelands and the unmentionable horrors lurking around every corner. Miscalculations' music remains the stuff of contradictions: abrasive yet overtly melodic, bleak yet highly addictive, horrifying yet beautifully poetic. For the most part, these songs sound like vintage Miscalculations. Tracks like "The Worst Possible Advice", "Broken Skin", and "Organ Donor" walk a fine line between '77 punk and dark new wave. You'll be whistling those melodies to yourself before the disturbing nature of the lyrics completely sinks in! Elsewhere, the band dives fully into synth-pop territory with creepy numbers like "The Same Needle", "Metamorphosis", and the pitch-black "Born Blind".

Miscalculations continue to be the rare post-punk band that's just as much "punk" as it is "post". They've managed to build on their original vision without losing the plot, and clearly they've been on a creative hot streak that has allowed them to generate all of this fantastic music in such a short period of time. Kill The Whole Cast is the band's best album yet - and certainly a fine place to start if you don't yet own anything by Miscalculations. From now until the end of December, it's a free download over at the group's Bandcamp!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Meet The Sick Things!

Has it really been over two months since I last reviewed a Canadian band?! Damn, I've been slacking! But I've got a good one for you today. Hailing from Montreal, The Sick Things are a brand new band featuring former members of Barn Burner, Prevenge, Nerve Control, Windpisser, and the Castavets. They just played their first gig last week, and they've released an excellent demo that is well worth checking out if you like power pop. While Montreal has been a hotbed for punk/power pop hybrids in recent years, The Sick Things are more straight-up power pop. Think Cheap Trick/Big Star/Dwight Twilley mixed with some good old '70s riff rock. These guys definitely hit the power side of the power pop equation - with muscular guitars and thumping drums reigning supreme on these three mid-tempo tracks. Especially on "We Got It Figured Out" and "Empty Castles", singer/guitarist Cam Turin shows a considerable talent for crafting anthemic choruses and melodies that really stick in your head. And his songwriting totally captures that eternal teenage feel that is such a hallmark of great power pop. Fans of The Jeanies and Terry & Louie ought to be all over these demos, and I'm excited as hell to hear more tunes from The Sick Things!


Monday, December 14, 2015

More greatness from The Ills!

Given my deep affection for the "Fuck off and die!" strain of punk rock, it's always a great day when a new release from the almighty Ills shows up in my mailbox. After all these years, this band remains as committed as ever to its three defining tenets: no friends, no talent, and no songs longer than a minute and a half. Fuck This Planet is the band's latest EP, and the title alone makes it clear that The Ills have not gone soft on us. They power through 15 snotty-as-hell tracks in exactly 17 minutes - with lyrics full of dark humor, horror references, and good old-fashioned people-hating. What's not to love?! Erika Ebola remains the perfect vocalist for this sort of '90s garage punk meets early '80s hardcore (imagine Kathleen Hanna or Allison Wolfe fronting the Circle Jerks). And Danny Dysentery's minimalist songwriting is nothing short of genius. Seriously: if really simple songs are as easy to write as most people think they are, then why doesn't every punk band attain this level of awesomeness? If ever there were an anthem for the times in which we're currently living, "Fuck This Planet" is IT!

Far from running out of gas after an album and three EPs, The Ills sound like they're having more fun than ever! And the addition of Stella Salmonella on saxophone adds a cool new dimension to the band's sound. If dealing with your fellow humans has got you feeling down, I have exactly the prescription you need. Crank "Fun Fun Fuck You!" and "Hate This Place" at the loudest volume possible and make ample use of your middle finger. Fuck This Planet is available on 10" vinyl from No Front Teeth Records or directly from The Ills' Bandcamp in digital form. Vinyl is limited, so get on it!


Friday, December 11, 2015

Just Jeffrey!

Check it out! For the first time in 12 years, we get a solo album from Fashionism and Tranzmitors lead singer Jeff McCloy! But unlike his previous solo LP, the brand-new Coffee, Tea & Me is a noticeable departure from the type of record he typically makes. Recorded under the moniker of Just Jeffrey, this 18-track effort demonstrates that McCloy can excel outside the realm of '77 punk and power pop. And while his knack for crafting clever and catchy pop songs remains very much on display, here he embraces a much wider array of influences. Just as importantly, he proves talented enough to "stretch" himself creatively. Essentially he's made a singer/songwriter's record in the tradition of guys like Ray Davies and Paul Weller. Coffee, Tea & Me is an eclectic but distinctively English set of songs full of personal storytelling, reflections on the past, and pointed social commentary. In many ways, McCloy has given us his autobiography in song.

The name Just Jeffrey says it all. While McCloy did recruit several friends to play on the album, this project was his baby entirely. These songs are an expression of who he is and what he's experienced. If you're expecting Fashionism or the Tranzmitors, that's not what this record is. But I can honestly say that Coffee, Tea & Me is at the same level of quality as any release that McCloy has ever played on. As the expression goes, this album is "all over the place". You'll hear jangly pop songs, Cure-like dirges, mod/soul ravers, introspective ballads, English traditional numbers, and even a couple of forays into outright weirdness. This is not the same old Jeffery we're used to hearing, and I wouldn't want it any other way. 18 tracks is a pretty ambitious number for one album, but something crucial would have been lost if this release had been more tightly edited. The album is exactly the length it needs to be for McCloy to tell his story. His emotional treatment of this material is quite powerful, and overall this is a terrific collection of songs. Of course I'm hoping he continues to make punk rock records for years to come. But let's not pigeonhole McCloy as an outstanding punk songwriter. Coffee, Tea & Me proves him to be an outstanding songwriter, period.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Scraps v. Needle Exchange!

As much as I dig power pop, garage, etc., it's '77-style punk rock that will always be #1 in my heart. It's a safe bet that I'll be listening to The Clash, Damned, and Sex Pistols until the day I die. And I love the newer bands as well. When it comes to the current generation of '77 punk, two of the very best are Scraps out of London and Needle Exchange out of Germany. Rumor has it that Scraps may feature members of F & L favorites The Gaggers, Miscalculations, and Los Pepes. And Needle Exchange is a band I've been looking to write about for a while.

The always-reliable No Front Teeth Records had the brilliant idea of teaming Scraps and Needle Exchange on one dandy split 7". Needless to say, it's a must-own record! Both bands bring a raw, lo-fi edge to these recordings - really taking it back to the "anyone can do it" spirit of '77. I'm talking three chords powered out with attitude and primal aggression. Hot on the heels of that fantastic Radiohearts 7", this is another NFT single that could easily pass for a genuine 1977 punk release. Don't song titles like "Shoot You Dead" and "I Wanna Die" just sound like they ought to be old school punk?! And let me tell you: these tracks don't disappoint! Stream them now, and you'll hear for yourself! Hit up No Front Teeth to order a copy of the vinyl, and be sure to check out Needle Exchange's new-ish album as well! 


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Introducing TAD!

No doubt, a very large percentage of F & L's followers are in bands. With that in mind, I wanted to spread the word about a new app that may interest those of you who release music via iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, etc. It's called TAD (Thumbnail Art Design), and essentially it allows you to create professional-looking cover art for your digital releases. What a great idea for an app! Using an iPhone or iPad, you can choose a classic album cover design template or build your own from scratch. Then you can select a photo from your phone or pick one from the TAD library. Via the app, you add a logo & text, choose your frames and filters, and complete your cover art within minutes. It's that easy!

The creator and co-founder of TAD is Lee Jones - singer/guitarist for the wonderful (and, sadly, now broken up) Solicitors. He came up with the idea when he was preparing one of his band's songs for a digital release. Unable to find an app that would allow him to create cover art quickly and easily, he ended up with a less than desirable thumbnail! So he went about creating TAD. He partnered with music industry veterans Ian Clifford and Paul Coleman, and now the app has launched! From now until December 14th, you can download it for free. Thereafter, it will be priced at $1.99. For more information, check out TAD's web site or Facebook page. And for your listening pleasure, I've embedded the final Solicitors' single below! Don't worry: it's not a Don Henley cover.



Monday, December 07, 2015

Supply and Demand!

Alright! The Dictators NYC have finally made a record! It's called "Supply and Demand", and it was most definitely worth the wait! As you probably know, The Dictators NYC are made up of longtime Dictators members Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross The Boss Friedman, and JP "Thunderbolt" Patterson along with Daniel Rey and Dean Rispler. They've been killing it on stage for four years, and now they've finally given us an original song! The "NYC" added to the band name acknowledges that it's no longer the original Dictators without the involvement of Andy Shernoff. But the band plays Dictators songs live, and "Supply And Demand" sure sounds like The Dictators! Written by Handsome Dick, Ross The Boss, and Jake Manitoba, this sing-along anthem tells the true story of how The Dictators NYC came to be. You know the sound - powerful guitars, thundering drums, and a chorus so catchy that it ought to be illegal. Handsome Dick is in prime form on lead vocals, and his lyrical game proves strong ("They came from America, all 50 states/They even came from Togo and outer space!"). Backed by a live recording of the band covering "Kick Out The Jams" in San Francisco, "Supply And Demand" is absolutely the powerhouse debut I was expecting from The Dictators NYC! If you loved the D.F.F.D. album, this is very much in the same vein. Head on over to Striped Music if you want a vinyl copy. Downloads are available from Bandcamp.


Friday, December 04, 2015

Travis Ramin: now on Bandcamp!!

Woo hoo! The great Travis Ramin now has a Bandcamp page! As both a producer and performer, he's been responsible for some of the most enduring power pop, garage, and girl band recordings of the past 20 years. If I had to come up with a short-list of individuals most responsible for the modern day resurgence of power pop, he'd be on it! Most of his notable productions have gone out of print and become nearly impossible to find. Now - with just a few clicks of your mouse - you can own classic late '90s/early 2000s releases by Candygirl, Tina And The Total Babes, Nikki Corvette, and The Short Fuses! And if you still haven't heard more recent Ramin productions like the self-titled Ana Lucia LP (my #7 album of 2012!) or Holly Beth Vincent's "Hey Boy" 7", now's your chance! Download prices are very reasonable ($7 for albums, $3 for EPs), and there's also a merch section where you can order hard copies of the releases Travis still has in stock.

Do yourself a favor and check out all the good stuff Travis has made available for download. That Tina And The Total Babes LP is one of my five favorite power pop albums of all-time. I'm so psyched that a whole new generation of fans will now get to hear it! Remember Sundaegirl, the bubblegum "kid sister" band to Candygirl? You can check out that EP as well - along with a brand-new offering from Candygirl's bad girl cousin, Motorgirl! And nobody's digital music collection is complete without the Travis solo hit, "Right Hot Dog, Wrong Bun". Have at it, my friends!


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

New Born Loose album!

Hot damn! Born Loose has a new album out on Hound Gawd! Records, and the thing will totally destroy anything in its path! Prepare to be bruised and battered in the best way imaginable! The one-sheet for this release describes it as the "soundtrack for your backyard fight club". Oh my god, that's brilliant! And it's so very true! If ever there were an album perfectly suited to accompany extreme recreational violence, this would be it! Hot on the heels of the great "I Loathe You" single and that smashing split 7" with the almighty Lovesores, Blowout! is precisely the beer-soaked blood and guts punk rock n' roll masterpiece I was hoping for. It's gonna take a serious run at punk rock album of the year honors!

Born Loose, of course, is the New York City outfit featuring the legendary Larry May (Candy Snatchers) on lead vocals. He's joined by guitarist Suke (Iron Prostate), bassist Shane Konen (Live Ones, Ghetto Ways), and drummer Eric Robel (Heroin Sheiks, Nova Express). Blowout! is the band's second LP, and every track is a swift and violent kick to the teeth. May, an all-time great punk front man, has never sounded more deranged or pissed-off. He and his band mates are in no mood for screwing around. From start to finish, they're on the attack - mixing scorching garage-punk with elements of Detroit rock, scuzzy '70s punk, light speed early '80s hardcore, and hints of the Chuck Berry gone wild stylings of Bon Scott era AC/DC. Suke's lead guitar is on fire, and that rhythm section is as primal and relentless as they come. You see song titles like "Waste Me", "Fair Warning", and "Ain't That Swell (Baby Go To Hell)" and expect a certain kind of band. And that is exactly what you'll get! At a time when punk music is rarely as dangerous and thoroughly unwholesome as it ought to be, it's great that we can still count on bands like Born Loose to stand for excessive drinking, questionable life choices, and ill will towards men. If you long for the heyday of the Dead Boys and Stooges (or even Candy Snatchers and New Bomb Turks), Blowout! is an album you need to own. Grab an adult beverage, crank the volume way up, and enjoy pissing off the neighbors. My European friends should check out the band's upcoming tour dates!


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Meet Doubtfire!

What do you call a super group when it's a duo? A super duo! Made up of Bil McRackin (McRackins) and J Prozac (The Prozacs), Doubtfire is about as super of a duo as you'll find in the world of pop-punk. Perhaps that explains the band's comic book cover art! These two guys have over 10,000 total releases to their combined credit (only a slight exaggeration), and they've both played a large part in keeping pop-punk music going strong for the past two decades. Now they've joined forces and become Doubtfire. Not surprisingly, the results are terrific! The band's debut album features ten original compositions plus two covers. Sure: there are songs that will remind you of McRackins (like "Kung Fu Magoo"), and there are songs that will remind you of The Prozacs (like "Eyes On You"). But the majority of the songs are a perfect combination of both band members. And I think that was the point of these two individuals collaborating in writing songs. Doubtfire brings together the musical strengths of both men. You've got Bil's goofy persona and impressive command of Ramones-style hooks along with J's intensely personal lyrics and considerable talent for writing quality pop songs. And while I never have any objection to touting pop-punk records where every song sounds pretty much the same, this is not that kind of album. From the rockin' opener "California" to the classic Lookout! Records stylings of "Just Maybe" to the grown-up pop-punk of "Love This Rock And Roll" to the high-speed adrenaline of "Spit It Out", Doubtfire's debut offers tremendous variety without veering too far from what these two guys do best.

It's pretty amazing when you think about how this album came to be. Bil and J, separated by more than 3,000 miles, collaborated on lyrics and music for each of the 10 original songs. J ended up flying to Vancouver - where he and Bil worked for a week to complete the album. This was a true two-man effort. No outside musicians were involved, and Bil handled all recording, producing, and mixing himself. Especially in regards to the vocal harmonies and lead guitar hooks, the album is a textbook case of how a pop-punk recording should be produced. It sounds like a million bucks! Just as importantly, the songs are really strong. The choice of covers (Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open The Door" and the Ginger Wildheart-penned "Superpowered Superfly") emphasizes the wider array of influences that informed this album. Of course these guys love The Ramones ("Punk Rock Heart" is a wonderful love letter to da bruddas). But they've infused plenty of glam/rock n' roll into their sound as well. It's great to hear a couple of pop-punk lifers affirming the staying power of this musical form. You'd expect these guys to get together and do something really excellent. And sure enough, Doubtfire's debut does not disappoint. Let's hope for a sequel!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Radiohearts EP!

What's this? A new post?! I bet you thought I'd died! It has been 16 days since my last review, and since then I've been inundated with schoolwork, occupational duties, grueling workouts, etc. But I did want to sneak in a quick write-up on the awesome new Radiohearts EP - which you can order from No Front Teeth Records or download directly from the Long Beach foursome's Bandcamp page. I had many good things to say about Radiohearts' last EP in 2014. But Lot To Learn, their newest release, is even better! On these four tracks, the band could easily pass for some forgotten sensation of first wave U.K. punk. But while you the influence of certain bands (Clash, Buzzcocks, Generation X) is palpable, Radiohearts don't sound like they're trying too hard to be those bands. They have their own sound, and I love how their songwriting is clearly informed by power pop but still unmistakably in the corner of '77 punk. Lot To Learn comes on with buzzing guitars, meaty bass lines, and hooks that just can't be denied. These four songs will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet in no time, and the feel of the production/recording is spot-on for a punk rock record. This is pop-savvy punk music with some real bite to it, and you probably could convince your friends that this EP was originally released by Raw Records in 1977! If you, like me, believe in the eternal glory of the sound of '77, Lot To Learn is an essential purchase.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

To stream or not to stream... that is the question

Today I'm featuring a very cool video from one of my favorite musicians of all-time, Andy Shernoff. He has even provided his own write-up. Enjoy! 

I've been a professional musician and songwriter for over 40 years. I live and breathe music. I also own thousands of albums and CDs…but they sit in my closet because…
I prefer to STREAM MUSIC!!!!

I know that the drop in physical record sales has financially hurt many of my fellow musicians. I feel for them. But as the music business evolves, there will be winner and losers. I believe streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Red will eventually have a hundred million subscribers worldwide … then more money will flow.

I also understand that fidelity is an issue. Every musician I know works hard to make the best sounding music possible. But I also know that most people listen to mp3s on cheap ear buds, negating a good portion of their efforts.

The point is convenience trumps everything, and we are never going back to what once was…

I don't own a typewriter, I don't have a landline phone, I don't have cable TV, and I don't mail letters. I shop online, I pay my bills online, I read the newspaper online, I communicate with my friends and family online…and every song that I ever want to hear is available online...instantly.

I love my vinyl, but when I want to listen to music...I stream.

Andy Shernoff

...I want to thank Chris Stein (who doesn't share my feelings about streaming) for allowing me to have fun with his song, Tricia Scotti for the wonderful vocal, and Carl Rhodes for the concept.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Promises To Deliver

I can't tell you for sure why I didn't review Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band's Promises To Deliver when it first came out in 2013. To this day, that remains one of the great mysteries of my life. What I can tell you is that Promises To Deliver is one of my ten favorite albums of the current decade. And of course I was beyond thrilled to discover that my favorite record label was reissuing it on CD with a whole slew of bonus tracks! On that note, I proudly present my much-belated public take on a record I absolutely love.

This deluxe reissue of Promises To Deliver comes courtesy of the ever-dependable Rum Bar Records, and it's such a sweet deal. For a measly ten bucks, you get all nine songs from the original LP plus four 7" tracks, a previously unreleased outtake from the album sessions, and a demo version of the smash hit "Julie (Hang Out A Little Longer)". If I just wanted to make an abbreviated sales pitch, I'd say that Promises To Deliver is the album Bruce Springsteen would have made in his heyday if he'd been obsessed with The Replacements and Husker Du. But even that kind of praise sells the record short. And while I can't say that the "punk rock Springsteen" comparisons are completely inaccurate, it needs to be pointed out that Nato Coles is one of the most interesting and unique guys you'll ever meet in the world of music. He's got terrific stories to tell, and he's one of rock n' roll's most diehard true believers. 

A brief recap: Nato Coles was in Milwaukee-based Modern Machines - one of the best and most criminally underrated punk bands of the early-to-mid 2000s. More recently, he was in Radio Faces and Used Kids. Five years ago, he moved to Minneapolis with the intention of starting a new band - one that would play tons of shows and tour constantly. And so Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band were born. You might read the description and imagine some kind of roots/Americana dad rock type deal. But the difference is that Nato and the gang play real rock n' roll. They just love traveling the country and giving every single live audience an incredible show. That's the spirit of the band, and it really comes through in its music. Promises To Deliver is something we don't hear enough these days - a good, solid American rock n' roll record. Drawn from classic rock, Midwestern punk, power pop, and good old country & western influences, the nine tracks on this release marked a huge leap forward in Nato's progression as a songwriter. And two years on, I'm really struck by how well these tunes hold up. From the consummate blue collar rock of "See Some Lights" to the insuppressible energy of "You Can Count On Me Tonight" to the anthemic chorus of its title track, this is a record packed with memorable and simply awesome songs. And "Econoline" is Nato's own "Left Of The Dial" - a heartfelt celebration of the life he's chosen and the trusty motor vehicle that makes it all possible.

While not exactly a concept album, Promises To Deliver offers numerous depictions of people seeking relief from shitty jobs and dreary existences - and finding it through good times and rock n' roll. Listening to these songs, you get a great idea of who Nato Coles is and why he does what he does. He lives to get out there and bring joy to people's lives through music. Having followed his career for a whole lot of years, I always knew he was a super talented guy. But backed by the best bar band this side of I-94, he fully achieved greatness on Promises To Deliver. This Rum Bar reissue is a must-own, and don't miss Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band the next time they roll through your town. Be sure to request your favorite Thin Lizzy song!


Thursday, November 05, 2015

New Jukebox Zeros album!

Philadelphia's finest are back! Jukebox Zeros have been favorites of mine for over a decade, and I'd absolutely put them up there with the very best punk rock n' roll bands on the planet. Count To Ten is the band's first new album in 10 years - and its first new music in five years! After all that time, you'd expect something pretty special. And that's exactly what Peter and the gang deliver on this ten-song smasher!

When so much time passes between releases, there's not much of a need for a band to try anything too different. You just want to hear the band do what it does best. And in the case of Jukebox Zeros, that means rocking l.a.m.f! Much to my delight, Count To Ten is nothing more and nothing less than classic Jukebox Zeros. Think boozy, street-tough rock n' roll inspired by the likes of Johnny Thunders, The Stooges, The Dictators, and early Replacements - topped off with a real deal "Don't fuck with me!" Philly attitude. Ya gotta love it! I've been waiting a while to hear a new record like this, and I must say that Count To Ten is exactly what I was craving! While I highly recommend everything that Jukebox Zeros have ever released, this particular collection of songs is by far their best. Every time you think you're hearing the "hit", the next track comes along and proceeds to blow your head off. You'll go hoarse from screaming along to all those choruses, and your neck might not be able to withstand all of that frantic head-bobbing! But who ever said that rock n' roll was supposed to be safe?! On this release, the band had the privilege to work with the great Dean Rispler - the absolute gold standard of producers for trashed-out rock n' roll. The result, predictably, is an absolute fireball of an album. Jukebox Zeros have never sounded hotter on record. It's like the band is right in front of you and poised to tear the roof off of some seedy dive!

If you love The Humpers, Dead Boys, Heartbreakers, etc. but are not yet familiar with Jukebox Zeros, you owe it to yourself to check out Count To Ten. Peter Santa Maria has the perfect voice (and attitude) to front this kind of band, while lead guitarist Brian Zee is like Johnny Thunders & Cheetah Chrome rolled into one. And in Justin Lee and Wayne Wright, Jukebox Zeros boast one of the strongest rhythm sections out there. Highlighted by the appropriately titled "Snot Rocket", the Stones/NY Dolls style sing-along "Drama Queen", the surf-inflected screamer "Green Wave", and the scorching "Hey Now! Oh My!", this album could pass for a long-lost classic of NYC/Cleveland/Detroit punk rock. It's out now on Rankoutsider Records. Head on over to Bandcamp to order the CD - which includes a secret tenth track you can't stream for free!


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Great new album from Party Lights!

Wowzers! A great year for music just got even better! New York City's Party Lights just released an album called I See The Lights, and it's a lock to make my year-end top ten list. You may know Anna Anabolic (guitar/vocals), Elliott Klein(guitar), and Dave Smilow (drums) from their other band, The Recordettes. They're joined in Party Lights by Joan Chew (bass/keyboards/backing vocals). And as awesome as The Recordettes are, Party Lights are even more up my alley. Their sound is basically a straight-up mix of '70s power pop, garage rock, and '60s girl groups. Of course that's my sort of thing, but there's something about the way that Party Lights integrate those influences that makes it even cooler. Over the course of a full album, Anna proves herself to be a dynamite songwriter and an instantly likable vocalist. And as the band name suggests, this is a record made to be thoroughly enjoyed. You're gonna wanna crank up the volume and dance around like crazy - pausing to shed a tear or two when the ballads come around. If you could somehow go back to 1979 and make one band out of Blondie, The Knack, and Cheap Trick, Party Lights would be it

At a time when so many bands under the banner of "garage power pop" seem to be missing something, Party Lights totally get it right. It comes down to well-crafted and genuinely memorable songs. "Breakup #4" is the kind of tune you wish they played on the radio. "A Boy Like You" reminds me of a lo-fi Muffs in a totally non rip-offish way. Even when the influences are obvious (behold the majestic Cheap Trick worship of "Don't Miss You"), the distinctive personality of the band fully shines through. What a fun and delightful record! To anyone who is a regular follower of this blog and "gets" my taste in music, I urge you to acquire I See The Lights. And at least for the time being, it's a name your price download! One of the best albums of the year for free? How can you beat that?! Yay, Party Lights!


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.