Friday, May 27, 2016

Meet The Backseat Angels!

If it seems like I've been writing a lot about Rum Bar Records lately, that's because the label is riding a hot streak that even Xander Bogaerts would envy. From Indonesian Junk to that Connection reissue to The Phantoms, Malibu Lou has been cranking out the hits this year. I picture him with a drink in one hand and his phone in the other - constantly fielding calls from the top garage, punk, and power pop bands on the planet. And now Rum Bar territory expands to mainland Europe with the release of Saturday Night Shakes - the debut album from Belgium's Backseat Angels. This just might be the "poppiest" thing that Lou has ever released - and you know I ain't complaining!

The Backseat Angels are fronted by singer/guitarist Eric Knoxx - formerly of Belgian surf/garage greats the Vice Barons. He's joined by Tom The Bomb on guitar, Marc on bass, and Franck on drums. The band formed last summer and has very quickly turned out the highly enjoyable long player that I'm reviewing today. If you're expecting something similar to the Vice Barons, you will be surprised. The Backseat Angels make no attempt to hide their influences - which are early '70s U.K. glam rock, new wave era power pop, and the classic pop/punk stylings of The Undertones, Boys, and Ramones (Yeah, I know: that sure sounds like something I'd be into!). The band mashes these influences together, injects its own personality, and comes out with a sound I'd describe as bubblegum glam. I really admire the band for making such an unabashedly pop record. Its songs are quintessential ear candy - with deliberately silly lyrics and melodies so sweet that they'll rot your teeth. Saturday Night Shakes is an album for those of us who don't need music to make some kind of serious statement but do require it to be catchy and fun. Knoxx has written a batch of tunes that are pretty much impossible to resist. Lightweight or not, these songs will have you clapping your hands, stomping your feet, and singing along in public view (except for "School Bus Driver", which could probably get you arrested in at least 27 states).

From the Ramones gone power pop stylings of "My Baby Wants To Brainwash My Mind" to the Undertones worship of "Saturday Night" and "Stupid Brats" to the gooey glammy bubblegum of "Peppermint Girl" to the organ-driven goodness of "Hard To Tame" to the spot-on Sweet mimicry of "Crazy Like A Fox", Saturday Night Shakes is stacked with hits. Listen once, and you'll be hearing these songs in your head for days. It can't be a coincidence that an album like this arrives just in time for summer - when we crave fun, upbeat music for our warm weather adventures. And with two more must-hear albums lined up for release in the coming weeks, the Rum Bar is definitely stocking the good stuff. You know I'll keep you posted!


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Sweet Things' debut single!

Last summer I hailed The Sweet Things as the next big thing in New York City rock n' roll. I am delighted to report that the foursome now has a debut single out on the esteemed Lanark Records. Lanark is a label and recording studio based out of my former residence of Lancaster, Pennsylvania that specializes in rockabilly, blues, soul, '60s pop, old school country, and other timeless sounds that bring us relief from the manufactured music of today. By no means an oldies label, Lanark is proving the enduring relevance of roots music. The label works with legendary figures like Charlie Grace and Robert Gordon as well as current and up-and-coming artists such as The Sweet Things. Impressively, Lanark has endeavored to release 52 singles in 52 weeks. As part of this series, the label proudly presents The Sweet Things' digital single "Love To Leave".

To recap: The Sweet Things are Lorne Behrman (The Dead Tricks, Dimestore Haloes), Dave Tierney (Sharp Lads), Sam Hariss (Stiletto, The Kee Kartel, and The Bowery Boys), and Darren Fried (Mazard and Tongue). The band plays straight-up boozy rock n' roll that follows in the footsteps of the Rolling Stones, solo Keith Richards, Johnny Thunders, and Izzy Stradlin & The Ju Ju Hounds. I'm talking real rock n' roll, son! I featured "Love To Leave" when I last reviewed The Sweet Things, but the band has recorded a new and improved version for this single. It sounds amazing! Tierney has the perfect singing voice for this kind of music, and my man Lorne continues to show why he's one of my favorite guitarists of all-time. As a bonus, the immensely talented Liza Colby guest stars on backing vocals! If you love trashy rock n' roll with swagger and soul, you need this song in your music library!

"Love To Leave" is available now as a digital single via Amazon and iTunes. It's a deal and a steal for just 99 cents, and successful sales for this track will certainly help the band realize its goal of releasing an album. So if you like what you hear, show The Sweet Things some love!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Fall in love with The Shanghais!

School's out, the sun is shining, and the Phillies are a game out of first place. Life is good. And just when I thought this year couldn't get any better, along comes brand-new music from The Shanghais! A proper celebration is clearly in order. I feel like I need to go jump around on a trampoline while I drink a Slurpee and get showered with confetti! I named The Shanghais my best new band of 2014, and I've been eagerly awaiting new material for nearly two years. It would be an immense understatement to say that I was excited about the arrival of new EP Fall In Love With The Shanghais! I believe this is the first release to feature the current Shanghais lineup (Natalie, Aly, Colie, and Nick), and the title is what you might call truth in advertising. If you haven't already fallen in love with The Shanghais, you're about to!

Sticking to the unassailable blueprint of their two previous EPs, The Shanghais are back with more bubblegum garage punk goodness by way of the '60s girl groups. If you love The Shangri-Las, Nikki and The Corvettes, early Donnas, and newer bands like Pale Lips, this San Fran foursome is an essential addition to your record collection. I'm detecting a snottier vocal delivery from Natalie on this release, and that really gives theses songs some extra punch. "Gimme Good Love" is as catchy and fun as it gets, and I love the little nods to the The Isley Brothers' "Shout" (the gold standard of feelgood party songs!). Resistance is futile: you are going to dance! "Going To Hawaii" is exactly what you'd expect a song about traveling to paradise to be - upbeat and cheerful and heavily indebted to the '60s surf classics. It's impossible to have a bad day if you listen to this song! After a wonderfully surprising turn to horror punk ("I Fell In Love {With The Living Dead})", The Shanghais bring it on home with the classic girl group melodrama of "True Love". Oh my god: those harmonies!

If you're a Shanghais fan like me, I'm sure you'll agree that Fall In Love was 100 percent worth the wait. The band really knocked it out of the park with these songs and vocal arrangements. And if you're not yet a Shanghais fan, what in the world are you waiting for?! Head on over to their Bandcamp page and download their entire discography! You can pre-order the Fall In Love vinyl from Endless Daze in the U.S. and Surfin' Ki Records in Europe. It's a limited run of 300 copies, so don't dilly dally!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Here are The Phantoms!

Alright! The on-going geographic expansion of Malibu Lou's rock n' roll empire has now reached the American West Coast! From San Diego, The Phantoms are fronted by a well-known name in singer/guitarist Victor Penalosa (Flamin' Groovies, The Riot Act, The Quarter After, The Shambles). He's joined by a stellar cast of veteran players in lead guitarist Xavier Anaya (The Trebles, The Hoods), bassist Chris Iandolo (Dizzy), and drummer Ed Masi (Ghosts of California, Sleeping Cranes). This band is tight! And sure enough, The Phantoms fit right in on the Rum Bar Records roster with their hooky, high energy brand of rock n' roll. The band has been working with the label for two years to get an album out on Rum Bar, and now the wait is finally over. It's time to enjoy the music!

On their 11-song self-titled CD, The Phantoms are all about quality songwriting and straight-forward rocking. Influences run the gamut from garage to punk to arena rock to power pop to pub rock to glam, and it's all tied together by a great affection for the rich history of rock n' roll. "Baby Loves Her Rock n Roll" is the sort of middle-of-the-road sing-along number that every good bar band should have in its repertoire, and it's the perfect tone-setter for this terrific album. Covering everything from Troggs-like proto-punk thump ("Coming After You") to juke joint country rock ("One For The Road") to power pop by way of '70s Stones ("Tears Me Up Inside") to good old fuck-off punk rock ("Ditch Digger") to raucous dive bar rock n' roll ("The Ballad of Overend Watts"), this is a satisfying effort offering tremendous musical variety. It has the feel of a live set - thanks largely to no-frills production and a track sequencing that saves a lot of the best songs for the closing stretch. The "hit" of the album is arguably the KISS-inspired "Stab Me (In My Broken Heart)" - the very last of 11 tracks!

Whether or not you knew about their musical backgrounds, you could immediately identify The Phantoms as grizzled veterans of the rock n' roll underground. Collectively, these guys have been slugging it out in bars and clubs for decades. And it totally shows in their music. The Phantoms have that just-right mix of swagger, seasoned chops, and songwriting steeped in the timeless traditions of rock n' roll. And, man, Anaya sure does play some mean lead guitar! If you're into Rum Bar favorites such as Watts and Los Breakdowns or loud, catchy rock n' roll in general, The Phantoms are a must-hear. Lou has picked another winner!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

New single from So What!

The inventors of the 'hard gum genre are back with a fantastic second single! It's been nearly a year and a half since I reviewed the debut 7" from Oakland's So What. And by all indications, hard 'gum (aka hard bubblegum) is sweeping this nation and several others as well! Mining the gold that is the bubblegum, junkshop glam, and proto-punk sounds of the late '60s and early '70s, So What takes us back to those glorious times before discothèques were ruined by disco music.

Having already delivered a five-star debut single, So What was going to have to work really hard to top it. But I'd say the band has succeeded. A-side "Why Can't I See You Tonight" is a bona fide glam rock anthem! It's got everything you could want: big drums, dirty guitars, handclaps, a little Moog action, and perhaps the catchiest wordless chorus in the history of time. Clap your hands and stomp your feet! When I'm assembling the definitive hard 'gum compilation 30 years from now, "Why Can't I See You Tonight" will be the lead track.

On the flip of this new 7", So What pays homage to its #1 influence and covers The Equals' 1970 single "I Can See But You Don't Know". The Equals have got to be the most overlooked and underappreciated of all the classic U.K. rock bands, and it is my hope that a lot of people will start looking into their catalog because of So What. If you haven't heard the original version of "I Can See But You Don't Know", check it out now! It's an absolute ripper and a prime example of how punk rock existed well before there was a name for it. So What absolutely nails its rendition of this unheralded classic - showing great respect for the original but also adding its own essence. 

"Why Can't I See You Tonight" is out on the venerable Just Add Water Records - the recently revived label run by So What singer/guitarist Jason Duncan. This release is limited to 500 copies (400 on black vinyl, 100 on yellow). Get yours from So What's Bandcamp or Just Add Water's on-line store!  


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Razorbats: Camp Rock!

Fresh off of its release of that last Sick Livers album that should have sold millions, Glunk Records continues to do its part to save rock n' roll. Available now from the Glunk web site is Camp Rock - the terrific debut full-length from Oslo, Norway rockers Razorbats. The album came out last year on Self Destructo Records, and you can now purchase it in the U.K. from the almighty Glunk. Razorbats are bringing real rock back for a new generation, and Camp Rock is a wonderfully fresh take on '70s hard rock and '80s pop metal.

If you're thinking that Razorbats are late entrants to the Scandinavian rock party, the punkier moments of Camp Rock won't discourage the comparison. On ferocious tracks like "Subway Grinder" and "Betty Boop", the band could indeed pass for a next generation Turbonegro or Hellacopters. But for the most part, Razorbats are more like those hard rock greats of yore that fully embraced pop hooks and radio airplay. These guys are like the grandsons of KISS and the great nephews of AC/DC. They're doing their best to make rock fun again, and I love that they aspire to write honest-to-goodness anthems! "Planet Riff" suggests what Def Leppard might have sounded like if they'd worshiped at the altar of Cheap Trick and Hanoi Rocks. Boasting monster riffs and a massive chorus, "Kids of the 70's" is the perfect homage to the heyday of arena rock. "Warhead", if it cracked the charts, would double the worldwide sales of cigarette lighters.

What I appreciate about Razorbats is that their mission to rock is 100 percent irony-free. They have genuine love for the bands they emulate, and they're not going to apologize for writing a song with mass appeal. They even take on a couple of power ballads ("Desolation Highway", "Transformer") and do a very credible job. While there's no denying the enduring popularity of '70s/'80s hard rock, it's unfortunate that so few people are aware of the newer bands in the genre. If there's any justice, Razorbats will be playing stadiums before too long. In the meantime, those of you in Scandinavia and the U.K. should be sure to catch these guys on tour this summer!


Friday, May 06, 2016

New Radio Days album!

Whoa! Is it just me, or have Radio Days gone out and made the best power pop album of this decade?! You may recall me raving about the Italian trio's last LP - 2013's wonderful Get Some Action. It didn't seem like Dario and company left themselves much room for improvement, but somehow they've found a way to take it to another level! New album Back In The Day is the power pop masterpiece Radio Days have been working towards for the last 13 years. The band's fourth (and by far best) LP, Back In The Day demonstrates that there's nothing wrong with adhering to a tried-and-true formula if you aspire to perfect it.

Still fluctuating between '64/'65 Beatles worship and '70s power pop classicism, Radio Days seem to be following the Teenage Fanclub playbook and aging like fine wine. Back In The Day sounds like a lost classic from the heyday of The Raspberries, Rubinoos, etc., and that's a testament to the strongest songwriting of the band's career. You can tell these guys really went all out to craft a special collection of songs. I can't think of a single track out of 14 that I would have omitted, and quite a few of these songs are close to pop perfection. This mix of stylistic simplicity and a matured skill set really suits Radio Days - a group that values a perfect melody over all else. And while the band mixes in some stellar outside-the-box selections (the gorgeous baroque number "You Bring Me Down", the boogie rocker "Subway Station Girl", the reggae-tinged "Your Words"), Back In The Day is essentially a parade of should-be radio hits. "I'm In Love With You" and "Back In The Day" ought to be million-seller singles, and that hook part of "Deep Blue Eyes" is worth its weight in gold. Whether your reference point for great pop is the British Invasion ("Why Don't You Love Me Anymore"), '90s indie/alternative ("Out of the Shade"), or '70s AM radio ("Rock 'N' Roll Night"), there's something on this album for you. And seriously: how can you not love a band that blatantly lifts the melody from "Do Want To Know A Secret" and re-works it into an album-closing stunner like "Betta (Are You Feeling Better?)"?

Back In The Day is now available as a digital release from Radio Day's Bandcamp as well as iTunes, Spotify, and CD Baby. Surfin' Ki Records is putting out the vinyl, while Rock Indiana (Spain) and Pop Out Records (Japan) will be releasing the album on CD. If you love power pop, this one's an absolute must-own!


Wednesday, May 04, 2016

New stuff from Devious Ones!

Hark! I have news from the land of Devious Ones! I have been a huge fan of this band since "Stylus To Speaker" first appeared on-line early last year. These guys are the hottest thing to come out of Detroit in a number of years and one of the best up-and-coming bands in the entire garage/punk/powerpop universe. I reviewed the group's debut single back in October, and today I'd like to mention two new Devious Ones releases that you really need to hear! Both were recorded with Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders and sound freaking awesome! First up is the band's second 7" - the long awaited vinyl release of "Stylus To Speaker". Since this song is the band's love letter to all of those classic punk records that bring joy to our lives, it's appropriate that you can now hear it on an actual record! As a bonus, it's backed by an A-side worthy track in "Tuberculosis". I'm tempted to say that "Tuberculosis" is the best Devious Ones song yet - a gloriously stupid '77 style thumper that brings to mind legendary So-Cal punks The Simpletones. You'll be singing (and coughing) along before you even get through the first spin! Copies of the 45 are available from Devious Ones' Bandcamp as well as distributors like Dead Beat and Sorry State Records. 

Also new from Devious Ones is a seven-song tape out on the venerable indie label Peterwalkee Records. Don't have a cassette player? This release is also available as a digital download from Peterwalkee's Bandcamp. The secret weapon for any great punk band is an outstanding drummer, and Dougie Tangent definitely propels these seven blistering cuts of power pop inflected old school punk. If you like your punk rock with a lot of melody and just as much punch, songs like "Little Intruder" and "Bust You In The Lip" should be right up your alley. Amado Guadarrama is quickly becoming one of my favorite guitar players, and his lead work on this release is absolutely stellar. Having eagerly awaited new material from Devious Ones for several months, I am thrilled to dig into a whole slew of killer new tunes from these guys! And I love the band's cover of The Rings' 1977 punk smasher "I Wanna Be Free"!

Well-established as one of The Motor City's must-see live acts, Devious Ones now seem poised for world-wide domination. Bring on a full album!


Sunday, May 01, 2016

Introducing Tommy and The Rockets!

An annual joy for me is the appearance of the first great summer album of the year. There always seems to be that one release that heralds summer's imminent arrival - our sweet reward from the music gods for surviving another miserable winter. This year that honor unquestionably goes to Beer and Fun and Rock 'n' Roll - the wonderful debut album from Tommy and The Rockets. A collaboration between Danish scene veteran Thomas Stubgaard (The Lingertones, The Hitchcocks) and rock n' roll songwriter extraordinaire Michael Chaney (The New Trocaderos), Tommy and The Rockets kick up an infectious mix of bubblegum, surf, power pop, punk, and good old rock n' roll. Imagine the '64-'65 Beach Boys time traveling to meet The Ramones in 1978 and stepping through a portal to the 21st Century!

Stubgaard, who was born on the very day the first Ramones album was released, was clearly destined to start a band like Tommy and The Rockets. A huge fan of The New Trocaderos, Stubgaard contacted Chaney last year about collaborating on a song. That one song quickly turned into ten, and just like that a new band was born! With additional involvement from Connection/New Trocaderos principles Brad Marino (drums), Geoff Palmer (drum tracking/mixing), and Kris Rodgers (keyboards), Tommy and The Rockets are a veritable supergroup of power poppin' rock n' roll! And their debut album does not disappoint. Laden with harmonies to die for, melodies you'll be whistling all day, and great lyrics celebrating young love and good times, Beer and Fun and Rock 'n' Roll is an album made for sunny days with the windows down in your car. Even with occasional turns to bittersweet subject matter (because sometimes, you know, love will break your heart), this is the feelgood record of the year. Whether you're headed to the beach or just driving to your lousy job, this is an album that will have you singing along, bobbing your head, and feeling generally great about being alive. The hooks never stop!

In addition to playing guitar and bass, Stubgaard handles lead and backing vocals on Beer and Fun and Rock 'n' Roll. He's a formidable talent, and Chaney was the perfect individual to put words to his melodies. Chaney's previous co-writes with Geoff Palmer (like "Dream Girl" and "Like An Angel") have shown him to be a master of the timeless love song, and he captures the same kind of magic with Stubgaard. This is definitely the album for those of us who treasure nothing in life more than a huge stack of rock n' roll records and the love of that one special girl. And given Chaney's undeniable flair for storytelling, it's no surprise that Beer and Fun and Rock 'n' Roll introduces us to a number of memorable characters. What could possibly compel a womanizing rocker to give up his carefree ways? How do you decide which of two twin sisters you should date? What could be the only thing worse than waking up to discover that the gal you just hooked up with has run off with all of your possessions? These are some of life's burning questions, and this album has the answers!

Beer and Fun and Rock 'n' Roll is a shot of sonic sunshine arriving just in time for summer. It's your soundtrack to the glorious days and fun-filled nights that lie ahead! Digital downloads are available now ahead of a CD release coming this month and a LP release scheduled for June. The band is self-releasing the CD, and Ghost Highway Recordings out of Spain is putting out the vinyl. All of the necessary ordering info has been posted at the group's Bandcamp, so check it out and enjoy the tunes!