Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Introducing Grit!

Mick Fletcher's Just Some Punk Songs ought to be an essential stop on your daily blog travels, and I'm totally compelled to feature one of Mick's recent finds. Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Grit has made a demo EP called Ghost Estates available for free download via Bandcamp. I'm quite intrigued to come across such a remarkable new band that I know almost nothing about. I haven't been able to find any write-ups or social media presence related to Grit, so for now the music will have to speak for itself. And the music says plenty! Ghost Estates sounds more like a proper release than it does a true demo, and I'm half tempted to theorize it's actually a relic from the late '70s or early '80s! This is the kind of music I just don't hear enough these days - straight-up punk rock that hits hard but with plenty of melody. "Concrete Sea" is what Legal Weapon might have sounded like with an Irish accent, while "Stray Bullet" brings to mind more recent greats like Neighborhood Brats. I can also hear strong pop sensibilities emerging on less frenzied tracks like "Nowhere Else" and "Backup Loader". The vocals are top-notch, and I'm quite impressed with the melodic lead guitar work. It's also a cool touch that the (very thoughtful) lyrics have been provided for your inspection. What a terrific debut! It's somewhat surprising to me that Grit isn't already allied with one of the punk rock labels I frequently tout. My advice: jump on these free tunes while they're still free!


Monday, August 29, 2016

New Role Models album!

Role Models have done it again! I was just one of many reviewers to praise the band's 2015 long player The Go-To Guy. The acclaim for the album didn't surprise me one bit - especially given that it came largely from the handful of blogs, magazines, and sites that represent to me the finest taste in music. From the moment I first heard Role Models, I knew that Rich Rags was a special songwriting talent. And Role Models draw inspiration from so many different things that I love in music: the streetwise glamour of Hanoi Rocks and New York Dolls, the timeless punk/pop sensibilities of The Ramones and Generation X, the made-for-radio rock n' roll of Cheap Trick and KISS, and the straight-ahead heartland classicism of Tom Petty and The Replacements. The Go-To Guy was perhaps my most eagerly-anticipated album of last year, and it totally lived up to expectations. Humbled and inspired by all the positive reaction, Rich and the gang decided to get right back in the studio and create a follow-up. The record is called Forest Lawn, and it's out now with the help of a great many donations through Pledge Music. Like its predecessor, it does not disappoint!

The title Forest Lawn is a reference to the neighborhood in Calgary where Rich Rags grew up - and it establishes a loose theme for the album. Rags looks back to the good times of growing up in a multi-cultural neighborhood and how the discovery of punk and rock n' roll music looms so large in those memories. This is the sort of record you can put on as you crack open a beer and reminisce about the first time you heard some of your favorite bands - and who you might have been hanging out with at those moments. Rags has an innate gift for penning songs that tug at the heartstrings without needing to be grandiose or dramatic. His flair for sentiment, so crucial to the effectiveness of The Go-To Guy, continues to impress. While we can joke about the audience for real rock n' roll being a rapidly aging demographic, I want to believe that more than a few grown-ups of tomorrow will come of age pumping their fists to the chorus of "Radio" in the summer sun or singing along to "Wanted To Be Around" in their parents' basements. "Sleep Tight" ought to be mandatory listening for anyone who wants to understand what a great hook is all about. But while Rags specializes in the kind of timeless pop song that sounds like it could have come blasting from a real live radio in the late '70s or early '80s, Forest Lawn finds him doing far more than just revisiting the triumphs of the last album. And that is what ultimately makes it an even better record. The band tries everything from the furious Dead Boys/Stooges scorch of "Got No Time" to the epic horn-accompanied ballad "Bullshit Corner" to the tear-off-the-roof rock n' roll of "I Ain't Lucky" to the mellow sensitive guy rock of "Guest List". The more varied song selection brings to mind some of the great rock albums of the past - and we get a broader representation of what Role Models are really about. The band (Daniel Husayn on bass, Simon Maxwell on drums, Nick Hughes on guitar, Rags on guitar and vocals) is in fine form. And a whole slew of special guests (Steve Conte, Sami Yaffa, Chris Barry) make cool contributions.

I think most Role Models fans will agree that Forest Lawn is the band's best album yet. If you're unfamiliar with this band but love heavy guitars mixed with amazing melodic songwriting, you are hereby commanded to catch up with the last album and get this new one as well. The CD is available exclusively from Glunk Records - with a digital release via Amazon and iTunes coming next month. If it wasn't obvious already, Role Models are one of my favorite bands on the planet. Fingers crossed for another album next year!


Friday, August 26, 2016

New Steve Adamyk Band album!

When it comes to singers and songwriters in the present-day punk world, Steve Adamyk has to be considered one of the most underappreciated talents out there. He's such a consistent creator of top-notch powerpop/punk that a lot of people take it for granted when he turns out yet another fantastic album. Fair or not, there's a perception that Adamyk essentially makes the same (great) record over and over. He finally seems poised to shed that rep with Graceland - his fifth album fronting the Steve Adamyk Band (out now on Dirtnap Records). Much to my delight, he accomplishes this without dramatically altering his approach to songwriting.

If you like catchy & ultra-energetic tunes that blur the line between punk rock and power pop, Graceland won't leave you wanting. Opening cut "Though My Fingers" can only be described as "classic" Steve Adamyk Band, and longtime fans will delight in heavily caffeinated racers like "If I Wanted To" and "Lose Control". But while Adamyk certainly would have been capable of delivering another first-rate album without leaving his lane, Graceland finds him majorly benefiting from some subtle changes in approach. "Give It Away" is similar to so many of Adamyk's top songs of the past - but with a less frenzied tempo and more breathing room for the hooks. "Carry On" and "Broken Arms" are pretty much pure power pop - and they're absolutely great! The entire back half of the album in particular hints at something close to a "new" sound for the band - with sprinklings of keyboards and inventive guitar/bass work infusing Adamyk's signature melodic punk style with a modern, new wave influenced feel. "High Mile", with its many layers and darker tone, is unlike anything we've ever heard from the Steve Adamyk Band. Yet it totally works - bringing to mind classic punk bands like the Buzzcocks that managed to indulge their experimental cravings without fully losing the plot. And the super-poppy, synth-infused "She's On My Mind" is a perfect example of why this is such a successful record. Rather than completely reinvent himself as a musician, Adamyk has chosen to add new dimensions that serve to complement what he already does so well. While never in doubt, his skills as a songwriter are really shining in a new light.

This is already my fourth time reviewing a Steve Adamyk Band album, and it has me hoping I'll get to review a whole lot more! If the distinction between previous albums largely came down to feel (e.g. Third was Adamyk's "punk" album; Dial Tone was his "garage" album), Graceland comes off as genuinely different from its predecessors. It still sounds like a Steve Adamyk record - just not one that you've heard before. Perhaps it's because I'm such a pop guy, but I consider this Adamyk's best work since Forever Won't Wait. Seriously: listen to "Carry On". If you're not digging it, I'm not sure we can remain friends.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Here are Tenement Rats!

There are few things I love more in life than '77 style punk rock. I'm especially pumped when I hear a band do the style so well that I can't believe the record wasn't actually made in 1977! Tenement Rats are a current band out of L.A. that sound so much like a real deal punk group from the '70s. I'm talking raw, primitive, and snotty as fuck punk rock that delivers a nasty attitude and killer tunes in equal abundance. The band's ripper of a debut EP is a new release on No Front Teeth Records, but it sounds like something that ought to be sandwiched in your vinyl collection between old 45s from The Users and Killjoys. Song titles like "Baby I'm Nauseous", "Do the Death Drug", and "Cold War Shithole" promise a certain kind of band, and boy do they ever deliver the goods! Seriously: this is the punk rock kick in the teeth that you've been waiting for! It comes as no surprise that members of No Front Teeth standouts Radiohearts and The Gaggers are involved with this group alongside singer/guitarist Jonny Watkins. I'm a huge NFT fan, and this is the best thing the label has released in a while...a must-have for fans of Eater, Slaughter and the Dogs, and GG & The Jabbers!


Friday, August 19, 2016

Lutheran Heat: the debut album!

There's nothing I love more than hearing a band that's totally in my wheelhouse yet somehow completely transcendent of genre. Out today on Piñata Records, Louder From the Other Side is the full-length debut from fab Minneapolis foursome Lutheran Heat. It's a record that I can recommend not just to the garage/punk/power pop crowd, but really to anyone who appreciates exceptional songwriting and music with soul. Likability is one of the great intangibles of music, and Lutheran Heat just has it. Louder From the Other Side sounds a little like that next great album I've been waiting for X to make since the late '80s. Garth Blomberg and Sara Pette are dynamite on dual vocals - excelling individually but making their real magic when their voices combine. They write songs that speak to what's meaningful in life, and they sing them with heart and sincerity.

Having had a few years to develop an impressive repertoire of songs and a strong identity as a band, Lutheran Heat has managed to deliver an unusually accomplished debut album. Musically, the band is all about catchy and well-crafted pop songs - with the additional influence of rootsy rock n' roll, country, soul, indie rock, doo-wop, and the very spirit of Minneapolis itself. These tunes have a way of hooking you not just with melody, but also with the stories they tell and the feelgood vibes they create. Kicking off with the idyllic stunner "About a Summer", Louder From the Other Side proves to be one of those rare albums that delights from start to finish. The hits just don't stop. "Keep Comin' Back" brings to mind something along the lines of Van Morrison fronting a '60s girl group. "Now Ya Know" is full of folksy country goodness that will have you smiling into next week. "Stay Cool" delivers an indelible melody that you'll find yourself whistling at seemingly random moments. "Who Ya Cryin' For?" could get even the dead up and dancing. And "Wire, X, and Heart" is an anthem for those of us who associate many of our most cherished memories with the music that was playing at the time. 

Louder From the Other Side, far more than just a fine collection of songs, is an album in the truest sense. And it's a fantastic one at that. Drummer Justin Nelles totally nails it when he says, "These songs will make you wanna toss some beers in your bag and ride to your favorite porch or river spot and drink 'em all with your buddies." It's a perfect release for these final weeks of summer - as we strive to savor all of the good times the season has left for us. I could say that you should buy this album if you like rootsy power pop and garage stuff. But somehow that would be selling it short. So to put it more accurately: you should buy this album if you love music!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Nerve Button: the debut album!

It has been, what, 42 days since I last reviewed a punk band from Canada? You had to know that I had a little something up my sleeve! Hailing from Moncton, New Brunswick, Nerve Button is the latest in a seemingly endless succession of dynamite punk groups from Up North. The band just released its self-titled debut LP on Germany's Wanda Records, and it's pure trashy fun in the Canuck tradition of Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels. Essentially Nerve Button takes Johnny Thunders inspired '77 style punk rock n' roll and mixes in a touch of junkshop glam along with tongue-in-cheek lyrics of often questionable taste. The result is "maritime sham glam" - a pioneering musical genre that will have you chuckling all day long and bobbing your head until it snaps. I think we can all agree that there's not nearly enough sleaze or bad attitude in today's punk music. Nerve Button feels our pain and has decided to take matters into its own hands. Politically incorrect punk rock is an art form worth preserving, and we just might have met its new kings. 


Monday, August 15, 2016

Girlsville presents: Stupid Punk Boy!

It sucks that real life gets in the way of me writing about all of the really good music that I come across. If I tried to go back and tackle all of those reviews that I just never got around to completing, I'd run out of time long before I ran out of stuff to write about! But in some circumstances, I just have to say "better late than never" and run a review many months past the date of a release. Stupid Punk Boy is a tape compilation that Girlsville released for Cassette Day last October. And although it's almost time for the label to release another comp for this year's Cassette Day, I can think of a number of reasons to justify a (very) late review of Stupid Punk Boy. For one thing, it was the best compilation I heard last year. Additionally, profits from the release have been donated to a wonderful cause (Chicago House's TransLife Center). And finally, Girlsville is a really cool label that deserves your attention. So here we go!

Featuring 24 tracks from 21 bands, Stupid Punk Boy is the perfect introduction to what Girlsville is all about as a label. It's full of garage, girl group, and trashy punk goodness - along with some noisier indie/post-punk selections that fit in splendidly. It has the feel of a comp from the pre-streaming days of the '90s and early 2000s - when releases like this were the best way to discover amazing new bands. A few of these bands are no longer around, but all of these songs were previously unreleased. When you're compiling exclusive material from this many bands, it would be excusable to allow a few throwaways. But honestly, there's absolutely no filler on here. All of the songs are good, and a lot are great. A number of well-known bands (Black Time, The Ettes, Coachwhips, Dum Dum Girls, Mr. Airplane Man) contribute high-quality material, while many of my favorite tracks feature groups I had never heard before (Candy Highway, Bruce and Carl, The Red Cords, Teamsters). Highlights include a 35-second trashy garage punk thrill ride from Candy Highway ("Mad Glad Blah"), a magnificent Love cover from The Ettes ("Live and Let Live"), a top tier number from the mighty Hipshakes ("Pass The Pan"), high energy budget rock from The Red Cords ("Not A Punk"), an obscure Equals cover from Bruce and Carl ("Michael and the Slipper Tree"), wonderfully abrasive punk from Commiserations ("Poorslaw"), a Kinks-y rave-up from The Teamsters ("Love Again"), and not one but two breathtaking cuts from the late great Purple Wizard! If you're a fan of garage and punk music, you will find so much here to love!

You may recall that Girlsville released that phenomenal Prissteens compilation back in June. This is one of the best new labels out there, and Stupid Punk Boy gives you a great idea of what you can expect from future releases. A few copies of the cassette release still remain, and a full download remains available from Bandcamp for just six bucks. Check it out and stay tuned for Girlsville's next compilation The Wild Angels - which releases in October!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band: the live album is here!

I'm usually pretty "meh" about live albums. I get why they exist: to capture what a band really sounds like in concert and perhaps even make you wish you'd been there in person. But for whatever reason, live albums rarely do it for me. Nine times out of ten, I'd rather listen to studio recordings. So it's surprising and exciting to finally encounter a live album that I'm totally into! Live At Grumpy's captures Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band in their proverbial element - a dive bar in downtown Minneapolis. This happens to be one of my favorite bands, which really raised the stakes for potential disappointment (after 20 years, I still wish I could have back the $12 I spent on the Parasites' Nyquil-Fueled Rock Armada). But I had a hunch that this live album would be different, and I was right!

As great as their records are, anyone who's seen Nato and the boys live will tell you that this is a band you have to witness in person. And while no recording can fully duplicate the experience of actually being there, a great deal of what makes Nato Coles an enthralling and engaging performer comes through on these live tracks. He has a way of working a crowd that fully conveys his passion for entertaining - and that brilliant off-the-cuff spoken portion of "An Honorable Man" alone justifies the purchase price of this album. It's clear that if you plunk down some hard-earned cash to see Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band play live, you're gonna get treated to a show! The sound quality here is actually pretty decent, and the song selection avoids excessive overlap with the band's existing LP Promises To Deliver. In addition to album favorites "You Can Count On Me Tonight" and "Econoline", Live At Grumpy's features new material ("Standing on the Corner Alone"), songs from Nato's prior bands ("An Honorable Man", "Coffee Cup"), one of the cuts from the King Friday split ("Sweet Baby"), and a rousing cover of largely unknown Minneapolis garage punkers Cortez The Killer ("I'm A Shark").

A live album from Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band is such a brilliant idea that it's almost hard to believe it took this long to happen. And it sure doesn't disappoint! In the words of Malibu Lou, this album captures a "truly spiritual and uplifting rock n roll performance". There's no denying it: this is a band with some serious live chops! If you've had the pleasure of seeing the band perform, Live At Grumpy's will bring back fond memories. And if you've yet to experience Nato and the gang in concert, this album will make you want to go see them as soon as possible! The rendition of  "An Honorable Man" documented here could prove to be Nato's own "I Want You To Want Me" or "Maybe I'm Amazed" - a live take that is ultimately recognized as the definitive version of the song. And if you're like me, you'll soon be searching for any information you can find on Cortez The Killer! Out now on Rum Bar Records, Live At Grumpy's is a must-have for any fan of Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band. And don't miss the band on tour this month! 


Thursday, August 11, 2016

A deal and a steal from Midnite Snaxxx!

In my book, Dulcinea Gonzalez is a punk rock all-time great. She fronted The Loudmouths - one of the most kick-ass and criminally underappreciated punk bands of the late '90s. Her current band Midnite Snaxxx has been going strong since 2010 - originally a trio with Renee Leal and Tina Lucchesi and now featuring the talents of Chris (guitar), Camylle (bass), and Sammy (drums). If I were listing the top ten bands of this present decade, Midnite Snaxxx would definitely make the cut. Everything this group has released has been gold - and that runs the gamut from those garage/power pop/girl group influenced earlier releases to the straight-ahead '70s punk fury of its most recent single "Don't Wake Me Up". A fine documentation of the band's existing recorded output is now available on cassette. It's called Snaxxx Traxxx 2010-2015, and it can be purchased from Bandcamp for just six bucks. It includes all of the band's self-titled LP from 2012 along with four singles on Total Punk, Goner, and Raw Deluxe Records for a total of 20 songs. If you like playing music on cassette, this is an incredible deal! And even if you aren't a cassette person, you can still download all of these tracks from Bandcamp for less than $20. For a number of years, all of this material was only available on vinyl. I kept holding out hope for a digital release of the Snaxxx catalog, and I am elated that that has become a reality!

Looking at the music that Midnite Snaxxx has produced thus far, it's pretty much everything that great punk ought to be: raw, tough, and perfectly constructed for sing-along fun. The self-titled LP is in the running for punk album of the decade. And with a new long player called Chew On This slated for release in the fall, this is a great time to get caught up on all the older stuff. Snaxxx Traxxx cassettes are limited to 150 copies, so hop to it if you want one!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

New single from The Breakdowns!

With plenty of summer still left to go, the latest single from Nottingham, U.K.'s Breakdowns ought to be cued up in your car and set to play loud! I last reviewed The Breakdowns (sometimes billed in the States as Los Breakdowns) at the beginning of 2015, and since then the band has released two more EPs along with a new single called "Your Hand In Mine". And while the band's musical style generally covers the full spectrum of garage/glam punk/power pop, "Your Hand In Mine" turns its focus to the pure pop side of The Breakdowns. Needless to say, I'm not complaining! "Your Hand In Mine" is a truly fine example of what a three-minute pop song ought to be: exultant, hook-laden rock n' roll celebrating the breathtaking magic of young love. I will always appreciate a band that can deliver a line like "Nobody's gonna tell me ever/We weren't born to be together" and genuinely sell it! While no doubt informed by punk rock and power pop, this song is most deeply rooted in the timeless sounds of the '60s. It leads perfectly into a cover of "When You Walk In The Room" - Jackie DeShannon's splendid 1963 single that was famously re-done by The Searchers a year later.

"Your Hand In Mine" is a formidable addition to The Breakdowns' catalog - a winning homage to the timeless pop singles of yore and a true treat for the eternal teenager that exists within all of us. This is great music for steamy makeout sessions, slow dancing with your sweetie, or just general fun in the sun. All of The Breakdowns recent releases are quite good, so head on over to their Bandcamp and stream away!


Monday, August 08, 2016

Meet The Vitamens!

I love it when a punk band records a demo and it's just freaking perfect. Hailing from Kansas City, The Vitamens play straight-up punk rock that's raw and snotty as hell. They've been swell enough to put this first recording session up on Bandcamp, and the thing just rips! It has that classic punk demo feel to it - capturing a band that's in an early stage of development yet already hinting at inevitable greatness. The songwriting is totally on-point, and lead singer McKayla brings attitude and star power in abundance. You could play this demo for someone and easily pass it off as an unearthed treasure from 1995 or even 1977. What a pleasure it is to discover a band like this in the year 2016! Download is available via Bandcamp. Cassette version coming soon from No Friends!


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Vista Blue's Olympics single!

Summer Olympics 2016 start today, and Vista Blue is on it! Everyone's favorite pop-punk/power pop/oldies-core band has released a free Olympics-themed digital single just in time for the summer games. I recommend downloading it immediately and playing it during commercial breaks. Or if you're headed to a sports bar to catch Olympic coverage, this should be your psyche-up song en route! It amazes me that this band can be so incredibly prolific at turning out new material yet keep coming up with gold (pun absolutely intended). "At The Summer Olympics" is Vista Blue at the top of its game - a Beach Boys inspired ode to the pursuit of Olympic dreams. I'm pretty sure that the melody is going to be stuck in my head all week. The harmonies are on-point, and I dig the sparing but effective use of keyboards and lead guitar. I love how the lyrics use humor to pay great respect to the personal sacrifices an elite athlete has to make ("I've trained for years in North Dakota/I've never had a soda"). "I Don't Wanna Catch The Zika!" is a ripping instrumental homage to The Ramones, and it ought to be the personal anthem for anyone attending this year's Olympic games in Rio.

Vista Blue is a band that continues to delight. Whether you're an Olympics fan or not, check out the group's Bandcamp page for all kinds of free power pop and pop-punk goodness! 


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Real Tears: Too Cool To Rock!

So if you're bummed that Impo & The Tents have called it quits, you'll be happy to hear that fellow Swedes Real Tears have stepped up to fill the void. Not to be confused with The Real Tears (an excellent rock n' roll band from Norfolk, Virginia), the Swedish Real Tears feature a couple of guys from the great Rotten Mind in their lineup. But this is a very different band from Rotten Mind. Real Tears are as pure of a powerpop/punk band as you'll ever hear, and they rip through 15 fast and infectious songs on their delightful debut album Too Cool To Rock. While the phrase "high energy" is sometimes overused by music reviewers, it's pretty much the only way you can describe Real Tears! Only two songs on Too Cool To Rock exceed two minutes in length, and the band powers through every single track with the gusto of a small child hopped up on sugar. Don't be fooled by the wintry scene on the cover. This is a summer album all the way - a dizzying succession of upbeat and hooky punk tunes rooted in the worship of the Dickies and Ramones. And there's nothing wrong with that at all! Too Cool To Rock is out now on Snask Rekårds and can be purchased from Real Tears' Bandcamp. Seriously: how could I not be into a band that writes a song called "Beersday"? Listen and love!


Monday, August 01, 2016

Michael Kane & The Morning Afters: the debut EP!

Michael Kane, a Boston based songwriter, is a guy I can really relate to. He grew up on classic rock, had his life changed by punk music, and has continued to broaden his musical interests as an adult. That's a story very similar to mine. And although I'm no musician, I just love how the songs he writes today bring together most of the music he's ever loved. Formerly a member of Punching Judy and now sometimes a rhythm guitarist in the mighty Cheap Cassettes, Kane is about to release a solo EP on Cassettes on Record Records called Adding Insult To Industry. His backup band The Morning Afters consists of Ryan Kane on bass and Kevin Parkhurst (The Cheap Cassettes, Dimestore Haloes) on drums. The cover arts pays tribute to a myriad of influences from Tom Petty & Bruce Springsteen to The Clash & Ramones to The Replacements to Johnny Cash - and that really gives you a good feel for what Michael Kane is all about. His music is a really nice mix of gutsy punk, blue collar rock n' roll, and reflective alt country. Adding Insult To Industry has the ideal ratio of rockers to ballads - offering two of each. Both of the punkier tunes are top-notch. "Back On The 9", with its unaffected blend of melody and grit, takes me back to the late '90s heyday of bands like the Swingin' Utters, Beltones, and One Man Army. Man, those are some nifty bass lines! Equal parts power pop and rugged rock n' roll, "The Likes of You" is probably the "hit" of the EP. It's a damn fine song - and not at all far removed from The Cheap Cassettes or Dimestore Haloes. Meanwhile, I appreciate that the ballads are not throwaways. They're quite good, and in particular "I'd Propose, But a Song Ain't A Ring" is a standout track on this EP. It's such a wistfully beautiful song that I can't help imagining it playing in some dimly lit bar just before last call as lonely souls reflect on battles lost and heartaches never healed. I'm sometimes lukewarm on ballads, but I find this one to be genuinely moving and simply a gorgeous piece of songwriting. If "The Likes Of You" is the track here likely to catch your attention most quickly, "I'd Propose..." is the one that identifies Michael Kane as a distinctive and exceptionally talented songwriter. I'm definitely left wanting more. Let's hope that this is just the first of many solo releases!

Adding Insult To Industry releases this coming Friday. Locals can buy copies at a CD release show Saturday night at the Hotel Vernon in Worcester. For further info, check out Kane's Facebook page!