Monday, October 31, 2016

Prissteens Christmas EP!

I know what you're thinking: who reviews a Christmas record on Halloween?! Aren't I jumping the gun a little bit? I would ordinarily agree, but The Prissteens Christmas EP is really just one Christmas song with three bonus tracks. So I feel fully justified in reviewing it 75% sooner than I'd review any regular holiday-themed release. More importantly, this digital EP releases today and will only remain available until New Year's. Then it disappears from the face of the earth. So there's no time for dilly-dallying!

If you've been following all of my Girlsville related posts lately, you know that I totally lovvvvvvvve The Prissteens. They were one of the most criminally overlooked bands of late '90s garage and punk, and I continue to be delighted that Girlsville is getting some of their rare and unreleased recordings back into print. Headlining this Christmas EP is "Christmas is a Time For Giving" - an unreleased track from the Scandal, Controversy, and Romance sessions produced by the legendary Richard Gottehrer. It's an instant Christmas classic that ought to become a new staple of your holiday playlists. You could totally slide it onto the A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector comp, and it would fit right in. The "bonus" material consists of remastered B-sides from long out of print Prissteens singles. "Wildman" was the B-side to the band's classic debut 45 "The Hound" (1996). "He's Luckier Than You" backed the band's second single "Hercules" (1996). Perhaps the real prize of the bunch is "Teenage Dicks", which originally appeared on the privately-pressed "Oh Howard" 7" in 1998. I won't give away too much since I want you to hear for yourself. Let's just say that "Teenage Dicks" is a cover of a classic punk song with some very, uh, interesting alterations to the lyrics. I love it!

There are a number of things I like about Girlsville's latest unearthing of Prissteens treasures. My favorite part of that rarities compilation from earlier this year was that it included the A-sides to those essential early singles. That's my favorite Prissteens stuff ever (I like the album, but for me those singles are where it's at!). Now with the release of this Christmas EP, the B-sides are back in print as well! And given that "Christmas is a Time For Giving" is the featured attraction here, I must say it does not disappoint! Come Thanksgiving night when I pop open a pint of Troegs Mad Elf and break out tracks from The Yobs and the Dean Martin Christmas album, I will definitely be adding The Prissteens to the rotation! Download for The Prissteens Christmas EP is a bargain at three bucks. And if you still don't have the Demos and Rarities comp, get on that as well!


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Color TV: the debut EP!

Hey! How about another band from Minneapolis! What is it about all these cold places producing so much awesome music?! Color TV is a band comprised of punk rock veterans who've played in groups such as Cheap Time, The Retainers, and Welcome Home Walker. Following a very good demo from last year, the band's debut EP is out now on Deranged Records. I would describe Color TV's sound as hard-driving melodic punk - which is obviously something I'm into! Influences range from old school Aussie punk to Killed By Death comps to contemporary garage/punk/powerpop to the classic sounds of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Essentially, this is a band you'll want to hear if you like catchy punk with balls. From the first notes of "Meat Wagon", it's clear that this band is at home on the Deranged label. And on "To Death", a slower tempo yields a dark poppy vibe that's very much in line with the best of today's "modern" punk. All in all, this is a totally ace debut from a band that seems poised to make a huge splash going forward. Check it out!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Meet Sore Points!

And again we've got an incredible new punk rock band from Canada! Sore Points hail from Vancouver and have recently released a demo which was recorded in just four days. And let me tell you, the thing is red hot! The trio plays blistering rockin' punk that reminds me a little of the Zero Boys or Vancouver legends DOA. With 7 of 8 tracks clocking in at under two minutes, there's no messing around here. These guys go hard and fast, leaving a trail of melted faces in their path. You could easily have fooled me into believing this demo was dug up from a 1980 time capsule. The sound is raw in entirely the best way, and the style is a real throwback to a time when punk and hardcore were still the same thing. Cassette copies are already gone, but a free download over at Bandcamp is not to be missed! This is the punk band that everyone will be talking about in 2017. But why wait until then?!


Monday, October 24, 2016

Two new ones from Vista Blue!

Vista Blue continues to release new music at such a rapid rate that I'm having trouble keeping up! I last checked in with VB after the release of its Olympics themed EP in August, and since then the band has come out with not one but two seasonal releases for the fall. Summer's Over was released in September, and the band followed that with October Days (And October Nights​!​) earlier this month. We are very quickly running out of days remaining in October, and before long winter will be rearing its ugly head. So it's with a certain sense of urgency that I offer this quick review of Vista Blue's fall two-fer! Get 'em while they're hot!

This really is the best time of the year: the weather's great, football season is in full swing, and I'm imbibing Oktoberfest lager on a nightly basis. Summer's Over, as the title of an EP, is as self-explanatory as it gets. It's both a reflection on good times now passed and a celebration of all that the current season has to offer. "When It Was Summer" is perfectly bittersweet power pop with a touch of synth, while "Changing Leaves" is a breezy instrumental that manages to sound the way a beautiful fall day feels. "Muffins for Breakfast" is a snappy account of how everyone's favorite power pop blogger/DJ, The Ice Cream Man, spent his summer vacation. "I Don't Know Where Dr. Frank Lives" builds wonders off a reference to a mostly forgotten Mr. T. Experience song from 16 years ago. Compared to some other Vista Blue releases, this one runs a little more towards pop than punk. And that makes perfect sense. Pour yourself some apple cider and blast this EP while you relax outside and enjoy what's left of the fall weather!

Meanwhile, October Days (And October Nights​!​) is a celebration of Halloween and horror movies. References to Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street abound, and "I Can't Stay Up All Nite" confronts the consequences of all that seasonal scariness with a wonderful combination of sweetness and humor. I love that a song like "Crystal Lake" comes across as your classic pop-punk rock n' roll tune until you realize what it's really about! And even with the focus on the classics of the scary movie genre, there's also a really cool song called "Teddy" which pays homage to a slasher short of a more recent vintage. I would classify pop-punk and Halloween as two things that just go together, and Vista Blue has reaffirmed that essential truth.

Both Summer's Over and October Days (And October Nights​!​) are free downloads over at Bandcamp, and I truly hope that Vista Blue never stops turning out these digital EPs based on seasonal themes. I have yet to be disappointed by any of this band's efforts. Look for another theme release coming for Christmastime!


Friday, October 21, 2016

Introducing Private Interests!

I've been quiet for a while, but I've got something really great for you today! Private Interests certainly qualify as a Twin Cities power pop super group. You may know Johnny Eggerman as the lead singer of the fantastic Mystery Date - a band I've reviewed three times for F & L. He's one of the finest and most overlooked songwriting talents of today's power pop scene, and now he has joined forces with Cam Soojian from Thee Rugs. The idea was to start a band influenced by '70s powerpop/punk/mod (Jam, Buzzcocks, etc.) with Thin Lizzy-esque harmonized guitars. Sounds like something I'd be totally into, right? Heck, yeah! Also featuring the talents of Damien Tank and Trevor Engelbrektson (lifelong pals who comprise the rhythm section of Minneapolis soul standouts Southside Desire), Private Interests formed last year and are releasing a terrific debut cassette today called Only for a Moment. With so many of these individuals having contributed to an original and exciting new wave/mod revival scene in Minneapolis/St. Paul in recent years (Tank is the co-founder of PiƱata Records), it's hardly a surprise that Private Interests are in a similar vein. Eggerman's contributions to this EP do bring to mind his work with Mystery Date, but there's something really cool about having two creative forces driving this particular band. The band bio nicely sums up this effect by citing the balance between Eggerman's "Cold-War narratives and anxiously romantic lyrics" and Soojian's "pure loud-fast pop contributions". Add in Tank and Engelbrektson's well-honed R & B chops, and you've got a band that no mod-punk fan should dare miss!

The songs contained on Only for a Moment are the first six tunes that Private Interests worked on together after forming last year, and they were recorded live with Eliot Gordon at his all-analog studio in Minneapolis. Thus the excitement and energy of a new band coming together totally shines through, while at the same time the songwriting comes across as nuanced and fully realized. If you're already familiar with Mystery Date and Thee Rugs, you'll find that Private Interests retain the best elements of both bands while further establishing an identity of their own. That kick-n-the-tail rhythm section doesn't hurt either! I'm struck by how perfectly Soojian's melodic lead guitar style suits Eggerman's songs - as if these two were destined to work together. And their harmonized guitar work totally hits that late '70s/early '80s new wave sweet spot.

Private Interests have a way of reminding me of some of my favorite bands from my favorite era of music without falling into the category of copyists. They take the sounds of my youth and genuinely make them new. Seriously: when was the last time you heard of a power pop band citing mid-20th Century Russian literature as an influence? With the Cold War itself seemingly primed for a comeback, this just might be the perfect band for the moment! Only for a Moment is looking like a strong contender for best EP of the year. Cassette is out now on Forged Artifacts, and you can get a digital copy via Bandcamp for just four bucks!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Meet Murph and the Gazorpos!

Hey, let's talk pop! I vowed to keep a close eye on Murph and the Gazorpos after hearing the Falmouth, UK band for the first time on that fantastic new Girlsville comp. When it comes to me and Murph and the Gazorpos, it was love at first listen! It's not every day that I come across power pop with enormous hooks, caffeinated punk energy, and a real rock n' roll edge. This band is on to something special! Singer/guitarist Murph is Charlie Murphy - who also plays in The Red Cords and runs Nerve Centre Records. Unbeknownst to me, the band's first EP came out in April. Arriving hot on its heels is a brand new EP called A Little Reaction - which you can currently stream over at!

With Murph's Red Cords band mate Matt Cleave along for the ride on drums, it's no surprise that Murph and the Gazorpos pack a little more oomph than is usual for a power pop band. Essentially A Little Reaction is catchy-as-hell pop bashed out with the fury and raw energy of garage punk. I can hear the influence of everyone from King Louie to Nick Lowe to Gentlemen Jesse to those numerous Good Vibrations Records greats. Leadoff track "What Do I Do" has got everything you could want in a power pop song: a melody you can whistle all day, lyrics that cut to the core of heartbreak, a beat you can't resist dancing to, and lead guitar work that would make Dave Edmunds holler in delight. And "You Did It", which I just raved about last week, gets my vote for power pop song of the year!

A Little Reaction is available from Super Fan 99 in a super-limited (only 30 copies worldwide!) 5" square vinyl and cassette bundle. Download should be available soon from the Nerve Centre Bandcamp. I think I might have a new favorite band!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New Low Culture album!

I would definitely consider Low Culture's 2013 debut album Screens to be the most underrated of all the great LPs issued by Dirtnap Records in recent years. Truthfully, I can't think of many better examples of the "Dirtnap sound". Listening to it over three years later, I am taken by how well it holds up and perplexed as to how it didn't make my top ten for 2013. I guess it was underrated even by me!

After a long wait, we finally get a second LP from Low Culture. It's called Places To Hide, and it's a dandy! The band, now based in Portland, Oregon, has totally knocked it out of the park with this album. Fans seeking more of the band's poppy, fuzzy, garagey punk goodness will not be disappointed by any means. But rather than rehashing its signature sound, Low Culture has chosen to build off of it. Without getting too far away from what this band does best, Places To Hide combines a tougher sound with more sophisticated songwriting and greater stylistic variety. This still sounds like a Low Culture record, but there are a few tracks that might totally surprise you as well. A lot of the lyrics are inspired by singer Chris Mason's move from New Mexico to Portland and the alienation/dissatisfaction that compelled this life change. Perhaps that sounds like heavy stuff, but I've always admired Mason's ability to pair "bummer" lyrics with music that's upbeat and hard-driving. He reminds me of Bob Mould in that respect. The feel of this album is ultimately triumphant - as Mason works through his issues and finds his way toward the light.

Places To Hide starts out in familiar territory with crowd-pleasing numbers like "Head In a Blender" and "Slave To You" rivaling the best of recent output from label mates such as Radioactivity and The Steve Adamyk Band. And "I Don't Buy It" is a shining example of pop-punk done right. But the breaks from Low Culture's signature form are no less satisfying. "Hate Me When I Go" eases off the tempo and is pretty close to a pure pop song, while the melancholic jangle of "Lonely Summer" really tugs at the heartstrings. Album closer "Shake It Off" - with its post-modern/new wave vibe - is almost completely unrecognizable as a Low Culture song. Yet it's not just there for the sake of something different. It's genuinely one of the highlights of the album - suggesting what Weezer might have sounded like if they'd come out in 1980.

With Places To Hide, we get an album from Low Culture that's somehow both poppier and harder-hitting than its predecessor. It's got enough in common with Screens to keep the fan base happy, but it's definitely a step forward for the band. Even more straight-forward tracks like "Evil" and "Take and Take" have surprising depth due to their emotional intensity and thoughtful lyrics. In every respect, this album is a classic Dirtnap release. Something tells me I won't be overlooking it come year end!


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

New from Girlsville: The Wild Angels comp!

This coming Saturday is International Cassette Store Day. As was the case last year, Girlsville is releasing an absolutely killer compilation tape to commemorate the occasion! It's called The Wild Angels - which has to be one of the coolest comp titles of all-time! At just ten songs, it's a much leaner affair than last year's 24-track blockbuster Stupid Punk Boy. But for sure, it's equally great! Being that this is Girlsville, you know you're getting a really awesome mix of garage trash, girl bands, '60s/Brit Invasion worship, and straight-up rippin' punk. And there's no filler to be found!

The Wild Angels features a number of returning favorites from Stupid Punk Boy. "I'm A Mess" is yet another unreleased scorcher from the late, great Prissteens, and I'm totally loving Purple Wizard's rendition of the Shirelles/Yardbirds standard "Putty (In Your Hands)". The Teamsters return with the spot-on '64 Kinks stylings of "Sharp Suited S.O.A.G.", while The Red Cords' "Box" is great raw punky garage with a distinctly Brit feel. The comp could have ended right there, and I would have been a happy camper. But, wait! There's more! How about the legendary Primitives (!) covering The Aislers Set's "Been Hiding"? As you'd expect, it's sheer indie pop bliss! City Slang, one of my favorite new bands of the moment, contributes the Detroit/Aussie punk face-melter "Aint the Way". And Cheap Tissue's "Up My Sleeve" is the kind of gloriously trashed-out punk rock n' roll that I just don't hear enough of these days. I was not previously familiar with Murph and the Gazorpos, but I will be following the band closely after getting totally knocked out by the infectious rockin' power pop of "You Did It". Seriously: this song makes me want to jump around like a maniac and dance until I drop! Exploding Hearts fans, lend me your ears!

If you didn't know it already, Girlsville is a label worth checking out! That Prissteens rarities comp is a must-have, and next year the label will be issuing a Purple Wizard singles collection (oh my god I can't wait!). Also be on the lookout for new stuff on Girslville from Mr. Airplane Man - who make an appearance on The Wild Angels unveiling a new tune they recorded with Greg Cartwright. If you're not a cassette person, please note that The Wild Angels is also available digitally for just seven bucks. Look for the cassette starting Saturday at fine retailers like Fond Object (Nashville), Bric A Brac Records (Chicago), Jigsaw Records (Seattle), Wax Trax Records (Denver), and Nerve Centre Records (Falmouth, UK)!