Monday, November 28, 2016

It's a Vista Blue Christmas!

This has very much been the year of Vista Blue. The band has released an incredible eight digital EPs in 2016 - including special theme releases for Halloween, the Summer Olympics, the fall, and the opening day of baseball season. So it's no surprise that VB's last release of the year is a Christmas EP. And there's a story to go with it. Lead singer Mike teams up with some musician pals every year, and they record a bunch of holiday-themed songs - essentially creating an annual audio Christmas card that can be shared with friends and family. This tradition has been going on for 16 years and counting. Check It Twice, the new Vista Blue EP, consists of updated versions of songs Mike originally wrote for these Christmas comps between 2012 and 2014. How hot off the presses is this thing? So hot that four of the five tracks were just recorded this month!

Check It Twice again retains all of the signatures of a Vista Blue release. The sound is still textbook pop-punk leaning power pop, with lyrics showing great heart and wit. "Dreaming of the Right Christmas" is a Christmas tune in a truly classic mold - suitable even to those with zero attachment to pop-punk music. It's just so warm and tuneful - with a sweetness to it that really gets to the heart of what the holidays are truly about. A joyful Christmas is always more about who you get to spend it with than it is about what you can afford to buy. "Bobby Kringle" is a buzzing number about an ironically-named hater of all things Christmas, while "I Got Nothing For You" confronts the horrifying realization that one has neglected to purchase a present for a certain special someone. Speaking of horror, "My Zombie Christmas Song" is exactly what the title promises. Finally, "A '90s Kind of Christmas" is a Dr. Frank-ish acoustic number chock full of pop cultural references from two decades ago. Mike's talents as a writer have really been shining on recent VB releases, and that continues to be the case here!

To me, it's just awesome that Vista Blue has gone to the trouble and expense of making so much of its music available for free this year. Check It Twice is yet another name-your-price download over at Bandcamp, and there's lots more where that came from if you enjoy these songs. Even if you've had to write off 2016 as a shit year, Vista Blue has ensured that it hasn't been all bad.


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Connection's A Christmas Gift For: out today on vinyl!

It has already been two years since I hailed The Connection's A Christmas Gift For as "literally the best Christmas album in 40 years". I fully stand by that statement, and I am pleased to announce that this instant seasonal classic is now out on vinyl in conjunction with Record Store Day Black Friday. It's available starting today at participating record stores on opaque red & green vinyl - limited to 400 copies worldwide! Check the Rum Bar Facebook page for a partial list of stores that are carrying this release!

If you're not a record collector but still want to own a fantastic rock n' roll Christmas record, A Christmas Gift For is still available from the Rum Bar Records Bandcamp on CD or download for just ten bucks. Rum Bar, in fact, is having a top shelf Black Friday sale on all of its fine releases via Bandcamp. Enter the code #blackfriday at checkout, and you'll get a 20% discount!

Let the holiday season begin! 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hunters: the debut album!

I'm always game for a really great pure rock n' roll record, so the debut album from Hunters is totally hitting the spot for me. With Hunters emerging from the streets of Helsinki and wearing the influence of early rock n' roll, '70s punk, and golden era glam rock on their sleeves, most people will be quick to make  a comparison to Hanoi Rocks. And while that's not off the mark at all, I'd say Hunters are more of a straight-ahead rock n' roll band with catchy, fist-pumping choruses. The album is called Dead End, and it was released earlier this year by the Finnish label Stupido Records. Glunk Records has just made it available from its web store, so this is a great opportunity for my friends in the U.K. to score a real belter of an LP!

Kicking off with the punky/glammy rockin' title track, Dead End wastes no time getting down to business. This is a band that's about the rock and the roll - with smokin' guitars and big hooks at every turn. For sure, Hunters have stacked this record with hits! "Radio" delivers a sing-along chorus worth its weight in gold, and "Tribute" is as exuberant and life-affirming as rock n' roll gets. "Before You" is infectious girl group pop sauntering through a New York Dolls back alley, while "Crackdown" has a grimy Dead Boys feel with just the right amount of saxophone. And while "Get Wrecked" will do nothing to discourage the "street rock" label often placed upon this band, the true spirit of Hunters is found in the '50s rock n' roll frenzy of anthemic album closer "We're Alright". Now that is a rousing number!

Every so often, we are treated to one of those records that reminds us that rock n' roll is still king. The debut album from Hunters is one such release. No advancements or innovations in modern music can ever replace the sheer glory of those triumphant, primitive sounds that implore us to dance around wildly, sing along at the tops of our lungs, and just have fun being alive. And while Hunters naturally impress in the attitude and taste departments, their talent for quality songwriting should not be underestimated either. They are major up-and-comers in the world of below-ground rock n' roll. In yet another stellar year for punk/glam/rock n' roll LPs, Dead End is one of the very best.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Holy crap: a new Ergs 7"!!!

Did you witness the wildness and sheer ecstasy of Chicago Cubs fans celebrating their World Series victory? That would give you an idea of how I behaved when a brand-new Ergs record showed up in my mailbox last week. The neighbors are still looking at me funny. 

I must have reviewed The Ergs at least ten times between 2000 and 2007, and I can't think of a band I loved more in that first decade of the millennium. It has now been eight years since the band called it a day, and you could say we have the demise of The Ergs to thank for some of the best music of recent times (Night Birds, Black Wine, solo Mikey Erg). Even so, I'd be lying if I said I haven't missed The Ergs. In conjunction with a reunion show recently performed at The Fest 15, The Ergs got together earlier this year and secretly recorded a new record! It's out on vinyl on Whoa Oh Records – the label that gave us the band's debut 7" and LP way back when. And while I'm happy that Goddamn Death Dedication exists at all, I'm even happier that it's a great Ergs record. You can tell that the guys really took the task of making one last EP seriously (while still refusing to take themselves seriously, which is their ultimate appeal). Each band member brought a top-notch original song to the table, and an avant garde meets noise rock cover of The Knack's "My Sharona" is the sort of rock nerd inside joke that has always endeared this band to me.

Leadoff track "Depot Avenue" is vintage Ergs all the way - amazing pop-punk with a wonderfully wistful/melancholic vocal from Mike and the usual ace guitar work from Jeff. Nobody writes or sings this sort of song better than Mikey Erg - who so convincingly represents every dude who's ever loved and lost. If you wonder how he's found time to amass such extensive relationship experience while also playing in over 400 bands, well that is a mystery that some of our most brilliant physicists have been trying in vain to crack. The Joe-penned "September/October" is hard-driving and catchy as hell- bringing to mind later SST era Husker Du if they'd gone full-on pop-punk. If I were forced to name my favorite track on the record, this would be it. "Everybody loves the new car smell/But I think the lease is up as far as I can tell" is the best lyrical couplet of the year. "Walk Against the Parade" again demonstrates what a fantastic lyricist and hugely underrated songwriter Jeff is. It's such a straight-forward, satisfying punk tune - yet incredibly profound as well. Whether you think of "No Sharona" as a mere exercise in comedy or a true triumph of interpretation, there's no denying that you haven't heard anything like it before. Think turn-of-the-'80s Manhattan no wave meets the screeching rage of Nirvana at its most dissonant - somehow applied to one of the most ubiquitous pop hits that Western civilization has ever known. I consider myself a huge fan "My Sharona" and have even been known to get into fist fights with individuals who think it's amusing to enjoy it "ironically". I can appreciate that The Ergs picked this song for transformation because they realize how awesome it is.

Given how many years it has been since The Ergs disbanded, it's probable that the band would be unknown to at least a small percentage of people who currently follow punk rock. And I really think that if you've never heard The Ergs before, Goddamn Death Dedication is as good of a place as any to start. This is not the work of a once-great band phoning it in just for the sake of delivering product. And although all of these guys have grown immensely as musicians and artists over the years, when they get together they still sound like The Ergs. Hearing the goofy banter at the beginning of "Depot Avenue", I'm taken by how little The Ergs ever changed in spirit from their earliest days. The records got better and crowds got bigger. But to the end, The Ergs were three music geeks playing pop-punk with heart and humor. For all of the fans who've been eagerly awaiting Goddamn Death Dedication for months, I guarantee that you won't be disappointed. It's an A-caliber Ergs release. If this is the last we ever hear from the band, I can't think of a better way to bow out. I can happily tell you that this is not the last Ergs review I'll ever write. More on that in a week or two!

You can order Goddamn Death Dedication via The Ergs' Bandcamp or the Whoa Oh Records web site.  The Whoa Oh web site has the entire label discography available for streaming, so check it out and dig into some of the finest pop-punk records of the last decade and a half!


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Some new old stuff from Night Birds!

I'm a bit embarrassed that I'm a month late getting to this review. Come on, it's the freaking Night Birds! I would not blame the band for declining to make a donation in my name to The Human Fund this Christmas. But late or not, this post is well worth your attention! If you're a huge fan of Night Birds (and who isn't?!), you really need to get your hands on the band's recently released collection of early demos. Titled Who Killed Mike Hunchback?, this is actually the second in a series of original demos released by Fat Wreck Chords. The obvious point of comparison is the Black Flag '82 Demos bootleg - which a lot of fans consider to be superior to the proper releases those songs would later appear on. And while no one's complaining about how these particular Night Birds songs turned out on record (five of them ended up on the first LP, and "Thrilling Murder" appeared on the band's self-titled 7"), these demos rip so hard that it would have been a shame if they'd never been released! The case could be made for A-side cuts "Demon Haunted World", "One Eye", and "Oblivious" being at least as good as the later studio versions. And it's fascinating to hear former guitarist Mike Hunchback serve as a one-man band on rough demo versions of classic NB tracks "Born Of Man and Woman" and "Thrilling Murder". This release is an incredible treat for fans, who should quickly go about securing one of the 1500 limited copies. Yet if this was somehow your first time hearing Night Birds, you'd immediately appreciate what a ferocious and fantastic band this is. Seriously: hearing these demos takes me back to the very first time I heard Night Birds and how instantly blown away I was. Get Who Killed Mike Hunchback via Night Birds' Bandcamp or directly from Fat Wreck!


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Introducing Jonesy!

So I recently received a message from Vinny from The Fanatiques and Clean-Cuts - a Frenchman I can always count on to carry the torch for '77 style punk rock. He told me he had a new band going based in Montreal, Canada. Of course I checked the band out and was duly impressed. The group is called Jonesy, and its debut single is out now on the eternally dependable No Front Teeth Records. Essentially Jonesy combines the musical influence of classic '77 punk (Sex Pistols, Heartbreakers, Dead Boys) with lyrics influenced by the likes of GG Allin and The Dwarves. If you're easily offended, you may want to steer clear! But if you enjoy the sleazy side of '70s punk rock n' roll and can appreciate the humor/shock factor of blatantly distasteful lyrics, I think you're really gonna love this band! The Steve Jones/Cheetah Chrome style guitar work is absolutely ripping, and these songs totally lend themselves to singing along (although you may feel the need to take a shower afterwards!). I am very interested in finding out what Jonesy has in store for us on future releases. Will they get their minds out of the gutter? Do we even want them to? Another winning release from No Front Teeth!


Friday, November 04, 2016

New Kurt Baker album!

The man is back! If it seems like it wasn't that long ago that I was reviewing Kurt Baker's last album, that's because it wasn't! Play It Cool was released just 13 months ago, and Baker has already followed it up with the fantastic In Orbit! Out on Stevie Van Zandt's Wicked Cool Records, In Orbit is Baker's first studio album to feature his kick-ass Spanish touring band (Jorge Colldan on lead guitar, Juancho López on bass, and Sam Malakian on drums - along with the great Kris Rodgers contributing keyboards on the majority of the tracks!). And while this is a Kurt Baker album, it has a slightly different feel compared to the previous ones. Of course it's packed with massive hooks and catchy choruses recalling the heyday of power pop/FM rock crossover. But this is by far the most rockin' KB release to date - incorporating a lot more '60s garage/R & B/British Invasion influences and highlighting The Combo's well-honed bar band chops. Essentially Baker has doubled down on the more "live" energy of Play It Cool while still fully exhibiting his mastery of the three-minute pop song. Close your eyes, and there's a hot band right in front of you putting on a rip-roaring rock n' roll show!

In Orbit is as strong and diverse of a collection of songs as Kurt Baker has ever delivered. If you're looking for a pure power pop album or a pure garage/rock n' roll album, you might be disappointed. But if you're seeking the perfect mix of both, this is it! "Baby's Gone Bad", with its driving beat, knockout chorus, and ripping guitar solo, was the obvious choice for the album's first single. "Do It For You" is one of those rare examples of power pop with actual power! "Count On Me" and "Ugly Way To Be" dig deep into the roots of rock n' roll, while the 1-2 punch of "Modern Day Rock 'N' Roll Girl" and "Next Tomorrow" falls into the category of "vintage" Kurt Baker. The latter track is probably my favorite of the album. Also under heavy consideration is "Rusty Nail" - a high-energy soul raver that's sure to ignite non-stop dancing wherever it's heard.

Counting solo releases and bands in which he's a primary member, the number of Kurt Baker reviews on this blog has now reached double figures! If I had to name an "MVP" among the current generation of rock n' rollers, Baker would be my choice. He's a fine singer, a tremendous songwriter, and a steadfast believer in using music to make the world a more fun place. For an artist this prolific, it's remarkable how consistently killer his releases are. The man could be forgiven for phoning in a song or two, but he's just not wired that way. Heck, even his B-sides collection was better than a lot of bands' best albums! Good on Little Steven for recognizing his talent and exposing his music to a satellite radio audience that literally numbers in the millions. So yeah: great rock n' roll is still being made, and it's still being played on the radio! In Orbit is available digitally from iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. and on vinyl directly from Wicked Cool!


Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Pale Lips make an album!

Oh boy! If there was one new album I was most looking forward to hearing in 2016, it was the debut long player from Montreal foursome Pale Lips. Now it has arrived, and it's absolutely as great as I thought it would be!

Wanna Be Bad, out on Hosehead Records in Canada and Resurrection Records in the U.S., is a fully satisfying follow-up to last year's brilliant debut EP Got A Sweet Tooth. Of course I can never get enough of these bands that build their foundation on the dual influence of '60s girl groups and The Ramones. But Pale Lips set themselves apart from a lot of similar acts in the respect that they're a rock n' roll band first and foremost. If you've spent the last 35 years wishing that Nikki and the Corvettes had made a second LP, Wanna Be Bad is the album you've been waiting for!

Kicking off with the relentlessly high-spirited "Doo Wah Diddy Shim Sham Shimmy (Bama Lama Loo)", Wanna Be Bad wastes no time in establishing itself as an album that was made to be enjoyed. Quite literally, this record is non-stop fun! I may have remarked to a few people that "Mary-Lou Sniffin' Glue" is the greatest song ever recorded, and that's only slight hyperbole. "Jangaroo", by all rights, should inspire the #1 dance craze of 2016. If you can imagine a '60s cult movie where a bad-ass girl gang suddenly breaks into song, "Queen of Spades" would be that song. "Romanne" has me picturing an all-female band that could have given Chuck Berry and Little Richard a run for their money. "Rock 'N' Roll Dipshit" immediately merits a spot on a playlist featuring the best songs from Nikki and the Corvettes, BobbyTeens, and early Donnas.

Pale Lips, as I anticipated, have placed themselves in the thick of the album of the year conversation. You will not come across a better combination of infectious sing-along tunes, clever as hell lyrics, and unadulterated youthful energy. It goes without saying that Wanna Be Bad is a mandatory must-buy for any fan of the bubblegum punk/power pop/garage girl group thing. But beyond that, this album is a resounding affirmation that good old rock n' roll is still the music this world needs the most. I urge you to play it at the highest possible volume while you're hanging out with friends, driving with the windows down, engaging in illicit relations, or just dancing around your bedroom for the pure joy of it. If there were any remaining doubts that being bad is a fine thing to aspire to, Pale Lips have laid them to rest.