Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Lord Rutledge Awards 2016

It's New Year's Eve, and you know what that means! I am happy to present my sixth annual Lord Rutledge Awards! 2016 was, for a lot of people, a crappy year. But it wasn't all bad. In the world of punk, garage, power pop, and rock n' roll music, it was a damn fine year. And at the rate we're going, the new year looks to be even better! I will now salute some of the bands, individuals, and labels that brought exceptional music into the world in 2016.

Album of the Year:
Radio Days- Back In The Day (Surfin' Ki Records)
You can read my full list of top 20 albums here.

Song of the Year:
Pale Lips- "Mary-Lou Sniffin' Glue"
Song of the year - and probably song of the freakin' decade

EP of the Year:
Fashionism- Subculture Suicide (Dirt Cult Records)
Fingers crossed for a full-length in 2017! Runner-ups: Slow Faction- This Machine Kills Fascists, Lovesores- Rock and Roll Animal, Ergs- Goddamn Death Dedication.  

Single of the Year:
The Crazy Squeeze- "To The Lonely Ones" b/w "Red Rosie"(Pure Punk Records)
There was plenty of competition with the likes of Maniac, Aerosol Burns, The Gaggers, TV Crime, and The Breakdowns also turning out excellent singles. But this long-delayed return of The Crazy Squeeze was well worth the wait. The world can never have too many anthems. 
Best New Band:
Murph and the Gazorpos
Murph is Charles Murphy (Red Cords, Planet Jazz) doing heart-on-sleeve power pop with lo-fi/garage production. A must-hear for fans of King Louie and Gentleman Jesse. Honorable mention for this award goes out to Private Interests and Sore Points.   

Album of the Year (Masters Class):
Teenage Fanclub - Here (Merge Records)
This award goes to the best album released by a band that's 25 years or more into its existence. Here is TFC's best album in nearly two decades - and proof that great guitar pop bands are capable of aging like fine wine.

Solo Artist of the Year:
Nick Piunti
Even the most extraordinarily talented solo artists are only as strong as their backing bands. So Andy Reed, Donny Brown, and Ryan Allen (who almost took this award himself!) must be commended here as well. Second runner-up: a guy named Bob Mould. 

Split of the Year:
Pagans/The Guillotines - Split EP (Just 4 Fun Records)
"Hopped Up", in my humble opinion, is up there with some of the strongest Pagans 7" tracks from back in the day. The Guillotines feature Robert Conn (ex Pagans, The Defnics) on guitar and vocals and play real deal old school punk rock n' roll. One of 2016's most essential 7" releases!

Compilation of the Year: Various Artists: The Wild Angels (Girlsville)
Released for International Cassette Day, this 10-song comp from Girlsville features a great mix of heavy-hitters (Black Time, Mr. Airplane Man), up-and-comers (City Slang, Murph and the Gazorpos), and gone-but-not-forgotten garage greats (Purple Wizard, The Prissteens) - plus a previously unreleased Aislers Set cover from The Primitives! A great showcase for one of the best labels going.  

Best Live Album:
Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band - Live At Grumpy's (Rum Bar/ADD Records)
This is a new category this year since I cannot recall ever enjoying a live album in my adult life. But there's always a first time for everything. Live At Grumpy's will make you want to go see Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band. And if you've already seen the band, it will surely bring back fond memories. Features THE definitive version of "An Honorable Man".

Best Cover Song:
The Dahlmanns - "Do You Want Crying"
I love that The Dahlmanns frequently include cover tunes on their releases. They always give a song that unique Dahlmanns touch. "Do You Want Crying" is a largely overlooked track from the second Katrina and the Waves album. I'm still undecided which version is better - they're both great!

Vault Treasure of the Year:
The Prissteens - Demos and Rarities (Girlsville)
Here's a second mention for Girlsville! Demos and Rarities packages tracks The Prissteens demoed for what would have been their second LP with the A-sides from their long out-of-print early singles. Essential stuff from a band that massively influenced the intersection of punk, garage, and girl group pop that flourishes today.

Best Singles Collection:
Stiletto Boys - When Wolves Emerge (The 1996-1998 Studio Sessions) (Zodiac Killer Records)
All the earliest, rawest stuff from one of the greatest punk rock bands ever!

Best Album of Late 2015:
The Bloodtypes - Pull The Plug 
There always seems to be that one album that comes out so late in the year that it misses the cut for my year-end top ten list - although it totally would have made the list if I'd heard it just a little sooner. And, then of course, it doesn't qualify for the following year's list. It's not right that such a record would fall between the cracks like that! So let us now celebrate the remarkable second album from The Bloodtypes, which would easily make a revised list of my top ten albums of 2015!   

Best Release I Did Not Review in 2016:
Sheer Mag-  III
Sometimes when bands are heavily acclaimed by a large number of publications much bigger and better than mine, I see no point in adding my two cents. That said, I think Sheer Mag is one of the best bands on the planet. For once, the critics are right! If you've been living under a rock and aren't aware of the band's three singles, track them down by all means. 

Label of the Year:  
Surfin' Ki Records
Italy's Surfin' Ki has been one of the best labels going for many years now, and it finally takes the hardware in 2016. The label was responsible for my #1 (Back In The Day by Radio Days) and #19 (You Ain't Gonna Rock And Roll No More by Juvie) albums of 2016, plus a great new Shanghais EP and the recently-released smokin' debut album from So What. And that's only a portion of what Surfin' Ki released this year!

Most Welcome Digital Reboot:
Midnite Snaxxx - self titled 
I'd been wishing upon a star for a digital release of this album since it was released back in 2012. I finally got it! 

The F & L Championship Belt:
The Connection 
The championship belt is awarded annually to my current favorite band. The Connection retains the title from last year - and will have to battle the likes of The Cheap Cassettes and Something Fierce to make it three in a row in 2017!

I hope this led some of you to discovering something cool! Thanks to all of you for taking the time to stop by. Have a safe and happy new year! 


Archive of Lord Rutledge Awards:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top Twenty Albums of 2016

So this is the year it finally happened: I took a good, hard look at my best albums of the year list and realized that a top ten was not going to be adequate. There was such little separation between my first ten and my second ten that I decided to just go ahead and do a full top twenty. Unlike some years where a couple of records tend to dominate, 2016 brought an exceptionally high volume of excellent LPs. I could have made this a top 30 without any difficulty.

So let's get to it! This list reflects the high quality of punk, garage, power pop, and rock n' roll music being turned out by bands all over the world (eight different countries are represented!). I have provided streaming links where available so you can listen for yourself. Compilations, reissues, etc. will be recognized when I do my annual year-end post on Saturday.

20. Real Tears - Too Cool To Rock
Catchy as hell powerpop/punk from Sweden. Any band that writes a song called "Beersday" is sure to get all of my love.

19. Juvie - You Ain't Gonna Rock And Roll No More
How you can not love a band doing a '70s version of '50s rock n' roll in 2016? Featuring our pal Travis Ramin!

18. The Steve Adamyk Band - Graceland
One of the finest and most reliable bands in the powerpop/punk world, doing what it does best. 

17. Big Eyes - Stake My Claim
First album as a foursome, and of course it rocks! 

16. Low Culture - Places To Hide
Another impressive showing from one of the most underrated bands out there. I promised not to overlook this album come year-end! 

15. Watts - The Black Heart Of Rock N Roll
The greatest classic rock record of the decade. 

14. Los Pepes - All Over Now
Supremely satisfying sophomore effort from "the loudest powerpop band on Earth"! 

13. Hunters - Dead End
Glammy, punky rock n' roll goodness from the streets of Helsinki! 

12. Lutheran Heat - Louder From The Other Side
If X had been re-born in the modern day as a rootsy garage/pop band... 

11. The Hot LZ's - Aggravate My Mind
This one will be up your alley if you love The Humpers, Dead Boys, and Stooges. 

10. Tommy and the Rockets - Beer And Fun And Rock 'n' Roll
Tommy and the Rockets are an international bubblegum/punk/rock n' roll supergroup featuring the talents of Thomas Stubgaard (The Lingertones, The Hitchcocks) and Michael Chaney (The New Trocaderos). If your musical sweet spot is the Beach Boys via the Ramones, Beer and Fun... is not to be missed!

9. Drakulas- Raw Wave
The best thing to come out on Dirtnap Records in quite a while. 

8. Hakan - II
A rare case of the sequel being as good as the original. For fans of millennial era garage/punk/powerpop a la Marked Men, Kidnappers.

7. Beach Patrol- Eudaimonia
Longtime favorites of mine, Beach Patrol had my album of the year ten years ago and rated near the top again in 2016!

6. Role Models- Forest Lawn
The title is a reference to the neighborhood where Rich Rags grew up. The album celebrates all of the great punk, rock n' roll, and power pop music he discovered there. We are witnessing the ascension of one of our great modern-day songwriters.

5. Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms - Basement Punk
The quick sales pitch is that this album is Allen's homage to all of the amazing indie/alternative bands of the early '90s that led him to the world of underground music. What's so impressive is that these influences are melded so seamlessly into his introspective power pop style.    

4. Kurt Baker Combo- In Orbit 
Baker, who had my #1 album of 2012 and my #2 album of 2015, scores big again in 2016 with his first studio album featuring his powerhouse Spanish touring band. 

3. Nick Piunti- Trust Your Instincts
This sets the bar for "power pop for grownups". In what kind of lousy world is "One Hit Wonder" not a massive hit single?!

2. Pale Lips - Wanna Be Bad 
This was my most highly-anticipated album of 2016, and it did not disappoint! Imagine The Shangri-Las singing for the Ramones with Chuck Berry on guitar. 

1. Radio Days - Back In The Day
I've got to say that Pale Lips made a really good run at album of the year. But in the end, I've got to give it to Radio Days. Back In The Day does not attempt to be anything more or anything less than a classic power pop album. And I have not heard a finer specimen of the genre in several years.

So there you have it. I'll add that So What's Hard Gum would have been under serious consideration as well if it had been released just a little bit sooner. Honorable mentions go to the debuts from Indonesian Junk and Dark Thoughts! 


Saturday, December 24, 2016

New Miss Chain single!

I can't think of a better way to end another year of reviews than with a post on my longtime favorites Miss Chain & The Broken Heels! It has been a really long time since we've heard from Italy's finest musical export. "Uh Uh" is the band's first release since 2013's fantastic LP The Dawn - and its first new single since 2012. I must say it does not disappoint. Essentially Miss Chain & The Broken Heels have evolved over many years from a great power pop band into a great pop band, period. Astrid's voice - so lovely and warm and expressive- has been served well by maturity. "Uh Uh" is upbeat, twangy pop with a knockout melody. It's likely to send you into a frenzy of head-bobbing or impromptu dancing. On the flip, "Standing the Night" slows the pace and mellows out the vibe. It's just so pretty, with standout harmonies and guitar work. Even with the band members taking some well-deserved time off after extensive touring for The Dawn, the magic is still there. I couldn't be happier with these two songs! Get the single from Bachelor Records, and let's cross our fingers for a new album in 2017!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Ergs: one final collection!

So I promised that my review of Goddamn Death Dedication would not be my last-ever post on The Ergs. While it was incredibly satisfying to hear the band bow out on such a high note, the New Jersey trio has also left behind one final treat for fans. "Okay, Enough Reminiscing" is the sequel to the band's compilation Hindsight is 20/20, My Friend -  and it collects all of the singles the band released after Volume 1 came out along with some rarities and unreleased gems. It's a digital-only release available from The Ergs' Bandcamp, and it's affordably priced for just $5. You get 22 songs in all - including a few that have never seen the light of day before. I suppose that one could argue that this release is for fans only. But, you know, that's the whole point! The fact that The Ergs have managed to release two full compilation albums inspired by one of the greatest motion pictures of all-time, Dirty Work, only adds to their considerable legacy. Contained here you'll find tracks from the band's That's It ...Bye and Thrash Compactor EPs along with the songs from splits with The Measure [sa] and Teenage Bottlerocket, covers of the likes of Parasites & Sicko, and even a couple of live tracks. The song selection was carefully thought over by the band, and it's clear that The Ergs' recorded output fully merited a second singles collection. This is all quality stuff, and a number of these songs belong in every fan's collection. "Anthem for a New Amanda", in my humble opinion, is up there with the best of the Ergs 7" cuts. "Encyclopedia Self-Destructica" is the closest the band came to writing its own "Answering Machine" or "Within Your Reach". "Johnny Rzeznik Needs His Ass Kicked" ought to air as a public service announcement on TV and radio. And The Hunchback cover "Last Man On Earth" might be the most essential track on the entire compilation.

So it seems that the releases of "Okay, Enough Reminiscing" and Goddamn Death Dedication fully close the book on The Ergs. If so, what a book it was! This was, at least, the greatest pop-punk band of its time. And how can you not love a band that records a thrash EP just for the fun of it and introduces a ZZ Top cover as "proto pop-punk"? The incredible response to the trio's brief reunion this year shows that this was not a band that would be quickly forgotten. And damn straight, the music holds up! Those unfamiliar with The Ergs would be well-advised to start with Volume 1 of the Hindsight series or 2004's brilliant LP Dorkrockcorkrod. And if you're a confirmed fan, OK, Enough Reminiscing is the best possible way for you to spend five bucks. Download comes with PDF liner notes which tell the stories behind the songs. I choose to imagine that Artie Lange owns this comp and listens to it often.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Connection: Just For Fun!

Boy, this year is ending with some killer releases! As I teased a couple of weeks back, The Connection has done something totally fun and released an all-covers album to close out 2016. Titled Just For Fun, the album came out this past Friday as a digital release via Bandcamp. A physical release will follow early next year, and Rum Bar Records has already opened CD pre-orders.

While I'm definitely jonesing for some all-new material from The Connection, I am enjoying the hell out of Just For Fun. I wish more bands did this sort of thing! When I come across fantastic songwriters like Brad and Geoff, I'm always curious about which songwriters they admire. Here The Connection pays homage to some obvious influences (Dictators, Rolling Stones, Dave Edmunds, Buddy Holly) as well as ripping into some killer tunes that are just super fun to cover (Bob Seger's 1974 scorcher "Get Out Of Denver", George Thorogood's AOR smash "Get A Haircut"). The band makes no attempt to "top" the source material (it's literally impossible to improve "Get Out of Denver" or The Dictators' "Stay With Me"). But it does a great job of making Just For Fun sound like a Connection record. If you didn't know any better, you might even think that the likes of "I Can Read Between The Lines" (Gary Lewis and the Playboys) and "Streets Of Baltimore" (Tompall & the Glaser Brothers/Bobby Bare/Gram Parsons) were Connection originals! "Stay With Me" is an all-time top five favorite song for me. In theory, I should be completely opposed to any band attempting to touch it. But ya know what? I genuinely love The Connection's version, and I would be shocked if Andy Shernoff doesn't love it too! All of these tracks show great reverence for the original versions, but the band still manages to put that Connection signature on them.

I think part of what makes rock n' roll such a vital form of music is that it continues to honor its roots. And considering that most "oldies" radio stations now play almost nothing from prior to 1970, it's largely up to the newer bands to keep these old songs alive. That's why I never view a cover song as "filler" or a "throwaway", and that's why I find great value in all-covers albums like Just For Fun. If The Connection's cover of "Southern Girls" convinces just one person to seek out Cheap Trick's classic original, that's a total win! Produced by Brad and Geoff, Just For Fun was made with the involvement of a lot of super talented people. B-Face (The Queers, Groovie Ghoulies) plays bass on a few tracks, and the great Kris Rodgers is a monster on the keyboards as always. The album was mixed by Mike Kennerty (The All-American Rejects) and mastered by legendary pop-punk producer Mass Giorgini. Of course it sounds like a million bucks, and I can't imagine any Connection fan not wanting to have it! Favorite tracks for me are "I Can Read Between The Lines" (Gary Lewis, to me, is an unappreciated great of '60s pop) and the aforementioned "Stay With Me". And kudos to the band for picking a somewhat lesser-known Stones song ("No Expectations") and totally nailing it. Download Just For Fun today for just eight bucks! 


Monday, December 19, 2016

The New Frustrations: brand-new EP!

So if I had to list my current favorite bands, The New Frustrations would be way up there. The group formed a decade ago when ex johnnies Tim, Scag (RIP), and Brian joined forces with Rick and Tom and rechristened themselves The New Frustrations. I was a huge of The johnnies, and I quickly found that I loved The New Frustrations just as much. In 2006, the band recorded one of the best demos I've ever heard. A debut EP called Power Pop Rocks arrived a year later - although I had fallen off the face of the Earth at that point and was not around to review it. So now, for the first time in ten years, I have the pleasure of reviewing new material from The New Frustrations. Christmas has come early!

The new EP Dee Bacle, released just last week, sounds like it could have come out nine days after Power Pop Rocks as opposed to nine years. The New Frustrations haven't lost the plot at all! They still bring that classic mix of power pop, '70s punk, and straight-up rock n' roll. And while Scag is gone, his presence is still felt through the inclusion of his song "Too Scared To Kiss You". The band hooked me off the bat with "Radio Generation" - a song that celebrates a time when they still played great music on the radio (and laments what a shit show commercial radio has become). Having come of age listening to the radio and buying records in the late '70s and early '80s, I'm always a total sucker for songs like this. It's a perfect mission statement to open the record, and that hook is fittingly radio-worthy. "Right As Rain" follows, and it sounds like a classic Replacements song. You'd think that that sort of tune would be easy to write, but I've not heard it done this well in a long time. Is this the band's best song yet? Maybe! "Not Anymore" is something we haven't heard previously from The New Frustrations but suits these guys so well: kick-in-the-ass rock n' roll with hooks. Reminds me of The johnnies (Duh!). And to close the EP, the band honors Scag beautifully by absolutely crushing "Too Scared To Kiss You". This track is everything that a great pop/punk love song ought to be, and the lyrics are so spot-on that they leave me misty-eyed every time. It's always nice to come across a song that makes me wanna jump out of my chair and pump my fist while I sing along loudly.

I really feel that within the power pop by way of classic punk realm of music, The New Frustrations are one of the very best bands out there. If you're a regular follower of this blog and haven't taken advantage of free downloads of the band's first demo and 7" over at Bandcamp, you are seriously missing out! And Dee Bacle, available on CD or digital EP for just four bucks, is worth every penny and then some. Given the crap year that 2016 has been, 2017 can make amends by granting world domination to The New Frustrations.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Song premiere: The Cheap Cassettes - "Disappear With You"!

These song premieres always remind me of staying up late on New Year's 1983-84 to watch MTV debut the video for Van Halen's "Jump". That was a top ten moment of my childhood. Today I've got something on a similar level of cool: the first new song from The Cheap Cassettes in two years! The (now) Seattle-based outfit featuring ex Dimestore Haloes Charles and Kevin has just joined the Rum Bar Records family. Talk about a perfect fit! The label will be reissuing the band's 2014 full-length debut All Anxious, All The Time on CD in early 2017. The new release will include all of the tracks from the original album plus a previously unreleased gem called "Disappear With You". The song is pretty much the definition of great power pop - marrying rootsy rock n' roll to a whole lot of guitar jangle and a divinely Beatlesque melody. And what a strong vocal! Sometimes "bonus" material like this can be suspect, but this is one of The Cheap Cassettes' best songs yet! And there's no need to take my word for it! Give it a listen below, and be sure to look for the CD out on Rum Bar in February. Pre-orders are open over at the label's Bandcamp with two tracks already streaming. Ten bucks? That's a deal and a steal!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Merry Christmas from Tommy and the Rockets!

The title of this post is completely literal. Here's a song called "Merry Christmas" from everyone's favorite bubblegum/rock n' roll international supergroup Tommy and the Rockets! Co-written by Michael Chaney and Thomas Stubgaard, it's a terrific tune in the vein of one of those classic Beach Boys Christmas songs. And in the spirit of the season, it's a free download over at Tommy and the Rockets' Bandcamp! Tommy's on lead vocals, guitar, bass, drums, handclaps, and tambourine. Kris Rodgers - the best in the business - guest stars on keyboards and sleigh bells. Enjoy this free song, and be sure to check out the band's debut album Beer And Fun And Rock 'n' Roll - one of 2016's best LP's!


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

New album from The Hot LZ's!

Ahhh! Nothing puts me in finer spirits than some good old hate-spewing, snotty-as-hell degenerate punk rock n' roll! Aggravate My Mind is the new LP from Portland, Oregon's Hot LZ's. And simply put, it's fucking great! The Hot LZ's take me straight back to the glory days of '90s punk rock n' roll, and that's no accident. Singer/guitarist Mark Death was a major player in that scene as a member of The Halfways. And like his contemporaries Scott Drake and Larry May, he's still killing it in 2016! The fact that Aggravate My Mind is out on a label called Hate Street Records pretty much tells you everything you need to know about The Hot LZ's. You know how some bands write almost nothing but love songs? Well this band writes almost nothing but hate songs, and I don't think I could ever tire of hearing Mr. Death rail against everything and everyone that pisses him off! Best-known as a bad-ass guitarist, he's also a terrifically snotty vocalist in the mold of a Stiv Bators or Metal Mike Saunders. Capt. Johnny Sensitive, the band's other lead singer, is a ferocious howler as well. Musically, The Hot LZ's hit that perfect mix of Stooges & New York Dolls worship and the Cleveland/New York strain of '77 punk. I don't hear this type of music as often as I'd like these days, and I'm especially pleased to hear it done so well. Death and Matt Waters hold up the fine tradition of punk rock n' roll guitar tandems - heating it up a la Chrome/Williamson/Thunders. The lyrics are totally on the mark - and so scathingly delivered. These songs are everything that punk rock ought to be: filthy and furious and completely unfit for polite society. What's not to love about a band that tears into a song called "Murder In My Heart" and leaves no doubt that it really means it?! Highest recommendation for fans of Dead Boys, Pagans, Humpers, etc.! 


Friday, December 09, 2016

The return of Hakan!

Hakan was by far my most pleasant surprise of last year - coming seemingly out of nowhere to unleash an incredible debut album that hearkened back to the mid-2000s heyday of tuneful garage punk. The Italian trio's obsessions with Turkish pop culture certainly made for great shtick, and more importantly the group hit that sweet spot overlapping garage punk and power pop like no one since The Kidnappers and Marked Men. The album made my top ten list for 2016, and I'd probably place it even higher if I re-ordered the rankings today. I had no idea that a follow-up was already in the works, but much to my delight Hakan II has just turned up on One Chord Wonder Records out of Italy and Drunken Sailor Records out of the U.K. And while it's rare in life that the sequel is as good as the original, Hakan II proves to be one of those exceptions!

The headline for Hakan II is that the band brought in Jeff Burke (Radioactivity, Marked Men) to produce the album. It must have been a huge thrill for the group to work with a producer who so completely "gets" its music, and the results are predictably first-rate. Burke did a wonderful job of contributing his expertise while still letting Hakan be Hakan. Like any good sequel, Hakan II doesn't stray too far from what worked so well the first time. 11 of 13 tracks come in under two minutes, and again the band excels at writing hard-driving, catchy-as-hell pop/punk/garage tunes. What impresses me is that this batch of songs is just as strong as the last one - and decidedly more diverse. "Hakan Baby" will have you bobbing your head from the very first note, and ripping tracks like "Dental Love" and "I Drank Way Too Much Krupnik" are highly reminiscent of the best songs from the first album. But rather than just make the same record all over again, Hakan has elected to mix in a few songs with a slightly different feel. "Dog" is darker and fiercer-sounding than anything Hakan has done before, and it's one of the album's highlights. "You Can Cry" is a genuinely successful attempt at a pure pop song. "Six Feet Underground" is essentially a punked-up folk song. And the atmospheric, mid-paced "Spiders" is almost certainly a tip of the cap to Mark Ryan's Mind Spiders.

Hakan really pulled out all of the stops in averting the sophomore jinx - enlisting the highly-sought services of Burke and mastering wizard Daniel Husayn. But ultimately what makes Hakan II such a triumph is the strength of the material. One great album could have been a fluke. Two great albums proves once and for all that Hakan is one of the best bands out there. I can't think of many bands that better represent everything I love in music. Very soon you'll be seeing this album in my year-end top ten!


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Song premiere: The Connection - "Other Guys Girls"!

It is with great pleasure that I now premiere a brand new track from the best rock n' roll band going: the almighty Connection! Next week the band will be releasing an all-covers album titled Just For Fun on its Bandcamp page, with CD (on Rum Bar Records) and LP releases to follow in early 2017. As the title suggests, Brad and Geoff decided it would great fun to go into the studio and record covers of a bunch of songs that they love. The resulting album is an absolute blast! Among the tunes covered are the Bob Seger ripper "Get Out Of Denver", Sylvain Sylvain's "Teenage News", Cheap Trick's "Southern Girls", and the greatest rock n' roll song ever written - The Dictators' "Stay With Me" (which premiered yesterday over at New Noise Magazine). B-Face (The Queers, Groovie Ghoulies) guest stars on bass on several tracks, and legendary pop-punk producer Mass Giorgini mastered the album. Just For Fun was produced by Brad & Geoff and mixed by Mike Kennerty (The All-American Rejects). I'll post a full review after the album releases, but right now you can check out The Connection's smoking hot rendition of the Dave Edmunds favorite "Other Guys Girls". Turn it up and enjoy!


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Drakulas: the debut album!

So the immensely-anticipated debut album from Drakulas has arrived, and it leaves no doubt as to why all of that anticipation was so immense! Drakulas are a garage/punk super group featuring the likes of Mike Wiebe and Rob Marchant from Riverboat Gamblers and Zach Blair from Rise Against. The band's debut album Raw Wave is out on Dirtnap Records, and it's another stellar addition the "Texas branch" of this venerable label.

While there's no doubt that fans of Marked Men, High Tension Wires, etc. will go completely nuts for Raw Wave, this is truly a release unlike anything else Dirtnap has ever issued. The sound is new wave meets garage punk meets power pop meets post-punk, and lyrically the songs come together to create what is essentially a work of high concept fiction. The story is set in an imaginary metropolis of the recent past that brings to mind the seedy 1970s Times Square - a domain of pimps, prostitutes, pornographers, gangs, street preachers, and addicts. Each song advances the narrative from the point of view of a different character. The title of the album refers to a period of time when the arrival of new analog technology loomed large in this world. Yet even with all of this literary ambition, the music never gets bogged down in pretense or grandeur. This is some seriously catchy stuff! Even if you weren't paying attention enough to realize that Raw Wave is a concept album, you could still delight in the record's pulse-raising mix of late '70s punk/new wave and more modern variations of garage and punk. The feel of the songs varies from the punchy, almost Dickies-ish rush of "Getting Out" to the futuristic menace of "BetaMax" to the dizzying frenzy of "Headphones/Slit Throats" to the angular oddness of "VHS" to the pure poppy punk of "Stepping On Glass". Drakulas really succeed at drawing from a number of stylistic influences and putting it all together to create someone that feels genuinely fresh. This is a rare case where a punk band manages to do something "different" without straying from the most satisfying elements of the genre. You can sit down with Raw Wave and absorb yourself in the story, or you could enjoy any of these tracks in complete isolation from the larger work. Either way, this is the best thing that Dirtnap has released in quite a while. One of the year's best!


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.


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!