Monday, February 27, 2017

New album from Bullet Proof Lovers!

It was seven months ago that I first teased the arrival of a new LP from Bullet Proof Lovers - those power-popping hard rockers from San Sebastián, Spain. Said LP has arrived, and it does not disappoint! BPL are Kurt Baker on lead vocals, Luiyi Costa (Txorlitohead, Lolas Club) on guitar, Joseba Arza (Brigada Criminal, Señor No, Ladislao) on drums, Gonzalo Ibañez (Nuevo Catecismo Católico, La Perrera) on bass, and Juan Irazu (Discipulos de Dionisos, Gran Yate Especial) on guitar. Shot Through The Heart is the band's second release overall and first in over two years. As expected, it's the perfect mix of hook-laden power pop and full-throttle, kick-in-the-ass rock n' roll. As good as 2014's self-titled LP was, it was really just a glimpse of what Bullet Proof Lovers might someday become. Here we receive the band in full maturity - replete with massive production befitting those thundering drums and guitars louder than the law should allow. Early '80s arena rock is still a logical point of reference (check out the album bookends "I Am My Radio" and "Radioactive Love"), but with this record I'm also feeling the fury and power of Detroit/Aussie punk. Baker, often pigeonholed as a "pop" guy, ably steps into the role of the strong-piped rock god frontman. 

Shot Through The Heart is such a satisfying listen because it allows Bullet Proof Lovers to play to their strengths and just rip into these songs. Guitarists Costa and Irazu sound like they're literally trying to set the world on fire, and that rhythm section is an absolute powerhouse. The material, without a doubt, perfectly suits the band's particular set of skills. "Ain't No Joke" lives up to its title 100 percent, while "Not Your Toy" is the kind of keyboard-driven glammy footstomper that ought to blow the doors off of every dive bar from Madrid to Hamburg. From well-crafted ballads ("One Last Night") to crank-it-to-11 rockers ("On Overdrive") to consummate area rock power pop ("All I Want"), this album delivers the full range of goods. 

It's a glorious thing in this day and age to still encounter bands that above all else just want to rock. It's even better when quality hooks and a ton of melody are a major part of the equation. Bullet Proof Lovers represent a time in our world when rock n' roll was all about fun and aspiring to a radio hit was no crime. They've got the chops, they've got the attitude, and for damn sure they've got the songs! Shot Through The Heart is available on vinyl from Ghost Highway Recordings, and Rum Bar Records will have the CD release coming soon. With the arrival of this album and the new one from Wyldlife, 2017 is looking like the Year of Rock! 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

New single from Sugar & Tiger!

Welcome to the first of what should be many reviews of releases from Jarama 45RPM Recs! A new label out of Madrid, Jarama 45RPM has a clear and simple mission: "strictly 7" vinyl, strictly 45 rpm records,
and strictly hit singles". The world of punk/garage/power pop, being so well suited to the singles format, needs more labels like this! For my first post on Jarama 45RPM, I turn my attention to a terrific band out of Paris called Sugar & Tiger. Isn't that pretty much the best name ever for a poppy punk rock band?! Florence Vicha (lead vocals) is Sugar, and Didier Wampas (guitar) is Tiger. The sound is just what I like: the best elements of punk and pop mixed together thoroughly and let loose with maximum enthusiasm. True to the label's promise, "(God Save) Linda Ramone" is a stone cold hit. You'd have to be a miserable human to not love this! And the fact that the lyrics are sung in French only make it cooler! On the flip, "La Perruque Rose" is another great track that reminds me quite a bit of early Muffs. I am thrilled to discover this band, and you will be too if you're a fan of The Ramones, Dahlmanns, etc.! I highly recommend heading on over to Facebook and liking the Jarama 45RPM Recs. page. This is a label you're going to want to follow closely!


Monday, February 20, 2017

Purple Wizard: all the hits back in print!

When I think about all of the great music that made the mid-2000s so memorable for me, Purple Wizard is one of the first names that comes to mind. It's almost criminal how forgotten this band seems to be just a decade later. I'm optimistic that that will change thanks to Girlsville's release of Cream of the Crop - a 28-track collection of singles, album cuts, unreleased songs, and radio sessions from this late, great New York City band.

Formed from the ashes of The Prissteens by Lori Lindsay and Leslie Day, Purple Wizard released three singles and an LP between 2004 and 2007. Purple Wizard was essentially the realization of a musical vision that Lori Lindsay had had since she and Leslie Day began playing together: less "rock" and more along the lines of a female Everly Brothers. Also on board were Dave Lindsay, Jon Chalmers, and Bill Peitsch (RIP). What I admired about this band from the start (along with those amazing harmonies!) was that it was never reluctant to record other people's songs. Inspired by the British Invasion, Stax soul, girl groups, and '60s pop in general, the band went right to the source and covered songs it loved from arguably the greatest era of music ever. In my mind, one of the things that made that period so special was that artists could be identified with and admired for performing songs they didn't write (seriously: who wants to live in a world without Dusty Springfield's "I Only Wanna Be With You" or Aretha Franklin's "Respect"?). The magic of Purple Wizard was in selecting wonderful and often lesser-known songs from the '60s and performing them to absolute perfection.

Cream of the Crop includes all three of the band's singles in their entirety, and hearing them again reminds me why rave reviews of Purple Wizard 45s were once annual events in my life. It's a pleasure to again enjoy the band's knockout renditions of the Hollies' 1965 album cut "I've Been Wrong" (famously covered by The Buckinghams and Everly Brothers), Cheryll & Pam's 1963 Stax single "That's My Guy", The Strangeloves' "I Want Candy" B-side "It's About My Baby", and the Everly Brothers' 1966 A-side "The Power of Love". Beyond the 7" tracks, covers of the likes of Carla Thomas, Chris Montez, The Hollies, Lee Rogers, and the almighty Beatles are absolutely stunning. And originals like "Stalker" and "Scrapin", featuring Peitsch on lead vocals, are so on-point that I still can't believe they're not long-lost recordings from the heyday of rhythm & blues!

Once again, Girlsville has given us an essential and lovingly-assembled compilation featuring a great overlooked band. Longtime fans will be psyched to get their mitts on the radio sessions and unreleased tracks. Meanwhile, this is the perfect introduction to Purple Wizard - with the songs from the singles playing a starring role. Kudos to Courtney for securing all of this material and to Patrick Haight for the impeccable mastering. If you loved last year's Demos & Rarities collection from The Prissteens, think of Cream of the Crop as the next chapter. I consider The Prissteens and Purple Wizard to be equally great bands, but it was the latter group that really showed the world what a fantastic singer Lori Linsday is. Purple Wizard was a band inspired by timeless music that sought to create timeless music. They were as good as it got when it came to garage rock in the mid-2000s. Get Cream of the Crop now on cassette or digital LP from Girlsville's Bandcamp!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Return of The New Trocaderos!

It has been a year-and-a-half since The New Trocaderos released Thrills & Chills - my runaway choice for 2015 Album of the Year and legitimate nominee for album of the decade. So it goes without saying that I'm delighted to announce the arrival of the first new music from this super group in 18 months. New Trox consists of three songs from the Thrills & Chills sessions that the band had saved for the purposes of releasing as an EP. It came out yesterday as a digital-only release available from The New Trocs' Bandcamp.

I always admire bands that are willing to hold out some of their "A" material for singles and EPs, and clearly that's the case here. These aren't outtakes or odds & ends - they're top quality tracks! Kurt Baker handles lead vocals on "You Broke My Heart" - which is the the most straight-up power pop song The New Trocs have ever done. It could almost pass for a Kurt Baker solo track, but with those old school rock n' roll harmonies that this band is so known for. "Come On Girl" features Geoff Palmer on lead vocals. When he takes the mic, you know you're getting pure pop in the '60s style (I still think "Dream Girl" is the band's greatest song to date). Here he and the boys conjure the magic of the '63-'65 era Beach Boys so convincingly that it's clear he ought to be in the Beach Boys! Steve Philp (guesting on lead guitar) and Kris Rodgers (killing it always on piano) take this tune over the top with an amazing pair of solos. Finally, "The Air" is a quintessential rhythm & blues number with Baker back on vocals. This song is a fine example of why I'm such a huge fan of Chaney as a lyricist. He's so good at writing timeless love songs, but then he can turn around and write a song like this with a strong social/ecological conscience. The lyrics are clever and quite funny, but the message is dead serious. Baker - so acclaimed as a songwriter and performer but perhaps a little underrated as a pure vocalist - does an amazing job selling Chaney's call to action.

The New Trocaderos continue to be the best of pop and garage and rock n' roll all in one band. New Trox just might be the finest of their three singles so far. It's available now from Bandcamp and CD Baby for just $3. A vinyl release in the future is not out of the question, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New music (and new tour) from Dany Laj and the Looks!

We never go very long without a great new release coming out of Montreal, and the latest is the new album from Dany Laj and The Looks. Alive & Kicking is the band's fourth release overall and second LP following 2015's Word On the Street. It arrives on the eve of a huge North American tour that should be of great interest to power pop fans in Canada and the States. I dug Laj's voice from the first time I heard it. He's the kind of singer that you just can't help rooting for, and I appreciate how he combines power pop hooks with the lyrical depth of a singer/songwriter. He's backed by a top-notch rhythm section in Jeanette Dowling and Colin Burnett. Alive & Kicking tells the story of a small town kid from Kirkland Lake, Ontario making his way to the big city and forging a life of touring and creating music. The band bio refers to his lyrics as "powerful yet unpretentious", and I must say I totally agree!

While certainly based in the hooks and the sensibilities of power pop, Alive & Kicking is an album representing many different moods and musical styles. The 1-2 punch opening this record is as impressive as any I've heard in a while. "Mister Screaming Attitude" is a driving, earnest number that brings to mind Tim/Pleased To Meet Me era Replacements. It's just so easy for me to close my eyes and feel the cold wind of a winter's day in Montreal. "Sweet Pretender" is a bigger hit than even Alexei Emelin could deliver - a radio-worthy pop/rock number that really benefits from Patrick Bennett's excellent keyboard work. It was a logical choice for a single. But don't sleep on the deeper cuts - which serve to bring variety to the album. The rocker "Planet Fun" works the groovy side of Big Star, while "Mixing A Drink" conjures the breezy pop feel of sunny California in the '70s. In a good way, "Diamond In The Rough" sounds like something I would have heard on an "alternative" radio station 20 years ago. And the band really gets to show off its chops on "Defending Champion" - a somewhat dramatic rock epic that genuinely succeeds. It sounds like it should be playing in a critical scene in a triumphant sports movie.

Alive & Kicking is a fine example of quality pop that doesn't limit itself to conventions of genre. Laj is a talented gentleman, and he has a gift for crafting songs that are relatable to almost anyone. In support of the album and the "Sweet Pretender" single, Laj and his band will embark on a long tour next week that is slated to last at least into April. Full tour dates can be found on the band's web siteAlive & Kicking releases this Friday on CD and digital download on Some Call It Pop Records. Record Centre Records will release the album on LP in the spring!


Friday, February 10, 2017

New Midnite Snaxxx album!

Surely it would be slightly premature to declare that Midnite Snaxxx has already locked up 2017 album of the year at the beginning of February. But I will say that the Oakland foursome has set the bar very high!

I've been highly touting Midnite Snaxxx since the early days of this blog. I've loved every release from this band, so it's saying something that new album Chew On This is my favorite by far. This is the first Snaxxx release to feature its current lineup (Dulcinea on guitar and vocals, Camylle on bass, Chris on guitar, and Sammy on drums), and the band has never sounded better! Camylle, playing bass in a band for the first time, sounds like she's been doing it all her life. And adding Chris (ex Loli and the Chones) on guitar has really filled out the group's sound.

Compared to the self-titled album from 2012, Chew On This sounds tighter and punchier while still retaining that same garage-punk spirit. And much to my delight, there is little if any stylistic variation between the albums. This is still the Snaxxx doing what they do best: leather-tough old style punk that worships at the altar of the Ramones and '70s power pop. That is 100% my musical sweet spot, and I can't think of a band that hits it more bang-on. With this album, you get a great mix of more ferocious tracks like "Space Invaders"/"Hey, I'm A Human" and "Quit Being A Dick" and poppier tunes such as "Found A Way To Your Heart" and "Sad To See You Go". And then there are songs like "Attitude" that are a little bit of both! The band successfully goes full-on power pop on "Why Do I?", while "Just What I Need" is the most satisfying Buzzcocks homage I've heard in years.

It's not always easy in the punk world for a band to follow a great debut LP with an even better second album. But that's exactly what Midnite Snaxxx have done. They've managed to toughen up their sound while still remembering that what matters most is delivering great songs. You can order Chew On This on vinyl straight from Pelican Pow Wow Records or buy the digital album from the Midnite Snaxxx Bandcamp page. Crank it loud, and don't be surprised when it leaves you begging for more!


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Meet The Cheap Cassettes (again)!

Many of us remain in a state of disbelief following the unforeseen event that dominated our conversations in the closing months of 2016. Can this really be happening? How did one of my favorite bands, The Cheap Cassettes, end up on Rum Bar Records, my favorite record label? Were aliens or Russians involved? I'd like to think I may have had a tiny hand in this development. But let us speak no more about the size of my hands.

Out now on Rum Bar Records is a shiny CD reissue of All Anxious, All The Time - the brilliant debut album from The Cheap Cassettes. It is a rare occurrence for me to review the same album twice. When it has happened in the past, it has usually involved me either retracting bad reviews (first High Tension Wires album) or editing down 3,000-word diatribes that no one actually read the whole way through (Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic). Yet here I am, for the second time, reviewing a Rum Bar Records reissue that I extensively touted upon its original release. I can neither confirm nor deny that Malibu Lou has bought this coverage by promising me first dibs on the beer cooler at Rum Bar Pancake Social 2018. But in all seriousness, All Anxious... has become one of the three or four albums of this decade that I've listened to the most. In my top ten albums of 2014 list, it inexplicably only came in at #7. Needless to say, it would probably rise to #1 if I re-wrote the list today. It holds up so well as an example of great pop married to gutsy rock n' roll. Drawing not just from the obvious genre standard-bearers but also from first wave punks (Jam, Buzzcocks) and unsung titans of the underground (Replacements, Material Issue), The Cheap Cassettes set forth a broad vision for what powerful pop ought to be. And while the quick sales pitch is that this is former Dimestore Haloes doing power pop, let us remember that the Haloes were already headed in this direction when they called it a day.

From the opening notes of the Motown-flavored shaker of a title track, All Anxious... reaffirms my longtime fondness for the formidable talents of Chaz Matthews and Kevin Parkhurst. The album was recorded over a number of years with the two bandmates collaborating long-distance. While that explains some of the unevenness in fidelity (I'm pretty sure the vocals for "My Little Twin" were recorded on the toilet with a hair brush for a microphone), it's also what gives the record much of its charm. There's a rawness here that is too often missing in today's power pop, and at the same time the songwriting is the best I've ever heard from these two. "Wreckless", which could be considered the band's own "Bastards of Young", would not have sounded out of place on the Haloes' swan song Ghosts of Saturday Night. The same thing could be said of "Good and Shitty"- a glorious shot of pop trash recalling Johnny Thunders or early 'Mats. It's really hard to pick a "hit" here since the songs are pretty much choice cuts all the way through. But there are a few I keep going back to. The aforementioned "My Little Twin" is easily one of the best songs Chaz has ever put his name on, and "Big Dumb Town" is absolutely the epitome of awesomely loud pop (good lord, that guitar solo!!!). I rarely dare to make a comparison like this, but I could totally imagine the late Jim Ellison singing "Girlfriend". And how fun is "Black Vinyl!"?!

The most surprising thing about The Cheap Cassettes' move to Rum Bar is that I don't think Chaz has ever been on a label where he didn't have the coolest hair on the roster (the whole earth bows to Kurt Baker's wavy locks). But truly I cannot imagine a more ideal fit - given the band's Boston roots and a musical style that slots perfectly between The Connection's hook-laden garage/rock n' roll and the earnest blue collar punk of Nato Coles. With the original issue of All Anxious... falling a little under the radar, now is the time for the world at large to fall in love with The Cheap Cassettes. Malibu Lou (probably wearing sunglasses and holding a stiff drink in his hand at the time) even worked his music mogul magic and persuaded the band to fortify this reissue with a previously unreleased track - a magnificent rootsy jangler called "Disappear With You". You can also look forward to a secret bonus track. Is it a Krokus cover? An instrumental played entirely on kazoo? Perhaps a musical ode to Glenn Danzig demanding French onion soup on a concert rider? You will have to find out for yourself!


Friday, February 03, 2017

New Fashionism single!

It's always a great day in my life when we get a new release from Fashionism. So that makes today a great day! "Back In The Day" is the Vancouver outfit's 4th single already - and the debut release from Neon Taste Records. I would probably describe Fashionism as the best current band to have not yet released an LP. But seriously: as long as the band keeps turning out singles this good, I will have no complaints about the absence of an album! "Back In The Day" does not disappoint in the least. It's precisely what we've come to expect from Fashionism: top-tier powerpop/punk with a palpable glam influence. And as always, the band proves to have something serious to say without taking itself too seriously. The title track opines on the sham nostalgia that plagues punk culture, while "One Shot" salutes the glories of almighty caffeine. The latter just might be my favorite of the two. It's as pop as a punk song can be, but it isn't pop-punk. Think Boys, Generation X, etc.

With four terrific singles to its credit, Fashionism is a group that everyone ought to know and love. Jeff is an ace front man and brilliant lyricist, and the band continues to be a breath of fresh air in a punk/powerpop scene that can sometimes get a little "samey". I was not even aware that a new single was forthcoming until very recently. So thank you, Fashionism, for the pleasant surprise that has made my year to this point!


Thursday, February 02, 2017

The return of Psychotic Youth!!!

So I've been buried in school work the last few weeks and just haven't had time to keep the reviews flowing. But I've got to take a moment to mention the arrival of a new album from Sweden's legendary Psychotic Youth. The Voice of Summer is the band's first new album since Stereoids was released on Bomp! Records over 18 years ago. That's right: a child born on the release date of Stereoids would now be a legal adult! I consider Stereoids to be an all-time top ten power pop LP, and The Voice of Summer is a more than worthy follow-up. Let me tell you: there's nothing more welcome in the dead of winter than an album celebrating summertime fun! This is vintage Psychotic Youth: high-energy power pop with one foot in punk and the other in garage rock. What's not to love?! The Voice of Summer is available now in Japan on Waterslide Records, with a vinyl release due soon on the venerable Screaming Apple Records. Check it out!