Sunday, May 28, 2017

Here are Control Freaks!

So we literally waited a dozen years for new music from Greg Lowery. Just based on the sheer passage of time, there had to be cause for concern. Would the 2017 version of Greg Lowery still be the guy we so fondly remembered, or would he have reinvented himself as a serious "artist" backed by his own orchestra and choir? What if he'd been spending the last dozen years writing a triple LP rock opera about his feelings? What if he'd decided to go electronic? Okay, I'm lying. No one ever had cause for concern. Greg Lowery will never make "serious" music, and he will never call himself an artist. That is why we love him, and that is why we already knew that Control Freaks' Mindless Entertainment would be one of the year's mandatory punk rock purchases. In fact, I must recommend bypassing the rest of this review and proceeding immediately to the Slovenly Recordings web store or Bandcamp page to secure your copy. Seriously: go buy the thing! If you're still reading right now, you are stubborn and disobedient. I must say those are qualities that I admire.

If you were one of those individuals who could never get into Lowery's terrific Zodiac Killers because they deviated from the Supercharger/Rip Offs/Infections blueprint, Bay Area sensations Control Freaks should be much, much more to your liking. Mindless Entertainment fully lives up to its title - delighting all who crave the sort of trashy and wonderfully stupid punk rock goodness that made Lowery a household name. And with so few bands even trying to pull off this type of thing today, it might as well be the g.o.a.t. who steps up and shows the kids how it's done. What's cool about this band is the way Lowery and his co lead singer Natalie Sweet (The Shanghais) play off of each other. The two take turns on lead vocals, and some songs are straight-up duets. That snotty co-ed vocal blend brings to mind many of my favorite Rip Off Records releases, and clearly this was a band formed in the spirit of the glory days of garage-punk. The band finds that-just right mix of raw, obnoxious, and epidemic-level catchy. The theme song "Control Freaks" launches a rocket straight back to the Rip Offs' heyday, and then the fantastic "PTSD" features a star turn from Sweet on lead vocals (the one-sheet hilariously likens her singing to an "Edith Bunker impression"!). If that 1-2 punch doesn't have you sold on Control Freaks, then I'm going to surmise that the rest of the record will not sway you to the dark side. The rest of us, however, will bask in vintage Lowery bangers such as "Hollywood" (a song so dumb that you might not realize how smart it is) and "Crime Wave". Being such a sucker for good old '77 punk, I'm also quite partial to "Blowtorch Love" (which brings to mind the almighty Infections) and the band's terrific take on Jack & The Rippers' "No Desire". And if I say that "Sweet Dreams" sounds like it could have been a Shanghais song, that should only be construed as high praise!

If you have loved just about every piece of music that Greg Lowery has ever attached his name to, Mindless Entertainment will not disappoint. This is my favorite record he's played on in two decades (and I did really like Zodiac Killers). The fact that he shares the spotlight with one of the top punk vocalists of the present day really adds freshness and relevance to what Control Freaks are doing. And with so many newer "garage" bands lacking the rawness and fun attitude that ought to be considered essential to this genre, Mindless Entertainment most definitely fills a void. Sing it with me: C.O.N.T.R.O.L!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Best of the Dimestore Haloes!

Here's a real mind-blower: the Dimestore Haloes' first album Thrill City Crime Control is now as old as the debut LPs by the Clash and Sex Pistols were the year Thrill City came out. Even the final Haloes recordings pre-dated YouTube, Coke Zero, selfies, and the entire Real Housewives franchise. Ladies and gentlemen, the Haloes are officially classic rock! And given that all of the original records are way, way out of print, this seems like the perfect time for a Haloes best-of compilation to come into existence. Its arrival is great news for longtime fans who no longer own all of the old records as well as those who have more recently discovered the Haloes by way of Charles and Kevin's current band The Cheap Cassettes. And while the Haloes' entire recorded has been available digitally for a couple of years, Crash & Burn or Fly is the band's first retrospective to be released in a tangible format. Thanks to state of the art 1990s technology, you can now get your mitts on a compact disc containing 15 of the Haloes' finest studio cuts covering the years 1997 to 2004!

I appreciate that the contents of Crash & Burn or Fly were determined not by a corporate suit or focus group but rather by Charles Matthews himself. I must admit I was going to throw a royal tantrum if "Death Is a Star" had not been included on this disc. But otherwise, I vowed not to complain in any way about the track selection. With these best-of collections, there's always the question of who should get to decide which songs were really the "best". Well, I think the guy who wrote all of the songs is probably as qualified as anyone! And there's no denying that this compilation is a very good representation of who the Dimestore Haloes were and why they were my favorite band of my illustrious youth. Each of the band's first three albums is represented with three tracks, with an additional four songs taken from 2004's Ghosts of Saturday Night and another two culled from compilations. The comp cuts ("Saturday's Heroes" and "Crazy") bookend the collection, but otherwise it flows chronologically. You get to hear the band's evolution from its raw, rootsy origins to the glammy punk rock n' roll of its glory years to those later, more pop-influenced songs that laid the path for The Cheap Cassettes. And while I tend to romanticize Thrill City above all of the band's other full-lengths, my time spent with this comp has led me to concede that the Haloes got progressively better with each album they released.

Priced at just $8, Crash & Burn or Fly is a swell deal for anyone who desires a hard copy of the Dimestore Haloes' music. Considering that all of these recordings were originally released in small runs on DIY labels, it's tremendously encouraging that so many people still fondly remember them. And while I cringe at the pomposity of the prose I used to concoct in acclaim of the Haloes, the sentiment behind it has not changed. I still love this music, and I think it stands up quite well to the test of time. With a Beat Angels best-of still available on Onus Records, a movement to preserve '90s glam-punk seems to be taking shape. Let's hope the Trash Brats are up next!


Monday, May 22, 2017

Great new EP from Gorilla*!

Attention, power pop fans! I've got a real treat for you today! Tokyo's Gorilla* has been around since 2011 and features Kenny Ogawa (The Cokes) on guitar and vocals along with Atsushi (Pop N Roll) on bass. Fifi from Teengenerate was the original drummer, and there's no doubt that Gorilla* ought to be mentioned in the same breath as Teengenerate affiliated power pop bands like The Tweezers and Firestarter. The band's new EP It's All Pop! was originally issued as a tour CD in Japan earlier this year, and now it gets an American release on vinyl courtesy of the Baltimore-based Hidden Volume Records. Doesn't the title pretty much say it all? If you love classic power pop, you'll be in heaven listening to these six songs. I was immediately floored by opener "Oh Tonight", which sounds so authentically later '70s power pop that you could slide it anywhere into the old Rhino Shake It Up compilation and it would not sound out of place. And nothing much changes for the remainder of the EP, with songs taking a massive influence from The Raspberries along with the likes of Shoes, Phil Seymour, Romantics, Off Broadway, and of course the almighty Beatles ("Stay With Me" is one of the finest British Invasion homages by way of the skinny tie generation I've heard in ages).

It's All Pop! is actually the second 7" from Gorilla* following an amazing single released on Three Dimensional Records three years ago. If you long for an eternal 1978 and the never ending reign of Bomp! Records, this is a band you need to be checking out immediately! Kudos to Hidden Volume for securing a domestic release for this Japanese treasure. Snag copies on banana yellow or black licorice vinyl while they're still available!


Friday, May 19, 2017

New Küken LP!

Look who's back! It was two years ago that I raved about Küken's fantastic debut LP. And now we gladly receive album #2, which is an absolute ripper. Küken is the latest musical incarnation of Chris and Philipp, the twins behind High School Rockers and The Kidnappers. Essentially Küken sounds like The Kidnappers minus any power pop influence. And while I loved The Kidnappers, Küken's nasty and fully stripped-down punk rock attack is every bit as satisfying to my ears. Like the first album, the new one is self-titled and mirrors its no-frills sounds with minimalist cover art. With no tracks exceeding two minutes, the band's m.o. is clearly to come out and hit you in the mouth over and over and over again. There's really no variation from the last album except that this set of songs is even stronger and discernibly darker. Knowing fully well that the simplest songs are usually the hardest to write, I really commend the twins for their perfection of the punk rock form. They are true believers in short songs using the bare minimum of chords. And they've just made their best album in over a decade. If you're feeling those urges that can only be satisfied by certified killer punk rock, this is the stuff you need. Drunken Sailor has the vinyl. Go get it! 


Monday, May 15, 2017

Meet The Chinchees!

When Ed from Radiohearts/Audio Ammunition asked me if I'd heard The Chinchees, I immediately knew I had to go check this band out. And let me tell you, Ed did not steer me wrong! Earlier this year, this Minneapolis trio self-released its debut album and quickly sold out the entire pressing. Dirt Cult Records is stepping up to issue a second pressing, which I hope will generate widespread attention for this immensely infectious collection of power pop tunes. This is one of those albums that delivers an instant jolt of energy the moment you put it on, and the fun just keeps going all the way to the end. The band tears through these songs with such unbridled gusto that you almost don't notice how well-crafted the hooks are. This is just awesome punky pop that manages to not sound like a thousand other "pop-punk" bands. Vocally, at least, I'm reminded a great deal of the late '80s/early '90s heyday of college radio. If you dig, say Tenement or Low Culture, you need to be all over The Chinchees! Stay tuned to Dirt Cult's Bandcamp for information on this second vinyl pressing. Digital album available now from both the label and the band directly!


Friday, May 12, 2017

Debut album from Shanda & the Howlers!

Here we go with what ought to be THE summer album of 2017! Shanda & the Howlers are a self-described rhythm & blues revivalist band. Perhaps that brings to mind cruise ship/wedding reception/tribute act shtick. Well forget that, because Shanda & the Howlers are the real deal! The band's debut album Trouble is out on the ever-dependable Rum Bar Records, and it's flat-out terrific from start to finish. What separates Shanda & the Howlers from the pack is that although they can certainly deliver crowd-pleasing covers in their live sets, their original material is every bit as good. Trouble sounds less like an homage to '50s/'60s soul and more like the genuine article. If Malibu Lou had told me he obtained the masters from vaults that were sealed 55 years ago, I would have had no reason to disbelieve him!

No doubt the first thing you'll notice about Shanda & the Howlers is the remarkable voice of Shanda Cisneros. She's a dynamite lead singer and surefire future star. In a lesser band, her powerful pipes would completely steal the spotlight. But when you put her out in front of the Howlers, the marriage of voice and music could not be more perfect. This is how you do it, man: back a great singer with a super-tight band and just let it roll! If I didn't already know that Luke Metz was in The Heartdrops back in the day, I would seriously consider that he and Keith Alcantara might have time traveled from the '60s after laying down the rhythms for numerous Stax Records recordings. And Micah Lapping-Carr totally kills it on saxophone!

As a huge fan of classic soul music, I'm always delighted to hear such a timeless style kept afloat by new bands writing original material. Trouble is an album steeped in a love not just for Stax/Motown soul but also the blues, jazz, and early rock n' roll that preceded it. By all means, this is music you can dance to all night long. But if you're more in the frame of mind to quietly ponder past heartbreaks and love gone bad, several of these songs will hit you hard. "Keep Telling Me" is an instant party starter, sounding like what might have happened if Etta James had sung lead for Ray Charles. And once the Howlers come on like Otis Redding's backing band on "She Don't Want A Man", there's no turning back. By the time you get to the chorus, the song's already stuck in your head and you just know you need to own the whole album. Covering everything from dance-floor shakers ("Don't Need Your Love") to bluesy rockers ("Don't Wait Up") to gritty R & B workouts ("Mind Made Up"), Trouble is consistently pleasing and never repetitive. And "Born With A Broken Heart" is simply stunning - proof that what really makes a great ballad is a vocal that you can truly feel deep down.

As you may or may not know, Rum Bar Records had its origins under the name Melted Records back in the '90s. The Heartdrops were one of the first bands Lou worked with, and now we come full circle with Luke Metz's current band joining the Rum Bar family. If label mates The Connection are making a good case that the best new rock n' roll ought to sound like old rock n' roll, Shanda & the Howlers are doing the same for soul music. This is one kind of trouble that you best not avoid!


Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Radiohearts new EP!

You know there's not much in life that I enjoy more than '77-style punk & power pop. And when it comes to current bands creating that kind of sound, Radiohearts have been one of the very best for a number of years now. While I'd generally put this band in the highly underrated category, at least it can be said that some of the finest record labels in the world are big fans. The Long Beach, California foursome has worked with No Front Teeth Records a couple of times, and now the venerable German label Wanda Records gets in on the action! Out now on Wanda is Daytime Man - the fifth (and in my opinion, best) EP from Radiohearts. The sound is classic Radiohearts, leaning heavily on later '70s U.K. punk, power pop, and mod influences with additional nods to the '90s punk revival. As always, this band does a fine job of putting a fresh and original touch on a classic musical style. And lyrically, all of these songs are clever and fully on-point. The title track kicks off the EP in fine form and is everything we've come to expect from Radiohearts. "Know That Song" is wonderfully surprising - the closest thing the band has ever done to a pure power pop song (without sacrificing any of that all-important punk rock punch). Another pleasant surprise is "No More", an entirely successful foray into what you might call the SoCal punk sound. I dig! Overall this is a very satisfying collection of tracks - some leaning punk, some leaning power pop, and the rest falling ideally in between. Great stuff as always, and I guess it's time we start wondering if an LP might finally be in the works!


Thursday, May 04, 2017

New Rotten Mind LP!

Is it just me, or has this been an especially tremendous year for punk LPs so far? Up there with the best of 'em is the second album from Sweden's Rotten Mind - a superb self titled effort on Lövely Records. What I appreciate about this release is how it takes what seem to be two contradictory styles of music (dark new wave and catchy melodic punk) and melds them so seamlessly that you can only conclude that they were meant to go together. While very much in line with modern-day Scandinavian post-hardcore, Rotten Mind is perhaps the one band from that movement that I'd consider most up my alley. Although I'm not the huge fan of moody post-punk that I used to be, Rotten Mind blends essential elements of that musical school into a form that's fully palatable to my Dickies and Buzzcocks loving sensibilities. It seems a tough task to make gloom rock this poppy without ruining the mood, but that's exactly what Rotten Mind has pulled off here. "Wish You Were Gone" had me hooked from the very start, and from there the quality tracks just keep coming. The lead guitar work - such a linchpin of good melodic punk - is especially impressive. One part of me wants to get dressed in black and lock myself in a dark room with this LP for hours. The other wants to whistle these melodies as I march merrily about my day. Truly an album for all occasions!


Monday, May 01, 2017

It's here! The Motorgirl double 7"!

I fondly recall 1999 as the year I both pondered imminent apocalypse and basked in the glory of one of the ten greatest power pop singles ever made - Candygirl's "Oh, Jacky Boy!". Candygirl was the creation of our pal Travis Ramin: songwriter extraordinaire, talented multi-instrumentalist, producer to the stars, radio personality, Pro Bowl placekicker, celebrity pitchman, and one-time captain of the Love Boat. While Candygirl would release only one more single, Travis Ramin would go on to play on and/or produce many of the finest power pop recordings of the 2000s and beyond. You can find most of them here!

For years, rumors abounded of Candygirl's bad girl rocker cousin who was going to do for glam rock what Candygirl had done for power pop. Word on the street was that Motorgirl's debut EP would be a Travis Ramin production and arrive in the form of a double 7" with a gatefold. It was two-and-a-half years ago that I shared a TV ad teasing the arrival of this highly anticipated recording. The songs eventually turned up on-line, but there was going to be a bit of a wait for the actual record. Long delayed by a series of events so unfortunate and improbable that even Axl Rose doubted it would ever see the light of day, the Motorgirl double gatefold 7" is finally out and can be yours for €9.99! Available from Italy's Surfin' Ki Records, this is four songs of wham-bam glam rock written and produced by Travis Ramin and performed by Alana Amram. "Oh Jacky Take a Ride" and "Motorgirl" are responses to the songs on the first Candygirl single (that Jacky still has a way with the ladies after all these years!). "Teenage Tiger" is pure Champan/Chinn inspired gold, while "Periwinkle Blue" proves that even tough girls have a soft side. If Genuine Parts are the new Runaways, then Motorgirl is definitely the new Suzi Quatro. Hit up Surfin' Ki for the ordering details and get your mitts on these sizzling slabs of wax! This one was totally worth the wait!