Saturday, December 30, 2017

F & L Best of 2017

So here we are at the end of another year. I'm doing my end-of-the-year activities a little bit differently this year. I've formerly done two separate posts: one for my top albums of the year and another for my annual Lord Rutledge Awards. I've decided to simplify things this year with just one post covering all of my favorite music from 2017. So let's get right to it! 

Top Twenty Albums of 2017
Again this year, I found there to be a lot more than ten albums that were top ten caliber. So I had to take it all the way up to a top 20! Streaming links have been provided where applicable.

20. Cheap Whine - Self Titled
So many things I like all in one band. Powerpop/punk? Check. From Canada? Check. Steve Adamyk is involved? Check. A truly fine debut with just the right balance of pop and punk. 

19. Cyanide Pills - Sliced and Diced
If you favor the pop side of '77 U.K. punk the way I do, this album is a must-have. 

18. Sheer Mag - Need To Feel Your Love
Building on a foundation of arena rock inspired pop with the soul of punk, Need To Feel Your Love is a bold step forward from this Philly outfit's outstanding first three EPs. Who expected the most urgent political rallying cry of the year to sound like '80s metal? Who knew that any band could still pull off disco pop? Sheer Mag made all of that work and more, and I can't think of another band more adept at writing songs about all of the things that matter the most.
17. Suzes- Fragile Development 
Here's an album that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves. Suzes is the new band from Lee Jones - who formerly fronted Aussie power pop greats The Solicitors. After relocating to Duesseldorf, Jones formed Suzes with new band-mates Roman and Tomo. Fragile Development doesn't stray far from the classic new wave pop of The Solicitors, but it rocks a little harder and has a more modern feel. How is "A Stone's Throw" not all over the radio?! 

16. Suspect Parts - Self Titled
The long-awaited debut album from the international supergroup made up of Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls, Maniac), James Sullivan (Ripchord), Chris Brief, and Andru Bourbon (Radio Dead Ones). A necessary purchase for punk people who like pop and pop people who like punk. 

15. Sonic Screemers - Self Titled 
Another great one out of Philly! Early '80s West Coast inspired punk with an East Coast attitude. What's not to love?

14. Küken - Self Titled
Wait! Didn't this album already come out two years ago?! No, that was the first self-titled album from Küken! This is a completely different album with the exact same name. Another round of nasty and perfectly minimalist punk rock from twins Chris and Philipp (ex Kidnappers). 

13. Black Mambas - Moderation 
Pogo-worthy '77 punk rock n' roll goodness straight out of Bell Gardens, California. Brilliantly produced by Johnny Witmer.  

12. The Stanleys- Self Titled
What is it about Australia and amazing power pop?

11. honeychain - Crushed
Power pop meets punky alternative rock that will have you fondly recalling the '90s. As far as I'm concerned, Hillary Burton is one of the best songwriters out there. 

10. Los Pepes - Let's Go 
The album on which these Londoners fully live up to their "loudest powerpop band on Earth" proclamation.   

9. The Suicide Notes - Is That You?
Many years in the making and worth every bit of the wait, this is a truly stellar work of girl group inspired punk/pop.

8. Freak Genes - Playtime
Andrew from Proto Idiot/The Hipshakes and Charlie Murphy from Red Cords got together and started working on all the weird rejected song ideas that didn't fit with their other bands. And yet somehow it all fits perfectly in this band! Great post-punk/new wave/pop that brings to mind the quirkier side of first wave U.K. punk.

7. Role Models - Dance Moves
Role Models have released three albums in three years, and each one has made my top ten. If you don't yet recognize Rich Ragany as one of the greatest songwriters in rock n' roll, you need to get caught up! 

6. Control Freaks - Mindless Entertainment 
It figures that the best garage punk album to come out in years would involve Greg Lowery. And in Natalie Sweet from The Shanghais, Lowery found the perfect individual to co-front his latest band. Mindless Entertainment is truth in advertising, and for that we should all be very glad.  

5. Shanda and the Howlers - Trouble 
There are not enough bands like this anymore: Stax/Motown inspired soul music with original songs and a powerhouse singer who just might be Etta James reincarnated. Sounds authentic enough to have come out in 1966, yet fresh enough to be relevant today.  

4. Indonesian Junk - Stars In The Night
Brilliant trashy power pop glam punk street rock n' roll fronted by the inimitable Daniel James. If I gave an award for best lead guitar work on a record, this one would probably win. 

3. First Base - Not That Bad 
I have not heard late '70s style pop/punk done this well in ages.   

2. Crazy Squeeze - Savior of the Streets
I've been a huge fan of The Crazy Squeeze going back to the earliest days of this blog, but I must say this album blows away the band's previous output. It's one smash hit after another. Hail the kings of pub rock!

1. Midnite Snaxxx - Chew On This 
There wasn't a whole lot separating any of the albums in my top three, so a final decision was absolutely agonizing. Much sleep was lost over this difficult choice. Charts and graphs were drawn. Professional help was sought. But ultimately it came down to this: I had pegged Chew On This early on as the album to beat, and no album was able to beat it! Dulcinea Gonzalez has been one of the truly under-appreciated talents of the punk rock world going back 20+ years, and this is the best album she's ever been a part of. It hits that sweet spot where '77 punk, power pop, and garage punk intersect in perfect proportion. And even after nearly a year of listening to it, I look forward to every single track. If you don't own this album yet, make a New Year's resolution to buy it! 

Top Ten Singles of 2017
10. Phone Jerks - ...Can't Stand the Maritimes
9. Fashionism - "Back In the Day"
8. Radioactivity - "Infected"
7. TV Crime - "Clocking In"
6. The Control Freaks - "Don't Mess With Jessica"
5. Trampoline Team - "Drug Culture"
4. The Dahlmanns (featuring Andy Shernoff) - "Forever My Baby"
3. The Cheap Cassettes - "Hieroglyphics In Lipstick"
2. Pale Lips - Should've Known Better
1. Corner Boys - "Just Don't Care"

Honorable Mentions: The Hipshakes - "Shot" and "Listening", Devious Ones - "Djarum Summers" and "Rust Is Imminent", The Sweet Things - "Slather", The New Trocaderos - New Trox 

Top EP of 2017: Slow Faction - Under Heavy Manners
Is it an EP or a mini-album? Same difference, I suppose! I have a long history of loving punk music with a political message going back to The Clash and early SLF. London's Slow Faction are more than worthy heirs to the tradition. 

Top Song of 2017: Shanda and the Howlers - "Born With a Broken Heart"
It may seem odd that a blog called "Faster & Louder" would pick a ballad for its song of the year. But I can still remember hearing this song for the first time and how my jaw just dropped. I knew right then and there that Shanda Cisneros was a special talent. I love how the band backs her with exquisite skill yet allows her vocal to be the focal point of the song. This, my friends, is soul music.

Top Label of 2017: Drunken Sailor Records
Drunken Sailor, in my book, has become THE label for the best in present-day punk rock. Among the label's 21 releases in 2017 were my #1 ranked single, my #3 ranked album, two singles in my top ten, and three albums in my top 20. If you don't believe me, go download this free sampler and find out for yourself!

Top Collection of 2017: Purple Wizard - Cream of the Crop
For Lori Lindsay and Leslie Day, their greatest competition here was themselves! And that's because The Prissteens' Demos and Rarities Volume 2 was my second choice for this award. Both were released by Girslville and are well worth picking up. It might be highly controversial to say that Purple Wizard was actually better than The Prissteens, but you could say that the latter band fully realized the former's original vision of a female Everly Brothers. Cream of the Crop compiles all of the band's 7" tracks in addition to some unreleased songs and choice album cuts. Does it bother me that it's mostly covers? Nope! In a way that makes it even cooler, as you get to hear Lori and Leslie put their unique touch on a whole slew of '60s R & B and British Invasion favorites. There was no more essential musical release in 2017.

Top Debut of 2017: Corner Boys - "Just Don't Care"
This one was an easy call. Corner Boys followed a really strong demo with a brilliant debut 7" that sounds like it could have come out of the Vancouver punk scene in 1979. You can also hear hints of Good Vibrations Records and American bands like The Simpletones. Fingers crossed for more music from this band in 2018!

Top Cover Song of 2017: The Crazy Squeeze - "Suds" 
You may or may not know the original by J Gale Kilgore. All I know is that this is my new personal anthem.
Top Producer of 2017: Kris Rodgers
You may already know Kris Rodgers as one of the best keyboard players in rock n' roll and an exceptionally talented singer/songwriter. You can add producer to that resume. Listening to his excellent album Losing The Frequency, I was so impressed with the massive AOR production that I immediately had to consult the credits. And there it was: "produced by Kris Rodgers". It's almost unfair that one man could possess this much talent!

Top Album I Didn't Review In 2017: Booji Boys - Self Titled 
I have no excuse.  

Top Release of Late 2016: The New Frustrations - Dee Bacle 
There's always that one record that comes out in late December and misses out on the glory of my year-end best-of list. And this one was a big deal: the first New Frustrations release in nine years! Still the best band you're not listening to.   

Top Cover Art of 2017: The Cheap Cassettes - "Hieroglyphics In Lipstick"
Artwork by Anna and Kevin Parkhurst. This is one cassingle you don't want to leave buried under your car seat. 

Well that's a wrap for another year! Have a festive and safe New Year's. See you in 2018!  


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Fadeaways - "Sick and Tired"

And the honor of my final review of 2017 goes to....The Fadeaways! This garage punk band from Tokyo has been putting out killer music for over a decade, and its latest single comes to us on the always dependable Secret Mission Records. Over the last three years, SMR has been entirely focused on bringing the best in present-day Japanese punk rock to American shores. "Sick and Tired" is the label's first single with The Fadeaways, and it makes a great addition to a roster that already included the likes of The Raydios, Car Crash, Louder, and The Geros. Compared to some of the aforementioned bands, The Fadeaways are a little less noisy/chaotic and more straight-up ripping rock n' roll. "Sick and Tired", like a lot of the band's best sides, marries the primal thumping of original '60s garage rock to the smashing low fidelity of '90s garage punk. The energy is off the charts here. You've got filthy as hell guitars, a perfect trash can drum sound, and a singer who really knows how to scream. What else could you possibly need? This track will blow your ears off! On the B-side, the band has at The Customs' classic 1980 single "Long Gone" and tears into it with gusto.

Vinyl for "Sick and Tired" is limited to 200 copies in the U.S. and will surely sell fast. I'm delighted to report that Secret Mission now has a Bandcamp page, so digital versions of all of the label's releases can now be purchased for very reasonable prices ($3 for singles, $7 for albums). You can also order hard copies of these releases - some of which remain in extremely limited quantities! Warning: if you are currently unfamiliar with this label and decide to follow the link over to Bandcamp, you may very well spend the next couple hours of your life rocking out to some incredible music. Plan accordingly!


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Average Times - Seconds

There's a new Average Times album out? How did I not know about this sooner?! It was almost four years ago when these Ottawa punks released their totally great debut album, and somehow they snuck out a follow-up with little fanfare in September of this year. They just recently put it up on-line, and I can't quite fathom why more people aren't talking about it. This thing rules! I think Seconds is every bit as good as the first album. And perhaps due to the many years between the two releases, the lack of any significant "advancements" in the group's sound is not bothersome in the slightest. It's pretty much the same formula that worked so well last time: snotty '77 punk and garage punk mixed with a little power pop and hurled out with maximum energy and catchiness. Only three of 12 tracks surpass the three-minute mark, and they don't clear it by a lot. Average Times wisely chose not to fix what wasn't broke. If you're looking for a fun punk rock album to crank loud and sing along with, Seconds is just what you need. Don't sleep on this one! 


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Vista Blue - Christmas Sounds

Happy Winter Solstice! As far as I'm concerned, it's not really Christmas time until I've got the latest Vista Blue Christmas EP in heavy rotation. This year's version, Christmas Sounds, was no disappointment. Not even The Grinch could resist resist bobbing his head to these tunes! As always, it's a free download for anyone who'd like to enjoy it.

I usually have little interest in sad Christmas songs, but there are exceptions. "Anything But You", which leads off Christmas Sounds, is one of those exceptions. The bummer love song is one of the great staples of the pop-punk genre, and "Anything But You" is a bummer love song done to perfection. I appreciate a band that can take a song like this and make it sound genuinely heartbreaking as opposed to whiny. So kudos to Mike and Mark for a job well done. I think it's always important to show consideration for those who are not full of joy at Christmas time. Going in a completely different direction, "Gimme!" is a cover of the theme from A Garfield Christmas Special. It barely tops 30 seconds, and it's great silly fun. Now Vista Blue can say they've covered Lou Rawls! "Nobody Wants Booster" - an ode to that one toy no kid wants - brings to mind the oldies-inspired pop-punk of Vista Blue precursors The Loblaws. I've been whistling that melody non-stop since Thanksgiving night! Finally, "There's a Star" is a new version of a song by the band's pal Rusty Spell. Mike and his friends collaborate every year on a homemade Christmas compilation where everybody contributes a song. Spell wrote and recorded "There's a Star" for the compilation last year. Mike loved the song so much that he wanted to do his own version for Christmas Sounds. It's really a wonderful way to close out the EP. I like that the song is simple, yet very pretty. Vista Blue gives it the full treatment with buzzing guitars and beautifully-arranged harmonies. All in all, I really dig the way this song and "Anything But You" bookend the EP's more lighthearted middle tracks.

The rigors of this academic year have caused me to fall way behind in my coverage of the forever prolific Vista Blue. I missed the band's latest Halloween EP along with the vinyl release of the Seasons album, a split with Grim Deeds, and the digital release of the band's curling themed collaboration with The Zambonis. I hope to do a better job of keeping up in 2018! For now, you should seek out Christmas Sounds if you're a fan of Vista Blue and/or Christmas music. 


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sparks - Hippopotamus

Review by Mike Kimmel

September 8 of this year saw Sparks release their 23rd studio album of their over-four-decade career. Thank heavens for Amazon's AutoRip feature or I'd be really cheesed that my physical copy of the CD is delayed for some reason with no known date that it will ship. Of course, that means I paid $9.something for the autorip and another $25 for the Japanese import version I found.

There are 15 tracks on the US release. There are 16 tracks (the same 15 as the US release plus one bonus track) on the Japan only release, and I've done my due diligence. The Japan bonus track is included in the review. How could it not be? It's typical Sparks at their sarcastic and irreverent best. You'll feel the same way once you read a bit about the tune.

The reception has been somewhat scary, to be honest. With the exception of the UK's Q magazine, Hippopotamus has gotten a minimum of four out of five stars. Q magazine is a fairly influential music magazine in the United Kingdom, though there have been some aspersions cast regarding whether the Q staff understands that it IS about the music……or is it about the money?

In any event, Q gave Hippopotamus three out of five stars, which still isn't that bad – but for a magazine supposedly so tuned in to the music scene it seems to be a bit of an insult; particularly for a supposedly respected music rag in the country in which the band is most famous! Makes little to no difference, I think. Sparks has been, is, and will continue to be hugely popular in the UK, regardless of Q.

On to the music!

Have you ever had someone act like they've got something terribly important to say, they get your attention, then act like they forget what they were going to say, but it was "Probably Nothing".

"Something to tell you, but now I've forgotten. It was probably nothing. I'm sure it was nothing." Then the other member of the conversation walks away. "Why are you looking at me in that way?"

The tried and true?

Go for what you know? (nod to the Pat Travers Band's great live LP)

The devil that you know? Maybe not quite that far.

"The tried and true is good enough for me and you. It's good enough. The Missionary Position!" Possibly an ode to the Bob Seger hit from years ago, "Horizontal Bop". Sparks doesn't need approval from the acrobats or the avant garde in the audience. "The Missionary Position" keeps them both smiling.

"Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)" follows at track number three. Because it was Sparks and because they've done this to me before, I started researching Edith Piaf. The "IT" that she said better than Russell was "Je ne regrette rien", which is French for "I regret nothing."

Because of the frequent references to historical persons, places, and things in Sparks songs, I'm used to looking things up on the Internet so I understand better. This one was a little easier. I had four years of French One, so I knew that whatever the quote was happened to be in French!

I also like going to yard sales and thrift stores looking for CDs (HEY! I found a Prissteens CD at a garage sale recently, so it's worth it), and I found a CD I couldn't resist buying. Would not have looked twice at it had it not been for Hippopotamus, but when I saw Mireille Mathieu Chante Piaf, I couldn't resist.

I mentioned that fact in a brief review I had posted on Amazon and was fairly quickly long-distance bitch-slapped by an obvious Piaf fan. A French Amazon customer sort of poo-pooed my attempt to familiarize myself with Piaf by purchasing a Mathieu CD. Saying that he was French, he suggested that all I needed to do to get that familiarization was visit YouTube. Basically 'Nuff said!’

He was decent about it, and I appreciated the information. Still, it shows the reach of the band. Less than a day after the Sparks review is posted, there is a response to/comment about the content of the review from a reader in France.

Impressive, I say!

Living in The Great Midwest (beautiful suburban St. Louis – currently the fourth highest murder rate in the US striving for that coveted number one spot – I also learned yesterday that police in the St. Louis area shoot more people than do police in other large cities - eesh), furniture of Scandinavian design has been of the utmost interest. A year or so ago, St. Louis landed a gigundous IKEA store on the west side of the downtown area.

Alternately described as minimalistically or simplistically designed, IKEA stock can largely be described as being of "Scandinavian Design".

The effect is described as "…time and space, intertwined, elegance, simple lines, Scandinavian design. Every line, every shape, sculptural, no escape, its Scandinavian design."

Number 5 clocks in with "Giddy, Giddy, giddy. Our entire city. Everyone displaying an immense amount of giddiness." Followed by an exchange of greetings: "How are you?" "I'm pretty giddy. Last week was a pity. Had a touch of flu and felt a little less than giddy. Now I'm back to giddy."

What we have here is an entire track about an entire city with an entirely giddy attitude which manifests itself in various ways. Get home from work and kick up both your giddy heels. Kids are asleep and the flower of your life is thinking giddy. The kids are acting up. Just send them to bed until they're giddy.

Then a scientific group from another, less giddy city arrives to study the existent giddiness, and they're unable to discern the reason for the giddiness.

Yes, too much time on one song, but if you want to see how to write a song about pretty much anything you want, here is a glowing example.

A comedian many years ago did a bit about "taking the Lord's name in vain". "He’s working on hunger and stopping the wars…" and a whole lot of other things too important to be distracted by someone cursing.

There was a lot more to it than that, but you get the general gist of the idea. #6 is a continuation of that idea. In "What the Hell is it This Time?".

"But show consideration when you pray in demands. His plate is filled with famine and with clean wholesome air." "You've asked him for redemption twenty times in the past. And twenty times he's granted it, and again you have asked. But twenty is the limit and he's now getting peeved. And when he gets peeved ..."

You're bound to get the eventual "It's you again, it's you again, you get on my nerves. What the hell is it this time? I've billions to serve. You get on my nerves."

I think "Unaware" is less of an indictment against a person than it is a wish that he could make her aware that she should stay unaware. Bob Seger said it best, I think: "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."

And now…On to the title track.

"Hippo! Hippo! Hooray!" (Seewhutahdidthar?)

I love this song possibly more than I love the Japan-only bonus track. It's filled with the types of references that really make Sparks Sparks!

"There's a hippopotamus, a hippopotamus, a hippopotamus in my pool. How did it get there? How did it get there? How did it get there? I don't know."

Like with Robin Zander and his occasional scream, Sparks often takes heat for repeating the same lyrics often through a song. "Hippopotamus" is the perfect example of why those who complain about that should simply have a Coke and a smile and shut the hell up!

Other unexpected items that have wound up in the Sparks pool include:
-A book by anonymous. (No, I've not read it. When it dries out I'll have a go.)
-A painting by Hieronymus (Bosch, by Hieronymus.)
-A Volkswagen Microbus (A trippy old hippy driving a '58 Microbus.)
-Titus Andronicus (Wearing a snorkel, excellent swimmer looking much trimmer…)
-A woman with an abacus (She looks Chinese. Not that I'm prejudiced…)

 "Thrown in a hippo, a little Dutch art. An actor performing a Shakespearean part. Summary book and Germanic van. Asian lady, isn't it grand?"

Great choice for the title track, and it'll probably have you singing things for days that make your co-workers wonder what you've been smoking.

"Bummer" is a tune that I find confusing even for Sparks! It's about a group gathered to describe how they feel about the sudden passing of a mutual acquaintance. Those speaking "prattle on" and even the dearly departed's widow yawns. He finds it a bummer that those who didn't really know the deceased think they can sum up a life in just a phrase.

That's it! That's all I got for this one. If you can figure it out further, please let me know.

The track I've found most toe-tappingly appropriate for dozens of insulting occasions is "I Wish You Were Fun". "In every other way I find you amazing but one. I wish you were fun."

Someone who isn't fun to be around and claims that their favorite color is brown. Well, you might expect that they're un-fun. I've found myself humming this tune for weeks on end!

How about some irreverence? Yes'm, we got that too! Track 11 pretty well fits that bill with "So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play?". Obviously there would be a specific response from Mrs. Lincoln, but the bigger question is of what lies beneath it all. Perhaps too deep for me to dissect here.

Maybe "When You're a French Director" hits awfully close to the raging spate of sexual harassment claims running amok and piling on over and over again. "Women say 'Oui', they long to be top of the bill. Oh well." As long as "…every scene must be obscure as hell."

In a potential turning of the tables, "The Amazing Mr. Repeat" is about a guy the local girls all love, for the amazing Mr. Repeat is at your service again! "Might be dawn, it might be noon. It might be, God forbid, next June."

"There's ecstasy on every face of every girl in our whole place. No waiting to reload at all. No waiting for that protocol." There's the reason The Amazing Mr. Repeat is in such demand!

Next track, please…

"A Little Bit Like Fun" is sure to rankle the Sparks "repeated lyrics" detractors. A short, fairly limited cut where the content of the verses includes "Isn't this a little bit like fun." "Isn't this a little bit like joy." "Isn't this a little bit like love." And that's about it. 3:57 of that dialogue.

The classics are notoriously violent tales of the way things might have been back when they were originally written. True of not, "Life with the MacBeths" paints a relatively unflattering picture of the family and a fairly clear warning to those who would seek power only for the sake of having power. Blood, ambition, depths unseen…

"Ambition leads to murder. A royal reign of terror." With each murder, their ratings soar.

Finally, the track that appears only on the Japanese release of Hippopotamus. I really can't adequately describe the tune other than saying that the author points out to SOMEone that SOMEone has earned the right to be a dick. Later in the track, however, it is also pointed out that "You've got to want to be a dick."

It's a very cool song and one that I HAD to dedicate to my buddy in NYC who replied by claiming that he had to head out to work where he would practice his new found right. I don't know if he actually practiced his dickiness or not. What I DO know is that his slightly later response was "Hippopotamus is a GREAT album!"

He's absolutely right. I mean, he's not THAT much of a dick!

In the event you're interested in the personnel who went about the creation of Hippopotamus, here they are:
Russell Mael – vocals, engineering, mixing
Ron Mael – keyboards, programming, orchestrations, mixing
Dean Menta – guitars
Steven Nistor – drums
Leos Carax – vocals and accordion on "When You're a French Director"
Rebecca Sjöwall – vocals on "Life with the Macbeths"

-Mike Kimmel

Monday, December 18, 2017

Cool Jerks - Patriots

Today I've got something good for you out of  Leeds, UK! Cool Jerks have just released a four-song EP called Patriots, described as "a furious record full of anger aimed at emerging trends in domestic and foreign policy of international governments, as well as people supporting what is happening with their ignorance." It's hard to argue with a cause like that (the latter part is especially on-point). I love a band that can channel those sorts of convictions into some raging punk rock, and Cool Jerks really hit the mark on these four belters. Stylistically, this is classic politically-charged Brit-punk with hints of modern-day garage and post-punk. This is clearly a band that believes in what it's singing about, but these would still be crackling punk songs even if they were odes to baking holiday pies. You can get the digital album directly from the band for £3, and there's also a cassette version available from Tapetalks. Play this EP loud and get fired up!


Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Suicide Notes - Is That You?

If you remember me totally flipping my shit over The Suicide Notes, you would have to be a long-time follower of this blog. That initial review was six years ago - the launch year of F & L. Honestly, I can't believe I'm still at it. Even better, The Suicide Notes are still at it as well! Out on Hovercraft Records, Is That You? is absolutely the smash hit debut album I was anticipating back in 2011. I'm a little late to the party on this one, so thanks to the band for dropping me a line and letting me know the album was out!

As far as I know, Is That You? is the first new music from The Suicide Notes in five years. While there have been a couple of lineup changes over the years, the harmonized vocals of Jessi "Lixx" Garver and Anna "Double A" Andersen remain the signature feature of this Portland, Oregon based outfit. And with drummer Tim Connolly (Epoxies, Sex Crime), bassist John Cox (Satan's Pilgrims, Pynnacles), and guitarist Petey J. Cool (Pure Country Gold) rounding out the lineup, The Suicide Notes fully qualify as a Portland punk supergroup. Is That You? is the full realization of all of the things I dug about The Suicide Notes from the start. The band still sounds like "a macabre Shangri-Las with a punk edge", and on this release those punk and girl group inspirations mix wonderfully with a number of additional influences. Of course those harmonies are to die for, and anyone who loves upbeat pop with a punch needs to be all over this record. Yet what I like best about the band is how cheerful the songs sound until you realize how dark and frequently twisted the lyrics are! "Baby Doll" feels especially poignant in our current social climate, and you can probably deduce that "Mutha Fuckin' Love" isn't exactly an upper. But I wouldn't have it any other way! It's hard to pinpoint standout tracks since the record is so consistently good. I will say, however, that the mix of musical styles is really satisfying. The album takes you on a non-stop thrill ride covering everything from exhilarating bubblegum punk ("Critic") to full-on '60s garage action ("Ghost") to classic girl group dramatics ("Back and Forth") to new wave pop/punk goodness ("Is That You?", "Velvet Crime"). It all adds up to an album that's super fun but by no means lightweight!

A debut album from The Suicide Notes may have been a long time coming, but boy did the band ever knock this thing out of the park! From the singing to the songwriting to the musicianship, the talent this band possesses is truly remarkable. You can bet that Is That You? will secure a spot in my year-end top ten!


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

La Femme and Band-Maid

Review by Mike Kimmel

Not exactly sure what's going on here. It's a bit confusing. Even though I've previously proclaimed a growing love for French rock bands (in addition to my existing affection for Australian and Canadian rock bands), three of the last five CDs I've purchased don't have English vocals.

To be fair, one of the CDs is by Hawkwind (Warrior on the Edge of Time – purchased because it has the last tune Lemmy wrote for the band and where his later band's name came from: Motörhead). So that might be in a foreign language, but no one can really tell for sure.

Well, it's actually four of the last six CDs I've bought if you count the Mireille Mathieu Chante Piaf CD that I bought just for background to an upcoming Sparks piece (already in progress).

Two CDs by a French band named La Femme and one by an all-girl Japanese band named Band Maid. Which to do first? Which to do first? How about the two CDs by the French group La Femme?

Good idea! This surprised me quite a bit for two reasons. First, it seems at first blush that the music is kind of dance/trance. Something about the samples on convinced me to look a bit deeper into the band. And the more I listened, the less I could resist.

The music is described as synthetic and hypnotic on their page at Wikipedia. OK! I wasn't far off with the dance/trance thing, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. That page goes on to list their influences as the Velvet Underground (always been something of a Lou Reed fan), Kraftwerk (loved Autobahn years ago), and a mixture of coldwave, punk, and yéyé. Elsewhere they're described as "French psychedelic rock group La Femme".

GREAT! I just figured out what shoegaze was. Now they spring two more genres on me without even asking. For anyone unfamiliar with coldwave and yéyé (as was I): coldwave is further explained as post-punk, and yéyé is a poppish category with similarities drawn to Beatlesque tunes and their "Yeah, yeah" leanings.

I ordered the MP3 version of the CDs – for two reasons, actually. I'm running out of room on my CD rack, which is about 6' by 6' of CDs. That's after removing all of my various artist collections to make room for all of my other CDs. Next, I'm cheap. I wasn't sure that I'd like them enough to make room in the collection for them.

"Où va le monde" is the third track from Mystère (Translates to "Where the world goes"). This track, as well as other spots through both releases, sounds almost psych/surf. Some is near dance-type music. Much is rock or pop-ish.

All of it is good. No matter what genre, the lyrics are sung in French. And there are male and female vocalists. I've discovered that I have a much easier time listening to females singing/speaking in French. Perhaps that's due in large part to a brief interlude about 2:11 into "The Funky Western Civilization" from the Life in the Foodchain release by artist Tonio K. See if you can catch it here:

"The Funky Western Civilization"

The Tonio K. reference above is a bonus "best music you've never heard" tip provided absolutely gratis! I would heartily encourage you to listen to several of the other tunes you'll find on that page. You may have never heard of Tonio K., but if you remember the tune "Nobody Lives Without Love" from the Batman Forever soundtrack, Tonio K. is credited on that track. He's also written songs that have been recorded by Al Green, Aaron Neville, Burt Bacharach, Bonnie Raitt, Chicago, Wynonna Judd, Vanessa Williams, and many others.

Finally, my last shameless plug for Mr. K. – He is good friends with Charlie Sexton and has co-written several songs WITH Sexton as well as several songs FOR Sexton releases. Sexton occasionally refers to "…my close friend, Tonio K…." during live performances.

Back to the original topic. For a better idea of the band La Femme, here are videos of a couple of my favorite tracks so far:



The rating of "favorite tracks so far" is, of course, subject to rapid and frequent change without notice.

Be advised that you may find the videos odd. I found them interesting. I know it doesn't hurt that I'm also enjoying the music. But watching a non-cookie-cutter music video is refreshing any way you look at it.

On to the next CD release with mostly non-English lyrics. The title is Brand New Maid by the Japanese band Band-Maid. I've mentioned repeatedly that I have a proclivity for paying attention to female bands or female led bands. I think I do so for similar reasons that I've developed an affinity for Canadian, Australian, and now French bands.

As for the female/female-fronted bands, I  think it has to do with the respect I feel they're due for sticking with it long enough to overcome the obstacles thrown in their paths. I have to admit, the CD cover is an attention-getter as well:

From the opening track of the CD, I was impressed. Actually, from the 30-second snippets provided by, I was impressed. Once I had the CD, I started to enjoy it quite a bit. In fact, I liked it enough that I tracked down and bought another of their CDs – Just Bring It.

Several things leap to mind. As a bass player, please allow me to say that I HATE THEIR BASS PLAYER! The girl plays a five-string bass better and with more imagination than I play a four-string! The drummer has to have calves and thighs like a linebacker with all of the bass drum work she does.

As you'll see in the videos, they're all more than at home in front of an excited crowd, and the lead singer knows how to get the most out of them.

Some folks might claim that "…we've heard it all before". I don't think that's the case at all. However, even if it does sound a bit like this band and maybe a little like that one (there are times, for the record, they remind me something of a young Iron Maiden), that's not a disqualifier. There's even one song (honest to goodness) that sounds like a metal version of a rock tune a band I was with in the mid-'80s wrote.

OK, yes, it's a heavier and more talented version with Japanese lyrics, but the second track on the CD – "Look At Me" – sounds a bit like what we did years ago with our song "Barn Burner". Yeah, there are more tempo changes than we had as well. Sue me.

Check a few of the videos of the band and see if you agree. I think you'll enjoy it – the music is good, they include an English lyric sheet in the CD, and they just look like they're having a blast being a band.



"Look At Me" 

The band consists of the same five members who started in 2013. There have been a few songs released. As far as CD releases, Brand New Maid is the second release of 2017. The first, back in January of this year, was titled Just Bring It.

Here's the first track from the Just Bring It release titled "Don't You Tell Me".

I've heard that there's also a DVD in existence, and I can't help but think that would be interesting to say the least.

The five members, as near as I can guesstimate, are in the area of 20 or so years of age. Interestingly, the members knew each other through the "six degrees" concept. The singer knew the guitarist, who knew a drummer, who had been in a band with the bassist, and so on.

If you'd like, you should have an opportunity to see them live. March of 2016 saw them perform in their first ever U.S. concert in Seattle, Washington. Later that year (November), they embarked on a tour that took them through Mexico, parts of Europe, and Hong Kong, China, before returning to Japan to finish. It looks like their plans include expanding their touring territory.

-Mike Kimmel 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hyness - "Choke"

One of my favorite things about doing this blog is being able to hear exciting new bands. In this digital age of music, it's entirely possible for a band to record a song and immediately share it with the world. You could argue that that's not always a good thing, but to me the positives of this situation far outweigh the negatives. Take, for example, Hyness out of Kitchener, Ontario. I'm glad the world didn't have to wait months or even years to hear this band's amazing song "Choke". This is without doubt one of my favorite songs of the year, and I can understand why the band is so excited to release its first EP. Remember alternative rock when it was still cool? That's what "Choke" brings to mind. With its dense guitars and shoegazy vibe, it practically transports me to 1993. Man, those guitars sound amazing! And the lyrics are really good and dark in a totally fascinating way. I could easily have slotted this song between Sugar and The Breeders on one of the mixed tapes of my youth. This is absolutely a download worth spending a dollar on. I can't wait to hear more!


Monday, December 11, 2017

Dr. Boogie - "She's So Tuff"

When I reviewed the new Sweet Things single last month, I mentioned that Spaghetty Town Records would be following that release with yet another killer 45. I was talking about a new single from L.A.'s Dr. Boogie - another band that perfectly fits Spaghetty Town's sleazy rock n' roll profile. "She's So Tuff" is the band's second 7" and makes a great addition to a discography that also includes a self-released CD EP and an LP on Dead Beat Records. The A-side is chock full of glam/hard rock swagger and boasts a hook I just can't get out of my head. The tune clocks in at just a hair under four minutes, but don't let the moderate tempo fool you. This one's a rocker! Those guitars are absolutely ripping, and Chris delivers a hard-edged vocal that's perfectly suited to the song. My first impression was that I was reminded of Rose Tattoo. That can only be a good thing! B-side "Peanut Butter Blues" is more in the band's Stones/Dolls inspired signature style, and it will be well known to fans. It was originally released earlier this year as a digital-only single, and now it finally makes it onto record. So this is literally a single with two A-sides!

In recent years, Dr. Boogie has received considerable acclaim as one of the bright new hopes for real deal rock n' roll. I would not argue with any of the rave reviews, and now I gladly enter one of my own. If you're looking for a nice taste of what Dr. Boogie (or Spaghetty Town Records) is about, press that play button and prepare to be rocked!


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Cheap Trick review series: All Shook Up (1980)

Review by Mike Kimmel

The '80s were arguably the heyday for that l'il ol' band from Rockford; Cheap Trick. During that decade, the band released six LPs: All Shook Up, One on One, Next Position Please, Standing on the Edge, The Doctor, and Lap of Luxury.

We could try to sneak Dream Police in with them, as it was released on September 21, 1979; just a little bit before the decade we shall refer to as "the '80s", mainly because that's what they were.

Since the Cheap Trick review series here at Faster and Louder has already discussed Next Position Please and One on One, pick number three is in the batter's box and the #4 selection is in the on deck circle.

The album cover was simply, psychotically cool. I can't think of another way to put it. An airborne train some feet above an airborne train track are the initial eye-catchers, but closer inspection reveals a few additional facts.

Rick Nielsen is opening the door that allows the train to enter. The gap implies that the train is emanating from the nose on the face of a woman whose head appears to be about half as tall as our heroes. Robin Zander is straddling the tracks and appears concerned.

Tom Petersson is dressed in a white suit, and Bun E. Carlos is in a hat and hapless detective trenchcoat-type attire. What does this have to do with the content of the album? I'm, ahhh, not sure.

For openers we have "Stop This Game". Again with the relationship stories, eh? ("Eh." That's a hockey term.) His relationship with her was like music. "I changed. You didn't. And I can't stop the music. I could stop it before. Now I don't want to hear it. Don't want to hear it no more."

Track two – wherever he was, he was apparently there for far too long, but now he "Just Got Back". Through the tune “It wasn’t my idea…”
A. Didn't pull the trigger.
B. Didn't point the finger.
C. What the doctor figured.
D. All of the above.

The correct answer is D. It's a really good song. And like many of the Cheap Trick quick-hit rockers, it's short.

Actually, on the original release of All Shook Up, there were 10 tunes and combined they accounted for 33 minutes and 53 seconds of your life. Not near long enough for the quality of the songs you were likely to encounter. Details of the reissue to follow the description of track 10 here!

Robin Zander handles the vocals again, and again he's all over the place. With a range like that, why in the world would he NOT be? Just trying to warn anyone who might object to an occasional screamed lyric (SPOILER ALERT! I'll be talking about that again this time around, too!).

Having just gotten back seems an appropriate time to rediscover the fact that "Baby Loves to Rock". More and more he's thinkin' 'bout love, but love ain't all he's thinkin' of.

"More and more I'm thinkin' bout s-s-s-sex. The more I get, the worse it gets." But then Zander assures us that his baby loves to rock and describes where – and where NOT.

"In the morning, in the evening. In the summer, in the winter. In my car, in the night, in an airplane. Not in Russia!" You might recognize the sound and mention of "airplane" while listening to your balalaikas ringing out and keeping your comrade warm.

"Can't Stop it But I'm Gonna Try" is about him leaving her or her leaving him…or him finding out about her and her new boyfriend; maybe all of them. This tune – from 1980 – uses the phrase "long time comin'". Their 2017 CD We're All Alright not only borrows the title phrase from the ending of "Surrender", it also recycles the "long time comin'" phrase from a mere chorus inclusion to a full-fledged song title on the 2017 release.

Yes, a lot of people think I'm weird for picking out things like that, so go ahead and pile on if you'd like.

"World's Greatest Lover"? Yes, same thing here. Think back to one of the first songs for which Tom Petersson did the vocals – "I Know What I Want" (from the immediately previous album Dream Police). "You're the world's greatest lover…" That just struck me as odd as All Shook Up was the last album on which Petersson appeared before he left the band for his solo effort.

It's the same theme here but different verbiage. He's been on the road, and now he's coming home to the world's greatest lover in his word.

"High Priest of Rhythmic Noise" is really odd. It has the really processed robot voice for most of the vocals, a psychotic keyboard running loose in the background, and some extremely cool lyrics.

"If the song don't change the choir won't sing. Won't sing the same song forever." I think here he's talking about the fact that he's just a singer in a mind choir (I hope Nielsen's mind choir has a psychiatrist traveling with them).

"Don't stand up, shut up, sit down. You're strange – that's what I like."

"Love Comes A-Tumblin' Down" is supposed to be a tribute of sorts to Bon Scott – the frontman of AC/DC up to the Back In Black album, who had recently died. Cause of death is debated, but the lyrics here claim "Not a pretty picture when the body was found".

"I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends" has more of that damned Zander screaming stuff in it. Y'know, I find it terribly odd that some complain about that with Zander, but in some of the Cheap Trick tunes (like this one BIG time!), he'll do a screaming sort of vocal and he sounds like some singers who actually built very successful careers on just that type of vocal. Singers like, oh, say… ROD STEWART!

In fact, "I Love You Honey" is really reminiscent of the Stewart tune "Hot Legs", which came out in 1977 – three years before All Shook Up was released.

"I love you, honey, but I hate your friends. I love you, honey, but they'll be the end of me. Oooo yeah! I love you honey, but I hate those friends!"

"Let's see, there's Miss Tique and Miss Informed. General Disaster, Mister Know-it-all. Missus A Lot and Private Stock. Corporal Punishment 'bout to blow his mind. Mister Mock, Mister Completely, Miss de Plot, Miss Story…"

She's got even more friends with odd names, and he hates 'em all.

"Go For The Throat (Use Your Own Imagination)" is, I suppose, as opposed to using someone else's imagination.

Nielsen uses the title of the Stranglers tune "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)" partway through, and then "I do it alone (you just give me idle conversation)." You'll have to decide what it's about.

For the original release, the last track is the Bun E. Carlos-penned tune "Who D'King". Marching band drums, excited marching band and crowd noises in the background, and the repeated lyric "Who d'king of de whole wide world?" Description does not do the song justice. It's actually a pretty toe-tapping l'il ditty.

In 2006, All Shook Up was reissued with five new songs in the lineup.

First up is "Everything Works if You Let It" from the Roadie soundtrack. Back in the days when vinyl was king, the only way I knew of to get this was on a 12" EP. Yes, of course I had it! Now, it's nice to have it included on a CD so you don't have to juggle things just to listen to one tune.

Cheap Trick also released an entry into the 10" "Nu-Disk" sweepstakes. The Nu-Disk was supposed to be the next big thing because it gave the fans something more than was available on just a 7" 45RPM single, but didn't cost as much as a full 12" LP. At one point as a rabid vinyl collector, I had about 30 different Nu-Disks. But that's all I could find. They never took off like they were supposed to. Of course the arrival of the CD didn't help the 10" marketing maneuver very much, either.

But Cheap Trick and their 1980 release Found All The Parts was a part of my near-10,000 LP collection at one time. It had only four tracks; two slower tunes, one remake, and one that sounded like it might have been a remake.

The live, shorter version of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" appears on Found All The Parts. It's very good, and it's the live version, but it's only 3:41 long. Some of us Cheap Trick purists like the lengthier take better.

"Can't Hold On" is up next. I'm trapped in a conundrum here. One of my all-time favorite bands is, was, and probably always will be Cheap Trick – and that's stood since 1977. From their Nu-Disk, I like one song, sorta like one, and kinda dislike the remaining two. No idea why, but here's the ranking:

I already mentioned that I enjoy their remake of "Day Tripper", so that surprise was spoiled.

I don't care for "Can't Hold On". It's not really bad. It's kinda of a foray into the blues, it's a live track, and you can tell it's Cheap Trick. It's just not a style for which I particularly care.

The fourth track from the Found All The Parts Nu-Disk, "Take Me I'm Yours", is in similar dire straits. Definitely Cheap Trick and definitely talented, but I don't care for the style.

"Such A Good Girl" rounds out the release (actually as track number three), and it's a good tune and very much a Beatle-esque effort.

No, I'm sorry. I wish I could come up with a shorter and less annoying way to reference a Beatles similarity, but I can't. Trust me. I've tried!

If you're interested in adding All Shook Up to your collection, be sure to look for the reissue. That way, you'll kill three birds with one stone: the album, the EP from the Roadie soundtrack, and the Nu-Disk.

-Mike Kimmel

Monday, December 04, 2017

Justine and The Unclean - Get Unclean

It was still the scorching summer when I first teased the debut album from Justine and the Unclean. Now here we are just three weeks from Christmas, and I am happy to report that the album is out on Rum Bar Records. I must say it's every bit as good as I expected! To review: Justine and the Unclean are comprised of major players in Boston's garage/punk/rock n' roll scene. Justine is Justine Covault (Malachite, Grand Theft Auto, Quest For Tuna) on guitar and lead vocals. The rest of the band is Janet Egan King (Malachite, Heidi, Swank, Tulips) on bass/backing vocals, Charles Hansen (Rock Bottom, Tom Baker & the Snakes, Gymnasium, The Handymen) on lead guitar, and the legendary Jim Janota (Upper Crust, The Bags, Rock Bottom) on drums. The story behind this record is that Covault went on a year-long songwriting binge and entered the studio with over 50 songs - many of them love songs of the particularly painful variety. Just nine of them ended up on the album, which was recorded by Dave Minehan at Woolly Mammoth Sound in Watham, Massachusetts and mastered by the illustrious Danny the K. With all of these principles involved, Get Unclean is a true testament to the immense musical talent that Boston rock currently enjoys.

Get Unclean largely follows the blueprint of the previously-heard tracks "Love Got Me Into This Mess" and "Passive Aggressive Baby" (both included on the album). Imagine your favorite Buzzcocks songs with a harder edge and sassier singer! If you like punky pop songs with big hooks and fantastically bitter lyrics, you should be all over this record. But there are a couple of additional things that this band brings to the table. One is Covault's singing voice, which is really unique and tremendously appealing. On top of that, the band has serious rock chops which Minehan wisely played up in his production. Songs like "Bring Me Fire" and "Worry Stone" kick some serious arena rock ass (Joan Jett fans will dig!). Elsewhere those blazing guitars and thundering drums (I mean, come on, it's Jim freaking Janota!) allow the band to put the power in power pop. "Can't Pretend I Don't Know" is the pop/punk/rock track of your dreams, while "I'm In Love With You, Jackass" incorporates some country twang in a most wonderful way.

All in all, Get Unclean is a terrific debut album from a band I hope we haven't heard the last of. Covault is a fine songwriter with smarts and likability to spare. And boy, does her band ever bring the rock! That Rum Bar winning streak remains very much in tact.


Friday, December 01, 2017

First Base - Not That Bad

With exactly one month to go until the end of 2017, my album of the year picture just got way more complicated. I sure am not complaining! Not That Bad is the second LP from First Base, out now on Drunken Sailor Records. And that title is the understatement of the year! You'd have to look far and wide to find an album that's more up my alley than this one. It's the perfect union of pop and punk, emphasizing the former without skimping on the latter. This album is about as pop as it gets - but in an entirely kick-ass way. It's as if the past 35 years never existed and First Base took its cues directly from the almighty Ramones. If you ever wished that Teenage Fanclub had taken copious amounts of speed and decided to be a punk band, Not That Bad is definitely the album for you. The hooks just keep on coming and coming, with no song surpassing three minutes. Tracks like "Crybaby", "Eastchester Avenue", and "Dumber By the Day" are super-satisfying blasts of buzzsaw punk with bubblegum melodies. If the Undertones were the Irish Ramones, "Judy" has me thinking that First Base might be the Canadian Undertones! And when the band slows it down and goes for more of a straight power pop sound ("Sandra", "Not That Bad"), the results are spectacular.

Whether you call it poppy punk or punky pop, Not That Bad is the best album of its kind I've encountered in a damn long time. I will be giving it heavy consideration for album of the year. And label of the year is looking like a stone cold lock for Drunken Sailor!