Friday, August 30, 2019

Mean Jeans - Gigantic Sike

I've reached the point where Ramones-inspired bands are an all-or-nothing proposition for me. Either I totally love 'em, or I am completely uninterested. There's not much middle ground. I've always considered Mean Jeans to be one of the better Ramonescore/pop-punk bands out there, but I must admit that my interest in this trio had been waning for a while. Well let me tell you: just when I thought I was out, Mean Jeans have pulled me back in! Their fourth LP Gigantic Sike (out today on Fat Wreck Chords) is the kind of album that affirms the eternal awesomeness of buzzsaw pop-punk. Singer/guitarist Billy Jeans has admitted that the band "tried to hard" on its previous release Tight New Dimension. For Gigantic Sike, Mean Jeans simplified their approach and just tried to bang out killer punk tunes. What results is an exciting and totally fun poppy punk record - but with a surprising lyrical depth.

What happens to America's definitive party punk band when it's time for responsible adulthood to kick in? That's the general theme of Gigantic Sike. It's a record about the "bleak existence of a party boy", with songs exploring the grave consequences of long-term substance abuse and the loneliness  that awaits when all your old pals outgrow the party-hard lifestyle. On opening track "Party Line", Billy Jeans goes as far as to sing out his actual phone number. The sad twist is that no one's calling. I must say I really love this particular iteration of Mean Jeans. I am notoriously a non-fan of party anthems. But this darker, sadder, and intensely self-reflective songwriting angle is totally up my alley! The "gigantic sike" referenced in the album title is the idea that a band trapped in an identity it never fully intended to create can free itself by playing its entire existence off as a joke. You find yourself yearning to jump in a time warp and re-do the entire past decade of your life. But while this is certainly the most "serious" record Mean Jeans have ever made, they've never sounded more like themselves. They stick closer than ever to the Ramones blueprint - mixing no-frills three-chord slammers ("Stuck In A Head", "Buddy's Leaving") with poppier numbers that'll stick to your skull like glue ("WTF Is Up Tonight", "Time Warp"). These guys really wrote a strong batch of tunes here, and they execute the tried-and-true pop-punk style to perfection. And even with the somewhat bleak point of view, this record won't cheat you out of a Wayne's World reference, a little profanity, and a visit to outer space. This IS a Mean Jeans album, after all!

I would never discourage bands from trying new things and progressing creatively. But I must admit that I'm extremely delighted to hear Mean Jeans embracing simplicity on Gigantic Sike. The aversion I sometimes have to Ramones-inspired bands is that they just make me wish I was listening to the real thing. But a band like Mean Jeans proves that it's still possible to start with a Ramones influence and do something interesting and unique with it. Thankfully, Gigantic Sike doesn't actually void the entire existence of Mean Jeans. It adds a new chapter to the band's story - one I find incredibly compelling. If Gigantic Sike was the first thing you ever heard from this band, it would make you want to hear a whole lot more!


Monday, August 26, 2019

Baby Shakes - "Love Song In Reverse"

It's hard to believe I've been writing about Baby Shakes since 2005! Over these past 15 years, Baby Shakes have become the definitive modern-day power pop punk rock and roll band. And I've become...much older! Having fully perfected its signature sound over three terrific albums and numerous singles, this New York foursome is poised to try some new things on its forthcoming long player Cause A Scene. While by no means abandoning their love for Chuck Berry, the Ramones, and '70s power pop, Baby Shakes have some surprises in store for us on this album. Cause A Scene promises to be a back-and-forth ride through a myriad of rock and roll styles. They've given us a sneak peak with an advance track called "Love Song In Reverse". This isn't so much a love song as it is an anti-love song - a snappy rocker with sweet hooks and some not-so-sweet lyrics. I find the idea of a love song in reverse to be a pretty neat concept. The heartbreak is not something that's eventually arrived at - it's promised right off the bat! Propelled by a bad-ass, surf-tinged riff and the instantly memorable lyrical couplet "You're outta your mind/Don't put your heart on the line", "Love Song In Reverse" sounds like the song of the summer for an eternal 1980. Ya gotta love it. And you gotta be stoked for the full album! It releases September 20 on Baby Shakes' own label Lil' Chewy Records!


Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Battlebeats - self titled

I can always count on Alex Kish to know what I like! On his recommendation, The Battlebeats sent me their debut EP. I pushed play and was immediately blown away! I suppose "their" is a misleading pronoun since The Battlebeats are actually just one guy. His name is Andresa, and he hails from Bandung, Indonesia. Andresa recorded this debut using only a Jaguar guitar through a 15-watt amp, floor-snare, and tambourine. On a regular basis since I started this blog, I have complained about all the modern-day garage punk bands that are neither garage nor punk. Well, my friends, The Battlebeats are garage punk the way it ought to be! Teengenerate is a huge reference point here, and how can you go wrong with that? Fifi gave Andresa the band name, and Fink gave him permission to cover the classic track "Dressed In Black" (the greatest garage punk song ever made!). In keeping with the spirit of raw and wild lo-fi trash, four of the five original songs here were written within five days of the recording session! From the moment I heard Andresa scream "Are you ready to rock and roll, motherfucker?!" at the beginning of "You Stabbed Me In The Back", I knew this EP was going to be great. Andresa tears through these songs with an energy and attitude that are off the charts. The '90s budget punk influence is undeniable, but I'm also picking up old school '60s garage rock vibes on tracks like "I'm A Piece Of Shit". Don't let the "one man band" thing scare you off. It would ordinarily take at least three people to kick up a racket this raucous! If you long for the days when the likes of Teengenerate and The Reatards reigned supreme, The Battlebeats will be music to your ears. Don't let me catch you playing this at a low volume!


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Indonesian Junk - "City Lights"

It's always a damn good day when I can talk about new music from one of my favorite bands! Milwaukee-based trio Indonesian Junk has been a mainstay on this blog for five years now and would definitely make my top ten list of present-day bands. Malibu Lou and Rum Bar Records have been all over IndoJunk from the start - releasing both of the band's albums as well as last year's wicked good digital EP Darkness Calling. A new album titled Spiderbites is due out on Rum Bar next month, and its lead single "City Lights" releases today. What can I say about this song other than that it's vintage Indonesian Junk and absolutely killer? It's perfect glammy pop with hard-rocking riffs and a whole lot of sleazy punk swagger. When Daniel James opens his mouth to sing, you know exactly who you're listening to! The band channels everyone from Stiv Bators to The Only Ones to The Replacements on this mid-tempo rocker. It's just a top-notch tune. That chorus will stick in your head upon first contact, and that guitar solo is pure fire!

After hearing the Darkness Calling songs last year, I asked myself, "Is it possible that Indonesian Junk is getting even BETTER?" I'd say it's very possible! Spiderbites looks to be the band's best album yet! Pre-order link is up now over at Rum Bar's Bandcamp. And if you enjoy going out to see high quality live music, you might want to check out Indonesian Junk on one of the tour dates listed below. Now excuse me while I go crack open a cold one and play "City Lights" on repeat for an hour!

THU 8/22 - Milwaukee, WI (High Dive)
FRI 8/23 - Chicago, IL (Liar's Club)
SAT 8/24 - Indianapolis, IN (Healer)
FRI 9/20 - Green Bay, WI (Lyric Room)
SAT 9/28 - Milwaukee, WI (Circle A) (Spiderbites release party)
FRI 10/4 - Racine, WI (Evelyn’s)
SAT 10/5 - Detroit, MI (Outer Limits)
MON 10/7 - Cambridge, MA (Charlie's Kitchen)
WED 10/9 - Washington, DC (Slash Run)
THU 10/10 - Baltimore, MD (The Crown)
FRI 10/11 - Richmond, VA (Fuzzy Cactus)
SAT 10/12 - Cincinnati, OH (Northside Yacht Club)
SUN 10/13 - Columbia, MO (PDM)


Monday, August 19, 2019

Johnathan Pushkar - "Isabella"

It's been only a little over a month since the legendary JEM Records signed up-and-coming power pop sensation Johnathan Pushkar and released the underground smash single "The Girl Next Door". In advance of Pushkar's forthcoming debut album Straighten Up (due out September 27th), another single called "Isabella" has arrived. What "Isabella" makes clear is that "The Girl Next Door" was no fluke! Johnathan Pushkar is the real deal - a natural born pop craftsman with a flair for melody and a knowledge of music history far more thorough than you might expect from any 23-year-old. The music video for "Isabella" (embedded below) really does a fine job of conveying what Johnathan Pushkar is all about. This guy is a true believer in the timeless art of the three-minute pop song. And in these times of cynicism and casual hookups, he's proving that there's still room in this world for us romantics! There's an innocence and genuine sweetness to his persona that seem to come from another time. Yet these qualities don't seem outdated so much as they seem worthy of resurgence. Let someone else reinvent the wheel. Meanwhile, Johnathan Pushkar will set out to craft perfect melodies and write lyrics that give us the warm fuzzies. Just wait until you hear the full album!


Friday, August 16, 2019

Trampoline Team - self titled

Here we go! I've been dying for a new Trampoline Team full-length ever since the New Orleans trio released the absolutely raging "Drug Culture" single a couple years back. In my book, "Drug Culture" is one of the top ten punk singles of the current decade! And now we get a full album in a similar vein - a self titled smasher out on HoZac Records. This is Trampoline Team's first album in four years, and it's a total ripper! Blurring the lines between early '80s hardcore and snotty low-budget trash, these 12 tracks hearken back to garage punk's later '90s glory days. The songs are short, snappy, and as subtle as a punch in the mouth. I know it's always a reviewer cliche to refer to a band as a "breath of fresh air". But can you possibly deny that this is exactly the kind of record we need more of in 2019? This is punk music the way it ought to be: raw, blistering, and exuding fuck-you attitude! If you're looking for a punk rock record that'll get your toes tapping as you revel in your contempt for everyone and everything that pisses you off, this album ought to spark your joy. Highest recommendation!


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Flashlights - Shadows and Lights

Secret Mission Records has been bringing music from some of the best bands in Japan to American shores for a number of years now. That very much continues with the vinyl release of Flashlights' acclaimed full-length Shadows and Lights. This Tokyo foursome plays indie pop with a tremendous Japanese punk pedigree (members of Rock-A-Cherry and The Knocks are involved). Originally released on CD in 2016, this album has been remastered for vinyl by the one-and-only Jeff Burke. Who do Flashlights sound like? Well they don't really sound like any other band, and that is part of what makes them great. They can go from jangling, twee-ish pop to moody indie/punk - sometimes within a single song! Listening to the bittersweet punky pop of "Midnight Carboy", you could understand why Jeff Burke would "get" this band. Yet for the most part, this album follows a path that is impossible to pigeonhole. It's not quite power pop, but I think power pop fans would dig it. It's not quite punk rock, but the punk influence is quite palpable (especially on a song like "Neo City"). It sounds completely original, yet it still satisfies in a way that only a really good pop record can. The sequence from the haunting "Stormy Night" to the easy, breezy "Time" to the Velvet Underground influenced "Shadows" is the perfect encapsulation of this album's appeal. This really is one of those releases that stands out from the pack - not just because it's different, but also because it's so well-done. The songwriting is brilliant, the guitar work is exceptional, and the vocals are overflowing with charm. Flashlights are one of the most celebrated underground bands in Japan today, and now you have the chance to find out why. If you like what you hear, you'll want to pounce on the vinyl. Only 500 copies were pressed, and less than half of those made it to the U.S.A. You know what to do!


Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Reflectors - "Teenage Hearts"

Oh man, do I ever have something great for you today! The band name The Reflectors might be new to you, but perhaps you remember James Carman, Nick Fashion, and Ryan Miranda from the amazing L.A. power pop band Images. With Johnny Reyes joining in on drums and Carman (LA Drugz, Telephone Lovers, Maniac) back on guitar and vocals, The Reflectors pretty much pick up where Images left off. The band's debut single will be out next week on the German label Time For Action Records. The A-side, "Teenage Hearts" is a perfect slice of Buzzcocks/Undertones punk-pop meets early LA power pop. The cover art and musical style scream 1979, and that's definitely alright by me! This song could not be any more up my alley! On the flip, "Desert Crusader" moves away from the love song motif in favor of darker themes and an even punchier sound. It's really cool to hear the band trying something different for the B-side and totally pulling it off! That chorus is nothing short of haunting. What a tremendous debut single from The Reflectors! Vinyl releases Tuesday, and you can order it here.


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Jordan Jones - self titled

Sometimes all you need is some really great pop. And if some great pop is what you seek, the debut album from Jordan Jones will send you straight to your happy place. It's actually kind of cool in this day and age of pervasive social media to still find musical artists with some air of mystery to them. I even read the full one-sheet for this record and still know essentially nothing about Jordan Jones. But I think that's the entire point. With a record this great, the music ought to speak for itself. This album had a cassette-only release on Burger Records last year, and now Spaghetty Town and Beluga Records are teaming up to make sure the world hears it.

When I first heard lead single "Rumors Girls" a little while back, I was absolutely floored to come across such a perfect pop song. What an earworm! And what the album makes clear is that that song was no fluke! Jordan Jones proves to be an immensely talented songwriter with a particular fondness for classic power pop and early '70s glam and pop. Song after song is chock full of massive hooks and infectious melodies, and I could easily have been led to believe that this was a collection of forgotten AM radio hits from 1973. The use of keyboards and the generally warm sound give this record a feel that is not often attained by newer power pop groups. I heard lead track "Wrote You A Song For Me" and thought, "Okay, this has to be the hit." But then I heard "Understood", and I honestly couldn't decide which song I liked better! The album continues in that same manner for all of Side 1: a veritable parade of songs that would be all over the radio in a better world (or in another era). Side 2 mixes it up with more ballads, but they're damn good as well! Closing track "Oh My Heavenz" puts the gold in AM gold!

What can I say about an album that appeals to my love for artists ranging from Big Star to T.Rex to the Exploding Hearts to Eric Carmen? Call it power pop, call it pop-rock, call it whatever you like. The debut album from Jordan Jones is brilliant pop music crafted in pursuit of timeless melody. A record any catchier this would probably cause a worldwide health crisis!


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Mala Vista - self titled EP

One thing I love to write about but don't hear that often is pure '77-style punk rock. Well I'm hearing it from Mala Vista, and I am stoked! This band out of Queens and Brooklyn has released its debut EP as a five-track 7" and a seven-track digital download. This politically-minded foursome possesses the spirit of The Clash and a sound that brings to mind everyone from The Damned to the Dead Boys to Eater. Given the troubling normalization of white supremacy in recent years, "Mouth Breeder" is a welcome punk anthem for 2019. With its throbbing bass lines and ripping guitar leads, it's the perfect example of how to make a social statement and still rock LAMF. Play it loud and get fired up! Similarly, "NY Groove" re-interprets the sounds of 1977 punk rock and roll for a modern-day attack on wealth and greed. Elsewhere, lyrics reflect a personal struggle to make one's way in an unjust world. I really dig the sound here: it's rooted in classic punk, yet it's got an edge to it that some '77 revivalists can never manage to capture. This is music with passion and guts, and it's a reminder that punk rock can still satisfy in a way no other kind of music can. As a '77-punk geek and a lifetime East Coaster, I'm definitely feeling this record!


Monday, August 05, 2019

Dogmatics - "Summertime"

I don't often do "teaser" posts. But come on: we're talking about the almighty Dogmatics! This is one of my favorite bands of all-time, and in my mind THE definitive Boston garage/punk/rock and roll band. Dogmatics have not released a record in 33 years, but that is about to change! A while back, Malibu Lou let me in on the news that Dogmatics were joining the Rum Bar Records family. You can imagine my reaction to that! The result of this union will be a brand-new album coming out this fall. To get us all primed for this splendid event, Rum Bar has released Dogmatics' cover of Unnatural Axe's "Summertime" as a digital single. Appropriately enough, it appears now in the midst of...summertime! I am totally stoked for new music from Dogmatics and for a whole new generation of garage/punk fans to receive a proper introduction to one of the best bands to ever come out of Boston. In my 2013 review of the band's 1981-86 compilation, I lamented that Dogmatics' Facebook page had only 790 likes. Well now the count is over 1300 and growing! Be sure to crank "Summertime" while you're drinking by the pool, and be on the lookout for the new album coming soon! And if you're still unfamiliar with Dogmatics, be sure to check out my YouTube playlist or the entirety of 1981-86 on Spotify!


Friday, August 02, 2019

Mikey Erg - Waxbuilt Castles

I'm just gonna come out and say it: Waxbuilt Castles is Mikey Erg's best album yet! If we are limiting this discussion to solo Mikey Erg, that means I'm putting this release ahead of 2016's Tentative Decisions (which I also love). The "buzz" around Waxbuilt Castles is that it's a huge departure for this beloved figure of pop-punk. This, it's said, is his "'70s pop-rock album". Mikey has even stated he was going for his own version of Paul McCartney's first solo record. All of this is true. And as someone who's old enough to have experienced '70s pop-rock firsthand, I have to say Mikey has really hit the mark here. Yet I wouldn't describe this album as a departure so much as I would call it a logical progression from Tentative Decisions. Even in the heyday of The Ergs!, it was obvious that pop-punk was only a fractional component of Mikey's songwriting influence. I always thought of him as a guy who writes great pop songs, period. And Waxbuilt Castles is a great pop record, period. 

Recorded in collaboration with Mikey's band-mate from the LLC, Alex Clute, Waxbuilt Castles finds Mikey Erg doing what Mikey Erg does best: writing songs about heartbreak, loneliness, and regret. These types of songs have been his bread and butter since he wrote "Thinking With My Heart" nearly 20 years ago, and he's grown into a true master of the form. The entire first verse of "Clueless Or Cruel" is as devastatingly relatable as anything that Jim Ellison or Doug Hopkins ever wrote. Perhaps on this release, Mikey has softened his vocal approach a tad. And with the integration of piano, pedal steel, and acoustic guitar into his sound, he's a long way from punk rock here. Yet Waxbuilt Castles still sounds like classic Mikey Erg - which speaks to how his talents have always transcended genre. The upbeat, jangling pop of "Bad Decision Monday" would not have sounded out of place on Tentative Decisions. "& Nico" is just a more mellowed-out version of the kinds of songs he's been writing for two decades. And even when he's blatantly indulging his '70s fetish (the easy-going soft rock of "Kimberly Gofigure", the early Elvis Costello worship of "Little Crushes", the bittersweet country rock of "Why Was I Programmed To Feel Pain?"), he does so in a way that feels totally true to himself. Mikey's feel for what makes a great song has only grown stronger with age, and with this particular album there are so many tracks that will absolutely grab you. "Clueless or Cruel" boasts the sort of simple but indelible chorus that some songwriters spend their entire careers chasing. "Hopland Superette" comes on so unassumingly, yet you'll suddenly realize you've been singing that hook for a week. "Kimberly Gofigure" might be Mikey's own "Hold My Life" - a song that at first seems oddly laid-back for a lead-off track, but ultimately proves to be the perfect album opener.

While Waxbuilt Castles has Mikey Erg's name on it, it was by no means a one-man creation. Mikey found the ideal collaborator in Clute - whose instrumental prowess and creative input were integral to this release. But that's what great artists do: they find other great artists capable of pushing them to new heights. Don't let the "this isn't a pop-punk album" angle discourage you. Waxbuilt Castles is the best collection of songs Mikey Erg has ever written. Even without buzzing guitars and racing tempos, these songs will still punch you in the gut. If you've been a fan of this man's music through the years, there's almost no way you won't love this record. And if your parents like it too, how is that anything but a huge win?


Thursday, August 01, 2019

The Coolies - Uh Oh! It's​.​.​.The Coolies

There are supergroups, and then there are SUPERGROUPS! The news that Kim Shattuck and Melanie Vannem (Pandoras/The Muffs) had teamed up with radio personality extraordinaire Palmyra Delran (Pink Slip Daddy/The Friggs) to form a cartoon super-trio had me excited beyond belief. My only concern was that a lineup like that was going to set a very high bar in terms of expectations. Well I must tell you: The Coolies are here, and they had no problem whatsoever clearing that bar! They are everything I imagined they would be and more. Their debut release, a 10" record from Wicked Cool Records, sold out so quickly that a second pressing is already in the works. And with all profits from this release going to The ALS Association Golden West Chapter, it warms my heart to see it doing so well! As you would expect from a collaboration involving these three rock and roll icons, these six songs hit that sweet spot where punk, garage, and '60s pop converge. Kim Shattuck is the primary songwriter, but all three band members are key contributors. I'm especially fond of the Palmyra Delran co-write "Blueberry Crumble". Due in no small part to a guest appearance on theremin from Stevie Van Zandt, this song will have you imagining The Coolies turning up on an episode of Scooby-Doo! "Uh Oh!" sounds a lot like The Muffs (obviously!), and those harmonies are absolutely dazzling. "Ignoramus" puts the rock in garage rock, while the sweet country of "Glad I Met You" and perfect pop of "Yeah, I Don't I Know" will only cement Kim Shattuck's rep as a true master of melody-driven songwriting. If you're a fan of these three amazing women, you will not be disappointed by The Coolies. And if you just love poppy punky garage rock in general, this is a release you won't want to miss. Reserve yourself a copy now!