Thursday, October 31, 2019

Vista Blue - Hit The Floor

Milestone time: this is my 20th Vista Blue review! I feel like the band ought to come out of this with commemorative varsity jackets or at least its own set of F & L glassware. How is it that I've come to review a band 20 times in less than four years? Perhaps it has something to do with me and Mike Patton having many shared interests in sports and Abita beer. But in all seriousness, I think it's because Vista Blue is one of the finest pure pop bands out there. And there's nothing I love more than pure pop.

To me, the measure of a great pop-punk band is that they would be just as good if they slowed things down and were simply a pop band. If you get rid of the buzzsaw guitars and racing tempos, what do you have with Vista Blue? A terrific pop group that values melody and perfectly executed vocal harmonies above all else. That's been apparent on the 19 DIY recordings I've reviewed previously. But Hit The Floor! is where Vista Blue fully demonstrates its chops as a pop band. This was the release the band funded via Kickstarter - its first record made in a "real" studio. And that real studio happens to be Ardent Studios in Memphis. Yeah, I'm talking about THE Ardent Studios - where Isaac Hayes made Hot Buttered Soul, Big Star made #1 Record, and ZZ Top made Eliminator! How wild is that!

Having went all-in on pop-punk on its recent album Tricks and Treats, Vista Blue wanted Hit The Floor! to be its definitive power pop release. Perry Leenhouts from Travoltas (speaking of punk bands that are great pop bands!) was enlisted to handle the mixing and mastering. You've never heard Vista Blue sound this big and clean on record - and that really accentuates what the band does best. "Summer Wonderland" is full of pristine harmonies and gorgeous melodies playing up VB's long-held affections for the Beach Boys and '60s pop. It comes darn close to hitting the four-minute mark, and every last second sounds perfect to my ears. "Big Stars", featuring Leenhouts' unmistakable harmonies, is upbeat power pop celebrating Mike's humble beginnings in music. It's also a love song, and I must say it really tugs at my heartstrings! I think this is my favorite Vista Blue song ever! "Three Chord City" is a cover of an absolutely CLASSIC song by New Orleans power pop legends The Cold, written by Vance DeGeneres. Vista Blue does a great version of this song, and I hope fans will be inspired to seek out the original and learn more about The Cold.

While Hit The Floor! is very much in the spirit of all of Vista Blue's music, there's no denying it paid off for the band to go all-out and aim for a great-sounding pop record. This was a different experience for Mike - who usually has to tend to every detail of the band's home recordings. This time he got to sit back and let the professionals work their magic. That includes studio engineer Mike Wilson, along with talented band mates Richard Bates (who kills it on guitar!), Reese Chism (drums), and Mark Crowley (bass). And once Leenhouts added his special touches, you had to know this thing was going to be gold. Digital EP is available now - featuring extensive liner notes by Wyatt Funderburk. Vinyl should be out just in time for Christmas!


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Mad Rollers - "I Need Your Love"

Sometimes all you need is some really good rock and roll! Rome's Mad Rollers have released their latest single - a follow-up to their 2017 debut on Surfin' Ki Records. These guys keep it classic with an awesome mix of pub rock, glam, and proto punk. They aren't aiming to break any new ground, and why would you want 'em to? "I Need Your Love" is an upbeat, catchy rocker with big hooks and some absolutely smoking lead guitar. Mad Rollers cite Eddie and the Hot Rods and Slade as influences, and that definitely comes through in the music. Throw in some early Cock Sparrer, and you'll know exactly what sort of soup these guys are cooking. This is your soundtrack to a night of drinking and dancing and all those other fine things in life. B-side "Did You See" is in a similar vein but with a little nastier edge to it. All in all, this is a top-notch single. Label it however you want - in the end, it's just damn good rock and roll. Vinyl out on Sister Raygun Records out of Philadelphia, USA!


Friday, October 25, 2019

Extra Arms - Up From Here

As a huge fan of Detroit foursome Extra Arms, I was excited to find out that we were getting a second album from the band just one year after the release of its first. Headacher, Extra Arms' debut as a full band, was a gem of an album and absolute treat for anyone who fondly recalls the huge, hooky alternative rock of the later '90s. I am very happy to report that Up From Here is an absolutely extraordinary follow-up. What I'm not so happy to report is that it was inspired by a really terrible year in the life of front-man Ryan Allen. Ever since I heard his solo effort Heart String Soul four and a half years ago, I've considered him one of my favorite songwriters. Listening to Up From Here's opening track "F.L.Y." is like hearing a friend in distress. But while Allen is very up-front about this album being about the end of his marriage, this is in no way the depressing divorce record you might expect. Allen has always had a knack for writing about his personal experiences in a way that makes them come across as universal. And that's what he's done with Up From Here. Yes, these songs are extremely personal to him. But at a broader level, they're about encountering an unexpected loss and figuring out how to make a new, better life for yourself. You take your punches (literally and figuratively), and little by little you work yourself back to a good place. Who can't relate to that?

While the Sugar/Superdrag/Superchunk influences that powered Headacher are still very much at play on Up From Here, the feel of this album is a little different. Running just 22 minutes, it's got a punkier bite to it - especially on the first few tracks. And that perfectly suits this powerhouse of a band (also including Michael Gallacher on guitar, Ryan Marshall on bass, and Daniel Stover on drums). "F.L.Y." and "Disruptor" rip hard & fast and find Allen fully embracing his punk rock roots. "Secret Friend" is the heaviest track this band has done to date. Allen's narrative begins in a very dark place, and the music is reflective of that. You can hear the lyrics for yourself, but let's just say that Allen doesn't hold anything back. With the full force of kick-ass band behind him, he really lets it all out. Some of these songs are flat-out intense! You can feel the tide turning as the album progresses - Allen moving from rage and despair to self-reflection, acceptance, and finally genuine hope. "Comes In Waves" and  "Hold Me (All The Time)" are thundering shots of radio-worthy power pop that are perfectly suited to Paul Miner's massive production. "No Enemies" is a rocker that would make Bob Mould proud. And the title track is the soaring, optimistic closer this album needed to step fully into the light.

I cannot emphasize enough how much Extra Arms rock (Stover on drums is an absolute animal!). This is one of those groups that puts the power in power pop - like Cheap Trick or Material Issue back in the day. No wonder Allen didn't feel right putting his name above these other guys! I think some people will hear "divorce record" and automatically presume it will be full of mopey ballads. But Up From Here is about as far from that as you can get. Its mix of crunching power pop and powerfully emotional punk is carried off with an energy that is undeniable. There's part of me that feels guilty about enjoying this record so much: like, is it right that another person's pain should bring me such pleasure? But isn't that essentially the history of most great art and popular music in particular? Life has kicked all of our asses at one point or another. But we come back from it and find new beginnings. Allen has daringly laid his soul bare for all the world to witness, and it's my hope that more than a few people will be comforted or encouraged by this record. Music always makes things better. Whether you're invested in the story or just want to rock out like the '90s never ended, Up From Here is the best record that Ryan Allen has ever lent his name to. Although, technically, he didn't lend his name to it. Vinyl is out on Dadstache Records in the U.S. and Get Party! Records in Canada. Full stream available here!


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Manikins - Bad Times

Hey, look who it is! I presumed The Manikins were long broken up, but apparently they were just "taking a break"...for nine years! I will always associate this band with the heyday of mid-2000s garage punk and power pop. They released three albums and several singles on the late, great P. Trash Records and also worked with everyone from Ken Rock to Rockin' Bones to Plastic Idol to FDH Records. Well here they are in 2019 with their first new music in a decade, and it's like they never left. New album Bad Times has been co-released by FDH, Secret Identity, No Front Teeth, and Resurrection records. As expected, this sounds like a Manikins record!

The Manikins explore a number of musical styles on this release, so there's definitely evidence of the growth you'd expect from guys who are now a decade older. "Make A Run For It", one of the album's strongest tracks, is on the soulful end of garage rock a la Reigning Sound. "It's A Drag (Isn't It?)" is old school blues rock right down the Stones/Animals/Pretty Things lane. The title track flirts with the darker melodic punk sound that is so closely associated with the band's native Sweden. There's even an old western influence on closing track "Bank Robbery". But as you would hope from a Manikins record, this thing is chock full of garage punk rippers, power pop hits, and a few songs that are a little bit of both. "Worse Than I" and "It's Not Gonna Be Ok" are classic Manikins all the way. "On The Hanger To Dry" is a straight-up punk smasher that has me feeling like the 2000s never ended. "Everything Is Shit (Without You)" and "Can't Hold On" are great straight-ahead punk rock and roll songs that sound just as good today as they would have 15 years ago. I can hear a little King Louie/Exploding Hearts influence in "Keep On Waitin'" - a wonderfully bittersweet number that builds to a killer chorus.

If you dig garage punk and power pop (yeah, I know: that's basically everyone who follows this blog!), Bad Times is a record you'll want to own. For those of you who were Manikins fans back in the day, you'll find this to be as good as any of their albums. And if this is your introduction to The Manikins, you've got a lot of great music to get caught up with! The band's songwriting chops have never been sharper, and the group sounds like it's come back from hiatus with a renewed energy. There's more than enough musical variety here to keep things interesting. Ultimately, though, this is still the garage punk power pop party record you would have hoped for. This is how you come back!


Friday, October 18, 2019

Phone Jerks - 10 x 10

Wow! Wasn't it just a year ago that Phone Jerks suddenly turned up on Alien Snatch Records with a debut long player that ultimately became my 2018 album of the year? Here they are already with an even better followup! 10 x 10 won't be my 2019 album of the year for the simple reason that it's a 10-inch record and thus technically not an LP. I do realize that the fabled 10-inch is not everyone's favorite format. But I'm a big fan, and I think Phone Jerks have utilized it in the way the music gods intended (see also, Problematics' Blown Out and Teengenerate's Savage). 

I don't know how to put this, but 10 x 10 is kind of a big deal. It's Alien Snatch's 100th release, and it also commemorates the label's 20th anniversary (I remember Alien Snatch 001 quite well: it was The Johnnies' 12 Steps To Nowhere, and never in my then 28 years had I ever handled such a thick slab of vinyl!). The title is of course a reference to this being 10 songs on a ten-inch record. But it's also the mathematical computation that equals 100 releases. Look at those Jerks with their clever hidden meanings! I'm not suggesting that Daniel has been plotting for years to make this his 100th release. But seriously: can you think of a band that better exemplifies the spirit of a label that has kept the heart of garage punk/'77 punk/power pop beating for two decades and counting? Between these four band members, they probably own a solid majority of those 100 releases. And of course Phone Jerks hearken back to those exciting times of later '90s trash punk rock and roll that certainly inspired a young man from Germany to start his own record label.

What I noticed pretty quickly about 10 x 10 is that it's a tougher-sounding affair than the self-titled LP. It's less of a budget rock party record and more of a straight-up ripping rock record. The '70s punk influence is more prevalent, and the band members take turns sounding properly fed-up on lead vocals (what was Nicholas McNally doing to these people in the studio?!). At times I'm reminded of a more pissed-off Rip Offs (wouldn't that just be Zodiac Killers?!). And Brian's songs in particular bring a Saints/Lazy Cowgirls edge that was not as pronounced on the last record. With the band pairing down the 16 songs it prepared for this release to the ten strongest cuts, 10 x 10 is the ultimate in all-killer, no-filler. All four Jerks contribute essential tracks. "Benchwarmer" is Tyler's attempt at writing a Makers song, and who can deny that the world needs way more of that sort of thing? Andrew's "Vehicular Manslaughter" makes me nostalgic for a time when I could compare a dozen bands to the Dead Boys every year. Emily's "Frigg Off" has to be the most "eastern Canadian" song title ever. It's about people who are easier to get along with when you see them as little as possible. That's kind of hilarious, but I bet everyone reading this can relate! "U-Turn To Jane's" tells the true story of when Tyler and Emily were both nearly killed just trying to get a pizza. My overall fave track is "She's Stimming Out", a song Brian wrote about the days of his daughter's autism diagnosis. This track rips it up like "Demolition Girl" crashing into "Sonic Reducer", creating the perfect energy for a tune that could not be any more loving and uplifting. This song makes me proud to be a human being. 

I give 10 x 10 a ten out of ten. Every track is a the face! It's rather fortunate for me that Phone Jerks chose to release this as a 10-inch 45. When album of the year time rolls around, I will be spared the difficult choice between Phone Jerks and certain label mates/country mates of theirs. No civil wars will be breaking out on my watch! If the self-titled LP was best suited for the world famous "Who are they ripping off here?" drinking game, 10 x 10 is more like the record you put on when you feel like punching someone. I think for the practicality of everyday life, this record may be even more useful. If you still insist on hating ten-inch records, just think of this as two killer 7-inches that magically flip themselves over. Happy birthday, Alien Snatch! I will have the German beer flowing all day in your honor!


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Corner Boys - B-Sides

The good news is that we have more new music from Corner Boys. The bad news is that this is the last music we will ever get from Corner Boys! The Vancouver trio has called it a day after releasing two great singles and an LP (one of this year's best!). As a parting gift, the band has released outtakes from the Just Don't Care and Waiting For 2020 recording sessions as a free digital EP on its Bandcamp page. The minute you push play, it will be evident why this was one of my favorite bands of recent years. "Deadbeat Heart"  and "Speed Dial Love" are quintessential cuts of poppy old school punk that are the closest thing to The Simpletones this world has heard in 40 years. "Echo Beach", of course, is a punked-up cover of Martha and the Muffins' 1980 smash. "I'm Not Sorry" seems an appropriate way for Corner Boys to bow out - with great vigor and without apology. These tracks may all be B-sides, but they are anything but second rate. If you still have not checked out Waiting For 2020, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. It's a phenomenal album. Thanks for the great music, guys!


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bambies - Red Guitar

Now this is what I'm talking about! Have you ever heard a band for the first time, and within 30 seconds you just knew you were gonna love 'em? That's how it was with me and Montreal trio Bambies. Of course I had an inkling that I would like this band due to its affiliation with Reta Records. But not even that information had me fully prepared for the jolt I would ultimately get from "Red Guitar". Out now as the second-ever release from Reta Records, "Red Guitar" is the kind of song that makes me wanna wildly jump around as I shout out random interjections of joy. It's a little pop and a little punk, but above all else it's just great damn rock and roll! This song rates a ten out of ten on the head-bobbing meter, and it's so fun and massively catchy that it leaves me smiling every time. On the B-side is "Black Hands", which slows the pace but dials up the pop even more. It kind of has an early Ramones feel, but with a garage punk rock and roll edge to it that is perfectly at home in 2019 Canada. Both of these songs were previously available on Bambies' debut cassette, yet they were clearly destined to make their way onto a 7" record. There are 100 copies available on red vinyl, another 200 on black, and that's it. Do not sleep on this one!


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Poppy Robbie - The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck

When your name is Poppy Robbie, your avenues for musical progression are rather limited. Thrash metal is pretty much out of the question. A noise rock turn would cause great discontent within the fan base. Pop country would be way too obvious - not to mention kind of lame. American roots music, on the other hand, seems like a perfectly workable point of entry.

I always feel like the old man running kids off his lawn when I reference obscure early 2000s pop-punk. It's like, "What do you mean you don't remember The Koopas?! You lousy punks don't realize how great music used to be when bands made records like Sex, Lies, and Video Games!" I bet my man Ralph Rivera will back me up on this: The Koopas were one of the best bands working that genre circa the turn of the century. But it's been 17 years since The Koopas split, and no one would expect front-man Poppy Robbie to still be writing songs like "Shut Up" in 2019. On his solo debut The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck, Robbie has essentially made his own Nebraska. This is about as stripped-down and DIY as it gets. It's like you're hanging out on the back porch with the native Texan, now Oregon-based Robbie. He's got his acoustic guitar, and he's playing country, blues, and folk ballads. He even did the packaging by hand - with the CD designed to look like a vinyl record! That knack for melody and wordplay that allowed him to ascend to the elected position of Dictator of Pop still shines through on these five tracks. But here he's fully embracing his Texas roots and stepping into the role of the storyteller. There are moments where you can imagine these demos as fully flushed-out studio recordings that would definitely be considered "pop". "Goes Around Comes Around", if you added a full band and some slick backing vocals, would be bang-on pub rock. "Twist and Pout" isn't far from the lo-fi Buddy Holly approach that I figured would be present somewhere on this release. I know: you've gotta be really lo-fi to be a lo-fi Buddy Holly!

If your reaction to me reviewing Poppy Robbie is "Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time", you may be interested to know that the complete Koopas discography is also available from Poppy Robbie's Bandcamp. And while you're renewing old memories of the pop-punk of yore, why not also check out what Robbie is up to these days? Six bucks gets you digital versions of The Complete Koopas (In Reverse) and The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck. Ten bucks gets you both on cdr. The first person who asks me "What's a cdr?" is getting whacked with my cane.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Do You Remember Me? A Tribute To Head

I'm not usually one for tribute albums. But without question I will make an exception for a tribute to the almighty HEAD. If the Ramones are God, then HEAD are Jesus. Everyone else is merely mortal. And while HEAD are eternally revered within Ramonescore and pop-punk circles, they have managed to maintain a certain air of mystery about themselves for over 25 years. The music largely speaks for itself. Do You Remember Me? has been compiled and released by Mom's Basement Records, and I've gotta say that John went all-out to make this thing awesome. Pulling from his own label roster and beyond, he enlisted a veritable who's-who in modern-day Ramonescore and pop-punk music to record their own versions of HEAD classics.

Who's on this comp? The question should actually be who ISN'T on this comp! Amazingly, this release squeezes 24 tracks onto one LP, plus five more digital bonus tracks. Ratcliffs must have won the cage match to determine who got to over "35 Years Older Than You" (the "Stairway To Heaven" of Ramonescore), and predictably they nailed it! All of the songs that just had to be on this release are here. You've got The Putz doing "Don't Go Looking In The Closet", Flamingo Nosebleed tackling "Am I Fresh?", Tough having at "I've Made My Peace With the Hippies", the SUCK taking on "No One Likes A Snitch", and Ratbones absolutely crushing "Do You Remember Me?". Other standouts for me are Neon Bone ("The Sissy"), The Young Rochelles ("Teacher's Pet"), and the legendary Manges ("Senor Itchy"). And somehow how I still haven't mentioned NECK, DeeCracks, Parasites, Geoff Palmer, Black Russians, and many more?! Since all of these bands properly play these songs in the sanctioned HEAD style, this is about as close as you can get to an actual HEAD album without actually being a HEAD album. And hearing all of these tracks in one place serves as a quick reminder of why HEAD is worshiped. You could argue that this collection is mostly for fans, and I would not disagree. But if you've somehow fallen into Ramonescore fandom without any familiarity with HEAD, this album should lead you on the righteous path of beating up whoever you have to in order to secure the original versions of these songs. An amazing comp!


Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Slow Faction - Unilateral Declaration Of Independence

Slow Faction has a new album out, so of course you can presume it's full of songs about pretty girls and celebrity gossip. Just kidding. The London foursome is more politically-charged than ever on its third long player, firing up anthems left and right in the timeless Clash/SLF/Angelic Upstarts mold. In the two years that have passed since the release of Under Heavy Manners, we have fallen even deeper into this modern-day twilight zone where heads of state normalize white supremacy and anti-fascism is suddenly an "extreme" position. Slow Faction are not about to stand silent, and they've responded with a full album of thundering statement songs. The musical style has not changed, and why would you want it to? This is '77-style British punk the way it ought to be - coming on with impassioned force and huge sing-along choruses. Of course a song like "Breitbart Boys" could not be any more on-point. But on this record, Slow Faction are less concerned with extremists than they are with those who enable them due to either apathy or political convenience. "You make a stand or you stand for nothing," cries lead singer John Youens on "The Blank Generations". And that is more or less the theme of this entire album. These songs ask us all to take a look in the mirror and ponder our own complicity in all of this madness. Elsewhere, the band explores the ways that governments have failed the people they are entrusted to govern. "And Never Said A Word" powerfully depicts the human price of politicians' war-mongering. "U.D.I." is specifically about the failures of the U.K government, yet its description of a nation in despair rings painfully true on my side of the pond as well:

Public services at breaking point
The hospitals are full
And hungry children in our schools
Homeless people dying on our streets
No shelter for the sick and ill
Universal credit kills
The suicide rate's on the rise
As a nation's hopes are allowed to die

Clearly, Slow Faction is not a band that's "mellowing" with age. They're writing quality punk songs, and they're doing so with purpose. I get that politically-minded bands are not for everyone. But my belief is that all people who write songs should write about what they are passionate about. Slow Faction's passion is fighting for social justice and against fascism. Sure: a thorough reading of this album's lyrics is not the most pleasant experience (closing track "No Country For The Young" is a particularly bitter pill to swallow). But isn't that the whole point? Unilateral Declaration Of Independence is the work of a band that would like to change the world. Can individuals or bands actually change the world? Who knows? But it's when they stop believing they can that all hope is lost. Give 'em hell, boys!


Sunday, October 06, 2019

Dogmatics - She's The One

Here it is: the first new record by the mighty Dogmatics in 33 years! Rum Bar Records proudly releases She's The One this week on both 7" vinyl and CD. I won't delve too deep into the legacy of this band since I've already devoted a couple of posts to that. Suffice it to say that the Dogmatics are one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Boston. Here they are in 2019 with classic era members Jerry Lehane, Pete O'Halloran, and Tom Long all in tow. Jimmy O'Halloran holds down bass duties with tremendous love and respect for his late brother Paul. And while I would have been completely overjoyed with any new music from the Dogmatics, She's The One is no run of the mill comeback. This thing's a stone cold triumph!

What I've always enjoyed about the Dogmatics is that they were so many things at once. They had that rockabilly thing going on, but they were a punk band at heart. They wrote perfect pop songs but played them with absolute irreverence. In essence, they were precursors to nearly every band I champion today. Three decades on, these guys are older, wiser, and perhaps a little more musically proficient. But really these are still the same old Dogmatics - that one band you can always count on when all you wanna do is crack open a cold one and listen to some fun rock and roll. Jerry Lehane has penned three new songs for this release, and they are all top tunes. "She's The One" is a hot shot of power poppin' pub rock with a driving beat you will not be able to resist. If you're a longtime fan, you'll get chills hearing Jerry and Pete's unmistakable dual guitars launch into action! This is at worst my third-favorite song to ever be titled "She's The One". "I Love Rock and Roll" has more of a thumping '60s garage flavor to it. As the title suggests, it's a song that celebrates rock and roll. It pays tribute to all of the great music of the past and offers tremendous hope for the future. Songs like this can sometimes be unbearably corny, but they can also be totally fantastic. You can probably guess which side of the column I'm checking off here. This track would not have sounded out of place on the last Dogmatics album in 1986! "The Ballad of Wilbur Ross" is the one major surprise on this release. It's a very traditional-sounding Celtic folk ballad - done so well that you might mistake it for an actual traditional Celtic folk ballad!

Digital and CD versions of She's the One feature really cool bonus covers of two of the greatest punk groups to ever come out of New England. "Black Plastic Shoes" was originally recorded by The Reducers and appeared on their classic debut album from 1984. "Summertime" was a track off of Unnatural Axe's legendary 7" They Saved Hitler's Brain. Both of these songs were previously available only on tribute compilations. And in true Dogmatics fashion, the band puts its stamp on both of these songs. I was beyond stoked when I heard that the Dogmatics were joining the Rum Bar Records family and releasing new music. Now that the record is here, I could not be happier! If you already love this band, you will love these songs for sure. And if this is your very first encounter with the Dogmatics, I hope it leads you on a lifelong journey into their classic back catalog. What a damn great band!


Saturday, October 05, 2019

Devious Ones - "She's Waiting For Me"

You ought to know by now that I'm a huge Devious Ones fan. One thing I especially love about these guys is that they're always surprising me. When they released "Djarum Summers" as a single, it was a song unlike anything I'd heard from them before. The highlight of their album Plainview Nights was the title track - again a tune that was totally unexpected and absolutely great. Well here they go again! New single "She's Waiting For Me", released in conjunction with the band playing its 100th show tonight, is nowhere close to the blazing garage punk you might have anticipated. And, hey, I'm always in favor of punk groups boldly expanding into new territory (I mean, come on, my favorite band is The Clash!). "She's Waiting For Me" is just a great rootsy-sounding rock and roll song. Featuring the splendid piano work of recording engineer Adam Cox, this track finds Devious Ones flexing some serious bar band chops. I don't think there's anything more universally appealing in music than a really great breakup song. This one is very well-done, thanks in no small part to a heartfelt and very believable vocal from Eric Villa. And while songs about lost love are nothing new in music, this one has a hopefulness to it that really sets it apart. I imagine it as a crowd favorite at live shows. On the flip, "The Straggle Is Real" is pop with a capital P! This tune has a great bouncy energy to it, with top-notch melodies and an irresistible sing-along hook. It's so freaking catchy that I've been whistling that melody for days on end. And man, I love that guitar solo!

"She's Waiting For Me" is Devious Ones' fourth single and every bit as essential as the previous three. It's got an A-side you can never play just once and a B-side that will keep you flipping the record over. Fingers crossed for many more singles and several hundred more shows to come!


Thursday, October 03, 2019

Baby Shakes - Cause A Scene

It's certainly very rare for a band to make its best album 15 years into its existence. But Baby Shakes have gone and done just that! Cause A Scene is the New York foursome's third LP since 2015 and fourth overall. It's crazy to think that I first reviewed this band was way back in 2005. At the time, I'm not sure I could have even foreseen that Baby Shakes would still be around in 2019. I mean, how many bands actually last 15 years? How many last even 10? And not only are Baby Shakes still around in 2019, they are also at the very top of their game. If I could recommend just one Baby Shakes album that best represents what this band is all about, Cause A Scene would be the one without a doubt. It's pretty close to a perfect record from one of the defining punk/power pop bands of its time.

Released on the band's own label Lil' Chewy Records, Cause A Scene is immediately recognizable as a Baby Shakes record. The upbeat rocker "Nowhere Fast" kicks off the album with a perfect shot of the band's signature punky rock and roll. It'll have you tapping your toes and bobbing your head in no time. The smash hit title track (my god, that hook!) and "Cruisin'" follow in a similar vein. With its hand-claps, red-hot lead guitar, and bubbly harmonies, the latter is the quintessential Baby Shakes song. If this band ever stopped doing songs like this, that would be a total bummer. But what I love about this record is that it stretches well beyond the group's core sound. The gorgeous, Beatles-inspired "Wasurenai Wa" and wistful Angels cover "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" ought to have power pop fans standing to applaud. "Down" and "Love Song In Reverse" find the band rocking harder than it ever has before. "Modern Girl Renegade" is beachy and '60s-inspired in a way that brings to mind early Go-Go's. And in closing track "Let's Go, JetGlo", Baby Shakes have launched a glam rock anthem into outer space! 

After not recording for several years, Baby Shakes have been absolutely on fire since their 2015 comeback. And with every new release, they just seem to get better. If you've ever pigeonholed Baby Shakes as a "singles band", Cause a Scene just might lead you to change your mind. I'm struggling to find a track on this thing that isn't totally spectacular. And whether you favor the power pop, punk, or glam side of Baby Shakes, this record has got you covered. Vinyl available here


Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Dany Laj and the Looks - Everything New Is New Again

It may be true that you can't judge an album by its cover. But the cover of the new album by Dany Laj and the Looks sure tells you an awful lot. The new record is a six-song effort titled Everything New Is New Again. Dan Parent (yes, THE Dan Parent!) did the cover art, which would totally make you want to buy the album even if you didn't already know that Dany Laj and the Looks were the best! Dig that scene: you've got people dancing and romancing and having the absolute best time while the band joyfully rocks out on stage. Talk about fun city! Many of you who've seen the band will surely attest to the authenticity of that image.

Dany Laj, the Montreal-based (by way of northern Ontario) songwriter, describes his music quite simply as "pure pop". I would say that's very accurate, and you know that's something I can wholeheartedly endorse. He and his band mates Jeanette Dowling (bass) and Victor Tremblay-Desrosiers (drums) recorded Everything New Is New Again last year at NY Hed Studios in New York with Rocio & Matt Verta-Ray (who also played on several tracks). For some reason, I'm getting a real 1980s feel from this record. The style is that straight-forward rock and roll with melody-driven songwriting that we've come to expect from Laj and friends. There aren't a whole lot of bands that do it better. Laj knows how to turn out a memorable riff ("Hold For Love") or hooky chorus ("Annie") that can totally make a song. The sweet spot Laj and his band hit here falls somewhere in between Tom Petty and mid-'80s Replacements. With its creative guitar lines and cool keyboards, the verhy catchy "My Head" brings to mind that moment in time when new wave pop-rock was king. It's probably not fair to hold Laj and co. to the standard of "Left To Right One" or "Mister Screaming Attitude" every time out. But honestly, there are several songs on this album at that same level. For my money, this is Laj's strongest and most consistent set of songs to date. And since I'm always a fan of a good "deep cut", I must commend the nearly six-minute closer "Small Town Miner". This is a song that's very meaningful to Laj - who comes from a small mining town. It shines a light on the struggle of unprotected miners - who have worked hard all of their lives to provide for their families but could still lose everything at any moment. It's a powerful song and performance and definitely one of the best things Laj has ever written.

In support of Everything New Is New Again, Dany Laj and the Looks have been touring North America since last month and will continue to do so through next month at least (Hopefully the Habs will be comfortably in first place by the time they wrap up). The next two weeks alone, the band is making its way through the great American Midwest. You can find the tour dates over at the band's web site. LP is available from Yeah Right! Records. Transistor 66 has the CD and digital release of the album - which tack on French language versions of "Annie" and "My Head"! This is pure pop indeed, and ya gotta love it!