Thursday, December 31, 2020

F & L Best of 2020

We made it to the end of the year! Perhaps "Best of 2020" sounds like an oxymoron to you. Most of us are beyond happy to wave goodbye to this foul year and let it fade into a bad memory. But in a year in which so much was taken from our lives, the importance of music was amplified in 2020. Stuck at home trying to figure out what to do, we always had the option of putting on some music and taking the time to enjoy it. Many of you took this opportunity to make music at home. And even with all of the canceled gigs and vinyl delays, 2020 still gave us a lot of great music to enjoy in our punk/power pop/rock and roll universe. I posted on this blog 251 times throughout the year - far and away a new record for F & L. So for my tenth annual best of year post, I decided to go bigger than ever. I couldn't just do my top ten albums or my top twenty albums or even my top twenty-five albums. For 2020, I'm bumping it up to my top thirty albums. I also decided to double my top singles and EPs list. And on that note, let's get to it!

Top 30 Albums of 2020

30. The Hawaiians - Invading the Summer
In a year in which some of my favorite pop-punk bands (like Neon Bone and The Putz) released albums, my favorite pop-punk full-length of the year was actually by The Hawaiians. Invading the Summer, as the title suggests, is the ultimate summer record. It's like the soundtrack to a '60s beach movie full of surfing, teenage romance, fun in the sun, and unexpected visits from Martians, astronauts, and Bigfoot. You know the Germans always do pop-punk right!

29. honeychain - Pocket Full of Good Luck 
Recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered by singer/guitarist Hillary Burton, Pocket Full of Good Luck is honeychain's second album and first on its new label Die Laughing/Golden Robot Records. A great mix of punky power pop and '90s-style alt rock goodness!

28. The Suitesixteen - Mine Would Be The Sun
Mine Would Be The Sun is the magnum opus that Rob Nesbitt (ex BUM) has spent most of his adult life writing and recording. Beyond a mere concept album, this is like a masterpiece memoir presented through song. A power pop epic!

27. Wyldlife - Year of the Snake
New York's Wyldlife never disappoints. Year of the Snake builds on the band's existing catalog but broadens its sound. If you grew up on big, hooky rock records, this is one you'll wanna hear.

26. Outtacontroller - Sure Thing
Another great album of awesome catchy punk tunes from these Canadian national treasures.

25. The Hi-End - Class Kicks
"High-octane rock and roll" from Boston featuring Johnny Carlevale, Curt Florczak from the B-Movie Rats, and three dudes from the Boston Swindlers. Glammy punk meets hard rock meets good old rock and roll. Out on Rum Bar Records, of course!

24. Ralphie's Red Ryders - You'll Shoot Your Eye Out
These guys are total Vista Blue rip-offs, but ya gotta give 'em props for doing a whole album of songs about A Christmas Story. A wonderful concept executed to complete satisfaction. Fingers crossed they will someday do a "I Like Santa" b/w "I Like the Wizard of Oz" 7"! 

23. Proto Idiot - FUB
12 more wonderfully creative garage/post-punk/British pop tunes from these dashing & talented English gentlemen. 

22. The Exbats - Kicks, Hits, and Fits
Who doesn't love this band?!

21. Tommy Ray! - First Hits Free
Long-awaited solo debut from the Cry! lead singer did not disappoint. Upbeat, catchy pop tunes with raw, brutally realistic lyrics. Expect another album very soon! 

20. The Battlebeats - Search and Destroy
Andresa Nugraha got the one-man-band back together and made a full album of garage-punk smashers that take us back to the heyday of Teengenerate and The Reatards. Long live the '90s!

19. Self-Cut Bangs - self titled
Cayley O'Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom) started recording songs at home every Saturday just to have something to do during COVID lockdown. The next thing you know, they had made an album full of amazing indie rock/punk/pop tunes!

18. Webcam Teenz - M.A.F.
Genius-level snotty, trashy garage punk from the American heartland.

17. Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men - Downtime
Nick Piunti, on a creative roll for the past decade, makes his first album with his full band The Complicated Men. Another A+ effort of grownup power pop!

16. Thee Evil Twin/The Missile Studs - 10 Piece Feed
Two of the best Aussie punk bands going team up for one killer full-length record!

15. Psychotic Youth - Forever and Never
The garage/power pop legends are back and clearly aging like fine wine!

14. Nite Sobs - Do The Sob!
A wonderful surprise out of Austin, Texas! Power pop, pop-punk, and '50s rock and roll get stirred together, and out comes this delicious concoction!

13. Dramarama - Color TV
Dramarama's first album in 15 years is one of its best yet! A great American rock band firing on all cylinders. John Easdale is an all-time top ten songwriter in my book. 

12. TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects - self titled
From somewhere in Atlantic Canada comes this new masterpiece of trashy, home-recorded punk rock. A vintage Alien Snatch Records release!

11. Nerve Button - Volume 2 
Maritime sham glam rules the day! This officially rates as my highest-rated punk rock LP of 2020. Contrary to what you've heard, I was not paid in beer to say this. 

10. The Vapors - Together
Well it only took 39 years, but The Vapors finally made a new record! Together is nothing short of classic Vapors. What more could you ask for?

9. Juniper - self titled 
The feelgood release we needed in the summer 2020. Juniper is the teenaged daughter of legendary songwriter and radio personality Michael Shelley. What kind of album should you expect from an artist who loves the Beatles, Beach Boys, Zombies, Muffs, and Fountains of Wayne but also digs Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez? Listen and find out!

8. Lucy and the Rats - Got Lucky
Following a very good debut album, Lucy Ellis and her band mates come through with a totally great sophomore long player. This is the stuff that power pop dreams are made of! 

7. Beach Patrol - Making Waves
Beach Patrol has been a significant band in my life going back to 2006. Making Waves, recorded live in the studio, is in my opinion one of the best albums of the band's career. I remember listening to it in the car every day this past January. That was always a highlight of my day. My god, that sure seems like a lifetime ago! What a pleasure it has been to hear Domenic Marcantonio grow into one of our great American songwriters over the last decade and a half. Songs like "Battlestar Galactica" sound even more profound in the wake of recent events in the world.

6. Kurt Baker - After Party
It's always pop magic when Kurt Baker and Wyatt Funderburk write an album together. After Party completes the trilogy that began with Brand New Beat and continued with Play It Cool. After Party takes you to a magical world where 1980s FM radio power pop never died.

5. Bob Mould - Blue Hearts
Bob Mould was probably the single biggest influence in drawing me into this underground/indie/alternative music universe. Nearly three decades later, he's still at the top of his game. Remember when he was going to retire from making rock records 20 years ago? Thank god he didn't!

4. The Reflectors - First Impression 
Look up "perfect power pop" in the dictionary, and this album ought to come up. The classic L.A. sound! 

3. The Yum Yums - For Those About To Pop!
Morten Henriksen has kept The Yum Yums going strong since 1994, and For Those About To Pop! is his crowning achievement. Drawing from power pop, glam rock, bubblegum, and the pop side of punk rock, each of these 14 tracks is a shoulda-been smash hit. I never thought Morten would top Sweet As Candy, but boy did he ever! 

2. Hayley and the Crushers - Vintage Millennial
From the opening strains of "Put A Little Action In Ya", I knew that Vintage Millennial was going to be something special. Hayley and the Crushers have been playing their "poolside glitter trash" for a number of years now. But with this album, they took things to a whole other level. This is everything I love about punk, pop, surf, new wave, and rock and roll combined into one band. And c'mon, they did a song about Shangela!

1. The Speedways - Radio Sounds
Say what you want about 2020, but what an amazing year it was for music! Seriously: I've got a Kurt Baker album at my #6 spot that would have been #1 in almost any other year! When I sat down to listen to all of the major contenders, it quickly became obvious that The Speedways' Radio Sounds could not be touched. This, of course, is The Speedways' full-band debut album. And when you combine Matt's songwriting with the talents of his band mates, it's an unbeatable combination. Radio Sounds isn't just the best power pop album I've heard this year. It's the best power pop album I've heard in a great many years. It's full of songs about heartbreak, unrequited love, longing, and misery: all of that excruciating stuff that true romantics like me have lived time and time again. Featuring 10 radio-worthy pop hits and an extraordinary pair of side-closing epic numbers, Radio Sounds is a flawless record that I'll surely be listening to for the rest of my days. I wish this band had been around in my 20s!

Honorable Mentions: The Chats - High Risk Behaviour, The Midnight Callers - Red Letter Glow, Chubby and the Gang - Speed Kills, The Putz - Rise and Shine, Sweeping Promises - Hunger For a Way Out 

Top Ten Singles of 2020

10. Secret Caller - "Secret Caller"
Ya gotta love a band with its own theme song! Secret Caller is a band based in the Pacific Northwest with an old school northeastern punk rock and roll sound. Recommended if you like Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, Dictators, etc.

9. The Prostitutes - "Shake Rattle Die"
25 years on, Kevin McGovern still has The Prostitutes going strong. This, my friends, is real punk rock music! 

8. The Feels - "She's Probably Not Thinkin' Of Me"
Who writes better pop songs than Christian Migliorese? No one!

7. MOM - "Tonight"
Deluxe bubblegum AM radio pop goodness from Malmö, Sweden. So catchy!

6. The Speedways - "Kisses Are History"
Both tracks ended up on the album.

5. Vista Blue - "There Goes The Sun"
A sequel of sorts to Vista Blue's power pop leaning release Hit the Floor! You know how sequels usually turn out, right? Well this one actually turned out great! A stunning release from one of my favorite bands on Earth.

4. Romero - "Honey"
Now this is pop!

3. The Speedways - "This Aint a Radio Sound"
The B-side, exclusive to this release, is a cover of the Billy Ocean classic "Love Really Hurts Without You"! The Speedways have got some serious R & B chops! 

2. Hayley and the Crushers - "Jacaranda"
This song arrived in the midst of the darkest days of the year and was a true glimmer of hope. There's a big beautiful world full of amazing people out there just waiting to be explored...

1. The Shang Hi Los - "Sway Little Player"
The Shang Hi Los are a new rock and roll group out of Boston featuring two of my favorite singer/guitarists: Jen D'Angora from The Dents & The Downbeat 5 and Dan Kopko from Watts. "Sway Little Player" is exactly the song the world needed in 2020. It'll make you wanna dance, sing along, and feel good about being alive. Full EP coming out in a couple weeks!

Top Ten EPs of 2020 

10. The New Brutarians - self titled
The debut release from St. Petersburg, Florida duo featuring pop artist Adam Turkel (ex The Beatings) and fashion model Christina Wright. Lo-fi proto-punk rock and roll for fans of the Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, Johnny Thunders, and Leonard Cohen.

9. Muck and the Mires - Take Me Back To Planet Earth
Six new tracks of British Invasion inspired garage rock from these Boston legends. I'll be writing about Muck's new album very soon!

8. Phone Jerks - "Out of the Gate"
Rip Off Records circa 1997 and Sire Records circa 1977 smash into each other at full speed. The title track is an ode to the failed racing career of Emily and Tyler's greyhound Donair.

7. Heap - Heap EP
Three brilliant tracks of boozy rock and roll from these long-time fixtures of New York City punk rock.

6. Justine's Black Threads - Cheap Vacation
Debut EP from new Boston trio fronted by Justine Covault. Old school country music done right!

5. Jenny - self titled
Great new solo project from longtime F & L favorite Justin Maurer featuring three tracks recorded with James Carman and two recorded with Matt Rendon. 

4. Brad Marino - False Alarm
Speaking of F & L favorites, Brad Marino delivers again with three tracks of power poppin' rock and roll extraordinaire!

3. Tommy and the Commies - Hurtin' 4 Certain
Second official release from Sudbury, Ontario's finest trio features four tracks of A+ powerpop/punk right out of the Dickies and Buzzcocks playbooks.

2. Radio Days - I Got A Love
In advance of their long awaited forthcoming album, Radio Days have teased us with a couple of bona fide power pop a Jam cover!

1. Geoff Palmer & Lucy Ellis - Your Face Is Weird
What do you do when a whole year gets canceled? If you're Geoff Palmer, you contact your friend Lucy Ellis and suggest recording together long-distance. It all started with a wonderful cover of John Prine's "In Spite Of Ourselves", and then it grew into a full EP. Featuring a couple of original songs and a terrific selection of covers, Your Face Is Weird 100 percent lives up to the promise of these two beloved figures of the underground music scene making a record together. The musical version of a Zoom happy hour! The Geoff & Lucy rendition of "In Spite Of Ourselves" remains my favorite musical moment of 2020.

Band of the Year
Hayley and the Crushers
If there was one particular band that almost saved 2020, it was Hayley and the Crushers. This band had my #2 album and my #2 single of the year in addition to releasing the awesome "Church of Flag" single earlier this month. This was certainly not the happiest year, but there's always hope when you take up residence in the Crusherverse. 

Masters Class Album of the Year
Bob Mould - Blue Hearts 
I give this award every year to the best album by a band/artist that's 25 years or more into its recording career. 2020 was the year of the master class artist. Just in my top 30 albums alone, there were appearances by Bob Mould, Dramarama, and The Vapors. I could just as easily have mentioned strong releases from X, The Pretenders, and some guy named Springsteen. But the winner here is Mould, who delivered a brilliant release full of rage and frustration over the current state of the world. One of his best albums yet - and that's saying something! 

Best Debut Release of 2020 
Juniper - self titled
As I referenced above, Juniper's debut album gave us all a reason to smile at a time when it was tough to smile. In collaboration with her dad (Michael Shelley) and a formidable cast of indie rock superstars, Juniper created a delightful and charming pop record that was a ray of sunshine in gloomy times. I can't imagine being at the center of an album this amazing at the age of 15! Something tells me we will be hearing a lot more from Juniper in the future.

Top Reissue of 2020 
The Lemon Drop Gang - I'm Not The One!
Originally released digitally back in 2016,  the stunning debut album from The Lemon Drop Gang went largely unnoticed outside of Tucson, Arizona. This year, Rum Bar Records gave the album a proper physical release, and the world took notice. The Lemon Drop Gang features Johnny O'Halloran (Magnatone, Tina and the Total Babes, Nikki Corvette and the Stingrays) on guitar and his wife Steph (Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears) on vocals. I'm Not The One! blends the influences of '60s girl groups, power pop, '70s punk and new wave, and the American Southwest to weave disturbing tales of psychotic love. These songs will haunt your dreams, and that's a good thing!

Top Compilation of 2020 (Single Band)
Guerrilla Teens - All The Hits
The most regrettable band breakup of 2020 was the Lovesores. But we barely had time to lament the passing of this band, as Scott "Deluxe" Drake quickly formed Guerrilla Teens with ex Lovesores guitarists Saul Koll and Jeff Fieldhouse and Portland punk rock fixtures Tim Connolly & Anna Anderson. The band released a series of COVID demos throughout the spring and summer, which are conveniently compiled on All The Hits. This is a whole new band. But if you liked The Humpers and Lovesores, you'll be into Guerrilla Teens as well.

Top Compilation of 2020 (Various Artists)
With Sweet Time Booking unable to hold its annual festival this year for obvious reasons, Sweet Time RNR Comp! was released in response. This 26-track extravaganza collects high-quality songs from some of the best bands from today's international punk/garage/rock and roll scene. Check it out, and you will surely discover some great new punk groups you hadn't heard before! 

Best Addition to Bandcamp:
Over the years, it's been amazing to discover that beloved bands of mine have been making their long out of print releases available on Bandcamp. This year, the almighty Figgs did just that. On the Figgs' Bandcamp, you'll find most of the band's releases from the past 27 years along with all of the new stuff. If you've yet to familiarize yourself with one of the greatest catalogs in the history of rock music, dig in! 

Top Label of 2020 
Rum Bar Records
There was not much doubt about this one. Even as the world as we knew it largely went on pause this year, Malibu Lou went into beast mode and released so much great music that I'm still trying to get caught up. Just looking at my tops list alone, Rum Bar was associated with three of my top ten EPs, my #1 single, and my #3 album! And on top of that, the label issued some amazing releases from recent years (the Short Fuses, Natalie Sweet, The Lemon Drop Gang, etc.) on CD. All in all, Rum Bar's 2020 output exceeds 60 titles and is well-worth perusing on Bandcamp if you're looking for a rainy day activity! 

And there you have it. Everything referenced above represents just a tiny fraction of all the excellent garage, punk, power pop, and rock and roll music released in 2020. As I sit a half-year away from this blog's tenth anniversary, I find it crazy to believe it's been that long since F & L debuted. I can mainly attribute the endurance of this blog to the fact that it's fun to do. I don't write negative reviews or even attempt to write proper reviews at all. I write only about the music that I'm most excited about. I'm not a critic, and I'm not an influencer. I like to think of this blog as a higher tech version of when I used to make tapes of cool songs for friends back in the day. And it's all possible because so many of you continue to make and/or release music that I genuinely love. So let's look forward to good things in the new year - in both music and life!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Looking Back: F & L Albums of the Year

With tomorrow being my tenth time compiling an end of the year best-of list for this blog, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane. Listed below are my #1 albums from each year going back to 2011. And this is no revisionist history - these are the actual selections I made at the end of each of these years. So before we get into 2020 specifically, let's take a little trip back in time. Links have been provided if you desire the full listening experience! 

2011: Something Fierce - Don't Be So Cruel
This was the third album from this Houston-based trio, and I've been hoping for a follow-up ever since. The very existence of this record was a key factor in making me want to start this blog.

2012: Kurt Baker - Brand New Beat
This was album #1 in the trilogy of collaborations between Kurt Baker and Wyatt Funderburk. A classic of modern power pop.

2013: Night Birds - Born To Die In Suburbia
It can be debated as to whether or not this is the best Night Birds album. But regardless of where it ranks in the hierarchy of Night Birds long players, I would surely put it in the same class as the early '80s California hardcore albums that inspired it.

2014: The Cry - Dangerous Game
When I named Dangerous Game my album of the year for 2014, I would never have imagined that we would go the next six years without a follow-up. There's always next year!

2015: The New Trocaderos - Thrills and Chills
Brad Marino + Kurt Baker + Geoff Palmer + Kris Rodgers + the songwriting and production of Michael Chaney = the best super group of our time.

2016: Radio Days - Back In The Day
When this record came out, I wondered if it might be the best power pop album of the decade. You can make a strong argument that it was.

2017: Midnite Snaxxx - Chew On This
Still one of my top two or three favorite albums of the past ten years.

2018: Phone Jerks - self titled
One of the greatest garage-punk albums not made in the '90s. If you play the "Who are they ripping off on this track?" drinking game with this one, you'll be hurting in the morning.

2019: Pale Lips - After Dark
This was one was not an easy choice since it was running neck and neck all year with Natalie Sweet's absolutely tremendous debut album. But in the end, it had to be After Dark

2020 - ?
Who will it be? Find out tomorrow! 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Zach Jones - Be Nice! (The Singles Collection, Vol. 1)

I've had the pleasure of writing about Zach Jones a few times in the past. For my final music review of 2020, I have the pleasure of writing about his latest release. Be Nice! is a compilation of sorts, built around seven tracks Jones released as a series of digital singles between October of last year and September of this year. With the addition of four previously unreleased tracks, these collected singles form what Jones calls a "brand new listening experience". The new material, in addition to being of an exceptional quality, flows seamlessly into the songs from the singles. Far from just a collection of songs, these 11 tracks make for a cohesive and truly splendid album. 

There are two things that have always stood out to me about Zach Jones. Firstly, he has one of the most beautiful singing voices in all of contemporary rock music. In addition to that, there are few artists as gifted at crafting songs grounded in pure melody. I would describe Be Nice! as the ultimate album for fans of melodic music. On these 11 tracks, Jones taps into his love for everything from the British Invasion to psychedelic rock to baroque pop to '70s soft rock to classic soul music. Jones never ties himself to one genre, but I suppose the broad term "pop" sums up his appeal. His songs are full of interesting stories and moving personal reflections, but at the heart of everything he does are gorgeous melodies, harmonies to die for, and lush instrumentation that always serves the song. Even if you've already bought the singles, this album's title track alone is worth the price of admission. It's absolutely majestic. And with the way it flows into a stunning rendition of the Beach Boys' "I'll Bet He's Nice", it's clear that these two songs were paired together by design. "Jim & Jane (Not Gonna Worry About)" finds Jones slipping through a portal to 1974 and is truly cinematic in its storytelling. "Best Thing To Happen" could almost pass for a lost track from The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle. The singles, even if you know them already, are well worth hearing again as part of this sequence. Songs like the deeply contemplative "October's Almost Over", the jangly "Like The Tide", and the smoothly soulful "I'll Be Home (Xmas Day)" are without doubt among the finest songs Jones has ever written. 

I love the optimism of Jones subtitling Be Nice! as "The Singles Collection, Vol. 1". That implies, of course, that many more singles are coming. Given Jones's appreciation for the timeless melodies of classic popular music, the single format is a great way for him to release music. Don't get me wrong: sometimes an artist can sit down and write an album by design. But there's also a great beauty in releasing just one or two songs at a time and allowing listeners to savor every note. And then when it comes time to compile the singles, there's no filler to cut out! If you enjoy melody-driven pop music, you need some Zach Jones in your music collection. And Be Nice! would be a perfect place to start.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Beebe Gallini - "Dusty"

It was just a month ago that I wrote about the release of Beebe Gallini's terrific digital EP East Side Story. In addition to making this EP available to the listening public, Beebe Gallini has also been working on a new album called Pandemos. This album started as a way for the band to share demos of original tracks with its new guitar player. As more and more demos were recorded and the pandemic shut down live shows and full band rehearsals, the band decided that they had themselves an album! Pandemos will be out on this spring. In the way of a preview, the band has released the single "Dusty". The "pandemic" version of Beebe Gallini functions as a trio with Miss Georgia Peach on vocals and guitar, Amy Larson Pearson on bass, and Travis Ramin moving from guitar to drums (they'll be back to a foursome when life returns to normal). Given that almost all of the band's recorded tracks to date have been covers, it's going to be very exciting to hear a bunch of Beebe Gallini originals! If "Dusty" is any indication, Pandemos is gonna be one of 2021's must-hear albums! On this track, the band tears into some great high energy rock and roll with a pop sensibility. "Dusty", an ode to a girl who just can't stay home, hits you with a killer hook literally within two seconds! And my god, Miss Georgia Peach can flat-out sing! But you knew that already, didn't you? If the latest Short Fuses album is a little "too rock" for your tastes, you may find Beebe Gallini far more to your liking. Look for Pandemos in March on Rum Bar Records!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Trash Brats - self titled (30th anniversary vinyl reissue)

Detroit's legendary Trash Brats have been a huge part of my musical universe going back to my early days in the record-reviewing racket. Here was a band that was too punk for the glam rockers, too glam for the punks, and probably too pop for either! If nowadays "glam-punk" is a thing, that's largely because the Trash Brats and a few like-minded bands made it a thing through years of exciting live performances and stellar releases that attracted devoted fans the old-fashioned way. It all started 30 years ago with the release of the Trash Brats' self titled debut album. This would be the first of four proper albums released by the Trash Brats. It was originally released on cassette but had never come out on vinyl until earlier this month. The 30th anniversary vinyl reissue of Trash Brats is the first release on Jim Rinn's I-94 Recordings in nearly 20 years! The bubblegum pink vinyl sold out in 24 hours, and the fancy wax mage art vinyl sold out in a few days (I wasn't joking about the fans being devoted!). The album is still available on 180-gram black vinyl and well worth owning whether you're a longtime Trash Brats fan or just discovering the band for the first time. It's also available from the streaming sites if you just want to hear the songs again. Featuring fan favorite cuts like "Don't Wanna Dance", "Bubblegum Girl", "3873 Marlborough Street", "Gas Boy", and "S-M-U-T", this remains the definitive Trash Brats release. Grab a copy while you can!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Phone Jerks - "Christmas on the Floor"

Here's an appropriate post for a Christmas Eve! But honestly, a new Phone Jerks release is like a holiday onto itself! !Christmas on the Floor! is the fruit of Phone Jerks' first recording session in nearly two years. The title track is an E-Jerk original about going on a Christmas bender. The song is a classic jolt of garage punk with a '50s rock and roll touch. Those lead guitars are hot, and there's just no denying that Emily has one of the coolest voices in all of punk rock. Even if you have no interest in Christmas music whatsoever, you can just choose to view this as a song about drinking. As I see Santa passed out under the tree, I can only say that a man deserves a drink or two after delivering packages for 42 hours straight. On the "flip side", "Let's Go" is a cover of the pub punk classic by The Reducers - a song that Phone Jerks were destined to record eventually. And they sure do it justice! All in all, this is a wonderfully pleasing Phone Jerks "comeback" (ha ha). Kudos to Andrew Farrell and James O'Toole for their fine work in the production of this recording. This is what budget rock is supposed to sound like! In the spirit of the season, this single is free. So go grab it and play it tonight as you get into the holiday spirit (or better yet, get into the holiday spirits).

Hayley and the Crushers - "Church of Flag"

I've been so immersed in work lately that I did not notice until yesterday that a brand-new Hayley and the Crushers cassingle came out four days ago! My god, I'm losing my touch! "Church of Flag" is the new song - a tune the band loved so much that it recorded it twice! "Church of Flag" is a song about growing old and still holding on to the ideals of punk rock. Now that's a subject that is near and dear to the hearts of a lot of us. As I rapidly approach the big 5-0, this song really strikes a chord with me. I'll grant you that it's been a long time since I've looked the part. But in spirit, I'm still that same punk rocker kid who started doing zines decades ago. I can remember the first time I heard a Black Flag tape, and it seems like only yesterday! 

Needless to say, "Church of Flag" is one of the "punkest" tracks Hayley and the Crushers have ever done. And I love it! It captures the excitement of first discovering punk rock and how you may or may not hold on to that feeling as you grow up and grow old. That's a timeless theme in our world, and "Church of Flag" will be tremendously inspiring to all of you who are still keeping the faith. Hayley sings lead on the A-side. And then, in a rare lead vocal appearance, Dr. Cain sings the same song on the B-side. Who sang it better? If I took a position, I would surely be courting controversy. So I'll just say I love both versions. With the cassette single being limited to a small amount of copies, I figured it was my civic duty to get this thing reviewed ASAP! Hayley and the Crushers kicked off 2020 so auspiciously with the release of the incredible album Vintage Millennial. Now after much hardship and despair, the year ends on an uplifting note with another joyful release from the Crusherverse. Things can only get better!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Nasty Party - "Celebration"

You know I'm always a sucker for some really well-done '77-style punk rock. And on that note, the debut EP from Nasty Party is right up my alley. Based in Sydney and London, Nasty Party is a duo consisting of Nasty Simon and Rhys Nasty. "Celebration" is the name of the EP, which is a free download via Bandcamp. These three tracks walk the fine line between first wave punk rock and new wave, yet they manage to sound fully current in 2020. Much of that has to do with the lyrics - which are clever, politically & socially oriented, and indeed quite nasty! Let's just say that these gentlemen are not afraid to tell us what they really think about the current state of the world and the people who occupy it! Wire and the Buzzcocks are influences both stated and palpable, and I'm picking up on some '77-era Talking Heads inspirations in the title track. But what I like is that Nasty Party don't sound like a band you've heard a thousand times before. They've managed to create music that feeds into the anger of the moment but is still full of hooks. And while their songs will inspire you to think, they'll also make you wanna get up and dance. "What the Fuck Are You Into?" is nothing less than an anthem for our times. "Sturm and Drang" fires shots at "influencers" (amen to that!) and features spectacular lines such as these:

Cover and spray your filth elsewhere,
You anti-coagulant scum.
Stop looking at your mates for cues,
Cos time waits for no-one.
For fiddle and sticks lay my daydreams,
In a world where we walk and don't run.
Syphoning pieces of half-truths,
From a digital trail of crumbs.

Wow! Now that is how you write lyrics!  "Celebration" for me is cause for celebration - it marks the arrival of a new and exciting punk rock group that I hope has more in store for us in 2021. If you dig old school punk/new wave with a modern edge, you'd be crazy to pass on this free EP!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Speedways - "This Is About A Girl Who Loves The Sun"

Today's post falls under the category of "for super fans only". The latest single from The Speedways consists of two songs that were released months ago plus a live track. If you've never heard The Speedways before, your best starting point is the band's latest LP Radio Sounds - in my opinion, the best power pop album of the last several years. But if you're already a massive Speedways fan as I am, "This Is About A Girl Who Loves The Sun" will be an essential addition to your record collection. Why? Well, because vinyl records are freaking cool! This one is a limited edition release from Snap! Records/Hurrah Musica on yellow sun-colored vinyl! 

I like that the band chose "This Is About A Girl Who Loves The Sun" as the third single from Radio Sounds. It's not an obvious choice for a single. It's more of a "deep cut" - the kind of grand, dramatic song that The Speedways always place at the end of an album side. This one is really heartbreaking. Poor Marilyn brought so much happiness to others yet experienced so little of her own. "The Day I Call You Mine" is also from Radio Sounds and probably my favorite song on the album. This just as easily could have been the A-side, but I love that they flipped it. The track exclusive to this release is a live version of "Just Another Regular Summer", the song that ended Side 1 of the album of the same name. This, of course, is the first recorded version of this song to feature the full band lineup of The Speedways. It was recorded at The Windmill Pub in Brixton this past September. The band has released that entire live performance as a digital EP titled Sunday Will Never Be The Same. Each purchase of the new 7" comes with a free download of the live EP. So if you're a Speedways super fan, that's a sweet deal. And if you're not a Speedways super fan, there's no way you've read so far. God, I love this band!

Friday, December 18, 2020

Classic Ruins - Forget About It

Well this is kind of a big deal! Boston garage rock and roll legends Classic Ruins have released their first new album since 1989! Out on Rum Bar Records, Forget About It features a handful of new songs along with some assorted odds and ends of recent vintage. I suppose you could say that this album is heavily "padded". Five of nine tracks are covers, and three of those are instrumentals. But after 31 years, I'll gladly take a new Classic Ruins record any way it comes. And besides, the covers are all really great! It's been a running joke of mine that Malibu Lou will eventually add every great Boston garage/rock and roll band to his roster. But in all seriousness, he seems to be well on his way! Outside of the Real Kids and Dogmatics, it does not get any more "Boston" than Classic Ruins! And Forget About It is vintage Classic Ruins. Penned by longtime singer/guitarist Frank Rowe, the title track and "Little OCD" are quintessential shots of bar band rock and roll with a garage edge. "Cheap Champagne", written and performed by Jeff Crane, is in a similar vein. This is Classic Ruins doing what Classic Ruins have always done so well: dishing out rockin', hook-laden tunes that worship at the altar of the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, and everything in between. Labelmate Tom Baker will surely approve! Highlights of the cover selections include the Larry Williams classic "Bad Boy", Link Wray's "Rawhide", and the 1958 Jerry Byrne side "Lights Out" - written by Dr. John before he was Dr. John! And if you've always wanted to hear a surf instrumental version of "Please Please Me", your time has come. Whether you're a Boston music fanatic or just a lover of old school rock and roll, you just can't go wrong with Forget About It.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Radio Days - "I Got A Love"

It's been a little while since I brought out something special for the power pop fanatics. Well power pop universe, your time has come today! "I Got A Love" is the brand-new single from Milan's marvelous trio Radio Days - authors of my 2016 album of the year. In the ensuing years, the band has released a couple more singles. While a new album has been a long time coming, it will finally be arriving in the spring of next year. "I Got A Love", the first single from the new record, suggests that we have an awful lot to be excited about! Simply put, this is a classic power pop track. It's punchy, catchy, and full of melodies and guitar hooks that will invade your brain upon contact. This, my friends, is two and a half minutes of power pop bliss! In a better world, this upbeat number would be a radio smash. Up next is "Baby Blue", a charming and absolutely beautiful pop tune in a throwback '60s style. If "I Got A Love" is the energy cut here, "Baby Blue" is the shot of pure gorgeous melody that complements it perfectly. And to close out the EP, the band digs back into its punk roots with a faithful and vibrant cover of The Jam's "In the City". What a great 7"! The new album Rave On! will be a co-release involving Ammonia Records, Screaming Apple, Rock Indiana, Sounds Rad, and Wizzard in Vinyl. I can't wait! Oh well, I guess I will have to wait. But in the interim, Radio Days will be releasing two more singles. For now, "I Got A Love" is available from Spanish label Snap! Records - which is quickly turning into THE label for power pop!

Friday, December 11, 2020

TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects - self titled

Alien Snatch Records has saved 2020! The venerable German label has released the debut album from Canadian underground sensations TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects - an 11-song long player that features several tracks once feared to be lost forever. The tale of TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects is one filled with intrigue, heroism, controversy, and shocking violence. Cabot, a notorious multi-instrumentalist and talented hellraiser, fell into the company of drunken libertarians Millhouse Deville, Rooster Targett, Skookie Tobin, and Leblanc Road Leo. Plans were hatched to wreak havoc up and down the eastern coast of Canada. Manifestos were to be written. Bridges were to be blown up. Sovereign states were to be established. As the drink flowed, the group decided to just record some songs instead. This past spring, Demos Recorded in the Anus of the Maritimes was released to tremendous acclaim. And then trouble ensued. Squabbles over intellectual property and the political direction of the group led to the best songs on the album being pulled from the digital release. The world mourned. People read my review and wondered where these songs I referenced had gone. Not content to sit around and allow a potentially classic release to fall into the dustbin of history, Daniel from Alien Snatch took decisive action. Armed with potent beverages and rare Von Zippers vinyl, he crossed the Atlantic by ship and descended upon the Maritime wilderness to broker a deal that would satisfy all parties. And today songs such as "Occipital Neuralgia", "I Am The Enemy", and "Vile Converted Mind" return to permanent circulation. Depending on your current location, you may even witness celebrations in the streets. 

It's only appropriate that Alien Snatch Records has brought TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects' debut album to the world at large. And that's because this sounds like a record that Alien Snatch and Rip Off Records may have wrestled each other to release in the early 2000s. It's informed by equal parts '70s punk and proto-punk, '90s garage punk and budget rock, and modern-day lo-fi trash. Recorded with just a single $5 microphone on a decade-old laptop, these tracks are super raw and about as lo-fi as it gets. Daniel, in his inimitable style, references everyone from the MC5 to the Spaceshits to Kajun SS to Gino and the Goons to the almighty Pack on the album's press release. And my tender ears pick up on touchstones ranging from the Stooges to the Saints to the Angry Samoans to Sick Thoughts. This just has the feel of a garage punk record from that prehistoric age when YouTube did not yet exist and nobody under the age of 18 used text messaging. Cabot and his (literal) partners in crime tear through mostly 1-2 minute songs that run the gamut from vicious ("Numb the Mind") to trashy ("On Off") to positively pummeling ("Cold In May") to kinda almost poppy ("Nowhere To Go"). Who needs fancy equipment or a fourth chord when you can bang out some noise as righteously ferocious as this? I'm not saying that records like this never get made these days. But when they do, Alien Snatch is frequently involved. I would recommend TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects to fans of Phone Jerks, although it should be noted that a fierce, contentious, and highly territorial rivalry exists between the two bands. You know how intense things get in the Maritimes. Suffice it to say that this is a debut LP that will be very much in contention for the honor of my #1 punk rock album of 2020. If it takes the top spot, it will have to supplant another local band that shall remain nameless for the moment. What in god's name is in the air up there?!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Jiffy Marx - "She's My Witch"

Jiffy Marx (of Autogramm, Black Rice, Blood Meridian, Hard Drugs, etc.) has just released his first solo record. It's very much up my alley...and probably yours as well! Out on Snappy Little Numbers Quality Audio Recordings, this single possesses the power pop attributes you'd expect from the Autogramm guitarist. But while Autogramm draws from the synth pop and new wave sounds of the early '80s, this pair of songs takes it fully back to the '70s. Marx tracked these songs with Seattle band Bread and Butter - pals of his and true kindred spirits in a musical sense as well. "She's My Witch" is a catchy little toe-tapper with a glittery pub rock and roll feel. It clocks in at just a hair over two minutes and is definitely at home on a label that promises snappy little numbers. All across the continent, the kids proclaim that it's got a good beat and you can dance to it! "Warning Sign" is a little more straight forward power pop/punk. This melancholic, melody-driven number is a perfect complement to the pure energy of the A-side. All in all, this is a fine solo debut from Jiffy Marx. It ought to appeal to fans of his previous bands, but it finds him branching out as an artist and songwriter. I'm excited to hear more!

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Hi-End - "Heart of the City"

Oh boy! The Hi-End has ripped out a pair of choice covers on its hot new digital single! Having already released one of 2020's finest rock and roll long players in the Rum Bar Records issue Class Kicks, this Boston five-piece is back with smoking renditions of a couple of classics. While The Hi-End is a band inspired by all of the great eras of rock and roll, the two cover selections here really hit the intersection of pub rock, power pop, and first wave punk. And you know that's a real sweet spot for me! "Heart of the City", of course, is the Nick Lowe classic. "Tonight" is from the first album by The Boys - one of my personal favorite U.K. '77 punk groups. Both songs were among the first The Hi-End ever played together as a band. That tells you a lot about what The Hi-End is all about. Beyond that, these versions give you a great idea of what an absolutely killer band this is! When live music is a thing again, these guys will be a must-see! If you've been sleeping on Class Kicks, perhaps this new single will compel you to give it a listen. New version of the album from Rum Bar has the single tacked on as bonus tracks. Check it out!