Thursday, April 30, 2020

Ditches - self titled

I have reviewed the Stockholm-based band Ditches on two previous occasions - once last year and once the year before. Writing about this band is beginning to feel like an annual event in my life, and I will be more than happy if the tradition continues for years to come. Ditches have perfected that garage punk by way of power pop sound that was a real sweet spot for me when I started this blog nine years ago. And while there used to be more bands of this style than you could possibly keep up with, the herd has thinned considerably over the last several years. In the light of 2020, it's satisfying to still hear a band wearing a Marked Men influence on its sleeve.

Ditches' self-titled debut album, out on Drunken Sailor Records, will certainly have its moments of familiarity to Marked Men and Radioactivity fans. And with Jeff Burke sitting in the producer's chair, it's not like the band is trying to run from this influence. But Ditches are by no means retreads, and they've put their own signature on modern-day garage power pop. Throughout this album, there's a subtle, almost inherently Scandinavian undercurrent of gloom that runs in contrast to the melody and speed of these catchy punk/pop songs. Sometimes these guys just let loose and rip it. "Don't Care" is chugging garage punk in the finest early 2000s tradition, and "Stitch Me Up" is high energy power pop rooted in '70s punk and pub rock. But I must admit that I probably like the more melancholy songs the most. Ditches really excel when they work in that bittersweet territory. "Did We Try" and "Falling" find the band sounding like graduates of a master class taught by Pete Shelley. "In Disguise" is gloomy pop done pretty close to perfection. "When It's Over" just might tear your heart out. As always, there's enough back and forth in mood to keep things interesting. This album is not afraid to take you to some dark places, but it's got more than enough of the bright melodies and jolting energy that make powerpop/punk such a pleasing musical form. All in all, this is a splendid debut album from Ditches!


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Crassula - What Would They Say

I always enjoy discovering new bands online, and it's probably even more fun when information on a group is scarce if available at all. All I can really tell you about Crassula is that they're from Edmonton and that their bio identifies them as vampires from space. The Internet doesn't have much else to tell me about this band. So it has crossed my mind that maybe these guys really are vampires from space - which would explain the lyrics about murder and abduction. "What Would They Say" is Crassula's debut single, and the title track pairs some smokin' old school punk rock and roll with lyrics about how hard it can be to fit in when you're new in town and compelled to drink blood. On the "B side", "Can't Stop My Hands" is a thumping three-chord punker that would be really disturbing if it weren't supposed to be really disturbing. I'm not usually much of a horror guy, but I'm digging these tunes a lot and am really looking forward to more songs from Crassula. I'm wondering if these creatures will have any luck with the ladies. I'm also curious how they would rate the taste of Earthling blood. What a cool, fun band! But you might wanna be wary if you're taking nighttime strolls anywhere in western Canada these days.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Canine 10 - Nonsense!

There have been a few silver linings to this shit we're going through right now. One of them is that I actually have time to sit down and listen to music purely for the joy of it. Back in January, Philadelphia-based Canine 10 sent me some tracks from their new album that was to be arriving in April. I dug what I heard, but then I got bogged down in real life stuff and forgot about the album for months. Fast forward to today. Nonsense!, the latest LP from Canine 10, is out on FDH Records and Suicide Bong Tapes. I sat down the other day to give it a listen. And OH MY GOD! I love, love, love, love, love this record!

I'm often disappointed in myself for not writing about more bands that are somewhat "local" to me. Well Canine 10 are just two area codes over, so that's local enough! I can see why this band might be an acquired taste for some. There's a quirkiness to the group's sound that you'll likely find either totally annoying or completely charming. Put me in the latter category. I would probably describe this band as a nerdier version of the Buzzcocks. And I mean that as a supreme compliment. Canine 10 somehow fit perfectly into the punk/power pop camp while still sounding like a fully unique band in this universe. Nonsense! is full of gut-wrenching tales of heartbreak, longing, rejection, and miserably failed relationships. You know I eat that sort of stuff up! But there's something about the way these songs are delivered that is especially appealing. This band approaches the bitter love song with great smarts and an endearing humor. And heck, if we can't find humor in our greatest disappointments, what can we find humor in? From start to finish, these songs are honest, relatable, and just really damn funny. And it certainly doesn't hurt that these guys know how to craft first-rate punchy pop songs with strong melodies and memorable choruses. The record sounds great too: with crisp, warm guitars and bass lines that really pop. Thank you, Canine 10. You've put a huge smile on my face. Cheers from the 717!


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Know Your '90s Punk: The Stitches

For a long time I've toyed with the idea of doing a book on all of the punk bands I loved in the 1990s. While there was all kinds of great punk music being made in the '90s, I personally gravitated to the more '77-inspired bands of that period. I began touting those bands, and here we all are 25 years later! While I may never actually write my book, a cooler project would be to feature a lot of those bands here - where I can embed some of the actual music. For my "F & L Hall of Fame" series, I've already written about a lot of those groups such as the Dimestore Haloes, Moral Crux, and Dead End Cruisers. So now that I have a little extra time on my hands, I would like to go further with this project. And when it comes to bands of the '90s that sounded like '70s punk, you can't talk too long without bringing up The Stitches. They may have been the best out of that whole lot!

It's kind of weird to be referring to The Stitches in the past tense since they are still an active band. But my focus here is on the band's incredible run of releases from 1994 through 1997. The group's debut 7" "Sixteen" came out in '94 and in my book is one of the greatest punk singles ever released. It was as if the Sex Pistols, Pagans, Dead Boys, and countless Killed By Death favorites had coalesced into one wild and explosive band. The energy, power, and guts just bled out of your turntable speakers! In a single moment, Michael Lohrman and Johnny Witmer emerged as a vocal/guitar tandem of legendary proportion. "Sixteen" arrived at a time when nothing that sounded quite like it had been heard in years, and it inspired the growth of "snotty punk rock" as a genre onto itself in the later '90s and beyond. Six more singles and EPs followed over the next several years, and many of us can recall a time when the arrival of a new Stitches record was always an event (remember how they dominated those Maximumrocknroll top ten lists?!).

While The Stitches never released a proper album until 2002 (at a point when their sound had evolved considerably), their 8 x 12 EP from 1995 is a bona fide classic and still well worth seeking out. I have assembled a YouTube playlist that compiles most of the band's early output. It's basically a '90s Stitches singles collection plus all of 8 x 12. Listening to all of these song comped together definitely brings back memories of a time when my musical education in punk rock was really just beginning. At the same time, I can say that these recordings still hold up after a quarter of a century. If I ever compile my ultimate compilation of '90s punk rock, "Sixteen" will be track one for sure. Listen and love!


Saturday, April 25, 2020

First Base - "Heart of the City"

Oh boy! We have a new recording from the mighty First Base for the first time in two and a half years! Back in November 2017, the Toronto foursome dropped Not That Bad - a modern-day classic of pure pop music that you absolutely need to own if you don't already. Seriously, I am ordering you to buy it! There will be inspections after the pandemic. Recently, the band members got together (separately) to record an amazing cover of Nick Lowe's "Heart of the City". They've made it a free download at their Bandcamp. Check it out, and be sure to investigate that back catalog that's stacked with pop hits!


Friday, April 24, 2020

Wyldlife - Year of the Snake

Okay, kids! We've got ourselves a good old-fashioned killer rock record! Of course I love lo-fi DIY as much as the next guy. But being a child of the '70s and '80s, I'm still a huge believer in well-produced, hook-laden rock and roll that would be all over the radio in a perfect world. Wyldlife has been a top band in the land of real rock and roll for almost a decade now. But with its new album Year of the Snake (out on Wicked Cool Records), the New York foursome has delivered its best and most stylistically varied album yet.

I love hearing bands grow their sound over time, and here Wyldlife shows a considerable progression without straying too far from its roots in glam-punk and power pop. Sure, there are songs like "Deathbed" and "Get Well" that are exactly what you'd expect from Wyldlife and guaranteed to satisfy. When it comes to catchy pop tunes with a gritty rock and roll edge, Dave and Sam can still write 'em as well as anyone. If you just listened to the first three tracks of Year of the Snake, you might assume that the whole album will be business as usual for Wyldlife. But then the record begins to take off in new and interesting ways. "Kiss and Tell" puts a New York twist on '90s Brit-pop. "Automatic" steps back a decade further into the heyday of U.K. new wave/post-punk. "Sacre Bleu" sounds like the best song The White Stripes never wrote. "Keeping Up with C.T." is a more than credible stab at country rock. I think what I enjoy about this album the most is that finds Wyldlife pulling itself in opposite directions and winning on both ends. "Crime of the Scene" and "Tulsa Superstar" are the purest pop songs the band has ever done. The title track, on the other hand, is the most ferociously cranking rocker of the group's career: a full dive into thundering anthem territory that has my inner headbanger screaming in delight. And to take it a step further, closing number "The Falcon" is the sort of full-on epic rock song that hardly anybody writes with a straight face these days. It was a bold move to attempt something so grandly over-the-top as this. But holy shit, these guys totally pull it off! Far from a mere curiosity, "The Falcon" is one of the highlights of the album.

Year of the Snake is one of those rare cases where I'm pleasantly surprised by a band I was already a huge fan of. There are enough signature Wyldlife moments here to keep the core fans happy. But there are plenty of surprises as well, and none of them run contrary to what you loved about the band in the first place. This is Wyldlife's strongest batch of songs to date, and every time I play the record I find myself going nuts on air drums and air guitar. The great rock album may be a rare species in 2020, but it's far from extinct.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Wild Honey Records - The Benefit of Things To Come

Having been a fan of Italy's Wild Honey Records for a number of years, I would have had a great interest in a compilation album from the label regardless of the circumstances. But The Benefit of Things To Come is a project I especially support because of the purpose behind it. The label is based in Bergamo - a city that has been absolutely decimated by the COVID-19 outbreak. Inspired by outpourings of love from all over the world, Wild Honey came up with the idea of assembling a digital compilation to support the new field hospital built by volunteers in Bergamo. 100% of the proceeds from this release are being donated. All of the bands and artists on this compilation have released music on Wild Honey. And for this occasion, they all contributed a previously unreleased track. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't immediately jump to Miss Chain & The Broken Heels covering "Be With Me" by The Yum Yums. And of course I love the track to pieces! I was also super stoked to come across an unreleased Beach Patrol song and a fine cover of Love's "Alone Again Or" by The Peawees. As expected with exclusively unreleased material, there's a mix of covers, outtakes, demos, and recent quarantine recordings. That said, this is a genuinely good collection that gives you a great feel for the roots rock and roll, blues, folk, indie rock, punk, and pop that Wild Honey has been putting into the world for years. I especially enjoy the songs from MojoMatt, The Goodnight Loving, Bad Sports, and Kenny Tudrick. And who wouldn't want to hear The Rubinoos cover an old Brill Building classic?

I love not just the cause behind The Benefit of Things To Come but also its broader purpose. It's about the idea that rock and roll, beyond just being exciting music, can be a powerful tool "to show the world there is another way". Bands and record labels put out the music we love, but they also have the power to do real good in the world. This collection started with a wonderful idea, but it only became possible because so many bands were willing to be a part of it. If this is your first exposure to the Wild Honey roster, you will surely discover some great new bands to check out. And longtime fans will of course be thrilled to hear new tracks from so many old favorites. In more ways than one, this will be €10 very well spent.  


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dirty Cheetah - Never Too Late

In times like these, music can often be calming. But what if you want the opposite of calming? What if you just wanna rage? Then Dirty Cheetah's debut album is just what the doctor ordered. Never Too Late finds the Montreal foursome unleashing full-on sonic wildfire. Bookended by the ripping singles "Addicted" and "I Need It", this ten-song LP brings a non-stop assault of scorching guitars, pummeling drums & bass, and anthemic shout-along choruses. And while sometimes music of this particular intensity can take itself far too seriously, Dirty Cheetah keeps it fun with lyrics that lean in a delightfully sick and twisted direction. This band basically has two energy settings: turbo and smash everything. Anything less would be a betrayal of its musical mission. Pat and Frank kick up a thunderous racket on dual guitars while Lynn (best drummer!) and Don push these tunes fast and hard to the very end. If you've been dying to blow off some steam, you will be well-served to blast "Robot" at the loudest possible volume. "Got Caught", which cranks like Motörhead meets Dead Boys meets '90s action rock, has had me engaged in violent head-bobbing for the last couple of days. "Dioxide" and "Psycho-Pat" tear apart everything in their path and ought to leave you worn out from hoisting your fist in the air. The closest thing to a let-up from the relentless scorch-fest is "After You", an intensely emotional number that shows more of the band's melodic side than usual. But it still freaking rocks!

It's got to be a bummer for Dirty Cheetah to have to release Never Too Late in the middle of a pandemic. This is clearly a band that crafts its music with an explosive live experience in mind. I hear these songs and visualize people singing along and dancing and having a generally wild time. Yet there are no laws against doing those very things in the privacy of your own home. And if this album makes you wanna break stuff, well at least you'll be breaking your stuff! Even on record, Dirty Cheetah brings a fire and fury that I'm really needing right now. Don't forget to click on the individual tracks at Bandcamp: Leonie Gauthier did artwork for each song, and it's freaking amazing! Vinyl coming soon from No Front Teeth and Resurrection Records!


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Lovesores - Bats From Planet Skull

Well I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the Lovesores broke up. The good news is that they've left us a parting gift in the form of one final recording that you can download for free. Bats From Planet Skull debuted on Bandcamp last week - only the second Lovesores full-length album and now sadly the last. But I'm not much for boo-hooing any band's demise. Not every rock and roll band is meant to last forever, and I'd rather have a group that's great for a few years than one that endures for decades in a state of decline or (even worse) mediocrity. I'm not saying that the Lovesores would have declined, but I will say they've bowed out at the very top of their game.

The final Lovesores tally over the past eight years was three singles, a couple of big ten-inches, and two long players - and all of it absolutely great! While there was always enough of a similarity between the Lovesores and Humpers to entice fans of the latter, it never seemed like Scott "Deluxe" Drake's new band was overshadowed by his old one. Drake refused to rest on his laurels, and he managed to assemble what was almost certainly the most formidable punk rock and roll band of the past decade. The lineup was consistent since 2014, with Alex Fast (bass), Boz Bennes (drums), Adam Kattau (guitar), and Saul Koll (guitar) matching every bit of Drake's vocal firepower. You'd have to look far and wide (and probably into the distant past) to find a stronger rhythm section and a more electrifying guitar tandem. More importantly, as a unit these guys forged a brand of rock and roll that was ferocious, exciting, and brought forth from a place deep in the soul. Bats From Planet Skull was recorded live in the basement last year, and it doesn't stray far (or at all) from the band's previous method of operation. This is the Lovesores doing what the Lovesores did best: raucous rock and roll marrying the defiant spirit and irresistible rhythms of the genre's roots to the guts and aggression of original era punk rock.

Kicking off with the blistering fury of "Some For Tomorrow (Some For Tonight)", this record is top-loaded with scorching guitars, an unstoppable beat, and typically red-hot howling on the part of living legend Drake. Even in this time of mandatory isolation, I can only picture these songs being performed in a packed dive bar as bodies fly and liquor flows. The band tears into tracks like "Hot Pants!" and "Psychic Dick" with a force and feeling that can only be summoned if you were born to rock and roll. "Belle in the Belfry" relaxes the pace a tad, then proceeds to hook you with a chorus that you cannot physically resist singing along with. "Bishop Of Worms", which pairs a punching garage rock riff with a classically sneering Drake vocal, is one of the most compelling Lovesores tracks of recent memory. "Creature (At The Top Of The Hill)", featuring music written by Bernadette from Gee Strings, is a stone cold punk ripper that concludes this album and the Lovesores' career in truly roaring fashion. I'm left wanting more, which is exactly the way it ought to be.

Why release an album after your band is broken up? Because you know in your heart that it's the best thing you've ever done! Bats From Planet Skull, just as much as anything the Lovesores released, captures the essence of this tremendous punk rock and roll band. Drake belts out these songs with as much conviction and intensity as ever, and backing him is a band that sounds fully determined to rock you into next week. Far from slowing down, the Lovesores were at full steam to the very end. Let us hope that this album turns out to be a million seller, requiring the assembly of multiple impostor Lovesores bands to meet the worldwide demand for touring, television appearances, and photo ops with world leaders.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Geoff Palmer & Lucy Ellis - "In Spite Of Ourselves"

You can imagine I was over the moon when I saw that two of my favorite people in music had recorded a duet! And let me tell you, I was not disappointed! Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis have teamed up long distance to pay tribute to the great John Prine in the wake of his recent passing. They've collaborated on an absolutely wonderful version of Prine's classic "In Spite Of Ourselves". Zack Sprague and Kris Rodgers also lent their musical talents to this delightful track, which Palmer recorded and produced. The song, available as a digital single from Bandcamp, Spotify, etc. has been accompanied by the super fun music video I've embedded below. I love how Geoff and Lucy show tremendous affection for the original song while still allowing their own style and personality to come through. You won't need to be a John Prine fan to enjoy this cover. And you won't need to be a Geoff Palmer or Lucy and the Rats fan to enjoy it either - although you might quickly become one! These two sure know how to make a duet work. Will there be more coming? Maybe if we ask nicely!


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Muck and the Mires - Quarantine-Age Kicks

What's this, another COVID-19 record? Not exactly! Muck and the Mires and Rum Bar Records thought you might need a little break from the lockdown blues and have prepared a nifty little compilation for your listening pleasure. Quarantine-Age Kicks includes nine newly remastered tracks culled from a handful of long out of print releases by Boston's premier garage rock and roll band. The material is mostly taken from 2004's Beginner's Muck LP and the 2006 follow-up 1-2-3-4. Also included are both sides from 2014's "Double White Line" 7" - the last songs ever produced by the great Kim Fowley. It was Fowley who described Muck and the Mires as a cross between the 1964 Beatles and the 1977 Ramones. And that perfectly sums up why this is one of my favorite garage bands. They have the energy and timeless cool to match any punk-influenced garage outfit you could name, but man oh day do they ever have the songs as well! "Double White Line" was one of the first Rum Bar releases I ever reviewed (back when the label was still called King Yum), and it was no coincidence that Lou wanted both Muck and The Connection on his label. Both bands share a love for the particular strain of garage rock that sprang directly from the British Invasion. Collectively, these songs sound great as a single album - which was clearly the point! "Next Door To Me" and "Double White Line" bring to mind the Beatles when they were still obsessed with rhythm & blues and early rock and roll. "This Town Makes Me Feel So Lonely" is a firecracker of garage soul that'll have you feeling the pain but still dancing like a fool. "Lesley" is a winning homage to those classic hits that came out of the Brill Building in the late '50s and early '60s. If "Only One Way To Know" doesn't lift you out of your quarantine doldrums, I don't know if anything will.

The objective of Quarantine-Age Kicks is to provide us all with music that is uplifting, full of energy, and suitable for spirited dance sessions in our basements, bedrooms, kitchens, walk-in closets, backyards, and any other makeshift venue of our choosing. On that level, it clearly succeeds. But this album will hold up well beyond these days of boredom and confinement. Muck and the Mires are unsurpassed when it comes to infusing garage rock with the ageless melodies and feelgood spirit of '60s pop and soul music. And if there's one thing I would say is most underrated about Muck and the Mires, it would be the songwriting prowess of Evan Shore. I put him on a similar ground with his label mate HervĂ© Peroncini from The Peawees. While not quite a "best of" collection, Quarantine-Age Kicks condenses the sustained greatness of Muck and the Mires into the ultimate all-killer, no-filler experience. Time to dust off those dancing shoes!


Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Dahlmanns/Tommy and The Rockets - Scandinavian Affair

It's always a great day when I can talk about The Dahlmanns! Scandinavian Affair, according to my most sophisticated calculations, is The Dahlmanns' 17th release. It's a split single that teams up Norway's favorite power (pop) couple with Tommy and the Rockets from Denmark. And it was co-released by a Swedish label! For this project both bands cover a song from the early '80s. The Dahlmanns contribute their version of "Party Girl" off of Rachel Sweet's third LP ...And Then He Kissed Me. On the flip, Tommy offers up his rendition of "You Don't Know What You've Got" from Joan Jett's 1980 debut album.

Superb choice in cover material has always been a strong suit for Andre and Line Dahlmann. They will often take a band and find a song of theirs that's just as great but not quite as known as the "big hits" (their version of Katrina and the Waves' "Do You Want Crying" is one of the most splendid things they've ever recorded!). And that's exactly what they've done here. "Party Girl" was by no means one of Rachel Sweet's highest charting singles, but in my book it's up there with her finest songs. The Dahlmanns manage to remain faithful to the girl group gone new wave style of the original without straight-up copying it. Line, as always, is remarkable on lead vocals. To pull off this song, you really have to convey a genuine tenderness and emotion. Line does just that - again showing that there's no better pure pop singer out there. The playing and production are exactly what you'd expect from a Dahlmanns recording: absolutely flawless. And if this track sends dozens of people in search of Rachel Sweet's old records, that will be a win for everyone (the uninitiated should start with this banger!). I have not checked in with Tommy and the Rockets in a number of years, but I've got to say that Tommy's version of "You Don't Know What You've Got" is really fantastic. He treats the song with his usual Beach Boys worship by way of the Ramones, and overall my impression of this track is that it fits perfectly in tandem with The Dahlmanns. In fact, this Scandinavian affair went so swimmingly that we all ought to demand a sequel! Get the 7" from Beluga Records and Ghost Highway Recordings!


Friday, April 17, 2020

Electric Brad - Pandemic Rock

I'm still really loving this current explosion of home-recorded, digitally-released punk rock music. This adaptive way of doing things lends itself especially well to the garage punk genre. After all, this is the way garage punk is supposed to be to begin with: you write songs on the spot, turn on whatever low-tech recording equipment is available, knock out the tunes in one or two takes, and get that shit online ASAP! Brad Daugs is a freaking legend in American garage punk - having abused people's eardrums and delicate sensibilities for a quarter century with the Last Sons of Krypton and several other budget trash greats from the mighty state of Wisconsin. His new solo release begins with the instant smash "I'm A Wylde Chykyn" - a song originally intended to be a group project. But then the shit hit the fan, and Brad soon realized this was going to be all him.

One new song eventually became a full album called Pandemic Rock. Its creation was accomplished in a remarkable 27 hours. Brad started on Easter Sunday with just a few ideas for song titles. By the following evening, he had recorded four brand new tracks along with new versions of a few of his old songs and several Rev. Norb and the Onions tunes. He immediately mixed and mastered the album, took one photo for the cover art, and started uploading to the Internet. And so Pandemic Rock - which did not yet even exist in Brad's mind one week ago - now exists as a digital album! Perhaps this project could have floundered in the hand's of a lesser artist. But given Brad's extensive experience with lo-fi DIY recording, it's hardly a surprise that this album is totally killer. He worked out several of his new song ideas via scratch track, picked the best four, and recorded the entire album "live" playing guitar, bass, and real drums. This is a one-man operation that genuinely sounds like it was recorded with a full band. I appreciate that even with the spontaneous nature of this endeavor, Brad exercised quality control with the material. He quickly scrapped the idea of writing all new songs for this album, and the ones he ultimately chose are absolute rippers. Honestly, I can't imagine any LSOK fan not loving the likes of "I'm A Wylde Chykyn" and "Tire Inflator". The older songs fit in perfectly. You may recognize "Unsustainable Lifestyle" and "Left My Baby At The Laundromat" from the 20 Years of Brad X compilation. And if you ever wondered what "She Got Thought Crime" would sound like without Rev. Norb singing, well now you can find out!

Every time I hear solo Brad Daugs, it makes me wish he did more stuff on his own since he's got a great voice for snotty punk rock. Well I suppose my wish has come true! Pandemic Rock is a garage punk masterwork! An interesting thing is that this album has been released as one single digital track. So there's no skipping around. Pop open an adult beverage, push that play button, turn up the volume, and enjoy a full half-hour of blown-out rock and roll genius from the pride of Manitowoc, Wisconsin!


Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Reflectors - "Champagne"

Exciting news for you power pop faithful! The Reflectors, who released one of my favorite singles of 2019 in "Teenage Hearts", have a debut album coming out next month on Burger Records in the USA and Time For Action Records in Europe. In the way of a sneak peak, the L.A. foursome has released the track "Champagne" as an advance single. Oh man, is this song ever a slice of power pop heaven! This is about as perfect as it gets: big crunching guitars, melodies to die for, and vocals that fully convey what it's like to have your heart twisted up in knots. I can't stop playing this one! It has me very excited for the album, which is obviously the entire point! There's something to be said for a song that can induce frantic air drumming and still leave you with a melody you can hum all day. If you're dying for another taste of what's to come, the band has also released a really cool music video for the album track "Storm and Thunder". First Impression releases May 29th and is sure to be one of my favorite albums of 2020. Pre-order is live now at Bandcamp!


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

No Fix - Apocalyptic Rock

The email came in from No Fix, and I was immediately hooked: Rock n Roll Punk from Windsor, Ontario. Self recorded in isolation, soon to be released EP, Apocalyptic Rock. Now that's my kind of press release! And the music turned out to be equally satisfying. Apocalyptic Rock, officially releasing at the end of this month, delivers four cuts of raw and ripping punk rock. The recording is super lo-fi, and overall I'm reminded of bands like The Pagans and Zero Boys that played tough, snotty punk with a real rock and roll edge. There's also a dark undercurrent to these songs that certainly fits the title of the EP and the times we're living in. Man, that guitar tone is killer! The first couple of tracks are straight-up smashers that come on with force and fury. But then on "Vicious Cycle", Matty shows that he can take a punk rock song past four minutes and still make it totally rage. I really feel the power in these songs. Matty sings and plays every note with tremendous intensity. This is what home-recorded punk rock ought to be: raw, dirty, and chock full of attitude. If you're into the garage punk rock and roll by way of KBD thing, this EP is definitely worth checking out!


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Hey! The Figgs are on Bandcamp!

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled programming to bring you this urgent public service announcement. The Figgs, one of the greatest American rock and roll bands of the past 30 years, recently made the bulk of their discography available on Bandcamp. This year marks 33 years of The Figgs being a band, and the only thing more impressive than their longevity is their sustained excellence. For obvious reasons, the Bandcamp page omits The Figgs' two major label releases from the mid-'90s. However, it does include the band's pre-major full-length tape Ready Steady Stoned, all of its albums released since 1998, and several compilations. It's very cool to be able to follow The Figgs from their scrappy lo-fi pop roots through their untouchable late '90s-early 2000s run to the highly ambitious yet remarkably high-quality turn they've taken over the past decade. You won't find a better songwriting tandem in modern-day rock and roll than Mike Gent and Pete Donnelly, and now the bulk of their output is just a few clicks away. If you've got a Figgs album or two in your collection, now is a great opportunity to explore the rest of the catalog. And if the Figgs are still a new band to you, clear your schedule for the next few hours and dig in!


Monday, April 13, 2020

The Mark Vodka Group - self titled

I've been in the mood for some great straight-forward punk rock, and Halifax, Nova Scotia's The Mark Vodka Group has delivered exactly that on its terrific debut album. Out on the ever-reliable Drunken Sailor Records, this self-titled long player is full of pissed-off, fantastically bitter lyrics and catchy tunes that practically smack you in the face. What could be better than that?! It's hard not to love an album that starts off with a song called "I Wanna Piss In The Face of the World", and let's just say that our man Mark doesn't soften much from there! What I like about this record is that you can't neatly slot it into any of the usual sub-genres of punk music. "Boy (I'm Allergic To You)" sounds like the best new Buzzcocks song in years, and that very influence is even more openly acknowledged on the instant anthem "Everybody's Punk Now". Elsewhere, song styles range from pop-leaning garage punk ("All That You've Done For Me") to snotty proto-hardcore ("Goon", "Big Time Rocker") to Devo by way of Coneheads hyperactive weirdness ("You've Got To Split"). There's even a surprisingly great cover of "Touch of Grey" that has me wondering if I've been underrating the Grateful Dead's songwriting chops for decades. Vocally, this is something different for an "angry" punk record. Mark doesn't scream or roar so much as he summons this incredible mix of boredom and disdain. These are songs coming from a dude who's fed up with everyone and everything, and it's like it's not really worth his time to get that upset about it. He lets his venomous words do most of the damage, and boy are they glorious! This is an album that spends a great deal of time taking shots at punk rockers, which to me makes it all the more punk rock. A truly brilliant debut!


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Vista Blue - These Songs/Stay Home

So even with me having posted a review every single day for the past month, I still haven't kept pace with the ever-prolific Vista Blue! To catch up, I will discuss two of the band's new releases today! And while you might conclude that I merely enjoy the challenge of fully documenting Vista Blue's exponentially expanding catalog, the truth is that I simply love this band. This is my favorite pop-punk group and one of my two or three current favorite bands, period. On no occasion have I played a new release from VB and not been filled filled with total joy. Every single time, there's a song or a lyric that makes me smile, laugh, tear up a little, or just feel generally good about being alive. I can't think of another pop-punk band that achieves VB's blend of humor, sweetness, creativity, and wonderfully geeky affection for pop culture past and present. Mike understands as I do that the best pop-punk is just a variation on what Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys were already doing decades ago. Throw in the wit of the Mr. T. Experience, the family-friendly frenzy of the Kung Fu Monkeys, and faithful adherence to the gospel according to the Ramones, and you've got yourself the best pop-punk band going.

New EP These Songs is vintage Vista Blue goodness. I don't know if "Emmaline Is Quarantined" is the first COVID-19 love song, but it ought to be the standard for all the others that follow. It's sweet yet sad - describing this perfect girl who is now out of reach due to social distancing requirements. I've been thinking a lot lately about people who currently can't be with the ones they love and others who can't go out finding someone to love. This has got to be a shitty time to be single, and this song illuminates the struggle. The Fountains of Wayne reference makes it all the more poignant. "Come On, Come On" combines a Dr. Frank-ish charm with a chorus worthy of a kids' show sing-along. I like how you can read multiple meanings into this one. Maybe it's a song about a guy telling a girl he wants to play her the song he's written for her. Or maybe it's Mike humbly introducing a song he's written for all of us. In the lyrics, he manages to write the best-ever review of Vista Blue: "One thing you can say about me/I have a kinda catchy melody/I have a three-part harmony/Might even try a fourth chord". Man, I need to steal that for a future review (Spoiler alert, he does try that fourth chord!). To finish, "These Songs" is sweet and sincere and cut from the same cloth as the band's wonderful "Big Stars". In my overactive imagination, "Come On, Come On" sounds like it could be an introduction to "These Songs".

Also new from Vista Blue is Stay Home - an EP featuring acoustic versions of three songs that Mike did not originally sing on. You may be familiar with The Loblaws' classic "Tossing and Turning" - which was track one on the band's Mutant Pop 7". Those lyrics still make me laugh every time. "Johnny's Gonna Strike Out" is a song off of Vista Blue's second EP that featured Mike's wife Donna on lead vocals. "My Dad Taught Me How To Rock and Roll" is a tune that Mike's brother Todd wrote for their dad one year as a Father's Day gift. I'm quite moved by this one because it reminds me that so many of us inherited our love of music from parents. Although I must say that Mike and Todd's much dad was way cooler than mine if he was into '80s metal. My dad got me into Jim Croce, which I guess isn't so bad either. I can neither confirm nor deny that this of those Vista Blue songs that made me tear up a little.

Well I ought to sign off before I write a book about rock and roll. If you're in the Vista Blue super fan club with me, you will get a real kick out of Stay Home. And if you like pop-punk even a little, These Songs is gonna be your new favorite record. If there's more in store from these guys in the coming weeks, I just might emerge from this pandemic with my good spirits in tact.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Andrew Anderson - Music Album Idea

This is my second day in a row reviewing an album that was inspired by and recorded during COVID-19 quarantine. I can guarantee you there will be more of these reviews to come. When musicians are placed in a position of having to stay at home, what do you think they're going to do? They're going to make music, of course! Sometimes that means writing songs. Sometimes that means performing on live video (and for all of you people who are griping about the current omnipresence of these videos, nobody's forcing you to watch quit your bitching!). Sometimes it means making an entire record and releasing it online. That's what Andrew Anderson (Proto Idiot, Hipshakes, Freak Genes) has done. Music Album Idea is his second solo album in less than five months. He set out to record and release one song every day while under quarantine in Bulgaria. After 11 days, he had himself an album!

I've been an admirer of Andrew's talents for quite a long time, and a project like this really gives me a deeper understanding of who he is as an artist. You might already think of him as an unconventional and rather unique songwriter. But Music Album Idea is far more experimental and idiosyncratic than anything Andrew has done before. I appreciate the spontaneity of coming up with a new song every day and putting it out there permanently. This is so different from the way recording an album usually works: where you write dozens of songs, throw out most of them, and agonize for weeks or even months on every minute detail of the tracks you finally chose to record. I would not necessarily want to listen to every band's "instant album", but I was certainly drawn to this one because I'm a big fan of Andrew Anderson. And Music Album Idea is not your typical COVID-19 concept record. It's more like a journey into the mind of one person living in isolation. Sure, "Living In The Egg" is about how quarantine is like being trapped egg! And Andrew's descent into madness on "Crooked Mile" might be a musical reflection of how a lot of people are feeling right now. But there are lots of little slices of everyday life events as well: noticing the cat outside that comes to stare in the window, learning a new language, watching a documentary on a disappearing village in Bulgaria, and being awed by a mountaintop monument. I love the story behind "Transparent Shelter" - which was made with a Vermona synthesizer that Andrew purchased from a man in Asenovgrad. The man had bought the synth for his son in hopes that he might someday be a musician. Well the kid grew up to be a doctor, and the synth didn't come out of the box until Andrew purchased it. "Transparent Shelter" finds him experimenting with his new toy and recording the results.

Because Music Album Idea is so driven by synthesizers and all the creative possibilities they enable, Andrew Anderson comes off here as not just a songwriter but also a composer. At times, you'll hear echoes of his other bands ("Ten Ten" and "Gotta Move" could probably be Proto Idiot or Freak Genes songs). But for the most part, Andrew goes wherever his mind takes him without any regard for where these songs may fit. I especially like the playful instrumental "Intro" (which Andrew describes as "Steve Reich meets Steve Wright"). I find "Julian" to be an exceptional song - and not just because I love cats. The funky "Gotta Move" ought to be an anthem for these times. And "Monument" has a chilling beauty to it that is probably unprecedented in Andrew's catalog. If you're a fan of Andrew Anderson as I am, I highly recommend Music Album Idea. And be sure to click on the individual song links in Bandcamp. Most of them include pictures that help tell the story of the song!


Friday, April 10, 2020

Real Sickies - Quarantined

What do you do when you've got too much time on your hands and can't leave the house? If you're Real Sickies, you make your best album yet! The Edmonton foursome has been one of the top pop-leaning punk rock bands of recent years, having released excellent albums in both 2018 and 2019. In the wake of recent events, the band decided to create a concept album about life in a pandemic. Amazingly, Quarantined was written, recorded, mixed, and released in a single week - with none of the band members leaving their homes! Those do not seem like the ideal conditions for making a record, but I've gotta say that Real Sickies have never sounded better! Clearly these guys were inspired, and I'd be hard-pressed to find more relatable song topics given that nearly everyone on Earth is going through these same things right now. Songs address everything from living in constant fear to handling the anxieties of extended isolation to washing your hands obsessively to coping with unemployment to combating boredom to navigating the stresses that can be placed on a relationship when two people are together 24/7. The lyrics are for the most part from a personal perspective, but there's also some on-point social commentary to be heard on tracks like "Fake Spring Break" and "Trapped Inside".

Obviously this is all very serious subject matter, but Real Sickies still manage to make this record fun and ultimately uplifting. This is a punk pop record, after all! The band is in prime form here - falling into its sweet spot between the Ramones and Teenage Head. Quarantined is stuffed with big hooks, catchy melodies, and mighty buzz-saw guitars. It's a feel-good record about not so feel-good times. It ends with a splendid version of "I Wanna Be Well" - a great cover choice for this band and a perfect way to conclude this record. Real Sickies have made an album inspired by  a particular moment that is sure to have enduring value. Play it loud, sing along, dance around your house, and set up a listening party with your friends on video chat. This is the best stuff I've heard from Real Sickies since their debut tape!


Thursday, April 09, 2020

You Wanna Know What It's Like? - A Tribute to the Hollywood Brats & The Boys

I don't often review tribute albums. But in the case of the newly-released You Wanna Know What It's Like?, there was just no doubt that I was going to have something to say! This tribute to the Hollywood Brats and The Boys was assembled two decades ago. For various reasons, it never saw the light of day...until now! With most of the world now in lockdown, The Italian label Desert Inn Records decided it was time to give this compilation a proper release and "let people have a good time listening to some great music while in isolation". Now that's a mission I can wholeheartedly endorse. And while this is currently a free download, any proceeds from individuals who choose to pay will be donated to the Italian Red Cross.

Let's start with the obvious: outside of the Ramones, Buzzcocks, and Undertones, The Boys were probably the biggest single influence on the punk/pop/rock and roll scene I champion to this day. The Hollywood Brats were the greatest early '70s glam proto punk band that most people never heard. The link between the two bands, of course, is the tremendous keyboardist Casino Steel. You Wanna Know What It's Like? features covers of many of both bands' most beloved songs. Because the album was put together 20 years ago, the band lineup reads like a who's-who of Y2K era glam punk and punk rock and roll. Hearing all of these bands is like traveling back to the year 2000 on a time machine stocked with back issues of Hit List. Suddenly, I'm nostalgic for my shitty later-20s years that were only made bearable by the punk rock records I was acquiring on a daily basis. When I saw that the Beat Angels ("Terminal Love") and Trash Brats ("Sick On You") were on board, I was instantly sold on this thing. And you can never go wrong leading off with the mighty Jeff Dahl (who turns in a uniquely Dahl-ish rendition of the Hollywood Brats' "Chez Maximes")! Fans of later '90s glam punk rock and roll will surely recognize bands like Thee S.T.P., The Dialtones, Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, Aerobitch, and The Turpentines - who all put their signatures on Boys classics. My man Dimitri Monroe even makes an appearance - offering up a splendidly trashy take on the Brats' "Nightmare". First State Thrill Killers (featuring Vince and Randy from the brilliant Jake and the Stiffs) do a killer version of The Boys' "Schooldays". To the best of my knowledge, this is only the third time that FSTK have appeared on an official release (the other two occasions being tribute albums to GG Allin and GG & The Jabbers). I had somehow never heard of the Finnish band Hundred Million Martians, but their version of "Soda Pressing"  is an absolute highlight.

You Wanna Know What It's Like? really hits the spot for a tribute album. Its primary focus is to celebrate the music of a couple of legendary bands, yet few if any of these tracks sound like straight copies of the originals. Because this album went unheard for two decades, it ends up being far more than a tribute. It's also the ultimate time capsule for late '90s/early 2000s glam-punk, trashy pop, and rawk. This collection was assembled with tremendous affection for not just the Boys and Hollywood Brats but also for all the bands that appear here. This was a true passion project, and it's never too late to get such a thing out into the world. Go snag a download of this bad boy and donate if you can!


Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Watts - Seventeen

Alright! Watts, one of America's finest rock and roll bands, has released maybe its strongest single yet. And it's free! Written by singer/guitarist Dan Kopko, "Seventeen" is Side A of a brand-new digital single available from Rum Bar Records. It's a ripping dive bar rocker that ought to have you dancing in your PJs within seconds. It delivers just about everything you could want from a rock and roll song: a toe-tapping beat, hard bluesy riffs, a killer vocal from Dan, sizzling lead work, a sing-along chorus, and for good measure a whole lot of horns! Watts is definitely treading early '70s Stones territory here - familiar ground for the Boston foursome. And let me tell you: the band rocks out this track like there's no tomorrow! As you can always expect from a Danny the K production, the guitars and drums are absolutely thunderous. Alex Kopko's horns add a cool layer to the band's usual attack. I know horns in rock and roll can be hit or miss, but here they definitely hit. This song is such a scorcher that it just about leaves me breathless! On the B-side, "When The Party Ends" switches things up with a mellow, reflective vibe that again brings peak-era Stones to mind. Dan and guitarist John Blout wrote this one together. It's a true power ballad - showing the thoughtful side of Watts while still packing one hell of a punch. 

Although "Seventeen" is a digital single, I appreciate that it was designed like it was a vinyl record. Watts has given us a pair of songs that are meant to complement each other. You've got one song for the height of the party and another for the contemplative morning after. This record is a perfect example of why I love Watts. Of course these guys can play circles around just about anybody, but it's their ability to write amazing tunes that really sets them apart. Crank up your digital turntable and enjoy a classic rock and roll single like hardly anybody makes anymore. All you need is a Watts poster for your wall!


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Impulse Items - self titled

Perhaps the only silver lining in the world having gone to complete shit has been the recent explosion of digital music. For example, I love the idea that a defunct band from Atlantic Canada can throw an unmixed EP from six years ago up on Bandcamp and absolutely knock my brains out! Moncton-based Impulse Items roamed the filth-strewn Dead Boys/Germs side of the '77 punk tracks, but with a ferocity bordering on hardcore and a sense of humor that can only be described as rather unique. You see a song title like "I'm A Punk Masturbator" and can quickly deduce that it has to be the worst song ever or the absolute greatest. Somehow it manages to be both at the same time. So many punk vocalists do their best to channel the mad genius of Iggy, Darby, etc. and inevitably fall short. But this guy Danny was the real deal - at least in respect to the "mad" part! These six tracks are as raw and crazy as it gets....and awesome in every way. I like that the lyrics have been published, which enables you to go from "What the fuck?!" to "That's goddamn brilliant!" in a matter of moments. You could have waited for Killed By Death #174 to hear these songs, but modern technology and good fortune have collided and bestowed this glorious noise upon us. This band made the Reatards sound like Coldplay. And yeah, that's Emily from Phone Jerks on drums. Someone demand a reunion!


Monday, April 06, 2020

Eastie Ro!s - The Peel Sessions

Today I've got something really cool for you out of Berlin! Eastie Ro!s have been around for over a decade now. They've released four albums since 2014 and now present an EP/mini-album called The Peel Sessions. If you're familiar with the existing Eastie Ro!s catalog or not, you ought to enjoy this six-song release. This band plays a straight-forward style of punk rock that brings to mind both the classic bands of the genre and the more recent wave of moodier "modern" punk. The lyrics, as always, are sung in the band's native tongue. But while I have no idea what they're singing about, I'm totally digging these songs. They're punchy and catchy with a dark undercurrent at times. I love that guitar tone and prominent bass. Daniel Husayn was on board for mixing and mastering, and he did a bang-up job of highlighting the band's musical nuances. The pace of the songs has been slowed down considerably from the band's earlier releases, so overall this probably constitutes a more "mature" work. Yet the growing sophistication of Eastie Ro!s' attack does not diminish its power. If the language barrier has kept you from giving this band a shot, I would highly recommend digging into past long players like Achtung Stress! and Scheissegang. This is German punk rock at its finest!  


Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Chats - High Risk Behaviour

Well here it is! The Chats full-length that you've either been eagerly awaiting or completely dreading for the past three years is finally out! Given The Chats' legion of famous fans and multitude of champions in the mainstream press, it was inevitable that this band would polarize the punk rock faithful. But you can put me on the side of the fence that believes these guys are brilliant. And even with their ever-growing popularity, it's not like The Chats have "sold out". High Risk Behaviour doesn't alter the approach of the band's first two EPs one bit. What we've got here are 14 tracks of wonderfully dumb teenage punk rock songs written by actual teenagers. Eamon, Matt, and Pricey are still those same goofy kids who retreated to the shed in 2016 with minimal instrumental prowess and banged out the instant classic "Mum Stole My Darts". Perhaps they've advanced a little in musical skill, but their m.o. remains simple, snotty songs about being young and getting into all sorts of trouble. The Chats' penchant for funny storytelling has turned out to be a double-edged sword - their detractors will look at the low-brow humor of their music videos and write them off as a one-note "joke band". But High Risk Behaviour demonstrates that these not-so-serious lads have some seriously good tunes. Musically, there's a refreshing lack of any conscious attention to genre. Is this '77-style punk? Hardcore punk? Oi!? Garage punk? It's a little bit of all of that - which basically makes it just punk rock, right? Even if you're not amused by songs about drinking heavily, contracting STDs, getting tossed out of public establishments, stealing food, mouthing off to authority figures, and dealing with the unfortunate repercussions of buying drugs over the Internet, it's hard to deny that The Chats are just being their authentic selves. I can't help but admire a band that can approach the topics of gun control and pub food cravings with equal vehemence.

Perhaps in four or five years, we'll expect some growth and originality out of The Chats. But for now, those things are unneeded and perhaps even unwanted. We ought to just enjoy a band that excels at creating (in Eamon's words) "songs for people to jump around and have fun to". And if that is the standard they're aspiring to, they've hit it bang-on. High Risk Behaviour is every bit the album I hoped it would be based on The Chats' prior output. It's a fucking great punk rock record, which is precisely what I need at the moment. I'm still waiting for Mick Fletcher to shout his impressions of High Risk Behaviour from the mountaintop, but I've got a feeling he's going to be firmly in my corner. The talent it requires to make music this stupid is highly underestimated. Know it, people: The Chats ain't no joke!


Saturday, April 04, 2020

Sex Dream - Candle On My Skin

If you've noticed me writing about pop-punk bands a little more than usual, well what can I say? There's been a whole lot of great pop-punk coming out lately! Sex Dream is a case in point. Based out of the Chicago suburbs and featuring Maria from Surfinbird on vocals, Sex Dream has released a debut EP/mini album that takes some perfectly-executed Ramones worship and mixes in a Muffs influence and an all-encompassing love for cats. This is the band I've been waiting for all my life! Candle On My Skin comes in at seven catchy tracks, with no songs hitting three minutes until the wonderfully melancholic "Madness Girlfriend" exceeds it by a full 15 seconds. This is a great-sounding pop-punk record. The production is nice and slick in a way that doesn't detract from the heavy punch of the guitars. Maria Surfinbird is a very appealing vocalist - exuding energy and charm but also capable of great tenderness when a song requires it. You can just tell how much fun this band is having playing this kind of music. And that spirit pervades this entire record. You can talk all you want about how Ramones-inspired punk has "been done to death". But then you'll hear the likes of Sex Dream and find yourself wishing for a thousand more bands just like this. If you aren't completely delighted by the idea of punked-up Britney Spears covers and Meow Mix jingles, I have to question if we can even be friends.