Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Dollyrots - "Make Me Hot"

I love living in a world where the radio hit can still be a thing. A week ago, I was listening to the Underground Garage while I was doing laundry. A certain song came on and hit me with a chorus that made my head spin. That song was "Make Me Hot", a recent single from Wicked Cool recording artists The Dollyrots. This tune is the ultimate blast of California pop-punk sunshine - a signature of this particular duo since the early 2000s. It's admirable that Kelly and Luis have been able to keep this band going for so long without changing their style or losing their spark. And hell: if you can do bubblegum punk this well, why would you ever stop?! "Make Me Hot" comes on nice and steady, and then that chorus absolutely explodes with hooks! It's the kind of huge-sounding, mega-catchy pop song that you wish they still played on the radio. Except it actually is being played on the radio! On the 7", it's backed by a high-spirited, rocked-out cover of the old Lisa Loeb hit "Stay (I Missed You)". And speaking of covers, The Dollyrots recently utilized their quarantine time to record a really damn good version of "Teenage Kicks" that you can download for free from their Bandcamp. I know "Teenage Kicks" has been covered to death, but this is easily one of the best versions I've heard anyone do. If you didn't realize The Dollyrots were still around, you will be pleased to discover that they sound as good as ever. And if you've been following their recent output, you probably think this review is many weeks overdue. I won't argue!


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Kiss Disease - self titled EP

Oh man! Today we've got ourselves some killer punk rock and roll out of Finland! Kiss Disease hails from Helsinki and sounds like it was raised on a steady diet of The Stooges, MC5, and the New York Dolls. Can't go wrong there, eh? The band has released a four-song EP that just might set the world on fire..literally. I just love how trashy, blown-out, and flat-out ferocious these four cuts are. Singer Ella Laine tears into every note with force, attitude, and a badassery that just can't be denied. And those guitars are absolutely scorching! You might be thinking "Scandinavian band + Detroit influence = action rock", and I do hear a little of that on "Cripple the Bastard" (which you can surely surmise is not a ballad). But this band has got plenty of roll to go with the rock, and overall this is just great high energy punk music that ought to be played obnoxiously loud while you jump around and go crazy. It's always great to hear a record that makes 90% of the punk rock and roll bands out there sound lifeless and tame! 7-inch out now on Lempi & Sylvi Discs!


Friday, May 29, 2020

The Fragments - Incomplete Sentences

Being the late '90s/early 2000s punk history geek that I am, I'm delighted to discover much of the music of my (relative) youth popping up on digital platforms. You could call me nostalgic, but I prefer to believe that many of the bands I championed in my salad days have simply held up really well. The eastern Wisconsin punk scene of that era remains largely overlooked and is very much worthy of further review. On that note, a near complete discography of The Fragments has made its way to Bandcamp. The Fragments are probably best known outside of Wisconsin for their split CD with Modern Machines which came out in late 2002. They had a sound that was quintessentially Midwestern: poppy punk with real guts and plenty of rough edges. Eric Apnea and Andy Junk are most often associated with other bands they were in (Teenage Rejects, Catholic Boys, Holy Shit!), but The Fragments were pretty awesome in their own right. Eric, Andy, and Jeff Caissie all contributed songs...and it turns out there were plenty of songs! Incomplete Sentences (best title ever!) compiles songs recorded in various sessions from 2000 through 2003. At 25 tracks, you get the good, the bad, and the ugly of The Fragments. I dig that this was catchy punk that didn't sound like all the other catchy punk you've heard in your life. Listening to these songs today, I can hear bits and pieces of everything from early Lookout! Records to The Replacements & Husker Du to Naked Raygun to The Figgs' punkier-leaning stuff. I won't lie and say that all 25 tracks are essential (or even listenable). But if you're going to document what The Fragments were, this warts and all approach was definitely the way to go. Adding historical importance is the fact that Justin Perkins, who would go on to become one of the most respected studio engineers in the music industry, recorded most of this stuff. If you played six degrees of separation with the members of this band, you could probably link The Fragments to darn near every great punk/garage band to come out of Wisconsin in the 2000s. Incomplete Sentences will be a real treat for all who witnessed The Fragments firsthand - and a totally a fun listen even for those who didn't.  


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sugar Snow - "He Knows I Love Him Too Much"

Not so long ago, I reviewed a truly delightful song by Boston power pop band Kid Gulliver. Sugar Snow, the solo project of Kid Gulliver's lead singer Simone Berk, has just released something equally amazing. Sugar Snow entered Iso Booth: The Goffin and King Foundation's Quarantine Cover Contest...and was named one of the contest's 14 winners! After hearing Sugar Snow's entry, I can understand why it won! Berk chose to cover "He Knows I Love Him Too Much", written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King in 1961 for the Paris Sisters. Making a record under quarantine can be quite a challenge when you have to record at home. But Berk and producer Brian Charles came up with a creative way to not record at home. Charles worked in the studio and ran a mic out to Berk's car. That's right: they turned her car into a recording booth! What came out of this process is a truly stunning version of one of Goffin and King's most overlooked classics. It shows tremendous love for the lyrics and melody of the song as conceived by Goffin and King. But it doesn't just copy the original recording. This minimalist interpretation actually makes the song even more powerful. Berk's vocal is absolutely gorgeous, and it's mesmerizing to hear the way she feels every word she sings. The arrangement is perfect in its simplicity. Berk's vocal is the centerpiece of the song, blending beautifully with Charles's warm, twangy guitar track (My god, that tone!). This recording reminds me why I love cover songs. First and foremost, it honors the artistry of the songwriters. But it also demonstrates that making someone else's song your own is an art form in its own right. I think we've all pulled up besides someone who was singing in their car before, but never has it sounded this good! Check out the video below to witness the making of this song for yourself!


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dirty Truckers - Second Dose

What happens when one best-of compilation is not enough? You make another! Dirty Truckers, one of 21st Century America's finest roots/country rock and roll bands, were very well represented by the Rum Bar Records collection "Best Of"  a couple years back. But the world demanded more, and Rum Bar has released a sequel called Second Dose. Longtime fans will be familiar with these 10 tracks, some of which date all the way back to the band's 2001 debut album Bush League. You can call this alt-country or Americana if you want. But unlike some of the stuff that gets labeled in such a way, this is real rock and roll!

Singer/guitarist Tom Baker has been an acclaimed performer on the Rum Bar roster both as a solo artist and with his band The Snakes. The success of these projects has definitely created a demand for more of these old Dirty Truckers recordings to be unearthed from the vaults. As deep as "Best Of" went, it was by no means an exhaustive collection of essential Dirty Truckers tracks. Second Dose fills in the gaps. The Replacements-inspired rocker "Feedback" is a top-tier Dirty Truckers number which is appearing for the first time on a physical format. "Back To Back" is the rare country rock song that's authentically country and actually rocks. "Not Missing A Thing" is no-nonsense Stonesy rock and roll that's full of heart and guts. Perhaps my favorite thing about this particular collection is that it's heavy on covers. It's cool to hear Baker and company tip the cap to huge influences like Lyres ("Help You Ann"), Nick Lowe ("Raging Eyes"), and of course The Replacements ("Sixteen Blue"). I love how "Raging Eyes" is transformed into a full-on dive bar ripper. And the "Sixteen Blue" cover is absolutely extraordinary - as the Dirty Truckers re-imagine one of Paul Westerberg's classics as an epic country ballad.

With The Dirty Truckers' original catalog long out of print, the band along with Malibu Lou have really stepped up to get all of this great music back into circulation. The uninitiated should still start with "Best Of", but you'll quickly be lining up for a Second Dose. Both of these discs should be part of any decent bar's re-opening kit. For now, grab a six-pack from the fridge and make your home bar the best in town!


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Moral Crux - The digital reissues!

Oh my god! Moral Crux has a Bandcamp?! I've been waiting for years for the Moral Crux catalog to make it to this particular platform - especially those earlier titles that have been out of print for a very long time. This is a very important band in my musical life. Back in the '90s, Moral Crux was my bridge from poppier punk stuff to the '77-style punk that would ultimately become my favorite music of all-time. And I guarantee that a lot of people who came up on pop-punk around the time I did have a similar story. Moral Crux is often associated with '90s pop-punk, and they even did a 7" with Mutant Pop Records. But they actually started in the early '80s, and to me they always had more of a pure '77 sound. James Farris and company took the melody-based punk style of the Ramones, Buzzcocks, and Generation X and combined it with the heart and mind of The Clash. For over 35 years, James has used this band as a platform to rail against injustice, abuses of power, and the dumbing down of American culture. Eventually Moral Crux got signed to Panic Button/Lookout! Records and released the excellent albums Something More Dangerous and Pop Culture Assassins. The titles now available on Bandcamp are earlier, much rawer-sounding releases and probably my three favorite Moral Crux albums. The self-titled album from 1987 is a total classic. ...And Nothing But The Truth (1993) and I Was A Teenage Teenager (1994) have been criminally overlooked for decades. I am stoked that these albums have been remastered and revived for our listening pleasure! Who ever said that political punk rock can't be catchy? If you like what you hear, be sure to also check out Moral Crux's most recent EP on Mooster Records! 


Monday, May 25, 2020

The Reflectors - First Impression

The month of power pop continues! If you'd told me back in January that 2020 would bring us a new Speedways single plus new albums from The Vapors, Duncan Reid and the Big Heads, Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men, and The Reflectors, I would have said we were in store for a really great year. I sure would have been wrong about that! But the fact that all of this music has come out in a matter of three weeks is pretty incredible (and perhaps very taxing on your budget!). Once I discovered that The Reflectors were putting out a full-length, that quickly became my most highly anticipated album of the year. Now it's here, and it does not disappointment!

Out on Time For Action Records, First Impression combines the best elements of late '70s/early '80s power pop with a touch of modern-day powerpop/punk. Three-quarters of The Reflectors used to be a terrific punk/pop trio called Images. James Carman (LA Drugz, Telephone Lovers, Maniac) moved from drums & vocals to guitar & vocals, with Johnny Reyes joining on drums. Although quite a few of the songs on this album date back to Images days, the change in band name seems to reflect (no pun intended, I swear!) a slight progression in sound. First Impression features 11 tracks of quintessential Southern California power pop. Carman and fellow singer/guitarist Nick Faciane write songs about classic themes like heartbreak, longing, and unrequited love. That's pretty much the power pop holy trinity right there, and these guys convey those emotions quite convincingly in their vocals. The best power pop has a way of delighting your senses and tearing out your heart at the same time. And that's the playbook The Reflectors follow: big punchy guitars, catchy melodies, and lyrics wrought with teenage frustration. Last year's outstanding single "Teenage Hearts" and the pre-album teaser "Champagne" set the bar pretty high, but the rest of songs prove to be just as good. I can't quite decide which track is the "hit" because nearly every song here sounds like one. That makes sense since these guys were able to cherry pick the best songs they've written over the last eight or nine years. Even down the final stretch of songs, I'm hearing tunes that easily could have been A-sides.

As expected, The Reflectors have placed themselves in the thick of the album of the year conversation with First Impression. This is classic power pop that feels new and fresh because, well, matters of the heart never go out of style! Whatever artificial intelligence Bandcamp used for its "If you like The Reflectors, you may also like.." feature was totally spot-on because the first two bands mentioned are The Whiffs and The Speedways. Add The Reflectors to that pair, and you've got the best of the new generation of power pop. If you want to feel 16 again, just put on First Impression and close your eyes.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Secret Caller - "Secret Caller"

Here's some hot new stuff from the Pacific Northwest that brings to mind the East Coast circa the mid-to-late '70s. Secret Caller features a couple of ex Valentine Killers guys and kinda falls in that proto-punk/power pop/rock and roll territory a la Real Kids, Dictators, and Nervous Eaters. I always enjoy it when bands write their own theme songs, and "Secret Caller" is certainly a great way for this group to introduce itself to the world. It's a ballsy toe-tapper of a tune with awesome driving guitars and a killer hook. If this song were any catchier, you would be legally required to remain at least six feet away from your speakers. "Do It Again (The Same Way)" dials back the pace a little but definitely hits that tougher side of power pop. I hope the song title is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I am dying to hear more from Secret Caller! There are not enough bands like this out there right now. Phone up your favorite D.J. and tell 'em to play "Secret Caller" by Secret Caller! 


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men - Downtime

Nick Piunti is one of our greatest present-day pop songwriters. He could have released ten more albums just like his last four, and I would been more than happy every single time. But I must admit I'm really excited to hear him working as part of a full band again. Out now on Jem Records, Downtime is Piunti's first album with his new band The Complicated Men. The Complicated Men are Jeff Hupp on bass, Ron Vensko on drums, and Kevin Darnall on keyboards. Ryan Allen (guitar, harmony vocals, percussion) and Chris Plum (harmony vocals, percussion, synthesizer) also turn up in guest starring roles.

While Piunti's voice and songwriting style are immediately recognizable, he sounds palpably energized on this ten-song long player. He has been such a picture of consistency and timeless pop craftsmanship over the years, and none of that changes here. But Downtime is definitely a little more of a rock band record and a little less of a singer/songwriter record. Vensko and Hupp form a dynamite rhythm section, and Darnall's keyboards work in perfect harmony with Piunti's melodic guitars. And far as the songs go, this is Piunti's strongest batch in years. "Upper Hand" is the kind of song you pray Piunti never strops writing. It comes on with a tuneful, pleasantly punchy verse and then explodes into a chorus that's pure pop magic. My god, what a hook! In what kind of crazy world is this song not a million-selling single? "Bright Light" is melody on top of melody on top of melody - a perfect marriage of a well-crafted song and a band clicking on every level. If recent albums have established Piunti as the king of "adult power pop", "Every High" demonstrates that he can wear the crown whenever he wants. Again, there are melodies for days. But just when you think this album is settling in the way you thought it would, it surprises in little ways. Songs like "Going Nowhere" and "Never Belonged To Me" really rock, and in between "All Over Again" is a truly exceptional ballad. "Contract", which clocks in at just over two minutes, is a fine example of the great time Piunti is having with his new band mates. These guys rock this one out like the heyday of indie/alternative never ended. You know you're a gifted songwriter when you have the luxury of sliding a song as good as the pre-album single "All This Time" in at track nine. When I first heard this song six months ago (which now seems like a lifetime ago!), I thought it was one of the finest songs Piunti had ever written. I still feel that way. And yet somehow it seems perfectly placed as this album's penultimate track.

You always know what you're getting with a Nick Piunti album: timeless songs with great hooks and clever lyrics influenced by every great era of guitar pop. You can't go wrong with any title in his catalog. But working with The Complicated Men, he's truly topped himself with Downtime. This is at once a classic Nick Piunti record and something a little different. Longtime producer Geoff Michael does his usual bang-up job of magnifying the beauty of Piunti's melodies. And in the case of this album's production, that meant highlighting the talents of The Complicated Men. I'm hoping this album is just the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership. Fingers crossed that the world affords us Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men at Budokan someday!


Friday, May 22, 2020

The Hi-End - Class Kicks

You could write a thousand words about The Hi-End, but "high octane rock & roll" pretty much tells you everything you need to know. This Boston five-piece releases its new album Class Kicks today on Rum Bar Records. Proceed to checkout!

Typical of a Boston rock and roll band, The Hi-End features a formidable cast of veteran players. Johnny Carlevale (Johnny Carlevale and His Band of All Stars, Johnny Carlevale & The Rollin' Pins) is on lead vocals. Curt Florczak from B-Movie Rats is on guitar. You may also recognize Anthony Giordano (bass), Bruno Giordano (guitar), and Scott Sugarman (drums) from The Boston Swindlers. Together these five contribute an array of influences covering the last 65 years of rock and roll (or maybe just the first 30!). The Hi-End brings to mind a time in music when you could be a bar band at heart but still fill arenas. I'm hearing a whole lot of AC/DC, Aerosmith, and '70s Stones in these 12 tracks, along with more than a pinch of pub rock and glam-punk. Class Kicks is the sort of thing you don't hear very often these days: a pure hard rocking record stacked with mighty riffs and killer songs. You've got that perfect blend of thundering rhythm guitar and red-hot lead work, a rhythm section that knows how to drive a beat, and a lead singer with legit rock star pipes and a swagger to match. Lead track "Looking For Some Kicks" roars like the Dead Boys going full-bore rock. "Perfect Company" channels the Stones via the New York Dolls and brings an energy that is positively electric. "The Way She Moves Me" highlights the band's hookier inclinations, while "Feed My Need" throws it back to the heyday of classic metal. "One Day At A Time" is pub rock by the book, and that's a book that never gets old. Did somebody mention high octane rock and roll? "It's A Long Way Down" and "Blood Red Lips" could just about raise Bon Scott and Malcolm Young from the dead.

It seems fitting that The Hi-End are now label mates with Watts. Malibu Lou just might single-handedly revive the glory days of rock, and he could probably do it with just Boston bands! When it comes to high energy rock and roll, The Hi-End is top shelf. This band has got it all: the style, the chops, and great tunes for days. Make sure your arm is loosened up for frequent raising of the volume knob and lots of spontaneous air guitar heroics. Class Kicks kicks ass!


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Nite Sobs - Do the Sob!

Who's ready for some really great pop? Nite Sobs are a new-ish band from Austin, Texas who have released what is sure to be one of the best albums of 2020. Do The Sob! is an absolute treat for anyone who loves melody-driven rock and roll that's jam-packed with harmonies. Nite Sobs, like many a power pop band, are throwbacks to a golden age of rock and roll. They write two-to-three minute pop songs about the ups and downs of love - timeless stuff both musically and lyrically. But while the Beatles are often ground zero for this sort of band, Nite Sobs' inspirations go back even further to doo wop, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they stick to a timeless style and execute it to perfection. The songs are well-crafted, and these guys can really sing! Those harmonies are legit. I love how warm-sounding this record is - like it could have actually come from the late '50s or early '60s. The band name is perfect because most of these songs are about heartbreak and regret. Yet this is the ultimate feelgood music. You could even gather your family members and re-create these songs a cappella! There's a nice variety here, with styles running the gamut from new wave pop ("Mixed Signals") to the British Invasion ("I'll Keep You Satisifed") to a pure old school '50s sound ("Vowelrie"). Remember the "oldiescore" branch of pop-punk? Nite Sobs are like the power pop version of that. I wanna join the fan club! Do The Sob! is available now in digital and CD formats from Beefcake Records. Vinyl coming soon!


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Webcam Teenz - M.A.F.

Webcam Teenz have very quietly released one of the greatest trashy punk albums of recent memory. I speak figuratively, since I don't think Webcam Teenz do much of anything quietly. Famously, this foursome is Muncie, Indiana's only punk band. M.A.F. is the band's first album, and it's a true work of garage punk perfection. Drawing equally from the worlds of snotty punk and budget rock, it's full of the simplest, catchiest, and most brilliantly stupid three-chord tunes you could ever hope to hear. The opening title track is an instant classic of Midwestern punk rock, and the rest of the album carries on in the same spirit. This album is tremendous fun. It ought to be played obnoxiously loud while you sit on your porch drinking the cheapest beer you can find. At a time when "garage punk" bands disappoint me nine times out of ten, Webcam Teenz are a true breath of fresh Indiana air. This album could have come out on Rip Off Records 20 years ago! Be very careful when you Google that band name...


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Can't Shake That Tune: A Tribute to Fountains of Wayne

I used to say I wasn't a big fan of tribute albums. But I was wrong. I'm actually a huge fan of tribute albums when they're well-done, and otherwise I just find them unsatisfying. This past weekend, I came across one that absolutely blew me away. Can't Shake That Tune was compiled by Radiant Radish Records in the wake of the shocking news that Adam Schlesinger had passed away from complications of COVID-19 on April 1st. It's hard to overstate what an incredible pop band Fountains of Wayne was, and the songs of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood were a particularly huge influence on the bands and artists represented on this collection. Obviously, all of these tracks were home recorded. Some are pure solo efforts. Others involve full bands. Some feature the contributions of family members. But each track turned out amazing, and I'm awed to hear so many talented individuals create such beauty out of heartbreak. A bad tribute album would just make you wish you were listening to the original versions. This one allows you to hear a lot of these songs in a new light, and it ultimately reminds you of how great they are. You'll actually want to play the album the whole way through - and then spend the next several hours immersed in the Fountains of Wayne catalog.

One thing I love about this compilation is that the song selection was handled perfectly. You could easily do a double or triple album tribute to Fountains of Wayne and not run out of gems, so clearly it would have been a shame if only the "obvious" choices had been selected. But it also would have been kind of disappointing if those bigger songs had been omitted. With these 14 tracks, you get most of the hits and a few deep cuts as well. As infuriating as it can be to hear Fountains of Wayne described as a "one hit wonder", there was no way you could have done this comp without someone covering "Stacy's Mom". Johnathan Pushkar, who had the guts to take on "Hackensack" on his marvelous debut album, gives "Stacy's Mom" a remarkable transformation that highlights what a perfect pure pop song it is. Speaking of "Hackensack",  Jonathan Pretus from The Breton Sound turns in an absolutely stunning version that has me falling in love with this song all over again. Some of my favorite people in pop music appear on this compilation, and they did not disappoint. Sunset Odds is Wyatt Funderburk collaborating with Todd from Vista Blue, and they go semi-obscure with the pre-FOW demo "Raise the River" and The Ivy tune "Get Out of the City". Vista Blue turns in a typically Vista Blue sounding cover of "The Senator's Daughter" off of Utopia Parkway. American Wood, which is Todd and Mike from Vista Blue, produces a straight-forward yet utterly fantastic version of "Denise". Mike also turns up with his wife Donna as Soft Spots, who do a delightful indie pop rendition of "Sink To The Bottom" from Fountains of Wayne's self-titled debut album. Christian Migliorese from The Feels and Tattle Tales strips "Troubled Times" down to just voice and acoustic guitar - accentuating the sheer beauty of the original.

One of the best things about a well-done tribute album is that you inevitably discover artists you hadn't heard before. One of my favorite tracks on this whole collection is a version of Traffic and Weather's "I-95" by Sweet Diss and the Comebacks. A quick click of a link sent me straight to a really great Sweet Diss album from 2012 that is as pop as pop can be. And after diving into the discography of The Wellingtons (who do a terrific acoustic version of the Welcome Interstate Managers favorite "Hey Julie"), I'm kind of embarrassed that I'm mentioning this band's name for the first time ever.

Can't Shake That Tune is a triumph on multiple levels. Of course it's a treat for Fountains of Wayne fans, many of whom will stumble upon some new bands to love just as I have. I can also see it working the other way and leading fans of the bands on this comp into a fuller discovery of Fountains of Wayne. I imagine that Can't Shake That Tune will not be the last Fountains of Wayne tribute album we hear over the next couple of years, and I will welcome the arrival of more. But this one has definitely set a high bar.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Brad Marino - False Alarm

Well I've been teasing it for weeks, and here it is! False Alarm is the new 7" from Brad Marino, which magically doubles as a new album of sorts. Official release date is this coming Friday, but it went live on all digital platforms late last week. As expected, this Rum Bar Records release is hot! Marino continues to blur the lines between timeless rock and roll and perfect pop, and in my dream world "False Alarm" would be a million-selling smash hit. Oh man, this is what 7" records are all about: you drop the needle on the vinyl, and it's instant magic. "False Alarm" is a rocker that will make you wanna get up and dance - with hooks that will have you playing the song on repeat. It's a tune about lingering heartbreak, which sounds like a bummer until you actually hear the song. It's got a beat you won't be able to resist and a chorus that will have you singing along instantly. As always, Marino proves to be an appealing vocalist and a very clever wordsmith. And I love how a lot of the little details push this song over the top. The guitars sound simply amazing, and those backing vocals are spot-on! Track 2 "At Night" hits that Rock 'n' Roll High School era Ramones sweet spot - which has proven to be a Marino specialty. Again Marino takes some serious subject matter (insomnia) and manages to make it 100% fun. If you love upbeat, hard-driving pop music (and let's face it, you wouldn't be here if you didn't), this song will be right up your alley. To finish, Marino does a fantastic rendition of The Hoodoo Gurus' classic "What's My Scene" that Dave Faulkner himself recently endorsed. This song fits in nicely with the two previous tracks. It's largely faithful to the original, but Marino adds plenty of his personal touch.

If you're listening to False Alarm on 7", "What's My Scene" is the perfect ending point. If you buy the CD, you get five bonus tracks that transform this EP into a mini album. The CD tacks on the entirety of Four Track Attack - Marino's first 7" from 2018 along with a cover of "Peggy Sue Got Married" that was originally released last Christmas. Now between False Alarm and Extra Credit, you've got almost every track that Marino has released as a solo artist. All 7" orders from Rum Bar's Bandcamp will receive a download for the full 8-song release. The Four Track Attack stuff is really great and includes a couple of tunes written by Michael Chaney. And who wouldn't want to hear Brad Marino cover Buddy Holly?! Whether you're into vinyl, CDs, or digital, this release has got you covered. False Alarm is a mandatory purchase for all fans of rock and roll aged 9 to 90!


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Know Your '90s Punk: The Beltones

Any list I'd ever make of the greatest punk bands of the '90s would have The Beltones in the thick of the conversation. Formed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1994, the original incarnation of The Beltones featured Bill McFadden on guitar and vocals, Rob Sessions on guitar, Chris Arocha on bass, and Kevin Krook on drums. Very quickly the band released 7-inch records on Far Out and Just Add Water Records - two of the coolest punk labels of the day. Record reviews without fail compared The Beltones to Stiff Little Fingers. But while those comparisons were hardly off base, they probably did the band a disservice (and yes, I can guarantee you I was one of the guilty parties!).

Listening now to The Beltones' '90s body of work, I hear a remarkable punk group. Of course the gruff vocals combined with a melodic approach bring to mind a certain band from Belfast. But The Beltones had their own thing going on - a sound and style forged in great part from the influence of American roots and rock & roll. The sound was raw and gritty as hell, but at heart McFadden was a very traditional songwriter and storyteller. While other punk bands of the day were going on about girls or politics, The Beltones tackled heavy themes like loss, despair, alcoholism, and family dysfunction. Now this was an artist who kept it real! In 1998, The Beltones signed with TKO Records and released the mini-album On Deaf Ears. I consider On Deaf Ears to be an essential release in the annals of '90s punk. It's comprised mostly of re-recorded versions of earlier songs but also features the absolutely devastating "Let The Bombs Fall". If you can read the lyrics to that song and not conclude that Bill McFadden is an extraordinary songwriter, I don't know if we're speaking the same language.

The Beltones would go on to release a proper full-length album for TKO in 2001 called Cheap Trinkets. A year later, they independently released a single called "Come Back". And while the band has not put out any new recordings since, it has continued to play live for two decades with numerous changes in personnel and geographic base. The band's 7" on Just Add Water, "My Old Man", was without doubt one of the greatest punk singles of the '90s. It was most recently reissued in 2018 and can probably be acquired at a reasonable price. The rest of the catalog may be harder to come by, but it's all great stuff and very worthy of a comprehensive digital reissue. Somebody make that happen!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads - Don't Blame Yourself

The more this year turns to shit, the more the music turns to gold. It's as if the music gods are consoling us. Next up in the hit parade, we've got the brilliant fourth album from Duncan Reid and the Big Heads. Reid, the former Boys singer/bassist, was a founding father of the power pop punk genre that I champion to this day. But far from resting on his glorious past, Reid has assembled a band that rates with the very best of today's pop-leaning punk groups. Don't Blame Yourself is his strongest outing yet with the Big Heads - a collection of punchy and immensely clever pop songs that truly define the term "hook-laden". Reid isn't vague about his formula for success. It's equal parts wit, melody, guitars, and harmonies. That seems simple enough, but not every band has the talent or technique to pull it off. This one sure does!

On Don't Blame Yourself, Reid puts on a veritable master class in power pop punk songwriting. He's crafted 14 fantastic songs that touch on everything from mortality to mid-life crises to entanglements with younger women to the failings of politicians. This is real life stuff for any young man in his 60s, and Reid imbues his songwriting with a wonderful mix of wisdom, maturity, and eternal youthfulness. His sense of humor is absolutely wicked - which to my mind is the best way for a sense of humor to be. There are a number of lines from these songs that had me laughing out loud. I particularly enjoyed "I woke up on the wrong side of a bottle/ I looked it in the eye/I wished it a good morning/No reply". And only a true master of the written word would think to rhyme "Caracas" with "maracas". On "Motherfucker", Reid even pulls off the tricky task of making a political statement without coming off dull and preachy ("Tweets God Save the Queen and makes it sound obscene/And nanny's always keen to clean up where he's been" ). But while Reid's wit is frequently caustic, he's just as inclined to poke fun at himself. If mid-life crisis punk now constitutes its own genre, "Welcome To My World" and "To Live Or Not" ought to be two of its standards. And I love that even within the marvelous hilarity of the latter, you'll find great truth about the importance of living life to its fullest. I appreciate that Reid can go from the delicious cynicism of "Your Future Ex Wife" to something as genuinely sweet and sentimental as "Oh What A Lovely Day". And "Dave" is as heartfelt of a reflection on mortality as you'll ever see.

While Reid is in peak form as a songwriter, Don't Blame Yourself succeeds just as much on the strength of the Big Heads (guitarist Sophie Powers, drummer Karen Jones, guitarist Nick Hughes). This was a band assembled for the road, and fans will sense an energy and punch similar to the live performances. One of the first rules of power pop punk is that you better bring the power. From the opening chords of "Your Future Ex Wife", it's clear that the Big Heads check that box. While more often that not Reid and company work their signature sound to perfection, they do sneak in a few slower numbers that show a range of musical influences. "Tea & Sympathy" and "Oh What A Lovely Day" are pure pop songs with a softer touch, while "The Grim Reaper" sounds like the new Supertramp song you never knew you needed. The title track, another overtly political song, summons the spirit of Marc Bolan. So in the end, you get plenty of the band's patented "melody power pop punk" plus enough surprises to keep things interesting. And that's what a good album ought to do.

For a band that lives to perform for crowds of people, life in quarantine has got to be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. But the arrival of Don't Blame Yourself surely has this gang stoked to get back out there and play the hell out of these songs. Ensure you're fully prepared to sing along by purchasing this fine musical recording at your earliest convenience!


Friday, May 15, 2020

The Vapors - Together

Well today is the day! After 39 years, The Vapors finally deliver a follow-up to their most recent album Magnets. Although Together probably sounds more like a follow-up to the band's 1980 debut New Clear Days - which I've declared on many occasions to be my favorite album of all-time.

For decades I had made peace with the reality that The Vapors were gone forever and would never make music again. Then the band reunited a few years back, and I started allowing myself to hope that new material was forthcoming. Of course I would have been disappointed if they'd made a new record and it wasn't very good. But come on: this is The Vapors! I had faith that whatever they did, it was going to be great. And today I can confirm that it most definitely is! Together is not just an "okay" effort from a legendary band. This album finds The Vapors emerging from a nearly four-decade hiatus and sounding like they'd never been gone. It rivals the band's best work, and it rivals the best of today's power pop and rock.

Based on the formidable opening 1-2 punch of the title track and "Crazy", you might surmise that Together is going to be a satisfying replay of New Clear Days. But it turns out to be something far better. Together takes everything you loved about The Vapors and brings it fully into the 21st Century. It definitely sounds like The Vapors, and David Fenton's style as a vocalist and songwriter is immediately recognizable. His lyrics are as clever and full of substance as ever. And his knack for turning out brilliant hooks is in peak form. Together, according to Fenton, is full of "pop songs about war, famine, suicide, mental health, dementia and having fun". Yes, indeed: that's vintage Vapors! But you would certainly expect a great deal of growth after 39 years, and Fenton is clearly not stuck in '80s mode. Veteran producer Steve Levine does a wonderful job of making this album sound modern while still retaining touches of that classic new wave feel. Fenton, as always, excels at writing very serious songs that are somehow totally enjoyable to listen to. Whether the scope is personal ("I Don't Remember") or global ("Real Time"), he writes with a heart and humanity that are much needed in today's music and today's world. "Real Time" is a particular highlight - a beautifully crafted call for compassion that puts a fresh twist on the socially conscious pop music of The Vapors' heyday. It's the first in a string of three songs ("Girl From The Factory" and "I Don't Remember" are the other two) that will absolutely tear your heart out. "Letter To Hiro (No11)" is the rare sequel that's just as good as the original - another powerful reflection on the human cost of war. If you can stomach a devastating breakup song on top of all of that, "Those Tears" is quite magnificent.

It's hard for me to imagine The Vapors making a better comeback album than Together. It's reminiscent enough of the old days to satisfy diehard fans, but it's by no means an exercise in nostalgia. Sometimes when these old bands get back together, you just hope they don't tarnish their legacy. But The Vapors are still busy adding to theirs. "Wonderland" and "Nuclear Nights" (get it?) are exactly the types of songs you would have hoped for from an older, wiser version of The Vapors. And then there are the unexpected pleasures. With its solemn, dramatic melodies, "Sundown River" has the timeless feel of a folk ballad. In a far different vein, "King L" finds the band letting loose and rocking out like never before. With three-quarters of the original lineup in tow (plus terrific veteran drummer Michael Bowes and Fenton's son Dan), this a a full-fledged return of one of the greatest new wave/power pop bands ever. Together proves that the music of The Vapors transcends era. This album isn't "retro" - it's just fantastic pop music, period. I always admired this band for calling it quits when it didn't feel right anymore and never reuniting just for a payday. But when the time came to get the band back together for the right reasons, the old magic was still there. I've given up ranting about how underrated of a songwriter David Fenton is. Just listen to this album and find out for yourself. This is a brighter world when The Vapors are in it!

Together is out today via Absolute Label Services. You can listen now on Spotify or order a physical copy here!


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Fried e/M - Modern World

Are you ready for a kick in the teeth? How about 11 kicks in the teeth?! Modern World is the long-awaited debut long player from Missouri's Fried e/M, and this thing will absolutely pummel you! Each track is a short & intense blast of total sonic aggression. The sound is reminiscent of the earliest American hardcore: fast and blistering as hell, but still rooted in old style snotty punk rock. The guitars, drums, and bass all hit so hard. And the vocalist is absolutely phenomenal. This dude is no run of the mill screamer. Every word he spits out exudes attitude, indignation, and a complete disdain for everything and everyone. None of these songs even get close to two minutes in length. And they're all total rippers. Remember when you listened to punk rock for the pure nihilistic thrill of it all? Fried e/M sure does. If you're into the Circle Jerks, Germs, The Lewd, early Black Flag etc., you need to be all over this shit!


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

honeychain - "Pocket Full Of Good Luck"

Oh my god, I am so excited! Honeychain has a new record coming out next month on Die Laughing and Golden Robot Records! In advance of this upcoming release, the band has debuted a lyric video for the song "Pocket Full Of Good Luck". It's hardly shocking given honeychain's prior body of work, but this song is amazing! This is more of that punky powerpop meets '90s alternative rock that you've come to expect from this fabulous LA outfit. But the band sounds even punkier than usual on this exhilarating number. Hillary's guitars blast hard while the bass and drums power along at a rapid-fire pace. The lyrics, of course, are terrific. "Pocket Full Of Bad Luck" is a super fun ride for two and a half minutes, and then it leaves you wanting more. And that's how great punk pop is done! Official release date is June 19th!


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Poppy Robbie - "Heartbreak Scenario"/"Twist and Pout"

When we last checked in with the great Poppy Robbie, he had just released his excellent roots/Americana record The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck. Like everyone else on the planet, Robbie has had some time on his hands lately. So he's been dusting off some old recordings to share with the world via his Bandcamp page. "Be My Valentine" is the most recent of the bunch. It originally appeared on an extremely limited edition Valentine's Day collection released in 2008. And by "extremely limited edition", I mean he made exactly one copy to give to his then-girlfriend (now wife) as a gift. I suppose we can conclude that this was an extremely successful release! I'm not sure if Robbie will ever make a proper pop-punk record again, but you can hear hints of the old form on this track. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who's willing to take a song this personal and private and put it up on the Internet where literally billions of people have access to it. And a song as sweet and sincere as this one is exactly what I need at this moment in time. "Twist and Pout" is a track from 2007, which of course was re-recorded last year for the Samuel Heck EP. Robbie himself says that this version is better and more fun than the newer one. How do I say I agree without sounding like the typical jerk who only likes Robbie's "old stuff"? I dig the lo-fi '50s rock and roll vibe here. Robbie is great at channeling his inner Buddy Holly, and you'll find the lyrics hilariously on-point if you've ever played live music in front of an entirely disinterested crowd. "Heartbreak Scenario" dates all the way back to 2004. If I recall correctly, Robbie posted it online and I may have made some kind of smart-ass remark about this being the best song Elvis Costello had done in years. Was I wrong?

One really cool thing about this digital age of music is that you can unearth old songs and essentially "repackage" them virtually. Even for a song you're just going to download or stream, it's kind of cool that cover art still matters and is a big part of the overall package. For someone artistically inclined like Poppy Robbie, the cover designs for these new old tracks must have been half the fun. I've gotta say they're really sharp! Downloads are a dollar each and well worth it. If you know Robbie, go harass him right now about re-recording his pop smash "Still Bored on the Weekend"! And if you don't know him? Just ask nicely.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Goldie Dawn - self titled 7"

Well even if summertime fun ends up getting canceled this year, we've still got our first summertime fun record of 2020. Goldie Dawn hail from Glasgow and play the kind of loud, catchy rock and roll that ought to be thoroughly blasted at pool parties, sporting events, and really hip backyard barbecues. Luckily they sound just as good in the privacy of your own home. Featuring the powerful pipes and undeniable charisma of lead singer Kate Rambo, Goldie Dawn serves up a satisfying blend of glam rock swagger, '70s punk energy, and arena rock muscle. The opening chords of "Gone With The Wild" are like a declaration of awesomeness, and it only gets better from there. This tune is a real toe-tapper! The band rocks out like it's on a mission to destroy all that is lame in the universe. You like guitars and drums and bad-ass singers going full force? Yeah, me too! "Crime" is tougher-sounding and crackling with the pure electricity of first wave punk rock. Perhaps you'll recognize some of the influences. "What's Inside (Never Dies)" is the most hopped-up and hooky of these four tracks, which is perfect given how wonderfully nasty the lyrics are. Don't you just love a band that can deliver a resounding fuck-you with joy in its heart? "It's Nothing To Me" is the old school country ballad that seemingly comes out of nowhere yet somehow fits perfectly. All in all, this is a damn good EP from a band that looks to have a very bright future in rock and roll. Drunken Sailor Records jumped all over these hot tunes and will be releasing the 7" at the end of the month. Digital available now. A good time is guaranteed!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Los Stars - Grandes Fracasos

Today I've got something super cool for you all the way from Chile! Los Stars have the sort of '77 punk/power pop type sound that I can never get enough of. The band's new EP Grandes Fracasos was recorded last month. It leans to the pop and glam-influenced side of '70s punk, which you know is a particular sweet spot for me. The songs are sung in Spanish, so I honestly couldn't tell you much about the lyrical content. But that's of little concern to me since I dig the music so much. I hear a great deal of Johnny Thunders influence in the guitar playing. Hard to go wrong there! This is just really good old style punk rock with a clear pop sensibility and just the right amount of sloppiness. These tracks are definitely on the raw side, but only in a way that's totally cool and charming. In spots I'm reminded of the Dimestore Haloes. If you dig sloppy, poppy '77 type stuff, check Los Stars out!

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Matt Ellis - High Risk Assurance/Stays Home

Matt Ellis is quickly becoming one of the kings of pandemic punk! The Hamilton, Ontario based guitarist has already released two quarantine-inspired EPs, both of which he recorded in his bathroom under the combined influence of isolation and the almighty Ramones. Given that he's a longtime member of one of the four or five greatest Ramonescore bands ever, The Vapids, you'd expect him to be well-suited to this kind of project. And you'd be right! High Risk Assurance and Stays Home are exemplary works of low-budget Ramones worship. None of the songs extend too far past one minute, and none of them stray from a winning formula. Ellis (also of PlasticHeads and Flesh Rag) executes that formula to perfection. He proves to be an appealing vocalist as well. This is fun, cool stuff. Why reinvent the wheel when the wheel is so useful? You can download both EPs for free or pay whatever amount you like. All sales from these releases are being donated to Toronto Overdose Prevention and Keeping Six - Hamilton Harm Reduction Action League, a community based organization that defends the rights, dignity, and humanity of people who use drugs. I respect the cause, and I really dig the music. If Ellis keeps going with these bathroom recordings, he's gonna have himself a whole album by the end of the month!


Friday, May 08, 2020

Pavid Vermin - Cutting Corners

Pavid Vermin was home-recording albums when home-recording albums wasn't cool! Cutting Corners is the third album Glenn Robinson has released under the Pavid Vermin handle since April of last year. But while the first of the three, Jump! Jive! and Fail!, was on the lower end of the fidelity spectrum, Robinson has mastered the art of DIY recording to the point where you'd think Cutting Corners came out of a "professional" studio. What hasn't changed is Pavid Vermin's general sound: upbeat, super-catchy pop-punk with buzzsaw guitars and killer hooks. The humor in the album title is that Robinson stole all 17 song titles from The Beatles' Abbey Road, then proceeded to write original songs that have absolutely nothing to do with The Beatles. That was a genius idea, but the joke would have worn out fast if this weren't such a kick-ass record. Robinson has fashioned a sound that falls halfway between the Ramones and Descendents. That's a pretty sweet spot, eh? He's got the instrumental chops to keep everything fast and tight, but his greatest asset with this project is his knack for writing simple, fun songs that will stick in your head all day long. If you love pop-punk, you'll rarely hear it done better than this!


Thursday, May 07, 2020

Dramarama - Color TV

It feels strange but truly wonderful to be reviewing a new album from one of my all-time favorite bands for the first time in my life. By the time I got into this racket 25 years ago, Dramarama had already broken up after an incredible run in the '80s and early '90s that was never fully appreciated outside of the diehard fan base. I would be hard-pressed to name a single songwriter of the last 35 years that I would put above John Easdale. And while the band's legacy is often closely associated with the "alternative rock" movement, to me Dramarama is just a great American rock and roll band. Notice my use of the present tense. While fans have had to wait a long 15 years for a new Dramarama album, Color TV easily rates as one of the band's finest releases.

Minus any pressure from outside influences to push out a "product", Dramarama has had the luxury of working on Color TV at its own pace over a great number of years. Some of these songs go back a couple decades, and overall this album feels particularly autobiographical. It traces Easdale's journey from childhood to present-day, chronicling his battles with addiction and bad decisions and culminating with his finding inner peace. It's almost certainly an album he would not have been able to write in his 20s or 30s. He and has band-mates (two of which, guitarists Peter Wood and Mark Englert, are original members) did not make the mistake of trying to recreate the "classic" Dramarama sound. Color TV is the work of true masters of the rock and roll craft - who are aging like the proverbial fine wine.

Especially on the back half of Color TV, Easdale favors ballads and quiet, intensely personal numbers. But Dramarama can still rock with the best of 'em, as evidenced on the soaring opener "Beneath The Zenith", the furiously brooding "Up To Here", the bluesy "Swamp Song", and the hard-driving "What's Your Sign". There's something for everyone on this album, which is pretty typical for Dramarama. And it wouldn't be a Dramarama record without a couple of truly remarkable ballads. "The Cassette" is gorgeous and powerful in its simplicity. It's a tribute to Greg Dwinnell, Easdale's best friend whose death inspired much of 2005's Everybody Dies. Complemented by Billy Siegel's beautiful piano riff, Easdale's words and voice give me chills. "You You You", the album's penultimate track, is haunting & atmospheric in a way no Dramarama song has quite ever been. Another hallmark of a great Dramarama record are inspired cover songs (Mott The Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother" never moved me to tears until I heard Easdale sing it). For this release, the band chose relatively unknown songs by Bob Dylan ("Abandoned Love") and Elliott Smith ("Half Right", the album closer). I'm always intrigued by which artists a great songwriter admires, and here Easdale honors a pair of kindred spirits with stunning interpretations of their work. "Abandoned Love" is literally and figuratively a centerpiece of this album, and it blends seamlessly into the story Easdale is telling.

Color TV certainly has its moments of on-point social commentary. In the first two tracks alone, Easdale laments the power that technology, commercialism, and organized religion hold over us. But on the whole, this album cuts deep into the soul of John Easdale. It's the kind of record that great songwriters spend their lives striving to complete. But this was a true group effort - not just a one man show. Dramarama as a rock band has never sounded stronger. Long suffering fans who eagerly awaited this release will not be disappointed. And if you've never heard Dramarama before, it's not necessary to absorb the back catalog before you can appreciate Color TV. This album is an absolute tour de force, and let us hope that we won't have to wait another 15 years for the next one!


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Brad Marino - "What's My Scene"

Last month, I teased you with the title track from Brad Marino's forthcoming EP False Alarm (due out later this month on the always fantastic Rum Bar Records!). Well now Rum Bar has leaked a second track from False Alarm - a cover of the Hoodoo Gurus' classic "What's My Scene". I love this selection of cover material. The Hoodoo Gurus are a band that unites the worlds of garage rock and power pop much like Marino does. They are surely a big influence on his songwriting style and overall vision of what rock and roll ought to be. "What's My Scene" in particular is a fine choice of a song. It's off of the Gurus' third album Blow Your Cool! from 1987. Marino doesn't mess with it too much. But if you didn't know any better, you'd think it was something that he wrote. The song definitely fits perfectly with the rest of the EP. The coolest thing is that Dave Faulkner himself is a big fan of this cover! If you enjoy this track, go check out the original. And be on the lookout for False Alarm, which comes out on May 22nd!


Tuesday, May 05, 2020

The Speedways - This Aint A Radio Sound

Oh my god! When it comes to getting good news in the middle of a Monday, it doesn't get much better than finding out that one of your favorite bands has just dropped a brand-new single you didn't even know was coming! Radio Sounds is the soon-to-be-released second LP from The Speedways. From the start of the year it has been my most looked-forward to album of 2020. "This Aint A Radio Sound" is the second single the band has released in advance of the album. And if this song and the last single "Kisses Are History" are any indication, Radio Sounds will be even more dramatic, heartbreaking, and full of absolute pop magic than its near-flawless predecessor Just Another Regular Summer. Of course this will be The Speedways' first album as a full band, and that's no small point. Mauro Venega, Adrian Alfonso, and Kris Hood are talented players who really bring out the best in Matt Julian's brilliant songs. With the benefit of a proper band and first-rate production, Julian has really been able to highlight the soulful influence he brings to power pop.

I think what makes Matt Julian one of my favorite songwriters is the way he manages to write sad songs that still make you feel really good. "This Aint A Radio Sound" gives off an early '80s vibe with its chirpy keyboard riff and a vocal that brings Elvis Costello to mind. Julian excels when he gets to pour his heart into a vocal, and this song has a surging energy to it in spite of its bitter subject matter. If you love big choruses and tight harmonies, prepare for two and a half minutes in pop heaven. On the flip, "Love Really Hurts Without You" is a stunning version of the '70s Billy Ocean hit that is almost completely unknown on my side of the pond. As much as I love the A-side, this cover darn near steals the record. It fits The Speedways so perfectly. The band gets to show off its Motown chops, and Julian fills his vocal with the passion and despair this song deserves. Man, this is what all of those UK blue-eyed soul new wave bands should have sounded like! It kind of pains me to live in a world where a song this good is not all over the radio. If you've never heard the original, prepare to have your mind blown!

"This Aint A Radio Sound" is out on Snap! Records/Hurrah Musica, and you should grab it while you can (colored vinyl is already sold out!). The Speedways are the best thing going in pop music these days. The full album will be out this summer, and I absolutely can't wait!