Saturday, January 30, 2021

Big Blast Records - The Big Singles Vol. 1

Today I'm featuring a really cool label out of Chicago that you ought to check out if you haven't done so already. Big Blast Records describes itself as a "Chicago based community record label bringing you sticky, hooky, crunchy, smart, big guitar melodic rock and roll". Well there you go - that sure sounds like a label I'd be into! It's hard to go wrong when you work a love for Cheap Trick and Material Issue into the ideology of your label! 

I recently featured one of Big Blast's bands, Golden Richards. Joining Golden Richards on the Big Blast roster are The Bishops Daredevil Stunt Club, The Glad Machine, Mark Watson Band, The Peeves, and the legendary Phil Angotti. All of these artists are a little different, but they all share a similar vision for hooky guitar rock. The Big Singles Vol. 1 is the perfect showcase for Big Blast's collection of talent. It conveniently compiles new singles from all of the label's artists onto one nifty digital EP. Golden Richards, fresh off their new wave-ish pop gem "Borg Vs. McEnroe", take a more modern power pop approach on the punchy and melodious "Honey West Kung Fu". The song references the first female TV private eye as metaphor in a tale of a couple guys encountering the girl of their dreams in the middle of the summer. Man, it doesn't get any more "power pop" than that! "When Two Still Feels Alone" by the Mark Watson Band brings a crunchy power pop/alternative sound that practically screams "90s" while delivering an absolutely HUGE chorus. On the louder side of things, The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club tear into "X Play", a guitar heavy big hook rocker that ought to be coming soon to an arena near you. The Peeves come on with a punkier pop sound on the very catchy "Radio", while the The Glad Machine's "Slow Motion July" is more in a laidback indie pop vein with melodies for days. It's not often that a single can get away with a running time exceeding five minutes. But "Slow Motion July" builds by degrees and never bores. It's the textbook definition of a well-crafted pop song. Last but not least, Phil Angotti turns out a wonderfully charming Beatles-inspired number called "The Lamp". 

The Big Singles Vol. 1 serves as a perfect introduction to Big Blast Records. Just as importantly, it's a huge treat for fans of power pop, loud pop, hooky rock and roll, or whatever you wanna call it. All of the tracks would (and do) stand alone as singles. But it's kind of neat to have them compiled together like this. If you like what you hear, be sure to give Big Blast a like on Facebook so you can stay up to date on all future releases. You know I'll be having a lot more to say about Big Blast in the very near future!

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Jacklights - "Winter"

The Jacklights, the newest addition to Justine Covault's Red on Red Records, have released a song about winter at the most appropriate time. "Winter", released this week on Red on Red, takes me back to the '90s era of melodic punk rock. It could be seamlessly slotted into a playlist between Jawbreaker and Discount. It's funny how most songs about winter are associated with Christmas and thus disregarded after January 1. Well now The Jacklights have given us a true winter song to get us through the next several weeks! I appreciate how songwriter Nilagia McCoy articulates the way so many of us feel during the coldest months of the year - when the frigid weather adversely impacts the soul and just getting out of bed can be a challenge. Pairing this concept with the theme of loneliness, she's crafted a powerful and extraordinarily human song. We used to call this "emo" back in the day. But given the connotations that term has taken on in recent times, I'll just describe this as thoughtful, heartfelt punk rock. It's the kind of song that you'd listen to on your headphones while you were walking alone in the cold and reflecting on your life. McCoy (vocals, guitar) forms a tight trio with drummer Steve Patton and bassist Michael Allen. "Winter" quickly follows up the band's debut EP that was released this past October. Be sure to check out Red on Red's virtual showcase on February 12th where you can catch all-new exclusive music videos from The Jacklights and the rest of the bands on Red on Red!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Brad Marino - "What Do You Know?"

Well, what do we have here? A new single from Brad Marino? Well that's always a cause for celebration! "What Do You Know?" is the first teaser for Marino's new album Looking For Trouble - due out this spring on Rum Bar Records, Spaghetty Town Records, Beluga Records, and Ghost Highway Recordings! It has been almost two years since Marino released his brilliant solo debut long player Extra Credit. And if "What Do You Know?" is any indication, he just might top himself with Looking For Trouble! Backing Marino on this track is a crack unit comprised of a couple of his bandmates from The Connection (Craig Sala on drums and Bobby Davis on guitar) along with the legendary Chris "B-Face" Barnard on bass. "What Do You Know?" meets at the intersection of straight-forward rock and roll and the poppier side of the Ramones - which has always been a sweet spot for Marino. In my fantasy world where millions of people still buy rock and roll records, this tune is a hit! If you dig rockin' two-minute pop songs, you need to be all over Looking For Trouble - and every other record that Brad Marino has ever been a part of!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Slow Faction - "Culture War"

As you see the name Slow Faction, you know exactly where this review is headed. If music with a political conscience either bores or annoys you, read no further. Slow Faction doesn't write songs about bubblegum and pretty girls (And for the record I am very much a proponent of songs about bubblegum and pretty girls). "Culture War", the London outfit's latest track, is vintage Slow Faction. It's the punk rock sound of 1977 U.K. updated with lyrics that speak to the serious issues of our modern-day world. In particular, "Culture War" addresses the media's role in the spreading of misinformation and divisiveness - which ultimately benefit those holding power. Any time I hear a Slow Faction song, I'm struck by the similarity between what's going down on their side of the pond and what's going down on mine. References in this song to cult of personality and gaslighting the people might even make you think this was coming from an American band! The line "So what are we going to do now?" is a clear callback to The Clash, and I applaud Slow Faction for carrying on the fight. "Culture War", like all of Slow Faction's anthems, is so tuneful and rousing that it would be a great song even if they weren't singing about political issues. But come on: what fun would that be? 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The False Positives - "Closed​-​Circuit TV Romance"

My first reaction to Rochester, New York's False Positives was that they've got a "Boston" sort of sound. That actually makes sense given that songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Dave Harrison was a founding member of late '80s/early '90s garage rockers The Voodoo Dolls (a band that also featured Evan Shore, later of Muck and the Mires). With The False Positives, Harrison digs into his garage rock roots but also adds elements of power pop and straight-forward rock and roll. He's been releasing digital singles on Bandcamp since December of 2018. And since early last year, he's been working with a full band consisting of Paco Vives on drums, Brian Murray on bass, and Don Blair on keyboards. The latest single, "Closed​-​Circuit TV Romance", is a humorous yet quite poignant tale of two individuals trying to sustain a relationship via remote technology. While it's easy to take a cynical view of people making romantic connections long distance, there's a hopeful sentiment to this song that I find very sweet and reassuring. Given the events of the last ten months, there have to be a lot of people who will relate to this song. Harrison specifically cites The Kinks, Velvet Underground, the MC5, Randy Newman, and the Flamin’ Groovies as influences. On this track, I'm hearing a little Jonathan Richman/Modern Lovers influence. I'd definitely recommend this tune if your tastes gravitate toward the garage/DIY end of the power pop spectrum. The False Positives now have seven singles available via Bandcamp, and they're all name-your-price downloads. Check 'em out!

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Shang Hi Los - Kick It Like A Wicked Bad Habit

Boston's The Shang Hi Los were without question my favorite new band of 2020. Needless to say, the band's debut EP was poised to be one of my most highly-anticipated releases of 2021. The good news was that I didn't have to wait very long. Kick It Like A Wicked Bad Habit is out today on your home of the hits, Rum Bar Records! The even better news is that The Shang Hi Los have not disappointed on their first extended play release. Kick It Like A Wicked Bad Habit is a most-own for any fan of rock and roll steeped in harmonies and pop melody!

To recap: The Shang Hi Los were formed back in 2019 by a couple of my favorite voices and songwriters. Jen D'Angora (Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents, The Dents, The Downbeat 5) and Dan Kopko (Watts) have been featured on this blog many times in the past. As collaborating songwriters, they've created a band that touches on their shared and combined influences. Thus The Shang Hi Los bring together the best elements of the last six decades of rock and roll. Particular inspirations are '60s girl groups, '70s glam and classic rock, '80s new wave, and '90s indie/alternative rock. The band is rounded out by a couple of all-stars from the Boston scene: bassist Lee Harrington (The Neighborhoods) and Boston's "drummer about town" Chuck Ferreira (Eddie Japan, Lonely Leesa & The Lost Cowboys). While sometimes "super groups" sound better on paper than they actually do on record, The Shang Hi Los are an example of a dream team that truly clicks. Kick It Like A Wicked Bad Habit highlights the talents of D'Angora and Kopko both individually and as a duo. "Stay" sounds like it could have been a Jenny Dee song, and "Skipping Records" could pass for a Watts tune. But on "Sway Little Player", "Funeral Home Mint", and an amazing cover of "Saturday In the Park", D'Angora and Kopko merge both their voices and their musical identities. I've already said plenty about "Sway Little Player", my pick for the #1 single of last year. The rest of the EP proves to be just as good. "Stay", masterfully produced by the incomparable Ed Valauskas, is an absolutely beautiful pop song that mixes old school Blondie vibes with a modern rock aesthetic. "Skipping Records", the second single from the EP, is a feelgood rocker that will have you up from your desk chair and dancing around the house in no time flat (I have this mental image of Malibu Lou hearing this song for the first time and totally flipping out!). "Funeral Home Mint" is new wave rock that actually rocks (that guitar solo is everything!). And to cap off the EP, that "Saturday In the Park" cover is nothing short of magical! It's spiritually faithful to the original and could not sound more "'70s". Yet it's also injected with the essence of The Shang Hi Los. The mixing work on this track by Dan Kopko & Pat DiCenso is top notch. 

My only criticism of Kick It Like A Wicked Bad Habit is not a criticism at all: it left me wanting more! Five songs from The Shang Hi Los is just not enough! Kudos to this band for getting this debut made during a pandemic. It took some coordination with tracks being recorded at four different studios, but it all came together swimmingly. I will cross my fingers for a debut album next year, and let's all hope for a time when The Shang Hi Los can get up and play these rockin' tunes in front of people who will be dancing and singing along! If you love rock and roll, you need some Shang Hi Los in your life.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Dictators - "God Damn New York"

Yeah, that's right: we've got ourselves a brand new Dictators tune! "God Damn New York", the first new Dictators song in 20 years, features three-quarters of the band's original lineup (Andy Shernoff on vocals and bass, Ross the Boss on lead guitar, and Scott Kempner on guitar) along with Albert Bouchard (Blue Öyster Cult, Brain Surgeons) on drums. And as you'd expect after a two decade absence, the mighty Dictators have come roaring back with a bona fide anthem! "God Damn New York" is both a love letter to New York and a lamentation on how corporations and billionaire scum have brought ruin to so much of what once made this beloved city so great. I put this song at the same level as more recent Dictators classics like "Who Will Save Rock 'N' Roll?" and "Avenue A". Andy Shernoff has written another perfect song, which absolutely blasts thanks to mixing by the legendary Ed Stasium. This is one of the greatest bands ever in top form. Hail the mighty Dictators! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Feels - "She's Probably Not Thinking Of Me" (7" release)

"She's Probably Not Thinking Of Me" by The Feels was just too good of a single to not be released on vinyl! Digitally self-released by The Feels (aka Christian Migliorese) last year, "She's Probably Not Thinking Of Me" was one of 2020's essential pop singles. The fabulous Hurrah! Música most definitely noticed, and next month the Madrid label will release the song on 7"! There's not much I can say about the A-side that I haven't said already. It's a perfect pop song from a singer/songwriter who specializes in that very thing. If you love melody-driven guitar pop and aren't hip to the creative powers of Christian Migliorese, that needs to change in a hurry! "She's Probably Not Thinking Of Me" is as good of a place to start as any. I'm excited that this release also brings a new song on the B-side. "Is Everything Alright?" sounds a little Superdrag-ish to my ears, and that can only be a good thing. I was going to quote a memorable lyric from the song. But as I went through the song a couple of times, I realized that every single line is gold. So just go listen to it already! The 7" will be out February 26th! 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Braats - EP Żonobijka

You know I'm always a sucker for a band with a classic '77-style punk sound. On that note, The Braats are a newer band that have really captured my attention. Hailing from Kartuzy, Poland, The Braats play catchy '77 punk that ought to have you pumping your fist and pogoing around your bedroom. The band just put out a digital EP called Żonobijka on Bandcamp, and I'm really digging it. You can sure tell that these guys love The Clash. I've got no complaints about that! The lyrics are in Polish, so I've got no idea what they're singing about. But I can sure feel the energy and urgency in these four tracks. If you're a fan of first wave punk or the 1990s '77 revival, this band ought to be on your radar.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Sorels - "Spring Break"

Here come The Sorels again with another perfect bubblegum punk glam rock and roll single! We last heard from this super awesome Winnipeg trio back in the summer of 2019 when it released its debut 7" on the most excellent labels Reta Records and Surfin' Ki Records. So it's been a good while since we've been treated to new tunes from The Sorels. But now, just when we needed it the most, we get to feast our ears on the second single "Spring Break". As we find ourselves in the middle of meteorological winter, I'd say it's the perfect time to start thinking about spring break! Jo Jo, Jennifer, and Jill are back and sounding better than ever on this delightful shot of new wave pop meets old school punk rock. This is a fun song from a fun band - combining big hooks with a great raw energy and plenty of beachy vibes. In my daydream world of an eternal 1980, this is the song blasting from a million car radios as the masses eagerly make their way to the nearest shore. Put it on a mix with The Go-Go's, Holly and the Italians, and Nikki and the Corvettes, and you'll be golden! Mirroring the approach of their previous 45, The Sorels back this poppy/punky A-side with a bad-ass glam rock stomper called "Palo Santo". I love the way these two tracks show different sides of The Sorels yet fit together perfectly. This is a record made to be heard on record! 

Reta Records and Surfin' Ki Records have opened preorders for "Spring Break", which will release on February 2nd. This gives you plenty of time to reserve a copy on pink, green, or clear splatter vinyl (only 100 of each were pressed!). All preorders come with an 11 x17 inch poster. In the meantime, be sure to check out the amazing cartoon video for "Spring Break" that was animated by Nicholas Friesen. If The Sorels are not yet one of your favorite bands, that could very well change in the next two and a half minutes!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Airport 77s - Rotation

The Airport 77s had me with the mere mention that they formed over a shared love of The Jags' "Back of My Hand" and 20/20's "Nuclear Boy"! This trio comprised of Chuck Dolan (bass), Andy Sullivan (guitar), and John Kelly (drums) is based out of the D.C. area and just released its debut album Rotation on the first day of this new year. Unsurprisingly, Rotation is an album steeped in classic power pop. But what I appreciate about The Airport 77s is that their clever humor and eagerness to rock out provide a refreshing twist on this musical style. The influences are discernible, but Rotation doesn't come off like an album I've heard a thousand times before. This is a band that brings not just great hooks, but also a lot of personality. 

The 1-2 punch that opens Rotation is particularly impressive. Both tracks demonstrate this band's knack for building songs around humorous yet fully relatable concepts. "Christine's Coming Over" is about a guy who ponders cleaning up his house - and perhaps his entire life - in advance of a big date. "(When You're Kissing On Me Do You Think Of) James McAvoy" is pretty self-explanatory. With a title like that, the song had a lot to live up to. But it does not disappoint. Who among us has not pondered the possibility that our significant others would leave us for a dashing actor - and perhaps even sink to the depths of embracing creme brulee and Coldplay? Off to such a formidable start, Rotation continues to please in numerous ways. "Shannon Speaks", which tells the story of a "mysterious, unconscious visitor who might provide the skeleton key to the modern era", sounds like something off of the Valley Girl soundtrack. "Wild Love" is full-on Cheap Trick worship executed to arena-rocking perfection. "All The Way", a tale of a summer romance culminating in the back seat, is accurately described as "the Raspberries meets .38 Special". "Bad Mom!" savagely spoofs the high drama of the modern-day PTA/soccer mom scene. "Girl Of My Dreams" is a wonderfully faithful cover of the Bram Tchaikovsky classic - a song that so fascinated drummer John Kelly that he once flew to England to interview its author Ronnie Thomas. 

It would be impossible for me to not like a band that aspires to write original material good enough to follow "Jessie's Girl" in its live set. And of course I quickly identified The Airport 77s as kindred spirits who like me have invested countless hours of their lives perusing musty stacks of vinyl in search of Artful Dodger LPs. But what I really admire is how this band takes that late '70s/early '80s power pop influence in its own unique direction. Rotation strikes a perfect balance between songs that make me laugh and songs that embrace the visceral horniness of the arena rock of yore. If the best power pop is always fundamentally rock and roll, then The Airport 77s pass the test for sure. You know I never like to go too far into a year without identifying an early album of the year contender. So I'll slide Rotation into my #1 spot and make it the one to beat. Hands down, the best album of the past 14 days! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Linda Lindas - self titled + "Claudia Kishi"

Given that the intersection of power pop and punk has long been my musical sweet spot, it's no surprise that I've been loving the debut EP from The Linda Lindas! The L.A. foursome is described as channeling "the spirit of original punk, power pop, and new wave through today's ears, eyes, and minds". Comprised of two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend, The Linda Lindas inject a classic style of music with a youthful energy and point of view. But while the band members are all teens and tweens, there's nothing gimmicky about The Linda Lindas. The group's new EP, recently out on Bandcamp, is one of the best punk/power pop releases I've heard in the last couple years. The songs (all originals) are well-crafted, punchy, and absolutely infectious. This is music that will make you smile and compel you to dance - which is exactly what the world needs in these trying times. If you've seen The Claudia Kishi Club on Netflix, you may have already heard The Linda Lindas' song "Claudia Kishi". The band has released that track on Bandcamp as well. And while I know literally nothing about The Baby-Sitters Club, "Claudia Kishi" absolutely knocked me out from the first listen. Now that is some perfect punky power pop! The new EP opens with "Missing You", a very poignant tune about what it's like to be a kid stuck at home under quarantine. "Never Say Never", a song about believing that life can get better even when all seems hopeless, is exactly the kind of inspiration we ought to be getting from younger generations. On a lighter side, there's also a song about a Siamese cat. And you know I will always wholeheartedly endorse anything cat related! 

So how in the world do you wind up being influenced by music that was released 30-35 years before you were even born? In the case of The Linda Lindas, there are a couple of cool dads (Martin Wong, Carlos de la Garza) that had a hand in exposing their kids to first generation punk rock, new wave, and power pop. Eloise, Lucia, Mila, and Bela have taken those influences and created a fresh sound for a new generation. Whether you're 9 or 90, this is a band that ought to excite you if you love pop hooks with a punk attitude!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Frankie Delmane - Field Recordings For The Dispossessed

He's back! One year after releasing the brilliant and highly ambitious album Street Penetration, Frankie Delmane has turned out another terrific long player in a similar glam/proto-punk/sleazy street rock mold. Field Recordings For The Dispossessed is Delmane's "pandemic album". All songs were written and recorded during the 2020 lockdown. As was the case with Street Penetration, Field Recordings For The Dispossessed crosses various genres of rock and roll but is especially recommended if you like Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, and 1970s Rolling Stones. Fans of Delmane's songwriting in The Crazy Squeeze and Teenage Frames will find no lack of rocking tunes with memorable hooks. But working at home with complete control over his musical vision has really allowed Delmane to establish a singular identity as a solo artist. 

I closed my review of Street Penetration with the wish that more Frankie Delmane solo albums would be forthcoming. And Field Recordings For The Dispossessed is every bit the follow-up I was hoping for. Like many of the recent and forthcoming pandemic releases in our world, this album takes you into one person's 2020 headspace. And try as we may to put the very existence of last year behind us, there is clearly great value in what our collective experience may have compelled some of us to produce. It will likely be a while before we are graced with the great pandemic novels and great pandemic films. But the viability of home recording has already brought us numerous pandemic albums with many more to come. Field Recordings For The Dispossessed is certainly one of the most compelling entrants so far. It's not necessarily about the pandemic, yet it's most definitely caked in the grime of that trying spring/summer of 2020. Some of the song titles ("Everybody Thinks Nobody Lived Before", "It's Gotta Be Lonely Being the Only One That's Right", "Why Is Everybody Such A Mess") are works of art in and of themselves. These are raw, dirty recordings that nonetheless ooze a swagger that is largely absent from modern-day indie rock music. Opening cut "They're Just Gonna Tell You What They Want" is all the best of glam, proto-punk, and the Stones melded together in glorious low fidelity. "I'm Getting Evil" sounds like '70s Lou Reed recording a pop song with 21st Century home recording equipment. "Human Scum" is just great trashy rock and roll with a nasty edge. The gloomily beautiful "Which Lies Are Your Truth?" could almost pass for The Cure on a budget. "She's Another Woman Tonight" sounds like a stripped-down version of a song Delmane might have written for one of his bands. Across 15 tracks here, Delmane builds on his usual array of influences as he touches on everything from new wave pop to '60s psychedelia to '80s synth-pop to O.G. minimalist rock and roll. It all makes for a varied yet cohesive set of songs that practically transports you to the streets of West Hollywood. 

Frankie Delmane is a name known to you if you've been following the power pop/punk/rock and roll scene over the last 25 years. Yet beyond his flair for crafting some of the best three-minute pop songs you'll ever hear, he's a true renaissance man. He's an extraordinary writer, an insightful critic, and a keen student of pop culture and all genres of music. And to this list we can add exceptional solo artist. Field Recordings For The Dispossessed, like Street Penetration before it, is a creation befitting a superlegend. 


Friday, January 08, 2021

Midnite Snaxxx - "Contact Contamination"

"If, like us, you feel the curious angst of living in this precarious period of decline, I encourage you to take a listen to two of our personal fave songs we have ever recorded."

The above quote from Midnite Snaxxx pretty much says it all! On its 7th single (and second release on Slovenly Recordings), the band captures the tenor of the times with an extraordinary pair of punk rock tracks. Recorded last spring just as the shit was hitting the fan, "Contact Contamination" taps into our collective anxiety, dread, and frustration with a fierce urgency. In many ways, these songs are the logical next step following the band's brilliant 2019 long player Music Inside. I believe the technical term for what's going on here is "punk as fuck", yet the musicianship and songwriting are wonderfully unique and highly sophisticated. Now going strong for a decade plus, the Snaxxx have undergone a remarkable musical evolution - in particular over the last few years as the current lineup of Dulcinea, Chris, Camylle, and Sammy has solidified into an absolute powerhouse. Never content to make the same record twice, this is a band that's always challenging itself to move forward. "Contact Contamination" and "Fight Back" are blistering punk anthems for our contemporary world. You can marvel at the intricate guitar interplay or shake your bottom to the inspired work of the band's dynamite rhythm section. But more than anything else, you'll feel the raw emotion that the band poured into these songs. No more bottling up your frustrations - turn this single up loud and let it all out. The extraordinary cover art is by Sarah Sequoia!

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Goin' Places - Better Things To Do

As I've reflected on why there are some pop-punk bands I love and others that do absolutely nothing for me, I've become increasingly aware that my favorite pop-punk bands are usually the ones that infuse the formula with bubblegum and '50s rock and roll influences. Pop-punk, when it's done right, is one of our purest forms of rock and roll. So when Staten Island's Goin' Places sing about "saving the world with rock n roll", I'm totally feeling it! Goin' Places have always been upfront about their love for The Queers, Green Day, Mr. T. Experience, etc. But in terms of songwriting and vocal influence, they take just as much from the Beatles and Buddy Holly. The band's 2002 album Girl Songwriting 101 is a modern classic of pop-punk. The follow-up Relationship Sneakers arrived a decade later. Later this year, the band will release its third album Save The World. New 7" Better Things To Do, out now on Mom's Basement Records, features the title track to the new album along with a pair of exclusive songs. Aside from the fact that none of these songs are about girls, this is a vintage Goin' Places release. It falls into that bubblegum/rock and roll side of '90s-style pop-punk, with Richie and Victor trading off on lead vocals. "Save the World" is all about how music can bring people together in a world too often marred by hate and general crappiness. Now that's a cause I can wholeheartedly endorse! "Better Things To Do" is a tongue-in-cheek number about the frustrations of busting your ass to make music that no one seems to care about. A lot of you will surely relate! "Instru Mental", as you may have surmised, is an instrumental. You don't hear a lot of pop-punk instrumentals, but I really like this one! 

I'm stoked for the upcoming release of Save The World. Goin' Places is my kind of pop-punk band. You know who the primary influences are, but the songs also reflect a deeper appreciation for classic pop traditions going back to the '50s and '60s. And you always get the sense that these dudes would be fun to hang out with. When I think about some of my favorite pop-punk bands of recent years (Neon Bone, Jagger Holly, The Putz), I consider Goin' Places to be one of the forerunners to that whole scene. It's great to have 'em back!

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Stiff Richards - State Of Mind (Euro Press)

While I was a bit late to the party on the latest album from Stiff Richards, I'm just in time to discuss the European release of State of Mind on the illustrious and ever-dependable Drunken Sailor Records. It's hard to believe that it was two years ago already that I raved about this Aussie outfit's previous effort Dig. I wasn't quite sure what to make of State of Mind upon first listen. It's quite a considerable progression from the straight-up aggressive garage punk of Dig. But in recent weeks, it's been one of my go-to LPs. On State of Mind, Stiff Richards have taken their sound to a whole other level without sacrificing any of the energy and grit of their previous output. The tunes punch as hard as ever, but these guys have made a quantum leap in the songwriting department. Comparisons to classic Aussie punk rock bands of the late '70s and early '80s are not unwarranted, but all in all Stiff Richards have fashioned a sound that is entirely their own. Think old school punk rock with a modern garage punk edge. At a lean nine tracks, State of Mind gets in and out before you even know what hit you. The band sounds fantastic, with Lochie Cavigan and Raf Heale in particular forming one of the most remarkable punk rock rhythm sections of recent memory. And there are few singers out there who can holler as righteously and ragingly as Wolfgang Buckley. The dude is a force of nature! From the scathing opener "Point of You" to the positively boiling "Talk" to the ripping closer "Fill In The Blanks", Stiff Richards have turned out a batch of new punk rock classics. The vinyl for this Euro press is extremely limited - you know what to do!

Monday, January 04, 2021

Dogmatics - Est 81

Talk about a New Year's surprise! Rum Bar Records has kicked off 2021 with a special treat I never saw coming: the most comprehensive collection to date of classic recordings by the mighty Dogmatics! Back in 2013, I wrote a review of the long out-of-print Dogmatics 1981-86 compilation. The new Rum Bar collection Est 81 finally brings all of this material back into circulation, with the addition of the rare track "X'mas Time (It Sure Doesn't Feel Like It)". It collects the songs from the band's two albums Thayer St. (1985) and Everybody Does It (1986) along with its debut single "Gimme The Shakes" and some old compilation cuts to form the definitive retrospective on one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Boston and one of the greatest bands of the '80s, period. I previously described 1981-86 as a "must-own for anyone who reads this blog or digs the kind of music I write about". That goes double for Est 81, which will be available on CD from Rum Bar later this month! 

Peter and Paul O'Halloran met Jerry Lehane in the first grade at St. Matthew's in Dorchester, Massachusetts. They remained schoolmates for eight years until both families moved out of Dorchester. These three eventually formed the Guttersnipes in Boston with drummer Dan Shannon. The Guttersnipes were quickly renamed the Dogmatics, and Tom Long joined on drums after Shannon left for college. The rest, as they say, is history. Throughout the early to mid '80s, The Dogmatics and their Thayer St. loft were at the heart of Boston's thriving underground music scene. I know I've said this numerous times about numerous bands, but the Dogmatics should have been huge! Ultimately the band's failure to conform to the fashions of punk and hardcore in the mid-'80s is what made it so great. At a time when the hardcore scene was becoming humorless and rigidly conformist (a phenomenon the band goofed on so spectacularly on the classic track "Hardcore Rules"), here you had a bunch of smart-assed kids playing fun rock and roll songs about good looking girls, drinking by the pool, teenagers on drugs, and tyrannical Catholic school nuns. And musically, the Dogmatics weren't going to fit into any neat category. They took pieces of punk rock, garage, pop, and '50s rock and roll and created a sound that was uniquely their own. In a very short amount of time, the Dogmatics wrote more classics than a lot of bands come up with in decades. I mean, come on: "Sister Serena", "Shithouse", "Thayer St.", "Gimme The Shakes", the semi-cover "Teenage Lament"...I could go on and on! 

Tragically, the world lost Paul O'Halloran in a motorcycle accident in 1986. Knowing it wouldn't be the same without Paul, the band chose to call it quits. The Dogmatics later did several reunion performances with brothers Johnny and Jimmy O’Halloran filling in on bass. Eventually the band got back together on a permanent basis. In October 2019, Jerry Lehane, Tom Long, and Peter & Jimmy O’Halloran joined the Rum Bar family and recorded She's The One, the first new Dogmatics release in over 30 years. The band continues to honor the memory Paul O'Halloran, to whom Est 81 is dedicated. I'm certainly not the most unbiased reviewer in this case. Rum Bar Records is my favorite record label, and the Dogmatics have been one of my favorite bands ever since I caught one of their reunion shows in 2007. But I honestly believe that Dogmatics 1981-86 is one of the most essential punk rock band retrospectives ever assembled, and I'm beyond excited that it's been reborn as Est 81. Fingers crossed for new Dogmatics music in 2021!

Sunday, January 03, 2021

The Haskels - Taking The City By Storm

Not content to tell half a story, Splunge Comminications is back with a second volume of rare and unreleased recordings from legendary Milwaukee punk band The Haskels. 2019's The Haskels compiled 14 unreleased tracks recorded by the original incarnation of the band in 1979. This was essentially the "lost" album by The Haskels, who broke up at the end of 1979 without having ever released any music on record. But this was far from the end of The Haskels. Post-breakup, Richard LaValliere and Guy Hoffman formed a new band called The Oil Tasters. Presley Haskel, meanwhile, rebooted The Haskels with bassist Bobby Mitchell and drummer Vodie Rhinehardt (and briefly, original guitarist Gerard LaValliere). While this newer, considerably more pop-inclined version of The Haskels proved to be short-lived, it did self-release an EP titled Taking The City By Storm in 1980. This EP, highly sought after by collectors for the past 40 years, forms the foundation of this 14-song compilation that bears its name. 

In addition to the four songs from the EP, Taking The City By Storm features ten unreleased tracks culled from demos and live performances. This is the Haskels release that a lot of fans have been waiting for. The tracks from the EP, remastered for this project, hold up tremendously well and should excite fans of old school poppy punk. The title track is hands down a Midwestern punk classic. "Body Language" and "Baby, Let's French", songs you may recognize from the previous collection, sound stronger and more fully realized here. The previously unreleased portion of the album is no slouch either. "Stay Up All Night" and "Can I Call You?" ride the fine line between punk rock and power pop. "In Between Girls" is a more than passable stab at reggae influenced new wave. The excellent live cut "Strictly For The Uncommercial" was slated to be the title track on a follow-up EP that unfortunately never got made.  

Splunge Comminications has co-released Taking The City By Storm with the venerable Bachelor Records. The album, of course, is of great interest to any Midwestern punk history buff. It completes the process of introducing the world at large to a band that's been beloved in Milwaukee for decades. More specifically for the readers of this blog, it offers a fine example of what pop-influenced punk rock ought to sound like. And with an original copy of the EP likely to set you back hundreds of dollars, this new album is definitely the way to go! Whether you're interested in the history or just the tunes, The Haskels are well worth looking into.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Golden Richards - "Borg Vs. McEnroe"

Recently endorsed by Rodney Bingenheimer, the new single from Golden Richards is a new wave rock anthem that sounds like it's straight out of 1981! Gil Golden and Billy Richards have based this Chicago power pop band on their mutual love for the pop culture of the 1970s and early '80s. They have cited inspirations such as Bruce Lee movies, tetherball, Farrah Fawcett, surfing, Bubble Yum, Trans Ams, and the Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe tennis rivalry. "Borg Vs. McEnroe", appropriately enough, is the band's debut single on Big Blast Records. 

While Borg/McEnroe might not technically be the greatest rivalry in the history of tennis, it was by far the coolest. Thoughts of this rivalry take me back to those pre-cable days when televised sports were a huge part of popular culture (some of you old school Chicago folk will recognize that the band name Golden Richards is itself a sports reference!). And what made the rivalry special was that it was so short-lived. Borg and McEnroe met only 14 times on the pro tour, splitting their matches 7-7. And their legendary showdowns in grand slam finals were limited to four matches in 1980 and 1981. When those two faced each other, it was must-see TV! On one side, you had the handsome, cool-headed, and supremely talented Swede. On the other side, you had the intense, hot-tempered New Yorker McEnroe. You were out of luck if you missed their iconic matches - as Borg shocked the world when he retired from tennis at the age of 26 (a total bad-ass move!). Thus the mere mention of Borg vs. McEnroe always takes the mind directly to the years 1980-81. With its big guitars, big hooks, and sprinkling of keyboards, "Borg Vs. McEnroe" fittingly sounds like a lost radio hit from a moment in time when the likes of Blondie and The Cars ruled the airwaves. It also has a bit of a rock anthem feel to it, with playfully over the top vocals and some guest guitar shredding by Mark Down. In a stroke of a genius, the band uses actual recordings of McEnroe's on-court tantrums in the background! I was a big McEnroe fan growing up. But even if I hadn't been, I would still be thrilled by this callback to the infinite coolness of the early '80s. If this theme continues, Golden Richards are not likely to run out of songwriting topics anytime soon! How epic would a "Roper Vs. Furley" song be? 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Muck and the Mires - Greetings From Muckingham Palace

Yesterday I said that I would be writing about Muck and the Mires' new album very soon. You can see I wasn't kidding! Out on Dirty Water Records U.K., Greetings From Muckingham Palace is Muck's first long playing album in several years. I love the idea of one of Boston's most beloved rock and roll bands continuing its alliance with London's finest record label. It's like the British Invasion in reverse! Mixed and mastered by the legendary Jim Diamond (White Stripes, The Fleshtones, The Sonics), this album delivers a 100 percent guaranteed to satisfy Muck and the Mires experience. As always, the band finds that sweet spot where the early Beatles, '60s garage rock, and power pop meet. Evan "Muck" Shore is in my book one of the most underrated songwriters out there. His affection for '60s rock and roll and the Beatles in particular has been well documented. But it's not just about the influences - it's about what he does with them. And there aren't a whole lot of people these days writing better pop songs than Muck! 

Over the course of 14 tracks, Greetings From Muckingham Palace is able to explore the many facets of Muck and the Mires' sound. And that covers everything from high-spirited British Invasion pop ("This Time") to snappy garage rock ("Mint Condition") to perfect power pop ("The Way It Was Before") to psychedelic sci-fi/spy thriller rock ("Strange Waves") to o.g. proto punk a la Hamburg era Beatles ("I'm Your Man"). "Too Soon To Fall In Love", which you may recognize from the Muckus Maximus EP, still sounds like a lost classic from 1964. What I love about this album as a whole is that it's just so uplifting. And on the first day of what we hope will be a brighter and better year for all, I can't think of a more fitting album to celebrate. Greetings From Muckingham Palace is the kind of album you throw on when you want dance around the house, sing along to some catchy songs, and just have fun listening to rock and roll! Muck has managed to take the spirit of that timeless '60s music he adores and keep it sounding fresh for 2021. If you're looking for an album to wash away the stink of 2020, you've found it! Greetings From Muckingham Palace is available on both vinyl and CD. Hit up Muck and the Mires on Bandcamp for ordering information. Those of you on my side of the pond can also purchase the digital album and CD from Rum Bar Records. If only we could all live in Muckingham Palace!