Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Randells - "Karen"


The calendar and the weather tell me it's still February. But it's always summertime when a Randells song is playing! The Swedish trio was considerate enough to drop a pair of digital singles to warm our souls in the middle of this winter. The latest, "Karen", is a classic blast of surf-tinged bubblegum punk rock that falls right in line with fellow Scandinavians Psychotic Youth and The Yum Yums. "Karen", featuring a guest appearance on vocals by Valentina De Rosa, is a tearjerker punk-pop tune for hopeless romantics and teenage delinquents alike. It arrives fast on the heels of "Gum In My Hair", a high-energy jolt of big hooks and buzzing guitars. In a perfect world, you'd hear these songs on the car radio while you were driving to the beach with your friends. This pair of tracks will chase away the winter blahs in a hurry. And yay! A new Randells album is due out this spring on Monster Zero!


Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Airport 77s - "(When You're Kissing On Me Do You Think Of) James McAvoy" music video


Last month I joked that the debut LP by The Airport 77s was my #1 album of the first 14 days of 2021. Well it's still holding strong as my #1 album of the first 51 days of 2021! More importantly, it has also received praise from far more reputable publications such as I Don't Hear A Single and Dagger Zine. The Airport 77s just released a music video for my favorite track from the album,  "(When You're Kissing On Me Do You Think Of) James McAvoy". The video is really fun, and I won't spoil it by saying anything further (beyond mentioning that your wives/girlfriends may be disappointed that James McAvoy is not in the video!). Those of you who are fans of this blog but not yet familiar with The Airport 77s may be intrigued to discover that the Airport 77s Radio channel generated by Spotify's artificial intelligence features the likes of Kurt Baker, the Speedways, the Reflectors, and Radio Days. Now that's some mighty fine company! So be sure to check out the video along with the Airport 77s' album Rotation if you haven't done so already!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Genya Ravan/The Shang Hi Los - split 7"


Now here's a dream team-up from the Rum Bar Records hit factory! Genya Ravan (Goldie & the Gingerbreads, Ten Wheel Drive) is a true legend of rock and roll. The Shang Hi Los were my #1 new band of 2020. Both artists share real estate on a new 7" release that Malibu Lou has been raving about to me for months. And let me tell you: he had reason to rave! Ravan's contribution to this split is an absolutely amazing cover of the soul classic "I Who Have Nothing" (a Leiber & Stoller adaptation of the Italian song "Uno Dei Tanti"). As Ravan began work on the recording of this song, it occurred to her that the legendary Nile Rodgers needed to play the rhythm guitar. So she reached out to Rodgers, who immediately agreed to play on the song. Needless to say, he absolutely kills it on this track. And Ravan, now with six decades in the industry under her belt, has never sounded better! Working with a red-hot band that also includes Bobby Chen, William Brady, Dennis DiBrizzi, and John Lee Cooper, Ravan breathes new life into this old classic with a powerful and passionate vocal performance. There's a funky, down-and-dirty energy to this version that gives it a unique place in the storied history of this song. We're talking about a song that has literally been recorded over 100 times. Yet there are certain artists (Ben E. King, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack) who have had the chops to truly make it their own. I would most definitely add Genya Ravan to that list! 

Ravan, the famed singer and record producer, is best-known to many in more recent years as a radio personality. She continues to support the bands and artists that are keeping rock and roll alive today. One of her favorite present-day singers is Jen D'Angora, so the idea of a Genya Ravan/Shang Hi Los split makes perfect sense. The Shang Hi Los' side of this split features the band's track "Sway Little Player". Since I have already written at length about this particular song (it topped my list of singles released in 2020), I'll just add that that I'm excited it's finally available on vinyl! It's usually bullshit when a record is described as a "double A-side", but in this case it's the absolute truth. Which song is the "hit"? They both are! If you buy the single from Rum Bar's Bandcamp, you'll also get Ravan's cover of Little Willie John's 1960 King Records side "I'm Shakin'" as a digital bonus track. It features guest vocals from none other than Jen D'Angora. How's that for a pair of powerhouse singers? And, hey, I would gladly listen to Genya Ravan cover R & B classics all day! Officially out today, this split is more than worthy of a place in your rec room jukebox or your case full of 45s!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Hayley and the Crushers - Fun Sized


There were literally only two things that could have made me love Rum Bar Records even more than I already did. One would have been if the label started bottling its own beer. The other would have been for the label to sign Hayley and the Crushers. While the former has not happened (yet), the latter most definitely has. Needless to say, I'm pumped! The Crushers' Rum Bar debut is called Fun Sized. And as the title suggests, this is a nice little snack-sized taster of the band's incredible 2020 output. It compiles all three songs from both of the singles released by the band last year - which were previously unavailable on compact disc. Rounding out the disc are two tracks from last year's magnificent long player Vintage Millennial and an absolutely stunning cover of the Ramones' "Suzy Is A Headbanger" - which was previously available only in digital form. I just love that this CD exists. If you've yet to become fully initiated in the Crusherverse, Fun Sized would serve as a fine introduction to this band for the nice price of $7 (or only $5 for a download). And for those who do own Vintage Millennial but didn't pick up the "Jacaranda" and "Church of Flag" singles, this is a convenient way to grab both at once! 

As the dark clouds of 2020 slowly begin to lift, "Jacaranda" is the perfect song for this optimistic moment. It's a song about getting out there, meeting people, and opening one's self up to all that this beautiful world has to offer. It was a terrible irony that Hayley and the Crushers did not have the chance to perform this ultimate summer song for anyone last summer. But perhaps things will be different in 2021! "Church of Flag", which celebrates keeping the punk rock faith into old age, was a late-year release that went a little bit under the radar. The arrival of Fun Sized breathes new life into both of these songs, which will surely be crowd favorites once the band is again able to take its act on the road. The "filler" material rounds out this disc nicely. "Kiss Me So I Can", in my book, is one of the best tracks on Vintage Millennial. "Water On Glass" is a wonderfully Crusherized cover of Kim Wilde's 1981 hit. And my god, this CD would be worth buying just for the "Suzy Is A Headbanger" cover alone! If I close my eyes, I can convince myself I'm floating in a swimming pool and catching a whiff of the ocean. With meteorological spring less than two weeks away, it's by no means too soon to start daydreaming about lounging by the pool, soaking up the sun, and frolicking with sea creatures. Equal parts punk, pop, surf, and rock and roll, Hayley and the Crushers never fail to deliver the soundtrack to eternal summer. Pop Fun Sized into your car CD player, and you'll have sunshine on even the most dismal day!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Freak Genes - Power Station


It is interesting that many modern-day "post-punk" bands will maintain a signature sound for years - as opposed to the bands that influenced them that were always evolving at a rapid pace. But then you have Freak Genes, who in less than four years have practically become a whole new band. Power Station, out now on Feel It Records, is already the U.K. duo's fourth LP. The band's growth between 2017's quirky, poppy Playtime and the strikingly synthetic Power Station has been dramatic and impressive. Yet if you listen to all four albums in sequence, you'd have to admit that the progression has been logical. Andrew and Charlie formed Freak Genes in the spirit of experimentation. Together they found a place where oddball songs of theirs that didn't quite make sense for their other musical projects could fit together perfectly. And while Playtime was brilliant, the band could never consider repeating the formula - because there never was one to begin with! And so Andrew and Charlie pushed onwards, gradually creating a musical identity for Freak Genes that's been distinctive yet constantly evolving. With each record, the duo has increasingly experimented with synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic sounds. And that takes us to Power Station, which the band has described as "synthetic pop for problem times". The vibe of this record is a fantastic cross between 154 era Wire, synth-pop circa 1981, and early '80s arcade game sound effects. Everything from the cover art to the album title to the songs themselves screams 1980s retro futurism. And yet this record is more of an update on '80s synth-pop than it is a proper throwback. This is no rehash of the old wave - it's the start of a new one. And after 40 years, I'd say it's about time. 

Andrew and Charlie walk a very fine line on Power Station. On one hand, the album so fully embraces the electronic/synthetic aesthetic that one has to listen very closely for evidence that any "traditional" musical instruments were utilized in its creation. But the success here is that this largely machine-made album is by no means devoid of emotion or humanity. Across their bold and interesting evolution, Freak Genes have remained a pop group through and through. Personality prevails, and the machinery is just the means to an end. These songs still possess honest-to-goodness melodies, which have come into fruition through tremendous creativity and a skillful melding of electronic sounds. This is unquestionably the "darkest" Freak Genes record, which seems completely appropriate at this moment in time. Yet it's far from a fully bleak affair. It still has its "pop" moments ("Chat" has all the basic elements of a "classic" Freak Genes song; "Let's Get To Work" is a snappy little piece of electro-funk; the title track summons the spirit of new wave era Devo). The longer, more sophisticated compositions ("Followed It Down", "Ford Fairlane", "You're Taking Me Over") are something akin to futuristic symphonies. And ultimately, these "deeper" cuts are the ones that have impressed me the most as I've spent more time absorbing Power Station as a whole. As with every successive Freak Genes release, this album is a more cohesive and fully realized creation than the one that preceded it. Given that I am most often inclined to prefer simplicity over invention in popular music, it's somewhat surprising that I am so fond of this album. But perhaps what pleases me is that these two have found a way to experiment with their craft without losing the most essential qualities that make them such a delightful musical duo. They seem to have stumbled upon an artistic path that is limited only by their collective imagination. And so I'll close with one of my go-to reviewer clichés: I can't wait to hear what they do next!

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Wheelz - Twenty/Twenty

 


Tulsa, Oklahoma based trio The Wheelz have returned with four more tracks of absolutely perfect sing-along punk rock! In December 2018, the band released its debut album Top 10 Super Hits! - which yielded the instant classic track "Throwaway". Out on Boulevard Trash & No Front Teeth Records, new 7" Twenty/Twenty is a worthy follow-up to the immensely enjoyable Top 10 Super Hits! This latest release again finds The Wheelz drawing from the influences of snotty '77 punk rock and old school anthemic street punk. Yet it's far from a replay of the last record. I wonder if I can say this without ruining the band's reputation, but Twenty/Twenty feels less obnoxious and far more "serious" compared to Top 10 Super Hits! Don't get me wrong: these songs still have that same snotty edge to them. But this time through, The Wheelz are in less of a jokey mood and more, uh, pissed off! While Twenty/Twenty is not necessarily about the events of last year, it does tap into the anger and frustration of the moment. Lead track "Politicians" is that rare modern political song that's fully nonpartisan. It rails at elected officials of all stripes who have failed the people they've been entrusted to serve. The equally anthemic "Washed Anyway" rages against corporate interests that systematically suck the souls out of American cities. "Generation Turncoat" calls out those who have abandoned their ideals and fallen into complacency. "Two Little Boys" is a very fine cover of the early 20th Century war anthem. All in all, Twenty/Twenty is a splendid example of what a pure punk rock record ought to be. It sounds like it could have come out on TKO Records in 1998! All of these songs are urgent and powerful, but also full of strong melodies and memorable choruses. This is a classic sound executed superbly. Vinyl copies are going fast, so get on it!


Sunday, February 07, 2021

Kid Gulliver - "Beauty School Dropout"


Here's something I will never tire of: great pop songs from Kid Gulliver! "Beauty School Dropout" is the Boston foursome's new single on Red on Red Records. And no, it's not a cover of the showtune from Grease. Kid Gulliver's "Beauty School Dropout" is an original song written by guitarist David Armillotti. In typical Kid Gulliver fashion, it delivers a great mix of power pop ear candy and lyrical substance. I love the sound of this track - it's got an early '80s new wave pop vibe to it. It kind of reminds me of a Vapors song with the way the bass totally pops in the mix. And in terms of melodies, I don't think it's possible to write a catchier tune. This song is an A-grade earworm! As usual, Simone does a wonderful job of putting voice to David's thoughtful words. This song, while telling a singular sad tale, offers a great deal of commentary on the superficiality of the "beauty" industry and society's restricted definition of what it means to be beautiful. In a better world (or a bygone era), this song would be somewhere on the dial every time you turned on your car radio. Kid Gulliver's hot streak continues!

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Ryan Allen - What A Rip


What A Rip, the latest album from Ryan Allen (Extra Arms, Thunderbirds Are Now!, Destroy This Place), is not the first "2020" album I've written about. Nor will it be the last. But it will surely go down as one of the best. The title is in some ways a humorous acknowledgement that Allen "borrowed" from a classic song or two in the process of writing this album. But the real rip-off Allen is referencing is 2020 itself. This was a year that deprived us of so much. We all missed out on time spent with family and friends. Kids missed out on going to school. Bands missed out on playing shows. Birthdays, graduations, and holidays were not the same. Many of us literally lost people we loved. What a rip indeed! 

With What A Rip, Allen gives us a 2020-themed record that doesn't try too hard to be a 2020-themed record. Like so many other musicians and artists, he made the best of a bad situation last year and used his pandemic downtime to focus on creative pursuits. Last year alone, he released a 20-song album titled Song Snacks Vol. 1, a demo collection called RCHIVES, two albums of cover songs, and several singles. While not super-intentionally a concept album, What A Rip clearly explores ideas that were running through Allen's mind as the year progressed. In terms of musical inspirations, he went back to some of the most foundational bands in rock roll. The influence of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and The Who is all over this record. And seriously: if you're gonna steal from other bands, those are the ones to steal from! It actually all started with a friend lending Allen a guitar pedal that mimicked the sounds of a Mellotron keyboard. And from there, the songs on this record just came to him. What A Rip brings together various elements of that classic mid-to-later '60s era of popular music - from garage rock to melodic guitar pop to psychedelic rock to baroque pop to early glam rock. While it's fun to joke about who he might be ripping off from track to track, Allen does a wonderful job of stealing creatively. And isn't that what all of the best rock and roll of the last 40 years has basically done? "On My Mind" sounds like what would happen if "Paperback Writer" and "Last Train To Clarksville" made a baby. "Look In My Eyes" is probably meant to bring to mind The Nazz's "Open My Eyes", yet it's by no means a straight rip. "Already Gone" steals a riff from T. Rex that was already stolen from Howlin' Wolf and incorporates it into a very Ryan Allen sounding song. While very obvious in its inspirations, the material on this album is well-crafted and consistently strong. In my book, songs like the simple, sweet "Glad That I Have You" and the gorgeous, Lennon-esque ballad "Only Son" (featuring Allen's dad Brad on guitar and brother Scott on keyboards) are two of the all-time high points in the Ryan Allen/Extra Arms songbook. Featuring an appealing mix of rockers, pop songs, and wonderful ballads, What A Rip is the sort of great all-around rock record that you just don't hear often enough these days. 

While I've enjoyed Ryan Allen's two albums with the full band version of Extra Arms, What A Rip has a home-recorded, deeply personal charm to it that takes me back to when I first heard Heart String Soul six years ago and became an instant fan. Allen is one of those songwriters that you just can't help relating to. In telling his own personal story through song, he touches on experiences we all share. In that respect, he was an ideal songwriter to make a 2020 themed album. What A Rip doesn't try to be profound or deeply insightful. It merely tells the tale of one man trying to navigate his way through a year full of hardships, gloom, and chaos. This is an album about loss and uncertainty and despair - but also an album full of hope and gratitude for the loved ones who make this life so worthwhile. I know the term "dad rock" is often meant as a knock. But this album is an example of what all dad rock should aspire to be. Having previously made albums in the styles of power pop, alternative rock, and indie rock (as well as the genre-hopping Song Snacks Vol. 1, which I deeply regret sleeping on when it came out last summer), Allen now presents his tribute to rock and roll. Yet the constant throughout has been how much of himself he puts into his songs. Digging into his full catalog on Bandcamp is surely a multi-hour commitment. Yet it's an endeavor I highly recommend!

Friday, February 05, 2021

The Cheap Cassettes - "See Her In Action!"


Today I'm reviewing The Cheap Cassettes for the tenth time. This puts the band in very exclusive company. They will now receive merit pins and keys to the F & L secret lodge - where they can drink frosty beverages and receive spa treatments alongside The Connection, Vista Blue, and Kurt Baker. It has been 15 months since I last wrote about The Cheap Cassettes. Honestly, it feels like it's been much longer than that given all that has gone down in the world since my favorite power trio released a digital EP called See Her In Action! in November of 2019. I think we all aged five years in 2020 - except for Charles, who somehow looks younger every year. Appropriately enough in the week of Groundhog Day, Charles, Kevin, and Izzy present their brand-new release....See Her In Action! Out today on compact disc on Rum Bar Records, this maxi-single finally gives the three songs from the original EP a proper physical release. As a bonus for longtime fans, this CD issue of See Her In Action! tacks on a pair of live tracks. Having already reviewed this EP when it was originally released, I probably don't need to get too deep into the individual tracks. Let's just say if you like power pop rooted in good old rock and roll, this is a must-own disc. Last time I implied that the title track was the best song Charles has written yet for The Cheap Cassettes. The only thing that makes me reconsider that stance is that "Lil' Bit Everyday" might be even better! I originally described it as the "greatest love song to alcohol that anyone has written in years". And perhaps given our collective hardships over the past year, this song has taken on an even more powerful meaning in 2021. So yes, I'm going to change my mind and proclaim "Lil' Bit Everyday" the "hit" of this EP. The band would probably not disagree- considering that they have released an absolutely amazing music video for the song that was co-created by Todd Michael Johnson & Michael O'Rourke. I encourage you to click play now, since this song and video are far more profound than anything I could say myself.  

The re-launch of See Her In Action! is exciting to me for multiple reasons. For one thing, now I can jam out to these songs in my car! In addition to that, this finally puts this EP in play for all of you who don't do the downloading/streaming thing. And this is the best set of songs that Charles Matthews has ever put his name to. The live tracks are a nice treat as well. "Red Line Blue" is a preview of a song that will hopefully turn up on the next Cheap Cassettes album. "Valentine", of course, is a Replacements cover - and one of my very favorite Replacements songs (I'm talking top three territory). If you know The Cheap Cassettes and know "Valentine", you'd probably agree that this is a cover that was meant to be ("In the spirit of The Replacements, we kind of learned this song"). While 2020 was mostly a year of disappointments for The Cheap Cassettes (e.g. a canceled gig with The Figgs, a scrapped album recording session), the arrival of See Her In Action! on CD sparks high hopes for this band in 2021. No Hedy Lamarr on the cover this time, but it seems the band had no trouble finding an equally classy successor! 

Indonesian Junk - "One More Try" (Song Premiere)


Today I am honored to premiere a new song by one of my favorite bands! "One More Try" is a brand-new track from Indonesian Junk, a band I've had the pleasure of writing about for the last seven years. "One More Try", featuring a guest appearance on backing vocals by the illustrious Kurt Baker, will appear on IndoJunk's forthcoming album Living In a Nightmare. It's one of the most "pop" songs yet from these Milwaukee-based glam-punks, who are now a foursome with the addition of guitarist Adam Turetzky. In an era in which great pop songs on the radio are all but a distant memory, Daniel James still endeavors to write old-fashioned radio hits. "One More Try" meets at the intersection of classic power pop and the Ramones circa Road To Ruin. In one single song, it takes on two of the greatest themes in guitar pop: the despair of love gone bad and the high hopes of old flames revived. This, my friends, is what you call an earworm! And that guitar solo is sheer majesty. As the title suggests, Living In a Nightmare will be Indonesian Junk's magnum opus about 2020. Preorders are open today from the Indonesian Junk and Rum Bar Records Bandcamp pages. Digital album releases March 19th. Vinyl coming this summer! 

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Tommy & The Rockets & Psychotic Youth - Scandinavian Flavor

You know, I really love a good covers album. Even better is when two bands I like team up for a covers album. It's double the fun! Out on Madrid's Snap Records, the Scandinavian Flavor LP features two of the finest bands from Northern Europe's power pop/punk/garage scene covering old favorites in their signature styles. On one side, you have Sweden's legendary Psychotic Youth. On the other, you have Denmark's Tommy and the Rockets, who inhabit a magical world where the Ramones and Beach Boys rule the airwaves forever. 

The Psychotic Youth side of Scandinavian Flavor is pure fun - as Jörgen and the gang tear through high-energy versions of songs by everyone from The Nervous Eaters ("Loretta") to The Misfits ("Where Eagles Dare") to synth-pop lesser-knowns New Musik ("Living By Numbers"). Some of these covers (like the Stiv Bators/David Quinton classic "Make Up Your Mind") are completely faithful to the original versions. But the band gives quite a few of these songs that distinct Psychotic Youth flair. If you didn't know "Let The Kids Dance" was a Bo Diddley song, you could easily mistake it for a Jörgen Westman original! I would imagine that these songs are already part of Psychotic Youth's live set. And if they're not, they sure should be! 

The Tommy and the Rockets side of the album is essentially a tribute to the late '70s/early '80s era of new wave. Tommy takes on some songs that are pretty much untouchable (The Jags' "Back of My Hand", Nick Lowe's "Heart of the City", Pointed Sticks' "Out of Luck") and turns out very worthy renditions. He also does absolutely amazing versions of D.L. Byron's 1980 single "Listen To The Heartbeat" and Kim Wilde's international smash "Chequered Love". If you grew up listening to the Rock 'n' Roll High School and Times Square soundtracks, you'll be into the spirit of the Tommy side of this split. He even covers Chris Montez's 1962 side "Some Kinda Fun" in a style quite similar to the Teenage Head version! 

I have come a long way in my attitude towards bands recording cover songs. When I was young and snotty, I enjoyed covers live but never saw the point in bands putting them on records. But the older, wiser me appreciates how interpreting the material of other songwriters is such a huge part of the tradition of rock and roll. Even better, cover songs often open a doorway to great music that some people may have not been previously aware of. Scandinavian Flavor is a success on two levels. If you're a fan of the songs covered here, you will enjoy these new renditions which are terrific all the way through. And if much of this material is new to you, you're gonna have a blast digging into the original versions. That, my friends, is what we call a win-win! Ain't rock and roll great?

-L.R.


https://snaprecordsspain.bandcamp.com/album/psychotic-youth-tommy-the-rockets-scandinavian-flavor-split-funlp-035
https://snaprecordsspain.bandcamp.com/album/tommy-the-rockets-psychotic-youth-scandinavian-flavor-split-funlp-035
https://tommyandtherockets.bandcamp.com/album/scandinavian-flavor
https://psychoticyouth1.bandcamp.com/album/scandinavian-flavor
https://www.facebook.com/tommyandtherockets
http://redwest.se/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Musician-Band/Psychotic-Youth-298457281060996/

Monday, February 01, 2021

Outtacontroller - "Come Alive"


Since the early days of this blog, Canada's domination of the garage/punk/powerpop scene has been an on-going theme of my writings. At one time or another, I have heralded everyone from Mother's Children to Sonic Avenues to the Steve Adamyk Band to White Wires to Marvelous Darlings as the defining band of one of the best decades of punk music that any nation has ever produced. But there was one band in the mix that I never gave quite enough credit to, and that band has outlasted most of the big names listed above. Halifax, Nova Scotia's Outtacontroller has been a consistent force over the course of four LPs dating back to 2012. Outtacontroller, more so than any band, typifies the punk sound that I've associated with Canada (and in particular, eastern Canada) over the last ten years. I'm talking buzzsaw guitars with garage grit, pop melody, and just the right amount of a Ramones influence. But part of this band's staying power has been its ability to build on its core sound. And new single "Come Alive" is the perfect example of that. This is Outtacontroller's first new music since releasing the excellent long player Sure Thing last year. The song starts off with a mellower feel to it, with an emphasis on melody and amazing sounding guitars. But sure enough, it builds in intensity to a point where you can really feel the power not just in the music but also in the vocals and lyrics. Terry and James have written and produced one heck of an impressive song here. This is a melodic punk tune that doesn't just sound like a reworking of countless songs you've heard before. With that mix of finesse and punch, this band truly flexes its musical chops. "Come Alive" leaves me wanting more, and that can only be a good thing. I'd say Outtacontroller is off to a fine start in spearheading another great decade of Canadian punk rock!

-L.R.

https://outtacontroller.bandcamp.com/track/come-alive
https://www.facebook.com/outtacontrollr/