Friday, April 30, 2021

Brad Marino - Looking For Trouble

All year long, I've been counting the days until the release of Brad Marino's second full-length album! The album's first teaser single, "What Do You Know?", was released in January. A second teaser, "Even The Score", came out in March. This all led up to Looking For Trouble being perhaps my most highly anticipated album release of 2021. Well release day has finally arrived, and Looking For Trouble does not disappoint! Out today on CD on Rum Bar Records (with digital and vinyl releases from Spaghetty Town Records, Beluga Records, and Ghost Highway Recordings coming soon), Looking For Trouble is very much up to the tall task of topping Marino's superb debut Extra Credit

While Marino did enlist several talented friends (Craig Sala, Bobby Davis, Chris Barnard) to play on this release, he remains a veritable one-man band: playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums while producing and mixing the album himself. In classic Marino fashion, this is an album full of simple rock and roll songs with great lyrics and killer hooks. There aren't many people who do it better! What I enjoy about this album in particular is that it features a great variety of songs. No two tracks sound the same. Marino touches on just about every sub-style of rock and roll that he's ever been known for. That includes everything from twangy, Stonesy numbers ("Even the Score") to stripped-down rootsy rockers ("Taillights Fade") to upbeat British Invasion style pop hits ("Take Your Time") to Ramones-inspired earworms ("To Bleed") to top-notch surf rock instrumentals ("Tripwire") to vintage Brad Marino shots of power poppin' garage rock and roll ("Something For Nothing"). "Local Show" -- which will strike a chord with anyone who has ever endured the struggles of trying to make it in a band -- is one of Marino's finest songs to date. Also included are new mixes of a couple of old favorites: "False Alarm" and "At Night". When favorite artists of mine re-record old songs, I almost always find myself preferring the original versions. But I've got to hand it to Marino here: he managed to make both of these songs even better! These tracks bookend the album's outstanding second side. You've got to love a record that finishes just as strong as it starts! 

I love that Looking For Trouble is everything you could want from a Brad Marino album without being a copy of Extra Credit. Marino, who excels at blending no-nonsense rock and roll with catchy pop melodies, is very much in his element on this release. But the album also shows a progression in Marino's artistry. It's cool hearing him experimenting with new instruments (like slide guitar) and widening his stylistic repertoire. He shines not just as a songwriter but also as a singer and musician. And isn't that the whole point of making solo records? Looking For Trouble is so stacked with great tunes that I'm having a hard time choosing a favorite. Whether I'm in the mood for something poppy, punky, or straight-up rocking, this album always hits the spot. If you're looking for a modern-day example of what rock and roll is all about, it doesn't get much better than this.

Pale Lips - After Dark (Rum Bar CD reissue)

I was recently contemplating how Rum Bar Records has worked with almost all of my favorite bands of the moment. With Hayley and the Crushers, The Speedways, The Cheap Cassettes, and Brad Marino already on the roster, I joked to myself that the only band missing was Pale Lips. And then, boom, out of the blue Lou announced he was reissuing Pale Lips' second album After Dark on CD! So yeah: my entire top five list of favorite current bands/artists is now in the Rum Bar family! It's no secret that Pale Lips are my favorite band and that After Dark was my favorite album of 2019. I probably don't need to write a whole new review of an album that I've previously praised at length. But here are my bullet points on this newest release of After Dark:

  • To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time After Dark has been released on compact disc outside of Japan. And that means that I'm enjoying it on CD for the first time ever. With warm weather in the air, these 12 tracks make for some Grade A car jams! 
  • I've discovered that I like this album just as much now as I did two years ago -- perhaps even more! I've had it on repeat as I drive around town. The first Pale Lips album Wanna Be Bad is very good. After Dark is great
  • Cooler people than I are huge fans. Rum Bar label mate Brad Marino calls After Dark one his favorite records of the last 10 years and cites it as an influence on his new album (which comes out on CD today, by the way!). 
  • Ilona Szabo is a rock god. Seriously: if you wanna hear how rock and roll guitar ought to be played, give this album a listen. 
  • The lyrics on this record are smart, funny, and very worthy of closer inspection. 
  • My list of favorite tracks has changed (a little). I still consider "I'm A Witch" and "That Old Ghost Don't Lie" to be my top two songs from After Dark, followed by "Cosmic Love". But "All My Baby Brought Back Was The Blues" is gaining on the pack fast. What a delightful and clever song! I'm also way more into "Hanky Panky Franky" than I used to be. And I have to say that "Hiding From the Moon" is one of the true underrated gems from the Pale Lips catalog. Now I better stop before I mention every song on the album! 

After Dark is out today on Rum Bar Records. All CD orders come with a fold-out mini-poster while supplies last. You know what to do!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Kid Gulliver - "Boy In A Bubble"

There aren't many sweeter phrases in the English language than "new Kid Gulliver single"! The Boston foursome has been on fire with its singles over the last couple of years. Its latest, "Boy In A Bubble" , is available now from the always wonderful Red On Records. Again Kid Gulliver delivers a should-be radio hit that combines ear candy melodies with tremendous lyrical substance. The feel of this track is a little bit different from some of the band's recent singles. My man Ralph Rivera compares it to some of The Cure's pop hits, and I'd say he's dead-on. It has a beautifully melancholic vibe to it featuring serene melodic guitars that blend perfectly with Simone's dreamy vocals. Lyrically, the song was inspired by the forced isolation brought on by the pandemic last year. This is a song that almost anyone will be able to relate to, but I imagine it will especially hit you hard if you live alone. Those hooks lines "Oh, how I wish I was kissed by the sun today/Oh, how I wish I was kissed by anyone today" definitely evoke the heyday of black-clad post-punk pop. And a deeper dive into David's lyrics finds him articulating the malaise of COVID isolation with chilling accuracy:

Electric light provides no warmth/
Two plastic arms that cannot love/
The sterile air I cannot smell/
The clock keeps time for nothing

That pretty much nails it, doesn't it? "Boy In A Bubble" is a haunting song, but a beautiful one as well. Part of the appeal of Kid Gulliver is the way David trusts Simone to bring his lyrics to life. The words and voice prove equally important. That, my friends, is true musical chemistry. This is a song about loneliness that will make you feel less alone in the world. In my book, it's Kid Gulliver's best single yet. And now I can't stop imagining David with big hair in the '80s!

File Under: A Mutant Pop Tribute

Well if I went ahead and reviewed one Mutant Pop Records tribute, I suppose it would have been really bad form to not review the other one too! File Under: A Mutant Pop Tribute was released by Ramonescore Radio Records April 7 -- the very same day that 44 Golden Greats came out on Worst Idea Records. Adding the 19 songs on File Under to the 44 golden greats yielded 63 tracks of Mutant Pop celebration in one day. And I'm all for that!

File Under, compared to 44 Golden Greats, is definitely a little bit "pop-punkier". It also includes a Loblaws cover, which was the only omission from 44 Golden Greats that I considered complaining about. All in all, File Under is a really fantastic tribute to Mutant Pop's legacy and should not be overshadowed by 44 Golden Greats. The lineup represents some of the very best players from the current generation of pop-punk. Included are heavy hitters like J Prozac, Billy Putz, Grim Deeds, and Black Russians -- as well as my favorite present-day pop-punk band Vista Blue. As expected, there's lots of love here for Dirt Bike Annie, The Proms, and Kung Fu Monkeys -- who are each covered twice. But I also appreciate that this collection tackles some of the deep cut gems of the Mutant Pop roster (The Wallys, The Loblaws, The Catalogs, Somethingtons). While I'm ordinarily wary of pop-punk bands doing pop-punk versions of pop-punk songs, several bands pull that very thing off quite successfully here. Classic Pat covering The Loblaws' "Tossing and Turning" does not disappoint! Vista Blue's take on The Wannabes' "Saturday Night" draws a direct line of influence between those two bands. The Pembrokes (covering The Klopecs' "Alyson Hannigan"), Wild Sandals (The Catalogs' "Scrunchy"), and Rip Taylors (Spodie's "Brenda's Got A Devilock") all remain faithful to the original versions while adding plenty of their own flair. There are also a few tracks that surprised me a little. I love Atomic Treehouse's fully punked-up version of the Kung Fu Monkeys' "Luau All Night". Lesser Creatures somehow manage to make The Proms' "Spike A Da Punch" sound like a Sloppy Seconds song. Black Russians rock out Dirt Bike Annie's "Capable of Anything" with full-scale nuclear power. Parasite Diet's inspired rendition of After School Special's "Kitty Corner" makes me feel like I never fully appreciated how good that song was. 

As I look at great labels today like Monster Zero, Mom's Basement, OUTLOUD, Eccentric Pop, etc., it's clear that the legacy of Mutant Pop Records is the enduring community of pop-punk. Mutant Pop was (arguably) the first record label devoted entirely to promoting pop-punk as a musical aesthetic. A couple of decades later, there are enough excellent bands floating around to easily justify the existence of several labels specializing in pop-punk. Quite a few of those bands are represented on File Under. I could be a nitpicker and demand a third tribute to ensure that my homeboys Jake and the Stiffs and Explosive Kate are not overlooked. But I think I'll just leave well enough alone and commend both labels on a job well done. File Under, like 44 Golden Greats, is a swell deal for just a $5 download. You can also grab a CD for 8 bucks. All proceeds go directly to The American Association of Suicidology.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Various artists - 44 Golden Greats

Had Poppy Robbie not double-dog dared me to tackle the 44-track Mutant Pop Records tribute compiled by Grath Madden and Chadd Derkins, I might not have even bothered. I have presumed that anyone who would be interested in hearing a quadruple album Mutant Pop tribute has already purchased it. That's how passionate the fan base remains after all of these years. And so here we have 44 Golden Greats -- lovingly assembled by two of the most passionate of all of those fans. 

While a 44-track tribute album is a grand and ambitious project, anything less might have seemed unsatisfactory. We're talking about a label with over 100 releases! Mutant Pop was a label I steadfastly championed throughout my up-and-coming years in the record reviewing racket. 20-25 years later, it's fun to look back at particular MP releases and examine which ones I still really like and which ones I can't believe I ever liked in the first place! Today I rank The Kung Fu Monkeys as my #1 favorite Mutant Pop band by far --- followed by The Automatics and Ruth's Hat. I was excited to see all three bands well represented on 44 Golden Greats. But as a true fan of the label, I was also stoked that this tribute doesn't neglect lesser-known and overlooked players in the Mutant Pop story. This collection would have been far less cool without representation for the likes of Spodie, The Beldons, Dead Like Elvis, and The Hitchcocks. And holy smokes: there are two Buglite covers on this release! 

What I like about 44 Golden Greats is that the majority of the bands/artists went to the trouble to creatively interpret the original songs. Obviously we're all pop-punk fans here (otherwise you wouldn't have read this far!). But I doubt any of us wanted to hear 44 cover songs that sounded exactly like the original. Probably the most "faithful" cover that actually works here is Doc Hopper's ripping rendition of Boris the Sprinkler's "Drugs and Masturbation", and that's largely due to the track opening with Joe Keller's brilliant and truly hilarious spoof of a Rev. Norb monologue. You'd have to have a heart of stone to not be delighted by The Steinways' version of Dirt Bike Annie's "What's Happening, Hot Stuff?". But the real highlights for me are the versions that honor the originals by transforming them. It almost goes without saying that the Kung Fu Monkeys' interpretation of The Hissyfits' "In My Dreams" is beautiful and perfect and extraordinary in every way. Poppy Robbie gets points for covering one of the best Automatics songs ("No Big Deal") and making it sound like...a Poppy Robbie song! I was previously unfamiliar with Nicky Reynolds and his Pushers, but I love, love, love, love the band's take on After School Special's "Kelly Burkett"! Jeanie Lee's version of Egghead's "Donna's Always Mad At Me" is a royal treat for all of us who can never get enough of Jeanie Lee...or Egghead! Also really excellent are covers by Andrew Furtal (Dirt Bike Annie's "All Systems Go"), P.J. Sloan of Ruth's Hat (The Proms' "May I Cut In"), and Dr. Princess (The Wanna-Bes' "ATM"). And you've gotta love Skinny Genes (which is Azeem from The Steinways) doing a clever mashup of Moral Crux's "Firing Squad" and the Ramones' "She's the One"!  

Chances are that if you're a Mutant Pop Records fan, you don't need me to tell you that 44 Golden Greats is worth buying -- because you've already bought it! But if you haven't bought it yet, you certainly should. It's a wonderful reminder that a lot of incredible music was released on the Mutant Pop label. And you can feel the love that went into the creation of this project. Many of the artists appearing on this collection are Mutant Pop alumni paying tribute to other Mutant Pop artists. A few others represent the best of the generation of pop-punk that was directly inspired by Mutant Pop. And seriously: 44 tracks for five bucks is a deal and a steal! All proceeds from this digital release go to the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Andrea Gillis - "Leave The Light On"

Andrea Gillis has been one of the most outstanding singers and live performers in American rock and roll going back to the early 2000s. As Red On Red Records continues to add premium talent from the Boston music scene to its roster, the addition of Andrea Gillis was a no-brainer. While you might think of Gillis as a soul/blues singer first and foremost, she has created a diverse catalog of music that crosses many genres. "Leave The Light On", her new single on Red On Red, really shows her pop side. Her inspiration for this track was to write a "feel good, coming out of the darkness, good old fashioned dance number". And thus "Leave The Light On" is a wonderfully suitable song for this moment in time -- as we collectively eye the light at the end of the tunnel. For a dance track, it's quite mellow. That might seem like a contradiction, but actually it's not. This is a song that warms the soul. Gillis delivers a beautiful, powerfully empathic vocal. The production on this track (courtesy of Gillis, Marc Pinansky, and Pat DiCenso) is absolutely stunning -- weaving together gorgeous synthesizers, a simple & satisfying beat, and a veritable chorus of  backup singers. This track features some of the finest musicians in all of the Boston scene (Pinansky, Mike Oram, Ed Valauskas) and really ought to be all over the radio. And, hey, it might be all over your radio if you know which shows to listen to! "Leave The Light On" is the song we all needed right now. If this is your introduction to Andrea Gillis, you'll want to dig into her catalog over at Bandcamp. It's full of killer releases bridging the worlds of rock, soul, and pop. Check it out, and you'll know what people have known in Boston for years: Andrea Gillis is a star

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Dictators - "Let's Get the Band Back Together"

How great it is to live in a world in which The Dictators again exist! Having already released the anthem "God Damn New York" back in January, the recently reformed Dictators have returned with another new single that will delight longtime fans along with anyone else who truly "gets" rock and roll. Some of you may recall that Andy Shernoff released "Let's Get the Band Back Together" as a solo track back in 2012. Well, the song has been properly "Dictatorized" for re-release in 2021! One listen to this song will confirm that The Dictators are in vintage form --- rocking as hard as ever and refusing as always to to take themselves seriously. It's seems corny to call it a "comeback", so let's just say that this has been a triumphant return! And would you expect anything less from a band that made one its best albums nearly three decades into its existence? 

It has been a good news/bad news situation with The Dictators lately. While it's exciting that Andy Shernoff, Ross the Boss, and Scott Kempner (along with old pal Albert Bouchard) rebooted one of the greatest bands of all-time, Kempner is sadly leaving the group due to health reasons. He was a driving force behind the band's reunion, and to call him a legendary figure in rock and roll is no understatement. While he won't be on stage when the band returns to live shows, he will forever be a Dictator. 

2021 could end today, and we'd have to call it a good year since it gave us two great Dictators singles! Can we expect more? Stay tuned!

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Erratix - "You Don't Care"

If you're a longtime follower of this blog, you're gonna flip over the debut single from The Erratix! Pals of mine like Mick Fletcher and Jay Castro have been touting this Minneapolis-based foursome for a while. Once I heard the record, I quickly understood why! This single sounds like it could have come out on Dirtnap Records in 2003! The Erratix play that early 2000s by way of late '70s/early '80s brand of powerpop/punk that was such a huge impetus in my starting F & L a decade ago. Out on the Swedish label Beluga Records, the band's debut 7" "You Don't Care" is steeped in Exploding Hearts worship both musically and visually. And there's nothing wrong with that at all! Both tracks are snappy and hook-laden but also tinged with heartache. You know I'm a sucker for this sound, and these guys sure do it well. The keyboards are a really nice touch! If you dig o.g. British punk pop (Buzzcocks/The Boys) and new wave era Elvis Costello, this is a band that ought to be on your radar. A very promising debut!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Chelsea Curve - "Girl Cavedog"

Wow, has Justine Covault ever hit the ground running with her label Red on Records! Since its launch five months ago, Red On Red has already released or reissued music from 13 different bands/artists -- all of them Boston based. I haven't even come close to keeping up (shamefully I even missed a new Justine and the Unclean single in February!). But it's not about quantity -- it's about the quality. No city on the planet has a stronger music scene than Boston, and the Red On Red roster is perfectly representative of that. If you dig power pop, punk, garage, indie rock, Americana, etc., this label is a must-follow even if you have no particular connection to Boston. A case in point is the debut single from The Chelsea Curve -- a mod-pop/indie rock trio made up of Linda Pardee (formerly of Boston legends Miles Dethmuffen) on vocals and bass, Tim Gillis on guitars and vocals, and Ron Belanger on drums. This band has been ripping up the Boston live scene for a while, and now it finally presents its first studio release. The track is called "Girl Cavedog", and it's a stone-cold hit. It's essentially a love song, but it's a very original and fascinating love song in the respect that it was inspired by time travel.  Pardee says it's about "a person whose life is repeatedly sidetracked by the comings and goings of a significant other who is a step out of time". What a wonderfully creative idea! Fortunately, the lyrics are included on the Bandcamp page -- and they read like a miniature short story! Musically, the song exemplifies mod-influenced power pop. Clocking in at two-and-a-half minutes, it features tight musicianship and irresistible hooks. And Pardee's voice will totally knock you out. I'm left wanting more -- which is the whole point of a single! Thankfully, this is just the first in a series of singles that will all lead up to a full album in the fall. Check out the brand-new video for "Girl Cavedog" embedded below!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Priors - My Punishment on Earth

It has been a couple of years since I last checked in on Montreal's Priors. My Punishment on Earth, the band's third LP, was due out last year but had its release delayed due to the pandemic. It was written and recorded prior to the events of 2020, yet it could not be a more fitting release for this particular moment in time. It's full of darkness, dread, and anguish -- as if Chance Hutchison and his bandmates are letting loose a year's worth of internalized tortures. If the band's last album New Pleasure was a startlingly progressive take on garage-punk, My Punishment on Earth is the logical next step. It moves the band deeper into synth-punk and post-punk territory without losing the "punk" part of the equation. Whereas New Pleasure was like a wild, bumpy ride, My Punishment on Earth is more like a dark descent into one man's living hell. Given the album title, you probably wouldn't have expected songs about milkshakes and kittens. But this is by no means the bummer of a record that you might assume it to be. While the songs still rage (only two tracks exceed three minutes), the hooks on this particular album are stronger and left with much more room to breathe. These songs really stick with me, and I'm always left wanting more when I reach the end of the album. I'm reminded of everyone from Jay Reatard to modern-day bands like Miscalculations, but I can only describe Priors as true originals. They are writing the manual on how to move punk music into the 21st Century without sacrificing any of the genre's fundamental energy and excitement. If we're talking about great albums of 2021 so far, My Punishment on Earth has got to be in the conversation.


Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club/Golden Richards - split single

I've got something super cool for the power pop crowd today! A few months back, I featured a singles collection from the Chicago based label Big Blast Records. Big Blast is your home for hooky, guitar-heavy rock and roll. Two of the standouts from the label roster have come together to release a new split single. On the track "Tremor Control II", Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club taps into the craziness and non-stop anxiety that was the year 2020.  If you enjoyed the arena rock leanings of the band's song "X Play", you will also dig "Tremor Control II" -- which channels Cheap Trick by way of The Cars. The concept of the song is that the more we told ourselves to calm down last year, the less calm we actually became. A lot of these lyrics really make me chuckle because they bring to mind my own COVID anxieties. I, like the protagonist of this song, would constantly check my temperature and obsess over the most minute deviation from the norm. But who am I kidding by using the past tense -- I'm still doing it! Golden Richards is one of my favorite new bands on the power pop scene these days, and the band's half of the split does not disappoint. "Zach Attack" is a tribute to Gil Golden's cousin Zach who passed away last fall at the age of 24. The song celebrates the positive impact that Zach made on the lives of friends and family members. And it's a reminder that his spirit lives on. This spirited, high energy rocker takes much of its musical inspiration from The Posies. For this recording, Gil, Billy, and Maryann had the pleasure of working with a couple of highly esteemed guest players: Darby Todd (Martin Barre Band) on drums and Lee Pomeroy (Jeff Lynne's ELO) on bass. If you're going to do a tribute song, this is the way to do. This song is full of unstoppable hooks and an undeniable joy. Proceeds from downloads of "Zach Attack" will be donated to Shatterproof -- a national nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming addiction treatment, ending stigma, and supporting communities.

It's clear to me by now that anything that comes out on Big Blast Records is essential listening for fans of melodic, powerful pop. Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club and Golden Richards have delivered two hits in one release. If this had come out on a 45, it would have been a true double A-side! This is a perfect two-fer to crank in your car on a lovely spring day, so grab yourself a download now!

Friday, April 09, 2021

The Missile Studs - With Love From The Missile Studs

Well I've got myself a new favorite album of 2021! The Missile Studs, representing as always for Shitsville, South Australia, have unleashed a firecracker of an LP that you're sure to enjoy if you're as obsessed with U.K. '77 punk rock as I am. With Love From The Missile Studs contains nine tracks -- a few of which will be familiar to you if you bought the band's split LP with Thee Evil Twin last year (and if you didn't, what's the matter with you?). This, my friends, is what punk rock ought to be: simple, snotty, and so stupid that it's brilliant. No song exceeds two-and-a-half minutes, and no fourth chord is required at any point. The album is bookended by two different versions of "Missile Studs Theme" -- which by all rights should be Australia's national anthem. In between are songs with titles like "Brain Damaged", "Sooo Useless", and "Kill Me Pills". I'm sure you get the picture. If Sex Pistols/Clash/early Damned is your sweet spot for punk music, The Missile Studs are the band for you. They even do a killer version of the Buzzcocks' classic "Boredom"! Whether you're swilling pints of beer, pogoing around the house, or flipping off anyone within your sights, With Love is the soundtrack to a swell time. It officially releases on vinyl next month on Dirtyflair Record Company, Stamp Out Disco, and No Front Teeth Records. But you can preorder and/or download today! 

Monday, April 05, 2021

Civic - Future Forecast


Oh boy, Australian punk music continues to be absolutely on fire! It would be hard to identify just one band at the top of the current crop of killer Aussie punk groups. But you could sure make a very strong case for Melbourne-based Civic -- who have finally unleashed a debut full-length album after knocking us senseless with a handful of great EPs and singles. Out on Flightless Records, Future Forecast builds on Civic's scorching proto punk/rock and roll output of recent years. The band's attack remains as aggressive and hard-hitting as ever, yet it adds new layers of complexity and stylistic variety. Much like another fantastic Melbourne punk band Stiff Richards, Civic has utilized the long playing format to take a massive step forward. No doubt, the influence of The Saints and Stooges still rears its beautiful head. But on Future Forecast, Civic sounds like a band that has fully come into its own and is poised to define what punk rock ought to be in the 2020s. On fierce cuts like "Another Day", "Hollywood Nights in Hamburg", and the ripping opener "Radiant Eye", the band rages at full force and smashes anything in its path. Elsewhere, the foursome eases back on the tempo (but not on the power) on more sophisticated slow-burners such as "As Seen On TV", "Tell the Papers", and epic closer "Come To Know". Along the way, the band also flirts with hardcore ("Just A Fix"), strange post-punk ("Sunday Best"), and old school noise rock ("Shake Like Death"). Put it all together, and you've got yourself a brilliant punk rock album. Of course it has roots in classic Aussie punk, but this is no rehash of old standards. Civic has got its own thing going on, and we ought to just turn up the volume and enjoy it!

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Ryan Allen - Digital Hiss

It's almost guaranteed to be a good sign when an email from a musician begins with "I know I'm a complete nutcase and can't stop releasing stuff!" Well, Ryan Allen is no nutcase. But it's true that he can't stop releasing music. And if I were as talented as Ryan Allen, I too would release music as frequently as possible! Digital Hiss is Allen's ninth release in the last ten months (yeah, really!), and the concept is based on a 4-track recorder he received for Christmas one year as a teenager. He never actually recorded songs on that 4-track (it got loaned to a friend and eventually went missing). But if he had, they likely would have sounded quite a bit like the songs on Digital Hiss. Allen mentions Eric's Trip and Sebadoh as specific influences on this release. More broadly, I'd describe this album as loud, fuzzy, lo-fi indie rock. Unbelievably, the entire EP was written, recorded, and mixed in a single day. Now that's what I call DIY! But just because it's DIY and lo-fi doesn't mean that it's just noise. Allen's knack for loud, simple pop songs of the highest quality is on full display here. I'm reminded of my own roots in underground music -- which was listening to college radio in the early '90s. Honestly, most of these tracks sound like they could be Extra Arms songs if they were worked out with a full band and more fully produced. But the whole point of this project was to replicate the ear-battering majesty of the fuzzed-out indie rock of yore. Mission accomplished! It blows my mind that Allen was inspired enough to write and record all of this material in a single day. This is really great stuff. I'm all for crafting a song over weeks or months if that's what it takes. But there's also something super cool about having that wild burst of creativity and getting everything down on tape while the inspiration is fresh in your mind. It's clear that Ryan Allen has been a remarkably prolific recording artist over the past year. But he's not just been putting out a ton of music --- he's been putting out a ton of really good music! Digital Hiss is very much up to his usual standards and highly recommended to any fan of noisy pop!

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Linnea's Garden - Nowhere Friday Nights


Nowhere Friday Nights, the extraordinary debut EP from Linnea's Garden, is a release I would recommend to anyone who loves the kind of music I write about -- or any kind of music at all! The Boston-based band is fronted by Linnea Herzog, formerly of PowerSlut. Out on Red On Red Records, Nowhere Friday Nights will hit the sweet spot for all of you who like your punk rock and power pop. But it also incorporates influences ranging from glam rock to '60s girl groups to new wave to '90s indie/alternative. Herzog, as a singer and songwriter, is a unique and immensely likable talent. She writes smart, funny, and relatable songs with crazy good hooks. What could be better than that? "Non-Dramatic Breakup Song" lives up to its title and is that very rare feelgood breakup song. The words "It makes me want to dance!" are very rarely written about breakup songs, but I would use those exact words to describe this one! "Friday Night" is a triumphant anthem for anyone who turned to music for salvation when COVID threw us all into isolation last year (the lines "Turn up the speaker/And sing like you mean it/You've still got the notes in your hands" give me the feels!). "Science and You" is a wonderful little love song that condenses the joy of sharing a life with someone into a few perfect verses of lyrics. "Replacement" is about being stuck in the middle when two friends break up -- and doing your very best to dispense good advice. "Glitter" is a sex-positive rocker that's vintage Linnea Herzog. 

Nowhere Friday Nights was recorded with Herzog's "quarantine pod" of Hands O'd and Tom O'Donnell (who both played drums and bass). Linnea's Garden's current lineup is Herzog on guitar/lead vocals, Amy Galaviz on bass/backing vocals, and Hands O'd on drums. The only bad thing I can say about Nowhere Friday Nights is that it leaves me wanting more. And I suppose that's not a bad thing to say at all! If you, like me, still can't get enough of this band, be sure to check out the excellent digital singles "Superspreader", "Like the Patriarchy", and "I Wanna Try on Yr Clothes" on Bandcamp. Red On Red keeps on delivering the hits! 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Rich Ragany And The Digressions - "Heartbreakers Don't Try"

Rich Ragany is no stranger to this blog. I have reviewed four of his albums -- three that he made with his band Role Models as well as his brilliant solo debut ...Like We'll Never Make It. I even interviewed him back in 2018. In my book, Rich Ragany is one of the finest songwriters in all of rock and roll. As Ragany began working on solo endeavors a few years back, he collaborated with a number of talented friends of his. So strong was his connection with all of these players that they ended up becoming his full-time band The Digressions. The full band is Ragany on vocals and guitar, Kit Swing (Mallory Knox, Seven Days and Doesn't Die) on vocals and guitar, Gaff (Glitterati and Dedwardians) on lead guitar, Ricky McGuire (UK Subs, The Men They Couldn't Hang) on bass, Simon Maxwell (Role Models, The Loyalties) on drums, and longtime Role Models producer Andy Brook on keyboards. While it has been a number of years since ...Like We'll Never Make It came out, we can look forward to a new album from Rich Ragany And The Digressions coming soon. While we wait, we can now enjoy the band's brand-new single "Heartbreakers Don't Try". It's a tune that's very serious and totally uplifting all at the same time. Ragany describes it as a song "about the fight you can have with depression... and that great feeling of just standing up and taking on the day, week, or challenge." Ragany has written some absolute gems over the years, and this one is up there with the best of 'em. That hook is classic Rich Rags, and the lyrics absolutely knock me out. Brook on keyboards and Swing on backing vocals turn in stunning performances that push this track to a whole other level. This, to me, is song of the year for 2021 so far! Be on the lookout for a full album arriving this summer. In the meantime, don't miss "Heartbreakers Don't Try". And be sure to grab ...Like We'll Never Make It if you haven't already!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Vista Blue - Stealing Signs

You see the cover art and the title. You see the name of the band. I know what you're thinking: Vista Blue released a baseball song for opening day again? Well guess what -- Mike threw that speedball by you! You were expecting something about the Houston Astros maybe, but you got...a love song! Isn't that what you wanted in the first place? "Stealing Signs" is the title cut from Vista Blue's new EP -- which Mike and Mark recorded in Nashville this past winter. It's a vintage Vista Blue blast of power pop influenced pop-punk (or maybe vice versa). The melodies are memorable, the harmonies are on-point, and the baseball metaphor is a brilliant touch. And I always love a pop group that appreciates the value of a nicely executed fadeout ending. Vista Blue knocked this one out of the park! The rest of the EP is a nice hodgepodge of new songs, cover tunes, and previously released songs. "She's Not the One For You", which first appeared on the Ramonescore Radio Records Rock Against Cancer compilation, is some buzzing pop-punk to get your toes tapping. You could probably make an argument that this song is the "hit" of the EP, although I'm still partial to "Stealing Signs". I will ask Nick Spoon for a ruling. "Bryan Funck Ripped Us Off" is a new version of an old Robinsons song. "Saturday Night" was recorded for a Mutant Pop Records tribute album coming soon on Ramonescore Radio Records. I love the cover choice, and I love the version (early Wanna-Bes had to have been an influence on Mike's songwriting). The original number "I Miss You" is 83 seconds of perfect pop-punk. As everyone east or west of the Rockies knows, "Safari" was originally done by Parasite Diet on its 2017 album Coast To Coast

It never really feels like Major League Baseball opening day if it's not accompanied by a new EP from Vista Blue. And while there are technically no songs about baseball on Stealing Signs, it still feels good to have this EP on repeat today as I enter the realm of despair, disappointment, and dashed hopes that is another Philadelphia Phillies season. I always feel like I'm being unfaithful to pop-punk Vista Blue when I so heavily praise the band's more power pop leaning releases. Well on this release, the band is definitely flexing its pop-punk chops -- and I love it!