Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Cudas - Alien Vacation


How about another perfect summertime pop record! Based in Cape Town, South Africa, The Cudas are the creation of singer and multi-instrumentalist Reinhard van Biljon. He writes the songs, plays all the instruments, and performs all the vocals. Alien Vacation, The Cudas' new EP, was inspired by an actual vacation to the Space Coast region of Florida. Alien Vacation is a classic celebration of summertime fun at the beach -- but with a really cool sci-fi/outer space twist! Musically speaking, this hits all the sweet spots for power pop: huge hooks, crunchy guitars, and soaring harmonies. With synthesizers adding a distinct new wave feel, I'm ready to book an alien vacation myself! As you climb into the car and head for the beach (or beyond!), these four tracks will make the perfect soundtrack. "Autorama" just might be the song of the summer!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Slow Faction - "Bubble Gum For Josh" (Demo)


Well I can definitely say that in my long "career" of writing about music, this is the first time that a band has ever dedicated a song to me! I must say it's an honor! This all started when I wrote, "Slow Faction doesn't write songs about bubblegum and pretty girls". Born from that joke is a brilliant new demo titled "Bubble Gum For Josh". What I appreciate about this song is that it's an impassioned reflection on Slow Faction's purpose and singer John Youens's growing sense of alienation from a culture that has become desensitized to injustice. Essentially this song explains why Youens doesn't write songs about bubblegum and pretty girls. It's not that he's a miserable human or some kind of Debbie Downer. Simply put, his songs reflect the world as he sees it. 

Clearly I have no objection to bands that do write songs about bubblegum and pretty girls. But there's also plenty of room in this world for music that aspires to make the world better a place or at the very least rage against the forces that oppress. The history of protest music is practically as long as the history of music itself. Slow Faction is a politically-minded punk group in the classic style, and "Bubble Gum For Josh" is a vintage Slow Faction track. It delivers its message loud and clear. But first and foremost, it's a great anthemic punk tune in the tradition of The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. 

The modern use of "social justice warrior" as some sort of slur is the ultimate Orwellian perversion. Who in their right mind wouldn't want to be a warrior for social justice? Slow Faction ought to wear that tag like a badge of honor. Not everyone wants to hear the message, and that's perfectly okay. But contrary to what is said in this song, people are listening. Give 'em hell, boys!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Pogy et les Kéfars - Dans Ton Rétro


Dans Ton Rétro is the debut full-length album from Pogy et les Kéfars -- a delightful power pop/punk band based in Marseille, France. A co-release between Crapoulet, Bitume Rugueux, and No Front Teeth Records, this 9-track long player is so tuneful and infectious that it transcends the language barrier. The lyrics are in French, so I have no idea what the band is singing about. But ultimately, that just doesn't matter! Dans Ton Rétro is just a super fun album. It's got energy, hooks, and a spirit that brings to mind the late '70s/early '80s heyday of punk rock, new wave, and power pop. At a lean nine tracks, this album is filler-free and chock full of hits. If you're a regular reader of this blog, Pogy et les Kéfars are definitely a band for you!

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Reflectors - "All Made Up"


The mighty Reflectors are back with another pair of splendid power pop tunes! Having released one of the finest power pop albums of recent memory in last year's aptly-named First Impression, this Los Angeles foursome is now set to release a follow-up titled Faster Action. The new album's first single, "All Made Up", is out now on Time For Action Records. Again The Reflectors are in classic power pop territory. "All Made Up" brings to mind the vintage LA sound circa 1980 and could practically pass for a lost 20/20 song! With its punchy guitars, huge catchy chorus, and thoughtful lyrics, it's every bit on level with the best songs off of First Impression. On the B-side, "Every Time" is exclusive to this release. It's on the punkier side of power pop -- with more than a little Buzzcocks influence coming through. In typical Reflectors fashion, this song will have you tapping your toes and humming along in no time flat!

Colored vinyl editions of "All Made Up" have already sold out, but copies still remain on black vinyl --- for now! Be sure to hit up Time For Action Records for ordering information. Stay tuned for news about The Reflectors' new album!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Prostitutes - "Shapeshift"


When it comes to all of the things that are cool about music blogging, it does not get any cooler than having the opportunity to write about the almighty Prostitutes in the year 2021! I came up in the later '90s era of punk rock and will forever insist that The Prostitutes were the greatest punk group of that period. After the band's first and second breakups, I lamented that this musical force of nature had been silenced forever with so much more left to give. But with the tenacity of a cockroach, Kevin McGovern has re-grouped The Prostitutes time and time again in different locales with different lineups. And the one thing that has remained unchanged through it all is the quality and the power of the music. Out on Last Punkers Records, the band's new EP "Shapeshift" is its first vinyl release since 2009. It took six months to record and probably even longer to be pressed due to COVID-related delays. But it was well worth the wait and will disappoint absolutely no one. 

Much like The Prostitutes' recent digital releases ("Shake Rattle Die", "Nineteen", "Cheap Highs"), "Shapeshift" retains the fire and the ferocity of The Prostitutes' vintage recordings while adding modern production touches and the kind of sophisticated songwriting approach you'd expect from a seasoned veteran of the punk scene. Dark and raging but also catchy and tuneful, "Shapeshift" is everything you could want from a Prostitutes song. On the B-side are two more ace tracks: the moody, hard-hitting "Needle In the Red" and the fierce, blistering "Rat Race". Vinyl is limited to 300 copies (50 on black and 250 and violet) and is sure to go fast. If you've been waiting a decade plus for the return of The Prostitutes to your turntable, satisfaction is guaranteed! And when it comes to that voice, there's nothing else like it in the punk world! 

It's still hard for me to believe that my first Prostitutes review was written 25 years ago. If you had told me back then that Kevin would still have this band going in the dystopian future of 2021 and would still be making records this good, I would have sworn you were insane! Click here to order the vinyl!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Dany Laj and The Looks - Ten Easy Pieces

 


Ten Easy Pieces, the fourth album by Sudbury, Ontario's Dany Laj and The Looks, has been a fixture in my car CD player for a couple of weeks now. While it's most definitely an album for all seasons, Ten Easy Pieces is the perfect summertime rock and roll record. It's well documented that I was a big fan of the band's previous two albums Everything New Is New Again and Alive & Kicking. But with zero hesitation, I'll say that Ten Easy Pieces is the best album yet from Dany Laj and The Looks. With the previous albums, there were obvious "hits" that stood out. This time through, it's hard to pick a standout track since they're all so good. And the feel of this album is a little different as well. While it certainly has its serious, more melancholic moments, the overall vibe is joyful, energetic, and just plain fun. This is music that puts a smile on my face!

It's hardly surprising that Ten Easy Pieces is such a strong collection of songs. In advance of this album, Laj spent two years writing new songs and rearranging old ones. Some of these songs date all the way back to the early 2000s. 38 songs were eventually paired down to 12, and there's not a single sub-par track in the bunch. On this release, the band functions as a trio with drummer Dusty Campbell joining Laj and his musical and life partner Jeanette Dowling. The album also features appearances by Laj's pals Paul Loewenberg (keyboards), Greg Mihajic (harmonica and keyboards), Dunstan Topp (drums), and Zack Tymchuck (percussion). Ten Easy Pieces is a fine example of the musical appeal of Dany Laj and The Looks. The punk and power pop elements remain, mixed seamlessly with influences ranging from '60s pop to garage rock to indie rock to straight-forward rock and roll. "Smile", which channels the Beatles via early Elvis Costello, is an infectious opener that sets the tone for the entire album. "You & Me", the album's most recent single, is so catchy that it ought to come with a government warning. If "Don't Keep Me Guessin'" doesn't have you up and dancing within 30 seconds, there may be no hope for you. "Pick It Up" and "I Play Guitar" are every bit as rockin' and hook-laden. While the second half of the record is not without its up-tempo tracks ("Till Jockey's Lament" and "Wanted To Be Loved" are both top-notch rockers), it also sneaks in some quality deep cuts. "One More Hole" is "mellow rock" done right, while "Smoke In the Sun" is a wild foray into psychedelic garage territory. "In Other Words" brings John Lennon to mind. "Who's Pickin' On You" is a terrific cover of a little-known gem by the John Borra Band. 

With Ten Easy Pieces, Dany Laj and The Looks have delivered a set of pop/rock and roll songs that absolutely delights from start to finish. Laj as a songwriter is as rock-solid and dependable as Carey Price between the pipes. He and Dowling have infused their music with their special chemistry, and that especially comes through on this release. I've never had the pleasure of seeing this band live, but the vibe of this record is how I imagine the vibe of the group's on-stage performances. If you haven't yet seen the music video for "You & Me" directed by Ryan Thompson, check it out below. It's absolutely insane! Ten Easy Pieces releases on LP today on the Toronto-based label We Are Busy Bodies. CD release (with five digital bonus tracks) has been licensed to Rum Bar Records!

Friday, June 04, 2021

Johnathan Pushkar - Compositions


Well Johnathan Pushkar has gone out and squashed the sophomore jinx! The Nashville-based pop tunesmith is back today with Compositions -- his second album on the legendary Jem Records. I described his 2019 debut Straighten Up as "the Wonders album that never was". And while Compositions remains largely in that same British Invasion/'60s pop lane, it is by no means a mere repeat of its predecessor. On this release, Pushkar really comes into his own as a storyteller. Each song presents a self-contained story. And while the subject matter largely pertains to love and relationships, these songs do reflect Pushkar's personal growth over the past couple years. Like so many others, he found himself changed by the events of 2020. What results is a more mature and well-rounded sophomore release from one of the pop world's most charming and impressive young talents. 

Written from the perspective of a young man eagerly anticipating a long-awaited reunion with his sweetheart, "Any Second Now" sets an optimistic tone that does bring Straighten Up to mind. And a song like "Can't Get You Out of My Mind" reminds us that the Johnathan Pushkar we first fell in love with is not completely going away. But what makes Compositions so appealing is how it runs through such a wide range of emotions and human experiences. The Beach Boys inspired "Does What She Does" spins a tale of a girl who lives to breaks hearts, while "Just Friends" dives deep into the pain of unrequited love. "Alexandra" is a sinister story about a girl who never wants to leave your side -- literally. "Making Plans" is about spending a summer apart from your true love and pretty much just wanting to be miserable the whole time (sounds like something I would have done!). Elsewhere Pushkar crafts tales of destined love ("Red Eye") and abandoned dreams ("No One Ever Said You Had To Stay") that are practically novels condensed into three-minute pop songs. For me, the high points of the album are "Gonna Be Alright" and "Love Will Save the Day" -- where Pushkar reflects on the trying times of the past year and ultimately offers reassurance that things will get better. It's as if he's giving the listening audience a giant virtual hug. I, for one, welcome that very much! 

Complementing Pushkar's 11 original songs is one very special cover of Paul McCartney's "Junior's Farm". Pushkar's version features drummer Geoff Britton -- who played on the original recording! Dan Ealey appears on the track as well, playing the same Rickenbacker bass he famously lent to Paul McCartney! 

Compositions, like Straighten Up, was produced by Wyatt Funderburk. I would be hard-pressed to name a more perfect union of artist and producer. Both of these guys are all about timeless guitar pop, and together they create magic. The influences driving Compositions range from Buddy Holly to the Beatles to the Beach Boys to modern-day power pop, yet there's never a doubt that you're listening to a Johnathan Pushkar record. His voice and style are unmistakable. His innate likeability, which was already undeniable on Straighten Up, has reached another level on Compositions. Listening to this album is like spending time with a good friend. Compositions is a big step forward for Johnathan Pushkar, yet it still satisfies on a pure pop level. You know how sometimes you'll hear an artist's sophomore release and call it "different" because you can't say it's better than the debut? Well there's no need for the D-word in the case of Johnathan Pushkar's sophomore long player. Compositions is considerably better than its predecessor and an absolute treat for all of you who love guitar-driven pop music.

The Dents - self titled


It was always my belief that The Dents should have been huge. I know I say that about a lot of bands, but it's especially true in the case of The Dents. In the middle 2000s period of punk rock, The Dents were one of the best bands going. They had killer tunes, a blistering live act, and two powerhouse vocalists/songwriters in Michelle Paulhus and Jennifer D'Angora. They were beloved in their hometown of Boston but never properly recognized across the globe. The band released a criminally underrated debut album called Time For Biting in 2005 -- which sadly turned out to be the only LP the group would make in its original run circa 2003-2007. Fast forward to today: The Dents have been back together a while and are primed to take the world by storm. Out today on Rum Bar Records, The Dents' self-titled EP is their first official release in 14 years. Three of these tracks were released digitally in 2018, and opening cut "Last One Standing" is a remix of one of the band's signature songs from back in the day. Altogether it makes for a terrific package. There are four songs on the CD plus three digital bonus tracks. Listening to these songs, I'm struck by how much the world still needs a band like The Dents in 2021. The sound is melodic but hard-edged, bolstered by rocking musicianship and top-notch production. Paulhus and D'Angora are exceptional vocalists both individually and in harmony. There was a time in the not so distant past when you could hear music like this on your favorite "alternative" radio station.  

Interestingly, the centerpiece of The Dents' self-titled EP is a cover of "Homeless" -- a song originally written and recorded by Holly Beth Vincent for her project The Oblivious in 1993. "Homeless" was the first song that Malibu Lou shared with me in advance of the EP, and I can totally understand why. The Dents absolutely shine as a band on this nearly six minute track -- sounding more than ready to rock the roof off of an arena near you. Both lead singers are vital to this powerful duet, and Craig Adams tears it up like the guitar god you already knew he was. "Last One Standing" is certainly the anthem of this EP, and "Want It Back" is probably the most obvious "hit". But it's the stunning cover of "Homeless" that is the real "grower" here. Every time I go back to this EP, I'm struck by the song's brooding intensity. The Dents honor a hidden gem of Holly Beth Vincent's catalog but also manage to make the song their own. I also like the way "Homeless" fits in with the rest of the tracks. It's different, but by no means does it sound out of place on this EP. 

A lot has changed in the independent music universe since The Dents' heyday. These days we have social media, streaming platforms, and a vast network of underground radio programs promoting punk/garage/rock and roll bands all over the world. If a band put out a CD in 2005, the only way to hear it was to...buy the CD! Today, a song can go viral in moments. It is in this particular environment that The Dents release their first new EP in a decade and a half. It delivers four (or seven) tracks of powerful punk rock and roll with killer hooks. Something tells me The Dents won't be Boston's best-kept secret very much longer.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Hayley and the Crushers - "Cul-De-Sac"

For my first post of unofficial summer 2021, I present the brand-new single from one of my favorite bands, Hayley and the Crushers! The band was recently signed to Kitten Robot Records, a label founded by pop icon Josie Cotton back in 2018. Now that's truly a match made in heaven! "Cul-De-Sac" is the Crushers' first release on Kitten Robot, and of course it's amazing. It was recorded and mixed by legendary punk producer Paul Roessler at Kitten Robot Studios in Los Angeles. "Cul-De-Sac" is not your typical "summer song", but it's an extraordinary pop song and a new high point in the annals of the Crusherverse. Inspired by Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives with an added touch of COVID PTSD, this is a song about feeling trapped in a supposedly sunny place. Hayley's lyrics powerfully evoke the silent suffering of mid-century housewives doomed to lives of forced domesticity ("And when he asks you why you're so cold, you're somewhere else/you tell him cul-de-sac is French for Dead End"). It was mere coincidence that the song was recorded during a worldwide pandemic -- when Hayley and Dr. Cain were essentially trapped in a sunny cul-de-sac of their own. So while "Cul-De-Sac" is not a COVID song per se, its themes are extremely relatable at this moment. It's a little bit of a different kind of song for Hayley and the Crushers. It's moody and haunting, with Roessler's production magnificently playing up the range of emotions layered in the song. And Hayley's lead vocal? Just wow! "Cul-De-Sac", like last summer's remarkable single "Jacaranda", proves that great pop need not lack substance. For the full backstory on "Cul-De-Sac", check out this post from Hayley's personal blog. Click here to find the single on your favorite streaming platform!