Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Glad Machine and Golden Richards - Summer Blast Split Single

The title pretty much says it all! Out on Chicago power pop label Big Blast Records, Summer Blast Split Single is meant to be played in the car with the top down or cranked up loud by the pool. If you're not yet familiar with Big Blast, the two bands featured here will give you an instant feel for what this label is all about. Up first is The Glad Machine with a track called "Baby, It's You". This song falls somewhere between late '70s power pop and the more contemporary stylings of Jellyfish. Those melodies will hit your eardrums and quickly make their way to all of your pleasure centers. With its strong lead vocal and majestic harmonies, this the definitive melodic pop song. Golden Richards, a band I've reviewed a few times already, follow with what is easily their best track to date. "C'mon C'mon (The Makeout Song)" is, as advertised, a song to make out to! This is a fun, sunny pop tune with an absolutely massive hook. It tells a tale of a chance encounter on the beach with the girl who got away -- and you know what ought to happen next! Golden Richards really went all-out here to craft a Grade-A pop hit. This song has got it all: a classic sing-along chorus, a definitely summery guitar riff, a sweet bridge, a nifty outro, and even dueling guitar and keyboard solos! It's a timeless summertime rocker that appeals to the eternal teenager in all of us. 

Summer Blast Single is a blast indeed. Just push play, and you've got yourself an instant good time! Both of these songs would be fine additions to your summertime pop playlist. And if you don't have a summertime pop playlist, what in the world are you waiting for?

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Vista Blue - Back to the Summer Olympics

Sequels are almost never as good as the original, but every so often they are. Five years ago, Vista Blue released "At the Summer Olympics", an absolutely magical ode to the 2016 Rio Games. And now with the 2020 Summer Olympics in full swing, Vista Blue is back with a sequel appropriately titled "Back to the Summer Olympics". It's the lead track off of the band's new EP -- which you can download for free from Bandcamp. In preparation for reviewing the sequel, I revisited the original and judged it to be in the top tier of all Vista Blue songs. But I've got to say that "Back to the Summer Olympics" belongs in that rare category of sequels that equal or even surpass the original. It's got everything you could want from a Vista Blue song: a tuneful melody, strong harmonies, endearing lyrics, and an absolute earworm of a chorus. You even get a keyboard solo! And without spoiling anything too much, I'll just say that you should listen to this track before you dismiss it as just another Vista Blue "sports song". How does this band manage to be so incredibly prolific yet still delight me every single time? Rounding out the EP are a couple of splendid tracks. "Hey Anthony" clocks in at just a couple ticks past a minute-and-a-half and finds Vista Blue worshipping at the church of the Ramones. It's not easy to write a song this simple and still have it be so catchy and irresistible, but that's exactly what Mike and Mark have pulled off here. To say this track lends itself to singing along would be the understatement of the year! If a song like this had existed when I was six years old, I might have actually started listening to punk in 1977! "It's Summertime Again" is a song that Vista Blue originally contributed to the Ramonescore Radio Records compilation 20 Original Summer Hits. This is the ultimate summertime track. It's an upbeat tune about having fun in the sun, listening to music, and destressing after a difficult year (a very pertinent message for this particular summer!). Did I hear a Zatopeks reference?! If you dig this track, I recommend checking out the full compilation, which features a whole slew of today's top pop-punk and power pop bands. 

I have it on very good authority that several more Vista Blue releases are due out by the end of this year. I say bring 'em on! "Back to the Summer Olympics" is the "Let's Twist Again" of pop-punk!

Friday, July 23, 2021

Geoff Palmer - Charts & Graphs

Geoff Palmer has been a favorite of mine since the earliest days of F & L. With The Connection, The New Trocaderos, and Kurt Baker Band, he's been a huge part of several albums that have influenced the musical direction of this blog. As a a solo artist, he's been one of the brightest stars of contemporary pop-punk and power pop. Last year, he and Lucy Ellis almost managed to redeem 2020 with a delightful collection of duets titled Your Face Is Weird. So when I heard that Palmer was releasing a new LP this year, it immediately became one of my most looked-forward-to albums of 2021. Out today on Stardumb Records, Rum Bar Records, and Memorable But Not Honorable, Charts & Graphs is Palmer's second solo LP. And it does not disappoint! 

Like 2019's Pulling Out All The StopsCharts & Graphs rolls together power pop and pop-punk in a way that's pleasing to fans of either genre. And much like Your Face Is Weird, this album finds Palmer expanding his core sound with songs in a variety of musical styles. If you're craving "vintage" Geoff Palmer punky pop tunes, songs like "Many More Drugs", "Don't Be", and "Tomorrow" are guaranteed to satisfy. But some of the true gems of this album are more unexpected. The title track, written by Emma Tobin, is a poignant breakup song that's both clever and devastating. The country rocker "Count Me In" pairs an upbeat, hard-driving energy with highly philosophical lyrics about the nature of the afterlife. "What Would Paul Westerberg Do" has a lot to live up to based on its title, but it proves to be a satisfying homage in every respect. And I'm totally obsessed with "This Monkey", a song Palmer co-wrote with Zack Sprague. It's unlike any song Palmer has ever recorded before. It's kind of poppy, kind of modern rock-ish, and so sneaky catchy that it'll be stuck in your head before you even know what hit you. The vocal exchanges between Palmer and Sprague on this track are pure gold! 

Charts & Graphs is everything I wanted it to be and more. It shows the many sides of Geoff Palmer while still embracing his roots in pop-punk. In a modern-day power pop punk scene that can sometimes get a little "samey", Palmer is one of the true originals. When you hear one of his songs, you know it's him. His personality comes shining through on Charts & Graphs. Whether he's recounting amusing tales of misheard song lyrics, reflecting on the importance of not being an asshole, lamenting love gone wrong, or pondering the upside of eternal damnation, he's super likeable and always great fun to listen to. For my money, he's one of the best songwriters in rock and roll today. I highly recommend Charts & Graphs to all fans of good music!

The Peppermint Kicks - self titled

So you like the pop side of rock and roll, but you still need it to really rock? Well then The Peppermint Kicks are the band for you! Co-fronted by Dan Kopko (Watts, The Shang Hi Los) and Sal Baglio (The Stompers, The Amplifier Heads), The Peppermint Kicks are a throwback to the days of CREEM magazine, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, $7 arena shows, and band posters all over your bedroom wall. The band's self-titled debut album releases today on the mighty Rum Bar Records. This ten-song long player would not have sounded out of place on your teenage turntable alongside T. Rex, Cheap Trick, the Ramones, and The Who. Equal parts glam rock, power pop, first wave punk, and big hooky classic rock, The Peppermint Kicks sound has been likened to "a cool drink of strawberry lemonade, with a sprig of mint and a gut-punch chaser". Yum! Kopko and Baglio are both longtime fixtures of the Boston rock and roll scene. Combining the musical visions of both of these artists (much of it shared), you get a killer rock and roll band steeped in the timeless traditions of pop songwriting. What could be better?

I love that The Peppermint Kicks have come out big! The band kicks off its debut album (and entire discography) with a full-on rock anthem in "When Rock & Roll Met Your Dad". An epic love letter to rock and roll, this is the perfect introduction to The Peppermint Kicks and what they're all about. It's immediately followed by "Hey Fanzine!", which takes us back to the glory days of the rocking power pop radio hit. Building off such an auspicious start, the album proceeds to take you on a whirlwind tour of the coolest sounds of rock and roll's heyday. "Strawberry Girls" is a snappy, melodic tune that sounds like it could have sprung from the later '60s U.K. "I Don't Hear A Single" is a timeless pop song that ironically sounds...like a single! "Johnny D's (Play It Again)" is a vintage Danny The K fists-in-the-air sing-along rocker. "Shag '72" is an old style rock and roll toe-tapper with hooks for days. "Stooge" channels peak-era Rolling Stones. To my absolute delight, "Rock & Roll Rampage" embraces nearly every arena rock cliché in the book. 

It is 100% safe to say that any fan of Watts or The Amplifier Heads will love The Peppermint Kicks. You get the best of both bands here. Kopko and Baglio both sing, play guitar, and contribute some piano and percussion. Lead songwriting duties are split 50/50. Legend has it that the ghost of Little Richard commanded these two individuals to join forces. I, for one, do not doubt that narrative. This band and this album are a celebration of a moment in time when rock was king. Every song is a hit -- unless it's an anthem. And while no one is getting rich these days writing rock and roll songs with great hooks, you know you've made it when the likes of Palmyra Delran and Genya Ravan are singing your praises. Whether you were a teenager in the '70s or simply wish you could have been, this pop-rock cocktail ought to hit the spot!

Pale Lips and The Sorels - Do The Rumbar Rumble

The latest chapter in the momentous alliance between Pale Lips and Rum Bar Records is a very special split CD release. Do The Rumbar Rumble pairs of two of Canada's biggest rock and roll sensations in Montreal's Pale Lips and Winnipeg's The Sorels. Now sadly this is not new material from either band, but it does compile the tracks from each band's long out of print first two seven-inches. The first three Pale Lips tracks date all the way back to 2015's debut single Got A Sweet Tooth. I had not listened to these songs in a long time. Upon revisiting them, I've found that I still really like them! These were the songs that made me a Pale Lips fan. They're definitely a little rawer compared to later recordings, but I kind of like that. From the start, the band's smarts, sense of humor, charm, and flair for fun catchy tunes were simply undeniable. If you're out and about and see some crazy person in headphones joyfully singing the lyrics, "I'm dreaming of killing you", it's probably just me. The progression between that first single and 2017's Should've Known Better! is quite striking. "Don't Take Your Switchblade to New York" remains an essential Pale Lips track (and essential life advice!).  

The four Sorels tracks on Do The Rumbar Rumble are the only four songs that this band has officially released. These songs originally came out on two singles co-released by Reta Records and Surfin' Ki: 2019's "She's In The Gang" and this year's "Spring Break". And since those two records sold out before you even had time to blink, this CD is your best hope of procuring these tunes in a tangible format. Both of the A-sides mix pop hooks with punky rock and roll energy and classic girl group influences. The B-sides, "School Girl Blues" and "Palo Santo", find the band embracing its tougher-edged glam and rock side. Just you wait until The Sorels release an album...you're all gonna go nuts! Join the fan club now before the lines get too long! 

So who wins this rumble between two of Canada's finest? That's easy: we all do! It just makes sense for all of these songs to be on the same album. Pop this disc into your CD player, and you've got yourself a party for the next 23 minutes. And that artwork? Oh my god!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

JENNY - "Trajinero"

As you may know, JENNY is the solo project of a great friend of this blog -- Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls, Maniac, Suspect Parts). "Trajinero" is JENNY's debut Spanish language single and second release overall. It will be coming out as a 7" record on Wanda Records in Europe and Dirt Cult Records in North America. "Trajinero" is something a little different from Maurer. He recorded the track with Jacobo Fernandez (Las Bruscas, Les Tragiques, Desobedientes) and Gabriel Lopez (Espectroplasma, Sonido Gallo Negro) in Mexico City in November of 2020. Co-written by Maurer and Fernandez, the song is loosely based on the plot of Emilio "El Indio" Fernández's 1943 film Maria Candelaria. Its protagonist is a lovelorn working-class trajinero who commits a crime of passion and must face the consequences. In just a few lines, the song tells an epic tale. Yet even with such dramatic themes, this is an immensely fun song that ought to have you dancing and singing along in short order. Man, I love those keyboards! A truly amazing music video for "Trajinero"  (embedded below) was animated by Miguel Jara and Celestial Brizuela. 

"Trajinero" is backed with "Kids of Today", which Maurer recorded in Los Angeles with his former LA Drugz bandmates Cezar Mora, James Carman, and Johnny "JD" Reyes. The track is a classic shot of power pop punk in Maurer's signature style. What a powerhouse single! The digital release of "Trajinero" is available now from JENNY's Bandcamp. Hit up Wanda Records or Dirt Cult Records to pre-order vinyl! 

Friday, July 16, 2021

JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson

In continuation of its series of tribute compilations to the icons of rock, JEM Records today releases an excellent collection of Beach Boys/Brian Wilson covers. JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson has been released in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Beach Boys. Just like last fall's marvelous tribute to John Lennon, this album demonstrates the amazing things that happen when you put legendary material in the hands of creative and immensely talented musical artists. It features 15 tracks from nine of the top acts on the JEM roster. Each band/artist was given free reign to pick a Brian Wilson song and interpret it uniquely. What results is a tribute album that will restore your faith in tribute albums. 

Covering Brian Wilson is an awful lot like covering John Lennon. You've got to do something pretty special when you're tackling material this magnificent and this beloved. If you stay too close to the original version, it's dismissed as pointless. If you stray too far, it's considered sacrilege. Your primary task is to celebrate a legendary artist, but you still have to make the song your own. With all of that in mind, I've got to say that the JEM roster has absolutely nailed this tribute to Brian Wilson. The songs selected range from classics to deep cuts, with the majority culled from the Beach Boys' Capitol Records heyday. My first reaction to The Weeklings' opening pairing of "The Warmth of the Sun" and "Help Me, Rhonda" was, "Wow, that's really good!" As I listened to the remainder of the album, I had the same reaction several times. All of these bands and artists have managed to put their own signatures on these classic songs. The Grip Weeds (covering "You're So Good To Me") and The Gold Needles (Covering "Love and Mercy" off of Wilson's debut solo album) interpret Wilson's artistry through their own unique lens of modern-day psychedelic pop. Both versions are stellar. Nick Piunti does the best cover version of "Hang On To Your Ego" that I've heard to date. Johnathan Pushkar's rendition of "Please Let Me Wonder" from The Beach Boys Today! is simply beautiful and wonderfully reflective of his unique charm as an artist. Richard Barone's take on "In My Room" suggests what the song might have sounded like if it had been recorded in 1966 instead of 1963. And the highlight of the album has to be Lisa Mychols and Super 8's stunning, girl group inspired version of "Don't Worry, Baby". It gives me chills! 

JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson does what all tribute albums ought to do: it allows us to view the creations of a legendary songwriter in a different light. It's enjoyable in its own right, and it also makes me want to go put on some Beach Boys records. It's not that any of us have ever forgotten how great these songs are. But hearing them again as interpreted by some of the finest power pop and pop-rock artists of present-day gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for the immensity of Brian Wilson's talent. Even if you cast aside the imagery and mythology that has made the Beach Boys an American icon, you're still left with some of the most remarkable songs and beautiful melodies ever written. And as this collection proves, these songs sound just as good in 2021 as they did decades ago. Kudos to Marty Scott for having faith in his artists to pull off a Brian Wilson tribute that would live up to expectations. And as a special added touch, the liner notes for this album were penned by Ben Greenman, co-author of I Am Brian Wilson, A Memoir. JEM has set quite the high bar with the first two installments in its tribute series. Can it continue to deliver at this level? I have no doubt!

The Adam Brown - What We'll Never Know (Deluxe Edition)

Out on Rum Bar Records is the deluxe CD reissue of What We'll Never Know -- the most recent album by Montreal-based indie rock band The Adam Brown. Originally self-released by the band last October, What We'll Never Know manages to be a different kind of release for Rum Bar while still fitting in perfectly on the label roster. Formed in 2004, The Adam Brown presents a very cool mix of musical styles -- think old school indie rock meets Brit-pop with touches of new wave, glam rock, garage pop, and contemporary modern rock. In recent years, I've developed quite a fondness for indie rock with hooks. With that in mind, What We'll Never Know is right in my wheelhouse. The sound is cool but in no way pretentious. The Adam Brown knows how to craft catchy tunes with big hooks, and the band's lyrics are an ideal combination of humorous, quirky, and thoughtful. Infectious pop tunes like "Indie Rock Has-Beens", "Hummin' Around", and "The Post" quickly had me designating this album as essential summertime listening. But much to my surprise, I've found myself digging some of the more "indie rock" sounding tracks just as much. With each subsequent listen, "I Will Let You Run" and "Spirit Tacos" lodge themselves deeper into my head. 

There's a lot going on on What We'll Never Know. The album crosses a wide variety of musical and vocal styles and features the contributions of three drummers and a couple of co-vocalists. Yet the album is tied together by consistently strong melodies and an undeniable charm. Based on this album, I would absolutely want to see The Adam Brown live! At the end of the day, you just can't beat good songs. This is a record that's full of them -- with the new reissue tacking on two bonus tunes for a total of 12 tracks. I love how "Indie Rock Has-Beens" is hilariously self-deprecating even as it challenges stereotypes about hipsters. "The Post" employs a sports metaphor that just about everyone in my reading audience will get. You have to appreciate a band that can write a song about encountering tiny levitating disco fans in the jungle and actually have it sound like...disco! And surely The Adam Brown is the first band in the history of recorded music to pose the question of whether or not taco trucks exist in the afterlife. One of my favorite things about Rum Bar Records is how Lou is always finding records that deserve to be heard and introducing them to a new and wider audience. What We'll Never Know most definitely deserves to be heard, and I expect it will be a big hit with the Rum Bar fan base. Vinyl is still available directly from the band!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Kurt Baker - "Anytime At All"

I'm always stoked to get new music from Kurt Baker. Well here's some new old music from Kurt Baker! "Anytime At All" was recorded by Baker with his Spanish band The Kurt Baker Combo a few years back. For whatever reason, it went unreleased -- until now! This track is a cover of a song off of The Yum Yums' third album ...Whatever Rhymes With Baby. If you've never heard the original, do yourself a favor and check it out immediately! The Yum Yums are one of the greatest power pop punk bands to ever walk the Earth, and Baker's rendition of "Anytime At All" is a tremendous tribute. If you've been hearing "Anytime At All" on the Underground Garage lately and wondered where this song came from, well...it came from the god-like songwriting prowess of Morten Henriksen! Of course Baker and the boys give it their own distinctive twist. This is the first of several "from the vaults" digital singles that Baker will be releasing on Wicked Cool Records this year. I must say this track was a great choice for a first installment! Also stay tuned for a new Kurt Baker 7" on Wicked Cool, "Keep It Tight"/"Get Away", which is due to release August 27th!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Neon Bone - I Wanted You To Know

Madrid's Jarama 45RPM Recs. continues to crank out the hits! Since 2016, there are certain things you can count on from Jarama 45RPM. You know you're always getting a 7" record spinning at 45 RPM, and you know you're always getting a top band from the punk/garage/power pop universe. The label's latest release is a perfect example of that. Germany's Neon Bone is one of the best (if not THE best) pop-punk bands going these days. Fresh off of last year's fantastic album Make It Last, Neon Bone returns with an equally good EP. I Wanted You To Know features four tracks of first-rate poppy punk in the band's usual style. With its buzz saw guitars and melodies redolent of '50s/'60s rock and roll, the title track represents everything I love about this band! It comes in just one tick over two minutes, and of course it's a love song! "Put It On A Rest" and "Why Did You Go Away" are in a similar vein -- hitting that just-right mix of punk and pop. The EP concludes with "Island of Dreams", a punked-up cover of a 1962 hit by the folk-pop trio The Springfields. While this is obviously a very different version of a classic song, it really illustrates how Gumbo's songwriting is influenced by the timelessly melodic music of many decades past. If you love pop-punk, you are already aware that Neon Bone is as good as it gets these days. And I Wanted You To Know does not disappoint. Vinyl is almost sold out, so hop to it while supplies last!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Real Sickies - Love is for Lovers

Love is for Lovers is the fourth album from Edmonton's Real Sickies -- assuming you count last year's amazing, digital-only release Quarantined (as I do). But since Quarantined was literally created in one week, I have no objection to anyone who considers Love is for Lovers to be the "proper" follow-up to 2019's Out of Space. Real Sickies had been working on some of the songs on Love is for Lovers since even before Out of Space was released. So it's no surprise that there's a noticeable progression between the two albums. The press releases I've read in advance of Love is for Lovers indicated that the new album would lean more "pop" than previous releases. And clearly I had no objection to that! 

Out now on Montreal's Stomp Records, Love is for Lovers is by no means a radical shift from Real Sickies' well-established punk/power pop style. But it definitely shows a big advancement from the band's previous releases in terms of songwriting, production, and stylistic variety. Basically, this is the album where Real Sickies take it to the next level. Fear not: there are definitely some "classic" sounding Real Sickies numbers on this record. Songs like "Communication Breakdown", "Least Favorite of Mine", and the super-catchy title track are quintessential poppy punk tunes that hit that sweet spot between the Ramones and Teenage Head. But on this record, Real Sickies demonstrate that they can do way more than that. The songs on Love is for Lovers range from ripping punkers ("Sickies Don't Talk", "Tear It All Down") to absolutely marvelous pure pop tunes ("Destructive Nights", "Hold On Baby"). And then there are some songs that really surprised me. I'm catching Barracudas vibes from "I Think of Sunshine". "Give And Take", a duet featuring country singer Lucette, sounds unlike anything this band has done before. And while this is by far the most "pop" Real Sickies album yet, that doesn't mean it's lightweight. Songs touch on subjects such as the ups and downs of friendships, personal growth and regression, addiction, and the very nature of love itself. 

If Real Sickies were content to repeat themselves, they probably could have stopped after Get Well Soon. But they've managed to do interesting things with each successive record. Out of Space was their "pop-punk" record, and Quarantined was one of the finest "pandemic albums" released in any genre of music last year. With Love is for Lovers, the band has embraced its pop side like never before without losing the fundamental appeal of a Real Sickies album. Hit up the group's Bandcamp to snag the pink vinyl with white splatter or white vinyl with red splatter!

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Rinehearts - "One Thing One Time"

Rinehearts are a trio out of Perth, Australia following in the city's grand tradition of power pop. In fact, Perth's power pop godfather Dom Mariani is a big fan and will be assisting in the production of the group's forthcoming sophomore LP! In advance of the new album, the band has released a single on Melbourne-based Cheersquad Records & Tapes. "One Thing One Time" was recorded with long-time friend and engineer Al Smith at Musgrove Studios and then completed at the band's self-built Pink House Studios. It's a jangly garage/power pop number that sounds like something you would have heard on college radio in the 1980s or early '90s. It reflects on the importance of slowing down and dealing with things as they come -- which is very sound advice in these trying times. I last reviewed Rinehearts when they released their debut EP in 2016. That EP was recorded when the band was just a few months into its existence. Since then, the group has built off of the raw potential of that first release and grown into a truly fantastic pop band. I highly recommend checking out Rinehearts' debut album Can't Do Nothing from 2019. The band is currently hunkered down in its studio working on the follow-up!

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Vista Blue - "Magic On This Train"


It's always a tremendous occasion when I can review new music from Nashville-based power pop punk band Vista Blue. New single "Magic On This Train" is a sneak preview of a set of slasher songs the band will be releasing later this year. "Magic On This Train" is an homage to the 1980 film Terror Train. If you did not know this song was about Terror Train, you might mistake it for a somewhat sweet love song set on a train. "There's gonna be magic on this train tonight with you" sure sounds like a wonderfully romantic line to me! What a nice little pop song! But then you start to wonder: what did these people do to Kenny, and why is David Copperfield on the train? 

As a tribute to Terror Train, "Magic On This Train" is an absolute winner. If you've seen the movie, you'll recognize the references. But if you haven't seen the movie, the song won't spoil it for you. You don't have to be a fan of this movie or horror films at all to enjoy this song. This is a vintage Vista Blue track: an upbeat pop-punk tune with buzzing guitars, crisp harmonies, and a smattering of keyboards. It's just a super catchy tune. As a special bonus, Nick Spoon from Lesser Creatures contributes a nifty guitar solo!

I am continually delighted by Vista Blue's ability to write songs about a variety of subjects and still retain the same level of charm. I am notoriously not a big horror guy, but I always find Vista Blue's slasher songs amusing, endearing, and just plain fun. And I must admit: I really want to watch Terror Train now!

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Food Fight - self titled

This is turning into the year of French power pop! Pogy et les Kéfars released a terrific album a few weeks back, and now Food Fight has released its debut single on Snap!! Records. And you know if it's on Snap!!, it's gotta be good! Food Fight is based in Rennes and features members of The Headliners, Cheap Riot, The Ready-Mades, and Abuse. Basically this is a French band in 2021 that sounds totally like a U.K. band from 1979! The musical style is a mix of mod, power pop, and late '70s English/Irish pop punk. The press release mentions The Nips as a point of reference, and that's pretty spot-on! I don't think it's possible to go wrong emulating The Nips! This release contains four mid-tempo tracks that will appeal to both mod revival enthusiasts and fans of today's punk/powerpop. Vinyl is limited to 300 copies, so hit up the Snap!! Bandcamp page if you're interested!

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Rich Ragany And The Digressions - Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache

Album #2 from London-based rock and roll band Rich Ragany And The Digressions is, as expected, absolutely brilliant. Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache follows up 2018's remarkable debut ...Like We'll Never Make It. While Ragany (Role Models, The Loyalties) originally assembled this band to back him as a solo artist, things quickly changed once all of these individuals started playing together and clicked in a special way. This is a true band -- and one of the best ones out there! 

Ragany is quick to acknowledge that Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache is a group effort in every way. It's an album which highlights both the individuals players' unique talents and the band's undeniable chemistry as a unit. 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. According to Ragany, the theme of the album is "finding strength and celebrating life throughout heartbreak and loss -- the cyclical renewal in life." That's a remarkably relatable concept in the year 2021. These 12 songs (several of which were co-written by Gaff and/or Brook) are collectively about surviving the rough times and finding the light even when darkness prevails. By no means has Ragany left his power pop instincts fully behind. Songs like "Heartbreakers Don't Try", "Marionette", and "Blackout Til Tuesday" will hook you with knockout choruses and warm, inviting melodies. But overall the strength of this record (and this band) is that it transcends genre and allows Ragany to pursue ideas that may have never worked until he had a band as formidable as The Digressions behind him. This is an album that flows seamlessly from cinematic rockers to gentle ballads to jangly pop tunes to country and folk tinged numbers to boozy pop-rock anthems. There are some obvious standout tracks ("Sometimes We Can Hear The Voices" is the kind of album opener that some bands spend their careers aspiring to write), but the real beauty of Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache is the way it flows as an entire album. I'd be hard-pressed to name a single song here that isn't utterly fantastic. And you just won't hear music with more heart and soul than this. 

Far from an escape from life's woes, Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache is an album that faces them head-on and still finds hope and triumph. Put this record on while you're taking a long walk or sitting outside with a cold beverage and reflecting on your existence. It's album worthy of being fully experienced -- just like life itself.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

VonErichs - First Blood Match (tag team review)

"I've got me a tag team partner -- and he’s the greatest tag team partner that anybody in the world could ever have!"
-Randy Savage, 1988  

(Review by Ralph Rivera)
Well this came from one of my hair-brained ideas that Josh and I should do a "tag team" review of this album once it came out. I seriously love Josh, and we've been turning each other onto music since the '90s! So on to this album. Does it live up to the "hype"? Well as someone who's been an "insider" on this project since last year and ate up every song they released, I have to say this went beyond ALL expectations. If you have any knowledge of what's going on in the "Outloud/Mom's Basement" pop punk scene, you'll instantly recognize some of the voices on these songs. But first & foremost, you need to know this - if you didn't grow up watching '80s/'90s WWF wrestling, you'll have no idea what these songs are about. So what? Another gimmick band? Well let me tell you this - if you can write songs this good, sign me up. Starting with the intro song "Running Wild", this is pure pop punk perfection. A tribute to the one and only Hulkster! From that first round, you get songs about the joys of cocaine and some of the best wrestlers to come out of that era. And THEN you get "Kamala Ate My Baby". A song that breaks the mold and enters a '50s/'60s style vibe that enters once again with "Elizabeth" -- a beautiful retro style tribute to the FIRST ever female sidekick in pro wrestling with awesome co-vocals by the mysterious "Miss Lorraina". Songs like "Texas Tornado", "Figure Four", and "Ring Rat" just seal the match. Ending with the anthem "Horsemen Never Die", this is a pure labor of love by all members involved. Did this album live up to my expectations? Well let's just say this will tide me over until Black Russians drop their next manifesto to take over your weak, pathetic lives! This album is the musical equivalent to a chokeslam from The Undertaker. Just wrap your head around that!

-Ralph Rivera

(Review by Lord Rutledge) 
As far as concepts album go, it doesn't get much cooler than a pop-punk supergroup doing a full album of songs about the glory days of professional wrestling. But what I appreciate the most about VonErichs' First Blood Match is how well the concept is executed. Even if these songs weren't about wrestling, this would still be a fantastic pop-punk record. VonErichs really know how to write top quality three-chord punk tunes and pound them out with power and precision. Great thought and detail went into the wrestling aspect of this release, but just as much effort went into the songwriting, musicianship, and production. So even if the wrestlers referenced on these songs were well before your time, First Blood Match is still a must-hear if you're a huge fan of modern-day pop-punk and Ramonescore. 

Now of course this album is special treat if you're a fan later '80s/early '90s wrestling. These songs celebrate some of the incredible personalities that made pro wrestling so fascinating back in the day. Here you'll find tributes to the likes of Hulk Hogan, Brett Hart, The Four Horsemen, Randy Savage & Miss Elizabeth, and of course Kerry Von Erich. There are also songs that dig deeper into the old WWF talent pool (Kamala, Bad New Brown, Repo Man) as well as an homage to cocaine. And because this is a pop-punk record, you can expect some interesting twists on the wrestling theme. Leave it to VonErichs to turn the tale of Greg "The Hammer" Valentine into a love song! "Kamala Ate My Baby" touches on themes of love lost like no band ever has before. And "Smasher Gave Me The Ax (When Crush Started Coming Around)" -- about the downfall of the mighty Demolition -- is the ultimate breakup song! 

Comprised of several stars of the pop-punk underground and assisted by some mysterious special guests, VonErichs have delivered a blood match that fully lives up to its billing. This release is right at home on Mom's Basement Records -- the reigning heavyweight champion of pop-punk labels. What a fun record! I've already got my fingers crossed for a sequel! 

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Lee Harrington & Lynda Mandolyn - "Real Love"


How about another another "super duo"? Lee Harrington (The Neighborhoods, The Shang Hi Los) and Lynda Mandolyn (Tiger Bomb, Fabulous Disaster) are household names in the power pop/punk-pop universe. Admirers of each other's online releases and digital performances in 2020, these two tremendous talents decided to start a band together! They collaborated long distance, with Harrington recording in Boston and Mandolyn recording in Portand, Maine. Chuck Ferreira, Harrington's bandmate in The Shang Hi Los, was recruited to play drums. My god: what a lineup! "Real Love", the debut single from Lee Harrington & Lynda Mandolyn, is out now on the always fabulous Red On Records. And let me tell you: it does not disappoint! This just might be my favorite single of the year so far! It's an upbeat punky pop tune built around a well-crafted and totally irresistible melody. It's performed as a duet -- with both vocalists trading parts and also singing in harmony. One of the hardest things to do in music is to create a "positive" love song that doesn't make people want to puke. But that's exactly what Harrington & Mandolyn have pulled off here. Harrington's lyrics champion the notion of true love in a way that comes off as relatable and completely real (no pun intended). If you took a classic Buzzcocks song and replaced the cynicism with optimism, it would sound an awful lot like this. What a perfect pop song! 

Any fan of power pop had to be excited by the idea of Lee Harrington and Lynda Mandolyn collaborating. The only unknown was how their voices would sound together. Well, it's clear that they sound great together! Let us hope for much, much more music to come from Lee Harrington & Lynda Mandolyn!