Friday, September 17, 2021

The Reflectors - Faster Action

Now here's an album I was eagerly awaiting! Last year, The Reflectors released First Impression - one of the best albums of 2020 and one of the best power pop releases of recent memory. James, Nick, Ryan, and Johnny are now back with their sophomore long player Faster Action. The album is being co-released by Beluga Records in Sweden, Time For Action Records in Germany, and SNAP!! Records in Spain. It officially releases one week from today, but it's already available in digital form from the SNAP!! Records Bandcamp. Faster Action is a real fan-pleaser, sticking to the formula that worked so well on First Impression. If you like classic L.A. power pop or Buzzcocks-style punk-pop, well The Reflectors are the best of both worlds! Again the band worked with engineer/producer extraordinaire Jonny Bell to create an amazing-sounding power pop record that's chock full of hits. Quite a few of these songs were featured on The Reflectors' KXLU live broadcast, and the studio versions do not disappoint. Ralph Rivera has proclaimed "Radio Signals" the "best power pop song in forever", and he's not wrong! This album strikes a great balance between perfect pop songs like "Can't Sleep Tonight" & "Dial Tone" and punchier, punkier tunes like "Messin' Around" and the title track. And in typical Reflectors fashion, the album seems to finish even stronger than it starts. There's no filler to be found here, my friends! 

Coming off the magnificence of First Impression, The Reflectors could not have been blamed for succumbing to the sophomore jinx. But instead, they've come through with the best album of 2021 so far. Check the links below for ordering info. No joke: the TFA vinyl version actually plays inside-out!

The Hi-End - "Actions Speak Louder Than Words"

Are you ready to be blasted with some rock and roll? The Hi-End is back with its first original song in nearly a year-and-a-half. Out on Rum Bar Records, the digital single "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" packs enough energy to replace your morning coffee for a week. These boys from Boston aren't fooling around. "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" is four minutes of thundering proto-punk rock and roll excitement. The guitars rip, the drums smash, and Johnny nails the vocal. And that lead guitar work is epic! Combining Detroit rock with an East Coast roll, this is a rousing and triumphant tune that begs to be played on repeat. Crank this song up loud, and you will feel invincible. Locals can experience this action in the flesh next Saturday the 25th with Stop Calling Me Frank, The Idolizers, and Shang Hi Los sharing the bill. More info here!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

MOM - Pulls A Fast One

Swedish bubblegum pop sensations MOM have literally pulled a fast one! Donny, Luke, Frank, and Spike got together in July and banged out a surprise new EP in just a couple of weekends. Pulls A Fast One includes six cover songs performed in MOM's signature style. Some of these songs (especially ABBA's 1974 European chart smash "Honey Honey" and Marshall Crenshaw's 1982 hit "There She Goes Again") acknowledge obvious influences. Others are wonderful surprises. The early Whitney Houston hit "How Will I Know" is brilliantly transformed into bubblegum gold. The Prince classic "When You Were Mine" could probably pass for a MOM original if you didn't know any better! What a fun little EP from an always fun band! It's a free download via Bandcamp. If you still haven't picked up MOM's instant classic long player Pleasure Island, it's now available on both vinyl and CD. Who doesn't love MOM?!

Friends of Cesar Romero - War Party Favors

As the strong full-length releases of 2021 continue to pile up, here's another one to add to the conversation. War Party Favors is the latest of many albums by Friends of Cesar Romero -- the long-running solo project from J. Waylon Miller (ex The Reddmen). On this release, J. Waylon basically did it all. He sang, played all of the instruments, and produced the album. And from start to finish, War Party Favors is stacked with absolute gems. If you dig power pop that takes it cues from garage rock, the '60s classics, modern-day indie pop, and even a little pop-punk, you'll find much to love here. This is just a really great album that should go over well with almost anyone who regularly visits this blog. J. Waylon knows to turn out a killer hook, and his songwriting style is steeped in the timeless traditions of the two-to-three minute pop song. Snappy Little Numbers has released the album on CD and also offers a pay-what-you-want download. If you like what you hear, you could very well spend all day on the Friends of Cesar Romero Bandcamp digging into the back catalog. Check it out! 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Christopher Peifer - The Social Distance

Don't call it a sequel, but Christopher Peifer has followed his excellent debut solo album Suicide Mission with a quite similar and equally strong effort titled The Social Distance. Peifer (The Kowalskis, SiR, Frances Farmer My Hero, Blockhouses, etc.) is quickly establishing himself as a solo artist of note after decades in the New York rock and roll scene. While Suicide Mission was described as "art and love in the time of Coronavirus", The Social Distance is Peifer's definitive "COVID record". It was written and recorded entirely during pandemic times and reflects what was going through his mind as he and the rest of the world battled through a year unlike any other in our lifetimes. 

Written in Fort Wayne, Indiana and recorded at Todd Giudice's Roots Cellar Studio in Cold Spring, New York, The Social Distance is an album that deals with loss, change, and upheaval on both a personal and political level. Yet it's also full of optimism, hope, and a highly contagious positive energy. Musically, Peifer continues to work in the medium of two-to-three minute pop-rock songs. Most of these ten tracks meet at the intersection of timeless power pop and 1980s indie rock. Peifer excels at writing songs with simple, appealing hooks. Yet beneath the surface, these songs are heartfelt, relatable, and quite profound. Here Peifer largely responds to the trials and tribulations of a pandemic year by looking forward to better times ahead. The title track is full of hope for reuniting with loved ones in person, while the Replacements inspired rocker "Meet Me At the Bar" is just as much about the bonds of friendship as it is about the joys of drinking. Spiritually inspired by Patti Smith's "People Have the Power" and Curtis Mayfield's "Power to the People", "Something To Believe In" is Peifer's humble stab at a rallying cry for positive change. "The Infernal Racket" is kind of like Peifer's own "Left of the Dial" -- a celebration of indie radio stations and the underground rock and roll bands they so steadfastly support. A Paul Westerberg influence looms large again on album closer "Can’t Dance At All" -- a song that encourages the pursuit of joy wherever one may find it. And of course this would not be a Chris Peifer album without a little bit of storytelling. A skilled chronicler of the rock and roll life, Peifer crafts real-life tales that are both heartbreaking ("The Ride") and highly amusing ("Let's Get the Band Back Together").   

Like its predecessor, The Social Distance hooked me with well-crafted pop songs, but it has the staying power to keep me coming back for more. A good solo album should make you feel like you know the artist, and that is definitely the case with The Social Distance. On the excellent track "Midnight Radio", Peifer romanticizes long distance driving with music as a sole source of companionship. He has, no doubt, crafted an entire album that will enhance your enjoyment of any solitary pursuit. In a year full of excellent LPs, this is one of the very best.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Tuff Talk - "Shelly"​/​"Never Say Die"

Tuff Talk has launched a debut single that lands dead center in the sweet spot for this blog. The digital two-fer "Shelly"& "Never Say Die" follows a demo from 2019, and both tracks are textbook shots of powerpop/punk. I can't even decide which song is the "hit" -- as they're both A-side worthy. Late '70s/early '80s power pop seems to be the biggest influence, but there are hints of modern-day punk-pop as well. The guitars pack a serious punch, and the production is first rate. Especially considering the price (free), these tunes are well worth checking out. I'm stoked to hear more! 

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Brad Marino - "Monkey Man"

Brad Marino, one of my favorite recording artists of present day, has just released an exceptional track that's more than worth the asking price of $1.49. You surely recognize "Monkey Man" as an iconic song by the Rolling Stones. Marino got together with his talented pals Craig Sala and Kris Rodgers and recorded an amazing cover of "Monkey Man". It was just released last week in memory of Charlie Watts. It's a really cool take on a classic that features Marino on slide guitar and superb work from Rodgers on organ and Rhodes piano. On drums, Sala honors Charlie Watts in the ultimate way by holding the entire song together. If you're a fan of Brad Marino, the Rolling Stones, or just great music in general, you'll wanna give this a listen. Sweet artwork by Glenn Robinson!

The Koopas - In Reverse: A Complete Retrospective 1999​-​2002

The Koopas are cherished in pop-punk circles as the best band that was almost on Mutant Pop Records (twice). Now -- nearly two decades after their untimely demise -- they have the distinction of being simultaneously released by the two greatest present-day American pop-punk record labels. A joint venture between Mom's Basement Records and Something To Do Records, The Koopas' In Reverse compiles every track this southeastern Texas trio released in its short run of existence -- plus 11 more that it didn't! 

Coming in at a total of 27 tracks (all meticulously remastered at Mindrocket Recording Studio by John Roman), this collection serves as a wonderful time capsule of a late '90s/early 2000s pop-punk scene that I still hold closely to my heart. In 2001 when The Koopas came on my radar, my interest in pop-punk had shifted from the "bigger" bands of the scene to the newer ones that were self-releasing music or working with smaller labels. The Koopas, by necessity, ended up self-releasing their 7" When Opposites Attack on their own small label, Top Five Records. That release was my introduction to the band (to this day, I feel like a poser Koopas fan for not being on board from the Sex, Lies, and Videogames days). I took to the band immediately. They sounded like the lovechild of Screeching Weasel and the Mr. T. Experience. I dug that they weren't afraid to write sappy love songs. I dug that they were into High Fidelity. I dug that they were fans of the serial comma. But mostly, I dug that they were clearly on the pop side of pop-punk -- so much so that the singer/guitarist called himself Poppy Robbie (How different would The Koopas have been if they'd been fronted by Punky Robbie?). In print, I heralded the band as a sign of renewed life in American pop-punk and declared that they combined the musical chops of Rocket To Russia-era Ramones with the soul of the Modern Lovers. Sadly, the band would not last even another year. A follow-up to When Opposites Attack called New Wave of an Old Sound was recorded in early 2002 but ultimately went unreleased after Mutant Pop Records went on hiatus. The Koopas took their place in the "Remember them? They were so good!" annals of pop-punk history. Charlie and Tron continued in their other band Joe Jitsu and later Breaklights. Robbie became a solo recording artist and a pop artist. And in my mind, I always associated The Koopas with how much fun it was to be into pop-punk during those early Millennium years. 

Over the years, I've often wondered: Were The Koopas really a good band, or was I just crazy? The Mom's Basement/Something To Do seal of approval seems to settle the former question, while the latter is still up for debate. John at Mom's Basement and Matthew at Something To Do know good pop-punk. If they're putting their butts (and money) on the line to release In Reverse, you know it's an essential release for any fan of Lookout!/Mutant Pop era pop-punk. The band itself had originally prepared this collection as a homemade CD-R to distribute to friends, family, and musically inclined adversaries. Tim at Mutant Pop helped spread the word by adding it to his mail order catalog. And now here we are: In Reverse exists on glorious compact disc. As promised, it documents this short-lived band's recorded output in reverse order. It begins with the never-released, should-have-been smash hit New Wave of an Old Sound, moves into the beloved When Opposites Attack, and concludes with the rawer Sex, Lies, and Videogames. In between, you'll find studio outtakes and other choice unreleased recordings. Tracks like "Miami To Malibu" and "Milkshakes and You" make me grateful that the New Wave of an Old Sound recordings have been rescued from the dustbin of history. Although they date back nearly 20 years, they sound very much in line with Mom's Basement's current roster of pop-punk and Ramonescore standouts. "Math of Love" manages to sum up the entire genre of pop-punk in under 30 seconds. "Those Three Little Words" and "Shut Up" hold up as classics of their time. "Let Me Go (Before You Fade Away)" offers a hint of the future greatness that was in store for the artist formerly known as Charmin' Charlie. A cover of "Maybe Baby" honors the true granddaddy of three-chord pop. 

I'll say about In Reverse what I've said about numerous other releases: you'll hate it if you hate pop-punk, but you'll love it if you love pop-punk. And if you've already read 779 words about The Koopas, there's no way you hate pop-punk! You can order the CD here for just ten bucks. Digital version is available directly from the band for $8. I would say that those are '90s prices, but you would actually have paid way more back then. Be the first person on your block to jam to "Koopa Troopa Beach" on Discman! 

Friday, September 03, 2021

New singles from Ricky Rat and Brian McCarty!

What's the next best thing to a new single from the late, great Trash Brats? How about new singles from Ricky Rat and Brian McCarty released simultaneously on I-94 Recordings! This double release will disappoint absolutely no one. The concept was for each of these guys to record an original song along with a cover of an iconic Detroit artist. Backed by the Jen-U-Wine Faux Diamond Band, McCarty gives off Trash Brats vibes with "Hamtramck Jukebox" -- his tribute to Lili Karwowksi and her beloved bar Lili's 21. Ricky Rat guests on guitar, and the song's references to the likes of The Mutants, Bootsey X & the Lovemasters, and The Junk Monkeys will certainly bring back fond memories to anyone who frequented shows at the Trash Brats' favorite hangout. If you were hoping for upbeat glam rock and roll with a touch of pop, "Hamtramck Jukebox" is precisely that. On the flip, McCarty does a rootsy rock and roll version of Stevie Wonder's "A Place In The Sun" that is an absolute blast. The legendary Jimmie Bones makes an appearance on piano, and of course he steals the show!

For his single "She Feels Like a Good Thing", Ricky Rat teams up with Laura Mendoza on bass and Joe Leone on drums. The A-side dishes out some old school glam-punk with catchy hooks: exactly what you'd expect from the longtime Trash Brat and recent Dead Boy. It has been five years since Ricky Rat last released solo tracks, and "She Feels Like A Good Thing" is right in line with that material. On the flip, he tackles The Rockets' early '80s number "Born in Detroit" in a style that can only be described as anthemic. Once again, Jimmie Bones turns up on piano and rips it up! 

Whether you witnessed the 1980s and '90s Detroit punk rock and roll scene first hand or simply admired the Trash Brats from afar as I did, these two new singles from Ricky Rat and Brian McCarty & the Jen-U-Wine Faux Diamond Band are must-have items. Each single delivers a top-notch original song and a revved-up version of a Detroit classic. Jim at I-94 really went all out and pressed these records on a multitude of colors of vinyl. A few of the colors are sold out, but most are still available. Have at it!