Tuesday, November 30, 2021
I always make an effort to not overdo the reviews of Christmas music. But man, I heard the new Kurt Baker Christmas track on Wicked Cool Records and simply could not resist! "Christmas In The Sand", co-written by Baker and longtime collaborator Wyatt Funderburk, is one of those Christmas songs that would be great even if it weren't about Christmas. And really, this song isn't about Christmas so much as it's about hating the weather at Christmas. Given the pervasiveness of holiday standards which glorify ice and snow, this track offers a refreshingly different point of view. I mean, come on: do people really dream of white Christmases? Baker's holiday on a tropical beach sounds way more fun! Musically, this track is right in line with the best of the Baker/Funderburk compositions. Geoff Palmer, Kris Rodgers, Craig Sala, and Zack Sprague are on hand as well to contribute their musical talents. If you're a fan of Christmas music, "Christmas In The Sand" qualifies as an instant classic to pair with your favorite version of "Mele Kalikimaka". If you're a non-fan of Christmas music, just think of this as a great power pop track which idealizes pretty girls and summer weather. Either way, it's a win!
Sunday, November 28, 2021
You can always count on Vista Blue to come up with fun and interesting ideas for its seasonal releases. For its Christmas 2021 project, VB has checked off the "fun" and "interesting" boxes in a major way. A John Waters Christmas Tribute is an homage not to the legendary filmmaker but rather to the Christmas compilation he curated 17 years ago. The band's point of view for this tribute is that A John Waters Christmas is way better than most people realize. Yes, it has its strange and kitschy moments (it would have been a letdown otherwise!). But a good portion of this collection of "novelty" Christmas songs is comprised of truly excellent holiday tunes that could be seasonal standards if the larger world knew of them. For this release, Vista Blue has chosen to cover four of the strongest cuts off of A John Waters Christmas: Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson's 1963 regional favorite "Fat Daddy", Jimmy Donley's 1962 tune "Santa, Don't Pass Me By", Stormy Weather's 1977 side "Christmas Time Is Coming (A Street Carol)", and Rita Faye Wilson's mid-'50s rarity "Sleigh Bells, Reindeer, and Snow". While the band does arrange these songs in the signature Vista Blue style, the focus here is less on interpretation and more on turning people on to some songs that ought to be Christmas classics. The original versions cover the varying styles of rhythm & blues, country, doo-wop, and children's music. Played here as pop-punk songs, they absolutely fit the spirit of the band. As far as tribute records go, this is about as pure as it gets. Vista Blue clearly wants you to hear this EP and immediately seek out A John Waters Christmas. I wholeheartedly second that motion! "Fat Daddy" ought to be a staple of everyone's holiday playlist!
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Now here is a true dream team-up! Out on Snap!! Records, Psychotic Radio finds legendary power pop group Psychotic Youth joining forces with power pop legends in the making Radio Days! The concept is simple: each band presents a cover of one of the other's songs along with a brand-new original number. Not only are these two of the greatest bands in the contemporary power pop universe -- they're also big fans of each other. Radio Days covers Psychotic Youth's "Mercy" from 1994's Pop. Psychotic Youth covers Radio Days' "Tomorrow" from 2008's Midnight Cemetery Rendezvous. Both bands do fine jobs of shining a light on somewhat overlooked tracks from each others' catalogs. The original songs are also well worth checking out. Radio Days' "1998" is tuneful guitar pop with a splendid soft touch. Dario Persi sure knows how to craft a gorgeous melody! Psychotic Youth's "Love Is Dead" is a Jorgen Red Westman specialty: the sort of song you put on when you can't decide whether you want to cry over your broken heart or get up and dance.
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
While I do face many excruciating decisions as I begin to assemble my best of 2021 list, one selection is already a stone cold lock. Red On Red Records will be label of the year, hands down. When you look at the quality and consistency of this label's output, it can be shocking to realize that Red On Red just marked its first anniversary last week! In celebration of her label's milestone, Justine Covault has assembled a deluxe compilation featuring some of Red on Red's top singles so far plus several brand-new tracks. Red on Red Hots: Year One Compilation From Red on Red Records makes good on its massive title with a non-stop parade of underground hits. Featured here are several songs I consider among this year's finest -- such as Kid Gulliver's "Beauty School Dropout", The Chelsea Curve's "Drag", Andrea Gillis's "Leave the Light On", The Jacklight's "Beach", and Linnea's Garden's "Replacement". This comp also caught me up on ace tracks I previously missed from Cold Expectations and Stupidity featuring Keith Streng. Highlights among the new songs are Justine and the Unclean's roots-rocking version of Justine's Black Threads' country tune "You and Me Against You and Me", Sugar Snow's beautiful rendition of Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou" recorded in tribute to Simone Berk's father, an unreleased recording of The Neighborhoods' epic rocker "Crown Victoria", and an amazing synth-poppy track from Boston's Speedfossil. On top of that, this album finally brings us the long-awaited release of the Red on Red theme song as performed by the label's house band Red On Red Records Rockers! Having grown up in a time when it was not unusual for music to be advertised on TV and radio, I am completely enthralled with this earworm of a jingle! "Music, records, rock shows and more" is a mission statement we will all happily endorse!
Red on Red's output over the past year has been beyond impressive. Justine has assembled a roster featuring many of the finest garage, punk, power pop, and indie rock bands from Boston (and beyond!). She has worked relentlessly across the world of social media, underground radio, music blogs, and the live music scene to promote her artists. Of course I love the music, but Justine's passion is what makes this label truly special. Her vision for the label was "to create a place where good bands with good songs could get more ears on their music". Well I'd say that's a huge mission accomplished for year one -- which Red on Red Hots wonderfully documents in tangible form. A lot of labels would be happy with a compilation this good after five or ten years! Happy birthday, Red on Red. I am excited for even bigger and better things in year two!
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
The Pulsebeats have taken the garage/punk/power pop universe by storm with their recent track "(She Sings Like) Joey Ramone". Well I am here to tell you that that song is no aberration. From start to finish, The Pulsebeats' new long player Lookin' Out is an absolutely killer release and easily one of the best punk rock albums of 2021. Based out of Santander, Spain, this foursome has been around for over a decade. But Lookin' Out totally blows away the band's previous output. This is that rare "classic punk" album that manages to sound new and fresh in modern times. On these 13 tracks, The Pulsebeats combine the influences of '77 punk, power pop, and straight-up rock and roll to form a sound that is both familiar and unique. I can pick up on some key influences in spots (Buzzcocks, Dictators, Marked Men), but I wouldn't say The Pulsebeats sound like any other band out there. Lookin' Out hits the mark with '77-style toe-tappers ("Skipping Stones"), racing punkers ("241259"), pure pop songs ("Life As a Movie"), garage bangers ("Hot Glue It!"), and everything in between. Loosely based on the concept that society suffers when individualism gets out of hand, Lookin' Out is full of reflections on our modern world. But it will also hit the spot if you just wanna crank up some high-energy music and jump around. If you like fast-paced punk rock with lots of melody and plenty to say lyrically, this album ought to be on your radar. It's out now in Europe on Folc Records. American release on Rum Bar Records is coming at the top of 2022!
Monday, November 22, 2021
I previously reviewed Italian trio The Beatersband in September of last year --- offering high praise for the band's covers collection Vol Due. I was immediately won over by The Beatersband's perfect execution of a great concept. Essentially this band aims to modernize the sounds of late '50s and early '60s pop and rock and roll by adding a contemporary punk rock edge. And while The Beatersband could have continued on as an oldies cover band without any complaint from me, I am delighted to hear the group present entirely original material on its brand-new vinyl single "Love I Can B W You". These songs retain the feeling of The Beatersband's previous recordings while also demonstrating that Donatella Guida possesses a songwriting prowess that matches her beautiful voice. Both the title track and B-side "My Mother Plays Rock'n'Roll" combine the timeless melodies of early rock and roll with a punchy, punk-influenced guitar sound. Compared to the songs this band has covered, these two tracks are very similar in both style and spirit. The melodies are strong, the musicianship is top-notch, and the production is stellar. This single is great fun for all generations of music lovers. Copies are available here in the U.S.A. from River Monster Records (only five remaining at the time of this review!) and in Europe directly from the band. Grab one while you still can!
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Well here's something completely delightful from Madrid's ever-reliable Hurrah! Música! Co-released with Family Spree Recordings, the third EP from Alicante-based foursome Las Infrarrojas is a collaboration with the superb Spanish guitarist Indy Tumbita. This EP is the epitome of great pop. It combines the influences of power pop, surf, girl groups, and sunny '60s pop into a sublime blend of melody and harmony. All four tracks (two sung in English, two sung in Spanish) hit the mark. This is an A+ pop release from a couple of labels that specialize in that very thing. If you like what you hear, Las Infrarrojas' previous EPs are also well worth inspecting via Bandcamp. Yay pop!
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Now this was a really wonderful surprise! Seemingly out of nowhere, The Cheap Cassettes have dropped another sneak peak of their soon-to-be-released second album Ever Since Ever Since! Back in September, the band released the brilliant track "Endless Summer Ends". Now they've followed with the digital single "She Ain't Nothin' Like You". The "A-side" is the lead track off of the new album (due out January 14th on Rum Bar Records). It sure sounds like a hit to me! This is the vintage Cheap Cassettes sound: classic power pop steeped in great American rock and roll. The song comes on with a cool driving guitar riff, a super-catchy chorus, and marvelously bitter lyrics. And of course you can expect a damn fine guitar solo! If you dig the Twilley/Groovies/Big Star strain of power pop, you should be all over this track. But wait! There's more! "Cold Sundays" is something quite different for The Cheap Cassettes. It's a melancholy acoustic number that seems perfect for this time of the year. We've all been waiting for Charles to unleash his inner Paul Westerberg on record, and this is the moment. I'd like to play this song while I'm drinking a beer on the porch and reflecting on my life. I actually don't have a porch, but this song would be ideal for contemplative solitary walks in the autumn breeze. That Charles Matthews can sure write a song that tears your heart out!
The "She Ain't Nothin' Like You" single is available now from The Cheap Cassettes' Bandcamp. The preorder for the CD/digital release of Ever Since Ever Since is up now as well. A vinyl release on Cassettes On Records Records is expected for the spring. Mixed and mastered by Kurt Bloch, Ever Since Ever Since has me pumped for 2022 to get here!
Friday, November 12, 2021
Still going strong after thirty years plus, The Grip Weeds are psych-pop legends in their own right. On their 9th studio album (and third with JEM Records), the Grip Weeds have chosen to pay tribute to some of the songs that inspired them to make music in the first place. DiG features the band's take on 14 classic songs from the heyday of garage rock and psychedelic pop. The songs cover the time period of 1964 to 1969, with the majority of tracks focusing on the golden years 1967-68. The idea was to revisit these songs many decades later with the benefit of their present-day wisdom and experience in the studio. In his liner notes, Lenny Kaye (Yes, THE Lenny Kaye!) remarks that The Grip Weeds have always honored the bands that first inspired them to make music. "Shape of Things To Come" was actually the first song the band ever recorded and a staple of its early live set. And while the band quickly became adept at writing original material in the style of '60s pop, psych, and garage rock, it never stopped acknowledging and celebrating its influences. DiG is a love letter to the songs that made The Grip Weeds. We all know and love these songs, but the band was not content to just record straight copies and be done with it. Kurt, Kristin, Rick, and Dave imbue these songs with their well-honed production expertise, seasoned chops, and masterful three-part harmonies. Appropriately enough, "Shape of Things To Come" is the opening track. As a huge fan of Wild in the Streets, I was naturally delighted! Elsewhere, the band offers up a stunning acoustic rendition of The Zombies' "I Love You", a gorgeous take on The Byrds' "Lady Friend", and a splendid interpretation of The Gants "I Wonder" that could easily be mistaken for a modern-day power pop track. If the Grip Weeds sound supremely in command of Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Louie, Go Home", that's because they have routinely played it when they've backed Mark Linsday on stage! Other standout tracks demonstrate how this band is equally adept at rocking out three-chord style (The Knickerbockers' "Lies") and going all-on on psychedelia (Thunderclap Newman's "Something In the Air"). And while there have been plenty of covers of "Journey to the Center of the Mind" over the years, here the Grip Weeds fully tap into the song's potential to blow your ears clean off.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
When I heard that James Sullivan was releasing a home-recorded solo album, I was excited. When I heard that it would be a major departure from his work with More Kicks and Suspect Parts, I was at least slightly concerned. I had visions of Sulli trying his hand at screamo or making his own version of Metal Machine Music. I am happy to report that Light Years (out now on Stardumb Records) is "different" in a totally good way. If you are a fan of Sulli's singing and songwriting, you are guaranteed to enjoy this album.
Light Years is Sulli's "pandemic album". Almost all of us had our particular moment when 2020 hit us the hardest. For Sulli, that moment was November 2020. Months of canceled gigs and forced isolation finally got to him. He channeled his frustration and despair into a creative endeavor -- challenging himself to write ten songs in ten days. He then recorded the album at home in North London on a "half-broken" Tascam 38. For Sulli, this project was the "antithesis of overthinking". Since the songs were not being written for a live band, he was free to experiment with styles and go wherever his inspiration took him. He recorded the album entirely in live takes and chose to not edit out any of the "mistakes". Although several friends make guest appearances, Light Years is about as DIY as it gets. This is the sound of one man making music in his room -- playing (almost) all of the instruments himself and doing his best to capture it all on tape. And yet these songs don't sound half-assed or "crappy" in the slightest. The homemade feel gives this album tremendous charm. Light Years affirms that James Sullivan is an exceptionally talented songwriter capable of crafting marvelous tunes in a variety of styles.
Touching on everything from Brit-pop to folk rock to new wave to indie rock, Light Years finds Sulli breaking out of the power pop box but still embracing catchy, melodic tunes. Album opener "Lea Bridge" lays a stream of conscious spoken word narrative over a Brit-pop background, and it's absolutely captivating. "Getaway" is excellent DIY post-punk rivaling Andrew Anderson's recent solo work. "It Won't Do You Harm" is a simple but gorgeous acoustic number. "Totally Bored" brings to mind the noisier, fuzzed-out side of early '90s indie rock. "You Kept My Heart Alive" could almost be a More Kicks song. "In the End" is a good melodic track with a '70s light rock vibe to it. "Up To My Neck Again" reminds me of something Billy Joel might have written decades ago. And to cap it all off, Sulli covers The Proclaimers' deep cut "Then I Met You" and makes it his own in the most wonderful way.
I've read the promotional materials for Light Years and seen the comparisons being made. They're all quite valid. But I'm going to keep it simple and recommend James Sullivan's debut album to fans of...James Sullivan! Even as Sulli branches out stylistically, his phrasing and melodic songwriting style remain familiar and comforting. Listening to Light Years is like spending a delightful half hour with an old friend. It's a fine solo debut from one of the best songwriters out there. Unfortunate circumstances may have compelled its creation, but here's hoping that we have not heard the last of James Sullivan as a solo artist!
Tuesday, November 09, 2021
It's hard to believe that we have finally reached the end of The Chelsea Curve's "The Singles Scene" series! Since March, the Boston trio has released a new single every month on Red On Red Records. It seems like a mere instant ago that we were all wishing 2020 could be over, and now here we are almost through another year! The Chelsea Curve has definitely made the most of this year. Eight singles in eight months is an impressive feat by itself. But beyond that, all of these singles have been so freaking good! "Top It Up" is a fitting final installment and easily one of the best of the bunch. It's a feelgood song for feelbad times. Its message is that when life becomes overwhelming, it's okay to take a break and "double up on all the good stuff". While this song is not specifically about pandemic life, just about anyone can relate to the line "All this zooming around/all this running backwards" at this moment in time! Musically, this is a vintage Chelsea Curve number: upbeat punky pop with a Motown/girl group influence. And who doesn't love singing along to a refrain like "Heyo, Heyo!"? It's just a super fun song that manages to be life-affirming even as it confronts the on-going struggle of existence. Doubling up on all the good stuff is a cause I wholeheartedly endorse -- I have even hit the pause button on my daily work to get this review written! If you follow Linda's lyrics the whole way through the song, you'll notice a subtle change at the end that reflects how the pandemic experience has altered our perception of what it means to "take a break". "Top It Up" is a mod-pop anthem for our times and all times.
With "The Singles Scene" now wrapped up, you can expect a full-length album from The Chelsea Curve in early 2022. It will include all of the singles in remastered form plus some old live favorites and some brand-new tunes. I haven't even decided on my top albums of 2021 yet, but I've already penciled in The Chelsea Curve as a prime contender for next year's top spot!
Sunday, November 07, 2021
Before I even heard a note of the music, I saw the band name Bart and the Brats and knew I was going to be a fan. I was not wrong! It turns out that Bart and the Brats is a solo project from French punk rocker extraordinaire Bart De Vraantijk (Wild Zeros, Teenage Hearts, The Janitors, Pneumonias, The Skeptics). Out on the Madrid-based Label Take The City Records, the new 7" Livin' in the Future is actually Bart's second release of 2021. As a '77 punk enthusiast, I'm totally digging these three tracks -- which mix the style and simplicity of original era punk rock with the rawness of '90s-style budget punk. The title track is destined to appear on Bloodstains Across Europe Volume 27! Somehow I missed a previous Bart and the Brats album titled Dogged that was released on 10" vinyl by Chickpea Records back in the spring. Taking inspiration from the o.g. punk rock sounds of the U.K., mainland Europe, and both coasts of the U.S.A., Dogged plays like a genuine 1977 release that somehow got vaulted into the future. The album features ten smashing originals plus covers of The Undertones and Blitzkrieg Bop. Get ready to crank up the volume and pogo around the house! You can order a bundle of the 7" and 10" for just €13 from Bart's Bandcamp. Livin' in the Future is also available from Take The City's Bandcamp. If Bart really is a time traveler from 44 years ago, he can alert his old friends of a surprising future where flying cars still don't exist but The Kids remain one of the most popular punk bands on the planet. Who would have imagined?
Saturday, November 06, 2021
Friday, November 05, 2021
For their third album, The Control Freaks have surprised us with several ballads, a beautiful piano piece that will move you to tears, and a seven-minute operatic number about the pointlessness of human existence. Just kidding! The Control Freaks will always sound like The Control Freaks, and who would want it any other way? Delayed six weeks by the record-pressing crisis of 2021 but out today on Dirty Water Records, Get Some Help is hands-down the album of the year. It's also one of the best records that Greg Lowery has ever played on -- which is really saying something! On board for Get Some Help are new rhythm guitarist & co-lead singer Amy and new drummer Rob (not to be confused with lead guitarist Rob!). The band is sounding as good as ever with this formidable new lineup. As always, The Control Freaks combine the coolest elements of all of Greg's previous bands into one perfect punk band. If you loved Supercharger, The Rip Offs, The Infections, and The Zodiac Killers but have yet to hear The Control Freaks, you've got some catching up to do! The Dirty Water promo kit heralds this album as a "future classic", and I will not argue that point. I'm notoriously curmudgeonly about how so much of today's so-called "garage punk" is neither garage nor punk. Maybe I'm just not keeping up with what the kids are digging these days, but I find myself longing for the "Rip Off Records" sound on a constant basis. Well here's the real deal from the guy who literally defined that sound!