Saturday, December 04, 2021

Night Court - Nervous Birds! One


Having been a big fan of Jiffy Marx's recent solo single and all of his releases with Autogramm, I was intrigued to hear he had a new band going with his pal Dave Soul (Jiffy Marker) and Emilor (from Pet Blessings and the amazing Synchromantics). Well the debut album from Night Court is here, and it's freaking awesome! Out now on cassette tape on Debt Offensive Records and Snappy Little Numbers, Nervous Birds! One is just the first half of a duology. The Vancouver trio wrote and recorded 30 songs for Nervous Birds! and decided that 26 of them were keepers. And with 26 tracks being a little too many for one album, the songs were split into two separate releases. I'm glad there's more coming, because this album definitely falls into the "left me wanting more" category! I'm kind of at a loss on how to describe Night Court's sound. This is a unique band. I hear bits and pieces of late '70s/early '80s post-punk, '90s melodic punk, modern-day garage punk, and lo-fi indie rock. The songs are energetic and a little noisy, and they're also total earworms! All of these 13 tracks come in at well under two minutes, yet they're splendidly-crafted, fully-realized songs. Snappy Little Numbers is really living up to its name with the release of this album! You can tell that great time and detail was placed on the construction of the songs, whereas the recording itself was more raw and spontaneous. That's the perfect combination, and Nervous Birds! One is a poppy, post-punky, lo-fi delight for all of its 19 minutes. Bring on part two!

Friday, December 03, 2021

Los Pepes - The Happiness Program


When I first heard Los Pepes back in 2014, it was love at first listen. Now here was a band that truly put the power in power pop! Debut album Los Pepes For Everyone proceeded to sound like a lost classic from the heyday of U.K./Northern Irish punk/pop. Los Pepes quickly became favorites of mine, and today I am honored to induct the band into the F & L "double digits club". Yes, this is my tenth review of Los Pepes. The Happiness Program, out today on Snap!! Records, is the band's fifth album and first since March of 2019. It's also one of the band's best releases to date -- combining the more "pop" feel of its first two albums with the energy and harder edge of its third and fourth long players. This is the sort of album I will never tire of: a killer punk rock record with great hooks. It delivers a satisfying mix of high energy punk rock bangers ("Small Time", "I Want You Back", the title track), quintessential punk/pop tracks ("Let Them Talk", "I Remember You"), pure pop songs ("Anecdotes"), and kick-ass rockers ("Born Into This"). Ben Perrier, with assists from Seisuke Nakagawa and Simon J. Alpin, has written his best collection of songs to date. Out of 12 tracks, there's not a single dud in the bunch. And the addition of organ, piano, saxophone, harmonica, and lapsteel fills out the band's sound in a way that is truly complementary. If you dig old school punk rock music that emphasizes melody without skimping on the aggression, I recommend the immediate purchase of The Happiness Program. The Snap!! Records vinyl release is limited to 300 copies on double mint vinyl. Hit up snapville@gmail.com for information on how to order a copy. Those of you in Spain can look forward to Los Pepes touring your beautiful country next month!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Wild Sandals - The Big Surf-O-Rama


As if Wild Sandals weren't already the ultimate German pop-punk supergroup, Beppo Hawaiian and Florian Favorat went out and got Gumbo from Neon Bone to play drums on their new album The Big Surf-O-Rama! My heart can barely take so much greatness in one band! Arriving fast on the heels of the band's debut album Sandale GrandeThe Big Surf-O-Rama doubles down on Wild Sandals' deep affection for the Beach Boys, Travoltas, and Don't Back Down era Queers. The album itself aligns nicely with the title and the cover art. It's full of songs about surfing, girls, summer romance, and fun at the beach. This band continues to check off all of the boxes for high quality "Beach Boys punk": majestic harmonies, gorgeous melodies, and lyrics that appeal to the eternal teenager in all of us. Songs range from the surf instrumental goodness of "The Curse of the Wild Sandal" to the snappy pop-punk of "Sina Is a Cheerleader" to the melodic loveliness of "Like A Summer Dream" to the classic vibes of "Beach Girl" to the Queers worship of "Scottie Parente". And speaking of Queers worship, what other band on Earth would think to cover "Janelle Janelle" in the style of Jim Croce? That's brilliant! The Big Surf-O-Rama wonderfully executes a sound that only a handful of bands have properly pulled off. With meteorological winter arriving in the Northern Hemisphere today, this album opens a much-appreciated portal to an eternal summer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Kurt Baker - "Christmas In The Sand"


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

Vista Blue - A John Waters Christmas Tribute


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

Radio Days/Psychotic Youth - Psychotic Radio


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. 

Limited to 400 copies on grimace purple vinyl, Psychotic Radio is a special treat for power pop fans. It's a joy to hear these two titans of the genre paying tribute to one another. And if this release inspires you to dig deeper into both bands' discographies, that's all the better! For ordering information, hit up  snapville@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Red on Red Hots: Year One Compilation From Red on Red Records


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 - Lookin' Out


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

The Beatersband - "Love I Can B W You"


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

Las Infrarrojas & Indy Tumbita - self titled

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

The Cheap Cassettes - "She Ain't Nothin' Like You"


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

The Grip Weeds - DiG


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. 

In the process of making DiG, The Grip Weeds found so many songs they wanted to cover that they couldn't fit them all onto one album! Therefore, there are two versions of this album: a single album and a deluxe edition double album that tacks on 11 more covers ranging from the Nightcrawlers to the Electric Prunes to Cream to the Monkees to the Turtles. Both versions are available from The Grip Weeds' web site, Amazon Music, and fine record stores everywhere. Fans will enjoy this band's inspired dive back into its roots. And if you love all these classic songs and somehow are just discovering The Grip Weeds, say hello to your new favorite band!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

James Sullivan - Light Years


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

The Chelsea Curve - "Top It Up"


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!

-L.R.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Bart and the Brats - Livin´ in the Future/Dogged



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

The Shang Hi Los - "Plymouth Rock"

Just as I was searching for a new song to add to my Thanksgiving playlist, The Shang Hi Los and Rum Bar Records have come through! Okay, so maybe "Plymouth Rock" isn't exactly a Thanksgiving song. It concerns a different kind of pilgrimage from the one they teach in school -- from the puritanical suburbs of the South Shore to the welcoming haven of Boston's music clubs. It's a song about finding acceptance and finding yourself, and it's the latest smash hit from a foursome that is quickly becoming one of my favorite bands out there. Co-written by singer/guitarists Jen D’Angora and Dan Kopko and featuring lyrics and lead vocals by D’Angora, "Plymouth Rock" is probably The Shang Hi Los' most "pop" track yet. And you know I'm not complaining! This is a throwback punky power pop tune that totally hits the sweet spot for me. The guitars pack a serious punch, the melodies are undeniable, and D’Angora totally crushes the vocal! With its sing-along hook "We were young/And didn't belong", this is an anthem that will strike a chord even with folks who have no personal connection to Boston. I'm not denying that I sometimes enjoy this song with a side of pumpkin ale, but "Plymouth Rock" is truly a song for all seasons. It will appear on the Shangs' debut album due out in the spring. Oh man, I can't wait!

Friday, November 05, 2021

The Control Freaks - Get Some Help


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! 

Get Some Help is 13 tracks of catchy three-chord punk rock full of humor and raw energy. The songs rarely go too far beyond the two-minute mark and lend themselves to a variety of responses such as singing along, dancing in your underwear, and flipping off your neighbors. We'd probably be grateful if Greg were still making records half as good as he did 20-25 years ago, but honestly he's still in peak form with this band. If you were out and about and heard the title track, you might think it was an old Rip Offs song that you somehow missed. When I first heard "You're A Moron" and "F.B.I"., my response was that you've got to be some kind of genius to pull off songs this dumb! "My I.Q." brings much-needed attention to a mysterious medical condition that afflicts millions of young men in the presence of attractive females. "Gonna Be A Riot" and "Lockdown" are topical and great fun at the same time. "Popgun" literally throws it back to 1977 with a terrific cover of Mary Monday's Bay Area punk classic. 

I don't know how they've done it, but The Control Freaks have managed to get better with each new album without changing anything about their approach to music. This band is the walking embodiment of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Get Some Help is the sort of classic style punk rock record that I can never get enough of. Credit Greg Lowery for always finding the right partners in crime. Amy Munoz (an absolute powerhouse on vocals!) and Rob #2 have stepped right in as if they were destined from birth to be Control Freaks. I have a great deal of respect for the band and label for holding off on the official release of Get Some Help until the LPs were in hand. That makes the long-awaited release day more special. If you don't like this album, you need to get some help!


Thursday, November 04, 2021

Hayley and the Crushers - "Click and Act Now!"

It's always a great day when new music from Hayley and the Crushers arrives! "Click and Act Now!" is the Crushers' third single this year on Josie Cotton's Kitten Robot Records. What I love about this band is that you never know exactly what you're going to get. Just this year alone, the Crushers have given us a wonderful variety of tunes. "Cul-De-Sac" was a moody, haunting reflection on the silent suffering of mid-century housewives. "She Drives" was upbeat new wave pop with a serious message about the futility of trying to outrun your problems. And now with "Click and Act Now!", the band has cooked up an homage to classic East Bay punk rock that doubles as satire on commercialism. This is the Crushers' most straight-forward punk tune in a while, and it's an absolute blast! It's fun and high-spirited. but as always Hayley Cain offers up lyrics that have something meaningful to say about society. And while these lyrics specifically reference the heyday of late night infomercials, the sentiment rings just as true in the age of streaming: advertisers will aim straight for your insecurities to make a buck. There's an awesome backstory to this song about Dr. Cain first hearing Operation Ivy when he was 16. I can so easily visualize him sitting there with his friend drinking beer and cranking that tape on repeat! Many of us have our own "wow" moments of first encountering Op Ivy. Like the recent single "Church of Flag", "Click and Act Now!" is a delightful reminder of what it was like to be a young punk rocker discovering a life-changing band! And now I'm literally imploring you to click and act now -- but it will cost you considerably less than five easy payments of $19.99!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Unknowns - "Monster Mash"


What's this: a second Halloween-themed review from a blog that purports to not care for anything horror related? Why yes! The Unknowns out of Sunshine Coast, Australia have just released a 7" featuring their ultra-primitive rendition of the Bobby "Boris" Pickett classic "Monster Mash". Whether you're a horror nut or just a fan of savage garage rock and roll, you ought to get a kick out of this single. I'm notoriously put off by the way the term "garage" is thrown around these days to describe countless hipster rock bands that have nothing to do with garage rock or rock and roll in general. Well let me tell you: The Unknowns are a real deal garage punk band! This trio plays raw and wild rock and roll influenced by o.g. garage rock and early punk. This version of "Monster Mash" will just about set your hair on fire! In the process of looking into "Monster Mash", I dug into the band's most recent album Nothing Will Ever Stop. And all I have to say is holy shit! I am embarrassed that The Unknowns have just now become known to me. Kudos to Add To Wantlist (the best music site out there) for tipping me off!



Klobber - Clap Time!


Here's something I'm always in the mood for: some great straight-forward punk rock that walks the fine line between '70s punk and early hardcore. Klobber hails from Madrid but has a sound that brings to mind North America circa 1980. Its latest album Clap Time! was recently released on Madrid-based label Take The City Records. I highly recommend it to fans of Zero Boys, Adolescents, D.O.A., early Black Flag, or the more recent Night Birds. Klobber plays tight and powerful tunes with melody and conviction (at times they summon the spirit of The Clash, which is fine by me!). If you misconstrued the lyrics to "Only In It for the Beer", you might dismiss Klobber as a party band. But nothing could be further from the truth! This is a band with something to say about the state of the world, and Clap Time! addresses topics ranging from racial injustice to pandemic life to the pervasive nature of addiction to the media's role in manipulating the masses. Powering through 10 tracks in 22 minutes, Clap Time! is the quintessential old school hardcore punk long player. The tunes rip hard, but they're catchy as hell. Without a doubt, this is one of the year's best punk rock records!

Friday, October 29, 2021

Vista Blue - New Nightmares


With every new release, Vista Blue reminds me why it's my favorite pop-punk band. New Nightmares, released just in time for Halloween, features four songs about well-known slasher flicks. I don't like horror movies at all, but I sure love this EP! As always, Vista Blue proves that it can write songs about any topic and still fill me with delight. I would probably even dig a Vista Blue song about the Dallas Cowboys or black licorice. New Nightmares specifically pays tribute to Halloween III, Candyman, Terror Train, and Friday the 13th VI. Fans of those films will surely enjoy these songs -- as will fans of high-quality pop-punk music. With its Beach Boys inspired harmonies and irresistible chorus, "Where Do You Wanna Sleep?" is a vintage Vista Blue track. It clocks in at nearly three minutes long -- practically an epic by this band's standards! If you didn't know this song was about a horror movie, you might actually think it was a love song. And of course, I always welcome a guest appearance from Richard Bates on lead guitar! You might not expect a song about Candyman to be described as "peppy", but "I'll Be True" is exactly that. As the old folks say, it's a real toe-tapper! I reviewed "Magic on This Train" earlier this year when it was released as a teaser track. This is a song so good that it made me want to watch Terror Train. Enough said! The EP concludes with "Ya Bang!", a song that I've immediately placed in the highest echelon of VB songs. If it were any catchier, half the population would be insisting it was a hoax. Seriously, this is about as "fun" as a song about a supernatural murder spree can be. It's got buzzing guitars, killer melodies (pun fully intended), and that perfect touch of keyboards that has become one of this band's signatures. I love that Vista Blue can do this type of song over and over again, yet it never gets old. Now that's talent! 

As I've reflected deeply on how soon is too soon to break out the Christmas music for 2021, New Nightmares has settled it for me. The Halloween music must come first, or there will be terrible consequences. I will ride the wave of New Nightmares into the safe zone of post World Series. Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Ralphie's Red Ryders are on deck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Exbats - Now Where Were We


The Exbats have turned out a classic '60s pop album that somehow manages to sound completely current in 2021. Given that Inez McClain and her dad Kenny have been making music together for over a decade, it wouldn't be quite right to say that Now Where Were We finds The Exbats "coming into their own". But the album does complete the band's transition to a pure pop sound. On this release, the McClains and bandmate Bobby Carlson dig deep into their love for mid-'60s American pop music. When I saw that The Mamas & the Papas and Sonny & Cher were primary reference points for Now Where Were We, I figured this album would be up my alley. I was not wrong! 

Recording with Matt Rendon at his Midtown Island Studios, The Exbats certainly had the perfect engineer to help them realize the sound they aspired to. Now Where Were We is classic not just in style but also in recording approach. There's no high-tech trickery going on here -- just a real band playing and singing music straight to analog tape. The result is an album that sounds like it could have been made in 1966, but with lyrics and a perspective that are fully contemporary. In terms of musical influences, the album touches on so much of what made the '60s remarkable: psychedelic and baroque pop, girl groups, bubblegum, R & B, and even country music. The album's 12 tracks are loaded with instantly memorable choruses, majestic harmonies, and lyrics which skillfully imbue dark subject matter with hope and humor. Written last year over a nine-month period, Now Where Were We is The Exbats' pandemic record. It's full of songs that acknowledge a bleak time but also find cause for optimism. How can you not love a pandemic record that opens with a song about Scooby-Doo? And while this album has its weighty moments (the spectacular "Hey New Zealand" is a haunting ode to climate change), it's all in all a feelgood pop record. In particular, songs like "Best Most Least Worst", the Shangri-Las inspired "I Don't Wanna Feel Dead", and the beautiful "One Foot in the Light" throw lifelines to anyone overcome by the despair of 2020-21. It's probably cheesy to proclaim that this album will make people feel less alone in tough times, but I can't think of a better way to say it. 

Now Where Were We tackles the complexity of the COVID experience with the most fundamental musical approach. As a songwriting team, Inez and Kenny McClain excel at crafting timeless pop songs that are catchy and melodious and impossible to resist. If you experience the "Where have I heard this melody before?" sensation, that's half the fun! Now Where Were We is that rare pandemic record that's actually enjoyable to listen to and that rare old school pop record that appeals to every conceivable generation. Get it now from Goner Records!

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Amplifier Heads - SaturnalienS


SaturnalienS
, the third full-length album by Boston's The Amplifier Heads, has been rightfully described as a "graphic novel for the ears and head". It's a throwback to a time when you'd put on your headphones and just sit there getting lost in a rock and roll record. Does anyone still do that? SaturnalienS was written and produced by singer/guitarist Sal Baglio, who has been writing rocking, hook-laden tunes for 40 years plus with bands such as The Stompers and the recent supergroup The Peppermint Kicks. With Baglio, you always know you're getting a highlight reel of the coolest sounds in the history of rock and roll. Running the gamut from roots rock and roll to the British Invasion to garage rock to glam to '70s arena rock, SaturnalienS launches these classic sounds into a fantastical outer space odyssey full of ghost stars, rocket boys, earth girls, young dolls, and beheaded amps. SaturnalienS plays like the hottest-selling album in the solar system -- garnering rave reviews and heavily rotated airplay on every rocket ship, space station, and extraterrestrial watering hole from the moon to Uranus. Those of you who couldn't get enough of Baglio's contributions to The Peppermint Kicks' debut album will be delighted to find that SaturnalienS is in a very similar vein. Needless to say, glam rock is at the center of this sonic adventure. "GlamoRama" is that rare tribute song that can stand toe-to-toe with the iconic music it celebrates. "Bat Shit Crazy" will have humans and aliens alike clapping and stomping with whatever appendages they may possess. "On the Moon" evokes the spirit of David Bowie in epic fashion. But in typical Amplifier Heads style, this album dishes out a tremendous variety of amazing rock and roll tunes. "Ghost Star Rider" is a surf rock instrumental gone to space, while "Earth Girls on the Loose" is the ultimate in wild, high energy rock and roll. "Peppermint Kicks" will scratch your itch for classic riff-driven hard rock. "The House of Young Dolls" is upbeat, jangly pop straight out of 1964. 

As cool as its concept may be, SaturnalienS succeeds on the strength of its tunes. Baglio's affection for the heyday of rock and roll is not mere nostalgia. He and his bandmates appreciate the timeless art of two-to-three minute rock and roll songs with roaring guitars, memorable melodies, and choruses made for the radio. In a modern world full of bands filling ultra-specific niches, The Amplifier Heads still aim to be a great rock and roll band, period. On this planet and beyond, such a thing will never go out of style. SaturnalienS is out now on your home of the hits --- the mighty Rum Bar Records!

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Airport 77s - "Losers Win"



Look who's back! On the very first day of 2021, The Airport 77s self-released Rotation -- which remains one of my most highly rated albums of the year. This fantastic power pop trio from Silver Spring, Maryland recently signed with the legendary JEM Records. Now there's a match made in heaven! Out today, the band's JEM debut is comprised of two digital tracks -- "Losers Win" and "The Illustrated Book of Cupid". Written by guitarist Andy Sullivan, both songs highlight this band's flair for harmony-laden power pop with big hooks and witty lyrics. My first reaction to these tracks was that they totally rock! If you like your power pop with equal parts power and pop, you should already be cranking up "Losers Win"! I dig the way this song builds slowly to a knockout chorus that's gonna be stuck in my head for the rest of the year at the very least. Somehow this song squeezes a novel's worth of storytelling into three and a half minutes. Check out this snippet:

He's got a photo with Sammy Hagar
And a tattoo says, Aloha
He's got a scar that runs from his elbow to his watch
Hung up on the baby sitter
Stepping in your kitty litter box
He got it in his socks

Now that, my friends, is true poetry! 

On the digital "flipside", "The Illustrated Book of Cupid" is a clever & hard-rocking love song that worships at the sacred altar of Cheap Trick (How stoked are Airports 77s to be on the same record label that first imported Live At Budokan to the U.S.? ). Is it just me, or do I hear cowbell and handclaps? Never underestimate the importance of percussion!

It was a tremendous surprise to discover that The Airport 77s had joined forces with one of my favorite record labels. And "Losers Win" sure does not disappoint! Whether you consider this one two-song single or two separate singles (Who can really tell these days?), this is a formidable pair of songs from one of the hottest up-and-coming bands on the power pop scene. If you're headed to International Pop Overthrow in New York next month, you can catch The Airport 77s on night three with label mates The Grip Weeds and the Anderson Council!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Mitochondriacs - Antonymous Mitochondrial Release


For those you who take the "All that shit sounds the same!" position on Mutant Pop Records, I present to you a Mutant Pop release that doesn't sound like anything else on the label (or any other label, for that matter!). The Mitochondriacs are a punk rock supergroup from Chicago comprised of the legendary John Jughead, Sex Dream's Maria Surfinbird, and Eddie & Marky from The Kobanes. Surprisingly, the band fronted by Screeching Weasel's guitarist has turned out one of the least Screeching Weasel sounding releases to ever come out on Mutant Pop! Antonymous Mitochondrial Release, out now as part of Mutant Pop's short-run compact disc series, is comprised largely of digital singles previously released by Laptop Punk Records. The singles were designed so that each "side" contained a concept that was the opposite of the concept on its counter side. Antonymous Mitochondrial Release adds another pair of contrasting song ideas to create a single concept album. Musically, this release is hard to pigeonhole. It's mostly straight-forward punk rock in a late '70s/early '80s style, but it also veers off into frenzies of noise and dashes of brilliant weirdness. On vocals, Mr. Pierson is far more reminiscent of Johnny Rotten or Jello Biafra than he is of any iconic figure in pop-punk. With its Anthem for a New Tomorrow vibes, the wonderful instrumental "Happily" is the one instance of fan service on this release. Otherwise, The Mitochondriacs are nothing like you'd expect them to be (unless you expected them to take a delicate folk tune and abruptly turn it hardcore). This is intelligent, interesting punk rock that has a great deal to say about the inherent opposition in human existence. The CD comes with a lyric sheet which is well-worth inspecting closely (My favorite line: "Sometimes I want my pants and a pair of socks to be their own country"). In his liner notes, Timbo calls this album a "work of art". I'd say that hits the nail on the head. This is exactly the kind of release that deserves to exist in a tangible form. For those of you who are not fans of compact discs, the album is also available from The Mitochondriacs' Bandcamp -- with all digital profits being donated to worthy charities. Not bad for a bunch of membrane-bound organelles!

(CD available for $5 plus $3 postage from Mutant Pop Records, 5010 NW Shasta Ave., Corvallis, OR 97330)  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Hard-Ons - I'm Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken


Sometimes we set the bar a little lower for classic bands putting out new material. We're often happy if they simply manage to not embarrass themselves. It's as if we want to congratulate them just for still existing -- which is not unreasonable, actually! But no such curve grading is required for the latest album from legendary Aussie punk rockers The Hard-Ons. I'm Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken, the band's first release with new singer Tim Rogers (You Am I), isn't just a really good album for an old band. It's a really good album, period! Honestly, this is a vintage Hard-Ons recording. It would have sounded good 20 or 30 years ago, and it sounds good now. The album title could not be more perfect. After nearly four decades as a band, The Hard-Ons have made it obvious that they're never really going to change. And why would you want them to? These folks were playing pop-punk before the genre even had a name. They were putting metal riffs into punk songs years before the world had ever heard of grunge rock. They came on the scene at a time when melody was fading from punk music and helped bring it back in a major way. I'm Sorry Sir.. easily rates as a top-notch Hard-Ons album. Bringing in Rogers on lead vocals sure seemed like a match made in heaven, and it's quickly obvious what a perfect fit he is for the band. Alternating as usual between straight-forward punk-pop songs ("Hold Tight", "Shoot Me In the Back"), ferocious punk rock rippers ("Back Pack Sweat", "Humiliated/Humiliator"), metal-influenced rockers ("Fucked Up Party", "Pucker Up"), and songs that remind us that this band helped define modern alternative rock ("Lite as a Feather", "Needles and Pins (sic)"), The Hard-Ons are in top form across these 12 tracks. If you've never heard The Hard-Ons before, this is not a bad place to start. And if you're a longtime fan, you will not be disappointed. The album is available now from Cheersquad Records! 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Lorne Behrman - When I Hit The Floor

I have been  an admirer of Lorne Behrman's musical talent for 25 years. As a member of the Dimestore Haloes, Dead Tricks, and The Sweet Things, he has made immense contributions to music I've raved about both in print and online. After thirty plus years as a premiere guitar gunslinger, Behrman has finally stepped into the spotlight as a lead singer and songwriter. His first solo EP When I Hit The Floor has just been released on the ever-reliable Spaghetty Town Records. Knowing what an excellent writer Behrman is, I had high hopes for his debut as a lead artist. But I must say that this EP exceeds all expectations. These are truly powerful songs, and I am absolutely blown away by the honesty & fearlessness of Behrman's narrative voice. 

When I Hit The Floor takes you straight into Behrman's soul. It plunges into the dark places he's gone to as well as the light that led him out. He puts it all out it in the open here: his struggles with alcoholism, surviving sexual abuse as a child, and enduring a period of time when he wasn't sure he wanted to go on living. Over the course of this EP, he confronts his pain and ultimately arrives at hope and salvation. As the one-sheet brilliantly states, on the closing track "Oh Lord, Give Me Time", "Lorne gets as close to a come-to-Jesus-moment as a Jewish NYC rock n' roller can." Musically, this EP comes off like a love letter to 1970s New York City. These songs summon the spirits of Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, Jim Carroll, and Robert Quine (among others). It's poetry meets punk rock with a touch of that '70s Stones sensibility that is permanently embedded in Behrman's musical DNA. From the old school art-punk vibes of the title track to the intensely haunting "Sandcastles" to the anthemic "I Won't Fade Away" to the soulful Dylan-esque ballad "Oh Lord, Give Me Time", this EP shows us sides of Lorne Behrman we've never glimpsed before. Of course his guitar playing is fantastic, but he also proves to be a natural at crafting sophisticated rock and roll songs with many dimensions. While Behrman is responsible for all of the guitars and lead vocals on this release, he did enlist a formidable ensemble of supporting players including veteran producer Matt Chiaravalle, drummer Hector Lopez (Alejandro Escovedo, The Sweet Things), keyboardist Rob Clores (Jesse Malin, Black Crowes, Alejandro Escovedo), and singer Dana Athens (Jane Lee Hooker). The production and musicianship on this release are truly top notch. The care and attention to detail that Behrman put into this EP over the past two years have fully paid off. 

When I Hit The Floor is inspiring on multiple levels. It's one thing to preach about how surviving the dark times can lead you to the light. It's another thing to live it. Behrman has lived it and bravely bared his soul on record. He has accomplished one of the most noble goals of art: taking the pain of human experience and turning it into something that generates hope and makes others feel less alone. And with this stunning debut, Behrman has set a fine example for some of us who've reached a certain age and wrongfully assumed that we've squandered our creative powers. It's never really too late to be a late bloomer. Bouncing back from his rock bottom moment, Lorne Behrman has rediscovered hope and happiness and life and come into his own as a musical artist. I hope I'll be writing about him for another 25 years at least.