Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Melmacs - "Saturday Night"

The Melmacs continue their carefully-scheduled teasing of their soon-to-be-released blockbuster debut album with the debut of the new single and music video "Saturday Night." The fourth single off of the forthcoming long player Good Advice, "Saturday Night" is a little bit of a change of pace from the bouncing powerpop/punk of the previous ones. Here The Melmacs slow things down and deliver a reflective sing-along anthem on what happens when a Saturday night doesn't quite live up to expectations. I love that the song shows us a different side of The Melmacs, and now it's certain that live audiences will be showing up with lighters in tow expecting to hear it! The music video, which takes some inspiration from Queen's iconic "Bohemian Rhapsody" video, is a real delight. Well, my friends, we're getting closer. Just one more month to go before Good Advice hits the streets and becomes your favorite album of the year. Smash that pre-order link if you wanna be at the head of the line!

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Hayley and the Crushers - "Taboo"

Concluding a remarkable run of singles leading up to their forthcoming album Modern Adult Kicks, Hayley and the Crushers have released the wickedly tantalizing "Taboo." Since signing to Josie Cotton's Kitten Robot Records last summer, the Crushers have continued to surprise and delight with each new song they've released. That continues with "Taboo," a song that blasts like an early '80s pop-rock radio smash yet retains a cool, modern edge. This is a sinister song with a sinister hook. By the time you realize how catchy "Taboo" is, you're already caught. Reliable sources tell me this song is written from the perspective of a snake eating its prey, but at a broader level it's about chasing forbidden desires. Who can't relate to that at some level? The band is openly channeling a Pat Benatar energy on this track, which tickles me since my nine-year-old self played Crimes of Passion to death (on 8-track tape, no less!). I don't want to spoil too much about Modern Adult Kicks since I have a full review to write in a couple of weeks. But I will say that as I've listened to the album, I've been struck by how amazing Hayley Cain's voice sounds. Perhaps it's the emotional range of the material on the album. Perhaps it's having a producer who fully "gets" the band. Whatever it is, I feel like I've never fully appreciated what a powerhouse voice Hayley has. If "Taboo" came on the radio, you'd definitely stop and think, "That's a star!" 

The Crushers have released a music video for "Taboo," and it's absolutely bonkers. Say what you want about technology's impact on the world of music. One thing that has to go in the plus column is that the social media age has revived the music video as a vital art form. A video isn't just a promotional tool -- it's a means for bands like Hayley and the Crushers to show the world who they. If you stumbled upon this clip, you would immediately understand what it means to exist in the Crusherverse. Like the song itself, the "Taboo" video is captivating, wonderfully weird, and a whole lot of fun. It also allows the Crushers to celebrate their new home base of Detroit. Modern Adult Kicks will be out on limited blue raspberry vinyl September 13th on Kitten Robot Records. Head on over to the Kitten Robot store to pre-order!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Natalie Sweet & Brad Marino - "Second Time"/"Over My Head"

You can probably imagine how excited I was when I heard that Natalie Sweet and Brad Marino would be collaborating on a new single. These are two of my favorite people in music joining forces to make a record with my two favorite labels. I knew this was a huge deal, and the resulting release does not disappoint. Out today on Reta Records and Rum Bar Records, "Second Time"/"Over My Head" features brand-new smash hits from both of these amazing artists. But this is no ordinary split single -- it's a true collaboration! Sweet and Marino each came to this project with a new song idea and then benefited from having the other add parts to it. Each track is in the signature style of its lead artist, but the input of both songwriters is easy to hear. That says a lot about the talent of these two individuals, but it also says a lot about how well their musical styles complement each other. 

If you're a fan of the punky new wave power pop that Sweet specializes in, "Second Time" will have you shouting in delight. I love the way Sweet and Marino have crafted a massively-catchy and musically upbeat tune that tackles a bummer theme: getting dumped...twice. Songs about heartbreak are the lifeblood of power pop, and this one doubles down on the formula. Perhaps you'll relate due to personal experience. Perhaps you'll be moved by Sweet's genuine storytelling. Either way, you'll be dancing and singing along in no-time flat. In some alternative universe where it's eternally 1982, this song is already rocketing up the charts! Storytelling also looms large in the Marino/Sweet duet "Over My Head." With the two singers trading parts, you get immensely differing points of view of the same romantic entanglement. In fact, it seems the male character is slow to realize that it even is an entanglement. That is the source of the tension -- and joy -- in this song. Somehow "Over My Head" ends up being both hilarious and relatable -- quite a winning combination. Marino has a knack for writing songs like this that recall the pure pop side of the Ramones, and Sweet's additions put this tune over the top. 

It all started with Natalie Sweet seeking connection during the pandemic. She went looking for cool people to write songs with, and Brad Marino answered the call. I knew these two would make an awesome record together, but "Second Time"/"Over My Head" is even beyond what I was expecting. These are two of the best pop songs of this year or any other. Sweet and Marino make a formidable duo, and it will be a major disappoint if they don't record together again. If you wish to own a vinyl copy (three versions are available!) of "Second Time"/"Over My Head," you are advised to hit up the Reta and Rum Bar Bandcamps sooner rather than later! Seriously: do it!  

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Kurt Baker - "Electric Fire"

Back with his first original track with his full band since the highly tremendous After Party LP came out two years ago, Kurt Baker totally brings the rock on his brand-new Wicked Cool Records single "Electric Fire." Co-written with Geoff Palmer, "Electric Fire" tackles one of the most enduring themes in popular music: that rock and roll is the best cure for whatever ails you. Born out of the frustrations of the last few years, this song celebrates the healing and life-affirming powers of the greatest form of music ever invented. A rock and roll song about rock and roll is most definitely a hit-or-miss undertaking. Luckily, "Electric Fire" totally hits. The style and personality of both the song's authors come shining through on this upbeat and insanely catchy track. Baker and Palmer have managed to inject a punk/power pop/rock and roll stomper with an Elvis influence, and it works like a dream. If you like big hooks, ripping guitars, and the most righteous rock and roll piano this side of Little Richard, you need some "Electric Fire" in your life! I love that the lyrics embrace numerous ridiculous rock and roll clich├ęs in the most awesome way imaginable. 

I've never seen Kurt Baker play live, but I have this perception of him as this super-energetic performer who realizes that people come to rock and roll shows to forget about their troubles and experience pure joy. "Electric Fire" is a reminder that he's a fan as well as a performer and that the energy he brings to the world is the same energy that feeds him. The song takes the best parts of the last 67 years of rock and roll and creates something new and exciting to lift your spirits. If you've been having a bad day or a bad year or a bad three years, Kurt Baker's got a sure-fire prescription for your soul!

Friday, August 19, 2022

Ricky Rat - Ghosts of Isolation

Ricky Rat is a legendary figure in glam-punk and Detroit rock and roll. The longtime Trash Brats and Lovemasters guitarist has played with everyone from the Dead Boys to Kevin K to Mike Skill. He has also had a great run as a solo artist over the past decade, which continues with his terrific new album Ghosts of Isolation (out now on I-94 Recordings). Ghosts of Isolation can be properly described as a vintage Ricky Rat recording. It exists in a world where glam rock, punk, power pop, and boozy rock and roll are not separate genres but rather complementary facets of a distinct musical aesthetic. Behold the master at work! 

Ghosts of Isolation is one of those albums that has something for everyone. The title track is a punk rock anthem with one foot in power pop - the sort of song that has been a Ricky Rat specialty for decades. Elsewhere Ricky goes all-in on power pop on the sentimental numbers "Lakepointe Nights" and "Dream That Can Never Be," hits the old school country sweet spot on "Bottom of My Heart," tears into some quintessential trashy rock and roll on "I Can't See Shit," and puts his signature stylings on the Jimmy Cliff classic "Sitting In Limbo." And as was often the case on Trash Brats releases, it's the deep cuts that really make Ghosts Of Isolation. Songs such as "Glow of Gabriel's," "When We Were the Boys," and "Singing with Angels" find their author pouring out his heart and shining as a storyteller and songwriter.  

Ricky Rat takes his solo artistry to another level on Ghosts of Isolation. He has never put his name on a finer collection of tunes, and this album has the feel of an autobiography. Over the course of ten tracks, he reflects on lost love, old friends, good times, and a life in rock and roll. Backed by Joe Leone and Laura Mendoza (as well as special guest stars Jimmie Bones, Jackson Smith, Brad Elvis, and Chloe Orwell), he has delivered an album imbued with the beating heart of the great city of Detroit. It's available now on black and silver vinyl from the I-94 Recordings web site!

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Rad Max - "Extraterrestrial Radio"

Rad Max is a band that always puts a smile on my face. No matter how depressing this world gets, it's impossible to not feel good when a Rad Max song is playing. The Portland-based new wave foursome is a ray of sunshine in today's music scene, and new single "Extraterrestrial Radio" is a perfect example of that. While there are numerous '80s pop culture references in the cover art and lyrics, this is probably Rad Max's most "contemporary" song yet. It's a heartfelt tribute to independent radio stations and the DJs who support all of those underground bands we love so dearly. It's also an astute commentary on the soulless nature of modern-day corporate radio. Check out these lyrics:

I don't heart your radio/
You've got your algo in my rhythm/
Give me music by aliens/
So I can rock out with 'em

Did they hit the nail on the head, or what? I love the metaphor of this whole big beautiful underground music scene of ours being a community of aliens. And in typical Rad Max style, "Extraterrestrial Radio" radiates a special kind of energy that will have you dancing and singing along in no time flat. The song is available now from all the streaming sites. And if you listen to a lot of independent and underground radio, you'll surely hear it in regular rotation. Indeed, give me music by aliens!

Sunday, August 07, 2022

The Speedways - "Shoulda Known"/"A Drop in the Ocean"

Well this was a very nice surprise! I was fired up to write about a brand-new Speedways single at the end of this month. And then just like that, said single popped up on Bandcamp a few weeks early -- accompanied by a shiny new music video. On that note, let us welcome to the world the first new original songs from The Speedways in over two years! It's no secret that The Speedways are one of my favorite bands (perhaps even my singular favorite band at this point). I've been waiting a long time to hear these tunes, and they do not disappoint. "Shoulda Known"/"A Drop in the Ocean" will be available soon on vinyl from Snap!!/Hurrah Musica & Beluga Records. These two Matt Julian/Mauro Venegas compositions are vintage Speedways songs in both style and theme. "Shoulda Known" is two minutes and 53 seconds of power pop bliss featuring a knockout chorus and a typically impassioned lead vocal from Julian. As Speedways songs tend to do, "Shoulda Known" laments the devastation of heartbreak -- in this case, one that would have seemed inevitable to any clear-thinking person. But rarely do we as humans think clearly when it comes to matters of the heart. Your head tells you one thing, but your heart tells you another. And as you invariably find yourself picking up the pieces, you thank the heavens that Speedways songs exist. Shot & produced by Jez Leather, the music video for "Shoulda Known" is a fantastic-looking performance clip filmed on location at The Lexington in London. 

While I sometimes struggle to type the words "double A-side" with a straight face, the phrase is unavoidable in the case of this single. I've been so stymied trying to decide whether "Shoulda Known" or "Drop in the Ocean" is "the hit" that I've thrown my hands in the air and called it a tie. With "Drop in the Ocean," The Speedways have managed to churn out a radio-worthy ballad of such grandeur that it somehow makes me nostalgic for 1980s school dances that I never actually attended. Matt Julian always sings these epic tearjerkers like he means it. His secret is that he really does. And that melody is to die for. What kind of shit world are we living in where a song like this is not all over the radio?

"Shoulda Known"​/​"A Drop In The Ocean" is an absolute must for power pop fans. It arrives in advance of The Speedways' forthcoming LP Talk of the Town, which is due out in November. You can pre-order the vinyl single at The Speedways Bandcamp. That cover art looks familiar, doesn't it? Call me if you figure it out.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

More Kicks - Animal

More Kicks are big favorites of this blog's readership, and that will certainly continue with the release of the great new 7" EP Animal on legendary labels Dirtnap and Stardumb Records. The title track, a preview of the band's forthcoming LP Punch Drunk, sounds like nothing this band has ever done before. Yet it's another reminder of why James Sullivan is one of the most highly-regarded songwriters in the punk/garage/power pop universe. "Animal" is a pop song, no doubt -- but one with a hard, angular edge and brutally self-aware lyrics. You always expect this band to deliver the goods, but this is next-level stuff. The song opens with a riff that brings to mind a post-punk band trying to play "My Sharona," and there are echoes of Pete Shelley in Sulli's phrasing. If you like catchy riffs, catchy choruses, and catchy everything, you need "Animal" on your summer playlist. I'm absolutely fascinated by these lyrics. When Sulli sings, "But the human world to me it seems too full/I'd rather jack it in to be an animal," I can't decide whether we're supposed to fear him or want to join him. Exclusive to this 7" are the two B-side tracks. "The Wind Up" is in the band's usual wheelhouse of consummate crunching power trio pop but with slightly noisier leanings. "10 Miles High" is a lovely little acoustic number that leaves a perfect melody floating in your head. If these gentlemen can leave songs this good off the album, you know the album is going to be something else! Punch Drunk releases September 16th. Click here for complete pre-ordering information!

Friday, August 05, 2022

JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend

It delights me that the JEM Records Celebrates series is turning into an annual event. Previous editions honoring the songs of John Lennon and Brian Wilson have set the bar for what all tribute albums should aspire to be. Producer/director/label president Marty Scott has found the formula for success: turn to one of the finest label rosters in the power pop world and trust these talented bands and artists to creatively interpret some of the best songs ever written. Out today on vinyl, CD, and digital formats, JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend is another smashing success. It's also a wonderful full circle moment for Marty Scott, who came up with the idea to start importing records while he was searching for a copy of The Who's Direct Hits during a trip to England. The rest, as they say, is history!

As much as I appreciate the greatness and importance of John Lennon and Brian Wilson, I have an emotional connection to this installment of the series that I didn't have with the previous two. In my youth, The Who was by far my favorite classic rock band. And as a lifelong power pop fanatic, I consider The Who to be foundational to the genre (Townshend himself coined the term). If these JEM artists had managed to screw up a Pete Townshend tribute, I would not have been reluctant to air my grievances. But my only grievance with this album is that it has left me wanting more! Right off the bat, Lisa Mychols & Super 8 turn in a stunning and completely unexpected arrangement of "Baba O'Reilly" that is the first of many "Wow!" moments on this compilation. Others include the same band's jazzy rendition of "I Can't Explain," The Grip Weeds' masterful take on "A Quick One," and The Airport 77s' successful mashup of "Substitute" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." With this being a JEM release, I was hoping for a few of these bands/artists to deliver the goods power pop style. I was not disappointed! In particular, The Midnight Callers ("Let My Love Open the Door"), Nick Piunti ("The Seeker"), and The Anderson Council ("Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand") turn in inspired, punched-up versions of Townshend-penned classics. Elsewhere, The Gold Needles transform "So Sad About Us" into the best '80s radio hit that never was. And Johnathan Pushkar ("The Kids Are Alright") once again shows that he can make any song sound like something he wrote! 

What I love about JEM Records is that it represents the best of the current generation of power pop and melodic rock. With that in mind, I can't think of another label better suited to properly pull off a tribute to Pete Townshend. The ten bands/artists included on JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend are keeping the influence of bands like The Who alive and well in 2022. The music being made by these artists isn't "retro" -- it's timeless. They all must have been incredibly excited to contribute to this release, and it shows. This is truly a first class production featuring musicianship, singing, and creativity worthy of this exalted material. It delivers a great mix of the types of tracks I was hoping to hear and some truly wonderful surprises. Best of all, this album makes me want to go back and listen to all my Who records! This collection coincides with the label's 50th anniversary, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate five decades of JEM. Whether you're a Who freak like me or just a huge fan of JEM's formidable roster of talent, you should consider JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend an essential purchase.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Lorne Behrman - "I Hope The Sun Doesn’t Catch Us"

I've got September 13th circled on my calendar as a great day for music. On that day, Lorne Behrman will release his debut album A Little Midnight on Spaghetty Town Records. A Little Midnight makes my short list of most highly-anticipated albums of 2022. Based on its first two singles, it seems certain this album will live up to expectations and then some. As the esteemed Michael Volgare astutely puts it, every song Behrman releases just gets better and better. 

New single "I Hope The Sun Doesn’t Catch Us" is an absolute stunner featuring some of the most beautiful and flat-out remarkable guitar playing I've heard in quite some time. Musically, this song is an homage to Television -- a band that was a game-changing influence on Behrman as a young musician in the '90s. The track finds him exploring that world that Television first opened up for him: where the spirit of punk rock transcends the limitations of genre and a song is capable of taking the listener on a journey. Much like recent single "A Little Midnight," "I Hope The Sun Doesn't Catch Us" demonstrates that punk rock can be art without being pretentious. The song is as catchy as they come and gets the job done in less than two and a half minutes. Lyrically, it's a powerful reflection on the transience of love. Having pondered that very thing a thousand times, I find myself connecting to this song on a personal level. 

One of the things I admire about Behrman as a songwriter is his willingness to share so much of himself with the world. As I dig into "I Hope The Sun Doesn't Catch Us," I hear a dad cherishing every moment he gets to spend with his daughter. And I hear a man opening himself up to new possibilities no matter how much that might scare him. I love the way this song touches on fears common to all of us yet also radiates genuine optimism. That's real life! Behrman has a gift for taking all this stuff that is so deeply personal to him and making it relatable to everyone. I suppose that's what great songwriters do! Be sure to check out the amazing music video for "I Hope The Sun Doesn’t Catch Us" (beautifully directed by David J Baron). And look for A Little Midnight on compact disc and digital download next month!