Monday, October 31, 2022

The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club - Vanishing Point

I'm a little late on this one (about as late as I possibly could have been!), but The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club has released a special digital EP for spooky season. Veering a little (but not too far) from its signature modern power pop sound, the BDSC treats us to four tracks of horror-themed goodness on the quite excellent Vanishing Point. With songs about vampires, killer cars, ghosts, and the end of the world, Vanishing Point will make a fine addition to your Halloween playlist both this year and beyond. Lead track "Every Night I'm Dying" is the big hit here. It packs plenty of guitar punch along with a hook that will haunt you. At the same time, it doubles down on the synths and amps up the drama. Did this band just invent goth power pop? There's no denying that singer/guitarist William Giricz has the vocal range to really make this song work. And it makes sense that this band would excel at a song like this. Aren't all the great vampire stories really just love stories? Another highlight is the closer "Nightfall on Doomsday," which is probably the punkiest track I've ever heard from the BDSC. It's essentially a fight song for Armageddon, and it's deviously upbeat. For my money, this is the scariest song of the bunch. I'm confident that I'm safe from vampires and murderous motor vehicles. But songs about end times are far from implausible given the current state of the world. If you enjoyed some of the longer, more epic rock songs on the band's recent album Please Stand By, you'll get a kick out of "Why You Ghosting Me Girl?" (a song that brings new meaning to getting "ghosted"!). 

Far from a seasonal novelty, Vanishing Point is a scary good effort from one of the top bands in today's indie power pop scene. Grab it now and enjoy it forever!


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Brad Marino - Basement Beat

Ramonescore as a musical genre is hit-or-miss for me, with usually more misses than hits. The issue, as I see it, is that this style of music is very hard to pull off. All those classic Ramones records are literally flawless. Imitations rarely satisfy. Ramonescore bands I genuinely enjoy tend to mix a Ramones influence with their own identifiable style. Yet on rare occasions, somebody will straight-up copy the formula of the first couple Ramones albums and manage to pull it off spectacularly. That's what Brad Marino has done with his new album Basement Beat (out now on Rum Bar Records, Hey Pizza! Records, and Memorable But Not Honorable). Of course, Brad Marino is one of my favorite artists in today's music scene. So I did approach this release with an open mind. But I've got to say that he's achieved the near-impossible here: making an unapologetic Ramones knock-off record that I actually want to listen to!

From the style to the production to the lyrics to the vocals, Basement Beat basks in the devout worship of the first two or three Ramones albums. In most cases, an album like this would just make wish I were listening to the actual Ramones. But because Brad Marino is such an exceptional songwriter, he has managed to make what sounds like the missing Ramones album between Leave Home and Rocket To Russia. He enlisted drummer extraordinaire Beau Basement to be his Tommy Ramone and played everything else himself (and also produced). On his previous solo outings, Marino has frequently visited the more "pop" side of the Ramones. But with this release, it's pure three-chord downstroke punk glory as he powers through 12 tracks in 23 minutes with song titles like "Communist Creep," "Rubber Room," "Spy for the B.B.I.," and "Nancy Is Narcoleptic." The songwriting, while derivative by design, is truly inspired. A new arrangement of "Brain Gone Dead" proves to be just as good as the original. "That Girl" would not sound out of place on any of Marino's albums. "Dream Last Night" is surprisingly profound. You could say that Marino is doing something that's been done a thousand times before, yet somehow he makes me thankful that it's now a thousand and one. 

Given that Basement Beat is such a departure from his usual solo work, Marino had considered releasing this project under a different name. But as he says, "it's all rock and roll" to him. And so the music gods have given us a new Brad Marino album we weren't even expecting. If you're a fan of his, you will enjoy this release. If you're into Ramonescore, you will enjoy this release. If the first Riverdales album and The Hanson Brothers' Sudden Death are the perfect ten albums of this musical style, Basement Beat is a solid nine. Hit up the links below to buy it on CD, vinyl, or tape!

Friday, October 28, 2022

Stars Like Ours - self titled

Out now on Rum Bar Records is the self-titled debut album from Stars Like Ours  — a CD compilation of three digital EPs released from 2015 to 2018. Hearing this release, I'm a little sad that I'm so late in discovering Stars Like Ours. But I've definitely been making up for lost time; this CD has been living in my car player for the past month! This album and this band take me back to those days in the early '90s when indie/alternative rock ruled. Remember a time when you could tune into a college radio station and hear Sugar, Superchunk, The Breeders, and Dinosaur Jr. in the same block? You could seamlessly slot any of these nine tracks into the same block. 

When the Stars Like Ours disc first arrived on my doorstep, I was excited by the band personnel. Michelle Paulhus (The Decals, The Dents, etc.) is on bass and lead vocals. Kristin Holliday (DRAGO, The Downhauls, etc.) is on guitar. Eric "Rice" Edmonston (Darkbuster, Abbie Barrett Band, etc.) is on drums. That's a powerhouse lineup, and I would have been happy to hear this trio tackle any genre of music. But Stars Like Ours really hits a sweet spot for me with its loud, hooky old school indie rock sound. They are doing their own version of a musical aesthetic that was my gateway to the underground three decades ago. Although the influences are obvious, the band manages to update them for modern times. In a completely unpretentious way, this band simply oozes cool. Holliday nails that crunching guitar sound, and Edmonston is an absolute monster on drums. There's also a rule in music that if Michelle Paulhus is writing and singing songs, those are tunes you need to own. In fact, this is as good of an album as she's ever put her name on. And, yes, I know that's saying something. Given that this disc was culled from three separate releases, it's not surprising that the song quality is so exceptional. I keep listening through to try and identify individual tracks that stand out, but every song sounds like a hit to my ears! And yet when you put all this material together, it still flows like a singular album (I didn't even realize it was a compilation until I'd heard it several times!). Without trying to relive the '90s, Stars Like Ours remind us why we loved that music so much. The songs, playing, production, and (of course) vocals are absolutely top-shelf.  

Stars Like Ours — a contemporary band reminiscent of a moment when Boston was the center of the indie rock universe — is the perfect addition to Rum Bar Records' growing stable of extraordinary hometown talent. If you like buzzing indie rock with a strong pop sensibility, you too may find yourself wondering where this band has been all your life!  

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Vicious Blonde - "Dreams Come True!"

Based out of Melbourne/Country Victoria, Australia, Vicious Blonde plays an ass-kicking style of punk rock that is literally music to my ears. New single "Dreams Come True!" is the band's second release following its impressive debut track "Ignore Everybody." There's not much that needs to be said about "Dreams Come True!" other than that it's powerful, energetic, and executed in a classic punk rock style. Lead singer Cait has great presence, and the band rips through this tune with the utmost vigor. It's a great-sounding track as well; the guitars and drums really hit hard. I'm reminded not just of some classic Aussie bands but also of early U.K. and California punk rock. If you dig old school punk that's tuneful but hard-hitting, Vicious Blonde ought to be on your radar. Greg from the Rock N Roll Manifesto has been touting this band, and he's never wrong! I am stoked to hear more!

Vista Blue - No Cliques, No Trends

The best thing about doing a fully independent smalltime blog is that I can do whatever I want. I could wake up one day and decide I'm going to do nothing but write essays on Dictators songs for the rest of my life (at least I wouldn't have to change the name of the blog!). I can sneak sports predictions into record reviews (Phillies in seven). I can leave myself notes for my grocery list (Don't forget that six-pack of Abita Office Party!). And if I like a band so much that I want to review it 35 times (and counting!), there's no one above me to tell me I can't. So on that note, I am about to review Vista Blue for the 35th time (not counting my write-ups on Vista Blue rip-offs Ralphie's Red Ryders). 

It seems odd after reviewing 35 Vista Blue releases to say that the latest, No Cliques, No Trends, is definitively the best of all of them. But I can't name a better release from the VB catalog. If you've read this far, you're either a member of the band, a friend of a member of the band, a relative of a member of the band, or a dedicated fan of the band. So I don't really need to explain to you why Vista Blue is awesome. But I will say that No Cliques, No Trends is cool because it combines all the best elements of Vista Blue into a single EP. Is this a pop-punk release or a power pop release? The answer is yes. I love how it embraces both of those styles and ultimately just sounds like Vista Blue. My initial response to this EP after giving it couple of listens was, "Wow, this is really good!" I suppose it's odd to be surprised that you really like a release from a band you've reviewed 38 35 times. But it wasn't really surprise so much as it was tremendous appreciation that a band could be this prolific yet still deliver fantastic songs every single time. And like all Vista Blue releases, this one makes me smile. 

"The Boys Are Still In Town" clocks in under two minutes but still falls as close to power pop as it does to pop-punk. It's an amusing variation on the "Boys are back in town" theme —  the twist being that these boys will never be back in town because they never left in the first place. I can't tell if this song is supposed to be mocking or just merely observational (I'm leaning towards the latter). Either way, it's freaking hilarious and bound to be stuck in your head for days. I have to admit those lines about dudes working where their parents used to work and eating where their parents used to eat hit really close to home! "The Girl on the Magazine Cover" is probably the purest pop song Vista Blue has ever done — yet it's as lean and efficient as any of the band's tunes. On "We Don't Think So," the band fires back at its detractors in a way that's more self-affirming than bitter. There's a good message in there about never allowing anyone to discourage you from doing the things that make you happy. If Vista Blue ever listened to the people who told them to stop wasting their time writing songs about baseball (and horror movies, curling, Christmas, the Olympics, scooters, The Outsiders, Thanksgiving, and muffins), the world would be a little less bright. Is "I Don't Wanna Spend the Summer With You" a classic pop-punk song about summer and girls? Not quite! Elsewhere the band rages against the fake Richard Bates and produces a sequel to "Bryan Funck Ripped Us Off" that's even better than the original! 

Since we're all friends, family, and fans of Vista Blue, I can assume a common appreciation of the band's catalog. No Cliques, No Trends has to rate somewhere near the top of that catalog. It's full of power pop-punk earworms that are fun to listen to and fun to sing along with. Enjoy the real Vista Blue in top form!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

An interview with The Speedways!

I rarely do band interviews for this blog. But I could not pass up the opportunity to speak to one of my favorite bands, The Speedways! In advance of the release of their amazing new album Talk of the Town, Matt and Mauro from The Speedways were kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy! 

F & L: You have a new album called Talk of the Town releasing very soon. Could you tell us a little about this album and how it might be different from the last one?

Matt: The recording process was different this time. We tracked as a full band, so the takes are 'live', so to speak. Then we overdubbed the vocals, lead guitar, keyboard etc. I think it definitely gives the songs more energy. 

Influence-wise, we tried a few more things. We all love soul, '80s pop and '70s rock as much as the usual suspects, so there's a new flavour to our overall sound for sure. 

Mauro: The influences are probably a bit wider, or more unexpected on this one - we were listening to all sorts and chucking all sorts of ideas into the mix this time. Doing some things we hadn't done before on albums was definitely a motivation, as well as trying to surprise people. Essentially, it's just us broadening what you'd think of as the "Speedways sound"!

F & L: The Speedways originated as a one-off solo project but became a proper band in 2018. With this new album, you have a true full-band effort featuring singing and songwriting contributions from multiple members. Yet it all sounds distinctly like The Speedways. In what ways has this band evolved since the four of you first got together?

Matt: It's strange because we hardly ever get chance to rehearse! But we do seem to have a telepathic tightness and shared headspace when it comes to being Speedways. 

I mean, originally "The Speedways'" was an alias I gave myself in order to sing my songs, and as you say, the intention was only to make Just Another Regular Summer, but it's evolved massively since then. The new album is definitely the result of that evolution.

F & L: Let’s talk about the making of Talk of the Town. This was your first major release post-COVID. What was it like when you got together and started rehearsing new material? Had some of those song ideas been floating in your heads for a while?

Matt: I hardly wrote a note during 2021, but I did have a dream that the next album would be called Talk Of The Town — hence why I eventually wrote the song "Talk Of The Town." 

I had "A Drop In The Ocean" knocking around for a couple of years, but all the rest of my contributions were written specifically for the album. 

Rehearsal-wise, we worked really hard in the limited time we had. It's amazing how prepared and proficient we actually were when we recorded! Jez (producer) was a big creative presence as always.

Mauro: Getting back in the rehearsal room and getting stuck into the new material was great. It wasn't all plain sailing for sure; we were challenging ourselves and the songs, trying to hone them to be the best they could be, and that can lead to hitting some frustrating dead ends. Once we finally got into the recording studio, though, it was really satisfying to hear how prepared and in shape we were, in comparison to how we made Radio Sounds, for example. I think my ones kind of came in a bit of a batch around the same time, but some of them ("Wrong Place Wrong Time" in particular!) went through several rewrites before they made it to the band!

F & L: I’m sure people are dying to know about this one. Speedways’ songs are full of heartbreak and drama. To what degree are these songs autobiographical?

Matt: 100%. It was a bit different for me this time, though. I've said before that Just Another Regular Summer was a love letter to a special moment in my life. Radio Sounds was largely about what happened (and almost happened) after Regular Summer came out. They really are chapter 1 & 2 for me personally, I guess. My lyrics throughout Talk Of The Town have remnants and references to that story, but there are also other stories, less specific lyrics and a more guarded approach. 

There's always drama, disappointment, jealousy and romance, but most of all, I hope people get the sincerity. I mean it all, for better or worse!

Mauro: As far as the ones I wrote lyrics for, to some degree, definitely - looking back to recent, or not so recent situations, thinking about past mistakes or whatever. There's some bitterness in there, but that can be a good way of getting that stuff out of your system, haha!

F & L: With this new album, you’ve managed to satisfy the power pop fans even as you transcend the genre. I might even say it’s a power pop album without strictly being a “power pop” album. What are your thoughts about how the term “power pop” may or may not describe The Speedways?

Matt: I guess like most genre titles, it's just a convenient term of reference, really. It gives people a rough idea of what you're gonna sound like, but beyond that it doesn't really matter. I'm happy for people to call us power pop; there have been some pretty great bands over the years that have carried that label too.

Mauro: It's a good question! I have pretty low tolerance for all those "This doesn't count as power pop" conversations myself. I'd say we clearly fit the tag, because I see it as a broad church!

F & L: What's your favorite song on the new album, and why? 

Matt: That's a tricky one because you could make a case for any of them, but just because it came to me in a dream and because we all had such good fun recording it, I'd go with the title track - but only just!

Mauro: Oof. Hard one. Changes a lot, but maybe a toss up between the title track and "Shoulda Known."

F & L: Please tell readers when and where they’ll be able to purchase Talk of the Town.

Matt: Ok, the album will be available to stream/download on Monday, November 21st! You'll also be able to get your hands on the CD that day too. The vinyl will be available a few weeks later on December 12th. Pre-orders for the CD and vinyl begin Thursday, November 3rd from our big cartel site -

F & L: One more question for Matt: You’ve been releasing a lot of solo home demos on Bandcamp. What has been your motivation in sharing these songs with the world? Can we look forward to more?

Matt: My OCD means I have to keep making them so that the layout on the Bandcamp page is even. I'm not even joking! I have another full EP to go up soon (maybe next week) called The First Stone

I just really enjoy making them. Without sounding corny, I'm doing it for myself, and if 5 or 6 other people give it a listen, then great. I think they're some of the best songs I've ever written mixed in with some untidy misfires. It's fun, and it makes me happy. They're all very personal, lyric-wise. I like using sound clips. I've got Lana Del Rey telling me to shut up at the end of one song and Ally Sheedy talking about how she got her role in St Elmo's Fire on another. It all makes sense in my head. I have a Christmas song recorded called "In The Cold Light Of Christmas Day" which I'll put up at some point (probably Christmas) & then leave it there till next year. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

TJ Cabot - Pissin Ammo

I have done TJ Cabot a great disservice with the nature of my coverage of his recent run of home-recorded output. In focusing on rumor mongering over the disintegration of his musical partnership with his backing band Thee Artificial Rejects (and in particular, his turbulent relationship with multi-instrumentalist, street preacher, and suspected embezzler Millhouse Deville), I have shifted the focus away from the stunning quality of the recordings themselves  — which on their own merits stand as top-tier specimens of 21st Century budget punk. The newly-released Pissin Ammo is the third in TJ's trilogy of digital EPs released this year, following February's SD Action and July's King Grove. Cumulatively, these three releases form an album's worth of material that rivals the best of this year's punk rock LPs. And having received the sad news that Phone Jerks are no more, I find myself valuing these recordings all the more deeply. Thus it serves no point for me to mention how a debate over pizza toppings or a broken promise to not draft Calle Jarnkrok in fantasy hockey may have led to TJ Cabot having to record Pissin Ammo all by his lonesome. Far more significant is that this is some of his best stuff to date — probably his most essential release since his legendary and now out-of-print debut Demos Recorded in the Anus of the Maritimes came out in early pandemic times and saved us all from eternal despair. 

Pissin Ammo is nothing short of what we've come to expect from TJ Cabot. It's raw, raging, and equally conducive to mild toe-tapping and the thrusting of one's fist in the direction of deserving targets. As always, TJ kicks up a blistering mish-mash of turn-of-the-millennium budget trash, early American punk rock, and no-fucks-given snot-core. "Explanations" finds TJ temporarily possessed by "I Got A Right" era Iggy Pop. "J​.​A​.​G. Turned Me Into A Mutant" pulls off the "hardcore Devo" thing as well as I've ever heard it pulled off. The Wonderful Grand Band cover "Spin Out" is a stone cold banger and an indispensable lesson in Maritimes popular culture history. Saving the best for last, the title track is so full of piss and vinegar that it almost makes Phone Jerks sound like a yacht rock band. What a fine way to cap off a trilogy! The sound quality is absolutely textbook for a budget/garage punk release. You're always walking that fine line where you want to retain the savage rawness of a recording without making it sound like shit. With James O'Toole working his mastering magic, these tracks hit that sweet spot just north of sounding like shit. 

I know a $14 investment in three digital EPs is a big ask in inflationary times, but I think TJ Cabot's entire 2022 trilogy essentially functions like what might have been the top punk rock album of 2004. Perhaps some enterprising and progressively-minded label folk will bid for the opportunity to compile these releases onto a long playing record. It's a bummer that I will never have occasion to write about Phone Jerks again, but that band did its job and made garage punk great again. And something tells me that all the ex-Jerks (TJ Cabot included) will be regularly featured on these virtual pages for many years to come.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Jacklights - "Womanchild"​/​"Underachiever"


"Womanchild"​/​"Underachiever" is the The Jacklights' third release on Red On Red Records following a single and an EP last year. Like the previous two, this one takes me back to the '90s heyday of melodic punk rock in an entirely good way. Singer/guitarist Nilagia McCoy, bassist Mike Allen, and drummer gK Hynes execute this musical style exceptionally well — reminding us why we loved this kind of music in the first place but never settling for nostalgic re-creation. The band's music is full of driving energy, intoxicating melodies, and vocals & lyrics that are packed with emotion and deep thought. McCoy as a songwriter has a tremendous talent for articulating her personal story in a way that's relatable to everyone. "Womanchild"​/​"Underachiever" is a perfect example of that. These songs have been presented as a pair because they are two sides of the same coin. The former is about the time in young adulthood when you think you know everything but lack the self-awareness to recognize your own immaturity. The latter is from the older, wiser perspective: you realize you'll never know everything and learn to accept yourself in spite of your shortcomings. This is deeply profound stuff, and I'm blown away by how McCoy finds the perfect words for thoughts that are familiar to so many of us. Given that I daily ponder my lack of knowledge about life, the world, and even music while cringing at my past youthful hubris, these two songs are really connecting with me. A line like "I don't know if I'll ever be/Who I'm supposed to be" is so simple yet so powerful. Who can't relate to that? We all make these grand plans for life, and it never quite turns out the way we draw it up. Perhaps we don't live up to what others expect of us. Realizing that we don't have to is true wisdom. 

I love the idea that "mature punk rock" is by no means a contradiction in terms, and The Jacklights have proven this concept time and time again. "Womanchild"​/​"Underachiever" is the trio's most impressive work to date. If you like your music meaningful and full of heart, you need this band in your life.

Private Lives - self titled

Here's something new and exciting from Feel It Records: the debut EP from Private Lives! This band started out as a pandemic in-home project made up of Jackie Blenkarn (Pale Lips) on vocals and her husband Chance Hutchison (Priors) on guitar. Now Private Lives is a full-fledged band with Frank (drums) and Josh (bass) completing the lineup. Needless to say, I was excited when I heard that Jackie and Chance were making music together. And on its debut EP, Private Lives does not disappoint. It doesn't really sound like Pale Lips or Priors, but fans of both will recognize Jackie and Chance's unique and considerable talents. What's cool about Private Lives is that it doesn't really sound like any other band. Musically, the vibe here is straight-ahead punk rock with post-punk touches and a strong melodic presence. Of course the vocals and guitar playing are fantastic. But beyond that, the songwriting is top-notch and never locked into any restrictive style. I'm always a fan of bands that have their own theme song, and the lockdown anthem "Get Loose" is a major hit in my book. All in all, this is a fresh, original, and promising debut that leaves me wanting more!

Moral Panic - Validation

Who's ready to get pummeled senseless? Moral Panic is here to hit you in the mouth forcefully and repeatedly! On its third album, Validation, the New York–based trio leaves low fidelity behind, tearing through nine cuts of hard, fast, and blistering punk rock that's too rock and roll to be hardcore yet too intense to just be rock and roll. Singer/guitarist Daniel Kelley has found his hottest rhythm section yet in Michael Dimmitt and Eric Robel. As a trio, Moral Panic is a machine built to obliterate anything in its path. The "bigger" sound of this release really suits the hard-hitting songs (none of which exceed two and a half minutes). Kelley's vocals are nothing short of furious, and his guitar leads are pure fire. When it comes to this style of raging and aggressive punk rock, you just won't hear it executed better. Both prior Moral Panic albums are well worth your time and attention, but the group is firing on a whole ever level with Validation. Get it now from Alien Snatch and Reptilian Records!

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Vista Blue - "Victor Crowley"

It's bizarre to me that there are Christmas beers on the shelves while the Phillies are still playing baseball. Mid-October is a wonderful convergence of things I like. Summer is still in the rearview mirror. Football season is in full swing. Pumpkin spice beverages are part of my daily existence. The Hallmark Christmas movies are coming in less than a week. And yet I feel as if there has to be some order to all of this. It has occurred to me that if I don't review Vista Blue's Halloween seasonal single before I drink my first Christmas beer, the space-time continuum could be irreparably disrupted. And I don't want to be the man responsible for opening the door to worldwide chaos. On top of that, there's another Vista Blue release coming out very soon. Now is not the time for me to procrastinate! 

"Victor Crowley" is the latest release from Vista Blue, one of my favorite bands. And part of what makes Vista Blue one of my favorite bands is its tradition of releasing seasonally-themed music. These releases always give me something to look forward to. I am not a fan of horror movies. Yet I am a fan of Vista Blue songs about horror movies. I love how the band manages to condense the essence of a full-length horror flick into a two-minute pop-punk song. I have not seen Hatchet. I will most likely never see Hatchet. Yet I find myself enjoying Vista Blue's song about this film. It's basically like every Vista Blue song: upbeat sing-along pop-punk with a touch of keyboards. The difference is that most Vista Blue songs aren't about vengeful ghosts chasing and slaughtering people. But that's the fundamental joy of this band: it can turn any subject matter into an irresistibly uplifting musical experience. I also love how this song shows sympathy for the monstrous horror villain. On the virtual flip side, "Boy Beast" is an homage to Friday the 13th Part 2. In a completely un-ironic way, I can describe this tune as a real toe-tapper. It's also an earworm. Has there ever been a horror movie about an actual earworm? 

While I'm never against a little Christmas creeping, let us remember the true reason for this season: candy and horror. Vista Blue, as usual, has got us covered. Now I can crack open that bottle of The Made Elf without guilt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Split System - Vol. 1

Split System, the Aussie group featuring Jackson Reid Briggs (Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters) on vocals and Arron Mawson (Stiff Richards) on guitar, took the punk world by storm with its debut EP this past spring. That was hardly surprising given the talent involved. But whatever my expectations were for Split System, the Melbourne-based outfit far exceeded them. Not just another "super group" (also on board are guitarist Ryan Webb [Speed Week], bassist Deon Slaviero, and drummer Mitch McGregor [No Zu]), Split System is straight-up one of the most powerful and exciting punk rock and roll bands of recent memory. The band's EP was a smasher, and now debut album Vol. 1 emphatically follows suit. My god, this record is a monster! 

Essentially Split System's sound is classic Aussie punk. That may sound like nothing new, but this band executes the style with a force and fury rarely heard these days. It doesn't hurt that Jackson Reid Briggs is one of the best rock and roll screamers going. He's got a fire inside of him. Meanwhile, Mawson and Webb form one hell of a guitar tandem. And that rhythm section is insane. These are all brilliant players who come together to make an extraordinary band. Vol. 1 comes storming out of the gates with "The End" and never lets up. Of course we knew some of the previously-released tracks ("Hit Me," "Demolition," "Climbing") were going to rip. But the newer material is just as good and will just about melt your face off. Songs like "Ringing In My Head" and "Grip" are pure energy and ferocity, while closing track "Feelings" has a mellowed-out Saints feel. This band knows how to rock and roll, and there are literally no songs on this album that don't entirely kick ass. Sometimes we think of these all-star groups as "side projects," but such categorization would sell Split System woefully short. If we're talking about the top three or four punk bands in Australia right now, this has to be one of them! Get Vol. 1 now from Legless Records. Drunken Sailor Records will be releasing the album in the UK with a preorder available early next month!

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Kurt Baker - "Move Up"

For his latest single, longtime F & L favorite Kurt Baker goes someplace entirely unexpected: Studio 54! New single "Move Up" (out now on Wicked Cool Records) is that rare disco rock song that actually rocks! Co-written by Baker and his pal Geoff Palmer, this track features a backing band comprised of Baker's longtime partners-in-crime Palmer, Kris Rodgers, Wyatt Funderburk, and Zack Sprague. Simply put, it's a rock and roll song you can dance to. Seriously: if hearing this song doesn't make you want to dance, you are surely dead inside. In many ways, it's a vintage Kurt Baker track with lyrics about escaping life's troubles and having a good time. The lines "It's been a hard day's life/It's always filled with strife/But when the music hits/You'll be feeling alright" are classic Baker. The disco twist in the music is a bit of a surprise, but I can't deny that Baker and friends pull it off 100%. The musicianship is supreme, and the energy is off the charts. Think more Rolling Stones "Miss You" and less KISS "I Was Made for Lovin' You." Or better yet, imagine Maroon 5 if they were actually good. That hook is pure gold. And I love the way the lyrics go so over the top that you could envision them as actual pickup lines from the disco era. The icing on the cake is a touch of outro guitar from Dave Minehan (who also recorded and engineered the track). Perhaps it's because I'm just young enough to have never been overexposed to disco, but I've got to say I'm majorly digging this tune. This brings back memories of being 8 years old and not knowing I was supposed to hate Blondie's "Heart of Glass." All I knew was that the song was a banger. To the floor!

Golden Richards - "Will I Be Cool"

Chicago-based power pop sensations Golden Richards are back with their first new song in seven months, and it's a doozy! "Will I Be Cool," in signature Golden Richards style, is a harmony-drenched big hook rocker. Without straying too far from the Cheap Trick playbook, it conjures up a bit of a modern alternative rock feel. The production is exquisite, and I love the way the song builds to an absolutely massive chorus. This tune is about that first time you found out that someone "liked" you and didn't quite know how to act. That is such a great concept for a love song. The power pop world is full of so many songs about unrequited love and heartbreak. But what about those moments where things are about to go our way if we can just manage to not screw it up? Being "cool" in those situations is never as easy as it seems! In a most authentic way, this song captures that mix of excitement and self-doubt. I also love that Golden Richards have worked more than a few later '70s to early '80s pop culture references into this track. If you're a Gen Xer like me, "Will I Be Cool" ought to hit a nostalgic sweet spot. Yet the sentiment of the song is so universal that it ought to appeal to listeners of all ages. Conceptually, this song has much in common with this past March's excellent single "Shake Your Hair." Gil and Billy are so good at tapping into that part of themselves that's eternally 16 yet writing with a fully grown-up perspective. If "Shake Your Hair" was the perfect spring/summer power pop track,  "Will I Be Cool" is its mellower autumn counterpart. Grab it from Bandcamp for just a buck!

The Rezillos - the Merkush Murat bootlegs

The notorious Albanian bootlegger Merkush Murat is cranking out the goodies at such a rate that I can't even begin to keep up. A package from Tiranasaurus Recs recently arrived at my doorstep. Its contents (CD bootlegs of John Peel sessions from Generation X, the Buzzcocks, The Only Ones, and The Rezillos) made it apparent that my fondness for U.K. '77 punk is public knowledge as far away as Albania. Another package arrived this past week — loaded with even more Rezillos-related audible treats. I realized it was my moral obligation to put aside all other pressing duties and start putting pen to paper. News of Merkush's Rezillos blitzkrieg had to be shared while this stuff was still in print. And so here we are. 

Let's begin with the caveat that none of these items are for sale (because, you know, that would be illegal!). But through an innovative distribution deal with Mutant Pop Records, Merkush has allowed these bootleg discs to ride free with sanctioned purchases from the Mutant Pop mail order catalog. It's a very cool arrangement by which purchases of contemporary pop-punk releases entitle you to bonus selections from bands that were fundamental to the genre. And on that note, I can think of few bands that were more fundamental to pop-punk than The Rezillos. If Ramones, Undertones, and Buzzcocks are the holy trinity of first generation pop-punk, The Rezillos in my estimation are the next band in the discussion. If you've worn out your copies of Can't Stand the Rezillos and the band's early singles yet still find yourself wanting more, these bootlegs will be very much to your liking. Selections include These are The Rezillos (a compilation of John Peel Sessions from December 1977 and May 1978), File Under: Lo-Fi Pop-Punk (a fan-recorded live set from 1977 that was widely bootlegged in the '80s), The Last Show (a recording of the band's farewell gig in Glasgow from December 1978), and Some Product: Carri On (audio of interviews with Fay Fife & Eugene Reynolds and Jo Callis). Also in my goodie basket was The Revillos!, an album-length compilation of 1980-81 BBC sessions from Fay and Gene's quite different yet equally awesome post-Rezillos band. 

The contents of These are The Rezillos will be familiar to longtime fans: it's the same eight Peel Session recordings that were previously bootlegged under the title Peel Sessions 1977/1978. It includes some of the band's most beloved songs plus a truly bizarre arrangement of "I Can't Stand My Baby." File Under: Lo-Fi Pop-Punk wins no points in the sound quality department but features spirited performances. Leaning heavily on cover songs, this set reinforces the influence that the British Invasion and early rock and roll in general had on The Rezillos' sound. The Last Show is a recording of the same gig (December 23, 1978 at the Apollo Theatre in Glashow) that was previously documented in the official live release Mission Accomplished… but the Beat Goes On. The interview disc will be of particular interest to hardcore Rezillos fans. The Jo Callis interview in particular takes a deep dive into the history of this band we all love (I say "we" because you wouldn't have read this far if you weren't a fan too!). The Revillos! BBC disc weighs in at 11 tracks and includes songs from three different sessions. Featuring smash hits such as "Rock-a-Boom," "Scuba Scuba," and "Snatzomobile," this compilation affirms that Fay and Eugene more than held their own as songwriters after separating from Jo Callis. With The Revillos!, they doubled down on the camp factor and sci-fi/horror obsessions that had made their former band so unique in the punk rock class of '77. I feel as if any Rezillos fan ought to love The Revillos!  — just as any B-52's fan ought to love The Revillos! 

As was the case with Merkush's Holly box set, this Rezillos bootleg bonanza was made for super-fans by a super-fan. More casual fans will be perfectly content with a copy of Can't Stand The Rezillos: The Almost Complete Rezillos or the more recent Flying Saucer Attack: Complete Recordings 1977-1979. But if you're a total fanatic, you'll want to get your hands on these priceless artifacts of the Rezillos/Revillos! heyday. All the Merkush bootlegs discs are extremely limited, so I would advise moving quickly if you want in on this Rezillos bonanza or any of the other recent offerings (I especially endorse that Only Ones disc which trims the band's Peel Session tracks down to an all killer, no filler affair). Word on the street is that another Revillos! disc (featuring demos from 1979 to 82) and a whole slew of Devo titles were recently shipped from Albania to Mutant Pop headquarters. If you're already a Mutant Pop customer, you know what to do. If not, drop Tim a line at to arrange your purchases and reservations. The last I heard, Tim had copies of both Lucy and the Rats albums in stock on CD. Also worth considering for purchase are The Radio Buzzkills' Get LostAs If and Melt My Heart by Norwegian pop-punk sensations Love Hearts, and Vista Blue's seasonal favorite Tricks and Treats. Did Merkush also just bootleg a 1978 Ramones live show from San Francisco? Why, yes he did!

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Outtacontroller - Come Alive"


Outtacontroller is one of those bands that can properly be described as first class. This Halifax, Nova Scotia–based foursome has been around for more than a decade and practically set the standard for what modern-day garage/power pop/punk ought to be. New album Come Alive (the band's fourth long player) came out a few weeks back with very little hype. But make no mistake about it: in a year full of excellent LPs in the punk/garage universe, Come Alive is one of the best. And it finds Outtacontroller at its very best. This sounds like a vintage Outtacontroller record without coming off like a copy of the band's previous releases. If anything, this release is representative of where a power pop/punk band ought to be in the "mature" stage of its existence. The guitars still buzz, and the melodies are still undeniable. Yet in spite of the fact that only one track surpasses three minutes in length, it feels like these guys have gotten really adept at giving their songs added depth and more room to breathe. 

Written and produced by guitarists/vocalists Terry A'hearn and James O'Toole, these 11 songs are well-crafted and irresistibly tuneful. If you like your punk music to be melodic but not obnoxiously "poppy," this is the album you've been waiting to hear! Of course I knew that some of the singles (such as "Parts Unknown" and the extraordinary title track) were top-notch. But seriously, you can go anywhere up and down the track listing and land on a fantastic song. "Hit and Run" is a true achievement in songwriting efficiency: a "slow jam" that clocks in at just two minutes, 24 seconds and manages to rock hard even as it gives off chill vibes. "Show Me How It's Done" is the perfect title for a quintessential garage power pop punk song. "Gets Me Everytime" finds the boys leaning more pop, and then "I Wanna Be Bored" goes the other way in blistering punk fashion. "Hanging Over You" might be the catchiest tune Outtacontroller has ever released. 

Come Alive is an album that was a long time in the making. The title track was released way back at the beginning of 2021. Over a full year and a half, Terry, James, Sean, and AJ took their time to properly complete the album. And all that effort shows. The songs are the strongest of the band's career, and the album sounds amazing (My god, those guitars!). The whole reason I started this blog was because I wanted to review albums just like this one. 11 years later, it's a joy to hear this style of music still flourishing. I've long joked about something in the environment of Eastern Canada being conducive to producing great power pop/punk. It's funny because it's true.  

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Guerrilla Teens - "Halfway To Maybe"

Guerrilla Teens first came to our attention back in the year that cannot be mentioned, releasing numerous socially-distanced recorded demos throughout the year. This was an exciting moment for the rock and roll world as this new band featured some prominent ex Humpers/Lovesores and a couple more Portland punk rock luminaries. Those digital releases were made available with the caveat that they would soon disappear. And disappear they did. Now Guerrilla Teens have delivered their proper debut release, a ripper of a single called "Halfway To Maybe." The demos were promising, but this is what we were all expecting from Guerrilla Teens. Out come those guitars in full fury. In comes Scott "Deluxe" Drake bellowing, "Can't make up my mind to save my life/Indecision's such a pointless crime/Remember how they said 'If not now, when?'/Well tell me what to do, and I'll lose again." Then that chorus hits, and you're shouting along, fist thrust forcefully in the air. Yeah, kids, this is rock and roll! You know the magic happens when Scott Drake and Jeff Fieldhouse make tunes together, and "Halfway To Maybe" is the perfect re-launching point for their songwriting partnership. On the B-side, "The Other End of the Leash" is a raging shot of American-style '77 punk rock and roll. It's a thumping, gritty number that builds to a chorus that smashes you in the teeth. Drake is in prime form here — fully channeling the wrath of a chained animal. And it's a thrill to hear the righteous guitar racket that Fieldhouse and Saul Koll can kick up as a tandem. Ably driving this rock and roll machine is the formidable rhythm section of "Anna Bananas" Anderson and "Teenage Tim" Connolly. What a lineup. What a band! 

"Halfway To Maybe" is coming out soon as a 7" record, but you can grab the digital version now from Bandcamp for $3. If all you punk rock and roll fanatics aren't already going ape over Guerrilla Teens, you will be soon!

Saturday, October 01, 2022

More Kicks - Punch Drunk

The second album from More Kicks arrives nearly three years after the first, yet somehow it seems like it's been longer that. That's easily explained. More Kicks came out in November 2019 — just a few months before the shit hit the fan for the entire world. In "pandemic time," it's as if we haven't heard from More Kicks in half a decade. So what a wonderful return Punch Drunk is. It's being said that this album (out now on Stardumb and Dirtnap Records) is a significant departure from the more straight-forward power pop of the band's debut. In many ways, that's very true. It would be an injustice to try to nail this record down to any specific genre. Yet if you think of "power pop" as a broad, non-restrictive concept, Punch Drunk just might be the ultimate power pop record. It sure is pop, and good lord is it ever powerful! 

I've had the pleasure to follow the career of James "Sulli" Sullivan over a number of years now, and I consider him to be one of the finest songwriters going these days. He was on a bit of a hot streak at the time COVID hit, and there's no denying that he took it hard when he suddenly found himself unable to play shows or even properly rehearse with his band-mates. He ended up making the brilliant solo album Light Years, but you knew he was itching to finally get the band back together. The title Punch Drunk refers to Sulli's state of mind as he was putting this new record together in what he calls a "horrible moment" for himself and the world. And yet the feel of this album is triumphant and energized. You can sense the excitement Sulli, bassist Paolo Mantovani, and drummer Kris Hood had in finally being able to (in the near words of Ray Davies) rock out and have fun again. This album hits harder than any More Kicks recording ever has — when it wants to. And sometimes it goes softer than the band has ever gone before. Palpable influences range from Brit-pop to noisy indie rock to first wave punk to the Replacements/Paul Westerberg. Yet it all sounds familiarly like More Kicks. 

Sulli as a songwriter and singer has an immediately recognizable style. With this album, he's added a pinch of what worked so well on Light Years to More Kicks' established power trio sound. Nobody is going to hear this album and protest about it being too different. All the different is good different. It's like the band thought, "Let's make an album that rocks harder but is also more pop...and noisier and punkier." Somehow Punch Drunk manages to be all those things and more. Tracks like "Hurts Like Hell" and "Come Home" are on the punk side of power pop, which is always a sweet spot for me. "Color Me Stupefied" is quintessential Brit-pop and magnificent at that. "Seven Ways," which is rough and raw yet still fundamentally pop, brings to mind the golden age of college radio. If you looked up "perfect pop song" on a search engine, new single "Terminal Love" ought to show up. I heard "Rest of Our Lives" and immediately jotted down the words "vintage Sulli." But when this album veers from the hard pop style, it veers significantly. The recent single "Animal" sounds like a post-punk band did a mash-up of "My Sharona" and Pete Shelley's "Homosapien." It's quite possibly the best song More Kicks have ever done. With its loose charm and brilliantly self-effacing lyrics, "Phoney Middle Aged Art" is wonderfully Westerbergian. "Got Lucky" is intimate and reflective  — just a guy pouring his heart out over sparse keyboards and a drum machine. "Goodnight Goodnight" is literally and figuratively a marriage of solo Sulli and the full band rock and roll of More Kicks. I hate to keep making Replacements references since I find the influence to be more spiritual than stylistic. But there's definitely that similarity here where the ballads/slow songs end up being high points of an album. 

This was supposed to be the part where I assured you all that you will love Punch Drunk. But because I'm a terrible slacker and now a couple weeks late on this review, I might as well just say that I already know you love it! I've seen the rave reviews, and I concur with them fully. This is the work of not just an exceptional songwriter but also a truly fantastic band clicking on all cylinders. The pandemic had More Kicks down but never out. They've come roaring back with the album of their lives. I suppose we can say this for COVID and More Kicks: it took the sophomore slump off the table! If you follow this blog, you need to own Punch Drunk.