Saturday, December 31, 2022

F & L Best of 2022

Hey! We've all made it through another year! Let's take a moment to appreciate that. We are heading full-speed into 2023, and landmark albums I seemingly just reviewed yesterday (Night Birds' Born To Die In Suburbia, The Connection's Let It Rock) will be celebrating their 10th anniversaries. And I'm not ready to accept that The Queers' Love Songs for the Retarded is about to be a 30-year-old album. My god, where does the time go? 

As I sit down to write my 12th annual end-of-the-year post, I'm already agonizing over all the great music I won't be mentioning. I have no evidence to back this up, but I'm guessing that more music was released in 2022 than any other year ever. And so much of it was exceptional. There are certainly dozens of releases I didn't hear that are just as good as the ones I'll be highlighting today. Today's underground music universe is truly massive, and I can only claim to be knowledgeable about a tiny portion of it. Even within my lane of punk, garage, and power pop, I'm only covering a fraction of the great stuff that's out there. That said, there were at least 50 albums I seriously considered for my top 30. Suffice it to say that this is an incredible time to be into music. The purpose of this post, as always, is to curate the music I enjoyed the most throughout the year in the hopes that you'll dig some of it. Think of this as my 2022 digital mixed tape for the world. So let's get to it! 

Top 30 Albums of 2022

30. Real Tears - Whipped Dreams
Super-catchy power pop/punk has been a go-to style for me for decades, and these Swedes are masters of the craft.

29. Freak Genes - Hologram
Somehow Freak Genes released a new album this year that I failed to write about. Today I correct that oversight. Charlie and Andrew are back to pose this essential question: How much longer can we live if we're only an image? Now that's deep! A+ synth-pop from the UK.

28. Breaklights - Wind Down
Brilliant full-length debut from this long-running Austin-based punk group gives '90s pop-punk a fresh updating. 

27. Kevin Stevenson - Reality Alley
The long, long awaited solo debut from the former Shods singer finds one of our most underappreciated modern-day songwriters blending numerous genres with a master's touch. 

The debut album from Hobart, Tasmania's RABBIT builds on the power pop/punk promise of its debut single while also venturing into new territory. A quintessential work of Aussie punk.

25. Vista Blue - Stay Gold
One of my favorite bands does a full album tribute to the classic novel/film The Outsiders? Only a soc would not love it!

24. The Chats - Get Fucked  
The Chats have achieved such a level of fame and notoriety that it's no longer necessary for this humble blog to review their records. But don't think I'm not still paying attention. The Chats have moved past their viral sensation phase and turned into an absolute steamroller of kick-ass punk rock. Get Fucked is a brilliant record.

23. The Black Halos - How the Darkness Doubled
Having reunited a few years back, o.g. Halos Billy Hopeless, Rich Jones, and Jay Millette finally deliver the proper follow-up to their classic album The Violent Years. And it does not disappoint.

22. The Young Hasselhoffs - Life Got In The Way
Back with their first new music in 11 years, The Young Hasselhoffs put on a clinic on how to make a genuinely great mature pop-punk record. Jay Prozac, who knows a thing or two about how to excel as a veteran pop-punk musician, named this his favorite album of 2022.   

21. Brad Marino - Basement Beat
I'm not always big on Ramones clone records, but Brad Marino has managed to produce one of the best Ramones clone records ever made. It literally sounds like a missing Ramones record circa 1977.

20. Trevor Blendour - Falling In Love
I'm always a sucker for pop-punk with a doo wop/early rock and roll influence. Falling In Love is almost the reverse of that. Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and the early Beatles are at the forefront here with power pop and pop-punk influences seeping in. "Carly Please" is one of the greatest pop songs I've heard in years.

As the title suggests, this album is Extra Arms' reaction to the unprecedented strangeness of 2020-21. Sidelined by a pandemic, the band finally came roaring back in 2022 with these ten tracks of powerful rocking pop. Yeah, the world is fucked. But things are always better when you can pump your fist in the air and shout along to a catchy chorus.

18. Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men - Heart Inside Your Head
On his second album with The Complicated Men, Nick Piunti cements his status as a master craftsman of melody-driven rock music. Heart Inside Your Head has a little bit of everything: power pop rockers, pure pop songs, and even a few ballads that would be monster hits if Adult Contemporary Radio were still a thing.

17. Klazo - 'Demik Dementia
How can just two people kick up this kind of racket? Wild and dangerous rock and roll from up north that will batter you senseless and leave you begging for more.

16.  The Trouble Seekers - self titled
Kevin McGovern (ex The Prostitutes) and Hillary Burton (honeychain, The Pandoras) team up to create something so new and different that words don't do it justice. Is this post-punk? Experimental punk? Synth-punk? Dark wave? Original, daring, and mind-blowing stuff. Do not miss the Madonna cover!

15. More Kicks - Punch Drunk
James Sullivan has long been one of the finest songwriters in the power pop/punk rock scene. On Punch Drunk, he and his bandmates are all over the place with influences (Brit-pop, indie rock, new wave) yet still deliver, in broad terms, a brilliant power pop album.

14. New Brutarians - Hysteria
Favorites of this blog since the dawn of COVID, the New Brutarians were finally able to release their debut album in 2022 (on the venerable Alien Snatch Records, no less!). Hysteria features 11 (or 12) tracks of proto-punk/glam/pop art goodness from this dynamic duo out of Florida. 

13. Beach Patrol - Festivus
This is my fifth time putting Beach Patrol on one of my "top albums of the year" lists. This is becoming quite a tradition. This band never gets enough acclaim, although I doubt Domenic is seeking that anyway. His focus is on writing songs, and what a songwriter he is. I feel like every time a new Beach Patrol album comes into my life, I become smarter and wiser.

On its full-length debut, this Berlin-based band delivers 11 tracks of energetic old style punk that will have you dancing because you want to.

11. Norcos Y Horchata - Forever Disheveled
This debut album from the Detroit-based trio fronted by Amado Movado is a quintessential Midwestern rock and roll record. If you like catchy punk tunes with gruff vocals and all kinds of heart, this album is for you. I envision it playing non-stop at every Coney dog joint in southeastern Michigan. 

10. Miss Georgia Peach - Aloha from Kentucky
I would not ordinarily give such a high ranking to an album that's 80 percent covers. But Aloha from Kentucky is not an ordinary covers album. Backed by an all-star band that includes her husband Travis Ramin and several members of Nine Pound Hammer/Nashville Pussy, MGP has crafted a love letter to the country music of the 1960s and '70s. I wore out this CD in my car player, and I was pumped to hear there's a sequel in the works!

9. Lorne Behrman - A Little Midnight
Behrman, an extraordinary guitarist in the punk world for decades, proves himself to be an equally exceptional songwriter on this stunning debut album. Seriously: this man is a poet! A Little Midnight is full of profound, deeply moving songs that bring to mind the art/punk fusion of 1970s New York. If "Black Cars" doesn't move you to tears, you might be a robot.

8. The Cheap Cassettes - Ever Since Ever Since
This album came out so early in 2022 that a lot of people might have forgotten about it. I wasn't going to make that mistake. If you want to hear some great American power pop rock and roll, look no further.

7. Split System - Vol. 1
Aussie punk super-group makes a vintage Aussie punk album. Essential listening!

6. The Melmacs - Good Advice
As promised, this Leipzig/Dresden based foursome dispenses all kinds of good life advice on this absolute gem of a power pop/punk record.

5. The Chelsea Curve - All the Things
Arriving on the heels of last year's remarkable run of singles, All the Things was every bit the blockbuster debut album I was expecting from this Boston-based mod-pop trio.

4. The Airport 77s - We Realize You Have a Choice
Call it power pop or pop rock or new wave revival or whatever you like. There is no band doing it better.

3. Shanda & The Howlers - It Ain't Easy
The Howlers' third album is an old school r & b/soul record that can stand toe-to-toe with the classics it emulates. That only happens if you've got a powerhouse singer, a massively gifted songwriter, and exceptional musicians. Check, check, and check!

2. The Speedways - Talk of the Town
On its third album, the most prominent power pop band of recent times has somehow managed to typify power pop and transcend it at the same time. If you love the more cinematic side of The Speedways (as I do), you've got to be digging the direction this album takes.

1. Hayley and the Crushers - Modern Adult Kicks
As was the case two years ago, my top two albums came down to The Speedways and Hayley and the Crushers. Both bands followed up their 2020 efforts in remarkable fashion. But what Hayley, Reid, and friends have done with Modern Adult Kicks is something special. They channeled the trials and tribulations of pandemic misery into a grown-up punk/pop record that's powerful and profound yet still a lot of fun. And it's not really about two or three standout tracks; it's about a full album of excellent songs that flow into one another perfectly. If Modern Adult Kicks makes it sound like Hayley and the Crushers have fast-forwarded ten years since 2020, that's because we all have. This album doesn't wallow in misery, but it confronts some heavy stuff...all the while reminding us to keep dancing no matter what happens. 

Honorable mentions:
It caused me great pain and misery to omit the following, so please check them out:
Mikey Erg - Love At Leeds
Ricky Rat - Ghosts of Isolation
Outtacontroller - Come Alive

Top 15 EPs of 2022

15. Vista Blue - No Cliques, No Trends
"Remember those guys who said we're wasting our time? 'The only songs worth writing are about girls.' They might not understand things like sabermetrics, but they should give it a whirl."

14. Continental Lovers - Dale Arden
Spectacular up-and-coming band from Nottingham, UK plays power pop influenced '77 glam punk that is right up my alley.

13. Chinese Junk - Raw Deal
London's "kings of pound shop rock" turn out an EP that sounds like the best thing Rip Off Records never released. With songs about dead-end towns, poverty, cheating girlfriends, and X-ray vision, this is fun for the entire family.

12. the SUCK - The America 2021 EP
Even if you ordinarily pass on bands' "COVID" releases, this one from the world champions of street rock is well worth your time. It could have alternately been titled the SUCK Drink Beer, which I suppose is true of all this band's releases.   

11. The Sad Tomorrows - self titled
New Jersey punk veterans get together to revive the heyday of poppy, punky alternative rock. RIYL Husker Du, Lemonheads, and early Goo Goo Dolls.

10. The Neuros - self titled
Another incredible Aussie punk band. Who could have imagined that?

9. MOM - Fun 'N' Games
Four more unshakeable gems from the most pop band on the planet.

8. The Ergs! - Renovations
Oddly enough, I like this Ergs! country record even more than the more classically Ergs-ish Time and the Season EP. Who knows if we'll ever get more Ergs! music, so I'm enjoying both.

7. TJ Cabot - SD Action EP
I really could have put any of this year's TJ Cabot EPs in this slot. If Tyler had thought to compile his EP trilogy into a single digital LP, he would have had a top 20 album! Classic DIY budget punk trash from Tyler's laptop to your bleeding ears. "SD Action" is an anthem for our times and all others.  

6. The Battlebeats - Get Lost
With the recent breakup of Phone Jerks, I've challenged Andresa Nugraha and his one-man show to fill the vacancy of greatest garage punk band on Earth. Expect a televised coronation soon.

5. Nasty Party - Monochromatic TV
Political punk/new wave from Sydney that will get you fired up and dancing to boot.

4. The Dogmatics - Drop That Needle
One of my favorite garage/punk/rock and roll bands of all-time is sounding just as good in 2022 as it did in the '80s.

3. Slow Faction - Culture and Other Wars
I had a hard time deciding if this was an album or EP. It only has six songs, but the running time is 25 minutes. And in the digital age, does it really matter what you call it? Either way, Culture & Other Wars finds Slow Faction doing what Slow Faction does best: classic style punk rock that rages against the rising tide of fascism. At a time when "social justice warrior" has become a putdown, I'm thrilled to hear Slow Faction wearing it as a badge honor.

2. The Prize - Wrong Side of Town
Of course people in our underground punk/power pop community went absolutely crazy for this record. Wrong Side of Town is the most promising debut release I've heard in some time. The Prize brings together elements of punk, power pop, and straight-up rock and roll in a way that's absolutely thrilling. Please make another record soon! 

1. The Sorels - Love Your Rock N' Roll
I've long considered The Sorels the best band on the planet that hasn't made a full-length album. 2022 did not bring us a Sorels LP, but it did find the band doubling its recorded output with the four-track release Love Your Rock N' Roll. If you only buy one release from this entire blog post, I'd encourage you to make it this one. If The Shangri-Las had been reborn as a glam rock band and made a punk record in 1977, it would have sounded an awful lot like this. Will 2023 finally bring us that Sorels album? A man can dream!

Top 15 Singles of 2022

15. Culture Trap - "Different Kind Of Summer"
Debut single from Helsinki-based foursome is a quintessential blast of punk/power pop.

Everyone's favorite '80s themed new wave band is back with a love letter to independent radio.

13. The Jacklights - "Womanchild"/"Underachiever"
Two more great cuts of melodic punk from this Boston trio present youthful hubris and the wisdom of maturity as two sides of the same coin.

12. The Keefs -"Dim City Nights"
Delaware's premiere punk rock and roll hitmakers blow your head off with their first new studio tracks in eight years. Does Randy America's appearance on lead guitar make this authentic Detroit rock? 

11. Candy Snatchers - "Shame Shivers"
As part of I-94 Recordings' "Detroit B-side covers" series, the almighty Candy Snatchers return with new music for the first time in over a decade...and absolutely kill it!

10. Tommy Ray! - "Everyway I'm Moving"
The former Cry! front-man continues to excel at writing perfect pop songs that are like bitter pills with sweet candy shells.

9. Muck and the Mires - "Beat Revolution" 
If you wanna listen to the sounds you've been missin', be sure to volunteer today!

8. Dirt Royal - "Shoot Me Now"
A brilliant slice of political commentary meets mod/punk/power pop earworm from this Brighton-based trio.

7. Kurt Baker - "Move Up" 
Kurt Baker goes disco, and I am here for it!

6. Guerrilla Teens - "Halfway To Maybe"
The long-awaited proper debut from Scott "Deluxe" Drake's new outfit featuring ex Humpers/Lovesores and some other PDX punk superstars. Come on: you know it's gotta be great!

5. Andrea Gillis - "About a Girl"
Andrea Gillis is such an incredible singer and performer that her songwriting talents are sometimes overlooked. They shouldn't be. For the second year in a row, she delivers one of the year's most magnificent singles. 

4. The Kickboy - "Kids"
Pure punk rock from the first state. This band is gonna make serious noise in 2023.

3. The Crankees - "Punch the Boss"
Another great Aussie band delivering the feelgood hit of the year. The B-side smokes as well.

2. Miesha and the Spanks - "I Can't Wait"/"Dig Me Out"
Am I cheating here because both of these songs were separate digital singles? No way! Jamie at Reta Records got them pressed onto one slab of 7" vinyl, making this the ultimate double A-side release.

1. Natalie Sweet and Brad Marino - "Second Time"/"Over My Head"
Wasn't I just talking about Reta Records and double A-sides? Two of my favorite people in music made a record together, and there was just no way it wasn't going to be a power pop/punk sensation. Rum Bar Records partnered with Reta Records to bring this dream team-up into the world. Fingers crossed that this duo isn't done making music!

2022 Song of the Year
Norcos Y Horchata - "Almost Lost My Thumb (to the Pinewood Derby)"
This song was released very early in 2022. And while many more great songs came along throughout the year, "Almost Lost My Thumb (to the Pinewood Derby)" stuck with me as my favorite. First of all, I don't think a catchier chorus could ever be written. More importantly, this song has heart. It tells a true story, and it's a tribute to Amado's grandfather. Very few of us might be able to relate to nearly dismembering ourselves with an exceptionally sharp knife, but almost all of us have a memory of a grandparent being like a superhero to us. Having an actual chorus of kids sing backing vocals was the perfect icing on the cake. This song makes me feel proud to be a human being.

2022 Master Class Album of the Year 
Hoodoo Gurus - Chariot of the Gods
On their first new album in 12 years, the legendary Hoodoo Gurus still sound like a band in its prime. 

Best Compilation Album of 2022 (Single Artist)
Stars Like Ours - self-titled
Boston-based trio Stars Like Ours will take you back to the early '90s, when indie rock and college radio ruled. Collecting three EPs released from 2015 through 2018, this flows like a true album — one I might have worn out on cassette in my dorm room 30 years ago!

Best Compilation Album of 2022 (Various Artists)
Released by the legendary Sympathy for the Record Industry and curated & produced by the illustrious Travis Ramin with the full blessing of The Go-Go's themselves, this is truly a tribute worthy of one of the greatest and most influential bands to ever exist. Vinyl still coming! 

Best Reissue of 2022
Tina and the Total Babes - She's So Tuff
Courtesy of Surfin' Ki Records and Rum Bar Records, my favorite album of the 21st Century finally got its 20th anniversary reissue 21 years after its release. This is one of the greatest power pop albums ever made, and its influence on the modern power pop revival is undeniable. If you hustle, you can probably still order it on vinyl. This was the year of Travis Ramin! 

Best Music Video of 2022
The Shang Hi Los - "Takes One To Know One"
Joan Hathaway is a genius.

Best Record Label of 2022
This one was an easy call. Just look at my lists. Both my #1 EP and top two singles of the year were released by Reta Records. What Jamie has been doing with the label over the years is incredible. She only works with bands she loves, and she only releases 7" vinyl (in all kinds of cool colors!). Most importantly, there's a taste factor there where if I know she's working with a band, that's a band I need to hear. If I had gone deeper than 15 picks for my top singles list this year, QWAM would have made the cut for sure! If you're not already following Reta Records on the socials, be sure to do so now so you don't miss the next exciting release!

Well, there you have it. 2022 was full of excellent music, and it has been my pleasure to highlight some of it. If you enjoyed my end-of-the-year post, I encourage you to also check out the best-of-2022 wrap-ups from the likes of Scott Hudson at The Ledge, Mick Fletcher at Just Some Punk Songs, and Dennis & Niek at Add To Wantlist. All of these individuals listen to way more new music than I do and truly have their fingers on the pulse of what's shaking in underground music. Bring on 2023! I wish you all a happy and fulfilling New Year and apologize if I've caused you to go broke buying records. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Randells - "Seven Inch"

My final record review of 2022 features both a band and a record label that will be well-known to readers of this blog. Madrid-based Jarama 45RPM Recs. has been releasing stellar 45s since 2016 with a roster that has featured some of the leading bands of the punk/power pop world. Its newest release fits right in: it's a single from Swedish sensations Randells, who've been playing a top-notch brand of Ramones inspired bubblegum punk for several years now. "Seven Inch" is the band's second seven inch release, and of course it's a tribute to everyone's favorite singles format (with a touch of sexual innuendo). In vintage Randells form, the song marries perfect pop to buzz-saw punk as it celebrates the time-honored tradition of dropping the needle on a 45 RPM record. Of course Jarama 45RPM Recs. had to be the label to put this record out! Vinyl is limited to only 300 copies with only 53 remaining at the time of this review. Randells are one of the best bands going in the pop-punk world. If you've enjoyed their previous output, you will not want to miss this single. Seven inch is just enough!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Unknowns - "Thinking About You"

Alex Kish and I were taping a best of 2022 show for Born Too Late, and Alex mentioned a new single by The Unknowns that he was really into. So I went and checked this single out, and I was blown away. I first heard this Brisbane-based band last year when it released a smashing cover of "Monster Mash." This led me to the band's full-length album Nothing Will Ever Stop, which I now consider one of the greatest modern-day garage punk albums. The surprise of new single "Thinking About You" is that it's a little bit of a different sound for The Unknowns — high energy power pop arriving just in time for summer in Australia. I would venture to say that any regular follower of this blog will go absolutely crazy for this single. This is what power pop is all about: big hooks, massive energy, and an overwhelming sense of fun. With there being crossover membership between The Unknowns and The Chats, I would imagine that most of you are familiar with The Unknowns. But if you aren't yet familiar with "Thinking About You," check out the video below for a shot of power pop bliss. This is absolute greatness! 

Monday, December 26, 2022

Stay Put/Fresh Specimen split tape

I've always had mixed feelings about split releases. On one hand, splits give you two bands for the price of one. But what if you only like one of the two bands? Then it's like you're getting only half a record for the price of one. And what if both bands are good, but they don't logically flow together on the same record? No such problems exist with a new split tape from Stay Put and Fresh Specimen — a couple of very cool bands from the southwest of England. This, to me, is everything a split ought to be. If you like one of these bands, you're almost certain to like the other. Stay Put from Plymouth features Sam Ratcliffe and Joe Prudames (As We Sink, Boxkite, etc.) veering away from hardcore punk and playing '90s-style college rock. The press release compares the band to a more pop Dinosaur Jr., and I totally hear that. I'm also hearing a Teenage Fanclub influence, and I've got no complaints about that. Stay Put's half of this six-song release delivers three tracks of highly melodious pop with just enough of a noisy edge. If you enjoy these songs as I do, you can check out two full EPs from Stay Put on the UK label Crew Cuts. Fresh Specimen from Falmouth features Roo Pescod (Bangers) and Charlie Murphy (a perennial favorite of this blog) splitting singing and songwriting duties. Rounding out the lineup are Cora Stocker, Ed Koral, and Hannah Gledhill. On its half of this split, this band stirs up my '90s nostalgia with a brand of melodic punk that's tuneful and guitar-heavy. I dig the sound, and I dig the songs. This is the band's debut release ahead of a full album coming in 2023, and I am super-stoked to hear more! 

Coming back to my original premise of this review, Stay Put and Fresh Specimen have collaborated on a split cassette which Roo Pescod accurately describes as "six songs of pretty glorious pop." Stay Put reminds me of bands that were my gateway to punk rock, and Fresh Specimen reminds me of bands that got me deeper into punk. I'm looking forward to hearing much more from both of these bands!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Amplifier Heads - Rectifier

, the fourth Amplifier Heads album in four years, is a full-on celebration of rock and roll. Coming in at a lean and mean nine tracks, this Rum Bar Records CD release continues the songwriting roll that Sal Baglio has been on since 2019. With The Amplifier Heads, the former Stompers singer/guitarist finds himself unhampered by stylistic restrictions. Rectifier, like its predecessors, brings to mind everything from garage rock to the British Invasion to glam rock to power pop to early rock and roll. I recently had the opportunity to interview Baglio about the album on an episode of Born Too Late. Perhaps we should have temporarily re-named the show Born At the Right Time since Baglio is of that generation that does remember rock 'n' roll radio! As a songwriter, he's influenced by all of that incredible music he grew up on in the '60s and '70s. In these songs, you'll hear hints of everyone from Berry to the Beatles to Bolan, yet it all comes out sounding uniquely like Sal Baglio. 

Running less than 25 minutes, Rectifier is a perfect little album to enjoy the old school way: pop in the CD, grab a tasty beverage, relax, and enjoy some timeless rock and roll! This album was born out of the success of the single "Space Cadette," which Baglio wrote for Norty Cohen's musical They Came To Rock. Malibu Lou figured that a smash hit like "Space Cadette" ought to be the centerpiece of an album. Baglio promptly worked his magic, and Rectifier came to be. The garage rock stomper (no pun intended, I swear!) "Space Cadette" is the album's literal and figurative centerpiece, but there are hits up and down the line. Bookended by the anthems "The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll" and "Rock Rules" are ace tracks such the triumphant sing-along "Underground" (a tribute to that magical place where rock and roll remains alive and well), the high energy rocker "Maniaxe," and the mesmerizing acoustic cut "Headhunter." Honestly, there's not a bad track in the bunch. Baglio, in his typical style, comes up with song titles that sound like sci-fi/horror B-movies but turn out to be so much more than that ("Monsters" is truly profound). 

Rectifier is available now from the Rum Bar lounge and directly from The Amplifier Heads webstore. If you're been searching for that place where the music is loud and groovy, look no further!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Putz - Ho Ho Ho, Let's Go!

Holding strong to my vow to limit my reviews of Christmas music this year to no more than four, today I fill my third slot with the first new music from The Putz in two-and-a-half years. I'm going to come in under budget! Seriously, there was no way I was going to be ignoring new tunes from one of the best bands in modern-day pop-punk! Ho Ho Ho, Let's Go! is the second in what I hope will be an on-going series of holiday-themed EPs by The Putz. 2018's Mad Monster Party has become my #1 Halloween go-to, and now Ho Ho Ho, Let's Go! offers five great tracks worthy of consideration for my Christmas playlists going forward. The style of the songs is exactly what you'd expect from The Putz: textbook pop-punk done right. And while this is a Christmas-themed EP, it's not annoyingly merry or festive. The title track has all the makings of a new seasonal standard. It revisits the timeless theme of eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. It's a classically kid-friendly tune that grownups will love too because, hey, a Ramones influence is almost always a recipe for a good time. For those less enamored with the holiday spirit, the cynical "Bah, Humbug!" will hit the spot. "(I Need) Eggnog" is not so much about eggnog as it is about needing a stiff drink to survive the drama and dysfunction of family gatherings. Who can't relate to that? "Mission: Mistletoe" imagines the ultimate boss move: throwing a Christmas party and inviting only girls.  

Ho Ho Ho, Let's Go! is available on limited 12-inch vinyl (in two colors: red and black). And when I say limited, I mean it's almost sold out. Considering that amazing Ricky Racket artwork, I can see why you'd want a physical product of this EP. When it comes to any release by The Putz, the best policy is to buy now and ask questions later. This band hits it out of the park every time. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Nasty Party - Monochromatic TV

So I've been going through my favorite releases of 2022 in preparation for my annual end-of-the-year post. Yesterday I headed over to Bandcamp so I could give Nasty Party's recent EP Loaded Dice another listen. And what did I find? A brand-new EP! Now that's my idea of an early holiday gift! Monochromatic TV is Nasty Party's fourth EP since December 2020, and it continues the Sydney-based duo's quest to fill the world with music that will make you wanna rage against the powers-that-be and dance like there's no tomorrow. If you thought Simon and Rhys might have mellowed by this point, you'd be very wrong. On Monochromatic TV, they're more worked up than ever over the sad state of affairs in Australia and the failings of politicians who seem intent on making it all worse. In particular, they address lock out laws, climate policy, and the current state of political discourse. As always, the music triumphantly rides the thin line between classic punk and new wave. Spiritually, Nasty Party are the proper heirs to The Clash and Midnight Oil. Yet they have a sound and style that's all their own, and they've yet to write two songs that sound alike. "Pollies" just might be the greatest political song I've heard in the last five years. I love that while this tune specifically rails against politicians in Australia, its message, sadly, is universal. I envision people on every continent gleefully shouting that chorus. The title track explores the psychological effects of the government's abusive relationship with the people. Along the same lines,  "Lie To Me" manages to be both an impassioned political rant and a perfect new wave pop song. "Wasn't On the TV" is Nasty Party at its most manically punkiest, and it makes me wanna run around like crazy and fuck shit up.   

Arriving on the heels of the brilliant Loaded Dice, the equally formidable Monochromatic TV sustains the energy, passion, and irresistible musical charm that have made Nasty Party one of the leading bands in the newest wave of new wave. I understand that protest music isn't for everyone. But Nasty Party is one of those bands that knows how to write great political songs that are great songs, period. Undeniably, the current wave of Australian punk groups is something very extraordinary. If you're still not including Nasty Party in those conversations, I highly recommend you dig into Monochromatic TV and the rest of the band's catalog.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Tuff Talk - Into the Night

I first wrote about Tuff Talk last year when the Seattle trio released an impressive debut single featuring two tracks of high quality power pop/punk. So I was pleased to recently discover that the band had a new EP in the works. Released last week, Into the Night is quite a progression from last year's single. While Tuff Talk hasn't exactly abandoned power pop ("Nite Burn," reworked from the band's demo, will delight anyone who went crazy over "Shelly" and "Never Say Die"), Into the Night finds the trio spreading its wings in a major way. The production (the EP was recorded by Johnny Sangster and mastered by Rachel Field) is absolutely massive. This is no humble DIY recording — it's a big hooky rock record! The guitars are loud and crunchy, the drums hit super-hard, and the bass lines totally pop. Yet the band's knack for well-crafted melodic tunes remains very much in tact. "Rollin'" brings to mind the early '90s glory days of alternative rock leaning power pop (or vice versa). "Into the Night" has the feel of an '80s band walking a line between arena rock and new wave. "Yesterday" was the real surprise for me: a deliberately-paced "classic alternative" track showing a moodier and more sophisticated side of Tuff Talk. "TV Eyes" finds the band back in power pop territory, but with a twist. I'm hearing a little dark jangle a la The Barracudas. Power pop fans will find plenty to like on Into the Night, and Tuff Talk's songwriting chops continue to shine. But I think a lot of people will hear this EP and be quite surprised. Bring on the full-length!

Friday, December 16, 2022

Greendales - self titled

As a rule, I don't review music you can't immediately sample yourself in the event you want to make sure I'm not full of shit. You all work hard for your money, and I don't want to be responsible for you wasting it on sucky music. I've adhered to a "digital only" review policy on the grounds that it's in everyone's best interest. But I have been known to make exceptions in very special cases. Such an exception has been made for the self-titled album by Greendales. I could not request access to a digital version of this album for the simple reason that no such thing exists. Released on Mom's Basement Records, this album is a 100% vinyl-only issue. There are 200 copies on clear vinyl and 200 on yellow. That's it. There are no CDs, cassettes, 8-track tapes, or digital downloads available. You won't find it on any digital music service. There are no digital tracks floating around for me to embed. What this means is that you will all have to pretend it's 1995 again and trust my judgment. But I feel like that's not much of an ask in the case of Greendales, who have celebrated the 27th anniversary of the release of the first Riverdales album by covering it in its entirety. Greendales are essentially a Mom's Basement Records supergroup. The lineup is the alien and the basement from the SUCK along with Brody from Proton Packs. Any person who would be interested in owning a cover of a Riverdales album would most likely already be a fan of the SUCK and Proton Packs. And it's hard to deny that this was a really awesome idea for an album! 

I would personally consider the first Riverdales album to be the all-time gold standard for the genre that would later become known as Ramonescore (although I won't take exception to anyone who argues that Storm the Streets is better). Has it really been 27 years since it came out? Well the math sure works out. And I can clearly remember picking up my landline phone and calling my local compact disc store to see if they had the album in stock, so that tells you how much the world has changed since then. When you're dealing with such legendary material, your first duty is to not screw it up. That's mission accomplished for Greendales, who cover this album with textbook execution. Your second duty is to put your own twist on the songs  — but not too much of a twist. Again, I feel like Greendales have succeeded. They approach these songs faithfully — but no so faithfully that the album is pointless. The thing that makes the first Riverdales album hold up for me is the way it balances the punk rock side of the Ramones with their pure pop side. Not every Ramonescore band of today would have the stuff to accentuate that yin/yang quality of the Riverdales. Yet Greendales absolutely do. They prove themselves to be a well-rounded punk-pop band as they gleefully tear into this album's straight-up bangers and embrace the melodic majesty of some of the slower tracks. If you're a fan of the SUCK and/or Proton Packs and think it would be cool to hear these guys cover the Riverdales, you will not be disappointed. What I appreciate is that listening to this album has given me an enhanced appreciation for the original album. It made me want to go back and listen to it again, and it made me remember how much I love it. Also, I find it interesting that while I'm not always keen on Ramonescore, I seem to be writing rave reviews any time the basement is involved. Never underestimate the value of a great drummer! 

Summing up: Greendales have covered the classic first Riverdales album in its entirety. It's only available on vinyl and is limited to 400 copies. It went on sale moments ago via Mom's Basement Records and will likely sell out quickly. If you're a super fan of Ramonescore, the Mom's Basement label, or these guys' other bands, you're going to want to snag one of these bad boys pronto. Trust me. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Sal Cannestra's Department of Amusement with Pete Donnelly and Mike Yannich

Three Mid-Atlantic indie/punk lifers walk into a recording studio. No, this is not a setup for a joke. It's the basis for Sal Cannestra's Department of Amusement, a splendid new project/album showcasing one of the most underrated songwriters of recent times and a dream team rhythm section. On vocals and guitar is Sal Cannestra (Sleeper/Serpico, The Gerunds, The Thirteeen). On bass and keyboards is Pete Donnelly of the legendary Figgs. On drums is Mike Yannich of The Ergs! and (literally) countless other bands. With this lineup, you're talking about 90+ years of combined experience in the underground music scene with connections to New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. This album may be the most "East Coast" thing ever, and I am here for it! In my mind, I picture these songs playing in every sandwich shop from Delaware County to New Haven. 

Like The Thirteen's excellent album LIFT-OFF and the outstanding 2020 solo effort Plenty of MusicDepartment of Amusement finds Cannestra excelling at his usual stock in trade: rocking melodic tunes with thoughtful and exceptionally clever lyrics. But with the formidable backing of Donnelly and Yannich (who are such powerhouse songwriters themselves that their instrumental prowess is often overlooked), he stretches himself considerably on this somewhat epic long player. The album weighs in at 16 tracks and over an hour of music. Cannestra humorously concedes that this quantity of music is "a LOT to deal with." But as a music lover, I could never understand why anyone would complain about getting more value for their money. It's not like Cannestra is inundating us with filler. I would consider the likes of "Drug Store Readers", "The Easiest Thing," and "Love is Never Lost and Nothing Ever Dies" some of his strongest songs to date. The power ballad "Call It Sleep" will totally break your heart, while "Give the Drummer Some ($$)" is the best Replacements song that anyone has written in a while. When these three veer off from the indie power pop thing, they are more than up to the task. Forays into funky pop ("Blue Heron Drive") and full-blown yacht rock ("Hired Hand") are pleasant surprises. A cover of "Some of Shelly's Blues" is a wonderful tribute to Mike Nesmith, recorded just days after his passing. Album closer "Nothing Is Free" is an old school SST Records style noisy rocker that carries on for over nine minutes — miraculously never wearing out its welcome.  

If your commitment issues are making you hesitant to pull the trigger on Sal Cannestra's Department of Amusement, I recommend checking out the music videos for the album's first two singles (I'll even embed them below for your convenience). The clip for "Drug Store Readers" is a lyric video. And I'll just say that lyrics as good as these merit a close inspection! If the song title of "Give the Drummer Some ($$)" doesn't already make the point of the song abundantly clear, the video will erase any doubts. "You're only as good as the one on the throne" are some of the truest words ever sung. If you like what you hear from the singles, I can assure you that the full album is worth both hours of your time and eight dollars of your hard-earned cash. If you had told me some time ago that Sal Cannestra was going to make an album with Pete Donnelly and Mikey Erg, I would have said that was going to be something spectacular. I wouldn't have been wrong! 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Self-Cut Bangs - Circle Around The Free

One of the most pleasant surprises of the unpleasantly surprising year of 2020 was the debut of Calgary duo Self-Cut Bangs. No doubt, "Self-Cut Bangs" is the greatest-ever name for a pandemic inspired band. But the music has proven to be even better than the name. To recap: Self-Cut Bangs began as one couple's home recording project during COVID lockdown. That spring/summer, Cayley O'Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom) wrote and recorded one new song every Saturday. They kept up this ritual long enough to make an album, which was released in September 2020 to great acclaim (including mine). The album was such a success that Self-Cut Bangs became a permanent entity (and now a full-fledged live-ready band!). A couple years later, we now get Circle Around The Free, the sophomore release from Self-Cut Bangs. And oddly enough, I'd call this the band's "COVID" album. That first album was conceived as an escapist project. It was the feelgood indie power pop album we all needed at the time. Circle Around The Free, on the other hand, is inspired by the couple's actual voice memos from 2020. Across these 12 tracks, Cayley and Shawn dig deep into their own reflections on a time of sudden change and unprecedented strangeness. And as the world slowly returns to as close to "normal" as we'll likely ever get, these songs prove to be relatable and comforting. 

I'll say first off that Circle Around The Free is a little more expansive in approach compared to its predecessor. The vibe that Cayley and Shawn went for this time is "retro futuristic," and that's something I can totally get into. This album seems far more in line with modern-day indie rock, yet it's also decidedly more '80s new wave sounding than the last one. I don't know how that's even possible, but these two totally pulled it off. And if you listened to the first album and were surprised that it was co-crafted by the guitarist from Napalmpom, you will definitely hear a few tracks this time out where the classic rock comes out to play. Circle Around The Free does what few albums manage to do: bring together the best parts of new wave/post-punk, classic alternative rock, and contemporary indie rock in a completely satisfying way. This is a record that sounds cool and current without sacrificing big hooks and a rockin' edge. It looks to the future while offering numerous nods to the past. Tracks like "Shivers" and "In Colour" are so redolent of peak '90s indie rock that they practically make me feel twentysomething again. "Stargazer" and "Wake" give the synth-pop of yore a modern makeover. If there's already such a thing as a "vintage" Self-Cut Bangs song, "Never Say Never" is it. Elsewhere, Circle Around The Free stretches the band's sound in cool ways. There are pure indie rock tunes ("Make Believe"), high-energy rockers ("Abraham"), and even successful forays into post-punk ("Gibberish"). If I described a song as being half Black Sabbath and half indie pop, you'd never in a million years expect that to work. But somehow, someway, closing track "Head Start" is an absolute triumph. 

Like Self-Cut Bangs' debut, Circle Around The Free was home recorded and then turned over to Lorrie Matheson, who works his usual mixing and mastering magic. What results is a very warm-sounding modern rock record that seems tailor-made for long walks in the cold spent pondering the events of recent years (we are getting to the time of the year for such a thing!). Since the album's completion, the addition of drummer Joel Nye (Hot Little Rocket), guitarist Dillon Whitfield (Astral Swans, Reuben & The Dark), and bassist Nicola Cavanagh (Cardiograms, Night Committee) has expanded Self-Cut Bangs from a one couple home-recording project to a full band featuring two couples! One can only hope that any potential Fleetwood Mac/ABBA level of fame to come is not accompanied by the epic drama that plagued those bands. Another cool thing this band is working on is making music videos for all the songs on Circle Around The Free. I've embedded a couple of the clips below, but there are several more worth checking out on the band's YouTube page. Circle Around The Free, like its predecessor, is a free download from Bandcamp. Music this good for the price of free is a rare treat. Jump on it!