Saturday, May 21, 2022

Cindy Lawson - New Tricks


Eight days ago, I wrote about The Complete Clams, a 15-track retrospective on one of the most criminally underrated rock and roll bands to come out of Minneapolis/St. Paul in the later 1980s. This was just the first half of a duology of releases that fully welcomes Cindy Lawson to the Rum Bar Records family. It was followed yesterday by New Tricks -- the long-awaited solo debut from Clams vocalist and Twin Cities legend Lawson. 

New Tricks is the first set of original songs recorded by Lawson since her old band Whoops Kitty released its self-titled CD in 1996. A quarter of a century later, Lawson's voice sounds as amazing as ever -- or perhaps even more amazing than ever. Within the first 30 seconds of my first contact with "How It Feels," her voice had sent chills down my spine. You can go back and listen to The Complete Clams or the Whoops Kitty album and hear a young talent of tremendous promise. After a long period of semi-retirement from the music biz, Lawson is back to completely fulfill that promise. To these songs, Lawson has brought decades of experience in life and music. And her songwriting skills clearly never left her. The well-named New Tricks incorporates many of Lawson's long-held influences (such as '60s pop and girl groups) while still sounding fresh, original, and modern in the year 2022. The album was superbly-produced by Steve Price (of the excellent '90s Twin Cities band Rex Daisy), who knows a thing or two about what a rocking pop record ought to sound like. From the crunching pop-rock of "How It Feels" to the sultry bounce of "I'm Not the Only One" to the garage rock inspired thump of "You've Got Quality" to the girl group majesty of "Dream Baby" to the hard-rocking grit of "I'm Loaded," this album covers a lot of ground without ever having to veer too far from the timeless structure of the three-minute pop song. A couple other tracks will be of great interest to long-time fans. The old Whoops Kitty song "Let's Pretend" gets quite the modern makeover. "Nope" is a loving tribute to its author -- the late, great Lori Wray. Both songs fit perfectly on the album. 

Listening to the fabulous New Tricks, one might be tempted to curse the music gods for depriving Cindy Lawson of the stardom she so deserved. But who says it's too late? Far from a post-script on Lawson's musical career, New Tricks represents its rebirth. It's the work of an artist whose best days still lie ahead of her. She's got wisdom, she's got talent, and she's got that voice. All over the world, people are hearing tracks from New Tricks on underground radio shows and saying, "Wow, who is that?!" Malibu Lou spoke to me earlier this year about how blessed he is to work with some of the best singers out there today. He mentioned a few names in particular (Shanda Cisneros, Miss Georgia Peach, Jen D'Angora) which I absolutely agreed with. I must add Cindy Lawson to this select group, and I am sure Lou will concur! Locals will not want to miss Lawson's performance this coming July 15 at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in St. Paul: a Rum Bar Records showcase event that will also feature Beebe Gallini and The Dogmatics! Wow and wow!


Friday, May 20, 2022

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men - Heart Inside Your Head


This is my fifth time reviewing a Nick Piunti album. I never get tired of listening to this man's music, and I never get tired of writing about it. He's a master craftsman of melodic pop-rock who's making the best music of his life five decades into his career. Out today on Jem Records, Heart Inside Your Head is Piunti's sixth album since 2014 and his second with his band The Complicated Men (Jeff Hupp on bass, Ron Vensko on drums, Kevin Darnall on keyboards, and Joe Daksiewicz on guitar). With this release, you can really hear Piunti & The Complicated Men coming into their own as a proper rock band. While this album fits perfectly well under the banners of power pop and indie rock, it's full of songs that sound like honest-to-goodness radio hits. It's accessible to anyone who likes pop, rock, or any form of melody-driven music. The production (courtesy of Geoff Michael and the band) is absolutely top-of-the-line. The musicianship is extraordinary. And from start to finish, the songs are stone-cold gems (no pun intended). 

Piunti's "thing" has always been his ability to write super-catchy pop songs that run surprisingly deep lyrically. He and The Complicated Men continue that approach on Heart Inside Your Head, but with a broadened stylistic range. If you're looking for power pop, "My Mind (Plays Tricks on Me)," "One of the Boyz," and "Keys to Your Heart" will hit the spot in a big way. Songs like "Slave To It" and "Hopes Up" are the kind of middle-of-the-road pop-rock earworms you used to be able to count on hearing in the finest dentist offices and banks. "Trying Too Hard" sounds like it belongs on a "1998 alternative hits" playlist smack dab between Semisonic and The Wallflowers. "Nothing New" is such a perfect slice of old school adult contemporary balladry that I can imagine Peter Cetera and Richard Marx fighting to the death for the rights to record it. Speaking of ballads, "I Want Everything" and "Gloves Come Off" just might be the two high points of this album. It has been my experience as a longtime fan of music that ballads are something I'm usually just willing to tolerate. But in my daily listening to Heart Inside Your Head, "I Want Everything" and "Gloves Come Off" are songs I always look forward to hearing. If you're going to work with a formidable rock band and a top-flight producer, these are the kinds of tunes you should aspire to write: sophisticated & deep yet timelessly melodic. Michael has a gift for being able to make a record sound massive and pristine but not overproduced. He is the perfect collaborator for Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men. 

Nick Piunti has always half-jokingly described his music as "dad rock." Well, then. If well-crafted and immaculately-produced pop-rock is dad rock, Piunti & The Complicated Men have just made the best damn dad rock album in years! I remember putting Heart Inside Your Head on for the first time. Every time I thought I had arrived at the "hit," the next song would come along and make me reconsider! It's usually utter nonsense when dopes like me pronounce a certain artist's newest release as their "best one yet." But repeated listens to Heart Inside Your Head have me convinced that Nick Piunti has just released the best record of his life. Of course he didn't do it alone, so let's have three cheers for The Complicated Men! If the powers that be ever allow artists over 25 to be played on contemporary hit radio again, this band will be all kinds of huge!

QWAM - "Little Bliss"


One of my favorite record labels has hit another one out of the park! Out today on Reta Records is "Little Bliss," the brand-new single from the awesome Brooklyn-based punk band QWAM. Jamie's ear for hit singles is as reliable as ever with this absolutely delightful pair of tracks from one of the most fun bands in existence. A-side "IDC" is the first-ever QWAM song to have verses sung by band members other than Felicia Lobo. Eddie Kuspiel and Matt Keim each contribute verses to this infectious sing-along number. On the surface, this song may seem like an ode to indifference. On a deeper level, it's about being self-aware enough to care that you don't care. I really relate to this one, and of course it doesn't hurt that I want to dance around like crazy every time that chorus hits! On the B-side, the title track explores the nagging ache for something more in life and the need to find it in those little everyday moments we sometimes overlook. In typical QWAM fashion, this song builds to an anthemic climax that will have you punching the air and shouting along.  

Like all Reta Records releases, "Little Bliss" is extremely limited and comes in multiple colors of vinyl (100 copies on grapefruit splash vinyl, 150 on forest green, and 50 on black). The artwork and vinyl look amazing! QWAM fans are advised to move fast on this one! And if you just became a QWAM fan due to hearing this single, be sure to check out the band's back catalog over at Bandcamp. Who can deny that "Everybody Wants To Watch" is one of the best songs ever?

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Battlebeats - Killed By Boredom


Everyone's favorite Indonesian garage punk band is back with four more shots of blistering punk rock and roll goodness! Out on Otitis Media Records, new 7" Killed By Boredom is the first of several releases due out from The Battlebeats this year. Like the band's previous releases, Killed By Boredom features Andresa Nugraha on vocals, guitar, and drums. While the energy from previous releases remains, this EP finds The Battlebeats sounding more properly produced and less like a bedroom recording project. What results are four tunes that sound like super tough '70s punk rock by way of '50s rock and roll. I've got no complaints about that! Of course Andresa still loves Teengenerate, but you can hear that his influences have broadened. When he started The Battlebeats, he had the perfect concept for a band. But as he's developed as a musician and songwriter, he's found a way for The Battlebeats to progress while remaining a kick-ass garage punk band. What we have here are four totally killer punk tunes, and I'm excited to hear more! Order the vinyl here!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Kid Gulliver - "Nothing But Trouble"


Having documented its amazing run of 2020-21 singles on last year's wonderful collection Kismet, Kid Gulliver is primed to begin another run of hot singles action. Out on Red On Red Records, new single "Nothing But Trouble" is yet another earworm track from this Boston-based power pop sensation. Written by guitarist David Armillotti, this song tackles a timeless theme in pop music: being on the wrong side of a one-sided relationship. This is probably Kid Gulliver's punkiest track to date -- coming on with an upbeat energy that perfectly balances the utter despair of the lyrics. Instantly this song will have you bobbing your head or doing a little dance in your workspace. For the rest of the day, you'll be humming that melody. Simone Berk, in her usual manner, sings the lyrics in such a way that you'll truly feel them. So then: is "Nothing But Trouble" a feelgood pop hit or a devastating reflection on the pain that love can cause us? In the grand tradition of the greatest pop songs, it's both! If you haven't started working on your summer playlist, here's your track 1!

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Poppy Robbie - Valentine EP (2008)


If I could list one thing exceptional thing about this otherwise smalltime and insignificant blog, it's that it provides the most comprehensive Poppy Robbie coverage of any blog in existence. Should another blogger attempt to be a greater authority on Poppy Robbie's musical catalog, we will have to fight (and then most likely make peace while sharing a six-pack of root beer). Two years ago, I recounted the legend of a Poppy Robbie release so limited that only one copy was ever made. This collection of acoustic numbers was produced as a 2008 Valentine's Day gift for Robbie's then-girlfriend and now wife. At the time of my review, only one track had been made available for public consumption. Fans demanded more and wisely turned to their constitutional rights of assembly and petition. A letter-writing campaign ensued. Urgent requests were placed via landline telephone. Some hardy individuals camped outside of Robbie's home holding meticulously-crafted signs. And so in this month of May in the year 2022, Robbie has given the people what they want. Valentine EP (2008), in slightly abridged form, is available now from Bandcamp. Finally you can hear "Jamey Jamey (Hey Jamey​!​)" even if you're not Jamey. The highlight for me is "You Really Got Me (Tangled Up)," which sounds more like Jonathan Richman than anything Jonathan Richman has done in 30 years. On "Sincerely Yours," Robbie channels another Robbie: northern New Jersey's finest wedding singer of the mid-'80s. Two songs from the original release remain for Jamey's ears only. One is a Tom Petty cover which could not be included due to Bandcamp's new policies regarding the unauthorized uploading of copyrighted material (punishments range from literal beatings to being locked inside a Nickelback concert). The other omission is a joke song that lists every Kevin Costner movie appearance through 2007. Is it just me, or does that sound like something the world needs to hear? 

Valentine EP (2008), certified to only contain material copyrighted by Poppy Robbie, is available as a name-your-price download from Bandcamp. While we may have to wait for the Kevin Costner song to see the light of day, Robbie has also uploaded a nifty unreleased track from 2012 called "Sophia" to his digital treasure chest. Anyone who has read this far must be a Poppy Robbie super-fan. Congratulations: you have exquisite taste! 

-L.R.

https://poppyrobbie.bandcamp.com/album/valentine-ep-2008

Van Dammes - Finally There


Three years ago, I reviewed Van Dammes' wonderful EP Risky Business. I was immediately drawn to the Helsinki foursome's catchy, energetic, and super fun brand of garage punk. Last year, Van Dammes released a digital EP titled Finally There in tribute to Finland's national football team qualifying for its first-ever major championship (Euro 2020). This was a huge deal to the entire nation of Finland -- which had literally waited over 100 years for this moment. Clearly this event merited a proper celebration! And now Finally There is finally out on vinyl! It's the newest release from Madrid's ever-reliable Jarama 45RPM Recs. This label always knows good music, and Van Dammes make a perfect addition to the roster. Given that punk rock and sports are two of my favorite things ever, I am always delighted to come across a marriage of the two. In typical Van Dammes fashion, these songs bring the energy along with ample opportunities to sing along. While the anthemic title track specifically celebrates the achievement of Finland's national team, the lyrics have a universal sentiment. This is the sound of a nation rejoicing! Equally rousing is "(It's Time For) Rivelution," a song dedicated to Markku "Rive" Kanerva, manager of the Finnish national team. If I were Rive, I would be so pleased with this song! One final sing-along number, "Test the Best," rounds out this celebration in style. Even if you're not Finnish or have no interest in football, you'll have a hard time resisting these blistering garage-punk anthems from one of the coolest bands in Europe. Jarama 45RPM Recs. does it again!

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Clams - The Complete Clams


Out now on Rum Bar Records, The Complete Clams brings the recorded output of one of the most overlooked Twin Cities bands of the 1980s back into print -- where it deserves to be. The Clams were Cindy Lawson (guitar, lead vocals), Patty Jansen (bass), Karen Cusack (drums), and Roxie Terry (lead guitar). Between 1986 and 1988, they released two singles and one 12" EP. The Complete Clams compiles the songs from all three releases along with some additional rarities to form one really great 15-track album. While anyone with fond memories of seeing The Clams live in the later '80s will be thrilled with this collection, this is by no means a "for fans only" type release. Listening to this album, I can't help noticing how well it fits in with Rum Bar's existing catalog full of glam rock, garage rock, power pop, and straight-forward rock and roll. Cindy Lawson was (and still is!) an absolute powerhouse on lead vocals. She and Roxie Terry formed a bad-ass tandem a la Jagger/Richards and Johansen/Thunders. It's no surprise, then, to hear the Stonesy vibes of "Run Baby Run" and a most formidable cover of the New York Dolls' "Human Being." What I enjoy about this collection is that it captures a very versatile rock and roll band. Debut single "What's Wrong With This Picture?" is jangly guitar pop at its finest. Second single "Train Song" is raw, high-energy rock and roll straight out of the bar. By the time The Clams released their EP Exile On Lake Street, they were trying everything from cool Pretenders-ish rock ("He's Like Heroin") to anthemic, thundering rock and roll ("Let Me Drive") to infectious power pop ("Give Me A Reason") to edgy new wave ("Eat My Words"). Unearthed from an obscure Pendulum Records compilation album, "The Desperate Kind" is The Clams' punkiest track-- and one of its very best! The album also features several live covers which give you a sense of some of the band's influences and a feel for what it would have been like to experience The Clams in person. Buy this album if you want to hear the coolest-ever version of "We're an American Band"! 

Whether you're a Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene historian or simply want to discover a really great garage rock and roll band that has gone largely unrecognized for decades, The Complete Clams is a highly recommended purchase. What a voice Cindy Lawson has! Be on the lookout for a reissue of her latest solo EP New Tricks -- releasing next Friday on Rum Bar Records!

Rock N Roll Manifesto 7" series Vol. II


The Rock N Roll Manifesto, the king of all underground rock and roll radio shows, has released the second volume in its series of compilation seven-inches. Volume I, which featured Tiger Touch, Fret Rattles, JJ & The Real Jerks, and the mighty Missile Studs, set quite a precedent for this series. So how do you top a lineup like that? If you're Greg Lonesome, you reach out to the legendary Sonny Vincent. That's right: Rock N Roll Manifesto 7" Series Vol. II kicks off with "Over A Cliff," an unreleased track from Sonny freaking Vincent! And this isn't just a Sonny Vincent song: it's a killer Sonny Vincent song! Vincent mentions being proud of his involvement with this compilation since it reflects the passion people have for music in physical formats. And that's really the point of this 7" series. These EPs are made to be records. Volume II, like Volume I before it, is the total package. The tunes smoke, the artwork (by Rob Sheley) is amazing, and the vinyl comes in three different colors (canary yellow, milky clear with canary splatter, and black with canary haze). Also included is a really slick lyric sheet with full information on each track. It's not just about hearing the music: it's about adding a super fucking cool record to your collection! Joining Sonny Vincent on this release are three of the finest bands in the underground universe: London post-punk greats Miscalculations, Swedish garage-punk sensations The Manikins, and Pennsylvania's rock and roll force of nature The Judex. Three of the four tracks are previously unreleased, and the Judex track is appearing on vinyl for the first time. All in all, this is an absolute monster of a record. It's limited to 500 copies -- which are available through Stamp Out Disco (Australia), No Front Teeth Records (UK), Hyperloop Records (UK), and the Rock N Roll Manifesto Bandcamp. To the best of my knowledge, this release is not currently available digitally. But you can trust that it's well-worth your cash if Greg Lonesome curated it! Follow the links below to order the record and check out more music from all of these tremendous artists!  

Monday, May 09, 2022

Brad Marino - "Another Sad and Lonely Night"


What could be more perfect than Brad Marino covering Bobby Fuller? If Bobby Fuller was Buddy Holly's rightful heir, Marino is in many ways a modern-day Bobby Fuller. He plays a timeless style of rock and roll steeped in the tradition of the two-to-three minute pop song. While Fuller's life and career were tragically cut short, he left behind a treasure trove of great American rock and roll with his band The Bobby Fuller Four. While Marino was in Atlanta for Downsouth Showdown earlier this year, he and his pals Geoff Palmer and Zack Sprague recorded some new songs at Joe King's Scabby Road Studio. One of the tracks they laid down was a cover of "Another Sad and Lonely Night," one of Bobby Fuller's best original songs. Marino has released the track as a digital single, and of course it's totally amazing. You can hear the reverence for Fuller's classic original, but Marino puts his own twist on it as he always does with his covers. And, yes, that's Mr. Joe King on backing vocals! If you're a Brad Marino fan and don't own any music by the Bobby Fuller Four, that situation needs to be rectified immediately. And if you're a Bobby Fuller fan who has happened to stumble upon this post, do yourself a favor and check out all of Brad Marino's releases!

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Night Court - Nervous Birds! Too


Vancouver trio Night Court is quickly becoming one of my favorite Canadian punk rock bands. Admittedly, I have a lot of favorite Canadian punk bands. But Night Court is definitely in that mix! The band has just released Nervous Birds! Too, the second half of its debut album duology. Jiffy, Emilor, and Dave are back with 13 more super-catchy tracks that blur the lines between punk, pop, new wave/post-punk, and indie rock. It's perfect that the album was co-released by the American label Snappy Little Numbers since it's nothing but snappy little numbers! I love this band because it takes so many things I like in music (great hooks, raw energy, clever/humorous lyrics) and pulls them together in a unique and highly original way. Listening to Nervous Birds! Too, I can understand why Night Court's debut album had to be a duology. Nervous Birds! Too is as good or maybe even better than Nervous Birds! One. This band genuinely had 26 album-worthy tracks to work with! A 26-track album would have been a little much, yet I'd be hard-pressed to name any songs that could have been left out. Why not double the fun? 

Nervous Birds! One left us wanting more; Nervous Birds! Too delivers exactly that. Each track sinks its hooks into you quickly and gets out just in time for the next one to the do the same. Even at an average length of just 90 seconds, these tunes are splendidly-crafted and built to keep you coming back for more. In keeping with the delightful uniqueness of this band, lyrics address topics varying from dark times to strange dreams to the Titanic to sewage pipes to birds to the contagiousness of positive thinking to Canadians' constant need to apologize. If you welcome music that's punky, poppy, lo-fi, noisy, and quirky all at the same time, this band and this album are for you. Nervous Birds! Too is available on cassette from Debt Offensive Records and Snappy Little Numbers. Whether you're Canadian or not, you'll be sorry if you miss out!,

Friday, May 06, 2022

The Dogmatics - Drop That Needle


I can still remember how excited I was when I first heard that The Dogmatics would be putting out new material for the first time in decades. It has been two-and-a-half years already since the release of the band's "comeback" EP She's the One -- which turned out to be every bit as good as I had hoped. Advance singles released in recent months had me thinking that the follow-up Drop That Needle would be even better. I was not wrong! Out today on Rum Bar Records, Drop That Needle finds the best band to ever come out of Boston in fine form. Push play, and you'll be delighted to hear that The Dogmatics still sound like The Dogmatics. But by no means does this release fall into the "for fans only" category. Far from resting on their laurels, The Dogmatics are quickly establishing themselves as one of the most excellent garage rock and roll bands going today. I previously referred to the the title track as the "ultimate garage rocker" and see no reason to disagree with myself. "Automat Kalashnikov," the first Dogmatics song to be written and sung by Peter O' Halloran, is a crackling return to the band's punk rock roots. "Think Twice" is unlike anything you've ever heard from The Dogmatics before. This folk tune is a collaboration with James Young (from Peter O' Halloran & The Hired Men), who sings lead vocals and plays mandolin. I hope The Dogmatics do more songs like this in the future! The Jerry Lehane penned rocker "Don't Break My Heart" sounds like the best Rockpile song you never heard. Finishing off the EP is "Acid Rain," a song written by the late, great Paul O' Halloran and featuring his brother Peter on lead vocals. This was the track I was most excited to hear, and it does not disappoint! You can feel Paul's spirit in this recording, and his lyrics are truly chilling in the wake of what's been happening to our environment in recent decades. What a wonderful tribute to Paul O' Halloran! To this day, there is no Dogmatics without him. 

"Aging like fine wine" is undoubtedly one of the most egregious music reviewer clich├ęs in the book, but it certainly describes The Dogmatics to a T. Put on Drop That Needle, and you'll hear sounds that are both familiar and full of surprises. Not content to be remembered for their old classics, The Dogmatics are well on their way to authoring a whole slew of new ones. This band honors the past but is not stuck in it. And as the garage/punk/rock and roll scene continues to flourish at the grass roots level, it's a joy to see more and more people becoming hip to an eternal truth: The Dogmatics rule!

Dirty Truckers - The Tisbury Joneser


The Tisbury Joneser
is the fourth full-length album from The Dirty Truckers. Out today on Rum Bar Records, this is the first long player in over 13 years from this Boston-based rock and roll institution. Having anthologized tracks from existing Dirty Truckers releases on two previous occasions, Rum Bar proudly brings into the world 10 new songs of heart-on-sleeve dive bar rock and roll from unsung songwriting great Tom Baker and his illustrious partners-in-crime (John Brookhouse on lead guitar, Jamie Griffith on bass, and Johnny "Rock" Lynch on drums). The Tisbury Joneser was a lockdown recording project. If it took an unprecedented global pandemic to get these guys to make another record, well there's a silver lining for you! When it comes to The Dirty Truckers or any Tom Baker project, you know exactly what to expect: no-nonsense blue collar rock and roll for fans of The Replacements, Rolling Stones, and everything that's good in between. The Westerberg/Stinson influence looms large on this release as the splendid tracks "Cut Me Loose," "(You've Got The) Shakes Again," and "Remember One" tip the cap to early, late, and classic period Replacements. The Stones influence is more literal this time: the band tears into an inspired rendition of Exile on Main St. Side 4 opener "All Down the Line." As always, Baker shows himself to be a formidable songwriter in the realm of straight-forward rock and roll. There are few better at crafting a hooky tune with heart and guts. While lean and mean at just ten tracks, The Tisbury Joneser covers an awful lot of ground. Standout numbers highlight the band's flair for everything from rootsy pop ("Just Forget It") to heartland rock ("I Feel Nothing") to raucous rock and roll ("Keep It in the Vault"). Every time I get to the end of this album, I'm left wanting more. 

The Tisbury Joneser finds The Dirty Truckers continuing to not fix what isn't broke. There will always be a place in the world for a band like this that aspires to nothing more than to write great songs and rock the hell out of 'em! No less of an authority than Jerry Lehane points to this album as solid proof that rock and roll is alive and well. What else needs to be said? The Tisbury Joneser is an album best enjoyed loud in tandem with the cheapest, coldest beer you can find. Koozie included if you buy one of the special bundles!

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Extra Arms - "Big Dogs"


One of my most eagerly-anticipated albums of 2022 is set to release June 3 on Forge Again Records. What Is Even Happening Right Now? will be the third full-band album from Detroit-based loud power pop foursome Extra Arms. It's hard for me to believe it was seven years ago already that I fell in love with Ryan Allen's solo album Heart String Soul. Back then, "Extra Arms" was just a funny way to convey that Allen could play a whole lot of instruments. Eventually he found some permanent bandmates and made Extra Arms a bona fide rock band. I've never been disappointed with any release that Allen has been involved with. Extra Arms in particular hit a sweet spot for me because they recall a time when indie/alternative rock truly rocked! In advance of What Is Even Happening Right Now? (a perfect album title for this moment in time!), the band has released the single and video "Big Dogs." In typical Extra Arms style, this song is a killer slice of powerful pop. "Big Dogs," it turns out, is a love song to man's best friend. It was inspired by Allen's special relationship with Willie Nelson, his partner's dog. Yet the song is more universal than that, exploring the powerful connection we can have with another living being in spite of not being able to fully converse with them. If you, as I, have ever longed to know the inner thoughts of your four-legged soulmate, you will understand what a profound song "Big Dogs" is. And the video is an absolute delight! With less than a month to go until the new record releases, I am getting majorly pumped for more new tunes from Extra Arms. This just might be the album of the summer! Hit up Forge Again's Bandcamp to pre-order the vinyl. 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Breaklights - Fool Me Once


Earlier this month, I promised I would have plenty more to write about Breaklights this spring and summer. I wasn't kidding. In advance of Wind Down, its forthcoming debut LP, the Austin-based band has released another single called "Fool Me Once." This is the first Breaklights song to feature guitarist Dan on lead vocals, but it won't be the last! The album will feature three tracks written and sung by Dan. And based on "Fool Me Once," I must say that having a second singer and songwriter in the band will only make Breaklights stronger. Dan's voice proves to be a perfect fit for Breaklights' heartfelt, melody-driven style. "Fool Me Once" is a pop-punk tune of the finest quality. Would you expect any less from Breaklights? Hearing this track makes me really excited for the album. Breaklights have always been a really good band, but these two recent singles have been next-level stuff. No one's going to be telling Charlie to hang it up, but I think a lot of us are wondering why Dan hasn't been contributing songs to this band all along! Wind Down will be out in June on Wiretap Records!

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Melmacs - "Good Advices"


Wow! The Melmacs out of Leipzig and Dresden, Germany have released the first single from their forthcoming debut album, and it's a rocket blast of '77-style punk/powerpop! The album is due out in September on Wanda Records and Barkraufarfita Records. In advance of the album release, The Melmacs will be unleashing several singles over the next few months. First up is "Good Advices," an upbeat number that you'll hear once and end up humming all day! The band has released a music video to accompany the single, and it gives you a great feel for what The Melmacs are all about. And what The Melmacs are all about can be summed up in one word: fun! This song makes me wanna dance merrily around the house while shouting joyful exaltations. If you're like me, "Good Advices" will leave you wanting more. The good news is that more is coming, and pre-orders for the full album will open in June. If you literally can't wait, do yourself a favor and check out the band's existing discography on Bandcamp. You'll wonder where this band has been all your life! "Good Advices" is available now from all the major streaming platforms. Don't forget to wear a helmet!

Vista Blue - Pieces II


When a band with 50+ releases to its name puts out a second odds-and-ends compilation, that definitely falls into the "for fans only" category. Perfect! I'm a huge Vista Blue fan -- and clearly you are too if you read past this sentence (Hey there, Nick Spoon!). Pieces II is a sequel to 2019's Pieces, a digital collection of songs that had not been previously released on Vista Blue's Bandcamp. Pieces II collects songs the band has recorded over the last three years. Some are collaborations with podcasts. Others were recorded for compilations. Some are alternate versions of previously released songs. Pieces II combines them all into a single digital album complete with liner notes. This is a real treat for fans. And isn't that the whole point?

What I enjoy about Pieces II is that is captures the spirit of what Vista Blue is all about. What other band on Earth would record theme songs for a prank call podcast and a Twilight podcast? What other band on earth would record an entire EP of songs about sumo wrestling to reward a Kickstarter backer? But this is no joke release. There are some absolute gems to be found here. "I Keep Hitting on Girls (They Just Keep on Hitting Me)" and "I Met Her at a Blockbuster", which were both originally written for Mike's old band The Robinsons, are A+ pop-punk tracks. "Three Chord City", a cover of The Cold's classic, is a cool live take from the legendary Ardent Studio in Memphis (the "produced" version, of course, ended up on the band's splendid EP Hit The Floor). An acoustic version of "Curling All Around the USA" (remember when these guys singlehandedly willed the U.S. to win curling gold?) showcases this band's special flair for melody and harmonies. And anyone who dismisses Vista Blue's collaborations with the Snow Plow Show podcast will miss out on "Beverly," one of its best pop-punk tracks of recent memory. 

It's something else how Vista Blue can release so much music yet still keep us fans excited for what's coming next. And that's because you never know what this band is going to write songs about. Pieces II really highlights that. If you get bored with pop-punk bands who only write songs about girls, well here's an album with songs about prank phone calls, sumo wrestling, emo vampires, curling, Nik Caesar's Twitch stream, the birth of the messiah, and....girls. I also like that the liner notes make it very easy for you to seek out the releases on which many of these songs originally appeared. Maybe I'm just riding the high of the Phillies getting back to .500 or subconsciously plotting how my own podcast can collaborate with Vista Blue. But my morning spent listening to Pieces II has had me feeling good. I'm on my last paragraph, so we're all fans here. There's just no reason not to buy this album. It's that rare sequel that's better than the original!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Split System - self titled


And now for another totally killer Aussie punk rock group! Melbourne-based Split System features a star-studded lineup of Jackson Reid Briggs (Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters) on vocals, Arron Mawson (Stiff Richards) on guitar, Ryan Webb (Speed Week) on guitar, Deon Slaviero (The Black Heart Death Cult) on bass, and Mitch McGregor (No Zu) on drums. The band's debut EP was not exactly created under the most ideal circumstances. But of course these guys didn't let that get in the way! The band got together last year and managed to rehearse just one time before lockdown put an end to any hopes for gigs and a proper recording session. Undeterred, the band committed to getting the five songs it had written recorded and released. With each band member recording individual parts at home, Split System finished the record. One track, "Hit Me" was released as a digital single this past January. The other four songs comprise the band's debut 7" -- which is currently available from the ever-reliable Legless Records. As expected, this EP delivers four tracks of pure raging punk rock and roll in the classic Aussie style. This release comes out swinging with the face-melting opener "Climbing" and does not let-up from there. If you like raw, hard-hitting punk rock with an energy level that's off the charts, Split System is the band for you. The EP was mixed and Mastered by Mikey Young -- who imbues these recordings with the savage touch he's known for. If Split System can create an EP this crackling in isolation, can you imagine what the next record is gonna sound like? Crank this puppy loud!

Friday, April 22, 2022

Dirt Royal - "Shoot Me Now"


Have you ever heard a band so good that it actually made you mad at yourself for not already being aware of its brilliance? That's where I'm at with Brighton-based trio Dirt Royal. Anyone who knows me and knows Dirt Royal would be shocked to discover that I had never heard the band before this week. This band has been around since 2014. Where in God's name have I been? I'm pretty sure that Mick Fletcher gave me a heads-up at some point which I foolishly failed to follow up on. So while some of you will hear Dirt Royal's new single "Shoot Me Now" and consider it par for the course, I was absolutely blown away. This, my friends, is my kind of music: punky, poppy, hooky goodness brimming with energy and full of lyrical brilliance. In my book, this is the song of the year! It lives in that space where punk rock, new wave, mod, and power pop all intersect. And while this is hardly the first song to be written about the sad state of current affairs in the UK, it's no doubt one of the wittiest and catchiest. Political commentary and dark humor have always been a winning combination for me, and "Shoot Me Now" blends those components to perfection. And I love the approach of taking a subject as weighty as one's country having gone to shit and turning it into a fun sing-along that you can dance to. I like to imagine people of all ages across the UK (and beyond) gleefully shouting this chorus to the horror of those within earshot. This is going to be a hit, right? If not, it sure ought to be! The single releases today on the ever-reliable Spanish label Snap!! Records. "Shoot Me Now" is backed by "Better Than Worse", another power pop punk anthem packed with lyrical substance. Vinyl copies are limited to 300, so I suggest you move fast on this one. In the meantime, if anyone needs me...I'll be at my desk catching up on Dirt Royal's back catalog. What a great fucking band!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Priors - NEWNEWNEW


Back with their first new music since the superbly blistering My Punishment on Earth was released in late 2020, Montreal's Priors show no signs of letting up on the force and intensity. NEWNEWNEW, the band's new EP, unleashes three tracks of an appropriate tenor for a self-proclaimed "fuck you to the industry." As always, Priors take the best elements of nightmarish synth-punk, pummeling garage punk, and bleak post-punk to create a ferocious sonic concoction that is uniquely theirs. All three of these tracks are truly formidable. "Expelled Virtue" marries angular guitars to a vocal fury rendered almost surreal by Max and Chance's skillful production. The title track is a straight shot of aggressive punk rock that flat-out rips. "Voice of Reason" is synth-punk with just the right balance between the synths and the punk. These tunes will get you fired up for the next Priors album -- which is already recorded and could possibly see the light of day by year's end. Now available as a strictly digital release, NEWNEWNEW is highly recommended listening if your ears yearn for a good clobbering.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Strange Neighbors - "Window Watching"


When a band contacts you promising "a bop that'll knock John Waters' moustache clean off" and "a beat that compels you to shake your butt like Billy Ray Cyrus in those tight blue jeans circa 'Achy Breaky Heart,'" there are only two possible outcomes: bitter disappointment or complete elation. The very fact that I'm writing this review tells you that Strange Neighbors did not let me down! As promised, the Brooklyn foursome's new single "Window Watching" is the kind of song that will instantly move you to dance and sing along. The band recommends it for shower singing in particular, but honestly it's suitable for any moment in life when you might be inspired to break into song. I would not look at you sideways if you belted out this tune while you were standing in line at the post office or eating a burrito. On this track, Strange Neighbors offer a modern & original take on indie power pop with lyrics that are cheeky yet incredibly relatable. This is a song tinged with sadness but also full of sweetness and hope. I can't help but smile because it articulates feelings I've experienced myself. Who among us has never missed someone so much that we had to resort to somewhat odd coping mechanisms? Being able to take such a universal human experience and turn it into three minutes of purely joyful pop music is a special talent indeed. As advertised, this song delivers the bop and the beat. And when that hook comes in, it's magical. My delight over encountering this song was matched only by my regret over having missed out on three years' worth of music by Strange Neighbors. But that's easily rectified. If you enjoy "Window Watching" as much as I have, be sure to dig into the band's full discography on Bandcamp. While you're at it, pull those tight jeans out of storage!  

Friday, April 15, 2022

Culture Trap - "Different Kind of Summer"

Now here's something right up my alley -- and likely yours as well! Culture Trap is a Helsinki-based foursome playing top-notch punk/powerpop. The band just released "Different Kind of Summer", its debut single, on Bandcamp. The A-side checks off all the boxes for punk-influenced power pop. If you like punchy guitars and big hooks with clean production and a whiff of melancholy, this song is bound to hit the spot. "League", the virtual B-side, is a faster, punkier track with an anthemic feel to it. Both tracks are excellent and complement each other perfectly. I'm left wanting more, which is exactly the way it ought to be. You could convince almost anyone that this is a long-lost Dirtnap Records single from 15 years ago. This may be your first time hearing of Culture Trap, but it sure won't be your last. What a killer debut!

-L.R.

https://culturetrap.bandcamp.com/album/different-kind-of-summer

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Limoges - Milan Shakes, Turin Shocks, Limoges Rocks


Hey Pizza! Records is quickly assembling a roster to rival just about any pop-punk label out there. Somehow I even missed a Neon Bone picture disc single that released on Valentine's Day and sold out in a heartbeat. Shame on me! The label's latest release isn't likely to remain in stock very long either. Milan Shakes, Turin Shocks, Limoges Rocks is the first album from Italian punk rock super group Limoges. Featuring members of Ponches, MEGA, Komet, Morbeats, and Volkov, this band tears through 10 excellent tracks of tuneful pop-punk in just under 18 minutes on this stellar debut. What I like about this group is that it plays textbook pop-punk without sounding like a thousand bands you've already heard before. You can hear bits and pieces of all the members' other bands coming together in a wonderfully satisfying way. Influences go beyond the usual Lookout!/Ramones playbook -- digging back into 1980s melodic punk & pop-punk with a pinch of Marked Men style as well. Limoges manage to create a sound that's fast & energetic but also super melodic. And when it comes to singing pop-punk songs, this band proves once again that Italians do it better. Milan Shakes, Turin Shocks, Limoges Rocks is a first-rate effort all the way through and a reminder that pop-punk done well is hard to beat. The LP is limited to 200 copies on black vinyl. Hit up the Hey Pizza! store to pre-order a copy!

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Nasty Party - Loaded Dice


In each of the past two years, I have written rave reviews of Nasty Party, a punk/new wave duo based out of Sydney and London. My third write-up on this band will be no less glowing. With their latest EP Loaded Dice, Simon and Rhys have truly outdone themselves. In fact, I can think of no band today that does a better job of combining impassioned political lyrics with music that's tremendous fun to listen to. 

While Nasty Party has always drawn from both the punk and new wave sides of 1977, Loaded Dice leans a little more in the punk direction. The fast-paced title track delivers a jolt of energy along with an earworm shout-along chorus. "I Can't Stand the Radio" puts on a clinic on how to emulate the Ramones without trying to be the Ramones. "I Just Wanna Be a Primate" hits dead center in the '77 punk sweet spot. Even if these guys were singing about total nonsense, I'd be into it. But far from spouting nonsense, these songs rail against very specific injustices and outrages. "Loaded Dice" concerns draconian lockout laws in Sydney which have decimated the city's nightlife but conveniently don't apply to nearby casinos that pour money into the local government. "I Can't Stand the Radio" reflects on how the daily grind of working life can kill you both figuratively and literally. Inspired by the actual practice of the Australian government administering random drug tests and selling the DNA results to third parties, "I Just Wanna Be a Primate" rages against the constant invasions of privacy that are unavoidable in modern life. The facts behind these songs (drug-sniffing dogs and strip searches at railway stations, work-related suicides necessitating jumper nets outside of office buildings, the unauthorized mining of our most personal data) will absolutely make your blood boil. What do you do with all of that anger? Simon and Rhys channel it into crackling punk rock tunes that are fun to sing along with but also sure to get you fired up. 

With three fantastic EPs now in the books, Nasty Party deserves inclusion on the short list of groups making Australia's punk scene the best on the planet. And these guys are just now hitting their stride. Something tells me that they will not be running out of lyrical inspiration anytime in the near future! 

If You Gotta Go​-​Go, Go​-​Go Now: A Tribute to the Go-Go's


In general, I am not a huge fan of tribute albums. That said, I don't know if I could be any more excited about the newly-released If You Gotta Go​-​Go, Go​-​Go Now! What makes this particular tribute album special? Well first off, we are talking about the almighty Go-Go's. Outside of the Ramones, I can't think of a single band that has been more influential on the modern-day punk/garage/power pop scene that this blog revolves around. Secondly, this project was produced and curated by one of my favorite people in music: songwriter, musician, producer, radio personality, and all-around great dude Travis Ramin. Out on the legendary Sympathy For The Record Industry, If You Gotta Go​-​Go, Go​-​Go Now features 24 amazing bands and artists presenting fresh takes on Go-Go's favorites. I won't get into listing all of the participants (you can easily do that yourself!), but I will say that this album represents a perfect mix of contemporaries of the Go-Go's, bands who kept a Go-Go's influence going strong in the '90s and 2000s, and some of the very best of the current generation of power pop and punk. If you read down the track list, you'll spot a few legends along with several of my personal favorites from today's pop underground (including two of my top three favorite bands, who do not disappoint!). 

Of course all tribute albums are a labor of love. But with this one in particular, you can really feel the love. Covering such beloved and seemingly untouchable material was surely no easy task for the parties involved. But as you'll hear in the samples I've embedded below, this album is full of inspired interpretations of classics. No wonder The Go-Go's themselves have expressed their heartfelt approval! If you like what you hear, follow one of the links below to order the album on CD. A double LP release is coming soon!


Sunday, April 03, 2022

Beach Patrol - Festivus


The record shows that Beach Patrol has placed top ten albums on three of my last six year-end lists. Festivus, the band's eighth album, is destined to crack this year's top ten as well. I've had the privilege over the past 16 years to hear Domenic Marcantonio grow in his craft from a promising young talent in the power pop universe into a great American songwriter. Like 2020's Making Waves, Festivus was recorded in Domenic's basement and captures the feel of a band playing live rock and roll. This unvarnished approach to recording would not work for every band, but it has become a huge part of Beach Patrol's appeal in recent years. I love being able to close my eyes and feel like the band is right there in the room with me. And minus any slick production touches, everything hinges on the quality of the songs. In the case of Festivus, that's a very good thing. If basement rock is a genre unto itself like garage rock, Beach Patrol ought to be its poster band! 

In terms of the evolution of Beach Patrol's sound, Festivus picks up where Making Waves left off. While still very much at home in the worlds of power pop and pub rock, the band adheres to no particular genre or musical conventions. The album draws on influences ranging from rhythm & blues to pop to folk to country to traditional rock and roll. And while Domenic is as adept as ever at writing a catchy tune, his continued growth as a storyteller and observer of the human condition has become the centerpiece of his craft. Listening to Making Waves made me feel like a wiser, more enlightened human. Festivus -- with its lyrical mix of life philosophy, relatable stories, and personal reflections -- has the same effect. While a couple tracks ("Jung-er Than Yesterday", "Don't Concern Myself") recall the Beach Patrol of old, I love that Domenic has begun to excel outside of the box of the three-minute pop song. The songs "Bad Actress" and "Every Time I Watch The Jerk" (undeniably two of the best songs on the album) demonstrate that while Domenic can still turn out great hooks, he's not always in a rush to get to them. "Bad Actress," a bitter recounting of deceits endured, takes its sweet time (five minutes and 45 seconds, to be precise) unfolding a devastating extended metaphor. "Every Time I Watch The Jerk", which celebrates the enduring brilliance of Steve Martin's signature film, is so joyful and infectious that it leaves me wanting more even after five minutes. Elsewhere, "Ballad of Phineas Wheelock" and "Thanks Coach" stand out as some of the most powerful and profound songs that Domenic has ever written. As was the case on Making Waves, Damien Montana Dias steps up to add his own singing and songwriting presence. "Greek Circus Top," his contribution to the album, is a feelgood number of literally epic proportions. 

I can still remember Beach Patrol's first album showing up in my mailbox back in 2006. I had never heard of the band before (although I must admit that the Green Bay return address gave me high hopes!). I popped that CD into the car player, and I was a fan by the time I got to the end of the street. In retrospect, I can acknowledge that that debut pales in comparison to later releases. But isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Bands start out good and get better. They grow, and you get to grow with them. I was barely old enough to be president when I first encountered Beach Patrol; now I'm eligible for AARP membership. I've had the fortune to watch (or better yet, hear) a good band become great. On "Jung-er Than Yesterday," Domenic Marcantonio sings the lines "Won't be remembered for the things I left behind/But for doing what I done out of love." You know he means every word of that, and that tells you everything you really need to know about Beach Patrol.