Sunday, December 31, 2023

F & L Best of 2023

Hey music lovers! Well once again, we have arrived at the final day of the year. That means it's time for my 13th annual roundup of my favorite music of the year. One thing that really blows me away about the modern world of independent music is how much of it is out there — and how much of it is really good! I could read dozens of other people's best-of-2023 lists and discover many, many releases that I'd never heard or even heard of. I feel like just going through all the year-end posts on Add To Wantlist is equivalent to taking an honors course in new music! I realize that even within my well-defined power pop/punk/garage bubble, my blog doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all the good stuff that's out there. Yet even from the music I enjoyed in 2023, it was difficult to choose just 30 albums and 45 singles & EPs to make the cut for this post. It's a good time to be into music. When I contemplate exactly how much longer Faster and Louder ought to exist, I can look at my end-of-the-posts and realize that with this many great bands and artists out there, there's no good reason to stop in the near future. Let's be real here: this blog pretty much runs itself. I'm not creating anything. I just come across incredible music which talented people have poured their hearts and souls into, and I tell my tens of readers about it. So thanks to all of you who give the world the gift of music. On that note, let's dive into the releases I have dug the most in the year 2023! 

Top 30 Albums of 2023 

30. Hellebores - Uncles
Super high energy poppy punk rock from Sydney, Australia. If this record doesn't make you smile, you are beyond saving. 

29. The Decibels - When Red Lights Flash
Sacramento's legendary power pop group finally releases the album that was postponed by the pandemic. Of course it's magnificent.

28. Guerrilla Teens - Under the Dagger
The long-awaited debut album from this post-Humpers, post-Lovesores supergroup is everything you would have hoped for and more. This is what they call rock 'n' roll, kids!

27. Nervous Jerk - Ugly Losers Club
Killer punk rock out of New Zealand!

26. High School - Freshman 15
High School, a San Francisco-based band that existed from 2005 to 2007, finally sees the release of its debut album. A perfect mix of poppy punk, power pop, and straight-up rock 'n' roll featuring songs about love, school, and love at school.

25. Friends of Cesar Romero - Queen of all the Parliaments
J. Waylon delivers the goods with 15 more tracks of powerful punky pop straight out of the garage. Worth checking out for the song titles alone! 

24.  K​ü​ken - self titled (III)
The twins Philipp and Chris (The Kidnappers, Highschool Rockers) are back home on Alien Snatch Records and ripping harder than ever! 
23. The Young Hasselhoffs - Dear Departed
Does the world need a pop-punk record about death, grief, love, and obsession with an adaption of an Edgar Allan Poe poem as its emotional core? Um, yeah! The Young Hasselhoffs, longtime mainstays of the pop-punk scene, are literally making the best music of their lives a quarter-century into their existence.

22. Dennis Cometti - Suburban Condition 
An absolute banger of ferocious pub punk rock 'n' roll from down under.

21. The Young Rochelles - Kicked to the Curb
Nothing more and nothing less than a perfect pop-punk album.

20. Psychotic Youth - Happy Songs
38 years into its career, Northern Sweden's Psychotic Youth still sets the standard for power-pop-surf-punk.

19. The Midnight Callers - Rattled Humming Heart
On their second album, JEM Records recording artists The Midnight Callers wear their love for glam rock and '70s power pop on their sleeves. The future is bright for rock 'n' roll!

18. Miesha and the Spanks - Unconditional Love In Hi-Fi
This Canadian alt-rock/punk duo delivers an album packed with passionate, intelligent, and powerful rock anthems.

17. The Smart Shoppers - LEFTOVERS FROM TOMORROW
There was no sophomore slump for Green Bay, Wisconsin's premiere new wave punk rock band!

16. Chinese Junk - Fly Spray
Imagine the 1977 Ramones if they'd done an album for Rip Off Records.

15. The Unknowns - East Coast Low
Super-catchy old school punk rock 'n' roll from Australia. Energy off the charts and hooks for days!

14. Autogramm - Music That Humans Can Play
Best album yet from the masters of contemporary new wave.

13. The Whiffs - Scratch 'N' Sniff
Power pop by the book, and it's a book I'd read any day of the year. 

12. Girl Drink Drunks - After 9pm
2023's best pure punk rock album. Dark and ferocious garage punk played with hardcore intensity. Joel Jett is the man! 

11. Geoff Palmer - An Otherwise Negative Situation
Geoff Palmer is back with ten more stellar tracks that blur the lines between pop-punk and power pop. Possibly his best album! 

10. Juniper - She Steals Candy
Teenage singer Juniper teams with her father Michael Shelley and a whole slew of talented friends to deliver a sophomore album full of timeless yet contemporary pop songs.

9. Duncan Reid and the Big Heads - And It's Goodbye from Him
Duncan Reid, a legend of power pop/punk music, closes his recording career with one of the best albums he's ever been a part of.  

8. Poppy Robbie - Neighborhood Beautification Commission
The long-awaited proper debut album from the beloved musician, artist, music reviewer, and intergalactic pop influencer Poppy Robbie is a master work in songwriting and storytelling.

7. Justine and The Unclean - The Signal Light
I still can't believe Justine Covault is gone. Justine and The Unclean were always a first-rate punk/pop band, but on this release, Justine's songwriting soared to extraordinary heights. The Signal Light is one of those albums that transcends genre. If you want to hear amazing songs with amazing lyrics performed by incredible musicians, The Signal Light is an album you need to own.    

6. Civic - Taken by Force
An 11-track Aussie punk rager that can stand toe-to-toe with the best of The Saints and Radio Birdman.  

5. Rich Ragany & The Digressions - What We Do (To Not Let Go)
Rich Rags continues to show why he's one of our greatest modern-day songwriters. Backed by the remarkable Digressions, he delivers an epic rock record that's packed with anthems that will touch your heart and stir your soul.

4. Brad Marino - Grin and Bear It
If I'm doing a year-end favorite LPs list, and Brad Marino had an album out, you'll always find him near the top.

3. The Shang Hi Los - Aces Eights & Heartbreaks
I was eagerly awaiting this album for a couple years, and it did not disappoint. Nine tracks, and it's nothing but hits! Jen D'Angora and Dan Kopko as a songwriting and singing tandem are hard to beat.

2. Kurt Baker - Rock 'N' Roll Club
While still a classic power pop rock 'n' roll album in spirit, Kurt Baker's fifth solo album finds him broadening his musical style and embracing his maturity as an artist. I might rank "Anchors Up" as his finest song ever. This is Baker's fourth album to make my year-end top ten list and the third to make my top two!

1. The Exbats - Song Machine
I led my review of this album by saying, "It's official: The Exbats are the best band in the world." That's how good it is. Daughter/dad songwriting duo Inez and Kenny McLain continue to take the influence of 1960s and '70s pop music and create something that feels genuinely new and exciting as we sit on the doorstep of 2024. How can I not love an album that reminds me of The Shangri-Las, The Carpenters, and Ramones all at once? In a just world, this would be a multi-million seller. Song Machine more than lives up to its title.

Top 20 EPs of 2023

20. Matt Speedway - Home Demos - Vol. 11
Over the last couple years, Matt Julian from The Speedways has released 11 volumes of free home-recorded demos. This was the final and best installment. I eagerly await a proper solo album!

19. Stars Like Ours - Better Every Day
This Boston super-trio brings the old school college radio rock like 1992 never ended.

18. Chinese Telephones - Outta My Hands
Back with their first new recordings in 16 years, Milwaukee's punk-pop sensations pick right up like they were never gone.

17. Vista Blue - Runaway
On this all-covers EP, Mike pays tribute to some of his favorite songs (by Imperial Teen, All Girl Summer Fun Band, Television Personalities, and Camera Obscura) which have influenced him as a songwriter. I love it when bands do records like these!

16. The Naggs - self titled
From Düsseldorf, Germany, The Naggs debut with five stellar tracks of garagey power pop rock 'n' roll.

15. Heatwaves - Heatwaves #4
First release in four years from Spain's beloved girl group/power pop revivalists does not disappoint!

14. The New Brutarians - Don't Want to Know Your Secrets
A mini-album of stripped-down tunes from everyone's favorite Florida-based lo-fi pop art minimalist poetic glam punk rock n' roll duo, cut live in the studio. An expanded full-length version with some extra odds and sods is available from Sioux Records.

13. The Matweeds - Hooligans in the Vestibule
Unreleased for three and a half decades, this first and final release from The Matweeds is an unearthed treasure of 1980s Boston garage/punk.

12. Itchy & The Nits - self titled
Seven tracks of catchy & exuberant garage punk that falls somewhere between a punkier Nikki and the Corvettes and the budget sounds of early Donnas and Bobbyteens. Australia cannot be stopped!

11.  Outtacontroller - Just a Scratch 
One of the bands that helped define modern-day poppy garage punk is back and still on top of its game.

10. Chinese Junk/The Vains - split
Killer split featuring the New England/New Brunswick punk rock supergroup The Vains and the UK's kings of pound shop rock. This record is one half Black Flag meets Samoans meets Johnny Thunders, one half quintessential budget punk, and one whole totally awesome.

9. Parasites - EP-Onymous
Way back in 1989, Parasites recorded five demos as a favor to Sweet Baby, who needed songs for a second LP. Sadly, that LP never came to be. But finally in 2023, those 1989 recordings see the light of day. A couple of these songs ultimately became Parasites classics, but you can definitely hear how they could been great Sweet Baby songs!

8. The Ape-Ettes - Simply The Ape-Ettes
Amazing vinyl debut from Sudbury, Ontario's finest garage punk rock 'n' roll band.

7. Civil Rats - Your Dummest Friends
Do you know your Civil Rats? Philly trio plays the catchiest and most fun brand of garage-punk that you could ever hope to hear.

6. Friends of Cesar Romero - Spiral Eye Roll
J. Waylon released so many great EPs this year that it's hard to single out a best one. Spiral Eye Roll is the pick here, but you should buy 'em all!

5. Danny The K - Cigarettes & Silhouettes
One of the best songwriters in modern-day rock ‘n’ roll finally makes a solo record, and of course it rules!

4. The New Frustrations - Lifetime
Now down to a trio, this long-running Plymouth, Massachusetts outfit continues to put the power in the pop.

3. Cindy Lawson - Don't Come Crying To Me
On her second solo release, the Minneapolis music legend has never sounded better. Great tunes, and that voice is something else!

2. Norcos Y Horchata - Aloha Motherfuckers 
Three more tracks of ass-kicking Midwestern punk rock 'n' roll goodness from one of the best bands out there.

1. Taxi Girls - Coming Up Roses 
This was the record I was most eagerly awaiting in 2023, and it did not let me down. Five exhilarating tracks that will remind you why you fell in love with punk rock way back when. My god, that rhythm section! 

Top 25 Singles of 2023

25. Benny J Ward - "I Didn't Mean It"
A stone cold garage rock power pop banger.

24. Brad Marino - "Ramones and Stones"
This is what I call a mission statement!

23. Shiverlane - "I Get Nervous"
Behold the next chapter in the story of Boston power pop.

22. C.C. Voltage - "Berliner Pilsner"
The greatest beer commercial that never was.

21. Hayley and the Crushers - "Lust for Life"
The Crushers pay tribute to their adopted home base of Detroit with an absolutely smashing rendition of Iggy Pop's classic. I don't think I fully appreciated the song's gonzo lyrical brilliance until I heard this version!

20. The Trouble Seekers - "Crazy"
Kevin and Hillary are back with more of their brilliant dark new wave/synth-punk/retro-futuristic pop.

19. Vista Blue - "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!"
An anthem for our times from my favorite band to write about. I'd write about them again tomorrow if I could. 

18. TJ Cabot - "S'Cool Days" & "Past Discrepancies"
"S'Cool Days" is a blistering cover of Canadian glam rocker Stanley Frank’s 1977 classic; "Past Discrepancies" is a Grade-A TJ Cabot original. Essential low-budget garage punk rock ‘n’ roll from the Maritimes!

17. The Family Township - "Cross the Line (Oh Andrea)"
An epic rocker love song that will get your heart racing.

16. Kurt Baker - "Secrets"
Power pop meets Motown meets summertime vibes on this feelgood earworm featuring Jeff Beam on guitar.

15. The Chelsea Curve - "How Can I (Resist You)?"
Another perfect single from Boston’s finest mod-punk power pop trio.

14. The Bellrays - "Ball of Confusion"
As part of the I-94 Recordings Detroit covers series, the mighty Bellrays deliver a modernized and urgent rendition of The Temptations’ timeless classic. This is an absolutely essential purchase, and vinyl copies remain in stock over at the I-94 web site

13. Dogmatics - "I Can't Get Over You"
The Dogmatics, I’m thrilled to say, still sound like The Dogmatics!

12. Angel Face - "I Can't Go Back"
The second 7" from this Tokyo-based punk rock super group is pure fire.

11. The Lemon Drop Gang - "I'm Done" b/w "Johnny Is a Jerk"
A true double A-side affair from Tuscons’s garage-punk pop sensations.

10. Split System - "Bullet" b/w "On the Street"
A smashing double A-side of quintessential Aussie punk!

9. Vista Blue - "Coming Out Swinging"
One thing I find very underrated about Vista Blue are Mike's lyrics. I heard "Coming Out Swinging" and suspected that the band had pulled a John Fogerty and written a song about baseball that was actually a song about them. Yet if you choose to believe that this song predicted LSU's 2023 championship baseball season, there is plenty of evidence to support such an inference. Mike's lyrics are so skillfully-written that one could argue that both interpretations are equally valid. That "new ace" referenced in the song is probably Paul Skenes, but alternatively it could be Richard Bates or Classic Pat! 

8. Norcos Y Horchata - "Live, Laugh, Toaster Bath"
"Jump right in/The water's fine"

7. The Fastbacks - "A Quiet Night"
That’s right: it’s the legendary Fastbacks with their first new recordings in over 20 years! The Muffs cover on the B-side will give you chills.

6. The Melmacs - "Alive"
Germany’s beloved power pop punk rock ‘n’ rollers treat us to a "dousing hot-cold-shower which sums up the blazing, man-made destruction we all live in." An absolute anthem!

5. Wyatt Funderburk - "November" b/w "You'll Know"
Wyatt Funderburk’s first new solo recordings in a decade are a preview of his forthcoming album. Pop music doesn’t get any more beautiful than this.

4. Juniper - "I Was Thinking About You"
Part of teen singer Juniper’s appeal is that she loves '60s and '70s pop but also loves contemporary popular music. Written by her dad Michael Shelley after Juniper played him some Harry Styles songs, "I Was Thinking About You" typifies why Juniper is such a breath of fresh air in the indie rock scene.

3. The Prize - "First Sight"
The most exciting new band of 2022 follows up its instant classic debut EP with a perfect power pop single.

2. The Lemon Drop Gang - "Sweetie Pie" b/w "The Party's Over"
The LDG's second appearance on this list. Is this now the best band on Rum Bar Records? Signs point to yes! 

1. Stef + The Sleeveens - "Give My Regards to the Dancing Girls"
Stef is Dublin-born singer/songwriter Stefan Murphy. The Sleevens are Ryan Sweeney (Cheap Time, Sweet Time Records) on drums, Eli Steele (Sweet Knives) on guitar, and Jamie Mechan on bass. Together they’ve delivered an extraordinary debut single of '70s punk-inspired pub rock ‘n’ roll with lyrics that will fill your heart with hope and joy. Now known simply as The Sleevens, the band will be releasing a full album on Dirtnap Records in early 2024. In a very different vein, Murphy has a new solo album out on Sweet Time.

2023 Song of the Year 

Poppy Robbie - "Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection"
Leave it to me to proclaim a six-minute track as the best song of the entire year. As if I haven't already demanded enough of your time! "Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection" is the literal and figurative centerpiece of Poppy Robbie's excellent debut album Neighborhood Beautification Commission. Inspired by Robbie's actual Robert Pollard trading card collection, the song reflects on what an amazing twist of fate it was that Robert Pollard went from being an elite athlete (good enough to pitch a college no-hitter) to being one of the most influential and beloved musicians of his time. Think of all the incredible music the world may have lost if Pollard had been good enough to pitch professionally. And imagine what you could still become if you only had the time.

Master Class Album of the Year

Psychotic Youth - Happy Songs
I give this award every year to the best album by a band/artist that's 25 years or more into its recording career. Psychotic Youth are nearing 40 years as a band and have treated us to a vintage effort in the somewhat ironically-titled Happy Songs. The band's classic lineup is on board for this release, and Jörgen's songwriting is in peak form. If you want to hear punk-inspired power pop by the book, it's time to check in with one of the bands that wrote that book!

Best Debut Release of 2023 

Taxi Girls - Coming Up Roses
Jamie, Vera, and Lynn absolutely crushed it on their first release — delivering five smash hits that leave us wanting more. If you love rock 'n' roll, you'll be right there with me awaiting a full album! 

Best Compilation Album of 2023 (single artist)

The Speedways - Triple Platinum 
If you've been living in a cave since 2018 (and who could blame you if you have!), Triple Platinum will give you a perfect summation of the story so far of the world's premiere power pop group. The album features four cuts from each of the band's three albums — including all-new, full-band recordings of four essential tracks from 2018's Just a Regular Summer, which was a de facto Matt Speedway solo album. I love the track selection, and I love hearing those early Speedways songs as "proper" Speedways songs!

Best Compilation Album of 2023 (Various artists) 

Jem Records Celebrates Ray Davies 
It's rare for me to make note of a tribute album at year's end. But this was no ordinary tribute album. What comes through in JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies is the tremendous love for the source material and the exceptional talent on the JEM roster. When you're paying tribute to arguably the single greatest songwriter in 20th Century popular music, your first mission is to not screw the songs up. The JEM bands went well beyond that and produced an album that honors all this classic material while also casting it in a new light. 

2023 Music Blog of the Year

What Don Valentine does over at I Don't Hear a Single is remarkable. He reviews (in his own words) "new and under appreciated music" at an average of a review per day. His love and appreciation for underground music comes through in every write-up, and his gift for connecting new music to the music of the past makes me envious. I also appreciate the time he invests into listening to the music he reviews and composing thoughtful write-ups. I kind of like how he focuses more on the indie rock side of pop-rock and power pop as opposed to the punk side that is my niche. From him, I learn about a lot of bands that make tremendous music that might not quite fit in with what I do here. If I Don't Hear a Single is not already one of your daily reads, you've got yourself a New Year's resolution that is easy to attain. 

2023 Record Label of the Year

Rum Bar Records
Yeah, I know: I could probably give this one to Rum Bar every year. What's pretty incredible to me is that Lou released three of my top 13 singles, four of my top twenty EPs, and two of my top four albums — and that doesn't even scratch the surface of all the killer music he put out this year! Rum Bar becomes my first-ever two-time heavyweight champion of record labels. Hail to the king! 

That's another year in the books, folks. It sure went fast! Let's do this again in 2024! I hope the new year brings you all amazing tunes and great things in general. 

Faster and Louder Best of Archive 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Post Ramone - Sounds Like This

And the honor of my final review of 2023 goes to Post Ramone! That's a genius band name, and thankfully it isn't wasted on mediocre music. Out on Mom's Basement Records and Jolly Ronnie Records, Sounds Like This is the debut long player from this Youngstown, Ohio–based outfit made up of members of Spastic Hearts, Jagger Holly, Hollywood Blondes, RADD, etc. On this album, these pop-punk veterans rip through 12 tracks straight out of the textbook. There's something to be said for a pop-punk band that's wise enough to not mess with a winning formula. If originality or innovation are must-haves for you, this is not your next favorite band. But if you enjoy tried-and-true pop-punk executed to perfection, Sounds Like This is sure to satisfy. Post Ramone is here to show you how it's done with killer tunes, quality lead vocals & harmonies, and a musical philosophy that values fun over all else. None of that is surprising given the band members' musical history, and the brisk sales so far indicate that the pop-punk faithful are appreciative. Every year there are two or three pop-punk records that remind me why I got into this type of music in the first place. Sounds Like This is one of those albums for 2023. Would you expect anything less from a Jolly Ronnie/Mom's Basement co-release? 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Linnea's Garden - Mirrors

I feel like a student turning in a paper way past the due date and crossing my fingers that the professor won't flunk me. Linnea's Garden released Mirrors six weeks ago, and I'm just now turning my attention to yet another remarkable release from one of the best bands in the entire indie rock universe. Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter extraordinaire Linnea Herzog is back with a new rhythm section comprised of Hands on bass and Super Tough Ray Clough on drums. The beauty of a Linnea's Garden release is that you're never just getting "more of the same." The trio's musical style is constantly evolving — broadly blending glam, punk, and dance music but always incorporating new ideas and influences. The common thread holding all the band's releases together is Linnea's lyrical style. Few songwriters can surpass Linnea's flair for writing lyrics that are deeply personal yet universally relatable — not to mention clever, honest, and ultimately hopeful. It took me a few spins to get a proper feel for Mirrors, and that's a good thing. This EP is a perfect combination of the pop-focused songwriting of 2021's Nowhere Friday Nights EP and the glittering modern rock of last year's long player Fashion Show. Opening track "Pathological Liar" is pop-punk leaning indie rock or perhaps the reverse of that. It reflects on how our perspectives on past relationships change as we grow up and learn to take accountability for our actions. This song really captures the essence of why Linnea is such a great songwriter. It tells a true story that we can all relate to our own stories. How many of us heard that line "I was full of shit when I was 26" and screamed, "YES!"? "Big Mirrors" brings a harder rock sound (think '70s meets '90s) and leaves us with another knockout line in "What did you expect to happen when you went and listened to your heart?" I would do Linnea a disservice by singling out a quote from the dance jam "DB3" since the entire song is like a master thesis in lyrical brilliance. Suffice it to say that the song is at once profound (reflecting on the importance of celebrating our past, present, and future selves) and sexy as hell. "Comeback" feels like a happy ending to the band's pandemic classic "Friday Night." It captures the excitement of being out in the clubs and experiencing in full the joy of life and music (which honestly can never be separated).  

How does one summarize Mirrors as a work of musical art? Well, it rocks, and you can dance to it. Better yet, it feels like a celebration of personal growth and living our best lives. I may be arriving late to the party on this EP, but what a party it is! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Miss Chain & The Broken Heels - Storms

It is always a pleasure to come across new music from Italy's Miss Chain & The Broken Heels. This band, to me, represents pure class and everything that is great about music. I first encountered the band when it was playing classic power pop at the end of the 2000s, and since then Astrid and the gang have gone through a remarkable progression that is still on-going. There was a big jump from the band's early singles to its first album On a Bittersweet Ride, and there was an even bigger jump to its second album The Dawn. A decade after the release of The Dawn, Miss Chain & The Broken Heels treat us to the extraordinary follow-up Storms. No longer a "power pop" band per se but most definitely the epitome of great pop, Miss Chain & The Broken Heels have delivered a sophisticated and accomplished release befitting their status as one of the most beloved bands in the worldwide independent music scene. Astrid, Franz, Silva, and Johnny bring together elements of '60s pop music, country rock, rhythm & blues, garage rock, folk, girl groups, and indie rock to create a dreamy, melody-driven sound that is distinctively theirs. Storms is not an album for casual listening. It's a record you will want to immerse yourself in and fully experience. Play it while you're taking a long solitary walk or chilling on the couch with a cup of coffee and contemplating your life. Astrid's voice, so immediately recognizable, has taken on new depths as it has matured. And when it comes to musical talent, you won't hear a better band than The Broken Heels. Recorded by the band's former drummer Brown Barcella and Alessio Lonati and produced and mastered by its best pal Riccardo Zamboni, Storms sounds absolutely stunning. The songs and production fit each other like a glove. 

Miss Chain & The Broken Heels were one of the first bands I ever reviewed for this blog way back in July 2011. They've managed to move beyond their punk rock roots without abandoning them, and one can only hope that it won't be another decade before we hear from them again. Storms is available from the band's own label, Wild Honey Records. 

Monday, December 25, 2023

The Sino Hearts - Phantom Rhapsody

What a year this has been for December releases! The year is never truly over until it's over, right? Vienna & Beijing's The Sino Hearts have delivered one of the very best of 2023's end-of-the-year releases with their fourth album Phantom Rhapsody. Zhong really came into his own as a songwriter on last year's Lightening the Darkness, and that continues with the excellent Phantom Rhapsody. Stylistically, The Sino Hearts still live in that world where poppy punk rock and power pop converge, yet Zhong's artistry is influenced by everything from indie rock to post-punk to Krautrock to early rock 'n' roll. Phantom Rhapsody was recorded last year when pandemic restrictions were still a huge obstacle, and one can't help sense that the album was influenced by the struggles and frustrations that had to be overcome throughout its making. The pattern with The Sino Hearts has been for every new album to be considerably stronger than its predecessor, and it's hard to deny that Phantom Rhapsody surpasses Lightening the Darkness. If you're a punk/powerpop purist, songs like "Road to Sanremo," "Tokyo," "Right Out," and the dreamy title track are sure to satisfy your cravings. Yet the joy of this record for me is hearing the band experiment with (but never abandon) its core sound. "Endless to Me" finds Zhong tipping his cap to The Cure & The Smiths, while "Absolut Horror" is full-bore old school proto punk rock n' roll. "Astoria Garage" could almost be The Kinks. "Ever Really Want This" has the feel of an old doo wop ballad. Speaking of ballads, "Honey" is a grand, beautiful closing number and a new high point in Zhong's songwriting. 

The Sino Hearts manage to put their signature on the punk/powerpop genre by infusing modern influences and production as well as their own distinct point of view. Mandarin A Go​-​Go was released just three years ago, yet that almost feels like a lifetime ago when you hear how far The Sino Hearts have come since then. Of course the instantly catchy tunes have their appeal, but what wows me about Phantom Rhapsody is how strong the deep cuts are. You won't just gravitate to a few choice tracks. From start to finish, this is a tremendous album. Get it now from Topsy Turvy/Soundflat! 

Sunday, December 24, 2023

K​ü​ken - self titled III

Merry Christmas, rockers! Dressed as Santa Claus, Daniel from Alien Snatch Records has snuck into the house and slid new releases from Sex Mex, Graveyard of the Pacific, and K​ü​ken under the tree. What a way to close out a year! I have documented the musical career of twins Philipp and Chris since 1999, when they debuted as the teens in the magnificently trashy Highschool Rockers. In 2003, they formed The Kidnappers — who would go to become one of the premier garage punk/powerpop groups of the 2000s. Since 2014 or so, they've been playing more straight-forward punk rock in the powerhouse trio K​ü​ken. Just like the two that preceded it, K​ü​ken's new album is self-titled and in no mood to mess around. Only two of 11 songs make it to the two-minute mark as the boys tear through one track after another of ornery yet totally catchy three-chord punk rock. For those who always enjoyed the Kidnappers' punkier songs, K​ü​ken III is like a whole album of that. If ripping '70s-style buzz-saw punk with a fuck-off attitude is your thing, songs like "Run Away from Me," "Goatleather," "I Don't Care About You," and "Roses" will warm your soul this holiday season. It's great to see Philipp and Chris back on the mother ship, and Daniel has celebrated not just by releasing this smasher of a record but also by reissuing K​ü​ken's second self-titled album from 2017 on secret colored vinyl. Head on over to Alien Snatch's Bandcamp page and make your reservations while you still can!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Paranoias - Chemical Sustain

From Perth, Australia, Paranoias are Hannah, Chris, Ben, and Alex. The band has been kicking around the Aussie punk scene for a few years and has finally unleashed a proper debut album. I would describe this band's sound as straight-up punk rock. Influences ranging from '70s punk to early hardcore to surf punk to modern-day garage punk are palpable, but it all comes out sounding like no other band. Lead singer Hannah makes a powerful impression with her snotty, high-pitched vocals. The songs are dizzying and frenetic yet far from generic. From the band name to the cover art to the album title, everything about this release feels chillingly current. If this is the soundtrack to the apocalypse, at least we're going out dancing.

Angel Face - "I Can't Go Back" and self-titled LP

Out today on Slovenly Recordings, we get the debut album and the second single from Tokyo punk rock supergroup Angel Face. This is the latest band from guitarist Fink (Teengenerate, Firestarter, The Raydios), and it's in the same vein as his previous groups. In other words, you need to own these records! Toyozo from The Fadeaways is on bass. Hercules (vocals) and Rayco (drums) round out a red-hot lineup. If, generally speaking, Firestarter was always like a more power pop Teengenerate and The Raydios were a more '70s punk leaning Teengenerate, then Angel Face is the best combination of all those bands. The sound is vintage Japanese trashy garage punk with first wave punk influences and pop hooks for days. The new single "I Can't Go Back" and self-titled full-length will disappoint absolutely no one. If you like your punk rock 'n' roll raw, catchy, and brimming with attitude and energy, you might as well stop reading now and go smash those "buy" links. Every time Fink comes out with a new band, we wonder if it will be Teengenerate-ish. Well, Angel Face most definitely is. "I Can't Go Back" and album cuts like "Bad Feeling," "Bring Me Back," and "USA" definitely give me the same thrills I got from hearing Teengenerate for the first time. The album is limited to 666 copies, and the single is limited to 333 (with supplies dwindling!). So hop to it if want that Angel Face vinyl!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Chinese Telephones - Outta My Hands

Back with their first new material since 2007, Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Chinese Telephones are in top form on their new EP Outta My Hands. These four songs live at the intersection of punk rock and power pop: always a sweet spot for me and many of you reading this right now. Lead track "Radianna" is vintage ChiTels poppy punk — a punchy and super-catchy tune with hooks for days. "Come and See Me" finds the band sliding fully into power pop territory in a most successful way. "Tamping Down My Soul" has a bit of a Marked Men feel to it, and I'm not complaining. "Loyola" is a killer rendition of The Dictators' classic. It couldn't have been easy for Justin and company to revive this band after a decade and a half, yet Outta My Hands absolutely recaptures the old magic and then some. If you like pop and punk but don't necessarily identify as a fan of pop-punk, you would be well-served to check this EP out. All the players — Justin Telephone, Daniel James, Andy Junk, and Logan Stang — totally rock it out. And with Amos Pitsch recording and mixing these songs, it's no shocker that Outta My Hands sounds like a million bucks. Dead Broke Rekerds and Bloated Kat Records have teamed up to release the vinyl — which is limited to 200 copies on black and 100 on pink. This one is not to be missed!

Friends of Cesar Romero - Queen Of All The Parliaments

J. Waylon is on some kind of roll! Queen Of All The Parliaments is the eighth release in ten months from his one-man band Friends of Cesar Romero. It feels like I just reviewed this band a couple weeks ago. That's because I did! Number 40 in the Doomed Babe series, Queen Of All The Parliaments is the first FoCR full-length in a couple years. This album is essentially a collection of songs and song ideas that J. Waylon had been holding onto for a while. And while it may have taken a few years for some of these tunes to finally be birthed, it's not like this is throwaway material. It all comes together in vintage FoCR fashion with garage rock, power pop, pop-punk, and classic guitar pop influences coming together seamlessly. Most notably, there are some really short songs ("Carrie Carries On," "Pantheon Restroom Riots," "Blackfeet Death Eyes") here that sound fully realized in spite of their brevity. Even the 19 second-long "The Girl With A Ween Tattoo" strikes me as perfect as-is. J. Waylon's fondness for Guided By Voices has never been more palpable. If you like the punkier side of FoCR, "Blackfeet Death Eyes" and "Jennifer Echoes" will hit you just where you like it. J. Waylon shows off his mastery of power pop on "Tomorrow's Weather Girl," "Carrie Carries On," and the ultra-rocking "A Better Who." "Pantheon Restroom Riots" is a garage rocker that will just about blow out your headphones. At just a few ticks over 20 minutes, this album flies by in a flash. It's a fat-free feast of punky powerful pop. How many other songwriters out there could do an odds-and-ends song dump like this and end up with one of the top 25 albums of the year? What a talent!