Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Young Hasselhoffs - Dear Departed

Late last year, The Young Hasselhoffs emerged from a decade-long hibernation with Life Got in the Way, one of the greatest "grown-up" pop-punk albums ever made. The title pretty much told the story. If you weren't among the dozens who had heard the band's third album The Obsolete Man upon its initial release in 2011, you might have questioned if this was even the same Young Hasselhoffs you remembered from back in the day. But here's the thing: Life Got in the Way wasn't just more accomplished and mature than its predecessors — it was also better. Any notion that pop-punk is strictly a young persons' game was wiped away when The Young Hasselhoffs released their best album (by far) a quarter-century into their existence. I wouldn't have blamed them if they'd just taken a bow and called it a day, but they went the other way and got busy ascending to the next level. Releasing next month on Mom's Basement Records, Dear Departed is the next step in the band's progression. It is, in the words of drummer Young Phil, "a pop-punk record about death, grief, love, and obsession with an adaption of an Edgar Allan Poe poem as its emotional core." I know, right? Where do I sign up?! 

Dear Departed is ambitious for a pop-punk album, but it's appropriately ambitious for where Matt Stansbury and The Young Hasselhoffs are at in their musical evolution. It's still totally a pop-punk record, yet the sophistication of its musical arrangements and lyrical themes are quite unique for the genre. And while it's a pretty dark album (for the most part), it's nothing close to a downer. Melodic guitars, memorable choruses, and silky-smooth harmonies remain the band's bread and butter. But after flirting a little with the idea of making a mini-symphony out of a pop song (as on the last album's "Pull Me Out of the Scene"), Stansbury more fully embraces such an approach on this release. His songwriting continues to add layers of depth and maturity. And while the arrival of session musicians playing piano, strings, and horns can be a shark-jumping moment for a lot of rock bands, the more elaborate instrumentation serves these songs beautifully. "Hold Me Now" wastes little time getting the album going, exploding into an anthemic chorus before you've even had time to pour yourself a beverage and find a comfortable seat. "It's Been Years" is an interesting reflection on the randomness of fate and utter meaningless of existence —  you know, typical pop-punk stuff. The title track is partially about death but mostly about life. "Beautiful Annabel Lee" is essentially a cover of one of the greatest poems ever written, and it's a wonderfully-realized interpretation. "You Belong To Me" could pass for a happy love song but hints at something far more sinister. The band goes the epic ballad route on "Still Got Time," which closes the album on a more optimistic note. 

The Young Hasselhoffs' ability to push the boundaries of pop-punk while still holding true to the genre's most essential qualities is beyond impressive. Even bolder in its boundary-pushing than Life Got in the Way, Dear Departed takes a big swing and knocks it out of the park. It's hard to find fault with any of its songs, but I appreciate that the band frames each of the album's sides with a pair of powerhouse tracks. Given that so many Young Hasselhoffs fans are growing older with the band, it's no surprise to me that the response to these last two albums has been so overwhelmingly positive. Speaking on behalf of the fan base, I must remark that these guys are making music that we can deeply relate to. And it's all grounded in timeless melody, masterful songwriting, world-class vocalization, and all those other things that keep us going back to pop-punk music time and time again. There is a literal multitude of packages available from Mom's Basement for the preordering of Dear Departed, so hit up the label's webstore now to reserve your loot. Preorders will ship the weekend of October 6th!

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Suttles - Third Stroke

Fred, Julian, and Max are back with their third album in three calendar years. And I'm sure not complaining! On Third Stroke, The Suttles continue to do what they've always done so well: make music influenced by all my favorite records! The Paris-based trio's sweet spot is '77 UK punk and mod meets late '70s power pop. That couldn't be any more up my alley, and Third Stroke finds the band in top form. "Without a Sound" kicks things off sounding like The Undertones meets The Real Kids, and it's off to the races from there. "Un Certain Temps" (with lyrics sung in French) reminds me of first album Clash. "Make You Mine" reinterprets an obscure 1971 Fairchild B-side as classic power pop. "Weekend à Lille" channels the pub rock stylings of The Vibrators and Eddie & The Hot Rods. "You'd Better Dance" sounds like it could be an outtake from Joe Jackson's Look Sharp. And then you have "quintessential Suttles" numbers like "Stuck On You" and "Won't Come Back to Me" that do not disappoint. Track after track, the band delivers a tune that's catchy as hell and sure to have you reaching for your dancing shoes. To be able to turn out three albums in this style and actually get better with each release is quite the impressive feat. The Suttles are on a roll that I hope never ends!

Monday, September 18, 2023

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads - And It's Goodbye From Him

Now this is how you go out on top! And It's Goodbye From Him is the fourth and final studio album from Duncan Reid and the Big Heads, capping a remarkable second act in Reid's musical career which began with his 2012 solo album Little Big Head. Reid, bassist/vocalist in the legendary punk group The Boys, has assembled one of the most impressive catalogs in modern day power pop/punk rock along side the formidable Big Heads (Nick Hughes, Sophie Powers, and Karen Jones). Having made the decision to step away from music, Reid has left us with a truly extraordinary swan song. 

And It's Goodbye From Him is not just the best-produced album Reid has done with the Big Heads. It's also the most musically varied and lyrically personal. In the years in which this album was written, Reid survived a pandemic, became a grandfather, and discovered he was autistic. All these things inform these songs, which are filled with Reid's special blend of heart, humor, wit, and insight. In many ways, this is an album about self-discovery and self-reflection —  with a couple songs delving into political commentary which surprisingly lighten the mood. My reaction to hearing this album is that we're experiencing a master at work. Reid is one of the last living legends of first generation power pop punk, and he can still turn out punchy three-chord pop songs like a champ. Even with some pleasant surprises (e.g. the German cabaret stylings of "Would I Lie To You" and the elegant baroque pop of "It's Going So Well"), this still sounds familiarly like a Duncan Reid and the Big Heads album. All those who love power pop, punk rock, or any combination of the two will surely find these songs hitting their sweet spot. This is a remarkable and practically flawless set of songs, and producer Dave Draper squeezes the absolute most out of every last hook, melody, and harmony. No doubt energized by one of the finest backing bands in his land or any other, Reid sounds in absolute peak form on this farewell platter. Knockout opening cut "Lost Again" finds Reid laying himself bare for the whole world to hear, and it will make you love him if you didn't already. "Funaggedon Time," an ode to the heyday of glam rock, fully lives up to its title. "Just Try To Be Kind" is a reminder of what we all should aspire to these days. "Can I Go Out Now Please" will take you right back to your lockdown headspace. By the time I stop laughing at "Bill Gates (Finland is a Myth)," I'll be on my deathbed. "Singing with the Beach Boys," a poignant tale about a divorced weekend dad making a special connection with his son, is a fitting close to a tremendous album and a legendary career. 

And It's Goodbye From Him, for me, is in the running for album of the year. At a time when we're pleased if most first generation punk rockers merely don't embarrass themselves, Duncan Reid is signing off with what is genuinely one of the finest records he has ever been a part of. Perhaps you'll come for the sing-along choruses and tuneful melodies, but you'll stay for the charm, joy, and humanity.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Uppers - Manic Melodies

The Uppers, a band I first wrote about three years ago, are back with a sophomore 7" that could not be any more up my alley. Out on Spaghetty Town Records, Boulevard Trash, and Wanda Records, the aptly-named Manic Melodies features four tracks of tuneful power pop meets '77-style punk with a swaggering rock edge. Producer Tuk Smith helps The Uppers attain a more powerful and polished sound, but otherwise little has changed from the band's debut single Get Down With... All four of these tunes are catchy and melody-forward yet still pack a serious punch. One listen to "Stimulation" will give you a jolt equivalent to three cups of coffee. "Madam Please" is sure to be stuck in your head all day and for at least half the next one. And there's no drop-off on Side B. It's certainly a bad pun to say that this band's songwriting has been "upped" for this release, but it's no lie. If the likes of Wyldlife, RMBLR, Biters, and early D Generation float your boat, you will definitely want to snag yourself a copy of Manic Melodies on Coke bottle clear vinyl!

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Big Blast Records presents - Summer Blast 2

While the summer approaches its waning days, the summer music never has to end. Out now on Big Blast Records is the digital compilation Summer Blast 2 — which features quintessential summertime power pop tracks from the Chicago label's flagship bands: The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club, The Glad Machine, and Golden Richards. In their signature style, the BDSC hit the sweet spot where '70s power pop and '90s alternative rock intersect on opening track "Your Corvette Summer." As you may have surmised, the song is an homage to the 1978 cult classic film starring Mark Hamill. If you like big hooks and guitars cranked to the max, this tune ought to be up your alley. And lyrics like "We were all about flying fighters and killing death stars/Thought we could ride that wave in a tricked out muscle car/But the fire on the sides was a sign this is B-movie magic" are pure genius. The Glad Machine ventures into full-on '80s power ballad territory on the awesome track "Can We Still Fall in Love this Summer?", and it's like I'm 16 again when that chorus hits. Think REO Speedwagon's High Infidelity meets Cheap Trick's Lap of Luxury! To bring it on home, Golden Richards delivers the most summery summer pop song imaginable in "Hey Mr. Softee." This tribute to the iconic ice cream truck franchise captures the spirit of what it meant to be a tween or teen in the '70s and '80s — its protagonist chasing down that Mister Softee truck in hopes of buying a cone for a special someone. With its earworm riff, melodic chorus, and majestic harmonies, this song is vintage power pop and vintage Golden Richards. Remember when you could get an ice cream cone for a quarter?  

Big Blast Records' Summer Blast 2 is an exception to the rule that sequels are never as good as the originals. All three of these tracks would have been formidable singles in their own right, but they fit together here splendidly as a celebration of summertime rock n' roll and eternal adolescence. Crank these tunes as you enjoy the last gasp of summer. And for those of you on the other side of the equator, consider these tracks for your upcoming summer playlist!

Angry Adults - Dust and Weight

Helsinki-based trio Angry Adults take me back to the roots of my life in punk rock. On their latest 7" Dust and Weight, Miku, Rami, and Hepis power through six tracks of fast & snotty pop-punk that wear a love for Lookout! and Mutant Pop Records on their sleeves. This is nothing original, and that is exactly what I like about it. I love the raw, tough sound and simple three-chord songs. These guys have taken a well-worn style of music and injected it with a fuck ton of energy and an infectious spirit. If this record had shown up in my mailbox in 1996, I would have started screaming in delight the instant I dropped the needle on the vinyl. This, my friends, is how pop-punk is done. Highest recommendation! 

Friends Of Cesar Romero & The Manxx - split

Hey kids! Are you ready for some rock n' roll that's money-back guaranteed to set your soul on fire? Snappy Little Numbers Quality Audio Recordings has brought us a killer collaboration between the mighty Friends of Cesar Romero and Colorado-based garage rockers The Manxx. FOCR is such a versatile project. You never know what you're gonna get from J. Waylon and friends. Sometimes it's perfect power pop. Other times it's punchy pop-punk or '60s-influenced melodic guitar pop. On this release, FOCR finds itself poised to blow the doors off the garage. On "You Lied (Now You're Gonna Cry)", J. Waylon is joined by Dug Two Bulls who rips it up on the organ. This is familiar lyrical territory for FOCR. But instead of coming off melancholy or woebegone, J. Waylon sounds defiant and totally fired up. This is a garage rocker that comes on like a firecracker. Imagine "Louie Louie" if you could understand the words. With its irresistible guitar and organ riffs and sing-along chorus, this is ten-out-of-ten caliber garage rock! Up next, FOCR teams up with Sara from The Manxx for an inspired rendition of The Drags' "Feel Real Good." The title is truth in advertising. You will rarely come across a more thrilling 55 seconds of rock n' roll. To finish, The Manxx fully matches FOCR's intensity with the exhilarating "You're Losing Me." I think the reason I don't review a lot of modern garage rock is because it doesn't often hit me the way this song does. "You're Losing Me" attains levels of attitude and unstoppable rhythmic energy that are rare in modern music. Just push play, and you've got yourself an instant party. What an amazing EP! If these three tracks don't immediately have you dancing around the house and screaming for utter joy, you might want to check yourself for a pulse.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Sparrowhawk - self titled

Producer Andy Mathison explains it best: "Have you ever seen one of those vans with a paint job like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but in place of cherubs are wizards? Sparrowhawk is the soundtrack to that lifestyle." Not only did these words have me laughing so hard that I spat out my beer, but they also made me an instant believer. Minneapolis-based Sparrowhawk plays denim-clad 1970s arena guitar rock without a trace of pretension or irony. This is by no means the first band to combine Thin Lizzy worship with elements of punk rock and power pop, but I can't think of another group that has pulled off such an approach in a more satisfying way. Sparrowhawk manages to rock thunderously while still having the soul and sincerity of a Midwestern punk band. On its 11-track debut album, this foursome sounds poised to travel back in time to 1978 and open an epic bill headlined by Lizzy, Cheap Trick, and The Dictators (the band even covers "Stay With Me," the greatest song of all-time).

Sparrowhawk singer/guitarist Johnny Eggerman and drummer Damien Tank were formerly in the most excellent Private Interests. Zach McCormick (Senior Video) is on vocals and bass, and Martin Mueller (Daniel & The Real Feels) creates guitar harmony magic with Eggerman. All these guys can play their asses off, and that's fortunate. This style of music simply wouldn't work without two stellar lead guitar players and a monster rhythm section. The logo and album art by Lucas Gluesenkamp are over the top in the most awesome way possible, and that definitely fits the band's efforts to carry on as if the '70s had never ended (I want to live in that world too!). I feel like listening to this album will cause your facial hair to grow at an accelerated rate that science would never be able to explain. But beyond all the stylistic commitments is a really terrific band with genuinely good songs and chops for days. A la kindred spirits Sheer Mag and White Reaper, Sparrowhawk understands that the true staying power of arena rock comes from well-crafted tunes with massive hooks. This record is loaded with anthemic rockers that sound best with the windows down and your fist hoisted triumphantly in the air. And that aforementioned cover song is totally aces. Mathison skillfully captures the band's power without polishing away its blue collar edge. If this sounds like an album that ought to be experienced on vinyl, you're in luck. The band pressed 200 copies that will likely go fast. This release is also available from all the major streaming sites. Don't let me catch you listening at a low volume!

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Young Francis Hi Fi - The Young Generation

When I reviewed Young Francis Hi Fi's digital track "I Wanna Hold You Tight (Tonite)" three years ago, I was excited to hear tuneful punk music with such tremendous energy. Little did I know that it would be three years before the Brighton-based outfit would get an album out. But this is a full-length debut that has proven to be well worth the wait. Years later, Young Francis Hi Fi's sound has toughened up considerably while still retaining all its original charms. Out on 14th Floor Music/Dirty Water Records, The Young Generation is a raging firecracker of a record that's thrilling to the finish. On paper, this seems like it would be a pop-punk album. Most of the songs are about girls and run around two minutes. But more than anything else, this is a rock n' roll record. Young Francis Hi Fi play fast and furiously, blending pure pop music with blistering garage punk and bulldozing hard rock. I can't think of another band out there that does this sort of thing this well. The Young Generation is pure fun and excitement meets raw power. With the opening 1-2 punch of "I Wanna Hold You Tight (Tonite)" and "Baby You're Braindead," the band affirms that punk rock music can be super poppy yet still melt your face off. Later on, the back-to-back pairing of "Do You Like Good Music?" with "Dance If You Wanna" is a veritable mission statement! Listening to "Don't Break Mt Heart," I can imagine a few action rock bands wishing they could kick this much ass! If you're looking for an album that will get your heart racing, your toes tapping, and your head bobbing, The Young Generation is it. Young Francis Hi Fi have delivered a debut LP that will remind us all why we fell in love with punk rock in the first place.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Kurt Baker - "She Don't Wanna Be Alone"

We are now just another month away from the release of Kurt Baker's hotly-anticipated new album Rock 'N' Roll Club! One final teaser for the album was just released this past Friday. "She Don't Wanna Be Alone" will appeal to fans of Baker's early power pop stuff. The track, co-written with Wyatt Funderburk, is pure pop at its finest. It finds Baker and Funderburk channeling their inner Beatles (in particular John Lennon). We can certainly expect a whole lot of rock from the new album, but this tune is slower and built on a foundation of gorgeous, hummable melodies. What a splendidly-crafted pop song! I love that all three advance singles from Rock 'N' Roll Club have been very different. Baker is promising that this will be his best release yet, and he has never given me any reason to doubt him. The album will be out September 29th on Wicked Cool Records!

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Girl Drink Drunks - After 9pm

It's hard to believe that it was already six years ago when I first wrote about Portland, Oregon's Girl Drink Drunks. In my book, Joel Jett (The Flip-Tops, The Minds, Jetpack) is an all-time great in the garage punk universe. When I discovered he had a new band going with members of The Hot LZs and Piss Test, I was super stoked. And when I heard Girl Drink Drunks, I totally flipped (no pun intended). I consider the band's 2017 debut long player one of the most underrated punk albums of the previous decade. It is my hope that new album After 9pm will be properly rated and hailed as one of 2023's most essential punk rock releases. This album (which marks the triumphant return of Jett's record label Sonic Jett after a decade plus pause) is an absolute monster. Obviously this band has a huge garage punk pedigree, but the record sounds too good to be classified as budget trash. The band rips through 13 tracks of aggressive but catchy punk rock with a rock n' roll influence and a hardcore intensity. Jett, as always, belts out his vocals with fury and force. The rhythm section is tight & powerful, and the lead guitar is pure fire. Simply put, this is a killer punk rock record. Lyrically, it's very in tune with the tenor of the crazy times we live in. While the band name comes from one of the greatest comedy sketches of all-time, you can be assured that these songs are no joke. With the majority of the tracks coming in under two minutes and the longest running just two minutes, twenty seconds, After 9pm is like a series of punishing blows that will leave you battered and still begging for more. The vinyl release is a 12" record spinning at 45 RPM. Grab a copy now along with a download of the first album if you don't have one already!

Friday, August 25, 2023

Brad Marino - "Lucy"

The man is back! Brad Marino is set to release a new album called Grin and Bear It this fall. Out today is "Lucy," the first single from the new record. For this track, he's mining the gold of classic '60s pop. Marino's ability to write fantastic new material in this old school rock n' roll style is quite impressive. "Lucy" manages to evoke the joy and timelessness of oldies radio without trying too hard to be "retro." This track is a total earworm with instant sing-along appeal. Marino does triple duty on guitar, bass, and keyboards. Zack Sprauge on drums is awesome as always. This song is a stone cold hit! Grin and Bear It will be out November 3rd — on vinyl on Sioux Records and compact disc on Rum Bar Records!

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Prize - "First Sight"

After I (like most everyone else in our international underground power pop/punk/garage bubble) totally flipped for The Prize's debut single last year, I immediately found myself wanting more. The Prize, to me, had the most promising debut release not just of 2022 but of the last few years. And thankfully, the wait for new material was fairly short. The Melbourne-based five-piece is back with its second single, a co-release between Anti-Fade and Drunken Sailor Records. "First Sight," the A-side cut, is another smash hit of powerful pop meets classic rock n' roll. The track comes out blasting with three hard-driving guitars and a beat that's impossible to resist. And when that "Tonight! Tonight! Tonight!" hook comes in, you'll be residing in Sing-Along City! The song tells the story of an instant, magical attraction —  pretty familiar territory for a power pop tune. But let's just say this tale takes an unfortunate turn, and what results is an immensely relatable, true-to-life song. On the flip side, "Say You're Mine" has a punky new wave circa 1980 feel to it. This is the stuff of classic power pop: mixing lyrical themes of heartbreak and longing with a bouncy, uplifting musical energy. Who doesn't love a bitter pill with a sweet coating? All in all, this single is a more-than-satisfying follow-up to last year's Wrong Side of Town EP. There is no repress planned, so grab a copy while you can. If power pop is your thing, aural bliss awaits!

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Tomb City - "Girl" b/w "Ramones"

Pop-punk for me is a hit-or-miss thing. But when it hits, there's not much I enjoy more in music. Iowa's Tomb City plays Ramones-inspired pop-punk, and perhaps that doesn't sound so inspiring. But there's something really unique and appealing about the band's debut single on Laptop Punk Records. "Girl" is fast-paced pop-punk, but the lo-fi/blown-out recording and endearingly dorky vocals are interesting touches you don't often come across in "Ramonescore" type music. I can't quite put my finger on why I like this song so much, but I'm compelled to keep pressing play. I dig that blend of catchiness and rawness. And how often do you come across pop-punk bands that play this fast? The second song, "Ramones," is a tribute to (you guessed it!) the Ramones. Luckily, this song manages to celebrate the Ramones without trying to be the Ramones. And that is the best possible tribute. With the entire single running just a little past two minutes, there's little room here for anyone to get bored. This is a very promising debut, and I hope to hear more from Tomb City!

Dennis Cometti - Suburban Condition

Oh boy! Here come the Aussies again! Suburban Condition is the new album from Perth's Dennis Cometti — yet another band from down under playing blistering old school punk rock n' roll straight out of the pub. Released on Bargain Bin Records, this is a stone-cold banger of an LP which is without doubt one of the best punk rock records of the year. There is nothing fancy or innovative going on here: just pure punk rock that zealously punches you in the mouth. These 11 tracks deliver attitude and energy for days. It would be so easy for a band like this to sound run-of-the-mill, but Dennis Cometti have tapped into what is timelessly great about punk rock songwriting. These guys know their way around a sing-along chorus and a beat that gets the toes tapping. Suburban Condition is a super-fun record to sing along with, and of course it begs to be played loud. If you (correctly) maintain that the Cosmic Psychos are one of the most important bands to ever exist, this latest generation of Aussie garage/punk groups is providing vehement confirmation.

The Summertimes - self titled

On their full-length debut, The Summertimes deliver a whole lot of something I'll never tire of: catchy, tuneful, and well-constructed pop songs. The Australian outfit features the songwriting tandem of David Beniuk and David Challenger (of Merry Widows fame) working alongside veteran players Ashley Naylor (Paul Kelly and The Church), Stephen O'Brien (Tumbleweed), and Steve Bull (Icehouse). The album captures the feel of '80s/'90s college radio power pop without coming across as stuck in the past. Even with all these big names involved (including renowned producer Paul McKercher), it's truly the songs that stand out. Both writers contribute thoughtful, melodious songs with stellar hooks. And while some of the more straight-forward power pop tunes like "Inside" and "Password" are obvious highlights, The Summertimes are far from one-trick ponies. "Wakes Up Shadows" has me recalling the heyday of "adult alternative" rock, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. "Where the Lights Hit the Square" and "Sky and the Sea" are truly excellent ballads — never the easiest thing to pull off. "My Beautiful Girl Harbour," a love song to the city of Sydney, could slide seamlessly into a Teenage Fanclub playlist. The jangly "Love (It's The Word)" is truly an anthem for our times —  an appeal to grace and kindness at a moment when rancor and cruelty are widely worshipped. Album closer "The Perfect Wave" is a surfy rocker with a uniquely Aussie flavor. 

The debut album from The Summertimes is a real treat for fans of melody-driven guitar pop. The "two Davids" excel not just at crafting hummable melodies and memorable choruses but also at writing genuinely interesting lyrics which reflect on everything from unrequited love to multinational capitalism to toxic masculinity to optimism in the face of struggle. Mixing personal storytelling with social commentary, both songwriters are relatable, engaging, and exceptionally skilled at their craft. With its high-quality songs, stellar musicianship, and silky-smooth harmonies, this is the kind of album I will always go back to. Get it on LP or CD from Rank and File Records!

Friday, August 11, 2023

JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies

An annual occurrence I always look forward to is the release of the latest installment in the JEM Records Celebrates series. Beginning in 2020 with a tribute to John Lennon, JEM Records Celebrates follows an unbeatable recipe: give one of the most talented label rosters in today's music world free reign to create new, unique versions of some of the greatest songs ever written. As you would expect, the initial installments in this series have been extraordinary. If I'm generally lukewarm about tribute albums, it's because they're rarely done this well. Having already tackled the songs of Lennon, Brian Wilson, and Pete Townshend, JEM's bands and artists now have a go at the legendary Ray Davies. This is the installment I've been waiting for since JEM first launched the series. Ray Davies as a songwriter is surpassed by no one in the rock era. And outside of the Beatles and Ramones, I can't think of a band that's been more influential than The Kinks on the sort of music I write about. Power pop, garage rock, indie pop, and even punk rock can all be traced back in some way to The Kinks. It's certainly safe to say that every act on the JEM roster has more than a little Kinks in its musical DNA. The stakes were so high for JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies to be great. And let me tell you: it absolutely is

I'll be honest. Even if I really like a tribute album, I usually just give it a few listens, write up some carefully-considered praise, and then forget about it forever. But it has been different with JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies. This release has been in my car's CD player for a few weeks, and I just can't stop listening to it! There's just something about Davies' songs that translate well to cover versions (think of all the Kinks covers that have become classics in their own right). And another thing I've noticed from listening to this album is that Davies' songs don't age. A lot of these songs are nearly 60 years old, yet they sound like they could have been written yesterday. If you didn't know any better, you might think they were from these artists' own catalogs. That's a testament to both the staying power of the material and the talents of the bands who play on this record. 

Most of the songs on JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies are culled from The Kinks' mid-to-late '60s heyday — including five sides from the band's amazing run of 1964-65 singles and three selections from 1968's classic album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Kicking off the album, The Midnight Callers remake the 1983 top ten smash "Come Dancing" in their signature glam rock/power pop style. I love how they take this quintessentially British song steeped in '50s nostalgia and transform it into something that feels fresh and contemporary. And while I'm a big Kinks fan, I must admit I hadn't given "Come Dancing" a thought in years. Good on The Midnight Callers for reminding me what an incredible song this is. Elsewhere, Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men turn the proto power pop number "Till the End of the Day" into a proper power pop number and even mash it up with "All Day and All of the Night." The Anderson Council's Brit-pop-ish take on "Do You Remember Walter" is probably my favorite track on the album, while The Airport 77s give "Picture Book" a wonderfully quirky new wave makeover. The Gold Needles are faithful to the whimsical spirit of "Village Green Preservation Society" while making the song their own in the most delightful way. Johnathan Pushkar splendidly reimagines "David Watts" as a bubbly pop earworm very much in line with his original material. The Grip Weeds show their versatility with a beautifully executed psych-pop re-working of "See My Friends" and a punchy garage rock rendition of "Where Have All the Good Times Gone." Well-positioned as the closing track (because no other song here could possibly follow it), Lisa Mychols & Super 8's version of the 1968 single "Days" stuns with breathtakingly beautiful vocals and melodies. It feels blasphemous to say I like it better than the original, but I'll say it anyway. I would definitely buy a full album of Lisa Mychols & Super 8 doing covers. Heck, I'd buy a full album of Lisa Mychols & Super 8 singing the phone book! "Days" is a show-stealer. Did anyone else notice that this album is bookended by songs Davies wrote out of love for his sisters?  

The easy complaint about JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies would be that it's missing a lot of Kinks classics. But having listened to this album dozens of times, I can't think of any song I would want to omit. This would have needed to have been a triple album to satisfy everyone, and who's got time for that? This is a superbly realized tribute to one of the greatest storytellers and pop craftsmen to ever pick up a guitar. It presents some of his songs in a very new light, and even the more straight-forward versions give me a deeper appreciation for the greatness of this material. Of course this album has me excited to listen to my Kinks records again. But it also has me pumped to dig deeper into some of the JEM bands I haven't fully explored (especially The Anderson Council and The Cynz). If you love The Kinks, this album is a must-purchase. And come on: who doesn't love The Kinks?

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Hellebores - Uncles

Hellebores, a punk group out of Sydney, released a highly underrated album called Hellemenopee three years ago that kind of got lost in the shuffle of the pandemic. Back with their sophomore effort Uncles, Glenno, Gina, and the gang continue to do what they do best: blasting out super-fun melodic punk tunes with a '90s flavor and an Aussie-sized punch. From start to finish, this album puts a smile on my face. The energy level pretty much stays constant at a ten, and the band's old school poppy punk approach never loses its shine. Even if you don't ordinarily go in for pop-punk stuff, this album just might turn you to the dark side. There's a rawness to these recordings that really suits these songs, and Gina's vocals are impossible to not love. It made my day to see Uncles glowingly reviewed on Add To Wantlist. Clearly individuals with far better judgment than me realize that this is a must-hear album! Powering through 15 tracks in just 26 minutes, Hellebores set a fine example for what pop-leaning punk rock ought to be!

The Whiffs - "Satellites"

The Whiffs, who have already given us one of the best albums of 2023, are back with a new digital single released in conjunction with the band's upcoming West Coast tour. The tour kicks off tonight and will take The Whiffs through Tulsa, Dallas, Austin, El Paso, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Olympia, and Denver. "Satellites," brought to you as a free download from DIG! Records, is made up of a couple leftovers from the Scratch 'N' Sniff recording sessions. What kind of band can leave songs this good off an album? Written by Rory Cameron, "Satellites" hits that mid-'70s radio pop sweet spot the way so many Whiffs songs do. It's a breakup song and a damn fine one at that— full of bittersweet melodies that are perfectly in harmony with the song's lyrics. On the virtual flipside, the Zach Campbell penned "As I Am" is another mellow pop-rock number with hooks that cannot be denied. I love the warm sound of these recordings. If you had told me both of these songs were recorded in 1976, I wouldn't have doubted you. The Whiffs continue to shine in the power pop world because they are exceptionally skilled at their craft. Fans will be delighted with this digital freebie. And if a copy of Scratch 'N' Sniff is not yet in your possession, that situation needs to be rectified ASAP.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Benny J Ward - "I Didn't Mean It"

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet like the song itself. If you're a regular reader of this blog, Benny J Ward's new single needs to be in your music collection. Ward, the singer/guitarist for Perth power pop standouts Rinehearts, has just released his fourth solo single in four months on Cheersquad Records & Tapes. It's called "I Didn't Mean It," and it's 107 seconds of pure energy and earworm hooks. It's a little bit garage, a little bit punk rock, and a little bit power pop. That sounds like something you'd be into, right? Of course it does!

Phantom Intrusion - The Invocation

The Invocation, Phantom Intrusion's debut EP, takes me back to the '90s in an entirely good way. Phantom Intrusion is based in Binghamton, New York and features the vocals and songwriting talents of Maddie Novak. Kevin (bass) and Adam (drums) round out this trio. Lyrically, The Invocation is a very intense experience. And the music reflects that, as these songs fall on the rougher side of the pop-punk spectrum. I'm hearing bits and pieces of everything from late '80s/early '90s East Bay punk to old East Coast standouts like Plow United to the manic punk rock of The Vindictives to what they used to call emocore back in the day. Think melodic punk with an aggressive, chaotic edge. The artwork and band name bring to mind horror punk, and there's a little bit of a horror theme in a couple of these tracks. But for the most part, these songs are built around Maddie's intensely personal reflections on what it's like to go through life with depression and crippling anxiety as your constant companions — fighting to navigate a day-to-day existence when you literally "feel awful all the time." Hearing lyrics like "I shook myself awake last night/And I was crying in my sleep/It hasn't been an easy life/ And sometimes I forget to breathe," I'm deeply moved in a way I rarely am by another person's art. I'm blown away by Maddie's artistic courage. It takes guts to share this kind of suffering with the world in such an honest and intimate way. And for people listening who are going through mental health struggles of their own, they'll know they're not alone. Phantom Intrusion has a pretty unique vibe for a pop-punk band. This EP makes me nostalgic for all-ages punk shows in the '90s and dancing in the pit. Yet it's not really retro or obviously derivative. There was something about these songs that grabbed me from the get-go, and I am pleased to hear that another EP is in the works. I did have to chuckle when I saw the price listing at $6.66!

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Classic Pat - La Bamba

Now this was a super cool idea! Classic Pat (guitarist in one of my favorite bands, The Putz) has covered the La Bamba movie soundtrack in its entirety! It's the second installment in his Why Not? series (he previously covered Tiffany's self-titled album from 1987). The La Bamba soundtrack was an absolutely crucial album in my musical education. In 1987, I was 16 years old and still a classic rock/metal kid. After purchasing the La Bamba tape and listening to it daily, I became fanatical about listening to oldies radio and learning about early rock n' roll (the rest is history, I suppose). And of course I became a huge van of Ritchie Valens, who remains one of my favorite first generation rock and rollers. Because I listened to that soundtrack so many times, returning to it now is like catching up with an old friend. Classic Pat does a great job with these songs. His renditions are faithful, yet they've also been punked up a little. And that makes perfect sense when you think about the way '50s rock n' roll and doo wop influenced so many pop-punk bands. As groups like The Beatersband are demonstrating today, pop-punk and early rock n' roll belong together (pun fully intended). And Pat's interpretation of this material acknowledges that. His version of Valens' "Donna" fits in just as nicely alongside The Young Hasselhoffs or Vista Blue as it would on an oldies playlist. I've often claimed Buddy Holly as the true father of pop-punk, and this album's version of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" evidences that idea fully. Pat's take on "La Bamba" (which, as arranged by Valens, would massively influence garage rock and punk) is totally killer. While "Why not?" may be the concept, this album is no joke. If you grew up on the La Bamba soundtrack (and movie) as I did, this version will give you warm feelings. But anyone who loves timeless and tuneful rock n' roll should enjoy the heck out of this release. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Kurt Baker - "Rock 'N' Roll Club"

Woo hoo! We've got another smoking new single from Kurt Baker'! "Rock 'N' Roll Club" is the title track from Baker's new album, which will be out September 29th on Wicked Cool Records. The song was written by the late Kip Brown, an absolute legend of Portland, Maine rock 'n' roll. You may recall that the Brown-penned banger "Sends Me To Mars" was the leadoff track to Baker's third album Play It Cool. "Rock 'N' Roll Club" is the same caliber of song, and again Baker has the honor of sharing his beloved friend's songwriting talents with the world. If you like it when Baker and the boys rock out, this tune will be up your alley. Accompanying the release of the single is a music video directed Wyatt Funderburk. It was shot during the Kurt Baker Band's tour of Spain earlier this year. I really dig the way the video captures the vibe of the song. It includes footage from some actual clubs that totally lives up to how I imagine live rock 'n' roll being in Spain! What a tune, and what a great freaking band! This album is gonna be a monster. Click here to pre-order!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Lemon Drop Gang - "I'm Done!"

Well this was a very nice surprise! I come home from vacation to discover that Rum Bar Records has dropped a new single from the Lemon Drop Gang that I didn't even know was coming out! It's like Lou sent me a welcome home present! Already responsible for my #1 ranked single of the year, Tucson's finest are back with another legitimate double A-side garage pop extravaganza. "I'm Done!" finds the band on the punk rock side of the garage door. Featuring a thrillingly furious vocal from Steph O'Halloran, this song conveys what it feels like to be 100% fed up with someone and not taking any more shit ever. In typical LDG fashion, this tune manages to transcend genre even as it brings to mind nearly every genre I love. Who doesn't love an angry song that you can dance to all day long? "Johnny is a Jerk," the virtual flip side, is a hilarious response to Lesley Gore's iconic hits "It's My Party" and "Judy's Turn To Cry." It was co-written by the band and Bradford Trojan. In a musical style very much in line with the songs it sends up, this track states what many of us have been thinking for decades: that Johnny sure was a piece of shit! What kind of man feels good about breaking girls' hearts? And why did so many '60s pop songs glorify jerky guys? Here the LDG has great fun imagining Johnny's comeuppance and satirizing '60s teen pop tropes (see if you can spot references to additional songs of that era). In addition to being funny as hell, the lyrics are super on-point and more than a little relevant to modern times. I don't see how anyone could listen to this song and not conclude that Steph O'Halloran is an absolute star. And musically, this is perfect '60s-style pop with a pinch of the LDG's signature desert twang. It certainly didn't hurt to have the great Matt Rendon playing drums on this track! Rendon recorded this single and co-produced it with the band. Behold another one of the year's top singles, and it's a free download! On that oh-so-loaded Rum Bar roster of talent, the Lemon Drop Gang continues to stand out as one the label's finest bands.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Kid Gulliver - Kiss & Tell

This is a milestone post for this blog and Kid Gulliver. Today, the Boston power pop standouts join the F & L ten-timers club — which is especially impressive considering that my first KG review was only a little more than three years ago! Basically this means that this band has released a lot of great music over the past few years, and that continues with a new mini-album called Kiss & Tell. As you may recall, "Kiss & Tell" was also the name of an excellent single released early this year. The album release coincides with a brand-new single titled "Because of You." 

As always, new music from Kid Gulliver means we power pop fans are in for a treat. I continue to be blown away by the way songwriter/guitarist David Armillotti and lead singer Simone Berk excel as a creative partnership. It can't be easy to trust another person to voice your deepest, darkest thoughts. And it can't be easy to sing another person's words as if they were your own. Yet for these two, this creative approach produces pure gold. Both artists do their finest work yet on this album. While I won't quite call this a concept album, a lot of Armillotti's lyrics are brutally realistic and deeply reflective in examining the trials and tribulations of adult love. There are not a lot of "uppers" on this album. But let's be real: if romantic love always went smoothly, power pop music might not need to exist! This is an album filled with wonderfully bitter pop songs which are fully realized musically, lyrically, and vocally. Songs like "You're Gonna Cry" and "You've Lost Your Shine" are pretty much what you'd expect based on the titles. "Because of You" is the complete opposite. It has to be a sweet love song, right? To the contrary, it's about regretting the person you've become due to love. This track, which alternates between a driving power pop verse and a dreamy chorus, was a fine choice for the album's third single (following "Kiss & Tell" and "Nothing But Trouble"). What really ties the album together, though, is that Armillotti is a master at writing perfect pop songs and Berk is a master at singing them. If you like well-crafted, melody-driven songs with plenty of guitar punch, you have come to the right place. "I've Got a Picture of You" is jangly power pop at its most beautifully bittersweet. "I Like Your Hair" could pass for a long-lost Bangles hit. If there were actually a power pop textbook, "(You're a) Living Lie" would be in it. 

Self-produced by Armillotti and Berk, Kiss & Tell is a nifty little album from one of the power pop world's most prolific and consistent bands. I look forward to writing another ten Kid Gulliver reviews and then some!  

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Rad Max - "So Convenient"

The latest single from Portland's Rad Max is another new wave smash. "So Convenient" is the foursome's first release in a year, following up last summer's anthem "Extraterrestrial Radio." On the surface, "So Convenient" is a celebration of the cultural phenomenon that is the American convenience store. Where else on Earth can you purchase beef jerky, enormous sugary beverages, lottery tickets, and freshly grilled hot dogs in one stop whilst witnessing the finest in local color at any hour of the day? But in verse two, the song takes exactly the futuristic/modern dystopian turn you'd expect from Rad Max. With its mix of humor and spot-on social commentary, this song totally hits a sweet spot for me. Bouncing back and fourth between post-punk and pure pop music, "So Convenient" has got an '80s feel for sure — and of course I'm talking about the 2080s. The little bit about the brain freeze really made me laugh because I recently suffered from such an affliction (and yes, it was brought on by overzealous slurpee consumption). One of my major life goals is to someday hear this song at a convenience store. For now, you can download the track for the very low price of free and save your spare change for that single roll of TP.