Thursday, January 26, 2023

Romance - "Fast Car"

Well here's a track that has been a long time in the making! Sydney-based band Romance recorded "Fast Car" way back in 2019. It was mastered two years later by Mikey Young, and it will finally receive a vinyl release later this year. While Romance are not exactly newcomers, "Fast Car" is their proper introduction to the world at large. And what an introduction it is! It's an absolutely crackling punk track featuring a truly amazing screaming vocal from lead singer Jane. It's one minute, 26 seconds of absolute fury that will leave you wanting more. And luckily, more is forthcoming. Look for the 7" to arrive mid-year! There's nothing I love more than a ripping punk single, and Romance has delivered the goods fiercely!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Shang Hi Los - Aces Eights & Heartbreaks

Can you believe it has already been two years since I first prayed to the music gods for a Shang Hi Los full-length album? Having now had said album in my possession for a couple weeks, I will reiterate one of my core beliefs: music this good is always worth waiting for! Heading into 2023, the Rum Bar Records release Aces Eights & Heartbreaks was hands-down my most highly-anticipated album of the year. Not so long ago, I publicly predicted the album would be a "blockbuster." I must say it has proven to be all that and then some. 

To recap: The Shang Hi Los formed in 2019 and feature two of the finest singers and songwriters in modern-day rock and roll. Dan Kopko (Watts) and Jen D'Angora (The Dents, The Downbeat 5) are co songwriters and lead vocalists. They're joined by bassist Lee Harrington (The Neighborhoods, Future Dads) and drummer Chuck Ferreira (Eddie Japan, Lonely Leesa & The Lost Cowboys). The 2021 EP Kick It Like A Wicked Habit was a promising debut for this Boston super group, but Aces Eights & Heartbreaks totally blows it out of the water. While the influences for this release vary from garage rock to new wave to punk rock to power pop to spaghetti Westerns, what comes through here is that The Shang Hi Los are above all else a great rock and roll band. And the world can always use more great rock and roll bands. This record has got it all: killer riffs, magnificent vocals, radio-worthy choruses, awesome guitar solos, epic drumming, massive production, and melodies that will stick with you. The Shangs are the rare all-star group that's even more than the sum of its parts. Kopko and D'Angora work so well together (both vocally and as a creative partnership) that it's hard to believe they haven't been collaborating forever. Here and there, I might find myself saying "That sounds like a vintage Danny Kopko riff" or "This could have been a Jenny Dee song." But for the most part, The Shang Hi Los sound like something neither songwriter could have fully created on their own. 

Like any great rock album should, Aces Eights & Heartbreaks comes roaring out of the gates. "Takes One To Know One" is energetic, fun, and musically irresistible — a side 1/track 1 that even prime Cheap Trick would have envied. "Monsieur Valentine" sounds like the best Blondie song in decades (if it's not released as a single for Valentine's Day, that will be an opportunity missed!). With the bar set that high, the Shangs keep it going all the way to the end. The title track is a legit good stab at disco pop that has "couples' roller skate 1980" written all over it. "Plymouth Rock" is perfect punky power pop. "These Four Walls" and "Ingenue" are pure rockers with hooks for days. And of course there's "Billy" — a recently anointed Coolest Song in the World on Little Steven's Underground Garage. Why did I wait so long to mention the hit? Well on an album like this one, every song's a hit! 

Aces Eights & Heartbreaks represents everything that's wonderful about rock and roll. It features two excellent singers who sound great both individually and in harmony. It's stacked with stellar tunes that will have you tapping your toes, singing along, and breaking out the air guitar and drums. I wouldn't exactly call it "retro," but it recalls a time when they still played great rock songs on the radio. When these songs are playing, it's an eternal summer. God bless Malibu Lou for unleashing this masterpiece in the middle of January and laying waste to our collective winter blahs. The bar is always open! 

Rob Moss and Skin-Tight Skin - Now With More Rockets

If the name Rob Moss is familiar to you, you likely remember him as a member of D.C. hardcore bands Government Issue and Artificial Peace. Moss stopped playing music in the early '80s and never expected to start up again. For over 35 years, he did not record a single note of music. But a few years back, the inspiration returned. Under the name Rob Moss and Skin-Tight Skin, he released the album We've Come Back to Rock 'n' Roll (How's that for a mission statement?) in 2020. Now he's back with his second full-length release, Now With More Rockets. If you're expecting this release to sound like hardcore, you will likely be disappointed. But if you're into proto punk glam rock and roll, this is 100% an album for you. Moss set out to emulate (but not reproduce exactly) the music that made him want to form a band in the first place. He has crafted a love letter to the sounds of his youth, and I am here for it. Broadly, Now With More Rockets revels in the influence of Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, The Slickee Boys, the Dead Boys, Lou Reed, Sweet, Slade, Mott the Hoople, and many others. I'm hearing some Stooges, New York Dolls, and Johnny Thunders as well. That sure sounds like something I'd be into, right? Of course! 

Backing Moss on Now With More Rockets are Dwight Reid on bass, Danny Frankel (Urban Verbs, Lou Reed, John Cale) on drums, and a star-studded cast of guest players. Each of the album's 11 tracks features a different lead guitar player. The lead guitarists include Gil Leigh (of the U.S. High Llamas), Wes Tabayoyong (Savage Beliefs), Ken Moss (Acrylix, Seven Door Sedan), Abaad Behram (Johnny Bombay and the Reactions, Razz), Scrote (aka Angelo Bundini, coordinator of Celebrating David Bowie), Bob Balch (Fu Manchu), Joey Cola (Sorrows), Greg Strzempka (Raging Slab), Razzle Markel (Not Dead Yet), the mighty Sal Baglio (The Stompers, Amplifier Heads), and Glenn Kowalski (White Boy, Seven Door Sedan). Other special guest stars include Doug Wieselman (John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, Laurie Anderson) on saxophone, Martha Hull (The Slickee Boys, Martha Hull and the Steady Jobs) on vocals, and Kim Reynolds on piano. That's an awful lot of star power, and credit must go to Moss for pulling all this talent together in a fully cohesive way. Of course you're going to love the solos if you dig rock and roll lead guitar. But in every single case, the lead guitar supports the song rather than upstaging it. As a singer, Moss has a unique, raspy style that has really come to grow on me after several spins. I suppose the technical term here is that his voice has "character." Whether he's reminiscing about the cool rockers walking around Ralphs grocery store, opining on the way the government and media did Richard Jewell dirty, celebrating the legacy of Chuck Berry, or lamenting the way New York City has changed over the last few decades, I'm absolutely buying what he's selling. Favorite tracks for me are the goth-tinged rocker "A Rocket Ship To You," the "House of the Rising Sun" homage "Red Beans and Gasoline," the '77 punk throwback "Rock 'n' Roll Ralphs," the Willie Alexander & The Boom Boom Band inspired "Two Slices of Bread," and the glam-tastic closer "I'm On a Rocket Ship (Heading My Way Back Home)." True to the title of the album, the two tracks with the word "rocket" in the title are marvelous bookends. Who wouldn't want more rockets?

I would recommend Now With More Rockets to anyone with a soft spot for proto punk, glam rock, and early New York punk rock. If you were a '70s kid, you'll be feeling these songs. But aside from that, Rob Moss proves himself to be a fine songwriter with a real flair for storytelling, clever lyrics, and quality hooks. Perhaps most importantly, this album straight-up rocks. It's available from Bandcamp in digital and compact disc formats for just $10.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Civil Rats - Your Dummest Friends

Do you know your Civil Rats? This new-ish trio out of Philadelphia finds Dale and Isaac (formerly of the excellent Canine 10) joining forces with Molly (formerly of The Up! Up! Ups!) to play super fun, catchy-as-hell garage punk. When Dale described Civil Rats to me as "a bit more garage and a bit more stupid" than Canine 10, I knew I would love this band. I wasn't wrong. On their debut EP Your Dummest Friends, Civil Rats blast out five tracks of rocking, high-spirited punk that ought to have you tapping your toes and shouting "Fuck yeah!" If you couldn't already tell from the band name, EP title, and cover art, this is not a band that takes itself too seriously. With songs about craving snacks, not wanting to go to parties, and awkwardly contemplating how to address a person whose name you've forgotten, this EP speaks to me at a very personal level. Even when Civil Rats have something serious to say about the world, they present it in a relatable way. "Too Much Information" is truly a song for our times. "Let's Take a Quantum Leap" is about the yearning to go back in time and make the present less sucky. What a delightful debut from Civil Rats! If you're into the more tuneful side of garage punk, this is 100% a band you need to hear!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

52 Weeks of "Teenage Kicks"!

You may have heard that Scott Hudson is doing something super cool this year on his fantastic radio show The Ledge. He's going to kick off every episode of the show this year with a different version of perhaps the greatest pop song ever written, the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks." Although he already owns over 30 covers of this song, Scott doesn't want to stop there. He wants to inspire bands and artists to record brand-new versions of "Teenage Kicks" and submit them to him for airplay on The Ledge. He's placing no limitations on musical style or genre. This is where you come in. If you're reading this right now, there's a good chance you're in a band or at least record music. If you're up for recording "Teenage Kicks," you can email your version to Scott at This would be an immensely cool project to be a part of — plus you'd get to be on one of the best radio shows out there! Let's fill the world with "Teenage Kicks" in 2023! Head on over to for further information and weekly setlists. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

The Circulators - self titled

The word is spreading fast on The Circulators: rave reviews on Just Some Punk Songs and Add To Wantlist, airplay on Shake Some Action with Alex Kish, an endorsement on Facebook from the mighty Greg Mongroll....Friends of mine are flipping for The Circulators — and with good reason! This foursome out of San Francisco has come seemingly (but not actually) out of nowhere with a debut mini-album that rips hard in an old school punk rock and roll style. The self-titled release is available on cassette tape from Willow House Records and in digital form from The Circulators' Bandcamp. Of course I'm always a sucker for the '77 punk thing, but The Circulators bring something a little extra to the table. They definitely deliver the raw energy and rock and roll attitude that you'd expect given the band name. But for a band with a "snottier" approach to punk rock, they have surprisingly catchy tunes and an unusually well-developed pop sensibility. The Dead Boys are an obvious inspiration (listen to "Can't Get My Way"), but I love how that influence gets combined with the Ramones on songs like "Living Dead." Some tracks (like "On the Loose") lean more traditional fast and furious punk rock and roll; others (such as "It Won't Be Me") are darn near power pop. Am I the only one who hears "Wired Over You" and thinks "poppier Saints"? All I know is this: any band that reminds me of Teenage Head is cool in my book! This is a great little album from a band that's poised to make some noise in 2023 and beyond. And at just $5 for a download or tape, the price sure is right!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Lemon Drop Gang - "Sweetie Pie" b/w "The Party's Over"

There's nothing I love more in music than a perfect single. Give me an A-side I want to play over and over with another hit on the flip, and I'm a happy camper. I was a very happy camper the moment I first experienced The Lemon Drop Gang's new Rum Bar Records release "Sweetie Pie." I played the lead track four times in a row because I couldn't get enough! While the format is not vinyl but rather compact disc, the effect is the same. This is a bite-sized piece of punky pop goodness from one of the best bands out there. These are the first new tunes from The Lemon Drop Gang since they unveiled their debut long player I'm Not the One! seven years ago (Rum Bar released the album on CD in 2020). And they do not disappoint! "Sweetie Pie" and "The Party's Over" will delight anyone craving more of The Lemon Drop Gang's wonderfully weird, fiercely original, and intoxicatingly tuneful desert garage pop. 

"Sweetie Pie" is vintage Lemon Drop Gang fare. It will make you want to dance and sing along even as it brandishes a sharp knife's edge. In this disdainful kiss-off of a jerky suitor, dynamic lead singer Steph O'Halloran holds back nothing. Both her lyrics and the way she chooses to emphasize them are pure gold. I love that the song is sharply humorous but also deeply profound in what it has to say about gender inequality. In typical Lemon Drop Gang fashion, this tune brings together all the best elements of garage rock, girl groups, '60s pop, and punk rock in a novel and unique way. Johnny O'Halloran's guitar playing is a true thing of beauty! On the virtual B-side, "The Party's Over" feels like a requiem for pre-pandemic times. The song reflects on our collective loss of innocence in a way that's truthful yet not entirely hopeless. I'm struck by the perfect harmony between Johnny O'Halloran's melodic guitar and Danny Walker's dancing bass. Steph O'Halloran, who has a gift for taking a classic pop song and twisting it into something truly haunting, is in top form on this track. Once the music stops, I find the song's melody and vocal lingering in my head. 

The first great single of 2023 comes from The Lemon Drop Gang! I can think of few bands with a better grasp on how to accentuate the contrast between a pure pop melody and a classic punk rock vocal. Then again, there just aren't many living punk singers who can match the guts, power, and sheer personality of Steph O'Halloran. If these tracks are a sign of what's to come from The Lemon Drop Gang, we are definitely in for a treat with the next album. This single was recorded by Matt Rendon, and I don't think there's ever been a more perfect marriage of a band and a recording engineer. For a while, I've considered The Lemon Drop Gang one of the most underrated bands on the Rum Bar roster. If you find "Sweetie Pie" to your liking, do yourself a favor and acquire I'm Not The One! ASAP!

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Juniper - She Steals Candy

One of the real bright spots in the dumpster fire of a year that was 2020 was the wonderful debut album from teenage singer Juniper. In collaboration with her dad (the veteran singer/songwriter and esteemed WFMU radio host Michael Shelley) and a star-studded cast of musicians, Juniper gifted the world with one of the most joyful guitar pop albums of recent memory. I named Juniper a top ten album for 2020, and in retrospect I wonder if I should have rated it even higher. I suppose the only downside of such an auspicious debut is that it creates very high expectations for the encore. How do you follow up a perfect pop album? Well, if you're Juniper and Michael Shelley, you just go out and make another one! 

She Steals Candy is no mere copy of its predecessor, but it repeats all the core ingredients of a winning recipe. Again, Michael Shelley produces and enlists the contributions of all sorts of talented friends. Notable guest players on this album include Greg Townson (Los Straitjackets), Chris Geddes (Belle and Sebastian), Steve Goulding (Mekons), John Perrin (NRBQ), Alex Hall (J.D McPherson), Dennis Diken (The Smithereens), April March, Megan Reilly, Rebecca Turner, Karen Basset (The Pandoras), Barbara Endes (Girls On Grass), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Page Burkum (The Cactus Blossoms), Kurt Baker, and Jon Grabo (Ryan Adams). The album mixes in a handful of original songs with an extraordinary selection of covers. While contemporary in every respect, She Steals Candy recalls the golden age of pop music — when there was no shame in working with stellar session musicians or interpreting someone else's songs. A lot of incredibly talented people had a hand in the creation of this record, and what results is something truly special. 

While still a teen, Juniper is a young adult now. Her vocal tone now carries more richness and gravity while still retaining the likeable, down to earth quality that made her an instant sensation. She gives The Sails' Brit-pop smash "BANG!" an added touch of melancholy — taking a great song and fully making it her own. Her interpretation of Amy Rigby's "Baby Doll" just about gives me chills. Without over-singing, she brings the hurt, sadness, and ultimate strength of the song's lyrics to life in a way that will be relatable to any young woman her age. She applies a similar magic touch to The Bangles' "James" and The Go-Go's' "Turn To You" — a couple of songs that were ripe for a reinterpretation after nearly four decades. Elsewhere, the Shelleys dig really deep, unearthing such forgotten gems as David "Del Ashley" Gates' 1965 single "Little Miss Stuck Up" and Johnny Fortune's 1964 track "Don Stole My Girl" (re-worked here as "Dawn Stole My Guy") along with four songs originally recorded by The Ron-Dels — Delbert McClinton's marvelous mid-'60s rootsy rock and roll band. Also delightful are a Latin-flavored arrangement of the Lisa Marr/Kim Shattuck number "Taste the Soup" and a bossa nova version of the Gene Simmons song "See You Tonight" (yeah, really!). Album closer "I've Gotta Boy" is a cover of First Base's modern punk-pop gem "I've Got a Girl." Guitarist Tallulah Buscher plays on the track — using the same guitar, amp, and pedal that her mom Melanie Vammen used on the first Muffs album! The songs written for the album fit in splendidly. The title track, which is full of warm '70s vibes, celebrates a kinship with one's far-cooler alter ego. "Alone with You," co-written by the famed writer Dawn Eden Goldstein & Peter Horvath from The Anderson Council, is a perfect power pop song. "Ride Between the Cars" hits quickly with a melody that I can't get out of my head. 

We didn't have to wait very long for the first great album of 2023. If melody-driven guitar pop is your thing, She Steals Candy is the album for you. And if you liked the first Juniper album, you are certain to like this one even more. From the vocals to the musicianship to the production to the arrangements, everything about this album hits the spot. At a time when we're conditioned to think of cover songs as filler, it's a joy to come across a record like this that celebrates great songs. Juniper and Michael Shelley chose to record all these songs because they love them, and they'd be the first people to encourage you to seek out the original versions. I also like that if you didn't already know that most of these songs were covers, you'd probably mistake them for originals. All these tracks fit together perfectly. Even as it finds Juniper stretching herself genre-wise, She Steals Candy at its core is an indie power pop fan's delight. Singing along is both unavoidable and good for the soul. The album is out today on Confidential Recordings and Fabcom Records!

Friday, January 06, 2023

Kid Gulliver - "Kiss and Tell"

It's always an event in Faster and Louder Land when Kid Gulliver releases new music. My first KG review dates back nearly three years (seems longer than that!), and I have had the pleasure since then to report on another five singles, an EP, and a compilation album. "Kiss and Tell," the band's newest single, is a teaser for a forthcoming album of the same name. In typical Kid Gulliver fashion, "Kiss and Tell" is two-and-a-half minutes of absolutely perfect pop. This song sounds like '70s power pop by way of the later '60s, and it's an ear-pleaser in every respect. The melody running throughout the song is so exquisitely tuneful that I still find it running through my head long after the music stops. Simone's vocal is wonderfully bittersweet, and David puts on a guitar clinic full of twists and surprises. And how about that bass line! "Kiss and Tell" is another bona fide hit from a band that never misses. It will become widely available January 23rd, but you can purchase it now from Bandcamp for just one dollar.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

The Kickboy - self titled single

Back in November, I reviewed a crackling single called "Kids" from Delaware-based punk rock band The Kickboy. "Kids" ended up as my #4 rated single of 2022, and I promised that this band would be making some serious noise in 2023. On that note, I now present The Kickboy's first release of 2023. It's another digital single — this one featuring two tracks co-written by bassist Vince Kilpatrick (also of The Keefs, Negative Zeros, etc.) and singer Bobbi Kaeppler. On this particular release, The Kickboy nails the sort of sound you might expect given the band name: classic, pre-hardcore California punk rock. I'm talking hard-hitting and melodic punk rock from the old school. If you're into the likes of Avengers, X, The Brat, and early Black Flag, these tunes ought to hit you just the way you like it. The sound is powerful and timeless, yet the lyrics are very contemporary as they tackle such themes as an overmedicated society and the "social media disease" now running rampant. Currently, this single is available from Spotify. The Kickboy certainly has interest in doing some vinyl releases. So if you run a record label and have interest in working with this band, don't hesitate to reach out via the Facebook page. This band is the real deal!

Monday, January 02, 2023

Matt Speedway - December & I

In addition to releasing one of the year's best albums with his band The Speedways, Matthew Julian had quite the prolific 2022 as he managed to release eight free demo EPs on his solo Bandcamp page. The latest of these EPs, December & I, features, in Julian's own words, "two real good 'uns, a couple of promising ones, and a filler." He's been turning out these demos at such a speedy rate that I've struggled to keep up with reviews. But I have to say this: one of the coolest things about being a music fan in the digital age is the ability to sometimes hear your favorite artists share works in progress in real time. My god, I would have freaked if I'd been able to hear all of Billy Joel's demos when I was 10 years old! Half the fun with these Matt Speedway demos is trying to figure which songs are supposed to be the hits and which ones are supposed to be the filler. It's totally a guessing game since songwriters are almost always their own worst critics. For me, the high points of December & I are the first two songs, "Enjoy Yourself With An Ordinary Fool" and "Camera Shy." That certainly makes sense, doesn't it? The latter is what you might call a "vintage" Matthew Julian song and seems a likely candidate for inclusion when all these demo tracks are cherry-picked to make a proper album. But there's something about the former that really grabs my attention. It's more elegant and intimate — the kind of song that comes pouring out of you when you're recording bedroom demos and ends up being a stroke of genius. I love how these lyrics could be construed as either romantic or dire depending on your interpretation:

Enjoy yourself, this could be the start of something else/
with someone who's just an ordinary fool like you/
an ordinary fool who'll take you back to a time/
when the private lives of humankind had a chance to breathe/
ordinary fools in love, the one that you were dreaming of will take you there

Nice Joe Jackson allusion too! 

Elsewhere, "Kim Wilde & Lemonade" is a promising number in a new wave/synth pop style. "In The Cold Light Of Christmas Day" is not so much a Christmas song as it is a quite superb love song that references Christmas. I'm hearing echoes of Elvis Costello on this one. Who knows? Maybe this will become Julian's own "Last Christmas" and send him skyrocketing to further fame and perennial royalties. 

Matthew Julian's final tally for his 2022 demos is 39 original songs and a KISS cover. That's an amazingly productive year not even considering the brilliance of The Speedways' Talk of the Town. For a recording artist, that kind of constant activity can be a great way to maintain one's sanity. Even if Julian ultimately decides that there are only 1.5 keepers per demo, that still means that he already has a great 12-song album written and demoed! He told me last year that he's undertaken this project for himself but will be happy if it brings pleasure to 5 or 6 people. That sounds a whole lot like my own approach to this blog all these years! It takes guts to share unfinished songs with the entire world, but fans like me consider it a real treat to be able to hear all this stuff. If you're a Speedways fan and haven't yet given these demos a listen, I highly recommend digging into all of them. How can you beat free pop music?

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Billy Tibbals - "Onwards and Upwards"

How about some pop to start the new year? On the next two episodes of Born Too Late WFMU, Alex Kish and I will be playing songs from our favorite releases of 2022. One of Alex's top selections is the debut single from Billy Tibbals, which just came out on this past Friday on Los Angeles–based label Curation Records. I figured a review of this single would be a perfect way for this blog to kick off 2023. "Onwards and Upwards" was co-produced by Reza Martin, drummer in Tibbals' band and also well-known as a member of power pop darlings Uni Boys. Given the Martin connection, you might expect this single to be somewhat comparable to Uni Boys. It definitely is, but Tibbals brings his own style to the modern power pop scene. He's a British expat who moved to Hollywood in 2014, and his love for classic British pop music melds nicely with the mid-'70s power pop vibe you can expect from a Reza Martin production. "Onwards and Upwards" is a punchy, melodious number that has me for some reason imagining The Records if they were fronted by a young Robert Smith. "Lucy," a dramatic tale of an estranged, feuding elderly married couple, suggests the influence of the Beatles and Ray Davies while still coming off as a fresh and original composition. All those who can never get enough timeless pop singles will delight in this 1-2 punch. On his debut release, Billy Tibbals shows an undeniable flair for melody and an engaging vocal style that have me eager to hear more.