Sunday, April 30, 2023

Friends of Cesar Romero - Gameboy America

What can I say about J. Waylon that I haven't said already? If you're into the power pop/punk thing and don't own at least  a few of his releases, you're missing out on one of the finest songwriting talents out there. With his one-man-band Friends of Cesar Romero, he's proven to be not only prolific but also remarkably consistent. Gameboy America, the latest FoCR release, is yet another gem. While last month's Spiral Eye Roll leaned more in the pop-punk direction, Gameboy America (installment #35 in the Doomed Babe Series) finds J. Waylon flexing his power pop chops. It's not just that he writes about heartbreak and romantic disappointment so convincingly. He has also has a way of articulating his feelings that is absolute genius. Check out these lyrics from "Gameboy America":

You hold my heart when I’m held in your hands
You sang me lines from your favorite bands
You sold me dreams in 8 bit lands
Like Gameboy America

I know, right? And the whole song is that same level. Just read through the lyrics on Bandcamp, and you'll swear J. Waylon has been inside your brain. He's the poet laureate of the brokenhearted! Am I the only one who heard this song and thought, "This is like REM with a better singer"? "Somebody's Someone" is another slice of power pop perfection that eloquently explores that excruciating moment when you sense that your special someone might have a special someone else. At this point, it's no longer a surprise when J. Waylon turns out songs this great. But that doesn't mean we should take it for granted. Friends of Cesar Romero is a treasure of the underground music scene and more than worthy of a follow on Bandcamp!

Justine and The Unclean - "The Chasm"

It's a joy to be able to review an absolutely terrific band I haven't mentioned in a number of years — the mighty Justine and the Unclean. Out on Justine Covault's own label Red On Red Records, new single "The Chasm" is a must-hear if you're a power pop enthusiast. And when I say power pop, I'm talking about throwing it all the way back to the roots of the term. For this track, Justine encouraged The Unclean (bassist Janet Egan, guitarist Charles Hansen, and drummer Jim Janota) to channel the power and bombast of The Who. And that's exactly what they did. If thundering power chords and a dynamic rhythm section are your cup of tea, you'll be hitting the repeat button over and over. Anyone wanting to hear a great rock band firing on all cylinders should attend this master class. Lyrically, "The Chasm" is something a little different from the more straight-forward tales of love gone sour that Justine is so known for. This, my friends, is true poetry. The language arts teacher in me can't help but marvel at Justine's use of nature references as symbols and metaphors for a breach of trust between two individuals. She puts a lot of twang in her vocal, and that really works nicely with this song. "The Chasm" is the first song released by Justine and The Unclean in over two years, and it does not disappoint. Shout-out to Stephen Fredette for the amazing art work!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Sex Mex - We're a Happy Family

Quite a few of my influential friends have been touting Sex Mex's new EP We're a Happy Family. And I can totally understand why. When I saw its "Too punk to be pop. Too pop to be punk. Too late to be new wave" Instagram bio, I knew this San Antonio–based band would be for me. The four tracks comprising We're a Happy Family are indeed a perfect mashup of punk, pop, and synth-driven new wave. Catchier tunes than this simply do not exist. Listen to "We'll Be Gone" once, and it will be stuck in your head until the end of time. If you had told me this was a long-lost Dirtnap Records release from 20 years ago, I would not have doubted you. A brief inspection of Sex Mex's Bandcamp will reveal that this group has been turning out releases at a rate that's almost too prolific to believe. If you like poppy punk rock with synths, We're a Happy Family is a must-buy. And I'm using "buy" loosely since this is a free download. You might want to be careful Googling the band name.

Poppy Robbie - "Twist and Pout"

I seem to be playing this strange game with Poppy Robbie's "Twist and Pout." Twice I've reviewed this song, and twice it has disappeared from the Internet like it never really existed. I had to ask myself: "Did this song ever exist, or did I just dream of it one night after drinking too many ginger ales?" Like so many of my great ideas for novels, perhaps it came to me as a fleeting thought and then vanished into thin air. Meanwhile, people have been visiting my blog for years and reading reviews of Poppy Robbie songs they can no longer listen to and wondering what I've been smoking. But then something funny happened: the mysterious, elusive "Twist and Pout" has turned up again — this time as the 35th volume of Something To Do Records' world-famous Something To Do Music for Something To Do People singles series. For the benefit of those of you outside of the pop-punk underground, I will say that inclusion in this series is pretty much the highest possible honor any pop-punk artist could ever aspire to. Once your music has been deemed worthy of Something To Do people, you have truly made it. You have fame. You have respect. I'm pretty sure you get some kind of jacket in the mail. I can safely assume, then, that "Twist and Pout" will not ghost me again. 

On that note, I must publicly endorse this song for a third time. It finds the artist once known as the dictator of pop channeling his inner Elvis Costello via Buddy Holly and turning the tables on all those show attendees who either heckle or (even worse) completely ignore those musicians who are on stage pouring out their hearts and souls. It's a hilarious little song which gleefully mocks those individuals who partake in live music events simply to be cooler than thou. Many of you reading this right now have had your own experiences with un-supportive crowds. Should you choose to incorporate "Twist and Pout" into your live set as a retaliatory measure, I can assure you that Robbie will not demand compensation. Somewhere in the world right now, someone is putting "Twist and Pout" on a playlist with Brad Marino's "Local Show." Or at least that's what I'd like to believe. God love all of you musicians.

The Melmacs - "Alive"

The Melmacs, still fresh off of releasing one of the best albums of recent years, are back with the first installment in a new batch of singles! This German foursome is already one of my favorite bands, but "Alive" suggests that The Melmacs are only getting better. In typical Melmacs fashion, it combines catchy melodies and an irresistible energy with serious lyrics that confront darker aspects of modern times. The band describes the track as a "dousing hot-cold-shower, which sums up the blazing, man-made destruction we all live in." That's totally dead-on. "Alive" is nothing short of a powerpop punk anthem. It finds The Melmacs using upbeat music to say something important about society and the world we live in. Somehow optimism and pessimism coexist seamlessly here. Even as the band acknowledges a world plagued by despair, there's a life force to this song that reminds us that not all hope is lost. To be alive — and not just survive  — is a fine thing to aspire to. Meanwhile, The Melmacs have never sounded better as a band. Guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, and vocals are all on-point and in perfect harmony. If this is a taste of what's to come with album #2, I'd say it's going to be something special. And if you don't already own Good Advice, you are seriously depriving yourself!  

Sunday, April 23, 2023


Joey, Norby, Jash, and Aaron — collectively known as The Smart Shoppers  — are back with their second full-length album, LEFTOVERS FROM TOMORROW. Their debut album, DORKWAVE, remains a criminally underrated work of art. I mean, come on: it practically invented a new genre of music! LEFTOVERS FROM TOMORROW carries on in a similar vein. It walks the very fine line separating punk rock and new wave without ever crossing all the way over on either side. It's dorky and catchy and wonderfully weird and super fun and (of course) smart. Yet it's not a mere repeat of its predecessor. On this release, The Smart Shoppers broaden their stylistic palette with a really nifty Cars knock-off ("Party Girl"), a wink and a nod to proper garage rock ("Slacks"), and a satisfying stab at thrashing pop-punk ("Big Love"). And even when the band sticks to familiar terrain, its elevates its previous songwriting on brilliant numbers like "Store" and "Simpin' USA." One could argue that "egg punk, garage punk, diy punk, diy music, diy record label, indie rock, indie, weird, Nerd Rock, - Looking Glass" is perhaps the best use of 47 seconds ever by a non-hardcore band. Joey Shops, as always, is the perfect vocalist for this kind of band  — capable of pulling off the dorky/weird approach in a way that's unique and genuinely not annoying. The band's sense of humor remains compatible with mine, manifesting itself mostly in sharp social commentary and a formidable commitment to song titles starting with the letter "S." I have to love a band that can write a song like "Sex Organisms" that flirts with being absolutely stupid but ends up being anything but. These guys are way better musicians and songwriters than they'd ever let on, and ultimately that's what makes them the Bart Starrs of the egg punk universe. If punky new wave and new wavey punk are your jam and you nonetheless ignored my previous recommendation to purchase DORKWAVE, you have another opportunity to be a smart shopper.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Nick Piunti - "Heart Stops Beating"

I will be honest: most times when a band or artist goes back to re-record an old song, my untrained ears don't hear a lick of a difference. When I first heard that Nick Piunti was going back into the studio to better his 2015 album track "Heart Stops Beating," I figured he was just being a perfectionist (you know how those talented people can be sometimes....ha ha). Wouldn't almost any pop-rock songwriter out there wish they could have recorded a song as good as "Heart Stops Beating"? But let me tell you: the 2023 version of "Heart Stops Beating" (out now on JEM Records) absolutely does top the original. This, my friends, is a hit. Why settle for a nine-out-of-ten song when you know you've got a full ten in you? 

"Heart Stops Beating" was originally released on Piunti's magnificent 2015 album Beyond the Static. Piunti tracked it with Donny Brown on drums, Andy Reed on bass, and Ryan Allen on harmony vocals. Piunti always loved the band track but long felt that the vocal could have been better. It turns out he was onto something! He went back to Big Sky Recording earlier this year with his longtime producer Geoff Michael to cut a new lead vocal. For good measure, he added some harmony vocals and some new rhythm guitar tracks. While fundamentally the same song as ever, "Heart Stops Beating" has been perfected. There's undeniably more "oomph" in the vocal, and that chorus absolutely explodes. No wonder Little Steven has been touting this track! 

If you're a fan of Nick Piunti and JEM Records, you can look forward to a double-LP compilation of Piunti's pre-JEM releases 13 In My Head and Beyond the Static due out later this year. For now, enjoy the timeless power pop perfection of "Heart Stops Beating" 2023!

Miesha and the Spanks - Unconditional Love In Hi​-​Fi

With their new album Unconditional Love In Hi​-​Fi, Calgary-based duo Miesha and the Spanks will restore your faith in modern-day rock music. In a perfect world, this band and this album would be absolutely massive. As I considered the strength of the advance singles and the assurances of a label owner friend of mine that this album was something truly special, I identified Unconditional Love In Hi​-​Fi as one of my most highly anticipated LPs of 2023. I jotted the name of the album down on my big board and circled my calendar. But even though I was fully expecting to love this record, I'm still totally blown away by this Mint Records release. My god, this album is a monster! If hard-rocking music with huge, anthemic hooks and powerful lyrics & vocals sounds good to you, you need to stop reading my nonsense immediately and go hit that "buy" button. 

One thing I appreciate about Miesha and the Spanks is that they have an unassailable set of influences yet still have a sound that is fully their own. And the talent of the band members truly shines. Miesha Louie is a phenomenal singer and gifted lyricist who kicks ass on guitar. Sean Hamilton is one of the most exciting drummers in modern-day rock and roll. The cliché about guitar/drum duos is that they don't need a bass player. Sometimes that's total BS, but it's absolutely true in the case of this band! With a little musical accompaniment from producers Daniel Farrant and Paul Rawson, these two exemplify what a "power duo" ought to be. While the band's sound is so closely linked with Miesha Louie's bold, impassioned vocals, its musical style is a perfect mix of just about everything that's awesome. In these songs, I can hear elements of everything from '90s punk and alternative rock to power pop to old school garage rock to proto punk to proper modern rock. This record somehow manages to fresh and new in 2023 even as it reminds me of music I've loved for decades. 

With so many of these songs having already been released as singles, I was curious to hear how it would all come together. Well, it comes together absolutely marvelously. Unconditional Love In Hi​-​Fi doesn't feel like a collection of singles. It's a singular work of art that tells a story. Several tracks are preceded by brief introductions, and the songs flow into each other seamlessly. I love that Miesha Louie writes and sings about the things that matter to her. These songs are her life, and thus they cover a wide range of themes and emotions. "Dig Me Out," last year's chilling single about the horrors of residential schools, is the leadoff song and a perfect tone-setter for an album on which Louie's mixed-Secwépemc heritage looms large. "So Mad," a powerful sing-along anthem about the day-to-day realities women must face, is especially relevant in the light of recent events in American politics. I like to imagine people all over the world singing along to this track at the top of their lungs. "Bear Kids" is one of the most extraordinary songs I've heard in ages. It connects the death of Louie's father to the birth of her twins and is literally a healing ritual in song. "Mom Jeans // Mom Genes" finds Louie reflecting on the new mom experience and all the changes, struggles, and joys that come with it. On "GRLSROK," Louie shares her story of how she became a rock and roll super hero and encourages the girls of today to follow in her footsteps. "Heart on Fire" is another rousing anthem —  a song which celebrates that feeling in your soul when you know you've arrived at an awesome moment in your life. Album closer "I Was Gonna" finds Louie and Hamilton humorously recounting all the things they were "going" to do before life got in the way. The song pairs nicely with "It's My Year," which is literally the other side of the coin. At some point, you find the will to overcome all obstacles and realize some of those hopes and dreams (except for hiring a bass player).   

Unconditional Love In Hi​-​Fi is a triumph for a number of reasons. Of course the songs rock and compel you to sing along. But at a deeper level, this is a remarkably relatable set of songs. And this album is true to life, with the tone of the songs ranging from angry to inspiring to somber to triumphant to reflective to playful. In telling her own story about processing grief, overcoming self-doubt, adapting to change, and finding the things that set her soul on fire, Miesha Louie is telling the story of a lot of people. In one of the album's most quotable lines, Louie sings "Needed to learn the words to every song from Very Necessary/Yeah it was very necessary to me." I couldn't hear/read that lyric without thinking that numerous young girls are going to feel the same way about  Unconditional Love In Hi​-​Fi and start their own bands because of it. If you don't like this record, you don't like music.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Kurt Baker - "Secrets"

Remarkably, this is my 20th time reviewing Kurt Baker (not counting at least a dozen more write-ups on other releases he has played or sung on) over the last ten years plus. He certainly rates as one of this blog's most longstanding favorite artists, and I would argue that his brand-new single "Secrets" is one of the best tracks he has ever put his name on. What I dig about "Secrets" (out now on Wicked Cool Records) is that it sounds like a radio hit. It has the feel of a true single and not just a random track that has turned up online. It was originally conceived by Baker and co-author Kris Rodgers as a '90s-style pop song called "Two To Groove." But once Baker met up with his pal Jeff Beam to record the guitars for the track, the song was immediately transformed. Lyrics were re-written, the title was changed, and Baker found himself in the familiar territory of melodic guitar pop. You can still hear a little of the song's original vibe, but the warm, upbeat feel of "Secrets" strikes me as very '60s/'70s. Baker plays a nifty James Jamerson-inspired bass line, Rodgers works his usual magic on the organ, and Beam is as smooth as silk on guitar. I'm always a sucker for an optimistic love song, and I'm especially feeling this one. That hook is pure gold! And how about those harmony vocals? Summer is in the air, and "Secrets" seems tailor-made for the season. It's one of those songs that makes you feel good about being alive. With Rodgers and Beam, Baker has written a song that's unique in his catalog yet certain to please longtime fans. It's the epitome of perfect pop! 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Split System - self titled 7"

The Aussies' domination of punk rock music in 2023 continues with a double A-side banger 7" from Melbourne's mighty Split System. Still fresh off of releasing one of the best albums of last year, this fab five (Jackson Reid Briggs on vocals, Arron Mawson on guitar, Ryan Webb on guitar, Deon Slaviero on bass, and Mitch McGregor on drums) tears into what could very well be its strongest release to date. Both tracks — "Bullet" and "On the Street" — rip hard and fast in the storied Aussie punk tradition. These dudes are not fooling around. They are here to smash it up, and they waste no time getting down to business. If relentless chainsaw guitars, a steamroller rhythm section, and a singer screaming his guts out sound enticing to you (and why wouldn't they?), consider this single a no-question-about-it must-own. Limited colored vinyl is available now from Legless Records! 

Saturday, April 08, 2023

TJ Cabot - S'Cool Days & Past Discrepancies

Still riding sky high from MAXIMUMROCKNROLL's ringing endorsement of the extremely-limited The Sound of Cape Breton compact disc (owned exclusively by nefarious bootleggers, choice record reviewers, and eccentric trillionaires living in secret subterranean enclaves), TJ Cabot celebrates his ascent into international fame with an absolutely crackling virtual double A-side that's as unstoppable as the Leafs' power play. I was at first surprised that TJ led this release with a cover tune. But within 20 seconds, I totally understood. "S'Cool Days" is a cover of Canadian singer Stanley Frank's 1977 bubblegum glam rock stomper (which famously shared a piece of vinyl with The Saints on a Power Exchange Records release called New Wave). "S'Cool Days" is a classic in its own right, but here our man TJ gives it a full-bore punk rock and roll kick in the pants that blew through my earhole like a firecracker. This track is a bona fide smash that will surely be featured on all the finest radio programs (and perhaps mine too). It will almost certainly turn more than a few people onto the original version. Remember when Teengenerate was regularly hipping whole new generations onto obscure '70s punk singles with its cover selections? TJ Cabot is starting to do that for deep cut Canadian gems! The other half of this single, "Past Discrepancies," is an original number in TJ's usual style of super tough '70s punk rock and roll meets trashed-out post Y2K garage punk. It's fast-paced and rockin' with a toe-tapping beat and attitude to burn. As always, TJ recorded and mixed these tracks on the lowest budget conceivable to man and then enlisted James O'Toole to make them sound like a million bucks. These tunes are programmed to self-destruct after three free spins on Bandcamp, so prepare to fork over two dollars and be completely happy about it. Locals can catch a one-off live TJ Cabot show at The Caveau in Moncton on April 21st. He'll be backed by The Real Rejects — a star-studded cast of Moncton players featuring members of many of your favorite bands. Also on the bill will be Moncton's own The Whoregasms and two of the most exciting groups in all of Canada: Mononegatives and Taxi Girls (each making its first trip to The Maritimes). Check out the Facebook event page for all the pertinent info! 

Friday, April 07, 2023

Itchy & The Nits - demo tape

One rarely hears the term "demo tape" in this day and age. In a digital world, the distinction between an official release and a demo might not even need to exist. But I have many fond memories of coming across bands' demo tapes over the years and realizing I was getting in on the ground floor of something special. Such is the case with Sydney-based trio Itchy & The Nits. Their sold-out demo tape is available digitally from the Warttmann Inc. Bandcamp page, and it's one of the most exciting things I've heard in quite a while. Bethany, Eva, and Cin dish out 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. Clocking in at less than ten minutes, this demo/EP is a delightful romp with hooks galore and attitude for days. If this band doesn't put a smile on your face, there is literally no hope for you. 

Vista Blue - "Coming Out Swinging"

On its first release of 2023, Vista Blue renews its annual tradition of celebrating the arrival of baseball season. They say everyone's an optimist on opening day, and "Coming Out Swinging" exemplifies that very notion. But there's something more to "Coming Out Swinging" than just the ordinary high hopes of a new season. The team depicted in this song doesn't just believe this will finally be its year — it knows it. It's been through some trying seasons and encountered some bad luck, but now everything is about to change. There's electricity in the air. When you realize your hitting, pitching, and defense are all coming together, you can't wait to get on the field and take on all comers. This song is clearly not about the 2023 Phillies, but it does have me fondly recalling the 2007 Jimmy Rollins–led team that was just one year removed from winning it all. And if you're a Rays fan, you might think the band wrote this song just for you! I love the energy of this song. It's way over on the pop side of the pop-punk spectrum, and the swagger of the lyrics comes off far more joyful than cocky. Featuring a melody you can hum all day and a chorus you won't be able to get out of your head, this is a vintage Vista Blue number in every respect. "Tre' Morgan Hit for the Cycle on Mardi Gras Day" is a factual statement and the virtual B-side to this single. Here the style shifts to lightspeed punk rock. I've decided I should refrain from further comment since I've already jinxed one LSU sports season. 

While any decent fact-checking site can debunk the foul rumor that Vista Blue only writes songs about baseball, I will say that "Coming Out Swinging" is about as perfect of a baseball song as you'll ever hear. It's got a great hook & great lyrics with nary a mention of a "speedball." Any Major League team not playing it in the clubhouse by the Fourth of July deserves to lose. Four months without new music from Vista Blue felt like an eternity, but this new single was worth the wait. Two songs in 134 seconds is a remarkable display of songwriting efficiency. Clearly Mike and Mark are taking this pitch clock thing seriously!

Telegenic Pleasure - Concentric Grave

Holy fucking hell! I usually try to keep this blog PG-rated, but those were the three words that latched on to me when it was time to start writing this piece. Telegenic Pleasure is a band I reviewed quite favorably back in 2019 (I was shocked to discover it was actually that long ago!). But on its second LP, the London (England and Canada!) based duo has gone mega next level on us. Out now on No Front Teeth and Feral Kid Records, Concentric Grave is the work of two titans of our community: Rob Brake from Mononegatives, Isolation Party, etc. and No Front Teeth head honcho Marco Palumbo-Rodrigues (I'll refrain from mentioning all his bands since you don't have all day to read this review). The album was written and recorded back in the dreadful summer of 2020. Brake created the music in Canada. Across the pond, Palumbo-Rodrigues added the vocals. I almost can't believe this album was produced in such a manner. It sounds like the work of a single (and very brilliant) brain. All I can say is that these two men's artistic visions are remarkably in synch. So either these guys were separated at birth or they had the means to communicate telepathically across an ocean. 

Telegenic Pleasure's first release was that rare synth-punk album that I could honestly describe as enjoyable. But with Concentric Grave, this duo has truly blown me away. I've always thought of Rob Brake as a mad genius composer with a synthesizer. Now imagine what a guy like that could come up with while haunted by the specter of unprecedented social isolation, the world in disarray, and death literally floating in the air. His compositions have never been more dynamic and enthralling, and surely the voices in his head sounded a lot like Terminal Gagger. Concentric Grave is full of songs inspired by anxiety and despair, yet it manages to be tremendous fun and musically alive. These intercontinental Londoners make music reminiscent of some obvious godheads (Devo, Screamers, Gary Numan), but there's plenty of their own unique brilliance flowing through these 12 songs. Far more than just part of the atmosphere, Brake's synthesizers drive these songs. Palumbo-Rodrigues' lyrics and vocals are some of the strongest of his career — and that's really saying something. Ranging from frenzied and frantic ("Shallow Human Characteristics," "Greed for Guilt") to chilling and foreboding ("Imaginary Crimes") to angular and energetic ("Random Sequence"), these songs are as hook-laden as they are haunting. There's a truly impressive pop sensibility lying beneath the surface of these songs. "Sugar Effigy" is what I wish all synth-punk could be  — a total adrenaline rush with synths that sound like laser guns. "Hidden Moon" is the best song Joy Division never wrote. "I Wanna Know" gives the Demics classic a nifty postmodern makeover. "Underlying Problem" is Devo-core that puts all other Devo-core to shame. "Polarized" is the ultimate anthem for our times. 

If I'm often lukewarm on the synth/post-punk thing, it's because music of that sort frequently strikes me as dull or lacking in emotion. Concentric Grave is the very opposite of dull and lacking in emotion. It's the sound of two souls kicking and screaming their way out of the darkness. And we are now far enough removed from peak pandemic times to be able to enjoy an album of this nature without it hitting too close to home. There have been quite a few extraordinary albums released in 2023 already, but this sophomore release from Telegenic Pleasure is on a collision course with my year-end top ten.