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.