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!