Monday, October 30, 2023

Mike and Pat - "That Zombie Stole My Girl!"

Out today just in time for Halloween is the exciting debut single from the eagerly anticipated super(natural) duo Mike and Pat! Mike and Pat is not a popular fruit candy. Nor is it a comedy team from the '50s or a pair of rival cheesesteak moguls. Rather it's a joint venture between Mike from Vista Blue and Pat from The Putz. That sounds like a dream tandem on paper, but I've been cautious about seeming dream tandems ever since Joel Embiid & James Harden floundered in consecutive post-seasons and Yuengling Hershey's Chocolate Porter came out tasting like watered-down Yoo-hoo. Yet apparently the third time is the charm as members of perhaps my favorite two pop-punk bands have come together to knock their debut release out of the park. "That Zombie Stole My Girl!" is a splendid shot of monstrous pop-punk goodness that tells the story promised in the title (wonderfully depicted in Johnny Badgrammer's cover art). Horror and heartbreak in the same song? What fun! I couldn't have imagined this single getting even better on the B-side, but somehow it does! "I Like 'Em Tall, Green, and Rotting" tells the same story as the A-side but from the point of view of the girl. And hearing her tell the story, you just can't blame her for falling for that zombie. Far from just another gimmicky horror-punk act, Mike and Pat are here to teach us valuable life lessons. One person's heartbreak is sometimes another person's magical romance. And if a zombie can find love, certainly that means there's hope for everyone. All in all, this is an A+ pop-punk tune and an A+ horror tune, and you can hear the distinctive presence of both Mike and Pat coming through in a major way. Man, those harmonies are to die for. Bonus points for the Oxford comma! Have a happy Halloween, and be sure to make Mike and Pat part of your festivities!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Dogmatics - "I Can't Get Over You"

Well here's a Rocktober surprise for you! The mighty Dogmatics have released a single called "I Can't Get Over You" — their first new music in a year-and-a-half! This Rum Bar Records release will pump us all up for more music from Dogmatics in 2024! What I admire about Dogmatics is that they've built a body of work in recent years (2019's She's the One EP and last year's Drop That Needle EP) that stands on its own merits. Even if you'd never heard the group's classic releases, you'd still consider them one of the best rock 'n' roll bands going just based on what they've put out there since reuniting.  "I Can't Get Over You" is nothing more and nothing less than a straight-ahead rock 'n' roll tune in a timeless style. It's got a great hook, and it will get your toes tapping in no time flat. This could almost pass for some lost gem from Buddy Holly or Bobby Fuller, and that's about the highest compliment I could pay a song. Jerry Lehane sure knows how to write a three-chord rock 'n' roll tune! They say you can't get anything for a dollar anymore, but "I Can't Get Over You" is evidence to the contrary. You're gonna play the heck out of this single! 

Stars Like Ours - Better Every Day

One of my musical "Wow!" moments of last year was hearing the Stars Like Ours CD released by Rum Bar Records. Essentially a compilation of singles and EPs released between 2015 and 2018, this album was such an on-the-nose throwback to early '90s left of the dial alternative rock that it gave me chills. And of course the players involved (Michelle Paulhus, Kristin Holliday, and Rice Edmonston) are all fixtures of Boston's world class indie/punk scene. Back with a new EP on Rum Bar, Stars Like Ours sound like even better version of their 2010s selves. Better Every Day again kicks up those throwback vibes, but the band sounds tighter and more powerful than ever and benefits from big-time production. When you think of a power trio, this is what it ought to sound like. The guitars, drums, and bass all shine, and these songs truly put the rock in indie rock. The band's '90s inspirations have always been obvious, but it has never been fully about that. First and foremost, this band is about killer tunes. And Better Every Day is full of 'em — always leaving me wanting more no matter how many times I spin the disc. "What's Going Wrong" is the band's best song to date, and there's little drop-off from there. Somehow this band manages to transport me back to 1993 while still adding a contemporary twist to their classic alt-pop sound. On a Rum Bar roster loaded with incredible talent, Stars Like Ours have cemented their place on the top shelf.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Psychotic Youth - Happy Songs

On its latest album, Sweden's legendary Psychotic Youth puts on a master class in power pop. Released 38 years after the band's formation, Happy Songs is a reminder that Psychotic Youth still sounds like...Psychotic Youth! There are no concessions to new trends or conscious attempts to demonstrate maturity. Happy Songs is the kind of record this band has been dependably producing for decades, and in terms of quality, it's up there with the best of the group's full-length releases. By now you know the recipe: high-energy, punk-influenced power pop that marries catchy, feelgood tunes to lyrics full of "bitter thoughts of love, hope and despair." What could be better than that? On board for this release is a classic Psychotic Youth lineup featuring original members Jorgen Red Westman, Gunnar Frick, Kent Sjoholm, and Anders Nordstrand along with long-time member Ulf Abrahamsson. These guys have turned out a vintage Psychotic Youth record that puts the power in the pop and delivers hooks for days. Westman on vocals sounds ageless, and his songwriting adheres to the maxim of not fixing what isn't broken. From the opening notes of "A New Plan," it's clear that you're listening to the mighty Psychotic Youth. The way those punchy guitars lock in with Sjoholm's propulsive drums and Frick's spirited organ is truly unmistakable. From start to finish, it's pretty much wall-to-wall hits. The likes of "She's Gonna Do You In," "Out of This World," and "I Don't Wanna Go Now" would slot in perfectly on literally any Psychotic Youth album. There are also a couple of really excellent covers in the Real Kids' deep cut "Can't Talk to That Girl" and The ClockWatchers' "Drop in the Bucket." Not merely a vital influence on today's powerpop/punk scene, Psychotic Youth remains one of its standout acts. School is in session!

Vista Blue - Even Dracula Will Be There


October can never truly be over until Vista Blue releases its annual Halloween EP. A lot of us were starting to worry that the band was cutting it close this year. I was beginning to imagine some nightmare scenario where I'd have to re-live Penn State losing to Ohio State on an endless loop, and I'd never get to crack open my Christmas beers. But with nine days to spare, Mike and Mark came through in a big way. Even Dracula Will Be There is everything you'd want a Vista Blue Halloween release to be. I always appreciate the band's ability to summarize an entire horror movie in under three minutes. Appearing on this EP are odes to two highly-rated indie horror flicks of very recent vintage: Patrick Rea's They Wait in the Dark and John Isberg's Final Summer. "Final Summer," which has a hook to die for, is the kind of song we hope Vista Blue will never stop writing. "I Gotta Rock" references It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and turns out to be the ultimate Halloween anthem. This was a brilliant idea for a song, and I must say Mike and Rusty totally did it justice. For those of you who have Halloween playlists, "I Gotta Rock" is 100% a mandatory addition.  

It's Halloween weekend, and all is right with the world. You can stream They Wait in the Dark and Final Summer, listen to Vista Blue EPs for hours, and daydream about the candy you are soon to receive. I will pour myself a Christmas ale and contemplate the horror of Craig Kimbrel blowing the Phillies' season.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Parasites - EP​-​Onymous

Parasites, in my book one of the greatest pop-punk bands to ever exist, have a new record coming out on Otitis Media Records. EP​-​Onymous is an absolute treat for Parasites fans in the respect that it features tracks recorded 34 years ago which went unreleased until now. At the time these tracks were recorded, the entire band was just Dave and Ronnie. According to Dave, he and Ronnie wrote these songs for Sweet Baby in an effort to coerce the band to record a second LP. The Parasites guys were huge fans of Sweet Baby's classic debut album It's A Girl and got to talking to Dallas Denery when Sweet Baby played the Pipeline in Newark, New Jersey. Upon hearing that Sweet Baby didn't have enough songs to do a second album, Dave and Ronnie offered to write some songs for them. So they wrote five songs, demoed them on four-track cassette in Ronnie's basement, and sent them off to Sweet Baby. Sadly, Sweet Baby broke up and never made a second album. Thankfully, the songs Parasites wrote to be Sweet Baby songs were not permanently lost. The demo tracks were transferred to digital and then cleaned up and mixed by Matt Yonker. And now they're an honest-to-goodness Parasites record featuring Sweet Baby–like artwork by Rev. Norb and liner notes by Dallas Denery himself (who admits he doesn't recall requesting the demos but does remember loving them when they arrived in the mail). 

The real bombshell of EP​-​Onymous is that a couple of these tracks ("Fool for You" and "Love Me Too") went on to become classic Parasites songs. Who ever realized that Dave actually wrote those songs for Sweet Baby? Yet listening to them now, it totally makes sense. I always knew that Parasites were big Sweet Baby fans (they famously covered "She's from Salinas," one of the greatest songs ever written). But now I understand the deeper connection. Listening to EP​-​Onymous, I can absolutely hear these tunes in my head as Sweet Baby songs. But they're also vintage Parasites songs. The Ronnie-penned "Perfect Girl" and "I Got a Crush on Donna" are unearthed treasures from the band's early years. Longtime Parasites fans will flip out over these tracks! 

Who in the world would have ever imagined a Dave & Ronnie Parasites EP coming out in the year 2023? EP​-​Onymous is a must-buy for any Parasites fan and really for anyone who loves pop-punk. Matt Yonker did amazing work restoring these recordings, and the songs hold up so well that one of the best record labels out there was excited to release them. Click here for the juicy details and pre-ordering information. And stay tuned for more new Parasites releases! 

Friday, October 20, 2023

The Exbats - Song Machine

It's official: The Exbats are the best band in the world. Two years on from their wonderful pandemic-inspired release Now Where Were We, daughter/dad duo Inez and Kenny McLain (joined by Bobby Carlson and Matt Rendon) have topped themselves once again. Out on Goner Records, new album Song Machine finds the McLains steering their musical time machine into the early 1970s. Palpable on this release is their affection for that often-overlooked post-'60s, pre-punk era of popular music. Yet their style remains more timeless than retro — truly a sound for all ages. The album's title suggests a goldmine of hit singles, and that's exactly what it delivers. Inspired by the walls of 45s that adorned record stores in Kenny McLain's youth, Song Machine finds The Exbats writing new pop anthems for the 21st century. 

While Song Machine continues The Exbats' progression towards more sophisticated songwriting and production, it retains the charm, energy, and sense of fun that made the band such a breath of fresh air in the late 2010s garage punk scene. With their exquisite harmonies and easygoing, hummable melodies, tracks like "Riding With Paul," "Singalong Tonight," "What a Song Can Do," and "The Happy Castaway" hearken back to the glory days of AM radio pop. When it comes to pure pop songs, nobody does it better than The Exbats. But while The Exbats have expanded from their punk rock roots, they certainly haven't abandoned them. "To All The Mothers That I'd Like To Forgive" is a searing rocket of punky '60s girl group goodness. "Food Fight" brings to mind early-period Ramones — hardly a surprise considering the two bands' shared musical DNA. The moment I heard "Like It Like I Do," I jotted the words "vintage Exbats" in my notes. In my daydreams, I envision "Cry About Me" topping the charts as stadiums full of humans joyfully scream the words "I'm overdue to fuck off outta here!" Elsewhere, the band flirts with styles as varied as orchestral pop, country rock, garage rock, and doo wop. Song Machine manages to be all over the place stylistically yet sound definitively like The Exbats. And that's a beautiful thing. 

The genius of The Exbats is that they create music that's steeped in reverence for the past yet find a way to make it new. From the songs to the production to the packaging of the record, Song Machine has the appeal of an artifact from an era that seemingly no longer exists — a reminder of how great music "used to be." In truth, though, this album announces how great music can still be and actually is. While so many of The Exbats' influences are obvious, they don't merely rehash them. They write remarkable songs about life and love in the modern world — many of which could very well influence future generations of rock 'n' roll. If you're a parent, you'd want to inspire your kid to be the next Inez McLain. If you're a kid, you'd want to inspire your parent to be the next Kenny McLain. It's never too late or too early in life to pick up a guitar or pair of drumsticks and find your passion. As Song Machine's extraordinary middle cuts "Singalong Tonight" and "What a Song Can Do" make clear, The Exbats are music lovers above all else. Song Machine, which ought to open older fans' minds to newer bands and lead younger fans to seek out some of the inspirations behind these song, spreads that love in a massive way. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The New Frustrations - Lifetime

It's hard for me to believe that Plymouth, Massachusetts' The New Frustrations have been a band for 17 years. But the math sure works out! Brian, Rick, and Tom have been through a lot, but they've kept The New Frustrations going through three iterations of the band. Through it all, they've remained one of the most dependable power pop groups out there and one of my favorite bands, period. To say these guys are underrated would be the understatement of the year. The band has had to reinvent itself a little with each new lineup, but fundamentally you know what you're getting with The New Frustrations: well-written, hook-laden pop songs with lots of punch. The band's new EP Lifetime is only its third. If we've learned anything about New Frustrations EPs, it's that they only happen every 7-9 years and always leave us wanting more. Lifetime was produced by the great Dave Minehan, and you can definitely hear his influence on this release. Clearly this was a case where the band and the producer were on the same wavelength, and what results is an absolutely tremendous EP. 

As a lean power trio, Brian, Rick, and Tom have developed a sound of their own. Lifetime mostly leaves behind the '70s punk influences of the band's early releases. The vibe I'm getting from these songs is '80s college radio meets classic Boston power pop. "Won't Let U Down" is rockin' power pop straight out of the textbook. The title track and 'I Can't Be" sound like the best songs Grant Hart and Bob Mould never wrote. "Words You Never Said" recalls the power pop side of The Replacements. "Diane (Happy Hunting)" is a moving character sketch and one of the catchiest pop songs you could ever hope to hear. The surprise track is "Laura," which finds The New Frustrations going all-in on bar band rock 'n' roll. It's a song you never would have anticipated based on the band's previous releases, yet it's great fun and not at all out of step with the timeless garage rock that has reigned supreme in New England for decades. I've been spinning this EP in the car for weeks, and I just can't get enough of these songs. Luckily I've been spared the impossible choice of deciding which songs to embed below. The EP doesn't come out until next weekend, and "Lifetime" is the only track currently available. But trust me: if you like "Lifetime," you'll love the whole EP.  It will be available Saturday on Bandcamp and Spotify!

Monday, October 09, 2023

The Speedways - Triple Platinum

Today The Speedways celebrate five years as a band with the release of their first best-of compilation. In a nod to KISS, they've titled it Triple Platinum. I am happy to report that none of these tracks have been remixed to capitalize on the disco craze, although the four cuts culled from the band's second album Radio Sounds have been remixed. The approach to this compilation was very straight-forward. The band picked four songs from each of its three albums to represent the story of The Speedways so far. The selling point for fans is that the songs off the debut album Just Another Regular Summer (essentially a Matt Julian solo record) have been re-recorded with the full band and sound amazing. I'm sure everyone will question the track selection and exclaim, "How dare they leave _____ off the record!" But that is the curse of filling your albums with nothing but hits. At least in this case, it was the band and not a bunch of corporate suits deciding which songs best represented the first five years of The Speedways. Honestly, this is a bulletproof collection of songs. I suppose I can say that because my favorite Speedways song ("In A World Without Love It's Hard To Stay Young") did make the cut. 

If you're wondering why in the hell you need this album when you already own the entire Speedways discography, I will say that the new recordings of the Just Another Regular Summer songs ("Seen Better Days," "Tonight You'll Find Love," "In Common With You," and the title track) are worth the price of admission. In particular, the new version of "Just Another Regular Summer" is stunning and truly epic. It might have been overkill if these guys had re-recorded the entire album, but having four full-band cuts that fully realize the potential of the original versions is a real treat. If you're familiar with The Speedways but have never made the commitment of buying a record, Triple Platinum delivers a satisfying cherry-pick from all three albums for the single price of £15.00. I think a lot of people will buy it simply because it's a cool package. And it's pretty neat that The Speedways are crossing the pond and touring the U.S.A. in support of this release. The tour kicks off in Brooklyn on November 2nd and takes the band up-and-down the Mid-Atlantic over a week. 

Obviously I am going to urge anyone reading this to check out The Speedways, who are one of my top two or three favorite bands. If you've been living in a cave since 2018 (and who could blame you if you have been?), Triple Platinum will give you the essence of one of the finest bands in modern-day power pop. If you're already a fan, the four new recordings on this release are a must-hear. Even with me already being familiar with all these songs, I've listened to this album frequently in recent weeks. I find it interesting that I'm this self-identified power pop geek, yet my favorite tracks on Triple Platinum are the widescreen anthems "In A World Without Love It's Hard To Stay Young" and "Just Another Regular Summer" — songs that transcend genre. I look forward to reviewing the next Speedways best-of in 2028!

Sunday, October 08, 2023

The Jacklights - Final Girl

Even in a scene studded with phenomenal bands, The Jacklights have been one of Boston's standout musical groups in recent years. Playing '90s-style melodic punk with an alt-rock influence, the trio appeals to my nostalgia for my youth without ever allowing itself to get stuck in the past. Most significantly, singer/guitarist Nilagia McCoy is a remarkable lyricist who excels at taking deeply personal reflections and making them universal and relatable. McCoy and bassist Mike Allen have had this band going strong since 2019. With Mike Gaylord now on drums, The Jacklights are sounding as good as ever. I like how McCoy's writing is sometimes informed by season with band releases perfectly timed to fit the vibe. Having already released "Winter" and the summery Drift a couple years back, The Jacklights now treat us to their "fall seasonal" EP. And there's nothing more I love than all things fall seasonal (I'd be a liar if I told you I wasn't typing these words while sipping a pumpkin spice crème). 

On these four tracks, McCoy uses horror-themed lyrics as metaphors for what we endure when we cope with heartbreak and major upheavals in our lives. Musically, these songs don't stray far from what The Jacklights have always done so well. Yet they do find the band spreading its wings a little — going a little darker and heavier at times in a way that perfectly suits these songs. "Haunted" is a reminder that the worst kinds of ghosts are often the memories we're not ready to let go of. "Past Tense" revisits a similar theme using horror movie tropes. "Anniversary" veers away from the horror metaphor and reflects on a relationship that's still existing yet clearly doomed. It's a devastating song, and I love every second of it. The title track closes the EP on a more optimistic note, playing off the horror flick cliché of the "last woman standing." "This might be the end of the world/But I could be your final girl" could be the ultimate romantic couplet for our times. 

I often speak of not being a big horror guy because real life is already scary enough. Final Girl confronts real-life horror and cleverly couches it in spooky metaphor. McCoy and her band mates manage to have great fun with these very serious songs, and I eagerly await the opportunity to take in this EP while walking after dark on a crisp autumn night.

Autogramm - "WannaBe"

One upcoming album release I'm super stoked about is Music That Humans Can Play, the third LP from modern new wave titans Autogramm. The now-foursome has treated us to an advance single called "WannaBe" which has been accompanied by a really awesome retro music video. Sonically, this tune is vintage Autogramm. It draws from the coolest elements of new wave rock circa the late '70s/early '80s while still sounding like it belongs in the world of contemporary underground music. And it's a total earworm. Lyrically, it expresses an absolutely beautiful sentiment. Drummer/singer The Silo explains that "WannaBe" was originally written with one person in mind. As the song came to life, he realized it had taken on a broader meaning. In his words, "It's a declaration of love and support to any friend, child, or lover who is going through a change in their self-perception; the idea that gender, occupation, size, skin are all merely physical manifestations of being and will never matter as much as the person underneath it all." That's truly profound stuff, and to me there's no greater love in the universe than the unconditional acceptance of what makes others unique. Of all bands out there using synthesizers, none have more warmth or humanity than Autogramm. "WannaBe" is as good of a song as the band has ever released, and that gives me very high hopes for the full album. Music That Humans Can Play will be out November 17th via Stomp Records and Beluga Records!

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Kurt Baker - Rock 'N' Roll Club

I first wrote about Kurt Baker 11 years ago, and he has consistently remained one of my favorite artists in all of music. This is the 24th time I've reviewed him as a lead artist, and no doubt there are many more of these writeups to come. Baker has repeatedly indicated that Rock 'N' Roll Club (released this past Friday on Wicked Cool Records) would be his best album yet. He and his band mates (Wyatt Funderburk, Geoff Palmer, Kris Rodgers, and Craig Sala) have delivered in full on that promise.

Baker's 2012 album Brand New Beat was perhaps the definitive release for a whole new generation of power pop. But in refusing to ever allow himself to copy that record, Baker has soared to even greater heights in the 11 years since. Never limiting himself to just one genre of music, Baker is more broadly an ambassador for classic rock 'n' roll. He's all about big hooks and timeless melodies, but he's always open to incorporating new influences and trying different things. In comparison to his previous releases, Rock 'N' Roll Club most resembles 2015's Play It Cool. It still sounds like a Kurt Baker record, but it's full of pleasant surprises and successful new wrinkles. Yet in terms of songwriting, production, and musicianship, it surpasses Play It Cool by miles. Across 12 tracks, Baker and his songwriting collaborators embrace a host of his musical influences ranging from power pop to glam rock to disco pop to arena rock to the British Invasion to punk/new wave to modern alternative rock. Baker makes zero attempt to mask his Oasis worship on the thundering leadoff rocker "Hittin' Rock Bottom." "Love Express" is Baker's second foray into disco after last year's terrific single "Move Up," and it's an even more successful venture thanks to an irresistibly funky beat and Rodgers' keyboard heroics. "Good Feeling" sounds like a slick top 40 hit from the later '80s, and I am here for it! "Go Getter" finds Baker leaning into his well-established love for Cheap Trick. On closing track "It Was You," Baker goes for a big ballad and totally smashes it. With its grand strings and sentimental lyrics, it's the kind of song that could have been unbearably cheesy in the hands of lesser songwriters. But Baker and Funderburk crafted this one with care. Baker's vocal gives the track the tenderness and sincerity it deserves, and that melody cannot be denied. All in all, it's a genuine and beautifully-executed ballad. You could almost say this is Baker's "Wonderwall" or "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," and the influence of the former is especially palpable. 

A major strength of Rock 'N' Roll Club is that the surprising tracks aren't just different for difference's sake. They are truly some of the best songs on the album. Whenever Baker and the gang commit to trying something new, they also commit to doing it well. And they certainly have the musical chops to pull it all off. Meanwhile, the album has still got plenty to offer longtime fans. "Missed Connection," "In Love Alone," and "She Don't Wanna Be Alone" hearken back to Baker's classic power pop sound. "Anchors Up," which Baker wrote with Geoff Palmer, is a perfect pop song that's indicative of Baker's maturity as an artist. Even after having had the track on my radar for four months, every time I hear it, I'm wowed by how freaking good it is. The title track, penned by the late Kip Brown, is both a fitting tribute to a Maine rock 'n' roll icon and the beating heart of the album. If you long for the heyday of the big, hooky rock 'n' roll record, Kurt Baker is here to let you know we're still living in it.