Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Outtacontroller - Just A Scratch

Back with its second 7" on the always great Jarama 45RPM Recs., Outtacontroller continues to set the bar for what poppy garage punk ought to be. Surprisingly, this is Outtacontroller's first physical release in over three years. The band's digital album Come Alive was one of last year's most under-the-radar stellar releases in the punk world, and a couple of singles this year have hinted at more goodness to come. It's weird to talk about an Outtacontroller record being really good considering that all the band's releases are killer. But Just A Scratch is an especially strong showing from Halifax, Nova Scotia's finest. As always, Terry and James deliver immensely catchy tunes that bridge the gaps between garage punk, power pop, and old school punk rock. No band does it better, and these four songs really hit the mark. The earworm title track is the most "pop" of these tunes, while the scorching "I Wanna Be Bored" is the punkiest. "Less Is More" and "Hanging Over You" (which you'll recall from Come Alive) split the difference in vintage Outtacontroller fashion. This band is just pure class — when it releases new music, it's a no-brainer purchase. Only 300 copies of Just A Scratch were pressed, and less than 40 remain in stock. You know what to do!

High School - Freshman 15

I always fancied myself quite the punk rock geek back in the '90s and 2000s. If there was a great band out there, I prided myself on knowing about it. So I'm quite surprised that I had no knowledge whatsoever of San Francisco-based High School, who were around from 2005 to 2007. How did none of my MySpace friends fill me in? Thankfully, High School has been rescued from the dustbin of punk history. During the COVID lockdown, the band's songwriter Ethan Shapiro (more recently of Rough Kids and Form Rank) found himself with the itch to revisit songs he'd written a decade-and-a-half prior. He started recording the songs from memory with a little help from singer Courtney Kimball's old notebooks. Other songs were reimagined, and new songs were written. Some new bandmates were recruited. And after three years of work, the debut album from High School now exists! It's called Freshman 15, and it's available from Dirt Cult Records' Bandcamp for the ridiculously cheap price of free! We can talk all day about how the pandemic sucked, but it was also a marvelous moment for artists and musicians who suddenly had time on their hands to work on passion projects. Freshman 15 definitely falls into that category. 

The 2023 version of High School features original members Shapiro and Kimball joined by Kevin Preston (The Skulls, Prima Donna), Roger Biersborn (Don Juan y Los Blancos, Los Quinceneros), and Luis Herrera (Rough Kids, Cast Of Thousands). Musically, this album couldn't be any more up my alley — think poppy punk rock meets power pop meets straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. And the songs are legit good. With High School, we get the best of both worlds: the authentic youthful spirit that first inspired these tunes and the greater experience and maturity that went into perfecting them. Kudos to Ethan Shapiro for realizing that these songs needed to be revived and recorded for posterity. If you're looking for super-fun songs about school and love and love at school, High School has got you covered. How can you not love a band whose theme song is a cover of one of the MC5's greatest tunes? Has High School succeeded in re-capturing its original magic? That is for all its old fans to decide. But in my book, they've gifted the world a timeless rock 'n' roll record.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Friends of Cesar Romero - Temporary Anne

Temporary Anne is already the 7th release this year from J. Waylon's prolific and ever-dependable Friends of Cesar Romero. It's almost shocking that J. Waylon can deliver such a remarkable quantity of music yet never, ever skimp on the quality. Part of what makes FOCR so appealing is that a new release is never predictable. You know you're getting loud guitars and top-tier hooks, but you can never be sure of exactly what to expect. J. Waylon moves effortlessly between banging garage rock, textbook power pop, catchy old school punk, and timeless guitar pop — sometimes all within a single release! Temporary Anne is #39 in his Doomed Babe Series, and I can only hope that there are many more installments to come. The title track is fantastic power pop and blessed with so many FOCR signatures: ringing guitars, a killer chorus, and lyrics that will break your heart. "Who's Wondering Now" kicks up the pace with some stellar poppy punk rock. "Running on the Spot" is mostly faithful to The Jam's classic original, but J. Waylon still manages to give a distinct FOCR feel. All in all, this is another fantastic release from a band that never disappoints. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you're a regular reader of this blog and not yet into Friends of Cesar Romero, that situation needs to be rectified ASAP!

Poppy Robbie - Neighborhood Beautification Commission

This may seem like a terribly insulting way to begin a review of a great album, but my initial reaction to Poppy Robbie's Neighborhood Beautification Commission was astonishment over how amazing it was. Of course I knew Poppy Robbie was talented, and his 2019 EP The Troubled Times of Samuel Heck was quite good. But there's a huge distance between quite good and "Holy crap!", and nothing in Robbie's previous body of work could have prepared me for the bomb he has dropped with this proper debut album. It makes sense, though: a few of these songs have been residing in Robbie's head for nearly two decades. Sooner or later, they were going to have to move out or at least start paying rent. As this album came together, Robbie had the luxury of drawing from some of his best material. And after all this time, he has clearly developed a strong sense of who he is as a songwriter. 

Encompassing songs he has written in various stages of his adult life, Neighborhood Beautification Commission is Poppy Robbie's magnum opus. And it's that rarest thing in the world of popular music: not just a collection of songs, but a true album. While not quite a concept record, Neighborhood Beautification Commission paints a vivid picture of American suburbanites living lives that seem ideal on the surface yet prove unfulfilling and disillusioning deep down. In these songs, people cope with shitty jobs, unhappy marriages, cyclical heartbreak, and abandoned dreams. They yearn for escape from who they are, where they are, and what they are. They can't get out of their own heads even as they can hear the clock ticking. It's as if their lives are collecting dust. Of course a guy named Poppy Robbie is going to know his way around a tuneful melody and a stellar hook. But where he really shines here is as a lyricist. These are poignant and deeply profound songs, and even oldies-but-goodies like "Heartbreak Scenario" and "(Still Bored) On The Weekend" feel weightier in their present arrangements. Musically, the album belongs to no real genre at all. Influences range from indie rock to jangle pop to folk to rootsy rock 'n' roll to new wave & power pop, and yet it all sounds like Poppy Robbie (thankfully "Eclectic Robbie," "Boldly Genre-Defying Robbie," and "Hard To Pin Down Robbie" aren't that catchy, so the nom de plume stays). 

While the beauty of this record is the way all the songs flow together, certainly there are tracks that stand out. "Heartbreak Scenario" is like that old friend that I'm always happy to catch up with, but for some reason I'm feeling the devastation in the lyrics more deeply than I ever have before. "Distracted" cuts just as deep and just might be one of the catchiest songs of all-time. "Museum Of Dust" is haunting yet absolutely riveting. That vocal is something else: I swear Robbie found a way to get his 70-year-old self to record it and send it back via time travel email (such a thing will surely exist in 30 years, right?). "Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection" is, for me, the highlight and centerpiece of the album. It puts a more hopeful spin on some of the themes of the album, pondering what a great blessing it was for the universe that a young baseball player from Ohio was destined to do something else with his life. "Dreams don't matter if you don't make the time," Robbie sings, and that could be an admonishment or an inspiration depending on how you look at it. It kind of gives me chills to think that all of us could have been — or could still be — something other than what we are now. I'd be lying if I said this song hasn't nudged me to revisit certain writing ambitions which have been dying on the backburner for years. 

While I enjoy music every day, it's rare that I come across a record and find myself feeling blessed that it's now part of my life. That's how I feel about Neighborhood Beautification Commission. In a totally non-pretentious way, it's a freaking work of art. It really needs to exist on vinyl, so I'm crossing my fingers for some swell record label to make that happen. Man, Poppy Robbie had this kind of talent and kept it a secret for all these years? Well now the cat's out of the bag, and the fans will be begging for more. Hopefully I won't have to wait until The Koopas In Reverse is reissued on 8-track to review his music again. "How did you go from that to this?" Robbie sings on "Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection." Many of us, with great admiration, are asking the same question of him.

The Gee Strings - Speed Soul Racer

I'm always happy to hear new music from The Gee Strings, who have been one of the world's preeminent '77-style punk rock bands for three decades now. Ingi, Bernadette, and the gang have released their sixth LP, Speed Soul Racer, on Wanda Records, Ghost Highway Recordings, Dangerhouse Skylab, KOTJ Records, and Tape or Die. At just eight tracks, this is truly an all-killer, no-filler affair. In typical Gee Strings fashion, these songs ride the more rock 'n' roll side of punk's first wave. Bernadette absolutely kills it on lead guitar, and the band has never sounded tighter. On this release, the influence of 1977 Northern California punk rock is also quite palpable in original songs like "Creature" & "Fire" and in an excellent cover of Mary Monday's "Popgun." All in all, this is an absolute ripper of a punk rock record. There is not a weak track in sight. 30 years in, Ingi still belts it with authority and conviction. The band's cover of Soda Fraise's "Rock​´​N​´​Rolls" will just about set your hair on fire! If you like real deal old school punk rock 'n' roll, Speed Soul Racer is not to be missed!

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Family Township - 20th Century Wasters

Earlier this year, I reviewed an absolute smash of a single from The Family Township called "Cross the Line (Oh Andrea)." That song and ten others make up The Family Township's new album 20th Century Wasters. This long-running Boston-based band is made up of Marc W. Pinansky on vocals and guitar, John Sheeran on bass, Peter MacLean on drums, Alejandro Necochea on guitars and backing vocals, and James Rohr on keyboards and backing vocals. I would characterize The Family Township as a real rock band — something most people assume no longer exists. On its 7th full-length album, The Family Township is here to show you that big hook arena-style rock very much still exists and is, in fact, going strong. I usually refrain from quoting directly from a press release because it seems like lazy reviewing, but I can't help repeating the band's description of these songs: "Bristling with the fury and frustrations of the modern age, longing and love, layers of melody ebb and flow as each song reveals more of itself upon repeated listens." I literally could not have said it better than myself. You can tell that this band lives in the world of classic rock but isn't just trying to make something that sounds like the best rock album of 1978. If you could play and sing like these guys (Pinansky can freaking belt it!), you'd want to rock out too! Sometimes these guys go for an "FM radio hit of yore" vibe ("Youngblood," "Straight to Your Heart"). Other times they rock hard and over the top ("(It's a) Heartbreak," "Out of Control"). In all cases, they play with tremendous passion and without a trace of irony. The Family Township is a tight and powerful band with a boatload of killer tunes. If old school AOR radio still gets your blood pumping, give 20th Century Wasters 40 minutes of your time.

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Scunthorpe Yobs - We Are The Yobs

I absolutely flipped out when I was looking over the new releases from No Front Teeth Records and saw a debut album from a band formed from the ashes of Bladder Bladder Bladder. Bladder Bladder Bladder were one of my favorite punk rock bands back in the '90s, and I was always a bit outraged that they weren't absolutely massive. So it's a thrill to come across The Scunthorpe Yobs — who represent the next chapter in the Bladder Bladder Bladder saga. The mighty Mick Bladder can still shout and offend with the best of 'em! Also on board are some heavy hitters from the last 25 years of California punk rock. The band's lineup features past and present members of Oil!, The Generators, The Randumbs, Gross Polluter, The Feelers, Trust Fund Babies, Smash The Granny, Outsiders, and The Shrinks (just to name a few). Now that's a supergroup (or at least a super group!). On their debut long player, We Are The Yobs, The Scunthorpe Yobs tear through a dozen loud-and-proud shout-along Oi! anthems in the Sham 69/Angelic Upstarts/Blitz mold. While based in Los Angeles, the band plays songs reflecting life on the streets of Scunthorpe. This is the classic Oi! sound: boisterous and hard-hitting yet still catchy as hell. If you fondly recall Bladder Bladder Bladder (is there any other way to recall them?), you'll find much to like about The Scunthorpe Yobs. Similarly, fans of any of the bands referenced above will want to get their hands on this LP (many of them already have, so don't dilly-dally!). You'll be holding a pint with one hand and hoisting your fist with the other as this record plays at an obnoxiously loud volume. We Are The Yobs is a next generation street punk classic!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Cindy Lawson - Don't Come Crying To Me

Cindy Lawson is without a doubt a legend in the Minneapolis music scene. Yet it would be hard to deny that she's making by far the best music of her life today — nearly four decades into her recording career. Out on Rum Bar Records, Don't Come Crying To Me is Lawson's second solo EP in two years and an absolute gem of a pop record. Again working with producer Steve Price and a super-talented cast of Twin Cities–based musicians (guitarist Jerry Lefkowitz, bassist Dave Randall, drummer Mark Devaraj), Lawson has turned out an all-killer, no-filler collection of songs inspired by '60s pop, garage rock, and a myriad of other influences. Right off the bat, her voice grabs you. She's one of the finest singers in today's independent music scene, but she's also a terrific writer of melodies and a formidable lyricist. Any of these six tracks could have been the "hit," but certainly the title track was no-brainer choice for the EP's lead single. It's an absolutely ripping garage rocker with timely lyrics about the inevitable consequences of dishonesty. Paired with the scorching-hot "Screamin' White Jezus," it kicks off the EP with a bang. "Go Find Another Heart to Break" finds Lawson seamlessly blending her classic '60s pop sensibilities with Matt Pahl's stellar saxophone. "I'll Be Around" pairs powerful vocals and lyrics with an irresistible rhythm & blues inspired beat. "What if She Followed Him to Nashville" is gorgeous country-pop that has me reflecting on the way our lives are defined by our choices (Jon Duncan from Trailer Trash guest stars on piano and takes the song to a whole other level). Bringing the EP to a delightful conclusion, "I Don't Want You Anymore" is a super-fun kiss-off that channels classic girl group pop with a punk rock edge.  

It would not be accurate to call Cindy Lawson a "late bloomer." Instead she's more like a fine wine, inspiring all of us who refuse to accept that our best years are behind us. She and Price have the perfect artist/producer relationship and have now collaborated on two flawless collections of rocking pop songs. Credit Miss Georgia Peach for hearing New Tricks last year and knowing that Malibu Lou would want to put it out. As they say, the rest is history. And now people all over the world have had the good fortune to enjoy Lawson's music. My only criticism of Don't Come Crying To Me is that it leaves me wanting more. But let's be real: that's not actually a criticism! Any time I'm sad the EP is over, I can just listen to it again. And I have a feeling that more new music from Cindy Lawson is forthcoming. If you want to hear a fantastic singer with fantastic songs backed by a fantastic band, you too will feel blessed to have Don't Come Crying To Me leave you wanting more.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Ralphie's Red Ryders - "I Didn't Say Fudge"


Ralphie's Red Ryders, America's favorite A Christmas Story themed pop-punk band, is back with a brand-new single! And on this release, Ralphie, Flick, and Schwartz pay homage to one of A Christmas Story's most iconic scenes. The song is called "I Didn't Say Fudge," so you know exactly which scene I'm talking about. It's quite surprising that RRR had already released 14 songs but had not yet waxed poetic on Ralphie's uttering of the queen mother curse word. I was excited to hear how this song would turn out, and all I can say is that these guys nailed it. It's pure buzzing energy with a chorus worthy of a major award. Even Miss Shields would grade this as A+ pop-punk. On the virtual B-side, "Notafinga" pays tribute to the greatest furnace fighter of them all: Old Man Paker. The song is 65 seconds of genius fake cursing. You'd swear you're hearing the Old Man himself, although he does sound suspiciously like Reese from Vista Blue. Having been schooled by my own father in the fine art of profanity, I've always had a soft spot for the furnace scene. You have to love the way these two songs connect to one another. Ralphie's Red Ryders only release music once a year, but they always make it worth the wait! 

Vista Blue - Christmas Every Day

Every year I wrestle with the question of how soon is too soon to alienate my handful of readers with reviews of Christmas music. November 21st does seem a little early to commence F & L's Christmas season, but I couldn't resist acknowledging the special occasion of Vista Blue's double Christmas release. For the first and perhaps only time, Vista Blue and its alter egos Ralphie's Red Ryders have simultaneously released music today. If they can go to the trouble of releasing two EPs at once, surely I can go to the trouble of posting two reviews at once. It's remarkable that Vista Blue can manage to be so incredibly prolific yet still delight me with every single release. Clearly these guys are due for a misfire just based on the pure math of it all, but somehow they keep beating the odds. Their 2023 holiday release Christmas Every Day is a must-hear for all who love pop-punk, Christmas, or both. Leading off is "It's Christmas Time" — perhaps the most traditional Christmas song Vista Blue has ever done. It's everything a Christmas song ought to be: instantly memorable, cheerful, and full of lyrics about people coming together to celebrate the season. If you think that's sappy, well that's the whole point! Had it not been for the references to Rodney Bingenheimer and Christmas ales, I might have mistaken this song for an old standard that the band rearranged. "What Are You Gonna Get?" is a sweet song about getting good presents ("You deserve something great, like 10s and 20s and real estate"). I'm surmising the title track was inspired by the William Dean Howells story, and it's absolute gem of a song. "The Rain Washed the Snow Away" is exactly what the title suggests — adding an amusing and realistic twist to the "songs about snow" Christmas trope. 

Christmas Every Day is not just the best Vista Blue Christmas release yet. It's one of the band's best releases, period. These guys put a lot of love into this EP, and it shows. You might ask yourself, "How can Vista Blue possibly get any better?" Well, Vista Blue is always better when Richard Bates is featured on lead guitar. And he absolutely kills it on this EP. I know some of you aren't ready for Christmas music two days before Thanksgiving (or ever!). But if Christmas tunes are your thing, Christmas Every Day is not to be missed.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Shiverlane - "Aeroplane Driver"

It was just a couple weeks ago that I wrote about a terrific power pop single from Boston-based foursome Shiverlane. Wasting no time whatsoever, Shiverlane already has another terrific power pop single out called "Aeroplane Driver." I really dig the idea of a rock 'n' roll tune about a jetfighter pilot. The lyric "living on jet fuel and steel" is quite memorable, and it could almost be describing the song itself with its booming guitars, hyperactive drums, and soaring sing-along hook. I also appreciate the way the song ends, with silky harmonies lifting the chorus skyward as thunderous power riffs propel you to burst into air guitar heroics. Ya gotta love a band that knows how to stick a landing.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Autogramm - Music That Humans Can Play

Time goes by so quickly that I had not realized Autogramm hadn't released new music in over two-and-a-half years. The band's second album No Rules came out in April 2021 — still prime pandemic time. A follow-up, recorded in the summer of last year, has finally made its way into the world. Listening to Music That Humans Can Play is like catching up with an old friend you haven't seen in a while and picking right up like you had just talked yesterday. The title hints at the wonderful irony surrounding Autogramm. Here's a band that relies heavily on synthesizers yet still writes some of the warmest and mostly deeply human songs you'll ever come across. In its early days, the band occupied the new wave side of power pop and existed in what seemed like an eternal 1979. While still a pop band at heart, the now foursome has grown more sophisticated in its craft and deftly propelled its time machine into the 1980s. Having lived through the golden age of MTV circa 1981–83, I find it remarkable how authentically Music That Humans Can Play captures the sound of those times without coming off like a calculated recreation. Much of that has to do with the myriad of inspirations in the mix. Autogramm isn't trying to sound like one or two particular bands. Rather it's channeling an entire era of popular music, and what results is a blending of new wave, synth-pop, power pop, new romantic, and pure pop influences that evokes the spirit of the early '80s in a way that still feels current. It certainly doesn't hurt that four different band members are all injecting their own style and point-of-view. And above all else, Autogramm distinguishes itself from the modern new wave pack (if there really is such a thing) by writing genuinely great songs.   

No Rules was a really fantastic album and a fine example of a good band finding its footing and becoming something even better. 31 months later, Music That Humans Can Play arrives with considerable expectations. And it delivers in a big way. Joined by new guitarist Lars Von Seattle, Jiffy, The Silo, and CC sound more adept than ever at turning out well-crafted, hook-laden songs that somehow manage to sound timeless even as they recall a very distinct moment in music. With its opening 1-2 punch of "Born Losers" and "WannaBe," this album comes flying out the gates with anthemic aspirations. As so many reviewers have commented, these songs sound like they were made for '80s movies soundtracks. And I love the positive vibes here. With the state the world's in now, we should be using our strength to lift others up rather than pulling them down. "Born Losers" would be goofy if it weren't so darn genuine, and there's a special genius in being able to write a song that walks that sort of tightrope. "WannaBe," which advocates unconditional love for others based on who they are underneath all the surface manifestations of being, delivers a beautiful message for these times and all times. "Be my alien" is a mantra we should all live by. As the album continues, the hits keep coming in different styles. "Hey Allie" and "Love Is for Fools" are fully on the pop side of new wave and could pass for forgotten radio hits from four decades ago. "Why Do We Dance?" sounds a little like Devo venturing into dark wave, and I dig every second of it. The bouncy "Plastic Punks" walks the line between punk and new wave circa 1977 and sounds like the best song Jeffrey McCloy never wrote. The stunning "(Always Gonna) Be My Girl" manages to be gloomy and beautiful all at once. "Dive Right In" finds the album ending the way it starts — reminding us to embrace failure rather than being dismayed by it.  

I can't help thinking that the good vibes of Music That Humans Can Play are a reflection of Autogramm's own emergence from the pandemic. It confronts failure and disappointment but looks for the brighter light ahead. Lyrically, the band is taking things deeper than ever. Yet that doesn't mean that the songs can't be fun. These are very serious songs that you can sing along with and dance to, and ultimately this album is exactly what the title suggests. Available now from Stomp Records in Canada and Beluga Records in Europe, this third album from Autogramm is one of the year's best.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Geoff Palmer - An Otherwise Negative Situation

On his latest full-length album, Geoff Palmer works in his familiar territory of pop-punk leaning power pop. Or is it the other way around? Following up 2021's Charts & Graphs and 2019's Pulling Out All the Stops, An Otherwise Negative Situation completes a formidable trilogy of fun, hit-laden punky pop albums. Palmer is such a dependable and consistent songwriter that it would be easy to take him for granted. But no one should make that mistake. There's nothing easy about writing memorable and catchy pop songs —  Palmer only makes it seem that way. Out on Stardumb Records, An Otherwise Negative Situation is another lean affair at just ten tracks. It's similar to Charts & Graphs in the respect that it mixes up musical styles, and it's similar to Pulling Out All the Stops in the respect that every song sounds like a single. Palmer has cultivated a musical style that transcends genre, and you could land on any of these tracks and immediately know exactly whom you're listening to. I remember hearing "Give It Up" for the first time and thinking it was "too short." Dozens of spins later, I recognize it as one of Palmer's best songs and a master work of efficient songwriting. If you Googled "anthem," a link to "We Run" ought to turn up. "Surfin' Nebraska" is ten-out-of-ten pop-punk. "Dark Thoughts," which reminds me a little of The Replacements but mostly just sounds like vintage Geoff Palmer, is truly a perfect pop song. If it's not the best song on the album, it's only because "FOMO" is. "Stuck With You" is earworm pop-punk on the Beach Boys' end of town — always a sweet spot for Palmer. "Backseat Driver" is a stone cold gem of traditional jangly power pop. Sometimes ballads to close albums feel like unnecessary tack-ons, but this album would not be the same without the powerful and poignant "Like a Dove." 

An Otherwise Negative Situation finds Palmer forming a top-notch power trio with his pals Kurt Baker and Zack Sprague. Baker and Sprague also contribute as songwriters on several tracks. Is this Palmer's best album yet? I'd say there's no question about it. Geoff Palmer will always sound like Geoff Palmer, but the growth (especially lyrically) from Pulling Out All the Stops to An Otherwise Negative Situation has been truly remarkable. I know I'm a little late to the party on this one. But holy cow — what a great freaking record!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Young Rochelles - Kicked to the Curb

As someone who has liked pop-punk for a very long time, I tend to be picky about the bands I get into but also very open to embracing new favorites if they strike my fancy. I liked The Young Rochelles' first album well enough, but it was drummer/singer Ricky's 2021 solo album So Far So Good that made me a true believer. I was hoping The Young Rochelles' second album Kicked to the Curb would have a similar appeal: building off the classic '90s pop-punk sound yet pushing a little more towards the pop side of the tracks. I must say that I have not been disappointed. Ricky, Rookie, and Rocky put a lot of work into this release, and they have knocked it out of the park like Pete Alonso jumping on a hanging curve. Kicked to the Curb is A+ pop-punk by the book, fulfilling the band's quest to top their previous releases with "bigger vocals, more powerful lyrics, and killer hooks." 

As these songs were being written, Ricky Rochelle was experiencing the downs and ups of life and love, and what results are songs reflecting a rollercoaster of emotions. Rocky's contributions fit in so well that you might not even have noticed there were two primary songwriters. Style-wise, all the obvious influences are palpable. But after ten years as a band, The Young Rochelles have found a way to put their own signature on the tried-and-true pop-punk sound. Kicked to the Curb really leans into the pop side of the genre — with smooth harmonies, hooky choruses, and Ricky's melodic vocals standing out in a big way. Perhaps my favorite thing about the album is that Ricky really wears his heart on his sleeve as a vocalist. The band isn't just turning out songs to satisfy some pop-punk checklist (which we know some bands do — ha!). This is powerful real-life stuff, starting with "Chameleon," where Ricky acknowledges that embracing change is the first step in getting yourself into a better place in life. In a somewhat similar vein, "Today is a Beautiful Day" puts an optimistic twist on the typical breakup song — reflecting on lost love as an opportunity to gain something far better. Who won't be able to relate to "Used To Sleep"? "Breezy" is instantly one of the best pop-punk songs ever written. This is a song deeply personal to Ricky Rochelle, yet it gives me chills because I recognize the feelings it articulates. If your tastes lean more to the cynical side, "Fractured Fairy Tale" is a truth bomb of epic proportions. It takes some balls in the pop-punk world to attempt a song called "You Broke My Fucking Heart," but The Young Rochelles manage to pull it off. 

Out now on Sounds Rad!, Kicked to the Curb is a pop-punk album for people who love pop-punk. If you love this type of music, you won't hear any band execute it with more skill, energy, or heart. And if you don't love this type of music, there's no way in the world you've read this far. Once or twice a year, a band reminds me why I still love pop-punk. This is one of those times. It's not quite fair to classify The Young Rochelles as late bloomers, but they seem to be just hitting their peak a decade into their existence. King Ralph has declared Kicked to the Curb the pop-punk album of the year. And even with a killer Jagger Holly double record floating out there, all I can say is that of course he's right!

Friday, November 10, 2023

Juniper - "I Was Thinking About You"

Juniper has been one of the most exciting new talents to emerge in the indie pop world this decade. This first-year college student already has two delightful albums under her belt — the most recent of which is destined to land in my year-end top ten list. Now she's back with a new single that is perhaps the best representation yet of her musical appeal. While quite reminiscent of '70s AM radio pop on the production end, "I Was Thinking About You" sounds remarkably contemporary. In all honesty, this song could be on commercial radio right now. Its creation was inspired by Juniper playing some Harry Styles songs for her father Michael Shelley — and Michael then trying his hand at writing something in a similar vein but from his musical point of view. What results is one of 2023's most memorable and irresistible singles. 

More than just a breakup song, "I Was Thinking About You" describes what it's like to have an ex living in your head rent-free and the toll that can take on your day-to-day life. Of course the hook is pure gold, but literally everything about this song hits the spot. Juniper's laidback vocal is absolutely perfect for the song, and her tone will just about give you chills. Steve Goulding (Mekons, The Rumour, Nick Lowe) on drums, Guillermina Pagano on saxophone, Dave Amels on harmonium, and Isaac Holmes on lead guitar all elevate the song with fantastic musical performances. The lyrics, which mix humor with heartbreak, will surely connect with individuals who've lived a story similar to the one the song tells. There's no denying it: "I Was Thinking About You" is a stone cold hit! On the virtual flipside, "Ride Between The Cars" is an alternate version of a song from Juniper's latest album She Steals Candy. This version with acoustic guitar and a slower rhythm was initially scrapped after one take, but it has been resurrected for this single with some added keyboards. The original was one of my favorite songs from She Steals Candy, but I must admit I like this version even better. Clearly the Shelleys knew they had something in this alternate take, and they were wise to bring it back to life. There's something in the instrumentation here that really suits the tenderness and melancholy of the lyrics and vocals. While "I Was Thinking About You" is a digital-only release, it's designed like a classic pop 45. If you're a Juniper fan, I don't think there's any question that you will love this single.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Wyatt Funderburk - "November"/"You'll Know"

When it comes to the modern-day power pop scene, there's no songwriter more underrated than Wyatt Funderburk. As a solo artist, songwriting collaborator with Kurt Baker, and front man for the amazing Second Saturday, he has been responsible for some of the most extraordinary pop songs of the past two decades. It has been a long time (a decade to be precise) since he last released solo material, but a new album titled Fleeting and Finite is slated for release next year. In advance of the new album, Funderburk has chosen to release two of its tracks as a digital single. Both songs tease a more accomplished, beautiful pop sound from this veteran tunesmith. 

"November" is exactly what it seems to be — an ode to the very month we're experiencing now and the powerful sensations it elicits. There's a certain feeling that's in the air on a later fall day, and "November" evokes it beautifully. The song is soft and soothing with very pretty melodies and vocals. The vibe is something akin to Big Star meets Brian Wilson, and I'll take that all day long. Speaking of Brian Wilson, Funderburk goes full-on Pet Sounds on the gorgeous ballad "You'll Know." This is a song about what it's like to fall in love. Now clearly that's a topic that has been tackled tens of thousands of times in the world of pop music. Nine times out of ten, a song like this might come off as oversentimental, cliched, or contrived. But Funderburk absolutely nails it, crafting a song that's as beautiful and breathtaking as the experience it celebrates. "You'll Know" reflects on that moment when you realize this person has been on the earth your whole life yet you're just now getting to meet them. As Funderburk says, "It seems unfair and also like winning the lottery." That's so dead-on. I've been known to get teary-eyed over a Wyatt Funderburk song (e.g. "What If" & "If I Wanted Easier"!), but "November" is at a whole other level. This is pure chills — like somehow Funderburk got into my head and extracted magical memories I could never do justice to with words. Of course Funderburk is a master of pop melody and a magician with harmonies. But perhaps his greatest talent is that he manages to write about love in way that is real and relatable and straight from his heart. 

Funderburk's talents as a vocalist, musician, songwriter, and producer all shine on these two tracks. Working with drummer Todd Patton, Funderburk is practically a one-man orchestra, playing everything from guitar to piano to synthesizer to Glockenspiel. He's in total control of his artistic vision, and it's no surprise that both of these songs are so beautifully realized. Having had this little taste of Fleeting and Finite, I expect the album to be nothing short of stunning. I just noticed that you can purchase Funderburk's full digital discography on Bandcamp for less than $13. That is a deal and a steal. If you love great pop, do yourself a favor and take advantage.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Norcos Y Horchata - "Live, Laugh, Toaster Bath"

Ahead of a Midwest fall tour that's commencing later this week, Detroit's Norcos Y Horchata have dropped a surprise single that ought to have you all dancing in the streets. "Live, Laugh, Toaster Bath" was recorded in Fort Wayne last month. It's a bonus track of sorts from the same sessions that produced the band's next 7" (due out early next year). In typical NYH fashion, this song is an anthemic shot of energetic sing-along punk rock 'n' roll with lyrics perfectly suited to my pitch-dark sense of humor. What a banger! I've got a feeling this song will be a crowd favorite on this upcoming tour, which will find the band going through Chicago, Minneapolis, Iowa City, St. Joseph, Missouri; Lawrence, Kansas; Carbondale, Illinois; Louisville, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. If you enjoyed NYH's fantastic 7" Aloha Motherfuckers, "Live, Laugh, Toaster Bath" is a mandatory purchase that's more than worth three of your hard-earned dollars. Hit up the band's social media for tour dates! 

Shiverlane - I Get Nervous

I've got a good one for you today! Shiverlane is a newer (formed in 2020) Boston-based foursome featuring members of The Rudds, Thinner, Preacher Roe, The Rationales, Fat Randy, Ringtail, and Tom Baker's Double Down. "I Get Nervous," the band's new single, follows the David Minehan–produced EP In Bits and precedes another single called "Aeroplane Driver." I know that "perfect pop song" is one of my most frequently-used phrases, but it definitely applies to "I Get Nervous." What I love about this song is that it's power pop in a broad sense but doesn't necessarily fall under the constraints of a single genre. It's got great hooks and punchy guitars, but it's also clever, unique, and at times quite surprising. In some alternate universe where 1994 never ended, this song would be in heavy rotation on alternative rock radio formats! I highly recommend checking out In Bits as well ("Surgeon General's Warning" is my new personal anthem). Shiverlane doesn't really sound like any other band, but spiritually they're on the same wavelength as The Airport 77s. "I Get Nervous" was slated for release on Red on Red Records. Justine Covault was a huge fan and great friend to Shiverlane. I can think of no better tribute than to continue to celebrate the bands she loved and the Boston music scene she worked so tirelessly to champion. Shiverlane is one of the most promising new bands I've heard in a long time, and I'll have more to say in a couple weeks!

Friday, November 03, 2023

Brad Marino - Grin & Bear It

It's no news flash that a new Brad Marino album is something I would be excited about. Marino has authored two albums that ranked #3 on my year-end lists, and today he releases another one that's gonna be way up there. Out on Sioux Records on vinyl and Rum Bar Records on CD, Grin & Bear It is another stone cold gem of three-chord pop rock 'n' roll. Within three seconds of "Back Again" kicking off, you just know you're listening Brad Marino. Once again, Marino manages to deliver killer tunes that have the style and spirit of early-to-mid '60s rock 'n' roll without coming off consciously "retro." The earworm title track dispenses essential life advice and red-hot guitar work. If aliens came to our planet and asked you what Brad Marino sounds like, you'd play them "Up and Up." The Kurt Baker–penned "Hung Up" is pure '60s pop — sounding like the second hit The Wonders could have had. "Looking Then" channels poppy Ramones and tells a relatable story about a faded beauty. "I'm Broke," a Marino/Baker co-write, is a mega-catchy rocker that brings back memories of The New Trocaderos. Marino puts so much of his own style into the Rolling Stones' unreleased track "She's Doing Her Thing" that you might mistake it for one of his originals (I know I sure did!). Marino also has at the Bobby Fuller Four classic "Another Sad and Lonely Night" and totally smashes it. 

Marino enlisted a slew of talented friends to help make Grin & Bear It. Geoff Palmer, Kris Rodgers, Craig Sala, Zach Sprague, Bobby Davis, and the aforementioned Baker all play on the record. Joe King sings backing vocals on "Another Sad and Lonely Night." All that formidable musical talent is in service of 11 absolutely fantastic songs. Brad Marino as a singer, songwriter, and guitar player represents everything that's great about rock 'n' roll. For this release, he has written some smash hits and mixed in a few covers that fit the album perfectly. If rockin' pop tunes are your thing, Brad Marino is your man. The Sioux LP is on white 180-gram vinyl and limited to 300 hand-numbered copies, so you'll want to jump on that while supplies last. Compact discs are available from your home of the hits, the mighty Rum Bar Records!

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.