Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Sleeveens - "UFOs”/"Bernadette"

The Sleeveens are indeed the "hottest band in the land." Within the first 30 seconds of the Nashville/Dublin–based outfit's debut single, I knew I had just met the next great band in the punk rock 'n' roll universe. Many others felt the same way, and word on the street is that the band's live shows blow away its studio recordings. The second Sleeveens single is out on I-94 Recordings, and something tells me it's gonna sell out in the blink of an eye. "UFOs" is #13 in I-94's Detroit covers 7" series. The title track is a slow-burning rocker with a spacey feel and clever lyrics about alien forces taking control of our lives. Now that's truly a song for our times! If The Sleeveens' album proved that their first single was no fluke, now "UFOs" proves that the album was no fluke. This is another phenomenal tune from one of the most exciting bands to come down the pike in a long time. On the B-side, The Sleeveens tear into The Four Tops' 1967 chart smash "Bernadette." This is a classic case of a band honoring the original version of a beloved tune but also making it its own. The Sleeveens definitely punk up "Bernadette," but they also add some interesting twists en route to remaking the song. Don't sleep on this one, my friends. This is the freaking Sleeveens! Head on over to the I-94 web site and order your copy (or copies!) while supplies last! 

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Real Rejects - Not Allowed


Well here you go, kids: the garage-trash budget punk rock 'n' roll ear-melting, face-smashing, world-wrecking degenerate masterpiece you've been awaiting with bated breath can now be yours courtesy of the legendary Alien Snatch Records.

A couple weeks back, I proclaimed Real Rejects the "next big thing" in the garage punk universe. This was not just a personal whim but rather the result of meticulous research and consultation with my spiritual advisors. Or maybe I just knew that if Alien Snatch was in on the action, everyone with impeccable taste in music was going to want a Real Rejects tattoo by year's end. Real Rejects are TJ Cabot (Phone Jerks, Nerve Button) on vocals & guitar, Jesse Leblanc (Feral Trash, Outtacontroller) on guitar, Claude Doiron (Nerve Button, Bad Luck #13) on bass, Sonic Hz on keyboards, and Cam Murphy (Thee Requiems, Ghostown Belle) on drums. It was by complete accident that the band name brings to mind two of the greatest garage punk bands of the post-2000 years, The Real Losers and Teenage Rejects (who both, by the way, had releases on Alien Snatch). Yet the shared musical DNA is undeniable. You may or may not consider Not Allowed a full-length album depending on which side of the 10-inch record debate you fall on. But at nine tracks and an 18-minute running time, it makes the full-length cut in my book. I'm no longer a collector of vinyl recordings, but when I was, I thought 10-inchers were the coolest. They have the versatility to be albums or EPs or singles, which is very cool in my book. And I've never been able to understand why anyone would ever prefer 7 inches if they could have ten. Good on Alien Snatch for believing in this format! 

Whether it's an album or a mini-album or a super-sized EP,  Not Allowed is an absolute scorcher of a record. After all those years of solo home recording, Tyler has really hit the jackpot with this merry band of Moncton punk greats. These guys rock l.a.m.f. and take the Rejects' sound to the next level. These nine tracks fully realize the potential of all those really awesome TJ Cabot releases of years past. Think Stooges meet DMZ meets Pagans meet ? and the Mysterians meet Angry Samoans meet Rip Off Records —  or something like that. I'm not saying that the Summer of Spite digital single wasn't full-blown killer. But the thing about Daniel at Alien Snatch is that he has an ear for greatness, and of course the stuff on Not Allowed is the top shelf Real Rejects. I love the blend of high energy, organ-driven '60s garage rock; filthy, attitude-laden '70s/early '80s punk; and quintessential '90s/2000s budget trash. The tunes are great; the lyrics are hilarious and wonderfully spiteful; and the energy level is off the charts. This is the perfect album length for me: it still leaves you wanting more, but it won't leave you feeling short-changed. Is this really an album? Of course it's an album, and it's one of the year's best! 

Jay Castro and I taped a new episode of our Born Too Late podcast last night in which we listed our all-time favorite releases from Alien Snatch Records. As I prepared my list, I was really awed by the sheer volume of amazing records that have come out (and continue to come out) on this label. Without a doubt, this is one of the greatest punk rock record labels to ever exist, and it's incredible that Daniel has kept it going strong for 25 years and counting. So when you head on over to Bandcamp to purchase Not Allowed (come on: you know you're going to!), be sure to take a deeper dive into the Alien Snatch catalog. I know it's terribly irresponsible of me to be compelling you to spend money during inflationary times, but I can't think of a record label or roster of bands that's more worthy of some of your hard-earned dollars. What good is life without music? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Fastbacks - "Come On"


There's not much I can say about this one besides "Holy crap!" The mighty Fastbacks, one of the greatest bands to ever exist, are in vintage form on their new single "Come On." This song arrives in advance of the band's forthcoming album For WHAT Reason! — due out next month on No Threes Records. That's right, folks. We're getting a new Fastbacks studio album for the first time in a quarter century! And if "Come On" is a fair taste of what to expect from the full album, you all ought to be VERY excited. This is literally one of the bands that invented the whole punk-pop thing, and they're still showing everyone how it ought to be done. As long as the Fastbacks are around, there is joy in this world. More videos are forthcoming, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Vista Blue - Help Me, Ron


When it comes to maintaining that Vista Blue is not a baseball-themed band, I will gladly die on that hill. Don't the numbers show that Vista Blue has significantly more holiday-themed releases than baseball-themed releases? Aren't three-quarters of the band's releases completely devoid of baseball songs? I would prefer to call Vista Blue a band that enjoys themes of all sorts — baseball being one of their favorites. With the release today of Help Me, Ron, the band has extended its streak of consecutive years putting out songs about baseball to ten. That's an impressive feat, and perhaps I'm doing a terrible job of proving that Vista Blue is not a baseball band. But as far as baseball-themed pop-punk releases go, Help Me, Ron is about as good as it gets. It takes a back-to-basics musical approach which really suits this particular release. Fans have been clamoring for Vista Blue baseball tracks since Opening Day. Now we finally get them for All Star Week, and they come with a sense of urgency. The title track, which features backing vocals from the great Perry Leenhouts, is a lovely reminder of the opportunities for redemption that the great game of baseball affords. A fielder is the bane of a pitcher's existence — until he's not! "Travinski's Got a Pencil Bat" is an ode to the (fingers crossed!) soon-to-be-drafted LSU star Hayden Travinski. And yes, he really has a bat that looks like a pencil. "Our Catcher's Back" gives me the feels as I count the days until J.T. Realmuto returns to the field. "Put the Tarp On" is about as timeless as a baseball song can be. "Faster and Louder" is the theme song I never asked for but got anyway — a tune about power pitchers coming out of the bullpen and thrilling crowds with their eye-popping velocity. The song also references pitching phenom Paul Skenes, who's set to start one of the most highly anticipated MLB All-Star Games of recent memory. The Phillies just lost by 15 runs to a team whose ownership ought to be relegated to AAA. But hey: I got a new theme song! Let's cheer for another decade of Vista Blue songs about baseball (and many, many other topics)!

Friday, July 12, 2024

Pack Rat - Life's A Trap


Pack Rat's first album, released in December of 2021, was the solo pandemic project of Patrick McEachnie (Chain Whip, Corner Boys, Hosehead Records). It was a stellar collection of snotty, frantic punk tunes with budget synthesizers. Like a lot of the pandemic projects that came out around that time, Pack Rat was way too promising to simply scrap once lockdown days were over. Not only did McEachnie keep this project going, but he turned it into a full-fledged band. Bella Bebe (vocals and guitar), Ripley McEachnie (bass and vocals), and Tony Dallas (drums and vocals) now round out the lineup. An EP called Bite My Tongue was released last summer, and it quickly sold out. 

Out today on Drunken Sailor Records, Life's A Trap is Pack Rat's second LP and first as a proper band. And while the nervous speed and snotty vocal edge have been retained from that first LP, Pack Rat's sound has definitely evolved. Most notably, this album is influenced by the pop-leaning side of '70s punk and the classic punk sounds of the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver. I have to cite the description from the band bio because it's totally on the nose: "Like if a Canadian Johnny Rotten fronted Vancouver's very own Buzzcocks. If the Briefs and the Hives had a love child that looked just a little like Jay Reatard." Of course that sounds like something I'd be into, and just about anyone reading this will have similar feelings! Life's A Trap sounds genuinely like a modern punk album, yet it has those undeniable classic influences. It's full of bouncy punk tunes with nervous energy and killer hooks. From the hyper fun of "Heart Beat" to the power pop jolt of "Sleepless" to the garagey frenzy of "Ask a Punk" to the infectious blitzkrieg of "Two Makes One" to the new wavey goodness of "Rat Trap," this album features a tremendous variety of standout tracks. And from a vibe perspective, this is the perfect summertime punk record. When I first started this blog 13 years ago, this was exactly the kind of band I envisioned writing about. If you think you'd dig classic Vancouver-style punk with a contemporary freshness, you need to jump on this second album from Pack Rat. The vinyl is limited to 500 copies, so act fast!

Boris the Sprinkler - Gets A Clue


A punk rock EP based on the board game Clue sounds like a totally ridiculous idea, so of course I love it. Out on Rum Bar Records, Gets A Clue is, to the best of my knowledge, Boris the Sprinkler's first release in the EP format in two decades. There are at most five bands in the world that could properly pull off a Clue-themed mini album, and BtS is one of them. This is the band's first new music to be released in five years, so I will welcome any concept. A tribute to Don Majkowski? A rock opera about Taco Bell sauce packets? A Metal Machine Music cover album using only kazoos and toy drums? If Boris is putting it out, I'm buying it. In my book, Boris the Sprinkler is certainly the most underrated and no doubt one of the very best of all those '70s-style punk bands that formed in the '90s. As the world pauses to reflect with awe on the 30th anniversary of the release of Boris's debut album 8-Testicled Pogo Machine, I can't think of another band that was more important in informing my musical tastes and opening the gateway to so many staples of my record collection. And if the best record label on the planet saw fit to release this group's Clue-themed EP on compact disc, you should be ordering now and asking questions later. 

You may wonder who in the world would want to hear Boris the Sprinkler playing songs about characters from Clue. Well, the target demographic is simple. It's 99 percent Boris fans and 1 percent people who take the game of Clue more seriously than life itself. And of course the people who love the band and the game (which I'm guessing is the majority of Boris fans) will be going nuts for this thing. Musically, this is vintage BtS goofball '77 punk-pop. The band's classic lineup is on board and sounding totally hot. If you're a Boris fan, these songs will remind you why you got into the band in the first place. Tracks like "I Wanna Dance Like Professor Plum" and "No One Loves Mr. Green" are totally giving me Saucer to Saturn/Mega Anal vibes. I must say the execution of the concept is top-notch. This is a fun and wildly entertaining collection of songs that I keep on listening to over and over. Of course there's no other lyricist in the universe like Norb, and here his creativity in writing about the iconic Clue characters is the stuff of delight. This is probably the first BtS release that's appropriate for children, so full family listening parties are not out of the question. Paul #1 never gets enough credit for being one of the true guitar superstars of modern-day pop-punk. Once you solve the mystery of who offed Mr. Boddy, you can get busy trying to figure out if any theft of classic punk riffs has occurred. Ric Six and Paul #2, the unsung heroes of Boris the Sprinkler, are in fine form as well. 

Gets A Clue is available now from Rum Bar Records. Next week, Boris the Sprinkler hits the road with Egghead. and The Ergs! to play tour dates in Somerville, Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. That, my friends, is the holy trinity of geek punk all in one place. History shall be made!

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Zatopeks - Loitering and Sauntering

On their fourth LP and first in over a decade, London's Zatopeks have unleashed an anthemic punk rock album that would sound great in any era. No less of an authority than Mick Fletcher has identified Loitering and Sauntering as his favorite album of the year so far, and you know that got my attention! I do recall positively reviewing this band many years ago, but I don't remember Zatopeks blowing me away like they have on this new record. 

Loitering and Sauntering is that rarest of things: a passionately politically-minded punk rock LP that will inspire you to go out and fight the powers that be but also make you want to jump up down, dance like a fiend, sing along loudly, and joyfully hoist a pint of beer skyward. If melodic '77-style punk with a poet's eloquence and the soul of folk and protest music sounds like something you'd be into, you should proceed directly to the Stardumb Records web site and get your order in! This album is fantastic from start to finish. I love how it's rooted in a classic punk style but stretches out from there in a totally natural way. Songs like "Kings of the Hotel Mile," "Stranded in the City," and "The Hairstyles of Mieczys​ł​aw Rakowski" are pure punk rock bangers that could not be any more up my alley. I'm equally fond of songs like the folk ballad "Blueprints for an Unlived Life," "Jarama Valley" (an adaptation of the traditional number "Red River Valley"), and epic album closer "Angel of the Old Town." If you looked up "anthem" in the dictionary, you ought to be directed to listen to "Ghosts in the System." Much has been made of the thoughtfulness, humanity, and sheer brilliance of Will DeNiro's lyrics, and I concur wholeheartedly. Beyond that, this band's flair for timeless melodies and memorable choruses ensures that its music is never secondary to the message. 

Zatopeks have been a band since 2001 and have been releasing music since 2003. Now in 2024, they've absolutely shattered the myth that punk rock bands go sour after their first couple of albums. I know it's an over-the-top thing for me to throw out a phrase like "instant classic," but I just can't help myself. I knew from my first listen that this album was something special. Either Zatopeks have become a far greater band over the last couple decades, or I've just gotten smarter. Either way, Loitering and Sauntering is one of the best punk albums of this year or any other.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

The Ergs! - dorkrockcorkrod (20th Anniversary Remix)


Wow! The Ergs!' dorkrockcorkrod, one of the greatest pop-punk albums ever made, is now twenty years old! To celebrate this anniversary, the Ergs! just released a double LP re-issue package on Don Giovanni Records. This 20th anniversary edition of dorkrockcorkrod, which included the original album remastered by Justin Perkins, a remix by Steve Albini overseen by Mike Yannich, and an Ergs! oral history compiled by Mike Faloon, quickly sold out. If you snoozed, you lost. However, the Albini remix is available from all the major digital platforms and is well worth checking out if you love The Ergs! or pop-punk in general. 
 
To get myself in the correct head space for this review, I vowed not to listen to any teaser tracks or even listen to The Ergs! at all over the last few months. I wanted to hear dorkrockcorkrod with somewhat fresh ears. I wanted to discover if 53-year-old me would love this album the way 33-year-old-me did. I wanted to make sure I still thought this was a great record and not something best left in the early 2000s dustbin of history along side flip phones, reality tv, Mozilla Firefox, and Pepsi Blue. I wanted to make sure I still found The Ergs! to be worthy of a spot on my New Jersey musical Mount Rushmore next to Springsteen, The Shirelles, and Dramarama. I suppose the first sentence of this review spoils the suspense. Having gotten reacquainted with dorkrockcorkrod, I'm pretty blown away by how well it holds up. I can totally understand why this was one of my favorite bands of the 2000s — perhaps even my most favorite band of the 20000s. It would have been hard for me twenty years ago to separate my notion of what The Ergs! were based on meeting them and seeing them play from my notion of what they were based purely on their music. I've wondered: Did me relating to these guys as kindred spirit music nerds cause me to overvalue their actual records? Thankfully, I can answer that in the negative. Everything that made me love this band is right there for the listening on dokrockcorkrod: the encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, the infusion of '80s hardcore and indie rock influences into the pop-punk style, the devastating & fully authentic "brokenhearted love songs," the catchiest melodies you could ever hope to hear, the unpretentious yet undeniable musical chops, and that perfect mixture of dorky humor and lovelorn vulnerability. You just won't hear a better pop-punk album ever. At the time of this album's release, The Ergs! had already released two demos, a 7", and a CD EP. They were far from novices. But this was the album where everything finally came together —where all that talent and all those silly ideas blossomed into something truly great. 

Anyone who loved dorkrockcorkrod the first time around will get a kick out of hearing these recordings as mixed by the great Steve Albini. The remix sounds absolutely amazing. And if you weren't around when this album first came out or for whatever reason just never got into The Ergs!, here's your chance to discover one of the truly definitive albums of modern-day pop-punk — and likely THE definitive album of the "dork rock" genre. The Ergs! have been prolific enough to justify not one but two compilations of their non-album material, so my list of their best songs would be a lengthy one. But a whole bunch of songs off of dorkrockcorkrod would make that list. In particular, "Pray for Rain," "Most Violent Rap Group," "Saturday Night Crap-O-Rama," "Vampire Party," "A Very Pretty Song For A Very Special Young Lady, Part 2," and "Everything Falls Apart (And More)" are locks for any Ergs! best-of playlist. Unless I concede that I've had zero emotional and intellectual progression in the past 20 years, I have to conclude that dorkrockcorkrod has withstood the test of time in a major way. Of course I've been known to get carried away in touting a band, and surely I'd find my own hyperbole cringe-worthy if I re-read my original review. But you know what? I wasn't wrong! I'll be sure to re-evaluate this album again in ten years when it's reissued on brain-implantable computer chip. 

Friday, July 05, 2024

Dave Strong - "I Wanna Know"

Dave Strong is back with another excellent single. "I Wanna Know" essentially combines everything I like about his songwriting into one killer tune. It sounds like power pop by way of '50s rock 'n' roll and the Beach Boys with a pinch of the Ramones. I dig the beat; I dig the hook; and I dig the guitars. If this track doesn't get your toes tapping, I don't know what will. If you're into the New England Mafia or just great hooky rock 'n' roll in general, this tune ought to be up your alley. "I Wanna Know" will be on Dave's forthcoming 7" release, "I Hate Joe King's Roommate," which features an A-side that sounds like the best song Joe King never wrote. Order the vinyl here!

Real Rejects - Summer of Spite

After four years of making joke references to Thee Artificial Rejects as if they were real musicians causing chaos in TJ Cabot's life, I can now introduce the Real Rejects: TJ Cabot (Phone Jerks, Nerve Button) on vocals & guitar, Jesse Leblanc (Feral Trash, Outtacontroller) on guitar, Claude Doiron (Nerve Button, Bad Luck #13) on bass, Sonic Hz on keyboards, and Cam Murphy (Thee Requiems, Ghostown Belle) on drums. This is the next big thing in garage punk rock 'n' roll, and today you can get into the fan club on the ground floor before the rates go up. 

After all those years of solo recording in his home studio, Tyler needed a band to play with live. And so very quickly, TJ Cabot and Thee Artificial Rejects simply became the Real Rejects. You know you're on fire when you sort of stumble into one of the best band names in years. Seriously: if you saw a record, and the band name was the Real Rejects, you would instinctively know it was cool. The band's debut digital single is called Summer of Spite, and it features two songs written about one particular day in 2023. Summer of Spite is a great title for this single. Tyler sounds really pissed off — as if you told him that there's no such thing as good pizza in the Maritimes and now he's determined to make you pay. "Eighty Five (On the Inside)" is a raw, riff-driven garage rocker featuring a wonderfully nasty vocal. "Crossed in the Supermarket" is in more familiar TJ Cabot territory of a fast & frenzied punk rock 'n' roll punch in the face. While the former track is based on  real events, the fact that Tyler didn't have to release this single from prison suggests that certain artistic liberties may have been taken with some of the outcomes. The latter track is about shopping for alcohol while inebriated, and it may be the first great "post-pandemic" anthem I've encountered. I can't say I've ever heard a garage punk single before where I thought both songs were practically short stories. Perhaps when it's all said and done, Summer of Spite will be worthy of a full-length movie! If you prefer your summertime jams on the spiteful side or simply love garage punk, the Real Rejects are the band for you.

-L.R.

https://realrejects.bandcamp.com/album/summer-of-spite-digital-single-2024

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Scrapped Plans - Buddy Buddy Belgium


So I always love a good supergroup, and more often than not, I love pop-punk. If you deduced, then, that I was going to be into the Scrapped Plans album, you'd be very right! Half of you reading this right now already know who all these people are, and half of half of you already own a copy of Buddy Buddy Belgium. That means I'm ultimately writing this review to entertain existing Scrapped Plans devotees and to intrigue those of you enjoy pop-punk but aren't necessarily super-fans. 

First let's have a roll call. Grath Madden (House Boat) and Michelle Shirelle were half of The Steinways, and they're on guitar and vocals. Fraser Murderburger is also on guitar and vocals. Kieron Jordan (Don Blake) is on bass and vocals. Mikey freaking Erg is on drums and vocals. Even by supergroup standards, that's an impressive lineup. Scrapped Plans are like the Traveling Wilburys of pop-punk. These cool cats met up in rural Belgium last fall and recorded this album in a barn in just two days. The album is exactly what you'd expect it to be: a top-notch pop-punk record that has the feel of a bunch of friends getting together to have fun. I might argue that Grath Madden is the single most underrated figure of the post 2000 pop-punk scene (I lost much sleep over my decision to relegate The Steinways' Missed the Boat to an honorable mention on my list of my top ten favorite 21st century pop-punk albums). Anything with him on it is going to be good, but of course he's just 20% of the equation here. It's super cool that all five band members get to sing lead and bring something unique to the table. Clocking in at a little under 16 minutes, Buddy Buddy Belgium will appeal to fans of efficient songwriting and music geek inside jokes (such as the album title and cover art — a true stroke of genius). Sometimes a band like this could end up with too many cooks in the kitchen, but all this talent comes together nicely. As a collection of songs, Buddy Buddy Belgium is cohesive and satisfying. There's a nice mixture of humor in sincerity in the lyrics, and of course these tunes are soundly-crafted and destined to get stuck in your head. I don't know if 2024 is shaping to be a special year for pop-punk or if I just wasn't paying close enough attention to what was coming out in previous years. But I feel like I'm more into pop-punk right now than I've been in a long time, and Scrapped Plans have contributed to that feeling.

The Yum Yums - Poppin' Up Again (Deluxe CD Edition)


Poppin' Up Again
is the sixth full-length album by The Yum Yums, and of course it's power pop perfection. I know what you're thinking: Didn't I already review this album? I did indeed. But that was like three months ago. The world has changed so much since then. We are all wiser and more discouraged by a planet in turmoil and in a greater need of life-affirming pop music. And now my fellow Americans can buy this album at a domestic price without having to surrender an arm or a leg. Tacking on the contents of the band's "Shoog Shoog (Sugar Baby)" 7" as bonus tracks, Rum Bar Records' CD deluxe edition of Poppin' Up Again extends the album to a whopping 17 tracks. And more of The Yum Yums can only be a good thing! 

You might ask if anyone needs to own more than one Yum Yums album given that the band's musical approach has not changed or progressed in any discernible way in thirty years. That would be a fair question, and my answer would be that The Yum Yums are one of the handful of bands in the history of rock 'n' roll that would be immensely disserved by artistic progression. The Yum Yums were born to spread joy into the world through sugar-sweet, mega-catchy power pop punk songs. The music gods, dismayed that no band had ever properly married '60s bubblegum and '70s glam rock to the Ramones, tapped Morten Henriksen to be the new king of power pop. One of the hardest things to do in all of music is to stick to a songwriting style this simple yet continually produce great songs. Morten's gift is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of perfect pop songs. His brain should be studied by scientists. Morten hasn't progressed to writing about politics or existential angst. He hasn't bothered to learn a fourth chord or infuse his music with jazz influences. He has never deigned to writing a seven-minute song about dragons. Again and again and again, he writes upbeat, catchy songs about love and romance. Conventional wisdom would predict diminishing returns, but Morten just keeps on getting better at his craft. 2020's For Those About To Pop! sounded like a greatest hits collection, and for a moment I wondered if finally The Yum Yums had made the album they could never top. Clearly I underestimated their musical powers. Poppin' Up Again is everything that you could ever want a Yum Yums album to be, and again, 99% of bands out there will hear this and wish they could produce this many great songs in a lifetime. Do you like harmonies? Do you like earworm hooks? Do you like sweet melodies wrapped up in crunchy guitars? Do you like songs that invoke the word "baby"? Then you are, as they say, in for a treat. This CD release of Poppin' Up Again is perfectly timed for summer fun, so step up to the bar and order yourself some top shelf pop!  

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

CB Kiddo - Heavy Is the Head (two​-​song demo)


If CB Kiddo eventually compiles all their singles from this year, they're going to have one of the best albums of the year. I'm saving a top ten spot on my list already. Emily is back with Heavy Is the Head, her fourth digital single of 2024, and she continues to construct a universe where garage punk and power pop are quarreling siblings and The Muffs are a veritable religion. "Never Been Wrong" is another catchy blast of low budget poppy punk goodness. "Choking on Your Insides" is a brilliant rendition of all an all-time great MOTO song that suddenly feels more relevant than ever. If you don't love this, you're a jerk. 

Neon Bone - Eager To Please


Pop-punk as a musical genre is having a year, and it only gets better with a new album from Neon Bone. Eager To Please, the band's eighth(?) album, is out on Monster Zero, and its catchiness ought to be a grave concern to public help officials. Gumbo and his mates continue to represent everything I love about pop-punk. Eager To Please is chock full of simple three-chord songs influenced by classic pop and rock 'n' roll and delivered with a satisfying punk rock punch. This is a band that understands the timelessness of both melody and love songs, and there has never been much of a need to radically change its approach to music. You know what you're getting with a Neon Bone record, and it's hard to think of any band that does this sort of thing better. These guys manage to emphasize the pop without skimping on the punk, and they also manage to be pop-punk classicists without ripping off any particular band. More so now than ever, you can really hear the band embracing pop-punk's roots in doo wop, early rock 'n' roll, and '60s bubblegum. But some more modern influences turn up as well. Am I the only one who hears a little Nirvana in "But When You're Alone"? "Told You So?" is more than a little Weezer-ish. "Cold City Embrace" is very Depeche Mode/New Order, and I am here for it! Ultimately, you can't accuse Neon Bone of making the exact same album over and over. But they are perfectly comfortable in their lane, and Eager To Please is another five star pop-punk album.


Monday, July 01, 2024

Pat Todd & The Rankoutsiders - Senator's Daughter


It's always a good day when I-94 Recordings releases another installment in its Detroit covers singles series. Senator's Daughter is the 12th installment in the series and the second one from Pat Todd & The Rankoutsiders. Obviously, we're talking about one of the best rock 'n' roll bands going. And a lot of people forget that Pat Todd was born in the raised in the Midwest. So even though this is a West Coast band, it definitely has that Midwestern soul that characterizes so much of the I-94 roster. "Down at the End of Your Rope" is an original song and a tremendous one at that. It's a rootsy rocker with killer hooks and heartfelt lyrics & vocals. If you want to hear a great songwriter backed by a great band doing it right, this track won't let you down. For its Detroit cover, the band takes it way back to the '50s. Rankoutsider guitarist Kevin Keller recently discovered that Jimmy Boyer of Jimmy Boyer and the Royal Newports was his cousin. So the band decided to have a go at "Little Miss Heartbreak." The Rankoutsiders put their signature on this golden nugget of rockabilly — which I imagine will be most people's first exposure to this song. You can never go wrong with Pat Todd & The Rankoutsiders, and you can never go wrong with I-94 Recordings. Put them together, and you've got yourself an absolute must-buy. Vinyl is available now in 13 color variants. Hop to it — that pissy yellow isn't going to last long! 

The Plane Crash - Nostalgia For The Gutter

The Plane Crash, hailing from Portland, Oregon, is the type of band I used to write about frequently back in the day. This is a no bullshit, down and dirty, blood & guts punk rock 'n' roll band that worships at the altar of Johnny Thunders, Chuck Berry, and The Stooges. This group wears its influences on its sleeve and sticks to the business of playing three-chord rock 'n' roll with force and feeling. Mark Death (The Hot Lz's, The Halfways) is on vocals and lead guitar. He's joined by Harry Gadd on bass guitar and backing vocals, Rich Peterson on lead guitar, and Erik Haines on drums and lead vocals. The band's LP Nostalgia For The Gutter makes me nostalgic for all those 1990s American punk rock 'n' roll bands that pumped new life into the OG punk rock of Detroit, New York, and Ohio. Lean and mean at just nine tracks in 23 minutes, this album is chock full of raw energy, ripping guitar solos, and fuck-off attitude. There was a time in my life when I would come across a record like this three or four times a month. Now I'm lucky if that's three or four times in a year! So it's great to hear The Plane Crash pull off this style so well. Any band with Mark Death in it is going to be awesome, and he has found himself some kindred spirits with serious chops. Nostalgia For The Gutter is full of killer tunes and well worth exploring if real deal punk rock 'n' roll gets your heart racing.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Unicorn Dogs - Age Typical Junk Behavior


Back in March, I predicted that Unicorn Dogs' debut full-length Age Typical Junk Behavior would join the growing list of  "A+ pop-punk albums" released this year. For once, I turned out to be right about something! To recap, two-thirds of Baltimore-based Unicorn Dogs used to be two-thirds of Charlie Brown Gets a Valentine. But while there's some similarity between the two bands, Unicorn Dogs are miles beyond what CBGaV was. There's nothing particularly novel or complicated about what Unicorn Dogs do, but perhaps that's the whole point. They play gritty, straight-forward pop-punk, and they put tremendous heart & soul into it. Their songs are simple in terms of both structure and the approach to recording. Yet you won't find a band with catchier, more memorable pop-punk tunes. I appreciate that there are two songwriter/vocalists, and I like them equally. That's a little reminiscent of Husker Du for me, and I would guess that Husker Du is somewhat of an influence on Unicorn Dogs. You can feel the passion and energy that went into these songs, and the lyrics are thoughtful and super-relatable. This, my friends, is pop-punk for grown-ups —and it's freaking amazing. Was I practically in tears the first time I heard "You Would Have Known Better"? Of course I was! Surely I can relate to "Screwed Together" way more deeply than I can relate to any pop-punk song I liked 25 years ago. Age Typical Junk Behavior is an absolutely perfect pop-punk album. Only one song exceeds two minutes, and every track makes me want to pump my fist and shout along like my life depended on it. Over the course of this album, the band reflects on topics such as revenge, parenthood, work, marriage, overcoming adversity, the shortcomings of humanity, alienation, and the inevitability of death. To reverse-paraphrase Morrissey, the music Unicorn Dogs play says a lot to me about my life. 

Loose Lips - self titled


First The Prize and The Unknowns hooked up for a split 7". Now we've got members of both bands literally joining forces to form a new project with a Chubby and the Gang member in tow. Yes, please! The band is called Loose Lips, and its debut release is a four-song cassette EP that's sure to melt your face off. Suffice it to say that if you're a fan of The Prize and The Unknowns, you're gonna lose your shit for Loose Lips. The sound is punky power pop meets '70s pub rock 'n' roll, and it's executed to perfection. These cats aren't fooling around: they tear through four tracks of toe-tapping, booty-shaking, sing-along goodness with hooks a plenty and a raw, quintessentially Australian edge. What's not to love? Get in on this action now! 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Brad Marino - Hot Rod Rampage

Anything Brad Marino does is gold in my book, but he's really hitting a sweet spot for me with his new EP Hot Rod Rampage. This release is an homage to one of the most iconic styles of American rock 'n' roll: early '60s hot rod & surf. Since I wasn't born until the '70s, I've often imagined what it would have been like to have been a teenager circa 1963-64 — spending your summers driving around in a hot rod, hitting the beach, and listening to rock 'n' roll on the radio. Marino describes that era of surf rock as "Chuck Berry with some sweet harmonies," and that particular influence has always been palpable in his songwriting. It was what first drew me to The Connection, one of the bands that most influenced my evolving musical tastes in the 2010s. So it's no surprise that Marino has been wanting to do a hot rod record for 15 years. He just never got around to it: until now! The lineup for this release is incredible. Craig Sala is on drums and saxophone. Dave Strong and Bobby Davis play guitar. Kris Rodgers plays piano on one track. You won't find a better hot rod rock 'n' roll band! The track list includes covers of three classics along with Marino's original instrumental "Tripwire." Effectively, this is also a mini-tribute to songwriters Gary Usher & Roger Christian. The songs covered are "D-Gas Chevy" from The Super Stocks' 1964 album Thunder Road, "Wax, Board and Woodie" from The Surfaris' Hit City 64, and "Shut Down" from the Beach Boys' 1963 release Surfin' U.S.A. These are all great versions. Marino, Strong, and Davis all shine on lead guitar, and Marino's work layering all those harmonies is masterful. There's nothing in the world that goes together better than driving, summer weather, and rock 'n' roll; so you know the timing of this release was no accident. Download these tunes and hit the road! 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Wynotts - Way Back Now


On the very first day of this year, I reported on the reformation of The Wynotts — a Boston-based band that originally formed in 2007 and broke up in 2009. The group disbanded with a lot of recorded material in the can, and those tracks now see the light of day a decade and a half after they were recorded. A few songs were released digitally late last year, but now the full album Way Back Now is available on compact disc with distribution from the mighty Rum Bar Records. There's an old joke about how most bands in Boston qualify as "super-groups." But it's hard to not call The Wynotts a super-group! Bob Cenci (Jerry's Kids, Hellcats From Outer Space), Michele Kish (The Killer Abs), Peter DeVincent (Underball), and Ivahna Rock (The Downhauls, Petty Morals) are all mainstays of the Boston-area garage/punk scene. Cenci and Kish are the primary songwriters, but all four band members contribute material. Each songwriter has their own style, yet it all comes together in a cohesive and complementary way. It ought to be illegal to have this much talent in one band! Simply put, The Wynotts sound like a classic Boston punk rock band. They write great pop songs and deliver them in a hard-driving three-chord rock 'n' roll style. If you dig old school powerpop/punk, this is definitely the album for you. The songs are fantastic all the way through, and even after 11 tracks, I'm left wanting more. I'm amazed that these songs went unreleased for 15–16 years, but the I suppose the good thing about that is that the band members had plenty of time to realize they had an album that the world really needed to hear. And heck, if this album had come out in 2009,  I would have missed it since I was not writing about music at the time! Ultimately, this is a great album in any year and hands down one of the best long players of 2024 so far. The Wynotts working with Malibu Lou is truly a match made in heaven! 

Angry Adults - Lust for Punk


The Helsinki-based trio Angry Adults is back with another 7" record that brings to mind the heyday of Mutant Pop Records. The front cover of Lust for Punk is a clear homage to the original version of Moral Crux's Victim of Hype EP. Musically, the most obvious Mutant Pop comparison is The Automatics. With their raw, snotty, and stripped-down approach to pop-punk, Angry Adults bring back an aesthetic that just screams later '90s DIY. With cheap gear and zero regard for proper production values, they blast through four buzzsaw punk tunes in less than six minutes. If you've generally dismissed pop-punk as too wimpy or polished for your tastes, let Angry Adults turn you to the dark side. 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Hoverborg - The Good Stuff


This is one of the few times in my life when I've found it worthwhile to completely re-write a post. The bombshell that no human beings sing or play music on Hoverborg's The Good Stuff necessitated some further reflections. First things first: I won't retract my general assessment of the music. The Good Stuff remains a fantastic alt rock/power pop album that evokes a special time in popular music. I have no objections in principle to fictional bands and even referenced Josie and the Pussycats in my original review. These songs, while apparently performed by robots, were written by an actual human with considerable talent. The humor and humanity in these songs is very real. If part of this experiment was to discover if people would not be able to detect that it was an AI creation and would in fact love the album, then it's hard to deny that it was a successful endeavor. It was immediately well-received by me and several other people whose musical tastes I trust. I'll be totally honest: if I had known this album was an AI project, I would never have listened to it. Knowing what I know now, my reaction is not entirely negative. It's a mixture of being creeped out by the capabilities of this technology and surprised that the music came across so genuinely human. I mentioned how the joy that went into these songs was palpable. How hilarious is that observation now? In retrospect, so many things make sense now. We can understand why this band seemed to come out of nowhere, why those harmonies are so flawless, and how effortlessly Hoverborg managed to channel the sound of that dog., Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, etc. Has this made me less judgmental about bands/artists making some use of AI in the studio? Absolutely. But when it comes to being open-minded about AI bands, I'm still not there yet. What's for certain is that this technology is not going away, and it's going to have some place in music in the future.  

Junior Varsity - "Back To Reno"


Mighty Joe Vincent (The Prissteens, The Swingin' Neckbreakers, The Devil Dogs) needs no introduction on these virtual pages. He's an absolute legend and without a doubt one of the greatest drummers the garage/punk/rock 'n' roll world has ever known. And now he's back with a new band that all the cool cats are talking about. Mighty Joe has recruited a whole slew of super-talented friends (Paul Bertolino, Mike Dudolevitch, Mike Fornatale, Dave Lieb, Alec Morton, and Tom Lucas) to bring some of his new songs to life. The band is named Junior Varsity, and its first single is called "Back To Reno." It's out on Rum Bar Records as a free download. "Back To Reno" is something a little different from Mighty Joe's past projects — it's got a '70s classic rock feel a la the Stones, Faces, Humble Pie, etc. This tune features an arena-sized vocal from Bertolino, totally smoking guitars, and (of course!) an irresistible beat. And how could you not love a line like "No matter how much I lose, it ain't never enough"? Vincent's songwriting chops have been well-established. But with Junior Varsity, he's showing a new side of himself. He co-wrote and produced this track, which was recorded by Lucas and then mastered by Kurt Bloch. And it sounds like a million bucks! Clearly this was a case of a songwriter finding exactly the right musicians to bring his vision to life. This, my friends, is rock n' roll! There's more to come from Junior Varsity, so stay tuned. In the meantime, step up to the bar and get "Back To Reno"! 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Friends of Cesar Romero - Last Summer A Year From Now


You know I'm always pumped for new music from Friends of Cesar Romero. J. Waylon is one of the finest songwriters in the present-day garage/pop/rock 'n' roll universe, and the way he manages to be a prolific artist yet never turn out a sub-par release is beyond impressive. FoCR's new EP Last Summer A Year From Now (How's that for an amazing title?) is installment number 42 in the Doomed Babe Series. And yet as deep as we are into this series, none of these installments have felt unnecessary or redundant. Any time I hear the latest installment, I'm already looking forward to the next one. Part of that is the timelessness of the subject matter. Who can't relate to themes of heartbreak and obsession and doomed romance? Another part of it is how well J. Waylon writes about this sort of stuff. He has lived these songs, and he's gifted at putting all that doom into eloquent words. This new EP finds him mixing up musical styles in a most satisfying way. "Kinetic Threat" is a crackling opener that brings to mind the early 2000s heyday of modern garage rock. "Purple Hearts Hardly Bruise" is ultra-energetic poppy punk and quite the toe-tapper. The title track is scruffy power pop par excellence. "The Long Drive To You" takes it back to the garage vein and begs to be blasted loudly. Closing it out, "Simple Little Love Song" is textbook power pop. There's something on this EP for everyone, and there's nothing on this EP that will disappoint longtime fans. And if you're not a longtime fan, this would be a perfectly good entry place into Friends of Cesar Romero fandom. Grab a free download while you can, and be sure to dig into that treasure trove of a back catalog if you like what you hear!

Friday, June 21, 2024

The Shang Hi Los - "Morganatic Panic"


I can say with nearly 100% certainty that The Shang Hi Los are the first band in history to write a power pop song about Edward VIII's abdication of the British throne in the wake of his engagement to divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. But given that it touches on love, passion, scandal, intrigue, and sacrifice, this story is absolutely the perfect subject matter for a three-minute pop song. It's no shock that the Shangs have churned out an indie chart smash in "Morganatic Panic." They are a hit singles machine. The band has never rocked harder, and they're channeling Cheap Trick more than a little on this rollicking earworm. There's enough guitar power on this track to shake a packed stadium. On the toe-tapping scale, this song rates a 12 out of ten. Once that "You'd better run, run Teddy/Run, run Teddy" refrain hits, resistance is futile. You are hooked, and everyone within earshot of you for the next several hours will be too. A constitutional crisis with a whiff of sex is sure to arouse anyone's interests, and the Shangs have given Edward and Wallis an anthem worthy of their world-altering romance. Get this song of the summer contender now from your home of the hits, Rum Bar Records! 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

J Prozac - Obsession


The Rum Bar Records Summer of Pop-Punk is in full swing! New albums from J Prozac, The Cretins, and Pavid Vermin dropped this past Friday; the American release of The Yum Yums' Poppin' Up Again and a new EP from Boris the freaking Sprinkler are set for July 5th. Twentysomething me would be geeking out. Present-day me is super-stoked to realize that this sort of music has held up remarkably well when subjected to the test of time. 

If you cut open J Prozac, he would bleed pop-punk. He's a lifer and true believer. His longevity in this genre is a testament to the room he has left himself to grow as songwriter. On his new release Obsession, he continues to balance a deep love for pop-punk as a near-perfect musical form with his personal evolution as a singer, songwriter, family man, and human. Obsession doesn't stray far from the J Prozac signature sound you know and love, but lyrically it goes super deep. In fact, Jay has never gone deeper. This is a pretty dark record that finds Jay confronting a lot of his demons. Many of these songs come from a headspace where darkness is descending upon you and everything around you seems to be falling apart. With tremendous openness and honesty, Jay reflects on struggle and pain and a hopelessness that can consume you if you let it. Ultimately, this collection of songs sees the light at the end of the tunnel without sugar-coating reality. The worst thing you can do when you find yourself in a dark place is to keep it all bottled in and never let anyone know you're struggling. J Prozac, who has put some of his deepest, darkest reflections into song, is an inspiration. He has also proven that you can still write love songs as a proper grown-up if you make sure they cut deeper. A hopeful song like "That Feeling" is all the more powerful because you know it's not bullshit. It's real and raw and straight from the heart. "When That Day Comes" is a Prozac specialty: a heart-on-sleeve anthem that would be unbearably sappy in the hands of most songwriters but is nothing but chills coming from Jay. There are some real curveballs on this record (such as "The Bitter End" and "No One Else"), but overall the vibe here is quasi-mainstream '90s/2000s pop-punk. It sounds a little like the best album Fat Wreck Chords never released. It's more conventionally pop-punk than 2022's Won't Let Go yet still feels like a progression for J Prozac. 

At some point as a pop-punk songwriter, you probably have to let go of an adolescent perspective and get into some heavy adult shit and hope that your audience grows with you. Decades ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of adult-oriented pop-punk. But now I'm hearing the likes of The Young Hasselhoffs and J Prozac, who were real teenagers in the '90s when I was still pretending to be one, making the best records of their lives a quarter-century later, and I don't see any reason for this ride to end as long as we're all still breathing. Vinyl copies of Obsession are super-limited, so get cracking while the cracking's good!