Friday, March 29, 2024

The Cynz - Little Miss Lost

The Cynz, a New Jersey/New York–based rock 'n' roll band, release their fifth album today — and their first with the illustrious JEM Records. The Cynz are probably best known for their electrifying live performances which revolve around the chemistry and charisma of lead singer Cyndi Dawson and guitarist Henry Seiz. It may have been a slight surprise when this '70s punk–influenced, full-throttle rock band signed to JEM. But anyone who hears Little Miss Lost is sure to conclude that The Cynz fit in perfectly on the JEM roster. This is the kind of record that is timeless to me — a big, hooky rock album packed with songs that would be radio hits if they still played real rock 'n' roll on the radio. It has a distinct '80s feel yet still sounds modern, and it highlights the tremendous songwriting talents of Dawson and Seiz. 

While not fully a concept album, Little Miss Lost is semi-autobiographical. It finds Dawson revisiting a difficult time in her life — when she struck out on her own at 17 and had to make her way in New York City. In addition to crafting rocking and immensely catchy tunes, Dawson and Seiz really poured their hearts and souls into these songs. What results is an album that delights from start to finish. At a time when so many bands attach themselves to narrowly defined musical styles, it's a breath of fresh air to hear a band that just wants to make a great rock album. "Crow-Haired Boys," Dawson's reminiscence of frequenting New York clubs as a teen, is so anthemic that it sounds like it could be the grand opening number in a rock musical. The title track is pure hard rock without irony. "When We Were In Love" is the definition of pop bliss — featuring a chorus that straight-up gives me chills. "Just a Boy" and "Narrow Hips" demonstrate that The Cynz can do power pop as well as anyone on the JEM roster. "The Only One" is classic '60s pop with raga rock touches. "Fall Away," the album's emphatic closer, is a punky, kick-ass rocker. Covers of Holly & The Italians' "Tell That Girl To Shut Up" and The Smithereens' "Room Without a View" do justice to the originals but infuse plenty of that distinct Cynz style. 

The press release for Little Miss Lost talks about how these songs "might" be Dawson and Seiz's strongest material to date. Well that's the understatement of the year! I can't imagine any fan of the label not enjoying this album. It brings to mind the "cooler" side of '80s AOR without sounding dated. And while The Cynz are certainly inspired by many greats of the past, their music is more the product of their two songwriters' unique talents and personalities than it is of any specific influences. Little Miss Lost is an absolutely fantastic album and one of JEM's very best releases in recent years.

Tambourine Girlfriend - Tambourine Girlfriend's Easter Parade

Wait! Has Tambourine Girlfriend gone and covered all of Irving Berlin's songs from the classic musical film Easter Parade? Not quite. Instead they've taken all the song titles and turned them into original songs — in essence creating an Easter-themed indie pop album. Is this one of the most ridiculous concepts for an album I've ever come across? No doubt. But do I totally love it? Abso-freaking-lutely! Tambourine Girlfriend are Mike and Rusty from the wonderful holiday podcast Snow in Southtown. Tambourine Girlfriend's Easter Parade was conceived as a joke on the show, and then it became a real thing. It was originally created as bonus content for the show's short-lived Patreon. Now the album is available for the listening enjoyment of the whole wide world. 

I've been known to review Christmas, Halloween, and even Thanksgiving-themed releases before, but this is certainly my first time writing about an Easter album. If you can get past the absurdity of the concept, you will discover in Tambourine Girlfriend's Easter Parade a delightful and legit-good pop record. The album may have started out as a goof, but Mike and Rusty put tremendous love and care into these songs. As they do on the air, Mike and Rusty complement each other really well. Rusty's whimsical, endearingly geeky indie rock numbers alternate with Mike's melody-driven pop earworms, creating a flow that's enjoyable to the ears. In some of these cases, the songs turn out even better than their Easter Parade counterparts (I'm not above a little blasphemy during Holy Week). Of course I've reviewed Mike's band Vista Blue three or four times, and a few of these tracks could pass for Vista Blue songs. "I Want To Get Back To Michigan" is like a bonus Vista Blue single, and "The Girl on the Magazine Cover" actually appears on an official VB release. But Mike breaks from the pop-punk style on a lot of his contributions to this album — showing sides of himself we don't often hear on Vista Blue releases. He channels Oasis on "We're a Couple of Swells," one of the best tunes he's ever written. "It Only Happens When I Dance With You" is a dandy little baroque/indie pop gem. "Better Luck Next Time" makes it clear that a Mike Patton acoustic album would be a must-buy. Rusty's songs are equally good. "Happy Easter" immediately rises to the level of a holiday standard. "Beautiful Faces Need Beautiful Clothes" sounds like the best song Bobby Wratten never wrote. "Drum Crazy" is truly beautiful and sure to touch the heart of any music lover. 

As a writer, I find the whole premise of taking existing song titles and turning them into new songs an utterly fascinating exercise. Sometimes a funny idea can open the door to true inspiration. Don't let these jokers fool you: they are way more talented than they'd ever let on. Even if you have little interest in baskets of chocolate, giant bunnies, or the salvation of humanity, Tambourine Girlfriend's Easter Parade has plenty to offer you. And if you're a fan of holidays, pop culture, and holiday pop culture, I highly recommend adding Snow In Southtown to your podcast rotation. Happy Easter!

Unicorn Dogs - "Dumb Stuff"/"Screwed Together"

Unicorn Dogs are totally a breath of fresh air in the pop-punk scene. The Baltimore-based trio has released two singles in advance of its forthcoming album Age Typical Junk Behavior, and I just can't stop listening to these tracks! Two-thirds of Unicorn Dogs were two-thirds of Charlie Brown Gets a Valentine, so you probably have some idea of what to expect. But while Unicorn Dogs share certain characteristics with CBGaV, this is a different band with a different vibe. These guys are still doing gritty pop-punk, but they're writing shorter and catchier songs with lyrics that are freaking amazing. These two singles tackle serious subject matter like marriage, parenthood, and other heavy adult stuff. They approach these topics with honesty, a sense of humor, and a remarkable relatability. Check out "You Would Have Known Better" for an example of how powerful songwriting doesn't have to be complicated songwriting. I'm not crying — you're crying! We've already had a couple of A+ pop-punk albums in 2024, and now another seems imminent. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Itchy & the Nits - Worst Of

Itchy & the Nits' demo tape was one of the most exciting debut releases of last year, and thankfully we did not have to wait long for more music from this Sydney-based garage punk trio. Total Punk Records has compiled the seven demo tracks with five brand-new cuts to form a proper debut album for Itchy & the Nits called Worst Of. This, my friends, is an instant classic in the garage punk world — sounding like something that might have come out on Radio X in 1996. These ladies understand what great rock 'n' roll is all about, and the simplicity of their musical approach is the stuff of genius. If you like your budget punk raw, primitive, catchy, and fun, Worst Of will hit you just the way you like it. Give credit to Total Punk for realizing that the demo tracks were already perfect and needed to exist on a record. The five new songs fit right in. None of these songs come close to hitting the two-minute mark, and the whole album clocks in at under 17 minutes. Itchy & the Nits know how to get in, get out, and leave you wanting more! If this is your first exposure to Itchy & the Nits, smash hits like "Goner," "Crabs," and "Beat It Bozo!" are sure to be stuck in your head for weeks. New cuts like "Dreamboat" and a fab cover of The Gizmos' "Tie Me Up" justify the purchase price even if you already own the demo tape. Mick Fletcher has already certified this album gold, and who's gonna argue with him? Sadly, the vinyl is already sold out, but I know you resourceful types will find a way to score a copy!

Monday, March 18, 2024

CB Kiddo - "Feeling Fine"/"So It Goes"

Wasn't I just talking about how I knew the demise of Phone Jerks would have a silver lining because former members' new projects would ultimately multiply the awesomeness? The awesomeness continues to multiply! CB Kiddo is Emily's home-recorded pandemic project. And while there is much controversy and debate surrounding various aspects of Phone Jerks (What was their best record? Which band did they rip off the most? Which song should they have covered? Which song should they not have covered? Who had the best hair?), I think fans would unanimously proclaim Emily as their favorite Phone Jerks singer. So the idea of Emily singing on another project was going to be warmly-received even if she just sang hockey scores over top of jazz flute. But far better than that, CB Kiddo turns out to be a lo-fi rockin' poppy punk thing that's gonna have you all going nuts. Its worldwide debut features a pair of unmastered demo tracks that you'll love even if you're too bougie to like Phone Jerks. Both of these songs — "Feeling Fine" and "So It Goes" — are stone cold bangers with killer hooks and freaking awesome lyrics. Seriously: "Feeling Fine" could be an A-side right now. Holy cannoli, what a debut! And it's a free download, so you've got no excuses for sleeping on it! 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

White Wires - Singles and Rarities

One thing I regret about my nearly four-year sabbatical from music reviewing that pre-dated this blog is that I missed most of an incredible run by The White Wires. I caught the tail end of that run and loved the album WWIII. But when I went back and listened to their early singles and first two albums, I was floored. There's no doubt about it: had I been reviewing music circa 2008-2010, The White Wires would have been one of my most highly touted bands. So I relish the opportunity to be able to review this Ottawa-based trio one more time. Singles and Rarities is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of the band's singles and compilation cuts which essentially forms a fourth White Wires album. There's even a previously-unreleased track included! If you want to hear one of past decade's greatest punky power pop garage bands in top form, Singles and Rarities is a must-listen. 7" sides like "Crazy Crazy" and "Pogo 'til I Puke Tonight" are up there with the best of the band's songs, and covers of The Nerves ("Letter to G") and Poppees ("I Need Your Love") are totally aces. The unreleased track, "Spy," is quite good and will be a real treat for fans. You can stream this compilation now and look forward to a vinyl release from It's Alive Records!

Pleasants - Rocanrol In Mono

Here come the Aussies again exerting world domination over modern-day punk rock! Pleasants hail from Perth and have released several notable singles over the last couple of years. Out now on Under the Gun Records, Rocanrol In Mono is the band's long-awaited full-length debut. This whole record was written, performed, recorded, and mixed by one individual, Mr. Al Uminium. Blending the raw energy of Aussie garage punk with egg punk-ish elements and a classic punk approach to songwriting, this nifty long player more than lives up to the promise of the singles. These songs are catchy as hell, odd in the best possible sense, and just really damn good. Rocanrol In Mono joins a rapidly-growing list of great punk albums released so far this year. When it comes to budget punk (or is it budget rocanrol?), Pleasants are here to show us how it's done! 

My Ten Favorite Pop-Punk Albums of the 20th Century

Here, as promised, is the companion piece to my list of my ten favorite pop-punk albums of the 21st century. Today I'm tackling the 20th century — which most people would consider the glory days of pop-punk. Putting together this list was a challenging task. For one thing, how does one define when pop-punk became a genre onto itself? If I had included first wave punk bands in this discussion, my entire list would have been the Ramones, Buzzcocks, Undertones, and Dickies. I also struggled with how to define pop-punk. Ultimately, I decided to define it fairly broadly. That may not sit well with the pop-punk purists or gatekeepers. But I'm not here to argue about what is or is not pop-punk. With a couple of these albums, I felt like it was questionable to include them — but that it would have been worse to not include them. I will reiterate that this is a list of my ten favorite pop-punk albums of the 20th century — not the ten best or ten most influential or ten most important. It's interesting that all these albums came out in my 20s, and four of them came out in the same calendar year. So clearly my selections were influenced by nostalgia. I'd like to thank Mark for inspiring me to take this trip down memory lane so I could be reminded of how much I love this music. On with it! 

10. Moral Crux - I Was a Teenage Teenager (1994) 
Moral Crux, like Boris the Sprinkler, was a crucial influence in my evolution from pop-punk kid to '77-style punk rock fanatic. All of this band's albums are great, so be sure to explore the full catalog over at Bandcamp if you're unfamiliar with Moral Crux. 

9. Screeching Weasel - Anthem for a New Tomorrow (1993)
Screeching Weasel has several albums that were instrumental in my pop-punk education. That whole run from My Brain Hurts through How To Make Enemies And Irritate People is bulletproof. Anthem for a New Tomorrow is the one I've listened to the most — by far.

8. Boris the Sprinkler - Saucer to Saturn (1995)
Any time I reflect on punk rock and the '90s, I think about how underrated Boris the Sprinkler's catalog is. The spectacle of this band's live show and the geek chic cleverness of its lyrics might have gotten all of the attention, but musically BtS epitomized everything that was great about poppy classic punk. Saucer to Saturn was the band's finest hour.

7. The Lillingtons - Shit Out of Luck (1997) 
Certainly The Lillingtons became a more original and interesting band as they matured. But for me, nothing beats their early, more classically pop-punk stuff. Sing it with me: "LI! LL! ING! TON!"

6. Beatnik Termites - Taste the Sand (1995) 
I've always had a soft spot for pop-punk of the bubblegum variety. Throw in some surf and oldies radio influences, and you've got yourself a classic in Taste the Sand.

5. Green Day - Dookie (1994)
You may have heard of this band. 

4. The Automatics (USA) - self titled (1996) 
Now here was a band that was ahead of its time. Today, the idea of fast, snotty, yet really poppy punk rock with bargain basement production is nothing new. But there was nothing else like The Automatics in the mid-'90s. These guys played fast and raw, yet their songs were brilliantly-crafted and laden with harmonies. The Automatics remain the greatest '90s punk band that nobody talks about.

3. The Queers - Love Songs for the Retarded  (1993) 
This album did not invent pop-punk, but it perfected the formula to the point where it could never be topped — not even by the band that made it.

2. Parasites - Punch Lines (1993) 
For so many years, I swore that Pair was the better Parasites album. Then I grew up, cleaned out my ears, and recognized a masterpiece. "Crazy" is one of the best songs ever written, and "Letdown" is an album closer of legendary proportions.

1. The Muffs - self titled (1993) 
When it comes to records that were life-changing for me, I put this one up there with the first three Ramones albums. I know this is a favorites list and not a "most influential" list. But I can't even begin to calculate how much great music now exists because someone heard The Muffs. The greatest scream in rock 'n' roll! 

Honorable Mentions 
Mr. T. Experience - every single album! 
BUM - Wanna Smash Sensation (1993)
Sicko - You Can Feel the Love in This Room (1994)
Buck - self titled (1998) 
The Queers - Don't Back Down (1996)
Decendents - I Don't Want To Grow Up (1985) 
Chixdiggit - self titled (1996) 
Dirt Bike Annie - Hit the Rock! (1999) 

So tell me: What are your favorite pop-punk albums of the 20th century? 


Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Goodyear Wimps - Songs for Adult Children With Distortion

The Goodyear Wimps is a pretty hilarious band name, and Songs for Adult Children With Distortion (misplaced modifier intended?) is a pretty hilarious album title. This band from Boise plays super-catchy pop-punk that sometimes leans towards power pop. You may know the singer Brent V from his other band The Brents. Over these six tracks, Brent V shows a terrific sense of humor. But even though he doesn't take himself too seriously, he's an excellent songwriter with a real flair for tuneful melodies and earworm hooks. A lot of these lyrics made me laugh out loud, but it's the quality of the songwriting that keeps bringing me back for more. "Sunday Morning" sounds like what would happen if Weezer played pop-punk, and I am here for it! If this is what "hacksaw power pop" sounds like, count me in. A very promising debut from the mighty Mountain West! 

Bart and the Brats - Can't Think Straight

Perhaps the only thing in life as dependable as death & taxes are Bart and the Brats, who return with another superb release of '77-style punk rock stripped to its bare bones. Still fresh off a third LP and a killer split with Battlebeats, Bart hit the studio with Lo' Spider in Toulouse this past fall and knocked out Can't Think Straight — out now on 7" record on the labels Juvenile Delinquent and Take The City Records. Bart isn't messing with the recipe one bit, and why would he? These two-minute, three-chord bangers bring to mind the Ramones in first album form and UK counterparts such as The Lurkers and Vibrators. Bart's vocal style is immediately recognizable, and his ability to churn out simple, thumping punk tunes of the highest quality is hard to beat. Put any of these songs on a compilation of 1977 punk tracks, and they won't sound out of place! 

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Hoaxxers - "Thought That You Should Know"

Here's some more excitement in the Mom's Basement Records department: Hoaxxers are releasing their (sort of) debut 7" on the label very soon. I say "sort of" because Hoaxxers look and sound suspiciously like Charlie, Kye, and Tron from Joe Jitsu, a really terrific pop-punk band from the 2000s. I had to look up when I first reviewed Joe Jitsu, and it was twenty years ago! Man, does time fly! But this is a new band for a new time, with a sound that's maybe a little more, uh, punkier? In advance of the 7", the band has released one of the tracks, "Thought That You Should Know," as a digital single. The punkier sensibility manifests itself mostly in a peppier tempo, but otherwise this is not far removed at all from Joe Jitsu. And that's a good thing. Charlie's voice is as smooth as silk, and the song bursts with energy and melody in that old school '90s style. For not having played together for a while, these three sound tight as heck! "Thought That You Should Know" is a free download from Bandcamp, so be sure to grab it if you're a fan of Joe Jitsu or good pop-punk in general. If Mom's Basement is putting it out, you know it's gotta be good! 

Tidal Bores - demo

I know a lot of us have been waiting for this one for a while, and here it is: the first publicly-released recordings from Moncton's newest garage punk sensations the Tidal Bores! I did my best not to break down and cry when Phone Jerks split — figuring that some former Phone Jerks would start new projects and that the awesomeness would ultimately be multiplied. It's looking like I called that right with all the amazing TJ Cabot releases I've enjoyed in recent years. And now the world can be introduced to the Tidal Bores — a group featuring members of Phone Jerks, Impulse Items, Whore Gasms, Small Package, Adhesives, and Valentine Killers. Brian LaManna is on lead vocals. If you know his musical influences, you will have a good idea of what to expect from the Tidal Bores. What I like about this demo from Tidal Bores is that it really is a demo. These tracks are live off the floor. The band isn't throwing the songs online and calling it an EP. This is the kind of thing that used to come out on cassette tape back in the day: a band's raw first recordings that hint at its potential but aren't necessarily meant to represent a finished product. And now thanks to the magic of technology, a demo tape can be digital — which means more people can hear it, and less money is spent on postage. With this little taste of Tidal Bores, we get a feel for what the band is all about. These songs rip hard, walking the fine line between 1981 hardcore and Pagans-style OG budget punk. "Zero Hour" is the only original track. "Civilization's Dying" is a cover of the Zero Boys classic. "Methanol" is a re-working of a song Brian co-wrote when he was in the Valentine Killers back in the late 20th century. Put together, these songs sure fit the tenor of the times. If someone had handed me a tape like this back in the day, and I had gone home and pressed play, I would have gone nuts. And now here we all are, getting in on the ground floor with the Tidal Bores together. I'm looking forward to a proper EP!

The Reflectors - "All the Way Down"

Now this was a killer surprise! I was scrolling through social media last night and discovered that one of my favorite bands had just dropped a brand-new single that I didn't even know was coming out. And it's a teaser for a full-length album releasing next month! The Reflectors are, in my book, one of the two or three best power pop bands going. They've released two totally fantastic albums, and a third LP called Going Out of Fashion is soon forthcoming on Neon Nile. In advance of the album, the new single "All the Way Down" gives us a little taste of what's to come. This is the first new music from The Reflectors in two-and-a-half years, and it does not disappoint. This, my friends, is a little piece of power pop bliss. I can't stop playing this tune, and I bet you won't be able to either. Enjoy and stay tuned!

Friday, March 08, 2024

Classic Pat - Won't Back Down

I am not a believer in diminishing the value of art by assigning it a numerical rating. But if I were, I would award Classic Pat's new album Won't Back Down a ten out of ten. If you love pop-punk, you will love this album and should run through a brick wall if necessary to acquire it. That should be the end of this review, but it would be out of character for me to be that succinct.  

Almost anyone who has bothered to read this far will be familiar with Classic Pat and the many great bands he has played in. With Won't Back Down (out today on Mom's Basement Records), he has delivered a royal treat for eternal fans of Lookout! Records inspired pop-punk. This is a particular genre with which I have a very complicated relationship. 70% of the time, I'm pretty "Meh!" about it. But the rest of the time, there's no music in the world I'd rather listen to. Won't Back Down is obviously in the latter category. On the first day of this year, I described "Sadie Hawkins Dance" as "one of the greatest pop-punk songs ever written." You may have suspected that I wrote those words under the influence of recency bias, temporary insanity, or a bad hangover, but now it's nine weeks later, and my opinion hasn't changed. When I reflect on why some pop-punk hits the spot for me and some of it doesn't, I can identify several qualities that tend to win me over:
  • I enjoy a likeable singer and funny, relatable lyrics. 
  • I like to hear the influence of classic pop and rock 'n' roll.
  • I prefer a little variety over the course of an album. 
  • The poppier the better!
  • I'll take catchy songs over new ideas any day of the week.

Let me tell you: if that's my rubric, Won't Back Down checks off every single box! Emulating the old school Lookout! sound without coming off like a cheap knockoff is a tricky task, but Classic Pat totally pulls it off. And the secret is that there's really no secret. It's all about writing perfect three-chord punk songs with earworm hooks. If "Seeing Triple" were any catchier, the CDC would be raiding the Mom's Basement headquarters at this very moment. "She Don't Care" is basically the best Screeching Weasel song in decades. "The Next In Line" is bubblegum perfection a la The Queers circa Don't Back Down. "No Telling At All" (featuring Canaan from Barbariettes on lead vocals) hits the pure pop side of the Ramones bang-on. Clearly Pat is transparent about his biggest influences. But rather than making me wish I were listening to the Ramones, Queers, or Screeching Weasel instead, Won't Back Down has reignited my love for pop-punk. And these songs are just so much fun. Over the course of the album, Pat reflects on the strain that responsible adulthood can place on friendships, waxes poetic on girlfriends who are awful and sometimes outright scary, romanticizes the golden age of rock 'n' roll, pays tribute to the cinematic classic Mallrats, and recounts an obviously true story about having to choose between dancing with a pretty girl and making it to the opening night screening of Demolition Man with some best buds. Now that's what I call relatable music! 

With song styles ranging from snotty ("Creeped Out") to super-poppy ("Trend Setter") to oldies-influenced ("Do You Remember," "Goin' Nowhere") to classically pop-punk ("He's a Daddy Now"), Won't Back Down has something for every fan of pop-punk. Sometimes with a really good pop-punk album, I talk about how I would have totally flipped out if I'd heard it when I was 25. But Won't Back Down has me flipping out now. CDs are limited to 100 copies and available now from the Mom's Basement webstore. While you're over there, you can pre-order the vinyl for the new Yum Yums album (which is freaking awesome!) coming out next month on Screaming Apple Records! 

Friends of Cesar Romero - "More Like Norman Fucking Mailer"

"More Like Norman Fucking Mailer" is the first 2024 release (of likely many) from Friends of Cesar Romero. J. Waylon is that rare songwriter who can manage to be both prolific and consistent. There is no such thing as a sub-par Friends of Cesar Romero release. If you're into punky power pop, you need to smash that "Follow" button on Bandcamp so you never miss a new release from FOCR. That said, "More Like Norman Fucking Mailer," in my book, is one of the best songs J. Waylon has ever written. The title alone (which I assume to be a sly Lana Del Rey reference) is a work of brilliance, and thankfully the song lives up to it. On this release, J. Waylon leans towards power pop as much as he ever has. "More Like Norman Fucking Mailer" seems like a happy love song on its surface, but keep in mind that this is #41 in the Doomed Babe Series. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find signs of doom. This is a perfect power pop song, and little else needs to be said. On the virtual B-side, "I Believe In Her Science" is another top-notch power pop tune that's destined to become stuck in your head. This single is a tremendous showing from J. Waylon. His songwriting has never been stronger, and the sound quality he has elicited from a basement recording is beyond impressive. It's almost criminal that you can download something this good for free, but you will find many opportunities to wisely spend your money if you peruse the FOCR Bandcamp page!

The Shang Hi Los - "Op-Operator"

Hey kids, are you ready for some perfect pop? The Shang Hi Los have been favorites of mine since releasing their first single in the fall of 2020. Last year's full-length release Aces Eights & Heartbreaks was one of my favorite albums of 2023 and could have passed for a greatest hits collection. It has been well over a year since we've heard new material from The Shang Hi Los, but the band is back with the first in a series of new singles on Rum Bar Records. Just in time for Daylight Saving, "Op-Operator" will spring you out of your winter blahs with its upbeat melodies and earworm chorus. There's just no denying that Dan Kopko and Jen D'Angora as songwriting collaborators and co-lead singers have something special going on. And the band, having added Chad Raleigh (The Rationales, Emily Grogan Band, etc.) on guitar, has never sounded better. "Op-Operator," with its blend of new wave synths and classic pop sensibilities, is a vintage Shang Hi Los number and a surefire indie smash hit. The song puts a clever twist on the "boy meets girl" theme. I've often pondered how vital communications can be when it comes to relationships, and this single's retro cover art drives that point home pretty well. The technology may have changed, but the significance of landing those digits has not. Now what happens after you land those digits is never fully certain! A music video directed by Joan Hathaway will premiere in a couple weeks and illustrate this song's story in quite an amusing way. For now, you can listen to "Op-Operator" and draw your own conclusions! More singles are in the works, and I'll drink to that. The Shang Hi Los: now with more guitars!

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Split System - Vol. 2

It's wild to think that it's only early March, and we've already had a slew of absolutely fantastic punk rock albums unleashed in 2024. Vol. 2, Split System's second long player, is up there with the best of 'em. Co-released by Goner, Drunken Sailor, and Legless Records, this monster of an album manages to be a step up from Split System's first full-length, Vol. 1. And honestly, I wasn't sure these guys left themselves any room for improvement on Vol. 1. But sure enough, they've found another gear. Vol. 2 blasts forth with 11 tracks of ferocious, hard-hitting, and uniquely Australian punk rock 'n' roll. Of course there's a lot of Saints in this band's musical DNA, which is combined with the fast and furious garage punk style the Aussies have been known for in recent years. Those riffs keep coming fast & hard, and as always, Jackson Reid Briggs shows himself to be one of the most passionate and powerful screamers in the punk universe. While a few tracks (such as "The Drain" and "Kill Me") find the band taking the foot off the gas pedal just a little, for the most part these songs aim to kick you in the teeth with full force. This is a general style that's been done thousands of times, but you'll rarely hear a band pull it off this spectacularly. If there were a how-to manual on capturing a raging guitar sound on record, these guys would be qualified to write it. And the songs, in addition to being positively crackling, are hook-laden and exceptionally well-crafted. This is one of those albums that will have you feeling unstoppable if you crank it up loud enough. And unstoppable seems to describe Split System as a band. In just a couple years, they've gone from an intriguing side project to legitimate contenders for the title of the greatest rock 'n' roll band in Australia. Vinyl copies of Vol. 2 are selling like hotcakes, so you best not fool around!

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Mala Vista - Fun Time

Hot damn, could this new Mala Vista album be any more up my alley? Fun Time, the New York City band's second long player, is a stone cold ripper of '77-style punk rock 'n' roll. As far back as 2019, I knew Mala Vista had tremendous potential. But five years later, the group has fully come into its own with killer chops, first-rate production, and fucking tremendous songwriting. These guys took all that potential and transformed it into the stuff of true greatness. Lean and mean at just nine tracks, Fun Time is chock full of single-worthy cuts. I appreciate that Mala Vista has the spirit of Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, the Dead Boys, and Ramones without trying to copy those bands. Mala Vista has its own sound, and it's the sound of some of the most inspired punk rock that exists in America or anywhere else. "Juana La Cubana" sounds like the best Clash song in 40 years. If you like your punk music with raw energy, stellar hooks, and attitude for days, Fun Time is a must-buy. This album can absolutely hang with the classic records that inspired it. Spaghetty Town Records is owning 2024 so far! 

My Ten Favorite Pop-Punk Albums of the 21st Century

I'd like to thank Mark for requesting/suggesting/proposing that I follow up my list of my favorite power pop albums of the 21st century with lists of my favorite pop-punk albums from each century. Today we'll tackle this century. It has been great fun to dig back into the pop-punk albums I've liked the best over the past two-and-a-half decades. I don't write the quantity of pop-punk reviews that I used to, but there are still a lot of bands in this genre that I really love. It's hard to define when exactly pop-punk became a genre onto itself. I'd probably say mid-'80s, which puts us around four decades into it. And that puts the majority of pop-punk's history in this century. I could easily have gone twenty or thirty deep on this list. But for the sake of consistency, I'm keeping it to just ten with a few honorable mentions. My challenge is that I'm going from memory since I no longer have a physical music collection (Yeah, I'm one of those people!). So I apologize in advance for anything that I've overlooked or forgotten. Let's get to it! 

10. Parasites - Solitary (2008)
The greatness of Dave's '90s output often overshadows his more recent work. Solitary is a vintage effort from what is probably my favorite pop-punk band of all-time.

9. The Putz - Clinically Inane (2017) 
I could have picked any Putz album for this spot, but Clinically Inane has the slight edge over the others. When it comes to modern bands that have taken that classic Lookout! Records sound and kept it going strong into this century, The Putz is hard to beat.

8. Jagger Holly - The Last of the International Playboys (2018) 
I would argue that while the '90s was the heyday for pop-punk, there have been numerous '90s-inspired pop-punk records in recent years that can stand toe-to-toe with the best of the albums they emulated. This is one of them.

7. The Bat Bites - self titled (2014) 
Duuuuude! How underrated is this album?! This was the first and only long player from Rotterdam's The Bat Bites, who featured several star players from the modern-day Euro pop-punk scene. If you don't own this album, you need to buy it ASAP! 

6. The Tattle Tales - Hearts in Tune (2006)
It can be weird with albums that helped get you through awful times in your life. The autobiographical significance is undeniable. But does the music still hold up when you listen to the album years later? In the case of Hearts in Tune, the answer is an unequivocal yes! What I loved about The Tattle Tales is that they were a pop-punk band that was first and foremost a great pop band. Christian is still making extraordinary music with The Feels.

5. The Sensibles - A Bunch of Animals  (2013) 
From Milano, Italy, The Sensibles were a super-underrated 2010s band that released some of the decade's finest pop-punk singles (which were compiled into last year's wonderful retrospective Dino Nuggets). They also released a fantastic album called A Bunch of Animals on Rijapov Records. I originally likened this album to a "giant, one-ounce straw of Pixy Stix chased with a double shot of Espresso," and I would still order that concoction today. This record is everything pop-punk ought to be: joyful and ultra-energetic, with songs that blend child-like innocence and full-grown tenderness. It remains a ten out of ten release in my book. 

4. The Unlovables - Crush*Boyfriend*Heartbreak (2005) 
While I've done my best to reign in my propensity for hyperbole in recent years, I cannot in good conscience call this album anything less than a classic. I will gladly die on that hill, and I bet King Ralph would too!

3. Spazzys - Aloha! Go Bananas (2004)
It is an established truth that "Paco Doesn't Love Me" is the greatest Ramones rip-off ever recorded. But seriously, this whole album is gold.

2. The Ergs! – dorkrockcorkrod (2004) 
When you say "2000s pop-punk," there's only one band whose name is coming up first in my mind.

1. The Kung Fu Monkeys - School's Out, Surf's Up, Let's Fall in Love (2000) 
One of the greatest musical albums ever made by humans.

Honorable Mentions 

The Steinways - Missed the Boat (2006) 
Geoff Palmer - Pulling Out All the Stops (2019) 
Neon Bone - That Dog Won't Hunt (2018) 
Spastic Hearts - No Girls No Fun (2014) 
Ruth's Hat - Bye Bye Love (2000) 

Now comes the difficult part: putting together my 20 century list! Stay tuned! 


Human Toys - "Go Go Alco"/ "Generation Shit"

Here's one you're all gonna like! Human Toys are a Paris-based duo made up of Poupée Mecanik and the legendary Jon Von. Out now on the Los Angeles label Outro Records, the duo's new single "Go Go Alco"/ "Generation Shit" is its first new release since the 2020 long player Spin To Win. You know what you're getting with Jon Von's songwriting, and Human Toys add an extra dimension with Poupée's charismatic vocals and dandy Theremin chops. In Jon Von's own words, "The A-side concerns our friend Alco Degurutieni from Japan and a nightmarish day getting to a gig." On the B-side, "Generation Shit" opines on the current state of the world and in particular the apathy of certain individuals. If you're expecting poppy garage punk of the highest caliber, you will not be disappointed by either of these songs. They're both bangers! Be sure to check out the music video for "Go Go Alco" (embedded below), which was directed by Iris Razzle and illustrates the story told in the song. Hit up the Outro Records store to order a copy of the record!

Friday, March 01, 2024

Civil Rats - Don't Get It.

Civil Rats, authors of my seventh-highest rated EP of 2023, have topped themselves in a big way on Don't Get It., their sophomore EP. I don't often describe a collection of songs as "perfect," but that's the word that's coming to my mind as a I reflect on Don't Get It. This Philadelphia-based trio takes a very simple approach to music, playing energetic garage punk that's catchy and fun. Yet it's the execution of that approach —  which I would indeed describe as perfect — that really sets this band apart. Remember the way you felt when you first discovered punk rock and were like, "Wow, this is the most awesome music ever!"? That's the sort of energy I get from Civil Rats. This band doesn't take itself too seriously, but it seriously rocks. And although the band's sense of humor really shines through on these six tracks, the songs' lyrics tackle relatable, real-life topics. Who among us can't relate to a song about watching a movie or reading a book and having it totally go over your head? "H​-​E Double Hockey Sticks," which describes the urgent need to extricate yourself from an extremely toxic situation, is immensely profound (without going over my head — ha!). Elsewhere, the band sings of the joys of basement shows, ruminates on how responsible adulthood can foil a person's hard-partying ways, and asks perhaps the most universal of all human questions: How much did we drink last night? If aliens came to my house and threatened to disembowel me if I didn't explain to them why I love punk rock, I would play them this EP. They would dance & sing along, and no Earthlings would be harmed. Don't Get It. will be available soon on cassette tape, so be sure to follow Civil Rats on the socials or pre-order a copy on Bandcamp if you'd like to get in on the action!