Friday, May 31, 2024

My Thirty Favorite Songs of the 21st Century

I sometimes like to do fun lists just to share music I love with whomever may be reading. I like to think of this blog as a mixed tape I've been making for the world for the past 13 years. So I'm going to take that mission really literally today and share with you my thirty favorite songs of this century. Obviously I'm known for writing about pretty specific genres of music, but I think over the years I've become more focused on touting bands and artists I like regardless of how their music is labeled. So with this list today, I've identified the 30 tracks from 2000 to present that mean the most to me. For various reasons, these songs have become part of my life. They're in my soul. If I'm lucky enough to still be around 30 years from now, I will be able to listen to these songs then and hear the soundtrack to my 30s, 40s, and early 50s. In many cases, the bands and artists below went on to write and record arguably far better songs. But music is a very personal thing, and these particular songs are the ones that have stuck with me the most. If some of these songs are unfamiliar to you, I hope you enjoy them! 

30. Honeychain - "Some Boys Lie" (2017) 
This whole album is power pop greatness.

29. The Sorels - "Love Your Rock N' Roll" (2022)
I've more or less decided that the next time I name a blog after a song, this will be the song!

28. The Ergs! - "Blue" (2007) 
The demo version of this song was one of the first Ergs! songs I ever heard. To this day, I can't think of another song that better encapsulates why I love The Ergs!

27. Geoff Palmer - "I Like Murder Too" (2018)
This song is not just a song about two people belonging together because they both love true crime. But it nonetheless reminds me of my marriage and holds a special place in my heart.

26. The Tattle Tales - "September Girls" (2006) 
You never forget the songs that got you through the darkest times.

25. Exploding Hearts - "Throwaway Style" (2002)
An absolutely devastating love song from an album that was a game-changer for power pop punk rock.

24. The Unlovables - "I've Cried 4 U" (2002) 
At a Paul Westerberg show back in 2002, Lew Houston handed me a cassette tape with demos by the Exploding Hearts and The Unlovables on it. I'd never heard of The Unlovables before, and from the first note of their demo, I was having a "Where has this band been all my life?!" moment. I knew I was hearing the world's next great pop-punk band. The Unlovables would later record an arguably stronger version of "I've Cried 4 U," but there's a youthful energy to this earlier recording (from its debut EP) that just hits different.

23. Natalie Sweet - "Gimme Good Love" (2019) 
Natalie Sweet first wrote this song for her band The Shanghais and then revamped it for her solo album, which she recorded with Travis Ramin. This is perhaps the greatest party song of the last 30 years.

22. Damone - "Feel Bad Vibe" (2003) 
This could have and should have been a massive hit.

21. Kurt Baker - "Don't Go Falling In Love" (2012) 
One of the contemporary classics of power pop.

20. Jabber - "Maybe Next Year" (2012)
Behold one of the greatest pop-punk songs ever recorded and an anthem of guarded optimism. 

19. Ryan Allen - "Born Radical" (2015) 
The solo album Heart String Soul was my introduction to Ryan Allen, and I was a fan from the moment I first heard his voice. In "Born Radical," Allen tells his own origin story through the story of his parents. The song is a celebration of his mom and dad and how they were the ultimate source of everything he would become. They are many kinds of love songs in this world, but few are purer and more triumphant than this one.

18. Beach Patrol - "Battlestar Galactica"
I love that I live in a world where a band named after a Hulk Hogan song could spawn one of the greatest songwriters of a generation.

17. The Kidnappers -"Spanish Girls" (2003)
The idea of a garage punk band playing power pop is old hat nowadays, but it was a rather exciting concept twenty years ago. This song is everything that great power pop ought to be.

16. The Exbats - "I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts"
There are so many great Exbats songs. But this one is special.

15. Scrimshanders - "SXMW" (2000) 
Oddly enough, I discovered this song two decades after it was first released. It was February 2021. Malibu Lou sent me the Rum Bar Records Rebel Rousers compilation. This was peak pandemic time. I never really drove my car anywhere — except on Sundays when I'd have to back out of the garage to wheel the trash out to the curb. Then I'd take a little drive around the neighborhood just to give my car a little work. This was typically a two-minute drive, but then I came upon "SXMW," and I was instantly floored by this epic alt-country love song. My god, those lyrics! That voice! That hook! Soon I had a new routine. Every Sunday, I wheeled out the trash and drove around the neighborhood listening to "SXMW" on repeat. I don't often indulge in pandemic nostalgia, but this song always takes me back.

14. The Shang Hi Los - "Sway Little Player"
Another flashback to pandemic times. There were intriguing rumors that Jen D'Angora and Danny Kopko were starting a band which they'd co-front. This seemed like it could be the best thing ever, and the world quickly discovered that indeed it was.

13. Beach Patrol - "Don't Panic" (2019) 
There's no doubt that having the songs of Domenic Marcantonio in my life has made me a wiser human.

12. Spazzys - "Paco Doesn't Love Me" 
The greatest Ramones rip ever committed to tape.

11. Vista Blue - "There Goes the Sun" (2020) 
Of course this is one my favorite bands. I love dozens upon dozens of Vista Blue songs. Yet if you ask me to pick just one favorite, I won't hesitate. It's like picking my all-time favorite Philadelphia Phillie. "There Goes the Sun" is the Mike Schmidt of Vista Blue songs.

10. Pale Lips - "That Old Ghost Don't Lie" (2019) 
The thing that's amazing about songwriting is that someone can write a song that is intensely personal to them, yet once it goes out into the world, it can touch others in very profound ways. Beautifully haunting, "That Old Ghost Don't Lie" is so powerful because nearly every person alive knows the pain of coping with the death of a friend. This was very different for a Pale Lips song, and that's what makes it so remarkable.

9. The Sleeveens - "Give My Regards to the Dancing Girls" (2023) 
The album version is great as well, but the original 7" cut is truly epic and as joyful of a slab of rock 'n' roll as you could ever hope to hear.

8. Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band - "Promises to Deliver" (2013)
If I were a ball player, this would be my walk-up song.

7. King Louie & The Loose Diamonds - "Gypsy Switch" (2007)
There are so many Louie Bankston songs I love, but this is the one I would not want to live without.

6. Tina and the Total Babes - "Christy" (2001) 
This song can hold its own against any power pop classic of any era.

5. Compulsive Gamblers - "Stop & Think It Over" (2000)
A stone-cold classic.

4. Second Saturday - "What If" (2002) 
You know I love power pop and pop-punk. You know I like sappy love songs. You know I love twist endings. Put that all together, and you have the heart-racing greatness of "What If" by Second Saturday. Why in the world don't more people in the power pop community talk about what a great songwriter Wyatt Funderburk is?

3. Pale Lips - "Mary-Lou Sniffin' Glue" (2016)
This is literally the most fun song ever written by anyone ever. If it doesn't bring you joy, you are dead inside.

2. The Speedways - "In A World Without Love It's Hard To Stay Young"  (2023) 
I love The Speedways, and so many of their songs are meaningful to me. But "In A World Without Love It's Hard To Stay Young" is next-level stuff: a widescreen epic which transcends musical genre. I loved Matt's original solo track, but the full-band version recorded for the Triple Platinum compilation last year gives me chills.

1. Role Models - "Lost in the City" (2014)
I was a latecomer to the greatness of Rich Ragany as a songwriter. Justin Maurer shared "Lost in the City" on social media, so I went and checked out the song. It was love at first listen. I immediately wanted to hear more from Role Models, and I've been a huge Rags fan ever since. This is another example of an artist writing a deeply personal song yet creating something that's universally relatable and life-affirming in a way that will give you chills. A decade later, this remains a digital-only release, so maybe it will be new to some of you. God, what a perfect pop song!


JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards

When the JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards CD showed up in my mailbox a few weeks back, I felt like I was doing something forbidden by listening to it. The annual JEM Records Celebrates compilations have never come out this early in the year, and when I popped the latest installment into my car player, I felt like a naughty kid sneaking into his parents' closet to scope out his hidden Christmas presents. But let's be honest here: I certainly wasn't complaining that Marty Scott didn't make us wait until August to hear JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards

Having created the best tribute album I've ever heard last year with JEM Records Celebrates Ray Davies, the label had a tough act to follow. So why not have a go at (arguably) the greatest rock 'n' roll band the world has ever known? There have certainly been numerous Stones tribute albums over the years, but this one is definitely a cut above. In keeping with the spirit of this entire series, the point of this album is to celebrate Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as songwriters. They are so well-known as performers and personalities and eternal personifiers of bad-assery that they might actually be a little undervalued as songwriters. So it's a joy to hear JEM's talented stable of bands and artists take on some of their finest material. If you are assuming that the songs of Jagger & Richards won't suit the JEM roster the way the songs of Davies, Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson, and John Lennon did, this album will prove you wrong. Perhaps we don't associate the Stones with "pop," but this collection suggests that Jagger & Richards don't get enough credit for their command of melody and flair for hooks. Listening to Paul Collins take on the Stones' 1964 single "Tell Me," you can hear how this song was part of the primordial ooze from which power pop music sprang. If you didn't know "Dandelion" was a Stones B-side from 1967, you might think The Grip Weeds were covering The Zombies or Bee Gees! In one of the finest recordings he's ever done, Johnathan Pushkar transforms the early 2000s Jagger composition "Don't Stop" (first released on the Forty Licks compilation) into something that sounds like it came from the heyday of power pop. Marty Scott hand-picked "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for The High Frequencies (Lisa Mychols' new band with her husband Tom Richards), who give the song a glistening '80s pop-rock makeover while still remaining faithful to its iconic melodies. In an absolute genius move, The Airport 77s turn the '90s Stones rocker "Too Tight" into a Cars song! On the more rockin' side of things, The Cynz absolutely steal the show with an inspired, raucous take on the classic "Star Star." And The Midnight Callers transport "Jumpin' Jack Flash" to 1970s New York. 

The mistake that can sometimes be made with a Stones tribute is thinking you have to cover all the bases. That's literally impossible unless you're doing a triple album. JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards works so well because it makes the right selections rather than the obvious ones. Whether you're talking classics (Nick Piunti putting his signature on "Ruby Tuesday") or deep cuts (The Anderson Council punching up 1967's "Connection"), the performances on this album are consistently top-notch. With these JEM Records Celebrates compilations, there's always a perfect balance between reverence for the original songs and a sense of joy in re-making them. As I did with the Ray Davies tribute, I've continued to listen to JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards for pleasure even after I finished preparing for this review. From this album, you can expect much satisfaction.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Second Summer - undertow

Out now on compact disc on Kool Kat Musik is undertow, the debut album from Chicago-based power pop band The Second Summer. This album has already been endorsed by the illustrious Don Valentine, so you know it has got to be good. Undertow is one of those special albums where you can immediately feel the heart and soul the band put into it. The Second Summer is Steve Gatland on vocals & guitar, Joe Cancellaro on bass, Matt Broder on guitar & vocals, and Tony Holmes on drums & vocals. The pandemic was the impetus for these guys to get together to write and record songs. As band members dealt with the upheaval COVID brought to their lives, they found themselves with things to say and stories to tell. The band name was chosen because it gave them all something to believe in. And even when the pandemic faded, the inspiration and urgency remained. The Second Summer formed officially last fall, but three of the eight songs on undertow were recorded in 2020. These songs reflect not just where these guys were emotionally at the outset of the pandemic but also where they had come from and where they still hoped to go. If you love melody-driven guitar pop with huge choruses and silky-smooth harmonies, you'll be knocked out by the album's opening 1-2 punch of "The Reason" and "Something." And there's no drop-off from there. Vibe-wise, I'm feeling '90s indie/alternative in a big way. But the band's aesthetic is more timeless than consciously retro. These are simply fantastic, beautifully-crafted songs with relatable lyrics about adult life. Each track was released as a digital single, and that certainly explains the lack of filler material. But 100%, this feels like a cohesive album and not just a collection of singles. While it's chock full of gorgeous melodies and ear-pleasing hooks, undertow is a thoughtful and serious album that I really connect to on a human level. If I said "Wonder Why" and "Bad Feeling" didn't remind me of my own self-doubts, I'd be a liar. I can't imagine anyone on Earth not being able to relate to "Undefeated." Seriously, we all know that one person who will never admit they're wrong about anything ever. 

Undertow takes me back to my days of discovering music through '90s college and alternative radio yet feels fully updated for the world of 2024. Perhaps it was desperation that birthed The Second Summer, but from a power pop fan's perspective, it feels more like destiny. Order the CD here!

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Intrusive Thoughts - "Daytime Drama"

Today I've got an absolute ripper for you from the new international punk rock band Intrusive Thoughts. The band is based in Harrisburg Pennsylvania and Freiburg, Germany and features our friend Greg Lonesome on lead vocals and Oli W from Trenchkoat on guitar and bass. Zack Olsen (Recoils, Preacher Boy Trio, Slow Gherkin, etc.) plays drums. The band's debut single "Daytime Drama" is a ferocious shot of rockin' old school punk with a very important message. Greg wrote the lyrics as a reflection of how he felt before starting therapy. These lyrics are very raw and intense, and that's really the point. He has put this song into the world in hopes of breaking the stigma surrounding men's mental health. Of course "Daytime Drama" is a dark song, but it ends with a glimmer of hope. Of all the things that are disheartening about modern-day society, few are more disheartening (or damaging) than this popular notion that mental illness is a weakness and that seeking help makes you a weak person. Clearly the opposite is true: I'm awed by the courage Greg has to put himself out there like this, and I know the main reason he's doing it is to encourage people who relate personally to the song to seek help if they haven't already. He brings these lyrics to life with a powerful vocal, which is matched in intensity by Oli W's guitars. What a great and urgent debut! And it's a free download from Bandcamp. A little birdie told me this band may be releasing a cover of "Obsessive" The Vicious featuring an extra-special guest star vocalist, so stay tuned! 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Kevin McGovern - "Don​’​t Wanna Be You"

My history of writing about Kevin McGovern's music dates back to 1995 and covers several musical entities. Yet I've never had the pleasure of discussing something he released under his own name — until today. It seems funny to say this, but "Don't Wanna Be You" is his first-ever proper solo release. Even though many of the more recent Prostitutes releases were essentially Kevin's work, "Don't Wanna Be You" feels like a new chapter for him. Sure, it's not that far-removed from The Prostitutes, and that voice would be instantly recognizable even if Kevin were fronting a polka band. But without a band name attached, Kevin is free to represent where he's at in 2024. This is probably the punkiest thing he's done in a number of years, yet there's a freshness and progressive boldness to it that separates it from previous releases he has worked on. More than anything else, this sounds like Kevin McGovern — an artist with a distinctive style who has nonetheless never allowed himself to stagnate or recycle ideas. If you're a longtime fan, you will love "Don​’​t Wanna Be You." If you've never heard of Kevin McGovern or The Prostitutes but love raging yet modern punk rock, you too will dig this track. This is the work of an artist who understands that you don't put your name on a piece of music unless it's your absolute best effort. In this case, Kevin has put his actual name on it. 


Cool Blog: Takin' A Ride

Check this out, folks! Takin' A Ride is a new blog created by former Flipside writer (and owner of the late '90s punk label Scam-O-Rama Records) Drunk Ted. With Takin' A Ride, Ted presents a mix of current show and album reviews, reflections on past shows and experiences he's had in the world of music, and interviews from the past and present. He describes Takin' A Ride as "a blog celebrating rock ‘n roll, rock, punk rock, garage rock, alternative rock, action rock, and all things that doth rock." That sure sounds like my kind of thing! Given Ted's nearly four decades of involvement with the underground music scene, this blog is sure to be a treasure trove of amazing stories, photos, and remembrances. If you came of age in the '90s punk underground as I did, Takin' A Ride will remind you what an incredible time that was to be into music. But the thing about Drunk Ted is that he has continued his enthusiasm into the present day, so he also uses this blog to champion bands that are out there right now making great records and rocking out on stage. If you enjoy my blog, you'll love Ted's as well!

Norcos Y Horchata - "Unkind Sometimes"

Well, this was inevitable: the I-94 Recordings Detroit covers series now includes one of Detroit's best present-day bands, the mighty Norcos Y Horchata! There's nothing cooler than seeing one of your favorite bands working with one of your favorite labels. And this team-up is no letdown. "Unkind Sometimes" is the 11th installment in the series, and it finds NYH tackling "Don't Come Crying To Me" by Detroit '77 punks Cinecyde. The movie theme on the cover art is a tribute to two members of Cinecyde running the legendary Thomas Video in the Detroit area back in the day. On the A-side, "Unkind Sometimes" is something a little different from NYH. The band takes some risks on this song, and they all pay off handsomely. The long introduction, the deliberate, almost tribal drum beat, and the dueling shouted vocals in the chorus all contribute to this song's distinct feel. NYH's tough, anthemic punk rock 'n' roll style remains fully in tact, but this song is unique in the band's catalog and instantly memorable because of that. While this band began as Amado's quarantine solo project, it has grown into a true group. Dougie, Roman, and Annie all make essential contributions to this song. This is a killer track, and of course the Cinecyde cover totally smokes. You know you need this record! There are 13 color variations of the vinyl with old school movie ratings on the sleeves. Happy shopping!

Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men - "Bottle It"/"Get the Feeling"

As I was enjoying Nick Piunti's cover of "Ruby Tuesday" on the soon-to-be-released JEM Records Celebrates Jagger & Richards compilation, it occurred to me that it has been a minute since Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men last released an album. Right on cue, the band has released a new two-fer of digital singles in advance of their forthcoming long player Up and Out of It (due out on JEM this fall). On "Bottle It" and "Get the Feeling," Piunti and The Complicated Men (Joe Daksiewicz on lead guitar, Kevin Darnall on keyboards, Jeff Hupp on bass, and Ron Vensko on drums) continue to churn out melody-driven pop rock of the absolute finest quality. Piunti is not just a master tunesmith but also a remarkable lyricist, and here he has given us a couple earworms of tremendous substance. "Bottle It" is truly a song for our times —a defiant call to not allow popular opinion and societal expectations to dictate who you are, how you live your life, and what you love. Piunti makes keen observations about the power we allow social media, technology, and advertising to have over our lives — much to our detriment in most cases. The song explores some of the most timeless themes of music and art (individualism, nonconformity, the finite nature of life) in a context that could not be more relevant. This is a tune you can feel good about singing along with! "Get the Feeling" is another first rate pop rocker featuring the clever refrain "Not a liar, not a cheat, just a vampire needing sleep." The entire song is a tour de force of personal, deeply self-aware songwriting, and of course it has hooks for days. 

Here's the thing about Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men: You always know what you're going to get from them, yet it never grows tiresome. And that's because melody, well-crafted songs, and smart, relatable lyrics are eternal in music. This band has set the standard for what "mature" power pop ought to be. All we need to do is sit back and enjoy this amazing run of albums that Piunti began a decade ago and has continued with The Complicated Men. "Bottle It" and "Get the Feeling" are available now from all the major streaming platforms.

My Ten Favorite Punk Rock Albums of the 21st Century

So once I published my list of my ten favorite power pop albums of the 21st century, the wheels in my head started turning. I knew I'd be compelled to also list my ten favorite punk rock albums of the 21st century. Now keep in mind we all have our own definitions of "punk rock." I have no interest in defending my definition or criticizing someone else's. And of course I'm not trying to identify the "greatest" or most influential punk rock albums of this century. These are just the ones I love the most personally. And many of these albums would rank amongst my all-time favorite punk LPs, period. So while I'm notoriously geeky about first generation punk and the 1990s revival, I've always made an effort to keep up with the newer bands and never allow myself to get jaded about this genre of music. Hats off to Mick Fletcher, who has been posting new punk rock music almost daily for over a decade and was ultimately responsible for introducing me to the band that holds the top spot on this list! 

It blows me away when I realize that the 21st century already covers a period of nearly 25 years. Picking just ten favorite punk rock albums from that time period was a difficult task. That's why I included a bunch of honorable mentions. But I feel good about these choices. I hope you all discover something new from this list — or at the very least reconnect with a record you haven't heard in a while. On to it! 

10. The Gaggers - Rip You Apart (2011)
Snotty '70s-style razorblade punk rock hadn't sounded this good in decades!

9. The Dimestore Haloes - The Ghosts of Saturday Night (2004) 
My favorite '90s punk rock band actually released one of its best albums in the 2000s.

8. Midnite Snaxxx - Chew on This (2017) 
Dulcinea Gonzalez just might be the most underrated punk vocalist/songwriter ever.

7. The Kidnappers - Neon Signs (2006) 
One of the least "Rip Off–ish" albums ever released by Rip Off Records, and also one of the best albums ever released by Rip Off Records.

6. Night Birds - Mutiny at Muscle Beach  (2015) 
100%, this record can stand toe-to-toe with all the classic beach/surf–punk albums that inspired it. How prophetic was "Left in the Middle"?! 

5. Something Fierce - Don't Be So Cruel (2011) 
Basically I liked this album so much that it made me want to write about music again!

4. Hayley and the Crushers - Modern Adult Kicks (2022) 
Over the course of three albums from 2018 through 2022, Hayley and the Crushers progressed from good to very good to truly great right before our eyes and ears. This was no accident: this was a band working on its craft, honing its musical vision, and maturing into something extraordinary. Modern Adult Kicks is the definitive post-pandemic record and proof that punk rock for grown-ups can still kick ass. I actually feel a little guilty about leaving it off the podium!

3. The Bobbyteens - Not So Sweet (2000) 
The '60s girl group–inspired wing of garage punk rock 'n' roll has been a major force in the 21st century, and this is the album that started the party.

2. Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic (2002)
This is the only album to appear on both this list and my corresponding power pop list. Of course the Hearts were a huge part of the modern power pop revival, but to me, Guitar Romantic sounded just as much like '77 punk as it did vintage power pop. The influence of the likes of The Jam ("I'm A Pretender"), The Clash ("Rumors In Town"), and The Boys ("Boulevard Trash") on this record is palpable, and no modern band has been more important in reminding us that so much of the best first wave punk holds up because it was also great pop music. I've lost track of how many times I've listened to Guitar Romantic over the past 20+ years, and I never tire of it.

1. Pale Lips - After Dark (2019) 
I would not fight you if you told me that you prefer Wanna Be Bad. But for me, After Dark has been my ultimate Pale Lips go-to, and it's hard to name many records that are more emblematic of what rock 'n' roll music is all about. This, my friends, is 12 tracks of sheer unbridled joy which prove you can have smarts and substance in your songs and still be all about fun. This was a true group in the best sense of the term. You had the total rock star guitarist, a vocalist who exuded the true spirit of punk rock, and two powerhouse rhythm players who held it all together. In my book, After Dark is worthy of classic status. If you have young people in your life and want them to understand why punk rock is the best music ever and why they should immediately start their own bands, After Dark ought to be part of your gift package. 

Honorable Mentions 
The Prostitutes - Kill Them Before They Eat (2009) 
Stiletto Boys - A Company of Wolves (2000) 
Phone Jerks - self-titled (2018) 
Girl Drink Drunks - self titled (2017) 
The Melmacs - Good Advice (2022) 
The Control Freaks - Get Some Help (2021) 
The Busy Signals - self titled (2007) 
Los Pepes - For Everyone (2014) 

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Dahlmanns - "Lucky"

Wow! This is how you come back from a hiatus! The Dahlmanns have been favorites of this blog since (literally) day one. They are truly the perfect pop band, and their singles never fail to stun. Not counting their split with Tommy and the Rockets in 2020, the last time The Dahlmanns released new music was back in 2018. With that in mind, many of us freaked out over news of a new 7" on the always-great Snap!! Records. Was "Lucky" worth the wait? Let's just say I was not disappointed! The full vinyl release will be out this summer, but the A-side is already available for your streaming pleasure. "Lucky" is vintage Dahlmanns in every way: a magnificent slice of hard candy power pop that combines heartbreaking lyrics with absolutely intoxicating vocals and melodies. Line has never sounded better, and that chorus will propel you into a state of bliss. If you want to hear the perfect guitar sound for a power pop record, lend this song your ears. "Lucky" instantly joins the list of smash hits in The Dahlmanns' catalog. The 7" will also feature a couple of excellent cover tunes. One of the best things about this band has always been its selection and interpretation of cover material. You can always count on The Dahlmanns to pick amazing songs and make them their own. On this release, they tackle "Blue Letter" from Fleetwood Mac's 1975 self-titled LP and "Thing About You" from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' album Hard Promises. If you didn't already know it was a cover, you might mistake "Blue Letter" for a Dahlmanns original. The band's rockin', upbeat rendition of this classic rock deep cut is the very epitome of powerful pop. Dare I say it's better than the original? It's always gutsy to cover Tom Petty, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of rock 'n' roll. But The Dahlmanns more than do justice to "Thing About You," honoring a classic song but also putting their signature on it. 

The Dahlmanns have not missed a beat following their long time away. "Lucky" is as good as anything they've ever done, and no fan of power pop will want to miss out on it. The world is always a more joyful place with The Dahlmanns in it. A little birdie told me they're working on new material, and that's got to be the best news of the year. Send an email to to inquire about pre-ordering the 7"!

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Extra Arms - RADAR

Extra Arms have been a go-to band for me for a number of years, so I'm always excited to hear new music from southeastern Michigan's finest loud pop foursome. The band's new album RADAR is its first in two years, but it's the first album the band has made together in the studio since 2019. 2022's What Is Even Happening Right Now? was a terrific record, but the band members recorded all their parts remotely due to pandemic restrictions. And when it comes to a rock band like Extra Arms, chemistry and live connection are everything. So if you want to call RADAR the first "real" Extra Arms album in nearly five years, that's not entirely inaccurate. 

Extra Arms — Ryan Allen on lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards, Ryan Marshall on bass, Daniel Stover on drums, and Jordan Wright on guitar — have come through with their best album by far. RADAR, named after Marshall's dog, takes everything you loved about Extra Arms and makes it bigger. Every aspect of this record — from the production to the hooks to the ambition of the songwriting  — feels more massive than before. Being someone who lives under the delusion that it's only a matter of time before real rock music re-takes the commercial airwaves, I can almost convince myself that I could turn the radio on right now and hear one of these songs. Perhaps that ship has sailed, but Extra Arms belong spiritually to a bygone era when there was honor and artistic merit in crafting a perfect pop song that could rock your face off. RADAR doesn't mess much with the band's musical approach, but it refines it and takes it to the next level. The sound is equal parts power pop, indie rock, and the good parts of classic rock with the spirit of punk and new wave bubbling under. If you think that sounds like something I'd be into, you'd be very right! Allen is one of my favorite vocalists, and he excels at condensing six decades' worth of melody-driven songwriting tradition into something that sounds far more timeless than retro. He manages to toss bits and pieces of Cheap Trick, The Replacements, The Cars, The Kinks, Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello, and Bob Mould in a blender and concoct something that sounds contemporary yet pleasingly familiar. Lyrically he really pushes these songs into the present, mixing personal reflections on modern life with some sharp social commentary. 

Allen and his band-mates Marshall, Stover, and Wright form a well-oiled machine; RADAR soars on the strength of thunderous guitars, tight and powerful rhythm work, and silky vocal harmonies. The album doesn't veer far from Extra Arms' usual M.O., but it does find the band incorporating some new tricks and taking full advantage of the talents of some guest musicians. "Space and Time" is a touching country rock ballad  featuring Dave Feeny on pedal steel. Jessi Dills' trumpet adds a new dimension to the band's core sound on "All Good Things Take Time." Album closer "Sit Back Up," featuring Matt Jones on saxophone, is almost Springsteen-esque. "Shut 'Em Down" is a fight-the-power anthem worthy of a packed stadium. While the album as a whole is less overtly '90s-sounding than earlier Extra Arms efforts, "Mad Dog Blue" instantly transports me to a moment when hearing Teenage Fanclub for the first time was life-changing. 

Finally given the chance to properly get the band back together, Extra Arms did not waste the opportunity to make the record of their lives. Engineered by Geoff Michael at his Big Sky Studios, produced by Ryan Allen, and mixed and mastered by Paul Miner, RADAR sounds like a million bucks — with songs that are absolutely worthy of all that studio sheen. And as polished as this album is, none of that comes at the expense of energy. Call it power pop. Call it alternative rock. Call it rock n' roll. It doesn't really matter. If you like rocking pop songs with hooks for days that come straight from the heart, RADAR needs to be on your radar.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Battlebeats - Meet Your Maker

I was quite surprised when I realized that The Battlebeats' new album Meet Your Maker is only the band's second full-length album — and first in four years! Andresa Nugraha has kept his one-man-band in the conversation with a series of killer 7" releases on various labels, but Meet Your Maker is the first proper album from The Battlebeats since Search and Destroy was released back in March of 2020. Funny how that album came out, and the world was never the same. Not surprisingly, there has been quite a musical growth between albums. Andresa is clearly a better musician than he was four years ago, and that's a good thing since he literally plays everything on this record. And as a songwriter, he's come quite a way from simply worshipping at the altar of Teengenerate (not that there was anything wrong with that!). On Meet Your Maker, we're hearing a less lo-fi, harder-edged, and more ferocious-sounding Battlebeats. Elements of action rock, high octane '90s punk rock 'n' roll, and blood & guts American punk rock have been injected into the mix, but overall this is still garage punk at its absolute finest. The running joke about one-man-groups is that you don't have to worry about creative differences breaking up the band. But you do have to figure how to keep your band progressing in a way that makes sense. Meet Your Maker is a considerable progression from Search and Destroy, but it still sounds like The Battlebeats. When it comes to modern-day garage punk rock 'n' roll, it just doesn't get much better than this. Andresa has developed into a fantastic guitarist and more confident vocalist, and he has expanded on his musical influences without fundamentally altering his approach to songwriting. What results is an absolute ripper of an album that you all need to own. Vinyl is out on Sweet Time Records in multiple colors. Go!

Saturday, May 04, 2024

The Daniel James Gang - "Misery"

It has been over three years since I reviewed Indonesian Junk, one of my favorite bands of recent times. While I'm sad to say that IndoJunk has called it a day, I'm happy to report that Daniel James has revived their solo project The Daniel James Gang. New single "Misery" features Daniel teaming up with Logan Stang and Miski Dee, and it's an absolute monster of a song. It was originally written for Indonesian Junk, so you have some idea of what to expect. This is power pop for people who love glam-punk — or is it the other way around? This tune blends face-melting energy with ultra-catchy guitar hooks and powerful vocals that fully capture the anguish of the lyrics. Daniel sings the hell out of this song and rips it up on guitar as always. The vibe is a little like the Dead Boys and Johnny Thunders getting together to play power pop, and I am here for it! More singles are to come from The Daniel James Gang, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 03, 2024

The Bacarrudas - Pool Party


duly warned you last month, so I hope you have prepared yourself for the debut album from The Bacarrudas. Pool Party is out today on Mom's Basement Records, and now the rest of your day is shot. You're not getting any more work done. No obligations will be met. All adulting has been postponed. Be ready to spend the next few hours dancing around the kitchen, wailing away on the air guitar, and singing along so loudly that your cat gives you the side-eye. The Bacarrudas have come storming out of the North Philly suburbs with 13 tracks of infectious, high energy, organ-driven frat rock goodness suitable for parties by the pool or anywhere else. Of course the whole vibe of this album is undeniable (this band must be insane live!), but it's the quality of the songs that really separates The Bacarrudas from your ordinary garage rock band. When it comes to crafting a catchy, rockin' tune, Adam Rabuck is undeniably an all-time great. Even outside the realm of pop-punk, he knows how to write a hit. If the likes of "You Can Have My Love If You Want It, OK?", "Elizabeth Anne," "Trouble," and "Rave It Up" aren't on your summertime playlist, you might as well not even have a summertime playlist! In 2024, The Bacarrudas have managed to produce what sounds like the best garage/R & B album of 1965, and who could deny that this is exactly what the world needs right now? 

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Hayley and the Crushers - "Unsubscribe"

Now this is kind of a big deal! Hayley and the Crushers have released their first original song since the fall of 2022. Given the way the Crushers have been evolving and growing musically over the last few years, I was intrigued to hear how they'd sound on their new single "Unsubscribe." A lot can happen in 20 months, and I had a feeling that "Unsubscribe" might reflect that. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed! "Unsubscribe" is vintage Crushers but by no means a copy of the group's past hits. It's a punky earworm that will have you dancing around the house, but it's also vaguely haunting and quite deep lyrically. A lesser writer might have come up with that one great line "Unsubscribe from the underground" and done something obvious or superficial with it. But obvious and superficial are not in Hayley Cain's playbook, and "Unsubscribe" is a fascinating reflection on the tensions that exist within music scenes: between the old and the new, between tradition and change, between the past and the future. As many of these same tensions exist in other sub-cultures and within society itself, this song will be relatable far beyond the world of music scenes. Keep in mind that the lyrics are written from the point of view of a fictitious scene veteran and not Hayley herself — the Crusherverse will never be hostile to new ideas and new faces! 

Instrument tracks for "Unsubscribe" were recorded in lead guitarist Ryan DeLisio's Detroit basement, and the vocals were recorded at Kitten Robot Studios in Los Angeles. This combination gives the song a perfect mix of gritty punk energy and California pop polish. This particular Crushers lineup, which also features Gabe Masek on drums, is sounding fantastic. Dare I say that Hayley and Dr. Cain sound re-energized? If you like punk and pop or any combination of the two, you ought to be opting in on "Unsubscribe." A full EP called Unsubscribe from the Underground will be out in September on Kitten Robot. Now you'll have a reason to not be bummed when the summer's over!