Sunday, June 04, 2023

Vista Blue - Runaway

My goodness — how long has it been since I last reviewed Vista Blue? It has been almost 48 hours. What a different world it was just two days ago. I was two days younger, and the Philadelphia Stars still had a winning record. I had never tried the chicken strips from Sheetz. I was so innocent then. But I awoke today with news of another EP from one of my favorite bands! 

I always like it when bands I love release full collections of covers. There's just something neat about songwriters I admire paying homage to the songwriters they admire. It's like a window into the soul of a musician. Mike and Mark from Vista Blue recorded Runaway a few days back. Mike remarks that the songs selected are from bands that have been huge influences on his songwriting for a long time. They have been arranged to sound like they could have been Vista Blue originals, but the larger goal here is to bring attention to the original versions and get people to check out the bands that recorded them. Needless to say, the band didn't go with any obvious choices. As much as I'd like to hear Vista Blue take a stab at, say, "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," that would not be nearly as educational. The band went pretty deep here, and that's commendable. And with all these songs coming from the general world of indie pop and twee, that gives this EP a poppier feel that really hits a sweet spot for me. The songs covered are Imperial Teen's "Runaway" (from 2012's Feel the Sound), All Girl Summer Fun Band's "Ticking Timebomb" (from 2003's 2), Television Personalities' classic single "14th Floor", and Camera Obscura's "Come Back Margaret" (from 2006's Let's Get Out of This Country). To say that Mike picked great songs to cover would be an understatement. These are amazing songs that the world should know. Of course they've been given the proper Vista Blue treatment to delightful effect. No Vista Blue fan will be disappointed. But the band's real hope is that you'll like these songs so much that you'll want to hear the original versions, explore the full catalogs of the bands that authored them, and eventually "send them love letters." Sounds like a plan to me! Music is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Brad Marino - "Ramones and Stones"

I'm always excited for new music from Brad Marino, and he's back with a ripping new single that's not to be missed! "Ramones and Stones" is essentially Marino's musical mission statement. The premise of the song is that the only two bands Marino can't live without are the Ramones and Rolling Stones. Any longtime Marino fan could surmise that these are the two biggest influences on his songwriting. This track makes it all perfectly clear. "Ramones and Stones" is a total banger and easily one of Marino's finest singles. Coming off the tremendous success of the Basement Beat album, Marino continues to keep it simple in that timeless Ramones style. The lyrics examine Marino's thoughts (some of them quite hilarious) on other notable classic rock and roll artists. But when all is said and done, Marino proclaims, "I just need Ramones and Stones." A lot of you will relate! On the virtual B-side, "Dame Darcy" is a new version of an old Rydells song penned by Chris Lamy from The Jabbers. All in all, another great release from one of our top modern-day rock and rollers!

Friday, June 02, 2023

Carissa Johnson - Blue Hour Deluxe

One of my favorite things about Rum Bar Records is that Lou frequently loves a piece of music so much that he'll re-release it just to get it back out into the world. Many of my most-loved Rum Bar releases were CD reissues of albums that were highly deserving of being heard by the label's worldwide fan base. To that list, I can add Carissa Johnson's masterpiece Blue Hour Deluxe

Blue Hour Deluxe includes all of Johnson's 2021 long player Blue Hour along with her band Carissa Johnson and the Cure-Alls' The Good EP and a collection of unreleased demos and alternate mixes called L'Heure Bleue, After Dark. The whole package comes in at a whopping 22 tracks, which is a heck of a deal for a $13 CD or $12 download. As I listened to Blue Hour Deluxe, I found myself perplexed that Johnson is not a household name in popular music. Blue Hour is an extraordinary album and clearly the work of one of the most talented songwriters and singers of present times. Musically, it's unlike anything else I've heard in quite some time — combining synth-driven new wave power pop with a dreamy modern rock edge and a singer/songwriter's intimacy. Largely inspired by the isolating time Johnson spent living in locked-down Los Angeles in spring 2020, the album is so intensely personal that it comes off like a musical diary. Yet that's what makes it so powerful. Johnson sings openly and honestly about loneliness, alienation, and the yearning to escape a suffocating existence. While these songs tell her own story, they are relatable on a universal level that transcends the specifics of pandemic isolation. 

Recorded with producer Benny Grotto in Boston in 2021, Blue Hour is essentially a whole album full of singles (Johnson, in fact, has done music videos for every track). These songs are profound and emotionally stirring, yet all that substance never comes at the expense of big, satisfying hooks. Johnson is an incredible vocalist and a remarkable artist to boot. At a lean ten tracks, Blue Hour will leave you wanting more. Thus the bonus material here is highly welcomed. Knowing that Malibu Lou is going to push Blue Hour Deluxe with all his might, I anticipate a whole lot of people will be discovering this modern classic for the very first time in the coming weeks. If you find yourself as wowed as I've been, be sure to check out Johnson's YouTube channel and Bandcamp for your additional listening pleasure!

Vista Blue - "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!"

Yay! Bandcamp Friday is here! You can happily shop Bandcamp today knowing that the bands will receive 93% of your money. Wait a minute: apparently there is no Bandcamp Friday this month — or next month. Who knew that such a sacred holiday could be indiscriminately canceled? This is an outrage! But Vista Blue has got us covered. Leave it to this band to release the first Bandcamp Friday theme song on the eve of this Bandcamp Friday that's not actually a Bandcamp Friday. 

Let's face it: Bandcamp Friday definitely deserved an anthem of its own. Bandcamp is a vital platform to this indie/punk thing of ours. And while Vista Blue's timing of this release may lead to confusion, chaos, and tears across the globe, the beauty of  "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!" is that it will already be on your device when it's time to celebrate the next Bandcamp Friday and all the ones after that. On top of that, the band's choice to release the song last night will surely sit well with all those who maintain that every Friday ought to be Bandcamp Friday. There are no laws against Bandcamp Friday creeping. In typical Vista Blue fashion, "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!" is a pop-punk hit straight from the textbook. It's got an earworm chorus, a melody you can hum all day, and guitar hooks out the wazoo. I won't spoil the lyrics for you, but the second verse made me laugh so hard that I almost spat out my plant-based milk. Backing  "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!" on this virtual 45 is "Bandcamp Friday the 13th," which Mike co-wrote with John Galvin from Kelsey Badgrammer. As the title suggests, this song is about Bandcamp Friday AND Friday the 13th. How can these two things possibly be combined? Listen and find out!

As is the case with the majority of Vista Blue's releases, "Bandcamp Friday Is Here!" is a free download on Bandcamp. So you can "buy" it guilt-free today knowing that 82% of zero dollars is exactly equal to 93% of zero dollars. As for me, I'm always happy to have any new music from Vista Blue. Should you choose to celebrate this non-sanctioned Bandcamp Friday, may I suggest the purchase of the new Saturday Morning Lineup compilation from Memorable But Not Honorable Records? It's a collection of pop-punk covers of cartoon theme songs. I chose not to formally review it since I'm unfamiliar with most of the cartoons and didn't want to be a poser. But I will say that Vista Blue's rendition of the Heathcliff theme is absolutely amazing (I'll embed it below for your convenience). And the artist lineup features some of my absolute favorites from the pop-punk world (such as Lesser Creatures, The Putz, and Geoff Palmer). Now go out enjoy this non–Bandcamp Friday!

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Kicking Bird - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, the debut album from Wilmington, North Carolina's Kicking Bird, is one of those albums that can't be assigned to any one genre of music. I might loosely describe it as indie rock with a power pop heart, but such an oversimplification still falls woefully short. On this release, Kicking Bird really owns its lack of originality. This is ironic because Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is one of the most unique and fresh-sounding records I've heard in quite some time. Influences are sometimes palpable, but they're all over the place and all-encompassing. Most of the time, I'm sure a song sounds familiar but can't for the life of me pinpoint the specific influence. And when I can, I'm pleased as punch (Yay! I'm not the only one who realizes that Hefner's "The Hymn for the Cigarettes" is one of the greatest songs ever written!). The delightful "Stuck" manages to be discernibly Weezer-ish without succumbing to the shortcomings of almost every other discernibly Weezer-ish song in the universe. There's a real skill in stealing from so many places and with such a personalized spin that it all comes out sounding like something that hasn't been done before. Husband-and-wife songwriters Shaun and Shaylah Paul have contrasting yet wonderfully complementary styles that contribute greatly to Original Motion Picture Soundtrack's engaging flow. This album literally plays like the soundtrack to a trip to the beach. More than anything else, this is a fun record. These songs are clever and quirky and musically playful without one hint of pretension, and the hooks are always front and center. This is a truly stellar collection of songs from a band that's blessed with considerable talent and just as much charm. If you want to hear one of the best records of the year, hit up Ft. Lowell Records and get your paws on Original Motion Picture Soundtrack!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Les Lullies - Mauvaise Foi

Woooooo! On Mauvaise Foi, their second full-length album, French punks Les Lullies rip it up with ten of the catchiest, most rocking tracks you'll hear all year. Out now on Slovenly Recordings, Mauvaise Foi finds this Montpellier-based foursome in truly fine form. If you're offering my ears some old school punk rock and roll with hints of power pop, you know I'm always going to be receptive. And Les Lullies execute this style better than most. From the opening chords of the title track to the final strains of "Animal," Les Lullies bring the energy, the attitude, and hooks to spare. It matters little that I have no idea what they're singing about most of the time. I still wanna bob my head up and down, sing along, and make a mess around the house just for the fun of it. If your favorite '77 punk bands were the ones that just essentially played rock and roll faster and more furiously, tunes like "Mauvaise Foi," "Soirée Standard," and "Zéro Ambition" will be music to your ears (literally). "Station Service" reminds me of first album Clash, you know I'm not complaining! A cover of the Jackie DeShannon classic "When You Walk in the Room" is totally excellent and quite complementary to the album's original tracks. You've probably been hearing quite a bit about Mauvaise Foi lately from the finest blogs and radio programs. You wanna know why? Because it's freaking awesome!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Nervous Jerk - Ugly Losers Club

It was way back in September 2019 when I raved about a punk trio out of Christchurch, New Zealand called Nervous Jerks. I know that was less than four years ago, but it seems like an eternity on the pandemic time scale. Fortunately, no pandemic could kill Nervous Jerk. The band is back with a new album called Ugly Losers Club that builds on the promise of its prior releases. Coming in at a lean ten tracks, Ugly Losers Club is the kind of top-quality straight-up punk rock and roll record that I'm always pumped to encounter. I really dig the band's crackling energy and simple yet skilled songwriting. If we're having a conversation about all the fantastic punk groups coming out of Australia and New Zealand these days, Nervous Jerk needs to be in the discussion. Not content to be pigeonholed into any particular sub-genre, Tom, Brad, and Johnny show they can do it all on this smashing new full-length. "Mission" is killer catchy punk rock that will get your toes tapping and fist pumping. "Bad Babysitter" hits that sweet spot where early punk meets the dawn of hardcore. "Rips" is quintessential modern-day garage punk and fully lives up to its title. Also living up to its title is the raw & energetic "Short Song." "Coco Monday" is kind of poppy without necessarily being "pop-punk." Elsewhere, the band channels early '90s slacker rock on the brilliant "U.R." and cooks up a Saints meet western vibe on the powerful closer "Hard Come, Easy Go." All in all, this is an incredibly impressive album that is sure to be one of my highest-rated punk long players of the year. Get it from Dust Up! Records while supplies last!