Sunday, August 07, 2022

The Speedways - "Shoulda Known"/"A Drop in the Ocean"

Well this was a very nice surprise! I was fired up to write about a brand-new Speedways single at the end of this month. And then just like that, said single popped up on Bandcamp a few weeks early -- accompanied by a shiny new music video. On that note, let us welcome to the world the first new original songs from The Speedways in over two years! It's no secret that The Speedways are one of my favorite bands (perhaps even my singular favorite band at this point). I've been waiting a long time to hear these tunes, and they do not disappoint. "Shoulda Known"/"A Drop in the Ocean" will be available soon on vinyl from Snap!!/Hurrah Musica & Beluga Records. These two Matt Julian/Mauro Venegas compositions are vintage Speedways songs in both style and theme. "Shoulda Known" is two minutes and 53 seconds of power pop bliss featuring a knockout chorus and a typically impassioned lead vocal from Julian. As Speedways songs tend to do, "Shoulda Known" laments the devastation of heartbreak -- in this case, one that would have seemed inevitable to any clear-thinking person. But rarely do we as humans think clearly when it comes to matters of the heart. Your head tells you one thing, but your heart tells you another. And as you invariably find yourself picking up the pieces, you thank the heavens that Speedways songs exist. Shot & produced by Jez Leather, the music video for "Shoulda Known" is a fantastic-looking performance clip filmed on location at The Lexington in London. 

While I sometimes struggle to type the words "double A-side" with a straight face, the phrase is unavoidable in the case of this single. I've been so stymied trying to decide whether "Shoulda Known" or "Drop in the Ocean" is "the hit" that I've thrown my hands in the air and called it a tie. With "Drop in the Ocean," The Speedways have managed to churn out a radio-worthy ballad of such grandeur that it somehow makes me nostalgic for 1980s school dances that I never actually attended. Matt Julian always sings these epic tearjerkers like he means it. His secret is that he really does. And that melody is to die for. What kind of shit world are we living in where a song like this is not all over the radio?

"Shoulda Known"​/​"A Drop In The Ocean" is an absolute must for power pop fans. It arrives in advance of The Speedways' forthcoming LP Talk of the Town, which is due out in November. You can pre-order the vinyl single at The Speedways Bandcamp. That cover art looks familiar, doesn't it? Call me if you figure it out.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

More Kicks - Animal

More Kicks are big favorites of this blog's readership, and that will certainly continue with the release of the great new 7" EP Animal on legendary labels Dirtnap and Stardumb Records. The title track, a preview of the band's forthcoming LP Punch Drunk, sounds like nothing this band has ever done before. Yet it's another reminder of why James Sullivan is one of the most highly-regarded songwriters in the punk/garage/power pop universe. "Animal" is a pop song, no doubt -- but one with a hard, angular edge and brutally self-aware lyrics. You always expect this band to deliver the goods, but this is next-level stuff. The song opens with a riff that brings to mind a post-punk band trying to play "My Sharona," and there are echoes of Pete Shelley in Sulli's phrasing. If you like catchy riffs, catchy choruses, and catchy everything, you need "Animal" on your summer playlist. I'm absolutely fascinated by these lyrics. When Sulli sings, "But the human world to me it seems too full/I'd rather jack it in to be an animal," I can't decide whether we're supposed to fear him or want to join him. Exclusive to this 7" are the two B-side tracks. "The Wind Up" is in the band's usual wheelhouse of consummate crunching power trio pop but with slightly noisier leanings. "10 Miles High" is a lovely little acoustic number that leaves a perfect melody floating in your head. If these gentlemen can leave songs this good off the album, you know the album is going to be something else! Punch Drunk releases September 16th. Click here for complete pre-ordering information!

Friday, August 05, 2022

JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend

It delights me that the JEM Records Celebrates series is turning into an annual event. Previous editions honoring the songs of John Lennon and Brian Wilson have set the bar for what all tribute albums should aspire to be. Producer/director/label president Marty Scott has found the formula for success: turn to one of the finest label rosters in the power pop world and trust these talented bands and artists to creatively interpret some of the best songs ever written. Out today on vinyl, CD, and digital formats, JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend is another smashing success. It's also a wonderful full circle moment for Marty Scott, who came up with the idea to start importing records while he was searching for a copy of The Who's Direct Hits during a trip to England. The rest, as they say, is history!

As much as I appreciate the greatness and importance of John Lennon and Brian Wilson, I have an emotional connection to this installment of the series that I didn't have with the previous two. In my youth, The Who was by far my favorite classic rock band. And as a lifelong power pop fanatic, I consider The Who to be foundational to the genre (Townshend himself coined the term). If these JEM artists had managed to screw up a Pete Townshend tribute, I would not have been reluctant to air my grievances. But my only grievance with this album is that it has left me wanting more! Right off the bat, Lisa Mychols & Super 8 turn in a stunning and completely unexpected arrangement of "Baba O'Reilly" that is the first of many "Wow!" moments on this compilation. Others include the same band's jazzy rendition of "I Can't Explain," The Grip Weeds' masterful take on "A Quick One," and The Airport 77s' successful mashup of "Substitute" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." With this being a JEM release, I was hoping for a few of these bands/artists to deliver the goods power pop style. I was not disappointed! In particular, The Midnight Callers ("Let My Love Open the Door"), Nick Piunti ("The Seeker"), and The Anderson Council ("Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand") turn in inspired, punched-up versions of Townshend-penned classics. Elsewhere, The Gold Needles transform "So Sad About Us" into the best '80s radio hit that never was. And Johnathan Pushkar ("The Kids Are Alright") once again shows that he can make any song sound like something he wrote! 

What I love about JEM Records is that it represents the best of the current generation of power pop and melodic rock. With that in mind, I can't think of another label better suited to properly pull off a tribute to Pete Townshend. The ten bands/artists included on JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend are keeping the influence of bands like The Who alive and well in 2022. The music being made by these artists isn't "retro" -- it's timeless. They all must have been incredibly excited to contribute to this release, and it shows. This is truly a first class production featuring musicianship, singing, and creativity worthy of this exalted material. It delivers a great mix of the types of tracks I was hoping to hear and some truly wonderful surprises. Best of all, this album makes me want to go back and listen to all my Who records! This collection coincides with the label's 50th anniversary, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate five decades of JEM. Whether you're a Who freak like me or just a huge fan of JEM's formidable roster of talent, you should consider JEM Records Celebrates Pete Townshend an essential purchase.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Lorne Behrman - "I Hope The Sun Doesn’t Catch Us"

I've got September 13th circled on my calendar as a great day for music. On that day, Lorne Behrman will release his debut album A Little Midnight on Spaghetty Town Records. A Little Midnight makes my short list of most highly-anticipated albums of 2022. Based on its first two singles, it seems certain this album will live up to expectations and then some. As the esteemed Michael Volgare astutely puts it, every song Behrman releases just gets better and better. 

New single "I Hope The Sun Doesn’t Catch Us" is an absolute stunner featuring some of the most beautiful and flat-out remarkable guitar playing I've heard in quite some time. Musically, this song is an homage to Television -- a band that was a game-changing influence on Behrman as a young musician in the '90s. The track finds him exploring that world that Television first opened up for him: where the spirit of punk rock transcends the limitations of genre and a song is capable of taking the listener on a journey. Much like recent single "A Little Midnight," "I Hope The Sun Doesn't Catch Us" demonstrates that punk rock can be art without being pretentious. The song is as catchy as they come and gets the job done in less than two and a half minutes. Lyrically, it's a powerful reflection on the transience of love. Having pondered that very thing a thousand times, I find myself connecting to this song on a personal level. 

One of the things I admire about Behrman as a songwriter is his willingness to share so much of himself with the world. As I dig into "I Hope The Sun Doesn't Catch Us," I hear a dad cherishing every moment he gets to spend with his daughter. And I hear a man opening himself up to new possibilities no matter how much that might scare him. I love the way this song touches on fears common to all of us yet also radiates genuine optimism. That's real life! Behrman has a gift for taking all this stuff that is so deeply personal to him and making it relatable to everyone. I suppose that's what great songwriters do! Be sure to check out the amazing music video for "I Hope The Sun Doesn’t Catch Us" (beautifully directed by David J Baron). And look for A Little Midnight on compact disc and digital download next month!

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Keefs - "Dim City Nights"


Delaware's finest punk rock and roll band is back with its first new music in eight years! The Keefs were one of the handful of bands that inspired me to start writing about music again back in 2011. After hearing the 444 EP, I was blown away by the band's gritty yet melodic brand of old school punk rock. 2014's Better Late Than Never LP remains an overlooked gem of modern-day American punk rock. Sadly its release coincided with the band calling it a day, and I feared that The Keefs would be forever relegated to "should have been huge!" status. So it was to my utter delight that I recently discovered that The Keefs have a brand-new digital single out called "Dim City Nights." I love that this two-track release shows two different sides of the same band. You've got the rock on the A-side and the pop on the B-side -- and both tunes are equally good. The title track is a straight-up rock and roll ripper with a massive shout-along chorus and righteous lead guitar work from the legendary Randy America (channeling Wayne Kramer in full glory). Bass god Vince mentions that The Keefs have finally found their "real" sound after all these years, and you can hear that direction on this track. This is a grade-A banger! If the Dead Boys, Backyard Babies, and early D Generation are your cup of tea, "Dim City Nights" ought to get your heart racing. On the virtual B-side, "The Fall" is more on the melodic side but still punchy as hell. I love how Dave's vocal is gutsy and packed full of emotion. For some reason, this track brings to mind Grant Hart fronted Husker Du even though it still sounds totally like The Keefs. This is essential listening for anyone who likes pop-influenced punk with balls. "Dim City Nights" is a truly triumphant comeback, and I hear there's more on the way. The world gets another chance to appreciate The Keefs. Don't mess it up, folks!

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Geoff Palmer - "Emergency"

For his third full-length release, Geoff Palmer has made the surprising and fascinating choice to cover Dee Dee King's 1989 album Standing In The Spotlight in its entirety. Of all the albums in the Ramones universe, Dee Dee Ramone's rap album is probably the most polarizing. To this day, opinions vary on whether Standing In The Spotlight is an epic fail or an overlooked gem. Geoff Palmer would take the latter position, and his version of the album (out September 18 on Stardumb Records) comes from a place of deep love. "Emergency," the first single from the album, is sure to change the minds of more than a few Dee Dee King skeptics. This track is pure gold! Palmer's signature style is present in the vocals and arrangement, but the spirit of the original version is by no means lost. If you didn't know this was a Dee Dee King song, you might think this was a just great new Geoff Palmer tune! As I listen back to the original, I can totally hear how it may have influenced multiple generations of pop-punk bands. Granted, "Emergency" is one of the best tracks on Standing In The Spotlight. I am intrigued to hear what Palmer does with the rest of these songs. But if "Emergency" is any indication, we should expect very, very good things from the full album. Click here for all of your pre-ordering options!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Bob Burger - The Domino Effect

You may know Bob Burger as a founding member of power pop band The Weeklings -- who have been one of JEM Records' flagship bands since the legendary label made its triumphant return several years ago. You may also know Bob Burger as a longtime fixture of the Jersey Shore rock scene and an accomplished solo artist. Out now on JEM, The Domino Effect is Burger's fifth solo album and largely a departure from the music of The Weeklings. Yet I doubt any fan of The Weeklings will be disappointed. Much like his label mate Nick Piunti, Burger belongs to the master class of pop-rock songwriters. With The Domino Effect, he focuses on a style of music that I'm always happy to encounter: straight-forward classic rock steeped in the tradition of the three-to-four minute pop song. 

As a member of a very prolific band, Burger had to put his solo career aside for a while. But as more free time became available during the pandemic, he was able to complete The Domino Effect. The album, which features support from New York/New Jersey scene veterans Jimmy Leahey (guitar), Jerry Gaskill (drums), Lisa Sherman (background vocals), Arne Wendt (keyboards), John Merjave (guitars), and Plink Giglio (keyboards), is loosely based on the concept of how our lives can be changed forever by one event or decision. The concept is nicely framed by the opening and closing tracks. "The Suicide King," which marries a waltz to jangly pop, is an ode to acting in life without fear of consequence. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is left ambiguous, which is half the fun of the song. Closing track "Rock & Roll Band," one of the album's most "power pop" sounding numbers, is far more conclusive. Here Burger celebrates his choice to pursue a musician's life. The lifetime of hard work and struggle is worth it for all the good it brings. So many of you reading this now will relate, no doubt. How different would your life be if you'd never picked up a guitar? In between these two songs is a wonderful and varied selection of splendidly-crafted pop songs. "Impression" sounds like it should be playing on the radio in an eternal 1982. "Even If You Don't" hits that Eagles/Jackson Browne 1970s light rock sweet spot. Burger throws a bone to his power pop loving fan base with the clever and relatable "Pain in the Ass." "The One Eyed Jack" unintentionally recalls an iconic Tom Petty riff but is otherwise 100% original. Call it MOR, adult alternative, soft rock, or whatever you like: "Merely Beautiful" is a melodic gem seeking the substance beyond a surface attraction.

Bob Burger is the very definition of class. He's a masterful songwriter who remains in fine form decades into his career. In The Domino Effect, he has managed to create a pop-rock record that sounds timeless but not retro. Certain influences (Beatles, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello) are fundamental to his craft, yet this album just sounds like Bob Burger. We've come to expect albums of this style and quality from JEM Records, and The Domino Effect definitely fits the bill. By the way, JEM has something very special in the works to commemorate its 50th anniversary. I'll be back in a couple weeks to tell you more!