Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 

CYMBALS EAT GUITARS – Lose (Barsuk Records, www.barsuk.com)

I was first introduced to what would become one of my favorite bands some six and a half years ago. I was visiting New York City for work, and our fearless editor insisted that I had to go out with him one night to see this young band he had found. And despite the lousy acoustics at the club, I became enthralled at the incredible layering of sounds that came from these musicians.

Several months later, their first album, Why There Are Mountains, was released, and I rejoiced. Dripping with emotion, pulsing with an incredible dynamic range, it became my favorite album of the year. One of my comments about the band was that the layering of sounds made it seem like they were playing multiple songs simultaneously, and that it worked incredibly well.

Some two years later, after a few tours and personnel changes, Lenses Alien was released. It exceeded my expectations, and in my eyes/ears, topped Mountains. Replacing the explosiveness was an intensity that simmered and boiled. Still playing songs within songs, there was less layering of sounds and more shifts back and forth within the songs. The result was a bit smoother and more mature.

Now, three years on, comes Lose. It’s definitely even smoother and poppier than either of the previous efforts, and ditches (for the most part) the idea of either layering or sequencing multiple songs in a single number for a more straightforward pop song structure. That’s not to say that the songs are generic. They’re anything but. And Joe D’Agostino still earns the nickname “Joseph Ferocious” with his enormous vocals that he attacks with glee. His range is still incredible, ranging from delicate to soaring to, well, ferocious. The album has a very large sound, with lots of reverb, fuzz and distortion giving the sense of layering this time around.

The album opens with “Jackson,” a good, strong choice. It highlights all the strengths the band has to offer, with gorgeous melodies and incredible range, from jangle to soaring epic. And it, along with other tracks on the album, offers some of the most personal, heartfelt lyrics ever to come from D’Agostino. At the very start of CEG’s existence, there was D’Agostino, and there was Ben High. They met at a house show, both in separate bands, but soon became the closest of friends. And they formed CEG and recorded the initial demos. But in 2007, as they were working on some of the earliest recordings for Mountains, High died from a heart condition. “Jackson” recalls a time the pair went to an amusement park, and felt the sensation of weightlessness and falling on rollercoasters, and goes on to say, “Now I dream in color of your face / And I see the coast in your mirror shades / Only feel relief when I’m back at home / Falling forward alone.”

“XR” is an interesting one, starting off sounding like a Dylan track, harmonica and all, until Joe’s snarling vocals come in. The track can’t make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a Dylan-eque folk-rock tune or a raging punk-edged one, and I think that’s just fine. It, too, has reminiscences of High, and seems to signal a coming to terms with the loss of his best friend. “Wanna wake up wanting to listen to records / But those old feelings elude me / I raise a toast to the rock and roll ghost / But it ain’t whiskey / It’s Emergen-C / Almost died a thousand times / High is just a tingling behind my eyes.”

“Child Bride” is a beautiful ballad-like one that didn’t quite catch me the first time around, but after repeated listens, the melodic lines are quite nice. But probably my favorite track of the album is the expansive, “Laramie,” which teeters between epic indie-rock and emo-math, until just before the halfway mark. At this point, the whole song shifts (the only song to really do this on the album) to a more standard indie-pop sound. As the track nears an end, it veers into chaotic jam territory, with layered sounds creating a thick tapestry. Lyrically, this one is also about the intense and too-short friendship between D’Agostino and High.

“Chambers” follows right after, and has a marked 80s sound in the opening keyboard notes, an interesting departure from the norm. “2 Hip Soul (Floyd’s Tomb)” closes things out in classic CEG style. It’s a massive track that’s a classic ballad, with strings and all, but crescendos into an epic, loud track full of angst and energy, pounding and crashing, before dropping back down to a whisper, with the final piano notes ending without resolution.

Final verdict? I like this album. A lot. It’s quite different in many ways from the youthful energy of Mountains or the awesome intricacies of Lenses Alien. It’s, as I stated, much smoother and simpler than those previous efforts. But it’s also more from the heart, and more emotionally significant. And that comes across clearly. Will it make my top ten of the year? We’ll have to wait and see. But it’s definitely a contender.

 


APOCALYPSE MEOW – Baseball and Alcohol (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Another super-group, of sorts, Apocalypse Meow (named for a Japanese Manga of the same name, perhaps?) features members of Off With Their Heads and Sundowners. This EP features five tracks of pop-punk goodness. “357” has a great melodic line and one of the hookiest choruses to hit a record in awhile. And the other tracks are just as good, with powerful pop-punk, with big choruses and hooks aplenty. The closer, “Warehouse Heart,” is my favorite of the bunch, I think, with its slight bit of doo-wop influence, but in an up-tempo pop-punk way. It’s pure rock and roll awesomeness.

BLANK PAGES – Blank Pages (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Originally released in 2013 on Euro label Hardware Records, this album finally gets a US release to support their summer 2014 US tour, courtesy of the kind folks at Dirt Cult Records. This Berlin band’s debut was called “the best album of 2013” in Dirt Cult’s press release, and, while that’s debatable, there’s no denying that it’s pretty damn good, and could have made my top 10, had I received it when it was first released. They rip through ten tracks that could give them the reputation of being from Denton, Germany. They have that garage-punk sound, with hints of surf, such as on the opening track, “Shelter,” with its heavy reverb in some sections, giving it that classic surf sound. I really like the garage sound of “”Drained,” the third track. It starts out slow and eerie, but gradually builds, as the guitars and drums get more raucous, and then the whole thing shifts to an up-tempo track that fans of bands like Marked Men or Radioactivity would love. And that’s the whole album in a nutshell. Catch them on tour this August, if you can, and definitely pick up this album.

CANCERS – Fatten the Leeches (Kandy Kane Records, kandykanerecords.bandcamp.com/music)

Lo-fi, glimmery, noisy pop is the order of the day on this debut full-length from the Athens, Georgia based band. Imagine 90s grunge infused with airy female vocals and a bit of indie-pop shimmer, and you get an idea of the sound Cancers is going for. “Liar” is the outlier, with its quiet, home-recorded sound. Yes, home recorded – you can hear the cat in the background. The hiss is a nice touch, giving it an old, DIY sort of feel, and the guitar has an out-of-tune reverb sort of sound. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the disc. “Dig” is probably the heaviest track on the disc, by a long shot, and works well as the closer. Pretty good listen here.

CASPER & THE COOKIES – Dingbats (Stuff Records, www.casperandthecookies.com)

Quirky pop music is the three-word summary. But Casper & The Cookies’ latest LP is so much more than that. It’s a solid confident statement, pushed out into the world with fervor and élan. “Drug Facts” is an awesome track that’s in-your-face odd-pop, with an 80s feel in the tradition of some of the most creative bands of the day. It makes me want to get up and dance, for sure. “Jennifer’s House” is another fun one, with tons of off-kilter pop-bounce. “Lemon Horses” is the weirdest, coolest country-folk-rock track you’re going to hear all year. “Thing for Ugly” has a bit of a progressive jazz-rock feel blended into the odd new-wave feel, and it comes through clearly despite the deliberate minimalism of the track’s arrangement. “Omni” is perhaps the weirdest, noisiest track of the album, with shouted, growled vocals, pounding percussion, and buzzing synth. It’s also one of the most fun. “White Noise” is the real outlier, with more of an early 70s soft-rock feel, and not as exciting to me as the other tracks. The closer, “When the Moon Was In Command,” is also kind of a weaker one, in my opinion, with an almost dirge-like feel. With few exceptions, though, this is a solid album and a great listen.

CHROME – Feel It Like A Scientist (King of Spades Records, www.facebook.com/chromechronicles)

Here comes the fifth Chrome LP. Chrome without Damon Edge? Yes. Helios Creed has decided that he can record under that name, even without Edge. Does that make this a Chrome LP or a Helios Creed LP? Well, kind of both. It’s buzzy and noisy as all hell, but it glows and bubbles, too. The heavy use of synth gives it a real 80s feel, in a German new wave minimalist way. Yet it also still feels modern in structure. Some of it gets downright delightfully weird, like “Slave Planet Institution,” which melds sci-fi sound effects and found sound recordings to provide an eerie soundtrack. To be honest, a lot of the album has a sort of psychedelic distorted sci-fi soundtrack sound. “Lipstick,” for instance, sounds like a disco track for drunken robots. And I mean that in a good way. The vocals are stupid distorted, to the point of non-comprehension. And the instrumentals throb in a sort of stilted dance beat suited for the more mechanical oriented beings in the house. It probably works for drunken humans, as well. “Unbreakable Flouride Lithium Plastic” is a pretty awesome one, crossing 70s punk and stoner jams. The found sounds at the end of the track are quite humorous, as well. The funny track of the disc has to go to “Brady The Chicken Boy,” for both sonic and personal reasons. The sonic reasons have to do with the chicken sounds in the vocals. The personal reasons have to do with multiple friends of the Brady variety. OK – bottom line? It’s a jam album. It meanders. It’s noisy. And it’s kinda cool.

DOG SOCIETY – In The Shade (www.dogsociety.tv)

New York’s Dog Society’s latest LP is an eclectic mix of rock sounds. From the hard, fuzzy grunge-psych sounds of the opener, “Heal Me Friend,” to the softer, folk-rock 70s stylings of “Oleander Girl,” from the 90s indie rock sounds of “Dear Brother” and “Laughing Song,” to the jazz-rock closer, “Our Own Parade.” The band is a little bit all over the place, though the common thread seems to be a solid foot in the past. The sounds have a definite retro feel, from 70s to 90s, though not in-between. “Dear Brother” is sort of a favorite, with guitar work reminiscent of Midwest faves, The Poster Children and their classic “Clock Street.” With repeated listens, I’ve warmed up a bit to some of the tracks, but it does strike me as a bit forced and a bit commercial sounding.

THE JEAN JACKETS – Freeze Out (www.thejeanjackets.com)

The Jean Jackets are dropping the second half their "double LP" six months or after the part one, Field Theory Blues, which I reviewed back at the beginning of the year. This album starts out a little oddly, with a slow underwater-sounding ballad. The vocals are heavily processed with vibrato to give it that sound. Not my favorite of the disc, but things immediately take a turn for the better with “Dead Again,” the second track. I really like the cycle of fifths type chord progression, the mid-up-tempo bounce, and the slightly chaotic, noisy ambience. And, you know what’s odd? It kinda goes that way, where even numbered tracks are pretty damn good, while the odd numbered tracks are, well, odd, and not to my taste, or just OK. “My Marine” is a slower track, and doesn’t move me that much, while “Under Your Wing,” also a slower track, strikes me as a pretty one, with delicate vocals and instrumentals that alternate between delicate and raucous. The title track, sadly, is my least favorite, by far. I would go so far as to say that it really doesn’t belong on this album. It has a 70s lounge-pop feel, and just doesn’t seem to be very well performed. “Vacant Admiral” pops things up several notches again, with a distinctly bouncier, poppier feel. “Too Much (Is Just Enough)” is an acoustic track that has pretty emotional vocals, but doesn’t quite work for me. The vocals don’t flow well enough; they’re disjointed, in a way. “(Many) Returns,” on the other hand, is another one with acoustic guitar, though it also has keyboards, and I really like this slower tune. The interplay between the male vocals, up in front in the mix, and the female vocals, heavy on the reverb to give it a distant effect, works quite well. The resulting track is quite pretty. “Cannon of Sound” finally breaks the cycle, as the second track in a row that I like pretty well. In general, I do like the easy feel that the Jean Jackets bring to their songs. They have a relaxed feel, while having simplicity in the vocals and an underlying organized chaos in some of the instrumentals. I just wish there was more consistency to this album, as there was in the previous one.

RATIONAL ANTHEM – Emotionally Unavailable (Bloated Kat Records, bloatedkatrecords.bandcamp.com)

Damn! I knew I liked Rational Anthem, having seem them perform at numerous shows, and having heard their previous album, “Whatevermind.” But the new album is on a different level. This is the definition of pop-punk. But at 8 songs and 20 minutes, it’s just not enough! The album opens with “Lloyd Christmas,” shooting off rapid-fire, pounding music with tons of catchy melody. It starts there, but it never lets up for the whole 20 minutes. “Pink Triangle Pt. Deux” slows things down slightly. The topic here is lost love, but without any semblance of a happy ending. “No Call / No Show” hits a little too close to home, because there’ve been too many times I was “supposed” to go out to a show or to party with friends, and I just decided to say “fuck it” and stayed home. Too many times I did drag myself off the couch and go out, but wasn’t really into it. I don’t know what the ultimate message is here, but let’s all try and enjoy ourselves, shall we? One way to do that is to get this album and play repeatedly.

THE STUPID DAIKINI (thestupiddaikini.bandcamp.com)

The Stupid Daikini is a duo, featuring Melissa Zavislak on vocals and ukulele and Brittany Hartin on drums. Hartin’s drumming is pretty basic, but appropriate for this stripped down experience. The same goes for the ukulele, which is recorded with ear-deceiving distortion to make it sound bigger than it is. No, the real centerpiece of the four songs of this EP are Zavislak’s revelatory vocals. They shine like a beacon in the night, though they don’t lead to safety. Rather, they sing stories of heartbreak and sadness. That’s the other major piece to this two-piece puzzle. The song-writing is amazing. There’s a combination of indie-pop and 50s doo-wop sounds, blended with island lightness of the uke’s sound quality. The heaviness of the subject matter is punctuated by the pounding of the drums and the matching heavy strumming on the uke. “Landlord” opens the EP, with lyrics like, “I’ll bet you can’t wait ‘til I get home / But I’ll ruin your life, I’ll leave you alone. / I’ll make you cry, make your heart sad. / I don’t know why I like making you feel bad. / And just when things start seeming better / Here I come with nasty weather. / Oooh, ahhh, why don’t you love me?” “Do Your Thing” closes the EP with an uneven rhythm and tons of angst and bitterness. It’s about a break-up that is sung with such passion that my heart is torn to pieces just listening to it. Right now this is just a self-released DIY effort, but I encourage The Stupid Daikini to send this around to the appropriate outlets and labels, because this is way too good to keep hidden.

SUGAR STEMS – Only Come Out At Night (Dirt Nap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

I only discovered the Sugar Stems last winter, when I was in Japan, of all places. We kept hearing the most awesome music at all the clubs the Maxies were playing. The same songs each time. We thought this must be some new Japanese band that was really popular or something. Finally, we asked Chiba, the manager of the Kingons and the person who booked the tour, “Who IS this?” “Sugar Stems,” he replied. “From Wisconsin.” Damn! I immediately got hold of a copy of their previous album, “Can’t Wait,” and played it over and over, swooning every time it played. And I quickly contacted guitarist Drew (who also plays in The Jetty Boys) to find out when they were touring out to the west coast. I was stoked to find out they were going to be out this way this summer, and with a new album to boot! This new album picks up right where “Can’t Wait” left off, serving up a dozen power-pop gems. It’s appropriate that they have “Sugar” in their name, because the music is so damn sweet! The song writing is ridiculously strong, the musicianship is top notch, and the vocals, particularly Betsy’s leads, are spot on. My absolute favorite track has to be “The One,” which started streaming a couple of weeks before the album’s official release. It’s classic power-pop, with a loping tempo, sparkling guitars, some of the best pop hooks I’ve heard in awhile, and Betsy’s awesome vocals. The title track, “We Only Come Out At Night,” is another winner. Well, they all are, but this one is way up there, with more pop melody than you can shake your fist at. “Run Run Rabbit” is an anomaly, but what a great one! It turns off the sweet sugar and turns on the nastiness. This is raucous, raunchy rock’n’roll! The album closes with “Million Miles,” a quiet, ethereal track, with acoustic guitars, electric organ, and a seeming chorus of angels. Those are just a few of the highlights. I recommend you get this to fill in the details on your own. It’s definitely worth your while.

TUNABUNNY – Kingdom Technology (HHBTM Records, www.hhbtm.com)

What an odd, uneven little album we have here. “Airless Spaces” flows with spaced-out vocals and buzzy electronics throbbing over a pulsing drum beat. But the next track, “Canaries in Mineshafts,” is noisy and edgy, with distinct vocals and melody. “Save It Up” is an 80s sounding track with heavy use of synth and clean, strong female vocals. “Power Breaks” has a Euro-minimalism thing going on, with throbbing, repetitive synth, simplistic vocals, and occasional bursts of slightly detuned guitar glimmer. “Good God Awful” is an apt name, as it’s a short, very off-kilter track that sounds sort of like B-52s practicing a rejected song. And “Bag of Bones” has awesome 80s minimalist no-wave synth sounds and beats, but the vocals are kind of lackluster and a bit out of tune. Like I said, uneven. The album is all over the place, both stylistically and quality-wise. The good tracks are really good – spot on. But the not so good tracks are…well, not so good. Overall, though, I think the good outweighs the bad. It certainly is different from most stuff out there, which is always a positive.

THE UGLY BEATS – Brand New Day (Get Hip Recordings, www.gethip.com)

Everything old is new again, and everything ugly is pretty, too. The Ugly Beats are back with a brand new album full of new old style music. 1960s garage predominates, but not in a gritty way. Here, we get jangly tunes with a bit of an attitude. The album starts with “Up On The Sun,” probably the grittiest garagiest track on the album. “Throw Me A Line” is probably my favorite track on the album, reminding me of some the great early power-pop stuff. “Braced For The Fall” is a delicious pairing of the 60s British Invasion with American garage-pop that has some beautiful harmonized singing in the chorus and backing vocals. There’s even a fun cover of “Los Gusanos,” originally performed by Los Flecos, and sung here in Spanish, as well as a country-ish cover of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter.” They don’t appear to be touring yet to support this new release, but I sure hope they do, because their live shows are legendary, and if it’s half as good as this album, it should be pretty damn fine, indeed.

THE VERVE PIPE – Overboard (LMNOPop, www.thevervepipe.com)

Yes, they’re still here and still making music. After around thirteen years, The Verve Pipe are back with a new album of rock music. And it’s independently released, to boot. The album features some well-polished, yet laid-back pop music. It’s the definition of casual elegance: it’s relaxed and comfortable, like that old worn sweatshirt that’s started to go threadbare. Yet it’s crisp and clean, like that white dress shirt, the one with the collar stays and all. “Latchkey Kid” is a favorite, strings and all. Yes, it has strings. But it’s got some beautiful pop hooks and, like several of the tracks, some math-ish rhythms that make it interesting. The title track is ballad-like, with tinges of country, by way of acoustic guitar and western melody lines. But it also blends in hints of a blend of Michael Stipe and Phil Collins, of all things. And yet…and yet…it works. “Hit and Run” is another interesting one, with a sort of eerie, yet bouncy sound. I have a feeling that the cognoscenti would tell me I’m not supposed to like this album, because it’s too slick. But the easiness of the songs, and the beauty of the hooks tell me to tell the cognoscenti to fuck off.



COMPILATIONS/SPLIT RELEASES

AUTONOMY / NO SIR I WON’T – Split 12” LP (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

From the first track I fell in love. Autonomy opens this split LP with “Affect Heuristic,” a track that brings to mind some of the coolest post-punk of the 80s. It’s atonal, noisy, and rhythmic. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Boston post-punk bands, Proletariat. There’s the same anger in the vocals, the same modal sound, and the same sort of energy. The band pounds its way through the far too few five tracks with a zeal that makes me pine for my youth like I haven’t for some time. No Sir I Won’t are a perfect match for the split, with five more tracks of post-punk power, this time fueled with even a harder edge, right out of the politically charged Britain of the era. Damn, this is a good release!

COTTON TAIL / MOON BANDITS – Cotton Tail & Moon Bandits Split (moonbandits.bandcamp.com)

Three songs each from these two bands that are in the “folk punk” genre. Cottontail opens things with their best track, Ownership. It’s tuneful, with dual guitars and beautifully harmonized dual vocals. It’s the sort of track that has the feeling of enough power that it could be electric and work – but it works quite well as a stomping yet melodic acoustic piece. The other two pieces are a little toned down from the first, but are equally tuneful. The three Moon Bandits Tracks feature banjo and fiddle, plus piano and accordion, I think on “Do We Want They’re Giving.” The other two tracks are just Tommy and Astrid, on banjo, fiddle and vocals. I really love these guys, and their songs that are pretty much strong social commentary about living in our current world, stripped bare, yet still full of feeling.

DIRECT HIT! / PRICEDUIFKES – Split! (Say-10 Records and Skateboards, www.say-10.com)

Say-10 is back with another winner, this time a split EP featuring Midwest pop-punks Direct Hit! and Belgian punks Priceduifkes. Direct Hit!’s first track, “Wasting Away,” starts off as a typically good pop-punk track, melodic, bouncy, and energetic. As it goes along, it takes on the characteristics of a great sing-along, reminding me of some of the great pub punk of the past. Their other track also harkens back to the ghosts of punk past, as the cover of Priceduifkes’ “I Ain’t Dreaming of a White Christmas” starts out as sort of a cross-over track, slower and heavier, and I was about to write it off. But then it breaks out into a classic 80s hardcore track, fast and loud and furious as fuck! Priceduifkes’ two tracks are solid pop-punk gems. “Boredom Addict,” a cover of a Direct Hit! track, is catchy, fun, and has more than enough whoa-ohs to satisfy the sing-along and fist-pumpers out there. “Getwood City,” is another good one, fast and tuneful through the first half of the track, and then it slows down a bit, and you can just feel the sweaty crowd jumping up and down around you. Great release!

LITTLE BIG LEAGUE / OVLOV – Split (Tiny Engines, www.tinyengines.net)

Two songs from Little Big League, and one from Ovlov. The LBL tracks are noisy, yet quite melodic. Michelle Zauner’s vocals are perfect for this style, bright and present, though a little more subdued than the intensity of LBL’s debut album, “These Are Good People.” The second of the two tracks has even more subdued vocals than the first, with the intensity only occasionally hinted at. Those vocals need to be unleashed! The OVLOV track is a little less successful. It’s mostly an instrumental, with some vocals in the middle. It starts out great, as a noisy up-tempo track, with an excited feel. It takes about 1:45 to get to the vocals, though. And it’s OK there, too, but the song tends to be too long, and the energy seems to wane – or maybe it’s the sameness of the sound. The two LBL tracks are solid, though, and make it worth the price of admission.

AFRO- JERSEY (www.afrojersey.com)

Afro-Jersey is the trio consisting of Terre Roche, Sidiki Conde, and Marlon Cherry. Roche, of course, became semi-famous as one of the trio of sisters known as The Roches. This debut album is a significant departure for her, away from the folksy music made with sisters Maggie and Suzzy, and into the world of World Music. The collaboration began with Wt African drummer Conde, and later added bassist Cherry, and the trio blends the musical traditions of North America with those of the West African Mandinka people. You get music that’s, at one time, jazzy, folksy, and tribal. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, and I love the blending of cultures, musical ideas, and sounds. Lyrics are alternately in English and Mandinka. The album closes with a gorgeous rendition of the traditional folk song, “Shenandoah,” otherwise known as “Across the Wide Missouri.” Beautiful.

ALVVAYS (Polyvinyl Records, www.polyvinylrecords.com)

This Canadian quintet offers up their debut full-length of lovely, jangly, dreamy pop music. They pre-released a couple of their tracks on the interwebz, and the opener, “Adult Diversion,” is one of them. It’s got bounce aplenty, and a cool minimalist groove (in that there’s plenty of repetition in the phrasing and rhythms), though it’s got a complex sound, with plenty of reverb and a thick sounding instrumentation. There’s a Stereolab sort of quality to the music, but Alvvays has a softer, smoother sound than Stereolab. This is very evident on “Ones Who Love You,” the third track, which has a beautiful, lonely sound, with the minimalist repetition and bouncy jangle. “Party Police” has a slightly retro feel, with its synth heavy sound, and I both love it, and feel it’s a bit out of place. But overall, the sound here is gorgeous, relaxed, and jangly.

BEACH SLANG – Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? (Dead Broke Rekerds, www.deadbrokerecords.com)

Beach Slang are a pop-punk band from Philly, and this 7” EP is their debut. The trio is a super-group of sorts, featuring members of Weston, Ex-Friends, and Crybaby. The music produced in the four songs is energetic, melodic, and has an emotional edge. “Get Lost,” the third track, is the slowest and most relaxed track of the four, but may be my favorite. It has an easy gait, yet ever propels forward, and has the most interesting hooks of the bunch, in my opinion. All four songs are worthy of repeated listens, and that’s my recommendation to you.

CRETIN STOMPERS – Looking Forward to Being Attacked (Hozac Records, www.hozacrecords.com)

“Yes.” I could leave the review at that one word, indicating that you need to immediately get this debut album from the Memphis band, but I shall elaborate. This is unique. This is different. It’s off-kilter, in a way. But it’s also very accessible, with well-written pop songs. Some of the songs feature odd high-pitched vocals, and some feature bizarre, noisy, fuzzy breaks. The instrumentation is thick and rich, yet lo-fi and ethereal. An outlier on the album is “Cowboy From Mars,” which is a rockin’ good track, yet still with the interesting lo-fi and ethereal sound. Its odd meter adds to the interest level, throwing my ears for a loop. “Cretin Ate My Neighbor” might be a favorite on the album, with its rapid-fire mayhem. Yes, sometimes it can get a bit repetitive. But it’s unusual, and so stands out in a sea of sameness. Give it a try.

THE DELINES – Colfax (El Cortez Records, elcortezrecords.us)

Oh, crap, this is boring! The songs are universally slow and draggy. The music is a blend of country and jazz, oh the humanity! I like jazz, and some country can be nice, but together? Ugh. Add in a dose of Pink Floyd-like drug-induced coma sounds on some of the songs, and you have the cure to insomnia.

 

 

DENTIST (Good Eye Records, www.facebook.com/dentistband)

Much has been said and written about female fronted bands, good and bad. I don’t care about all that shit. I care whether the band is good or not, whether they “rock” or not. Dentist does. There are plenty of traditional indie-pop sounds, but there are also hints of surf-rock sounds, interesting for a New Jersey band. The opener, “Pretty Lady,” is a cool surf-punk track, with bits of 50s doo-wop sounds. And, as much as I would love more tracks like that one, the others are pretty fine, too. At times, they get a little heavier, like on “Bird in the Cage,” which sounds sort of like 90s grunge, but a little lighter. Nirvana is brought to mind, to an extent. “Retired Lifeguard” is by far the most blatant surf track, both in name and sound, and it’s another winner. Yes, a woman fronts the band. So what? The music is good, and that’s all that matters.

IDENTICAL HOMES – A. Hydrophelia (Parks and Records, www.parksandrecords.com)

Calm, lush, and quiet are words that come to mind. This is to indie-rock what chill-out music is to electronic dance music. It’s less in your face, less hard edged. Way less. This is soft, squishy, peaceful stuff that gives you the feeling of floating away on a cloud. One track that creeps me out just a bit, though, is “Hive Minds.” Or at least the very opening of it, which is a recording of flying insects buzzing around. The album nicely blends guitars and drums with electronics and a beat. I really like “Isolation,” the second track on the album. It’s got a nice indie-pop feel, and rhythm that propels it forward, and such a chill atmospheric sound. “Ever After” has a nice loping sound, and a bit of down home feel, thanks to what sounds like sampled banjo punctuating the background. “The Shape Of” has some awesome harmonies and a pulsing rhythm, but I could have done without the beeping and booping electronics on this one, which detracted from the real music here.

JOLIE HOLLAND – Wine Dark Sea (Anti-, www.anti.com)

So, I’m listening to this immediately after I just finished listening to The Delines (see review above). And, I will admit, there are some similarities. There are no up-tempo tracks here. There are female vocals over “atmospheric” instrumentals, and there’s a soulful sound. But there are distinct differences that make this album fall several notches above the other. That soulfulness is real. There’s much more feeling in the sound, and in the vocals in particular. The instrumentals are more interesting, with more experimentalism, more dissonance in places. Take “Dark Days,” the third track on the disc. It’s a blues song, in waltz time, with tons of soul and loads of noisiness in the guitars. “Route 30” is a good ol’ honky tonk number, oozing with sensuality. “I Thought It Was The Moon” is an absolutely magical track, quiet and sad, with acoustic guitar and bits of noise punctuating the darkness, and Holland’s clear bright vocals acting as a beacon in the night. Each track is different from the others, so the listener doesn’t get bored. Yet there’s a cohesiveness to the album, as well. This one’s a winner.

LIFE – RUDWN? (Urbantone Records, www.urbantonerecords.com)

RUDWN? Are you down? Get it? This is the four-song debut EP from this Hermosa Beach trio, and the influences are obvious. There’s funk, ska, soul, 80s new wave, and rock music sounds in here. But it’s all so watered down and blended together that you don’t get a good, strong identity. The result comes across pretty bland. The musicians are quite competent, and the recording has good quality. But the music they’re performing is just dull. It’s like you don’t get the good aspects from the different types of music coming through – it’s a compromise, and you end up with less than all of them. Synergy is supposed to be greater than the sum of the parts, not less.

MASKED INTRUDER – M.I. (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Those pop-punk criminals are back, still trying to steal your heart. I enjoyed their debut LP well enough, but this album, I think, is even better. It’s still plenty poppy, and still chock full of crime-and-love themed songs, but this album seems to be a little harder and edgier than their previous recorded output. This makes this album seem more like the live shows, which are plenty fast and loud. The disc opens with “I Fought The Law,” but it is NOT a cover of the Sonny Curtis song made popular by The Bobby Fuller Four and also recorded by The Clash. It’s better. “Almost Already In Love” is a cool a cappella track with a retro doo wop feel that’s out of place, but oh so good, with it’s spot on harmonies. “Don’t Run Away” has to be one of my favorites on the album. From its awesome hooks to its cool harmonies and its Ramones influenced drive, it’s such a great track. “Weirdo” is a really good one, too, with an odd march-time and an even more retro sound – think punk rock Beatles. Those of you who may recall my review of the debut LP may remember that I expressed worry that the band might not be able to sustain the shtick about being pop punk romantic criminals, but I guess I was wrong. Get on this.

MISS OHIO – Whippoorwill Road (Pyrrhic Victory Recordings, www.pyrrhicvictoryrecordings.com)

After more than a decade as a band, New Jersey band Miss Ohio has released their fourth recording, a five-song EP. The songs have a definite indie-rock sound, with wall of guitar being a key feature. It’s a reasonably solid effort, though it’s nothing unique or special. Sadly, the opening title track is probably the weakest of the quintet of tracks. It just kind of chugs along, but not with very much energy. By contrast, the second track, “Bobby Fischer,” is probably my favorite. It’s got a really nice breezy, yet noisy, feel, in a 90s indie-pop vein. The rest? It’s OK. If I were grading it, I’d give it a C. Not awful, not bad, but not great or outstanding. Just…OK.

THE MOSTLY DEAD – Wilderness (www.facebook.com/themostydead)

This album comes from the nation’s capitol, and features music that teeters between melodic hardcore and metal crossover. When it’s melodic hardcore, it’s pretty damn good. Fast, crunchy, and powerful. “WEA” and “For Your Health,” the first two tracks, are good examples of this. “Sink/Drain,” on the other hand, is more metallic than hardcore, and so interests me less. Some of the better moments on the album remind me a little bit of Refused, one of the great melodic hardcore bands of the 90s. That’s high praise there. I just wish that Mostly Dead focused more on the melodic hardcore and steered clear of the metal.

THE MOSTLY DEAD – The Day They Turned Us Into Slaves (www.facebook.com/themostlydead)

Originally released way back in 2010, this 6-song 7” has been re-released on beautiful blue vinyl. The songs feature fast, hard, crunchy melodic hardcore, with lots of sing-along chorus stuff. Cool technical, kind of funk-metal sections keep this from being just another hardcore release. At the same time, you can definitely tell this is older material than the album, “Wilderness,” that was just released. It’s rawer, and definitely more focused on the sing-along hardcore sound. Is it better? I think I like the album better, but only the melodic hardcore parts – not the metal parts.

NEEDLES//PINS – Shamebirds (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

From our neighbor to the north comes a Canadian band that’s equal parts retro punk rock, garage rock, power-pop, and pop-punk. The sound is, at once, raw and polished. It’s raw, in that it’s primal music, taking direct aim at your soul. Polished, in that it’s tight and well performed. A few of the songs remind me ever so slightly of Screeching Weasel, but more garagey and less poppy. Maybe it’s the snotty nasal quality in the lead vocals. Though all the tracks are good, there are a few that stand out to my ears. The title track is one, with its upbeat feel that makes you want to jump around. Guitars jangle like crazy, and the feel is retro without sounding passé. “Polaroid” has an even stronger old punk sound to it, and I love it. “Losing Your Mind” is probably the most pop-punk of the bunch, and another awesome track with a great, simple melody and sing-along chorus. “Only Call Me When You’re Drunk” is like a cross between early Parasites and Screeching Weasel, and probably my favorite of the whole album. That’s 40% of the ten-track album right there, all stand-outs. This album is one of my favorite new releases at the moment, and that’s saying a lot.

OBN IIIs – Third Time To Harm (Tic Tac Totally Records, www.tictactotally.com)

Hailing from Austin, Texas, OBN IIIs blaze through eight solid tracks of raucous garage rock’n’roll on this new album. There’s no pretense here, no posing. This is pure fucking rock’n’roll, coming to fuck you up. Just take the opener, “No Time For The Blues.” I’m out of breath and exhausted just listening to it! The vocals are sort of half sung, half not-quite shouted, sort of like The Fall, from back in the day. “The Rockin’ Spins” is up next, with a great hard-edged power-pop feel. There are a couple of relative duds. “Beg to Christ” is a snorer of a wank-fest, more laid back and less boot-stompin’ and raging on this one. “Queen Glom” is another that should have been left off. It plods, like bad 70s acid rock, and is purely instrumental for most of the track, vocals only coming in toward the end. When the vocals come in, things pick up, and the last quarter of the track is pretty decent. But most of this album gets an A+. Overall, a very positive listening experience.

SECRETS – Fragile Figure (Rise Records, www.riserecords.com)

Originally released last summer, “post-hardcore” band Secrets has released their second album in a “deluxe edition,” with three additional songs. And what is “post-hardcore,” as imagined by Secrets? It’s hard alternative rock, that’s what it is. The sort of stuff you might hear on your local alternative radio station. Super slick production meets auto-tuned vocals and hard power chords is what you get. Bad pop-metal comes to mind as I listen to this. I didn’t hear the original release, and I am glad of that, because I can’t imagine any Jersey Beat fans enjoying this release.

SOUNDTRACK TO SLEEP – Sometimes People Don’t Suck (www.facebook.com/SoundtracktoSleep)

Emo-ish melodic pop-punk from the nation’s capitol. Except it’s sort of nerdy, in a They Might Be Giants o or Gentlemen Auction House sort of way. Some of my favorite songs on this album are the ones you might suspect the least. There’s some standard mid-tempo and a few up-tempo tracks, with full-on guitar, sing-along qualities, and so on, but there’s also songs like “Greece Sucks Sometimes,” which is a slow waltz-time song that satisfies the pop-nerd in me. And “All We Do Is Talk” is a beautiful track with plenty of acoustic guitar and emotion-on-your sleeve feel. For all the standard songs that are good enough to say check this out, there are a few gems here that scream “Listen to me!”

STRANGER CELLS – Cave (strangercells.bandcamp.com)

Stranger Cells are from New Jersey, and they describe themselves as “alternative folk grunge lo-fi noise pop.” Well, those are the tags they use on their bandcamp site, anyway. And it’s actually a pretty good description. They remind me a little bit of Octagrape, the most amazing live band out of San Diego in ages, though Stranger Cells is a little more relaxed and a little smoother than Octagrape. Perhaps that explains the “folk” tag. This five song EP focuses on a grungy sound with hints of psych, and some cool rhythm changes and chord progressions. The music is chock full of angularity to keep you trying to regain your balance, and has plenty of melodic lines to smooth the rough grungy edges. I like this one.

 


SWANS – To Be Kind (Young God Records, www.younggodrecords.com)

The Swans are back with another epic-length album full of musical mayhem. This third release since they resumed playing is yet another double CD chock-full of material with which to challenge listeners. And the progression away from pure noise continues, as this album makes more use of minimalism and repetition than noise, confronting the listener is new ways. The music itself is much smoother than both releases of recent years, yet still features unique and interesting sonic explorations.

The album’s first disc opens with “Screen Shot,” a track that uses a minimalist sort of style, with repetitive lines pulsing along, starting with bass, then adding guitar, and finally with jangly yet desolate sounding piano. Michael Gira’s vocals are breathy, yet insistent. There’s a very slow building in intensity, until about the 6:20 mark or so, when things explode a little bit, and the last minute and a half are quite an intense version of what preceded. “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)” is next, and starts out really slowly, in a sort of dirge-like manner, with a blues-progression sort of feel. Around five minutes into the track, it starts getting a little weird and twisted, like a musical version of a Salvador Dali painting. There are all sorts of odd interjections, laughs, twisted vocals, and sudden bursts of guitar. “A Little God In My Hands” is the track that was “leaked” prior to the full-album release, and it’s the Swans version of a funk song. It’s got a definite groove going on, but with all of the noise and excruciatingly wonderful dissonance that one expects in a Swans track. “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture” is the longest and most challenging track, at over 34 minutes in length. It’s a very slow jam that just sort of lolls about, riding on top of a wave, slowly rising and falling. And then there’s “Some Things We Do,” which is a cool, eerie track that starts with brooding guitar atop the ticking of strings. The vocals describe all the different things we do, good and bad. “We see / We feel / We need / We fight / We steal / We cut / We seek / We love” and so on.

Disc 2 opens with “She Loves Us,” a seventeen-minute exercise in the trance ethic, with repetition and throbbing and pulsing beats, droning vocals, and a Middle-Eastern feel. After about a third of this, the track changes, still with a throbbing, pulsing beat, but now with more of a Talking Heads feel and guitar jangle, and emphatically shouted vocals. The track continues to evolve, getting grittier as it goes, and finally devolving into chaos in the last couple of minutes. “Kirsten Supine” is downright quiet in comparison to just about anything the Swans have put out. It’s 1 ten-minute track that begins with quiet, understated guitar glimmering, and Gira’s deep bass vocals. Some quiet backing vocals and glockenspiel make appearances to punctuate the phrases. At about the halfway mark, the vocals drop out and the quiet instrumentals slowly start to get more menacing. “Oxygen” is a really cool track, with a punk-funk feel, a la NOMEANSNO, but with that same throbbing repetition in the guitar, bass and drum lines, this time, loud and grating. “Nathalie Neal” begins with s an eerie feel, with odd, shimmering vocals and instrumentals. As the tension builds, with the addition of piano to the mix, a lo-fi female voice begins speaking, with a far-away feel, both in space and time. As is usual with the Swans, just before the halfway point, the track changes tone considerably, getting louder and more chaotic, with menacing guitars and vocals. Eventually the chaos resolves to a melody, loud and grating as it is, until the last minute, when all the noise stops, and we get a very quiet, reflective finish. The closer is the title track, which, true to form, changes and evolves. It starts quiet, and at the halfway mark, gets loud and chaotic, and the album ends in a glorious Swans cacophony.

So what’s the verdict? It’s another winner, of course. I still prefer the organized chaos and noise of 2010’s “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky,” but this is still a great album, out of the ordinary, and likely to end up on my 10-best list at the end of the year.

7 SECONDS – Leave A Light On (Rise Records, www.riserecords.com)

I haven’t listened to 7 Seconds in a very long time. I remember buying their early records, and loving the energy and power they brought to their songs, and the important, yet simple messages in their lyrics. Then, in the mid eighties, like many other bands, they “evolved” their sound. While some of the early hardcore bands moved into metal crossover, 7 Seconds got softer. Some of their earlier efforts in this direction were OK, but over time, they just got flabby. So I stopped listening. It was, therefore, with much anticipation and trepidation that I listened to this new album. And imagine my delight that these aging punks are raging just like the old days! The tracks are fast and furious. They’re melodic, but still have an edge. The songs are much more “modern” in feel, in that they have more in common with pop-punk being produced today than the hardcore of yesterday. Maybe it’s more of a maturity in the writing. The tracks average around two minutes each, so they fly by quickly, but there are a few exceptions: longer, slower tracks like “Slogan on a Shirt,” which is a mid-tempo track that still has great sing-along parts. The title track is actually the most out of place on the album, sounding more like Kevin Seconds’ recent solo work, all indie rock and all, without a hint of the hardcore punk sounds of most of the rest of the album. There are a few songs like this, but overall, this is a welcome return to classic form.

DANGER INC.
(www.facebook.com/DangerIncMusic)

Here comes a debut CD from this trio from California’s inland empire. It’s fully DIY, but the packaging is pretty damn nice. Hand screened cardboard sleeve with an insert inside containing band photos, song listing, thank-you notes, Internet links, etc. And the CD has a printed label on it! OK, who cares about packaging? How’s the music? Well, to be honest, it’s pretty damn good. It’s an edgy blend of garage rock’n’roll and old school punk rock. There’s not a hint of pop here, it’s all raw, naked, aggressive rock. Jessica O’Toole’s vocals are tough as nails, and her guitar has just the right rough, distorted sound. “Camisa De Barkley” is the third track on the disc, and a pretty damn funny one. It’s got a really stripped down White Stripes sort of sound, and bassist Danny Barkley relating a (hopefully fictional) misadventure south of the border. “3-2-1 Explode!” is another great one, with a super hard garage punk sound. I really like this a lot, and recommend it.

FELLAHEEN – You Either Get Hands or Get Wings (Egads Music, www.fellaheen.com)

My immediate reaction, upon listening to this, is that it’s like a blending of Tom Waits and Man Man. The vocals are raspy, gruff and understated, while the instrumentals are quirky and different. “Your Folly and Mine” opens the album, with a loping feel, banjo plucking, accordion, and an old-timey feel. “Pomegranate Heart” is a pretty nice track, too, with a laid back “jump” feel, but I could have done without the EZ listening soprano sax at the end. The title track is pretty awesome, a waltz with string ensemble backing the breathy gruff vocals. I’m in love with “Air Guitar, With Broken Strings,” a track that features harmonium or some similar sort of instrument. It’s a very quiet, sad sounding track that slowly builds in thickness of the arrangement. A few tracks aren’t my favorites, with more of a plain old country feel. “Kiss You Goodnight” and “Gradually Then Suddenly” have full on slide guitar and everything. But otherwise, this is a pretty original sounding album of acoustic-based songs that is sure to please.

FLUTRONIX – 2.0 ( Flutronix Records, www.flutronix.com)

Flutronix is the project of duo Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, and “2.0” is, fittingly, their sophomore release. The music is a blend of R&B, hip-hop, and classical. The disc contains sparsely arranged tracks featuring the beautiful title flutes, drum and bass plus synth, and soulful vocals. While most of the tracks are originals, there’s an interesting cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” which is one of the better tracks on the album, leaving out the R&B/hip-hop parts, as the song requires. And right after is “Flock,” which is an instrumental that’s much better than anything else on the album, with its freer feel and fluttering flutes. “Battle” and “Lifelines” are more instrumentals with dueling flutes that work quite well. Overall, though, the smooth R&B sounds that dominate the album just aren’t my thing.

THE FORTY NINETEENS – Spin It (Heyday Records, www.heydey.com)

I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: Bands, put your best track first, not your worst. The opener on this album sounds like crap top 40 radio pop music of the late 80s, with its cheap synth in the arrangement. Ugh – I almost stopped listening right there. And that’s the danger in doing that – lots of music critics will listen to the first track and decide whether its worth their time to listen to the rest or not. Luckily, I rarely will do that, and almost always listen to an album at least once through before making my pronouncements. Once past this initial dud, you get a series of pretty darn good power-pop tracks, with a garage-rock edge. It’s good ol’ rock and roll stuff, for the most part, until toward the end of the album. “Have a Good Time” is probably my favorite track, with plenty of vibrato in the guitars, a slower pace, and a retro psychedelic feel. The last three tracks, though, go off the rails and into a Rolling Stones faux blues and soul style. The final track is even a Stones cover of “Dead Flowers.” Give me the meaty middle of this one, and I’ll be happy, but trim off that fat around the edges, please.

GUNNER’S DAUGHTER – The Flowers and the Earth (www.dangrecordsmusic.com)

This new album from this Chicago band is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Most of the songs are pretty much alternative rock, while only a couple have more of a pop-punk edge, and a few others have kind of a melodic hardcore sound. This isn’t quite doing it for me, and I think part of the problem is the vocals. They’re just a little bit off on some of the tracks. A little out of tune, sometimes. A little too emo-screamo-hardcore other times. “Prison Wolf” is probably my favorite track on the album, with the most pop-punk feel to it. It’s a mid-tempo track that lopes along with a nice melodic feel and line, with a good sing-along chorus. “To the Lost” is one that goes back and forth – sometimes it has a cool, heavy guitar Chicago sound, and other times it gets kind of wanky with guitar solos and alternative rock sounds. And the vocals are mostly OK, but toward the end change from melodic to shouting, but with a lack of energy. This album has a couple of high points, but it’s a roller coaster of a listen, with too many low points.

THE JELLYBRICKS – Youngstown Tune-Up (Pop Detective Records, www.popdetective.com)

This is power-pop, pure and simple. It’s a little on the slick sounding side, very professional, with tons of harmonized vocals. Most of the tracks are harder edged, but “About The Weekend” is a really nice, jangly one, with a 60s British Invasion via Elvis Costello sort of sound, and probably the strongest track on the album. “In There Somewhere” is also a pretty decent track, with a bouncy Nick Lowe sort of feel. Conversely, “Still Time” is the weakest, I think, with more of a 70s soft rock feel. The rest of the album falls in-between, as just run-of-the-mill bar band sort of fare.

OKLAHOMA CAR CRASH – I Know Better (Say-10 Records & Skateboards, www.say-10.com)

This is a pretty different release for the folks at Say-10, as it’s a lot lighter and poppier than their usual releases. Of the six songs on this EP, only two could remotely be called “punk.” The rest are pretty decent indie-pop. “Bad For Anyone” is the opener, and it could be the only track that could be described as “weak.” It just seems to drag a little bit, to my ears, lacking a certain energy that would have made it better. It’s also four and half minutes long, significantly longer than any of the other tracks on the EP. “Blue Eyes, Blue Water” has some interesting vocal counterpoint to it and some great poppy hooks, with a punk edge and energy. “White Wine” is a jangly song about the differences between us now and us back “when I used to not give a shit and pretend that I was fine,” yet who we really are is never who we project to the world. “I’m Happier Today” is one of my favorites, with plenty of bounce and great harmonized vocals. “Mountainside” is an acoustic number, with very quiet, calm guitar and clear, emotive vocals. “Father” closes things out with another highly energetic song, the other punk-edged pop track, and another of my favorites of the EP. With the slight exception of the opener, this is a pretty fine EP.

EDWARD ROGERS – Kaye (Zip Records, www.ziprecords.com)

This is Rogers’ fifth “solo” album, and solo is in quotations because it’s only listed as such because it’s under his name. Unlike most actual solo albums, Rogers has recruited a bunch of musicians to record with him, including Sal Maida of Roxy Music, Dennis Diken of the Smithereens, Joe McGinty of the Psychedelic Furs, and several others. The songs all sound distinctly English, which makes sense, since Rogers is from the UK. But beyond that, there’s somewhat of a subtle variety to the tracks on this album. “My Street” opens the disc with a southern rock feel. “No Color for Loneliness” has a 70s movie soundtrack feel to it. And “After the Show” sounds very much like a 70s bubblegum pop song, complete with sappy violins. Wait, that’s the common thread! This is 70s retro. The title track is a quiet waltz, “What Happened to the News Today” is a light power-pop track, and so on. If you like eclectic 70s mixes, you might want to give this a try, but if you’re not into that (like me), then you should give this one a pass.

STREET EATERS – Blood:Muscles:Bones (Nervous Intent Records, www.streeteaters.com)

This is maximum minimalism, in the form of a bass and drum duo. Unlike another duo of similar make-up, Big Dick, Street Eaters go for a more melodic vein, including harmonized vocals. Megan March’s vocals are kind of expansive, and remind me a bit of Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster. The bass is big, heavy and fuzzed up, and the drums pound with fury, while the vocals are just a bit softer, in contrast, floating and bobbing above the sea of melodic noise. In terms of esthetic, this reminds me more of guitar and drum duo, Shellshag, than other bass/drum duos, because of the emphasis on trying to remain in a pop-punk vein, rather than giving in totally to the managed noise sound. “Empty Rooms” has a cool modal sound that reminds me a lot of late era Sonic Youth, with it’s hints of dissonance while remaining fully in the melodic camp. As the album progresses, the songs get tougher, and harder edged, with vocals getting louder and angrier sounding. But the sense of pop melody is never lost. This is really good stuff.

SURVAY SAYS! – Observations of the Human Condition (Asbestos Records, www.asbestosrecords.com)

Some people don’t think that punk and ska can blend together in a single band. I disagree. When done well, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And Survay Says! do it really well. The music is bouncy and melodic, and the transitions between purely guitar-based pop-punk and horn-infused ska are smooth and seamless. If I had to make a comparison, I would say that if you took Banner Pilot, injected some extra energy and variety, and added trumpet/trombone/sax, you would get something along the lines of Survay Says! The songs have an anthemic quality to them, with plenty of places for fist pumping and singing along, and the band is technically top-notch. Very recommended!

WESTERN SETTINGS – La Escalera Records, www.laescalerarecords.com)

Western Settings exploded onto the San Diego punk scene in late 2013, and quickly made a place for themselves as purveyors of powerful, melodic music. And now, only a few months into the new year, they’ve already recorded and released a 5-song EP. “Iocane Powder” is the opener, and it has a loping feel, with a slightly slower tempo than the rest of the tracks. The title, of course, refers to the substance Vizzini tries to use, in “The Princess Bride,” to poison the hero, the Dread Pirate Roberts. The song has an ever so slightly “punk Americana” feel to it in some places. Not countrified, but just in the way it lopes. It’s a good track, but not my favorite of the album. I think the tracks progressively get better and better, as the disc spins. The energy level and power go up, and by the time we get to “Back to the Forest,” the fourth track on the EP, it starts to sound downright Chicago-like, with the tough vocals and wall of guitar sounds. It makes me think of a more mature, melodic Bhopal Stiffs. The final track, “Mostly Dead All Day,” gets a little bouncier and a little poppier, in contrast to the song’s title. This is a pretty fine debut from a band full of the nicest people you’ll come across. I look forward to the full-length album they plan for later in the year.



ALLVARET - Tänk På Döden (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Originally released in Germany a couple years ago, this Swedish punk band’s album is finally getting a release in the US, courtesy of the nice folks at Dirt Cult Records. And make no mistake; this is a punk rock record. The female vocals are steeped in angsty anger, or so it sounds, since the lyrics are in Swedish. The music is melodic, not thrashy, but it’s not pop-punk. Some tracks work better than others, like the opening title track. It clocks in at under two minutes, and pretty much rages. You can feel the spit and vinegar flying out of the speakers at you. “Populär” is another good one, with a driving beat, furious guitars, and melodically screaming vocals. A few of the tracks, though, seem to drag a little, and verge a little too close to “rock’n’roll” for my taste. Actually, many of the tracks would benefit from being played a little bit faster. This one is about 50/50 for me.

BAD COP/BAD COP – Boss Lady (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

If you saw my write-up of Awesomefest 7 last fall, you know that this was one of my top bands of the weekend. They’re a band that is “local” in the SoCal area, but I had never managed to catch one of their shows. So I was really happy to find an amazing pop-punk band that’s been in my extended backyard this whole time. Apparently I wasn’t the only person who fell in love with Stacey, Jennie, Myra, and Rinh, because Fat Wreck Chords recently signed them, and this 7” EP is the first fruits of that relationship. And what fruits they are. Multi-part harmonies are featured in the four fast and furious songs. The music is tight, bouncy, fun, and some of the songs have a bit of a dark edge to them. The lyrics are those of empowerment, in a way – not taking shit and claiming one’s rightful place. Which is fitting. I wanted to avoid mention this, because I honestly don’t see bands with females as any different than those with males, but, yes, this is an all female band. And they wipe the floor with a whole lot of other bands out there. It’s only an EP, but I hope it’s the harbinger of many more good things to come for this band, because they deserve it. This will likely show up on my year end list of best releases.

BANNER PILOT – Souvenir (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

This Minnesota band’s latest release is, in many ways, classic Banner Pilot. It’s mid-tempo, emotionally charged pop-punk with gliding, smooth instrumentals and gruff, rough vocals. It’s got a somewhat 90s melodic pop-emo-punk sound, and it’s a sound that I used to listen to constantly, back in the day. There’s wall of guitar noise and an epic feel to the songs. In a way, I’m really surprised that Banner Pilot hasn’t achieved bigger success, because they have that sort of sound that translates really well to commercial alternative radio. If I have one issue with this album, and, indeed with the band in general, it’s the sameness of the songs. They all pretty much have the same sound, the same feel. They’re good songs, but after awhile it starts to numb me. I’ve seen Banner Pilot live on a few occasions, and I know they put on a great, energetic show. It’s just too bad that this doesn’t translate as well into studio recordings.

HAUNTED HEARTS – Imitations (Zoo Music, www.facebook.com/pages/Zoo-Music/173598719341677)

Chill, dreamy, noisy yet smooth. These are a few of the words that come to mind listening to the new album from Haunted Hearts, a side project of Dee Dee Penny, of the Dum Dum Girls. The music has a late 80s/early 90s post-new wave post-punk sound. Think Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized, but noisier, with a throbbing rhythm and buzzy, droning guitars, dark, spacey electronics and dreamy vocals. “Something That Feels Bad Is Something That Feels Good” is probably my favorite track of the album. It’s the bounciest track, and has a sparkly, swirly feel going on in the background. The bass hitting the backbeat gives it that bounce, and the swirly sparkle gives it an uplifting quality. Good stuff.

ODONIS ODONIS – Hard Boiled Soft Boiled (Buzz Records, www.buzzrecords.ca)

Hard Boiled refers to the A-side of the vinyl release, while Soft Boiled refers to the B-side. The first four tracks of the album feature hard-edged industrial rock music, a la such 90s bands as Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and the like. It’s noisy as hell, it pounds, has menacing, growling guitars and snarling bass, and has a definite retro sound. There’s a lo-fi quality to these first four cuts, with plenty of reverb – too much, maybe, as the sound gets somewhat muddy, and the lyrics hard to understand. And then the sound opens up – a bit. The music gets slightly less edgy and hard, softening up to be more like a lo-fi, fuzzy New Order. It’s still pretty lo-fi and loaded with reverb and fuzz, but it’s not as pounding, and has a bit more of a melodic feel. The next six tracks are like this. Then, when we get to the penultimate track, “Transmission From The Moon,” things get all spacey and chill and flowing, but still with a lo-fi noise to it. The last track also flows, but has more of a beat and adds lyrics back in. Overall, it’s an interesting release, but not one I think I would seek out on my own. I think the production technique of reverb and lo-fi bothers me too much.

UNWELCOME GUESTS – Wavering (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

More new stuff from the nice folks at Dirt Cult. I generally trust Chris Mason’s level of taste, and, for the most part, this album is no exception. This band out of Buffalo, NY, though, has a bit of a split personality. It sounds like different people are doing the writing on different songs, because there are distinct differences. The first few tracks are melodic, poppy punk music that bounces and pleases. These first three tracks are quite up-tempo, energetic, and have a great, full guitar sound. The fourth track, “Kick The Beams,” slows things down quite a bit, with a thinner sound, but still packed with melody. Then things slow down even more, with “Flood,” a track that sort of lolls around, with glimmery sounding guitars, rather than the full wall of guitar. There’s a hint of Americana in the song, and it might be my least favorite track on an otherwise good release. “Tattered Old Flag” follows, and keeps the Americana hints, but picks the tempo back up, and reminds me a bit of bands like Dan Padilla. The Americana sound continues on “Peel,” and then “Caution will be the Death of Me” provides more of a classic power-pop sound, full of melodic hooks. “Can’t Get Past” continues the power-pop vein of things and closes out the album. So, in a way, you get three EPs in one album here. A pop-punk EP, an edgy Americana-punk EP, and a power-pop EP. Nice.

WALK THE PLANK / DAYCARE SWINDLERS – Split 7” (Say-10 Records & Skateboards, www.say-10.com)

Two bands from the DC area are featured on this split. Walk the Plank has an interesting blend of heavy, gruff, hardcore vocals with more melodic instrumentals. Daycare Swindlers offer up lighter, more fun, poppier skate-punk. “Fear No Man” opens the Walk The Plank side, and is a pretty typical, well done melodic hardcore track, leaning heavily to the melodic, but with raspy, shouted vocals, and is the stronger of their two tracks. One the flipside, Daycare Swindlers’ “Telephone” is bouncy and fun enough, but “Burner,” a more serious sounding track, is by far my favorite of the record, and may be one of my more favorite songs of the year, so far. It’s got a great old-school hardcore punk sound, like you might have gotten from bands in the early 80s, but with more technical precision and interesting melodic lines, as if it was blended with early 90s post-punk sounds.

WHITE HINTERLAND – Baby (Dead Oceans, www.deadoceans.com)

This is Casey Dienel’s third album released as White Hinterland, and I was unfamiliar with her work prior to receiving this album for review. What I find here is pretty, sparse yet lush arrangements featuring piano, electronics, percussion, and Dienel’s crystal clear vocals, often multi-tracked to form multi-part harmonies. The music is alternately ethereal and poppy, and sometimes both within the same song. I hear some similarities to tUnE yArDs in the use of the technique of using repetitive sampling to provide a backdrop to the songs, yet White Hinterland’s tracks are much smoother and less outgoing than Merrill Garbus’ creations. Sometimes the result is divine, such as the opener, “Wait Until Dark,” which features piano and vocals only, and sometimes sounds almost spiritual. I also really enjoy the expansive feel of “Ring the Bell,” which sounds like it was performed in a giant canyon or something, so open and large is the sound. “White Noise” has an almost Caribbean feel to it, a lo-fi quality, and saxophones in the mix, so it’s the most Garbus-like track, yet still has its own identity. Less successful, to my ears, are tracks like Metronome, which is pretty much a very commercial R&B type track. The title track, Baby,” starts out cool enough, with more spiritual choir arrangement, but then launches into another pretty commercial sounding track. Overall, there’s enough good stuff to outweigh the couple of tracks I wasn’t too keen on.



BEAR HANDS – Distraction (Cantora, www.cantora.com)

The sophomore full-length album from this Brooklyn quartet has a well-polished sound, full of hooks and slightly new wave pop stylings. Some of the songs work a lot better than others. Some come across as just too…forced. For example, “Giants,” the second track on the album sounds like a white-boy new wave rap, like they’re trying too hard to sound hip and relevant. The vocals come across really stilted and affected, in a way that doesn’t sound sincere. “Bone Digger” is another one with really odd vocals that sound way too forced and insincere. The music on these tracks and others is decent enough, but I’m having a hard time getting past the vocals. “Peacekeeper” is probably the most successful track, with rapid-fire, pounding percussion via synth, cool melodic lines, and a more aggressive sound, minus the odd vocal affectations. But I have to decline to give this my recommendation, overall.

THE BROOKLYN WHAT – Minor Problems (www.thebrooklynwhat.com)

Our fearless editor is always promoting Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen and the bands that record there. So when this was sent to me, I was anxious to give it a listen. It’s lo-fi, garagy, gritty, and energetic as hell. This four-song EP starts out with “Sledgehammer Night,” a track that begins with a manic instrumental, with rapidly changing meter and a thin yet crunchy guitar sound. Just past the halfway mark the vocals enter, and they’re just as manic as the guitars and drums, with even a hint of old Jello Biafra/Dead Kennedys sound. “Blowin’ Up” is at once both retro and modern, with an old-school punk sound of twenty-five years ago, but at the same time with a fresh feel. “Metropolitan Avenue” is probably my least favorite of the tracks, as it seems to have more of a bluesy and Americana feel than the others, so it doesn’t fit in as well. It’s also more low key than the other tracks. The EP closes out with “Too Much Worry,” an extended cut that full-on rages. It’s sometimes a little sloppy, but always pumping out the energy and intensity. That’s a rare accomplishment for a studio recording. I like this one, and look forward to hearing more!

DIVIDED HEAVEN – Youngblood (Say-10 Records & Skateboards, www.say-10.com)

A few months back I reviewed a live EP of solo acoustic music, featuring Jeff Berman, under the name Divided Heaven. Bob Dylan also started out doing solo acoustic recordings, but eventually went electric, with a backing band and all. So Berman is in good company, as this album is his transition from solo acoustic to full band, in this case a trio of guitar, bass and drums. Still evident is Berman’s honest, plaintive vocals, but now there’s a fuller sound. What sometimes came across as melodic sketches in the solo material now comes across as fully realized songs. This is clear in the example of “Melissa Militia,” which appears on both releases. There’s a good balance between acoustic and electric (even the acoustic guitar tracks have some backing instrumentals), providing an easy transition for both Berman and his listeners. I like the direction this is going.

LITTLE BARRIE – Shadow (www.facebook.com/littlebarrieband)

This UK trio’s latest album features fairly spare, minimalist arrangements with a sound that’s a cross between funk and psych. The third track adds in sort of a 60s British invasion flavor to the mix, and is my favorite on the album. But a lot of this is just too slow and plodding for my tastes. Some of these songs just cry out for a quicker pace, like “Everything You Want.” I can just hear it at a quicker tempo, and it would be so good. It’s kind of like in the movie, “That Thing You Do,” where the band has a song that they play slowly, but when they kick it up a notch it becomes a hit. Do it, Little Barrie! Don’t be that slow stoner psych band; pump some energy into your music!

THE NEW CLASSIC
(www.newclassicband.com)

This is the debut album from a young band out of Tucson, Arizona. I had the opportunity to see them live at a show in LA recently, and was impressed. They had a sound that was energetic, melodic, and had a gliding sort of quality. It had an indie-rock sensibility, but still with an edge to it. It’s a sound that will serve them well in pursuit of bigger things. This album, though, is a bit too produced for my tastes. It’s got a big, epic, sweeping sound, with lots of overdubbed backing and harmonized vocals and reverb in the vocals to give a bigger sound. It’s disappointing to me, because of the promise showed in the live performance. If their goal is to get played on commercial radio and play arenas, then I guess they’re onto something. But I would rethink the producer. The songs, though, are actually pretty good. “Keep That In Mind” opens the album, and I distinctly recall it form the live gig as being one of the standout songs they played. Matthew Graham’s lead vocals have a blend of a crooning and emotive styles, and I love the soaring quality of the chorus. But I really prefer the rawer sound of their live set over this overblown studio sound.

PELOTAN – Lucky Old Sun (Waterslide Records, www.watersliderecords.com)

This is one of the bands I was lucky enough to see on my trip to Japan with The Maxies. They played on the last show of the tour, and I was simply stunned by how good they are. This four piece (guitar, bass, drums and keyboards) play surf-pop-punk, sort of like if the Beach Boys had been a pop-punk band. The album features up-tempo, super poppy melodic punk with gorgeous multi-part harmonies. “Hide and Seek” is a gem, fast and loud in a Ramones sort of way, with great pop-punk hooks.I really like “Trite Riot,” too, with its rapid-fire hooks in multi-part harmony. “Sunny Noon” is the only track that seems out of place. It’s not pop-punk; it’s a Brazilian samba number, with acoustic guitar, bass, very simple drums, and sound effects of waves lapping up on the beach in the background. The rest of the disc is just amazing, though. I highly recommend this. Normally, being a Japanese release, it might be hard to get hold of, but apparently the nice folks at Eccentric Pop Records are distro’ing it here in the USA. Get at them at www.eccentricpoprecords.com. You can thank me later.

THE PLURALS / BLACK SPARROW PRESS – Split 7-inch (gtgrecords.net)

A two-way split 7” release, put out by three record labels. Besides GTG Records, Something Dancey and Minor Bird Records also contributed here. Each side features two songs from one of the bands. Side “P” contains the power-pop tinged pop-punk of the Plurals, with “How About The Weather” and “Clouds.” The first starts with dreamy guitar and Hattie’s sweet vocals, but quickly gets faster and louder and a bit grittier. The second has Tommy doing vocal duties, and has got a great old school post-hardcore sound, with loads of bounciness. Black Sparrow Press slow things down a bit on the “B” side, with “Adult Braces” and “Lady I Love You,” giving more of a pop-punk Americana sound, in the vein of Arliss Nancy. The one issue I have with this split is the lo-fi of the recordings. Some bands use that for effect pretty well, but some bands have lo-fi recordings just because they used the wrong engineer or the wrong place for the lacquer master. This would have sounded better with a cleaner sound. But the music itself is great.

SLOW DAKOTA – Bürstner and the Baby (slowdakota.bandcamp.com/album/b-rstner-and-the-baby)

This is a “concept” album, with the tracks alternating between “Bürstner Speaks” and “The Baby Speaks.” The story starts with parents telling their daughter, Bürstner, that she’s going to have a baby. She chooses not to believe this, and goes about living her life and having a good time, until she finally comes to the realization that the baby is real. She cleans up her act, has the baby, and all is well. The end. I guess it’s a moral tale or something. Slow Dakota describes themselves in tags on their bandcamp site as “alternative Christian.” The music is piano-based, with various vocals and other instruments added in along the way, such as acoustic guitar, trumpet and trombone, mandolin, and even a baby rattle. The songs end up sounding fairly consistent – that is, too much alike. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t get it. But it seems like a simplistic, hit-you-over-the-head message, delivered in an odd way.


ALCEST – Shelter (Prophecy
Productions, www.prophecy.de)

I guess this French band used to do some sort of ethereal electric metal or something. I don’t know, because I am unfamiliar with their previous output, and it is irrelevant to this review, as an album must stand or fall on its own merits. But, in case you were expecting some ethereal electric metal, you’ll be very disappointed. Instead, what you get is ethereal shoegaze music, very smooth, very chill. As such, there’s very little variation in the tracks, within or between. Even keeled bass thrumming underneath, fuzzed guitar droning alongside electronics, and lead vocals that are pretty much chanted over backing vocals that melt into the background. I do like shoegaze, but I like my shoegaze to have an edge to it. This album is just too smooth and, well, inoffensive. It’s too clean and soulless.

BRAIDEDVEINS – Future/Forever (SaveYour Generation Records, saveyourgenerationrecords. bandcamp.com)

Featuring members of The Swellers, this isn’t what you would expect from a poppier band. What you get here is pounding, intense post hardcore music with a math edge. It reminds me of some of the music that was coming out in the 90s. It’s fast, loud, angular, and intense, with distorted vocals. It’s a short seven song EP, but it never lets up. Think of a heavier Circus Lupus. Very cool.

JANE ELLEN BRYANT – Hourglass
(www.janeellenbryant.com)

Cross southern rock and 70s “solo singer” folk-pop music and you’ll get an idea of what this sounds like. Folksy and country and pop-rock all rolled into one. Bryant’s vocals are plenty soulful, but the sound is sort of like what you might get from the house band at some sports bar that has live music on Thursday nights.

 

BENJAMIN CARTEL – Money and Love EP (www.benjamincartel.com)

Half of the duo The Kaiser Cartel, Benjamin Cartel is releasing some solo work. Some is older material, written before the duo’s formation, some more recent. All of it is rather forgettable pop music. The EP is populated by tracks that feel like they want to jangle, but they feel heavy and weighed down. They drag, as if they have a ball and chain attached. The title track is a perfect example of this. From the slightly too slow tempo, to the cheesy electric keyboards this just feels too heavy. Get rid of the keyboards, pick up the tempo a bit, and make this more about guitar and this could be a cool song. Some tracks are beyond saving, such as “Suspicion,” which tries to sound like a bluesy number, but ends up sounding like a really white guy trying to play jazzy blues, but just not getting it. The least offensive track is the closer, “Happy For You,” a simple song with vocals and acoustic guitar. The drawback here, though, is that the vocals are sometimes slightly off key. Not a promising start to a solo career.


CITY LIGHTS –
The Way Things Should Be
( www.invoguerecords.com)

Billed as a pop-punk band, City Lights is really a radio-ready pseudo-pop-punk band with a hard edge. Super poppy songs with pounding guitars and drums more worthy of a melodic hardcore band are over-produced to an extreme level. This is the sort of stuff you can hear on your local “alternative” music radio station (do they even still call it that? After so many years, people have to know there’s nothing alternative about it). This stuff makes Blink 182 sound downright underground. The lyrics for the song “Mistakes” are ironically funny, with a line that says “I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone but myself.” Really? I found this difficult to digest. I almost always listen to a review album all the way through, multiple times. This one was hard to get through once.



EX FRIENDS – Rules For Making Up Words (www.paperandplastick.com)

Fronted by Plow United bassist Joel Tannenbaum, Ex Friends have released their new full-length LP digitally, and the vinyl will be out in the near future. I’m not sure why Paper + Plastick has done this, as it’s kind of lame to make people wait for the vinyl. But the music on this album is anything but lame. The tracks are catchy pop-punk featuring the dichotomy of Tannenbaum’s gruff vocals and the smooth sassiness of those of bassist Audrey Crash. This music packs a hell of a punch! The album starts out the right way, with one of the best tracks of the album, “Dirty Ben Franklin.” It’s got a great melodic line, and some really inventive guitar work. “Kenzos” keeps things going with Tannenbaum and Crash trading vocal duties back and forth, some strong bass lines, and great melodies mirrored in the guitar and vocals. “Fight Like a Girl” is another favorite, for some of the same reasons. The counterpoint between male and female vocals provides a stark contrast, and the guitars move between standard wall of sound and more pointed phrasing. The closer, “Let’s Get Old,” is a rocking track with a modern,yet retro, feel and a great message: “We’re staring down the barrel of the rest of our lives / And there’s only one thing to do / Let’s get old.” Here’s to hoping these Ex Friends will be our friends for some time to come.

THE HAND IN THE OCEAN – Tree/Forts (Save Your Generation Records, saveyourgenerationrecords.bandcamp.com)

Gorgeous acoustic music. Thank-you, fearless editor, for continuing to send me a diversity of genres for review, regardless of my recent immersion into the world of pop-punk. Diversity makes the world go round, in more ways than one. And The Hand In The Ocean’s simple, spare music certainly helps move it along. Banjo, guitar, and vocals are the key elements to this album, along with sparingly used percussion. A couple of the songs feature electric keyboards, and some use other elements, but it’s so subtle, and blends in so well, it may as well be acoustic. This is moody stuff. Listening to this, you can sense the chill in the air, hear the raindrops falling on the rooftop, and smell the smoke from the fireplace.It’s friends gathering on a cold autumn day, entertaining themselves with homemade music. The album starts out with “Moss Wine,” a sort of free-form poetry, sounding like someone just talking to himself, thinking things over. And then the guitar comes in, sounding gently reassuring. It flows easily into “White Noise,” a loping song that brings in banjo and intimate vocals. The album seems to meander, yet it’s always moving forward. I really like this.

THE INSTIGATION – No Way Out EP (www.facebook.com/theinstigation666)

WHOA! Here comes a band from Shanghai, China, of all places, that sounds like a crazy thrashy 1980s hardcore punk band! Lo-fi recording, super fast tempos, and raw primitive punk rock a la Teengenerate are the hallmarks of this 4-song EP. The vocals are super snotty, provided by UK native Simon Cochrane. Drummer Tyler Bowa is a Canadian ex-pat living in China, while Guitarist Tommy Fever and Bassist Toshi are from Japan. Truly an international affair, the band rips through four high-energy tracks, including three originals and a Reagan Youth cover, Degenerated. If this doesn’t get your blood pumping, nothing will!

J PROZAC – Here Is My Heart (Jolly Ronnie Records, www.jollyronnierecords.com)

Jay Gauvin, of the Prozacs, of course, is charting a solo course, and here is the evidence. The result is a mix of pop punk sounds with a dash of classic retro 60s doo-wop. Some of the tracks go partially acoustic, like “Don’t Go,” which even includes organ. Through all of it, though, Gauvin’s vocals retain just the right amount of snottiness balanced with heart-felt emotion. The music has an easy, loose jangle, kind of loping along rather than racing. Actually, it’s a pretty danceable beat, too. A personal favorite is a tender song of lost love and heartbreak. It’s “A Boy and His Bike,” a song about a bike that would “slam me to the ground” and causes “aches and pains that won’t go away.” Very simple lyrics that could also reference lost love of another person – short and simple lyrics with much meaning. Another favorite is the simple but super jangly “Call In Sick,” a song about wanting to do nothing more than just “spend all day hanging out with you.” Isn’t it a basic truth that the simple songs are often the best? Just like the simple things in life can often bring the most lasting pleasure.

ROBOT THE RIVER – Birdsong Sayonara (www.robottheriver.com)

Robot the River is Cory Gehrich, an MFA student in Oakland, California. This is his first EP, self-released. The opener is, by far, the best track on the disc. “Antidepressants and Vitamins” starts out as a quiet acoustic folk track, with banjo, guitar and vocals. A couple of minutes into the track, we start to hear bits of electric guitar at odd moments, and then they come in full force and the track changes completely to a more raucous indie rock track. Electric guitar feedback periodically still punctuates the song, creating a sense of tension. “Searching for the Elephants” has the sound of a novelty country tune and doesn’t have the strength if the first track. “Sometimes” is a waltz with a really laid-back feel. Guitar, bass and super relaxed vocals mix in 3/4 time, and over time an undercurrent of angular electric guitar noise can be heard. Other tracks tend to have the same interesting mix of relaxed acoustic music and dissonant electric guitars. “Oh Lord” kind of stretches things a bit, using weird synthesizer effects over places of an otherwise nice folk-pop song (featuring harmonica, acoustic guitar and falsetto vocals), to the point of annoyance. Overall, though, an interesting listen.

KEVIN SECONDS – Off Stockton (Rise Records, www.riserecords.com)

Do you remember 7 Seconds? Remember all the great, positive punk rock of the 80s? Even the toned-down indie-rock version of the band, remember that? Well, toss all that out the window of your expectations, because this is nothing like any of that. The headline here is “Kevin Seconds Goes Country,” or maybe “Americana,” as country music is called in the indie-underground. Acoustic guitars, along with electric, plus electric keyboards and lots of twangy vocals add up to something that could come out of the seamy underbelly of Nashville. The songs are heartfelt, and sung with plenty of feeling. But I can’t help but think that the end result would have been much better with a more stripped down sound. Even with as little instrumentation as there is, it still comes across as over-produced. The best moments on the album are those that limit things to acoustic guitar, Seconds’ vocals, and even a bit of harmonizing here and there. The electric guitar and organ are just too much. In this sort of music, less is more, Kevin. “O Let Me Try” is a beautiful track, with acoustic guitar, harmonized vocals, and a bit of cello. The closer, “Strip Your Soul,” is another one that simplifies things, stripping the soul of the song, if you will. Acoustic guitar and harmonized vocals is all it is, and it works so much better than the songs that add too much.


SOUTH BAY BESSIE – Too Late
(saveyourgenerationrecords. bandcamp.com)

This Michigan pop-punk band was active about 10 years ago, and broke up in 2006. But now they’re back with a new(ish) 4-song 7”. The songs were apparently recorded back in the day, but word is that they’re going to be playing together again. So, should you be excited? I think so. The songs here are up-tempo, bouncy pop-punk with harmonized vocals and tight arrangements. The first track is “Forced Morality,” which sounds like a classic 90s pop-punk track, fast and furious, with great wall of guitar and plenty of hooks. The shouted backing vocals are a little out of the ordinary, but work. “On Chicago Time” is a little slower, but still packs plenty of punch. The B-side tracks are a little weaker. “Too Late To Turn Away” has a loping tempo, a rougher sound, adds some piano, and is in a minor key, but just doesn’t get me moving the way the A-side tracks do. Finally, “Intru-MENTAL” closes things out with a short throw-away instrumental track. Overall, though, this is pretty good stuff, and it will be interesting to hear what new stuff they come up with after the long hiatus.



THEE OH SEES – Singles Vol. 3 (Castle Face Records, www.castlefacerecords.com)

Since I really enjoyed their most recent album, “Floating Coffin,” our fearless editor sent this third installment of Thee Oh Sees’ singles collection albums my way. But I just can’t get into this the same way I did with “Floating Coffin.” The tracks here are much less cohesive, sounding like a mish-mash of leftovers. I guess that makes sense, being a singles collection, but these sound like the tracks they didn’t want to use on regular albums, so they were available for other uses. The first half of this collection features songs that are noisier, more distorted, and just kind of wankier. It seems more like noise for noise’s sake here, rather than being a crafted sound that adds to the overall effect of the songs. That said, “What You Need,” the fifth track, isn’t too bad, with a heavy 60s/70s progressive rock sound. Right after it, though, “FBI2” is just awful. The clarinets and trumpets sound like they’re in pain. It’s like a grade school band room before the band director walks in. “Wait Let’s Go” is another decent one, and maybe the best of the bunch by a long shot, with its garage feel, but on acoustic guitars. The second half of the album seems to be the better part, as “Devil Again” is what I would expect, cooking along with a nice energy. The last two tracks are extended jams, with live renditions of “Block of Ice” clocking in at just over seven and a half minutes, and “Destroyed Fortress” and “No Spell” in a single, final track of more than ten minutes. Like a lot of singles collections, this is hit-or-miss.

THE WAG – Continuum (www.thewagband.com)

The only difference between this band and that talented-but-boring cover band at your local yuppie bar is that The Wag isn’t a cover band. Generic rock music is played quite competently, including nice harmonized vocals. But ultimately, it’s just snooze inducing. A good example is “Binx,” an instrumental number that’s supposed to be “funky,” I guess. It drags and has no soul. It’s just there: square white bread funk-lite. The whole album is like that – very well played, technically, but boring.

ZAPOTEKS – About Bloody Time (It’s Alive Records, www.itsaliverecords.com)

The title of this album apparently refers to the seriously large gap in time since their last album – 6 long years! Adam Alive describes it as “mixed parts pop punk, classic 77 style, rock n roll, and folk all come together…” and he’s kind of hit the nail on the head. I’m not so sure about the folk part, but imagine blending snotty late 70s Brit-punk with modern pop-punk, and you get a good idea of the interesting sound on offer here.I guess a good way to describe it is what I feel like I am listening to the bastard child of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones who fell through a time warp and was raised by The Slow Death. The beat is infectious as hell.“Acetate” is an odd anomaly, sounding like a 70s easy listening pop tune, with nary a bit of punk in sight. But nearly everything else on this album is pure Brit-pop-punk. “Neu-Isenburg” is a favorite, with tons of bounciness, loads of melody, and just the right amount of snottiness. Good stuff.


THE JEAN JACKETS - Field Theory Blues (www.thejeanjackets.com)

This is billed as the first half of their new double LP. When will the second half come out? Unknown. But let's examine this first installment. It took me a little while to warm up to this band. It took up to the fourth song, "In The 9th Inning," to be exact. The first three tracks just fall a little flat, to my ears, sort of like easy listening pop music. The saxophones on " Tar"  even get annoying, sounding slightly off pitch. But, once we get to that fourth track things get pretty amazing. The loping sound, Christine Spilka's gorgeous, easy going vocals... They add up to a really nice track. "Grey (Under the Sky)" is a ballad that seems to breathe; you can hear the music inhaling and exhaling. The mandolin and horns are a sweet touch. "Morning" is a beautiful, expansive song that starts out simply, but grows and swells into something glorious. Delicate wall of sound chords blend with the vocals so nicely. "Girl/Room" is another track that does this, starting out very quietly, simply, and acoustically, then exploding into an emotional, huge thing. "Shops" is a pretty waltz-time number that closes things out. Overall, very pleasant listening.

SCOTT BARKAN – Flightless Bird (www.scottbarkanmusic.com)

Singer-songwriter stuff here, on the second album from the Brooklyn-based musician. It’s at its best when it focuses on the songs, with arrangements stripped down to just Barkan’s seemingly effortless acoustic guitars and bluesy crooning vocals. Tracks like “Gone Away” are just so simple, emotional, and satisfying. The title track that opens the disc starts out this way, too, with guitars, vocals, and a little bit of piano tinkling. The relaxed feeling reminds me of Tom Waits or Leon Redbone. Even when the electric guitar, organ and drums come in, it retains a jazzy feel, so it’s OK. But when the organ, drums and electric guitars overwhelm the song, it’s just not as effective to my ears. Unfortunately, most of the disc is like this.

CANADIAN RIFLE – Deep Ends (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Damn! I am from Chicago, originally, but these gun-toting Canucks started up after I made my move to sunny SoCal. While I’ve heard talk about this band, I had never listened to them. Until now. And now I regret all the missed opportunities for sonic enjoyment. Think melodic hardcore. This is pounding, hard, crunching music, no doubt. But it also has an incredible melodic sensibility. The nine tracks are unrelenting, pounding, and intense. It’s not pop-punk – it’s too hard and intense to call it that. It’s not hardcore – it’s too melodic to call it that. How about pop-hardcore? I can definitely hear the Chicago sound in here. I am reminded of a multitude of Chicago and other Midwest punk bands of yore. I’m sorry – I am going to stop writing for a bit and listen. I’ll be right back. OK, sorry – it’s so good, I wanted to give it my undivided attention. And, really, so should you. This is recommended!

CULTS – Static (Columbia Records, www.columbiarecords.com)

Super overdone easy-listening music for the shoe-gazer pop generation. There’s sappy female vocals, lo-fi yet slick production, and faux-retro doo-wop girl group sounds. Much is being made in the media about the break-up the former couple that fronts the band and their decision to remain a band. Meh, who cares? It’s happened to other bands before, so not really anything astonishing there. The question is whether the music is any good or not. And again, meh.



DIVIDED HEAVEN – Live at Pinnacle Studios EP (Say 10 Records and Skateboards, www.say-10.com)

Divided Heaven is the solo project of Jeff Berman, who has also spent time with The Statiks, Rites, The Boils, and VPR. In addition to Divided Heaven, Berman currently fronts LA’s Heartracers andalso plays in Florida’s Protagonist. Here we get Berman’s vocals with acoustic guitar. It’s something that’s come to be expected from punk rockers, isn’t it? Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes it’s a little dull. Sometimes it falls in between. Divided Heaven is one of those in-betweeners. Probably the most exciting and interesting track on the EP is “Clean Sheets.” Yep, it’s an acoustic cover of the classic Descendents song. Normally, that would be a strike, but here it actually works. Berman sings with an intensity that makes you feel that this is a personally meaningful song for him. The other cover in this five track EP is “Can’t Hardly Wait,” The Replacements song. Other tracks don’t quite capture that emotion, but are decent enough, if you like the solo acoustic thing.

FRENCH EXIT – Guts and Black Stuff (It’s Alive Records, www.itsaliverecords.com)

A new full-length has finally been issued by this mainstay of the SoCal scene! French Exit is not your typical pop-punk band, blending in big Chicago-style sounds, courtesy of Chicago transplant and front man Tim Stasica. The songs take on an almost epic sound, yet remain eminently melodic. There’s plenty of sing-along, fist-pumping moments here, too, and enough whoa-whoas to make even Naked Raygun a bit jealous. Some of the tracks presented here have long been part of French Exit’s set list, so it’s great to finally have them captured on vinyl and digital file. “Impossible” is one such track, sure to induce plenty of jumping and stomping, so incredibly intense is the backbeat. “Whoa No” (the whoas even make it into a song title!) is another “old” favorite, dripping and pounding with melodic hooks. “When There’s A Fork In The Road, Take It” has a retro 60s doo-wop sort of melody, bit still with the same pounding intensity French Exit are known for. “Statecheck” is a cool track, with a very martial feel to it – marching to the beat of a different drummer, of course.And “Backspace” is probably one of the best ballads you’ll ever hear a punk band do. Recommended!

GALACTIC CANNIBAL – We’re Fucked (Underground Communique Records – www.undercomm.org, Lost Cat Records – www.lostcatrecords.org, Encapsulated Records – www.encapsulatedrecords.com)

Three label collaboration! Galactic Cannibal features Direct Hit! front man Nick Woods on bass and his brother Peter on vocals, amongst the quintet. The music is heavy and raucous, hard-edged, yet melodic. Overall, I like this. But a couple of nits. PLEASE edit out some of the “one two three four” starts to some of the songs. Nearly ever track starts with this shout, and it does get stale really fast. And, while the gruff vocals work in harder, edgier hardcore tracks, something a little smoother works better with more melodic sounds. The tracks are undoubtedly energetic. There’s some great sing-along choruses on several of the tracks, too – a sign of a great live band. The variety, from track to track, though, is a bit lacking.

THE HEADIES – Meta-Pop (Creep Records, www.creeprecords.limitedrun.com / Square of Opposition Records, www.squareofopposition.com)

Funny punk is alive and well and living in The Headies! Think of all those punk bands you’ve listened to over the years, playing upbeat, poppy, sloppy music with humorous lyrics and with songs about good times (or bad times with tongue very firmly implanted in cheek, such as “Please Kill Me”). I hear bits of Ramones, and certainly a dose of Screeching Weasel here. Even a bit of Artless, Mykel Board’s old funny punk band from way back in the day. So it’s a little ironic that they have a song called “Copy Cat,” complaining about someone who’s a copy at, copying everything they do! “Anna Lee” is one of the rare bluegrass/country punk songs out there, and is fast and fun. “Calling Doctor Howard” is a blast, paying homage, as it does, to The Three Stooges. If you like to have fun (who doesn’t?) and you like pop-punk (if you’re reading this, that’s a yes, isn’t it?), you’ll very likely like this!

THE MELODIC – Effra Parade (ANTI-, www.anti.com)

Here comes the debut album from this English folk group that shows as much influence from other parts of the world as it does from its home turf. Pretty much entirely acoustic, the band features guitars, piano, bass, drums, horns, piano, and other interesting acoustic sounds. At times it sounds a bit jazzy, at times sounding like something from the Far East or Africa, this is a pretty eclectic release. The music is undoubtedly very pretty and well executed. “Ode to Victor Jara” has to be my favorite track on the disc. It’s gorgeous story telling through music, plain and simple. The “interlude” immediately after, called “Willow,” is also quite pretty, with it’s a capella vocals. “Lost To You” reminds me of the pop folk songs of the 70s, and specifically like something that may have come from the soundtrack of the movie cult classic, The Wicker Man. It’s an interesting album, but the one thing that holds it back from being really great is that it falls a bit flat. The music is pretty and well executed, but the passion doesn’t seem to quite be there.

OCTAGRAPE – Red UFO (Thing Thing Thing Records, thingthingthing.bandcamp.com)

Properly spelled “octa#grape,” this is a San Diego band featuring Glen Galloway on guitar and vocals, Jason Begin on guitar, Ely Moyal on drums, and O on bass. I’ve seen this band live twice now, and, believe me, theirs is a live show you seriously do not want to miss. octa#grape is probably one of the most dynamic, energetic bands you’ll see. Ever. Fresh off a summer and fall full of touring with the likes of Sebadoh and Pinback, octa#grape have released their debut full-length LP. The sound this band puts out is heavy and pounding, lo fi and distorted, yet lithe and nimble. It snarls at you and bites at you, but isn’t plodding. It’s not particularly fast, but it’s feline in its ability to dart around you. If you haven’t seen this band yet, this album will be a nice introduction. You’ll be impressed with the intensity. I must say, in all honesty, though, that if you have seen them live, you may be slightly disappointed with the studio recording. While still quite good, it doesn’t quite capture the mania of a live show. That said, I must let you know that, while they’re all good, I do have some favorite tracks. “Gold &Free” is a track that has more than a bit of a surf rock sound – fitting for a San Diego band – but it hammers away with a fury few bands exhibit. “Kelpo Kreeps” has a cool angularity to its melodic line. “Trevor Cobalt,” the closer, is another good one (well, they all are, really). Very recommended.

PANTALEIMON – The Butterfly Ate The Pearl (Grass Girl Music, grassgirlmusic.greedbag.com)

This is very dreamy stuff, slow and delicate and ethereal. In small doses, this is really nice stuff, combining elements of folk music and chill-out electronica. There’s a hypnotic droning that pulses through many of the tracks, creating quite an atmospheric mood. But, unless you’re stoned and in the right frame of mind for it, 47 minutes of this spread over 9 tracks may be a bit much.

ST. LUCIA – When The Night (Columbia)

Hey, St. Lucia? The 80s called, and they want their lame pop music back.


STATE FAULTS – Resonate/Desperate (No Sleep Records, www.nosleeprecords.com)

Emo-screamo music is apparently alive and well! I thought this kind of music died out in the 90s. There were so many bands like this back then – playing cool, melodic, edgy music with vocals that would raise the dead. It’s always been quite a juxtaposition, and one that I never quite got. I loved the emo music back in the day. But I never could understand tromping on this awesome, hard-edged melodic hardcore music with vocals that could kill an ox at 100 paces. It’s just…so grating. The music is cool, but the vocals – I just don’t get it. Power chords, soaring guitars, epic sounds from the instruments are there, but the screaming. The screaming.

STRIKE TO SURVIVE – Yesterday’s News (Don’t Look Down Records, www.dontlookdownrecords.com)

One of the few bands that might be called “screamo” from back in the 90s that I enjoyed was Refused. But, unlike most of the bands that got that label, Refused’s vocals were more controlled, with a bit of melody in them, to match the hard-edged melodic hardcore music. Strike To Survive has that sort of feel, too. The second track on the album, “Wide Awake,” is a favorite. It’s hard and pounds relentlessly, but with melodic sensibilities, rather than just noise. The vocals are, yes, shouted, but it’s not uncontrolled screaming and screeching, so it works with the music. The music is hard and heavy, but it’s also fast and nimble – the best combination! Other standouts include “Scapeghost,” “Creature Comforts,” and “Toss/Turn.” “American Bricks” is just incredible for its speed and intensity, while still retaining a strong sense of melody. This is good stuff!

TURIN BRAKES – We Were Here (Cooking Vinyl/Red River)

Turin Brakes needs to make a decision. They play “Americana,” the name being used today for country-rock. Many Americana bands are on the alternative side of things, with a bit of edgy folk-punk influence. Others just go for that commercial sound that will sell records. Turin Brakes needs to make a decision – which do they want to be? Some of their songs are more acoustic, really nice, with a realness about them. Other songs are very slick country rock that you might have heard back in the day when that was a big thing. It sounds more like they’re just going through the motions. Then they try out a smooth jazz sort of tune, with “Guess You Heard.” Normally, I like diversity, but this borders on multiple personality disorder.

XIU XIU – Nina (Graveface Records, www.facebook.com/GRAVEFACE)

Well, it says this is tribute album, featuring the music of the late Nina Simone. And, it sort of is, as much as it can be while being performed by this experimental jazz group. Front-man Jamie Stewart’s deep, breathy, shaky vocals are quite unique, and the arrangements are very spare, consisting of saxophones, guitar, drums, and sometimes piano. Many of the songs come off as pretty sad and a bit eerie. “See Line Woman,” on the other hand, comes off as quite exciting and ebullient. Cool.


PATCHES & GRETCHEN –
Who the Hell is Richard Manuel
(www.patchesandgretchen.com)

Hot on the heels of last spring’s Even Breaks,” the Minneapolis duo are back with another album full of crazy, laid-back, jazzy, bluesy, folksy unclassifiable songs. There’s a strong confidence in the swaggery, near-drunk sounding vocals, and our fearless editor already made the perfect comparison: sorta like a female Lou Reed quality. From the jazzy “All Bibles” to the country-ish “Rollypolly” and to the rockin’ “The Chicken and The Water,” this is pretty unique, interesting stuff. Compared to previous albums, I think there may be a little less variety of sounds going on here, but if you like the off-the-wall, different sort of stuff, give this a try. I think you’ll like it.


CASKITT – Don’t Tell Anyone (www.facebook.com/caskitt)

Three-piece pop-punk band Caskitt, from San Diego California, has digitally released their debut EP, with six songs of melodic music with a punch. The opener, “Agoraphobic,” is decent enough, starting out with some nice math-ish guitar and drum work, before settling into fairly standard poppy-punky music. The next track, though, “Ponzistarter.com,” pretty much rages. Rapid fire, pounding drums, guitar and bass, and vocals conspire together to grab you and make you jump. I hear plenty of influence from another San Diego mainstay of the pop-punk scene: Dan Padilla. There’s that same sort of quality to the music. Full of emotion, and kind of the Americana of pop-punk, if you will. This is a nice debut effort.

FREE MACHINES – Cursive Moon (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

This 3-song 7” from the band from Tucson, Arizona features quite a different, unique sound. The songs have hints of retro 60s psychedelic and 70s progressive rock sounds. What if Genesis had been a punk band? The songs have interesting chord progressions and are more technically complex than your average pop-punk tune. The vocals even sound a bit like Phil Collins. Now, before you get the idea that this is crap to be avoided (really? Genesis? Phil Collins?) it is interesting to listen to. Hell, I’ve played this thing about five times in a row now. Is it going to make it onto my iPod on a permanent basis? Doubtful.

JOAN OF ARC – Testimonium Songs (Polyvinyl Record Company, www.polyvinylrecords.com)

This latest release from one of the more unique musical organizations around came out this past summer in a very limited edition vinyl release. Only 550 of these were pressed, on magenta colored marbled vinyl, with a booklet insert. I managed to snag a copy when I saw the band swing through San Diego on their fall tour. This ever-changing outfit appears on this album in “extended” trio form, with the core guitar/vocals, drums and bass of Tim Kinsella, Theo Katsaounis, and Bobby Burg, plus several additional guests. And where some of their albums are mostly improvised or written in the studio, the tracks here were apparently carefully crafted over a long period of time. This music was created for a very specific event, “Testimonium,” a performance by the experimental theater ensemble, Every House Has a Door. The performance, itself, was an interpretation of “Testimony,” Charles Reznikoff’s work that translated courtroom transcripts of witness and victim testimonies into poetry. The six songs here are primarily (though not entirely) acoustic and angular, mostly calm. They seem to lack the feeling of spontaneity a lot of their other works have – I wonder why? They’re still good, but just not as out there as some of their other stuff. I think my favorite track on the album is probably the longest one, “The Bird’s Nest Wrapped Around the Security Camera.” This one, probably due to its extended length, has the widest range. There’s sections of fairly coherent song, sections of percussive interaction, periods of trance-like music, miscellaneous scratching and picking, and instruments that sometimes seem to breathe on their own. The closer, “Jury Duty,” is probably the most “different” track, in that it’s completely a cappella singing, complete with harmonies. Lyrically, the songs fit in quite well with the theme of the performance.

L.A. DRUGZ – Outside Place (Hovercraft Records, www.hovercraftpdx.com)

Do you like garage rock? Do you like old school power pop? Well, then you’re gonna love LA Drugz. This quartet, hailing from (where else?) LA consists of Justin Mauer on vocals and guitar, Cezar Mora on guitar and vocals, Johnny Reyes on bass and James Carman on drums. I had seen this band at one of the SoCal “DIY Concert Venues,” and instantly fell in love. They’re super energetic and play some awesome, raw, powerful roots rock’n’roll. This 12” EP is pretty limited, I think to about 200 copies, so I really recommend you jump on this fast. There’s a scant six songs on the EP, and, while no studio recording can really do justice to the mania of a live LA Drugz set, this is pretty tight stuff. While there’s no bad songs at all on this slab-o-wax, there’s a couple of standouts in my ears. “On The Streets” and “Ooh Ooh Ooh” are two favorites that pretty much rage. Recommended!

PAYOFF – Throwing Stones (La Escalera Records, www.laescalerarecords.com)

Payoff is a young four-piece outfit from LA. They’re extremely talented musicians with a bit of an internal conflict. They’re part of the SoCal pop-punk scene, and some of the songs they play are energetic, poppy, melodic punk. But other of their songs are edgier alternative rock sounds. This 4-song EP, available both on vinyl and CD, has less evidence of that split personality than the band’s live sets, leaning more toward the edgy alt-rock sound. Of the four tracks, the “A” side are the poppier/punkier. “Over Again” starts out with a very pop-punk sound, nice and up-tempo, nice melodic lines, and a fairly raucous chorus. I think here it’s the production, more than anything, that gives it a polished feel, more radio-ready, if you will. The title track is next, in waltz time, a rarity in the world of rock music. This one, I think, is my favorite on the EP. It’s different, it’s big and bold, and the harmonized vocals between Jen Razavi and Mike Lodevico are spot on. “One More Time For Love” is probably the most pure alternative rock track on the EP, and probably the track I was least able to get into. It just kind of drags a bit to my ears. The closer, “War In My Mind,” pretty much soars through the first half, before it explodes into a epic sound, a perfect way to end. These guys have a sound that could be quite successful, commercially, yet have an edge that keeps them fresh enough for pop punk tastes.

SQUARECROW – B Sides (www.facebook.com/squarecrowmusic)

Another debut from a San Diego band, this time a four-piece, featuring Todd Allen, Jon Hasz, Brandon Bart and Daniel Riveroll. I got a bit of a scare when I first popped the disc in, because the first track was, well, kinda lame. “Dyasania” comes across as sort of a wannabe alternative rock song. It’s a good thing that I’m a thorough reviewer, and usually listen to the whole record or CD. Many years ago, I learned that many music critics will listen to the first track of a release, and if it doesn’t catch their ear, it goes into the trash. ALWAYS put your best track first. Thankfully, once past the opener, things get way way better. “Via Cadore” is a pretty catchy bouncy track, especially the chorus. Hard-edged jangly guitars provide a wall of sound through most of the track. I love the way it goes acoustic for a bit, near the end, with a very “present” sound quality – as if they spliced in an acoustic demo version of the song they recorded in a house somewhere. “Barbra” has quite the retro feel to it, as if this could have been a track the Beatles could have made. “3 Weeks” is a cool, jazzy, jumpy track, complete with horns in a few places. The closer, “Colored Red,” goes back to the alternative rock sound, but it’s not as lame as the opening track – it’s OK. The middle four tracks are solid gold.

WORTHWHILE WAY / MADISON BLOODBATH – The Moon In The Darkness (Eager Beaver Records, eagerbeaver.shop-pro.jp)

Looking at these two bands, you would think, huh? How did this split ever come to be? Madison Bloodbath is a band from SoCal, fronted by the very imposing Matt McCracken, a large man with a large beard. Worthwhile Way is from Japan, and has two men and two women, all very quiet and polite and very clean-shaven. But they’re all the nicest people you would ever want to meet. The first four tracks belong to Madison Bloodbath, and they’re all the sing-along anthemic type pop-punk songs you would expect. They’re massive and fast. Think Husker Du sorta stuff. The interesting thing is the use of organ in the songs – that was unexpected – and only really audible at the end of a couple of songs, as they guitars fade away. Worthwhile Way are a bit lighter. Quite a bit lighter. The music is sweet, jangly, and pretty. I especially love “Golden Sun.” It’s so jangly, bouncy, and uplifting. I love this.


BODY/HEAD – Coming Apart (Matador Records, www.matadorrecords.com)

Formed in the wake of Sonic Youth’s break-up, Body/Head is Kim Gordon and Bill Nace, a guitar duo. This is clearly a return to the more experimental and noise sounds for Gordon, whose former band started their career as one of the more innovative of the “no wave” bands of the 80s, presenting sheer noise and improvisational sonic experiments. Over the years, while remaining somewhat edgy, SY got more and more mainstream as they gained wider popularity. Gone was the freedom of the more artistic side of music. Now free of the shackles of the pop industry machine, Gordon is once again exploring the more creative and artistic side of things. But unlike those early SY ventures, Body/Head is quieter, more meandering, and less noise and more artistic expression. Normally, though I like experimentalism in music, the stuff that’s just meandering improvisation turns me off – it’s just sonic wanking to me. But the sounds on this album are more soothing, yet unsettling at the same time. It’s smooth, yet hard and edgy, sweet, yet menacing. Some tracks are instrumental only, but when there are vocals, they’re Gordon’s trademark breathy vocals. The last two tracks are lengthy, with “Black” clocking in at 13:21 and “Frontal” at 17:15. I think that’s part of the reason they’re my least favorite of the ten tracks on the album. They seem to go on a little too long, losing momentum. At the other end of the spectrum, my favorite tracks on the disc seem to be the shorter tracks. “Untitled” is a scant 1:51, but it consists of one of the most gorgeous guitar loops I’ve heard in some time. Immediately following is “Everything Left,” which is one of the buzzier, noisier tracks on the disc, and makes effective use of tons of reverb. “Last Mistress” has a scaled back version of the famous SY dissonance, along with soring, echoing, guitar noise. It’s an interesting release, and a welcome return from the more commercial endeavors.

THE DISTRESSERS – A Demonstration of Intent (www.facebook.com/thedistressers)

This is a four song CD-EP that was made for The Distressers’ West Coast tour. Lucky for me that tour included Awesomefest 7, which occurred over Labor Day weekend, because I was able to see them and pick up this gem. There must be something in the water in Denton, Texas, because so many good bands seem to come out of there, and The Distressers are no exception. As is the case with other Denton area bands, The Distressers have an intense, tight garage punk sound. The first two songs, “Paranoia City” and “New Money,” are off their forthcoming debut LP, “Viva Wasteland,” while the other two tracks, “On And On” and “Lay Me Down,” are not planned for release other than this CD. Think fast, rapid-fire tunes with a raw edge. This band was one of my Awesomefest 7 highlights, and this CD lives up to the live show. Recommended.

ENTROPY – Out of Spite (Say-10 Records & Skateboards, www.say-10.com)

Wow, what a throwback! This is classic 90s East Coast Hardcore, with track lengths ranging from just over 30 seconds to just over a minute and a half. Think Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, and you’ll get an ide of the sound Entropy provides. 10 songs on a 7”! That’s really old school! This thing drops October 15th, so if you like the NYxHC sound, get this. It’s pretty good stuff, though I do wish some of the tracks were just a little bit longer.

 

KICKING SPIT – Negative Feedback (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Wins my vote for most appropriately named album of the year. Kicking Spit makes plentiful use of feedback and noise in this new LP. The songs include a mix of poppy punk and darker grungier rock, but in all cases, the recording quality is intentionally muddy, distant, and super lo-fi. It sounds like the band was laying down their vocals in a large empty room, and the microphones were placed outside the door. There’s a distant, echoing sound to them. The guitars are loaded with noise and fuzz, just like a shoegazer band would play – but the music here is decidedly not shoegaze. It’s more intense, more up-tempo, less introspective, and, well, plenty poppy in a lot of the tracks. When it stays more in the pop-punk vein, like on “Long Way Down,”Reality Dropout,” or “Cassandra.” But some of the tracks just get too noisy and grungy, and it gets difficult to listen to. “Gone” is just distorted guitars and pounding, with distant echoy voices, and I couldn’t make out a melody at all here. The title track may as well have been recorded by a high school metal band in their garage. It’s so lo-fi, muddy, grinding and, well, unlistenable. Vocals are all over the place on this one, with lots of unsynchronized yelling and screaming going on. “Cruel Horrible World” is aptly titled, as it’s a cruel, horrible song, chock full of nothing but noise and feedback. Truth is, even on the better, poppier tracks, this is hard to listen to.

MUHAMMADALI – Future Songs (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

“Future Songs?” The album opens with “Country Road Mushroom Death Trip Song,” which is chock full of 60s psychedelic references, but updated with Muhammadali’s tasteful level of noise. But, unlike their self-titled debut, this album generally has a lot less of the psychedelic sounds than before. There’s plenty of noise, to be sure. But it’s not just noise for noise’s sake; it’s carefully crafted into super jangly melody. “Its Gonna Be OK” is a great example of the really cool juxtaposition of melodic jangle and purposeful noise that forms the backbone of this album. Halfway through the album is an odd little break, “You Owe Me Money,” which sounds sort of like something you would find on some album of chill-out music for people who like to go to raves. Then it’s back down to business for the back half of the album. “Leave Daddy Alone” is a fast rager, loaded with buzz and fuzz and noise. Think Teengenerate here. “Stars” is jangly as shit, but still loaded with fuzz-noise, and another stand-out here. The same goes for “Lonely,” a track that’s pretty simple lyrically (It’s lonely/I miss her, repeated), but combines jangle and noise effectively. I love the extended ending of this track, where the guitars slowly fade away, as some electronic keyboards fade up, and we hear several voice mail messages. It does provide an isolated, lonely feeling. As does the closer, “Wait,” which starts out with a nice, noisy, pop-punk feel. It’s another track with pretty simply lyrics, and with a sad, lonely feel. “I know it really hurts / I know sometimes it really hurts” is the chorus. This one has another extended ending, with electronics lending that isolated feeling again. This album is pretty different from their last one, and pretty different from a lot of other bands today. And I really dig this.

SUNDOWNER – Neon Fiction (Fat Wreckchords, www.fatwreck.com)

Sundowner is the side project of one Chris McCaughan, he of The Lawrence Arms. Being a solo side project, this is quite different from the resplendent pop-punk emanations from TLA. The music here is more introspective, somewhat more laid back, and partially acoustic. Doing the “solo acoustic” thing has become a “thing” in the pop-punk scene, hasn’t it? Lots of punk guitarists/vocalists seem to be performing solo acoustic sets in clubs and releasing albums. I’ve seen plenty recently, and they’re usually really heartfelt, emotional performances. I even had the opportunity to see McCaughan do such a set last Thanksgiving, at the tiny, intimate Town Hall Pub in Chicago. Here, we get more than solo vocals and acoustic guitar. We get the same sort of folk-punk inspired songs, but performed with a meatier band, including acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums. There are even some multi-tracked vocals on some tracks. The album begins with “Cemetery West,” a darkly jangly song of defiance. “I won’t let the darkness catch me this time” is the refrain here. Acoustic guitar is out front, and the feeling us upbeat.Weirdly, I hear some hints of 80s pop music influence in some of the tracks, such as “Concrete Shoes,” which has a heavy beat and spare instrumentation outside of the relatively noisy chorus.I really like the gorgeous “Grey On Grey,” a waltz-time song with lyrics that really engage the senses and make you feel like you’re really there: “Smelled summer on the breath of the city tonight.” The song seems to be about the uncertainty one has in youth about the future, especially about relationships. The song ends with “Hope you love me the same way / When the colors are grey on grey.” I think this one is probably one of my favorites on the album. “Life In The Embers” is probably the closest thing you’ll get on the album to a raucous track. It has more electric guitar and is a bit more up-tempo than the rest. OK, while I’ve been listening to this, I’ve been trying to pin down the other vocalist that I am reminded of while listening to this. And then it finally hit me – Penguins Kill Polar Bears’ Ben Proudlock! That Scottish band is a whole lot noisier, but the underlying qualities are very similar. Anyway – this review has gotten kind of long without saying a whole lot, so I’ll sum up. This is pretty good singer-songwriter music, but don’t expect The Lawrence Arms. This is quieter and more introspective.

SWEATSHOP BOYS – The Great Depression (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Imagine blending pop-punk, old school punk rock, classic power-pop, and early rock ‘n’ roll. What do you get? Something pretty darn near Sweatshop Boys. This band hails from that hotbed of pop-punk activity, Israel. Yup, Israel seems to be cranking out superb punk bands, with Not On Tour another excellent export. Sweatshop Boys 13-song debut album clocks in at 23 minutes long – that’s an average of a minute and three quarters per song. They pack a whole lot of punch into those short songs, too. Fast and furious, these tunes have a timeless quality to them, like all good power-pop songs, that will give them staying power over the years. They sound fresh, yet they sound classic at the same time. There’s tons of jangle, edgy harmonized vocals, thumping bass and pounding drums propelling this album. Not a bad song in the bunch, and well executed. Recommended!


BIG EYES – Almost Famous
(www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Garage-punk from the Pacific Northwest! Big Eyes, formerly from Brooklyn, NY, but now based in Seattle, have released their second full-length album, and this one has less of a pop sound and more of a garage-edge to it, a grittier sound. Vocalist/guitarist Kate Eldridge shows a strength and confidence in her performance. The songs may be edgier, grittier, and darker, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t catchy and hooky – they sure are. The harmonized and multi-tracked vocals add a bounce to several of the tracks. “Being Unkind” is one of the standouts in my opinion, with a bouncy feel and edgy sound. “Can’t Catch a Break” is misnamed, because this is catchy as hell. “A Matter of Time” has some very cool multi-tracked harmonies that make it work really well. The last two tracks, “Back From the Moon” and “I Don’t Care About Friday Night,” sound like they may have been recorded at different sessions from the rest of the album, because these are so different from the rest – they’re much more poppy, less dark, and totally awesome. Cool album.


ALEX CHILTON – Electricity By Candlelight / NYC 2/13/97 (Bar None Records, www.bar-none.com)

As the title implies, this was recorded live in New York City on February 13, 1997. However, what is only hinted at in the title, is that just as Alex Chilton and his band were getting ready to play their second set of the evening at the Knitting Factory, the lights went out. Not one to disappoint the crowd, Chilton did an off-the-cuff acoustic set, and it happened to be recorded. And the result is this album. What started out as a four song filler became an hour-long set. And, though the recording is pretty poor, and sounds like it was clearly made by someone in the audience, it reveals an unusual intimacy, and an easy repartee between performer and audience. It sounds more like a house party, with one of the friends teasing and entertaining the other partygoers. You can hear people shouting out suggestions for songs, and Chilton making fun of some of them, but play them he does. There are folk songs, novelty tunes, jazz and blues. There’s an audience sing-a-long, there’s country, there’re Beach Boys covers, and there are standards. What it is, in fact, is rare magic. Sometimes, the background noise gets in the way, and sometimes the low fidelity is annoying. But while there was no electricity in the building, there was electricity in the air that night.

CLOUD CONTROL – Dream Cave (Ivy League Records, ivyleague.com/au)

These Aussie folk-pop-psych performers are back with a new album, their second release. The album is a nice follow-up to 2011’s “Bliss Release,” with a dreamier sound than before, and more retro, too. The album starts out with “Scream Rave,” with heavily processed vocals just singing sounds in multi-part harmony, along with blissed-out psychedelic instrumentals that flow. “Promises” is a full-on 60s style psychedelic track that makes very effective use of vocal harmonization. Well, most of the songs have great harmonized vocals. “Moon Rabbit” has a cool vocal effect where they’ve multi-tracked the vocals, but put them slightly out of phase, so there’s a hint of a delay effect. They do this with some of the instrumentals in this track, too. The track also hints at retro sounds, but not completely. Between the cool delay effects and the tottering between modern and retro, it can be very disorienting, in a good way. This would probably be an extremely cool track to listen to when high, not that I would know anything about that. “The Smoke, The Feeling” is a much more modern sounding track, with dreamy pop sounds and the multi-tracked harmonized vocals. “Ice Age Heatwave” is another strong track that’s too hard to describe, with its multiple layers of vocals, instrumentals, reverb, and so on. Good stuff.

GREAT APES – Thread (Asian Man Records, www.asianmanrecords.com)

Great Apes play a great blend of pop-punk sounds and indie rock. There’s a maturity in the arrangements and lyrics not usually associated with pop-punk, and yet the freshness and melodiousness of pop-punk is very evident. This debut full-length album opens with “Seventeen Years,” a song chock full of melody, cool hooks, harmonized vocals, and strong, edgy guitars. “Yellow Ribbon” turns things up a notch, with super heavy sounds and near screamed vocals in parts. “Everything is Everything” is probably the most pure “pop-punk” track on the album, with its great anthemic sing-a-long chorus. I really love “Vial of Life,” a track with a strong melodic line and smooth vocals. Good stuff here, recommended.



KIDS WITH GUNS – Normal Is Nothing (www.kidswithguns.org)

This is the debut album from the New Jersey band, Kids With Guns. This is not to be confused with the band of the same name from Texas, nor the one from Europe. Gets confusing sometimes, doesn’t it? This band offers up somewhat garage-like music that’s not quite edgy enough. Call it garage-lite. Probably the only track on the album that really stands out in my mind is “Shade,” the final song. It’s the only one that seems to really pack a punch and have an “honest” sound.



LIPSTICK HOMICIDE – Out Utero
(Bloated Kat Records)

Hailing from the heartland of Iowa, Lipstick Homicide are simply one of the finest pop-punk bands playing today. They’re fast, tight, super melodic, and they’re downright nice people, too. The three-piece consists of Rachel Feldmann on vocals and bass, Kate Kane on vocals, guitar, and hair flipping, and Luke Ferguson on drums. There is not a single bad track on this album, and there’s not even one that’s just OK – they’re all winners, all pop-punk gold. Right from the get-go, “This Time For Real” is just so catchy, bouncy and fun. It flows immediately into “Hope U Die,” a track that’s just as bouncy, but a little darker, in a minor key. “So Happy With You” is especially fun, due to the meows in the recording (I assume from a kitty named Kiki). “Vampire Club Pt. II” is catchy as hell, especially when the chorus comes around with the dueling vocals. I really like “Who Stole Molly’s Bike,” too, with the cool harmonies and great guitar work. I’ve found another top 10 of the year to add to my list, and so will you when you get this.



LITTLE BIG LEAGUE – These Are Good People (Tiny Engines Records, tinyengines.limitedrun.com)

Another debut album here, from the band from Philadelphia. This is classic, classy indie-pop music in the vein of 90s greats like Tsunami. The female vocals here, though, are less straightforward and more filled with emotion. The music is also a little less “clean” than the bands of old, blending more of a fuzzy shoegazer sound in with the abundant jangle. Highlights include, “Dark Matter,” a track that starts out all nice and calm and jangly, and evolves over time to become fuzzier, more intense and more emotional, and the closer, “Never Have I Walked Away When the Time Was Right,” a strong, powerful song filled with feeling. Very nice debut.



NIGHT BIRDS – Born to Die in Suburbia (Grave Mistake Records, www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Two years on from their debut full length, these New Jersey garage surf-punks are back with a new album, full of rapid-fire rage and reverb. This is classic old-school hardcore punk – the kind that inspires a pit to open up in front of the band at a live show. Sort of like what happened when they played at Township, in Chicago, back on March 29th. I was in town visiting family and took the opportunity to see some friends, drink some beers, and listen to some good punk music. Having been away from Chicago shows for some time, and becoming inured to the more sedate crowds of the San Diego, LA and Inland Empire pop-punk scenes, I was unprepared for what happened. I take a lot of photos at shows, so I like to be up front. Even though I didn’t have my camera with me, that’s where I was when Night Birds took the stage. In fairly short order, I received a body check from behind, and the force knocked my glasses clear from my face. My drunk self panicked, and began trying to clear a space around me to try and find my specs. As this failed, in my inebriated state, I came up with the idea to get the band to stop playing so people would stop moshing, and perhaps my glasses would be found unscathed. I tried grabbing the mic out of the hands of vocalist Brian Gorsenger – and it nearly worked! But realizing I wasn’t about to sing along, the mic was unceremoniously pulled back and the song continued. I actually stepped up onto the stage in my quest to quell the slamming, but it was all to no avail. When the song finally came to and end, someone held up his hand, clutching the trampled remnants of my cheaters, and asked, “Did anyone lose some glasses? My rallying cry became “Night Birds ate my glasses!” Of course, I don’t hold it against them – they were just playing some ridiculously energetic music, and that’s what’s on this album. The band is best when they’re fast and furious, like on the title track, or “Domestic Dispute,” or most any of the tracks on this album. They do have a couple of tracks that I would have left out. “Nazi Gold” is unfortunately titled, and it sort of drags.” Less the Merrier” didn’t leave me very merry. But for the most part, this is a rager of an album.

OVER THE RHINE – Meet Me At The Edge Of The World (Great Speckled Dog Records, www.overtherhine.com)

This new double album comes from husband and wife team Linford Detweiler (piano, bass, guitar) and Karin Bergquist (guitars and vocals). The name of the Ohio-based duo comes from their Cincinnati neighborhood of the same name. Many of these songs have moments of promise, with a nice acoustic sound and beautiful harmonized/overdubbed vocals. But then the country sound intrudes, all full of slide guitar and annoying stuff. Now, I am not opposed to all country music. Authentic country can be really good, but the more modern country sound is not something I am a fan of. These songs could have been so much better if they had stuck to more of a roots and acoustic sound. That said, there are some nice moments. “I’d Want You” is a pretty ballad that does focus on the acoustic, and relegates the electric guitar (without slide) to the background. “All Of It Was Music” is a nice sounding track, with hints of jazz and old timey music. Even though it has the annoying slide guitar and even background strings, it works reasonably well. “All Over Ohio” is another interesting one – it’s best when Detweiler sings the vocals. When Bergquist joins in our takes her own verse, the slide guitar chimes in. Ugh. When Detweiler sings, the vocals are quiet and smooth. Sadly, the good is heavily outweighed by the not so good. “Highland County” is chock full of slide guitar and piano and “down home country” sounds. The album is probably not country enough for real country fans, and it’s definitely way too country for non-country fans.

RUNNING – Vaguely Ethnic (Castle Face Records, www.castlefacerecords.com)

Running is a band from Chicago. Their music is a pure sonic assault that basically screams, “fuck you!” to the listening public. Loads of distortion, feedback, shouting and pounding pervade your every pore as this plays. The album even starts with a track titled with the same attitude, “Thanks for the Input.” The lyrics are unintelligible, there’s tons of distortion, and in there you can even hear a bit of a melodic line. Of particular note is the pair of tracks that blend into one another “Oo0o Oo0O Oo0oOo” and “This Is A You Problem.” The former starts with a pounding and guitar line worthy of the great Flipper, and the half shouted half sung vocals (with no real melodic line to singing, of course) are kind of like a cross between Flipper, Jello Biafra, and the B-52s. Huh? The track ends in massive guitar noise, all distorted, and it just flows into the latter track, another aptly titled one. It becomes a more up-tempo track, vaguely punk-like, but still attacking your very existence on a cellular level. Cool stuff. Very cool stuff. The only issue I might have is the lack of enough variation in the sound, but since the album clocks in at about 20 minutes for 9 tracks, it works.

SAMIA (www.samiamusic.com)

This is the debut self-titled 6-song EP from self-described “openly pan-sexual rock-pop singer,” Samia. I don’t know what her sexuality has to do with anything. So let’s ignore that part and talk about the music and her performance. Well, her performance certainly is soulful, with a strong and confident singing style. And the final track is on a worthy topic – that of marriage equality. But those are the only positive things I can say about this. The music itself is pretty average pop-rock-soul type music, very slick, very commercial, and very boring.

SAVE THE SWIM TEAM – The Big Compromise (Not Punk Records, notpunk.bandcamp.com)

STST is a ska-punk band from the bowels of Orange County, California. They play what are essentially pop-punk songs, but with ska-like arrangements, including trombone and saxophone, and alternating between punk crunch and ska-skank. This latest release is a three-track 7” EP, released in various colors of vinyl with silk screen covers. “The Best and the Worst of Me” is a very slick track, with a schizoid personality, alternating between super hard, crunchy guitars, a skanking beat, and huge horns worthy of the 70s band Chicago. “Song On A Shitty Guitar” continues the theme, mixing pop-punk, with even a dash of emo, with good ol’ ska. “Prescribing Something Stronger” finishes things with another well-executed heavy punk-ska mix. I’ve heard some people say that STST should pick what kind of band they want to be – punk or ska. But I really like this mix. I think they do it well, and this EP is recommended.

THE STARFOLK (Korda Records, www.kordarecords.com)

This is fairly middle of the road stuff, kind of indie chamber-pop. It features the usual guitar/bass/drums, but cello is also prominently featured on some tracks. Many of the songs have a bit of a modern British invasion sound, in the same way that the New Pornographers did on their amazing “Twin Cinema” album. But this album doesn’t have the same punch and impact as that earlier effort. Oh, it’s pleasant enough. But it’s just not all that exciting. Some of the tracks are pretty dull, like the opener, “The Great Unknown.” It just sort of drags, with a folk-rock sort of sound. The opening track should be the one that grabs the listener’s attention the most – massive fail here. There are some reasonably decent tracks, like “Come and Play” and “Into the Clouds,” the tracks that have the most bounce and fun in their sound. “Winterwalk” is a fairly nice acoustic track, sounding like some of the quieter Beatles tracks, in a way. Overall, OK, but not something I would go out of my way for.

STATIC JACKS – In Blue (Old Friends Records, www.oldfriendsrecords.com)

Tons of jangle here. Loads of hooks, too. “Horror Story” opens up with quiet vocals and acoustic guitar jangling away underneath menacing toms, then opens up with a loud chorus, before the menacing toms close out the track. Short, but effective. This leads into “I’ll Come Back,” which just oozes indie-pop sensibilities. Great guitar fuzz, hooky lines, and harmonized vocals abound. “We’re Alright” is another one I like, with its delicate guitar lines and sign-along vocals. “Katie Said” is a nice, jangly track. “People Don’t Forget” has a super distorted guitar and bass sound that reminds me a lot of the Jesus and Mary Chain, with nice jangly vocals on top of it. “Greensleeves” is so pretty, shimmering and jangling from here to next week. Weaker tracks include “Wallflowers” and “Ninety Salt,” which get a little too close to the “alternative rock” sound for my tastes. Overall, a nice effort.

THE SWIMMING POOL Q’S – The A&M Years 1984-1986 (Universal Music Special Markets, www.universalsm.com)

The Swimming Pool Q’s released two albums for A&M back in the mid 80s: Their self-titled album, and “Blue Tomorrow.” The two-CD set contains both of these albums. But there’s also an expanded edition that includes “Pow Wow Hour,” a collection of rarities, and “Auto Zoom,” containing video footage of the band. I must be honest here – I was not familiar with this band prior to receiving this set for review, so I am approaching this without any historical context and reviewing just on the merits of the music, as if it’s a new band. The music is best described as jangly pop-rock. It’s pretty generic non-descript 80s stuff, sometimes bordering on new wave, but the only track that seems to depart from this formula on the first album is “Silver Slippers,” which has a distinct flower child late 60s sound. “She’s Bringing Down the Poison” is actually a pretty good rockin’ power-pop tune, but the closer on the first album, Sacrificial Altar,” is a reminder of the horrors of 80s music. The second album is even a little more generic than the first of the A&M discs, with not a whole lot of standout music to make mention of. I will, however, mention that the title track of this disc is nothing more than bland country-inspired rock. The bonus album of rarities, spanning the period from 1982-1986, features a much more new-wave sound, with lots of synth and strong backbeats, but there’s also some more country inspired pop music. Again, nothing special. One of the oddities here is a cover version of “Tears of a Clown,” made popular by Smokey Robinson, and murdered here in this soulless version. Now I know why the clown was crying. Finally, the video clips feature a mix of live and TV performances, promotional videos, and tour footage. Meh.

TRASH MONSTERS – There’s a Rat in the Tunnel of Love (Heap O’ Trouble Records, www.trashmonsters.net)

Pop-punk and melodic punk from Orange County, California. But after the first few, cool, upbeat punk tracks, things slow down and get more rock’n’roll. Even on the couple of more up-tempo tracks after the first few, there’s more rock than punk. It’s generally not the most inspiring punk music you’re liable to hear.

 

 

WINGDALE COMMUNITY SINGERS – Night, Sleep, Death (Drag City Records, www.dragcity.com)

This here is the third outing from the Wingdales, a group fronted by the likes of singer Hannah Marcus, author Rick Moody, and renaissance musician David Grubbs, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful, quiet (mostly) acoustic music with harmonized vocals fills this album, yet the genre is hard to pin down. It’s got elements of folk, country, and even gospel, but it isn’t any of those things. “White Bike” is a favorite, sounding so delicate, yet the lyrics are out of skew, all about gritty urban living, traffic, and riding on the titular vehicle through the cold winter streets, leaving your lover behind at home. It’s an everyday sort of scene, but given this treatment, it seems both expansive and isolated at the same time. “Ole Rudy” is another astoundingly good track, with some amazing lyrics. “Well our leaves all turn sometime / and we all fall down. / But it’s good for the soil / And the water and the ground. / For when leaves rot and decay / Something new is born each day. / Happy Birthday Ole Rudy this fall.” Lest you think the whole album is so serious and deep, there’s a pair of songs that lighten the mood considerably. “Never Ever Fall” consists of a series well known advice and admonitions, such as “don’t take wooden nickels,” “don’t golf in lightning storms,” “you can’t wear too much black,” and “don’t even think of parking here.” But the most important piece of advice is “never ever fall in love.” The music has zither and acoustic and electric guitars, giving it a light and breezy feel. And “Hunan #3” has lyrics taken entirely from fortune cookies. The piece is in waltz time, with piano and guitar accompaniment. This is an amazing release – but it’s only available on vinyl or via digital download from the label.


SURFER BLOOD – Pythons (Warner Bros.)

This album starts out well enough, with a couple of interesting, loping, guitar fueled pop-rock tracks. “Demon Dance” opens things up with an edgy track, with a bit of twang, and vocals that remind me a bit of Josh Caterer of the Smoking Popes. I could hear him singing this song. It’s a bit overproduced, though. The organ really should have been dropped. Gravity is one of the best tracks here. It’s alternately jangly and tough and edgy. But, it, too, has moments where you can hear the hands of the major label producer, trying to make it sound more saleable. “Weird Shapes” is another one that, underneath the production, sounds like a reasonably solid track. But, like a prostitute that layers on the make-up in order to try and seem more appealing, the excesses of the producer kind of ruin things. These tracks probably sound really good live, but the “studio magic” just hurts the sound. Sadly, things then start to go downhill, as the album progresses. “I Was Wrong” is an example of getting way too far over the line into pure commercial music and super overblown production. “Say Yes to Me” makes me cry, because I can hear this being performed on a small stage in a dingy club in front of a sweaty crowd, but it’s just been ruined by overproduction. It could be such a good song, if only…

ASTRO FANG – Flesh Hand EP
(radgirlfriendsrecords.bigcartel.com)

Wow, this is unexpected from Rad Girlfriend! This is not just pop-punk or power-pop, this is out there, genre busting in your face music! From the non-standard meter to the buzz saw blend of guitars and electronics, this is an amazing release. The A side is “Flesh Hand,” which is angular as hell while still being very rock and roll. “IC U” features distorted vocals and pounding – well, everything! Guitars, bass and drums all synchronously blast away, yielding an intense cacophony. Hell yes!


AXIOMATIC – The Birds of My Senses (Live at the Stone) (MussoMusic, www.mussomusic.com)

I am sure that our fearless editor sent this disc to me for review because he knows I like unique music, stuff that’s not just a rehashing of other stuff. But this album is just wanky improvisational jazz rock. And not very good improvisational jazz rock, at that. Mid-tempo, meandering stuff with no aim, no reason. It thinks it’s being artsy, but it’s just annoying. This is the kind of stuff high school band kids do to make themselves think they’re cool. Really, guys. I love the off-beat. I love different and unique. I love jazz. This sucks.



EZRA FURMAN – The Year of No Returning (Bar/None)

This disc is mellow and rocking at the same time. The instrumentals feature lots of loping arrangements, but there’s an intensity that stabs through it into your heart. The album starts with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” a countryish sort of tune, with acoustic guitars and bass clarinet that sounds really cool. “That’s When it Hit Me” is a fun pop tune with a hard, bluesy, garage edge, with the same loping feel. “Cruel, Cruel World” almost sounds like a Bob Dylan tune, with its social commentary on the state of affairs in the world, the blend of acoustic and electric guitars, and, of course, the harmonica. “Bad Man” features just vocals and piano, sounding very intimate and sort of like a nerdier Tris McCall. Solid, decent stuff.


FEATHERS – If All Now Here (NYX, www.nyxsounds.com)

This is a four-piece synth-pop band out of Austin, Texas. This all-female group sounds like they stepped through a time warp, directly from the 1980s. Electronics dominate, with loads of reverb and dream-like vocals. Sadly, the tracks really never seem to go anywhere, never build any energy. They just sort of drift. Hell, one of the tracks is even called “Dream Song,” so I’m sure it’s intentional. But it’s just not the sort of thing that gets me going. Back in the 80s, I did listen to some synth stuff, but it was stuff that packed a punch. This is just kind of weak.

HIGHNESS – Hold (Magic Bullet Records, www.magicbulletrecords.com)

When I learned that this band featured Eric Richter, he of Christie Front Drive, one of the better emo bands from back in the 90s, I was enthused and had high hopes for this disc. Sadly, it doesn’t deliver. It ends up sounding like a million other alternative bands being played on the radio. There’s a lot of mid-tempo, guitar bass drums rockin’. Even when they have some interesting stuff, like “Shroud,” the lead in to and opening part of “You Know Everything,” things go wrong. The whole thing starts sounding very eerie and melancholy, with ethereal voices and electronics, quietly echoing in the distance. It moves closer and slowly builds in intensity. And then, as it makes the transition to “You Know Everything,” it pulls back, as acoustic guitar takes up the line, and quiet vocals join in. Very nice. But then, the alternative rocking goes and spoils everything. And then it gets all psychedelic wanky arty and pretentious. Ugh.

MEAN LADY – Love Now (Fat Possum Records, www.fatpossum.com)

Is Mean Lady the female version of Vampire Weekend? It sure seems that way, if you listen to tracks like “Far Away,” “Why'd'ya Haftabee Sucha?” or “Daisies” on this debut from the Delaware duo. There’s loads of African influence here, only a little more Americanized, smoothed over, and poppified. Yet listening to the opener, “One Big Family,” they seem more like a blend of that band and the even quirkier tUnE-yArDs, but smoother and poppier. “Bop Bop” simply sparkles. And other songs, with their very smooth, almost jazz-pop female vocals, remind me a lot of Estelle, of “American Boy” fame. Ok, so knowing that this sounds like what I just described, would you want to listen to it? I’m still trying to decide.


PRETTY BOY THORSON & ‘LIL HAPPINESS – Grain Belt 7” and Happiness 7” (Rad Girlfriend Records, radgirlfriendsrecords.bigcartel.com)

Here’s a pair of singles from one of the various projects from the front-man for The Slow Death that came out in the second half of last year. This project features less punk sound and more plain ol’ rock and roll, featuring Thorson’s big, gravelly voice and electric keyboards (!), plus guitar, bass and drums. On the first single, “I Ain’t Gonna Beg” is more the rocker, with the keyboards in organ form, while the B side, “Running Back,” has more of a poppy jangle, and a bouncier feel, with the keyboards sounding more bell-like. The second single is more straightforward power-pop without the keyboards. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is almost an old-time pop tune, with an updated rock sound. “Way Out” is my favorite of the bunch, being the closest thing to pop-punk here, and featuring female vocals! Decent stuff, but a little bland for my taste.

RUMSPRINGER – Stay Afloat (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Brand spankin’ new music out of the Arizona desert is more melodic than ever. Up-tempo wall-of guitar sounds are punctuated with off-kilter rhythms and plenty of powerful pop sensibility. Matt Dobbins, Wes Korte and Mikey Wretch simply must have sold their souls to the devil, because I can’t explain any other way they could have put out such a perfect album. “Air Raid Curfew” starts the album out all mellow and jazzy, and then launches into the most jangly, yet noisy pop tune. This is such a winner, and is on my list of best songs of the year, no doubt. And just when I thought the entire album’s load had to have been blown on that first track, the second one takes things up a notch. “Hindsight is 20/20, Foresight is $200 an Hour” just pounds away with its intense powerful pop. “Not the Advice I Was Looking For” is another winner, packing a huge punch of melody, lyrics, and rhythms that are more than just a standard 4/4 beat. I’ve always enjoyed Rumspringer, since first coming across them at my first Awesomefest experience a few years ago, but they’re really demonstrating a wonderful musical maturity here. Just listen to “Duct Tape and Sheer Will” and see if you don’t agree. The songs are so much richer, more complex, and yet so beautifully simple at the same time. Just you wait until the end of the year and count up how many top ten lists or whatever this makes it onto. Most highly recommended. Just buy this. Now.

SAM PHILLIPS – Push Any Button (www.samphillips.com)

This is a tough one to judge. There are some elements in the arrangements that are really unique and cool, but then there are other aspects of these tracks that are pretty pedestrian. Take “All Over Me,” the second track. The bending notes in the acoustic guitar, and the bass drum punctuating the beat is pretty cool, as are the trombones. But the melody isn’t anything that grabs me. “Going” starts out in its first few seconds with a promising guitar pizzicato, in waltz time, but then suffers a similar fate. The arrangement is pretty cool, but the song itself just doesn’t do it for me. “Things I Shouldn’t Have Told You,” on the other hand, has a more standard arrangement, but is a really cool song, with hints of 60s retro sounds. “You Know I Won’t” is a throwaway country-ish track that I couldn’t get into. “Speaking of Pictures” again has some cool elements, but the song itself just doesn’t excite me. This is a tough one to judge.


UNDERCOVER MONSTERS / PUBIC
ZIRCONIANS Split 7-inch
(undercovermonsters.bandcamp.com)

Three songs from each of these pop-punk bands from the Inland Empire of Southern California. Undercover Monsters offer a schizoid sense of influence, with a very Naked Raygun-like track in “Black Lung,” followed by more of a drunk-punk sounding “Walter,” and top things off with, “I Don’t Care About You,” a very poppy pop-punk track. Pubic Zirconians provide a more “traditional” modern pop-punk sound with a harder guitar edge. “I Choose Drugs” is a track about someone who lost his girlfriend to meth. “Left Hook” is about a guy whose girlfriend is cheating on him. And “Chatsworth” is about a guy who, despite knowing it’s not the best thing, falls for a girl from Nebraska who moves to Chatsworth to work in the adult film industry. Not the most moving, earthshattering topics, but fun stuff.



BONSAI! / GENTLEMEN PREFER BLOOD – Split 7” (www.ontherealrecords.com)

It’s the Inland Empire vs. LA on this new split out of SoCal. Bonsai! are a powerful band based out of Riverside, featuring tight arrangements, prominent bass, and shout-a-long vocal punctuation. The buzz-saw guitars and strong melodic lines remind me a lot of one of the great Chicago bands of the 80s and 90s, Naked Raygun. Gentlemen Prefer Blood, hailing from LA, while a little less in-your-face powerful than Bonsai, make up for it in the maturity and complexity of the songs. I hear multiple influences here, ranging from Social D to Husker Du, yet the overall result is somewhat unique, and no other band sounds quite like this. I particularly like the vocals from Todd Smailes, featured on the first of the band’s two tracks. They’re solid, on key, and with just the right amount of gravel. So which band wins this battle? You should pick up this 7” and decide for yourself.

THE CREDENTIALS / STEELHORSE – Split 7” (radgirlfriendsrecords.bigcartel.com)

Two songs from each band are featured on this split that came out mid last year. The Credentials offer up manic pop-punk with a wall of sound from the guitars and vocals alike. The songs are pounding, yet offer up some edgy jangle, as well. Good stuff! The Steelhorse tracks are a different matter, though. Besides the really lo-fi poor recording quality (and I can tell it’s not on purpose, it’s just badly recorded), the music is kind of sloppy and sounds a bit amateurish. This one’s a mixed bag, but worth it for the Credentials.


THE ANTICS – Running Faster (www.wearetheantics.com)

This is, without a doubt, the classic garage band sound – except maybe a little cleaner. Hailing from the wilds of Princeton, New Jersey, these denizens of basement shows provide solid, mid-tempo rock’n’roll music, with hints of 60s surf rock. The minor key of a lot of the tracks reminds me of cheesy 60s teen horror films, for some reason, complete with the eerie electric organ sound. “Payday” is a really good example of this sound. The sound is actually pretty minimalist, with just basic guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals. Rather than coming across as too spartan, though, the sound is just streamlined. I really like the track, “Overload,” which has a sparse, early 80s sort of post-punk sound, almost Joy Division-like in its pulsating minimalist sound. “I’ll Be Alright” is almost a classic doo-wop track, but it just doesn’t have enough soul, sadly. Overall, this is a decent album, but I really wish that the tempo of the tracks hadn’t been so uniformly moderate. Do some faster ones and some slower ones, guys.

THE CHAPIN SISTERS – A Date with the Everly Brothers (Lake Bottom Records, www.thechapinsisters.com)

More than a tribute album, this was a labor of love for the Chapin Sisters. In addition to lovingly covering these classic tracks from the masters of two-part harmony, they raised the funds necessary to put out the physical release through a Kickstarter campaign. The music is very evocative of the era from which the songs originate. It’s much sweeter and gentler than the rock music that would follow, yet poppier than the R&B and doo-wop that preceded it. This is nice stuff, I guess. But I do question the need for recreating earlier works. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy covers, but I like it best when the band puts their own spin on the song. Duplicating someone else’s work is just theft or laziness. OK, that aside, the quality of the work here is pretty darn good. The arrangements, the musicianship, and the vocals are all top notch. The passion the Chapins have for the music comes across clearly. I particularly like their rendition of “All I Have To Do Is Dream;” it has a very dreamy quality. If you like the Everly Brothers, and you like covers, you’ll enjoy this.

DEPECHE MODE – Delta Machine (Columbia Records)

Those 80s icons are still at it, and with a “brand new album,” as the packaging declares. This, their thirteenth album, brings us more tracks laden with electronics, though they’re a bit grittier sounding than in the band’s heyday. The album is exactly what you might expect from Depeche Mode. And therein lies a real problem. The band is content to stick to what they know and what they’ve sold in the past, and show no inclination to explore or innovate in new musical areas. They try to sound a little tougher and edgy, but still end up sounding like an aging 80s synth pop band. “Brand new album?” More like a variation on a theme, more of the same. One track title seems to some up my feelings pretty well. “Slow.” The album never really goes anywhere, never moves me. It’s just slow.

FLAMINGO 50 – Tear It Up (Rad Girlfriend Records, radgirlfriendsrecords.bigcartel.com)

OK, so this album originally came out in 2006, but is only now seeing release on vinyl, released in the US by Rad Girlfriend Records, and in the band’s native UK by Drunken Sailor. This is awesome power-pop with a punk edge. There’s even hints of 60s garage pop and 50s girl band doo-wop in the mix, too, which gives this a pretty unique sound. “Face the Wall,” the fourth track on the disc, is an absolute gem, with a strong retro feel but a thoroughly modern esthetic. The album opens with “Count to Three,” another strong one, with a sound that reveals their Liverpudlian roots. “Losing Out” is another retro-sounding classic, complete with electric keyboards and full on doo-wop-pop sound. Damn. Every song I listen to is becoming one my new favorites! “Roll On Rolly Wheel” is just a mind-blowingly good power-pop track! The humorously titled, “Velocity Exercise,” is a 46 second long hardcore punk track, good, but sounding out of place here. As a matter of fact, there’s not a single bad track on this strong release, and I heartily recommend picking this up. The sad part of all of this? Flamingo 50 broke up a few years back, so we need to be happy with re-releases like this.

MANDATE OF HEAVEN – Mark Music (Neon Witch,
mandateofheaven.bandcamp.com/)

The album starts out reasonably promising enough, with “Baby Electron.” It has a nice indie rock feel, good and crunchy, with plenty of cool hooks. “Bedroom in the Sky,” though, slows things down, and has a cross between indie ballad and blues-rock, and it just doesn’t seem to work. “Scrappers Blues” has kind of a math-rock feel, but smoother and less angular. Huh? “High Dragonfly” is slow and drags like crazy. It feels lazy and dull. I think it’s supposed to sound bluesy and soulful, but it doesn’t. From here, things just take a turn for the worse, and the tracks end up sounding like any old alternative rock you might find opening for the big name acts at your local semi-large rock venue. Not impressed.

PATCHES AND GRETCHEN – Even Breaks (Sandpaper Tongue Records,www.patchesandgretchen.com)

Whoa, holy shit! This is very different from most anything out there today. Sounding very much like stream of consciousness song writing, Patches and Gretchen meld spoken word, performance art, indie rock, folk/country and western, and bluesy rock to create something completely mind bendingly different and good. The disc opens with “Flowerpots,” a gorgeous waltz, featuring simple vocals, guitar, glockenspiel, keyboards, and tambourine, in a very minimalist arrangement. I love the operatic backing vocals. “The Voot” is a nine and a half minute plus epic track, full of grittiness and humor. “Are You Liquid” is a cool track that’s very angular, and very free flowing. I enjoy “Chart With Stars,” too, for its cool melodic line, so. This is pretty cool stuff.

TIGHT BROS (Rad Girlfriend Records, radgirlfriendrecords.bigcartel.com)

Good, powerful pop-punk, with harmonized and otherwise multi-tracked vocals. There’s a definite Ramones influence here, but the songs are not just plain basic stuff – the harmonies add so much depth to the music. The opener, “Particles,” is a really strong track, with fast and furious music, but gloriously harmonious vocals. “Summertime” is a nicely bouncy, poppy track. “Pig Roast,” is a cool track that starts out as a good pop-punk track, but toward the end starts getting epically psychedelic. “Karaoke” closes the album, and is probably my favorite track in an album full of good tracks. It’s raucous as hell with really cool hooks. Recommended!

WHAT-A-NIGHTS (Rad Girlfriend Records, radgirlfriendsrecords.bigcartel.com)

These pop-punkers from Japan self-released this debut album on CD, and now it’s seeing world-wide vinyl release, thanks to the cooperation of Rad Girlfriend in the US, Drunken Sailor in the UK, and Snuffy Smiles in Japan. This is melodic, rapid-fire poppy stuff with smooth, clear vocals, an aberration in the world of usually gruff vocals in pop-punk bands. Overall, good stuff, though most of the tracks don’t jump out at me as big standouts of the genre. That is, until “Da-a-a-ance,” the penultimate track of the album. This track just bounces and rocks like crazy!

WILD BELLE – Isles (Columbia Records)

This is an interesting blend of reggae, pop and psychedelic music. “Isles” is a good title for the album, because it gives you a feeling of being in the Caribbean. And, while this is, indeed, on a major record label, it doesn’t show the signs of major label production shenanigans. The production is actually pretty sparse and a bit lo-fi, giving it a more “authentic” sound, if you will. The tracks are hooky and Natalie Bergman’s vocals are strikingly seductive. “Another Girl” is probably one of the stand-out tracks, for its soulful feel, sounding a bit like an updating of the 60s Motown girl-band sound. I also am in love with the closer, “Take Me Away,” which has a cool beat and uses zither in the arrangement! “When It’s Over” is probably the weakest track on the disc, likely because Elliot Bergman provides the vocals, and his voice just can’t match his sister’s. Overall, I like the sound here. If I have one complaint, it’s that there’s a little bit of a lack of variety in the sound and feel of the tracks.



THE DEER TRACKS –
The Archer Trilogy Pt. 3
(www.controlgroupco.com)

Well, yes, there was a part 1 and a part 2. They came out way back in 2011, and it’s taken awhile to complete the finale, I guess. This is a very atmospheric album, from the Swedish duo. Lilting vocals float about dreamy electronics. Some of the tracks are practically soundscapes, so atmospheric they are. Others have more of an edge to them, like “Divine Light,” the third track on the album. Some of the tracks are nearly dance club worthy, if they were a bit more forceful – and no doubt some oft these tracks will get remixed for the circuit club scene. “Astral Ship” is one such track, that has a good steady beat, and loads of electronics plus soaring vocals. I kind of like the strings that make it front and center through parts of this track, providing an epic movie soundtrack feel. I dunno, maybe most Jersey Beat readers won’t find this their cup of tea, but, I must admit, I kinda like it.

DREW ISLIEB – Stride (Ernest Jenning Recording Co., www.ernestjenning.com)

Nerd rock, in the best sense of the term! This is easy loping indie rock. Partially acoustic, partially electric, all nice to listen to. This is the kind of music that your best friend would be making in his home studio while you’re hanging out. Very easy and relaxed sounding. There’s even ukulele on some of the tracks. I mean, come on, how more laid back can you get than that? This is just so super relaxed and enjoyable to listen to. Even the most frantic, up-tempo track on the disc, “The Tones,” has an easy feel to it. Cool.

ISOTOPES – Blood Diamond (643 Records, theisotopes.bandcamp.com)

The EP came out as a digital download last spring, but is also now available as a very limited edition 7” on red vinyl. Each one is hand numbered in an edition of 300. And if you like baseball and you like Ramones-style punk rock, this is the record for you! Simple mid-tempo pop-punk is the order of the day here. Two of the songs are originals, “Rule 21” and “Operation: Vamos,” while the third track is a punk version of the old baseball favorite, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Decent fun, if not very original.

LUXURY LINERS – They’re Flowers (Western Vinyl, www.westernvinyl.com)

This is the debut solo project from Carter Tanton. This sounds kind of like what Bill Nelson’s solo stuff would have sounded like, had it been released a couple of decades later than it was. And, though I like the old Bill Nelson stuff, this sound kind of stale and “been there done that.” I dunno, the songs all kind of sound the same to me, sort of retro electronic pop, with no real level of excitement. Meh.

 

 

THE MANX – Blood Chronicles (themanx.bandcamp.com)

I saw these guys last night at a show that I had hijacked to celebrate my birthday. And it was the perfect show for it, because the bands were pretty varied and original, and you regular readers know I love variety and originality. The Manx has it in spades! The Manx are best described as “gypsy punk.” Four musicians, bass, banjo, mandolin, and accordion, belt out some of the coolest music I’ve heard in awhile. The 7” (also available as a digital download) starts out with a manic, rapid-fire track, “Blood Gold.” “Husky Tavern” starts out as an epic sounding slow waltz, and then suddenly breaks out into a darkly joyful 5/4 time tune. It then transitions into a manic, crazy 4/4 time to finish things out. The other tracks follow suit, evolving and changing, being calm and quiet one minute, and off the hook crazy the next. Gypsy music with a snotty punk attitude and edge – beautiful and recommended!

MARINE ELECTRIC – Restrained Joy (www.facebook.com/marineelectric)

This is a bit of a throwback. Marine Electric plays a sort of indie-emo sound that a bunch of bands were playing in the latter half of the nineties. It’s not as hardcore or punk influenced as the earlier emo that came out of DC or the Midwest in the late 80s and early nineties, but it’s also not the “scream” kind of stuff that was around for a (thankfully) short while. It’s decent enough. The musicianship is good, the songwriting is nice, but it just doesn’t have the “oomph” I would want from a band like this. The songs are just kind of there, never really propelling the listener forward. Here’s a hint guys, one I learned a long time ago from some professional music critics: the first track on the album better be the best, and better be a strong attention getter. Otherwise, a lot of critics will stop listening right there, and you might not even get a review written up. “Change Your Mind” is OK, but it’s just not the energetic punch in the face it needs to be. And that’s the failing in the whole album, sadly, because I can see that, with a little effort, this could be a really cool band.

THE RESCUES – Blah Blah Love and War (Red Wind Records,
www.facebook.com/therescues)

The Los Angeles foursome have left the major label world behind and struck out with a new indie release. Problem is, they still sound like a “major label” band. The best way to describe this is “adult contemporary.” Soft pop-rock sounds with “soulful” vocals. Bleah. I usually will stick with an album all the way through, to give it a fair chance, but I really couldn’t stomach this whole thing.




RISK RELAY – After Fake End Times (Ernest Jenning Recording Co., www.ernestjenning.com)

This is cool 90s sounding post-punk, kind of modal, a little jangly, and all pretty much mid-tempo. Think much smoother, poppier Circus Lupus, or less noisy and angular Sonic Youth from that period, and you might get an idea of the sound on this album. Individually, the songs are pretty good. I don’t think there was a single song here that I thought was unlistenable. It’s all good stuff. But the thing that this album suffers from is a severe lack of variety. The songs all sound quite a bit alike, so after awhile it starts getting kind of stale.


RVIVR – The Beauty Between (Rumbletowne Records,
www.rumbletowne.com)

I know, I’m a loser who’s old and behind the times, but it took me until last year to hear my first RVIVR. It was a live show, a special celebration for a good friend, and an occasion that I wrote about in these virtual pages. If you remember that article, you’ll recall that I was gushing about this band, and their incredible friendly attitude, their smiles while playing, and how great the music is. This brand new LP does not change any of my feelings about them, except maybe to like them even more. The music is just so great. It’s an edgy sort of pop-punk sound. I absolutely love “Wrong Way/One Way,” the fourth track on the album. I am listening to this on an airplane right now, and I can hardly contain myself in the seat. This track just makes me want to jump out of my seat and dance in the aisle – but the seat belt sign is on. The music here is very melodic, jangly, but edgy at the same time. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The album starts with “Seam,” a track that kind of noisily meanders for a short bit before resolving into a ferocious melodic pop-punk assault. After a couple minutes of pure instrumentals, the vocals come in, sing-along chorus style, with guitarist/vocalist Erica Freas out front. Erica really shines on this album, with her strong, clear voice. “LMD” and “Spider Song” are both pretty good burners, churning along with great bounce and melody. A couple of the songs start out kind of slow, literally and figuratively, but then they build up steam, the pressure rises, and they explode. Tracks like “Old Dogs” and “Paper Thin” fall into this category. One of the more interesting elements of the album is “The Hunger Suite,” a three track piece that all flows together into one. A little more than half of the roughly nine and a half minutes of the trilogy is taken up by part one, subtitled, “Go Away.” It’s a slower track, almost – but not quite – ballad-like, and has an “alternative post-pop-punk” sort of sound. Part two, “Bleed Out,” is a short, fast pop-punk track, and quickly is followed by part three, “”Hunger,” which slows things back down, in epic fashion. “Elephant Song” is just gorgeous, a short instrumental that has an almost spiritual feel, with lower register guitar sounds. And this flows into the final track, “Party Queen,” and talk about epic. The grandeur just builds and builds. A fitting end to what will surely be considered one of the best pop punk albums of the year.

THEE OH SEES – Floating Coffin (Castle Face Records, www.castlefacerecords.com)

What would you expect from a band that has “Thee” as the first word in its name? You got it; this is garage rock and roll. But this isn’t your usual lo-fi, fast and loud and noisy garage rock. This has a modern pop feel to it, as well, and a really cool counterpoint between the tough guitars and make vocals, and the smooth and beautiful female vocals. Right from the get-go, thing get into high gear and right down to business, with “I Came From the Mountain,” a rapid fire track that’s really tight. Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster” slows things down a bit, with cool heavy guitar sounds against the smooth female vocals, moved to the forefront. The title track has a cool psychedelic edge to it, while “No Spell” is a beautiful floating pop tune, with a honed edge. While I usually like more up-tempo tracks better than slower ones (and who doesn’t?), I find that the slower tracks on this album are just as mesmerizing as the fast ones. “Strawberries 1+2” is a good case in point, blending the best aspects of garage, psych and shoe-gazer to create something pretty nice. “Night Crawler” is another slower track, this time with a heavy, yet spacey kind of feel. The closer is a cool, loping track that adds strings (!!) to great effect. Probably one of the better garage rock releases these days, and recommended.

THINKING MACHINES – Extension Chords (thinkingmachines.bamdcamp.com)

This is an interesting blend of shoegaze and prog rock. It starts out really strongly, with a track called “The Squid.” It shimmers like good shoegaze, but has a heavy guitar feeling like old prog rock, pulsating. At times it almost sounds grunge-like. But the album is kind of uneven, with some of the tracks maintaining that cool balance, and others veering too much into grunge territory. The band is most effective when it maintains that blend, because it’s a cool unique sound that not a lot of other bands are doing. When it focuses more on the heavy grunge guitar stuff, they end up sounding like too many other bands out there. Besides the opening track, “Lunge” is another really cool one, with its indie-pop feel melded with the heaviness and fuzziness. I just wish there were more tracks like these, and less of the purely heavy grunge-fuzz noise ones.

YOUR FUTURE LOVERS – Eat. Play. Leave.
(www.facebook.com/YourFutureLovers)

Oh gawd. Crap pop-rock from LA. The kind that you would have expected to litter commercial radio back in the late 70s. I couldn’t stomach this.


SCREAMING FEMALES – Chalk Tape
(www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Screaming Females are back with a brand new EP, containing seven of the newest offerings from this New Jersey post-punk-grunge band. And, without a doubt, this is the most diverse release ever from the trio. If not for the distinct sounds of Marissa Paternoster’s vocals, one might think these songs came from different albums and from different bands, so varied are the styles. From the album’s opener, “Sick Bed,” you can tell this is a different sort of Screamales release. There’s a distinct divergence from the previous, intense, grunge-punk sounds, in favor of a somewhat lighter, even poppier sound. But, like I said, the songs on this EP cannot be categorized, because they’re so different from one another. “Sick Bed” has a heavy, almost funky bass line, and Paternoster’s double-tracked vocals are sung in a deadpan style to a dirge-march like beat. “Crushing the Kingdom” is a stark contrast, pounding out a rapid-fire, borderline metallic sound. Then comes “Bad Men,” which completely throws out everything you thought you knew about this band, utilizing acoustic guitar to provide a dark folk-rock track. “Wrecking Ball” is an almost experimental rock track, with more of a free-form feel.” “Poison Arrow” is the most “post-punk” sounding track on the disc, in a 90s Sonic Youth sorta way, but with less noise. “Into the Sun” has a mysterious, Middle-Eastern sound, while the closer, “Green Vapors,” is a sub two-minute noisy pop gem, though it’s an odd choice to close, sounding almost like an incomplete track. Probably one of the most unique releases you’ll ever find from this band, and a strong one, at that.

ANCHORS – Lost at the Bottom of the World (Creator Destructor Records, www.creator-distructor.com)

Hang on a sec. Where is this band from? It sure sounds like they’re from SoCal or somewhere in the southwest USA, with their cross between pop-punk and melodic hardcore sounds. But no, they’re from…Melbourne, Australia? Rapid-fire drumming, epic guitar power-chords, and half-sung, half-shouted vocals blend together to create a powerful sound. If there’s one criticism I could level, it would be that about halfway through the roughly thirty-three minute album, the songs start to blend together a little too much. A bit more variety would go a long way, but this is a strong effort.

BIG DICK (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

I’m sure exactly where this Canadian duo get their name, but I like to think it’s an homage to fellow Canucks, NOMEANSNO, who had a great song with that name on their seminal album, “Wrong. Wherever the name came from, it’s good that it’ll be easy to remember – and you should. Because I predict big things for them. Not your traditional pop-punk or melodic hardcore sound that you might expect from the kind folks at Dirt Cult, this is a powerful thrust of in-your-face grunge-punk. Featuring no guitars, just bass and drums, this spunky outfit pound out some great tracks. OK, OK, I’ll quit with the stupid puns (but they’re so easy!). Seriously, you might think that a simple drum and bass combo would be very limited and boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s plenty of lo-fi garage rock and plenty of melodic sounds here in the noisy hammering of the traditional rhythm section. A perfect example is “Antisocial,” which is a downright pop track full of melody. Of course, there are also rapid-fire crunchy tracks, too, like the unrelenting “Mayday,” which just hammers into your skull. On this strong, unique album, standout tracks include “School Yard Violence” and “Medic,” for their cool post-punk vibe, and “Problems,” and the aforementioned “Antisocial,” for being unexpectedly melodic. Very strong debut release!

PETRA HADEN – Petra Goes to the Movies (ANTI-, www.anti.com)

Petra Haden has music in her blood. The daughter of jazz bassist, Charlie Haden, Petra has been a member of bands such as THAT DOG and THE DECEMBERISTS. She’s contributed to recordings from a number of performers, such as Green Day, Mike Watt, Foo Fighters, Weezer and more. But what has really made a name for her most recently is her incredible a cappella singing. She did a track-by-track cover of “The Who Sell Out,” singing all instruments and vocals herself, though that was eight years ago. Now, this album is even more incredible and astounding. Here, Haden provides the same treatment for a number of movie theme songs and soundtrack recordings. Most work incredibly well. The dark moodiness of “God’s Lonely Man” is so well captured, and the gorgeous beauty of “Cinema Paradiso” is, well, gorgeous and beautiful. The main theme from “Psycho” is a lot of fun, and “Carlotta’s Gallop” is a hoot! I love the rendition of the main theme from “My Bodyguard.” Where the album doesn’t succeed as well is on the tracks with actual lyrics, such as “Goldfinger Main Title,” “It Might Be You,” from the movie “Tootsie,” and “Calling You,” from “Bagdad Café.” In particular, the Goldfinger track just can’t come close to the original Shirley Bassey recording, which is such a classic and has such depth and power. “Hand Covers Bruise,” written by Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose for the movie, “The Social Network” works well, but the closer, “This is Not America,” is another with lyrics that fades in comparison to Bowie’s original. Overall a very cool, very strong, very unique album. And, as a special bonus, there’s an insert with photos of Haden re-enacting scenes from several of the films, full costume and all!

LIPONA – Networks
(disconnectdisconnectrecords.bigcartel.com)

This is a cross between pop-punk, post-hardcore, and wanky alternative rock music. It seems more than a bit overdone and overblown to me, in a sort of U2 kind of way, and is pretty dull. It’s kind of like crossing U2 with Bad Religion, yeah, that’s it.

 

MASKED INTRUDER (Red Scare Records, www.redscare.net, Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Freeze! You’re under arrest for being incredibly poppy! For those of you who don’t know, Masked Intruder are a band of mysterious musical criminals, who are aiming to break and enter your heart. OK, enough of the silly puns. Seriously, Masked Intruder play some of the most poppy pop-punk around today. Bouncy, energetic, sappy and sassy music is the order of the day on this self-titled LP. Some of the songs have a retro 60s pop/doo-wop feel, like “Wish You Were Mine.” After the self-titled track that announces their presence, the band jumps into “25 to Life,” a track that has Ramones-like elements, but loaded up with heaps more poppiness. “Breakin’” has some stalkerish lyrics about “breakin’ in cause you broke my heart.” Lost love and unrequited love seem to be a common theme among the baker’s dozen tracks. “Heart Shaped Guitar” is another stalker song, about a guy who is standing in front of a girl’s house at 3am singing love songs on the aortal stringed instrument, with the girl threatening to call the cops. “Stick ‘Em Up” is a straight up crime song, about a stick-up at knifepoint in an alley. “Hello Beautiful” is a silly fake 911 call, with a woman reporting people breaking into their house. When asked what they’re doing, the reply is that they aren’t damaging anything; all they’re doing is singing. The band is incredibly talented and fun. But I worry that they may end up as a mere novelty act. From the colored full-face knit ski caps hiding their identities (they are Masked Intruder, after all), to many of the songs referencing “crimes” of the heart, how long can they keep this up? The joke could get a little stale after awhile. But for now, enjoy some of the best power-pop being produced these days.

THE PHARMACY – Stoned and Alone (Old Flame Records, www.oldflamerecords.com)

The latest effort from The Pharmacy is, as expected, slightly psychedelic garage-pop. The songs have a pretty laid back quality to them, and a definite lo-fi edge. Some of the tracks have an almost orchestral sound to them, but not in an overblown, self-important or profound way. It’s all just so relaxed and easy sounding. Sometimes the vocals come across as a little too laid back, a little imprecise. Despite the downer of a title, the album has an upbeat sound, bouncy and chill at the same time. Some of the tracks have an almost “island” feel, if you can understand what I mean. While the album, overall, is pretty OK, it’s not something astounding. It’s a nice listen, but most of the tracks are, you know, just OK. The one exception I would make would be for “Pines,” the absolute best track on this album – the one that I instantly connected with each time I listened through the album. I think it has to do with this being the most upbeat, bounciest track, plus it has the coolest electric keyboards.

THE SCOVILLES – Play Seven Songs (Dialed In Rekkids, www.facebook.com/scovillesband)

Guess how many songs are on this album? No points for a correct answer. This seven-song CD EP features mid-tempo garage rock’n’roll. No bones about it, this is garage rock. With a lo-fi sound, fans of bands like White Stripes and the Hives will enjoy this. It’s the same sort of genre, but more stripped down and raw and real, so it’s got that going for it. But with all seven songs all being kind of mid-tempo, the momentum never builds and the energy this should have falls a bit short.

THE SOFT HILLS – Chromatisms (Tapete Records, www.tapeterecords.de)

This is an updating of the seventies groove rock sound. Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” comes to mind, as do releases from performers such as Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. But there’s a key difference – this album doesn’t have the soul or the freshness of those bands of yore. There’s just quiet, rolling psychedelic rock ballads, the sort of stuff that kids used to get stoned to back in the seventies – but if they got stoned listening to this, they might just have fallen to sleep instead of enjoying their buzz.

THE SPASTIC HEARTS (www.facebook.com/pages/The-Spastic-Hearts/293415424090397)

Pretty straight forward melodic punk rock and power-pop. The album starts out strong, with “Gimmie Gimmie,” a Ramones inspired track, with fast, loud, simple, poppy power chords and a simple sing-along chorus. The following tracks follow along in the same formula – and that can be a problem. Too much of the same thing can get stale, sometimes. On a number of tracks, the formula works pretty well, but a few of the tracks are somewhat weaker, such as “Wait a Little Bit,” “I Know,” and “Just For You.” But there’s some particularly strong tracks, too, like “Rocket Ship” and “Rock N’ Roll.” Mixed bag.

GREAT APES / KNOW YOUR SAINTS – Split 7” (Say 10 Records, say10.limitedrun.com)

This split came out about two months ago, but I just picked it up at a show last night, and figured it was still new enough to be worthy of a review here. Great Apes are from San Francisco and Know Your Saints are from Oakland, so this is kind of an across-the-bay split. Each band provides two tracks of melodic post-hardcore. Great Apes is up first, with “The Quack and the Leper Master” and “Class(war) Room Master.” They have an almost Chicago-like sound, in their unrelenting massive guitar sound, but the vocals are more gruff while still having a melodic quality. Both tracks are good, but I particularly like the quicker pace, more kick-ass attitude, and politics of the latter of the pair. When did punk lose the social and political commentary it used to have? Thanks for bringing it back, Great Apes! Know Your Saints provide a poppier version of punk, with a gruff edge to it. It’s really good, but also very familiar – it’s pretty much the same exact style you get from Lawrence Arms. So if you like them, you’ll like Know Your Saints.


 

YO LA TENGO – Fade (Matador Records, www.matadorrecords.com)

It’s been more than three years since New Jersey indie-rockers released “Popular Songs” to popular acclaim. They’re back now, with ten new songs. The band continues to evolve, continues to play a wide variety of musical styles, and continues to provide lovely, gentle sounds. The album opens with “Ohm,” a kin of vaguely psychedelic track, with heavy shoegaze overtones. It glides and soars, but also as that drone-guitar sort of thing going on, so you’re kind of standing there, looking down and swaying while you’re soaring – if you can get what I’m trying to convey. “Is That Enough” is a pop ballad in the 70s vein, complete with strings, and slightly country guitar jangle, but with a constant noisy guitar buzz in the background, providing a grating backdrop to the sugary sap of the tune. “Well You Better” opens with an eerie sound for a few seconds, but them immediately launches into a quiet pop tune with electric organ, quiet vocals and a strong back beat. “I’ll Be Around” is a beautiful acoustic track, very simple and lovely. “Cornelia and Jean” is another really nice one, quiet, delicate and lovely, with trombones providing some instrumental élan, along with contrasting acoustic guitar providing a strong beat. About two thirds of the way through, it gets quieter and more introspective, losing the rhythm section, with just vocals and electric guitar for a short while. Probably one of my favorites on the disc is right at the mid-point, track 5, “Stupid Things.” It starts out with a bit of classical style guitar noodling, and then there’s an evil synth that creeps up in the background, and the drums jump in, with a distinct beat, sort of reminding me of German prog rock, but with the beautiful pop stylings that then enter in, it’s more like a calm, quiet Stereolab. Very nice. This is a really nice release, one that I prefer over “Popular Songs,” which was a little too uneven for my tastes.

 

CHRIS STAMEY – Lovesick Blues (Yep Roc Records, www.yeproc.com)

Well, this sure ain’t the dBs, nor is it anything like what I expected. This isn’t power pop; it’s sort of a cross between adult contemporary and singer-songwriter folk music. Some of the tracks border on the almost orchestral, so thick are the arrangements. What you get here is basically easy going stuff. The disc starts out with “Skin,” a track dripping with acoustic guitar and cello, and it really sets the mood for the whole album. Acoustic is a theme with most all the song here. “You N Me N XTC” adds more acoustic instruments, in the form of trumpets and trombones, adding a slight jazzy feel. There’s even toy piano on this one. Throughout, Stamey’s vocals come through crystal clear, and there are all sorts of little ornamentations in the music. If you’re thinking about getting this because you think you’re going to get dBs-like music, don’t. If you’re into nice, calm stuff, a la Michael Johnson, you’ll like this.


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