Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


CHARGER (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Rancid’s Matt Freeman joins forces with drummer Jason Willer and guitarist Andrew McGee in recently formed Charger, a project created not “as a band so much as a musical challenge between two lifers in the punk scene who wanted to push each other to dig deep into their shared roots, influences and musical passions,” as they put it. And, if you’re expecting punk rock, a la Rancid, change your mindset now. Charger owes more of a debt to Motorhead, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath than any punk band. Yes, this is pure, classic, hard rock. Three of the seven songs on this long-form EP were previously released on a 7” EP last year, but all of them are hard-driving metallic rock music. Not a hint of pop or punk invades these hand bangers. Most of “Damage,” for example, sounds like an homage to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” but with slightly quicker tempo. “All Kings Must Die” owes a great debt to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” too. It has that same gliding quality, and the vocals throughout this record have a quality similar to that of the late, great Lemmy Kilmister. The musicianship is top notch, as you might expect from such musical lifers. So if you’re into this sort of music, you’re going to love this. To me, though, it seems too derivative.

CREATURE AND THE WOODS – Joshua Tree (Blind Owl Records, www.blindowlsd.com)

San Diego quartet Creature In The Woods blend together classic rock, Americana, and soulful spiritual music on their latest EP. The title comes from the place where the tracks were recorded. The band rented an Air BnB in the area, recording several songs, four of which are included on this EP. The opener, “Widow’s Waltz,” begins and ends with grainy sounding, haunting Native American chants, and in between is a grunged up, bluesy number that channels Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic 70s blues rock sound. Multi-part vocal harmonies and a warm organ sound are key highlights, even as a surf guitar tone and a gritty bass keep things dark. “Head Above Water” slows things down, and the Fender Rhodes keyboards give this track a deep soul feel. Vocals provide the primary instrumentation on this one, with the drums simply providing a steady tempo, and the guitar, bass, and Rhodes used for embellishment, to bend those notes, and create the atmosphere. “Oh, Well” is a quiet, sparsely arranged, delicate number, with deeply passionate vocals. The closer, “Two Golden Coins,” is a bouncy one, with full-on multi-part harmonies in the vocals. It’s a love song, in which one thought life was just about over until meeting that special someone. “I was just about to lay down / Just about to lay down and die / And I had two golden coins / Two golden coins over my eyes / You just danced and sang / And I was wild again.” The feeling is one of a spiritual revival, the Holy Ghost coming alive, the joy spreading. Maybe that’s how you’ll feel, too, after listening.

GREY GOES BLACK – Records Over Wire (Shore Dive Records, shorediverecords.bandcamp.com)

Shore Dive is a UK label that specializes in shoegaze, dream pop, and electronica. Central New Jersey band Grey Goes Black, who they recently signed, is a good fit. The dreaminess on this record, though, comes less from electronics or keyboards, and more from the instrumentation, the vocals, and hazy pace of the tracks. The trio (Matt Cosoni – guitar and vocals, James Malizia – bass and keyboards, Steven Moraghan – drums and electronics) show that a band can be dreamy without over-reliance on thick electronics. Cosoni’s vocals alone prove that, with aching emotions coming through clearly. An electronic percussion track plays alongside the drums, prominently featured on the opener, “It’s Not Just Another Night,” and lending a chill-out quality to the track. Maybe too chill, though. Each of the four tracks (and the bonus remix of “Can’t Keep Me Here Tonight”) is slow and lazy, lulling the listener into a trance-like state, Each track on its own is an interesting listen, and the music is fairly unique, different from anything other dream pop bands are doing. Taken together, though, the record shares too much in common with strong opiates, and listeners are likely to become disconnected from reality for a time.

HARRINGTON SAINTS – 1000 Pounds of Oi! (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

I guess Bay Area street punks Harrington Saints used to carry more weight than they do now. The album title and title track refer to when they were first playing bigger shows and were likened to Poison Idea, but playing oi music. They’ve slimmed down since then, but they’re still true to their roots, playing punk tock with a metallic edge. After a decade and a half as a band, this is only their third full-length LP, and it contains ten tracks of what they term “American Oi!” It’s American beer guzzling working class punk rock. The band is tight, the melodies are simple, and the vocals are shouted. It’s a recipe for a great live show, with tons of people are shouting in unison, I’m sure. But this sort of thing doesn’t translate that well to record. It comes across to me as too simplistic, and the monotone shouted vocals get, well, monotonous. Song topics range from political, such as “Red State,” which talks about the Republican dominated parts of the country, and “State of Emergency,” about the need for gun control, to societal comments, such as “Pressure” and “Broken Windows.” There’s the inevitable call for revolution in “Rise Up.” Then there’s the title track, which is a song about themselves. A lot of this is a sort of throwback to 80s punk. I know so many bands, even made up of younger people, who seem to be stuck 30+ years ago. And I don’t deny that there’s an audience for this sort of thing today, but it just seems stale to me.

RAMOMS – Problem Child (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

The Ramoms, made up of Jodi, Sharon, Molly, and Ginger Ramom, are part Ramones tribute band, part comic novelty act. They take Ramones songs and rework them for a new generation. The first track is a revision of the classic “Judy Is A Punk” that honors the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team’s new mascot, Gritty, called “Gritty Is A Punk.” Next up, “Boogie Not Snot,” takes the melody of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and gives it new lyrics all about the problems that come with nasal congestion. Finally, we get a straight-up cover of the classic “Rockaway Beach.” The Ramoms are talented musicians and singers that do a worthy job performing these songs, but I can’t help but think that their abilities would be better served with some original material. Write some originals, and I’ll buy those records!

ROBOT (RE)PAIR – End Transmissions (Night Animal Records nightanimalrecords.bandcamp.com, Rad Girlfriend Records radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com)

Longtime friends Matt and Yami form the core of Robot (Re)pair, and earlier recordings featured just the two of them. In recent years they’ve added Harry and Brad to fill out the sound. Some of the tracks on this album have become staples of their live set, while some of them are new, written on the spot during recording. The band members declare Hickey, 50 Million, and Bust the Action to be the best punk bands ever and strong influences in their younger lives, though they admit they sound nothing like those bands. Instead, they have a loose, DIY pop punk sound and feel, like old friends just playing music together. Which is exactly what they are. Fuzzed and clean guitars duel for supremacy, while a deep bass thrumps along with pounding drums. The opening track holds two songs, the gorgeous indie-pop instrumental “Entering the Heliosphere” and one of the mainstays, “Serotonin Syndrome.” The former is pretty, gossamer thing that moves along aimlessly, like floating down a river, while the latter picks up the pace and becomes a great sing-along, with soaring vocals start and stop rhythm guitar. Some of the songs on this LP remind me of some of the material from the late, great Rumspringer, which makes sense; Matt played in that storied band. The guitars jangle loudly, as the vocals roughly glide over them. It’s the sonic equivalent of a choppy train ride, everything moving forward at a rapid pace, and you feel every bump in the rails, every uneven section of track, but it feels great. Another standout track is “Poverty Bonds,” particularly for the transition it makes from a rapid fire, jangly pop punk track to a mid-tempo song with the lead guitar creating an intensely dark, morose sound. “Origin Story” is one of the great standouts, a truly soaring song with a bit of country twang. The opening to “Dust It Off” is beautiful acoustic guitar, sounding so relaxed like someone sitting in their bedroom, noodling around just for the sheer joy of it. It then turns into another of the many great pop punk tracks here, with simple, yet intensely jangling guitars and those vocals with lots of sustained notes that give it that gliding feel. Many of the tracks have an introduction that sounds very different from the rest of the track. “Sonoran Death Rattle” takes this to the extreme, with verses that are quiet, but with aching tension of guitar feedback in the background, and the fast, jangly, fuzzy pop punk on the chorus. The whole record is a lot of fun to listen to, but I have one major concern: the title. “End Transmissions” makes it sound like a swan song. I hope that’s not the case, because I want to keep hearing and seeing Robot (Re)Pair play for a long time to come.


CORNER BOYS – Waiting For 2020 (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

After a couple of 7” EPs over the past two years, Vancouver’s Corner Boys have finally given us their debut full-length LP. The music is as fun and bouncy as ever, with garage-like guitars and lots of silly lyrics. The sound this time around, though, is cleaner than the EPs, and though many of the songs are still spoken rather than sung, this time we get some actual singing, as well! I love the jangly garage pop sound and the snotty punk attitude that pervades the whole album. As I’ve commented on previous reviews of this band’s records, you don’t listen to Corner Boys for expert crooning vocals – singing isn’t their strong point. You listen to Corner Boys because they’re so damn much fun to listen to. I love “Joke (Of The Neighborhood),” one of the songs that are partially somewhat sung. It’s got a fantastic power pop chorus, and is highly danceable. The guitar tone is bright throughout the album, but especially on “Lies and Excuses.” It’s another song with actual singing, but just on the chorus. When I first saw the name of the album, I thought it might be a reference to Donald Trump and the upcoming election cycle. But “Waiting For 2020” is more about the impending apocalypse, making it sound like something to look forward to. Mid-way through the song, the air raid sirens begin to sound. It’s the most political these guys get. Another notable song of the album is “Don’t Come Back.” It’s the most retro garage sounding song, with as bunch of 60s lounge influence in the guitar sound, even as the song itself is more manic than lounge. It’s a favorite. But then, all these songs are worthy of being called favorite, they’re that much fun. Even though the Corner Boys still can’t sing.

THE DODGES – This One’s On You EP (thedodgesband.bandcamp.com)

First of all, big ups have to go to Will Castro, head honcho over at La Escalera Records. No, he didn’t put this record out; it’s self-released. La Escalera is not just a record label; it’s a family, a network of bands and people who support each other. And Will has been active in recent years of reaching out to new bands and those in other sub-scenes in San Diego, to bring then into the family, thus providing more exposure to bands that might otherwise have fallen between the cracks. The Dodges is one such band. They started popping up on bills of shows La Escalera was putting on in San Diego, and they instantly became a new favorite. This new EP is a follow-up to last year’s mini-LP debut, “Roll With The Dodges,” and it features four new tracks of music that defies categorization. It’s not punk or pop punk. It’s not quite power pop. But it’s bouncy and melodic, and it rocks hard. The title track comes first, starting with some old-timey piano before the band bursts in with a poppy mid-tempo number with a dark edge, sort of like Green Day mixed with earlier Social Distortion. “Equilibrium” is next, and is the most standard rock and roll track of the quartet, with a dark feel, crunchier, with less pop and more rock. It’s got a nice short acoustic break near the end of the track, too. “Susceptible” is the most power pop like song on the record, with tons of bounce and some great hooks. And “To The Top” is the closest the band ever gets to big sing-along pop punk. This track is faster and even more energetic than the others, with some great fist-pumping moments. The key thing that ties these songs together, and what makes The Dodges instantly recognizable and unique are the chord changes they use. They’re not standard pop punk, and the unexpectedness makes for interesting and engaging songs.

FLESHIES – Introducing The Fleshies (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Do not be deceived! This is not a debut album, even though the title makes it seem so! Fleshies were formed two decades ago, and this album is the band’s eighth full-lengther, though it’s their first in ten years! The record is chock-full of fast and loud, dark, angry punk music. The instrumentation is thick, wall of guitar, and the vocals drip with rage. This is classic, in your face hardcore punk, with plenty of metallic edge in places. The dozen songs only take up 23 minutes, so the average blast starts and finishes in under two minutes. “Hold Me Up” is one of the long-form tracks, at just over three minutes, and is different from the rest in another way – it’s mid-tempo and it’s melodic! “Stone Mason” is another out of the ordinary track for the Oakland band, also melodic, but more in a pop punk vein. “Dirtier Harry” is hard rockin’, and the other track that exceeds three minutes, “Bombs,” is another slow one, this time harder rock but with a tuneful feel. The rest of the tracks are the fast and loud hardcore punk Fleshies are most known for, and it’s good to have them back.

MATT SURFIN AND FRIENDS (Community Records, www.communityrecords.org)

Matt Surfin, aka Matt Seferian, is a New Orleans-based musician, producer, and part-time pizza delivery guy. One of his great loves is collaborating with a variety of other musicians in whatever scene he’s in, and that’s the approach he took with his new band, Matt Surfin and Friends. “I started this band because I wanted more of that,” Surfin says. “For me, it was all about celebrating my musical community and connecting with the people I love.” As a result, Matt Surfin and Friends is less of a band and more of a malleable collective that shifts and changes as the need arises. And that means there are subtle variations in the sounds that pop up in the eleven songs on this LP. They range from the straightforward indie-pop of “Loser” (even with its unusual use of synth at the very end of the track) and “Bleep,” to the harder jangle of “Life of Luxury lol,” and to the quiet acoustic “Get Down.” “Truth” has a bigger sound, due to the keyboard tone and funky guitar and bass lines, while “Get Down” has a retro quality, sort of like the transitional era from power pop to new wave in the late 70s and early 80s. “Vibrochamp” is an upbeat indie-pop song that jangles, yet also has a dreaminess to it, particularly toward the end, as the synths come to the fore. The closer, “Summertime,” with its acoustic guitar and multi-tracked vocals is particularly nice, with a lazy, hazy feel. While the LP isn’t breaking any new ground, it’s sure pleasant to listen to.

NEGATIVE SPACE – Cruelty (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Post-punk out of the UK, with minimalist melodies and shouted and spoken vocals. The drums and bass throb, and the guitars fuzzily drone. Heavy reverb permeates everything. Tracks move along at a moderate pace, vocals are fairly monotone, and there’s a pervasive darkness that infects every track. I think the main issue I have is how plodding the end result is. There’s little variation from track to track, and the minimalist melodies that repeat over and over get tiresome. The reverb makes the vocals feel distant and removed, even though they’re shouted. The lo-fi of the recording creates a muddiness that’s hard to wade through, as well. I just couldn’t get into this one.

NO NEGATIVE – The Last Offices (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Last Offices refers to the care that is given to a deceased patient and their family. It’s a morbid, depressing thought. I’m not sure what Montreal’s No Negative means by this, but record is manic stuff, loud and relentless. It’s got a progressive rock quality to it, too, somewhat experimental. “Lawfucker,” for instance, has a piercing guitar right up front in the mix, and the vocals are pulled further back and muffled. It’s quite unsettling of a sound, like something from a dystopian future, as seen from a 1980s point of view. The whole album is like this, with a “melody” presented, followed by a lengthy jam, riffing on noise. This is great stuff – in small doses. It’s hard to take all of these songs back to back, though. After five or ten minutes of this, I’m exhausted and want some quiet and some pop aesthetic to calm me down. The track that stands out, though, is “Worm Feed.” It’s the shortest, at only two and a quarter minutes, it’s the fastest, and it’s the most “punk.”

SCRAP BRAIN – A Journey Into Madness (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

The introduction that makes up the first half of the first track of this debut LP from the UK band, Scrap Brain, had me excited. It had fuzzy ambient music, electronics, and found sounds creating a gorgeously eerie atmosphere. Then the intro ended, and the band launched into “Deadweight.” And it’s an album of loud, noisy, chaotic hardcore punk. Vocals are shouted, yet buried deeply in the “mix.” There’s no sense of melody whatsoever, at least not that I could discern. Probably the best track of the album comes right in the middle. “Floundering” is super fast and edgy, with a bridge in the middle that slows things sound – and the whole track does have a melodic line that the vocals and instruments follow together. The other tracks are noisy, feedback laden, and tumultuous. Some people absolutely love this style, and if so, you’re going to enjoy the ten songs on offer. It’s not the sort of thing I go for, though.

TRUTH CLUB – Not An Exit (Tiny Engines, www.tinyengines.net)

Take some clean indie-pop. Add some dreamy synths, but not too much. Gently blend together, and then top with a relaxed casual feeling. Raleigh, North Carolina’s Truth Club makes it seem easy on this debut LP. Travis Harrington’s vocals range from lazy and laid back to tense and emotion-filled, echoing the changes in the backing instrumentals from light and hazy to loud and fuzzed out. When a band’s recording feels like they’re not working too hard to create a sound, that it’s just them playing some songs together, that’s when magic happens. And magic happens on this LP. It’s pretty amazing, too, that you can tell there’s not a lot here in terms of instrumentation, just basic guitar, bass, drums, and synths in the background, yet the songs sound lush and full. “Student Housing” has hints of retro goth feel in the guitar and eerie synth careening in the back, providing a dark mood. That is, until the reverb drops away and the guitars get noisy and punked out in the closing seconds of the track. “Path Render” is a favorite. It’s a slower track, with dreamy, wobbly guitars and Harrington’s easy baritone vocals. Past the halfway mark, things get more intense, with drums and noisy synth coming in. “No Planned Sequel” has such a great, relaxed feel, almost like indie-lounge, The title track is the sparsest of the album, yet is one of the best. This time it’s the guitars that provide the dreaminess, not the synths, which are absent here. The track has a breezy feel, even as it’s driven ever forward by the rhythm section, and parts of it have a math-like feel. The penultimate track, “Tethering,” alternates between quiet, dreamy ballad and noisy indie track, while the closer, “Dry Off,” reminds me in places of Interpol, and is yet another stand-out of the album. This is a very promising debut.

WEIRD NUMBERS – Minotaur Dreams (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Weird Numbers is the new Seattle-based project from Zache Davis of Maniac and The Girls, Colin Griffiths of The Girls and Tourist, and Ethan Jacobsen of Tourist and Wasted USA. Talk about an incestuous scene! The four tracks in this debut EP range from the loping garage punk of “Dolphin Encounters” and “Obsolete Man” to the power pop on the title track, to the near glam of “Switching the Code” and the retro 80s post punk goth of “Uzis and Bikinis.” The songs are diverse, the music tight and professional without sounding slick, and provide an excellent debut. I would expect nothing less from a band made up of such luminaries.


BATLORDS – Lords of Shred (Shred The Gnar Records, shredthegnarrecords. bandcamp.com)

So you think San Diego is all sunny and beachy? Think again. There’s a dark, unseemly underbelly to San Diego. Look under enough rocks and you’ll find it. Batlords. As on past records, they’re continuing to terrorize the San Diego punk scene with songs like “Bloodeaters,” “Buried Alive,” “Witching Hour,” “Necropolis,” and more. The style of music is distinctly garage punk, with no pretensions of pop and no lyrics about difficult love lives, though “Buried Alive” has a definite Ramones-core feel, even with harmonized vocals. The sound is bigger than the three-piece they are, with dark, full, guitar fuzz, throbbing bass, and pounding drums. Guitarist Steven Baeza’s lead vocals are emphatic, yet deadpan, like the zombies and other creatures they sing about. “I’m feeling fine most of the time / The doctors say I’ve lost my mind / Rot, ruin, decay” he sings on “Feeling Fine,” as if it was important, yet no big deal, because that’s just life. “Burn The Dead” is a great old-school hardcore track, fast and loud, clocking in at only forty-nine seconds. “Ghoul School” is the longest song on the album, timing out at 2:51. It’s got the same garage-like wall of guitar, but the bass is playing a really great melodic line. It’s one of my favorites of the album just for that great bass line, and the soaring guitar at the end of the track makes this sound almost like an indie rock song. Another solid effort from the prolific Batlords.

BRAD MARINO – Extra Credit (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

Alert readers will recognize that in our last installment, Geoff Palmer of the Connections had just released a digital single and a vinyl 7” chock full of power pop goodness. Well, another Connections member has just dropped a new solo LP, too. Brad Marino’s “Extra Credit” is a trip back to when bouncy, melodic, guitar-fueled music ruled the scene. Images of legends like The Paul Collins Beat, The Plimsouls, and Elvis Costello come floating through my mind. The music blends classic power pop, classic rock and roll, British invasion, and the earliest new wave sounds into a coherent whole. The album opens with “Broken Clocks,” a rock and roll track that could have been written in the 1950s, complete with Chuck Berry style guitar solo, but it’s cleaner sounding, with some more modern flourishes here and there. “No One Else Tried It” channels early Rolling Stones with its blend of Brit rock and R&B influence. And “Wake Up Baby,” apparently co-written with Kurt Baker, is a power pop gem with hints of Elvis Costello’s classic style. I love the guitar jangle during the verses and the big bar chords on the chorus and the simple, brilliant bridge. “Fit To Be Tied” blends many of these characteristics into a single song, making the disparate styles fit together naturally.” I really love the up-tempo “From The Start,” with a simple roots rock chord progression and a Beatles-esque melodic line. “Broken Record Baby” is a hilarious anti-love song about a girlfriend who mistreats precious vinyl records. It’s not the best song of the album, musically, but lyrically I think most of us can relate to it too much. “It’s Not Right” mixes in some acoustic guitar touches on another classic power pop track. And the album closes almost the way it started: “Bye Bye Johnny” covers the Chuck Berry tune, so this time the influence is laid out for all to see. Once again, a member of the Connections has given us a fun, bouncy record that all lovers of power pop will enjoy.

BRADLEY PALERMO – Volume 1 (www.bradleypalermo.com)

Bradley Palermo is a Midwest transplant, having relocated from St. Louis, Missouri to Los Angeles to pursue a solo music career, a topic touched on in his song, “The Long Way.” The song is about how we might think we’ve made wrong choices in life, but how we learn from these mistakes, and they make us stronger. “I should have never moved to Los Angeles / I should have never quit my band / I should have never told them all to fuck off / When I had them / Eating right there from my hand / But I’m glad I did / Cause now I’m stumbling / The only way that I know how.” Acoustic guitar, steel pedal guitar, bass, drums, and harmonica are prominently featured on the ten songs on this collection of remastered songs, which had been previously released as singles over a period of time. The feeling is one of a country troubadour; the acoustic guitar and raspy singing feel deep and honest, but the steel pedal guitar is too Nashville country for my tastes. As a result, my favorite songs are those that eschew the slick trappings of country and focus more on alt-folk and Americana. I really like “Lost In August,” which uses ukulele and accordion in a breezy feeling song. Even the lyrics have an “island” feel: “We were as native / As the palms / No one cared where we came from / We are still here / And it’s now.” Live in the moment, the song seems to tell us. And “Trouble To Find” is just acoustic guitar, bass, tambourine, a bit of harmonica, and Palermo’s gritty voice, effectively telling a tale of paranoia and obsession ruining enjoyment of life. And the closer, “Hollywood, Hollywood,” is a dark track with acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica, and vocals, with hints of organ in the background setting a mood of desperation. As with a few other songs on the LP, this one tells of the darker side of life in Los Angeles, like the “quick-stop corner store, poison every night,” or the loneliness one often finds in a big city: “We ain’t friends or enemies, cause we ain’t got the time.” Some of the songs that use steel pedal aren’t bad at all – I just don’t think that it adds to the songs. It feels too slick and country. Some of the songs use synth, and I think these fare less well than the steel pedal songs. To me, the synth (and steel pedal) really only detract from the truth telling of the stripped down songs. I see a lot of potential here for some great Americana. The songwriting is deeply personal and effective, but I think the arrangements could use some work.

OTOBOKE BEAVER – Itekoma Hits ( Damnably Records, www.damnably.com)

My declaration stands: there is no such thing as a bad Japanese band! Otoboke Beaver, hailing from the temple city of Kyoto, play manic garage punk, with a sweet but nasty attitude. The four women who make up Otoboke Beaver met at the Kyoto University music club, and we’re the better for it. The mood shifts rapidly from short song to short song, and even within a single song. The songs go from simple rhythms to arrhythmic, from violent, anger filled hardcore to rap to grungy melodies and everything in between. This is some of the most creative music I’ve heard in awhile, and I don’t understand a word of the lyrics because they’re all in Japanese! The band name is apparently taken from a local Kyoto “love hotel,” and according to the band’s bio, the song subjects include bad love, devious boyfriends, and general sexism. That explains the anger. Just going by the sounds, a favorite track is “S’il Vous Plait,” a rockin’ garage-like number with tight coordination of vocal gymnastics. “Bakuro Book” has sections that are bouncy and melodic, and sections that just go crazy. “Introduce Me To Your Family” is a funky post-punk rap song, something you have to hear to believe. “Love Is Short” is all over the map, musically, with lyrics shouted with military precision and a section with a ska rhythm at double speed. I don’t understand what they’re singing on “Bad Luck,” but this one is my favorite of the album. I feel the anger and frustration in the rapped lyrics and the hardcore sections, but are those sweet melodic sections sarcastic? This song goes through more changes than any of the others, and I love that. “I’m Tired of Your Repeating Story” is pure punk rock and roll, and reminds me of Tijuana’s DFMK, except with Japanese razor sharp precision. OK, I’m going to stop here, because I’ll list every song, because every song is my favorite! It’s that great of an album, and it’s another in my now crowded list of candidates for best records of 2019, and we’re still in the first half of the year!

WESTERN SETTINGS – Angus EP (A-F Records, www.a-frecords.limitedrun.com)

It’s been three long years since we’ve gotten new music from San Diego’s Western Settings. The “Old Pain” mini LP was their last release, way back in 2016. Now newly signed to A-F Records, Western Settings has released a new EP to tease their new full-length LP, coming out this fall, and the first album since “Yes It Is” came out in early 2015. They’ve sure taken their time. So was it worth it? Hell yes! These new songs demonstrate a new direction for Western Settings. The songs still have an expansive emotional feel, but are brighter sounding than past efforts. “That’s Pretty Good” opens the EP, and where past songs were majestic, this song has bounce to it. Bassist Ricky Schmidt’s vocals have grown and matured, and his dynamic range is bigger and more impressive, transitioning from smooth and easy vibrato to his intense gruff singing that we know from the past. “Duckets Is Tight” comes next, and wow! The tempo picks up a bit, the bounce is bigger, and I hear influence of bands like Dead To Me here, yet as different as this is from other Western Settings songs, it’s still recognizably Western Settings. The title track adds keyboards to the band for the first time, and the song is an acoustic one. Organ drones in the background, and all we have is acoustic guitar and Schmidt’s pleading voice. This is a real showcase for him – there’s no hiding. The guitar tone is gorgeous, sounding more like a classical guitar than anything from punk, and the song is unexpected and beautiful. Yes, it’s been worth the wait, but we have a little more time to wait for the LP, and I, for one, am getting anxious, because if it’s anything like this EP, it’s going to be the best thing they’ve done yet.


PUP – Morbid Stuff (Rise Records,
www.riserecords.com)

PUP is a band that, I’ll admit it, I slept on. All my friends always raved about them, but I had never bothered to listen until fairly recently. And I liked what I heard. So I became excited for the release of the third PUP LP, “Morbid Stuff,” because it would be a great opportunity for me to jump on an excellent bandwagon. PUP songs are huge, loud, brash, exuberant, and angry. Gang vocals are shouted as much as sung. I can imagine a live show being a huge emotional release, and am anxious for their upcoming tour so I can experience that for myself. A lot of PUP songs seem to tell a story, and that’s unchanged here. The title track that opens the album is one such song, about two people who live in different worlds and have grown apart. “I was getting high in the van in St. Catherine’s / While you were rubbing elbows in the art scene.” The raucous number winds down with “I don’t know what you want me to say / ‘Cause back in the city I was on a tear / You had it all, you pissed it away / Back in the city without a care.” It seems like a big “fuck you” to people who think they’re better, but fuck things up and come crawling back. I like the feel of “Kids,” a song about the meaninglessness of life, “I've been navigating my way through the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence / Which, at this point in my hollow and vapid life, has erased what little ambition I've got left,” sings vocalist Stefan Babcock. But “fuck it,” is the sentiment. “And I've embraced the calamity / With an attachment and a passive disinterest.” The lyrics are of despondent resignation, but the music is joyous, as if reveling in the banality of existence. And this is one of the magical aspects of PUP, throughout the album. As angry or dejected or apathetic as the lyrics might be, the music is celebratory. “I’m still here!” the music seems to say defiantly. “I’ll take anything you throw at me and keep going!”

“Free At Last,” one of the lead singles, may be one of the most covered songs of all time – all before it was even released! The band posted the song’s chords and lyrics and invited bands to create their own versions of the song and send them in. Some were terrible and some were awesome. Clips of many of them made it into the music video the band released. The chorus either demands that people get over themselves or is an attempt to comfort them with the thought that they aren’t alone. “Just ‘cause you’re sad again / It doesn’t make you special.” Lots of people deal with problems. Yours are no different from others’.

A favorite track is “Scorpion Hill,” a track that opens and closes with a country folk sound, and in between tells another story, of life stuck in a rut, or worse, spiraling downward amidst layoffs and breakups. And again, the music is rowdy and uplifting, in dramatic contrast to the lyrics. But, as much as I love the sound that PUP has created, the song that is, perhaps, the most honest, the most real, the most full of rage is “Full Blown Meltdown.” With NOMEANSNO style slapping and rumbling bass and 90s post hardcore mayhem, the joy and celebration of the struggle of life is gone, replaced with a frenzy of indignant guitars pounding drums, and bitter lyrics that aren’t even sung. “Fucked up / Oh, who cares anyway? / With one foot in the gutter / And the other in the grave, I was thinking / How long will self destruction be alluring?” Babcock seems to question his entire existence and way of life, with “I’m just surprised the world isn’t sick / of grown men whining like children / You shouldn’t take it so seriously / It’s just music after all / And half the crap I say is just / Things I’ve stolen from the bathroom walls / Of shitty venues across America.” The music matches the mood to a tee.

Yes, I’m playing catch up here with Pup. If you haven’t hopped aboard, I strongly recommend you do, because this record will easily appear on my Best of 2019 lists.

AREE AND THE PURE HEART – Never Gonna Die (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords.limitedrun.com)

Powerful, emotionally driven Americana is what Aree and the Pure Heart deliver, and they deliver it in spades. The passion is palpable, as are the southern working class roots and punk influence. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a pop punk release, despite their presence on the Wiretap Records roster; this is pure Americana rock and roll, with a dose of Springsteen style arrangement, courtesy of a prominently featured saxophone on some of the tracks and the presence of keyboards throughout. Much of the sound can be attributed to vocalist Aree Ogir’s singing; the animated, heartfelt feeling comes through clearly. The grittiness of the vocals are complemented by the smoothness in most of the instrumentals; the band make the songs feel effortless, like this is just something they’re doing for the sheer pleasure of it. I think my favorite track of the album has to be the quiet ballad, “The Feeling I Get.” It’s just piano and Aree’s deeply passionate vocals, and you can really feel the deep hurt when he sings, “There’s an aching in my heart / Teardrops on my pillow like raindrops on a windowpane.” This isn’t generally the sort of music I seek out, but if you’re a fan of The Boss, Americana, and working class rock and roll, you’re sure to like this album a lot.

BRAVE THE SEA – The Kraken (www.bravetheseaband.com)

Brave The Sea are Ohio’s answer to bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. They play nominally Celtic influenced rock music that also has more than a dose of punk rock, too. I know a lot of people aren’t crazy about this kind of music, but I do enjoy it. I like Celtic music, and I like punk rock, and blending the two together can be a lot of fun, especially when done well. And Brave The Sea do it well. They have a gravelly pop punk aesthetic they bring to the genre, sort of like they’re real pirates. Mandolin and banjo join electric guitars, bass, and drums providing the strong folk element to these raucous sea shanties. And perhaps we should fix our nomenclature here, because these songs sound more of the sea than of Ireland or Britain.

A favorite track is “Siren’s Song,” which starts out as a sad ballad, but then turns into a raucous number singing the praises of the title character: “Liar and a thief and a damned old fish / But she’s the only one I want, she’s my only wish.” “Sláinte” is a short a cappella song singing the praises of booze, in all its forms. Right after is “No Whiskey, No Rum,” a huge sing-along, the sort of thing that makes pop punk so much fun, but with melody and instruments that lend a seafaring flare. The Spanish-influenced ditty, “Bella Donna” is another good one. You can feel the Latin fires simmering in this hard rocker. And “Down With Davy Jones” is a fantastic shanty. You feel like you’re on a 19th century sailing ship, pulling on the ropes to raise the sail, as the first mate yells out the song to get the crew all in time together.

“The Devil Brought Tequila” opens with a bunch of horns, and I thought I was in for a ska punk tune. Thankfully not, nevertheless this song is not one of my favorites. Nor is “Bottom of the Sea,” which doesn’t have horns, but is a hard rock track with ska rhythms, an odd combination. But, thankfully the songs I liked vastly outnumbered those I didn’t. If you’re a fan of this kind of music, check out Ohio’s old tars.

BREAKMATT FASTGYVER – The Light Inside Is Broken but I Still Deliver (https://bmfg.bandcamp.com)

I’m listening to this new five song EP on a Saturday morning, after having been at night two of La Escalera Fest 8, an annual music fest in San Diego run by the folks at La Escalera Records. The climax of the evening was a nearly hour long set by Nothington, the Bay Area band that has announced they’re calling it quits after a few final West Coast shows. So this was their final San Diego show, with only two more to go before they are no more. If you know the style of music that Nothington play – huge sing-along pop punk soaked with beer, with punks crowding the stage, arms around each other, shouting the lyrics along with the band – you’ll know exactly the sort of music Breakmatt Fastgyver play. Yet they aren’t from the West Coast of the USA, they’re from Milan, Italy! But they have the style down cold. Gruff vocals are prominent over big edgy pop punk instrumentals, with songs played at moderate to fast tempos. While Breakmatt Fastgyver are on well-trod territory, they do it well on this debut, so they’re off to a good start.

CLUB NIGHT – What Life (Tiny Engines, www.tinyengines.net)

What would experimental dream pop sound like if it was made by bubble gum anime characters? Club Night is determined to answer that question on their debut LP, “What Life.” The music always sounds a bit off-kilter, a bit wobbly, and a lot sparkly. Sometimes these tracks sound like they were recorded underwater, and there are lots of little twirly bits of electronics darting about during the songs, like little fish scurrying about in the coral reef. Josh Bertram’s falsetto vocals are a unique aspect of the band, too, giving the songs somewhat of an urgent, otherworldly vibe. The overall effect is of controlled chaos, of trying to bring an order to things in order to cry out an important message. And if the music doesn’t leave you feeling disoriented, with its many rhythmic and time signature changes, the lyrics certainly will; they’re more akin to avant garde poetry than song lyrics. The end result makes for a fascinating listen that keeps me enraptured.

THE HECK – Who? The Heck!!! (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords. co.uk)

Netherlands garage rockers The Heck have finally released their debut LP, after a couple of teaser singles over the past two years. And, while those two singles were pretty solid 60s style garage rock, the LP has more of a hard rock and roll sound. Overall, it’s less 60s, more timeless hard rock, though a few songs have the retro edge. Like “For Cryin’ Out Loud,” which has a distinct power pop sensibility; even through all the rawness, it’s got a bounce. But then we get a track like “I Won’t Change,” in which the most garage part of it is the keyboard, while the rest of the song evolves into a hard rock jam. “Money” has the feel of an early rock and roll tune from the 50s, but fuzzed up a lot more. Then “That Moon” is a 70s jam. I think I like the singles and their more retro garage feel better than this LP.

LAS ROBERTAS – Together Outrageously (Rogue Wave Records, roguewaverecords.bigcartel.com)

Las Robertas, hailing from San Jose, Costa Rica, play a smoothed out dreamy version of psych/garage rock. Two of the songs on this EP are in English, and the third in Spanish. The melodic line of “Thunder Rider” glides hazily over garage power pop guitar, while the title track has more of a 70s Detroit rock and roll feel underneath the smoky vocals. “Pesadilla” closes the EP with more than a hint of Latin rock feel, a la Santana, but while keeping those vocals relaxed. Garage rock is supposed to be dirty and dangerous. Las Robertas are making music that sounds too clean and safe, and that’s my main problem with it.

MARTHA – Love Keeps Kicking (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

It’s been nearly three years since Martha’s magnificent sophomore release, “Blisters in the Pit of My Heart,” was released. Three long years since one of the best records of 2016. Would the band from the little town of Pity Me live up to the high bar they set for themselves? Well, this is quite a different LP in many ways from the last one. The word “mature” is tossed around a lot, but I’m going to have to use it here. Martha’s sound has certainly matured. And it’s diversified. The songs feel a little fuller and lusher than the relatively raw songs of “Blisters.” But the exuberance is still there, the sheer joy of the music. And while the predominant style of music offered could be called pop punk, there is plenty of indie pop and even a bit of country in many of these songs. Right at the opening of the album, “Heart Is Healing,” opens with a distinct twang. The song topic is worthy of a pop punk country song, too, talking about “That familiar feeling when your heart is healing” yet “I just keep running from it all.” After a bad heartache, it’s sometimes hard to let go of the bad feelings, and sometimes when we recognize we’re starting to heal, we don’t want to. As always, Martha’s songs seem to revolve around relationships – all aspects of them, the good and the bad. “Into This” is a wistful yet bouncy tune that questions whether the other person is really “into this,” because “you only want to kiss me when you’ve had had a drink,” and sometimes “you’ll act like you’ve never met me.” Being just a friend is sometimes painful, but often that’s what we’re resigned to. “Wrestlemania VIII” is as bubbly lyrically as it is musically, communicating that giddy feeling when you make a really genuine connection with another person. The title track is a beautiful contradiction. The bouncy poppy music is loaded with hooks, and upon casual listening, hearing the title sung as the chorus, “Love keeps kicking, ooh yeah,” might make you think this is a happy song about the power of love to outlast any problems. Yet when we hear the full sentiment in the final verse, it’s “Love keeps kicking the shit out of me. And there’s no solution I can see.” “Orange Juice” is a song of self-doubt, believing one’s self to be the cause of a failed relationship. The song equates one’s partner as being “orange juice,” while you’re the ice that dilutes the orange juice, the cause for the end of love. This is less cheery than many of the tracks, being one of the few that has a melancholy edge to it, especially as the chorus cries, “I don’t know what to do now.” Yet the darkest song is reserved for the closing track, “The Only Letter That You Kept.” It’s a quiet, wistful track of a shattered love that breaks my heart. The songs are all excellent on this newest album from the north of England, and this record is likely to make my list of best albums of 2019. Yet it doesn’t have any tracks that stand out above the others, like “Blisters” did. Whether that makes the new one the better album or not is an exercise left to the listener.

THE MURDERBURGERS – What a Mess (Asian Man Records,
themurderburgers.bandcamp.com)

The Murderburgers have to be the kings of pop punk in Scotland. How many great Scottish pop punk bands can you name? I rest my case. Besides, the trio have mastered all of the relevant sub-genres of pop punk, and they’re on display on this, their latest LP. Some of the songs are catchy poppy stuff, sort of like the Bay Area version of pop punk. Some is more Southern California skate pop punk. Some are Fest style sing-along pop punk. But they’re all excellent, well-crafted examples. Lyrics cover topics like being ostracized from your family and loved ones, the intense felling of ennui that comes with a meaningless life, obsessing over failed relationships, constant thoughts of suicide, and all the self-loathing and misery that make pop punk songs so relatable. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about “What A Mess,” Fraser and the two Alexes do a solid job here, with harmonized vocals and catchy songs full of hooks. I can’t name a standout track, because they’re all equally top notch. This is a must for anyone who claims to be a pop punk fan.

GEOFF PALMER – “Giving In” digital single, “This One’s Gonna Be Hot” EP (Stardumb Records/ RumBar Records)

The Connection’s Geoff Palmer has a new LP coming out soon under his own name. And ahead of that, Stardumb Records has released a digital-only single and a vinyl 7” EP. And if you’re a fan of power pop (and you damn well should be!) this is going to be essential listening. “Giving In” is the lead single from Palmer’s forthcoming LP, “Pulling Out All The Stops.” It’s a co-release of Stardumb and Rum Bar Records, and the song is classic power pop, catchy and bouncy, with love song lyrics: “There’s nothing left to do / I’m giving up and giving in to you.” “This One’s Gonna Be Hot” is the A-side of the exclusive-to-Stardumb 7” vinyl, and it’s a harder, edgier version of power pop, reminding me of LA’s The Creamers from back in the 90s. It’s Ramones-core at its, well, core, simple melody, power guitars, and melodic bounce. “Punker Than Me” on the B-side picks things up even more with an up-tempo all-out pop punk song. It makes sense that pop punk would be in Palmer’s musical arsenal, as the New Hampshire native has played with New England’s The Queers, under the name Geoff Useless. It’s classic stuff, sure to get you pogoing. “That’s What You Do” is the other B-side track, and it slows and smooths things out quite a lot. This is more archetypal 70s power pop, with jangly guitars and a hint of British invasion influence. These songs certainly whet my appetite for the LP, coming out later this spring.

PETTY LARCENISTS – Stolen Chords and Lifted Riffs (Rad Girlfriend Records, www.radgirlfriendrecords.com)

Jesse Thorson is one of Minneapolis, Minnesota’s busiest musicians. On one end of his musical spectrum is The Slow Death, and on the other is Pretty Boy Thorson. Now he has a new band to bridge the gap between the two, and Petty Larcenists have their debut LP out. To give you a point of reference, they sound more like their Minneapolis brethren in Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band than they do either of Thorson’s other outfits. It’s less punk and more working class rock and roll. And man, does it rock! These songs come across as “real,” Thorson’s gravelly passionate voice booming through. “Loud And Ugly” sets the tone for the LP, with a mid-tempo rocker, and things really get going with “What Now,” a track about reaching the end of one’s rope. “It’s about all that I can take,” says the refrain. “You said it would be the last time / Yeah, that’s what you said the last time.” We repeat mistakes over and over in our lives, and at some point things reach a breaking point, and you feel it in this song. “Tiny Plastic Bags” is about the closest thing we get to a “power ballad,” while “The Kids Back Home” picks things up again, with another song about a dysfunctional relationship. That theme seems to run through many of the songs on this LP, but this particular one, with prominent keys and some great hooks, may be my favorite of the album. It has a fantastic power pop feel to it. The closer is another favorite. “I Can’t Get High” has a definite bounce to it, and the chorus comes the closes of any track here to sounding like The Slow Death. Recommended.

ROLLO TOMASI – The Fear Is Unsafe (Shakefork Records, www.shakefork.com)

Rollo Tomasi (not to be confused with UK band Rolo Tomassi) are from Chicago, and play an emotionally charged brand of post-hardcore. Some of the tracks are more metallic than others, and some of the tracks have more of a 90s post-melodic emo sound. The latter are my favorite of the album. And yet others are halfway between these styles. Like “Throw Stones,” the second track. It reminds me a lot of late 80s and early 90s Dischord sounds, in terms of chord progressions and vocal style, yet it’s got a much harder, edgier feel. Some of the tracks have a great math-like complexity, like “Pussy Hands,” a waltz time track with dueling guitars, pounding bass, and sections that glide contrasting with the more punctuated sections. “C-Section” is confusing to me, because it has sections of gorgeous, powerful, and melodic riffs, but sections of hard metallic rage. I’m not a big metal fan, so tracks like this and the opener, “Saltpeter,” don’t grab me. A track that’s just as hard driving but less metallic that does grab me is “Woodshed.” The minimalist repeating guitar lines provide a strong sense of forward motion, and this track is another that brings to mind not only DC bands, but also Chicago’s Gauge – which makes a lot of sense, given that guitarist Neil Sandler played bass in that seminal band melodic emo band. “No Secret” is one of the quietest tracks of the album, and I love how the production has guitars bouncing between channels. The chugga chugga guitar vs. simplistic melodic line is pretty awesome. I’m in love with about three quarters of this album, but the rest I could take or leave.

THE SCANERS – II (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

These crazy French garage rock new wavers are back from Area 51 with another album chock full of songs of alien abduction, UFOs, attacks from outer space, and more. As with their debut LP, this sophomore effort sounds as if The Spits and The Ramones intermingled with the Dickies and Devo. The songs are pretty simple, but powerful, bouncy, and a lot of fun. This chaotic crazy music is even pretty danceable, and is an excellent follow-up to the self-titled debut. “Please Abduct Me” kicks things off in high gear, with a “1 2 3 4” shout, rapid-fire guitars, and swirling keyboard. I really like “X-Ray Glasses,” a track that’s somewhat slower than the others, but which has interesting rhythms and guitar fills. “Don’t Run, We’re Your Friends,” is a real standout, too. The frantically paced minute and a half will leave you gasping for breath. You can feel the chase, feel them closing in on you, and the guitar’s chord changes are pretty cool. “Pesticide Kids” reminds me of the amazing Radioactivity,” too, with another intense one, simple lines and pummeling guitars. “Run DD Run” closes out the album, the buzzy synth playing a slow dreamy line, until the drums suddenly fire, and the guitars are off at the fastest pace of any of these songs. The song has a dark garage punk feel, but it’s hard to keep up, the song moves so fast. The Scaners have done it again! Recommended!

THE SH-BOOMS – The Blurred Odyssey (Limited Fanfare Records, thesh-booms.bandcamp.com)

The further into this album I go, the more soulful it gets. This is the Orlando outfit’s debut LP, and it’s a killer. It’s got a raw garage feel to it, which makes for an interesting contrast to the ardent vocals. The opener is aptly titled, “Amidst Chaos.” It’s a primal track, mixing garage rock with a punk edge and even a hint of ska feel, courtesy of the horns and keyboards. The heavily processed vocals are a clarion call, with an urgent tone. As this track fades, “Detox to Retox” takes over seamlessly, transforming into the edgy rock & soul that fills the rest of the LP. The guitars sound like they came from a ‘70s fusion of rock and funk, the horns like punks took over a 60s R&B band, the keyboards are straight out of a psychedelic garage band, and the lead vocals are impassioned. And as good as these hard driving tracks are, I am a sucker for old school R&B, so the slower tracks like “Audible” slay me. Do you remember the movie “The Commitments” about a bunch of Irish misfits who try to form an R&B band? The climactic scene in which the perform “Try A Little Tenderness” is one of the best musical scenes in movie history, I think, and the passion in “Audible” approaches that, but with a sound that’s more raw, dirtier. “Dry Eyes” sounds like a punked up version of a 60s girl-group song, while “Walk It Off” will gut-punch you with its hard-edged funk. The album closes with “The Final Sleep,” a dreamy mysterious instrumental, with hints of Afro-Cuban jazz. This is a diverse, enjoyable release.

YES GABRIEL
(www.yesgabriel.bandcamp.com)

Yes Gabriel is the alter ego of film and theater composer Gaby Alter. This EP is his debut outside that realm, crafting songs for songs’ sake. The five songs on offer here are quiet, acoustic tracks, beautiful singer-songwriter fare. It’s not quite folk music, but not quite pop or rock music either; it’s somewhere in between. “Dear To Me” opens with just acoustic guitar and vocals, before brushed snare drum and electric guitar and bass come in. It’s a pretty song about love, loss, and regret. It’s touching, and very different from typical pop punk songs about failed relationships that come across my desk. “Rains of April” uses piano as the main instrument, and when the full band comes in, it’s got a lush, dreamy sound, and is a love letter to New York City. “You Got Through” brings back the acoustic guitar, and adds some pretty strings to tell a delicate tale of someone who had steeled himself against all the hurt the world can bring, but how someone was able to break through that and make him feel again. “Fall Asleep” joins acoustic guitar, piano, and strings for another song of deep love that almost feels bouncy. “Deep In February” closes the EP, and was the lead single. It’s the most theatrical of the songs here, opening quietly with piano and vocals, and slowly growing in richness, telling another tale of lost love. If you’re into singer-songwriter material, this is recommended. It’s very pretty.


STEVE ADAMYK BAND – Paradise (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

Hell yes! It’s been a long three years since “Graceland,” Steve Adamyk Band’s last album came out. For those tuning in late, Steve Adamyk Band is a band out of Canada, specifically from Ottawa, the nation’s capitol. They’re masters of garage punk and power pop. They’re right on the cusp between these styles, managing to extract all of the best parts of both to create music that’s bouncy, melodic, rockin’ yet has a toughness to it. “The Letter” begins the album, and for an LP named “Paradise,” it’s quite appropriate that there’s a healthy dose of surf sounds, as well. “In Death” is one of the most “punk” tracks of the album, with a simple melody, simple rhythms, and powerful guitars. The title track is a very driven song, moving deliberately ever forward, in the way of a Marked Men track. “Waiting to Die” is a song in two parts. The first is almost ballad-like, but can anything Steve Adamyk does really be a ballad? Part two gets raucous again, with a Ramones-core feel, but with a pall of darkness over the whole song. I love the retro power pop feel of “When I was Gone.” It’s got the feel of one of the edgier radio hits of guitar-fueled pop rock from the late 70s. And so it goes with the rest of the dozen songs – every one is a gem. Recommended.

THE COOL GREENHOUSE – Landlords b/w 4Chan (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

This new single from the UK band features two super-retro tracks very reminiscent of the massive creativity of bands in the post-punk era of the early 80s. The bands feature synth bleeps and blips and minimalist guitar, along with blasé spoken word vocals telling stories loaded with sardonic wit. The A-side tells the tale of paying too much to live in a crap apartment to fuel the luxuries of the landlord, and trying to complain to the council and having to deal with the sorts of monkeys they hire to help the people, in this case, literal monkeys. The B-side is told from the perspective of the sort of Internet troll you find on the title on-line service. This was my first exposure to this band, and now I plan to hunt down their previous releases – it’s that good. And even better, proceeds from the sales of this single will be donated to the London Renters Union, a grassroots organization that’s focused on changing how housing works in the city.

DRUG APTS – Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances (Mt.St.Mtn., www.mtstmtn.com)

Formerly known as Drug Apartments, this Sacramento band has shortened their name and extended the length of their releases with this, their first full-length LP. Drug Apts offer up a dozen songs of dark arty post punk. Though, taken as a whole, the songs tend to blend into one another a bit, there are some standouts to discuss. The opener, “stereo,” features a throbbing bass and ominous sounding guitar stabs. Whittney K’s vocals are often violent and chaotic throughout the record; her dynamic range is awesome and a highlight of the record. “Straight Shooter” has more of a 90s grunge feel than most of the record, and so stands out from the rest of the tracks. The track has grunge’s hard guitar sound, a classic rock and roll edge, and powerful vocals. I like how “thursday at two” opens with just the distorted, loud bass line and mysterious vocals, and when the guitar comes in with its own winding line. Everything slowly builds, getting louder, pitches rising, until the full band explodes in a cacophonous rage. “saints” is a great track that starts out with a hard edge, and slowly transforms into a bouncy one. And the short instrumental, “sparks break,” is a bright breath of fresh air. This is a record that I’m likely to revisit in the future, but maybe a track or two at a time.

FREAK GENES – III (Drunken Sailor, www.drunkensailorrecords.co. uk)

Another band has come out with a third LP and titled it “III.” While the album title may not be creative or original, the music on it certainly is. Freak Genes are an English band that blend early punk, new wave, power pop, and psychedelic music into minimalist arrangements that are packed with energy and mania. Many of the tracks feature synthesizer and drum machine. Some of the tracks are angular and abrupt, while others are melodic and easy. The album grabbed me right from the start, with “Waxing Moon,” a track that’s very disjointed, with buzzy sections that jut and other sections that are smooth and relaxed. “Canned Laughter” is a favorite, and is one of the oddest tracks of the album, with dark and twinkly synths dueling with each other, guitar and bass used as percussion instruments, and vocals that are more loudly spoken than sung or shouted. The final quarter of the track changes mood completely, as the synths and guitar play a vaguely medieval melody. “Breach” focuses on the guitar (but keeps the drum machine) and is more of a traditional power pop or early punk sounding track, and is another favorite. I like the bright melodic lines and use of keyboard in “Strange Light.” The bridge and run-out on “Get Ready to Go” are stupendous swirly synth spectacles to behold. I enjoy the bluesy “Stitches,” a track with a retro 50s rock’n’roll feel that’s been heavily altered via synth and droll vocals. “Close Up Fear” closes the LP with a hopping track that reminds me a bit of The Legendary Pink Dots’ “Catch a Match,” for it’s monotone rapid-fire vocals. III may not have as good a name as their previous album, “Qwak Qwak,” but it has even better music.

PROBLEM DAUGHTER – Grow Up Trash (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords. limitedrun. com)

I don’t predict, I guarantee that this record is going to show up on multiple year-end “best of” lists. The songs are universally great and the songwriting is creative, way above and beyond the typical pop punk band, with unexpected shifts in tempo, in melody, and in feel. “Mercury in Retrograde” is a perfect example of this – this one song goes through so many changes in its short two and a half minutes, yet it’s all a cohesive whole. It starts off with a big, epic sound, then goes through a short period where it’s a little more standard pop punk, the tempo slows, a short hesitation, and the song starts anew with an almost RVIVR-like feel, with madly jangling guitars. The song then has a cool start-stop feel, rapidly shifting tempos and rhythms. It then picks up again as a slower song with bigger emotional content, bringing us to a big close. “Take a Walk on the Mild Side,” a spoof on the title of a famous Lou Reed song, has similar shifts, as if there are three or four songs within one. “Self Amusing Smile” is a favorite, running the gamut from dark, quiet ballad, to a mid-tempo Rocket From The Crypt inspired lope, to Americana-tinged pop punk, time signatures constantly moving. Pretty much the only song that doesn’t shift around like this is the penultimate “Tired About It.” It’s more of a standard emotional pop punk sound familiar to West Coast fans, yet still a powerful track. Front man Regan Ashton’s vocals are among the most unique and recognizable in the punk world, and only add to the excellent qualities of these songs. This record is highly recommended.

SLEEP IN. – The Stars On Your Ceiling (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

New Jersey’s Sleep In. waited a full five years after their debut LP, “Setting,” to release their sophomore effort. Both LPs are chock full of melodic post emo songs, but where the debut was slightly mathish and busy, the songs on “The Stars On Your Ceiling” are smoother and more relaxed. And that may be the downfall, at least for me. The smooth post emo sound, to my ears at least, just doesn’t pack enough interest or energy. To me it comes across as the adult contemporary version of punk. That said, there are some moments of the album I did enjoy quite a bit. “6th and Catherine,” the second track of the LP, in particular, has a creative arrangement, with rollicking guitar licks and a bouncy melody. The singer-songwriter feel of “A Million Messages” reminds me of LA’s Divided Heaven, and is another favorite. It’s got a slightly Americana feel and a more genuine emotional feel than many of the other tracks. “This Old House” is a pretty waltz-time song, with a tender sound. I would suggest it might sound even better with a cleaner jangly guitar sound. It would add a delicateness to the song that I think would greatly improve it. The shift to straight time on the chorus gives the song a different feel, a change in texture that increases the interest. And the closer, “Let Me Let You Let Me,” is a gorgeous, sad song that opens with just bare vocals and acoustic guitar. Piano and harmonized vocals join in, and we hear where the album title comes from, as the lyrics tell us a tale that seems to be about concern for an ex or an ex-roommate, at least, that swallows their emotions along with booze to keep secrets and feelings hidden. “Said you’re taking a day to sort through your feelings / Now you’re half a bottle down, counting stars on your ceiling / I think you lost it, I think you lost it again.” It’s a beautiful way to end the album, with a very moving song that slowly builds, as do the emotions. Yeah, there are some really nice moments on this album. But I need more than mere moments.

TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET – Stay Rad! (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

You know Teenage Bottlerocket, right? So you know what to expect: Ramones-core inspired pop punk, with catchy melodies, harmonized vocals, and tons of bouncy goodness. As is typical with Teenage Bottlerocket records, there’s little in the way of political content here, lyrics sticking to themes of relationships and various juvenile topics. Just the song titles can give you an idea of what I mean, like “Wild Hair (Across My Ass)” or “Night of the Knuckleheads.” That’s not to say all of the songs are inane (though the inanity is part of the fun of TBR). “I Wanna Be a Dog” is more about wanting to live a carefree life than actually wanting to be a dog, despite lyrics such as “You can teach me how to think while I lick my balls and when you get home I can hump your leg.” Yeah, even in the meaningful songs, TBR tries to convince us they’re just a bunch of delinquents. “The First Time That I Did Acid Was The Last Time I Did Acid” may or may not be a song about the dangers of drug abuse, but it’s certainly a hard-hitting track, with more of a hardcore sound than the usual TBR pop punk song. I don’t know who Clint Carlin is, but TBR want to kill him, as told in a song called “I Want to Kill Clint Carlin,” one that sounds in places a lot like a classic Naked Raygun track, making it one of my favorites of the album. “Stupid Song” isn’t stupid at all, about the need for distractions to take our minds off the drudgery and crap in our lives. The bridge is extra poppy sounding, reminding me of Masked Intruder somewhat. “Little Kid” is the most poignant track of the LP, I’m guessing written by Ray Carlisle about missing his brother Brandon, who died just over three years ago (this is the first full album of original TBR songs since Brandon’s death). The song is about having difficulty accepting the passage of time since then, remembering how they were together as kids, and how he’s having trouble living in the moment again, like kids do. I love the use of a single guitar note percussion effect played against the chord changes in the other guitar. Yes, we know what to expect in Teenage Bottlerocket album. Great fun pop punk music.

WEIRD OMEN – Surrealistic Feast (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords. co.uk)

French garage psych trio Weird Omen have released the LP teased with a new single a few months ago, and it fulfills the promise! Weird Omen are an unorthodox group, featuring a rhythm section of drums and guitar, with the lead instrument being a baritone saxophone. It’s an odd instrumentation to use, but it’s used to great effect to create music that blends garage punk, power pop, and fuzzed out psych. The album opens with a rerecorded version of “A Place I Want to Know” from January’s single. It manages to sound darker and more mysterious on this version. The production of the LP generally is darker and less dry than the single. “Earworm” is the perfect name for the fourth track, because it owes a debt to pop punk; it’s a melodic, bouncy number, even as it has a dark, thundering sound, courtesy of the bari sax and the production. “Surrealistic Feast” is a favorite track. It’s a heavily psychedelic track, with droning guitar and sax plus swirling melodic line in the modal vocal choir. “Collection of Regrets” has a dusty sound to it, like it could be the soundtrack to some movie set in the Old West, but covered by a psych punk band. “Trouble In My Head” alternates between a Sonic Youth feel on the verses and a jangly 60s pop feel on the chorus. The closer is a gorgeous 50s rock and roll ballad, “I Will Write You Poetry.” After a calm, quiet, clear start, though, the song gradually gets noisier and more chaotic, ending in a glorious of ringing vocals, fading into epic guitar feedback. A fitting close to an amazing LP.


BAZOOKA – Zero Hits (Inner Ear Records, www.inner-ear.gr)

Bazooka hail from Athens. That’s Athens, Greece, not Athens, Georgia. And, as the songs are all sung in Greek, I can’t tell you what they’re about. But the music is a mixture of garage, punk, and funk. Funk? Yes, funk! The first two tracks, “Ela” and “Filaki,” are pretty straightforward mid-tempo garage punk, full of energy and tension. I especially like the jangly guitar sound juxtaposed with the garage feel of “Filaki.” The third track, “Keno,” though, adds a group of trumpets and 70s soul-funk guitar effects to mix in with the garage punk, creating something pretty unique. “Menos” and “Oi Vlakes Kanoune Parelasi” are a pair of cool tracks, with buzzy synth and ominous feel, the latter being a little bouncier than the former. A lot of the tracks have a bit of retro feel to them, harkening back to an era in the 80s when bands weren’t afraid to experiment with new sounds and be different from everyone else. “Mesa Stin Poli” and “Vradini Vardia” are good examples of this, with clean minimalist guitars repeating a couple of melodic lines, while the bass and drums pound out the solid beat incessantly. They’re a couple of my favorites of the album. And “Adiafores Maties” reaches even further back to 60s garage sounds for inspiration, complete with keyboards and just the right guitar tone. “Min Kitas Piso” changes things up a lot with an acoustic folk inspired track, with gang vocals keeping things in a punk-like realm, loads of reverb giving it a slightly other-worldly feel. The closer, “Ta Spao Ola,” is another unique one, blending garage punk with an Afro-Cuban sort of feel. If you’re looking for something different, something original, yet retro, give this a spin.

THE BURNT TAPES – Never Better (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords. limitedrun.com)

You don’t normally expect a band from London in the UK to sound like they’re from the West Coast of the United States, but here we are. I guess the Internet really is making the world smaller and smaller. The Burnt Tapes play melodic, emotionally driven pop punk with gruff vocals. It’s a sub-genre that’s been growing quite a lot in recent years, and one that typically packs people into small clubs, everyone pressing toward the stage and singing all of the lyrics at the top of their lungs. It’s the sort of music that usually finds show-goers returning home soaked with spilled beer, their souls filled to the brim. It’s a sound familiar to fans of bands like Western Settings, Hot Water Music, Bastards of Young, Spanish Love Songs, and many others. The title track opens the LP strongly. After some initial moments of ambience, the song explodes with a melodic line that’s crunchy and soars, yet has bounce to it. Gruff gang vocals shout out in conflict, “I want to be alone / But it gets lonely.” The song dissolves back into ambience in its waning moments. There are some other standout tracks, too. “Yuzi” reminds me a lot of Spanish Love Songs, with its great gliding melody, dark feel, and self-deprecating lyrics. “Forty, Forty-Five” is a great ballad with instrumentals that alternate between epic and quiet, huge gruff vocals, and guitars that sometimes jangle like mad. It has a feel that reminds me of The Penske File. I do like all of the tracks on the LP, actually, though I wish there was a little more variety.

THE CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND – This Is My Voice (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

The Chocolate Watchband began life some 54 years ago, in California. The psychedelic garage rock band was short-lived in its original incarnation, suffering multiple line-up changes and breaking up in 1970 after just three LPs. In 1999 the band reunited, including a few of the early and original members, and have been performing ever since, even releasing a couple of albums of new songs, including this latest LP, on garage rock specialist label Dirty Water Records. The record finds the band in familiar territory, offering up psychedelic rock songs with politically charged lyrics. For example, the bluesy “Judgment Day,” written at the height of the Great Recession, is about the desperation of those who lost their jobs and everything else during those dark times, and the urge to fight back. The title track, a hypnotic psych track, discusses the lack of fact-based decision making going on in the world, and how it’s been replaced with hatefulness and division. “Trouble Everyday” is a Bob Dylan-esque song with spoken lyrics over a funky jam. And the closer, “Till The Daylight Comes,” opens with a snippet of Donald Trump saying, “Remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” The song is, ultimately, one of hope. The daylight will come; we will get out of this darkness, somehow. Musically, the song has a distinct feeling of a spiritual, uplifting to the soul. Speaking of the music, it’s quite varied. The opener, “Secret Rendezvous,” is the most raucous, most garage-rock track of the album, the closest to the proto-punk of yore. Other songs are more blues-rock, some are folksy, some are roots rock’n’roll, and some are more garage-like than others. The sitar, a mainstay of psych music back in the day, makes appearances on a couple of the tracks here, too, most prominently in the instrumental, “Bombay Pipeline.” The variety is great. The sentiments are great. But I can’t help but feel that the music is a little too smooth, a little too calm, other than that opening track.

FRANKIE AND THE WITCH FINGERS – ZAM (Greenway Records, www.greenway records.storenvy.com)

LA’s Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ fifth full-length album in six years is a mélange of psych, garage, metal jams, and power pop. Sometimes this works really well, sometimes not. Some tracks rock like mad, others are a little too wanky. Some have a modern melodic component; others are retro rock and roll jam snooze fests. One of the tracks that I like a lot for its tension is the instrumental title track. Yes, it’s an extended jam, not a “song, but the power and energy in it are intoxicating, and the repeating swirling guitar line and dissonant guitar clatter bring my ears to the brink of exploding. I really like “Cobwebs,” a track that’s primarily a slow burner, but has a bridge that dramatically increases the tempo and injects some great power pop melodic content, guitars jangling away. “Purple Velvet” is another one rooted in the power pop tradition, focusing more on the song and the melody than on the jam, with the keyboards injecting some bright flair. “Work” has a strong garage punk streak running through it, and halfway through it turns into a powerful psych-grunge track. On the other hand, tracks like “Pleasure” sort of turn me off. It’s a total throwback to stoner rock from the 70s, full of wah-wah pedal and jammage. “I Am” is another like this, but it’s just a short track that ends very abruptly, leading into “Underneath You,” an excellent oddball track with angular lines and super processed vocals. Yes, it’s also an extended spacey jam, but the eccentricities injected into this make it worthwhile. Toward the end of the track, it begins to smooth out and soften. The opening and closing tracks, “Dracula Drug” and “Head Collector,” are outliers that feel so very different from anything else on the album. The former starts out with ambience and odd sounds underneath a steady beat. Slowly, musical instruments join in and it does become more like the rest of the album, though more subdued. The closer, on the other hand, is entirely calm and sedate, with strings joining in on the trippy psych ballad. While the album is a mixed bag, there’s more goodness here than not.

THE NATIONAL LIGHTS – Whom the Sea Will Keep (Bloodshake Records, thenationallights.bandcamp.com)

It’s been a long twelve years since The National Lights released their debut LP, “The Dead Will Walk, Dear.” And this new EP, original conceived as a follow-up LP, was written over a decade ago. But as these things go, the band broke up and the members went their separate ways. Until now. Reunited, the upstate New York folk outfit have now released a five song EP inspired by maritime lore. And, while the songs are deeply rooted in traditional folk, the arrangements are rich and lush. The first track, “Swift Ships,” is an ode to regret, telling a tale of a man who left his love to sail the seas. And while he had a full life, shaking “hands with kings and thieves” and lining his shirt with silver, he never saw his love again, and realizes that he had been a fool and didn’t really have a full life after all. I really love the vaguely Irish sound of “A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat,” arranged for piano, acoustic guitar, and concertina. I can imagine a Celtic harp would sound gorgeous in this song, too. Similarly, “Joshua Slocum Sets Sail” has a Celtic feel, and I can imagine the delicate guitar and ambience of the piano being replaced with a Celtic harp, and the bridge being played on a pennywhistle. It’s this sort of thing that gives these original songs the feel of updated, modern arrangements of traditional sea shanties. Quietly gorgeous.

PANDEMIX – In Condemnation (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

This is a difficult album to listen to. Not because it’s bad (it’s not!), but because the anxiety is palpable in the ten tracks, and that anxiety seeps into you. Musically, the songs teeter on the edge of old school punk and early post-punk, with angry guitars, angular melodies, and accusatory vocals. The lyrics of these songs are unsettling, full of animosity and despair. For example, in “A Pox,” Pandemix calls for “a pox on humankind,” decrying the privileges of some, the indifference of others, and the thought too many people hold that the fate of humanity doesn’t depend on us all. The band doesn’t exempt themselves from this damnation, either, as vocalist Shannon Thompson cries out, “I am sickness, my own malignancy / The worst possible version of me.” Nor are those who are traditionally considered part of the “left” spared as targets. In “Can’t Assimilate,” Thompson, who is a trans woman, defiantly states that she won’t assimilate into society’s expectations, and says she will “Wear their hate like a badge.” In the same song she slams the LGBTQ “establishment,” asking, “Pride on whose terms? Pride in what?” I’m more confused and troubled by the opening track, “No Monuments,” though. I’m not sure whether the lyrics are those of resignation or defiance. “No monuments to honor / No history to remember / We are a generation / Without heroes or splendor.” Are Pandemix saying that our generation is one that has become powerless to create change? Or one that willfully denies that past lessons of history? Either way, the songs convey these mixed emotions incredibly well.


EVEN IN BLACKOUTS – Romantico! (Stardumb Records, www.stardumb records.com)

Ever since I heard last year’s greatest hits compilation, The Princess Foretold by Her Henchmen, Even, Even In Blackouts have become one of my favorite bands. I had thought I had discovered them too late, though, as they had ceased activity nearly a decade earlier, their last LP having been 2009’s Thresholds From The Basement. But, thankfully, the release of last year’s compilation turned out to be a teaser for the band’s emergence from hibernation. Now comes their first album of new music in ten years, and I couldn’t be happier! Sixteen tracks fill up thirty-two minutes on the album, so most of them are fairly short. A couple of them are “joke” tracks, in which John “Jughead” Pierson and Scott “Gub” Conway use the track titles in silly product pitches. And, though not all of the songs here can be played even in blackouts (many make generous use of electrified instruments), the care and attention to detail that went into each of them is clearly evident. [The name Even In Blackouts referred to the band's original acoustic incarnation, which meant they could play a show even in a blackout. - Editor]

Themes of separation and loss run through the record, reflecting the amount of time the band spent apart, not only due to the hiatus, but also due to Jughead’s move to Japan and other losses. This is clear in the two-part song “Doubt.” Envisioned as a single song, Jughead says he ran out of music halfway through, so he sent the rest of the lyrics to Gub, who turned it into “Doubt Part II.” As you would expect, the theme continues through both songs, but the sound is very different. “I’m lonely when you leave me but alive when you are near,” both songs aver. The song(s) are/were written in the wake of the initial reunion of EIB, Jughead musing on how much he missed not only Gub, but everyone else in the band, and how they complete each other. Part I has a very martial feel, propelling ever forward with a solid steady beat, while Part II has more of a grungy Americana sound. The bouncy mostly acoustic “Blood” belies the aching lyrics about a break-up so bad that it has left the protagonist with a numb heart.

Jughead explains that he rarely writes pop punk songs, because he feels it’s not his talent. But this album has two good ones. “The Denouncement” is a short simple one with a poppy darkness, and “Reason” is a glorious sounding hymn in praise of living life in the moment. “Who needs a reason / To watch it all pass by?” the song asks. I especially love the closing vocal choir, voices raised toward heaven.

“Intergalactic Space Travel” is a favorite track. The music is truly glorious, epic sounding, even, yet bouncy as all hell. The lyrics seem to refer again to the physical separation of the band, with Jughead halfway around the world; it might as well be an intergalactic distance. “It was only movies and words that moved me to our significance,” the song states, as if the band didn’t recognize what they had and meant to each other until they had stopped. But I think my number one favorite has to be “Intention In Tension,” both for the story behind it and for the song itself. Jughead explains that the song “Sunshine,” from Screeching Weasel’s second album, “Boogadaboogadaboogada,” was one of his favorites (mine too!), and that Ben wrote it mostly about a woman they had met on a tour. Jughead had gone to visit her after the tour, and when he told Ben about it, Ben wrote “Sunshine.” This song is Jughead’s response, years later. Where the first song was blunt and accusatory, “Intention In Tension” is delicate and tender, the confusion and mixed feelings of a young immature kid laid bare. The music is light and airy, perfectly matching the feel of the lyrics.

“Killer Bear” is both cute and dark at the same time. Opening with a group of kids singing a simple song, “You’re with me / You’re with me / You’re with me / You’re my killer bear,” the track is no kiddy song, though it has the feel of one. Instead, the lyrics are about the worst, basest aspects of ourselves that we all try to keep caged inside. When they come out, the results are disastrous. The melody is simple, the arrangement raucous, and the old-timey sounding ending is one of those details of production that make this record stand out from the plethora of releases that come out every week.

The closer, “The Kindness,” is the song of ultimate loss: that of a loved one, in this case Jughead’s mother. The track has the sound of a lament. “Oh mother night / With the darkest wit / You will be missed / The memory, the kindness, the sound / And soon all of this will be gone.” But as sad as the lyrics are, the music has a triumphant quality. It reminds me of the Renaissance tradition of the “merry dompe,” a musical elegy to mourn the passing of a great person, but played in a way to lift up the spirit.

Now that EIB is back, I’m fully on board. I hope that, even with Jughead based so far away, some US touring is in the plan. [As this review goes to press, the band is touring Japan.] I’ve found one of my top albums of 2019 already.

FEELS – Post Earth (Wichita Recordings, www.wichita-recordings.com)

Feels, operating out of Los Angeles, is described as an “American psych punk grunge post-rock band.” And that may be accurate for a band that brings enormous diversity of genres to its recordings. Lyrically, the record is a condemnation of the current state of the nation and the planet. “Car,” the grungy opening track references current president DJT and our “one nation under fraud.” “Just trust what I say,” he tells the people. The title track is a blend of grunge and indie pop, slowed down and telling the tale of a future in which billionaires buy themselves tickets on spaceships leaving a dying planet. The fuzzed out bass is prominent, and the vocals slide, oozing the detestation that both sides must feel toward the other. “Awful Need” reminds me so much of Stereolab, with its minimalist repeating lines and steady, smooth vocals. “Deconstructed” has the instrumentals of an old-school punk tune, but the vocals seem a little bit sarcastic. I like the stripped down “Tollbooth;” most of the track full of empty space, with minimal drums, bass, and guitar, plus dry, present vocals very up front. The middle of the track, though, explodes in a ferocious burst of punk energy before settling back down into the slow groove to end the track. “Flowers” closes the record out with a quiet ballad that shifts from indie pop to noisy grunge. Taken individually, many of these songs are timely and enjoyable. Taken as a whole, the shifts in genre are sometimes jarring.

TINY MAGNETIC PETS – The Politburo Disko EP (Vitamin C Records, tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com)

This is totally retro synth pop, straight out of the 70s and 80s. Some of it is disco-like, some is more ambient. It’s like mixing Vangelis with a softer, smoother version of, say, Human League, and then adding a pinch of Julee Cruise singing Angelo Badalamenti. There are five tracks on this EP, and the sound alternates somewhat. “Enigma Code Variations I & II” is a buzzy instrumental that hums with a mournful vibrato. “Bitzed” is a chill dance track, with throbbing bass-synth line straight out of the 80s. “Non-Aligned” is darker, more mysterious, and slicker. Synthesized strings ebb and flow, as the buzzy bass synth bleats out a computerized line with perfect synchronicity and drums pound with a tribal ferocity. “A Strange Kind of Loneliness” quiets things down, with the flowing synths reminding me of Vangelis’ epic recordings of the 70s, while the underlying ambience and breathy vocals remind me of the Cruise/Badalamenti team up for the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The title track closes things out with another chill instrumental with a relaxed dance beat. If you miss 80s synth pop, this is for you. For my tastes, it might be s bit too smooth and chill.


THE OLD FIRM CASUALS – Holger Danske (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Anyone familiar with this band from the San Francisco Bay Area? You should be, because it includes none other than Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen. The band has been kicking around for the better part of a decade, releasing a plethora of singles and EPs, yet this is only their second full-length LP. The band is described as being a combination of street punk, Oi, and melodic hardcore. OK, sure, though I always thought of “street punk” being more of the sound of DIY punks than long-standing accomplished punk “stars.” The Old Firm Casuals certainly sounds way slicker and more professional than your average street punk band. But what I like about The Old Firm Casuals is that they aren’t afraid to mix things up. Some of the songs are definite throwbacks to old school hardcore punk, while others are more straight-up rock and roll in the vein of bands like Motorhead. After an ancient sounding blast of a battle horn, “Get Out Of Our Way” blasts out with speed and fury. Shouted vocals and gang backup vocals are key features of this classic hardcore track. After this we get “Motherland” and “Pendulum,” a couple of hard rock and roll tracks, a short metallic instrumental, “De Ensomme Ulve,” and a couple more rockers in the title track and “Casual Rock n Roll.” Then we get to the raging hardcore punk track, “Traitor,” one that’s sure to get the circle pit going on a massive scale. My favorite track, though, I think is “The Golden Fall Pt 1.” It’s another short instrumental track, but it’s the most interesting, most different thing on the record. It’s in waltz time, and I love the epic melodic punk feel it has. I wish they turned this into a full-on song. It might not really be “street punk,” but The Old Firm Casuals fills a niche in the punk scene, and maybe fills a few.

GOLDEN DAZE – Simpatico (Autumn Tone Records, www.autumntone.com)

Golden Daze is the perfect name for this LA outfit. The music is a hazy blend of folk and dream pop, drizzled with psychedelia. Acoustic and electric guitars intertwine with moody synths and otherworldly vocals, while the percussion subtly floats underneath. Playing this record is like walking into a shimmering other reality. It’s the beauty of a rainy day, the sun shining through a break in the clouds, the laziness and haziness. Nowhere is that shimmer more evident than on the opening track, “Blue Bell.” Acoustic guitars twinkle and twirl as the delicate vocals, sung in a half whisper into your ear, turn the grey day into one of enchantment. “Wayward Tide” is another favorite, again making use of glistening acoustic guitars. Many of the songs also utilize synths to create an ambience underneath the melodies, evoking that otherworldly feel. I really like the repeating melodic line of “Drift,” and its unexpected chord change at the end of each iteration. The title track closes the LP, with a simple song, ambient synths underneath simply strummed acoustic guitar, electric slide guitar, and those haunting vocals. This is one of those albums that are perfect to play when you’re housebound, sitting in front of a fireplace reading a book or something like that. Gorgeous.

GOOD SHADE – Way Out (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

Garage punk meets power pop meets 70's pop rock? Yes, yes, and yes, on this fourth full-lengther from the Ohio outfit. The diversity and energy make this album a great listen, nearly from beginning to end. “Maybe,” one of the pre-release singles opens the album with an epic sound, rapid tempo, driving beat, and soaring vocals. The other lead single, “Must Have Been,” is already a candidate for favorite song of the year. It’s got that Marked Men rapid pace garage punk sound, but the rapidly changing unorthodox chord changes really make the song a treat. A lot of the tracks are kind of like Marked Men meets the Buzzcocks. “We’re Open” is an interesting one, because it has the garage punk driving guitar sound, but it’s also got the 70's pop rock thing going on in the chorus’s melodic line. “Something’s Wrong” is a nice slower one, with a garage pop feel – but a third of the way in, it gets quiet and indie sounding for a bit, then erupts in a psych explosion. “Just Leave” leaves me a bit cold, though. It’s a tad too heavy on the 70's pop rock feel for my taste. But, yeah, overall this is a great listen.

KOMPLIKATIONS – No Good News (Rockstar Records, www.rockstarrecords. de)

There are no complications here on this, the fifth EP from the Belgian synth punk trio. Keyboards, drums, and vocals are what you get on these five stripped down tracks. It’s all very spare, very simple, very uncomplicated. Angry shouted vocals work closely with the buzzy synths to fill the space that would normally be taken up by guitars and bass. Imagine 70s punk crossed with early new wave, then strip away everything that isn’t absolutely necessary, and you get a sense of the sound you get from Komplikations. And with song titles like “Mouthy Leaders” and “Haters,” you know the songs are politically relevant. The pared back sound can be a bit jarring, but these are good songs.



LENNY LASHLEY’S GANG OF ONE – All Are Welcome (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Lenny Lashley just may be Boston’s Boss. Like Bruce Springsteen, Lashley plays energetic working class rock and roll with elements of folk and punk in the songs. Like Springsteen, Lashley uses organ and sax in his arrangements. Lashley’s songs are maybe a bit more raw and honest sounding. Though Lashley’s been kicking around for the better part of two decades, this is only his second full-length LP as Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One, his debut coming nearly 6 years ago. Lashley also writes songs that champion the underdog and make a statement. Case in point, the title track, which references the poem, “The New Colossus,” part of which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. “Give us your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” he sings. It’s a song aimed directly at the Trump administration, as Lashley asks, “Have we forgotten what we stand for?” “Where do we go from here, now that hope is lost?” he pleads. The song even includes a clip of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. “Live Like Lions” has elements of country, thanks to the slide guitar, and vaguely Irish music, courtesy of the accordion or concertina (not sure which it is) and the vocals that sounds a bit like Dave King of Flogging Molly. “Lonesome” has that same dichotomous character. I love the acoustic guitar and concertina, but not being a big fan of country I could do without the slide guitar. But that doesn’t apply to “Double Miner, a tune that sounds like a traditional song out of the old west. “Betty” is the most raucous of the ten tracks, and the first to feature saxophone. It kind of feels like something the SNL house band might play for the live audience to get them warmed up and rowdy. “Revolution” is another one that’s more rock than anything else, and proof that the back half of the album is more rockin’ than the front.

THE LOST TAPES – Inconvenience (Rockstar Records, www.rockstarrecords. de)

Part dark post punk, part goth this reminds me somewhat of what you might get if you crossed early 80's TSOL, late 80's DC band Strange Boutique, and mixed in a healthy dose of Bauhaus. Though that’s the general feel of this album, the first track, “Cyanide,” is completely different and undoubtedly the best of the bunch. It has a much harder, edgier feel, slightly angular melodic lines, and angry shouted vocals. The rest of the album from this German band doesn’t quite measure up to the promise of that first track. Each song, in turn, seems to lose more edge, become less focused, until we reach the halfway mark with the dirge-like “Double Vision.” On this one, the drums slowly and repetitively pound, the bass line is unchanging, and the whole song just seems to drag. The back half of the album picks things up again, but never recaptures the energy of the opening track. These tracks start to blend into each other, with little differentiation. The penultimate track, “Buildings,” tries to replicate the edgier feel, and to a degree succeeds, with a more rocking sound that most of the LP. But it’s only a couple of songs from this album that interest me.

SNAKERATTLERS – All Heads Will Roll (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywater records.co.uk)

Snakerattlers is married duo of Naomi and Dan Oliver Gott. Hailing from the north of England, the guitar and drums pair produce a huge, gritty, greasy sound. They play a cross between garage and rockabilly, in all its raw powerful glory. This, their sophomore full-length LP, features eleven tracks whose big sound belie the diminutive size of the band. Tons of reverb, as befits the genre, vocals that are sung as much as shouted with gusto, and pounding percussion are the main features. After a short instrumental introductory track that sets the mood, we get “All Heads Will Roll,” a dark dirty dirge sure to blacken your soul. Other highlights include “She’s Strange,” which has a Latin influence and “Rattle Rock Stomp,” with its cool noisy intro, retro rock progression and growled and shouted vocals pushing out lyrics that merely consist of the title sung over and over. Another great track, “I’ll Destroy Your Soul,” sounds like they really mean it. The closer, “Wild,” reminds me a bit of power pop garage rockers LA Drugz, which is a high compliment. Dirty Water continues its winning streak.


AM TAXI – Shiver By Me (Mutant League Records, www.mutantleaguerecords.com)

Music always sounds better when the band playing it is having fun. And that’s one thing that’s immediately striking about Chicago-based AM Taxi: they’re quite obviously enjoying what they’re doing. The music has a bright sound to it, even the emotional “down” songs. Unconventional instruments (for punk-based music) such as piano, organ, and trumpet make their way into some of the songs, adding a great feel to the texture of these tracks. The opener is pretty simple, but a blast of fun. “Saint Jane” is bouncy and melodic garage-punk with some great sing-along parts. It sets a fantastic mood for the record. “Harpoon” is one of my favorites of the album, with a more of a lean toward indie rock. Harmonized vocals, a pounding beat, some great hooks, and sparkling guitars make this a winner. “Fighting In Cars” is similar, but with a bunch of jangle, and is another great one. I like how the band mixes things up on this record, and each song sounds distinct. “Movie About Your Life” is acoustic, with handclaps and keyboard punctuating the song, which sounds like something that might come from Teenage Bottlerocket. “Swim Before You Sink” has a punk rock show tune feel to it, in a way that’s really fun. “L’Patron” is smooth and almost lounge-like with its keyboards, but it occasionally gets big and epic. Given the band’s bio and their flirtation with a major label, I wasn’t expecting to like this record much, but I really do like it!

EERIE WANDA – Pet Town
(Joyful Noise Recordings,
www.joyfulnoiserecordings. com)

Marina Tadic has had an interesting life. Born to Croat parents in the former Yugoslavia, her family was forced to flee and become refugees during the Bosnian war that ripped Yugoslavia apart. Settling in the Netherlands, Tadic became an audio and visual artist, creating musical act Eerie Wanda with band mates Jasper Verhulst and Jeroen de Huevel. Eerie Wanda’s sophomore full-length LP is a study in delicate minimalism. Acoustic guitar or ukulele, bass, and miscellaneous percussion glide under Tadic’s smooth, easy vocals, reminding me at times of Julee Cruise, made famous by David Lynch during the TV run of Twin Peaks. But, while Cruise was singing retro rock song written by Angelo Badalamenti, Tadic’s songs are more island influenced, warm and breezy, such as the title track and “Magnetic Woman,” or influenced by retro pop music, like “Big Blue Bird” and “Moon.” Though they don’t break new ground, the songs are very soothing and relaxing to listen to. I enjoy “Rockabiller,” a “love song” to the title character. It has a minimalist repeating line pulsing under the vocals, with a hint of rockabilly feel, but it’s still so quiet and understated. “Hands of the Devil” has a great flamenco guitar sound, complete with clapping, but the chord progression is more of a bluesy one, making for an interesting listen. Beautiful.

GULAG BEACH – Potato Mash Bash (Rock Star Records, www.rockstarrecords.de)

Hailing from Berlin, Gulag Beach aren’t looking to push the boundaries of punk rock, but they’re very comfortably rocking out with some classic punk sounds on this, their fourth full-length LP. There are eight songs, four to each side – well, really seven songs. The closer of each side is “Death Is Not The End,” with part 1 on side A and part 2 on side B. Topics are classic punk themes, too, with “Ode to Capitalism” including lyrics such as “Work – Eat – Die” repeated multiple times. “The Need to Be High” is a song about the need to use substances or activities – anything that releases dopamine, to relieve the stress of daily life. Like I said, this record isn’t earth shattering, but it’s a fun one. I’ll bet the live shows are pretty raucous.

WEIRD OMEN – Girls Are Dancing On The Highway b/w A Place I Want To Know (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

New single from French band Weird Omen, a band that already has four LPs and three other singles floating out there. The band is hard to pin down, genre-wise, but they seem to combine elements of garage punk, power pop, and fuzzed out psych. Plus they’ve got a baritone sax! They’re actually a three-piece, with guitar and drums filling things out! That’s a pretty unique concept, and it serves them well; there’s a lot of cool noodling going on in the bass line, more so than if it had been a traditional electric bass. This adds to the awesome psych feel. The single is a teaser for a forthcoming LP, and it certainly does whet the appetite. The A side is a dark, chaotic track, while the B-side has the stronger power pop sensibility, and is my favorite of the pair. Good stuff!

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BAND ARGUMENT – Patchwork (bandargument.bandcamp.com)

Band Argument is a new San Diego band that features Jordan Krimston and Sil Damone, formerly of Big Bad Buffalo, along with Jake Kelsoe and Alex Simonian, performing music different than anything that’s come from Krimston and Damone’s previous efforts. First, Krimston steps back from guitar duty and gets back behind the drum kit, actually his primary instrument. Damone sings and plays bass again, and Kelsoe and Simonian play guitar and MIDI. The resulting music is a glorious mash-up of math-pop, dream-pop, new wave, and a sort of neo-futuristic electro-music. The five songs on this debut release are, to my ears, more creative and original than much of the music being released today. The lead single, “Buddy,” opens the EP with angular melodic and rhythmic lines most reminiscent of new wave, then adding in some hip-hop rhythms and rapping. The electronics are front and center, giving us a strong taste of what’s to come. “Standing On Shoulders” sounds a bit like Cymbals Eat Guitars tune, but with a cool underwater sounding warble in the electronics. This one is dreamy but edgy. “Long Jump” has a breezy island feel to it, thanks to steel drum sounds from the synth, and a throbbing rhythm. “Sneaker Keeper” has a cool jazz vibe mixed with startling noises punctuating the track. “Dinner” closes the EP with more angular rhythms and guitar/MIDI lines over smooth, relaxed vocals, the opposition of these elements keeping the track in an off-kilter balance. I really liked Big Bad Buffalo, and I like Krimston’s other current bands (Miss New Buddha, Weatherbox), but Band Argument has the originality to make a real splash, should they make the effort.

CALIFORNIA HEARSE (californiahearse. bandcamp.com)

Southern California’s Gentlemen Prefer Blood may have called it quits, but their rhythm section, consisting of Dr. J on bass/vocals and Mike Spaid on drums, have decided to press on as California Hearse. If you’re familiar with the sounds produced by Gentlemen Prefer Blood, you’re going to instantly feel at home here; the half dozen tracks have the same general mix of anthemic pop punk and power pop. “Welcome Home” seems to reflect this, welcoming GPB fans home to this new band, the expansive opening guitar licks sounding just like GPB. Other songs add influences from bands as diverse as The Descendents and Social Distortion. Their first show will be at La Escalera Fest 8 in San Diego this April, and I know I’m looking forward to that, based on this EP.

OFFENDED BY EVERYTHING – Evergreen (Standby Records, www.standbyrecords. com)

Texas’ Offended By Everything call themselves pop punk, but this reminds me more of the poppy emo that was so trendy in the 2000s. This new EP from the still pretty new band (they only formed in 2017) contains five tracks that, if you’re a fan of that genre, are performed in workmanlike fashion and should be enjoyable enough. To my ears, though, these songs and so many like them have little variation and are overwrought. The one exception is the title track, which is an acoustic version of this style of song, and I think this works so much better acoustically than as a full electric band.

RADAR STATE – Strays (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords.limitedrun.com)

Wiretap’s latest release comes from a “super group” of sorts, with Radar State consisting of Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic of The Get Up Kids, Josh Berwanger from The Anniversary, and Adam Phillips of The Architects and The Gadjits. As a result, the music on this debut LP is bouncy, melodic pop punk with a clean polished sound. In a way, it almost sounds like it could be a new Get Up Kids release, but this record has more of an edge and less jangle than The Get Up Kids songs. Favorite songs include the anthemic “Anywhere,” which contrasts tough guitars with a poppy melodic line and a fantastic descending line in the chorus. I really like the guitar fiddling and flourishes on “Self Hurt Guru,” which also has a great “Fat Wreck Chords” pop punk sound. “Defender” is probably the most aggressive, punk song of the album. It’s got a power to it, as does “Good Catholic,” with the latter having a lot more bounce. And a third track in a row completes the troika, “Leather Dye.” It’s dark, up-tempo, and gets all misty in the middle. The only song that feels out of place is the closer, “Play For The Game.” It’s acoustic for its first two-thirds before the full band comes in, but even then, the whole song feels so different from the rest of the album, It’s more of a low energy ballad. I see this band is coming through town on tour in a few weeks, though, and I’ve put them on my calendar. Should be a good time.

SLUM SUMMER – Ababo (Jigsaw Records, www.jigsaw-records.com)

Fronted by Englishman Hugh Noble and formed after his move to San Diego, Slum Summer is an indie band that includes another UK ex-pat, Grant Stewart, on bass, as well as Americans DJ Anderson (drums) and Jen Edwards on guitar. The songs are nearly uniformly gentle indie pop, with a slightly folk-psych undercurrent. Guitars jangle clearly, while the bass and drums pump out the beats and Noble’s smooth, even vocals sing out. The problem is that, within those parameters there could be plenty of opportunity for variation, but Slum Summer don’t take it often enough. Well, I guess musically there’s some variation. “Trampoline” has a doo-wop sort of feel, while “Vauxhall” has the feel of a country ballad. “Sing Sing The Rain” has a funky beat to it, and so on. I think it’s really Noble’s vocals that sound identical from song to song. And it’s so dominant in the mix, maybe too much so. Every little flaw is laid bare in those vocals because of that mix. Then there’s how clean the guitar tone is on every song, and the amount of reverb they have – again, too much, I do like some of the songs. “The Rub” is a nice driving indie tune, and the dueling guitars jangle in different ways. And the opener, “Annabel,” is, well, similar. The songwriting has some good potential, I think, but Slum Summer could do with some help producing their records.

TROUBLE CUTS – Parasite b/w Who Is Right? (Lavasocks Records, www.lavasocksrecords.com)

My interest in this record from a band out of Portland that rarely plays outside their local area is clear: the bassist is none other than Kyle Henner, formerly of 90s Bay Area band Nuisance, and the drummer is Jonno Peltz, who played in the short-lived hardcore band Breeders in Urbana, Illinois in the early 80s. This 7” EP comes on clear red vinyl and features a pair of tracks. The A-side is a rocker, for sure, with early rock’n’roll guitar flourishes. It’s a mildly up-tempo track packed with a bluesy power. The B-side is a slow-burner with a dusty desert feel. The vocals complement the style really well, with a dry delivery. Not only is it good to see people from bands I enjoyed years ago still making music, it’s great to hear that it’s really good music.

VAN DAMMES – Risky Business (Rock Star Records, www.rockstarrecords.de)

Pop fucking punk rock from Finland! The Van Dammes, from Helsinki, have issued forth a challenge to the world. The six songs on this EP are nothing short of a huge blast of fun energy. Lo-fi in just the right way, this record is a must for all fans of garage-like pop punk. Formed in 2013 in Brussels, the band has relocated further north. This is the fourth EP from the quartet, which features guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards – and the keyboards add a lot to the fun here! Five of the six tracks are under two minutes, with only the mid-tempo closer passing that mark. The title track opens the record in spectacular fashion, raging like mad. Things don’t let up one bit for “I Don’t Like Music Anymore,” with a bit of a Radioactivity vibe, but with more of a melodic bounce. I really like “100m,” and its use of the keys to echo the melodic line of the vocals. That closing track, “Tax Free World,” is a good one, too, but feels a little out of place with its more loping feel and more of a focus on melody than speed and power. This is a highly recommended record!

VINTAGE CROP – Company Man (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

This four song EP features a classic punk sound out of Australia. The mid-tempo tracks feature angular melodic lines and shouted vocals. The band this most reminds me of is Art Brut, the great UK band, as they have a very similar feel. Song topics primarily seem to revolve around economic exploitation, particularly the title track and “Stock Options,” which closes the EP. Favorite track: the off-kilter “Right to Censor.” Good stuff.

 

WEAKENED FRIENDS – Common Blah (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovanni records.com)

OK, yeah, this came out in the last quarter of 2018. Our fearless editor tells me it literally fell through the cracks – he found it had fallen behind his CD cabinet. But never fear – good music stays good, and this is indeed good. The trio hails from New England (Boston and Portland, Maine), and I hear a few different things in here that make me happy; I hear influences from grunge, from indie pop, and from pop punk. “Peel” is a solid grunge track, with a tough feel, solid bass line, and fuzzed out guitars. “Waste” also has a big grunge sound, but with a lot of bounce added in. “Early” reminds me so much of Washington D.C.’s Tsunami, a favorite indie pop band from back in the day. Some of the songs remind a lot of local San Diego band. Squarecrow. Not that they’re an influence – how can they be? Squarecrow is a tiny local band – but the way the vocals have a bit of a tremor, almost like a subtle laugh, reminds me a lot of Squarecrow’s Todd Allen and the way he sings. The title track is a good example of this. And the songs have the same light-hearted feel like Squarecrow, though the lyrics may not be as light-hearted as the music implies. “Not Doing Good” is another example of this. The closing track, “Hate Mail,” features a guest appearance from Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and the unmistakable guitar tone adds another layer to the song. I wish I had heard this record earlier. Perhaps it might have displaced something from my 2018 best records list…

RATIONS NOISE / UNKNOWN RIVER DRIVER – Split 12” LP (86’d Records, www.86drec.com)

This split LP comes from a pair of bands from Long Island, and it features an amazing diversity of sound! Each band contributes five tracks, with Unknown River Driver up first. Just this one band likes to mix things up, with styles ranging from post-punk to pop punk, but all with a strong grounding in 1990s sounds. “Remains” blends heavy early-era emo vocals and a grunge-doom feel with a beautifully clear guitar tone. “Isaiah” is a great, epic sing-along pop punk track with shouted vocals and a simple melodic line. “Pour” is a dark track, mixing second wave emo with an almost metallic edge. “Song of the Cicada” is a pretty, delicate instrumental that doesn’t even sound like it came from the same band. It’s got a Japanese feel to it, both in the melody and arrangement. The band’s final track, “Misery and Liberty,” is a more standard melodic punk rock tune. And then comes Rations Noise’s side! Now, this is definitely not your typical Jersey Beat fare. This is experimental noise and found sound mixed with musical instruments. And I love it! This is sonic art of a sort that was made during a very creative period in the 1980s, but is not often heard anymore. And these five tracks are a good introduction to people unfamiliar with the genre, as the tracks are short and rhythmic, some even with a discernable melodic line in places. “Screams of the Wounded and Dying” opens with some eerie sounds, and then distorted synthesized voices intoning emotionlessly about pain and mourning. The nightmarish sounds continue, as a pulsating melodic line repeats, sounding like a distorted harmonium, and the eerie sounds resolve into a rhythmic beat. “Litany for Hancock Airbase” opens in a similar manner, but this track remains dark and foreboding, until the very end when a beautifully bass line takes over from the buzzing and droning. “Dronestruck” (speaking of drones) consists of dark ambience swelling and ebbing, punctuated by a rhythmic banging pattern that’s repeated, while a guitar plays rising and falling notes. “Consoles” may be my favorite. It’s dark and buzzy, with a strong repeated rhythm, periodically interrupted by some other randomly evil sounds. “Cont’d Litany” closes the side with a harsh noise blended with guitar lines, distorted voices begging forgiveness at the start and end. There is a consistent theme around unjust warfare throughout these tracks, as well. Highly recommended!

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