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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!

For more Paul Silver reviews, click here...


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