Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 




BOB MOULD – Blue Hearts (Merge Records, www.mergerecords.com)

I’m going to start this with full disclosure. Hüsker Dü is one of my all-time favorite bands. Some of their songs are among my all-time favorite songs. The way they bridged hardcore punk and melodic indie rock was groundbreaking. I even bought and enjoyed Mould’s early solo stuff. But most of his later output didn’t really do that much for me. I know, heresy, but it just lacked the aggressiveness I needed from Mould’s music. I drifted away. Until 2020, with the current multiple crises facing our country, it seems Mould has found his anger again, and when he released the single “American Crisis” and announced this LP, I got excited to hear his music for the first time in a couple of decades. And here we are now, and “Blue Hearts” is Mould’s best work since the late 1980s.

The opening acoustic track, “Heart on My Sleeve,” is a perfect way to open this LP, with an emotional plea, listing off the ills that are doing nothing but growing more intense with time. The deep sadness and frustration come through in the vocals, as Mould’s voice cracks a couple of times. And then the album explodes with “Next Generation.” The song is exciting and powerful, Mould’s voice raging the way it used to, his guitar creating a wall of sound that impossibly jangles. The real rage gets turned on for the lead single, the aforementioned “American Crisis.” Mould literally screams as the song opens, and cries out, “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again / To come of age in the ‘80s was bad enough / We were marginalized and demonized / I watched a lot of my generation die.” Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and so we are here, but it’s even worse now, as we’ve become a nation of armchair activists. “We wake up every day to see a nation in flames / We click and we tweet / And we spread these tales of blame,” Mould says, with a damning tone. The fact that the generation that fought so hard for change 40 years ago has now been made complacent is an intolerable thought, but something that gets turned on us in the glaring light of truth. The strongest lines come at the close of the song: “Silence was death / Never forget / Silence was death / Silence.” It’s a call to action like no other.

“Fireball” comes next, and it’s one of my favorites of the LP. It’s another rager, cacophonous guitars pummeling us with noisy melody, Mould’s vocals spitting venom more effectively than ever. The backing vocals in the chorus glide smoothly in contrast to the leads, and as the track comes to a conclusion, and the bedlam of the instruments is rapidly faded out, save for a bit of guitar feedback, those backing vocals are cranked up to reveal the sound of a chorale in cathedral, with voices echoing off the walls. It sends chills up my spine. “Forecast of Rain” is a slower song, less noisy, musically, but just as damning, lyrically. It lays bare the hypocrisy of the “religious right,” asking a question of the Almighty: “This love thy neighbor thing, does it apply to all mankind? / Or only those who fit neatly inside your narrow lines?” Turning to those who call themselves the true believers, Mould exposes them for the charlatans they are: “My truth is different than your distortions and disguised interpretations twisting the words of ancient times.” These so-called Christians reinterpret passages from the Bible that they can twist to suit their political ends while ignoring other parts that do not meet their needs. The “forecast of rain” the title alludes to is the forty days of rain needed to cleanse the earth anew.

Other tracks I really like include “Siberian Butterfly,” “Racing to the End,” and “Little Pieces.” These are tracks that mix bouncy pop and hard-edged guitar noise, the combination that made the Hüskers such a great band. And that’s one of the things that make Blue Hearts such a great record, too. That, and the words, the explosive fury. These make this album one of the best and one of the most important of 2020.

LYDIA LOVELESS – Daughter (Honey, You're Gonna Be Late Records, lydialoveless.bandcamp.com)

Alt-country artist Lydia Loveless has ended her four-year hiatus with “Daughter,” her first studio LP since 2016’s “Real.” The album documents a period of intense change in Loveless’ life, including divorce and moving away from her lifelong home of Columbus, Ohio. The album title refers to a growing movement of feminism in the country that includes billboards along roadsides “imploring people not to hurt women because they were somebody’s daughter or sister or mother,” says Loveless. After her divorce she was living as an individual for the first time, having jumped from her teen years right to marriage. That, with her family turmoil and lack of maternal impulses, defining herself as a daughter or sister did not give her comfort.

“Alt-country” isn’t really an adequate genre description for the music Loveless makes; there’s definitely an indie pop element to it, as well. Think indie music with a twang. The songs are uniformly heartfelt and emotional. There’s nothing light and bouncy; it’s all pretty deep introspective stuff. Take “Love Is Not Enough,” one of the lead singles. I think it may be my favorite of the album; with its jangly guitars it has a retro power pop feel blended with the country twang of Loveless’ vocals. The lyrics are pretty devastating, about being in significantly different places in a relationship. “Tell me how it feels to always see everything in a major key,” the song asks, “When I’m drowning in ennui.” “Love is not enough / I wonder if it ever was / I shouldn’t have to break you down to build me up” is the refrain. It’s a recognition that relationships have to be on equal footing to be successful, that just being in love isn’t enough. The other lead single, “Wringer,” seems to be an acceptance by Loveless of her role in her breakup. “How did it come to this / Dividing of possessions? / Only reason it got this far is your / Childish obsession / With everything you thought I’d be / But could not deliver / All that loving me ever did was run you through the wringer.” But when that last line comes around again, it’s turned around, to signify that a relationship is two people, and its success or failure relies on both: “You give the sweetest kisses dear / But you leave the stinger / All that loving you ever did was run me through the wringer.” The music on this one has an almost disco dance beat to it, smoothly strummed guitars with a hint of funkiness. “Never” is another track with a dance beat to it after its otherworldly intro with piano and synth. It’s a song of apology and acceptance. “And I know that I’m not ever gonna get you back / Let me tell you that I’m sorry ‘cause I owe you that,” explains the chorus. Piano sadly plinks out some chords, as the guitars jangle, the drums keeping a steady dance beat, and through it all, Loveless gives her emotional confession. “When You’re Gone” is another of the jangly guitar tracks, and combing that with the deep bass notes give the song an epic pop feel. In this case, being gone refers to death, something that comes for all of us eventually. “When you’re gone there will be no healing, no moment of clarity / You will be dead, there will be no reeling out into the street / ‘Cause there was never anything I could do,” sings Loveless, declaring the finality of death. And I adore the penultimate track “September,” a quiet ballad with piano and strings. The backing vocals on the chorus will send chills down your spine.

No, alt-country doesn’t do Loveless justice. Her music is richer and more complex than that simple moniker would imply.

FULLER – Crush Me (www.listentofuller.com)

It’s alt pop. No, it’s dance pop. As the little girl says in the TV commercial and now famous meme, “Why not both?” On his debut EP, J.P. Welsh is the man behind Fuller. Relocated from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles at the start of 2019, Welsh set to work with producer Eric Palmquist to lay down the tracks that form this record. The tracks blend a strong dance club beat with indie rock instrumentation and indie pop hooks to create a fun sounding upbeat record. The lyrics are not so bubbly, though, with themes of bad romance, and anxiety. My favorite track is the opener, “Favorite Poison.” It’s so sparkly and fizzy and fun, and the lyrics liken one’s romantic partner to the titular substance. “I stay out too late with you / Get too drunk in front of you / I can’t tell my friend the truth / You’re a bad habit and I’m a bad boyfriend” says one verse. The title track has the strongest dance beat, with a hard pounding bass, but the melody is smooth and poppy. The lyrics are full of anxiety about lack of self-worth. “Take a shot at my soul, take a shot at my soul / it’s not worth much anymore / and I’m not one to deny it, so / If you steal my heart, if you steal my heart / You should tear it apart / But let me down easy.” And “Sink or Swim” continues the blend of dance and pop, this time adding an element of dreaminess in the production. “Yr So Retro” tries to add a harder rock and roll edge to the mix, and I don’t think this recipe works quite as well; the dark rock, dance beats, and dream pop guitar seem to clash too much. “Change My Mind” feels pop radio ready, and normally that would be as turn-off for me. But there’s just something about Fuller that I really like. The production might be slick and big-time ready, but the melodies and hooks are solidly indie, and Fuller has hooked me.

MUCK AND THE MIRES – Take Me Back to Planet Earth (Rum Bar Records, www.rumbarrecords.com)

Just before the pandemic stay at home orders were issued, Boston garage rockers Muck and the Mires released a single from what was to be a forthcoming LP, due out this summer. Perhaps COVID-19 had other ideas. But instead, in this autumnal age, we get six new songs in one EP, all recoded during the lockdown. The title track is pure retro early 60s fun, with lyrics seemingly inspired by grade B sci-fi flicks of the era. I love the jangle of “6 O’clock,” a song with more pop than garage, but still 60s retro style. It’s a self-assured song about not needing to make plans on a Friday night, because he’s already got his “6 o’clock baby” to stay in with. As we get to “Hey Sunshine,” the music continues to get poppier and lighter, yet still with that solid 60s sound in the vein of the Beatles, but somewhat rougher and gruffer. “She Blocked My Number” blends garage and pop for a fun one, and the lyrics speak to modern problems of telecommunications features introduced much more recently than what the music style would imply. The most timely is the closer, “Zoom Breakup,” a bouncy garage pop tune about how much better it is to break up over a zoom meeting than by writing a letter. I wonder how many Zoom breakups there have been since the lockdown started. We may not have gotten the LP (yet) but this EP is great fun.

RYAN AND PONY – Moshi Moshi (Pravda Records, www.pravdamusic.com)

Here comes the debut LP from Ryan and Pony, a new project featuring Ryan Smith and Pony Hixon-Smith, both of The Melismatics (Ryan is also a member of another well-known Minneapolis band, Soul Asylum), and Peter Anderson (Run Westy Run, The Ocean Blue) on drums. On this debut LP, the trio mix dream-pop, indie, EDM and post-punk, in different ratios on each song, to create a unique sound that varies considerably from track to track. After the dancey dreamy bubblegum opener, “Starry Eyes,” “Start Making Sense” has a hard-edged guitar sound, giving this track a grittier rock and roll feel, though the contrasting vocals are smooth. “Fast As I Can” is, for the most part, a relaxed easy pop track that’s somewhat forgettable, except that just past the halfway mark there’s an awesome bridge with some great jazzy improvisation on different types of horns, and I wish there was more of that. I do like the retro pop of “Be Still My Baby,” the closely harmonized vocals reminiscent of 60s pop, and “Cinematic” is aptly titled. It’s got a big sound like something from a movie soundtrack, crossed with Human League (who remembers 80s synth pop?). First Night can’t decide if it wants to be dream pop or indie rock, and I love that about it. It’s got a driving beat and raucous guitars, but it also has plenty of reverb, cool synths, and that wall of sound. Like some of the other songs, this one has a bridge past the halfway mark that’s completely different from the rest of the track, in this case it’s almost metallic guitars and a head banging beat. “Take It Or Leave It” sounds like it’s from a totally different band, being a real rocker without any dream, pop, or EDN pretense. It’s indie rock mixed with power pop and glam, and it’s definitely a favorite. And the intro to “Come Find Me” is gorgeous classical music played on rock and roll instruments, leading into an incongruously energetic pop ballad. The variety is breathtaking, but you can (for the most part) still tell this is all from the same band. This makes for a good listen.

SHY BOYS – Talk Loud (Polyvinyl Records, www.polyvinylrecords.com)

Shy Boys play smooth, sweet, bubblegum pop, influenced by pop music of the 80s, but making use of synthesizers rather than traditional guitar and bass. The harmonized vocals are silken and the music is airy and light. The synths play repetitive melodic lines in a mechanical manner, as the fragile sounding vocals glide along. After a number of songs all in the moderate tempo category with the same feel, we get “The Pool,” which starts out with a gorgeous lounge piano until the synths and drums come in, and I’m disappointed and long for that piano, as the track becomes more of the same, albeit with softer and less robotic keyboard sounds. “Trash,” one of the lead singles, begins with a different sound, with deep dark bass synth and unison vocals that sound menacing – until it turns into synth-pop again. I like synths, and I like bubblegum pop sometimes. But I just can’t get into the overly insubstantial songs on this LP.

SURFER BLOOD – Carefree Theater (Kanine Records, www.kaninerecords.com)

A band plagued with tragedy and controversy, Surfer Blood are back with their first LP of new original material since 2017’s “Snowdonia.” After front man John Paul Pitts’ arrested for domestic assault, their brief career on major label Warner Brothers’ Sire Records imprint was over. But the band continued on indie label Joyful Noise. Pitts initially pled not guilty, then did a “plea and pass” deal in which he attended a program designed to prevent a recurrence, and after completion the following spring, charges were dropped. Pitts has maintained his innocence throughout, and has not apologized for his actions. Today, that would be the end of a band, but a mere seven years ago it was business as usual for a band. Later, tragedy struck again with the death of original guitarist Thomas Fakete’s death from a rare form of cancer. This occurred shortly before the release of “Snowdonia.” Now, more than three years later, the band has returned to Kanine Records, the band that released their first records more than a decade ago. And it’s… OK. It’s smooth, even-keeled alternative rock. Oh, sure, some of the songs are better than average. I do like the dark wave “Karen,” with its dance beat and 80s Manchester sound, dominated by the prominent bass. “Unconditional” has a retro post-punk pop sound, kind of reminding me of The Smiths, and the organ warms things up nicely. And the gently plucked acoustic guitar in the closing track, “Rose Bowl,” is lovely, especially at the very end of the track. But other than these moments, the songs are fine, but just too relaxed and don’t grab my attention. There’s just out of the ordinary. Just smooth, steady, uneventful songs.


NICK FRATER – Fast and Loose (Big Stir Records, www.bigstirrecords.com)

Growing up in the 1970s, I was exposed to a ton of top 40 AM radio, the music of Burt Bacharach, and all the bubblegum music you can imagine. If Nick Frater was writing and recording these songs 50 years ago, he’d be ruling the airwaves along side Mr. B, whose easy pop rock hits “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” “Say a Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” and more defined a decade. Frater’s music is a little edgier than Bacharach’s hits, but not too much. “Let’s Hear It For Love” is the first real “song,” after the short instrumental intro title track. No, it’s not a cover of the Smoking Popes’ great pop punk crooner, though it does seem to use the idea behind that song’s lyrics and even a little bit of the melody in the chorus. Songs like “Luna,” with its organ and lightly driving rhythm, have subtle hints of garage rock influence, but the smoothness of the harmonized vocals are pure light pop. “Cocaine Gurls” is a song about trying to give up all the “bad things” that come from the fast and loose rock and roll world, but getting pulled back in by the titular characters. It’s a typically bouncy pop with a little bit of power, but not quite enough to push it over the top. “California Waits” is the epitome of the 70s sugary pop sound, even including some glockenspiel, and the guitar tone is spot on for the style. “Would You Like To Go” sounds like it could have come from the Sesame Street kids’ TV show, with a simple melody and its sweet message of friendship. I do like “Buy You Time,” which has a bit of retro doo-wop sound to it, and features piano, synths, jangly guitar, bass and drums in the mix. It’s got a strong back beat and an epic quality to it. But most of this LP just doesn’t have enough oomph. I was never a fan of 70s bubblegum pop.

MERCY MUSIC – Nothing In The Dark (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

This is a simple review to write. This record is, in a word, outstanding! The music is melodic, poppy, and edgy, all rolled up into one. The hooks are prodigious, and the sound is bigger than the three-piece they are. This band deserves to be much bigger than they are right now. “Tuesday” is one helluva song. The hooks are awesome, the melody pretty, the playing and singing powerful – all the best put together into one song. It’s pop punk, it’s power pop, and it’s got some nice grunge touches, too. It’s one of the best songs of the year so far, to my ears. And the title track is another favorite. It’s just guitarist-vocalist Brendan Scholz playing acoustic guitar and singing, but the song is just so nice. Scholz can really write some great melodies. And those lyrics are so…sad, a song about aloneness. “When I go out I’ll be sure that I go out alone / We can be two lonely people the way it was before.” Make me cry, Brendan. “Tell Me I’m Wrong” blends the angst of emo, the melodic sensibilities of pop, and the heaviness of grunge. The result is a strong rock and roll song that you can’t decide if you want to dance to it, cry to it, or head-bang to it. The closing track, “Even If I’ve Lost,” is a real banger, too. You’re going to want to get up and jump around when this one comes on. It’s fast and bouncy and a ton of fun. This is a strong contender for the 2020 Best of list.

PURPLE WITCH OF CULVER – Trig (Loantaka Records, www.loantaka-records.com)

This is a new single from a new group, featuring saxophonist Sarah Safaie and producer/ multi-instrumentalist Evan Taylor. The track blends jazz, funk, hip-hop, chill-out EDM, and spoken word beat poetry. A continuous pounding drumbeat interlocks with the funky bass, and tenor sax interjects with some smooth lines. Safaie’s deadpan vocals give us the words, and a chill keyboard throws out some descending chords from time to time. This isn’t typical Jersey Beat indie music, but it’s certainly worthy of your attention.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Fall is upon us, and it’s pumpkin spice season again. Thankfully, Teenage Halloween, though named for the season’s favorite holiday, doesn’t have any of the blandness of the ubiquitous flavoring. They call themselves a power pop band, but they aren’t. As much as I love good power pop, Teenage Halloween sell themselves short with that description, because the band’s sound is richer, more complex, and more varied than would be implied by that simple genre label. That makes their debut LP a winner. And yes, it’s their debut. Even though the band has been kicking around since 2014, this is their first LP. But it was worth the wait. Vocalist Luke Hendericks belts out the words with a folk punk power and angst – but there’s no folk punk on the record! It’s got that gravelly but higher pitched quality I most associate with folk punk. Some of the songs have a great epic quality, such as the opener, “Stationary.” The song is expansive, yet raucous. It’s a great introduction to the band and leaves me wanting to listen to more. I really love the fast and loud “Holes,” which has punk undertones, but has more of the sound of an indie pop song, with great melodic hooks. And “SMH City, too, has great power and great melody. Hendericks’ vocals really set the tone for this song, giving it a scratchy edge and an urgency. But that also comes from the pounding drums, thrumming bass, and the screaming keyboards. “Summer Money” has bright sound from Brandon Hakim’s saxophone that gives the song a nice jangle, even as it has a retro rock and roll beat. And I like the jazzy sound with bass, drums, and piano in the closing track, “Turn Right, Goes Straight,” as well as the clanging guitars,

The label’s write-up about the band on their website says that Teenage Halloween’s sound is “rooted in abundance,” and that’s an apt description. The band has a big sound, and, as their bio states, “”lyrics that grapple with vulnerability, community, extreme existentialism, mental illness, and gender euphoria.” I especially love that last term, as it juxtaposes with the condition of “gender dysphoria.” Dysphoria is a defined as a state of unease or dissatisfaction with life, while euphoria is joy and celebration. This record was originally slated to come out during the summer, and Teenage Halloween were scheduled to play The Fest 19 in October. 2020 hasn’t been kind to any bands. Hopefully 2021 will bring an end to the pandemic, a return of live music, and a reinvigorated Teenage Halloween, ready to tour, will be coming to a club near you.

TOBIN SPROUT – Empty Horses (Fire Records, www.firerecords.com)

Tobin Sprout should be well known to most Jersey Beat readers. He was a longtime member of Guided By Voices, penning some of that band’s songs. With GBV’s Robert Pollard he founded Airport 5, releasing a couple of LPs and numerous singles. And “Empty Horses” is his seventh solo LP. The ten songs here, for the most part, feel dusty and lonesome, yielding the feeling of Sprout as troubadour, wandering from place to place, singing his songs and telling his tales. Part of this comes from his mastery of lo-fi recording. It’s not so lo-fi as to be distracting, and not so slick as to feel overproduced. It ends up with a nice DIY feel, as someone doing the best he can with the tools he has. I particularly love the piano sound he gets; it sounds like a home recording, slightly distant, sad and lonesome. Part of it, too, comes from Sprout’s vocal style; it has the weary and worn sound of someone who’s seen and done way too much, and needs to talk about it. There’s a decent variety in the songs, though they’re all distinctly singer-songwriter fare. There are some simple acoustic guitar and vocal songs, the best of which is the simple “Every Sweet Soul.” It’s a pure, gorgeous song, just acoustic guitar and some overdubbed vocals and a pretty melody. Another great one is “Antietam,” with acoustic guitar and wood block percussion. It’s a song living a simple life growing up amidst a sea of troubles, then joining the fight for freedom and making the ultimate sacrifice. There are songs with electric guitar, and some with slide guitar too, giving an Americana alt-country feel. “Breaking Down” is a pretty ballad in this category about the call of the road, the need to go places, both literally and metaphorically. I really like “The Man I Used to Know,” one of the two “rock” songs of the LP. The heavy reverb and guitar tone give it that lonely dusty sound. The other is “All In My Sleep,” which has more of an indie rock sound than the others, with buzzy guitar effects. As the song evolves it adds piano and slide guitar, becoming a bit of an instrumental jam. That piano features prominently in songs such as “On Golden Rivers,” which also includes acoustic guitar and strings (or string synth). The overdubbed backing vocals are slightly out of sync with each other, giving it a “realistic” sound of a group of singers gathered together, singing for themselves. And the beautiful closing track is just piano and vocals, “No Shame.” It’s a short one, with a song that warns, “crawl away, you’re in danger boy,” and then declares, “there’s no shame on you, no shame.” There is no shame in self-preservation. Though all the songs could qualify as ballads, and some of the songs veer uncomfortably close to spiritual topics, there’s still an honesty in these songs that make them appealing.


BRIAN CULLMAN – Winter Clothes (Sunnyside Records, www.sunnysiderecords.com)

Brian Cullman, formerly of OK Savant, is releasing a solo LP, but it’s one that includes collaboration with a number of other musicians, including Jimi Zhivago, who passed away in late 2018 during work on this project. It took Cullman a year to come back to these songs and complete the album. The result is definitely singer-songwriter fare, but there’s a lot of diversity from song to song, with some having a Bob Dylan sort of vibe, others being more power pop, some adult contemporary, and others country-folk. The variety is something I personally praise every time I encounter it, and it keeps the listener engaged. Favorites include “Down Down Down,” a bluesy folk-rock jam that reminds me of Little Feat. “Wrong Birthday” is the one that brings Dylan to mind pretty quickly, or maybe a tamed Mick Jagger, with a song about being at the wrong place in life for things to work out the way you want. Speaking of the wrong place in life, “As A Man Gets Older” is a sad, lovely folk tune about how our lives change as we age. Delicately plucked acoustic guitars provide the primary instruments, along with electric bass, and the subtle backing vocals and organ are gorgeous. The previously released “New Year’s Eve” is here, also with a strong Dylan influence, about looking for love at the holidays. But my favorite track of the LP has to be “Wrong Girl.” Despite opening with mandolin, this is an unabashed power pop track, something that could have come from the pen of Paul Collins (of The Nerves and The Beat). If you take out the organ, mandolin, and slide guitar, this would be at home in any rock and roll club in the country. This is coming out at just the right time, because this is going to be a great listen on those cold rainy fall days.

IN PARALLEL – Fashioner (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

This is a very different record than anything Wiretap has put out to date. This isn’t punk; it’s not pop punk. It’s big expansive music, synth heavy, dripping with dreaminess. It’s bass heavy, and has a strong beat, so in that sense it reminds me, in some superficial ways, of early New Order, but like a less emphatic, more ethereal version. There’s definitely an ‘80s vibe in the melodies and synths, but the arrangements are more modern. “Six Over Eight” has moments that are swirly, though most of it features deep growling bass and darkness, but with a gauzy silkiness floating above it. The title track, which bears the subtitle, “No Exit,” has a distinct dance beat to it, bringing up memories of those 80s bands even more strongly, but tempered with a modern rock sensibility. “Deep Dark” is an interesting one in that it blends the synth-dream-pop style with a 2000s melodic emo style. The music and vocals are big and the production feels slick. Maybe a bit too slick. “Leave it With The Ghost” has a very deliberate beat, but it’s not really a dancey song. It starts out on the quiet side and builds, the grumbling bass and drums working in unison to create an air of tension, while the heavily reverbed guitar and vocals try to give a sense of ease. ”Threat of Heaven” closes things out, starting as a quiet dreamy anthem. Halfway through, it explodes into cacophony, with the bass and drums still holding the center, keeping things aligned amidst what is otherwise a soundtrack to chaos. Noise and buzzing come from the synths and the guitars, the level rising, the feedback growing. These last two tracks are my favorite of the EP, probably because they have the richest texture of the quintet of songs. Overall, Fashioner is not the sort of record I would seek out, but it has its moments.

BLAKE JONES – The Homebound Tapes (Big Stir Records, www.bigstirrecords.com)

Music has gotten quieter and more intimate during the pandemic shutdown, as people turn to home recording without full band arrangements. And that’s the case with the aptly titled “The Homebound Tapes,” from Big Stir Records’ founding father, Blake Jones. The half dozen tracks here are quite varied, even as they’re mostly acoustically based, as are most new home recorded releases. The opening song, “The Last Song of Summer,” comes at a perfect time, as we reach September and Labor Day weekend. It’s delicate acoustic guitar, bass, and Jones’ vocals singing a Neil Young-like song celebrating the ending of summer and farewells in general. “Do the Lockdown Bossa Nova” is an awesome track that features guitar, various percussion instruments, and a theremin playing the Latin inspired melody. It’s quirky and eerie; you can imagine ghostly apparitions dancing to the Brazilian beat. “Three Jerks in a Jeep” is my favorite of the record. It’s an understated garage rock and roll song that rocks out quietly, while providing a biting satirical commentary on conservative complaints about this summer’s protests. I like the folksy waltz, “Homebound,” performed on acoustic guitar and mandolin. It’s a ballad about pulling up roots and moving during the global pandemic lockdown, and it’s a pretty song, but sad, as it speaks of leaving everything you’ve known for years and driving along empty roads and shuttered restaurants. It’s also apparently the true story of Big Stir’s Rex Broome’s parents, who did just that at the outset of the stay at home orders. The bookend of “The Last Song of Summer” is called, well, “The First Song of Summer,” and it’s a lighthearted song that feels like it could come from a stage show, all happy and a bit silly. “Make Peace” ends the EP, and it’s an anthem to the sentiment, as Blake pleads that we do just that. Electric guitar, piano, and drums give the song the feel of a quiet march. And marching for justice and peace has been a central part of 2020. Six songs, six sounds, six sentiments, all around current themes. What could be better?

NOi!SE – Welcome to Tacoma (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Tacoma, Washington’s street punks dropped a surprise EP! Not only is it a surprise in that it was unannounced, it’s a surprise that this is an all acoustic record, sounding nothing like their usual raucous selves. There are four tracks here, acoustic versions of fan favorites. “Dull The Pain,” from “The Real Enemy” LP, instead of being the relentless pounding song it was on the album, it’s a pretty Latin-influenced number that I could see a punk mariachi band playing. The vocals come through like never before, too, and are deep and rich. “So I Drift Away,” which comes from the album “The Scars We Hide,” isn’t as drastic of a transformation, as it changes from a gritty street punk song into a gritty folk-punk song. And those sumptuous vocals just make this work so well. On the same LP, “Rank and File” is noisy and a bit chaotic, but here it’s luscious jangly dark folk punk. “Rising Tide” may be my favorite song of theirs, from the album of the same name. It’s a great punk anthem with challenging intervals for singing. Here it transforms to a fast paced crooner of a song, with wondrous Morrissey-like vocals (but without the controversy). And it’s still my favorite. Yes, this EP is a surprise in more than one way, and it’s a welcome surprise.

SILENT ERA – Rotate the Mirror (Nervous Intent Records, nervousintent.bigcartel.com)

From Oakland, CA, Silent Era plays melodic hardcore – but not the kind of modern melodic hardcore you’re thinking of, not the kind that borders on metal. This is the kind of post hardcore that was being made in the 80s, and that guitar tone! It’s a very 80s punk sound, reminding me a lot of Boston’s The Proletariat. It’s also got a dose of California surf punk guitar thrown in, too. The music is speedy, melodic, hard-edged, and even bouncy! Vocals are powerful and clear. Some of the tracks are more melodic, some are super fast and crunchy. I like both. “Say It Again” is incredibly intense, the proverbial fast and loud punk music, and it’s a standout. “Unserving Lie” is one of the poppiest songs you’ll hear all year, but it’s also one of the fastest and most cracking. It makes it one of my favorites of the LP. The same can be said about “The Hook.” The band is super tight and these tunes are really punchy. Strongly recommended!


SOULSIDE – This Ship (Dischord Records, www.dischord.com)

You have no idea how excited I was when Soulside announced this new record. I loved Soulside back in the day, and during their very short tenure they put out some excellent records that are still among my favorites. When they announced their reunion for a few special shows in conjunction with the release of the DC punk documentary, “Salad Days,” I actually bought a plane ticket to fly to DC to catch their two shows at The Black Cat. I thought that was that, but they continued to play, making their way across the USA where I caught them again at The Casbah in San Diego, and they toured Europe. It was while they were overseas that they found time to get into the studio and record their first new music since 1989, and the result is “This Ship,” a two-song 7” single whose download comes with a third bonus song. And, while you can still recognize these new songs as Soulside, they don’t sound identical to the songs they last released over thirty years ago. And that’s good, because bands should continue to evolve and grow. The songs are melodic and powerful, with post-hardcore touches. The title track makes great use of guitar feedback and noise, yielding an urgent feel, while the guitar, bass, and drums provide a retro surf garage pop feel mixed with, of course, a DC post-hardcore sound. Of course, the lyrics are a political and social commentary, in this case likening society to a ship that we all need to work together to right, lest it capsize. The B-side of the vinyl release, “Madeleine Said,” has a bit of a Jawbox/J Robbins feel to it, with jangly dissonance in the guitars, but a slower, more melodic, gliding vocal line above that. The bonus track is “Survival,” and the same jangly noisy guitars are there, but the song has a bit more of a pop melody. It seemed impossible at first, then just unlikely. But now, Soulside are back. I hope this is a harbinger of a new full length LP to come.

BEAUTIFUL DUDES – Nite Songs (Dowd Records, www.dowdrecords.com)

Following up from their 7” release earlier this year, Beautiful Dudes return with a six-song EP of dark, yet varied indie rock. The songs all have a melancholy running through them, yet each sounds distinctly different from the others. “Nothing But the Black” opens the EP with the most raucous of the tracks and a very 80s post punk feel. “Beverly Hills” is a little poppier with lovely guitar distortion, in the same way that The Jesus and Mary Chain used noise and pop melody. “Nite Nite” brings metal and grunge to the table, and “I Don’t Ever Want To Get Out Of Bed” is a morose ballad, the depression and gloom palpable. “The Champion” closes the EP with an epic cacophony. But my favorite is the penultimate track, “Today Is Just Today.” It has an 80s retro sound like the opener, but it’s quieter, poppier, and with a gritty blend of surf and western. The guitar sound reminds me a lot of the The Plugz’ “Reel 10,” the music from the climax of the film “Repo Man.” The EP is nicely cohesive while maintaining a good variety.

CHASER – Look Alive (www.chaserpunkrock.com)

Two new songs from SoCal skate punks Chaser. The songs are speedy and melodic, with plenty of harmonized whoa-oh vocals. The Orange County melodic punk sound is strong in this pair of songs. Of the two, I think the B-side, “Found Myself Again,” gets the edge. It’s bouncier and poppier, and I like the crunchiness of the bass and guitars. And best of all, 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this record will be donated to four worthy organizations, Equal Justice Initiative, Educational First Steps, Crisis Aid International, and Surfrider Foundation. You get good music and you get to help the cause.

COLD YEARS – Paradise (eOne Music, www.entertainmentone.com)

Paradise is the debut LP from Scottish band Cold Years. Hailing from Aberdeen, on Scotland’s east coast, the band joke’s that the album’s title is a sarcastic reference to their hometown, which is decidedly not a paradise. Musically, the band play big, melodic, emotion-filled music that lies somewhere between pop punk and alterative rock. It’s odd, because the slick production and alternative rock sort of stuff is a sound I don’t normally go for, but Cold Years have enough of an edge to their music, enough of an urgent sound, that I’m digging this record. Ross Gordon’s vocals are heartfelt, something you can hear clearly from the opening track of the LP, “31.” It starts with just acoustic guitar and vocals, and the vocals are raspy and pleading. Songs that stand out for me include those that have more of the pop punk edge to them. “Life With A View” is one such song, with great striding guitars and pleading vocals. “Breathe” has a post-hardcore feel mixed into the smoother pop punk and alternative rock sounds that gives this track a bit of an edge. “Burn The House Down” is one of the most intense tracks, too, and it’s my favorite of the bunch. It’s intense, but very melodic. One thing I notice about many of the tracks is that they start off with a harder, edgier sound, and as the song evolves the often smooth out, moving more toward the alternative pop punk sounds. I wish they would maintain that edgier sound throughout the songs. “Too Far Gone” is the opposite, though, starting more quietly and getting bigger, moving through a slick alternative rock phase and moving to a jumpy, boisterous, poppy section. And the closer, “Hunter,” is just beautiful, an acoustic song with guitar and Gordon’s earnest singing. Yeah, I kinda unexpectedly dig this record.

GODCASTER – Long Haired Locusts (Ramp Local, www.ramplocal.com)

Mix together 70s funk and pop and a large dose of experimentalism and you get Godcaster! “Rising from the underground river of primordial goo that runs between New York City and Philadelphia,” as the band say, this is the band’s debut LP.” And it’s explosive, right from the get-go. The opening track, humorously titled, “Even Your Blood Is Electric,” has the funky sounds of a 70’s TV cop show theme song. One thing this song has that’s a common thread throughout the album is the use of flute and keyboards playing melodic lines in unison. It gives these songs a bright tone, and emphasizes the 70s influence, whether the tracks are funky or poppy. I love not just these songs, but their titles, too. “Don’t Make Stevie Wonder,” “Christ in Capsule Form,” “All the Feral Girls in the Universe,” and “Rapturous Climax” are just a few examples. I really enjoy the way “Apparition of Mother Mary In My Neighborhood” oscillates between odd, off-kilter pop, funk, and chaotic avant-garde. “Sassy Stick Boy,” with its flute and what sounds like glockenspiel, opens with the sweet sound of a Sesame Street vignette. The bits of guitar wah-pedal in the background emphasize the 70s nature of the track, and even the pretty harmonized vocals have hints of a condescending tone that we get in kids’ music. Besides having a pun for a title, “Don’t Make Stevie Wonder” has some great funk and cacophonous experimentalism that’s a blast to listen to. “Christ In Capsule Form” is way too short, but it’s a glorious hymn, sung in choral form – or as close to that as you get from this collection of oddball musicians. “Escape From the Challenger Deep” is a gorgeous quiet ballad that also sounds like something that could have come from a twisted version of Sesame Street until the halfway mark when it undergoes a transformation into something out of a manic psychedelic science fiction soundtrack. “Sexy Heffer” is a fun one that starts off as a simple off-kilter funk track, but gets wilder and more chaotic as it goes. There’s one song that’s borderline punk, and that’s the manic “The Skull!!!” The music is as emphatic as those three exclamation marks imply, with a speedy tempo, edgy guitars, and urgent sounding synths. Man, this is crazy, refreshingly different stuff. Recommended.

NEW WAY VENDETTA – Cough Cool b/w 1984 (On The Floor) (www.facebook.com/newwayvendetta)

New Way Vendetta is a collective of pro-mask radicals with links to Christian Death, The Jackalopes, Electric Frankenstein, Cricketbows, Shadow Project, C.O.H., Kathedral, Rozz Williams, The Empire Hideous and more. On this debut release they offer up one cover and one original. The cover is, of course, that of the famous Misfits tune. New Way Vendetta slow the song a bit, add tons of atmospheric synths, making it sound more like something from a dystopian science fiction film. Some other interesting touches: the emphasis on the lyric “cover your face” and the introductory bit with a synthesized voice ordering people to wear a face covering and maintain social distancing. The original track on the “virtual B-side” focuses on dark synth driven pop and gang vocals. The lyrics provide a warning: “Big Brother is watching you / Keeping track of your every move.” It’s obvious these mysterious figures are having a laugh. Laugh along.

PROTON PACKS – Paradox (Mom’s Basement Records, momsbasementrecords.bigcartel.com)

Italian punks Proton Packs are back with their fourth full-length LP, and their second coming out of Mom’s Basement. Proton Packs are Ramones-core, and they also claim The Misfits, Lillingtons, Head, and Iron Maiden as influences. I guess I can see most of that. The music is big and chunky, with loads of chukka-chukka guitars. The songs are dark, too, with most of them being modal or in minor keys. Individually, the songs are decent enough, with a skate punk vibe. But there’s too much sameness throughout the 14 tracks. There’s no variation in tempo, no variation in the sound. With maybe the exception of “Business As Unusual,” which includes a synth, providing at least a little something different with an 80s new wave vibe underneath the punk rock. “The Mystery Zone” also uses synth, but only in the opening seconds, and here and there through the track. Other than that, there’s no difference in the sound of this track and any of the others. It’s hard to tell when one track starts and the next one ends, other than the moment of silence between them. Now, don’t get me wrong, Proton Packs are a good band. The songs are powerful and energetic. But there’s just too much sameness here to keep my attention over a 33-minute span.

SATURDAY’S HEROES – Turn Up The Music! (Lövely Records, www.llyrecords.com)

Swedish punk-fucking-rock! This is melodic punk, with plenty of power and pop, lots of big gang vocals, and a party atmosphere. I love the way the lead vocals are belted out. “We’re All Done” opens the album with a great street punk vibe and an anthemic quality. This is the kind of song that gets everyone in the club singing along and jumping around. Several of the songs are big street punk anthems, too, and I hear a warm organ in the background – something that’s becoming more common with bands of this genre. “Dead of Night” starts with a great classic melodic punk sound reminding me of Youth Brigade from back in the 80s, then speeds up to become skate punk track, going back and forth between slower and faster paces, giving it a nice varied texture. “Seven Seas” has a great loping rock and roll feel, and I love the great big “This Is The End,” a track that sounds as if it closes out their live sets (or did before the pandemic). “Turn Up The Music” closes the mini LP, and is a favorite, with a bluesy rock and roll sound for the first half, then turning into a raucous street punk anthem. This is fun stuff.


THE HAPPY FITS – What Could Be Better (www.thehappyfits.com)

Well, damn! Nothing beats a record where you can just tell the band had a blast making it, and I can hear the joy throughout the ten songs on The Happy Fits’ sophomore LP. The three-piece is made up of guitar (Ross Montieth), drums (Luke Davis) and….cello? (Calvin Langman). Although Langman takes on most of the lead vocals, all three sing, and harmonize, providing a thick, rich vocal sound. The opening track (and lead single) is oddly not representative of the rest of the LP, sounding completely different from any other song. But it’s still a ton of fun. It’s “Go Dumb,” and it’s pretty rocking garage. The only change I would make to it might a slight increase in the tempo, but it’s got a huge sound, and man, that cello rocks! The balance of the LP is uniformly upbeat joyous indie rock and pop, with the exception of the penultimate “Get a Job,” which is a harder rocking song, almost like grunge – but more like a grunge song from a rock opera. The arrangement and writing are very theatrical – and superb! In this dramatic aspect it reminds me a little bit of Queen. The guitar and cello work as percussion with the drums, pummeling away incessantly, propelling the vocals. I love the exuberant “No Instructions,” with its moments of Beatles-esque pop. The 50s doo-wop retro pop of “Moving” is a ton of fun and I hear hints of 60s cinema soundtrack and Latin influence, as well. Speaking of Latin influence, “Two of Many” has it aplenty, mixed with Afro-Caribbean beats, and it’s my favorite track of the LP. Its energetic rhythm, breezy melody, and huge vocals (including gloriously huge harmonies) are infectious, and I dare you to listen to this song without getting up and dancing. Another favorite is the delicate “The Garden.” Plucked cello and guitar punctuate the beautiful soaring vocals. Every single song on this record is gorgeous, beautiful, fun. At the risk of sounding effusive, I will declare that this record will end up on my list of the year’s best. Plus, you can check out our fearless editor’s recent interview with the band here.

BLOODY YOUR HANDS – Sunday Scaries (bloodyyourhands.bandcamp.com)

New York’s Bloody Your Hands brings us their third full-length LP, the first since 2017’s “Monsters Never Die.” And though it was written over a two-year period, its themes of anxiety, isolation, hope, loss, exhaustion, death, and struggling with adulthood are more relevant than ever. And the ten songs here are nothing short of remarkably gorgeous. My number one favorite of the album has to be the glorious “Insincere Apologies,” a song of communications breakdowns in relationships, the inability to be vulnerable when confronted with threatening situations, and the feelings of hopelessness that induces. The music oscillates between a pretty delicate guitar line with an ominous bass and a loud grunge rock and roll sound. It’s like when you try to start a discussion about a bad situation, first apologetically, then becoming defensive when confronted The chorus opens up, like a person shouting, huge and expansive; “Wasted and dysfunctional / Wasted and dysfunctional / Waste my breath, like yelling at a wall.” I really like the opener, “Insomnia,” too. The quick tempo in the instrumentals contrasts with the slower glide of the vocals, the song seeming to be in 12/8 time, the vocals on the 4/4 rhythm and the instruments doing a quick 3/4. There’s some cool 90s indie sounds in the guitars on this one, with some pretty chord progressions. “Checked Out” is, perhaps, the most punk-like of the songs, with a strong pop punk edge, though the melody and arrangement are of a more mature indie-rock nature. The song deals with hating your job, but not being able to find anything that pays well enough (“More money makes a dent, but I’m not happy just paying rent,” declares the chorus) and doing what you love just doesn’t pay. The grunge-like hit of the LP is “Weird Winter,” a song of self-loathing that has a big gang-vocal chorus of “I am not your hero, I’ll never be.” The verses deal with the paralysis one can feel, the struggle between wanting to be with people and to just be alone, and ending up lying in bed, letting yourself rot away. Themes of isolation continue on the spoken word piece, “Isolation By Design.” As an acoustic guitar plays quietly, a narrator talks about the loneliness we all feel as we isolate ourselves, even in a city as dense as New York, “It’s isolation by design, to be surrounded by water, but dying of thirst,” we’re told. “There Are Heroes In You” seems to speak about being overly dependent on another person. “You’re my home, you’re the only reason I am here,” the song says. “We’re waiting for heroes, there are heroes in you.” I love how the song starts out more quietly in waltz time, then a about two thirds through, it changes completely into a very dark, driving song in a 4/4 rhythm, the urgency palpable. I could continue talking about each track and how good they are – because every track is really that good. Every time I think I’ve picked one favorite, another plays and I have to reevaluate. The songs are inventive, original, very engaging, and varied. This record is very recommended!

CATHOLIC GUILT – This Is What Honesty Sounds Like (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

Melbourne, Australia band Catholic Guilt are seeing American release of their new EP via Southern California’s Wiretap Records. The five-piece play big, expansive pop punk and emo inspired music, similar in ways to what was being made in the 2000s. There’s an epic quality these songs, and the songs pack an emotional wallop. The opening track, “A Boutique Affair,” is the lead single, and it ranges from poppy indie rock to emo pop. The harmonized vocals are very slick, with a commercial radio appeal. “Song of the Renter” has a dusty western folk-punk feel to it, with lyrics that seem to be about the greed of redevelopers and land speculators, and the damage they do to the ability of too many people to have an affordable place to live. “Life In Three Part Harmony” lives its name. It also starts quietly, and builds steadily. Just as life does. And “The Awful Truth” has a jazzy swing and swagger to it, but is just as big and emotional as the other tracks. “Nothing” is the closer, and it has an anthemic quality to it, for a big and strong finish. Catholic Guilt certainly are good at what they do. If you enjoy this big emo style, you’re going to love this EP.

KID DAD – In a Box (Long Branch Records, longbranchrecords.bigcartel.com)

On this debut LP from German band Kid Dad, are echoes of 1990s Seattle mixed with modern dreaminess. This is slickly produced alternative rock, with big dynamics and big production values. The opening track, “A Prison Unseen,” is epic in scale, with loud heavy guitars and shimmering keyboards. Marius Vieth’s vocals are belted out powerfully, and when the band pulls back we get quiet confidence. “Happy” is straight up grunge, and the heaviest, hardest-hitting song of the LP. The licks on the chorus sound oh so familiar, as if Kurt Cobain himself could have written them. The heavy reverb in the guitar on the quieter parts is cool, giving those parts of the song a darker eerie feel. There are plenty of songs in the vein of “(I Wish I Was) On Fire,” a track that feels like it came from the 2000s. Melodic and rocking, yet dreamy, and loaded with emotion, it’s the kind of thing the alternative radio was full of back in the day. Vieth’s vocals range from angst-filled to breathy, echoing the big dynamic range of the instrumentals. If you like this genre, Kid Dad acquit themselves quite well.

LASSE PASSAGE – Sunwards (Sofa Music, www.sofamusic.no)

Lasse Passage plays light, jazzy folk-pop. If you think you hear a slight accent to his rich vocals, you’re right; Passage hails from Norway. The opening track, “Miles Away,” is my favorite of the LP. It starts out with gorgeously dark, fluttery acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s really beautiful singer-songwriter fare. The song starts to get a little thicker with flute and synths, and then drums join in and the folk turns to pop for a bit, before returning to the fluttery guitar. I like the breeziness of “Heartbeat.” It’s got an interesting blend of feelings; I get a sunny beach day mixed with some rural Americana, with slide guitar and horns in the arrangement. “Homecoming” is a perfect exemplar of the majority of the songs on this LP. It’s folksy pop music with a jazzy beat and horns in the arrangement. “Sunwards” is another one on the jazzier side of things, a nice bouncy beat, trumpet, a light touch, and even whistling at the end. And I also love “300.000 Francs,” a pretty song of memories, romantic and otherwise. It’s a wistful tune, quiet and sad, full of loss. The mix of acoustic guitar, piano, and brushed drums is beautiful, and Passage’s vocals have a delicate touch. The overall feel of the album is quite airy and weightless, and listening to this record can help ease your burdens.

ODD ROBOT – A Late Night Quarantiniac (youtube.com/channel/ UCi3ifreFPcx9hgbAYCTOvJQ)

Odd Robot has decided to self-release acoustic versions of some of their songs from their first two LPs, and their split with Tiny Stills, plus a new one, as a digital only release, available on Spotify and YouTube. And wow, the songs sound completely different this way! Part of it is the acoustic treatment, but more of it is a conscious decision on the part of the robots to slow things down, take it easy, and not be in such a manic rush. One of the best examples of this is “Amnesiatic.” The original is raucous and loud, if not speedy. The acoustic version is soft and solemn, just the acoustic guitar and Andy Burris’ vocals, as pleading and melodic as ever, though the emotive quality of his vocals comes through even more clearly here. “Take Me Away” transforms from an edgy pop punk anthem, with driving bass and pounding drums, into an impassioned waltz time ballad. On the “Amnesiatic” LP, the opening track, “Sell Your Soul” is pounding pop punk song, but here it’s delicate, with acoustic guitar and distant “percussion” from what I think are hand claps. “I Am a Cortisol Factory” is no longer the high-strung indie rocker of the track on the split EP; instead it has some exquisite flamenco guitar sounds and a much easier feel. “Boil Through” undergoes a big change from poppy grunge rock and roll to dusty western folk. My favorite Odd Robot song, “Green and Yellow Wires” (which they never play live) is my favorite of this acoustic LP, too. The part that hits me hardest is the dueling guitars in the opening, something that is used sparingly in the electric version. Here in the acoustic version those guitars keep at each other throughout most of the song. They’re lighter, too, and the song is slowed down and becomes the romantic ballad it was always meant to be. The new one is the country-like “Bartender’s Blues” and it reminds me of some of the Chicago singer-songwriter music I group up with, like Steve Goodman. The closer is “Knife and a Cigarette,” from the debut LP “A Late Night Panic.” Here, along with the acoustic guitar we get bowed bass and violin, and it is achingly beautiful. Though all but one of these tracks are previously released on other records, this is a fresh, brand new LP that sounds like no other Odd Robot record, and like their others, it’s wonderful.

SHEENJEK – Unclever (Seventh Rule Recordings, www.seventhrule.com)

I’m not a big metal fan, and I usually don’t go in for the really heavy stuff. But every once in awhile, a heavy metallic band comes along that breaks all the “rules” and makes music that I can really get into. Portland’s Sheenjek is one such band. The music is definitely heavy, hard-hitting stuff, but it’s also melodic, with strong post-punk leanings. The band claims to have started as a book club in their humorous press release, and that quickly disintegrated into a demonstration of self-defense knife techniques and joint rolling techniques. Too much booze, too much weed, and too many books led to an extended drum solo that became the band’s first live performance. Ha! “Monkey Brains” is a bombastic track with some cool angular guitar lines that remind me of some of the great post-hardcore post-emo stuff from the 90s, and the track may be my favorite of the bunch. It’s a little slower, but it’s loaded with tension and sludgy bass. Magazine’s 1978 post-punk classic “The Light Pours Out of Me” was famously covered by Ministry in 2003, with a reasonably faithful and un-Ministry-like rendition. Now Sheenjek is covering it, slowing it ever so slightly, and sludging it up a lot. The angularity of the next song title, “If Not Why Not If So How” reflects the bit of angularity in the melody. It’s another that harkens back to 90s post-hardcore and early emo, before emo turned to screamo. I love the organized chaos in this one toward the end, with the instruments all seeming to be playing different dissonant lines, yet they all gel together into a coherent whole. “Lazy Boy” changes character three quarters of the way through. It starts out as just another heavy metallic grungy sludgy song, with metallic guitar jammage. But with just over two minutes remaining on the clock it complete changes to an urgent melodic punk edged rocker with hints of DC emo buried beneath the layers of noise. You can hear it in the way the vocals are shouted out and the soaring sound of the guitars. “Damocles” definitely shows its metal roots, but it’s got some definite jangle going on here and there. The closing track is “Bootlikker,” and it’s where the band really shines. There’s so much going on in this track, from the quiet opening notes to the slow slushy intro, and then the gritty post-hardcore, with an intense wall of sound. When the rhythms start getting all mathish, it may leave your head spinning. The song keeps shifting all over the place, and it’s a fascinating listen. There are precious few heavy bands I’ll go out of my way to see, Now I have one more, whenever live music starts again, and should Sheenjek decide to come down the coast.

SLIGHT OF – Other People (Dadstache Records, www.dadstacherecords.com)

Slight Of is an ever evolving collective of musicians centered on the songs of New Yorker Jim Hill. The songs are unabashed glam and power pop. Guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards make up the instrumentation, and it’s interesting how the different keyboard sounds dramatically change the feel of the songs; sometimes they’re new wave bubblegum pop, sometimes they’re more rock and roll, and sometimes they have a dreamy sound. For example, the opening track, “The Sims,” has buzzy poppy synths that dominate the sugary sweet pop sound. The lyrics are less bubbly than the music, referencing spending all night playing the titular video game, wasting time “on a world that doesn’t even exist. It may be an allegory for chasing unachievable dreams, which would be pretty depressing. “Other People” goes dark 80s rock and roll, with jangle reverb-laden guitars and a warm organ tone, and lyrics about a relationship stuck in a rut and gone cold, with thoughts drifting to the other people in our lives. “Americana” has a vaguely, well, Americana feel, and the vocals on the verses remind me ever so slightly of Current 93’s David Tibet, half sung, half spoken, with dismal lyrics. The song is about the desperation of so many in America, how our lives never turn out to be what we want or what the American Dream is supposed to have promised. I like “Townie 490,” which sounds like something Elvis Costello might have written, with a nice power pop sound.

I’m not normally a big fan of the slower ballads, but ironically my favorite tracks on this LP are such songs. “Winter’s Maze” is a chilling song of becoming inured to and feeling stuck in a toxic relationship. “Oh what you do to me / You know it hurts so gracefully / These aching bones have come to know / The bruise that makes them feel at home,” says one verse. The music is spare and lonely sounding, with ethereal synths and bluesy guitar. “Oh what you give to me / You take it so easily,” another verse declares, as the music builds. “And it feels like new when you walk in the room / If it were warmer / Maybe I’d have the sense to leave.” The song sends shivers through my soul. And “Hall of Songs,” the penultimate track of the album, has a sort of unearthly version of a 50s doo-wop ballad, a heavenly choir providing backing vocals.

This sophomore release from Slight Of has some real downer lyrics, man, but some of these songs are pretty cathartic. This is the real emo, buddy.


BENCHMARKS – Summer, Slowly (benchmarks.bandcamp.com)

You would think that Benchmarks, hailing from Nashville, would focus on country-tinged music, or at least “Americana” influenced alternative rock. But they remind me more of a cross between Austin, Texas band Big Loser (formerly known as Free Kittens and Bread) and Divided Heaven (formerly of Los Angeles, now calling the East Coast home). The music has the emotional content of Divided Heaven, and the indie-nerd song writing of Big Loser. The production is pretty slickly done, the band is super tight, and the musicianship is stellar. The overall feel is indie rock, but several of the songs are definitely punk influenced. I like “Cicada Year, Pt. 1,” with its big rhythm guitars and strutting bass line, and the lyrics that refer to how we enjoy the summer, never giving a thought to the coming of winter, a reference to youthful exuberance without a care of what will happen as we age. And “Our Finest Hour” is a very timely song, about how those of us born into privilege but committed to real change for the better need to move back from trying to lead and allow those most impacted by injustice to do so. We need to listen, learn, and support the change that will bring about a better society. It has big punk influenced guitars and some great whoa-oh backing vocals. “The Price of Postcards” is a pretty raucous one that I like, and the lyrics are one of the inevitable tour songs – being away from home, traveling from place to place, how everything is the same but different everywhere – and missing the one you love. When the song calms, there’s an organ that comes in and gives a nice warm feel that’s not out of place, as the lyrics referencing dreams of what will be when you get home. The guitar solo, though, could be dropped as superfluous, and the guitar wizardry thrown in at the end feels extraneous and boastful. Another tour song makes an appearance, “Leave the Light On.” This one is about growing weary of the rut of touring, and planning to leave it all and go home. It’s got one of the punkier feels, too, but also another unnecessary guitar solo. And the arrangement of “Technicolor” reminds me a lot of Big Loser, with the opening just being guitar and vocals, before the whole band comes in, and then revisiting that contrast throughout the song. “The Good Fight reminds me a lot of Divided Heaven – the vocals have some of that band’s vocalist Jeff Berman’s sound. Sometimes the production goes a bit overboard, like the use of “atmospheric” synths and guitar solos on “Six One Way” and other songs. It ends up feeling too slick and less honest. I think that’s what bums me about all the guitar solos. They sound inauthentic and don’t add to otherwise good songs. The closer is “Cicada Year, Pt. 2,” and it picks up the theme from part one, but this time it’s a song of acceptance instead of denial. “Summer into autumn slips / let me embrace this transformation, and embrace the life I own / and cherish all these songs upon my lips.” Not just accepting aging and change, but embracing it. Good advice for us all.

DEVON KAY AND THE SOLUTIONS – Limited Joy (A-F Records, www.a-frecords.com)

You may be most familiar with Devon Kay from his role in the band Direct Hit! but Devon has, for years, fronted his own band, too. On this latest LP the band eschews the pop punk of its past and has evolved to a bigger sound grounded in ska punk. Yes, ska punk. The band is bigger, adding a trumpet and trombone, plus synths. The songwriting is bigger, too, to take advantage of all these new instruments. You’ve possibly heard some of the singles they’ve been rolling out in advance of the LP release, so you know what I mean. The opening track was the most recent single, “Oh Glorious Nothing,” and it’s a pretty glorious track, actually. The glorious nothing referred to is oblivion, as in death, and the song seems to be about the search for something, anything, that can make you feel alive, but never finding it, and finding solace in the end. The music is big, with horns and synths providing a full sound, at one point with the horns and synths sounding almost like a baroque ensemble. The other single that was released ahead of the LP comes next, “Anything At All,” and it has the same ska punk sound and a wonderfully elaborate arrangement. There is a short time when the music and the vocals get aggro, but it’s way too short. “252 Brighton Ave.” was previously released, as well, and it has a vaguely Celtic rock feel that I like, as if The Pogues decided to add a ska element to their songs. The horns in this one are just gorgeous.

The first song of the LP not released ahead of the album, “One Horse,” is a straight up pop song, with processed vocals and heavy synths. The horns are still there, seeming oddly out of place, but the lyrics are in line with other songs. I hear references to time slipping away, and Kay’s declaration “I don’t wanna be here, I don’t wanna be alone.” This is one I could almost hear breaking through to commercial success, if given the opportunity. I like “In a Prairie State,” which has the feel of a rock and roll song mixed with ska – ska-rock instead of ska-punk? “Evermore” takes the band in more of an indie direction, with a smooth sound. The arrangement is complex with synths, guitars, and horns playing interweaving lines. “His & Hearse” is a big, fun sing-along, and the sound gets beautifully thick. The closer is “Less Talk, Less Rock,” and it reminds me of what PUP might sound like if they slowed down a bit and added horns. The band are creating some wonderfully involved arrangements that really make these songs stand out. People who are expecting this band to stay stagnant and keep playing the same old pop punk may be disappointed, but if you like good music and are open to more than just guitar, bass, and drums arrangements, prepare for a good time.

EXPERT TIMING – Whichever, Whatever (Count Your Lucky Stars Records, countyourluckystars.limitedrun.com)

Expert Timing are seem like two bands in one, which unite on the final track of this new five-song EP. Two of the songs that are sung mainly by bassist Katrina Snyder are lovely indie pop. Two of the songs that are sung mainly by guitarist Jeff Snyder are a bit grungier, definitely more indie rock and outside the pop realm. I do tend to like the indie-pop songs better. “Gravity” is a song of anxiety in trying to plan life, but its unpredictability gets in the way of that. Katrina’s vocals are pretty, and I like the off-kilter rhythms that reflect the odd turns life can take. I also like her song “Constant Melody,” another pretty indie popper, this time with a smoother feel. Of Jeff’s two songs, “Good Things” is a downer of a song about how “Good things just don’t just happen to me.” The mood of the music does feel a little lighter than the lyrics would imply, especially when the full band is playing – it’s a bit darker in the intro, when it’s mainly the bass playing a very Seattle line. And “Luckin’ Out” is even more a descendant of the Pacific Northwest music scene. The closing song, “My Body,” unites these two disparate styles, melding Katrina’s pop side and Jeff’s grunge. We get the dark grungy guitars and bass, but the lightness of Katrina’s vocals and the start-stop melodic lines of her songs. The song is also probably the most lyrically important, on the topic of a woman’s right to control her own body. An interesting dichotomy comes together.

L.A. WITCH – Play With Fire (Suicide Squeeze Records, www.suicidesqueeze.net)

It’s cool that I just watched the Go Go’s documentary on Showtime last night, and today I’m listening to L.A. Witch. Not that this trio sound like the quintet that was popular back in the 80s and helped drive MTV success. But it’s that the Go Go’s were groundbreaking in that they were all women who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs, something unheard of back then. So many bands have followed their lead and they are some great bands out there now that wouldn’t have had a chance at success without the Go Go’s. And, though we know L.A. Witch are all women, what do they sound like if they aren’t the pop music of their progenitors? This is dark garage power pop, emphasis on the dark. There is heavy use of reverb, and the vocals are relaxed to the point of sounding “under the influence.” I hear psych and surf in the guitars, and the keyboards provide a strong retro psych feel. “Dark Horse” is a favorite, with its 6/8 meter, acoustic guitar, and lighter touch. The organ gives it a strong warm retro psych feel, like this is something out of the 60s peace and love era. The vocals are dreamy and the whole song has a hazy drugged feel. Past the halfway mark it changes to a 4/4 beat for a bit and we get some guitar jamming going on. The opening track, too, “Fire Starter,” has a mix of garage psych, and surf, the soundtrack you might hear after taking a downer and washing it down with a few shots of whiskey, a smoky haze hanging overhead. I know it’s odd to keep harping on this, but the songs on this LP would be the perfect soundtrack for a movie with drug use scenes from the 60s and 70s. That’s a compliment – this is cool stuff.

LEWIS – Son On The Floor (Sona Baby Records, www.sonababyrecords.com)

Lewis is Christopher Lewis, formerly of the punk band Kinison. This guy does it all – he writes the songs, he sings, and he plays all the instruments. The music ranges from the straight-ahead power pop of “She’s Fine” to the grunge-lite of “Bathe Clean” and “Nervous Too,” from the smooth indie rock of “What We Give” to the sparkling psych pop of “Pargana.” “Settle Down” is a driving rock and roll tune in a classic 70s vein. The opening track, “TOBI,” has dark sound to it, alternating between jangly pop on the verses and grunge-lite during the chorus. It’s got an epic theatrical quality to it that makes it one of my favorites of the album. That glam-like power pop song, “She’s Fine,” is another favorite. It brings up images of late 70s rock and roll classics “blasting” through the little transistor radio I had as a kid. “Pargana” is not only sparkling psych pop, it’s big and sprawling, especially that huge chorus. The acoustic guitar adds a nice element to the song, giving it a bit of intimacy amidst the massiveness of the song. The songs on this record are varied enough to keep from getting stale, yet cohesive enough to recognize they’re all from the same band.

THE SEWER RATS – Magic Summer (ProRawk Records, www.prorawkrecords.com)

The Sewer Rats are a German pop punk band seeing a US record release, and a case of a European band that sounds very much like a US pop punk band. The songs range from skate punk top Ramones-core, with a strong Fat Wreck influence. The songs are silly fun-punk, too, in the vein of bands like Teenage Bottlerocket. There are songs like “I’m Quitting My Job,” which has lyrics mostly repeating that title phrase, then talks about going on tour. The band likes to sing about what they don’t want to do, too. “Don’t Wanna Go to the Dentist” is a skate punk track with plenty of whoa-ohs and lyrics about the fear of dentists, while “I Don’t Wanna Go to the Shrink No More” is pure Ramones-core about the downside of seeing a therapist. The aversion to going places gets especially desperate on “Don’t Wanna Leave My Room No More,” a Green Day influenced track with a mid-tempo lope and sad depressing lyrics. I like the opening track, too, “Rejuvenate,” about staying young in mind and deed – “It’s time to rejuvenate! / Grab your board, let’s go skate!” the song commands, after a found sound bite that states “Yes, growing up is a problem.” The music is speedy, poppy, bouncy and fun. There’s the requisite “love” songs, “My Sweet Chun-Li” and “My Baby Is at Groezrock (and I Am Not),” the latter a reference to one of Europe’s major punk festivals. Look, The Sewer Rats aren’t breaking any new ground here, and they aren’t making any political statements. But the music is bouncy and fun and they do a great job of it. You don’t go see TBR or Masked Intruder for profundities, either, do you? A nice release for the hot, magic summer (though this summer seems to be cursed by black magic).

SINGING LUNGS – Phone From Car (Count Your Lucky Stars Records, countyourluckystars.limitedrun.com)

Utilizing recordings techniques developed for the pandemic lockdown, this EP was recorded entirely on band members’ iPhones, the resulting files passed around and mixed together. The negative is that the result doesn’t sound nearly as clean as something recorded in a studio. The positive is that it allows Singing Lungs to get new music released. We get four new songs of 90s style indie-punk, guitars jangling furiously as the vocals are belted out with angsty emotion. The songs are poppy without coming across as sappy or bubblegum. My favorite is probably the simplest of the record, “Present Tense.” It’s also the poppiest, and completely lacking any pretension – it’s just a bouncy fun one. “Come Down Hard” is a little more indie crossed with power pop, and it’s got a bit of a hard edge to it. The least successful song, in my opinion, is the closer, “Walking and Crawling.” It’s the most different from the others, trying to be sort of an indie ballad. I think Singing Lungs works better when they’re rocking out with a good edgy pop tune.

SWALLOW’S ROSE – Live, Love, Hate, and Hope (ProRawk Records, www.prorawkrecords.com)

ProRawk is bringing European pop punk to America! Swallow’s Rose is a German band, singing in English, and sounding like they could have come from the West Coast of the United States. The songs are uniformly uplifting, reminding me of Seattle’s Success. There’s a thread of positivity throughout the ten songs on this LP, and a big, glorious sound. The title track opens the LP, and is a perfect introduction to the band and their sound. Harmonized vocals, rapid tempo, big guitars, and plenty of opportunities for the crowd to sing along are here. I also really like “When We Were Kings.” It’s got more than a bit of street punk sound and huge gang vocals, bringing another Seattle band to mind, The Drowns (which makes sense, since that band shares members with Success). And “Our Song” is another favorite, with a strong West Cost pop punk sound. Some of the songs stray from pop punk into skate punk sounds, like “We Are Not Dead,” a track that focuses on power and speed, taking more queues from the Epitaph sound of bands like Bad Religion than from pop punk. This song has a darker edge, too, like a lot of skate punk. “Guns & Pain” blends skate punk and hints of street punk and even a bit of a ska beat, big vocals on the chorus and a dark edge. And the closer, “Promises,” is a mix of dark skate punk and big whoa-oh pop punk vocals. It always gets me when I hear European bands play a style that I thought was so unique to a particular region in the US. The world is, indeed, getting smaller, and we’re all part of one community. Swallow’s Rose are showing they are model citizens of our community.


BELLHEAD – Unicorn Bones (bellhead.bandcamp.com)

Bellhead is a unique duo, consisting of two basses and a drum machine. Karen Righeimer plays the “low bass” and sings, while Ivan Russia plays the “high bass,” sings, and operates the drum machine. The music is post punk melded with classic Chicago industrial dance “Wax Trax” sounds. The opening track even channels a bit of Jello Biafra. That song, “Snuff Film 1974,” is easily the darkest of the quintet of tracks, about a snuff film in which a leather-clad man murders a little girl, and the narrator is horrified, declaring he doesn’t want to watch, but he never stops. The basses growl viciously, and the drum machine pounds mercilessly, some eerie electronic effects adding to the atmosphere. “Always (Running After the Sun)” has a real retro 80s pop sound, too, quieter, with the high bass and piano playing the melodic lines with a far-away sound. I like the line in the lyrics that says “Who says love is a victimless crime?” in this love song about chasing after the one you want. Another super dark one is the industrial “Knife.” “You look so pretty. Under the dead lights / You won’t look so pretty, when you feel my knife.” The bass grinds and pounds with the drum machine, and noise effects swirl through reverb during this sinister song of evil intent. Though there are definite echoes of past genres in this EP, in today’s musical environment it sounds fresh and unique, so different from anything else being made today.

ERA BLEAK (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

The band’s name is perfect for our times, as this era certainly is bleak. As band member Zach Brooks put it, "The year is 2020 and we are living in a 1980s punk dystopian sci-fi novel. A pandemic is raging. When we are not donning masks to go out in public, we have nothing to do besides smoke legal weed out of electronic cigarettes and lose ourselves in disinformation. The president of the United States is Jello Biafra's worst nightmare... a buffoon so grotesque we would have had a hard time believing the character was realistic had our current reality actually been a 1980s punk dystopian sci-fi novel.” And as the opening track, from which the band takes their name, states, “Things get shittier every week / No hope for the future in this era bleak.” The music matches the sentiment, too, with a spare, austere sound. The instrumentation is thin, the vocals belted out in a way that’s part spoken word, part singing, and the whole thing feels like the soundtrack to a desolate post apocalyptic punk rock world. Sometimes the guitars have an interesting surf sound, like on “MRI,” one of my favorites of the LP. It’s a twisted sort of surf sound, though, like trying to surf a wave of dirt and trash in the ruins of a major city. “Option” has an urgent feel to it, with the bass driving things hard and the tempo picked up somewhat. It’s about the “panic stricken overload” we can get when faced with too many options in our modern consumer society. “Robot” has a cool mechanical rhythm and guitar line, with lyrics that are a call out to people who have no originality and obey the dictates of society like robots. Even with the minimalist instrumentation, Era Bleak manages to have the energy of an 80s hardcore band, and the combination of hardcore and sparseness make for an interesting sound. Era Bleak is the soundtrack of today.

DRUG COUPLE – Choose Your Own Apocalypse (PaperCup Music, www.papercupmusic.com)

Drug Couple, the real-life couple of Becca and Miles Robinson, began writing the songs for this, their sophomore EP, back in 2016, when Donald Trump was campaigning and elected to be president. The decided to focus on songs about what they felt would be the coming apocalypse, though they did not now how prescient they would be, with a global pandemic, protests for equal rights and justice for racial minorities, and the growing divide in this country, politically and socially, leading 2020 to be a violent disaster of a year. The six songs on the EP generally deal with falling in love during an apocalypse, and holding onto that love tightly in the worst of times. The opening track, “2027,” tells the story of ghosts hanging out in New York City, seven years after the apocalypse. I love how the song “No Legged Dog” is a blend of bouncy melodic pop and noisy gritty rock. The contrast between the fuzzed guitars and the bright keyboards, between the pounding percussion and the boisterous melodies, the urgent rhythms and relaxed vocals, is pretty marvelous. A favorite track is “Bottomless,” and it’s one of the most different from the others, with less noise, a slower tempo, clear, sad vocals, and guitars that wobble like they’re underwater. The title refers to love as a bottomless pit, yet “I’ll love you more.” “The Ghost” trades the guitar focus for percussion, keyboards, and front and center vocals. This pretty one shimmers and glimmers. This is pretty good stuff.

FAIR VISIONS – A Way Out (fairvisions.bandcamp.com)

Channeling bits of OMD, David Bowie and New Order, synth pop purveyor Fair Visions offer up six songs of synth-driven new wave/post punk pop on their debut EP. The creation of Ryan Work, Fair Visions evokes the 80s with their darkly jangling pop songs. “Feels Right” reflects on Work’s move to New York City, with lyrics about feeling at home in a new place, like it was not just meant to be, it was always this way. The bass heavy song nevertheless has a distinct pop feel and danceable rhythm. I like the contrasts in the song, “Lay Out In the Sun.” Especially in the first verse, the heavy synths and breezy vocals and acoustic guitar play off nicely against each other, as the lyrics contrast the idea of doing nothing but laying out in the sun with the daily grind of eating, working, commuting, and repeating. In the closing verse, lying out in the sun is used as a simile for doing the things you want in life, rather than acting out of obligation. “Oh don’t you want to lay out in the sun? / And forget the things you left undone / You see, you think, don’t act, regret, and repeat / Is it too late too late to lay out in the sun?” The mechanical rhythms, too, are a nice contrast to the freer guitars that seem to swirl around. These songs are nice, but if I had one suggestion it would be to vary the tone a bit. Using the same synth tones on every song gets a bit overbearing.

KICKED IN THE TEETH – Death Adventure (Rare Vitamin Records, rarevitaminrecords.bandcamp.com)

I hear a strong post-hardcore vibe here. Think bands like Quicksand or Refused. This new 7” is being released in conjunction with the first vinyl release of their debut self-titled LP that came out late last year. “Dead Air” is the A-side, and it’s very much heavy edgy post-hardcore, yet there’s a strong melodic vein running through it. The B-side is the title track, and it’s poppier, yet still powerful and hard-hitting. Some of the melodic lines even remind me of early Dischord hardcore. For that reason, it’s my favorite of the two. But this band from Northwich, a smallish town in the north of the UK, is now on my radar. Good stuff.

KILL LINCOLN – Can’t Complain (Bad Time Records, www.badtimerecords.com)

Do you like ska-punk? I’m talking all out pop-filled punked out music with the joy and energy of ska, including the horns. Then you’re going to love this DC band’s latest LP. The music is uniformly bright and jumpy, and takes the best aspects of sing-along pop punk and ska and mixes them together. “Used Up” is a good one, with a speedier tempo and some crunchy guitars. I like how many of the songs could be easily rearranged to be straight-on pop punk, and they would work just as well. It’s a sign of solid songwriting how well these work. Listening to “Last Ditch Denial” I can hear it in my mind without the horns, and these songs work – but the horns add that bright dimension. “Ignorance Is Bliss” is one that starts as raging post hardcore, transforms to poppy ska punk, and then goes into full-on ska. It showcases the breadth of these musicians’ capabilities. “Confession Obsession” is a favorite, too. It’s one of the quicker tracks, and it moves easily between strong pop punk and all-out ska, with some edgier post-hardcore parts. Speaking of edgier parts, the opening of “Civil Surgery” is amazing, taking pounding rock music and playing it with horns is genius. “Quarantine Dream” is probably my favorite track of the LP; it rages the hardest, but still maintains its bright pop bounce. The horns do recede somewhat into the background on this one, adding more of an aura of ska on this great pop punk track. “Womb Envy” uses hardcore vocals over a skankin’ beat, and has a powerful metallic ending – with horns! And the closer, “Can’t Complain,” has the speediness and pop of a Pears track, though it has horns and isn’t as hardcore. Do you like ska-punk? I normally can take it or leave it, but Kill Lincoln does a fucking great job with these songs.

KNOWSO – Specialtronics Green Vision (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Well, they are from Ohio, after all, so the early Devo-like mania makes sense. Angular melodic lines, guitar jabs, off-kilter bass, and vocals that are spoken in unison mark the primary sound from these Cleveland punk weirdoes. This stuff is so different from just about any other music being made today it’s like a shot in the arm to a stagnant music “industry.” But just when you think you’ve got these oddballs figured out, they throw a track like “Wrong Calculator” at us. It’s a twisted spoken word piece about microbial species with robotic “backing vocals” and dark beeps and boops from synths and saxophones providing the “music.” It’s from this track that the album takes its name, as “green vision” and “blue vision” and “specialtronics” are heard being spoken about. “Green vision is two babies,” the robot voices declare. And “Green vision is the first big step back” according to the track’s narrator. Huh? Confusing and comedic. “Peaceful and Extinct” is probably my favorite of the LP, with a swingin’ vibe and some intense sax noise interjections. This LP reminds me of some of the awesome “out there” records that were being released in the early to mid 80s, and is recommended if you’re a weirdo, too.

LIBRARIANS WITH HICKEYS – Long Overdue (Big Stir Records, www.bigstirrecords.com)

I see what you did there with the album title… Librarians With Hickeys took their time getting these songs recorded and collected together for this, their debut album, so it was, well, long overdue. For the most part, the dozen songs on this LP are power pop, but with a light touch and just a hint of psych. The opener, “Until There Was You,” is a perfect example, with a mix of fuzzy and jangly guitars, a quiet manner, but great pop hooks. I really like “Be My Plus One,” the lovely delicate love song, and its use of ukulele for a warm, twee sound, and the guest list reference is a humorous touch. “Next Time” has the sound of an 80s hit that could have been on MTV, halfway between guitar driven power pop and dreamy new wave pop, sans the synths, but with sax.

As pleasant as the front half of this album is, the back half rules. Some of the songs are a little edgier, though still smooth. There’s a heavier dose of psych in some of them, and a little more power in the power pop. “Leave Me Alone” cranks things up several notches with a garage feel blended with psychedelic overtones. The effects in the guitar tone are eerie and cool. “Poor Reception” has some familiar sounding power pop hooks that grab me, and it’s got a bridge that gets dark and goth-pop sounding. “Looking For Home” uses piano to great effect, with the guitars and organ providing a lonely sound, but the piano a bright hopeful one. And I love the 80s Joy Division/New Order meets Love and Rockets sound of “Silent Stars.” Don’t end up paying a late fee – get on this one now.

PUBLIC EYE – Music For Leisure (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Drunken Sailor had been on a noisy hardcore kick for a whole bunch of its most recent releases, but their latest LP, from Portland’s Public Eye, is the one of the most melodic things I think I’ve ever heard from The Juice Man’s DIY UK label. At first, given the sound of the band, I thought they were a UK band, but no, they’re as American as protesters being kidnapped in unmarked vans. With retro garage pop instrumentals and droll nearly spoken word vocals, it sounds like something that could have come from the intensely creative post punk era of the late 70s and early 80s. The guitars jangle as the vocals are belted out in a near deadpan, everything just slightly lo-fi enough for the garage sound, but not so lo-fi as to make these songs sound muddy. While there isn’t a bad track on the LP, there are some standouts. “Awful Questions” has a great mathish guitar hook repeated over and over in the minimalist tradition, and it rocks out quietly and subtly. “Neat Machines/Red Flags,” has rhythmic changes giving a math-like feel, and repeating minimalist lines, but this time there’s a smooth groove going on, so almost a cool jazz kind of sound, during the “Neat Machines” half of the track. “I Might Go” uses its guitar licks and vocals to give the track a sense of urgency, of the song being propelled forward. As I said, I like every track here, but if I would have one criticism is that there’s a little too much sameness from track to track, but this is good stuff.

THEE DIRTY RATS – Humans Out (Mandinga Records, www.mandingarecords.bandcamp.com)

Post-garage duo Thee Dirty Rats, hailing from Sao Paulo, Brazil, channel the gritty nature of one of the world’s largest cities on this LP chock full of lo-fi post-apocalyptic rock and roll. The rhythms are raw and primal, the guitars noisy as all fuck. Lo-fi is putting it mildly. And minimalism seems to be second nature to these two. The arrangements are super-sparse, with the DIY drums and guitar, plus vocals and a “broken” Moog synth being all there is. The lyrics are also reflective of a world gone mad, with songs like “Universe Is Caos,” which has lyrics “The universe is chaos / Stop, you’re making it worse” as the drums pound and the guitar picks out a simple repetitive melodic line. The robotic nature of the song is in direct opposition to the idea of chaos, which is pretty interesting. “Let’s Fight” is a little thicker in the guitar sounds, and is about, well, wanting to fight. “Modern Disease” has a funky bass feel to it, while “Oh Oh” has a great raucous garage rock sound. “Maze of Love” has a bluesy edge to it, “TDR Will Make Dirty For All Ya Girls And Boys” is a too short fun track that channels early Beastie Boys. “Headache” is the most melodic track of the LP, but that’s not saying much for this minimalist duo, since melody is not really their thing. The closer is the brilliant “Stop That Dance,” which, despite its thin arrangement, has a full feel. The contrasting vocals, the mechanical factory beat, and the grating guitars all join forces to create music for the future new stone age. This record isn’t going to be for everyone, but after there’s nothing left of the world or its societies, this is the music that will be left. Drink it up and get used to it.


For more of Paul Silver's reviews, click here...

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