Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


THE GENERATORS - Life Gives-Life Takes (Randale Records www.randale-records.de)

L.A. punk has a legendary reputation and The Generators have been carving out their own unique niche for over twenty years. Life Gives-Life Takes is a traditional punk record in the finest sense of the word. Overflowing with rugged yet free-flowing riffs, The Generators balance aggression and harmony with pristine skill. Vocalist Doug Kane voices his frustration on “Gotta Be a Better Way” while guitarists Mike Snow and Teddy Schrader create a vicious assault that envelopes him, particularly during the soaring chorus. The majority of the dozen tracks here clock in around two minutes and do not waste a second-“Critical Condition”, “Goodbye California”, and “Neck and Neck with Death” are simply blazing in both speed and energy. While “So Sick of This” is a classic punk anthem, “Heartbreak Beach” is touched by a flavoring of ska and has a more lighthearted, even slightly experimental atmosphere. Manny Murders (one of punk’s greatest names) carries “Critical Condition” with a punishing bass line, and along with Mando Del Rio’s drumming, The Generators capture a late 70’s sound with a contemporary aesthetic. It would be wise for upstart acts to listen to both Life Gives-Life Takes as well as the entire Generators catalog to better understand the purity of legitimate punk rock. This is a band that eschews trends and relies upon a sound that is true and always dependable; there is not an empty riff here and The Generators should be celebrated for refusing to cower to the emptiness of modern embarrassments that attempt to pass for punk.

PANTHER MODERNS - Strange Heaven (panthermodernsnyc.bandcamp.com)

Not to be confused with a band of the same name from Rhode Island, New York City’s Panther Moderns play a highly melodic brand of modern punk with a strong adherence to hooks that come at the listen from multiple angles at once and create a sound that is sneaky in its infectiousness. The disc explodes with the opener “In the Hills, the Cities” with a mass of guitar force and thunderous drumming before settling into a highly melodic anthem with strong backing vocals. This energy is maintained throughout the disc, particularly on “Disappear Here” and the rousing “Hog Heaven”. With a series of local references, the closing “All Ageis” is a classic homage to New York City delivered by a band that truly loves the city they call home. The band’s ability to write hooks is wildly apparent on “The Custom of the Country”, as Oliver’s husky vocals spins a sorrowful yarn (“I sold my soul to pay off the rent”) above a rousing guitar riff, while “Whipwreck” strikes with a subtle force that perfectly balances punk angst and pop harmony. What makes this record so enjoyable is how it can be played on repeat and there are multiple nuances to each track that emerge with each subsequent listen. This is an act comprised of deftly talented players that channel frustration into honest, passionate anthems such as “One for the Road” and “Nothing Short of Drugs” (“I already miss you more than when the days when you could smoke indoors”). Intelligent and ready for crowd-wide sing-alongs, the songs on Strange Heaven are well honed modern pop infused punk that still leaves enough rough edges.


THE BAD PARTS (www.thebadparts.com)

The Bad Parts are a perfect band for a party as every track here bounces with the type of good-natured fun that only ska-kissed bands can deliver. To that end, I tire of this quickly, but my aversion to ska and reggae is well documented. However, these four energetic kids from New Jersey have written a handful of summer theme songs, including “Good Times”, “This Song Isn’t About You”, and even “Bitch Song”. The latter is particularly interesting, for while one expects a vitriolic attack upon an ex-love, one is instead treated to a light-hearted romp that even features a lyrical tribute to Jimmy Soul’s “If You want to be Happy for the Rest of Your Life”. The minute long introduction “Oh Yeah” gives way to a sugar rush in the form of “Shake it Off” and vocalist James Burns’ smooth delivery is juxtaposed with the kinetic playing behind him, particularly of drummer Christopher Garcia. Jon Sequiera’s horn work is impressive throughout the disc, and those who have a more developed appreciation for this style will certainly love “Aneurysm”, the spirited “Take Me to the Movies” and the potentially anthemic “Beer Song”. A cover of Muse’s “Starlight” is both an interesting and adventurous choice that demonstrates the willingness for this band to push itself outside of the more conventional corridors of ska acts. The Bad Parts lack the musically bombast of multi-horn acts like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or the genre-bending quirks of Fishbone, but there is a vast amount of talent to be harvested. I can certainly imagine them carrying a stage on the Warped Tour.

 

HEENEY - Demos (http://heeney.bandcamp.com)

I have it upon very good sources that Heeney is a band that lit up the joint during SXSW and this three track collection certainly lends one to understand how that is possible. Rugged yet vulnerable, Heeney strip away pretentiousness and replace it with innovation and an adoration of 90’s indie punk on “Durge”, a pristine piece of guitar-punched, pop-tinged rock that sounds like 1992 never ended. The members of Heeney heard grunge in their cribs and now play with an aggression accented by a love memorable harmonies. The quiet/loud construct is very easily redundant, but “Infintfly” gives it a makeover though the low rumble of Scott Andrews’ bass and an apparent appreciation for the Archers of Loaf. “Tipsy” is a buoyant pop song infused with sugar rush energy and sarcastic lines about getting one’s strength through vodka. Max Kagan utilizes his voice to its maximum potential, altering levels of intensity while possessing a wonderful sense of melody and clear articulation of his lyrics. Great rock n roll bands are difficult find, and Heeney is one of those finds.

PERFECT PUSSY - Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks www.capturedtracks.com)

Perfect indeed! Perfect Pussy play lo fi punk through a wall of heavy distortion and relentless dynamism. Frontwoman Meredith Graves captures the best traits of Kathleen Hannah in both form and function, verbalizing her frustrations through heartfelt and unapologetically honest lyrics and a fearless vocal delivery. Her intelligence and ability to clearly express complex truths found through self-exploration is evident on the opening “Driver’ (“I have a history of surrender/part of a certain set of choices/found among the many paths/forged by lies I told myself/lies like ‘I will be protected’). Despite the brevity of “Bells”, “Big Stars”, and “Dig”, Perfect Pussy is able to reveal various musical personality traits. The songs are not brief slabs of blind rage; rather, there is an ambience to each effort that acts as intros and outros. Thesehaunting, swirling balls of noise are occasionally benign, sometimes menacing, but always gripping. For me, “Work” is the high water mark of Say Yes to Love; a tightly wound ball of nervous energy, the song twists and shimmies through two minutes of scintillating disenfranchisement. (“We make love and fall so/And it doesn’t feel good/It’s not magic, it’s work/But it’s real and that’s cool”). The fuzzed-out “Interference Fits” invokes a young Kim Gordon fronting a brash Sonic Youth as Graves reveals the pain and dissatisfaction felt by so many, referencing the record’s title when she asks “When did we all decide to give up?/Since when do we say yes to love?” The song stares down the reality of growing up and growing older, watching friends and ourselves change, and the moral and spiritual ambiguity that comes when one reassesses what life should mean. It is a fascinating journey through the mind and emotions of a highly gifted young woman that is both fearless and almost uncomfortably candid. “Advance Upon the Real” opens like a kick to the face before morphing into an extended soundscape that creates a sense of anxiety for the listener. One wonders when the song will return; it does not, and therefore the discomfort created is deliciously challenging. Simply a low hum and a few subtle tones exist for rough four minutes before giving way to the claustrophobic noise of “VII”. Graves has a spoken word piece deeply buried in a mass of churning distortion and quality headphones make this a brilliant experience. The sense of independence and courage one hears throughout Say Yes to Love is peerless in contemporary punk and I absolutely love this.

DIRECT EFFECT - Sunburn (Tiny Engines Records http://tinyengines.limitedrun.com)

Direct Effect is aband existing within a time warp of 80’s hardcore, 90’s grunge, and 21st century garage revivalism and their lack of respect for any space-time continuummakesSunburn one of the great albums so far this year. “Commit to Memory” clobbers the listener with the subtlety of a cinder block to the skull, but even its obtuse pummeling features subtle nuances that help make this an album to revisit often. The opening “Permanent Vacation” helps one forget the dreadful Aerosmith record of the same name withthree minutesof squalling guitar and dexterous low end gymnastics. Direct Effect sounds like the bastard child of the Minutemen and Mudhoney who now goes drinking regularly with the Night Birds. The yelped vocals of “Unknown Disorder” claw for survival in aural quicksand of suffocating riffs and thunderous drumming. The title track is ablistering sixty-nine seconds that channels the most ferociouselements of hardcore a la Black Flag or Government Issue. The sludgy, bombastic “Thursday” sounds like an In Utero B-side with its reliance upon feedback soaked guitar, a trend that continues on “Moderate Rock”; perhaps a nod to a sardonic quip on Nirvana’s “Tourette’s”. Direct Effect is in the business of musical destruction but the songs on Sunburn are shockingly nimble, imaginative concoctions, such as “BMPV”; a Frankenstein monster of a track with three distinctive ideas stapled into one terrorizing figure. This gem eases smoothly from chaos to a controlled detonation mid-song while “Nostalgia” opens with a riff from Never Mind the Bollocks and is the closest example Direct Effect has to a sing along anthem. There is limitless talent on display here and Direct Effect is not going to remain someone’s favorite unknown band for long.

THE FEELING - Boy Cried Wolf (BMG Management www.thefeeling.com)

The Feeling channels 70’s soft-rock in the vein of Bread and Air Supply throughout the weepy, sob-fest that is Boy Cried Wolf. I would never condemn anyone for expressing emotions, particularly when the cause of those emotions is a woman. However, Dan Gillespie-Sells whines and laments through eleven tracks that just bleed into each other. It is difficult to note when the longing of “Rescue” ends and the whimpering of “Fall Like Rain” begins. Gentle piano, falsetto vocals, and desperate attempts to generate heartfelt loss results in the disastrous “Empty Restaurant”; this is the story of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” if Brenda and Eddie hated each other. I just loath this type of music so much-I know there is an audience for this, and at times, a band like The Fray do not always offend me, but The Feeling is Bruce Hornsby and the Range for the twenty-first century, and it must be asked if this is needed. Gillespie-Sells grasps both hands around one metaphor and chokes the life out of it on “Anchor” and “The Gloves are Off”. As one can imagine, the singer is no longer the “anchor” of the relationship and his former love has now gone on to “sail another shore” while the latter track refers to the failed relationship as something other than “a fair fight”. Although the songs on Boy Cried Wolf are reflective and introspective, they are too often overly blunt in their symbolism and the intent to be pensive morphs into clichéd. If one enjoys elevators for the music or finds the latest artists through the speaker system in the local supermarket, one will certainly relish The Feeling. However, for those who prefer music with a less geriatric approach, I suggest ignoring this feeling.


GRIP WEEDS - Inner Grooves: Rare and Under-Released Tracks (Ground Up Records www.gripweeds.com)

I have found that “rare tracks” releases are often compilations of throw away songs that are meant to appeal to only the most devoted of fans of any band one cares to mention. The polar opposite is true of Inner Grooves-if this was released as a new record of fresh material, it would be heralded as a brilliant display of Beatles meets Byrds harmonies. New Jersey’s Grip Weeds sound as if they cut their teeth at the Cavern Club and I am shocked that these songs are relegated to the B-side category. The abundance of pop hooks is dizzying throughout the eleven song collection, but “Nothing Lasts”, “It’ll Never Be Me” and “Over the Edge” are instantaneously infections. Kurt Reil’s voice is buoyant on “She Don’t care About Time” and the stripped down “Every Minute” while brother Rick and Kristin Pinell deliver a guitar tone straight out of Electric Ladyland studios supported by the bass work of Dave DeSantis. I remember the Grip Weeds vaguely from the earlier days in the mid-90’s but most of Inner Grooves catch me as a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Granted, the seemingly endless waves of psychedelic guitar fuzz on the closing “Sun Ra Ga” becomes too much for me as the song hits the eleven minute mark, but “Sight Unseen” and “Love’s Lost on You” are pristine pop gems played with a fierce dedication to soulful and classic sensibilities right down to the use of vintage equipment. With a sound more reminiscent of Mersey than Jersey, the Grip Weeds proudly display their affinity for rock that relies on harmony rather than fury to be expressive. This is like walking back in time, both in terms of the Grip Weeds’ career and even through musical decades, yet there is an undeniable authenticity to what this band does that makes their sound so engrossing.

IRON BRIDGE BAND - Road Not Taken (Messej Media www.ironbridgeband.com)

I am simply the wrong guy for this band. As I listen to Iron Bridge Band’s Road Not Taken, I can only imagine them as the opening slot on a Kenny Chesney or even worse, Toby Keith tour. Ripe with country influences, the songs are just perfectly constructed for mainstream rock radio if that still existed. Instead, this is the type of band that would appear on America’s Got Talent or perhaps on the soundtrack of a Reese Witherspoon movie. This is music for old people or people who feel old-as a guy too far past my prime to jump into the pit as often as I do, I simply had to fight my gag reflect on “Best Wine”, “Petticoat Road”, or “The Most Benevolent Wind”. Shockingly, the band features three members from the New York/New Jersey area which defies the small town, rural, backwoods feel to the record, as only vocalist Chandler Mogel grew up outside of a significant metropolitan area. The band does interject some pop sensibilities into “Bittersweet” and “Smokin’ Gun”, but each track is so slickly produced that any true humanity has been stripped away and one is left with a collection of rock clichés that would make even the Eagles or surviving members of Boston cringe. There is a poignancy to “”Wildflower” or “Once Beautiful (Love Like Rain)”, but Iron Bridge Band is specifically designed for paunchy Boomers driving overpriced cars to crank up as they drive to their second home in the Hamptons. Anyone outside of this demographic is wise to move along.

I LOVE RICH - Respect the Rich (www.iloverich.net)

I love sophistication as much as the next guy-I am consistently stunned by the dexterity and endless imagination of bands like Between the Buried and Me, Animals as Leaders, or Dillinger Escape Plan. Bands of that ilk play music to be thoroughly analyzed, dissected, and studied as a means of truly grasping their mesmerizingly complex approaches. However, there are also times when one simply wants to drink a lot of beer, talk about chicks, and listen to old Krokus. I Love Rich is the band for those affairs. The Respect the Rich EP includes the cornerstone “(You’re So Hot) I’m Gonna Fuck You With the Lights On”, and the guys are kind enough to provide both a radio-sanitized and Spanish version of this gem. With riffs and attitude that make Kiss seems humble, “Wake Up, Let me Rock You” and “If You Don’t Take Your Clothes Off, Tonight’s Gonna Suck” are as catchy as the Black Plague and nearly as filthy. If one truly considers himself or herself a rock fan, this must be owned. “We’re Here to Save Rock N’ Roll” is more than just boasting; I Love Rich believes this mantra and they are a band who could actually achieve this goal. The monstrous riffs, the surprisingly harmonic vocals, and the airtight playing coagulates perfectly on “Fight the Fire”, resurrecting the glory of 80’s era hard rock when music was the score to a glorious night of hilarious debauchery back when people did not to worry about drunken photos being posted for your employer to see online. Pick up a six pack of the cheapest beer you can find, eject your Manowar disc (or cassette, possibly) and put Respect the Rich on repeat. I’m in heaven with this!

AMERICAN LIES/DUDES NIGHT OUT - Split 7” (http://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com)

Two young Southern California bands play together and offer two songs each here. Both acts have a serious infatuation with the Bouncing Souls, and for me, one can never go wrong with a loving homage to those Jersey heroes. American Lies demonstrates a penchant for rolling harmonies on “Groundhog’s Day” with a bouncing bass line and tightly knit chorus. “Glassbones” begins with a noisy mass of feedback before launching into a melodious pop-influenced track with lyrics that defy its rather warmly crafted hook. Dudes Night Out has a slightly rougher edge to them, but the band is still able to inject some sugar into their punk on “26th and Alston”. The song includes gruff vocals with an aggressive nature and an energetic bounce from a rousing rhythm section. “Selling the Car for Gas Money” alters tempos before kicking into a huge chorus that soars with effortless refinement. There is a supremely crafted balance between punk energy and pop refinement by both of these acts and both could become potentially breakout bands.

JUST BREATHE/FORTY HELLS (7AM Vinyl www.7amvinyl.com)

Two California punk acts are captured in their raw and ragged glory on this split. Just Breathe delves into a variety of punk aesthetics here, ranging from rugged but refined “Better Days” to a more traditional hardcore sound with burly guitars, gruff vocals, and gang choruses on “Feel the Light”, easily the strongest of their triumvirate. “Walked Away” straddles a line between aggressive and melodious, reminiscent of Pennywise or No Use for a Name. Conversely, Forty Hells has a sound not representative of their more menacing moniker. “Seven and a Half” is a classic tale of a failed relationship (“we’re both just wasting time”) played with grit bit also with a careful attention to harmony as soaring backing vocals take some of the sting off this song. “Down and Out” leaps with pure youthful joy and adrenaline, projecting an infectious joy despite ambiguous lyrics. Snippets of early Green Day are apparent here and as Forty Hells are not afraid to celebrate a spoonful of sugar in their punk medicine.

PEZZ/SET ASIDE split 7” (7AM Vinyl www.7amvinyl.com)

7Am Vinyl is a new label to my eyes and ears but they have some impressive young talent on their roster as this split demonstrates quite clearly. Pezz roars out of the gate with the soaring “Don’t Walk Away”. Vocalist/guitarist Marvin Stockwell channels an inner Mike Ness as he delivers each syllable with relentless passion and authentic intensity. The chorus features a sweeping hook that displays a great appreciation of both melody and punk force tinged by an understated bluesy swagger. “Til You Can’t Breathe” is a blistering burst of a song that is gone in a flash and leaves one feeling slightly underwhelmed. Much speedier than its counterpart, “Til You can’t Breathe” seems unfinished-Pezz is a band that should take its time and flesh songs out as much as possible. I love what this band is doing, but of the two, “Don’t Walk Away’ is far stronger and is the star of this split. Set Aside is another rousing and impressive act with a pair of strong songs but in their case, each track is fully developed. “Clear of Disaster” and “Live Today” both bounce with a level of energy worthy of a deal with Fat Mike. “Clear” has a denser tone while “Live” displays more nimble guitar playing. Both tracks are steeped in Southern California punk-pop and represent a band with a very promising future. In short, Set Aside has the more consistent pair of efforts, but Pezz’s “Don’t Walk Away’ is the best of the bunch.


BAYSIDE - Cult (Hopeless Records www.hopelessrecords.com)

Bayside can be a confounding band for some: If one is seeking acerbic punk, this band is not it. But the Queens four piece demonstrates substantial musical growth and a self-depreciating sense of humor throughout Cult. Antony Raneri has proven for years to be a skilled lyricist, both with Bayside and on his own, but two of his finest gems appear here in the form of “Hate Me” and “Stuttering”. The latter is a sharp, self-critical examination of a song writer who recognizes himself as “the voice of the depressed” who would lose all credibility as well as his job if he ever allowed himself to be happy. The reference to “Robert fucking Smith” is magnificently delivered and this is my highlight here as it emphasized the band’s tremendous sense of melody. Raneri’s voice soars above the guitar playing of Jack O’Shea throughout the first half of the record, but as snarky frustration of “Stuttering” fades, Cult takes on a pronounced softer sound on “Bear With Me” and ”Something’s Wrong” with both songs far too dependent upon the pop element of “punk-pop”. None of the record will ever be confused with circle pit inducing hardcore, but “Pigsty” and the aforementioned “Hate Me” (“we’re perfect as perfect can be as I hate you and baby, you hate me”) possess an edge lacking the latter tracks. Christopher Guglielmo’s drums offer an opening salvo on “Big Cheese” before the song explodes into an aggressive ball of harmonious force, demonstrating how, even after fourteen years together, Bayside has the energy and passion of bands half their age. Cult is the next logical step forward for a band that has been perpetually refining its rough edges. Cult is a crisply played,richly harmonious, and easily digestible record that will please more than it offends. If the members of Bayside are poising themselves formainstream acceptance, Cult may be the ticket.

THE OFFENDERS - Endless Struggle/We Must Rebel (Norman Records www.normanrecords.com)

Texas has played a substantial role in American punk rock, from MDC and DRI to Scratch Acid and the Butthole Surfers. Among the circle of fame are Reagan-era stalwarts the Offenders. This compilation offers 25 scathing blasts of highly aggressive, yet well-honed punk fury. Vocalist JJ Offender rails against militarism, corruption, grotesque materialism, and other 1980’s hallmarks with pure vitriol while surrounded by three talented players. Guitarist Tony Offender utilized a beautiful Les Paul in a manner that made him the hardcore equivalent of Leslie West, with a massive sound and bombastic tone. Drummer Pat Offender (now Pat Doyle in Ignitor) is a drummer who I feel is terribly overlooked when one considers early pioneers of the genre; one only needs to hear “Trials and Tribulations”, “Get Mad”, “Wanted by Authority”, or “Do or Die” to be completely overwhelmed by his dynamic power and sense of timing. Bassist Mikey Offender delivers a low end fury that pushes tracks like “We Must Rebel” and “Like Father, Like Son” along a breakneck path. The Offenders crafted a unique sound throughout their career and while there are certainly similarities to some of their aforementioned Austin-area contemporaries, this collection displays the varied approaches the band could employ, from the brooding “Endless Struggle” and “Bad Times” to the hyper-active “Direct Defiance” and “New Militia”. Selfishly, this is music I can listen to on an endless loop, and a song like “I Hate Myself” is simply an unparalleled slab of emotionally driven self-loathing that is too authentic to be created by Pro Tools. This is a brilliant history lesson for those curious about hardcore legends who did not reside in D.C., Boston, or L.A.

NOT AVAILABLE - No Excuses (Ant Street records www.antstreet.de)

Twenty years of writing, touring, and struggling has given Not Available quite a perspective on the punk-pop genre and these guys deserve credit for staying true to a sound in which they firmly believe. It would be easy to alter one’s sound in the name of momentary fads, but No Excuses is fifteen songs of early 90’s, Green Day-before-Broadway punk with unapologetic hooks and catchy choruses. The opening “Raise Your Voice” bookends ideally with the closing “Hello Boys and Girls” as both are calls to arms for the new generation of kids who are just finding their collective way into this type of music and feature lyrics of inspiration and cautious optimism (“It is your choice, it is my choice/Instead of being quiet, we better raise our voices”). There are moments of reflection here as well, as “We Won’t Let You Down” addresses the band’s adoration for their fans and for the music they play, admitting “a million brain cells died for you”, while “My Name is Joe” tells a story of a small town boy and global success like a punk-pop version of Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero”. Admittedly, by the time I reach the soulful, much slower “Song For You”, I have had enough of No Excuses as the sound becomes too redundant for my taste. That should not be taken as a knock against Not Available, for they do three chord punk-pop extraordinarily well and with uncompromising heart, but just as some grow weary of hardcore after thirty straight minutes, I feel the same about bubbly punk. Tracks like “Leave Me Alone” and “Yesterday Love” are instantly memorable and one is singing along before the second verse, and once again the band presents a sly sense of humor with their lyrics on the latter (“You catch me with your eyes/your lovely face and well, your boobs were pretty nice”). There is little to dislike about No Excuses but those with a little silver in their hair will already be very familiar with it; however, for those still worried about acne and driver’s education classes, this is worth grabbing.

RISE FROM ABOVE - Ain’t Like You (District 763 Recordswww.district763.com)

Perhaps I am being overly judgmental and stereotypical here, but I believe that almost every word known to man seems more frightening when said in German, so imagine combining German intensity and hardcore; the result is the heavy, pummeling sound of Rise From Above. In only ten songs, the band places a Teutonic twist on Agnostic Front’s legendary sound resulting in a record that will get hardcore fans of any era up and moving in the pit. Jan Willert has a voice made for hardcore as he barks with vicious vengeance but still retains a sense of melody that elevates him above those who are simply screaming themselves raw. There is not much room for subtlety of “2 Faced”, the title track, or “Swimming with Sharks”, but there is no need for any deviation from a winning hardcore formula. What I most admire is the concerted lack of “breakdowns” as the band simply rages for two and half minutes, destroying everything in its wake and then moveson to the next track. Tito Apaujo’s guitar work is thunderous and void of solos, as Rise From Above write thick grooves and rage through them with impressive power. Each of the songs feature lyrics of unbearable frustration and rage as Willert spits out vitriol in “Grave Dohl” and “The Most”, discussing a “gruesome world” and how “the world is dead to me”. Ain’tLike You is a brilliant example of how hardcore has become a truly international language in which individuals from limitless backgrounds can have a commonality through an exhilarating form of music. This is not reinventing anything, but Rise From Above creates punk with an authenticity that cannot be forged.

SKA SKANK REDEMPTION - Wicked Bees (skaskankredemption.bandcamp.com)

First off, great name, simply a great name! However, as a person who can stomach ska for a maximum of two songs, I enjoyed this as much as possible. Most ska bands come across to me as a bit clichéd or gimmicky, but Ska Skank do a wonderful job of crafting real pop songs that happen to include a horn section and a reggae-inspired backbeat. “Hit N’ Run” is infused with a soaring amount of energy and pure enthusiasm and captures the party atmosphere this music can inspire. However, the band’s shining moment is the more introspective and self-reflective “Minnesota”. Playing out a drama of two people currently lost within their own lives, the tempo is slowed and the horns are subdued, but the craftsmanship is superb. This song emphasizes harmony and a mature sense of structure, deviating from even traditional ska to produce a highly fulfilling anthem. “Sheila” and “Christine”may both be songs about women, but are wonderfully independent of each other. The first is a sultry, temperamental anthem that is riveting, but lacks the energy of the latter which rattles with emotion. To help illustrate how young this Fargo, North Dakota band is, “Age Like Wine”, another sharply crafted, pop-infused nugget that was the senior project of leader Dan Christianson when he was in high school! To his and the band’s general credit, Ska Skank defies their youth with sly sophistication, and these five songs should only be the start of much larger exposure for this band.

STILL BLEAK - Not Dead Yet (District 763 Recordswww.district763.com)

This young band injects life into a post-hardcore sound first refined by angry kids in Washington DC as these four rising stars take the best moments of early punk rage and smash it together with angular and intricate guitar riffs. “Bleeding” is a thrilling explosion of a song while “Kill the Day” and “Vacuity” are given ample time to breath and develop into sophisticated slabs of guitar-fueled sonic bliss anchored by dual vocals and serpentine riffs. The songs ebb and flow with equal parts harmony and wrath, cascading into a surge of blunt force. “Failure” is scathing and is matched by the powerful “More Rufulness”, yet the closing “Come to an End” moves more deliberately and cautiously, creating a heightened tension that never fully explodes, but instead gives out like an athlete exhausted from too much exertion, and that is a fitting metaphor for how one feels when finished listening to this disc. The riffs are monstrous ins cope and the vocals are not only democratic in their distribution, but are equally harmonic; there is no “good cop/bad cop” screaming vs. clean vocals here which is refreshing and more in line with the influences to which the band pays homage. For a group of young kids from Germany, their sense of American hardcore history is impressive and their manipulation of their instruments is even more notable. The use of tone and tempo shifts perpetually keeps the listener intrigued and curious and none of the ten tracks disappoint here.

TEEN AGERS - I Hate It (www.facebook.com/Teen.AgersFL)

The name alone had me with these guys, but their music even trumps their moniker. The four members of Teen Agers are decades removed from their teen years, but this experience allows them to meld the angst of youth with the perspective of age to create intelligent punk rock that is both richly melodic and energized. The guys really let loose on the brief burner “Well Dressed”, but much of I Hate Itis a touch more controlled, as “Moving Forward” and “Float” indicate. This does not mean that any of the record is mundane, for it is not; instead, Teen Agers balance ferocity with competency and craft harmonies that sting with sharp playing. Mastered by Stephen Egerton, there is a distinctive Descendents feel to I Hate It which naturally makes this a great record, as “New York, NY” and “Here We Go Again” crackle with excitement as Justin Goldman and Jordan Shroyer carry their tracks with their guitar playing. It is a very demanding challenge to place a new spin on a style of punk that is attempted by so many, but with a resume that includes Go Rydell and Direct Effect to barely scratch the surface, the four members of Teen Agers (also featuring Kyle Macdougal and Nick Noble) are able to still be distinct in a highly saturated market simply but the quality and crispness of their playing. I Hate It is supremely well crafted but still retains a humanity that too many bands eschew through the use of digital enhancements. This band could be a group of supremely talented fifteen year olds in a garage and punk should always retain that sense of immediacy, even if played by guys with a few years on the audience coming to see them.


BRAIN FLANNEL - Empty Set (Grave Mistake Records www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Modern life is incredible complicated; there is a feeling among so many that the world is being swallowed up by ever more rapidly changing technology and the calls for simplicity are growing increasingly louder but heard by increasingly fewer. It is with this fact in mind that I come to celebrate the bare bones, stripped own, brutal honesty of Brain Flannel. Screaming and squalling out of Charlotte, these distortion junkies never met a song less than two minutes they did not like and they bring affection for all things skull rattling to their ten song gem Empty Set. The dual vocal approach of Elise Anderson and Nick Goode works flawlessly here as the two possess divergent styles that mesh together into one simmering concoction of frustration and twenty-first century rage. Anderson’s voice can be sarcastic or innocent while Goode simply growls each syllable with a relentless contempt. The opening duo of “Dry” and “Sicks” is a crippling introduction for the uninitiated, but also displays an increased command of the chaos introduced on Sleep Rough over two years ago. “Fulcrum” nods to the Ramones for a second or two, but the majority of the work here is brilliantly unique in its chaotic din. In the band’s blatant disregard for crafting easily identifiable melodies, they formulate a new type of musical rebellion that is noise with a purpose. The title track, a downright epic at two and a half minutes long, celebrates the Anderson-Goode vocal alliance but one cannot ignore drummer Bobby Michaud’s tireless work and Goode’s blazingly fast guitar playing. The fifty-one second “Headaches and Vomit” is an explosion of power that harkens back to hardcore’s earliest days when the goal was to be as bruising as possible sans any political and social commentary, and the feedback that opens “Don’t Tell Me” is a mere respite before all four member s (rounded out by bassist Eddie Schneider) launch themselves at your throat. If you claim to like punk, go get this right now.

 

RISK/REWARD (riskreward.bandcamp.com)

New York’s Risk/Reward is an intriguing take on contemporary indie rock. The majority of the songs on their self-titled record are reserved in nature, gently bubbling beneath without ever generating many ripples on the surface of the water. If one enjoys serenity with one’s guitar playing, much of this will be appealing, but I am not among that group. I sit perpetually waiting for the energy to come forth-the opening “Killer” was anything but its title. The song carefully meanders at a measured pace while Patrick Walsh and Jon Houlihan share vocal responsibilities but do not generate any sparks. The band briefly perks up on “Easy on the Heart” and “Honest Man”, the latter tipping its cap to 90’s indie pioneers like Sebadoh or Archers of Loaf. Although Risk/Reward record with a garage band aesthetic, they lack a garage band intensity. The noisier, slightly edgier “In the Sea” is my favorite of the bunch with its refrain of “I’ve got a lot of things that I wanna set on fire”, but at barely over two minutes, the song disappears just as I fully immerse myself in it. “B-Side” and “Addle Me” provide a bit more bounce for the ounce, but I need more pep in their step. Risk/Reward is quite skilled at controlling their emotions and adroitly presenting reserved, emotionally tender songs, but I look for three guys with a punk background to hit me harder than this. Maybe this is punk for those quiet nights when you just want to be alone.

THE MONGOLOIDS/BROKEN TEETH - Split EP (6131 Records http://music.6131records.com)

This split is a slab of neck-breaking perfection that crosses international borders. New Jerseys’ Mongoloids are abrasive and angry, delivering tough guy hardcore with a clearly defined metallic edge. “Mountains of Misery” will undoubtedly appeal to all those worship at the altar of all things Jamie Jasta as the low-end breakdown simply crushes the listener. “The Go Around” fits nicely with more recent Agnostic Front and perfectly encapsulates East Coast punk with a teeth-rattling punch to the face. England’s Broken Teeth may live across the Atlantic but they sound as if they could live across the Hudson from their EP partners. “My Law” is a thunderous slab of power overflowing with testosterone and bravado with deep, growling vocals and tuned down guitars. The breakdown is punishing, but it takes second place when compared to the relentless intensity of “Path of Conviction”. With its combination of speed, gang vocals, and pit-inspiring groove, it is a track that celebrates the finest elements of American hardcore.

THE SMOKING HEARTS - Victory (Bullet Tooth www.bullettooth.com)

With comparison to bands raging from Bad Religion to Gallows I am intrigued by the hype machine surrounding The Smoking Hearts. What I hear is a band that is on the cusp of doing great things but have a few wrinkles left to iron out of their sound. The riotous opening “Off With Your Head” is a smoking minute-long introduction to a chaotic, messy, but incredibly genuine attempt on modern punk fury. Vocalist Ben Mills howls with nearly inhuman intensity but his unholy yelp gets lost in the mix among dual guitarists Nobba Green and Simon Barker. Tracks like “Seatbelt” and “Stomper” are furious efforts but due to an overly-thick production, the riffs are not allowed to shine. One has to work with extreme diligence to differentiate the various players here and the rhythm section of drummer Matthieu Taylor and bassist Calvin Roffey are rendered nearly indistinguishable from the broad din that cascades from the speakers. The raw talent here is inarguable, as one need only hear “Apefight”, “Natural Disasters”, and the flesh-ripping “Smoke and Mirrors, Baby!”, but The Smoking Hearts just have to refine their sound to accentuate their various selling points. These five Brits have the chops to create harmony-riddled rage but there is almost too much happening on each song too quickly-the tracks feel forced overwrought with a lack of control. I love when a band is devoted to volume, passion, and the desire to crush everything in its path, but The Smoking Hearts must simply harness some of their ferocity. If I had a punk rock draft, this band would be my number one draft pick-if you are building for the future, get on this bandwagon now.



PAGERIPPER – 7-inch EP (Sex Sheet Records www.sexsheetrecords.com)

The opening moment of Pageripper’s “You Don’t Wear a Dead Man’s Pants” explodes with a shocking level of force. The song is a fleeting piece of dark hardcore that nods towards powerviolence in its intensity. While it ultimately does not possess the same stamina or dexterity of Magrudergrind or Coke Bust, it is an impressive introductory statement. “Collarblind” ( a track highlighted by the following lament: “I’m a breakdown away from burning down this fucking place”) is equally punishing but possesses a sound that is a bit muddier, harkening back to the days before digital quality recording equipment was available to anyone with a laptop. I find the primitive approachan endearing quality and why my only complaint here is the brevity of songs like “Patrick Swills” and “Real Eyes/Real Lies”. With seething guitar and a stifling low end, Pageripper makes contemporary hardcore for those who love a vintage sound. What is more impressive is that all of this chaos is churned out by only three players: vocalist/guitarist Brent I s a beast of a presence on this single and his rage is matched by Alden and Sean on bass and drums respectively. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Pageripper is continuing a longstanding tradition of impressive Pacific Northwest hardcore.

POWERBLESSINGS - Quick Guide to Heart Attacks 12” vinyl LP (Manhattan Chemical and Electric www.manhattanchemical andelectric.bigcartel.com

I know I am getting old when the “post-hardcore” sound is now simply the 21st century punk rock sound. Powerblessings has the ability to manipulatetheir instruments with wonderful control as “Pickles” and “Administrative Leave” both gallop with limitless energy reminiscent of teenage basement shows while “Pale Teens” slowly builds like an approaching storm, finally arriving as a combustible slab of edgy, angered, and sophisticated hardcore. There are four highly active and brilliantly creative minds in this band, and one needs look no further than the blissfully eclectic and at times quite thought provoking lyrics for proof. (“Pretend they had it made, before the roads got paved/land of the grieved, home of the chaffed” from “Administrative Leave”). Nick Pappas jumps out at the listener as a highly skilled guitar player whose individualism shines throughout Quick Guide to Heart Attacks, but he carries “Fetal Missile Distance” with combination of buzz saw ferocity and an innate sense of melody. While “You at Night” is propelled by a frenzied, seething energy that sways effortlessly from unbridled wrath to a measured ire, “SSS” channels the finest qualities of Dead Kennedys to create a classic example of sharply crafted punk with a shrewd song construction delivered by highly adroit musicians. The challenging time and tempo shifts that begin “Gag Order” give way to a bruising anthem with rich harmony. The closing “Pizza Party” concludes the record with the words “He’s in the bed and she’s in the bed/Wrapped up tight all night/With a hundred thousand dust mites/I just want to sleep somewhere sterile and bright”. Wonderfully clever finale to a stirring release.

BAD PEOPLE - The First Seven Inches (Bad People Records http://feebleminds.bandcamp.com/ album/bad-people-pearls-before-swine-ep)

This Buffalo, New York outfit plays raging, sexually-charged hardcore with a nod towards grind and crust. Lacking the overt perversions of porno-grind bands, Bad People do delve into areas of depravity on tracks like “Piss + Shit” and “Uncle Josh”. With a fusion of raw, flesh-ripping vocals and musicianship that coagulates into a simmering mass of chaotic noise, Bad People is an acquired taste. It is a taste I happen to relish so this could not last long enough to satisfy my twisted desires for musical sickness. Nothing here has a duration of more than two minutes but despite its brevity, these thirteen songs are exhausting. One is left breathless even trying to play air guitar to “Blue Lines” or “Talking Cat” and “Forgiveness” is equally bruising. There is a progression from “Pearls Before Swine” to the second “Mean Talkin’” releases in the sense that the lattersounds grittier and demonstrates greater musical dexterity. However, do not believe that any if this is refined and polished; it is raw, furious and skull-crushing. Not for the tame or the boring, I believe that the world needs more Bad People.

SAVE ENDS - Warm Hearts, Cold Hands (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.limitedrun.com/ www.saveends.com)

Christine Atturio should be world famous-the lead vocalist for Boston’s Save Ends has a stirring voice and leads a band that plays passionate guitar-fed rock with rounded edges. Atturio shares vocal responsibilities with keyboardist Brendan Cahill and the dual vocal structure makes “We Are the Only Ones” sound powerfully immediate as they cry “We hold each down, don’t leave anyone behind, won’t let each other down” as precise riffs from Tom Ciesluk ricochets off the rhythms from Sam Nashawaty on bass and drummer Burton Wright. The band places a significant emphasis on crafting pop-infused tracks that bounce and hum with passion but not fury. Save Ends walks the line between good-natured pop and grown up angst on “Always Knew” (“Looking backwards, over shoulders, we crash, we burn, before we know it’s over”), “Chasing Embers”, and “Skeptical Sons/Curious Daughters” (“You are the reason I’m alone, you block the stars that guide me home”). There is a level of deceiving sophistication to the music here as the songs cascade over the listener with such ease that one may miss some of the intricacies. Therefore, Warm Hearts, Cold Hands is deserving of multiple listens in one sitting to best capture what these five Bostonians are generating. With touches of early 90’s indie heart and blissful affection for heartfelt harmonies, Save Ends is a band with a limitless future.

SECRET SMOKER - Terminal Architecture (www.secretsmoker.bandcamp.com)

There was a time, many years ago, when the term “emo” was viewed as a positive moniker. Before it became watered down and twisted into a misguided joke, emo was a fresh, thrilling, and invigorating brand of punk and Secret Smoker captures that. Terminal Architecture is a sharp, aggressive, and loud collection of tracks that feature lyrics that are quite brief but are woven within the fabric of sophisticated playing. There is a darkness that permeates the record, beginning with the reference to “thoughts of suicide” on the opening “Staircase”. The ten songs all churn with a sinewy energy, particularly “Volume Diss-course” and “Part-Time Retail”. Tales of sorrow, loss, and frustration dominate the story lines and the playing matches the anguish, producing a record of tangible intensity. Despite only three members, Matt Hadden, Billy Thompson, and Mark Waite make enough noise for a band twice that number. This is emo with a sound leaning more in the punk vein than pop; the guitar work is rugged, the vocals are gruff yet passionate, and the low end rumbles relentlessly to unleash a wave of sound that buries the listener on the title track and “Tides That Bind”. Climbing out of the bayou in Baton Rouge, Secret Smoker is a startlingly talented young act.

SIGNALS MIDWEST - Light on the Lake (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.limitedrun.com)

Hailing from Cleveland, Signals Midwest is a band of delicate beauty accented by moments of wonderfully harmonious intensity. The dual guitar work of vocalist Maxwell Stern and Jeff Russell (who is also credited with “humor”) ebb and flow throughout the record and provide a stirring soundtrack for richly textured lyrics. “In the Pauses” is a heart-wrenching tale of a complex relationship (“we’ll break pencils and dry up pens on letters we’ll never send”) while ”St. Vincent Charity” includes dazzling tempo shifts, including a rave-up that concludes the song. Drummer Steve Gibson and bassist Loren Shumaker not only work in tandem as a steadyrhythm section but their backing vocals flesh out majestic efforts like “An Echo, A Strain” and “Greater Planes”. The members of Signals Midwest have a gift for poignant story-telling and the apex of this is “Lowercase”, an honest and unflinching examination of getting older and fighting off regrets (“So while you’re talking about the next flight out, I’ll be the one you’re forgetting about”) that also includes stellar playing by all four members. With influences ranging from Superchunk to Jazz June, Signals Midwest soars on the bouncier “Caricature” and the ethereal beauty of “A Glowing Light, An Impending Dawn”. I am curious as to how this would translate in a live setting, but Light on the Lake is a warm and exhilarating listen.


DEATH OF SAMANTHA - If Memory Serves Us Well (www.deathofsamantha.com)

Cleveland, Ohio’s Death of Samantha played indie rock when it was still called “alternative” and actually lived up to the moniker. The four-piece has reunited and released a re-recorded collection of eighteen tracks played live in the studio with minimal effects. Throughout the 1980’s Death of Samantha played myriad of shows with luminaries of the decade along with novice upstarts like Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana who went on to rule the world after Death of Samantha broke up. What saves If Memory Serves Us from simply being some sort of twenty-first century cash grab is the fact that this is Death of Samantha’s original line-up and the guys have excellent résumés with stints in bands like Cobra Verde and Nada Surf. Additionally, by rerecording the songs, original members Doug Gillard, David James, John Petkovic, and Steve-O (not the one you may be thinking of right now) give new life to eventheir oldest tracks. The pop-infused “Coca Cola and Licorice” is juxtaposed with the slower, more bluesy “(Now It’s Your Turn to be a)Martyr”. “Savior City” is the blueprint for what indie rock eventually became and is everything the Replacements aspired to be. Death of Samantha demonstrates a broad array of skills as they shift tempos and texture on “Good Friday”, a song that reveals an imaginative younger act that has evolved into a well-polished band of seasoned vets. The eighteen songs are supremely varied, as “Amphetamine” is majestically delicate and nearly fragile, but “Yellow Fever” and the concluding Blood Creek” revolve around thunderous low end power. This is a fascinating piece of indie rock history resurrected for a new audience.

ACID FAST - Rabid Moon (www.acidfast.bandcamp.com)

Acid Fast is a band for those who enjoy a great backstory: The band’s name comes from a drug-riddled three days for drummer JaspenTamero and vocalist/guitarist Hannah Conda (yeah, awesome name, too) who somehow went nearly seventy-two hours without food; their bassist is a high school guidance counselor who escaped a cult; and second guitarist and vocalist Frank Mann practices black magic as a form of protection. At this point, I do not care what Rabid Moon sounds like, I am telling everyone I know about this band. Luckily, the playing matches the bizarre, yet fascinating nature of the members. There is a tangible 90’s affinity here, particularly for anything involving Lou Barlow or if one can imagine Velocity Girl using a distortion pedal then one gets a sense of tracks such as “Old Ideas” and “Tease”. Every band has their influences and Acid Fast should not be judged too harshly for they incorporate a ferocious sense of intensity in to their sound that makes “Breaking Down the Door of the Law” so impactful. Its well-placed George W. Bush quote leads to a thunderous low-end pummeling that is matched by the equally sardonic “War Goes On”. The two aforementioned tracks are shrewdly political and the band’s lyrics are worth exploring both for their intelligence and clever word play that is enhanced through the male/female vocal dynamic of the band. The rousing opening track “tangle” begins as a bit of a fuzzy mess before launching itself at the listening with a wave of more streamlines guitar force. This order from chaos song structure is also found on “New Paradigm Mind Reading”, but I enjoy the fearless abrasiveness one hears on “Rupert”, “Triangle Park” (featuring a priceless line from an old Cheech and Chong routine), and the closing “Enough Already” which bombards the listener with an outburst of coarse fury. Hailing from the East Bay Area makes Acid Fast another branch on one of punk’s most significant trees, but this is a young band wise enough to recognize the past but still defiant enough to sneer along their own path.

EVERGREEN TERRACE - Dead Horses (Rise Records www.riserecords.com)

In metalcore years, Evergreen Terrace are grizzled, battle-hardened veterans as they have over ten years of recording and touring to their names and Dead Horses reflects a band that continues to evolve musically. My primary criticism of this style of playing is the repetition and predictability of too many of the bands and perhaps the title of Evergreen Terrace’s new record is a sly nod to that very fact-too many hardcore-flavored metal acts repeatedly beat the same proverbial dead horse for two or three records and then fade away. What has separated Evergreen Terrace, and continues to do so, is a willingness to branch out beyond the preconceived boundaries of the genre. The ten tracks here are not revolutionary but with a greater commitment to the clean vocals of Craig Chaney, the band is able to articulate mature lyrics and themes that get lost in the muddled screams of less competent acts. Not that Andrew Carey is out of a job, for his malicious vocals still punctuate the finer songs here, but the members of Evergreen Terrace are evolving as musicians and asking their fans to come along with them. Tracks such as “The Fortunate Ones”, “Browbeaters Anonymous”, and “It’s All Over but the Cryin’” include well defined riffs and bruising rhythms that emphasize melody along with a devotion to a heavy delivery. The apex of the disc comes with the title track, as its gang vocals and soaring chorus offer a blueprint for a future anthem. This track is the perfect marriage between the aggressive death growl of Carey and Chaney’s more traditional and wonderfully harmonious delivery as they as collectively ask “I wanna know what exactly what keeps me hanging on?”, and their two voices reflect anguish and rage, discontent and confusion in the midst of a massive wave of forceful guitar beauty. There are a couple of misfires here, specifically “Lacuna Inc.”, a track on which the band attempts to become too pristine, and “Mike Myers Never Runs, but he Always Catches Up” which, in addition to an unnecessarily lengthy and lackluster title, included fury that comes across as forced and prefabricated. More successful efforts include the opening “Crows” and the bruising closer “That Dog’ll Hunt”, as both tracks reach out to purists who want to the band to retain their teenage punk-inspired intensity but also celebrate their love of descant song structures as well. The wasteland of melodic hardcore is littered with bands that formulate one idea and recreate it until their expiration date arrives but Evergreen Terrace prove that there are acts with the courage to ignore hype and trends and produce music with a level of sophistication to match their fury.

NASHVILLE PUSSY - Up The Dosage (www.nashvillepussy.com)

All hail the return of a true American treasure, the mighty Nashville Pussy. Being a dedicated Pussy lover for over fifteen years, having first fallen for the band when they nearly, literally, set the roof on fire in the long lost Philly club Upstairs at Nick’s, I am thrilled that Up the Dosage captures a band that is still rugged and unapologetically sarcastic yet also, dare I say, maturing as well. The opening “Everybody’s Fault But Mine” revolves around a dirty, blues-drenched riff that would have been played a breakneck speed in the band’s past, but is here slowed down to a mid-tempo pace oozing with the grease and grime that are the residual effects of years spent refining a unique Southern-fried style. Speaking of that geographic section of this great nation, I do not know how pleased people below the Mason-Dixon line will be with Blaine Cartwright after they catch “The South’s Too Fat to Rise Again”, as Blaine deadpans, “we’re having heart attacks when trying to wipe our ass”, but the riff is better than a bucket of ribs and cold beer so I think all will be forgiven. Guitar work has always been the calling card of this band, and while Blaine sounds incredibly inspired throughout the disc, the playing of Ruyter Suys carries the record in her highly capable hands. The slinking “When the Meat Falls Off the Bone” or the boogie of “Beginning of the End” sound like Motorhead jamming with ZZ Top, and Suys is the centerpiece of these anthems that harken back to the days of authentic rock n’ roll with their bombast and swagger. The most significant shift for Nashville Pussy comes in the form of the unadulterated country tracks, “Before the Drugs Wear Off” and “Hooray for Cocaine, Hooray for Tennessee”; both songs are laugh out loud funny but are fairly substantive musical departures as the rough edges have been smoothed and the finished products are front porch, hootenanny sing-alongs. However, for those who still want to see this furious four-piece, rounded out by long time drummer Jeremy Thompson and powerhouse bassist Bonnie Buitrago, rage with youthful passion, “Spent”, “Rub it to Death” and Ruyter’s forty-seven second screaming musical orgasm “Taking it Easy” should more than satisfy. Up The Dosage may also spawn the next great Pussy anthem in the form of “White and Loud”, a thick stew of Sabbath-inspired riffs and gloriously sardonic lyrics. Is it too early to nominate my favorite record of 2014?

TIDELAND - Lull (http://tideland.bandcamp.com)

Sterling, Virginia’s Tideland plays incredibly warm and harmonious shoegazing rock with hints of subtle pop aesthetics. If one is old enough to appreciate this style from its inception at the dawn of the 1990’s, one instantly recognizes Ride and My Bloody Valentine, but the bounce heard on “Get Lost” and “Dinosaur” prove that this band is not just melancholy and meandering sorrow. The flashes of guitar force on these two songs, also a driving factor on “Carved in Mine” and “Edinburgh” elevate this band beyond the realms of 90’s revival act, although one does not have to work too hard to detect the Cobain meets Moore aspects implemented by this trio. There is a sense of immediacy to Tideland that many bands of this style do not have, despite the waves of reverb that seemingly bury the vocals at of John Hand at times. The sonic power of the George Crum’s drumming is what impresses me the most here, for his cymbal crashes seemingly erupt from nowhere and bludgeon the listener before he, Hand, and bassist Chris Wright relieve some of the pressure for a moment and allow their songs (and the listener) to breathe. One shining example of this is “Miless” which alternates between dreamy, ethereal guitar fuzz and roaring punk-fueled angst. The latter is my favorite component of the band and while Wright has acknowledged that the band did decide to turn the volume down for this record in comparison to their earlier releases, it is obvious that this material would rattle the walls of any club attempting to contain Tideland. The serene opening of “Desolate” slides into a smooth riff that would bring Teeange Fanclub fans to their feet and “Way to Die” borrows from latter day Replacements before erupting into a Pixies-esque ball of force. Yet, despite the abhorrent use of name-dropping references here, Tideland possesses enough musical dexterity to make this record their own and not simply an amalgamation of the best of college radio from the Clinton years; this is rousing and compelling playing that is as pastoral yet beautifully rugged as the suburbs from which the band hails.

POW! - Hi Tech Boom (Castle Face Records www.castlefacerecords.com)

San Francisco’s POW! goes back to the future with Hi Tech Boom although I doubt strongly that any of the members were alive when that film was released. With an 80’s vibe and a distinctively basement tapes ascetic, this trio make gothic pop gems that are best when they are a bit longer. There are a few songs here that end too quickly (and this is coming from a guy who adores thirty-second blasts of grindcore) and I feel that there was much more that can be done with “Vertical Slum” and “Cyber Attack!!”, as I am riveted by the spastic guitar playing on the former and the droning low end of the latter. However, that small critique aside, I love the challenging nature of this act as POW! interjects elements of off-kilter noise into their concoctions beginning with the ear-splitting “Glitch”, alerting listeners within twenty seconds that this is a departure from the tired redundancy of contemporary rock, while “66”balances flare ups of chaos around a well chiseled guitar riff. With droll vocals lost in a sea of effects and song structures that bounce riffs from a multitude of angles, this is a defiant punk record for the modern age by returning to a sound reminiscent of three decades ago. “Switchboard Scientist” or “@the Station” could have POW! opening for Wire or Tubeway Army while “Hope Dealers” reverberates with an unbridled energy akin to that of the Undertones or Buzzcocks. The title track is the stand out effort of the bunch, a statement about the sorry state of the larger world but the band’s also beloved San Francisco, which according to Castle Face’s John Dwyer (also of SF’s rightfully adored Thee Oh Sees), is being overrun with wealthy twenty-first century yuppies who are quickly stripping the city of its legendary individuality and replacing it with hallmarks of the mundane such as “specialty shops and parklets”. With a chorus that includes the warning that “there will be no future for the hunted”, POW! is issuing a warning and I know I am listening. This is a band with a unique vision and a rare ability to beautifully mesh the serene and the foul into one impressive sound.

THE TYE TRYBE - Word is Born (www.thetyetrybe.bandcamp.com)

The Tye Trybe prove that there is hope for the upcoming generation as three young guys from the South Bronx play blues with a swagger and pomposity reminiscent of young English lads in the early 70’s. Joseph and Jonathan Hernandez, who deliver the goods on lead guitar and vocals and drums respectively along with bassist Desi Joseph clearly grew up inundated by mind-numbing dance pop and nondescript posturing posing as rock and decided that there has to be a better way. Their collective desire to celebrate rock’s more base and primal elements shines on this four song EP, beginning with the blaring force of “Shine Them Shoes”. The song slithers and grooves like early Zeppelin and unabashedly offers a loving homage to garage bands everywhere with its reckless joy. Joseph’s snarl, here fuzzed out in a wall of overdubbed distortion, is the perfect complement to his brother’s airtight drumming. The cynical may simply hear a Jack White fixation on Word is Born, but Tye Trybe go beyond an attempt to “save rock” the way White was once saddled with having the hopes of doing; instead, these kids inject wild swings of tempo, rousing blues riffs, and Latin flavor into a style more sophisticated than their years would normally expect. The sultry “Pachyderms” includes all of the above and “Bang Shogun” has the subtly of whiskey burn as the trio bash their way through an anthem that puts George Thorogood in AC/DC’s rehearsal space. The closing “Spanish Romance” takes elements of Cuban flamenco clubs and marries them with classic rock riffs to place a fitting bow on a record that is inspired from beginning to end makes Tye Trybe a band worth watching quite closely.

MAN MAN - On Oni Pond (Anti Records www.anti.com)

I just do not know of a band more difficult to categorize than Philly's Man Man. On Oni Pong is another collection of musically dexterity performed by highly skilled players Honus Honus and Pow Pow, but I struggle at times to wrap my arms around the atmospheric pop haze of "Deep Cover" and "Head On", the old-time piano sensibility of "Curtains" or the bouncy soul-tinged "Pyramids". Honus Honus, one of the visionaries behind the band refers to this record as "strange and beautiful" and his definition is perfect. The band uses a multitude of instruments to redefine pop music with a distinctive style and majestic beauty. "Loot My Body" has an infectious beat that will undoubtedly be sampled for decades to come, while "Sparks" bobs and weaves with effortless agility. Honus has a vastly under-appreciated voice, for as one sits in befuddled admiration of the musicianship, one can overlook just how warm the vocals are on "King Shiv" or the poignant "Fangs", which includes some very sneaky and effective guitar playing. Borrowing liberally from jazz structure, pop aesthetic, rock primal energy, and hip hop swagger, On Oni Pond is a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary gem of a challenge. This is not an easy listen, but should be done in one sitting. Despite the highly distinctive personality of each song, the record flows seamlessly, yet another credit to the band's ability to borrow and improve upon preceding ideas. I have spent hours listening to the record and I am still uncertain of my feelings about it; however, I believe the best suggestion for those like myself who sit on the fence concerning Man Man is to stop thinking and simply allow the band to wash your ears and soul with some of the most unique musical visions available today.

TWO COW GARAGE - The Death of the Self-Preservation Society (Last Chance Records www.lastchancerecords.com)

Micah Schnabel, guitarist for Two Cow Garage, may be my new favorite musician. In and interview with 614 Magazine, he raised a vital question when he said "who has time for a five minute song?". Yes, preach on Brother Micah! Two Cow Garage does not use any trick plays on The Death of the Self-Preservation Society; this is old fashioned rock n' roll played by three gritty Ohio natives. The pervading theme is dealing with the realization that life, while never perfect, may not always be as bleak as one may believe. This can be a frightening and difficult concept to accept, and this shaky emotional ground shines through on the hardscrabble opener "The Little Prince and Johnny Toxic" which is a rough and tumble punch of guitar force. Other highlights include the slightly more polished "Stars and Gutters", the haunting "Van Gogh", and the rollicking title track closer in which the aforementioned "Johnny Toxic" character makes a second appearance. This is not punk as how one may generally conceptualize it, but there is nothing pretty or delicate about the rambunctious noise of "Lost on Youth". The only stumble was the distortion soaked crawl of "Mantle in '56". Despite a great title, the song is just a meandering mash of ideas that did not truly reveal the power possessed by Schnabel and his mates David Murphy (drums and other assorted skills) and bassist Shane Sweeney. There is a darkness that permeates the playing accented by a subtle sense of uneasy hopefulness that is almost tangible on "Spiraling Into Control" and "Hey Cinderella". Once again music has a way of proving just how many great bands are out there if one looks fiercely enough-Two Cow Garage have been kicking around these great states of ours in a beaten up van for over a dozen years and this is their sixth record, so go find this because this is a treasure of earnest rock played with a fearless honesty.

BOSTON - Life Love & Hope (Frontiers Records www.frontiers.it)

Years ago Lard wrote a song called “70’s Rock Must Die” in which they lampooned the larger than life arena rock sound that dominated the decade of self-indulgent narcissism. One of the worst culprits of that era was Boston and their songs were ubiquitous. In the name of full disclosure, I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, a child of the 80’s, and therefore I was force-fed a steady diet of “More Than a Feeling”, “Don’t Look Back”, and the inexcusable “Amanda” throughout my formative years which makes this release all the more perplexing for me. The question is not really “how did Boston produce a new record”, but a much louder wail of “why?” Who was clamoring for a new Boston record? The tragic suicide of Brad Delp in 2007 was a sad manner in which to close to book on the band, but releasing new material only stains what is a proud legacy for many. Five of the songs here include the term “love” in the title including such original names as “Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love”, “Love Got Away” and “If You Were in Love”, and the playing is as derivative as the lyrics. Tom Scholz has clearly not left his recording studio in decades, for Life Love & Hope sounds like the best Night Ranger album ever made; obligatory guitar histrionics are intertwined with delicate piano, hushed vocals, and rousing choruses that are designed for rock radio if rock radio still existed. “You Gave Up On Love” actually makes me laugh out loud-one can only imagine a poofy-haired MTV VJ proudly introducing this one, but since MTV is as dead as rock radio, I have no idea into what abyss this will find itself. Naturally, the quality of the musicianship is beyond reproach, but this is so painfully dated that it is more embarrassing than poor. From the hollow drum sound to the Nelson-twins style vocals to clichéd keyboards, this is heartbreaking in its feebleness. Scholz boasts of using the same amps and equipment to record this material as he did for Boston’s classic period: while this may be endearing for some, it only solidifies the outdated and simply unnecessary nature of this monstrosity.

GHOST THROWER (Broken Circles Records)

There is an undeniable nod to 90’s emo and indie rock within the work of Ghost Thrower, but this band retains a punk aesthetic that allows them to escape the trappings that can so negatively impact bandsof this ilk. Ghost Thrower are not out to dazzle the listener but to engage and enthrall through raw, passionate playing. The riotous “Lemons” is an explosion of guitar force and limitless energy, match inits fury by the scathing “When Are You Coming Home?”. The latter is an angry slab of low-end heavy, blissfully fuzzed-out punk that combines the finer moments of Husker Du and early Dinosaur Jr. with wonderfully acerbic lyrics. The record waivers between the aforementioned rugged gems and more controlled nearly pristine tracks such as “Halloween in Brooklyn” and “The Unexamined Life”, with both songs featuring rich harmonies and a refined pop sensibility. “The King of Louisiana” includes a sweeping musical tableau that cascades with a shimmering radiance and is the apex of the band’s musical aptitude. The concluding trio of “Young Luck’, “Apple”, and “Worry Addled Brain” include guitar-rich goodness with a knowing homage to the high water marks of 90’s indie punk without simply mimicking the Get Up Kids and calling it something new. This is a band worth celebrating.

TIM KASHER - Adult Film (Saddle Creek Records www.saddle-creek.com)

Tim Kasher’s first solo record, The Game of Monogamy had me hooked instantly and the same is true of Adult Film, yet for different reasons. Monogamy was quite stark and deeply introspective, and while Kasher’s latest effort includes his typically brilliant and often self-deprecating lyrics, the disc has a different approach musically. The ten majestic songs here are hook-filled pop with synth dominating the opening salvo of “American Lit” and “Truly Freaking Out”. At this point I am a bit concerned for while these songs are both intriguing, there was a bit too much bounce for my liking. Kasher returns to my favorite form of his on the lush “Where’s Your Heart Lie”: replete with tales of his personal faults and failings, Kasher delicately explores his own shortcomings with subtle humor undercutting the unembellished sorrow accented by the gorgeous voice of Laura Stevenson. (“God damn what’s wrong with me?/I’m ruining your love”) Kasher employs a multitude of instruments on Adult Film, including vibraphone on “The Willing Cuckold”, a song that has a bubbly personality that perfectly accompanies the tongue in cheek title. The disc takes on a darker persona at the mid-point of the disc with the mesmerizing and moody “Lay Down Your Weapons”. Its partner in crime is “You Scare Me to Death”, and this duo both revolve around heartfelt tales of struggling relationships and misshapen hopes. At one point during “Scare”, Kasher thinks about getting married and having “two lovely children and a ranch in the ‘burbs where we’ll be murdered” as a whistling omnichord strikes a frightening tone. “A Raincloud is a Raincloud’ is a return to more straight ahead indie pop as Kasher laments his life, realizing that “English lit is essentially horseshit” and how he “is done pining for a silver lining”. Seething with relatable frustration, Kasher is a marvelous wordsmith for he vents about where life has been less then what he hoped, but he never whines. Instead, he is a friend simply letting the listener know that he or she is not alone in being angered and confused about where one finds oneself. “A Looping Distress Signal” is a bit noisier and therefore among the most fascinating moments on the disc as Kasher introduces a rollicking piano riff at the center of the song and reminds people that “the world’s a perfect place when you don’t know what’s swept under the rug.” Those words ring true, as does much of what Kasher says here as he proves himself to be among the sharper and more daring songwriters in contemporary music.

CHROME - Half Machine From the Sun (King of Spades Records www.helioschrome.com)

This gem from the Jimmy Carter era finally sees the light of day and the wait is well worth it. Chrome was the creation of Helios Creed and Damon Edge largely, and this double record of lost pieces recorded in 1979 and 1980. Having missed this the first time around thirty years ago, I was inspired when I listened to swirling noise, punk angst, and memorable harmonies found within. Chrome is exactly the type of band that needs to exist today, for they take rock in a variety of directions without ever sacrificing the basic elements of sweat, lust, and fury that drives rock. The eighteen songs found within includes the menacing proto-punk of "Anything" and "Fukishima", two songs that any industrial tinged band should fall to their knees and worship. Half Machine From the Sun reeks of the end of the 70's; the sense of confusion and general societal burnout is tangible on the synth-infused noise on "The Inevitable" and "Charlie's Little Problem". The baby steps of 80's synth pop are also prevalent, as are the finer elements of Joy Division style darkness buried within warm layers of harmonious hooks. There is no obvious "Love Will Tear Us Apart" here, but "Sound and Light" should have been a hit, and anyone who appreciated Lou Reed's brilliance with the Velvet Underground should fire up "Looking for Your Door". The etherial "Ghost" is appropriately intimidating and disconcerting, while "Something Rhythmic (I Can't Wait)" even smacks of the foundations of indie pop. Innovative, distinctive, challenging, and majestic in scope, Chrome is an act that was decades ahead of its time.

VOICE OF ADDICTION - "Modern Day Meltdown" EP(www.voiceofaddiction.com)

Chicago's Voice of Addiction are an amalgamation of various punk influences ranging from Dead Kennedys to Bad Religion, and the four tracks on "Modern Day Meltdown" are intelligent,crisply played blasts of richly harmonious punk fury. "Daley Struggle", a less than veiled shot at Chicago's mayor Richard Daley, is both inspirational and fiercely sarcastic due to the impassioned vocals of Ian JohnnyX Tomele. The most significant experiment is "Same Old Song" as it features a much more progressive chord structure during the intro and outro, defying traditional punk song arrangements. With lyrics "Do what you're told/buy what you're sold", Tomele chastises a population numb to conformity and lacking an ability to formulate truly distinctive ideas. The closing "Juvenescene" is a rousing call to arms for punks of all ages, and allows those who are getting long in the tooth to remember that energy and enthusiasm, not one's age, is what makes punk music so vital. This is a nice hold over until Voice of Addiction's next full length.

JANE EYRE - With Our Thoughts We Make The World (A Landfill of Records www.janeeyre.bandcamp.com)

Much like Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 work that shares the band’s moniker, Jane Eyre takes work on the part of the listener, but upon completion one is a better person for the effort. The band, led by Jesse Rifkin, whose previous act, The Wailing Wall, was as equally intriguing as his current outfit, uses a cornucopia of technology to craft songs that include audio snippets of television commercials alongside much more traditional instruments such as sax and harpsichord. The finished product is a collection of songs that indulge in blues and folk (“Boy King Island”) but is not averse to more straight ahead rock “Hazel Motes 1”. Rifkin utilizes a deep bag of musical tricks to consistently switch gears through seven thoughtful songs, but does flash a wry sense of humor by titling one effort “Home Alone 2: Alone in New York”. It struck me as ironically funny that a band this musically intelligent would borrow an otherwise forgettable film for a song tile, but this is the nature of Jane Eyre-like the band itself, the song is complex and engaging. Live snippets of the band are interspersed with recording session which are then married to moments of impromptu recordings, all done in an unfettered manner to capture the honest and fearless nature of the band. Lovingly constructed with the finest DIY aesthetic, With Our Thoughts We Make The World is not for those looking for tap-tapping, simplistic beats, but if one is up for the challenge, this is a fascinating musical experience.

PLACES TO HIDE - Almost Nothing (www.placestohide.bandcamp.com)

The days of the world not fullyappreciating the talents of Deborah Hudson should be over. Hudson, the lead vocalist for Places to Hide, is a Kim Gordon for the 21st century; a brazen, snarling, fragile, and fierce singer who is the centerpiece of a band who lovingly recaptures 90’s era fuzzed-out indie rock and make sit their own. There is a youthful naivety and blessed recklessness to Almost Nothing that harkens back to anything on the Simple Machines roster, but this is not some cloaked tribute band. Each song is played with a punk immediacy, and while there are moments when the tracks blend together a bit musically, the lyrics so fearlessly delivered by Hudson separate each piece into a highly distinctive world. “Love Song” begins with the lines, “This Summer is so hot and I just want to have sex with you/We’ll never pay these students loans off and I just want to spend my money on you”, while the raw nerve of “Ecotone” is all too relatable for many as Hudson laments, “I cried myself to sleep again, I know that’s not very punk.” The artwork that accompanies the record is ghostly images of people whose visages are too faded to recognize and acts as a metaphor for many of the themes here. The band tells tales of hopes and loves left unfulfilled ina world that is perpetually disappointing, one in which happiness is as fleeting as a fading memory and the past is all one has to truly cling. “Get Me Clean” captures this sense of hopelessness and desire for escapism as Hudson resigns to a fate a says “I Miss the old you/Come home and we can have the saddest sex”, and while “Michael Jordan” does reference basketball, the song truly addresses a relationship struggling to survive (“Sorry if I’m hard to live with/This is me at my best”. Get to bandcamp and make this a part of your life for it is the perfect addition to an impending winter of depression.

THREE MAN CANNON/LEE COREY OSWALD - Split EP (Black with sap www.blackwithsap.limitedrun.com)

Three Man Cannon is a complicated band from New York that is rarely seen but greatly appreciated. The five songs on this split are hazy pieces of guitar rock in which moments of quiet are suddenly smashed by bombast. None of the five efforts hang around very long, but each of them retains a subtle strength, particularly through the vocals. The playing of Three Man Cannon is straightforward without ever becoming redundant, and I was taken by the imagery detailed in “Wonderful Lungs” and the frantic tale of “Los Ruiz”. This is not revolutionary, but five efforts that do hold one’s attention. Lee Corey Oswald was the winner here for me, as the band alternates between bursts of garage style punk angst and subdued intensity. “We’re Not on the Basketball Team” has a guitar riff as great as its title and captures the band’s unadulterated appreciation of Stooges-style energy, while “Because I Can and You’re Willing” is almost menacing in its sullen unobtrusiveness. The story-telling on “Boulevard” and “Bullshit Stories” is impeccable, particularly for a band as young as LCW. This split has its moments, but the majority of them belong to Lee Corey Oswald.

CLOSE YOUR EYES - Line in the Sand (Victory Records www.victoryrecords.com)

My initial exposure to Close Your Eyes is the underwhelming “Deus Ex Machina”, and I am ready to yawn through a collection of rather standard hardcore; thankfully I do not give up easily, because when the chorus of “Burdened by Hope” punches me in the face I am a convert, at least briefly. Speaking of converting, Close Your Eyes is a Christian band and I usually hide myself away from such acts fearing holier than thou preaching coming down from on high, simply exchanging priestly arrogance and hypocrisy with gang vocals and guitar riffs. Yet again, I am at least temporarily wrong, for vocalist Shane Raymond has a voice that is emotionally charged and stirring, particularly on the warm title track and “Higher Than My Station”. Unfortunately, there are more than a few missteps here, notably “Kings of John Payne” and “My Way Home” which are too slick for their own good, existing in the land of the desperate for a teen anthem rather than more authentic hardcore. The band is both engrossing and frustrating, for while some songs are grossly overproduced or too sanitary, there are others, such as “No Borders!” and the crippling “Skeletons” that are soaring and scintillating explosions of force. Upon the completion of Line in the Sand, I am still uncertain about Close Your Eyes. Their energy is undeniable and this is a band with musical prowess and a penchant for catchy hooks and choruses, but this may appeal to a younger set. Of course, that is ideally what the guys would want rather than appealing solely to bitter old codgers, but I need a bit more fire with my brimstone please.

SEEKER - Unloved (Victory Records www.victoryrecords.com)

Could it really be time to christen a band retro metalcore? If so, Seeker is it. The Texas four piece certainly love death metal, but not in the early 90’s, Floridian swamp style. Rather, the band incorporates elements of AmRep noise into their aural stew to produce a raw, vicious attack that is pummeling without becoming overly repetitive. “Pale Death”, “When Hope Fails” and the title track are meticulous slabs of contemporary extreme metal with vocalist Bryce Lucien unleashing a style that is less death metal cookie monster growl and more hardcore punk emotion; the integration of unfettered aggression with above average technical competency makes Unloved a record that will stand out in a musical landscape with thousands of bands attempting this style of playing. Guitarist Justin Edgerton does the work of three men by himself while the rhythm section of bassist Chris Keasler and drummer Dustin Weaver are shockingly efficient, particularly on the relentless “She” and the crushing “There is Nothing”. With themes of suicide, sorrow, and desperate isolation, this is a dark record made with unrelenting intensity; however, Seeker’s most endearing quality is their ability to generate tech-savvy metal without become unnecessarily esoteric. The guitar work is enchanting and challenging, but not to the point where one gets lost within the song; essentially, this is sophisticated yet still grounded. Fans of Dillinger Escape Plan will hungrily devour this, but more simplistic types like me will also be drawn to a thunderous, monolithic anthem such as the closing “Escape”. Metal has been a part of my life since I was nine years old and it is always inspiring for me to discover bands that continuously have the courage to refine the sound, and Seeker is one such act.

MOTORHEAD - Aftershock (www.udr-music.com)

There are few names in any sphere of music as rightfully iconic as Lemmy, for the Motorhead leader is a model of consistency and excellence. Lemmy famously takes the stage and barks to the audience thathe and his mates “are Motorhead, we are rock n’ roll”, and those words should adorn the headstone of this man except f or the fact that Lemmy will never die. Aftershockis easily the fiercest release from Motorhead in the past decade, and there is not a clunker among the fourteen pieces of guitar fueled, blues-soaked metal fun; that’s right, this stuff is fun! Lemmy and the boys craft massive riffs that have inescapable groves, whether it is the bad boy boogie heard on “Do You Believe” and “Crying Shame” or the slow boil of “Lost Woman Blues” and “Dust and Glass”. Aftershock is emblematic of Motorhead as a band; it could be a perfect starting point for those new to the planet or to metal, yet it will also satisfy long-time fans as well. “Heartbreaker” and “Coup de Grace” is a roaring pair to start the disc with both songs highlighting Lemmy’s instantly recognizable growl over the top of monstrous guitar hooks and airtight rhythms. Both songs are classic example of well formulated, tried and true metal power; there is nothing fancy about anything Motorhead does, and that is exactly how their fans want it. Motorhead ‘s loving tribute to the Ramones years ago was always appropriate,for both bands are cut from the same cloth. Just as the Ramones remained steadfastly committed to pop-infused punk energy, Lemmy has refused to follow trends and has kept his band traveling down a path of guitar-charged metal accented by homages to the original primal roots of rock n’ roll. “Keep Your Powder Dry” has a structure that borrows from the London clubs of the 1960’s only with the amps turned into the red, while the speed of “Queen of the Damned” and the closing “Paralyzed” will remind anyone foolish enough to have forgotten that the name Motorhead need be spoken of with reverence when discussing the most significant contemporary bands, and not just nodding to their greatness of the past. Motorhead will never be found in the bullpen in Yankees Stadium saluting a retiring baseball player, nor will they ever be featured in a car commercial, and for that, the world is a better place. There is a legion of angry boys and men out there who think that throwing punches and spin kicks in a pit make them tough-those guys would not survive an hour with Lemmy.


YOUNG TURKS - Where I Rise (www.animalstylerecords.com)

The four songs on this EP are incredibly speedy and heavy slabs of contemporary hardcore. There are chugging breakdowns and gang vocals, but the band has a genuine control of their instruments that moves them beyond many of their peers. The opening “Territo(royally) Pissed” is a scalding mass of pummeling punk and politically charged lyrics. Vocalist Matt Koenig is relentless in his delivery, and guitarists Bryan Zurek and Jason Soejoto write thick hooks that will undoubtedly get the circle pits moving, yet I could not help but smile when I read the title “Row vs. Wade vs. Westbrook” (NBA geeks will grin, undoubtedly). “Zone K” is a flesh eating disease of a song as it rips the listener to shreds with a break-neck pace a punishing low end from bassist Andrew Arellanoand drummer Mason Juve. It is unfortunately over in a scant minute and twenty-seven seconds, but within that anthem lays all one needs to know about the band. The slightly longer “Old Gods” closes the EP with more impressive guitar playing, but Young Turks is a band for whom less is more. The kids capture classic Pacific Coast hardcore virulence without simply rewriting anthems from the 90’s. From all I have read, this is a band that loves tour and record, and these four songs have certainly increased my anticipation for their next release.

ISOLATED - This is Q-Town, Not LA (District Records www.district763.de)

Isolated play furious German hardcore that does not vary greatly from their American brethren, but, the German language makes anything being said sound far more scary and intimidating, so This is Q-Town has a menacing quality about it. The twelve songs here range in length but not intensity-the twenty-seven seconds of “No School” are blazingly fast, but its fury is matched by the noticeably lengthier title track and “Chaos is God” (the only song of the dozen whose lyrics are printed in English). The men in Isolated are certainly not new to the scene and their technical proficiency is celebrated on the pummeling “Nur ‘Ne Phase”, “Alles Schon VerPackt”, and especially “Hardcore Polizei” as they channel their inner Terror. This is designed for those who appreciate hardcore that emphasizes a heavy bassline and is not afraid to find a groove and stick by it. This is Q-Town is not flashy by any stretch and can become a bit clunky at times, but it is a fun ride with a foreign voice. I see this for the purest of hardcore collectors or those with an interest in niche bands, but it is a solid release from one of our European allies.

MOISTBOYZ V (www.moistboyz.com)

The Moistboyz have a twenty-plus year history and a collection of four records of raging, grizzled punk and metal. Therefore it only makes sense for the guys to produce V, an album of classic, blues, and country-infused rock. It is entirely logical if one appreciates the career of the enigmatic Mickey Melchiondo, most famous for his presence in the seminal college radio deities Ween. Pairing himself with Guy Heller, the two churn out bouncy, deceptively dark rock n’ roll on “Paperboy”, while just as adroitly delivering huge helpings of rural goodness on “Down on the Farm” and the hilarious “Chickendick”. Rounded out by guests Joe Kramer (guitar) and drummer Chuck Treece, there is a wonderful divergence of styles throughout the record. Heller’s lyrics range from the ridiculous to the philosophical, all the while spinning glorious yarns of stream of conscious style verbal purging. A significantly pleasant surprise was the delicate and folksy “My Time to Die”; this is a track that Hank Williams would have been comfortable singing, and the song takes on an added poignancy as it follows a soaring blast of 90’s style indie noise on “Garbageman” and gritty, angular punk of “The Fury”. These aforementioned tracks are songs more akin to what one expects from Moistboyz, but this is not a band interested in catering to expectations. The intricate, bluesy “High and Mighty” sits comfortably next to the honky-tonk, beer-soaked rock of “One Cut” and the groove-oriented “Medusa”. This is fascinating, musically liberating record for the members involved and a tremendous listening experience for those lucky enough to grab this.

TRC - Nation (No Sleep Records www.nosleeprecords.com)

TRC are lighting up London right now after eight years of recording and playing. However, the band has a sound more appropriate for the nu metal revolution of nearly two decades ago as they combine metal riffs, hardcore breakdowns, and hip-hop vocals. Granted, bands such as Emmure and Stray From the Path utilize hip-hop into a metalcore sound, but the vocals here take too much away from the playing that surrounds them. Many of the songs on Nation have a big hook and a low end heavy enough to satisfy metal fans but I cannot get past a lyrical delivery that smacks of caricature more than authenticity. “Motivator” and “We Bring War” are two of the promising efforts on the disc as both songs are furious in their delivery and spare the tired hip-hop delivery for a more straight ahead approach, as “War” revolves a monsoon of a riff and features a crushing breakdown accented by gang vocals. Granted, this is a battle-tested formula but it works here. Unfortunately, much of the record is bogged down in either the rap-metal buffoonery of “Gold Metal Music” or the unnecessarily ambiguous instrumentation of “Between Bridges” and “Weekend Walls”. In short, there are highly likable moments here, but TRC employs too many gimmicks for my liking. There is nothing wrong with integrating various genres into metal, but not at the cost of watering down the original intent of the band. Nation sounds like the product of a band working too hard at gaining mainstream acceptance by overly catering to the kids. I hope they do not give up on the band all together, but simply tweak the vocals and devote themselves fully to crushing people’s skulls musically.

STAND FOR NOTHING - Demonstration of Frustration (http://standfornothing.bandcamp.com)

This could be the best band Long Island, New York has ever offered. The five blasts of raw, incredibly energized punk on Demonstration of Frustration are laced with biting sarcasm and self-deprecating humor. The bandmembers offer a scant amount of information about themselves, but the music speaks for itself; this is for fans of authentic, straight ahead hardcore without any pretentious. This has early 80’s written all over it, but not any one particularly scene-this is a band that could have shared a stage with Negative Approach as easily as Government Issue or Circle Jerks. The lyrics address a variety of topics, ranging from missing friends who have passed in “Act II” to the scathing take on hipsters in “U.R.M.T.” (“Are you really anti-religion /or just pro-pseudo-rebellion? /Either way, there are more than Christians” and “Fuck off, tumblr activists and all of your P.C. shit/Freedom and equality, but just for you/ Fuck life shaming and fuck Doctor Who”). The greatest amount of vitriol is saved for elitist punks, or at least those perceived by the members of Stand for Nothing to be elitist on “Hardlycore”, as hopefully this message does not apply to you: “Don’t care about Youth Attack /and I prefer my vinyl black/ Collecting plastic in limited runs/ is not my idea of fun”. My favorite of the bunch is the harsh reality check of “Mother’s Day” in which a frustrated millennial sums up the anger undoubtedly felt by many in this country: “Nothing that I want to do /two times I’ve given up on school/ I am still living at home/one day I’ll move and die alone”. I am not sure if Stand for Nothing want to be anonymous, but this is a band whose name should become more than just a download on bandcamp.

WAR GENERATION - Start Somewhere Never Surrender (Rise Records www.riserecords.com)

Jon Bunch first made a name for himself in a string of adored acts, notable Further Seems Forever and Reason to Believe. His warm, occasionally soaring vocals were the calling cards of those bands and his voice is as strong as ever on Start Somewhere Never Surrender. Unfortunately, War Generation is a band that will get lost in a sea of other acts producing a safe, albeit skilled, form of “modern rock”. The guitar playing is quite impressive, particularly on the opener “Nobody” and the hook-laden “Wake Up” and Dead and Gone”. Even when the band attempts to shake up the normal routine on the slightly more aggressive “New Noise”, one is still overwhelmed by the ennui that comes when former punk-inspired players smooth the edges and baby-proof their music. The songs throughout the record are poppy, catchy, and radio-ready fare but they are not notable. This is the conundrum of most contemporary rock acts; how does one generate music that is both exhilarating and challenging, but still available to the masses? War Generation produces the type of song structure that produces hits but not memories. There is no grime, no spots on the carpet here; War generation comes across as a band that has micro managed their sound in to a pristine hue devoid of real passion. The playing is quite good and the members are each uniquely talented, but the guys need to lose the sheen and inject greater intensity. This could come across more effectively in a live setting, but getting people through the door could be the struggle.

BELLS - Solutions, Silence, or Affirmations (www.bellstheband)

If one has been paying attention to indie music of late, the city of Brooklyn has gained wild acclaim for the vitality and originality of the acts calling it home. Add BELLS to that mix, despite having to jump through technological hoops to include that little math symbol after their name on the CD cover. Normally, anything that triggers memories of attempting to solve for x would anger me to the point that I would ignore the music, but Solutions, Silence, or Affirmations cannot be ignored. The seven pieces of, in the band’s words, “mostly non-improvised instrumental music” range wildly in intensity and tone. The common link among each song is the sterling talent of the members. One could falsely assume upon dropping the needle on “Apostatic” that the ride will be fairly easily manageable. However, by the completion of the inspired drumming ofZach Barocasthat closes “Metatron” on the first side, the band leaves the listener exhausted but undoubtedly interested about what lies on side B. The four songs on the second side are, I believe, stronger than their cousins, only due to the guitar wizardry of Chris Ernst and Stephen Shodin. The haunting “Brothers, Sisters” and the soaring closer “No More Water” mark the pinnacle of this band’s mighty aptitude. Playing this type of music automatically limits a potential audience, as people look for lyrics and a frontman, and therefore it requires superhuman skills to capture a listener and hold that individual for an entire sitting. Like Animals as Leaders, BELLS= are so gifted that one must succumb to their charms. To their credit, no song even spins out of control or seems sloppy by nature; rather, this incredibly gifted foursome, rounded out by Tom Broucksou on bass, generate swirling masses of intricate and riveting sound.

MELT BANANA - Fetch (A-Zap Records)

If one needs an introduction as to the musical concoctions of Melt Banana, well, pal, where have you been for the past twenty years? This Japanese gem of a noise-core, spazz-crust, punk-disco hybrid have been blowing minds and speakers with their blasts of futuristic, blindingly quick chaos. Yasuko Onuki is once again the centerpiece of this latest assault upon convention, and her screeching, high pitch wail of a voice rips through one’s head on “Vertigo Game” or “Schemes of the Tails” while blips, beeps, pummeling basslines and drops all run around and seemingly through her. This is a remarkably unique listening experience and there is simply nothing else on Earth quite like Melt Banana. They take the unrestrained fury of the Boredoms and the relentless energy of Arab on Radar, add a drum machine for an increased sense of inhumanity and slam it all together with a splash of Merzbow to punish anyone with the courage to listen. However, unlike the majority of earlier releases, Fetch is not a collection of quick hits; several songs hang around for over three minutes (“Missing Link” and “Zero”), while “Infection Detective” hits the previously inconceivable four minutes. This extended time allows the band, now just a duo with Ichirou Agata, to explore their majestically warped ideas to a greater degree. What I always appreciate about Melt Banana is how they do not make noise, but music. The guitar work throughout the record, but certainly on “Lie, Lied, Lied” and “Then Red Eyed” is outstanding; a buzz saw of force that would make any devoted metal fan head bang himself into a coma or fire up the most explosive of circle pits. “The Hive” is my pick as the track of the bunch-a grinding ball of pummeling power with a hypnotic dance beat layered just beneath the surface. The dichotomy of pop and brutality I find exquisite and acts as a perfect summary of why this band is worthy of your blind adoration.

REDBUSH - Milkmaid
(www.whoaboatrecords.com)

With one of the most troubling album covers I have seen in years, Laramie, Wyoming’s Redbush prove yet again that it is the quiet towns that produce some of the best noise. The trio of J.D. Korpitz on guitar and vocals, bassist Ian Mckillip, and drummer EvBruhnkclearly love big riffs and rich harmonies, but there is an edge to this band. When Korpritz spits the lyric “I’m fucking bar trash just to get you off my mind”, one knows that this is not punk with a grin, but rather a scowl, as songs furiously call for revenge or consider escapism with numerous violent images (“everything has gone as planned/snap that baby’s neck before it learns to stand” from “Confessions of a Butcher”). Although the tone of the story-telling is dark, Milkmaid overflows with highly impressive guitar hooks, with the combination of “Industrial Morale” and “Lonely Soul” as my favorites. These tracks close the opening side of the record on a soaring high notes; two slabs of grunge flavored punk that retains the best qualities of each genre. Redbush certainly do not shy away from pop-inspired riffs, and there more than a few Descendents style moments on Milkmaid, which is a trait to be celebrated, but there is a menacing nature to the material here that elevates Redbush above the clatter of small town kids making cool music. “Polar Creep” kicks off the second side with a wanton tale of sexual depravity from the perspective of an older man (a conversation from a father to a son perhaps) that is also singed with a permeating sorrow that gives the song incredible depth even as Korpritz says “what you doing son/hoping that you can still get it up but I can’t get it up.” When the trio slows the pace dramatically on “The Stoker” or channels their inner 90’s indie spirit on “Should I Stay?”, they never fully abandon the kinetic energy and great sucker punch qualities that define the record. Milkmaid is available in a limited pressing so fire up the credit card and buy this right away.

STATE LINES - For the Boats (www.tinyengines.net)

Long Island’s State Lines craft intelligent, passionate indie rock, and the band is equally adroit at utilizing snarling guitars as gently, cascading musicianship. For the Boats is a record of raw emotion and unflinching honesty; an album with lyrics that will make one cringe, for the situations are all too relatable. When Jonathan DiMitri sings of building a small boat “to find the youth from those days that we seem to have left behind”, he is not a man mourning the passage of time, but something far more profound and intimate. The immediacy of the playing on the title track or “Shit for Brains” makes For the Boats intriguing, but the staying power of the album, and ultimately, undoubtedly, of this band, is the multitude of layers displayed here. “The Same Mistake” tells a well-worn tale of allowing a friendship to fall apart, but rather than scream over the top of roaring guitars or sounding unnecessarily hushed, State Lines plays the song somewhere in the middle; it is not a genteel listen, but the intensity comes through quite clearly. This is band that wants to make you think and feel as you listen, not just sing along. Yet, before one is ready to write these kids off as dowdy, (too) old souls for their age, there is the recording miscue at the conclusion of “Tuesday Morning” prior to the beginning of the closing “Where it’s Warm”. The laughter is infectious, and the playing, particularly on “Warm” is stirring; however, the highlight in my opinion is the chilling “Kids”. An understated piece of brilliant story-telling, the song leaves the “consequence” referenced at the conclusion open-ended. With lines about drinking “a constant diet of cheap beer-whatever we could get our hands on” and being “just kids”, the song is gripping anthem from an immensely promising band. Some bands need to drastically alter their sound as proof of growth; State Lines annihilates this theory as they remain true to their musical history but have simply enhanced their acumen.

ENTROPY -Out Of Spite (entropyhardcore.bandcamp.com)

Whenever a record opens with a thirty-two second blast of flesh-ripping hardcore speed, (“Atriums and Exists”) I know I am home. Entropy’s Out of Spite comes and goes very quickly, but the stay is exhilarating. Does Out of Spite do anything to truly move the needle of hardcore forward? No, but that is not why I love bands of this ilk. Rather than worry about pseudo-intellectualism or over analysis, Entropy rage with a fury reminiscent of bands found on early 80’s compilations. “Intention Tension” includes the lyrics “fuck your American dream/do you want to be a wage slave like me?”, and they are barked with a sober intensity that cannot be feigned. The thirty-eight seconds of “Principles of Intermediate” and the forty-seven seconds of “This is Comedy” will undoubtedly generate pits that could be life-threatening as Pat Bradford’s guitar playing is the musical equivalent of a machete slicing through the scream-myself-hoarse vocals of Brian Lawrence. Brian Labuda and Colin Jay pair up as a ridiculously ferocious rhythm section, and the emphasis there is rhythm. Entropy is not simply shouting in the woods without any plan; this is hardcore with both heart and harmony in the mold of S.O.A., Warzone, or even the immortal Minor Threat. With tempo shifts that introduce classical style breakdowns, limitless adrenaline, and absolutely no guitar solos, this is a modern classic. In short, you are a fool to ignore this, and the cd is released to 75 copies. That is punk-buy this now!

THE FLATLINERS -Dead Language (www.fatwreck.com)

I happen to love Canada, our kind-hearted, well-behaved, gun-control loving neighbors to the north, both for the decency of the people and the natural beauty that defines the country. I can also add Flatliners to the list of what makes Canada great - these four hard working fellows have been driving, sweating, and playing gritty, well-honed punk for nearly a decade now. The brand of musicianship on Dead Language is loud, forceful, and furious, yet there is a controlled elegance to much of the material. The twin guitars of vocalist Chris Cresswell and Scott Bringham are continuous lightning strikes of soaring rhythms and intensity, whether on the blazingly fast “Dead Hands” and “Young Professionals” or the equally deft yet lengthier “Sew My Mouth Shut” or “Birds of England”. What holds the record together is the precision of the work, as has a punk edge offset by a sophistication and self-confidence that develops only as band truly recognizes its own “sound”. The songs are melodic, but there are few truly memorable hooks Dead Language; rather, the Flatliners compile terse, fleeting bursts of ideas and produce songs with dynamic personalities. This is quite a feat considering the musical age in which we find ourselves, in which bands tend to do what is safe rather than what is original. “Drown in Blood” and “Caskets Full” may connote images of visceral, violent metal, but these tracks defy their ominous names and are swaddled in the warmest guitar hooks of the disc. There are elements of 90’s indie punk here, which is most likely what these guys grew up listening to, but their influences never overwhelm the finished product. Dead Language is original, heartfelt, and thoroughly enjoyable with an authentic swagger about it. The Flatliners are a band clearly entering the prime of their career and I am thrilled to read that these guys will share the same bill as Night Birds at the Fat Wreck Chords showcase in Brooklyn at the CMJ festival, as those are two bands that should rule North America.

DOYLE - Abominator (Monsterman Records www.officialdoyle.com)

Recent manifestations of the Misfits have done little to resemble what was one of the most important acts in punk’s history, but I am happy to announce a new chapter in the long, strange history of guitarist Doyle. Abominator will help people forget about many of the past transgressions as Doyle has masterminded a scorching collection of classically honed, skull-crushing metal. Fittingly, the man who loves monsters creates riffs that are monstrous in scope and act as perfect accents to the vocals of Alex Story. Story is an ideal frontman for Abominator as his voice balances a punk growl with a metal yelp on stand out efforts “Headhunter” and the wall-rattling title track. The rumbling “Land of the Dead” is only one of many examples of the power of bassist “Left-Hand” Graham and the always impressive Dr. Chud. Doyle may not be a flashy guitarist but he consistently demonstrates an effortless ability to unleash equally memorable and punishing hooks throughout this record, clearly heard on “Learn to Bleed” and the deliciously twisted “Cemetery Sexxx.” Some may snicker at horror metal and see songs such as ”Dreaming Dead Girls” or “Mark of the Beast” as clichéd; however, what Doyle does here is actually strip away much of the unnecessary pretense that exist within extreme music today and simply makes loud, aggressive metal. Like the Misfits themselves, there is a rock n’ roll swagger that permeates Abominator that lets the listener know that Doyle and his friends are in on the joke and everyone should just have a good time. There is not enough of that in today’s music, and Abominator is a lot of fun-especially if you enjoy the occult, murder, bloodlust, and the undead.

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

This San Francisco-based outfit only came together in 2011 but has been quite prolific, including a series of 7”’s and this impressive full-length. Great Apes clearly love pop harmonies, but do not hide from noise when necessary. While the opening “17 Years” bounces with the buoyancy of Blink 182, “Yellow Ribbon” and “San Quentin” are darker, more menacing songs with a powerful low end and cutting guitar work. The rich harmonies of “Everything is Everything” and “The Fine Art of Holtzing” have a sophistication that illustrates the talent of vocalist/guitarist Brian Moss. The band openly celebrates their appreciation of straight forward pop harmonies in its bio, but one should not misinterpret Thread as disposable fare. Although Great Apes members mention that they “have been or are in an array of more complex projects”, they should not minimize what happens on this record. Moss and fellow Apes (Rob Carter on guitar, Josh Kuntz on bass and Matt Kadi on drums) borrow 90’s indie fuzz on “Vial of Life” and display a more complicated song structure on “The Edge of the Western World’. Lyrically, each song reads like a singular vignette with intellectually sophisticated tales of emotional depth. I am uncertain if the members plan on making Great Apes their primary commitment, but they have a limitless future should they do so.




GENTLEMEN PREFER BLOOD/HANDS LIKE BRICKS Split 7-inch (Radius Records www.radiusrecs.com)

Both acts on this split hail from L.A. and play fairly similar brands of pop-infused punk. They also mark the return of Radius Records after twenty years of dormancy. Gentlemen Prefer Blood, in addition to having an awesome name, have an unpolished enthusiasm that carries a massive singalong chorus on "New Year's Resolution", while "Rochester" is a bit darker in tone. Both songs feature voluminous riffs and harmonies that will have the kids in the pit flying. Hands Like Bricks are speedier than their partners on this disc and are not afraid to air their sorrows and sing about heartbreak. Imagine the Bouncing Souls before they perfected their craft and you have a sense of Hands Like Bricks, particularly on "The Old Crowd". "Sunday Stuff" has a sentimentality that makes it endearing, as the lyrics celebrate the comfort that can come from a partnership and how even the mundane activities are yearned for once the relationship ends. This is not a genre altering release but it is two very promising bands that could help to form the next wave of American pop-punk.


TERROR - Live By the Code (Reaper Records www.reaper-records.com)

Terror, one of hardcore's most authentic scene veterans, return with a fury and intensity greater than bands half their age. Forty year old vocalist Scott Vogel gives life lessons without preaching on Live by the Code. Releasing a record that features liner notes that outline guidelines for living a life of hardcore purity puts Vogel at risk of sounding like the punk rock version of the neighborhood curmudgeon who refuses to return a frisbee to a neighborhood kid after the toy lands in his yard. However, instead of retelling stories about the old days or criticizing this generation collectively, Vogel and his mates celebrate the power and beauty of music through eleven blazing songs. Fans of Hatebreed and other metal-tipped hardcore will revel in this, but this is truly a primer as to how hardcore bands should sound. Live By the Code will undoubtedly inspire legions of kids to start bands or take their current band more seriously, but it should also remind old guys like (OK, to be fair, I'm Vogel's age) why going to shows, buying merch from young bands, and escaping the annoyances of work by getting in the pit and yes, even stage-diving, is so important. The reality of life's lack of fairness is explored on "Shot of Reality" and the bruising "Hard Lessons", while the scathing "Nothing in Your Head" condemns some in the current generation of being intellectually, socially, and creatively numb. The themes of inner strength, perseverance, and hardcore unity that Jamie Jasta has used as lyrical fodder for used is also apparent on "I'm Only Stronger", the title track, and "One Blood". This is a soaring example of how respecting your elders truly means something.

TONIGHT WE STRIKE - Bombs and Bibles (Stop the Machine Records www.themachineshoprocks.com)

This politically astute act from Northern Jersey play sharp punk in the style of Anti-Flag with a healthy dose of Bad Religion. There is a healthy skepticism and intelligence to "Slings and Arrows" and "I Play My Role", two of the highlights of this four song EP. Led by the dual guitar playing of Kyle DeMilner and Don Yonker (listed on at least one website as "Donnie Switchblade"), Tonight We Strike has the musical chops to back up their verbal acumen. This is thinking man's punk without any superfluous musicianship, as the title track blazes by quickly. I know there are legions of bands who listen to No Control and attempt to recreate it, but I never tire of this and I certainly hope that Tonight We Strike carry on with their messages and skill.

PLACEHOLDER - I Don't Need Forgiveness (Black Numbers Records www.theblacknumbers.com)

For an outfit that has only been together for just over two years, Placeholder has a command of their sound that is impressive. I Don't Need Forgiveness sees the band stretch itself in a variety of directions, as there are songs that barely hang around for two minutes, while others, especially the five minute-plus "One Year" expound upon a style that is reminiscent of intelligent, emotive acts such as Cursive. Thundering bass lines and rapid-fire drumming give way to enchanting guitar fuzz on "Caught the Crown" and "Everything's Boring", while the title track rumbles furiously. There are two strange musical interludes, the instrumental "(I)" and "(II)" that last forty seconds each and are unnecessary, although the latter does feature an interesting pairing of a loud open chord with a subtle etherial touch. However, these two breathers aside, I Don't Need Forgiveness is an emotionally combustible record, both introspective and engaging, reaching its apex on both points with "December, 2011". Articulate, occasionally self-deprecating, and musically gifted, Placeholder is a fascinating act. The Emo Diaries may be gathering dust, but perhaps new chapters can and will be written by this Harrisburg, Pennsylvania product.


SHELLSHAG – Shellshag Forever (Don Giovanni Records www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Normally I am not a person drawn to punk-pop that is romantic and effervescent, but there is just something unwaveringly enticing about Shellshag. I am a sucker for a great backstory, and John Driver and Jennifer Shagawat have spent the better part of two decades making music together as a couple, and their loves for each other is obvious. The opening “Face to Face” talks about being “birds of a feather” and “growing old together”, while the two exchange darling memories on “Sweet Hoodie”. The shared vocals of “Forever” are heartfelt and passionate over the hum of a warm guitar riff and steady backbeat, and even when Driver repeats “liar, liar, pants on fire” during “Driving Song”, I cannot hate the guy for it. I am reminded of other wonderful duos such as The Softies or more fittingly, the Spinanes, but Shellshag have a greater musical complexity, best heard on “I Love You Anyway”, a track easily relatable to all couples who stay with each other and remain focused on creating happiness even times are not the best or one of the partners is not always making life pleasant. It’s a great message from a band that write love songs in a mature manner-these songs are not about first meetings and the freshness of a relationship in its infantile stages, but rather celebrating the delight that comes through years of shared experiences. The songs are quite brief and this entire disc is under a half hour, but one does not feel cheated. Instead, the brief snippets of daily relationships provided here are wonderful images, each played with direct and highly melodic guitar work. Maybe I’m getting older and more sentimental, but I love what I hear on Forever, and score another victory in the long and impressive history of Don Giovanni.

THE ALL ABOUT - Suburban Heart (theallabout.bandcamp.com)

Listening to Suburban Heart makes me wish I was young, and it is also illuminates Zac Coe’s remarkable ability to recognize life’s changes despite his youth. The efforts on Suburban Heart speak of leaving, but not necessarily loss. Songs like “Nashville”, the title track and “Whatever, Happy Birthday” are about growing up and moving on, but always s early 20’s, but Coe paints dazzling images, such as a reference to a girl picking “grass up with her feet” in the delicate “Heat Wave”. Musically, Suburban Heart retains much of what made their debut Winterpop so charming, which is an adherence to genteel pop with warm textures, but subtle touches such as the strings on “Lyla Garrity” or the synths that morph into a complex pop-rock gem with an ode to Springsteen’s “Rosalita” on “Bridge and Tunnel” indicate wonderful growth from a songwriter sophisticated beyond his years. Just hold on to your youth Mr. Coe; trust me

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

They are back: Night Birds, America’s best punk band, if not most important band, returns with Born to Die in Suburbia, a fourteen song collection of ferocious and crucial musicianship. The opening “Escape From New York” celebrates this band’s long-running fascination with the Dead Kennedys, as the guitar playing screams with the intensity heard on “Police Truck”, and this loving homage is repeated on a second instrumental “Silver Alert”. However, while one can certainly hear a multitude of Southern California punk influences, ranging from Adolescents to Circle Jerks to TSOL, Born to Die in Suburbia truly separates Night Birds from scores of other acts that attempt to recycle old styles. Everything on Suburbia is fresh, inventive, and played with a fearless recklessness that is impossible to dislike. The title track rages in a firestorm of snotty indignation that also possesses a sly melody that eludes other bands. Night Birds are not solely intent on blinding fury; instead much of Suburbia includes subtle harmonies and catchy choruses that make each song a track one puts on repeat. “Modern Morons” is my favorite of the disc, as the aforementioned SoCal punk is mangled through a SSD-style meat grinder and the result is a perfect blend of raw energy and pure delirium. The entire record is a seizure combined with a sugar rush as “No Spoilers” barely hits the forty second mark and the brilliant “Ads in my Eyes” grants you its presence for under ninety seconds. Yet, despite the brevity, there is more musical acumen and honest emotion in these two fleeting gems than what the overwhelming majority of bands complete in a career. To this end, Night Birds display greater confidence and growth as a band, stretching out their sound on “Nazi Gold”, a tune with a more deliberate tempo and accents that one has not previously heard from the band. Yet, one should not fear, as “Nazi Gold” is no less noisy or confrontational than any of the Birds’ best moments. Similar steps are heard on “New Cults”, a song dark in tone and topic with wonderful references to both Patty Hearst and David Koresh, and “Less the Merrier”, a song with easily the thickest and most punishing guitar riff on Suburbia. There is simply a dearth of bands with the chops to successfullyl deliver“Pretty Poison” or “Maimed for the Masses”, as these songs are steeped in classic punk aesthetics, but have a contemporary sound that cannot be rivaled. There are no tags preceding or following the music of the Night Birds; this is just stripped down, bare knuckled guitar punk with uncontrolled and infectious exuberance. The disc closes fittingly with the aggressive harmonies of “Golden Opportunity”. It is a delight to hear a band with such great promise as the Night Birds deliver upon their talents.

HUGE - 7-inch EP (681 Productions)

Huge play traditionally structured punk with nods to classic tones and energy without descending into the realm of cover band. Utilizing strong guitar playing and a sense of harmony that often catches the listener by surprise, “Blackheart” and “Sun on My Back” are rollicking, hard-throwing efforts that highlight the distinctive voice of Russ Iglay (of Underdog fame; brother Dean plays drums.) His is not the guttural growl usually associated with bands of this ilk, but it retains a passion that is authentic. “Homefree” is the most hook-rich song on the four efforts presented on the self-titled seven inch, and it is a streamlined blast of unadulterated rock n’ roll energy with a punked-up aesthetic. There is limited information about this band, but any act that produces a single on white vinyl with swirled colors is already a success in my book.

CLOAKROOM - Infinity (runforcoverecords.com)

Cloakroom is a mysterious act with a style that is simultaneously easily identifiable and puzzling. Infinity is a collection of five songs of shoe-gaze style bombast that is heavy on the bass and steeped in fuzzy guitar. This overwhelms the listener on “Dream Journal”, a grandiloquent piece that is illuminated by a handful of clever guitar tricks which mirrors “E”, another song that is brutally suffocating. The listener is subjected to weighty riffs that induce a form of musical water-boarding; Cloakroom leaves no air to exist within these two songs, and therefore are my favorites on Infinity. Less crushing are “Sedimentary” and “Bending”, as both tracks feature more room for movement within their walls of sound. “Bending” has a more pronounced vocal harmony with a rousing buildup to the song’s distortion-bathed conclusion. Reminiscent of the best work of My Bloody Valentine or Ride, Cloakroom is able to construct interesting songs around what is largely a singular monolithic riff. While the closing “Mynd Funeral” has subtle elements of Sleep’s immortal “Holy Mountain”, this is not seminal or groundbreaking. Instead, this is an exciting release from a band with true promise. They could perhaps benefit from dissecting some of Jesu’s finer material, but I like what these guys are doing.


THE SIRS - Miserable (Psychic Volt Records www.psychicvolt.com)

I am instantly struck by the heavy stock and quality of the multi-colored slab of vinyl found within the seven inch sleeve for The Sirs, and I am thrilled that the quality of the playing matches the beauty of the vinyl. The opening title track is bouncing, buoyant pop-infused gem of a song that liberally incorporates New Wave energy into an easily memorable song. This is juxtaposed by the frantic force of the blistering “Handshakes of the Industrial Revolution”, a track of boundless energy and unrestrained power. The Sirs are difficult to summarize as they morph into various forms of punk and pop, and this shape-shifting skill is their most alluring trait. “Songs About Volcanoes” has a warmth and harmony reminiscent of the salad days of 90’s indie rock. This richly textured song presents yet another musical trick from this band’s seemingly endless collection. The closing “Older Sister” is a fuzzy wave of guitar force driven by garage-band aggression and a complete lack of pretension. This is a glorious effort from a band that has the capability to become anything it wants, and hopefully that includes becoming massively successful.

X-MEN - Kid Blast (Brighton Bar Records www.BrightonBarRecords.com)

As I age, I continue to notice numerous changes; for example, looking at young starlets makes me uncomfortable and I am finding older women much more attractive. I also love when old guys strap on their instruments and give Father Time a kick in the ass. The four-song Kid Blast EP from Jersey’s X-Men is a raw and unpretentious celebration of punk fury. The opening title track and “Rear Admiral” have huge hooks and combative choruses delivered through the prism of fuzzed-out guitar power. This is not three-chord, two-minute blasts, however; X-Men create songs that are broader in scope but still possess a blunt straightforwardness that makes them endearing. Greg Gory’s vocals are as gruff as his guitar playing, and his curt delivery is accented by the work of fellow guitarist Hinge, particularly on “Life”. David DeSantis and drummer Rafe Levinore play with an intensity that defies their ages, but this is made even more impressive by the fact that this is the band’s first release since the late 1980’s. Kid Blast is a fun slab of unrefined punk that kids of all ages should pick up.

PORNOPHON 5 (Hasscontainer Music www.hasscontainer.de)

I have long admired the DIY ethic, be it elemental recording quality or press releases with glaring typos. Pornophon has both here in conjunction with their new release, 5. The disc captures a band laboring through nine songs of borderline hardcore with standard chugging riffs and breakdowns. The second track, “Nothing”, encapsulates the disc for the song trips over itself in a failing effort to be skull-crushingly heavy. It is a nice attempt but sadly comes across as clichéd, even with a detectable German accent. Both “Strikedown” and “Walk” attempt to capture a more melodic sound, but the band is more effective when the guys simply rage, as heard on the bruising, albeit a bit juvenile, “Suck City is Ours” or “Something Quick”. Despite being the most interesting song of the bunch, “WRCDRMX” featuring DJ Klitstarr is frightfully out of place. This is certainly not the worst crime Germany has inflicted upon the world, but there is no need for these guys to hurry over to the US.

RETOX - Ypll (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

Justin Pearson leads Retox and that is I all I need to know: Pearson is the bassist for the immortal Locusts and Retox captures much of that band’s penchant for noise and harrowing musical delivery. However, rather than simply recreate the powerviolence fury of Pearson’s primary act, Retox combines the aforementioned with qualities of more traditional punk. While “Greasy Psalms”, “You Lost Me at ‘It Wasn’t Your Fault’” and “Biological Process of Politics” decimate all in their path, traces of the earliest forms of hardcore are also heard on “Don’t Fall In Love with Yourself” and “The Art of Really, Really Sucking” (“nothing’s going to be OK”), while “Congratulations, You’re Good Enough” features Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on guitar. As Pearson screeches “Now it’s time to grow up and die” on “I’ve Had it up to Here, I’m Going to Prison”, he taps into the brilliant chaos heard with my favorite Pearson side band, Some Girls. What separates Retox, and on an individual level a performer such as Pearson, is an ability to possess an element of refinement and sophistication within the madness encircling one’s self. The heavy bass line that drives “Consider the Scab Already Picked” is downright catchy and harmonious, proving that Retox are not interested in shocking listeners with an undisciplined mass of swirling clamor. Granted, the songs are often delivered with super-human speed and vehemence, but this trait is a hardcore staple and forces the listener to start from the beginning numerous times over. I listened to YPLL six consecutive times in one sitting and became increasingly awed by what I heard. With relentless drumming and subtle touches of melody and guitar twang, Retox is closer to acts like Fucked Up or members of the old Amphetamine Reptile roster more than unadulterated noise-core. Regardless of title or label, YPLL is a flawless record led by a true genius of the underground.

STAND YOUR GROUND - The Chaos Around (District 763 Records www.disctrict763.com)

Stand Your Ground does not do anything revolutionary, but they are a steady act that plays with true sincerity. The Chaos Around proves that American hardcore has permeated Europe’s rich history as this German act borrows heavily from Yankee Doodle punk and metalcore on “Remember” and “Time for Action”. Call and response vocals, chunky guitar riffs from Carl and Greg, and breakdowns abound on the chest-thumping “We Rape Your Scene” and the defiant “I Think So” and “Flawless Victory”. The ten songs on The Chaos Around fly by quickly and must be replayed to have and lasting impact, but vocalist Robin howls with great passion over the top of a punishing yet at times surprisingly melodic din. This is not an act that will in any way reinvent a genre, but their commitment to a sound of which I never tire of hearing is commendable.


THE EVERYMEN - A Very Short Tribute to Jonathan Richman (Oedipus Records www.oedipusrecords.net)

Jonathan Richman’s long and storied career, both with and without Modern Lovers, is lovingly (sorry) honored here by New Jersey rockers The Everymen. This is a fitting band to attempt such a feat, as The Everymen are anything but ordinary; with a line-up that includes up to ten members, there are few acts with the bravery needed to re-record Richman’s songs. Yes, “Pablo Picasso” has become a much covered anthem, but Richman’s more delicate pieces are on display here. The lush “Down in Bermuda” sways with tropical warmth, while the closing “New Jersey” should be used as a celebration hymn to the revival of the state following the horrors of Sandy. “Just About 17” and “When She Kisses Me” are beautiful, innocent works that are reflective of Richman’s musical approach. His longevity is the result of unwillingness to compromise and a whole-hearted desire to produce music that is both personal and intimate without becoming overly serious. This is wonderful escapist music by an unforgettable artist. What The Everymen do here is worth celebrating, not only for their talents, but also for introducing the work of a true American treasure to a broader audience.

NIGHT BIRDS - Maimed for the Masses EP (Fat Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

Pound for pound, the best punk band in America returns with four furious pieces of surf-punched brilliance. Since forming in 2009, Night Birds has consistently improved with each release, moving beyond their classic 80’s hardcore influences and becoming a uniquely powerful act with a distinct sound. Maimed for the Masses will make Night Birds fans salivate for their next release, on which the title track will be found. Staying true to their style, “Maimed” features lyrics about the rough and tumble career of professional wresting’s immortal Mick Foley (Cactus Jack, Dude Love, and of course, Mankind), but the words could also be a metaphor for the band. Knocked down, bloodied, and driven by an intensity few share, Night Birds are punk’s Mick Foley-rugged and uncouth externally but with a shrewd intellect. The song trembles with energy and Brian Gorsenger’s vocals are matched by the roaring guitar work of PJ Russo. There is simply nothing to not like about this band. The B-side includes three brief, screaming gems that will not be on the band’s next release, but could easily become live staples. This is particularly true of the manic “Last Gasp”. Morbid in lyrical content but exhilarating musically, it is the centerpiece of a second side to a single that ends far too quickly. Go out and find this immediately.


BIG EYES - Almost Famous (gravemistakerecords.com)

There is absolutely nothing to dislike about this band. Kate Eldridge’s vocals are beautiful and overflow with emotion, while C.J. Frederick and Chris Costalupes round out this sterling trio’s sound. Once centered in New York, the band now calls Seattle home but the geographic shift has not altered the infectious hooks and crisp songwriting that defined their earlier work. The buzzing guitar of “Half the Time” is my favorite of Almost Famous, but the Muffs’ style of “Wanted Sometimes” and the lush harmonies of the biting opener “Nothing That You Can Say” are other highlights. What I always enjoy about Big Eyes is their unwavering adoration of punky harmonies, ala the Descendents or mighty Ramones, best heard on the one-two punch of “Ain’t Nothing but the Truth” and “Can’t Catch a Break”. The blurry guitar riff of “I Think of You” blankets a rich chorus and Eldridge’s vocals are majestic while the closing “You Ain’t the Only One” roars with the energy of a garage band’s first gig. This sense of purity and raw enthusiasm is Big Eyes’s greatest trait; the band simply rocks, and there is nothing corny about that statement. Almost Famous is also another step in a young band’s increasing proficiency as songwriters, working together as a flawless unit. Snarling and raw yet somehow still mature, Big Eyes must become a national name if there is any justice in the world.

LAWNMOWER - Whack Yr Brain (saveyourgenerationrecords.bandcamp.com)

This one truly makes me feel old; there is a tangible 90’s revival feel to Whack Yr Brain which is fantastic, but also documents my aging process. Sounding like 1993 never ended, Lawnmower makes pop-infused, somewhat rambunctious indie rock with harmonious vocals and occasional blasts of guitar punch. The finest example of both comes on “Party Favors”, a rugged piece with a clear J Mascis homage. The closing seconds of feedback also hearkens back to an earlier time and is a great lead-in to “Spinner’s Got a Mohawk”. With its alternating moments of fuzzed out chaos and sudden sense of purpose, it borrows from acts like Archers of Loaf and Sebadoh. The closing “Adams” is a mid-tempo slab of droning guitar and distortion which demonstrates a tremendous evolution of a band over the course of only five songs. The “oh-oh-oh’s” that dot the middle of the opening “Team Spirit” seem a world away by the time one finishes the record. As I listen I am consistently bombarded by the belief that there is even more musical experimentation alive in this band. Yes, they clearly studied the grunge-era classics, but to possess the courage to integrate pop and noise into an accessible art form is quite an achievement.

MAN OVERBOARD - Heart Attack (www.defendpoppunk.com)

I am nervous when a band takes its name from a Blink-182 song, but I try to enter each disc I hear with an open mind. Man Overboard does what they do exceptionally well but I can only take a few songs before I grow tired of this. The New Jersey five-piece consistently provide bouncy, upbeat pop-punk without pretention or concern for those who deride this style on the title track, “Boy Without Batters”, “Where I Left You” and “Swan Dive” to name but a handful. Nothing here is much beyond three minutes, as Man Overboard taps into the classic three chords and three minutes philosophy that also dictates this genre. There are moments of slightly intensified playing, such as “White Lies”, as its initial guitar flurry carries the track, but much of the work here follows a blueprint of controlled guitar playing tinged with just enough angst and accented by sweetly melodious vocals. There is nothing about Man Overboard that help push pop punk in a new direction, but my larger concern is a lack of sarcasm and cynicism that makes the pop-tinged punk of bands like the Queers and Riverdales so enjoyable. If a band prides itself on an unrepentant devotion to a sugary brand of punk, at least have a few snarky things to say. The band finally loses me on “Hoodie Song”, a track that sounds like a Sum 41 cover band, and the closing “Wide Awake” will undoubtedly be a summer anthem for love-struck tweens. This will certainly be in heavy rotation at post-prom parties and will be quoted on Facebook pages, but I’ll hang out my angrier friends.

RED HARE - Nites of Midnite (Dischord records www.dischord.com)

Veterans of the DC hardcore scene of the 80’s reunite and do something very shocking: they create music as fresh and vibrant as they when they were much younger men roaring through angst-infused punk. For those of a certain age, names such as Swiz and Dag Nasty connect images of hardcore’s infancy, a writhing, furious spawn of punk’s waning days, and the voice of Shawn Brown is instantly recognizable. To his credit, Brown’s vocals are as potent now as ever, delivering biting lyrics and highlighting the disc’s outstanding bookends, “Horace” and “Fuck Your Career”, respectively. “Horace” rips apart those who cannot move forward (“you only talk about how your life once tasted/ post snapshots of a scene and how you once graced it”), while “Message to the Brick” could be applied to any political leader of any party today (“It just dawned on me you don’t give a fuck about my life/past my vote and my money prettying on a misplaced sense of pride”). In the midst of Nites of Midnite the band displays a wizened balance of harmony and force, whether it takes the form of the straight forward explosions “Dialed In” and “Hello Disaster” or the mid-tempo, Fugazi-like title track. The trio of Jason Farrell, Dave Eight (Brown’s companions in Swiz), and drummer Joe Gorelick construct thunderous anthems with a resounding sense of melody and mature song structure. Although this ends too quickly, Nites of Midnite is a proud return for these skilled old pros.

ARROWS IN HER/GIFTS split (Meadowbrook Records www.meadowbrookrecords.com)

These two Jersey bands are both new to me, but hopefully I am among the few that can admit that. The four song split is a wonderful primer on two young acts with distinctive, yet equally engaging approaches. Arrows in Her’s opening “It Tired Me All the Same” is highlighted by intricate guitar work and vocals that retain a controlled intensity. This is matched by “I Watched a Show About Space”: melodic, yet not predictable, the song includes warm harmonies that carry the song along a cascading wave of ethereal beauty. Both efforts from Gifts are more direct and intense in their approach, as “Strange” opens with an aggressive guitar riff before settling into a warm groove, replete with emotionally-tinged vocals. “Afraid” is as equally aggressive as its predecessor, but the power is not chaotic. Gifts channel passion into intimately constructed efforts that pull the listener into the heart of the song. This is the ideal split effort, as both bands entice the listener, namely me, to go out and find earlier releases while also looking forward to future works.

IMPLANTS - From Order to Chaos (Cyber Tracks Records www.cyber-tracks.com)

The term “super-group” is generally met with a sense of skepticism, particularly in the punk world, and quite often for good reason. However, for fans of melodic punk it is difficult to find a collection of players more accomplished than the fellows in Implants. With members whose résumés include stints in Strung Out, Death By Stereo, and Pulley, to name-drop only a fraction of their histories, From Order to Chaos is a sterling collection of unapologetically harmonious punk with a bit more fury behind the instantly catchy choruses than traditionally heard. While “Life Passes” and “Through the Window” capture youthful, buoyant anthems, “Puppet Regime” is a vicious assault of face grating energy, and “Bleeding Through” includes a shredding guitar solo that once again diverts from the traditional mold of melodic punk. It is easy to become swept up in the tsunami of Implants as the playing is remarkably crisp and precise, demonstrating both a wealth of talent forged from years of playing and touring, along with a desire to continually push forward as a band. It would be incredibly easy to simply reproduce records in the style of their past bands, and doing so would undoubtedly attract legions of fans, but Implants include hardcore and even understated metal touches sporadically through From Order to Chaos, making songs such as “Mutualism” and “Unveiling” so impressive. The sum of the parts of this band results in a highly impressive release that will teach up and comers how it’s done.

NIGHTSHADE - An Endless Vision (www.facebook.com/nightshadeofficial?)

For those who want more metalcore, I salute you. The men of Night Shade take a very familiar metal style and somehow make it work, largely because these guys can truly handle their instruments. Are all the prerequisites there for a true metalcore record? Alternating clean/growl vocals? Check. Breakdowns galore? Check. Moments of occasional surprise, such as the truly beautiful harmonic vocals on “Contemporary Ascendency”? hey…that’s a little different, and unexpected curveballs such as this keep this record from falling into the black hole of the thousands of other bands doing this. Night Shade has been around for quite a while and the combination of French and American musicians give it an international quality that defies most bands, as these guys borrow liberally from both American and European metal, adding complex shifts in tempo and structure that the kids who are finally old enough for their first tattoo cannot do convincingly. Tracks such as “Amiss Desire” and “Betrayal” are brutal enough for any circle pit newbie, but still exciting and intricate enough to hold the attention of battle-tested veterans. Night Shade have a difficult road to travel in terms of metalcore, and they nicely balance the barbaric nature of the music without becoming obtuse, but also understand how to punch the listener silly for three minutes and then move on to the next track. None of the songs here include labyrinthine time sequences that usually confound listeners, but this is not your local high school kid-fronted band either. In short, there is nothing revolutionary about Night Shade, but who cares. I want metalcore to simply kick me in the head, help me up off the floor, and then do it again. An Endless Vision achieves that, and that is more than can be said the majority of the acts of this genre.

SO SO GLOS - Blowout (www.sosoglos.com)

This Brooklyn act is part of what could be called the post-millennium punk movement. These were the kids growing up under the influence of Kurt and others and may be even more disillusioned that their influences were, and one can understand why. However, rather than generating, angry, almost-self destructive pieces of abrasive noise, these bands, and one can include Surfer Blood, Waaves, or Parquet Courts, create kinetic, sardonic, and intellectually cutting indie rock that shimmies more than it snarls. In short, these guys have more in common with the Feelies or Mission of Burma than they do with the Jesus Lizard. Granted, there are moments of genuine disgust turned into soaring guitar force, particularly the triple play of “Xanax”, “Blowout”, and the Rancid-like “Wrecking Ball”. These kids are also shrewdly aware of the disappointments created in the twenty-first century. Summaries of life’s frustrations include observations such ”graduate from twenty years of school to the slums” (“Wrecking Ball”), “There’s no one here by the insincere” from “Diss Town” and “Fuck your good vibe” from “All of the Time”. Even the muffled, sarcastic sing along of “New York, New York” that opens “Speakeasy” reflects the derision and wide-eyed pessimism that encapsulates contemporary America. Despite the poppy guitar riffs and even the hand claps that dot “Everything Revival”, the So So Glos bristle with energy and produce a rollicking gem, while the acoustic-kissed “Island Ridin’” includes warm background vocals and sing along lyrics. Balancing a DIY ascetic while still attentive to details and unafraid of sounding a bit too bubbly, Blowout is a great example of contemporary indie rock.

UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS Mind Control (Rise Above Records www.riseaboverecords.com)

Whenever I receive an email from the legendary Jim Testa that says simply “this will blow your mind”, I know I am in for something special. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats do not disappoint. Currently in the same Rise Above stable of artists as Gates of Slumber, Unearthly Trance, Witchcraft, Orange Goblin, and Ghost (well, we can’t all be perfect), Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats creates gloomy, heavy as concrete metal with an escapable groove. Hovering between late sixties’ psychedelia and Tony Iommi’s finest moments, these four Englishmen may give life to Alistair Crowley’s long rotten corpse on the thunderous opener “Mt. Abraxas”, the sludgy, low-end driven “Desert Ceremony”, and the disturbingly serene “Death Valley Blues”. My personal favorite, “Evil Love”, comes out of the gate like something from Masters of Reality, peppered by elements of classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Somehow, incredibly, in the midst of the suffocating mix one finds grandiose harmonies and a band not afraid to expand the boundaries of what normally qualifies as doom metal. What also must be admired is that, despite the overt Sabbath worship, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are skilled enough at their craft to avoid becoming a cliché. The aforementioned “Ceremony” includes wraithlike vocals that are fittingly haunting, and “Follow the Leader” could sit next to anything on Magical Mystery Tour. Mind Control is certainly a sludgy, meandering brand of metal, but this not devoid of energy or excitement that plagues so many others in this particular sub-genre. Drowned in reverb and low-end pounding, “Valley of the Dolls” is a jarring trip through the darker recesses of one’s mind, both musically and spiritually. The concluding explosions of feedback-drenched power are a thousand times more heavy than any death-core band attempting the frighten people. The concluding ninety seconds of hiss and wind that wraps up “Devil’s Work” should connote the opening seconds of Black Sabbath’s debut, a sound as chilling now as it was over four decades ago, and Uncle Acid come as close as any act I have heard at recapturing that same sense of eerie fear. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats puts other acts of their ilk to shame, burying them under a wall of blunt force intensity. My mind, and my speakers, were indeed blown.


JOWLS - Cursed (Tiny Engines www.tinyengines.net)

Jowls is a band that is new to me but I absolutely adore what these three kids do. Staggeringly passionate and explosive from the opening seconds of “Ruins”, there is a frantic energy that surrounds this band. Ryan Martin sounds as if he is screaming for his life and the songs possess a complex but not convoluted structure. There are no superfluous riffs inserted just for show, but each wave of force builds upon itself into a crescendo of soaring intensity. The blunt force of “Shamewalker” and the crushing intimacy of “Stay Low” are played with an emotion that cannot be fabricated. One can hear the pain and toil that defines the band in each syllable uttered within Cursed. The latter of the two aforementioned efforts gives way to the stirring and lengthier “Long-Winded”. With a longer musical introduction before the arrival of the vocals, Jowls creates a protracted tension before launching into a furious demonstration of speed and power. This is a mandatory listen.

LAND OF BLOOD AND SUNSHINE - Servants and Light (www.whoaboatrecords.com)

This is one of the strangest musical experiences of my recent memory. Servants and Light sounds like the type of music played by hobbits as they journeyed on a quest but got lost in the forest and ended up as the house band for a wood sprite bar. Each of the twelve songs is mystical without becoming clichéd as lush and richly harmonious female vocals carry the record. “Wormwood”, “Age of the Sparrow”, and “Night Rainbow” are stirring pieces of kinetic folk with a pop sensibility and more daring than other acts. Accompanied by equally perplexing art, Land of Blood and Sunshine’s visuals are as intriguing as their music. This is not a style I would actively seek out on my own, but this is a fascinating release. Levitating with ethereal beauty, Servants and Light is folk music for people who would otherwise run from folk music. Stripping itself from any convention, land of Blood and Sunshine do something remarkable, which is to generate wholly unique musical visions.

RUN, FOREVER - Settling (www.tinyengines.net)

Run, Forever is a dazzling band and Settling is a beautiful record of soaring intensity. All of Settling is pop-tinged but is also highlighted by a serious edge and poignant, introspective lyrics. While there is a tangible sense of melodic, indie punk, Run, Forever alternative tempos and every song stands distinctly alone yet retains a commonality within the larger context of the disc. Anthony Heubel is a majestic singer, particularly on “Basement” and “Nothing to Say”; both tracks are accented by serene qualities before surrendering to Heubel’s boisterous guitar riffs and the rock-steady flawlessness of rhythm section Cassie Staub and drummer Tom Moran. Many of the songs address maturing, fear, and the questioning involved in searching for one’s true self. Sophisticated and daring, the lyrics need to be read as one listens. The understated “Braddock Beach”, the warm grooves of “Postcards” and the subdued “Close to the Sun” are all accented by soulful tales of self-exploration and the harsh realization of life’s more unfriendly qualities. The concluding “Forget” is a bit bouncier than the majority of the other efforts on the B-side, and is a perfect finale to a highly memorable record.

 

AUTHORITY ZERO - The Tipping Point (www.hardlineent.com)

It is difficult to believe that Authority Zero has nearly twenty years of playing and touring behind them, yet The Tipping Point is only their fifth studio record. This clearly speaks to the sheer will and determination found within this band, and those traits shine through on each of the twelve tracks found within. Dealing with numerous line-up changes that would cripple a band with weaker constitutions, The Tipping Point roars with a fury and urgency befitting today’s world. The opening “No Other Place” is a manic track played with staggering energy and is a perfect table-setter for a disc that slams fiercely but is anything but a one-speed pony. “For the Kids” and “Lift One Up” are classic anthems of pride and hope that channels a Pennywise style vibe, which is fitting as The Tipping Point was produced by Cameron Webb whose credits include the aforementioned act. Playing with tempo and intensity, “Today We Heard the News” is layered song of various musical structures, while “On the Brink”, “21st century Breakdown” and the title track all provide a clear world view through the eyes of well-worn veterans who continue to fend off challenges. This trio is each a guitar fueled punk gem that delivers messages succinctly and articulately. Much like Bad Religion, Authority Zero address social concerns from a wizened perspective but still burn with an inextinguishable anger about what they see. Intelligent, thunderous, and flat out catchy as hell, The Tipping Point is Authority Zero’s finest hour.

BRIDGES AND POWERLINES - Better (Daisy Pistol www.daisypistol.com)

There seems to be a dearth of acts that truly capture how indie rock should sound, or at least how I think it should sound. Forgive the narcissism, but as a front-row fan of all things 90’s indie explosion, I have a heartfelt appreciation for what Bridges and Powerlines do on Better, for it is a throwback in the most sincere form. Delicate where appropriate, aggressive when necessary, Bridges and Powerlines paint intimately personal stories with Brooklyn as a backdrop. When “we’re finding a way” is emoted on the opening “Bushwick”, it is both a positive and wary declaration of survival. The bouncy, sugar-powered pop of Williamsburg cannot be taken on face value, for its’ bubbly musicianship is off-set by a far more solemn vocal delivery. The record reflects upon the tumultuous year for the members of the band, and the six songs capture the heartbreak and perseverance found within. The sullen “East New York” possesses a harrowing beauty with a haunting refrain of ”and I was young, and I was wrong” hovering like a gentle mist with a soaring immediacy. Touching, poignant, and supremely played, “East New York” stands out as the seminal effort of the half dozen here, but go find this immediately and decide for yourself.

NIGHTMARES FOR A WEEK - Civilian War (Suburban Home Records www.suburbanhomerecords.com)

Glancing at the title, I brace myself for a visceral attack; yet again, I am proven wrong about what I thought I knew. Nightmares for a Week play wonderfully towering rock with energy and limitless enthusiasm. The opening “Down in the Streets” is a rollicking piece with a massive chorus and pop-kissed guitar. There simply is not a misfire among the ten tracks delivered by this highly gifted trio. From the pounding “Dead Men” to the more serene and refined “Cancer Kills”, Civilian War rattles and bashes with a broad smile on its face, as heard on “Let’s Talk About Healing” and the closing “We’re All Going to Hell”. There is an instant sing-along character to the work here that is the hallmark of sharp songwriting. In short, these guys know how to write a hook and they seem to have a surplus of them; the glowing “waoh” on “The Destroyers” and the aforesaid closer will be a calling card for the audience to join in, while “Bloodshot Monday” is a clinic in grown-up guitar savvy rock. If you consider yourself a fan of elemental and desperately necessary rock n’ roll played free from frills and any genre-bending antics, Nightmares for a Week is a mandatory find.


THE COLOR MORALE - Know Hope (Rise Records)

The Color Morale has everything the kids want in their music and they show their wears off on each song of Know Hope. The vocals alternate between guttural growls and clean, emotional cries, the keyboards are present, but buried somewhat innocuously in the mix, there are breakdowns that are both heavy and occasionally atmospheric, and finally, there are ample opportunities to do spin kicks in the pit or storm the front of the stage to sing along during a particularly dramatic moment. In short, The Color Morale is an amalgamation of bands ranging from A Day to Remember to Born of Osiris to fill in the blank of the hot local band in your town doing this. The songs on Know Hope may bleed into each other a bit, but the playing is very tight and the intensity is authentic. For me, the breakdowns in “Learned Behavior” and “Strange Comfort” interrupt the structure of the tune, and the vocal delivery that occasionally straddles the line between yelps and rap is also too derivative. These kids ultimately come across as a band that is simply trying too hard to be all things to all people, even as they publicly assert overt Christianly themes. The harmonies are soaring (see “In Light In Me” and “Steadfast”) and sporadic moments are quite bombastic, such as the unfortunately titled “Saviorself”, but Know Hope reflects the play on words of the title-kind of clever for the naïve, but clichéd and hokey for the rest of us.

GO DEEP - Counseling (godeep.bandcamp.com)

Go Deep is a Brooklyn-based hardcore act that performs the type of hardcore that makes Brooklyn proud-it is furious, passionate, and delivered at a break-neck speed. The majority of the seven tracks struggle to reach the one minute mark, but their brevity does not limit their impact. Beginning with the ominous-sounding hum of “Late Notice”, Counseling is an unapologetic wave of blunt aggression, yet the riffs are present as well. The crushing breakdown on “Leave” is organic in its delivery and in no way comes across as a trendy decision, while “Elders” is a pummeling two minutes of sludgy groove. Other pieces here eschew subtlety entirely and simply decimate the listener, particularly “Glossectomy”, “Bundle of Joy”, and “Lockout”. With lyrics that are clearly articulated at times, Go Deep speaks of one’s conflicts, both internal and external, and the often unpleasant ramifications of the choices made. There is a vast assortment of tough-guy hardcore in existence already, but much of it is derivative plagiarism of Sick of it All or Agnostic Front. Go Deep avoids falling into his mire and produces fresh sounding hardcore, which is quite a feat in 2013.

NO MISTAKE – “4 More From No Mistake” EP (nomistake.bandcamp.com)

Like the title of this EP, the music of No Mistake is not interested in any pretention or unnecessary symbolism as they unleash old fashioned hardcore fury. The band, led by Mike Bullshit, gives the listener four songs in about four minutes with the minute and a half long “Put Me Away” clocking in as the epic of the bunch. “Copied, Folded, and Stapled” kicks the all too brief extravaganza off with an anthem that will instantly get the pits moving and the kids screaming along. That is, of course, until the band plays “No Lies”-a no frills slab of truly classic hardcore delivered by musicians who actually understand what that means. The aforementioned “Put Me Away” is highlighted by rapid fire drumming and the sardonic lyrics of “We fought and they won!” before giving way to the thirty-three second closer, “Come Out”. For those seeking earnest, genuine hardcore, No Mistake must be your band of choice.



PARQUET COURTS - Light Up Gold (What’s Yr Rupture)

Light Up Gold is the soundtrack to a great time. Parquet Courts reinvent indie noise rock with musical references ranging from (what I could tell) Mission of Burma to the Feelies to the Stranglers sprinkled with authentic Americana. This Brooklyn-via-Texas outfit, led by Anthony Savage, whose list of past achievements gives Parquet Courts instant legitimacy, delivers the majority of their work in short bursts but despite the brevity, each effort stands uniquely separate from its compatriots. “Careers in Combat” and “North Dakota” both possess beautifully awkward time structures and are unavoidably harmonious in a deliciously confrontational manner, while the opening combination of “Master of my Craft” and “Borrowed Time” are enough to make this your new favorite band. “Yr No Stoner” and “Yonder is Closer to the Heart” are both bass-driven highlights, but Sean Yeaton demonstrates incredible flexibility and creativity with his instrument, alternating between testosterone fueled punk and artistic post-punk, akin to Guided by Voices or Tsunami. “No Ideas” meanders along before bursting into confrontational blasts of angered guitar punk that sucker punches the listener before retreating back into a more pleasant stoner vibe. The longest track of the bunch, “Stoned and Starving” is also the most conventional sounding, but this one could be the hook that converts the curious into the committed. The guitar playing is controlled but forceful and the bassline again carries the track along at a brisk pace, highly reminiscent of the best moments of 90’s indie punk. “Caster of Worthless Spells” and “Disney P.T.” are both kinetic, messy gems of pop-infused noise that channels the energy of a garage band through the amps of musicians who can actually formulate harmonies. The closing “Picture of Health” leaves one a bit unsatisfied; it’s fuzzy tone and muffled vocals ambles along but does not match the energy and verve displayed throughout the earlier portions of the disc. However, the track does pique one’s interest about what this band goes from here; they have a sound that can genuinely allow for any path to taken and I believe this is not a hipster favor of the week. Watch these guys.


PLOW UNITED - Marching Band (Jump Start Records www.jumpstartrecords.com)

Where have the past fourteen years gone? For those who remember the 90’s with clarity, Plow United was the embodiment of indie rock; they put out consistently great music, toured with some regularity, but then broke up and faded into the depths of punk rock footnotes. However, with the advent of the internet, fans old and new began to generate fresh excitement for this band, and after being begged for more than a decade to record again, Plow United give us Marching Band. The typical response to a case like this may be to roll one’s eyes and hope that the new music is not an embarrassment, but Marching Band is a slap to the side of the lethargic head of punk. Brian McGee, Sean Rule, and Joel Tannenbaum instantly recapture their old energy and sardonic selves on “Water Rights” (“Let’s talk about boys, let’s talk about girls and how they’re fucking up our world”) and the despondent “The World is a Slum”. When McGhee screams “I feel like I’ve been here before” on “Falling, Deeply”, it is both a yelp of frustration and recognition to which so many can relate. The power and enthusiasm is infectious on “Next Five Minutes”, “Act Like it” and the wonderfully acerbic “The War is Over and Our Side Won”. Staying true to their punk roots, most of the tracks come and go in a couple of minutes, but some of their early thrash and hardcore influences have been put on the shelf of history in favor of a more streamlined approach, best heard the raucous sing-along “Get Low” and the equally infectious “Shaking”. “Meggers” closes the disc with a raw, emphatic display of passion, both through McGee’s fervent delivery and his lyrics of guarded optimism. The closing line of “I will believe” can be applied in a multitude of ways, but I cannot believe these guys actually came back with new music, so get this quickly before they retire again until 2026.

DINOSAUR EYELIDS - Conflagration (www.dinosaureyelids.com)

One would not expect the noise heard on this disc to come from the three gents whose photograph graces the inlay card; with matching smiles and equally nightmarish sweaters, the members of Dinosaur Eyelids do not visually equate with thunderous guitar rock. However, that is exactly what one receives for the majority of this self-title release. This disc grows on the listener as it progresses. The opening salvo of “Answer in the Sky” and “Winter Wheat” begins a bit unsteadily, but the protracted “The End is Not the End” displays a potentially upward projection, and once the title track is reached, the record delivers five sterling efforts in a row. For me, Conflagration shifts gears for the better on the bluesy “White Tomb”. Reminiscent of “Wild Horses”, the dreamy slide guitar of Patrick McKnight and down home delivery of Evan Staats is a change in pace from the meatier “Valis”, but the song exhales and flows effortlessly. Another masterstroke by this band is following “Tomb” with “Song to a Girl”, whose loud/quiet dynamic is heavy on Sabbath bombast compliments of bassist Scott Staats and drummer Rich Eick, both of whom are allowed to flex a little muscle. For those of a certain age, the luminous “Hemophiliac” sounds as if it was left off of In Uetero with it’s abrasive guitar riff and pained vocals, while “Kill Your Idols” may be the best of the bunch; a thunderous, sludgy, head-on collision of a song. Why the guys selected to end the disc with two quiet tracks eludes me, as “Snaky Weave” is an acoustic song with more slide guitar and, despite its downtrodden lyrics, has a relative buoyant sensibility about it. The closing “Untitled” is a lovely piano ballad with sounds of gentle rain failing; it is enveloping and perfect for those nights when you just cannot roll over and turn off your brain, but I am truly disappointed when the record closes. Instead of exhaustion, I stand, mouth agape, wondering why this decision was made. At any rate, despite an uncertain beginning and an inauspicious conclusion, the meat of this disc is tremendous, and I would love to see this band live.


NORWEGIAN ARMS - Wolf Like A Stray Dog (www.bigschoolrecords.com)

As a student of history I am intrigued by any band that survives Siberia, the land of Stalin’s infamous Gulag. As unfathomable as it seems, Brendan Mulvihill spent time in Tomsk, Russia as part of a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon his return he again joined forces with Eric Slick and with a collection on instruments, ranging from a mandolin to a synth to a rubber tub, the two give life to Norwegian Arms. Wolf Like a Stray Dog captures the atmosphere of Tomsk-vast, sprawling, and an expanse of delicate beauty. Mulvihill’s voice flies ethereally along with the subtle musicianship and lush playing. The opening “And Then I Found Myself in the Taiga” is stark and emotionally gripping, acting as a perfect entranceway into an expanse of a record that overflows with emotion. “She Lives in a Secret Town” and “Tired of Being Cold” are my favorite pair of the bunch, with the latter being a mischievous title in the midst of the backdrop of the release. There is surprising flashes of energy and intensity woven within the eleven tracks. Obviously, there are limitations to the scope of Norwegian Arms’ sound, but for those seeking a unique interpretation of heartfelt folk, this duo makes for a fascinating listen.


NOT ON TOUR - All This Time (www.dinerjunkie.com)

What I always adore about music is how it smashes internationally drawn boundaries and cultural stereotypes. For example, if one was to utter the phrase, “Israeli punk-pop”, what would come to mind? For most, myself included, it may not include Not On Tour. However, one should be listening to this act, for All This Time is a screeching, speedy, collection of punk bursts that come and go quickly and scream for all in the room to sing along. Not On Tour play hardcore-pop; this melds the fury and speed of hardcore with just enough sugary goodness to soften the blow. All This Time does not take much of your time, as sixteen songs are delivered in under thirty minutes, with “Modern Slavery”, “That’s Why”, the title track, and “Bunnies” are just a handful of the finest moments here. I was taken back to the days of the Goops and the Muffs when listening to this, so if those names ring a positive bell, you should quickly scurry around and find this. Not On Tour strips away all pretention and reduces rock to its most primal elements- a great hook, strong drumming, and vocals that resonate with passion and melody. This is one of those great surprises!

THE VENETIA FAIR - Every Sick Disgusting Thought We Have in Our Brain (www.thevenetiafair.com)

The opening seconds of Every Sick Disgusting Thought We Have in Our Brain welcomes the listener with some timpani, strings, and a circus motif, which is fine except for the fact that this record reminds me why I hate the circus. I just do not see the attraction here; there are some “angry” vocals at times and loud, more forceful moments, but much of this seems overly produced and far too premeditated. The vocals move between harmonious crescendos and brusque yelps, but I struggle for the hooks. The Venetia Fair has a simmering pot of ideas, but the band is just too eager to serve all of them at the same time. “We Used to Worship the Moon”, “Pride Alone Won’t Put This Fire Out”, and “The Sky Came Down” are richly textured, but they border on the obtuse. Strings, falsetto vocals, piano, and horns are all components of the record, and while I praise these guys for defying conventional wisdom, Every Sick Disgusting Thought We Have in Our Brain lacks cohesion and I am left bored. The piano laced “Only in the Morning” and “(Go On) Paint Me a Picture” are two of the stronger works, as there is a consistency to the playing, for the trajectory from a delicate piano intro to a rousing, aggressive conclusion sounds organic. Too many of the songs here are so busy that one cannot appreciate what is happening, and the result is a muddy, chaotic mess that distracts from the skills these guys clearly possess, with one exception coming on the closing “I Could End My Search Tonight” which delivers impressive guitar work that is allowed to breathe on its own. The combining of genres in an effort to destroy labels and walls is commendable, but songs like “The Saints of Gomorrah” and the opening “Too Late to Dream” do not reach out and take hold of the listener; one is left looking in upon the song


 

CALIFORNIA X (www.californiax.bandcamp.com)

California X actually hails from Amherst, Massachusetts and it shows. If one closes his or her eyes hard enough, one could almost imagine this as a young Dinosaur Jr. tearing up the room at a Boston-area basement show. There is so much to like here, including the fact that the vocalist has the courage to call himself Lemmy; sure, Elvis Costello took on a famous name as well, but this is still very punk to adorn yourself with that nom de plume. He is rounded out by Dan on bass and a drummer simply known as “Cool”; if this was a lesser band, I would hate them based on that fact alone. However, California X is a soaring victory - a trio of unlimited energy and a traditional rock philosophy of making one’s noise as loud as possible. This just screams of music made by kids who dug up old Eric’s Trip and Piss Factory discs in a cut out bin somewhere and decided to form a band. While the opening “Sucker” is perhaps a minute too long, “Pond Rot”, “Hot Hed”, “Lemmy’s World” and “Spirit World” are a wonderful balance of bombast and solid songwriting. What makes this record different from the legion of Clinton-era babies now in bands is that California X actually sound like they enjoy what they are doing-the fun is apparent throughout the record and one can almost see the smiles on the member’s faces as they rattle their way through “Spider X”. There are no prefixes needed here, no subdivision into a sub-genre of a sub-genre. Perhaps the spirit of pretension-free indie rock is finally returning.

GOT NUTHIN’ - Back on the Streets (District 763 Records www.district763.de)

Five angry Berliners come together to prove that generic, tough-guy hardcore knows no geographic boundaries. The opening “Self-Respect” steals a riff left on the cutting room floor from any Hatebreed song ever and spices it up with such heady lyrics as “you are just a motherfucker”. The title track offers some hope as the gang vocals and guitar playing this time steals from Agnostic Front; granted, this musical theft has been done more times than could be counted, but Got Nuthin’ seems to be trying too hard to imitate American influences. The more groove-oriented “Got Nuthin’” features a slower tempo but remains as equally strained as its predecessors. By the time one reaches the closing “Turn Around”, with its Sick of it All style bass-playing and call and response vocals, Got Nuthin’ sounds like a hardcore tribute band. To be fair, these guys do attempt to imitate many of the lofty acts of the genre, but there is nothing happening here to make this more than just a passing EP that one will bypass in favor of the real masters.

LA ARMADA (Fat Sandwich Records www.fatsandwichrecords.com)

La Armada has been churning out smart, biting, political hardcore for nearly a decade but do not feel embarrassed if you have not encountered them prior to this self-titled effort. Originally from the Dominican Republic, the band now resides in Chicago, and while they tour fiercely, it is largely through DIY means. Hopefully, this release may begin to garner them greater attention and broader national exposure, as I love their brand of blazing, socially critical punk. The tracks often feature a blending of hardcore and crust, and the result is a record of eleven captivating songs, all performed in Spanish, a characteristic of the band that the members refuse to surrender; another act of defiance by a band committed to earnest rebellion. That last aspect does make this record more work, but the translated lyrics do help to illuminate the astute points these guys express. Economic themes dominate the record, with slavery appearing as a consistent metaphor for the current state of disarray in the world. “Class Warfare” scourges the monetary dominance of a frightenly small minority, while “Organic Slavery” specifically targets Wall Street and the new slavery of the 21st century, and “Credit is the Hook” is a highly erudite critique of the potential pitfalls for those who do not understand the larger goals of financial agencies (“the crisis was created and manipulated by the banks, crisis created and manipulated by the Federal Reserve, this is the cycle of capitalism”). La Armada also refers to their own heritage on the scornful “Denials” and “The Cave of the Dissident”. Many of the songs are over too soon, but that only forces you to lift the needle and start over again; this is a throw-back punk record with a current message of warning and frustration. Give this a chance-this music is exhilarating, and this is pretty cool way to learn some Spanish!

DARREN DEICIDE - “Bomb This Joint” b/w “Hudson River Hangover” (Ever Reviled Records www.everreviledrecords.com)

Darren Deicide’s music is akin to doing shots with the devil himself-it is more than a little frightening and you know the night will end badly, the question is just how badly. The two tracks on this little slab of vinyl are Deicide’s trademark sound-foot stomping (not tapping), guitar slinging blues about drinking, getting hung over, and then drinking some more. For only one man and a guitar, the songs are surprisingly rugged and rich; Deicide’s voice sounds as if he has swallowed razor blades in his scotch, but that is just one of the luring attributes to this single. “Bomb This Joint” moves steadily towards a more rousing chorus that completes the track while “Hudson River Hangover” rattles around in one’s head long after its completion, much like the cheap liquor which inspired it. Gritty, snarling, and jagged, Darren Deicide brings more danger to rock n’ roll with a single blues lick and a few moments of your time that most contemporary bands do over the course of a tour.

THE SCUTCHES - Ten Songs, Ten Years (Bright and Barrow Records www.brightandbarrow.com)

If Joe Queer earned a royalty check for each band spawned by young kids discovering his mighty Queers, his fortune would dwarf the GDP of most nations. Adding to the impressive list of Queers/Screeching Weasel/Riverdales inspired pop-punk is Long Island’s Scutches. Incredibly warm harmonies, touches of surf, and lyrics about broken hearts and the mixed emotions of relationships dominate Ten Songs, and each track seems to become more bubbly and effervescent as the disc progresses. The scathing nature of “Glad You’re Gone” is masked by the joyful tone of the music, while “Weekend Boyfriend” displays a more sensitive and emotionally complex side of the band as it explores the life of a man who wants a more serious commitment; a topic not often explored, ending with forty seconds of piano and hushed vocals. “Together Again” is a modern lyrical interpretation of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice” while “Never Ending Story” invokes “Debra Jean” or dozens of other love-torn tales. One should not expect only efforts that tag at one’s heartstrings, however, for “Full Steam Ahead” and “June 1st” roar with a garage-band level energy and intensity. The Scutches have the courage and self-confidence to also open themselves up to criticism by offering the acoustic “In Dreams” as well as a similarly subdued bonus track. Ten Songs, Ten Years should be a staple of your summer soundtrack.

THE STEREO STATE - Crossing Canyons (Creator-Destroyer Records www.creator-destructor.com)

The Stereo State must be young kids with old souls-Crossing Canyons arrives as a red vinyl ten-inch, harking back to the light-hearted fun of 90’s indie rock, yet their songwriting borrows as much from classic Americana as it does contemporary punk. In short, Crossing Canyons is an aesthetically pleasing release on numerous levels. It is impossible, if you are of a certain age, to read the lyrics of “American Bones” without feeling a pang of one’s own remorse and a harrowing sense of kinship with Andy Frongillo as he laments “drunken thumbing through this yearbook/Right now I’m pushing 30. These pictures read like paragraphs/ and I wish I checked out early”). Each of the four songs is personal, raw, and genuine both lyrically and musically, as the riffs soar and Frongillo’s vocals are brusque yet still harmonious. The songs on Crossing Canyons play out like vignettes, perfectly capturing moments of vast importance in only several moments each, and I strongly encourage listening to this with lyric sheet in your hands. The band explores loneliness in “Across the Susquehanna” and “On the Next Time”, with remarkable conviction and sincerity. However, “Say It Again” and “The Flood” are mesmerizing efforts that address life-altering events from which people can never fully recover. “I spent countless hours playing that crash in my mind” recounts Frongillo on “Say It Again”, while “I can’t believe that’s your name on this grave” merely introduces the heart wrenching story explored in “The Flood”. Guitar players Gabe Griffin and Matthew Spence contributed the words for these songs respectively and both should be heralded for their precision with the written word. In the midst of this remarkable storytelling are a collection of huge guitar riffs that reverberate with punk energy but also include a controlled force about them. The members of The Stereo State want it loud, but they are not out of control. This is a sophisticated act that simply wants to play energetic rock without any frills, and that is a goal sorely missing with most bands.


 

EXECUTE ORDER 66 - In the Shadows of Giants (executeorder66.bandcamp.com/)

As a lifelong Star Wars geek, I always get more than a little excited to see a band refer its moniker to a scene, character, or quote from a galaxy far, far away, but my past experiences have been marginally successful at best, highlighted by the long defunct Bona Fett Youth from Vegas and Philly’s The Degobah System. However, Execute Order 66 (for those of you who actually get outside and do things with your lives, the name is a reference to Emperor Palpatine’s command to exterminate all the Jedi from the universe through the manipulation of the clones of the Grand Army of the Republic) play bruising thrash metal with a handful of death metal nuances. Jasper Cobb handles the lead vocals, and has a commanding presence, alternating between flesh-ripping screams and highly melodic clean vocals, with guitarist Damien Ellinghaus also assisting on the latter, but the death growl/clean delivery interplay is not overused and therefore Execute Order 66 avoids the trappings of predictability that affect so many acts of this style. To their credit, the band explores a multitude of topics on In the Shadows of Giants, ranging from a tale of medieval butchery (“Crimes of Passion”) and the inevitable destruction of the human race through warfare or our own blinding lack of knowledge, (“Awakening to Desolation” “From Revilement to Ruin”, and “Terms of Enrampagement”) to more socially astute critiques of contemporary ignorance in “Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn” and “Worst Bedtime Story Ever”. Throughout the disc there are well placed interludes of more ethereal musicianship, such as the fleeting delicate guitar work in “Secrets” and the aforementioned “Desolation” or the instrumentals “Beginning of the End”, “Requiem”, and “Solace”. This five-piece from Long Branch, New York, rounded out by Kevin Guaranda on guitar and the rhythm section of bassist Christian Ziminski and drummer Luigi Rueda, are remarkably tight throughout the thirteen songs here and the band steers clear of relying upon breakdowns too heavily; in fact the sole truly deliberate example of such does not arrive until the tenth track of the disc, unfortunately titled “Occupy Endor”….yeah, I cringe just writing that. The overriding tone of this record is very serious and highly professional so including a song in which the words “you forgot we had the ewoks on our side” are delivered with a seemingly straight face is more than puzzling. Musically, ironically enough, “Endor” is among the finest pieces on Giants, featuring dynamic acrobatics from both guitar players, but it is probably best saved for the rehearsal space or basement shows among friends. However, that aside, this is a soaring collection of songs from highly technical players, who can balance lofty levels of intricacy without sacrificing a circle pit inducing groove, and the concluding “History” (A Reprise) is a crushing finale to a highly impressive disc. I hope these kids are able to get out and play live because the talent on display here is undeniable.


GREYS - Drift 7-inch EP (Kind of Like Records kindoflikerecords.storenvy.com)

I like when bands try to keep things simple: Greys label themselves a “loud rock band from Toronto” on their bandcamp page, and that is a good starting point. However, while simplicity is a virtue in my eyes, Greys sorely undersell themselves with that brief bio. The three tracks on Drift become increasing longer and complex. The opening “Carjack” is ferocious explosion of force, blunt and unapologetic. Seething with rage and a crushing bassline, the song does an astounding amount of damage in less then two minutes with a chorus that is simultaneously invigorating and frightening. “Drag” checks in at just over the two minute mark, and like its predecessor, it captures the visceral brutality of this punishing four-piece as they rage against not having a “teenage anthem” or a “martyr who would give his life for hopes and dreams”. The song is not just blind fury however, as there are moments of sweeping, aesthetic beauty reminiscent of Fugazi at their most animalistic. This continues on the swirling masterstroke that is “Pill”, easily the finest embodiment of Greys’ future brilliance. Streamlined yet not crude, the five minute song channels raw emotion into a seething mass of restless force; the intensity of which is only magnified following a brief respite from the kinetic bombast. The length of this track provides a broader canvas for the band to explore their ideas in a more pronounced manner, and the result is staggering. Jump on this bandwagon early.

MURDER BY DEATH - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (Bloodshot Records www.bloodshotrecords.com)

The heart of rock n’ roll has always existed within the soul of country and there may not be another band presently inexistence that epitomizes that ideal more than Bloomington, Indiana’s Murder By Death. The thirteen songs present on Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon emphasis articulate, earnest storytelling through the warm vocals of Adam Turla, whether it be the anti-sprawl heartbreak one finds within “My Hill”, the liquor-soaked anecdote of “I Came Around”, or the mournful isolation of “Straight at the Sun”. Sarah Balliet’s cello is used as more than just a musical accent-her playing is central to majestic beauty of the record. The songs of Murder By Death can both harness the swagger and grit of Johnny Cash or the delicate grace of down home Americana. Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is an enthralling album that weaves intricate stories through lush playing from highly capable players, and why the general tone is solemn, the band does not revel in misery-the lyrics are honest and affecting. Even the brief instrumental “Queen Mab” is a sterling nugget of musical articulation with the numerous talents of Scott Brackett on display. A dark sensibility overwhelms and envelops the record, majestically produced by John Congleton, and each player individual contributions shine within the larger context of an enticing collection of songs. The images painted lyrically on “Hard World “ (“Just barely twenty with a slight frame and a hunger for soemthin’ that I couldn’t name”) and “Ghost Fields” (“I pass by these houses all out of the way/ a lot of my friends came from here but they don’t live here today”) recall lyrical talents of Hank Williams or a Nebraska-era Springsteen. Somehow, despite this band’s lengthy tour schedule and devoted fan base, this is my first extended listen to Murder By Death and I will certainly go and catch up on their back catalog.

OUR LAST NIGHT - Age of Ignorance (Epitaph Records ww.epitaph.com)

It’s a long way from New Hampshire to the offices of Epitaph Records, but this is what has befallen the talented kids of Our Last Day. There is a smattering of hardcore influences here, but this is really arena rock for a new generation, which suits the Alan Parsons Project style art on the cover. Sonically, the disc is a pristine collection of aggressively harmonious songs with bursts of guitar force interrupted by keyboard garnish, and for a young band, they create highly structured songs. However, this all takes us down a path that sounds like Linkin Park 2.0. This is especially true on the title track, but trace elements of this are found throughout the record. For the kids who were yet to be born when “One Step Closer” was illuminating alternative charts, they can now hold up their cell phones and sing along to highly sensitive “Reason to Love” and the more ethereal and socially descriptive “Voices”. When Trevor Wentworth sadly emotes, “I tried to make it work/all you did was make it worse” on the aforementioned ’Love”, he may be speaking about a failed relationship but he could also be summarizing the state of modern rock in general. The songs are too conventional in structure-the aggressive riff that opens “Liberate Me” gives way to isolated vocals, then into a breakdown before back to original riff then a breakdown and over again. Maybe I am getting (or are already) old and jaded, but if a band wants to affix any type of “hardcore” tag to its name or description of its sound, that band should truly employ hardcore; inserting a breakdown or gang vocals (see “Enemy”) does not constitute hardcore. Conversely, if your goal is to be a keyboard-kissed, guitar rock band who will sell out coliseums, then do your best to become that. Stop the forced mixing of different genres in an empty plea for street cred or a window display in Hot Topic because in the end, we are all bored. These kids could very well be a highly successful rock band-nothing more, no need for any “post” or “core” tags, and frankly, there is nothing wrong with that. The musicianship here is quite impressive and Our Last Night will probably make the girls swoon, and better these guys than One Direction. Ultimately, I fear that Our Last day will be lost in a mountain of “post hardcore” bands in the world. If Linkin Park or Korn dominate your play lists, go find this because Our Last Day decimates both of those acts, but do not expect a revolutionary experience.

RSO - Awl (r-s-o.bandcamp.com)

Ryan Owens is a one-man, lo-fi beast. The four songs on this mislabeled single (The sleeve says three songs on side A, while there are only two; the four songs are split evenly between the two sides) are minimalist, intimately personal efforts. Essentially, whether one listens to “Bad”, “Luck”, or “Pine” one hears a steady, occasionally sludgy, sometimes more speedy, riff that is played repetitively while muffled, yelping vocals are buried deep within the thin mix. I am admittedly unsure about this. I adore the garage quality and the pure exposed nature of each song, but there is not great diversity, aside from “Pine” being a bit noisier and less structured than its counterparts, until the closing, cigarette burn vocals of the a capella “Wry”. I am uncertain if Owens is striving for a sound reminiscent of Robert Johnson’s recordings of the early twentieth century or if this was the best he could do and/or afford. If there is a market for one-man, scruffy white boy blues from Maine, Owens has it cornered.

THE INSTIGATION – 7-inch EP (www.theinstigation.bandcamp.com)

This band is young, they play aggressive garage-tinged punk, and they clearly idolize Black Flag, as heard on their lovingly precise cover of “White Minority”. The above description would normally make a punk act indistinguishable from the millions out there, except for the fact that The Instigation hail from Shanghai….as in China!! I had no idea this music is allowed to escape the clutches of the government censors, but these kids, led by Toshi, roar with authentic frustration that can only come from living under a truly repressive government. “Foreign Moron”, “Brainwashed”, and “Crack Baby” are absolute gems-simple, two minute long assaults of raw vocals, thunderous drumming, and guitar riffs that are blurred by speed and aggression. In short, this is a nearly perfect EP and worth what little money is being asked of you at The Instigation’s bandcamp site. One must also look them up on Youtube; as it was pointed out to me by our peerless editor, the fact that an Agnostic Front shirt is on the back of an angry kid screaming in a punk band in China speaks volumes about what power music really has. I do not know much about the members, but The Instigation is worth investigating and I hope this is only the first step for this band because the energy and commitment to pure punk is undeniable.

HOMELIFE - Translation (Bermuda Mohawk productions www.bermudamohawkproductions.com)

This is a wonderful surprise for my ears-Homelife is an intelligent and musically daring band that can proudly carry a “post-punk” banner for a new generation of kids. This Michigan-based outfit has clearly moved beyond the hardcore roots shared by their members and boldly constructs intricate songs of great depth and authenticity. One is struck by the lush atmosphere and beautiful musicianship that drives “No Direction”, a raw and honest exploration of growing up and leaving, or at least attempting to move beyond, those who surrounded one during youth, be it family, friends, or home town. Jacob Weston’s voice is both fierce and vulnerable, accented by a bravado that is often stripped away to reveal a complex sentimentality on “Neperthe”, “Viewfinder”, and the staggering “Coping”. Surrounding him are bassist Mike Poshedly, drummer Chaz Villareal, and fellow guitarist Craig Rasmussen, three players with an abundance of musical dexterity that is far more advanced than traditional loud/quiet dynamics. The members play off of each other with remarkable unison, which is all the more impressive when one learns of the several line-up changes Homelife experienced prior to the recording of Translation. Each riff and tempo shift help to paint distinctive pictures on each song, capturing the mood of the lyrics perfectly. However, one should not expect a melancholy ride; despite the troubled emotions expressed lyrically, these are far from morose shoe-gazing laments; these are efforts that should be blasted as loudly as your listening device of choice will allow. The songs on Translation are insightful and candid investigations into how individuals assess and battle back against loss, disappointments, and disillusionment. While the majority of the music, six of the ten songs, is found on the first side through briefer bursts of intensity, the concluding four tracks that comprise side B are longer, more deliberate works. Translation is akin to watching a child grow up before your eyes-it is incredible at the rate with which this band matures over the course of one record. Richly recorded and produced, Translation is the mark of a superior band rapidly refining a unique sound.

LEGACY OF DISORDER - Last Man Standing ( Black Orchid Music www.legacyofdisorder.com)

This record makes me wish I was thirteen again; at that point, I knew very little about heavy metal outside of the putrid hair metal that was in heavy rotation on MTV, and Last Man Standing would have made my little head explode. Sadly, I am much beyond thirteen but Legacy of Disorder comes across as a refreshing mix of traditional metal fare with a handful of modern touches. There are moments here that sound like metal by numbers, but I give these guys credit for flying a flag that cuts against the contemporary grain. There are a collection of blast beats scattered throughout the disc, but much like the most recent Testament effort Dark Roots of Earth, Legacy of Disorder organically mesh these touches within the fabric of their largely throwback sound. Vocalist James Robinson has a classic metal set of pipes; he is not Rob Halford by any stretch, but he can hit all the necessary notes and also growl with a level of authenticity. Guitarist Rana Freilich does pillage much of Slayer’s back catalog, but is that really a crime? If one can get past some of the clichés here (the worst being a snippet of a Hitler speech before “March to Death”), Last Man Standing is a fun ride throughout all ten efforts. None of the songs extend much beyond the three minute mark or feature unnecessarily self-serving solos; these New Zealanders know how to write a tough hook and a big chorus and then move on to the next track. Much of the lyrics, like the accompanying music, are paths that have been tread before, whether it be the death row nightmare of “Hell Tonight” (think of the storyline from Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning”) or a song celebrating the true character of Dracula with the banal title of “Impaler”. However, one of the reasons why I have worshipped at the altar of metal since pre-pubescence is that this stuff is not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize: granted, there are acts that make serious statements and push the genre forward, but some metal bands should just be a good time, and Last Man Standing defines that. If you are a kid hearing metal for the very first time, this is not a bad primer for it covers all the bases; for those of you who consider yourselves metal fans who have heard it all before and are ready to dismiss this, just get over yourselves for a minute and give this a chance. It is a head banging, unpretentious escape.

THE NERVOUS WRECKORDS - Let Them All Talk (thenervouswreckords.com)

The Nervous Wreckords is a band whom you may have heard before but had no idea at the time. Their music has been featured in Weeds and The Buried Life, along with several commercials. Or perhaps you saw them open up for the Killers in 2009. Or perhaps you are like me and had no idea who they were, but had at least had some familiarity with leader Brain Karscig’s previous band, Louis XIV. Regardless of level of awareness, a listen to Let Them All Talk is a trip to previous decades in which bouncy, melodious, and impudent pop is celebrated. Recorded on vintage equipment, “Beautiful Girl”, “Classy Girls” and “8 Track (I’m Coming Back)” are a trio of crackling, effervescent efforts with soaring harmonies and snarky lyrics. The roughest of the group is the title track; a song that implements a T-Rex riff and utilizes hand-claps without irony. If one listens carefully, there are quickly delivered lines that will make you smile in “Shapes of a Dove” while the purest of 60’s style pop floats overhead. The Nervous Wreckords would never be a band I would actively seek out, as I tend to avoid such sweetly produced goods, but Let Them All Talk is not one constant sugar rush; there are grittier riffs on “Love Jammed the Radio”, and a more serious political statement on “The Rich Get Richer”; a song one could envision Jim Croce singing. “Doin’ It to Do It” is more infectious than the flu with its balance of a fuzzed-out guitar riff and luminous backing vocals. Meanwhile, “Asleep or Dead” sounds like a recently uncovered artifact from mid-70’s Wings sessions with its mix of ethereal pop structure and sparkling vocals. I have a feeling, either through commercial exposure or perhaps even some old fashioned radio play, The Nervous Wreckords may become a far more easily recognizable name.




MARCH OF THE MANNEQUINS – “The Remedy” EP (www.MOTMmusic.com)

Essentially, March of the Mannequins is a solo project for pianist/guitarist/drummer Rob Pratola. He is accompanied by a few skilled players, led by vocalist Matt Rauch. It is important to point out the one-man quality of this record because, sadly, that is about the only truly unique element of the record. The Remedy is five standard pieces of rock fare; nothing fancy or revolutionary, just very modern sounding rock. In other words, it is technically and sonically sound, but just lacks any staying power. The chorus of “Faithful” is soaring but the song itself is mundane and divertive, and therefore it becomes just another piece of music that kills about four minutes of your day. March of the Mannequins is the prototype of what is wrong with contemporary rock music-the songs are traditionally arranged, the lyrics are sanitized, the riffs, even when raised in volume, are still harmless, and therefore, the finished result is just generic. It is not terrible by any stretch-these guys, especially Pratola are talented, but they lack any truly distinctive qualities. As one listens to this, March of the Mannequins could easily be confused with a reunited Creed or maybe a new 3 Doors Down record; “Sweet December” is a nice song, it could possibly be used in a car commercial, but nothing on The Remedy is the shot of adrenaline to the heart that rock needs. Rauch channels his inner Adam Levine on “Dreamer” and “Sun’s Eternal”, and if that is enough to excite you, godspeed but do not say that I did not try to warn you. Rob Pratola will hopefully find other outlets for his vast abilities.


SURRENDER THE FALL - Burn in the Spotlight (Rum Bum Records www.rumbumrecords.com)

The midpoint of this disc is a song called “Pitiful”, but I will not make the joke because it is simply too easy and I do not want to be that lazy, but trust me, it fits. I do not know if Papa Roach, Evans Blue, Seether, or any other midland act that desperately attempts to fill a musical void known formally as “rock” is looking for a touring partner, but Surrender the Fall would work perfectly. I am shocked by this record because based on the name, I am expecting bland metalcore; instead, I hear generic songs that are actually insulting to the word bland. The first half of the record must be the “rocking” tracks, as the angry opening one-two punch of “Everything You Want Me to Be” and “Love Hate Masquerade” indicates. The former even features “motherfucker” within the opening lyric-wow! Now that gets my attention! After I fight through two more songs that fade from memory before they end, I am greeted by a collection of five (!) attempts at a radio hit. One can choose from “Some Kind of Perfect”, “I Don’t Wanna Know”, the aforementioned “Pitiful”, “Undesigned”, and “40 & 12” with equal indifference, for essentially, it is all the same song. However, perhaps I am missing the larger point here, for Luis Bicardi, operator and mastermind behind Rum Bum records (see the connection in the name of the label now?) says “the music takes you to another level”. Huh? I do not know where this level is, but I do not think there is enough Bicardi that could help me find it. Adding one final handful of salt into the proverbial wound, the concluding “Into the Headlights” is a heart-wrenching effort with the obligatory acoustic opening and lyrics that metaphorically use driving to represent the decisions one makes in life, as in how we all make wrong turns. The ironic aspect of this disc is that this band is so sufficiently safe that this record will probably make enough money so the members can quit their day jobs, while acts with far more ingenuity and originality are languishing in a mire of obscurity. I cannot say definitively that rock is dead, but it is dying and this will not help its recovery.

New York-Connecticut Hardcore Connection (United Riot Records www.unitedriotrecords.com)

New York is long famous for its brand of muscle-bound hardcore, and certainly Connecticut has witnessed an intensified level of national attention in recent years, so a disc celebrating both states makes sense. The only name here to be recognized by those outside of the designated geography is the merry band of hockey fanatics Two Man Advantage, and they do not disappoint with either of their efforts, including the less than subtle “Fuck Off”. Thirteen acts here cover a broad swath of the hardcore landscape, as Connecticut’s Drug Shock feature classic gang vocals on “On the Prowl”, while New York bands Iconicide, Fed Up!, and Carnage Krew are each musical wrecking balls of force, with “Godspeed” from Iconicide as my personal favorite, but song titles like “Life Still Sux” and “Feelings are for Assholes” tells the listener all one needs to know about Carnage Krew. Lest anyone believe that this disc favors New York, Connecticut represents itself quite well with a diverse array of talent. Broken, All for Spite, and Progress tend to lean towards the heavier side of hardcore, but each band provides hooks that are impossible to ignore. Speaking of hooks, perhaps the most interesting and perplexing band is Connecticut’s Hooks and Sinkers. In my memory, this is the only act I have seen on a hardcore comp that credits an organ player. Rather than snicker or believe this to be some of gimmick, the band blends sounds not ordinarily placed together into a wildly entertaining pair of songs. The interstate collective of Side Swiped delivers the catchy, yet wry “Hor”. The band includes Dennis F.U. on vocals and Jonny Foz on guitar, notable for also being the two masterminds behind this disc. The most impressive quality of this release is its ability to avoid redundancy or predictability and with a thirteen band, twenty-five song collection, this is an impressive feat. For example, Connecticut’s Blastmat contrasts nicely with New York’s Truth in Needles and Everyday Dollars. There is a little something here for every degree of hardcore fan, from the bombastic to the richly harmonic. New York-Connecticut Hardcore Connection is a healthy education in contemporary hardcore and proves that the next generation of Tri-State bands sounds promising.


 

96 - Caught In the Grips (www.hotfootrecords.com)

It does not take long to understand the type of band 96 is as the opening “Had Enough” is a rapid-fire burst of hardcore. The thirteen songs here usually clock in at just over a minute, but 96 is not a one trick pony hardcore act. The band realizes that breakdowns and gang vocals on every song quickly becomes redundant, so they continually alter song structures. “Culture Shock” features pristine guitar work with a dazzling intro that is not often heard in hardcore, while the environmentally concerned lyrics of “Dried Up” are rightfully given over three minutes to be appreciated. The near grindcore speed of “Iced Tea” is offset by the light-hearted lyrics, and actually offers a nice respite from the more serious tones of the disc. “Hard Luck” and “Darker Days” are melancholy in theme, but extraordinary in terms of speed and musical cohesion. When the band does follow more typical paths, the breakdowns on “Fast Money” and “Last Part” are heavy on the groove and less concerned about getting the kids to start spin-kicking. For a debut record, 96 display deftness beyond their years, and although they have toured with a collection of premiere acts, 96 are easily on their way to become headliners themselves.

NOT THE BEES - Another Hour to Burn (www.gtgrecords.net)

This overtly melodic punk-pop outfit has a long history among its members in the Jersey punk scene, and the experience shines through on this, their first truly proper release. The riffs are bountiful and Joe Allocco’s voice is resoundingly harmonic, yet he retains a ruggedness that beefs up the overall sound of this outfit, thanks also in part to the accompanying vocals of Jon Barnes. Bassist Steve Fusko and drummer Mike Pushkin carry a powerful rhythm section, and there is a delightfully earnest 90’s feel to every moment here. The easiest connection would be Hot Water Music, and that is fair, but do not expect a bland imitation. The opening “Xanax and the Corner Office” is more than just a fantastic name-the track begins innocuously, but when Allocco’s raspy delivery emerges, it is obvious that this is not just another collection of veteran punks experimenting with pop hooks. The chorus of “Stay Indoors” is nearly illegally catchy, and “Counting to Zero” balances speed with polished playing. Each of the five songs hums along with warmth that captures the intimacy of a small club, which is where these guys are most comfortable. Everything about this disc smacks of a band comprised of really good guys who would undoubtedly have a beer with you after the gig and sell t-shirts out of the trunks of their cars. There is hope if one is yearning for a rare combination of contagious hooks and maturity. I think these guys are ready to move beyond VFW halls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BORN LOOSE (Drug Front Records)

This one has all the ingredients necessary for the perfect rock band-the members are scruffy, battle-tested veterans with résumés and rap sheets of equally impressive stature and they play music that is loud, raw, and well, loose. Larry May of the legendary and obsession-worthy Candy Snatchers is out in front and the dozen songs here are each augmented by his brand of raspy, guttural barking. The only question one may have about this record if which speed does one prefer: the slower, grittier “Bobo Blues” and “China Bus Express” or the raging, fire-breathing “Deadbeat Street”, “House of Creeps” and the crowd-pleasing “Sugar Pussy”? Regardless of tempo partiality, Born Loose has a flawless record on their hands. This is written for everyone who is sick of slick production and vapid performers, or perhaps even as equally vomit-inducing, the ultra-perfectionists who strip away any humanity from their performances. Born Loose rage with a recklessness and death-defying level of fun that is missing so seriously from rock today; the playing is loud and sloppy across all four members, from May’s screams of possession to Suke’s rugged guitar playing and the battering force of drummer Eric Robel and bassist Shane Konen. These guys have seen thousands of acts only pretend to be what Born Loose actually is so they know how to create real rock n’ roll. The sleaze that drips from “Folds of the Flesh” and “Bad Baby Faye” cannot be forged and the sax that highlights the opening “Step Up to the Plate (Be a Runaway)” would sound trite of performed by a lesser skilled band. After listening to this, I would not mind if the world ends in a few weeks-this is a hell of an album with which to end the human race.

DRGN KING - “Holy Ghost” b/w ”Son of Wolfman” (bar-none.com)

This Philly duo, Dominic Angellela and Brent Reynolds, utilize each other’s unique skills to craft ambient, eclectic pop with surprising soul considering all the studio magic on display. The opening “Holy Ghost” introduces brief flashes of noise into an otherwise neatly packaged pop structure with lush vocals and a steady backbeat. Energized guitar nestles neatly alongside more pronounced keys as the song meanders through its three and half minutes, revealing a multitude of ideas. “Son of Wolfman” takes a lighthearted tone juxtaposed by the furious rapping of Peedi Crakk. This is not my first love in music, as I always run away from acts which prominently feature a producer as a member, but Drgn King retains an authenticity that defies most bands of this ilk.


THE GIRLS - “Rodney” b/w “Say Yes” (www.thegirlsbang.bandcamp.com)

The name of this act is a bit of a misnomer, as there is only one girl, lead vocalist/guitarist Jessica Wabbit. Her voice, an enchanting mixture of sultry and innocent, stands out amongst a two song release that is cool and bodes of an interesting future. With minimalist production quality, the guitar riffs come across as scratchy and the drumming is unfortunately buried. However, Wabbit’s passionate performance carries both “Rodney” and “Say Yes’, particularly each effort’s choruses, although “Say Yes” also includes a wonderfully lo-fi gem of a solo from Vug. I am certainly intrigued, for the Girls have a foot in the recording studios of bubblegum girl groups that dominated the late 50’s and early 60’s and another in the old mailroom of Kill Rock Stars. This brief release is fun without being foolish and has an edge that I would like to hear develop over a full length.



THE STAGS 7-inch (Drug Front Records www.drugfrontrecords.com)

I am officially indescribably jealous of Jim, the lead singer of the Stags. Not only in his the lead voice on a band fortunately enough to associated with Drug Front records, but he is surrounded by Simona (guitar/vocals), Vicki (drums/ vocals), and Arwen (bass/vocals); these three ladies absolutely tear the room apart on this scathing four song effort. The soundtrack of a long night and even longer morning, The Stags play old fashioned, no frills, rock n’ roll the way it should be. These kids would not know Pro Tools from a power drill and they (and we) are the better for it. The snarling “Told You So” is dripping with attitude, while “Rock Hotel” has an inescapably catchy hook. “Moving On” features a rumbling low end and a fuzzed-out guitar tone that would make Ron Asheton jealous. The closing “Bread n’ Butter” is the most glaring sing along of the bunch and it is tinged with a great sense of humor. These four songs end too quickly and all I want is more. For those who love the Ruiners, Night Birds, and other acts that do not apologize for eschewing pretention, The Stags could be your next favorite band in the world.

THE SWINGIN’ UTTERS (Fat Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

This is a great way to spent four and half minutes. This two song release is a welcomed sight for long time Swingin’ Utters fans. The band finally reappeared last year after a nearly interminably long period of silence, and “The Librarians are Hiding Something” is perfectly representative of the band’s sound: a disheveled pop nugget with a warm resonance and a great hook. The B-side, “Rude Little Rooms” marks the end of the band’s career with bassist Spike Slawson who was replaced by Miles Peck, naturally heard on the A-side. Both tracks combine melody and rugged harmony accented by blurry guitar work and Johnny Bonnel’s instantly recognizable brusque vocal delivery. This is a tease for what should be a sterling new record.



CONVERGE - All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

One of the most important, and deservedly adored, acts in extreme music, Converge has crafted a record of intricate brutality and superlative creativity. All We Love We Leave Behind is a scathing pronouncement from a band that perpetually raises its own metaphorical musical bar with each release. My eyes bulged and I gasped when this one fell out of the envelope, I will admit, as I have adored Converge since the days of Jane Doe. All We Love We Leave Behind is an extermination campaign of a record-the opening salvo of “Aimless Arrow” and “Trespasses” are mercilessly heavy and fuming, yet there remains an incredibly mastery of structure and time signatures. Thousands of bands can rage, but Converge brings a level of humanity to their brand of extremity that transcends heavy music and becomes a genre unto itself. Kurt Ballou is a magician of a guitarist, a talent that should not be overlooked in the midst of producing genius, while bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller is a crippling pair of assassins. True to their history, there are the brief explosions of blazing grindcore, but “Tender Abuse” and “Sparrow’s Fall” are not just ninety seconds of chaos; what has always separated Converge from the masses is their brazenly bold use of experimental dynamics, whether it involves significant shifts in tempo, or the eerily unsettling instrumental “Precipice”. Vocalist Jacob Bannon is not screaming like a madman in the woods, his impassioned verbal yelps and pleads are another element of the assault launched upon the listener. Longer, more pronounced efforts, such as “Glacial Pace” and “Coral Blue” are heavy enough to shatter tectonic plates, while “Vicious Muse” and “Shame in the Way” are inexorable in their intensity and power. The aforementioned “Coral” includes a shockingly delicate and stirring musical bridge before the song begins to slowly reconstruct itself into a thunderous mass of blunt force. All We Love We Leave Behind is an exhausting listening experience; a record that pushes and pulls the listener in a multitude of directions, oftentimes simultaneously, before concluding with the punishing “Predatory Glow”. Frankly, I view Converge as an American treasure- a band with an unprecedented combination of devastating intensity and breathe-taking dexterity. Times are tough and money is tight, so spend wisely and go get this.

NO MISTAKE - Connect the Dots…Complete the Puzzle (http://nomistake.bandcamp.com)

Led by guitarist Mike Bromberg, better known to the world as Mike Bullshit, No Mistake is a celebration of hardcore in its purest sense-thirteen songs in fourteen minutes, people! However, it is far more than brevity that matters here-these songs have hooks, heart, and are avoid any influences outside of true hardcore. Harking back to the days when Negative Approach, SSD (starkly appropriate with No Mistake’s ferocious adaptation of “Boiling Point”) , or SOA reared back and hurled themselves at the listener with exhilarating abandon, every furious second on Connect the Dots…Complete the Puzzle is a ripping jolt of infectious energy. There is nothing to dislike here, as the guitar riffs cut through the record like a buzz saw, the drumming is relentless and the vocals are both infuriated yet articulated well enough to appreciate what is being said. To that end, No Mistake offers a variety of lyrical topics, from the comedic “Unibrower”, to the environmentally conscious, viscerally crushing thirty-second “Expiration Date”, or “We Stole Hawaii”, the historically accurate tale of American imperialistic abuse of the late ninetieth century. In short, this is as close to perfection as you are gonna get, my friends, so find this immediately. And, for those of a certain age, you can truly recapture your youth and get this on cassette, but please do not hurt yourself if you break out the skateboard.

STAB ME KILL ME - Demo (stabmekillme.bandcamp.com/)

This is why one should never judge a book (or demo) by a cover. This Seattle outfit plays wonderfully harmonious punk that clearly does not eschew bubblegum pop influences, but their demo cover gives the impression of a horror-punk band. The opening “No Ledge” bounces with a decidedly positive energy, while the surf-tinged, sun-kissed “Good as Gone” ends coldly after a brisk ride lasting under eighty seconds. Yes, the opener possesses a certainly element of subtle heaviness, but one cannot ignore the resoundingly hopeful tone of the track. While there are understated hardcore influences, particularly on the gruff “Diablo”, Stab Me Kill Me have clearly worked to harness a distinctive sound. Certainly, the Ramones, Queers, Screeching Weasel, are in heavy rotation in this band’s rehearsal space, but they are not clones. Even the goofy “Lemon Party” is not attempting to rehash well-worn ideas, as it smashes and crashes upon itself with the exhilaration of 60’s garage bands. The quality of production is superb for a demo, proving that this Pacific Northwest trio is not just in this for kicks; there is a promising band blossoming here, and I hope labels with some real cash are listening.


 

10cent FUCK FLICKS (Drug Front Records www.drugfrontrecords.com)

To paraphrase a famous preserves and jelly company who I am sure would want nothing to do with this band, with a name like 10 Cent Fuck Flicks, it has to be good. In this case, it is amazing. The music is, as one would expect, sleazy, and you will want to wash your hands after listening, but this is so much fun. The eight songs on this record are a celebration of excess and debauchery, yet the bands’ level of musicianship sneaks up upon you from behind and has its way with you. The opening “Womanaire” is gritty with a boogie quality, while “Do The Beegee” and “Chew You Up” overflow with powerful grooves; these tracks are examples of 10 Cent Fuck Flicks’ ability to craft well-orchestrated and somewhat disciplined songs. However, “Toyota” is a chaotic mess of a gem; a blasting, rousing piece that flirts with destruction but never collapses upon itself. The masterminds behind this act take the unfiltered energy and enthusiasm once heard in rock’s infancy and slams them together with a recklessness that is exhilarating. One should not only view this band as a shock act, for there are real chops under the beautiful filth; the poetic “Pussy Flavored Ice Cream” is actually a rollicking, surf-tinged instrumental with elements of high caliber blues. Raging with high energy and a fearless indulgence in self-abuse, 10 Cent Fuck Flicks’ playing mirrors the grainy 70’s porn images that adorn the cover. Linda Lovelace should have had this on while rehearsing “Deep Throat” or, at worst, this should be the soundtrack to a 21st century makeover of “Debbie Does Dallas”. You may need to hide this one from your family, but it is mandatory listening.

VIBRAM 94 - You’ll Never Take Us (United Riot Records www.unitedriotrecords.com)

I am miles away from the skinhead way of life, both in terms of the length of my hair and my behavior. I do not roam the streets looking for trouble, I do not shave my head, and I do not consider beating someone up as a life-defining moment. The tough guy lyrics of this band, who came and went between 1994 and 96, should speak to those who share the ideals, but “travel in packs, clear the way, hold our ground, have a say, fighting for the skinhead way” (“You’ll Never Take Us”) may not resonate with those outside of skinhead circles. That being said, good punk is good punk, and I like the way this record sounds. The production is limited and raw, but that should be taken as a compliment. The playing is speedy and aggressive, and the “whoa” chorus of “Old Breed” is surprisingly buoyant. The minimalist cover art and lyrics about “bloody yuppie bodies” (from “Put in the Boot”) may come across as trite, but Vibram 94 is not an easily disposable relic: It exemplifies an authentic puck aesthetic and youthful dedication to a band. One may have to place politics aside.

RUNNY - The Legendary Runny EP (Drug Front Records www.drugfrontrecords.com)

Thousands of bands write catchy chorus, but few write a chorus as contagious as that of “Sucking on the Wrong Dick”, the opening salvo to a staggeringly fun, but ultimately somewhat confusing record by a loose collection of deliciously tweaked prodigies. I openly admit that I sang the refrain of the aforementioned classic to myself (and out loud) for several days after first treating myself to it. The song’s bass heavy hook and infectious melody make it clear that Runny may jolt people, but this is not a band to be easily dismissed. The shared male/female vocals of Lemon Cookie and Colonel Cream, respectively, make the physical demands and actions they detail with vivid description in “Way Up Inside” all the more harrowing and impressive. This reminds me of past legends of the Philly underworld, namely Rancid Vat and Double Penetration; two bands that were funny, sick, and very talented. “Punish Me” and the closing dance remix of “All the Living Things You Gave Me are Now Dead” pale in comparison to the A-side, but this is still another example of how Drug Front Records is quickly becoming one of the coolest and most independently minded labels out there.


 

 

BEST PRACTICES - The EP LP (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

Best Practices compress nine scathing songs into a roaring twelve minutes. Each track is a sweaty explosion of sound that celebrates basement punk with a sincerity that simply cannot be feigned. The Providence, Rhode Island outfit does not seem to take a breath as one adrenaline fueled mass of force careens and smashes into the next with the force of a ten car pile-up on I-95. Best Practices does not pummel with thick slabs of low end force, but rather continuously batters with punishing body blows that ultimately leaves the listener exhausted and gasping for air. The cold, mid-sentence ending on the concluding “Get Confident, Stupid” perfectly encapsulates the band: they push themselves to the brink of collapse with a delivery of staggering immediacy. This is a record that not only celebrates the visceral power of punk rock, but encourages the listener to take the needle off the end of the record and start all over again. This is a triumphant declaration that Best Practices is a band primed to unleash their vehemence upon the world.

DIKEMBE - Broad Shoulders (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

Dikembe possess an intriguing balance of DIY aesthetics and surprisingly mature experimentation. The atmospheric opener, “Nothing. Stuff.”, hovers gently while vocalist Steven Gray releases a highly emotive and gruff voice. The fuzzy, imperfect sound of Broad Shoulders exemplifies the band’s desire to challenge the listener musically without entirely abandoning the garage. The band shines lyrically throughout the record, usually providing juxtaposition between snarky, funny song titles and forthright tales of fears, regret, and nerve-shattering anxiety on “I Watch a lot of Jackie Chan Movies”, “Librarians Would Kill for that Kind of Quiet”, “That’s How What Works”. These songs are haunting in their stark beauty as a noisy interplay between guitarists Ryan Willems and Gray is ideally balanced buy the yeoman work of drummer David Bell and bassist Kenny Jewett. Dikembe certainly incorporate punk elements into their sound, but there is much more than three chords and yelping happening here. Despite the fact that Broad Shoulders is only Dikembe’s second record, the band displays a remarkable sense of bravery in terms of their willingness to travel musically rustic paths. The songs here make the listener think and work a bit-this is not ear candy-and the result is a record with a breadth of emotion.

RESTORATIONS - “A/B” 7 inch (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

If I am not going to injure myself through a night spent head banging or sweating in a circle pit, bands like Restorations is my next choice for musical enjoyment. Complicated, intricate, and majestically convoluted, the pair of tracks is each a labyrinthine gem of effusive guitar rock. The energy and abandon is tempered by a commitment to jagged and jarring structures. Both pieces bounce with punk-infused qualities while also saluting the finest elements of rule-defying indie rock, particularly the soaring guitar solo that highlights “B”. This single offers two deftly designed songs from a band not easily quantified.

STATE LINES – 7- inch (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

The A side of this EP alone makes this a winner. The loud/quiet structure of “5’s on the Elephant” is instantly identifiable, but the urgency with which it is delivered is less familiar. Long Island’s State Lines may have young members, but they clearly have a maturity that belies their collective age. The speedy, warmly melodic “Plenty of Time” is wonderfully countered by the serrated “Cave In”. Both songs are worthy of high praise and reveal a multi-faceted band that is rapidly finding a unique sound. Distortion, feedback, and passionate vocals make this a highly notable release. This should not be viewed as an act that softens its punk roots with harmonies, but rather, State Lines take harmonious hooks and infuses them with punk energy.

SUPREME COMMANDER - Paper Tigers (Basement Records www.basemenetrecords.com)

Tough guy hardcore with a metal tinge is not new, but doing it with your tongue occasionally in your cheek does help to differentiate your band from thousands of other beat down crews crawling along the seedy bars of America. Supreme Commander do not offer much in terms of new ideas on Paper Tigers, but that is fine if you like what you hear: it is thunderous, heavy on the low end, hardcore that only knows full speed ahead. The intimidating “More Than You Can Chew” kicks the record off with a punishing riff and snarling vocals compliments of Boo. Granted, the majority of the lyrical content involves violence of some sort, either attacking one’s own personal demons (the aforementioned opener), righting wrongs against those who double crossed you (“The Damage Done”, “Slow Burn”, “The Woodshed”), and an good old fashioned break-up song (“Another Day Without You”). However, my appreciation for this act came on “Flip Flops”, a hilarious attack upon hippies and preppies with references to beer pong, bro rape, Jack Johnson tickets, and pounding Jaeger-bombs with dad’s credit card. I believe that if Supreme Commander did more of this they could find a niche in the hardcore game instead of being the second act on the bill at an Agnostic Front show. There is definitely something to celebrate here, and I hope Supreme Commander continues to push themselves.




I AM THE HEAT - Endings (www.iamtheheat.com)

The bi-coastal through Brooklyn outfit has quietly existed since 2005, but Endings is my first exposure to their sound. In short, I Am The Heat is a tempest of fun; the three tracks on Endings are brief explosions of garage pop with elements of contemporary indie individualism. Jameson Edwards leads the band through the playful tracks highlighted by “Famous”, a collision of bubblegum sixties pop, kinetic energy, and sardonic lyrics. “Wake Up” encapsulates the band’s ability to craft a memorable hook and the refrain of “shake it up, oh come on baby, shake it” will refuse to leave your brain. One consistent point of interest is the well-placed keyboards in both of the aforementioned songs; the appearances are fleeting, but the subtle bursts of electronic noise gives an edge to songs that otherwise retain an air of infectious, yet safe, pop. The addition of Ava Farber has given I Am The Heat an injection of both new blood and richer harmonies. She and Edwards work in wonderful tandem on the title track, as their buoyancy is undeniable and the musical spark between them is nearly tangible. This is an effort in which three songs are not enough.


JOE McENERNEY - Wild World (http://joemcenerney.bandcamp.com)

Joe McEnerney’s broad smile on the cover of Wild World should act as a beacon for what is found inside, as this has to be some sort of inside joke. Each of the eleven songs sound like a teenager in 1987 experimenting with the pre-programmed beats on his first Casio synthesizer that his mom bought at Radio Shack. I am still unsure if “Next September”, “Half Hollowed Heart”, “Blue Eyes, Brown Hair”, and “Don’t Lose the Nights” are written about the same girl, but regardless of topic, the theme is interminably redundant. On each song, Joe is the nice guy with a few flaws, but he is trying, and yet, nothing seems to work out for the poor kid. The 80’s pop sensibility grows tiresome quite quickly, despite some light-hearted, self-depreciating lyrics. “Clean Up in Aisle Me” is the one keeper of the bunch, and I do like the fact that the opening “Rut” features a Howard Stern reference, but even that sounds dated as McEnerney references “watching the Howard Stern show”. Watching? Like the Channel 9 classic or the E! show? Either way, one fleeting line to a pop culture icon does not a song make. I could simply dismiss this as a guy and a few friends recording a good-natured, if forgettable, record if it was not for one unforgivable misstep: McEnerney has the audacity to apply his 80’s schlock to Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”. This is a nightmare of epic proportions and any future release of this disc should have that song omitted, and McEnerney should send a letter of apology to the Buddy Holly estate. Joe McEnerney is probably a really good guy who is a blast to hang out with, but please, no more music.

THE SCENICS - Dead Man Walks Down Bayview (Dream Tower Records www.dreamtowerrecords.com)

Interesting story here; The Scenics’ history stretches back to 1979, but this is the band’s first fully original product since 1982. A lot has changed over the years (gas averaged around $1.30 a gallon and that was during a rough economy), but original members Ken Badger, Andy Meyers, and Marc Perkell reconvened for a record that is both rooted in the band’s past but also sounds uniquely contemporary. Tracks like the opening “Dark Cave” and “No Sleep” are bouncy odes to the basic foundations of rock that transcend any generation or trends. The band also displays a penchant for winding, intricately played nuggets, such as the folksy “A Fox, Her Fur, and Where She Parks It” and the guitar showcase that is the sprawling “Miami”. Despite their history in the Canadian punk scene, do not expect much in the way of slash and burn fury; rather, the boys have certainly matured into more soft-spoken men on “When You Come Around” and “I Can’t Be Careful”. The dreamy, genteel closer, “The Farmer” encapsulates what The Scenics are now far more than what they once were. It is always a risk to see a band reemerge after such a long hiatus, but the Scenics handle the challenge extraordinarily well. The songs on Dead Man Walks Down Bayview are pop-flavored, guitar-rich anthems deftly delivered by skilled veterans.

SELF-EVIDENT - We Built a Fortress on Short Notice (Doubleplusgood Records wwww.doubleplusgoodrecords.com)

Despite a career that has witnessed the release of five complex, angular slabs of intricate musicianship, Self-Evident is not a band that instantly comes to mind when asked to think of contemporary acts that balance the complicated and the controlled. That inexplicable fact aside, the musical radiance continues on the supremely titled We Built a Fortress on Short Notice, where textured harmonious elements and subtle uses of blunt power make this record intriguing. The opening “Rumors” has a pent-up aggression that seems on the hair-trigger verge of explosion in the vain of Fugazi’s best days, but other tracks drift off into dreamier pastures. “Half Bicycle”, “The Ones That We Live Without”, and the stirring “Cloudless” possess a similar level of intricacy, but the song structure is more reminiscent of acts likes Joan of Arc or Laissez-Fair, generating a sense of unsteady, almost frantic disorientation. These beautiful efforts hover and shroud the listener, embracing without smothering. Conrad Mach’s voice moves from strained, impassioned lyrics of pitch-perfect anguish to labored yelps of frustration; his “get up, get up, this is happening right now” in the concluding moment of “In Cowardice” is chilling and the vocals are truly a weapon of choice throughout the disc. Tom Berg’s bass playing provides heavy propulsion through the record and his backing vocals cannot be overlooked in terms of importance alongside the dexterity of Ben Johnston. Quite often, at least for a person of my limited intellectual scope, any band that is tagged with a “math-rock” label sends me running, but Self-Evident never sounds convoluted. There is certainly undeniable intricacy on each track, but each stop and start and every skittish guitar riff is organic and purposeful. In short, this is worth finding.


BROTHER EYE - Emotional Fingers (Strange Pony Records www.brothereye.bandcamp.com)

If there was ever a band whose music is destined for a truck ad, it is Brother Eye. While listening to the opening “Dry Summer” or “The Wizard”, one can imagine mud spraying across your television screen as some turbo powered pickup has its horse power explained in excruciating detail. However, to their credit, Brother Eye does something that few bands do today, which is play old fashioned rock n’ roll; the type that used to dominate FM radio before that went the way of the phonograph and people began creating sub-genres within sub-genres. There is nothing flashy or challenging on Emotional Fingers, just songs about smoking cigarettes, bad relationships, and getting through life. The nine tracks here range from impassioned anthems (“First Wave”, “River City Showdown”) and blues-inspired pop (“Fall on You”, “I Will”) to fuzzy, guitar-rich efforts (“Barely Watching”). Brother Eye sounds like Cheap Trick if that band had not been ravaged by the 80’s. I prefer to have music rip my head off and then move on, but there is always room for guys who just appreciate a no-frills approach song writing in which two guitars, a steady backbeat, and a harmonic singer come together and eschew any concern about trends. Nothing captures this band’s willingness to avoid the fray of contemporary musical stylings than their choice of a cover version of Wings’ “Jet”; that alone should help define the target audience. However, regardless of age group, Brother Eye is a band that cries out for a few beers and friends, and that is always a concoction for a fun listening experience.

SLIGHTLY STOOPID - Top of the World (www.slightlystoopid.com)

I know people adore Slightly Stoopid and their brand of modern ska, but this just refuses to entice me. This band reminds me of Sublime, and I could not stand that band either. If this is your taste, then Slightly Stoopid does this very well. Musically, the band is quite adept and the adroit balance between harmony and frivolity is impressive, regardless of genre.There are a multitude of fun, light-hearted party songs here, including “Ska Diddy”, “Work” “Marijuana” and “Drink Professionally”. With each of these, one should break out margaritas and Tommy Bahama shirts and just unwind. These efforts are easy on the ears and provide a wonderful bit of escapism, but this is for a very specific audience. If one is not a true devote of ska, slower efforts such as “Deal With Rhythm”, the unassuming “We Don’t Wanna Go” and the somewhat perplexing choice of a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” become taxing quite quickly. Maybe I am no fun, and there is a very good chance that is true, but I can only take a song or two of this at best.

WRECKLESS ERIC and AMY RIGBY - A Working Museum (Southern Domestic Records www.amyrigby.com)

This fascinating combination of Englishman Wreckless Eric and very American Amy Rigby results is a warm collection of uniquely constructed avant-garde pop. While “Rebel Girl, Rebel Girl” and “Days of Jack and Jill” hover delicately due to the airy vocals of Rigby, “The Doubt” is a discombobulated gem of a song that meshes the ethereal with the chaotic as a noisy chorus rumbles in and then inconspicuously departs. “Days of Jack and Jill” has all the elements of a classic 60’s pop sing along with slight variations in tempo and energy along with a rousing hook, while “Genovese Bag” is a more straightforward effort with subtle guitar trickery that becomes increasingly pronounced as the song meanders its way towards its conclusion. The disc seems to become progressively more challenging, as “1983” is a dense slab of blues-fused experimentation, and “Zero to Minus One” has remarkably stark beauty. This is mirrored by the rich harmony heard on “Tropical Fish”, as Eric and Amy’s vocal interplay is riveting. With varied influences and obviously musical dexterity, A Working Museum is a treasure waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive and objective.


HOT PANDA - Go Outside (Mint Records www.mintrecs.com)

Hot Panda continues Mint Records’ proud history of unique pop-punk on Go Outside. Led by Chris Connelly, the songs here are often bouncy and effervescent, but always retain a subtle edge. This may be pop, but there is a tangible angst on “One in the Head, One in the Chest”, “Littered Coins”, and the superlative “Winter Song”. Connelly’s aggressive yet controlled vocals coordinate well with the noisy ebb and flow on “Global Markets” as Meghan Campbell shines on drums, while “Maybe Now?” percolates with an infectious energy also heard on the jubilant title track. Go Outside sounds innocent without sounding naïve, and this is through the leadership of Connelly, but accompanying him are the multi-talented Heath Parsons and Catherine Hiltz, who combine to play instruments ranging from guitar to trumpet and accordion. Their contributions only accentuate already impressive efforts and never sound forced. The speedy, textured “See You All Around” is an inspired piece of supremely crafted pop and one can imagine the smiles on the faces of the members as they produce their din. I have been a fan of Mint since their inception with cub and “cuddle-core”. The label continues to mature but has not lost their appreciation for unique interpretations on pop purity.

RED COLLAR - Welcome Home (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

The story of Red Collar is a tale of four individuals who decided to, in their thirties mind you, commit themselves to a rock and roll dream. Welcome Home is the testament to that aspiration and is a collection of odes to adulthood, the significance of familial ties, and the ramifications of one’s decisions. In short, this is adult music for other adults. As a man even older than the members of Red Collar, I have limitless admiration for their dedication to their craft and the maturity of their songwriting. That said, however, much of this is a little ham-handed in delivery. If one has just discovered Gaslight Anthem or appreciates the harmonies of Jimmy Eat World, songs such as “American Me” and “Fade Into the Night” will put a charge into your minivan as you take the kids to soccer practice, but I am bored and more saddened by some of the preachy qualities of the Depression-era ramblings of “The Old Piano Roll”, the overt attempt at sentimentality on both “This House”, and “Dodge K”, and the laughably transparent “Choices”. The latter deals with a young girl who made, yes, a bad choice and is now pregnant. I find it difficult to take the lyrics “Now you know, they don’t come from storks or Jesus” seriously. Musically, Red Collar is an upper echelon bar band which writes temporarily catchy, albeit well worn, riffs accompanied by impassioned vocals. However, not much of Welcome Home stays with the listener for very long, and the record acts as a wonderful metaphor for the longing for home so often articulated in the collection of songs: you can go home again, but one quickly realizes that the idealized memories in one’s head do not match the world waiting for you and ultimately, disappointment becomes the new reality. Red Collar has the best of intentions, but I hope they did not take out a second mortgage for this band, although their next record could feature songs about interest rates.


STATE FAULTS - Desolate Peaks (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

With a remarkably harsh vocal approach, State Faults may illicit immediate responses of confusion or utter disgust. However, if one gives this act, and namely Jonny Andrew’s harrowing, polyp-generating singing style a chance, there is a gem of a record here. Five of the six tracks on the first side either do not or barely crack the two minute mark, but this is not blurry, indecisive punk fury run amok. Rather, the musical backdrops are majestic in their beauty and are the perfect foil to the raging caterwauling hovering above them. There is remarkable depth to “Sleepwalker”, “Faultlines” and “Wayfarer” despite their brevity. Andrew and Michael Weldon indulge in thrilling guitar warfare as their bombastic riffs intertwine, wrestle, and ultimately emerge as exhausted warriors from a type of bloody hand to hand, six string combat. All the while, Chip Kelley’s bass playing and the drumming of Jared Wallace blend the relentless energy of grindcore with the angular precision of jazz to create a fully unique listening experience. When the band fleshes out ideas in greater detail, such as “Teeth and Bones” and “Hallways”, the result is as exhilarating without becoming redundant. Darkness permeates the record, from the slightly hazy production quality through the lyrics of self-exploration that often revolve around the pain associated with being a human: “My heart’s a haunted home and it’s all I’ve ever known” (“Sleepwalker”) and “These fragile walls I built from falling stars from the weight of every wish that fell on deafened ears” (“Skeletons”) are just two of a litany of poetic, obtuse lines that are simultaneously beautiful and wrenching. Gaunt, challenging, and impassioned in their delivery, State Faults have a fascinating record in Desolate Peaks. This is a band I can imagine acquiring a limited but viciously rabid fan base. I am now among them.

BOY MEETS MACHINE - War Horn (facebook.com/BoyMeetsMachine)

The thirteen songs on War Horn are a baker’s dozen of intricate, delicate pop songs that introduce just enough bombast to stop the affair from becoming too dreamy. The best case is actually the opening, six and half minute “Assisted Suicide Note”. The riff introduces itself and then scurries away, only to return and retreat several times during the track. It is an interesting introduction and frankly is the high water mark of the record in terms of uniqueness. That should not be taken as a slap against the next twelve songs, but because most of them are far briefer in duration, they tend to not allow for the same level of emotional investment as the opener. “Man Behind the Curtain” and “Under Your Bed” are two powerful pieces of bottom heavy pop, while “Piracy” is gleefully buoyant and the closing “An Argument From Incredulity” is intentionally obtuse in both title and musical structure. Some of the works here, notably “Fast Forward to the Future” and “Buildings” are interesting in nature, as they do not adhere to conventional song structures. This is partially an outgrowth of the band’s unapologetically progressive style of playing, but it also reflects a new approach to what defines pop-infused rock. I have a feeling that Boy Meets Machine may garner only a niche audience, for this is a touch too complex for mass approval, and perhaps this is just fine with these guys. There is something to be said for creating something distinctive, and that happens here. The guitar playing is quite intricate and the drumming is wonderfully powerful, and one has to truly focus in order to appreciate it. This is not my style, but for you popsters out there who want something a bit unconventional, this New Jersey via-Alabama-via Georgia outfit could be what you need.

MADBALL - Rebellion (blacknblueproductions.net)

Just as the sun will rise in the east, Madball will always release hardcore delivered in a classic New York tough guy style. There is nothing new or subtle on Rebellion, but true Madball fans will undoubtedly be pleased. However, what makes Madball sound more imposing on this effort is the production of Eric Rutan. I am a huge fan or Rutan both behind the board with acts like Cannibal Corpse and his death metal prowess with Hate Eternal. Rutan’s production style retains the essential raw nature of hardcore, but Rebellion squeezes the listener’s skull and one can almost feel Freddy Cricien’s spit on your face as he barks out the lyrics to “The Beast’, “You Reap What You Sow” and “My Blood”. The guys even pay tribute to their own rich hardcore history by re-recording “Get Out” and the bruising interpretation of The Animals’ “My Life”, both originally appearing on Madball’s 1989 Ball of Destruction EP. For those who have loved this band since the late 80’s, Madball invites you back into the pit. For the kids who were not even on the planet with these guys began beating people up at Agnostic Front shows, pick this up and learn about authentic hardcore.

THE MESS AROUND - Boner Time (Drug Front records www.drugfrontrecords.com)

The Mess Around is the type of band that fans of beer-soaked, gritty rock appreciate: every song here is built around a great riff, steady drumming, and stories that are instantly relatable. Imagine the Ruiners with a few more lessons or the Night Birds if they grew up listening to the Stones instead of Dead Kennedys, and you have the Mess Around. “Shake it on Down”, “Find Me Gone”, and “Answer Me Tonight” are rousing pieces of shimmering rock energy in the purest sense. Completely free from pretension, Boner Time, despite its sophomoric name, is actually a record for adults who value bands with limitless energy and punk spirit, but also understand when to include a nice bit of piano. Vocalist Dave Harrison delivers each syllable with great clarity and enthusiasm, but never pushes himself too far, always allowing fellow guitarist Nick Petropoulos, drummer Greg Libbee, and bassist Mark Wheeler to demonstrate their own talents. With a nice homage to Radio Birdman through the cover “Burn My Eye”, the Mess Around tribute a band with whom they share several attributes. Boner Time is raw and dynamic, an embodiment of what can be produced when four guys get together and craft something honest. No studio tricks, no file sharing through laptops; the Mess Around oozes old fashioned garage enthusiasm. “Stayed Out Too Late” and “Drunken Words” are ideal party songs, even if you are by yourself.

OBEY THE BRAVE - Young Blood (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

Metalcore is a term that has become overused and therefore has developed a negative connotation in some circles. Obey The Brave will help remind people of how the genre should sound. The opening “Lifestyle” is a minute and a half blast of pure 90’s hardcore with a simple message about the purity of music ferociously yelped by Alex Erian, formerly of Despised Icon, a true beast of a band that deserved far more recognition that what it received. Rather than sulking about fame that did not come his way, Erian and John Campbell (ex-Blind Witness) piece together a band that speaks to fans who mosh to Hatebreed as readily as those who spin-kick to Adestria. The band adheres to many of the rules of metalcore, including the mandatory breakdowns on “It Starts Today”, “Time for a Change” and “Live and Learn”, but their musical acumen allows for greater diversity on Young Blood. “Get Real” is a galloping effort whose gang vocals should get the kids storming the stage to grab the mic from Erian’s hands, while “Unstoppable” features a thick groove and a burst of speed that pays reverence to thrash as much as it does contemporary hardcore, and the two divergent elements mesh together perfectly. The thirteen songs here never hang around long enough to wear out their welcome, and I am highly impressed by the intricacy of Obey The Brave. Their influences are obvious, but the end result is well produced, refined slab of angered metalcore that pushes the genre forward into a more mature realm.

RIPFACE INVASION - To Not Give In (Scorpion records www.scorpionrecords.com)

It is rare, but there are occasions when you just know you have a gem in your hands before you press play, and that is the case with Ripface Invasion. Start with the name: Ripface Invasion. What would a “ripface invasion” look like? Who is invading? Do they only rip faces? The cover of the disc is a cartoon of a muscular alien figure wearing a breathing apparatus, firing a laser gun, and holding a dagger with a severed human head affixed to it while stomping on the broken bodies of other victims. At this point, whatever music is contained inside is just gravy. Luckily, the music is as heavy and fun as I hoped it would be. Anthony Paladino, a long time veteran of New Jersey’s hardcore scene rages against lying politicians (“Armchair Politician”), a corrupt society (“To Not Give In”), and indulges in good old fashioned revenge (“The Dominator”). Musically, Ant's guitar work is melodic while unrepentantly heavy, while Tom Conti (bass) and drummer Dan Lockhart anchor a rhythm section that smashes the skull of the listener with the energy of musicians half their age. Ripface Invasion is not a band of subtlety or complexity, but To Not Give In speaks to the power of unadulterated punk tinted with just enough metal elements to awaken the angered and disillusioned fourteen year old that lives inside of us. The refrain of “no compromise” on the title track summarizes the EP perfectly: forget trends or what hipsters are currently touting, get this and rage like it is the first time you heard hardcore.

THE TOADIES - Play. Rock. Music. ( Kirtland Records www.kirtlandrecords.com)

The Toadies are a band that exists in a strange situation in which they are linked to one mega-selling song, the ubiquitous “Possum Kingdom” from 1994, but have to thank that past success because it allows any new music to garner attention. The direct, simple album title reflects the general aesthetics of the record, with the opening “Rattler’s Revival” sounding much edgier and grittier than anything I remember from the Clinton administration era. Vaden Todd Lewis sums up the sentiment of many bands on “Summer of the Strange” when he barks “give me back control!” for it is an frustrated yelp of aggravation and perhaps fear, wondering if he will only be remembered for a song that dotted the landscape nearly two decades ago and a band name known to people under thirty through Guitar Hero II. To their credit, the Toadies do not completely abandon their love of warm pop hooks, as “Beside You” indicates, but this is a collection of songs from weathered performers who sound reinvigorated and determined to reintroduce earnest rock to the masses. It is very easy but horribly short-sighted and unfairly dismissive to simply view this as a band attempting to cash in on nostalgia (i.e the Everclear/Sugar Ray summer tour….ugh), for this is better than what the Toadies were producing during their “golden years” of mid-90’s. The bluesy, sinewy “Animals” conveys a sexuality over a riff reminiscent of “I Come from the Water”, while “Laments of a Good Man” features vocal tricks that are strangely intriguing before the songs slows to a molasses crawl for the droning chorus and a premature ending. It is a bold experimental step that deviates from the more straightforward elements one finds on the ten other tracks. Not everything here works, as the quiet closer “The Appeal” is a let-down, but Play.Rock.Music. strikes me as an act of emancipation for the Toadies as the members allow themselves to have fun and play traditional rock fare with the type of abandon that comes with experience and confidence, best heard on the possible live staple, “We Burned the City Down”. The Toadies do more than bring back memories here; they actually forge a new phase in their career.

VERSUS THE WORLD - Drink.Sing.Live.Love. (Viking Funeral Records www.vikingfuneralrecords.com)

With a line up featuring a collection of punk veterans, notably Mike Davenport of The Ataris and Chris Flippin of the woefully underappreciated Lagwagon, Versus the World plays an easily palatable style of punk-pop. Nothing on Drink.Sing.Live.Love. is dislikable, but there are not many truly memorable moments either. Perhaps it is the production, as the record is mixed by Ian MacGregor, a man with Katy Perry on his resume, but the songs follow a standard blueprint for this genre. The vocals are clean and harmonious, the guitar playing is full of melody, and the low end is present but not overwhelming. “Mason Grace” and “A Fond Farewell” are soaring tracks, but after they depart, there is no desire to hit repeat and check them out a second time. As one reaches “A Love Song for Amsterdam” and “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”, the formula is easily predictable. I understand that it is exceedingly difficult to shape shift punk-pop, and each member of Versus the World is accomplished, the final tally here is just another record that will connect with some, but does not have any real uniqueness to help separate it from the ocean of acts like this. Crunchier, noisier elements could help this, and there are brief glimpses of this, such as the more aggressive “Donner Pass”, as the band ratchets up the intensity while still holding fast to their pop foundation,. I have nothing against this band or this record; if you still cannot get enough pop-oriented, slickly produced punk in your life, this is better than most. However, for my money, that still is not saying too much.

ZULUS (Aagoo Records www.aagoo.com)

Mesmerizing, off-putting, and oddly exhilarating, Zulus create music that is an amalgamation of punk aesthesis, heavy distortion, and fleeting moments of spacious beauty. Daniel Martens and Aleksander Prechtl left the West Coast and moved to Brooklyn over a year ago where they altered, but certainly did not fully surrender, their hardcore heritage and now create noisy, experimental guitar rock with just a few pop touches buried within the haze, such as the closing racket of “Death in the Current”. The vocals fight their way through a fuzzy atmosphere to be manipulated into wildly distorted screams of garbled words, but they are so fascinating that the clarity of the content does not matter. “Surgery”, “To Die in Spain”, and “Blackout” do not even reach two minutes in length, but each are densely packed with atmospheric chaos and genre-shattering performances. The anger is tangible, but the rage explodes into a myriad of raw, animalistic directions. “Kisses” and “Tremolo” are furious and deceptively heavy; the songs are a series of sucker punches that continue to pummel the listener until one collapses as a bloodied pulp. This is what every band should do, but few can muster a level of frenzied, kinetic force as one hears with Zulus. Within the sludge and pummeling low end are songs of intricate brilliance-one has to be immensely gifted to craft a clamor this sophisticated. This is cooler than anything you are listening to right now.

 

 

BELT OF VAPOR - “Buck” (Whoa! Boat Records www.whoaboatrecords.com)

Hailing from the quiet eastern Washington state suburb of Spokane is Belt of Vapor with a rugged, densely structured style of manic rock. The two tracks on “Buck” feature thick, punishing riffs while the vocals of Aaron (only first names given here…I hate that, but I will let it slide because this band is more than cool) hover on the edge of blind fury and are driven by authentic angst. This trio channel boredom and frustration into a pair of abrasive songs that eschew all the trapping normally associated with contemporary rock. Namely, there are no showy solos or elements of computer generated perfection-this is old fashioned, move the amps away from the oil stain in the garage and let’s play kinda rock. The B-side “Genius/Failure” is equally aggressive with a thrilling combination of relentless fury and a sense of harmony. It can often be difficult to gage a band by only two songs, but there is a vast amount of talent here and hopefully Belt of Vapor will be given a chance to spread their brand of anger across the country.

DEATH BY STEAMSHIP - “Facetious” (Whoa! Boat Records www.whoaboatrecords.com)

The opening of this three song EP is shockingly bouncy, but one cannot avoid the post-punk sensibilities buried within, as well as the song’s bitingly sardonic lyrics. While one can interpret “Smoke and Sweat” to be a loving tribute to beer and the radio during a warm summer day, but when Jason Simplot yelps “I wanna smoke and sweat, live life with minimal regrets”, there is something much more complex than a simple summer anthem. A similar aesthetic is heard on “Dirty Venetian Blinds”, for the songs borrows heavily from Margin Walker-era Fugazi as it explodes into a slab of blistering punk before abruptly shifting tempos as it approaches its conclusion which arrives far too quickly. “You Need a Super, Specialized, Specialist” could make a person believe that it is still 1993, and for many of us, that is a great thing. Buried vocals, a chunky bassline, and a burly riff make this one the best of the bunch, and it also features the illuminating lyric: “A conversation doesn’t consist of bitching and moaning and a list of your co-worker’s tits.” The upstart Whoa!Boat label is making an strong impression.

GUNTOWN - “Chaos” (Whoa! Boat Records www.whoaboatrecords.com)

Guntown’s sound is a bit rough around the edges, bit there is an endearing honesty heard on “Chaos”, the first of the trio of efforts on this release. Blending an incensed punk attitude with a few sneaky pop elements, Guntown’s sound is still finding its true voice. However, even the incipient stage of their musical delivery is more interesting than the overwhelming majority of the bands in the world right now. For example, a song titled “Fuck the Days” may not come across as potentially motivational, but that is what happens here. Rather than focusing on nihilism, vocalist Guthrie Allen is moving beyond the loneliness the song details. (“Fuck the days when you open your eyes and no one is by your side.”) The slower, more deliberate pace of “Acid Baby” allows Doug Rose and Matthew Kelly to show off their highly technical skills, as the song oozes dissatisfaction and rage. Woven within this is a strangely jazzy riff that underlies vocals that range from composed to furious but are always compelling. This band has not yet perfected their sound, but their evolution will be highly worthwhile.


 

HAUNTED HEADS (Double Plus Good records www.doubleplusgoodrecords.com)

Haunted Heads is a band that I would safely bet is a riot in a live setting, but they come across as far too poppy and non-threatening on vinyl. The dozen songs on this self-titled release snap and pop with boundless enthusiasm, as if the British Invasion mated with 90's indie pop. In short, the music is cute, fun, and hyperactive, but it also lacks any real punch. Even when a little fuss is kicked up, as on "The Ones Below", the band choses to allow the song to recede back into a quiet cave rather than flesh out its more aggressive nature. Most of what Haunted Heads does could fit on the Simple Machines or SpinArt labels if the year was 1993, and while this is a welcomed departure from much of pop's contemporary fare, "For Esther" and "Seconds Between Frames" just sound like an earnest but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recreate a once celebrated sound. "Ghosts and Devils" is a stronger track that offers promise as the second side dawns, but even here, the Haunted Heads fall back onto a well worn path, and one would never suspect that this was a two guitar line-up. If the 90's marked your birth rather than your coming of age, you may enjoy this; the rest of us cannot believe that we are old enough to know how this story ends.

MOCK (I Love to Hate Records www.ilovetohaterecords.bandcamp.com)

Striving to appease a more sophisticated audience, Mock is a struggle at times for a simpleton like me. However, a record like this is not to be overanalyzed and dissected, but should rather be taken in as part of one extended sitting. Mock's self-tilted record is an eclectic, intricate mass of fascinating musicianship sprawled across a cinematic forty-five minutes. The songs arrive and hover gracefully with the instrumentals, all titled as a series of numerical ordered dots, representing the band's most pristine moments. For a band with its roots in hardcore, the nature of the work is astounding-the record has the fragility of porcelain yet much of Mock's playing simmers with the embers of post-punk energy. Just beneath the surface on "57" is a low rumble ready to explode. The song does not ultimately do so, but the tension created is a momentous achievement. Granted, some of the guitar noodling does become a bit repetitive, but Mock is fiercely committed to formulating music located miles away from the safety of the expected. The ingenuity on "Montreux", "Corners", and "Mind is a Pit of..." is unapologetically complex, with labyrinthian time sequences and convoluted structures. Mock is not an easy listen; this requires total focus and attention to detail; it is the musical equivalent of a highly demanding class-the work is challenging, and there are times when one wants to give up, but once completed, one is a better student and person. Mock speaks to the unconventional and this one will exhaust the listener, but give it a shot.

SICK SICK BIRDS - Gates of Home (Toxic pop Records www.toxicpoprecords.com)

The 90's indie rock revival continues with Baltimore's Sick Sick Birds. Frenzied guitars and vocals submerged in a gloriously noisy mix greets the listener on the opening "Pick and Choose" and do not let up over the course of ten additional songs. The speedy "Marietta" highlights Mike Hall's vocals as he strains his voice above a raucous din, while "Spinning Jenny" has a seething low end groove that makes it my favorite of the bunch. Hall's lyrics are obtuse, as if one enters the story in the middle of the action, uncertain of how the story started but curious about how it will end. The concept of dreams reoccurs throughout the record and there is a frantic intimacy to each son;, the Sick Sick Birds sound like they are playing in your basement, best conveyed on "One Town Over", a scorching rave-up with a surprise ending and "(Cross the) Shipping Lanes", a song dominated by a convulsing fury. Sick Sick Birds return to indie rock roots, but it is not simply jangle by numbers. "Gates of Home" may borrow heavily from pre-Document R.E.M., but with subtle keyboards accenting the rousing guitar work, the song is entirely fresh. Energetic and honest, the Sick Sick Birds will remind you why indie rock is fun.


The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore (Adeline Records)

If you are reading this you should be familiar with Lookout Records, the seminal West Coast label that spawned Green Day and Rancid, along with dozens of bands that did, and continue to, influence American punk. This compilation celebrates Larry Livermore, the founder of Lookout, by giving him a chance to scour the nation for the next wave of exciting bands making exceptional noise. Sixteen acts made the cut and a listen will explain why: Each of the songs possesses a similar energy but retain a distinctive quality. This is a great educational disc for me, as I have only heard the work of one band here, Night Birds, an act I believe to be one of the best in the world, so I know I am in for a fun ride. The adrenaline-fueled Dear Landlord kicks the disc off with “Walking Distance”; a classic slab of two minute punk energy blending harmony and fury. As an admirer of strong women, “We’ll Be OK” from Lipstick Homicide and “One Good Night,” compliments of City Mouse, are among my favorite tracks here, along with the ferocity of “Good Looks” by Emily’s Army, a band that deserves to become a renowned name soon. However, the beauty of this compilation is that one hundred people could listen to it and there would one hundred different favorite songs. The aggressive vocals and furious delivery of The Dopamines (“Business Papers”) nestle up against the less aggressive but equally enthralling House Boat (“Love Song for the Reclusive”) and Vacation (“No Mercy”). One can imagine each of these bands as part of the Lookout family for the blend boundless energy and an unapologetic adherence to the value of harmonies and lyrics that can be poignant or goofy, occasionally at the same time (The Hextails’ “Me and My Dad”). Be My Doppelganger mix and match raw force with a surprisingly buoyancy, while “Mr. Monday” from the aforementioned Night Birds lives up to my self-imposed high expectations as it awards the listener with ninety seconds of their refined surf-tinged wrath. The disc finishes impressively with The Visitors whose melodious song structure on “San Andreas” perfectly encapsulates the collective talents on display here. Jump on the future stars now because someday, one of these bands may end up with a Broadway show of their own.

CINEMA CINEMA - Manic Children and the Slow Aggression (www.cinemacinema.com)

Cinema Cinema may hail from Brooklyn, but their adherence to, and respect for, the classic DC sound is apparent throughout the musical opus Manic Children and the Slow Aggression. Each song fluctuates between untamed explosions of force and refined, nearly pristine pop structures. The juxtaposition of the vicious and delicate makes each track an uncompromising and unabashedly experimental ride. “Cycle and Territories” includes one of the world’s most ferocious riffs off-set by a warmth and intimacy not associated with a band of this nature. The duo’s knack for embracing noise and a penchant for stop/start structures ultimately and fittingly led them to work with Don Zientara, and his legendary repertoire is only enhanced by his production efforts here. Mixing the raw fury of DC hardcore with the smart, artistically-inclined blunt force of Fugazi, Cinema Cinema make bludgeoning sound exquisite throughout Manic Children, ranging from the jarring “Adult Themes” and “Lady Abortion” to the sprawling “Shiner No.3” and “Party”, both of whom clock in over nine minutes but move along as briskly as any three minute pop tune. However, the band does not allow one to grow complacent and expect a formulaic approach to their brand of raw noise-fueled rock angst. The polished “National League Lament” remains composed and unassuming, while “Anesthesia” lulls the listener into safety before unleashing a torrent of guitar force upon the expecting. A significant component of Cinema Cinema’s recognition is a nearly obsessive desire to tour, and this relentless work ethic has allowed them to combine forces with Greg Ginn on multiple stints around our great nation. The band’s association with Ginn is as serendipitous as their affiliation with Zientara, for Cinema Cinema captures the fractured beauty that defines so much of Ginn’s work, both during the latter years of Black Flag and certainly his post-Flag years. The serene intro of “Altamont” slower builds to a chaotic crescendo, but the songs manages to walk a fine line between bombastic and refined. “Day Leash” includes thunderous drumming and well-honed riffs, again demonstrating the band’s clear affinity for solid melodies; they simply allow for a wider berth than most bands within each track in which their more aggressive natures can flourish. We live in an age of compromise and imitation; Cinema Cinema rejects both and we are the beneficiaries of their courage.

FOOD - Three Pieces From Candyland (Phratry Records www.phrartyrecords.com)

This is quite a line-up and the end result is just as one would expect from three truly gifted players. Food (sometimes described as an acronym for “far out old dudes”) includes fIREHOSE’s Ed Crawford on guitar and vocals, Gumball’s Eric Vermillion on bass, and the Cynics’ Mike Quinlan on drums. The trio plays with a loose, uninhibited sense of excitement on “Santa Maria” and “Jesus and Johnny Cash”. Both of these efforts capture the spirit of classic 80’s college radio, with Food sounding like stars of IRS Records. Crawford’s voice is warm and harmonic, but with just enough of an edge to remind one that he is still a punk at heart. The rough and tumble boogie of “Jesus and Johnny Cash” is a grimy, raucous two and a half minute celebration of everything that makes rock great. The closing “You Don’t Know” slows the tempo down a bit, but this only allows for Crawford’s vocals to take on a more earthy quality and give the piece an abundance of raw emotion. The vinyl and downloadable versions of the EP include a bonus track, but if you are lucky enough to find yourself with the CD, enjoy three glorious songs from a band that is hopefully more than just a one-off bit of fun.


THE SCUTCHES - Ten Songs, Ten Years (Bright and Barrow Records www.brightandbarrow.com)

If Joe Queer earned a royalty check for each band spawned by young kids discovering his mighty Queers, his fortune would dwarf the GDP of most nations. Adding to the impressive list of Queers/Screeching Weasel/Riverdales inspired pop-punk is Long Island’s Scutches. Incredibly warm harmonies, touches of surf, and lyrics about broken hearts and the mixed emotions of relationships dominate Ten Songs, and each track seems to become more bubbly and effervescent as the disc progresses. The scathing nature of “Glad You’re Gone” is masked by the joyful tone of the music, while “Weekend Boyfriend” displays a more sensitive and emotionally complex side of the band as it explores the life of a man who wants a more serious commitment; a topic not often explored, ending with forty seconds of piano and hushed vocals. “Together Again” is a modern lyrical interpretation of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice” while “Never Ending Story” invokes “Debra Jean” or dozens of other love-torn tales. One should not expect only efforts that tag at one’s heartstrings, however, for “Full Steam Ahead” and “June 1st” roar with a garage-band level energy and intensity. The Scutches have the courage and self-confidence to also open themselves up to criticism by offering the acoustic “In Dreams” as well as a similarly subdued bonus track. Ten Songs, Ten Years should be a staple of your summer soundtrack. – Rich Quinlan

SKIP THE FOREPLAY - Nightlife (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

If you have ever wondered what Emmure would sound like if they listened to too much B-level dubstep (and who among us has not pondered this), Skip the Foreplay is here to give you the nightmarish result. The songs on Nightlife are a hybrid of traditional metalcore breakdowns, guttural vocals, and cheesy synth. This Frankenstein's monster of a disc is designed to appeal to both the mosh pit and the dance club crowd, but I am sure that both can see through this. "DJ" features effervescent female vocals repeating "I'm in Love with the DJ" while bland stock riffs churn around them. The guys seem to fancy themselves avengers of all potential rape victims out there as they swear revenge upon a "creep" in "Hawaiian Killer" and again in the blatant "Date Rape Predator". All the while I am wondering what Epitaph was thinking with this-I could it could potentially be a short-term money grab, sort of a Bring Me the Horizon or Annotations of an Autopsy; bands that mattered for about ten seconds before their fickle audiences moved on the the next distraction. Any band with a song titled "Dinner with Snooki" should be shunned even if that song is a scant instrumental, but the embarrassingly cliched "Dom Perignon' sounds fresh and inventive next to the pitiful 80's synth that kicks off the band's "anthemic" "This City (We're Taking Over)", a song more musical barren tan the Arabian peninsula. I am happy for the guys in LMFAO as they seem like good kids with a cute sense of humor; however, they are the impetus for this band's success as STF had a viral video (can we kill that term, too, please!) of a cover of "Champaign Showers". However, now that goofy duo is spawning spin-off inspirations like this like the way "Three's Company" gave us "The Ropers". If one is blind drunk, this could be a fun record, but tongue has to be in cheek, beer in hand, and good taste out the window. Yes, skip the foreplay, and make sure you skip this.

BNLX EP #7 (facebook.com/bnlxmusic)

When the opening track of an Ep features the "hella rad punk as fuck" mix of the opening track "See What I See", I am nervous, and BNLX proves me correct. It is safe to expect loud, raucous punk, but instead, one receives bland guitar rock fodder. The riffs on all five pieces, including the clean version of "See What I See", are solid, but generally of the stock variety. BLNX plays a brand of rock that one can hear at any local club on a Thursday night, as "Round the Dial" and "Video Games" are solid but not by any means inspired. Bands like this are why I do not have a facebook account-the last thing I want to see are pictures of these guys or the "friends" who find this interesting. At least in years past, BNLX would have remained an anonymous weekend warrior act playing for a small cut of the door and anything they recorded would not have ended up in my hands or the hands of anyone else outside of their families. So in short, if you know these guys, you may want to own this, but for everyone else, just keep walking.


JIM COLEMAN - Trees (Wax and Wane Records www.jimcolemanmusic.com)

Jim Coleman is a name that lights up the eyes and ears of any devout indie rock aficionado of the 1990's or any kid now young enough to consider that decade a period worthy of exploring. Cop Shoot Cop left an indelible imprint upon those lucky enough to hear them, and Trees will have the same effect, albeit for very different reasons. Trees is a majestic, lush collection of soundscapes that cover images of stunning beauty ("Summer Heat" and "Dawn") to mesmerizing, trace-inducing aural experiments ("Another Place", "Closing") to even disconcerting, sonically oft-putting senses of uncertainty ("Under Current"). One must fully commit to a record like Trees, as the songs are lengthy, deliberate exercises in sound that usually enter and depart on the same graceful note. This is not abrasive in any manner, but rather Coleman generates music that moves around and through the listener, taking the individual on stunningly beauty and serene voyages. Even the simplest of musical gestures resonates vastly on a song such as "Tracks" or the opening "Sideways". With subtle uses of echo and haunting strings and wind instrumentation, perfectly placed female vocals, particularly on "Dawn", compliments of Dawn McCarthy, and Phil Puleo's nuanced percussion, each of the ten tracks here are intriguing and uniquely intense. The atmospheric quality is cinematic in scope; each song seems to slowly unfurl itself before the listener, slowly expanding and receding like a living organism. He leaves enough air within each song to allow the piece to breathe, move at a distinct pace, and provide the listener ample to time to identify and relish each subtle stroke of brilliance. Ambient and challenging without ever becoming monotonous, Trees proves Jim Coleman to be a master of electronic music.

 


HOT WATER MUSIC - Exister (Rise Records www.riserecords.com)

Eight years in between records is a long time so there must have been a great sense of pressure on Hot Water Music to produce something that is both contemporary and innovative without alienating long time fans. Followers of this band, both old fans and new, will undoubtedly enjoy Exister. The band first exploded in 1993 with a brand of intense post-hardcore that was not afraid to implement emotional qualities into their music that gave them a sound that was very different from the indie music of the age. Speaking of age, the four members of Hot Music Water have clearly aged well as the opening “Mainline” is a sonic punch, while “State of Grace” and “Take No Prisoners” are both forceful tracks that are accented by serene guitar playing and infectious choruses. The grittier “Down In it” and the equally coarse “Drag My Body” straddle the line between rage and composure, a balance that has long defined Hot Water Music. The brooding “No End in Sight” meanders at a more deliberate pace but the guitar work carries tangible weight. What is most impressive here is the band’s ability to coagulate harmonious hooks with heartfelt aggression, generating a sound that is both impactful and agile. Exister is more than a pleasant return after an elongated departure; it is a declaration of Hot water Music’s continued importance.


PENNYWISE - All or Nothing (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

Writing a review about a Pennywise album is a tricky proposition because the band is so excellent at what they do. The twelve songs here are classic pieces of Pennywise’s politically astute yet bruising style. All or Nothing does have one notable change-after years with the band, singer Jim Lindberg is gone and replaced by Zoli Teglas. Lesser bands would crumble under the pressure of replacing a singer so instantly identifiable with the band’s sound. However, this is another trait that separates Pennywise from the punk pack. Teglas is a more than venerable replacement as his voice is warm and melodic; a perfect fit for Pennywise’s brand of speedy, harmonic punk. All or Nothing continues the band’s positive stance against life’s struggles, and certainly the members of Pennywise have experienced their fair share. The title track, “Stand Strong”, “Waste Another Day” and “Tomorrow” are rousing, hopeful anthems of strength and resiliency. With soaring choruses, memorable riffs of Fletcher Dragge, and the hermetically sealed rhythm section of Randy Bradbury and Byron Mcmakin, Pennywise proves that after nearly a quarter of a century, their brand of punk is still fresh and powerful. “Let Us Hear Your Voice” (“Let’s hear your voice or you won’t have a choice/ haven’t we had enough today/ Rebellion’s on ice and we’ll pay the price/ Don’t let our freedoms fade away”), “Songs of Sorrow (“We’ll never up/ We’ll give in) and “X Generation” (“the problems of the past are coming fast but we’ll keep coming strong”) are songs of unity and camaraderie; calls to action rather than complaints and curmudgeonly apathy. This is the band that once shouted “fuck authority”, and the angst is still present here on “Seeing Red” and “Revolution”; two songs of furious anger that prove that age does not mellow all. It is highly refreshing to hear punk done like this-intelligent, emotionally charged, and deeply passionate playing from highly talented veterans who have perfected a sound that few bands will equal.

 

 

VERTACYN ARC MATERIALIZER - That’s a Negative on the Leapfrog, Captain America (www.10gevrecords.com)

One is hard pressed to dig up much information about Vertacyn Arc Materializer, which is saying something in today’s landscape. I could not find a Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, or even a MySpace account, which is fine because these guys do not come across as the type who update their statuses regularly or send birthday wishes to a virtual friend with a winking smiley face emoticon. From the bizarre opening 38 seconds of “Stealing Office Supplies” through the equally challenging one minute and 22 seconds of the closing “Nothing Much Happens in the Verse”, That’s a Negative on the Leapfrog, Captain America is a bizarre, poppy, trippy, effervescence jaunt of a record. The band adheres to no singular musical view, as they liberally implement ideas ranging from thick funk bass and bluesy, piano-driven rock to noisy soundscapes. There are moments of relative mainstream formula, namely “She Gotta Strange Kinda Auto Reaction”, and the awkwardly Stones-ish “CB’s”, but the hiss and feedback of “Wider Eye Glim” or the eerily subdued “The Twin” quickly eradicates any attempt at a traditional indie record. “Idiot I” is thirty-four seconds of country twiddling’ fun, while the dark “I Said Dig” appears overwhelmingly menacing by comparison. Vertacyn Arc Materializer is not hoping to entertain the masses; this band simply wants to find a few misanthropic souls who enjoy being consistently forced to think on their feet.

CHUMPS (Forge Records www.forgerecods.com)

Chumps are four guys who clearly love the nastier, grittier aspects of the world around us and channel this through music. The opening "Shivist" is a snarling, sewer-dwelling nugget of a song; a rough and tumble introduction to this band. "Julius" bashes and punches its way through a burly guitar riff, vocals spat out with tangible disgust, and rattling drums. What stops this band from becoming just another noisy punk band is their relentless devotion to awkward time signatures and start/stop unpredictability. "Lupo" is thunderous and bombastic but eerily controlled. One waits for the song to completely blow itself apart, but the madness never arrives. Instead, the guys construct a dark tale of suffering with pained vocals and fuzzy guitars. A haze hangs over this song and his unsettling nature is apparent throughout the record. The thick bass that opens "Dirt" kicks off a blistering second side of pummeling dirges that simply assault the listener with sweat-soaked intensity. "Cop Shot" and "HLLWN" roar with the cacophonous sensibility of Unsane or Jesus Lizard, while "Black" is a thunderous wall of sound. Chumps do not adhere to any one style but are rather an amalgamation of various feelings of discontent and pessimism, making for a band living somewhere between angular post punk and furiously dark guitar rock.

JOY AS A TOY - Dead As a Dodo (Cheap Satanism records www.cheapsatanism.com)

Within the opening minutes of Dead as A Dodo's opening instrumental track, there is a shrill, piercing shriek that splits the air with a sense of terror while samples fight each other to the death in an effort to be heard in the midst of this discombobulated aural stew. The song is messy, disconcerting, violent, and still precise. In short, it is a perfect summation of Joy As a Toy. These brilliant maniacs unleash ten examples of how noise, loops, synths, and free verse lyrics can coexist in a mystical concoction of challenging genius. "Mechanical Love" speaks of "a shiny UFO landing in my garden, female creature standing ahead." While it may be the start of a wonderful fantasy about sex with a futuristic, alien robot, in the hands of Joy As a Toy, one assumes the narrator will be killed or at least maimed. Unavoidable darkness and a sense of foreboding permeates this disc in a deliciously intimidating manner. Such is the truth on "Subway to Your Brain", a story in which the speaker describes how "any man can kill." Floating somewhere between watching a Fellini film after smoking tainted weed and losing yourself in a pleasant daydream, the boundaries between the real and fantastical are routinely blurred. "Zombie Safari" includes a riff suited for a 60's spy flick with lyrics like "women are much fun to kill, men need a poison pill". The highly mechanized bounce of "Love Zombie" is unapologetically infectious and one does not tire of it, even after nearly six minutes. Joy As A Toy takes well worn topics such as zombies and robots and makes them refreshingly terrifying, and one has to love any record with an instrumental titled "Only the Mother Shot in the Head". This is not an easy listen, and while the music here is not as abrasive or menacing as some of their previous work, Joy As a Toy still uses experimental song structures to formulate a record of both serene calm and off-putting musical vertigo. Fascinating work for those who appreciate a challenge.

LOST IN THE TREES - A Church That Fits Our Needs (Trekky Records www.lostinthetrees.com)

The haunting beauty of A Church That Fits Our Needs reflects the tragic impetus for its music. Ari Picker, the leader of Lost in the Trees lost his mother to suicide in 2009, and that indescribably painful moment inspired such remarkably delicate and stirring works as "Red" and "This Dead Bird is Beautiful". Using a bird as a metaphor in each, Picker's etherial voice is chillingly powerful when he emotes with soul-wrenching passion "brittle little bird, spread your dark and golden wings" on the former and "there are no walls in heaven, a golden armored sky will carry her, but I'll always have her eyes" on the latter. The songs envelop the listener, creating music so intimate that one almost feels as if one is invading Picker's personal space, like an outsider looking in on a family's torment. Such an ernest and unabashedly open record is rarely crafted, and Picker must be celebrated for having the courage to channel loss into such a majestic product. Soaring voices and symphonic strings accompany Picker's own lush vocals on "Garden", while "Icy River" is structured like a hymn; a profound work of emotional depth with an eternal sense of hope: "Don't you ever dare think she was weak-hearted, she led me to the woods where our church was started." Each of the songs are overwhelmingly beautiful, a gorgeous testament to a woman who was clearly an inspiration to her son, and he recreates her spirit without even a moment of rancor or questioning. Instead, Picker accepts the event with a remarkable composure and his words resonate with anyone who has lost someone before their time. He defends his mother, celebrates all that she was, and does so with articulation that allows the listener to know her and appreciate what she meant and the artistic beauty she possessed. As Picker describes how "a golden angel is floating past my mirror" during "Villain (I'll Stick Around)" or his assertion that "you gave me the strength to carry my weak body from the shore to the boat" on "An Artist's Song", he composes soul music in its most literal sense. I must admit, in full disclosure, that I broke down several times while listening to this as I read along with the lyrics, a reaction no other collection of songs has ever brought me in my nearly forty years on this planet. This is simply staggering in its beauty and the touching, breadth of its emotional range. All of this occurs while equally talented musicians accompany Picker to create songs with complex structures and sweeping waves of classical instrumentation. The result is a magnificent tableau of emotion that is transformative in its scope and style.

DUNEBUGGY (Little Black Cloud Records www.littleblackcloudrecords.com)

This one takes me back, born the year I entered college, 1991. Dunebuggy is the epitome of underappreciated 90’s indie rock. The band truly solidified in 1993 with guitarist/vocalist Jon Procopio and drummer Keith Renna adding bassist Michael Reilly into the mix and the trio became a indie power pop force that shared stages with some of the decades coolest acts, including Archers of Loaf, Blonde Redhead, and Apples in Stereo and even released two 7” singles on one of my favorite labels, SpinArt Records. However, this personal trip down memory land would mean nothing if the songs were not any good and this collection of never before released material illustrates the mastery of the pop hook these guys commanded and for which they deserved more acclaim. The opening “Humdinger” reflects Dunebuggy’s initial influences, namely the Lemonheads and the less abrasive aspects of the Pixies. As the disc progresses, “Green Eisenhower” and “Chump Change” are ethereal, beautiful pop with jangly guitar playing, melodic choruses, and a pristine euphoria that many contemporary indie acts lack. The songs seem to burst forth with youthful excitement as “Bucket”, “Pelican” and “White Chocolate” are brimming with energy but not fury; the guys in Dunebuggy invoke the quirky fun of The Feelies and craft lyrics that do not always mirror the buoyancy of their playing. This is a contrast I always enjoy, the juxtaposition of melancholy lyrics with blissful playing. “Preserves” is one such track and it is highlighted by the presence of Tracy Wilson from Dahlia Seed, a band I remember loving but have not thought about in forever, while the closer “Pediddle” begins as a meandering effort before returning to the band’s penchant for warm hooks after adding a classic features the age, namely a wave of feedback. If you are of a certain age and remember going to VFW halls and buying t-shirts out of the back of a band’s van, get this and reminisce about a time when indie rock was limitless in scope and yet to be marketed and corrupted.


FOR OUR LIFETIME - Have You Lived? (www.facebook.com/forourlifetimemusic)

Screaming teenage girls of the world unite! The One Direction of punk-pop has finally arrived, and it comes in the form of New Jersey outfit For Our Lifetime. Those of you with hyperglycemia may want to avoid this at all costs because the sugar content of “Put Up or Shut Up”, “Verbal Carousel”, and “Oh’s Make Ex’s” may just kill you…if you are lucky. Saccharine coated “punk” has been around nearly forever and frankly, there is nothing wrong with it and it does serve a purpose; not my purpose mind you, but I know it makes the kids happy. However, one would have to be fairly new to the world to not recognize the formulaic quality of this band. The serene tranquility of “Sympathy is Overrated” is accentuated by female vocals in a futile effort to give the song greater emotional depth and maturity, while “Last Action Hero” features a heavy breakdown and even “scary” vocals that I guess are there so the guys who are dragged to this show can form a circle pit for twenty-five seconds. For Our Lifetime are not poor musicians, as the riffs here can be catchy, but the work is so banal that no song resonates when it is completed; in fact one loses interest before the second verse in most cases. This is clearly designed for the lonely, brooding-in-study-hall crowd, for none of the songs hit four minutes, as they revolve around how life is confusing and the empowering nature of friends can get you through it all. If you have a short attention span or simply do not know any better, enjoy For Our Lifetime.


THE SUN THE MOON THE STARS - Mind Reader (www. theblacknumbers.com)

There are bands to whom you listen when you are out for a lighthearted night with friends, and then there are bands who are the soundtrack to a night of drunken, hazy, debauchery which concludes with waking up in the morning to discover the tips of your fingers mysteriously burned, your money gone, and your entire body aching. The Sun the Moon the Stars is the band for the latter. Somehow four guys from Jersey channeled the spirit of Bon Scott and the filthy soul of Birmingham, England circa 1970 to create a masterpiece of menacing, thick guitar force and soaring vocals. This six song release does not have a wasted moment, as “Moon Crazy” and “Protostar” roar with relentless energy, combining the best elements of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple with more contemporary acts like High on Fire or Orange Goblin. This is a guitar lovers dream; from the opening second of “Red Horn Crown”, The Sun the Moon the Stars overwhelm the listener bombastic force. Matthew Dwyer screams, yelps, and howls in a style that would please even the most jaded of metalheads, while he and fellow guitarist Joe Ott shift tempos and shimmy between sludgy dirges and furious riffs, quite often within the same song as ”Flesh of the Gods” and “Sand and Stone” prove. However, the low end of bassist Bird and drummer Ian Mullen are equally essential to this band’s staggering power, and the nine minute closer “Firefly, You Shine” is a freight train of an anthem; a rumbling wave of force that incorporates stoner metal aesthetics alongside galloping flashes of speed and intimidating vocals. Give your life meaning and find this!

THE WINDOWSILL (Monster Zero records www.monsterzero.nl)

I do not know much about the Netherlands, but if the Windowsill is any indication of the tenor and general personality of the place, it must be one happy country. This self-titled release offers a dozen songs about girls, loves won and lost, and more girls, usually set to a sickly-sweet riff and power-pop structure. This could be your soundtrack if you are brand new to a relationship and the world seems great, but you are truly in luck if your relationship has just collapsed and the walls are closing in. Somehow the Windowsill addresses both scenarios with equally infectious bursts of energy and are just as bouncy whether times are good or bad. Most of the lyrics involve the pronouns “you” and “she”, and are firmly entrenched in the worlds of happiness and pain created by allowing women into one’s life. Occasionally, the songs are sweet and romantic (“Forever Hold On”, “South of France”), while others are tear-jerkers (“She Wasn’t Lying”, No Destination”, “Stuck on Zero”, “One of Those Nights”). Granted, Screeching Weasel, The Riverdales, or dozens of other bands do this far better than the Windowsill, but if you are looking to tell your friends that you are into Queers-inspired punk-pop from the Netherlands, you have a band. That mildly interesting geographical footnote aside, you have heard this a billion times before and more authentically, so go put on Love Songs for the Retarded again and have another beer.

BORN WITHOUT BONES - Say Hello (Animal Style Recordings www.animalstylerecordings.com)

Born Without Bones has an interesting back-story and Say Hello is a record that is equally unique. The band began exclusively as a solo project for a precocious teenager named Scott Ayotte. Say Hello includes lyrics that date back to this twenty-year-old’s sophomore year of high school. Taking a painstaking four years to record, Say Hello is multi-layered collection of songs that are steeped in punk-pop but cannot be pigeon-holed solely as such. Granted, much of the first side, including the opening title track, “Falling Asleep”, and “Consider This” bounce with an energy that can only attributed to a person of Ayotte’s youth and enthusiasm. Supported by guitarist Ian Opijnen, Jim Creighton on bass, and drummer Pat Murphy (Ayotte originally played all the instruments on the initial recordings of these tracks), these songs crackle with infectious harmonies and riffs that honor the style of pop-infused punk without becoming overly sugar-coated or too predictable. Taking Ramones-style energy and softening the edges is by no means a new concept, but Born Without Bones do it well. What truly grabs one’s interest is the dramatic shift in tone taken by songs “You” and “Arachnophobia”; two serene, lush songs that do away with guitars and allow piano, strings, and Ayotte’s pained yet soulful voice to take the listener through tales of a deeply personal nature. The fading “woah-oh’s” that drift away like apparitions at the conclusion of “The Camera Toms” are chilling and epitomize the beauty and genteel nature of the majority of the second side. Supremely well recoded, this is a testament that dedication to one’s passion can pay off in the end.

CURSIVE - I Am Gemini (Saddle Creek www.Saddle-Creek.com)

Oh no…a concept album. As a rule, I hate concept albums and this one has me particularly nervous; two brothers, Cassius and Pollack, are separated at birth and ultimately find themselves living together in the same house which acts a metaphor for a clash of good against evil. I am not the brightest guy on the planet, but I struggle to believe that one premise can be articulated over thirteen songs. Luckily, this is Cursive, a band I have long enjoyed and therefore can brush aside the clichéd allegory of an angel and a devil battling each other. In this case, the aforementioned brothers work their back into each other’s lives after years apart. Tim Kasher is a dazzling linguist with an ability to capture simple images in rousing language; this skill help to remedy the far-fetched plot line of I Am Gemini. “This House Alive” opens with haunting keys before morphing into a thunderous wall of noise. This is the pervasive tone of the record-it is loud; far louder than previous Cursive discs. Even when the band takes their collective foot off the pedal during the middle section of the title track, or the musically playful “The Cat and Mouse”, they rapidly shift into a more bombastic gear. “Drunken Birds” and “This House is a Lie” are examples of a darker, menacing nature highlighted by Kasher and Ted Stevens’ truculent guitar work. If you enjoy dissecting a disc as if it was a work of literature, enjoy the somewhat convoluted scheme of I Am Gemini. However, if you are more attracted to powerful guitar work, rousing rhythms, and sharp musicianship, feel free to eschew the hyperbole of the language and dig what Cursive is doing with their return.

BRIAN McGEE - The Taking or The Leaving (www.brianmcgeemusic.com)

With a deep Southern swagger and just enough of a devil may care attitude, Brian McGee offers a unique twist to the idea of traditional American music. The honky-tonks will be rockin’ to “Driving Horses” and “Graveyard Fields”, while Springsteen and Petty fans will undoubtedly devour “First Kiss” and “Hold Sway”, the latter dripping in aesthetics combing Southern barbecue and Westward expansion. This is not music to which I am usually drawn, but McGee holds one’s attention with wonderful skills as a raconteur and a smooth vocal delivery. He moves effortlessly between rambunctious fun and solemn introspection, taking you either into the party or into his head with equal aplomb. “Let’s Bleed” is designed for the back room of a smoke filled bar (if there are any left…if you can smoke in a bar somewhere, let this album be playing), as the song oozes Stones’ grittiness when they were still hung up on Bayou blues. McGee’s soaring vocals carry the disc with a combination of twangy, down-home authenticity and painfully exposed emotional examination, whether on the opening country rock slide guitar of “Cortona”, the kinetic energy from the rockabilly fire of “Walking Back to Love”, or the somber “The Great Unknown” which breaks your heart with it’s deft recalling of a relationship crumbling under its own weight. The closing, seven minute epic ”When My Time Comes” seems to hover, gently meandering through the air as McGee’s vocal convey a emotion that is palpable. The song is gorgeous piece of intensity delivered with a marvelous composure. It is a perfect closer to an album that revolves around articulate storytelling and unfiltered integrity.


PENTIMENTO/YOUNG ENGLISH Split EP (Panic Records www.panicrecords.com)

As a newcomer to both of these acts, I quickly gain an appreciation for why these bands would share a release; both play with tangible passion and energy, and while their styles demonstrate subtle differences, Pentimento and Young English reflect a new wave of emotionally charged guitar rock. Obviously, there are legions of bands like both of these acts, but that should not stop anyone from investigating this. Pentimento is a touch louder and slightly fiercer than their counterparts. “No Apology” and “The Bridge” both work themselves into dark, incensed torrents of force highlighted by the vocals of Jeremiah Pauly. Sharing guitar responsibilities as well, he delivers each line powerfully and forcefully but never simply screams. He is a fuming figure and a perfect frontman for this band who made “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most” by Dashboard Confessional so rousing that even die-hard Dashboard fans, who may see any cover as blasphemy, will undoubtedly melt into this. Young English are by no means subdued, but their playing does not seem as consistently harrowing as Pentimento, the one exception coming in the form of “Old Wives Tales”. Seething from beginning until conclusion, the track is a tempest of a song revealing the band’s ability to shift tempos with fearless ease. “So Long, Connecticut” still gallops at a quick pace, but has a polished sheen that Pentimento seems to shun more regularly. However, to Young English’s credit, they take on Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and make that song interesting. That alone is a stunning achievement, and a bold undertaking. Both acts here have a shared musical vision and they do it well; the uniformity of this disc could also manifest in a great touring pairing I would think, and I can almost hear the girls screaming now.

FIST FIGHT IN THE PARKING LOT (Innervenus Records www.innervenus.org)

The name of this act is fitting considering the brand of bruising, coarse, sludge rock churned out on their debut. This disc is a thick mass of guitar power, mixing and matching the heaviness of St.Vitus with the animosity of contemporary Corrosion of Conformity. This Pittsburgh-area four piece is a tough as the region from which they hail, but this is not simply punches to the face. I am extremely impressed with the originality and fluidity of these tracks; lesser bands would fall into a trap in which one song is indistinguishable from the next, but that is anything but the case here. The closing “Blue Jesus” slows the tempo down and lessens the fury but intensifies the intimacy, compliments of Abby Krizner’s majestic vocal range. Easily moving from seething to sensual, Krizner is the centerpiece of a band that is perfectly balanced. Accompanying her on guitar is Jason Sichi (also credited for “handclaps”…good for you, Jason) and his playing is an amalgamation of control and careful attention to the art of a great riff. To that end, catchy riffs abound here, from the opening doom of “S&M” to the fierce Sabbath worship of “The Lone Gunman” and “Dr. Ugula”. The band seems to tour sporactically and largely within the Western Pennsylvania/Ohio area; hopefully they can put something more extensive together, for this is a band that should be well beyond local watering holes.

NIGHTLIGHTS - So It Goes (Eulogy Records www.eulogyrecordings.com)

Upon a cursory glance, Nightlights may come across as a tongue in cheek act due to song titles such as ”That John Denver is Full of Shit!”, “Laces Out, Dan!”, “Truffle Shuffle”, and “Party Hardy Marty”. However, looks are indeed deceiving as the members of Nightlights are anything but lighthearted and goofy. Matt Messore’s vocals are equal parts angry yelp and impassioned plea. “When You Grow Up Your Heart Dies” is a powerful declaration of loss and perplexity that strikes the listener on a purely visceral level. (“What will you do when you’ve got no where left to go?”) Many of the tracks start innocuously before exploding into complex bursts of inspired force. The band gives the listener a bit of a breather with the instrumental “There’s Something in Nothing” arriving at the mid-point of the disc. While each member of the band is highly competent, (Alexx Klepper on bass, drummer Jake Kneer, and second guitarist Joe Rigano) Messore is the star-every syllable he utters is done so with indefinable passion and commands respect. “Obviously You’re Not a Golfer” and “Good Morning Mr. Breakfast” are two such songs that sound as if he singing to save his life, or possibly his sanity. Like a man exorcising nameless demons, he bellows “No matter where we go, there’s always something in the way.” This is not a whine of complaint, but a statement verbalized bluntly and unapologetically, a delivery one also hears on the closing “Party Hardy Marty”. The aforementioned “Laces Out, Dan!” is among the most aggressive of the ten songs, while “Think They Show Speed Racer Here?” celebrates the band’s ability to generate more subtle harmonies. Nightlights is a rare band that produces a style of music that is both somehow familiar and refreshing original.


TOTAL CHAOS - Battered and Smashed (Stomp Records www.stomprecords.com)

Total Chaos is a band that can rightfully call itself punk rock and mean it. There is no miscellaneous tag added here-just searing guitar work, biting, intelligent lyrics, and an unrepentant attitude that embodies all the term punk truly means. As per usual, Total Chaos does not obscure their political views, as “Total Massacre”, “Wake Up, America”, and “Social Crimes” indicate. However, the band is not above having fun, and they interject a less stern sensibility into “Do the Tony” and “Du Siehst Scheisse Aus (You Look Like Shit)”; two unexpectedly jocular efforts. My favorite of the disc remain the angrier, more socially conscious pieces, particularly “Political Repression” and “Social Crimes”. These songs are fast, astute, and place two barrels squarely between the eyes of the apathetic soul of this country, perfectly encapsulating the disc’s title. The world will always need bands like Total Chaos and fortunately, even after two decades, nothing seems to have dampened the enthusiasm, fury, and precision with which this band plays.


4 Way Split EP (Black Numbers records
www.theblacknumbers.com)

This split release is available on three different colors of vinyl, and limited to a scant 500 copies so get on this quickly. Sadly for me, I received a digital copy and mourn not holding a red, green, or clear slab of vinyl in my hands. Aside from making me feel old, these four acts have a style to appeal to wide array of fans. Grey Area is my favorite of the bunch as they play incredibly speedy yet wonderfully catchy punk. This brand is not normally my drink of choice but “Bad Anything” hits with limitless energy and I detect a Bouncing Souls influence, and that is always a positive trait. Philadelphia’s Luther play more polished style, with “Sixty-One” smacking a bit of mid-90’s alterna-pop. While the band is well produced and highly skilled players, their sound is simply too slick for my taste, although the low end on “The Door is a Penthouse” is impressive. Less polished in nature is Reveling. They make a solid attempt at hardcore but come up a bit short-“It’s Time to Ride” is rugged but still needs an infusion of intensity. Lastly, the Copyrights are in a camp similar to that of Grey Area. Both tracks here are speedy and harmonious, particularly “The New Frontier”. I give this act credit for taking on a very cool Scared of Chaka cover, offering “Straight to the Office”. In the end, I am fifty percent sold on this one, with Copyrights and Grey Area as my two winners. Black Numbers should be applauded for exposing these acts and their different approaches to playing, however.


 

ASPIGA/HANALEI Split 7-inch (www.jumpstartrecords.com)

This is an interesting release from Jump Start for it pairs two seemingly unrelated acts, but the end result is quite positive. Collingswood, New Jersey’s Aspiga are a fun listen. The trio provides two blasts of kinetic pop-punk, but does so in a more rugged than expected fashion. Guitarist’s Kevin Day’s earthy vocals give both “I’m Laughing This Off” and “Thanks, but I Can Throw Myself Out” a little grit usually missing from bands of this style. Bassist Alex McVey and drummer Ray Solowij accompany day and the guys collectively avoid any long instrumentation or solos, allowing the lyrics of hope and sorrow to take center stage. This is a fun listen, and these guys are well produced, professional, and talented. My only fear is that there is just so much of this out in the world right now; I hope they can fight their way through the minutia and find the right promotion.

Hanalei is a very different type of band from their counterparts on this release. Led by Brian Moss of The Ghost, Hanalei starts with a gentle acoustic rendition of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Cut Dead”. It is a perfect cover, as the track is delivered with an appropriately tangible sense of foreboding. “Get Gone” is a more traditional rock track with a nice mix of raw energy and refined playing. Moss has recently moved from Chicago to the West Coast and Hanalei looks to be his new full-time commitment. Two cool acts for highly different reasons.

VALISE - Dreamcatcher EP (facebook.com/valisemusic)

This four song EP is a celebration of Vince Penick. His voice is a soaring piece of instrumentation in itself. Each of the tracks here features majestic instrumentation. The ethereal performances couple perfectly with the grace and power of Penick’s voice. The title track revolves around a crescendo of drums and guitar interspersed with atmospheric moments of gentle beauty. A similar structure is found on “Heartbeat”, a gripping piece of bold musicianship that moves seamlessly between serene vocals and rousing melodies. Valise creates a sense of haunting intrigue with their music, reminiscent of how I felt as a young kid listening to very early Cure of Echo and the Bunnymen for the first time. This is a marvelously produced record, with credit due largely to Aaron Marsh, highlighted by “Chains”, a song of profound intricacy. Each symbol crash and guitar riff cuts through you due to the biting production. The closing “Scary in the Dark” is a more pop-oriented track, but its numerous layers offer a complexity beyond the realm of most pop songs. The juxtaposition of tranquil beauty and indefinable portentousness makes this a stirring listen. This is a beautifully constructed EP for a band who clearly should be watched in the months and years to come.

 

SONIC AVENUES - Television Youth (Dirtnap Records www.dirtnaprecs.com)

There much to like concerning the reckless, youthful abandon with which Sonic Avenues plays. These youngsters from Montréal have all the untamed enthusiasm of a garage band plugging in their amps for the first time. The collection of efforts on Television Youth is bouncy, fuzzy, hook-laden punk with an unabashed pop edge. Imagine the Buzzcocks finding their way on the No Idea label and you have a sense of what this is. However, I appreciate the dirty edge found within several of the efforts that prevents the disc from becoming too cute. Solid guitar work abounds here, but the drumming stands out as exceptional, a lead-footed back beat that provides a foundation for even some of the more light-hearted moments of the disc. Vocalists Max (only first names given, please change for future releases, guys) focuses on loneliness, frustration, and isolation on the title track, “Static Attraction” (Sometimes I feel left alone/ let down in the middle of everyone”), “Always Looking for Something”, and “Waste Away Alone; quite serious topics that are juxtaposed by a jocular energy. This is an act with an impressive sense of who they are as a band, and while they are forging an identifiable sound, the piano found on “OCD Vibes” proves they are also willing to mix it up a little. Very nice start.

GRAHAM REPULSKI - “My Color is Red” 7” (Big School Records www.bigschoolrecords.com)

Graham Repulski is a lot of fun-this mysterious act plays four brief, deliciously lo-fi nuggets of noisy guitar and vocals that sound as if they are fighting for air. If you find yourself dancing perilously close to the cliff of 40, or if you have already fallen off, you may remember a time when acts of this ilk were everywhere, usually through record labels releasing limited pressings with a bedroom as the operating center. This bring me back to those days-this red vinyl gem is limited to only 200 copies and the construction of the jacket was done lovingly. There is not much to know but everything to like about the angular “Mommy’s Dreaming”, a song that seems to find traces of pop in the midst of a jagged mess, while “Everyone Likes My Three Dollar Shirt” is a delightful blast of fuzzed-out indie rock that harkens back to a pre-web world, when this band’s status would have spread solely through word of mouth and not through tweets. “My New Reputation” is the only miss here; the raw guitar riff and minimalist vocals are intriguing but the song is over in less than a minute. It is a strange ending, yet fittingly so, for a cool little record.

THE GRAINS - Stone Street (Psychic Volt records www.psychicvolt.com)

Performing a series of songs that dissect the miserable state of the current world without sounding like a nightmarish downer is quite an achievement, and The Grains do it here. Stone Street is ten songs of folk-inspired rock, but there is much more happening here. With flashes of swagger, grit, and power, this Jersey outfit brings an edge to rootsy Americana. “Geraldine” swings with limitless excitement and would have had the ear of Alan Freed, while the dense “Mercenary Pallbearer” is more musically obtuse and includes lyrics that should resonate with nearly everyone, “I can’t believe I can’t afford gas”. The core of the band is a group of five multi-faceted players. Scott Kenney and Mike Regrets lead the way on guitar, while bassist Andrew Edelhauser, drummer Blake Larsen, and keyboardist Dragana Drobnjak warmly envelope them. Accompanying this talented bunch are the Mercenary Horns who, while used sparingly, illuminate each song on which they appear, especially the groove-fueled “Hang On”. The gang vocals of “Beer Cans and Chicken Bones” give the tune a basement show vibe that ideally suits this band, while the guitar squall and energized tempo of “Dreams” can place this band as readily in a dank punk club as a hootenanny, as The Grains continue its harsh critique of contemporary society (“apathetic minds is what passes for evolution”). The ability to move so smoothly between warm, feel good story-telling hymns and rough evaluations of America’s shortcomings without sacrificing polish is remarkably impressive. Treat yourself to this and enjoy.

 

KILL WEALTHY DOWAGER - That’s Bad Ass! (Black Numbers Records www.theblacknumbers.com)

When Bill Henderson says, “I want to bring the danger back”, you believe him. This closing line from the disc opener, “If You want to Know” sets the tone for a record of largely rugged, occasionally atmospheric slabs of old fashioned guitar rock. “Foraging for Wolves,” “What’s Behind Door Number Two?”, and “Cooler Friends Than Us” are brusque, burly pieces of force with Henderson’s soaring voice cascading over it, all in a cacophony of beautiful noise. Meanwhile, the lush “Into Memory (Susan)” and the jazzy “The World has Moved On” balance intensity and guitar trickery exceedingly well, not allowing one element to overwhelm the other. Providing nine songs in just over thirty minutes, Kill Wealthy Dowager do not overstay their collective welcome, and generate intricate songs that eschew musical repetition. In the midst of the fury, each track is given room to breathe; therefore each song is both impactful and fluid. KWD walk a precarious line between post hardcore experimentation and abrasive, blunt force without falling to other side, perhaps but for “I Disappear in the Night.” That aside, KWD create a new hybrid that kicks some new life into indie rock.

NADA SURF - The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk Records www.barsuk.com)

Bands like Nada Surf present an interesting conundrum; it is both inappropriate and incorrect to label them as one hit wonders of the 90’s, despite the public acclaim lauded upon “Popular” and then the seemingly instantaneous return to obscurity. Whether they are firmly affixed to your radar or not, Nada Surf has been hammering away at their craft and The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is a testament to their relentless devotion. Much of the record harkens back to the days of Beavis and Butthead’s first stint on TV, as “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” crackles with a grunge hook, while “Jules and Jim” and “When I was Young” hums gently with so much emotion that one begs for Evan Dando to sing back-up. The overall theme of the disc is the recognition that one is growing older and growing up, and the aforementioned “Young” asks, “What was that world I was dreaming of?” This is not a new query of course, but Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws does not allow maturity to get in the way of a great riff, acknowledging that he can still be “moved to a tear by a subway break dancer, it’s never too late for teenage dreams.” With all apologies to the former Mrs. Russell Brand, this “Teenage Dreams” is a far better song, as it features real musicianship. “Let the Fight do the Fighting” and “Looking Through” address the aging idea with adroit sincerity, as Caws says, “I’m still the same/I still turn the same way to my name/I like it quiet but I really like it loud”. Musically, the disc is largely serene, genteel, and refined. Devoid of much aggression, Nada Surf are not angry about growing up, they are embracing it with an honest acceptance. The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is a strong statement from a band still worthy of the public’s attention.

GOOD LUCK - Without Hesitation (No Idea Records www.noidearecords.com)

Good Luck plays poppy little songs that bounce with an unfiltered kinetic energy and somehow come across as earnest and not the least bit formulaic. Ginger Alfred is out in front of this trio, and her voice soars but never overwhelms any of the songs. “Our Mess, Our Mark” and “A Song to Comfort the Sick” jump out as two of the finer examples of her stirring vocal delivery. The latter has a feeling of a Southern revival, a deeply passionate effort that conveys emotion with each note. Guitarist Matt Tobey, who also contributes piano, clarinet, and backing vocals, shines as a crafter of intricate and angular riffs. There are a few moments when he throws in a bit too fanciful noodling, but he generally has the ability to hold each song together. There is a classic indie rock aura to this record, particularly the opening “All Good People” or “Impossible”, which could sit alongside anything from the golden age of Sebadoh or Tsunami. The soft beauty of “Decider” rises to a stirring crescendo before fading away effortlessly. This is an interesting release from a band with the potential to cross over to a more mainstream audience without sacrificing integrity to do so.


MUSEUM MOUTH - Sexy But Not Happy (www.museummouth.bandcamp.com)

The opening track here, “Goodbye, Evan”, has a vibe akin to Waaves or Surfer Blood along with a brilliant opening lyric: “Maybe I’ll sleep with a thousand men/And when you decide to call me years from now/I’ll tell you about everyone”. The band ratchets up their aggression on the title track and the rough, lo-fi force of “Blood Mountain”. Museum mouth is a unique act as Sexy but Not Happy features the prowess of Kory Urban on bass-heavy works like “Certain Doom” and “I Was a Teenage Paladin”, but can also shift seamlessly to the jangly “Bigger Problems” and “Blood Hammer”. Equally impressive, in my opinion, is how all of this is done with drummer Karl Kuehn handling all vocal responsibilities. Lyrically, the band takes on the sad reality of life, including heartache, loneliness, and the general disappointment that defines being human (“Drinking from a cup made of lead/I feel like I’m better off dead/ or alone drunk at home/ or stoned in my bed” from “Bigger Problems” or “My greatest contribution to the world will be/ To stay out of the way” from “Buzzbrain”). I finish this disc wondering why a label has not snatched this outfit up by now-someone out there must have enough cash they can throw together to get this band a home. I am very impressed.

BEARFOOT - Culture of Fear (http://bearfoot.bandcamp.com)

If you have been wondering where all the good power violence bands have gone, Bearfoot is here to help. This Queens, New York four-piece brings searing energy and a few nimble musical twists to Culture of Fear. Eschewing all subtlety, the band rages through a collection of brief, furious tracks, but I was pleasantly surprised by a few of the chances taken here. This is not simply a young band trying to recreate Scum twenty-five years after the fact; these guys alter tempos and even have a little fun, which is refreshing. Naturally, vocalist Johnny’s lyrics are nearly unintelligible, but his passion cannot be faulted. He is supported by guitarist Shirzay, who demonstrates a level of precision not always associated with this genre. However, no good power violence act survives without a merciless rhythm section, and drummer Dames certainly fills this requirement. The blast beats are copious but never superfluous; there are true song structures here and this is a band that should develop into an impressive unit. While they do not have the same seamless rage as Magrudergrind, Dropdead, or Charles Bronson just yet, Bearfoot is very impressive. Tracks such as “Is Lost”, “Globocop” and “Soul To Take” are bruising slabs of force that alternate between blazing speed and thicker, chugging riffs. “A Cancer” makes one smile as Johnny reads a list of individuals who have killed rock n’ roll, including usual targets like Madonna and Elton John, but he even picks on Huey Lewis and The News. “I Hate Doctors” and “Dogbreath (My Dog Skip)” are blinding in their delivery, particularly the fifteen seconds of the latter. You can download this on the band’s bandcamp site and it is highly worth your time.

CARAVELS - Well Worn (Topshelf Records www.topshelfrecords.bigcartel.com )

Having never listened to the work of Caravels prior to this EP, I am instantly struck by the dense atmosphere generated on the opening “Sagen Genesis”. The song hangs at times like a storm cloud before bursting into an explosion of force. The wave of guitar might of “Beer Pressure” is nearly suffocating, while the listener is violently berated by vocals that sound like the soundtrack to a night terror. Although the vocals dip their collective toe into the world of tired sounding screamo, it works here due to the brusque, obtuse musicianship that defines each effort. Each of the three songs ebb and flow in intensity and volume, but remain consistently impromptu in terms of tempo shifts; nothing about this band is predictable or mundane. I appreciate the dreamy, almost ethereal quality that the band incorporates into “Bone Voyage”, another claustrophobic slab of muscular, blunt trauma. Bands such as Caravels are a niche bands, which is both cool and a shame. On one hand, if one is a true devotee of this act, there will be a small band of followers and the club will feel pretty exclusive. However, Caravels are also skilled players with great dexterity and tremendous musical acumen in terms of understanding how tempo shifts and loud/quiet dynamics can be both riveting and off-putting. For only three songs, there is a tremendous depth here, and I will certainly find their earlier work now.


MISS GUY - Dumb Blonde (www.missguy.net)

Miss Guy is most famous, I hope, for his role as the lead singer of the Toilet Boys. If one was expecting the Toilet Boys’ brand of coarse punk on Dumb Blonde, boy will you be disappointed. In addition to his stint with the Toilet Boys, Miss Guy is also a make-up expert and a highly successful DJ. Dumb Blonde is much more in line with that latter profession; the opening “Don’t Stop” is a gentle, synth-driven pop hit with a shockingly genteel atmosphere. The disc picks up with the title track, but this nugget is accented by keys that provide a little too much polish and not enough abrasion around the edges, even as Miss Guy sings of walking the streets with the same snarl as Iggy did in ‘73. I am shocked by the crispness and egregious pop sensibility that dominates the disc, as “Magic” is shockingly cute in its approach. Somehow, for reasons I will never comprehend, the Toilet Boys’ music has been heard on a multiple MTV shows including such intellectually stimulating gems as Cribs, My Super Sweet 16, and Fraternity Life, which is a disgrace because that band is far too important to be associated with that garbage. Perhaps Miss Guy wants his new material to be associated with MTV as well; possibly in with the Jersey Shore kids before they all either OD or just (hopefully) fade away. Miss Guy has long enjoyed shocking, teasing, and distorting people’s perceptions; maybe this was another example of that. This certainly will not deter my love of all things the Toilet Boys have done or will do, but I guess that is why I love sloppy punk and dingy bars more than synth-pop and hip club parties.

ANTHONY RANERI - New Cathedrals (www.anthonyraneri.com)

For the past decade, Anthony Raneri has made a name for himself as the lead singer of Bayside, and it would be quite safe for him to solely focus on that project alone. However, rather than rely on a typical musical path, Raneri has made that historically difficult decision to step outside of the band structure and release a solo project. While some have done this well, Greg Graffin for example, others have truly suffered a terrible misstep (Kiss, anyone?). Raneri’s five song New Cathedrals may surprise Bayside purists or those too limited in scope to value numerous musical styles, but this is a bold statement for a skilled songwriter. The five songs bounce with energy, swagger with confidence, and reveal stark fears, as Raneri demonstrates tremendous openness as a songwriter, even taking the clichéd title of “Please Don’t Leave” and turning it into a heartfelt, emotionally charged acoustic piece that makes a perfect closing anthem to this EP. The opening duo of “Sandra Partial” and “Charleston” are rollicking, guitar driven anthems that feature soaring vocals and infectious hooks, with the former accented with Raneri’s alt-country twang, and the latter built around a warm piano riff. “I never thought you could re-invent the world by playing shows and writing songs”, Raneri says dryly on Charleston, and while he may not re-invent the world, he is crafting wonderfully articulate and passionate songs. “The Ballad of Bill the Saint” is a classic tale of working man’s strife delivery with raw honesty, as Raneri uses Bill as a metaphor for so many: a man who “has been held done and told what he can do”. “Lead, Follow, Fail” could make its way into a Bayside set, as it springs out of the box with a blast of pure guitar rock energy. The track shifts tempo for a moment to emphasize the seriousness of the song’s massage before returning to its original sugar rush form as it concludes. I have never been a particularly big fan of Bayside, but one need not be to appreciate and enjoy the vast talent on display here.


 

BUILDINGS - Melt Cry Sleep (Double Plus Good Records www.doubleplusgoodrecords.com)

This is a collection of thick, battering force that can shift from kissing you on the cheek to stabbing you in the throat with devastating dexterity. The opening “Rainboat” hurls itself at the listener with pummeling drumming and asphyxiating basslines. Brian Lake’s guitar work and vocals are those of a caged beast; primal, furious, and unpredictable. However, the band is more than tightly wound kinetic energy. “Invocation” includes numerous shifts in tempo and tone, all the while bassist Sayer Payne commands the song as Lake pushes his vocal chords to the brink of evisceration. His angular, aggressive guitar playing make Lake the centerpiece of the trio, but all three members, rounded out by drummer Travis Kuhlman, work in perfect tandem to create a vortex of power on “I Don’t Love My Dog Anymore”. Invoking acts like the Unsane or Jesus Lizard, “Noxema Girl” includes brief interludes of fluid guitar playing interrupted by sonic bursts of force and teeth-rattling bass drops. This is thrilling, punishing, and groove-laden bombardment for those who do not mind their music to sound claustrophobic in nature. “Mishaped Head” moves sporadically from a disturbing amalgamation of yelps and gaunt riffage to moments of dark yet catchy melodies before dissolving again into an oft-putting segment during which Lake screams about shoveling his own shit. The aural dynamics make this a very unique release, as “Strange Sleep” collapses upon itself in a violent display of blunt force fury that does not even reach the two minute mark. “Night Cop” is among the fiercest effort ton the disc; a dissident, gripping dirge that will force people to reevaluate what it means to play heavy music. Go find this.


FAMOUS LAST WORDS -Pick Your Poison EP (www.invoguerecords.com)

Those of you who just cannot decide if you prefer screamo or electronica, and I know you must exist, can now have the best of both worlds with Famous Last Words. This five-piece Michigan outfit brings to mind Escape the Fate jamming with The Prodigy. Wait…that does not sound like a guaranteed winner? Well, you are right. This is a swirling mash-up of hardcore/screamo vocals and electronic tricks that starts strong but quickly becomes predictable. The opening “Labyrinth” is a stirring opener because one simply does not expect these two styles to be bred together in such close proximity. The keys here are not for effect or a subtle change of pace, but are featured mightily within each track. This wretched spawn kicks with ferocity, but by the time one reaches “I’ll Get You Next Time Gadget”, and “This Isn’t Blackmail, This War” the surprise is gone and the seconds seem like hours. Each of the six songs follows a well worn structure of opening with an aggressive salvo before surrendering to studio tricks and vocals that strain for both legitimacy and sentimentality. I know there is quite a broad stable of acts that blend keyboards with aggressive music, see the entire Sumerian records stable for example, but I just wish bands would choose one direction. It is very difficult to maintain a truly furious tempo while gentle keys hover above one’s head. The misguided “Interlude” is two minutes listeners will never get back, while “Snowmageddon” is as weak musically as its name would imply. Perhaps your little sister, who still does not know any better, will find this genuinely frightening and/or interesting. Even if this disc was released ten years ago, it would sound dated.

SOCCER TEAM - 3 Song EP (Lovitt Records)

Ryan Nelson and Melissa Quinley, another great DC duo, are the talent behind Soccer Team. Ryan provides guitar, drums, and primary vocals while Melissa accents his work with bass and slyly effusive vocals. The opening “Mental Anguish is Your Friend” is Melissa’s shining moment, a largely acoustic piece overflowing with warm vocals and equally pristine musicianship. “A Letter to Saint Thomas Aquinas” has a thicker groove, compliments of Nelson’s guitar playing, earnest vocal delivery and Quinley’s backing vocal affection. Capturing the essence of basement tapes, there is an immediacy about both tracks that brings the band into your living room. The structures are simplistic, but both Nelson and Quinley are adept enough at what they do to make the songs seem more grandiose and complex. The closing “World Series Apathy” is the most traditional of the three songs here, but it is also the strongest. It’s mid-tempo, methodical structure is highlighted by effervescent keys and Nelson’s heart-felt emoting. A three song EP is often too small of a sample size to truly determine a band’s strength, but Soccer Team impress on each of the pieces here.


DOWNLOW NYHC - Wall of Anger (United Riot Records www.unitedriotrecords.com)

The guys in Downlow NYNC have been kicking around since the early 90’s, and despite line-up shifts, temporarily disbanding, and fighting off the many trends that infiltrated hardcore, the band stays devoted to the early 80’s style that defined New York legends such as Agnostic Front and Sick of it All. The band roars through six tracks here, but none of them are blinding bursts of noise in an effort to see how quickly the band can play. Instead, Downlow NYHC takes the time to construct well articulated songs, replete with tempo shifts and class two-step grooves on “Change of Pace” and “Diseased”. Granted, the thirty-seven second “Diseased” abandons this model for a track that seems to invoke the spirit of Seth Putnam for a few seconds, but then it is back to basics on “Blindfolded”. The music here is for two aficionados of a classic hardcore sound. The guitar playing is thick and deceivingly harmonious, the drumming is barbarian in its fury, and Joe Downlow has the definitive vocal style of New York’s Lower East Side. It is a shame this band now must be mentioned in the past tense for they are excellent example of pure hardcore musicianship and intensity.

JOY AS A TOY/ GERMANOTTA YOUTH Split EP (Cheap Satanism Records www.cheapsatanism.com)

From the disturbing image on the cover to the unholy mass of noise found within, this split is a dream for those who love musical nightmares. Joy As A Toy only has two tracks, with “The Monster” as their sole original accompanied by the cover of “Profondo Rosso” from Goblin, first recorded in 1975. However, despite the paucity of music, the band leaves the listener shocked, stunned, and desperately wanting more. With a sound reminiscent of Genghis Tron, Child Abuse, or Mike Patton in a particularly avant-garde mood, JAAT decimate ears with a tsunami of swirling keys, demonic vocals, loops of noise, and a general sense of chaos that could only be curbed through martial law. This is a type of musical brutality that pummels through staggering blasts beats and samples. Battered after only two songs, I am barely standing with Germanotta Youth decimates what is left of my worthless carcass. Named for the globe-trotting pop goddess Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on her birth certificate), this trio brings together the best of power electronics, grindcore, and old fashioned experimental noise and smashes them together into a bloody mass of unrecognizable visage. “Wardenclyffe Tower” has a concluding eruption of force that is devastating in scope and remarkable in production, as if Merzbow was jamming with Scott Hull. This band of distorted geniuses concludes with an interpretation of John Carpenter’s timeless “Halloween” theme. Incredibly, with a wall of noise and distorted fury behind the instantly recognizable keyboard riff, the song takes on an even more immediate sense of impending doom. Long live the people at Cheap Satanism for unearthing and releasing this revitalizing slab of destruction. Put down whatever you are listening to right now, and order this.


NEVEREVEN - The Progress of Disaster (www.neverevenmusic.com)

If you can imagine in your head what a hard rock band sounds like, without knowing it, you are probably thinking of Nevereven. The opening track captures a Sevendust style vibe with soaring vocals, a big chorus, and guitar work that is heavy but still accessible enough for a mainstream push. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Gary Pickard’s voice or Frank Pascali’s guitar; in fact, these guys, along with drummer Dave Previ and bassist Damian Peters are quite talented. However, none of the five songs possess a hook that will differentiate them from the multitudes out there also producing a hybrid of soft metal and boisterous rock in an attempt to be the next Godsmack. Each of the five efforts on this sample of their upcoming The Progress of Disaster record include all the prerequisites one may expect-the grooves are tight but not overly aggressive, the backing vocals emphasize the idea that Nevereven is loud but not abrasive, the screaming is kept to a minimum, and the choruses stress pop aesthetics. In short, the shirtless drunken idiot at your local bar will buy three of the band’s T-shirts, while his girlfriend will be at the back of the club embarrassed of him, but still taken in by sentimentality of work like “Winterkill”. This band smacks of the songs that adorn WWE broadcasts-catchy, loud, male-oriented, but still safe for families. Perhaps Monday Night Raw should find these guys.

COMPILATION:
FRESH FRUIT -Volume Two (Oak Apple records www.oakapplerecords.com)

Nathaniel Sutton, the owner and operator of Oak Apple Records, is clearly a great guy and a man who appreciates the potential charms that are unsigned bands everywhere. To that end, he has boldly put forth a second collection of acts from a multitude of regions and time zones, none of whom are household names, with the intention of opening these artists to a broad audience. The disc may not have something for everyone, but it does include a vast spectrum of styles and genres. The opening Mad Rataplan opens the disc with a trippy, ethereal soundscape called “The Trap”. Its jazz-inspired freedom, warm groove, and hushed vocals make for a very intriguing introduction. The band’s approach shares some similarities the closing “Continuous” from Basic Space. Both acts implement atmospheric elements into their dissonance, giving their sounds a ghostly hum that is equal parts challenging and absorbing. The latter includes a hip-hop vocal delivery that gives it a slightly more pop edge.

There is also a vast array of straightforward rock to be found here. Blunt Force Charm has a well honed mainstream sound, but “Good Luck to You” is really for those who wish that Eve 6 never broke up. The riff is serviceable and vocals are solid, but the song never becomes anything memorable. The same struggle befuddles White Lightning. Their “Someday” sounds far too safe and restricted-the song defines adult alternative for the twenty-first century, and really, does anyone want that moniker? If you like your rock to have a steady folk influence or garage feel, check out The Burning Streets, Van Funk and the LeBarons, and to a lesser degree, Kay There House Builder. The former plays a speedier brand of acoustic rock accented by harmonica that sound like it was bred for a beer-soaked honky-tonk. Van Funk’s “Art of Escape” includes subdued vocals and a very gentle approach to story-telling. The latter, in addition to its desperate need to change its name, plays a hybrid style of sixties-flavored grove and local bar band fun.

My favorite trio of acts from the disc is The World Concave, the instrumental brilliance of A Troop of Echoes and The Bridle Party. Each of the three brings something very different to the musical table, yet they each also generate music that is engrossing, sparse, and tantalizingly beautiful. “I Sold My Life” from The World Concave is accessible without being prefabricated; an unpredictable array of compassionate vocals and delicate playing. “Severna” from A Troop of Echoes would have been spoiled by vocals. A fuzzy atmosphere, well placed horns, and subtle rhythms are best appreciated sans vocals. Of the three, The Bridle Party is the band to watch. Stunning female vocals cascade over a lush arrangement with lyrics that defy the soothing nature of the playing.

Lastly, if you are heading out to the after-hours club, Fresh Fruit has your soundtrack in the form of Uncle Zygote and DJ Sizlack. Both acts play music that will hit you perfectly just before the buzz wears off and will have you alert and awake until your friends are waking up for work. Zygote takes his “Am I Going Mad?” a little less seriously than the groove spat out by Sizlack on “High Five”, for Zygote’s piece is lovingly bizarre but also sophisticated in its construction. He may have to navigate the waters cautiously to avoid becoming a novelty in the vain of Jerry Samuels’ (Napoleon XIV )“They’re Coming to Take Me Away”, but it is very cool. “High Five” pulsates with energy and studio fanfare. It’s great for people who know where the cool clubs are located-I do not, so I miss the boat on this one, but if you are hip, you should love it. This type of compilation can easily be a misguided cacophony of styles if not properly executed, but Oak Apple Records deserves limitless respect for its release. Fresh Fruit should certainly open eyes and ears to some hidden musical gems.

 

FRONTLINE SOLDIERS - “Oath of Loyalty” EP (United Riot Records www.unitedriotrecords.com)

The long defunct New York Oi! Band has an interesting back story, first emerging in the early twenty-first century, but only laying music to tape in 2004. The five songs on the “Oath of Loyalty” EP is tough, belligerent, skinhead hardcore with fairly deft musicianship for a style not known for subtlety. The recording quality is extremely raw, but this adds to the mystique of the band, particularly on “World War III”. This may be no frills, fairly simplistic hardcore, but the band seems to get better on each song. I sometimes forget that Oi! is not always about blazing speed, although “Warrior Rising” and the title track certainly blast with unfettered energy. For those in the skinhead movement, Frontline Soldiers is a band that sadly disbanded before fully blossoming into a true force. For others, this is an interesting footnote in the rich history of New York hardcore.


OUT LIKE LAMBS – “Music of the Spheres” EP (www.myspace.com/outlikelambs)

The five songs on Out Like Lambs’ EP are beautifully constructed, soulful, and intimate. Pristine strings, lo-fi production, and the stirring vocals of Rachel Ade highlight a lush effort. The opening effort”White Flags” displays the band’s multi-faceted nature. The labyrinthine track includes subdued horns, haunting strings, and a deliberate backbeat. The unexpected complexity of the song quickly morphs into a straightforward, acoustic sing-along with Ade truly shining. The musical dexterity demonstrated on this one effort is striking, yet Out Like lambs match this excellence repeatedly. “River for Renee” is a fragile, tantalizing piece is delivered with flawless attention to detail, particularly Alicia Testa’s stirring backing vocals. “Older Whispers” captures the tone of the disc. It is a mesmerizing effort that is matched by the pronounced drumming of Michael Sternbach on “Stockton Lake Blvd.”. “Something Big” has a front porch sensibility about it; a controlled revival aesthetic with fleeting bursts of rousing excitement. The inspiring moments just prior to the graceful conclusion encapsulates this band. This is a band with extraordinary talent and a wonderfully bright future within the genre of folk-rich Americana.



THE KOFFIN KATS - Our Way and the Highway (www.koffinkatsrock.com)

If Elvis is alive, I hope he is a zombie who climbed out of the dirt surrounding Graceland and is plotting horrific crimes upon Priscilla and the slack-jawed yokels who trounce through his home (We’ll keep Lisa Marie out of this; she has had enough in her life). If Elvis is in this state, he would also sound like the Koffin Kats. These boys are three well-inked young men from Detroit who love rockabilly, punk, and B-level horror films to create “psychobilly”. The second track here, the exhausting title track, is a sucker punch of a song that sets the stage for a masterful collection of smart, stylish, aggressive filth. Leading this act is Vic Victor, the most frightening looking dude to ever hold a stand-up bass, and he is surrounded by guitarist Tommy Koffin and Damian Detroit on drums. The fourteen songs here are rapid blasts of surfy, punky, scary, and funny musicianship that is far more intricate than one may expect from appearance alone. The Koffin Kats appreciate a good pop hook in the same manner that defines the Ramones or the Queers; the Kats know that there is nothing wrong with writing a memorable chorus and they want you to sing along. “Keep It Coming”, “Don’t Waste Your Time”, and “Baby Don’t Love You” each feature instantly memorable riffs and Victor’s booze-soaked vocals. I love “Choke”, a beer-battered slab of bruising punk bristling with the raw enthusiasm of early rock n’ roll with the intensity of contemporary hardcore. Meanwhile, “The Bottle Called” would please fans of Glen Danzig through Hank Williams. This is a classic good time record from a band with limitless energy and passion that does not let up throughout the duration of the disc.


THE MOSES GUN (DKT Records www.dktrecords.com)

This scorching Chicago duo return for a proper full length release after generating a well deserved Midwestern buzz with their first EP. On their self-titled effort, The Moses Gun, bassist Rich Harris and guitarist/vocalist Vell Mullens, hone their sound into a cohesive yet bombastic assault, displaying greater subtly and dexterity than their previous work. The band does clearly take pride in pummeling the listener, as “Damn, Damn, Damn” proves, but there are multiple surprises awaiting those with the good sense to listen. The disc begins with a gentle one minute and forty second introduction suitably called “Intro”, but quickly gives way to the aggressive “Steam of Consciousness”, which harkens back to Husker Du’s finest days; a song of lust and love-sick suffering articulated within the fabric of a rousing guitar riff and soaring vocals. As Muellens emits “it’s always for you”, his pain and honesty are readily apparent, the perfect balance between hope and sorrow as delivered by a supremely talented player. What is most apparent here is how comfortable the guys in The Moses Gun have become in their own skins; “Gold” hovers along the ledge of folksy influence, while “Better Things” and “Overdue” have a pop structure that these two may not have attempted two years ago. The latter still barrels along with a rugged riff and powerful chorus, but I love the harmonic touches that define this record. The closing “Jewelry Box” is a serene, gentle track that unfurls into a melodic, ethereal mass of compelling guitar. The urgency of “The Ballad of Reuben Kincaid” solidifies this disc as an exciting way to start the new year. Even within the fury of the track, Mullens and Harris alter their deliveries to craft a hook-laded chorus that organically emerges from the din surrounding it. The driving groove of “Walk It Off” barely conceals the rampant noise and guitar force living just below the surface, while “Metalurgy” lives up to its name with its thick slab of punishing riffs that outshines anything Mastodon produces, as it combines relentless heaviness with a jazz style freedom and light-hearted sense of fun that most bands simply could not handle. If the Mayans are right about 2012, I want this one playing during our grand send-off.

SLOW DEATH - born Ugly Got Worse (Kiss of Death Records www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

When Annie Sparrows of the Soviettes opens “Ticks of the Clocks” with her pristine and lovely vocals, I am certainly not expecting a rough and tumble punk record to emerge. However, to my very pleasant surprise, this is exactly what happens on the brilliantly titled Born Ugly, Got Worse from Minneapolis’ The Slow Death. The twelve offerings here follow a similar path, but it is one that works quite well for this band. Their brand of punk is raw and rugged, thanks largely to the gruff vocals of Jesse Thorson, but the band still revels in cheery pop aesthetics that soften the sharp edges a bit. Somehow, the finished product of songs like “Out of View” and “Sorry Sam” are both earthy yet polished, a cohesive blending of two very different musical cultures into one free flowing, inspired disc. I enjoy the stark contrasts heard here as “Fuck You, Nighthawk” concludes with a flesh-ripping scream which is juxtaposed with heartfelt, soaring choruses on “The Opposite of Jessie’s Girl” and “Sleepin Somewhere Else”; two earnest, daringly honest pieces that will thrill fans of NOFX or really any of the Fat Wreck roster. “Phantom Limbs” and “Stay High” (again highlighted by the majestic accent of Sparrows’ vocal accompaniment) are a pair of tracks devoted to the thrill of trying and failing miserably, but one can nearly see the smirk on Thorson’s face as he delivers his biting lyrics. His brusque vocal style is a perfect foil to the more refined playing of guitarists Dave Strait and Jonny Tamayo. A vast collection of locals artists climb on board and offer their abilities to this disc, making the record nearly a collective of Minneapolis’ young talent, but the core members of The Slow Death can stand alone with this one.

THE FLEDGLINGS (Ride a Mule Records www.theFledglingsmusic.com)

The band/couple of Wayne Stovey and Kat McNevins label their music as “cute rock”, and this does not entice me. I tolerated “cuddle-core” in the early 90’s because I was in college and the chicks in my school’s radio station liked it. I hate cute things, rock being among the items topping that list. In actuality, the music of The Fledglings is less cute as it is dull. The band pays tribute to 60’s fuzzy psychedelia on “Paternoster (Inhale Balloons)” and just blatantly rips off George Harrison’s worst day on “Catching a Raindrop”. This sounds like the second or third band on the bill for a local talent competition in the neighborhood church’s basement. I am sure these two are nice enough, but the EP is just bland. The band mentions Ween as an inspiration, and I see that, but the difference of course, is that the brothers Ween are intentionally awkward and off-putting with their music. One gets the sense that The Fledglings are attempting to channel Dean Ween through Sgt. Pepper’s, but there is no tongue in cheek zaniness here; these two are serious! “Krystal” drags through its three and half minutes sounding like a conjoined twin to the previous “Raindrop” fiasco. The best aspect of “Ladybug Jazz” is that is only two and half minutes long, but its’ structure is reminiscent of music for toddlers-wholesome, non-threatening, and positively mind numbing after less than one listen. The gentle “I Give Up” sums up my approach to this disc. I know this band plays coffee houses in Austin, and that is important because you could not listen to this without caffeine. By the way, there is a noisy bonus piece at the conclusion of “I Give Up”, and while it is mindless din, it is my favorite part of the disc.

 


THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT - In (Light Rail Records www.lightrailrecords.com)

Starting slowly, the second release from this New York via San Francisco outfit becomes progressively stronger. While the clichéd “I Don’t Believe in Love (Anymore)” and “The See You Letters” are underwhelming, the disc takes a sharper, more rock oriented turn on the one-two punch of “Autumn” and the rollicking “Season in the Sun”. The disc is produced by Fountains of Wayne guitarist Jody Porter, and his knack for crafting poppy yet crunchy hooks is apparent. There are other stumbles, such as the largely acoustic “I’ll Never Know” and “Accident Airlines” which sounds uncertain of its own personality. There are brief explosions of force that rapidly give way to an unsteady arrangement that teeters on the verge of authentic emotion but ultimate falls short. The better tracks here seem to come in clusters, as “My Many Mini Obsessions” and “Gia Knows”, with its splashes of guitar noise, and the bashing “Plug-In Freak” are rugged guitar gems that allow Ari Vais to get the most from his warm vocal delivery. These songs retain a pop sensibility without surrendering to the temptation to equate sentimentality with frail song structures. The 1926 standard “Tonight You Belong to Me” is an odd choice, and while it is not a complete misfire, it does break the momentum established by the songs before it. However, not all of the highlights here need be slabs of guitar force. The lovely “There Goes the Sun” celebrates Vais’ lyrical delivery as he brings the listener into the tenderness of the track while still illuminating the light/dark dynamic that makes some of this record so compelling. I understand why people fell in love with this act in 2008 when they debuted, for the songwriting is largely sophisticated, the playing perfectly straddles the line between playful and structured, and the production is excellent. If this record was eight songs instead of twelve, I would be in heaven. As it stands, there are still more hits than misses, and The Campbell Apartment have moments of illuminating radiance worth celebrating.


SEXY HEROES - interroBang (Pop Detective records www.popdetective.com)

This four-piece from Upper Saddle River, NJ would undoubtedly be a blast to hang out with for a night, but I cannot take their music seriously. Each of the members look like they are barely out of high school, so maybe they are just a bunch of fun-loving kids and I have turned into the grumpy old man not giving them their Frisbee back when it accidentally soars into my yard; but too much of this is bubble-gum, vapid punk-pop. The opening “Robert Downey Jr.” makes one smirk, but the bouncy tempos and silly lyrics seem tired by the time the disc reaches track five, “Ticklish Bill’, in which the term “ticklish” is used as a euphemism for gay. Ironically, the mind-numbingly goofy “Pirates!” is musically one of the tightest tracks of the bunch; a raw, ripping piece of punk that is far more aggressive than the rest of the disc and offers a glimmer of hope for the future. Songs about magicians (the cleverly titled “Magician”), zombies (the equally adroitly named “Zombie Invasion, Total Vacation”), and hitting on a girl at a fast food joint (“Bluffington Diaries”) just do not hold my attention. However, one must offer these young bucks some respect for having a delicious sense of irony and titling their closing track “Free Bird”. The vocals among bassist Chris Watts are accompanied well by guitarists Mike Watts and Nick Everett, but the goofiness of the songs detract from their obvious talent. These guys are not fooling around in terms of musical prowess; they just need to harness their energy in a more legitimate direction or they will simply fade into obscurity as another joke that was funny once but did not need to be retold.

WE ARE THE OCEAN - Go Now and Live (Hassle Records www.hasslerecords.com)

God, I wanted to hate this. I really wanted to hate this. I teach seventh grade girls who just melt at the name of We Are the Ocean or similar ilk such as You Me At Six. After listening to their earlier material, I am expecting another typically desperate attempt at post-hardcore fury that ultimately sounds forced and blasé. Instead, I am slammed by “Pain is Temporary, Time is Tonic”, a sonic punch in the face with excellent vocals from Dan Brown and a rousing hook. This is not what I expect from this act, as the clean vocals and the interplay between Brown and guitarist Liam Cromby are intricate and impressive on “The Waiting Room”. However, the brakes slam this one to a screeching halt with “Runaway”, and the disc quickly falls off a perilously steep cliff. Yikes. This blatant attempt to craft some sort of crowd pleasing sing along that may end up as the soundtrack to a new teen drama is just pitiful in its delivery. As Brown and Cromby say “bye bye to love”, I am simultaneously overwhelmed by a fit of laughter enveloped by a haunting sadness for these guys. The members of We Are the Ocean were angry and full of life once, and it was not that long ago. Now We Are the Ocean is crafting pop rock songs that would not even frighten the parents of the misinformed teens who undoubtedly flock to their shows. “Trials and Tribulations” suffers from a similar fate; there is simply a lack of emotional conviction, a sense of urgency or passion that plagues almost all of Go Now and Live. For one fleeting moment, some form of intensity briefly raises its withered brow on “Godspeed”, but the band quickly settlers into a safety net on “Now and Then”, and the closing “Before I Die”, two songs that sound like a bad Foo Fighters tribute band. The bouncy chorus of “Follow What You Need” may break the band to a more mainstream audience and become the theme song to the winter of 2012 for the kids walking the mall, but is that a good thing? If you are fighting through the rigors of study hall and acne, We Are the Ocean is your band; however, if you are older, wiser, more musically savvy, or just refuse to surrender your blind angst and misguided anger, I suggest you pass on this one. Wow. I guess I do hate this.

CAVES/SUNDIALS - Split 7” (Kiss of Death Records www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

This split features two more members of the rapidly growing cast of characters on Kiss of Death. Caves play punked up indie rock with great shared vocals on “Desperate Times Call for Double Measures”, a track featuring jangly guitar overflowing with emotion. “Stepping Stone” is the speedier of the two; it is a sugar rush of a song with vocals that sound a bit too high for what is playing beneath them. However, there is an impressive tempo shift in the middle of the song which changes its complexion. This is a nice introduction a band that shows intriguing potential. The Sundials are darker and feature a cleaner, highly quality of production on their efforts. While they too employ the use of speedy, jangly guitars, the vocal delivery here is smooth and seamlessly coexists within the construct of the two songs, melding indie rock and pop aesthetics with ease on “Viking Funeral”. Mosby Street panders too much to a mainstream audience, as if the band is hoping to score some type of pristine underground hit. It is a well written song about the stark reality of growing up and moving on away from one’s home, but it is too accessible for my taste. The release is at times of mixed bag of ideas, but does offer a glimpse into the experimentation of the guys at Kiss of Death.


SHY MIRRORS -Sailed Blanks (Big School Records www.bigschoolrecords.com)

With Chicago expatriate Mike Downey now residing in Sweden, Shy Mirrors is proof that hook-laden, pop-fueled punk is universal. I am reeled in with the opening fuzzed-out riff to “Track Change”, a song that perfectly blends elements of angst and ennui into a gem of an introduction. Downey is a long time veteran of indie pop, albeit usually of a more experimental nature, and he understands how to craft warm harmonies that still possess an off-putting noisy edge that refrains anyone from become too comfortable. Even “Blackout”, a syrupy blast of pop indulgence includes a jagged bassline and a guitar tone that maintains a subtle ruggedness. Some of Downey’s solo work would surprise fans of Shy Mirrors due to its varied atmospheric qualities, but Sailed Blanks finds him fully committed a combination of muscle and pop sensibility on “Newspaper Boats” and “Flashlight”. The second side of the record opens with the roaring “I’m Not Around”, clearly the most aggravated of the collection, yet it never abandons its pop construction. This is matched by the furious “You Were Lonely, Too” as well the very Ramones-inspired ‘Argon”. These are moments in which the band pushes its sonic boundaries, raging with authentic aggression. Shy Mirrors has snuck in a radiant release just under the wire of 2011, so add this one to your holiday list.

STATIC RADIO NJ - We Are All Beasts (Kiss of Death Records www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

We Are All Beasts is a mature collection of intelligent, deeply personal lyrics delivered over the top of crisply played guitar rock. Static Radio NJ is a punk band without all the stereotypical trappings of a punk band. Their songs are more than bursts of fury; each track attempts to challenge the listener and compel them to pay attention to both the musicianship and stories on display. The angular construction of “Kill the Harmony” mirrors the intensity of the lyrics (“pictures show the life that we can’t have”). The title of the record acts a metaphor throughout the disc, whether the band tackles the struggle for relief in “Addict”, the disillusionment of “Violent, You”, and the sad reality of life in “Between Hello and Goodbye”. Static Radio NJ has an abundance of self-confidence, for they are willing to introduce more apparent pop harmonies into “Last Year” or even go acoustic on “Geeks”. Aggressive, but always tempered by a sense of meticulousness, Static Radio NJ effectively straddle the line between punk force and pop precision. This is highly worthy of your time.

SSSSNAKES/THE SLOW DEATH - Split EP (Kiss of Death Records www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

The Ssssnakes indulge in bass-heavy, rumbling punk with a tangible Ramones influence. That’s good enough for me, and I greatly enjoy a track like “Only One”; a vicious assault with a devastating bass line that propels the band into hyper-speed. I am a bit confused by “Superfrog”, name aside. The track begins as a slow, bluesy dirge which has momentary explosions of force but ultimately disappoints.

The Slow Death offers raw, garage punk with an abrasive edge. With unexpected shifts in tempo, “Movies” is a pleasant surprise, while “Want” features a less aggressive tone but a more clearly defined chorus and cleaner vocals. While this track may win more fans, it sounds flimsy in comparison to the effort’s first track. “Glad I Don’t Know” includes fairly standard time sequence and chord structure, but The Slow Death plays them well. There is more to this act than I first expected. They display various sides and personalities over the trio of efforts. I’m on the bandwagon if they stay in the style of “Movies”, but I have to wait and see on this release.

VULTURES UNITED - To Live and Die in Gainesville (Kiss of Death Records www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

Vultures United, a bunch of guys from Southern California, are taken in by the heat, humidity, swamps, (and swamp people) of Florida in this loving tribute. Their brand of punk is what one expects from SoCal; it’s loud, belligerent, yet also harmonious and is destined to have the kids screaming along in unison. The title track was inspired by the band’s first appearance at The Fest in Gainesville; this explosion of gushing love name-drops Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music, and others that call the Sunshine State home. “Slam Dances with Wolves” is my favorite of the four. It is a scathing, unrelenting attack upon a certain former Alaskan governor (you know, the one who quit that job to focus on more important issues like writing books and marching in lock-step with Fox News?) played with flesh-ripping speed and a great sense of distorted harmony. The B-side includes a loving tribute to Good Riddance with “Heresy, Hypocrisy, and Revenge”. Without simply mimicking each note, Vultures United honors their influence without harming the prestige of the original. Lastly, with a little help from Wikipedia (be careful kids!), the guys cranked out a song about Mussolini’s Black Shirts during the rise of Fascist Italy. As the chorus shifts into a raw scream, a perfect compliment for the lyrical content, the record ends and Vultures United have a new fan.



THE ONE AND NINES - “Tell Me b/w “Make It Easy” (Cotter Records www.theoneandnines.com)

The One and Nines may claim to be from Jersey City, and the calendar may claim to say 2011, but listening to record takes one back to Detroit in the 60’s. “Tell Me” is a swinging soul record that includes saxophone accompaniment that could be compliments of the ghost of Clarence Clemons. There is a nice burst of energy during the chorus and conclusion that makes this song more than simply a tribute record, but the One and Nines seamlessly weave a classic soul sound within these more contemporary outburst. “Make It Easy” is a sultry, smoky song that simply ends too quickly. Equipped with a hypnotic bassline, this one can pass for an obscure Fur Tops classic to the uninitiated. I am curious to see where this band goes, for I hope people will appreciate how they are integrated 60’s soul into original and creative music, and not simply performing homage.

STEVE WYNN & MIRACLE 3 - Northern Aggression (www.stevewynn.net)

Returning after too long of a hiatus, my vote for the most underrated, undervalued, and underappreciated songwriter in music, Steve Wynn emerges again with his Miracle 3 for another healthy helping of intelligent, articulate rock for adults. What makes the record work is the ease with which Wynn and mates Jason Victor, Dave Decastro, and Linda Pitman alter moods and tempos, as they can produce rousing burst of energy (“On the Mend”) or fragile, poignant songs of beauty (“St. Millwood”). The opening “Resolution” is a beefy guitar slab, while “We Don’t Talk About It” is a scalding piece of white funk with a brilliant line, “I was swatting at the flies around my skull until I realized they were trying to talk to me.” The gentle “Consider the Source” features soothing organ and a live vocal performance from Wynn (he does the same on “The Death of Donny”), while “Colored Lights” is the Miracle 3 at its collective best. The song is a no-frills guitar slasher; a rowdy, full bodied romp that is soaked in beer and sweat. “The Other Side” is the type of song on which Nico should have appeared with its combination of warm harmonies and jangly, rambling instrumentation. Somehow the song blends a washed-out, fuzzy late 60’s aesthetic with an angular post-punk structure to generate perhaps the highlight of the disc. “Cloud Splitter” is another gem, as it is surprisingly brusque in its approach, yet still contains an ethereal pop sensibility that defines Wynn’s innate ability to produce the most beautiful of harmonies in the most unexpected places. The closing “Ribbons and Chains” is another throwback to the vintage soul of rock n’ roll without sounding dated. Sliding guitar, soaring background vocals, and a straightforward delivery result in a track whose chorus is undeniably infectious. It is a pristine conclusion to another superb release.


YOUNG STATUES (Run For Cover Records www.runforcoverrecords)

Carmen Cirignamo is the mastermind behind this Philly/Jersey trio and Young Statues is a band of great promise. The songs on this self titled disc are intricately played and beautifully recorded. Each note seems to float effortlessly as Cirignamo is a skilled vocalist and guitar player, as he sings and strums with understated passion. Young Statues have a sound that is measured and free, pristine yet muscular. This dichotomy of sound creates a captivating collection with each member contributing equally throughout the disc. Drummer Daniel Bogan shines on “Athens” with a ferocious attack that never overwhelms the listener or the song. He plays with a controlled fury that captures the intensity of the track but never detracts from what Cirignamo is emoting. The disc tells stories with earnest honesty and raw emotion. “Bumble Bee” and “Losing a Friend” both deal with the difficulties that accompany relationships and the anxiety associated with attempting to either start or progress a connection between two people. Both songs are gentle and supple in nature, as the delicate musicianship allows Cirignamo’s ability as a raconteur to shine. He brings the listener into the lives of the people in each track, forcing one to become immersed in tales of emotional depth. There are moments when one sits in on the dialogue between potential lovers (the aforementioned “Bumble Bee”), analyzes what happens to the optimism of youth and how fleeting it can be (“Young Statues”, “Spacism”), or even the tragedy of the suicide of a friend (“We Trusted Everything Enough”). While the topics are certainly serious and Cirignamo comes across as a young man wizened beyond his year, he, Bogan, and bassist Tom Ryan still play with reckless abandon on “Keep It Dark”, the Smiths-inspired “Pretty Girls Make Raves” and the rousing “Your Seasons Stay the Same”, adding keys when appropriate and kicking up the tempo on the latter two. Young Statues is a band that seems to have found a blueprint for an enchanting sound very early in its career. Where these kids go from here will be undoubtedly interesting to watch, for their trajectory is only one of ascension. The world may not deserve Young Statues, but it should know their names soon.

HURRICANE BELLS - Tides and Tales (www.hurricanebells.com )

It is not often when one stumbles across a band that takes inspiration from a Coney Island fire in 1907, but the destruction of the Steeplechase Amusement Park over a century ago is the impetus for the beautiful music of the Hurricane Bells; well, at least one song. The owner of the aforementioned destroyed play land was George Tilyou, and the day after the fire he posted a sign on a wall outside the charred remnants of his business that read “I have troubles today that I had not yesterday. I had troubles yesterday which I have not today.” In addition to demonstrating incredible patience, the poetic nature of that turn of phrase caught the eye of Steve Schlitz, leader of Hurricane Bells. The very quote is found on the disc’s opening song, the fittingly titled, ‘I’ve Got a Second Chance”, but delicate use of language along with a sense of raw humanity also captures the music of Tides and Tales. Ironically, a swirling mass of noise greets the listener within the opening second, but this disquieting introduction quickly dissipates into a collection of twelve warm, sometimes haunting, occasionally fragile songs that while pristine, do not eschew the occasional pop hook. This last point is heard best on “Possibilities” and “The Ghost of Her”. The latter of this duo features harmonies reminiscent of the Byrds while jangly guitars rattle over the top. “Hours Like Days” and “House on Fire” are driven by Christian Bongers’ well constructed basslines, while “Before I’m Gone” is my favorite of the bunch. The gaunt arrangement and hushed vocals are stirring in their delivery, yet Hurricane Bells find a way to accent the song with a harmonica without that instrument feeling the least bit forced. Similar exquisiteness is found on “Flowers in the Dirt” with gorgeous, ghostly vocals. While the song may resonate with an aura of loneliness, there is still a sense of hope within the subtle despair. Ironically, after eleven songs of pristine yet sober pop, the disc concludes with a dance inspired “The Hunger Moon”, a richly textured rhythmic anthem that includes a return to that concoction of hiss that opens the disc. This is a band about which I knew nothing going in, and I am intrigued by what Schlitz and his mates are creating.

MOMMYHEADS - Delicate Friction (Dromedary Records www.dromedary-records.com)

In the name of full disclosure, I readily admit that the Mommyheads bored me to death in the mid-90’s. I know, I know; they are a critically acclaimed act, but I just never found myself going back for a second listen. Apparently, the band is huge in Sweden and there was a groundswell to have them reunite. Now, nearly fifteen years since their last formal release of new music, the Mommyheads return. As I listen to Delicate Friction, I am struck by the idea that I have actually matured or that the Mommyheads are worth a revision on my part. Adam Elk’s dry, brooding voice is convincing on the morose “The Saddest Place on Earth” and “Courtyard”, proving that bands can not only age gracefully, but time away can be a blessing. The jazzy “Moonlight Crawl” and the soaring “Another Crowded House” are destined to delight old fans who have waited since the days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal for fresh work from the Mommyheads. Gentle, serene pop cascades throughout mush of Delicate Friction, a cascade of which is heard on “Just Give Me a Reason” and the striking “World in Reverse”, proving that these guys are not aging hipsters who have pried themselves off the coach. However, we must be honest here; there is most likely not much of a cash cow awaiting the Mommyheads, but this is a disc made out of a love of music and respect for fellow bandmates and long-time fans. For all the kids who think Death Cab for Cutie invented their sound on their own should give this one a listen.


TOY BOMBS - Will Work for Free (www.toybombs.com)

This one is a pleasant find. Take two guys from Utah, place them in Los Angeles, pair them with a bass player dressed as cat named Sasha and a drummer named Rocko the Bear (yes, masked as well) and what do you create? Apparently, one hell of a fun, very contemporary act that is not afraid to reach back in time for inspiration. Cole Barnson and Brandon McBride both play too many instruments to list, and their love of all forms of music translates into four highly original and distinctively unique songs. The opening “Prairie Eye” is out to prove that being a cowboy is more than John Wayne or Brokeback Mountain (depending on preference), and this lyrical topic stems from the bands’ families. The track itself is a bouncing, gyrating effort, resonating with primal energy. Within a blink, the band shifts into the thick, blues inspired “Free”, a song also accented by superlative jazz freedom. From there, Toy Bombs brings the listener into a religious revival with “We’re All Just Little Children”. The song’s soul is palpable, and the shared vocals convey an urgency that drives the track. McBride’s lyrics also capture the sad state of too many who continue to exercise childlike impunity in their decisions. The closing “Fall Down” is a steady piece, but lacks the immersion of various styles that define its predecessors. That being said, it is still a rousing collection of streamlined guitar work and angular arrangements. This is a band earning raves for their live show, but if they are not playing near you, find this right now!

ELECTRIC SUN - The Gilded Cage (www.electricsun.us)

This five song EP announces the arrival of New York’ Electric Sun (do not confuse this band with the late 70’s post-Scorpions act of the same name led by Uli Jon Roth, but you probably will not), and the five songs are a burst of energy. Vocalist/guitarist Vlad Holiday describes the songs as dedications to optimism and the power of positive change. Knowing nothing about either of these ideas, I take his word for it. The opening pair of “Don’t Look Back” and the unapologetically effervescent “Fuel to the Fire” are teeming with bouncy guitar hooks, contagious energy and Amanda Carl’s wonderfully placed keyboards. “My Mind” overflows with boundless enthusiasm, a sweeping groove from rhythm section Steve Kellner (bass) and drummer Dave Tantao, and a giddiness that would shame Tim Tebow. However, the disc is not all lighthearted fun and smiles. The closing “Mark On Me” borrows heavily from blues and stripped down acoustic Americana, offering an unexpected conclusion, but this leaves the listener quite aware that Electric Sun is not a one trick act. Instead, this is a band with a broad spectrum of interests and talents, led by a highly nimble song crafter in the form of Holiday. His work is personal without becoming exclusionary and inspirational without ever becoming a sermon. He walks a fine line between earnest hope and dim-witted naiveté. Ultimately, these five songs are well constructed, sharply played, and musically interesting.

SLOW BUILDINGS - This is Dead Aesthetic Junk (www.myspace.com/slowbuildings)

This Bergenfield, New Jersey four-piece looks to establish a unique mood on each song, and do so through alternating tempos, intensity, and structure. The result is an occasionally disjointed, but generally pleasing collection of sharp pop. Fans of old time harmonies will appreciate efforts such as “Glass Joe”, “I Am a Strange Loop”, and “The Company We Keep”, while the more ambitious will undoubtedly find delight in “Christian Army Soldier” and “Return of the Black Smurfs”. Jangly guitars, soft vocal arrangements, and delicate musicianship dominate “Alone in Summertime” and the closing “Evil Otto”. This non-threatening style co-exists with slightly gruffer “1’s and 0’s” and the brilliant “Hans Blixx”, a track in which the former UN weapons inspector is used as a metaphor for a fruitless search for success in life. This song is the tipping point for me; at just over two minutes, “Hans Blixx” has a rough edge and a snarl lacking in earlier pieces. Most of the work here are exemplary works of restraint and self-control; the songs are beautifully constructed, but lack a bite. Slow Buildings hopes to draw the listener into their atmospheric web of elegant sound, and they often do, but there are too many moments throughout the disc when one is waiting for something to occur; some shot of adrenaline that fails to materialize. Devotees of unassuming dreamy guitar pop will fall in love here, and it is clear that this is not just a local bar band. Slow Buildings have a definite view and game plan for their sound; they want to be the next Arcade Fire. Frankly, I am not certain if the world needs the first Arcade Fire, but my point remains that despite a few missteps along the way, This is Dead Aesthetic Junk is anything but; rather, this release is a collection of intelligent and mature songs by a band, that with a little seasoning, could ultimately become national names and not simply local heroes.


STAR FUCKING HIPSTERS - From the Dumpster to the Grave (Fat Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

SFH have a knack for keeping listeners on guard as they move seamlessly on many of the efforts from raging hardcore to gang singalong vocals to ska breakdowns before launching into another seething riff. “Death is Never Out of Style” and the brilliant title track opener skewer greed, hypocrisy, and the death of what was formally American idealism. Shared male and female vocals are another component of already complex song structures that ebb and flow between overtly abrasive and covertly shrewd. Then there is “The Spoils of War”; at only thirty-four seconds, the song is blinding piece of scathing propaganda that I could keep on eternal repeat. The band does not hide its political opinions, yet SFH never come across as speaking down to the listener or forcing their politics upon anyone. Perhaps one may not agree with “9/11 to Infinity”, but the musicianship cannot be faulted, from the acerbic riff that acts as a musical bed to the articulate rap delivery of the lyrics. Blending a metallic guitar riff with hip-hop elements has the makings of an embarrassment for SFH, but they make it sound not only feasible, but truly engaging. The choice of “Ana Ng”, an old They Might Be Giants effort, is another potential landmine avoided by SFH. The original possess subtle bursts of noise that are marvelously exaggerated here. “Rapture, Rinse, and Repeat” is a glorious assault of speed and unbridled fury that could be the band’s strongest work of the disc. Unfortunately, “Drowning Out Another Year” and “Outro” fail to match their predecessor in either energy or appeal. This is not a flawless punk record, but SFH attempt to throw a few curve balls, and even when they miss, one must still compliment this skilled ensemble for not following the easy path of well worn political punk. This is distinctive, and that is an increasingly rare trait.


BIG KIDS - Phone Home (Solidarityrecordings.com)

The Big Kids play a brand of hostile pop that everyone has heard before, but it is like meeting up with an old friend; there is still something enjoyable about this even though there is no chance of surprise. Eleven of the twelve tracks here, minus the surprisingly quiet and underwhelming closer “Full Gainer”, are wrought with well harness harmony and a smirk that is nearly tangible through your speakers. “Reflecting on Ejection”, “Dad’s Datsun”, the more aggressive “68%” and “42 Hours to 2073” are well recorded, crisply played efforts that make me long for a full fledged Archers of Loaf reunion, and that’s not a bad thing. In actuality, the Big Kids have what most would want from a band of this style: the vocals are well delivered, the guitar riffs are memorable, and the drumming is solid. However, there simply seems to be a mysterious missing element that hinders this act from pushing forward into the realm of interesting. I am unsure if I am missing a larger point or if, as I fear, too many discs like this begin to bleed into each other. This is not the finest version of this style, but certainly Big Kids do not butcher the genre either. Sadly, the band is the equivalent of Italian food at a major chain restaurant as opposed to your favorite family owned hole in the wall; it’s satisfying in the short term, but it does not stay with you for very long and you certainly will not rush back.

DBCR – “Bikes” EP (www.dbcrmy.com)

This is old fashioned, loud hardcore. It’s piercing, a little sloppy (in the best possible way) with a vocalist screaming himself hoarse. DBCR roar through “Let Them Eat Bikes” as they channel their inner Agnostic Front without the more recent metal tinges. The raw, aggressive energy is infectious without simply formulating a retread of hardcore’s past. The B-side, “The Reverse Broken Window Theory” begins more slowly than its predecessor, but it is far more menacing and dark. Rather then capturing hardcore fury, vocalist Michael puts on his best Danzig voice while throbbing bass and rugged guitar drive the song. There is even a guitar solo that is abrasive and raw without even becoming self-indulgent. This one is a fresh New York gem.

POWERBLESSINGS – 7-inch EP (www.powerblessingsband@gmail.com)

This is awesome! Thunderous and belligerent, this is my kind of punk! Raging with seemingly limitless energy, Powerblessings is powerhouse. Imagine Mission of Burma playing with pre-Henry Black Flag and you have a sense of what this is like. Each of the four pieces are amazing, but “Go to Hell” and “In the Men’s Room of the Sixteenth Century” are fuming bursts of force that somehow sustain themselves for several minutes. Powerblessings do not burn out quickly; instead they rage with sophistication that most acts of this ilk do not possess.

VAL EMMICH and THE VEERIES - “Ton Papa” (valemmich.com)

This mysterious act is the tale of two songs on one single. “Borrow Your Eyes” is a quiet, mid-tempo piece that sounds like something Mazzy Star left on the cutting room floor. It is pretty, sweet, and it bores me to death. I am unsure if this is a return to a simpler, more serene time or if this band simply does not understand how to turn on the amps of the three guitar players it includes. The B-side “Leave Yourself Alone” is ridiculously poppy but is far more energized than its partner. There is a loud/quiet dynamic that is slightly redundant, but more satisfying than the A-side. Neither track intrigues me, but there is potential here. If the band simply turns up the energy, they may have something.


CAPTAIN NOWHERE - Party Time Inc. (Idiomism Records http://idiomism.com)

The vinyl release of Party Time Inc by Captain Nowhere is coupled with a cd release as well. However, while not a new marketing idea, the cd and vinyl are wholly unique releases and I will focus solely upon the vinyl here. Arriving on clear, splattered vinyl, I was enthralled before listening to a note. What lies within these sprawling four songs is a collection of despondent, disquieting musical journeys. Joe Demaree forges noisy, experimental voyages that challenge the listener and will entice those who eschew the traditional verse-chorus-verse approach to songwriting. The closing “The Moon Song” is both romantic and terrifying, as ghostly backing vocals drift behind minimalist guitar playing. The opening “Sing Along” is a pained and brutally raw slab of guitar feedback and swirling hiss as Demaree laments, “I know how hard it is to write a song for everyone to sing along”. Demaree’s lyrics are as equally confounding and chillingly mesmerizing as the instrumentation, as they alternate between lucid anecdotes and stream of conscious musings of fear and hope with subtle sexual undertones. In “Another Letter”, he describes how “they propped her up on alter, forever to bless”, while “Holiday Song”, he references how “Sister Mary has her skirt lifted and Father has just inked his pen.” The music of captain Nowhere is dark, penetrating, and offers a glimpse into a world of beautifully underground work that contrasts the mainstream with a genuine desire to create music that again expands the parameters of what punk can be.

FELLOW PROJECT - Stable Life (Answer Key Records www.answerkeyrecords.com)

I loved this band’s last release due to its sense of urgency and primal emotion. Those same traits shine through on Stable Life, but Fellow Project continues to mature and refine their style. Vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Joe Jerkins uses his experiences associated with New York area horse racing (get it….Stable Life?...pretty clever actually) as motivation for highly personalized lyrics that are still relatable to a broad spectrum of listeners. In “Terry”, Jerkins tells the all too familiar tale of a man who simply strives for success he will never find: “he ran headfirst into a brick wall, but he not doubting himself at all/he keeps flailing at that half-dead horse, hoping for a different finish.” The grave lyrics on the heartbreaking “Mercy Shot” (A death wish and a loaded gun/a vengeful and forgotten son”) are delivered with gut-wrenching intensity in the midst of a mass of swirling, well crafted energy. Even when Fellow Project takes the foot off the gas for a moment, such as the real-life tale of “Mr. Mars “(“Are you following the doctor’s orders and taking the yellow pills on an empty stomach?”), there is a tangible intensity to their effort. The vocal interplay between Joe and Tia (bassist and former member of Bridge and Tunnel) is never forced, but only works to accentuate the intimacy of the playing. The songs envelope the listener and the style of recording is ideal for a band of this style; it is not slick or polished, allowing the raw emotion of this act to barrel out of your speakers. There is a multitude of influences here but Fellow Project does not sound like any one style; they are a highly intelligent punk band without question, but I also heard a great deal of early 90’s indie guitar force before that became a cliché. The guitar work is aggressive but controlled by both Joe and Lou, and the rhythm section will demand multiple listens to truly appreciate what drummer Big Ry does here. There is not a wasted moment here, for many of Fellow Project’s tracks fly by quickly, and within these brief pieces are wonderfully detailed tableaus of life accented by some great musicianship.


TIN ARMOR - Life of Abundance (www.tinarmor.com)

The lyrics of the opening title track are an astute summary of American economic woes in 2011: “We cherish our things and live beyond our means to the tune of our paychecks demise”. Tin Armor plays a blend of soulful Americana and rousing pop; a challenging mixture to be certain, but pulled off flawlessly on songs such as “Plain Limbs” and “Just So I Know”. This Columbus, Ohio four piece comfortably shift between bouncy yet poignant throughout the disc, demonstrating highly commendable musical chops. Despite the meandering pacing of the opening effort, the majority of the work here is crisply played indie pop accented by keen tempo changes and lush keys. (“Wayward Kites” is the ideal example of this) Tin Armor is strongest on the brisker tracks as they fuse energy and memorable hooks. Some may prefer the back porch tempo of “Shake Up” and “Silhouettes”, but my favorites are the enthusiastic “Coffin Sheets” and “Queen Mob”. There is a great variety to be found throughout each track, and Tin Armor has a real chance to be that rare find: a truly intelligent, genre-bending pop band.

B-MOVIE LIGHTNING - Rain On a River (Micropolis Records)

Mike Smalle is a complicated genius; at least that is what I can infer from his music. B-Movie Lightning’s music is a dazzling tableau of ambient soundscapes and the most serene combination of precision and ethereal beauty. Rain On a River is a thirteen song collection of mind-altering, perplexing works that include hushed vocals, genteel percussion, and warm synth in a cosmic mix of dazzling aural talent. “Take Yourself to the City” bounces with a gentle rhythm that is wholly graspable, while “Footfalls At Echo park” and “Mack the Joy Hound” are progressively more challenging and obtuse. However, while Smalle’s visions may not have broad cross-over appeal, this is the consummate indie art experience. The songs are swirling, dense, and intricately programmed with accenting vocals Sinead Brass and Sophie Coyle when necessary (the latter is stirring on “Triple Trouble” while the former electrifies and chills on “Foxy Trot” and “The Closing Party”). I often find albums of this nature to fade as it progresses; the ideas become either repetitive or predictable, but nothing of the sort occurs on Rain On a River. This is a fresh, illuminating work that is the equivalent of gazing at a Monet painting for the first time. The colors created here are vivid and enticing, and even if you do not consider yourself a fan of serene ambient sounds, push yourself to listen to this.

AWKWARD AGE - Demo (www.facebook.com/AwkwardAgeFL)

I remember the days when a demo meant a poorly recorded, fourth generation tape that was passed around and required pure dumb luck to be noticed. These kids today and their technology…Awkward Age’s four song release should not really be labeled a demo because the quality of the recording is outstanding. This three piece from the swamps of Tampa sound like potential touring partners for Less Than Jake and hopeful members of the No Idea roster. The tracks here crackle with infectious punk energy and a healthy helping of pop effervescence. “New Teen Fiction” and “It Never Stops” include sharp, sarcastic lyrics about the perils and struggles of growing up. “It Never Stops” is particularly insightful as the song rages about a troubled past and an uncertain future. “Lucky Man” spares no words as it lambastes inattentive and unprepared parents (“I’m calling you out motherfucker/You’re not a father/ sperm donor at best”). The guitars are crisp, the drumming is extraordinarily tight, and the vocals are just harmonious enough. I would like to hear the vocal energy raised a bit, for there are moments when the lyrics are delivery a bit too sweetly, but this is designed to make the girls swoon, and I think Awkward Age should easily achieve that goal.

ELECTRIC SIX - Heartbeats and Brainwaves (Metropolis records www.metropolis-records.com)

Go out, buy this disc, put on the first three songs and have the best sex of your life. While the remaining portion of the disc is not as riveting, the opening trio of tracks is almost enough to let the next eleven slide. “Psychic Visions”, “French Bacon”, and “Gridlock!” are dark, throbbing slabs of pummeling synth and bass that sounds like real rock and roll for people who love keyboards. “French Bacon” is equally infectious and intimidating, while “Gridlock!” oozes raw, primal energy. I am spent after these three tracks, and Electric Six spend the remaining portion of the disc experimenting with their sound, traveling in directions ranging from campy to methodical. The faster, harsher, more grind inducing efforts are my favorite, which is why the meandering “We Use the Same Products’ or the more refined title track do not captivate me. The disco-infused “Eye Contact” is a lot of fun, but “It Gets Hot” and “Hello! I See You!” are both just too dance oriented and poppy. This is a band that continues to surprise fans and Heartbeats and Brainwaves is a return to a style more familiar to longtime fans. However, I can usually take dance rock in small portions, and the opening three works are a perfect sample size. For those with stronger constitutions for this, Electric Six will undoubtedly leave you panting, sweaty, and very satisfied.


DOUBLE DAGGER - Masks (Thrill Jockey Records www.thrilljockey.com)

Sadly, this review acts as a farewell to Double Dagger, whose last show is taking place on October 21st in their hometown of Baltimore. The band’s website offers an explanation of the break-up, but while it is sad to lose a talented act, Masks is a proper way to exit. The five songs are here are noisy, somewhat lo-fi, yet still energized indie punk that is challenging and probably too disconcerting for the masses. On “Sheep’s In Wolf’s Clothing” the listener is bombarded by the line “This is the sound of no one giving a shit”; perhaps the band is referring to the struggles of an indie act or perhaps they are discussing their own sound. I do not believe that Double Dagger is particularly concerned about people’s reactions to them. The opening “Imitation is the Most Boring Form of Flattery” sounds as if it was recorded under water, but the song still fights through the murmuring din and the fuzz to be a fascinating effort. The lengthy “Sleeping with the TV On” is a collection of off-kilter ideas and awkward riffing that inexplicably meshes into a track that ultimately does not apologize for its pop aesthetics. The concluding “Song For S” includes waves of noise and hiss as a musical bed and this instrumental says farewell to a band always equipped with distinctive musical traits and a distinctive take on pop song structures. They will be missed.

THIS IS HELL - Black Mass (Rise Records www.riserecords.com)

Remember your first experience with truly brutal hardcore? Remember how you found yourself sitting in awe of how everything came together in a swirling ball of unstoppable fury that left you beaten and bruised and that was just from listening to it? Well, This Is Hell will undoubtedly recreate those sensations on Black Mass. This Long Island, NY crew slams and slashes through a scathing record of New Yawk hardcore that will excite fans of Sick of it All and Agnostic Front to name only a pair of influences here. From the opening rage of “Acid Rain”, the band has only one directive but to their credit, there are enough subtle shifts in ferocity to prevent each tune from becoming clones of themselves. The delicate intro of the title track and the groove of “The Last Outlaw” demonstrate the strides made by this band in their seven years of existence. Unapologetically punk riffs are delivered with a metal tinge without crossing over into “core” territory and the relentless low end should be enough to stimulate violent circle pits. Travis Reilly has never sounded better as he wails with demonic energy but still articulates his lyrics clearly enough to be appreciated for their insightful and biting commentaries. The record is truly a perfect slab of flawless hardcore intensity, from the well orchestrated “The Wars” (parts 1 and 2) to the classic sound of the blistering “Demons”, This Is Hell take a significant step towards establishing themselves as a band one should instantly think of when discussing the best hardcore acts around right now.

THE VEDA RAYS - Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays (Alleged Records www.allegedrecords.com)

The background of this record includes suicide, rehab, lost and rekindled friendships, evil spirits and even a black magic Masonic group. With all of that as a personal tableau, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Jim Stark chronicles his pain into a startling record of beauty. The songs on Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays bounce and snap with an urgency, but are also bathed in a warm mixture of ethereal beauty and nervous energy. While fuzzy, atmospheric elements come and leave quickly throughout the disc, what stays is a powerful concoction of throbbing bass lines compliments of Tyson Reed Frawley, abstract riffs and off-putting keys from Jimmy Jenkins, and understated force from drummer Jason Gates. “Our Ford” rattles and seethes with vigor while “Long May She Roll” has the passion of an exorcism within its towering harmonies. There is a sense of uneasiness that permeates the disc, consistently keeping the listener both on edge and anxiously awaiting the next twist. Brooklyn seems to lead the world right now in bands that alter conventional song writing rules to create music that is both scintillating and anything but predictable. The Veda Rays are a band to root for, not only for their personal struggles, but also because they are expanding what indie rock can be.


YO TICONDEROGA - The Disc is Dead (www.yoticonderoga.bandcamp.com)

This young Massachusetts outfit plays tribute to old fashioned guitar punk with sharp lyrics and tireless energy, but there is more to this act than initially meets the ear. If you had really cool friends, they would be in this band. The songs are straightforward and boisterous with just enough pop in the hooks to get girls at their shows. “Livin’” took me back to the days of Weston and is red meat for college radio, while “New Band, Song 1” is a great tribute to the power of music and friendship without ever becoming too heavy handed or syrupy. The good natured “49 51” is a rollicking track that is so earnest that one will even forgive the Jersey Shore reference in the lyrics. This particular work reveals a more mature side of the band as they experiment with tone and structure a bit without ever losing youthful abandon, thanks in a large part to Jeff Bernoth’s raw vocals. This trend continues on “Fit To Exist” which also shuns buzz saw aggression for a more tempered delivery. The closing “Rowdy Rose Seekers”, a track roughly twice as long as any of the predecessors, bounces off the walls with a sugar-fueled charge and when “Bernoth announces “we’ve got a lot of shit to sift through”, you are right there in the room with him. Richly recorded, the warm harmonies of this band shine through, proving that there is a depth to this act along with three chord fury. This is a pleasant surprise and I look with excitement toward future releases.


CAMDEN - Totally Fine (www.cashtomouthrecords.com)

This Boston act originated from the one man musical musings of Jason Sibilia whose original hope took the form of electronic pop. With a line up flushed out into a four piece, the basic pop principles of his bedroom experimentation still define the core of Camden. Despite its steady bassline and rugged guitar work, “Mustangs” is, at its heart, a well crafted pop song. This is due largely to the vocals of Jim Williamson, whose voice retains a vulnerability which allows the songs to recall stories that are highly personalized. “Let’s Go for a Drive” is just as the title would suggest; a straightforward, no frills guitar-pop song in which Williamson longs for a great night and hopes he can “just make it to the morning”. However, the song’s shifts in tempo mirror the emotional twists as well, and the song has a complexity perhaps not heard upon a casual listen. The song structure has a sophistication that eludes many pop bands. The most radio ready of the bunch is “Diamonds in Bloom”, and this is where Camden lost me. Smacking too much of a Matchbox 20 B-side, the lacks the punch of the earlier efforts. Naturally, with its effervescence and Williamson’s nearly Adam Levine-like howls, this song has all the makings of a hit. Ultimately, while not something to which I would run to hear again, for those who appreciate a finer, more erudite approach to pop fare, Camden may be the elixir for which you have been searching.

NIGHT BIRDS - The Other Side of Darkness (Grave Mistake records www.gravemistakerecords.com)

The mark of a great band comes in the form of a string of impressive releases as the Night Birds proved on their earlier E.P.’s, but rare is the act that produces brilliance when people are expecting nothing less. The Nights Birds had tremendous pressure pushing down upon them before the release of The Other Side of Darkness. They ascended with mind-numbing speed from unknown upstart to critical darlings and now have to defend their acclaim. In short, The Other Side of Darkness will not just silence any critics, but reach down their throats and tear out their voices boxes-this is staggering punk fury without surrendering any of the surf elements that make this act so unique. Undoubtedly, the Dick Dale meets DK comparisons will be made, but they should be because the Night Birds have perfected angry surf punk for a new generation, just check out “Hoffman Lens” for exhibit A. “Demon Haunted World” and “Day After Day” are the centerpieces of a soundtrack to a zombie beach apocalypse, while “Sex Tape” is the best song the Descendents never wrote. To all the kids for whom the Adolescents or Agent Orange are just poorly filmed Youtube clips, the Night Birds will be their band, and we old folks can get a renewed shot of adrenaline from “Neon Grey”, “Failed Species”, “Born of Man and Woman” and the blistering title track. There are too many occurrences when hyperbole is lauded upon a band and then they simply fade away, but the Night Birds have already proven their staying power, and what we may have here is the next great American punk phenomenon. While Ventures style riffs bombard the listener and hardcore energy is exuded from every pore, the Night Birds can also sneak in a nice hook, as they do on “Paranoid Times” and “Landfill Land”. The Other Side of Darkness is a bold stance taken by an incredible act that also refuses to hit the three minute mark. If you are yet to tell your friends about this band, do it now!

SAMIAM - Trips (Hopeless Records)

Trips marks Samiam’s second record in a decade and some may wonder if the best years are now in the rear view mirror of this much beloved indie act. To be fair, no one has an affinity for pointless nostalgia more than I, but Trips is a new album that maintains Samiam’s classic sound, not a “return to form” or some other clumsy euphemism for a band trying to get back to past glory. Opening with the speedy “I80”, this Berkeley four-piece boldly announces that the years may have passed, but the energy has not waned. Yet, with age comes experience and often greater finesse. “Clean Up”, the more somber “El Dorado” and the regal “Demon” make this abundantly clear with a combination of refined musicianship and richly harmonious vocals. Samiam has never been fearful of instilling warmth into their brand of energized playing, not afraid to take the foot off the accelerator just enough to let real talent shine, and “How Would You Know” and “Magellan” indicate that these traits remain very much a part of this act, more than twenty years removed from their emergence from Gilman Street. Jason Beebout’s vocals are powerful and invigorated throughout the record, while the guitar playing of Sergie Loobkoff and Sean Kennerly are supremely delivered under the guidance of producer Chris Dugan. Efforts such as “Freetime” and the closing “Did You Change” are nicely chiseled punk-pop nuggets with a nice sense of harmony and with within their lyrics. Samiam was never a massive star on the horizon, which is a shame for they are a wealth of talent. Perhaps the second act of their career will make up for lost time.


 

EARLY AND OFTEN - Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense (Sell the Heart Records www.selltheheartrecords.com)

If one can make it through the opening sample to “Under the Phase”, the first effort on Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense, one must be exceedingly patient, and it unfortunately captures the simultaneous ingenuity and repetitiveness of Early and Often. Early and Often are exceptionally precise in their playing, bringing gentle, shoegazing pop to an unparalleled level of maddening deliberateness. To his credit, vocalist Jeff Wright is highly emotive, imbuing his vocals with tangible passion and pain without ever straining for disingenuous intensity, and his fellow mates are able to generate wonderfully delicate song structures. The emphasis on ethereal beauty allows for subtle piano to ascend to center stage before stepping aside for soaring harmonies. As magnificent this is, one wants Early and Often to abandon the quirkiness and mischievous playfulness of “Interval XXI” and “Interval XVII”. Both songs act as bridges to the next song, but the programmed nonsense does not add anything to the overall disc, for the “The Feast” and “False Victories”, the tracks following each “interval”, are both majestic enough to stand alone devoid of a supercilious introduction. Additionally, Early and Often unfortunately dedicate too much time to droning, repetitive introductions, as “The Feast” includes one such musical path. The genteel start to this song is so comforting and tender that my cat actually curled up and fell asleep while listening to it. Granted, this is adorable, but it also solidifies my lack of tolerance for this style of pop. The playing is lush and each member is clearly skilled, but after three consecutive songs, I am done. Maybe it’s my short attention span, or maybe as I age, I realize my period in this world is fleeting and I cannot have time wasted, but I continually wait for this band to get to the point! The nature of each song is so fragile that I want to wrap it in a blanket and cradle it in my arms, but eventually I also want to wake up from this dreamscape and get my heart rate back over fifteen beats per minute. There are cool moments here, such as the eerie sample, sound loops, and piano on “False Victories”, but I prefer my music to be made in garages instead of laboratories.

JUDGE NOTHING - Fibia Slicker (www.myspace/judgenothing)

Featuring two songs written in 1997 and a third track record in 1996, Judge Nothing are taking the listener back in time a bit. ( A Myspace page? Still?) However, this is a trip without a clear destination. “Chattanooga” is a pretty, minimalist pop song with richly harmonious vocals. It’s a nice way to spend a few minutes, but ultimately not memorable. The pop punk hook of “I Win” is slightly meatier, but it acts as a strange contrast to the opening effort. Lastly, the band delivers a cover of Badfinger’s “No Matter What”. Recorded by Bill Stevenson of Descendents fame fifteen years ago, Judge Nothing sound crisp and focused, partially a credit to youthful energy. While the band does not place their own stamp on the song, their rendition is a bit noisier than the original. I am not certain if this is a reintroduction to a band on the rebound or a quaint piece of nostalgia.

NEW ROCHELLES - It’s New (Bright and Barrow Records www.brightandbarrow.com)

So maybe you are becoming sad as summer is drawing to a close and the drudgery of school, work, and eventual winter storms enters your consciousness. Maybe you are desperately looking for something to cheer you up and make you smile as you get one last sunburn. My friends, that fun comes in the form of the New Rochelles. The best punk-pop bands do not take themselves seriously and understand that their brand of loud and fast rock is meant to be enjoyed and celebrated, not analyzed and dissected. To that end, each of the twelve anthems here are adrenaline fueled sugar rushes that are over too quickly, but just burn themselves out with exhaustive energy. Taking cues from the true giants of the genre (Ramones, Queers, Screeching Weasel), these three lads from Long Beach, NY write infectious, inexcusably catchy songs about skunk apes, stink eye, and toothaches. Ronnie Rochelle balances sneers and smiles with the same sarcastic delivery as Joe Queer’s finest performances, while the rhythm section of Ricky and Rookie Rochelle are a wall of harnessed force. The first single and video “Did Something Bad” follows in the tracks of Angry Samoans’ “My Old Man a Fatso” or “Grounded” from the Queers , while “Who Will (I Will)” will not leave your head for days. Sure, the New Rochelles wear their influences on the sleeves of their well worn leather jackets, but who cares? At least they are clear about the bands they admire and emulate instead of pretending to be some sort of revolutionary saviors. “Static Shock” actually tells you that the “first verse is same as the first”, while “Tina’s Got a Toothache” sits nicely next to Jeannie and her uterus or Cindy and her methadone. The New Rochelles will excite the kids and made the old and jaded remember when punk could be fun. However, not everything about this band is a tribute to the past, as the disc is being released as a partial vinyl, partial digital effort. Check out this money saving idea at Bright and Barrow Records. While it is a nice idea, this disc is worth any price.


BLOWHOLE - “Experiment #1” b/w “Consumer Protection Racket” (Cooler King Records myspace.com/coolerkingrecords)

Blowhole treats us Yanks to two slabs of gritty English punk. Sounding like the musical equivalent of what is crusted onto the floor of a great pub, vocalist Rob Bartram sneers his way through the pounding “Experiment #1” with the phrases “this happy life/such a happy life” delivered with vicious sarcasm and tangible dissatisfaction. Featuring two members of Sperm Wailes (Bartram and guitarist Nick Herbert), Blowhole feels as if they should be sitting next to the Pistols on Bill Grundy’s show. “Consumer Protection Racket” is a touch less bombastic musically than the A-side, but equally sharp lyrically with references to electric cars and the Flintstones. There is a layer of noise accompanying the surprisingly adroit harmony constructed here. This is excellent on all counts.

GREY AREA/ GO RYDELL Split 7-inch EP (Black Numbers Records www.theblacknumbers.com)

Grey Area should theoretically need no introduction, but since it’s been ten years since their last release, here’s goes: This New York City act spawned members of Kill Your Idols, Token Entry and Warzone. Pretty impressive, right? You should be impressed as the past ten years have not allowed for any rust to form on Grey Area. “No Guarantees” and “Bliss” are both sophisticated punk nuggets with a pop edge that should give a blueprint for bands just getting started. Earnest lyrics that never become clichéd and roaring musicianship proves that just because the word “pop” may readily appear in the description of a band, they are not to be considered soft or disposable. Go find this right now.

Go Rydell hails from Florida and I am sure the No Idea guys must be drooling over this act. Their contribution to this split is a collection of short, fiery bursts of punk anger that are wise beyond their years. “FOX and the Hounds” takes a shot on America’s current malaise, while “Not Cool, McCool” has a title that belies the seriousness of the track. The song lambastes those who blindly hate and targets ignorance with a brutal frankness. The closing “Battery Park” is nearly sweet in the dialogue between the protagonists, using NYC as a backdrop. One of the closing lines of this song sums up my one suggestion for this band-“stay some more”. These songs are great, but if you clear your throat you may miss it. Go Rydell has many things to say and I hope their next release features efforts that can at least hit the two minute mark consistently.

JEREMY PORTER and the TUCOS - “Night on the Town” b/w “Ain’t My House Anymore” (Magwheel Records www.magwheel.com)

This trio has a warm power pop sensibility and a big hook on “Night on the Town”. The retro sound sounds a bit dated however, and by the conclusion of the song, Jeremy Porter and the Tucos smack of really nice guys in a likable local band, but maybe they can open up at your favorite club when a mid-level touring act comes through town. No disrespect meant towards Mr. Porter or his Tucos, but the two songs here are simply not memorable. The country-twang of “Ain’t My House Anymore” is tremendously poignant, telling a story of failed love and regret. The lyrics detailing a renewed interest in the kid and pet are especially gripping and a testament to Porter as a lyricist, but ultimately Jeremy Porter and the Tucos are musical fast food. It tastes fine going down, but it does not stay with you for very long. z

 

MAD ANTHONY /THE YELLOW BELTS Split 7-inch EP (Xmas Cactus Records www.madanthonyband.com)

Everything about the packaging here had me hooked before I heard a note. This is vinyl geek heaven-it’s a split release on mustard yellowish-ish vinyl (one of NINE different potential colors!), with a cover that feels like it was hand silk-screened back in the days before Photoshop, from two bands from the same geographic region (Cincinnati, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky). It is as if I am back in my college radio station when Clinton was in the White House and the US still had the respect of the world, or at least a decent credit rating. To sweeten the deal here, both bands are fantastic! Mad Anthony is not quite as mad as expected, but “Bear Attack” slugs you like a drunken Danko Jones song. It is a bottom heavy, heavy-handed lump of mid-tempo force. The Yellow Belts play loud, fast, and snotty punk in a classic vein. Revolutionary? No. Sophisticated? No. Awesome? Oh, yes. “War on Science” is a blistering experience, and the stronger of the gems here. However, both would have received heavy rotation on my station.

MONOGANON - Songs to Swim To (Fence Records http://www.fencerecords.com)

Beginning as a solo project for singer/songwriter John B. McKenna, Monoganon has blossomed into a full fledged band on the beautiful Songs to Swim To. The record is seven ethereal, dreamscape folk songs played with great soul and a stark, delicate nature. “Monomania” is wonderful introduction to the band for those unfamiliar with McKenna (like me), for it revels in his gentle musicianship and Scottish accent. However, the accent is not the focus of the record and simply adds to the overall charm of Songs. “Eternal See You Soon” is the most haunting of the disc, a stirring mix of airy pop and acoustic precision. The subtle psychedelia in “Anatomy” would normally bother me (think Zeppelin in “No Quarter”), but this flows effortlessly within the larger context of the work, a faultless blend of the eerie and the heartfelt with soaring backing vocals drawing the song to its wonderful conclusion. “Needle Green” captures McKenna at his most vulnerable; a fragile, haunting song that is a dream for those with high quality headphones, as the song seems to cascade into your head light a gentle spring breeze-truly gorgeous. The nine-minute “Devil’s Finger” is the centerpiece of the record and the most musical complex of the bunch, but the striking “Lullabies for the Sedated” demands one’s rapt attention. It simply hovers like an apparition with elegant grace and the most subdued beauty. In the closing “To Glass in the Blast”, McKenna is joined by warm female vocals throughout the song, and ghostly voices buried deep within the mix, making the song another effort to which one should close your eyes and allow the music to absorb the listener. This may not be the perfect summer soundtrack, but once the triple digit heat fades and the dark snow clouds return, this is the one to put on and enjoy the chill.

LARRY AND HIS FLASK - All That We Know (Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club www.silversprocket.net)

Country-fried punk is on the menu with Larry and His Flask’s first full-length record. Blending a fiery attitude with equally incendiary musical approach, Larry and His Flask do for Americana as the Tossers do for traditional Irish music; namely, All That We Know takes a standard native genre and injects energy to create something new and wholly interesting. The speedy, politically astute “Flags And Concrete” jumps out as an early highlight, as vocalist Ian Cook laments, “who’s gonna take the wheel?/this isn’t the way we’re supposed to feel/first world’s lost it’s time that we pay the cost”, while “Beggars Will Ride” includes as Matt Hensley provides a wonderful accordion solo. The most impressive element of this disc, even if one does not connect fully with the music, is the lack of repetition, a knock that would surely afflict weaker acts attempting this style. The boys alter tempo enough to stop the record from becoming one continuous front porch hootenanny. The slower, more brooding “Manifest Destiny” takes bluegrass into a new direction, while “West Virginia Chocolate Drop” is a wise, introspective piece of progressive alt-country. The band fluctuates between blazingly fast string picking (“Blood Drunk” and “Marked From the Start”), and more deliberate, meandering efforts (“Our Will Be Done” and ‘Slow it Down”) with equal immediacy, making this a legitimate listen from highly skilled player. This is not a gimmick or cheekily delivered record; Larry and His Flask are musicians well versed in American musical history, but they are also immensely skilled. “I’ll Be Gone” features warm, layered vocals and authentic rustic musicianship that brings the listener back decades. Larry and His Flask possess an integrity and level of musical acumen that separates them from others who may attempt this style of music.

BIG EYES - Hard Life (dongiovannirecords.com/)

Big Eyes is a bouncy trio whose sound adheres as fervently to pop hooks as it does punk rock sneer, making for an impressive debut. Kate Eldridge’s voice ranges from sweet to furious, and she always commands the attention of the listener. For fans of powerful front women, Eldridge does not disappoint as she leads C.J. Frederick (drums) and bassist Mark Bronzino through a stampeding collection of antagonistic guitar pop with just enough grit and grime to stop Hard Life from becoming too polished, best captured on “Your Lies” and my favorite, “The Bad and the Good”. Too often bands of this ilk latch on to one groove and proceed to use it for an entire record, but Big Eyes diversify each effort quite well, creating a record with a multitude of ideas yet one consistent theme. “Pretend to Care” and “Since You Left” are angry efforts which balance fury and harmony, while “Why Can’t I?” and “Now That You Ain’t Mine” are genuine pop gems with subtle antagonism. Originally from the east coast (specifically Brooklyn and New Brunswick), Big Eyes have relocated to Seattle which I hope does not preclude them from bringing their brand forceful and sharp punk-pop to this side of the country. This is a band to monitor closely, for they possess commercial appeal without forfeiting aggressiveness.

CITY OF SHIPS - Minor World (Translation Loss Records www.translationloss.com)

I always cringe whenever any band is described as “post” anything because I am just not smart enough to fully grasp the meaning. I have read articles and reviews in which City of Ships is labeled “post-rock”. Really? When did rock die? Does this mean that these guys are resuscitating rock? All I know is that Minor World is a sparkling collection of intelligent and complex tracks that intrigue without ever coming across as unnecessarily technical. This is a musically erudite act that could alienate some, but not as many as one may imagine, and as the huge riff of “Celestial Navigation” proves, the band is not averse to crafting memorable hooks. I am instantly drawn into this band’s realm through the power of the opening track “Clotilde” which sets a standard that is routinely matched throughout the record. With vocals buried within the mix, the singing becomes another instrument, an extension of the anguish and power of this act. This is a disc for those who believe that the world of extreme music has become simply disjointed masturbatory guitar riffs or a genre overrun by indistinguishable metalcore acts and are anxiously searching for something more refined yet still crushing. The bruising “Chainman” will appeal to the aficionado of bulky guitar force, while “”Easy Way Hard Way” conveys an energy within the fuzz and distortion. City of Ships craft sophisticated anthems for those who appreciate intricate musicianship and are willing to work a little bit as they listen. Ambient and ethereal with a palpable intensity, City of Ships straddles that delicate line between beauty and insanity with a sound unlike anything I have heard in a great while on efforts such as “Low Countries” and the haunting “Darkness at Noon”. This must be a remarkable live experience.

PRAWN - You Can Just Leave it All (Topshelf Records www.topshelfrecords.org)

Prawn sounds like a lost treasure from an indie rock past. This four-piece from New Jersey plays earnest sounding indie pop with tender guitar work underscoring emotionally charged vocals. Yes, I know you have heard this before but these guys are not simply ripping off The Emo Diaries, but crafting music that is awkward in a very endearing way. For those who are suffering and lonely, this one could become your immediate soundtrack, particularly efforts such as “Sammy” and “Horizontal”, the latter a gentle but passionate gem. However, You Can Just Leave it All is not simply a collection of delicate anthems, as the loud/soft dynamic of “Clever Hands” and the more aggressive “Perfect Equilibrium” demonstrates. Similar song structures dominate “Slaying a Paper Tiger” and “Questions for Dome Chomsky’, as the members of Prawn use understated force to make each song an absorbing experience. This is not the type of disc towards which I would normally gravitate, but I am glad it came my way. Prawn clearly eschews the notion that memorable songs must be defined by a huge riff or rousing chorus, for their work remains with you after the disc has completed, and that is quite an accomplishment for this genre.

THE WILD - A Collection (Quote un Quote Records www.quoteunquoterecords.com)

A Collection is, as it sounds, a collection of early releases, split 7” efforts and other work from this feisty punk act who embrace American and European (especially Irish) folk as much as three chord aggression. Some of the work is downright sweet, for “Let Me Sing You a Song” is a twenty-first century “Let me Hold Your Hand” in terms of innocence and unadulterated hopeful bliss. “Our Cities” is more focused in its attack, sounding like the Pogues before they are too drunk to play or the Tossers in a particularly bad mood. Harmonica and accordion usually distract one from punk energy, but the opposite is true here, for The Wild are highly adroit musicians and the harmonies are only enhanced by instrumentation not normally associated with punk rock. Shared male and female vocals reminiscent of X’s finest moments illuminate much of the material, particularly “The City That Never Sleeps” and “To Be Content”. There is undeniable warmth to each of the songs, regardless of tempo or level of intensity. The tracks range from soft and delicate (“Stillness Sickness”) to classic folk (“We Shall Overcome Someday” and “Mudlines”) to marginally aggressive (“To be Content”), and the band accomplishes each style with equal aplomb. This is for the more discerning punk aficionado who does not a little variance in tempo and arrangement. This is a pleasant surprise from a band I will certainly pay closer attention to in the future.

THE ACROBRATS - Hair Trigger (Susspool Records www.myspace.com/acrobrats)

The Acrobrats have been kicking around for close to a decade and why the world does not celebrate this band is beyond me. Despite appearances on Guitar Hero, the Acrobrats are not a household name and that is a crime as this Boston-based outfit plays punk reminiscent of the era when Joe Queer would have been hitting on girls at The Rat. Raw, aggressive, and melodic without an ounce of pop tomfoolery, these kids smash their way through four raving anthems, with “Hair Trigger” and “Simpleton” as my two favorites. The former tears the flesh from your face, while the latter is a mid-tempo stomper that smacks of the finest garage sludge from the heyday of the New York Dolls right through more recent purveyors of filth such as The Ruiners. The EP concludes on a high note with “Crave”, a no-nonsense punch in the stomach from the dual guitar work of Chris and Daniel Brat, while the singular named rhythm section of drummer Eliahu and bassist Swid hammers away. When Chris sneers “fuck off” in the midst of the song, it is not punk posing or an attempt to mimic the essence of Ben Weasel; this is the real thing and the Acrobrats are a fierce act. Now go make these guys famous…at least by true punk standards.

HALF HEARTED HERO - Running Water (Animal Style Records www.animalstylerecords.com)

Half Hearted Hero is a band in a predicament. They are a punk band with pop leanings, but they are far too talented to be called simply a “pop punk band”. However, their affinity for slickly produced riffs and soaring harmonies precludes them from acceptance by angrier punks. What is a band to do? In my opinion, HHH should keep on doing what they are doing-I love acts that defy mind-numbing simplicity and will not conform to one genre. These guys have Warped Tour potential, particularly with efforts like “Five Points” and “The Wheels”; two engaging, layered songs that one can sing along with or simply sit back and study the lyrics. The chameleon-like quality of this band is their strength. They fleetingly touch upon Fountains of Wayne style bubblegum on “Periphery”, but also devise a sophisticated, complex anthem in the form of “Mirrors”. A lengthy, heartfelt work, “Mirrors’ is a triumph of intelligence and substance as vocalist Anthony Savino offers “When you’re blinded by every refraction/you can’t focus on the light/You’ll drown in fear, just remember we are all scared, too”. The guitar playing of Clinton Lisboa and AJ Mills is outside the traditional punk parameters as one hears actual solos throughout the disc. HHH may be tricky to market to the Hot Topic crowd, but if you enjoy your intensity served with a side of articulate introspection, go find Running Water. Oh, and the record comes printed on burgundy-marble vinyl, always a plus!

RESTORATIONS (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.com)

Dark, brooding, and intricate, Restorations play a brand a of music defined by simmering frustration that never fully explodes into a violent force. However, this ability to hold a wolf by the ears makes for a fascinating eight song, thirty-three minute journey. While portions of “Nonlocality” and “Neighborhood Song” have flashes of blunt force, it is the rich harmonies of “Canadian Club” that more accurately defines the band. Each song is given ample room in which to breathe and the intentionally thick mix makes for a dense record, highlighted by the gruff yet heartfelt vocals of Jon Loudon. His rugged tones are the centerpiece of the second side’s highlights, “Val D’or” and “Broken Valuum”. Eruptive might is not out of this band’s repertoire but they select to pick and choose their moments of power, clearly demonstrating the collective maturity and fearlessness of this veteran line-up. With elements of punk, indie pop, and good old-fashioned, soul-soaked rock, Restorations will appeal to a broad spectrum of followers or those with a broad musical palate. “Sideway House” demonstrates the band’s ability to formulate an ethereal, intricate song structure that enchant as well as encourage a little thinking on the part of the listener. The closing “When You’re Older” may summarize when many listeners will appreciate this release, but Restorations exists for those who need something different and are not afraid to try.

OLD WIVES - Tidal Tales (www.oldwives.net)

Old Wives start slowly on Tidal Tales with the melancholy “Revolting French” but ironically coming out swinging with the soulful “Rip van Winkle”, which is anything but a sleepy song. Featuring expert horn playing, raw and highly expressive vocals, surprising aggressive splashes of guitar and triumphant percussion, this song let me know that good things are coming around the bend. “Whale” is surprisingly funky with an infectious hook, while “Terrible Toos” is dripping with authentic blues accented by indie pop structures. “Alto Cinco” has wraithlike qualities before erupting with bursts of horn-fueled power. The musicianship here is excellent, as Old Wives tap into a variety of American musical traditions, from jazz to blues to groovy pop. I am taken in by the highly emotive “Boo Chant” with its refrain of “I’m on fire”, charming keys and that ever-present superb horn section. There is a powerful sexuality throughout the record that is palpable without becoming overly overt or redundant. “Whiskey Song” is just a gritty piece of work that is only a solitary voice only accented by the sparsest of guitar playing. The song’s unfettered emotion shines through with every pained syllable, and the gruff sensibility has an authentic quality most bands will work a career to capture. The closing “Troubadour” is the most symphonic of the disc; a multi-layered song that captures the finest points of the band’s vast talents. My only suggestion is for Old Wives to improve their on-line presence as their website is minimalist to the point of frustration. This type of talent should not be shrouded in mystery.

THE GIRAFFES - Ruled (Crustacean Records www.crustaceanrecords.com)

This one is a mixed bag of musical goods and images. The liner notes includes a collage of images of dead, rotting, and skeletal remains of giraffes, but this is not band interesting in shock value. Ruled offers eight tracks of intelligent, moody rock that flirts with metallic elements and noisy dissonance, but retains unique personalities that can occasionally border on the frustrating. The latter is true on the mid-tempo pace of “The Bed”, and “The Store”, two well structured anthems, but one begs for the songs to pick up the energy level, and the closing “The Occupation”, a strong conclusion to the record, but the seven minutes of feedback and distortion that marks the termination of the disc smacks of superfluous self-indulgence. The opening “The Border” is the band’s finest moment here, as the song unloads a punishing punch accented by vocalist Aaron Lazar’s understated, yet intriguing vocals. The Giraffes’ greatest strength is the ability of the members to construct complex riff that are melodic yet challenging. Guitarist Damien Paris is the highlight on “The City” and “The Invasion”, two biting pieces of atypical song structure, while the raw, gripping power of “The War” is impossible to ignore as the song morphs from a sullen introspective work into a rousing, furious assault. There is much to admire here, for The Giraffes are clearly interested in taking chances and watching with interest to see whom among the larger public will join them. This is for individuals who enjoy larger conceptual records (however, this is by no means a “concept album’), and are willing to sacrifice the presence of a “hit” in return for brave musicianship. The Giraffes remind me of a cool indie film - the band makes you work as a listener, and the end result may be slightly confusing, but well worth the effort.

HOW DO WE JUMP THIS HIGH? - “Funny/Not Funny” 7-inch EP (Answer Key Records www.answerkeyrecords.com)

The second release from HDWJTH? is a tale of two distinctly different sides and an EP that should impress all fans of melodic punk. The four members of this outfit have bashed around in different bands for quite some time, and their collective talents and frustrations emerge clearly on “Funny/Not Funny.” The A-side does not reshape the punk landscape, but the well played harmonies should melt the hearts of the staff at Deep Elm. There is very strong drumming from Dan Edelman and vocalist/bassist Mike Borth has an engaging voice, I just hope that future releases will allow guitarists Andy Dennison and Jared Santiago to shine more brightly. Both are buried in a less than flattering mix, but their talent is still evident. This aside, the bass heavy breakdown on “En Route” is my favorite moment of the opening two tracks, although “Potential” taps into a classic college rock vibe that is also highly likable. The B-side explodes with “The Greats”, a less polished and more aggressive effort that perfectly captures the frustration that often accompanies the realization of adulthood. This is the sharpest and most poignant anthem of the four, but the closing “Migraines” is equally forceful and articulate. These guys could be on to something extraordinary if they beef up the guitar playing and give in to their more abrasive leanings.

CINEMA CINEMA - Shoot the Freak (www.cinemacinemaband.com)

Cinema Cinema offer three noisy, highly individualistic tracks recorded at the legendary Inner Ear Studio with Don Zientara. The songs on Shoot the Freak are raw and unpolished, but each is highlighted by an air of unpredictability. The opening “Lady Abortion” is an abrasive, darkly harmonic effort whose repetitive chorus will bury itself in your brain, so be careful if you sing this one out loud. Interestingly, Cinema Cinema shift gears dramatically on “Pleased to Meet You, Anesthesia”, a much more light-hearted piece. This effort is more ethereal and far less threatening than its predecessor. It smacks of 90’s Sonic Youth and has a clear indie-pop sensibility before unraveling into a delicious noise-fest around the two minute mark, ultimately crumbling into a stirring conclusion. The closing “Day-Leash” follows in a similar style as “Pleased”, revealing a somewhat off-kilter but still catchy nugget of unique indie fare. There are various approaches and inspirations here, but Cinema Cinema does not simply imitate their influences; rather, the band formulates a style that may still be slightly in flux, but has great potential.

LOVE ASSASSIN (facebook.com/Loveassassin)

Before I delve into how nightmarishly, almost comically abysmal, this is let me first assert how wealthy the guys of Love Assassin or their families must be. Their bio packet is enormous and brilliantly colorful. There, I said something nice. Sadly, that is the only compliment I can offer, for listening to this takes minutes from my life in which I will never get back, and frankly, I will hold a permanent grudge against these guys for that crime against my humanity. There are not enough adjectives for the word bland, but whichever you select will work, for this is lifeless and generic. The country vibe of “Duffy’s” was laughable, as third-rate bar bands would scoff at Love Assassin’s flaccid attempt at honky-tonk fun. “Mr. Carsons” may be the worst Blues Traveler impression I have ever heard, and while it is the only Blues Traveler impression I have ever heard, I can not imagine anything worse. By the time I reach “Down Under”, I am torn between laughing and crying. I laugh at the band’s ineptitude and wonder if this is not some type of Andy Kaufman-esque joke. If so, these guys are brilliant, but if not, one must sob for the money spent on this project. That is money that could have gone to the homeless, or cancer research, or public education. All I hope is that others like me will recycle the press kit so not all is lost. What did I do to deserve this, Jim?

 

STREET EATERS - Rusty Eyes and Hydrocarbons (Bakery Outlet Records www.bakeryoutletrecords.com)

Megan March and John No prevail on Rusty Eyes and Hydrocarbons, an impressive collection of aggressive, minimalist punk gems. With a sound reminiscent of the Kill Rock Stars stable circa ’95, the pair share vocals and convey each syllable with an infectious passion. Although only a duo, with No on bass and March on drums, the sum of their sound is exponentially larger than their parts. Lyrically, Street Eyes display a penchant for intelligent, politically savvy accounts that avoid lecturing and focus on more personal narratives. “Nation Builder”, “Failure to Provide”, “Through the Cracks”, and “Opportunistic” each contain commentary on contemporary social and international concerns, which each delivered with rich harmonies and beautifully melodious vocal arrangements. There are various indie punk and riot grrl references one could make, and while Slaeter-Kinney with a male component is one such comparison, Street Eaters do not come across as the result of any one particular source of inspiration. No and March create boisterous anthems that still adhere to a respect for an unapologetically catchy riff. The two also know their history as their sharp recreation of Jefferson Airplane’s “Two Heads” indicates. March’s incendiary vocal style would certainly impress one of rock’s founding feminist powers, Grace Slick. The urgency of “Waiting” is a microcosm of the larger record as it furiously attacks the listener but not at the expense of a bassline that constitutes a marvelous hook. The album’s title takes its name from the lyrics of “Livid Lizard (Godzilla, Ignored)”, a song of unbridled anger directed as the devastation of what is left of the world’s natural beauty by using Godzilla as a clever metaphor of global destruction. No has a soaring voice that pairs itself perfectly with March’s rich harmonious pitch, as heard on “No Time”, one of the two bonus tracks only on the cd release. Those interested in the survival of true indie music should instantly grab hold of Street Eaters, a glorious testament to honest musical vision and skill.



 

DOS - Dos y Dos (Clenchedwrench)

Dos is one of music’s most interesting acts for several reasons even before one discusses their highly unique musical approach. Kira and Mike, better known as Kira Roessler and Mike Watt have been chiseling away at Dos since 1985. Roessler was Black Flag’s (most skilled) bassist at that time and Watt was reinventing punk with the Minutemen. The two began to record music together with only two basses, a style that continues on Dos y Dos, the fourth record from the act. Oh, and the two were also married, divorced amicably (I am still amazed when those two words fall next to each other) and remain friends and creators of this highly distinctive band. In terms of the music itself, Dos y Dos resonates with warmth that only two bass players can create, and Kira’s occasional vocals add a distinctively affectionate resonance to “Maker Her Me”. However, much of the album is genteel, subtle instrumentals that are striking in their understated beauty. “New Year’s Waltz”, “Number Eight” (oddly the seventh track on the disc) and “”Song for Poe” stand out as my favorites, but each song, despite only two instruments, has a unique personality and structure. Dos pushes the boundaries of what people can do with bass guitars, making the instrument much more than a low-end keeper of time. Here, in the hands of two incredibly skilled craftsmen, the bass takes its rightful place as powerful and deeply multi-faceted instrument. The duo even perform a Selena cover song, proving that Mike Watt remains one of the great minds in punk rock, and hopefully Dos will not wait seventeen years for the next release.

KID LIBERTY - Give Up, Give In (Bullet Tooth Records www.bullettooth.com)

Although this is a brief collection of songs demonstrating a less aggressive side of Kid Liberty, Give Up, Give In is a moderate listen at best. EP’s always play one of several roles-it can introduce a band to the world, act as a stop-gap between longer releases, or just be a collection of songs that will only appeal to true hardened fans. This last scenario applies here, as the four tracks are wildly different and disconnected. The opening “Give Me Alan or Give Me Death” is a Senses Fail style piece of bouncy guitar punk with a tangible layer of pop harmony. It is not a poor start by any stretch, and I believe this is a band that can easily electrify the Warped Tour crowd. Next, however, comes “Fuck You”, a cover of the Cee Lo Green song. I hate the original incarnation of this track and adding punked up guitars does not make it any better. It seems like a waste of this band’s talent, and I hope this is not part of their live set, despite the gratuitous sing along it would most likely generate from the girls in the crowd. The last two efforts, “The Situation” and “The Suspense is Killing Me” are acoustic pieces. Each track allows Kid Liberty to expose their raw talents, and the cello at the conclusion of “Suspense” is quite lovely. However, after these four songs, I have no idea what Kid Liberty wants to be or what the larger point of this release truly is. Pretty arrangements, warm vocals from Trey Sexton, and a benign appearance should make these guys successful, but I may be getting too old for this stuff. Either that or I just want my punk to be loud, obnoxious, and devoid of all superfluous cuteness.

FUCKED UP - David Comes to Life (www.matadorrecords.com)

Would it be too easy to say this is a band that lives up to its name? Yes, but that will not stop me because David Comes to Life had me confused by the third track. Apparently, from what I could gather, main character David leads a horribly mundane life at a bulb factory, but that all changes when he falls in love with a beautiful female communist who dies because of terrorists, or was it David? I still am not sure, but I know this for a fact-I hate concept albums. With a passion. I do not care if it is being attempted by the Who or Queensryche, there should be a federal law banning pseudo-intellectual concept albums/rock operas. At any rate, Fucked Up is a collection of incredibly talented musicians even if their narrative abilities could benefit from some refinement. The eighteen songs here are crunchy, angular pieces of finely shaped post-punk. The only drawback to the eighteen songs is the fact that the disc is eighteen songs long and they tend to become a bit repetitive, not boring, but just similar in nature as the listener hits the latter part of the disc. Lead singer Pink Eyes barks like a rabid mongrel on most tracks, a quality I adore, and he maintains my interest throughout the record. There are several efforts that separate themselves from the pack, namely “Turn the Season”, “Life in Paper”, “Remember my Name”, and “The Recursive Girl”, each of which include sharp harmonies and interesting structures. The band has elements of hardcore woven within its jumbled DNA, as guitarists Gulag and 10,000 marbles slice their way trough the record, but there is nothing traditional about Fucked Up’s circuitous anthems. The complexity of the songs lends for multiple listens, and even after several plays, I am still trying to exactly figure out David’s life. I know he suffers and this is a tragedy with Greek-style themes of loss and potential redemption. I think I may just listen again and try to ignore the details, for despite my annoyance with discs of this ilk, the band has some very inventive ideas concerning how to generate aggressive music.

STRONG KILLINGS (Don’t Stop Believin Records www.dontstopbelievin.net)

Strong Killings have a record that becomes increasingly more furious and impressive as the disc progresses. The collection of songs on this self-titled disc range from fairly streamlined, “The Annals of Animals”, to noisy and pugnacious “Too Cool” to the almost goofy, “(You Never Wanna) Dance With Me” and “Licked, Nicked”. When the trio completely lets loose, as they do on the furious “Stupid Punk”, they excel are creating a riotous commotion that incorporates elements of hardcore, grind, and pure indefinable rage as the scream of “I’m on the edge of a breakdown” is delivered with such genuine force and rage that one is either terrified or intrigued, but most likely a combination of both. The energized “Minimum Wage” recalls classic English punk, as if these guys were singing about living on the dole, while “New Mexican Frontier” and “Worst Case” is driven by a throbbing bassline. The ability to connect with punk traditions while still creating a unique sound makes Strong Killings a band that deserves more than just a cursory listen. These guys are clearly influenced by that period as punk’s corpse was begin to decompose and hardcore was stepping in to fill the void. There are enough harmonies to satisfy those who want a little swing in their angst (check out “Winnebago”), but I am continuously drawn to the coarser tracks. “Suckerpunch’, despite its slower tempo, is a pummeling anthem that briefly devolves into balls of swirling noise before regaining a maniacal chorus and demonstrates this band’s willingness to balance chaos and construction. Strong Killings play tightly wound songs that are perpetually on the verge of exploding deadly shrapnel upon the unsuspecting, and if you find this attractive, I will see you in the front row when these guys come through town.

 

OBNOX - I’m Bleeding Now (Smog Veil records www.smogveilrecords.com)

Lamont “Bin” Thomas produces one hot mess of raw, remarkably soulful clatter on I’m Bleeding Now. Thomas, who has been an Ohio underground mainstay for nearly twenty years with the likes of This Moment in Black History and The Puffy Areolas (greatest band name ever?), steps out nearly completely on his own for this record. Dropping the needle on I’m Bleeding Now, one is floored by the wall of fuzz and feedback drenching “Cum Inside”, but as the haze from the bong lifts, Thomas has some pretty impressive grooves hidden beneath the din. “The Get It Inn” and “Daughter” are two such rugged gems, but the majority of the work is lo-fi, noisy, sludge that is the best record Steve Albini did not make. According to Thomas, the record was done on a “four track tape machine with a lot of scotch, whiskey, and reefer around”. The result is not what one may expect from such a combination of toxins; rather than a stoner’s musical backdrop, I’m Bleeding Now is an abrasive assault that contains all the finest aspects of garage rock purity, from Stooges-esque solos (“The Cowboy and the Cowgirl”) to vocals buried in the sludgy mix. The highlight in my eyes is “Gin and Coke Water” for it is simply a devastating song; a blues-soaked bass and drum explosion that rattles walls and is driven by a relentless fury that borders on superhuman. Occasionally one hears a record that is simply a cool piece of work from a fearless artist not concerned in the least with sales or trends, but rather driven by his own sense of what feels right. I’m Bleeding Now is such a release and it needs attention.

 


 

ATTACK! ATTACK! UK - The Latest Fashion (Rock Ridge Music www.RockRidgeMusic.com)

Attack! Attack! UK is a band that, at the very least, appreciates the power of basic rock n’ roll. This four-piece delivers big riffs, catchy choruses, and easily sing-along style lyrics to produce a record that may be somewhat formulaic, but it’s far better than the auto-tuned train wrecks currently clogging up much of the music world. This is a band with mainstream capabilities-the songs are crisp and the hooks are inescapable. The majority of the work on The Latest Fashion is radio-ready nuggets of pristine pop-rock goodness led by Neil Starr’s vocals. His delivery is richly harmonious, but it is also tinged by just enough sternness to make this stronger than your traditional pop fare. The opening duo of “Everyone Knows” and “No Excuses” lays out the band’s penchant for writing songs that will let the girls rock out while not making the guys feel completely excluded. The one mistake the band makes is when they stray from a perfectly good formula, namely in the form of slower, more emotionally introspective work. “Best Mistake” effuses the sappiness of a B-rate teen drama, while “Blood On My Hands”, Starr’s personal testament to new fatherhood, is lyrically solid but the track ambles along too slowly for my taste. However, the noisier title track and “We’re Not the Enemy” allow the guys to more pronouncedly flex their muscles as chiseled guitar riffs dominate both tracks. This is not going to revolutionize rock, but there is an honesty and integrity to the playing that is undeniable, and if they can capture their energy in a live setting, they will undoubtedly win an army of teenage fans.

JESU - Ascension (Caldo Verde Records www.caldoverderecords.com)

Justin Broadrick’s Jesu continues to evolve, even when the band seemingly returns to its roots. Ascension is a gloomy, plodding, guitar-rich record that marks a distinct turn away from the more electronic work that has dominated earlier Jesu releases. The opening eight minute “Fools” ushers in a disc that fluctuates between moments of delicate beauty and intense force. The song shifts gears in terms of tone and texture but does so with a remarkable ease, creating a seamless collection of ideas that correspond perfectly. Conversely, “Broken Home” takes one blunt riff and hammers it into the listener’s skull as Broadrick pronounces lyrics that are among his most dark and gripping. (“Helpless I watched you cry/It’s hopeless you won’t survive/It’s those scars that I will never hide/And little tears and more besides”). Broadrick follows this with the equally magnificent “Brave New World”, a thunderous, meandering track that reminds one of Broadrick’s Godflesh legacy. Again backed solely by drummer Ted Parsons, Ascension oscillates between metallic punishment and genteel fragility. “December” and “King of Kings” are defined by their ethereal, dream-like qualities as Broadrick’s guitar floats effortlessly in a sea of lush tranquility that is a departure from Jesu’s more recent work, yet sill reflective of the band’s larger sound. The closing instrumental title track gingerly completes the record with a sensitivity few can capture. This record does not push Jesu into new and uncharted directions, but Ascension continues to display the band’s multi-faceted talent.


JELLO BIAFRA and the GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE - Enhanced Methods of Questioning (Alternative Tentacles Records www.alternativetentacles.com)

Many, many adjectives can be and have been used to describe Jello Biafra but complacent is not one of them. Never satisfied with parroting any one style, Biafra continually challenges himself, whether through his acidic spoken word material or his various musical projects. This ability to move punk beyond basic three chord anger is what makes the music of the Dead Kennedys still so significant, and his latest EP with his Guantanamo School of Medicine is a triumphant return to an angry, politically astute Biafra who sounds like he is fronting a collection of songs fitting for Bedtime for Democracy and inlay material as charged as those of Frankenchrist. Biafra’s politics have always both intrigued and alienated, and Enhanced Methods of Questioning will undoubtedly continue that trend, but even placing the politics aside, there is not a wasted riff on this disc. A double barreled guitar structure compliments of Ralph Spite and Kimo Ball makes “The Cells That Will Not Die”, “Invasion of the Mind Snatchers”, and “Miracle Penis Highway” thunderous walls of burly sound that match Lard in terms of density. Lyrically, Biafra remains acerbic and articulate, as “Cells” challenges people to question everything they think they know about scientific research, while “Dot Com Monte Carlo” has Biafra swiping at an old target, yuppies; only this time, the “geeks” have made their way into San Francisco and their presence makes one long for “gangs in the missions” and “yuppie drive-bys”. As triumphant as the five tracks are, the cover of the Deviants “Metamorphosis Explosion” makes the disc a success all on its own. A bruising, speedy, grown-up slab of punk, Biafra’s Guantanamo School of Medicine should act as a blueprint for those kids who are willing to shut up and learn.


MALA IN SE (Phratry Records www.phratryrecords.com)

Dark, strident, and confrontational, Mala In Se take the animosity of metal and integrate elements of avant-garde noise, pained vocals, and even jazzy time sequences to create a disturbing listening experience that is impossible to ignore. Despite only a trio, eighteen different instruments are on display here by my count, but my math is terrible so I’m probably too low, including zills, ebow, and banjo. Consider this for a moment: a dense, metallic assault, relentless in its intensity that is accented by…banjo! This band is in a world unto themselves, and while the influences are many, the final product is entirely original. The magnificently titled opener, “Time Lapse Photography of Decomposing Animals” highlights the band’s bombastic talents, while “Devil’s Dung” and the particularly piercing “Portions for Trade” are schizophrenic bursts of controlled chaos. Vocalist Joseph Thompson’s wails with the urgency of a torture victim, spewing forth his lyrics with vitriolic anguish while still delivering a limitless collection of sophisticated, highly technical riffs. Accompanying him are the incredibly gifted Andy Perkins and Keith Leeds. Both help to provide a tableau of power behind Thompson, shifting time and tempo with dizzying prowess. “Stay Afloat” is a prime example of this staggering skill, as the band blends the best elements of hardcore, metal, and post-punk into a swirling beast of an effort. However, this is not blind fury-Mala In Se deliver violence with a supreme sense of style. Even the closing ambient “Outro” is engrossing as it concludes the disc on an ominous note. This is brilliant.

NIGHT BIRDS - Fresh Kills Vol.1 (Grave Mistake Records www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Grave Mistake continues to put other labels to shame with the release of this compilation of the work of Night Birds. With a sound reminiscent of early Dead Kennedys, particularly Mike Hunchback’s East Bay Ray style on “Midnight Movies” and the ripping “Bad Biology”, Night Birds play scorching punk with a penchant for sharp harmonies. Crawling out of the remnants of the Ergs and Hunchbacks, these four guys tear through abrasive yet hook laden slabs of two minute punk perfection. The playing of Night Birds is tinged with subtle surf elements along with precise aggressiveness. Highlights include, but are certainly not limited to, “Prognosis Negative”, “Can’t Get Clean”, and “Unanswerable”. This is eerily evocative at times of one of my old favorites, the Candy Snatchers, only if the Snatchers were slightly less drunk and worked in better recording studios. As it stands, the fiery speed of “Thrilling Murder” and the forty-eight second explosion “No Way Home” are two crisply recorded gems among a collection of efforts that bring purity back to punk fury. There is truly nothing to disapprove of here, as the surf-kissed “Harbor Rats” sounds like Dick Dale jamming with TSOL, while “Living in the Middle” is a precise critique of an overmedicated society. No superfluous self-indulgence here; just raw aggressive power that needs to be celebrated.

SWEAR JAR - Cuss (Phratry Records www.phratryrecords.com)

Swear Jar is a band that does not want you to relax while you listen. With a sound reminiscent of Amphetamine Reptile’s noisiest and most abrasive work, Cuss is a thunderous, unapologetic assault on your senses. Rob Flexon (drums), James Burns, and Shane Chaney (all other instruments) are a combustible trio that exude intensity and play with the subtlety of a blunt object to the skull. The opening seconds of “Sasquatch” are gripping due to the sheer brutality of the screeching guitar that introduces the band to the world in some form of flesh-ripping birth. “On the Prowl’ and “Rastallica” are a majestic combination of tracks that tease the listener with hints of harmonious riffs before veering into the darker side of song construction. There is nothing compromising or soothing on this disc; it is a boiling, seething din that one either appreciates or will run from in terror. As a person who greatly enjoys music of this nature, Swear Jar is immensely refreshing. They must know that their target audience is small, but is certainly rabid and this disc is a tribute to those who do not want music to be conveniently labeled. Simultaneously minimalist yet complex, Swear Jar possesses an energy that is sorely lacking in the world of rock right now. The slash and burn approach to “Blinders” and “Cheating Death” are thoroughly intriguing and satisfying, while the pounding groove of “Heavy Corpse Song” makes it one of my favorites of the bunch. There are some fairly clear Fugazi moments here, but only due to the band’s stop-on-a-dime style and refusal to adhere to a traditional song structure. It is not easy, but then again, the best things in life usually require effort. Commit yourself to this and you will undoubtedly run back for more.


 

CLOSET DRAMA - Dream State (www.closetdrama.fourfour.com)

Closet Drama is one of those bands that could be huge because they are completely non-threatening, and normally that sickens me, but there is a yeoman quality to this that makes the band somewhat likable. If nothing else, this is a nice collection of well-crafted pop-rock songs that will not offend anyone. However, I am nervous when I read a band’s press release and it drops the Gin Blossoms as a band to which one can compare Closet Drama. Really? The Gin Blossoms? Someone wants to be compared to the Gin Blossoms? Maybe someone can blow the dust from Third Eye Blind and use them as a reference? At any rate, as you imagine, nothing here is revolutionary; it is standard rock fare, sometimes a little punchy (“Flesh and Bone”, “Hayden”), but usually quite safe (basically everything other song). The band harkens back to the mid 90’s with a sound reminiscent of Soul Asylum’s chart-ruling, Winona Ryder-dating apex, or Sebadoh on a particularly syrupy, bad day. Charlie’s (no last names needed I guess) vocals are pristine and quite harmonious, but most of the songs act as background fodder and not a musical expression that truly grasps the listener. I do not truly dislike anything I hear, but one song is forgotten before the next one begins. Guitarists Dan and Eric are steady, but they are the equivalent of a 2.0 grade point average; yeah, you graduate but no one really notices you. The band gets the job done on each of the twelve songs, but the disc becomes repetitive and too predictable. This all returns me to my original point-these guys have what it takes to be big for a few weeks right now in rock: they appear to be charming and they write hooks that buzz with enough energy to seem interesting but never cross a line into real rock n’ roll danger. Hello, next Kings of Leon!

MIXTAPES A Short Collection of Short Songs (Animal Style Records www.animalstylerecords.com)

Cincinnati’s Mixtapes have a name that conjures images of 80’s unrequited love, but a sound more appropriate for the early 90’s. “Birthday Party Summer Camp” is a bit too sugary at points, but the shared vocal interplay of Ryan Rockwell and Maura Weaver is endearing enough to make the track palatable. “The Real Hotel California” and “I’m Like” could have been on the Daria soundtrack with its proto-riot grrrl meets punk-pop structure. “Soups Whatever” is an acoustic nugget with lyrics that are both earnest and unapologetic, while “Whit’s End” is serenely delicate and fragile, with tender piano accenting the background. The closing “Anna Maria” is a lush duet with gorgeous lyrics, but it leaves me with an unfulfilled feeling, for it is not the rousing closer for which I hope. In the end, this is a somewhat scattered but generally strong release that deserves attention. Mixtapes, like their namesake, are an eclectic mix of styles held together by a thematic respect for talent.

RICARD X. HEYMAN - Tiers and Other Stories (Turn-Up Records - www.richardxheyman.com)

Occasionally there are releases that speak to a person even if the music performed is not a style to which one would normally gravitate. This is my emotion as I engage myself in the expansive beauty of Richard Heyman’s sprawling two-disc Tiers And Other Stories. Released as two separate records packaged together, Heyman’s performance is at times tender, haunting, or energetic as both discs include a multitude of topics and tones. Much of Tiers possess the same story-telling quality of Warren Zevon’s finest moments, such as the bouncy “The Real Deal”, or the pristine beauty of “There’s a Train” and “Everyone’s Moving in the Wrong Direction”. One is invited into the inner sanctum of Heyman’s life as he details his initial encounter and life with Nancy Leigh, his bassist and wife of twenty-three years. Those engulfed in a long term relationship will instantly find a kindred spirit in Heyman on efforts such as “Last Thought in My Mind” or “Empire Lights”. And Other Stories does not flow in chronological order as the first half of this package does, but it is an equally gripping collection addressing topics ranging from a celebration of love through the lessons learned through loss. “When Willy Played Guitar” is a loving tribute to Willy Kirchofer, guitarist for 60’s act the Doughboys, of which Heyman was a member as a young man. The style of playing on And Other Stories is not radically different than that of Tiers, nor is the breadth of emotion any less expansive, but some of the work sounds more somber, including “Birds”, “Gravity”, “Wild Souls” and “The Finish Line”. Each of those aforementioned pieces is lush and sweeping in scope, although slightly more reserved in nature than Tiers. Heyman is a remarkably gifted musician who delivers over two hours of music that passes effortlessly, as every song features a fluidity and originality that lesser players would never be capable of crafting

GREGG YETI and THE BEST LIGHTS - Wonderbuckets: the Four EP Collection (Koala Syndicate records www.myspace.com/thegreggyeti)

Syracuse New York’s DIY troubadour Gregg Yeti has politely organized four E.P.s into one neat package. For those who are familiar with Yeti’s work will recognize and appreciate his lo-fi approach to acoustic Americana folk. Despite the understated nature of the playing, the nineteen efforts are bubbling with energy and luxurious beauty. “My Narcotic Sara” (and its cousin, “My Narcoleptic Sara”) and “Laughter be Your Slave” are examples of lush songs with delicate nuances. “How to Make a Happy Robot”, “The Girl with the Expiration Date” and the bouncy “Island Nation” each possess uniquely individualized personalities and structures. With only Jessica Rudy providing some kazoo and backing vocals, everything here is provided by yeti. He demonstrates wildly varied talents, as the songs are wonderfully verdant and atmospheric without ever losing a sense of honesty. There may not be much variance between songs, but this is not a knock; Yeti is a highly consistent performer who could light up a club or your basement.



POINT JUNCTURE,WA - Handsome Orders (Mt Fuji records www.mtfujirecords.com)

Give credit to a band whose members live together, grow their own food, camp out on tour, and even built their own studio. Amanda Spring (drums/vocals) has a soaring vocal style the pristinely dominates all of Handsome Orders. Her gorgeous voice resonates throughout the disc, but the haunting beauty of “Violin Case”, “Tough Upper Stuff”, and “Baptist Jesus” is truly inspiring. The band mixes elements of folk, Americana, and off-kilter pop to produce a record of striking originality and great depth. “Chronological order” is a sprawling, massive wall of ethereal beauty that feels more English than Oregonian. Not easily labeled or summarized, Point Juncture, Wa is a throwback to 60’s folk blended with modern indie pop.

 

PYGMY LUSH - Old Friends (Lovitt Records www.lovitt.com)

Old Friends is an electrifying album, and that is saying something for a largely folk-tinged disc replete with sweeping beauty and pristine fragility. Each song is both chilling and comforting; Pygmy Lush will make the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention yet lovingly embrace you as well. “Chance” is radiating and devilishly harmonic, while “Good Dirt” is played with a stunningly delicate touch, including vocals from Chris Taylor that barely rise about a whisper. “In a Well” is an ethereal piece in the sense that the song has vast pockets of empty space freeing the track to breathe and allowing the listener to become wrapped up in its beauty. Produced by Kurt Ballou, who continues to prove that everything he touches is extraordinary, Old Friends captures the sentimentality of down home Americana with uniquely ambient elements. The result is a collection of efforts that sound like musical apparitions appearing from beyond the grave to reassure love ones that all is well. I am consistently amazed at just how quiet this record is; one has to strain to hear “I’ll Wait with You”, a meandering piece in which each chord, strum, and nuance is played with painstaking precision. Old Friends’ finest quality is the pacing; nothing seems rushed as both band and listener are given ample time to digest each song. This is particularly true of the closing epic, “Pals”. The slightly more jumpy “January Song” radiates with an energy and effervescence, while “Penny on My Deathbed” is the epitome of the paradox that defines this band. The effort sounds as if it was recorded in the halls of dark, foreboding monastery, yet it also possesses warmth that defies its otherwise despondent tone. I guess this is what happens to old hardcore guys; their hearing is gone, the anger has faded, but their musicianship has intensified and the end result is a stunning collection of heartfelt anthems.

RUN FOREVER - The Devil, And Death, And Me (Solidarity records www.solidarityrecordings.com)

The spectrum of emotion on display throughout The Devil, And Death, And Me is matched only by the equally broad array of styles Run, Forever utilizes. The record is dedicated to a fallen bandmate, Corey Wolfram, who tragically died at only 21 years of age, and the songs ring with raw, gritty, emotional scarring. Vocalist Anthony Huebel possesses a voice that functions equally proficiently on stomping punk efforts, such as “A Sequence of Sad Events” and “The Grand Illusion” as well as more genteel tracks. Perhaps his finest display is “When it Won’t Leave”, an acoustic piece that resonates with suffering. “For God or Gold”, “No Truth”, and “10,000 Leagues” are aggressive, yet tempered by a folk undertone that would arouse the interest of fans of Tom Waits or Billy Bragg. The disc is a series of attempts to reach some level of understanding as to why horrific events occur in the lives of people we love. The aforementioned “No Truth” includes the poetic assumption that “when we die/we all return to God/and he loves us”. Run, Forever are living with a loss that would destroy weaker acts, but it is clear that Wolfram’s spirit is manifested through the power and earnest nature of the band’s music. These are kids are blatantly honest about feeling confused, angry, and even hopeless at times, and their story will resonate with anyone who has ever lost someone close. This is the type of catharsis that only great music can produce.

DES ARK - Don’t Rock the Boat…Sink the Fucker (Lovitt records www.lovitt.com)


Des Ark’s second disc, emerging after five years of extensive touring, is a schizophrenic release. Songs alternate between quiet, acoustically dominate gems with the opening “My Saddle is Waitn’ (C’mon Jump on It)” and “Howarde Hour of Shower” among them, and more aggressive, musically dense efforts such as “Bonne Chance Asshole” and “FTW Y’all”. This juxtaposition of styles allows Don’t Rock the Boat…Sink the Fucker to be a perpetually interesting record. The unquestioned star here is vocalist/guitarist Aimee Argote, whose voice can ring with delicate innocence or roar with an authentic passion and honesty. The louder, noisier, and more chaotic songs are my favorites of the bunch as Argote’s rugged yet melodic voice fights its way through the additional musicianship of Noah Howard and Johnny Ward. There are tracks in which both worlds collide, such as the soaring “Ashley’s Song” and the captivating loud/soft dynamic of “It’s Only a Bargain if You Want it”. With Kurt Ballou overseeing the fiercer tracks, the production is superb and the disc resonates with a majestic fury. An excellent overall release.

GREEN RIVER ORDINANCE - The Morning Passengers EP-Acoustic Sessions (www.greenriverordinace.com)

For those in search of something as bland as the Fray and even less offensive than Train, Green River Ordinance may fulfill your needs. The playing on The Morning Passengers EP-Acoustic Sessions is quite lovely at times, but I am not moved by music that hovers dangerously close to adult contemporary. “dancing Shoes” includes a subtle folk approach which provides a brief flash of something interesting, but the remaining five tracks fall into a predictable rut of gentile piano and overly sentimental vocals. I am not a man completely without emotion, but this sounds like the result of Bruce Hornsby’s nephews starting a band. The sorrow of “Undertow” could be about any lost soul as “she packed her bags for Austin””. Even the down home Americana of “Where the West Wind Blows” sounds prepackaged. Soaring harmonies highlight “Inward Tide”, which is a gorgeous song, but it feels lost in a vast landscape of unnecessarily pulled heartstrings. “Out of the Storm” continues the theme of self-exploration in a particularly disinteresting manner. The songs are lush, the guys are good at what they do, and I imagine that those fans of entirely inoffensive material may enjoy this. However, I am not in that particular category.


COKE BUST – “Degradation” EP (Grave Mistake Records www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Coke Bust may be my favorite band in the world right now, and I make no apologies for a ridiculously gushing review. Grind, hardcore, power violence, whatever label one chooses to place on this band seems insufficient as Coke Bust simply crush everything in their collective sight. The A side boasts a blitzkrieg of brutality that decimates the listener, particularly “Long Gone” and Keep Out”. The B-side proves to be diversified as Coke Bust reveals a heavier, more groove oriented sound. While “Degradation” is as vicious as anything the band has ever done and “No Authority” roars behind Chris’ drumming, the real shocker is “Deathbed”. “Deathbed” rumbles with a thick and, unprecedented for these guys, mid-tempo riff and is far longer than a standard Coke Bust effort. Nicktape’s vocals are again typically strained, but this time guitarist Jeremy and bassist Jubert demonstrate clearly that they are more than one trick ponies. This is essential.

BRAIN F – “So Dim” EP (Grave Mistake Records www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Brain F deliver two brief slabs of ultra lo-fi noise filled with rage and fuzzy guitars. One can almost smell the oil stain on the floor of the garage as this band churns out the title track and its nearly identical twin B-side, “Symptom Sect” which includes the lines ”All that reading’s gone to your head/Keep the simple out of your bed/Evolution in modern times/intelligence in steep decline”. I concur with these kids on this point, and if you fail to like this, you simply do not like rock n’ roll. This is primal and majestically rudimentary in the most positive way. The shared male/female vocals are reminiscent of X buried in a wall of tape hiss. This is a wonderful way to spend four minutes of your life.

CAPTAIN, WE’RE SINKING - “With Joe Riley” 7-inch EP (Evil Weevil Records http://evilweevilrecords.blogspot.com)

This outfit plays speedy, jangly punk with a very raw sound. Recorded live in the studio, the three songs soar out of the speakers with an earnest level of immediacy. “The Ballad of Ichabod Crane” is a fun ride of aggressive playing tempered by a gentler interlude before again closing with a flurry. “Manners are Their Own Reward, Gentlemen” features a more ferocious vocal attack from past Prime that ends too quickly. The band shifts gears somewhat dramatically on “Foster Brothers”, for it is a far more streamlined pop-punk effort that while harmonic, lacks the manic energy that defined the earlier work. This is not a life-altering release, but it is a solid slab for you pop-oriented punks.

PUJOL - “How High” b/w “Sliderz” (Evil Weevil Records http://evilweevilrecords.blogspot.com)

This lo-fi punk effort is tinged with a pop veneer that could fit with the earliest purveyor of garage rock. The fuzzy recording adds to the overall rugged atmosphere of the opening “How High”. The song is messy and sloppy, but one would want to stay with it to hear how it ends. It is not a track that will stay with you once it concludes, but I respect the vibe. The B-side is flat out weird. “Sliderz’ features a heavy bass line and lyrics about being covered in snakes and having reptilian friends. This one is intriguing at times, but consistently strange.

BARRY BRUSSEAU - A Night Goes Through - 12-inch LP (barryjames@macforcego.com)

Brusseau is a native of Oregon, originally from Washington State, and his connection to the Pacific Northwest music scene runs deep. He was a member of the Jimmies and the Legend of Dutch Savage, two loud punk acts. For A Night Goes Through, the punk bluster is replaced by gentle, serene acoustic folk that sounds unfortunately like someone doing an imitation of a folk record. Brusseau’s voice is warm but it lacks the range to make his stories convincing. By the time one hits the eulogy “The Promise”, one is either bored or rolling eyes at what this attempts to be. The production and accompanying materials included as part of the packaging are actually stronger and more appealing that the music found within. Gorgeous inlay cards are provided for each song and the photography is stirring. Unfortunately, the songs fall flat as they become repetitive and lackluster, particularly “Shufflin Moon” and “Tall and Frayed”. I have the utmost respect for any musician looking to undertake a new direction and challenge themselves, but some people should just stay with what they know best. Turn up the amps again, Barry.

RESTORATIONS - Strange Behavior 12-inch LP (Paper and Plastick Records www.paperandplastick.com)

Restorations is a band that holds an interesting spot on the spectrum of indie rock. Their sound is difficult to articulate, which is always a positive trait in my opinion. The opening “Title Track” has elements of jangly pop mixed with noisier, more angular qualities, yet there is an intimacy about the song that separates it from the myriad of contemporaries. “Linear Notes” smacks of the finest qualities of 90’s indie rock, complete with a somber set of verses and arousing chorus. The warmth of Jon Loudon’s vocals is the real star of the song, as he emotes heartfelt frustration: “Now I’m pouring out my eyes, what day what time?/ Now I’m pouring out my lies, oh where have we been?” Despite being a brief four song EP, there is a vast array of ideas on display. Each of the four pieces possess a unique personality and style with “The Reappearing American Hobo” defined by a slower, softer tempo and the richly harmonious background vocals of Frances Quinlan. (no relation) The song’s warmth embraces the listener and one is pulled into a tale of a tortured relationship, concluding with the line “And to think it all started when I said I didn’t like Kerouac.” The closing “Documents” harbors a classic indie/shoegazing atmosphere, only with Loudon’s vocals sounding more strained and on the verge of exploding as he bemuses, “I can feel it crawling through my bones”. This Philly outfit has much to offer as it hearkens back to indie rock’s heritage but certainly maintains its own sense of independence.

ALMOST FREE - In/Out (www.almostfreemusic.net)

The kids should eat up this bubbly outfit. Reminding me of the Killers after listening to a steady dose of The Queen is Dead, the dance floor ready “Really Don’t Know (About You)” includes well hidden guitars that provide a little muscle under the decadence while “Generation Y” simply crackles with synth pop energy I wish would disappear forever. This is not for me, but these kids have tapped into a new wave of lighthearted indie rock. Fans of Crystal Cave or Naked and Famous will be attracted here, for each song is inoffensive and bouncy with only the most sincere of emotion on display. “Times We Used to Have” is a fitting title, for it sounds like another time, with touches of effects and crisp interplay between bass, guitar, and synth. Vocalist Andy Bird has an infectious voice and these guys are ready for the teenage hipster crowd. Almost Free borrow heavily from the 80’s, a decade I am sure these guys have only read about, and their fans of the same ilk should eagerly adopt them. The one highlight for me was the darker “Don’t Bother Me Now”, a slightly more forceful track that eschews some of the peripheral genteel qualities of the earlier songs for a more direct delivery. The song also includes a well honed guitar solo and could be harbinger of future steps in the right direction. Almost Free’s use of sugary synth frustrates me, but the kids seem to love it. However, to their credit, there is a broader scope of talent on display that could carry this band beyond a few college radio charts.


JOE LALLY - Why Should I Get Used to It? (Dischord Records www.dischord.com)

For most, the name Joe Lally conjures instant musical snapshots of jarring bass lines from Fugazi’s legendary career. However, since that band’s hiatus took effect in 2003, Lally has continued to make music on his own that, while wholly separate from his previous outfit, still maintains experimental and provoking approaches. The eleven efforts on Why Should I Get Used to It? range from the fuzzy, bouncy, yet lyrically quite serious opener “What Makes You” to the slow, more convoluted “Philosophy for Insects”, a track that includes a variety of guitar effects and one of Lally’s punishing bass hooks, albeit more straightforward that his typical effort in Fugazi. A penchant for slower, darker, more emotionally ambient work appears throughout the disc, as “Fort Campbell, Ky.”, “Let it Burn”, and “Ministry of the Interior” are entirely unique, but also maintain a similar sense of experimentalism and nearly improvisational structure, particularly “Let it Burn” that ebbs and flows but never locks into one organized groove, while the magnificent cello of Christine Mairer highlights “Ministry”. This challenging nature is reflective of the larger work. That is not to say that this is too esoteric to be enjoyed, for it is not. The damn near funky closer “Last of the Civilized” gives a flash of a more fun-loving Lally, while “Coral and Starfish” may broach the topic of atomic warfare in World War II, it does so with a brisk pace and infectious structure. Long time Fugazi fans will eagerly lap this one up, but those who are looking for an exigent yet cohesive piece of intelligent indie rock should not allow this one to slide away.

ONE WIN CHOICE - Conveyor (Jump Start Records www.jumpstartrecords.com)

The members of One Win Choice are not revolutionaries, but they do what they do very well. Dan Kloza’s vocals strike that oft-difficult balance between furious and melodic. His delivery allows his rants to sound forthright but never as a lecture. His condemnation of war in “Places” is heartfelt, where less skilled singers could have easily come across as clichéd. “Act Your Age” is a glorious celebration of doing what you love, while the gang vocals and confrontational tone of “Paint Me a Better World” makes it a highlight of the disc. The intensity of “If Hell Existed” also helps to eliminate any misconception that this is a punk band with a pop edge. Yes, much of the work is harmonic and catchy, but it also features an exposed nerve; something raw that prohibits the music from ever sounding too clean or premeditated. Guitarists Pete Pieczynski and Justin Stevenson battle each other in a series of dueling riffs and brief but effective solos, while the rhythm section of bassist Dave Aon and especially drummer Justin Phillips seem to be everywhere. With this wall of talent behind him, Kloza unleashes an array of emotions about growing older (“Frame Your Favorite Pictures”), thanking your mentors (“Ocean, Luzerne, Monroe”) and life’s constant challenges (“Who Threw Out the Itinerary?”, “Release Me”). There are times when one just wants a great record, not a life-altering shift in music theory, and Conveyor is that great album.

 

 


 

THE BUILDERS and the BUTCHERS - Dead Reckoning (Badman Recording Co. www.badmanrecordingco.com)

If John Steinbeck was penning Grapes of Wrath right now, he would use the dusty, poignant pain of The Builders and the Butchers as inspiration. Beginning with the hauntingly biting tale of addiction “I Broke the Vein” through the gospel stomp of “Family Tree”, The Builders and the Butchers offer a collection of heartfelt narratives that stir the soul and shake the spirit. Singer Ryan Sollee credits 1930’s America as a muse for Dead Reckoning, and one only need to listen to the ominous “Rotten to the Core” to appreciate this. The America of the 21st century is eerily similar to the economic, social, and political upheaval of the 30’s, and when Sollee says “did you know the whole world is rotten to the core”, he is capturing a lament felt by millions today. With a duo of drummers, Ray Rude and Brandon Hafer, The Builders and the Butchers are a surprisingly bombastic lot at times, particularly when one compares them to other folksy, Americana style acts. The dense “It Came from the Sea” rattles its way through a nautical tale, while “Lullaby” jangles with a subtle beauty that illustrates this band’s expansive talent. Fitting perfectly at a church revival or back porch hootenanny in the heartland, The Builders and the Butchers play traditional music with tremendous intensity and passion, as heard on “Moon is on the March”, a story of good against evil, and the delicate “All Away”. Delivering his lyrics with the zeal of a preacher, Sollee commands attention, and his tales of woe envelope the listen, as fluctuating intonations convey a multitude of emotions. Recorded in a scant eight days, there is a sense of urgency that permeates Dead Reckoning, making this performance to be atypical of the conventional connotations many have of folk. Ignoring this would be a terrible mistake.

DEEP SLEEP - Turn Me Off (Grave Mistake records www.gravemistakerecords.com)

Deep Sleep play my favorite brand of punk-it’s fast, mercilessly intense, and kills you five times before you know you’re dead. With ten songs in a blazing thirteen minutes, put this on repeat and enjoy the annihilation. Every song on this disc is a well produced slab of pure anger, but if you really want to watch the pit explode, check out “Destroy Everything” (“I want to fuck/I want to scream, I want to destroy everything”), “Always Run”, “Head Spins”, and the most unforgiving pseudo-love song ever, “Be With You” (All the shit I want to do/I just want to share with you”). Tony Pence’s vocals are always on the verge of self-destruction, and his delivery is reminiscent of classic 80’s hardcore, while Nick Vance’s guitar does more than act as a three chord buzz saw; he delivers guitar intricacy not always associated with this style of playing. Drummer Darick Sater and bassist Mike Stearns lay down a steady low end that acts as a tremendous foundation on “Play Another” and “Slow Down”. Speedy, unforgiving, and surprisingly melodic, Deep Sleep take all that is great about hardcore’s legends and spins it into an impressive contemporary release.


DEZRTER - Prawo Do Bycia Idiota (Mystic Production www.mystic.pl)

If you believe that great music transcends all language barriers, then pick up this gem from Poland. Dezerter began their careers in May of 1981 outside of Warszawa and were originally known as SS-20, a jab at a secret Soviet nuclear missile. With the Communist forces breathing down their necks, the members changed their name to Dezerter and began playing politically subversive punk that in some cases actually made it past the repressive government censors. This release is not old material, but rather a fresh collection of smart, fast punk that, although delivered solely in Polish, has the ability to rouse the emotions of those who listen. Luckily, the liner notes include an English translation of the songs, and one finds politically astute and sharply crafted lyrics that reflect a frustration with subjugation that still exists two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “Blasphemy”, with references to Czestochowa’s shrine”, the disappointment spewed on ‘Right to be an Idiot” and “We the Poles” capture the still simmering resentment of Eastern Europe, as “politics and geography marked us for years to come/Now we wait for dole counting on someone else’s help”. The most moving of the collection is the closing “No God”. Written from the perspectives of both a confused, scared Palestinian boy and a disenfranchised Israeli soldier, the song illuminates with startling clarity the human toll of this ongoing struggle. All of this is set to a soundtrack of incredibly catchy, furious playing. With a heavy low end and seething guitars, this is for fans of any classic punk act. It is great to see bands like this still out on the road and providing the planet with intellectual, masterful music. Hopefully, more of the world will have a chance to celebrate them.


KICKING SPIT - Psychrockbullshit (Tankcrimes records www.tankcrimes.com)

Wow, within a minute of the opening “Nothing Left”, Kicking Spite delivers me back to my college radio station as Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain” and Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker” fill my head. While the name can use some tweaking, Kicking Spit has to be commended for their chops-the guys held down positions in bands like Seasick and Big Eyes, and spent nine weeks touring in support of their cassette edition of Psychrockbullshit. Cassette? I guess in the age of instantaneous downloads, that is pretty punk. Are 8 tracks the next uber-punk move? At any rate, Kicking Spit is raucous and the kids balance hardcore ferocity with a sly commercialism that harkens back to the glory days of “college rock”, but some of this sounds too premeditated. “Sea of Swirls” borrows as much from Temple of the Dog as it does Husker Du, while “Way Out” is the noisiest and most challenging of the bunch, but even this is simply more J Mascis adoration. The vocals soar above the fray while the combustion rattles beneath, creating a juxtaposition of styles that is not revolutionary but still fun. This will not leave anyone speechless, and at times, and I feel like Kicking Spit are trying too hard to capture 1990 on “Truth or Consequences” and “Skulls”, as if they expect Lou Barlow or Bob Mould to sit in with them. For those who did not experience the “alternative” revolution for themselves, Psychrockbullshit is a fairly commendable reproduction of the sound, but really, just go out and buy Flip Your Wig.

VINYL

CHAUCHAT - Songs for Scaffolding (Unread Records www.unread-records.com)

Raw and enchanting, Chauchat is a mysterious duo led by Tyler Whitney. While currently residing in New York City, Whitney records in the far more rural and bucolic environment of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The result is a sparse, haunting affair that brings a sense of foreboding to Whitney’s folk. I am taken by the subtle touches one finds throughout Songs for Scaffolding, a compilation of songs recorded entirely within an abandoned candy factory. The sound of scraping metal at the onset of “Brave Shield” is indeed a metal lid being dragged across the floor of an empty room. These restrained nuances make Songs for Scaffolding an engrossing listen that requires commitment from the listener to fully appreciate. The pained emotion embedded within “Practice in the Rubble” and “If the Shoe Fits” is riveting, as even the slightest shift in intensity makes each song surprisingly powerful. Case in point is the thunderous (comparatively speaking) “Dance Me Off a Cliff”. Despite such a cold setting, this is a warm and appealing release.

SAVAGE BREWTALITY - The Last Slice (Fest Records www.festrecords.com)

As I write this, the Middle East is on fire, Japan is in the midst of potential nuclear catastrophe and those 2012 predictions about the end of the world seem to be potentially valid. Therefore, why not lose yourself in some drunken punk tomfoolery? If you have a sense of humor, an affinity for beer, and an appreciation for three catchy chords played on repeat, then you are the target audience of Savage Brewtality. The Last Slice is musical equivalent of every thought that dominates the mind of frat boys all over this great land, (“Let’s Get Drunk”, “Nachos”, and “Whacky Shack”) played with blazing punk speed. I happen to find this stuff funny, for “WWZJD” (What Would Zombie Jesus Do?) makes me laugh and appeals to my inner idiot. Additionally, any band that makes references to Thundar the Barbarian, or in this case, his alcoholic cousin “Fundar the Brewbarian”, is alright with me. With a dual guitar assault compliments of Geis and Jack, Savage Brewtality unleash a fairly substantial set of riffs upon the listener, while Keeth’s vocals are both entertaining and relatively on key. This is not a band looking to push the genre into new musical directions, but if you do not consider yourself above pee jokes and “Weekend at Bernie’s 2” references, take this for what it is, smile and drink.


 

BABY FIRE - No Fear (Cheap Satanism records www.cheapsatanism.com)

When a band is named in reference and somewhat in deference to Ottis Toole, the cannibalistic, pyromaniac serial killer and lover of Henry Lee Lucas, I am intrigued. Tell me it is a female duo and I’m hooked. To complete the package, Baby Fire is captivating and instantly memorable. Musically, vocalist and guitarist Diabolita and drummer Cha! play no frills punk that could have been the soundtrack in Olympia, Washington circa 1993. The riffs are solid but not revolutionary, but that is as incidental now as it was in the early 1990’s. What makes a band like Baby Fire noteworthy is the unbridled honesty and raw humanity that shines throughout the disc. Diabolita’s vocals move from a low monotone to a high pitched shriek as she and Cha! churn out short burst of fearless punk. Blending the bombast of Bikini Kill with the unassuming harmony of Slater-Kinney, Baby Fire soar on “Dark Ages”, “Bunny”, “I Love to Cook’ and “Yellow Wallpaper”, a great literary nod to Charlotte Gilman. This is smart punk delivered by two very sharp minds who express consistently subtle anger throughout No Fear. The darkness of “Worst Things”, and “Half Sick of Shadows” along with the melancholy terror of “Bones Soup” are nearly palpable, and when Diabolita declares “I am a warrior” on “Insect/Flower”, it is advisable to get out of her way. The disc takes a mesmerizing turn on “Soap”, a haunting track that sounds like a journey through the mind of a madman, while the meandering, plodding pace of “Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart” only accentuates its sense of impending suffering. Watch this band closely, for there is something very special here.

BRIDGES AND POWERLINES - Eve (Stunning Models on Display records www.stunningmodelsondisplay.com)

Bridges and Powerlines are a typical New York act, in the sense that they are transients from other areas who came to New York to take advantage of the City’s newly rekindled interest in pop music. Unfortunately, I am not among those who are interested in delicate, serene pop, which is what dominates Eve. Yes, the vocals are warm, the playing is richly melodious, the arrangements are sophisticated, but this is simply too pretty for me. “I Remember a Blue Sky” and “The Roman Leaders” are far too tranquil for my liking, while the bouncy keys that accentuate “The Jameson” frustrate more than excite me. This is slickly produced and luxuriantly harmonious, but one has to be a fan of such easily palatable, inoffensive music. Some efforts, such as “Balcony” and “Gazes Wide” simply hang around too long, as the latter includes a tender key interlude that sets the song up for a more explosive conclusion, but sadly that never occurs. This is sophisticated pop, but the song structures are so intricate that the disc never generates a truly memorable hook. I cannot fault the playing, but there is no racket, no real energy to be found. Put this on during a rainy Sunday when you want to close your eyes and drift away. If you want something more than that, this is not for you.

OCTAVES - Greener Pastures (Hotfoot records www.hotfootrecords.com)

Octaves waste no time in making a powerful impression. The opening yelp of Phil Foster on “Fix the Fernback” is like a punch to the face, but this band has a multitude of musical tricks up their collective sleeve. Within just this opening effort one hears elements of bruising metal power, atmospheric interludes, intricate time signatures, and the stunningly gorgeous vocals of Allyson Little. It is a commanding introduction and sets the stage for what is a complicated but richly engaging effort. In less skilled players, this would be a complete disaster-a wave of splattered ideas seemingly disconnected from each other. However, Greener Pastures, despite its head-spinning song structures and math metal characteristics, is a seamless collection of furious rage that is always deliberate and focused. A Dillinger Escape Plan comparison is fitting, but not wholly complete. Octaves manage to inject elements of melody and harmony into their swirling masses, such as “I’ve Got Boxes Full of Pepe” and “I Am He Who is Called I Am”. These songs will leave people in stunned awe, for it is extraordinarily rare that a band can generate blasting, crushing songs with such staggering precision and attention to detail. There is not a wasted note here, and I am left exhausted when it finishes. Guitarists Bob Elder and Wes Young should emerge as household names, as they alternate between metallic vehemence and jazz intricacy, best embodied on “I’m Just Going to the Corner to Get Cigarettes (I’ll be Back in a Minute)”. However, should you prefer your brutality to be quick and relentless, check out the grind-friendly “Shmohawk”, an effort that would make the guys in Brutal Truth smile. The splintered compositions that dominate the Greener Pastures are simultaneously jarring and malleable, a juxtaposition of sophistication and raw frenzy. This is a very positive beacon for hope for fans of unapologetic hardcore.


 

BY THE THROAT - One Good Night (Winter St. Records myspace.com/winterstreetrecords)

By The Throat play old fashion, no frills, punk rock. In other words, this band will remind you why you first fell in love with the music. There is no hyphenated tag here, no “core” tag at the end of their style. “Break Away”, “Western Front”, and “Nowhere to hide” highlight a blistering and all too brief five song EP. These slabs of classic punk stylings maintain a modern touch while still clearly paying homage to acts of yore. The dual guitar assault of Niff (who also handles vocals) and Sean Dimwit is a buzzsaw of force, while Chris Dimwit and Chris Brat are a furiously tight rhythm section. The guys do not just bash out sixty second burst of speed (although there is nothing wrong with that either), but craft highly structured pieces that reflect more sophisticated songwriting reflective of musicians who have done this for a while, as embodied by “Ask Yourself Why” and the centerpiece of the EP, “Disagree to Agree”. By the Throat give their respects to the fundamental principles of punk’s history while also displaying enough dexterity to elevate them above a simple clone of the past. Go find this.

SAMIAM - Orphan Works (No idea records www.noidearecords.com)

Samiam strikes me as punk’s version of Bruce Campbell-everything about them is likable and they should have become huge stars, but it was just never meant to be. Orphan Works puts together the finest moments of Samiam’s career and reminds many of us of just how skilled these guys really were and continue to be. “Capsized” was the one “hit” for the band, but there are numerous efforts that will either illicit wonderful memories or create new one if you are neophyte concerning the band’s career. “Bad Day”, “Stepson” (with Jason Beebout’s visceral yelp of “burn the house down”) and “Don’t Break Me” are all smartly crafted pieces that go beyond the three chord wonders that dominated much of the early 90’s post-Nirvana partitioning of the punk rock continent. Samiam construct songs that convey a range of emotions, not just frustration or blinding anger, but do so with a sonic fury that can challenge anyone. Orphan Works is more than just a greatest “could have been” collection, however, for it also provides alternative takes, live performances, and two scathing covers (“Search and Destroy” and a dead-on “Here Comes Your Man”). The raw energy of the live performance of “Sky Flying By” proves how beastly this band can be and why they are still out there on the road today-Samiam is a testament to working hard and never surrendering. The best aspect of this disc is that is not a farewell to a band, but a celebration of why they still matter.


VINYL

THE BETTER LETTERS (4:3 records www.thebetterletters.com www.4-3records.com )

Brooklyn’s the Better Letters take you back in time to the dawn of the 80’s and the onset of twitching, jangly punk that will certainly invoke numerous Talking Heads and possibly some Feelies references. Vocalist Joe Palumbo (formerly of sh-sh-sh-Shark Attack! Fame) has a nervous yet somehow infectious voice. The bouncy “Container” smacks of Freedom of Choice era Devo without some of the histrionics. However, the Better Letters also blend pop elements that make the band come across as an Americanized, male Shonen Knife. If you are a touch confused, do not worry; simply take your time, give this multiple listens and I promise you’ll be hooked.


MIEZEKATZE (4:3 records www.4-3records.com)

4:3 records is building quite a little stable just from Brooklyn. This one is a noisy, lo-fi punk platter delivered predominantly in German. Try to imagine Nena singing for the Stranglers or the Voidoids and you get a sense of what this is. “Check Please” and “Boy in Every Town” have both English and German lyrics, but the latter is my preferred track of the two. “Boy” harkens back to core of classic punk with a vibe reminiscent of the Heartbreakers and even the Ramones until the chorus, which sounds as if vocalist Simone Huelser needs an oompa band to back her up appropriately. This is not easy, but worth the effort.

THE DROVES - Out of Herself (Eastern Spurs Records www.myspace.com/thedrovesnyc)

The Droves have a rare ability to create harmony in the most exigent of places. The riffs and song structures throughout Out of Herself are challenging, yet still inexplicably accessible. The opening “Mackenzie” is the best song J. Mascis never wrote, while “Dying Fits of Laughter” takes a somber tone but still infuses it with infectious hooks. “Plexi and Tandem” includes both a soaring falsetto and a wall of guitar, accompanied by thundering drumming. This fluctuation between fragility and forcefulness keeps the record perpetually interesting, as heard on the beautiful “Sheila” which also includes a boisterous solo of guitar squall. I am instantly hooked with “All Lies Begin with I”, an off-kilter masterpiece of rhythmic construction with layers of guitar work and Christian Gibbs’ majestic voice. The band is fully committed to all things gloriously rock n’ roll until “Agatha”, a thick, bass-heavy dance track with huge cymbal crashes supplemented with distorted guitars and keyboards. The band’s moodier moments, such as the title track and the enchanting “Wasted” are fascinating works of intricate playing. “Better Than You” is Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” for the twenty-first century, while the closing “Then There Were Three” is an explosive instrumental that acts as a perfect bookend to the disc’s impressive opening. This is a rich, diversified record worthy of ample appreciation.

QUIET LIFE - The Big Green (Safety Meeting Records www.safetymeeting.net)

How can a bunch of guys from New Jersey who spent time in Connecticut and now reside in Oregon capture the folksy, down-home nature of midwestern America? I have no idea either, but it happens on The Big Green. The Quiet Life sound as if they would be right at home in heartland with the opening “Storm Clouds”, a song that would make all fans of Levon Helm and the Band weep with happiness , while “No Surprise” is a stripped down examination of one’s life played with controlled finesse and highlighted by Sean Spellman’s engrossing voice. The guys are not front porch hootenannies, however, as “Nighttime” and “The Boss Man” ratchet up the noise factor, but the reserved playing makes “Cove Country” and “Sweet as Molasses” more appealing and alluring. Admirers of talents ranging from Neil Young to Dr. John to Wilco will be enraptured by the dexterity of Spellman as a raconteur, while his bandmates, including brother Ryan, generate absorbing hooks to compliment appealing choruses. Springsteen’s more earnest moments (The River, Nebraska, etc.) do emerge here, which proves that no matter where they travel, this is at heart a Jersey band.

THE GET UP KIDS - There Are Rules (Vagrant)

I have long respected the Get Up Kids for their willingness to experiment with tempo and tone throughout each of their releases, and the same is true on There Are Rules. My personal tastes lead me to the more energized pieces, such as “Regent’s Court” and the closing “Rememorable”, as they both are well crafted guitar anthems with fluent lyrics and bold riffs. There are a few misses here, such as the ineffectual “Rally Round the Fool”, and “overly bouncy “Shatter Your Lungs” but more often the band locks into a fuzzy, agro-punk/pop energy such as the stirring “Birmingham” and driving “Better Lie”. The Get Up Kids have evolved far from their early days when they were saddled with the ill-fitting emo tag. Since the band’s return to the music scene in 2008, the Get Up Kids seem to be more intense and more driving as a musical force. This record, available on both Vagrant as well as the band’s own Quality Hill label is a strong return for the guys, bringing guys like me into the fold. I was never fully engrossed by the band, but There Are Rules are louder and more challenging than previous releases. The Get Up Kids have grown up and through break ups and set backs, this album is an affirmation of their talent.


VULPES VULPES - Caffeine Eyes (www.facebook.com/vulpesvulpesband)

This New Jersey indie is a promising act that blends electronics and synth into a rock construction with surprising ease. At times, such as the instrumental “Island of Pandilla” when they band comes across as simply a bubbly dance act without much real substance. However, Vulpes Vulpes blend synth with more traditional rock fury on “Tease to Seize” and the almost playful electronics are a welcomed addition and not simply gratuitously adhered to the song, while ”Maneki Neko” is a noisy, swirling ball of condensed force that teeters on the verge of explosion as the keys enter and leave sporadically. “Gavin the Narwhal is in Good Health Pt. 1” is another stellar example of the band’s musical dexterity, for the track alters tempos between periods of oft-kilter calm before unleashing passionate vocals and a riff that smacks of kids who have just discovered classic alternative. The band dances and flirts with a number of genres and creates one of their own on this brief introductory EP. “Gavin the Narwhal is in Good Health Pt. 2” is a collection of ethereal synth and samples that are off-set by angered vocals, and the song works for a time but becomes frustrating when it ceases after a minute and half only to return with an additional two minutes of downtrodden, melancholy keys that were repetitive and not reflective of this band’s ability. Caffeine Eyes is an interesting listen; it is occasionally maddening, but often engrossing and the EP does what any EP should do-it keeps the listener wanting more.

VINYL

J.MARINELLI - Pre-Emptive Skankery Sessions (Commodity Fetish Analogue www.mysapce.com/jmarinelli)

Sounding like it was recorded in a closet through a boom box onto a third generation used cassette from Radio Shack circa 1985, J Marinelli is a rare and raw punk rock gift. There is nothing even remotely approaching pretension from this raucous one man band as he hollers and stomps through fourteen scrappy nuggets. The rough and tumble feel of “Comrade K” encapsulates the entire record, as Marinelli drowns in reverb while unleashing a bluesy, filthy ditty. This puts a new “lo” in lo-fi and Pre-Emptive Skankery Sessions is not always an easy listen, but that is the point. This is an artist putting himself out for both adulation and condemnation, and while “The Ballad of Eddie Freedom” and “Last Year’s Party” are too lethargic for me, I am fascinated by “Weak Enough”, “Your Ethos is Like a Drug to Me”, and “Keep Morgantown Weird”. I am still hesitant about the concept of the one man band, but Marinelli largely changes my opinion with this slab of unsophisticated basement brilliance.

X - Under The Big Black Sun (Porterhouse Prime Vinyl www.porterhouserecords.com)

All hail the brilliance of Steve Kravac and Greg Hetson! No longer should these men be lionized solely for their producing and musical gifts respectively, but for their perseverance and forethought behind Porterhouse and now Prime Vinyl records. Prime Vinyl has already re-released critically important works from the Circle Jerks and now unveils Under the Big Black Sun from seminal LA punk geniuses X. What makes this such a marvelous effort is the astonishing attention to detail; the vinyl is heavy and of incredible quality, and the liner notes are as they appeared in 1982. This is not a re-issue with unnecessary essays from contemporary hangers-on pining for the long departed days of yore. This is like being transported back thirty years in time and hearing this record for the first time. For those too young to accurately recall this prize, Under the Big Black Sun is a collection of intelligent, articulate punk highlighted by “Riding with Mary”, the title track, and the blistering “Because I Do”. It also includes the poignant tribute to Exene Cervenka’s mother Mary, “Come Back to Me”, the stomping “Blue Spark” and the scorching “Real Child of Hell”. Joe Doe, Exene Cervenka, D.J. Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom have much to celebrate here, and all of us benefit from the return of this long out of print gem.


 

JOHN EYE - Cannonicus 3:14 (www.h1Massive.com)

Dark, ambient, and edgy, John Eye is a surprise. I am off-put at first by the fact that it appears as if Eye takes one idea and simply reformulates it seven times and slaps on one extra track for fun. Instead, despite using “Cannonicus” in seven of the eight titles, this is not an EP of one track simply remixed. Each of the seven “Cannonicus” efforts is distinctively in personality and intensity. The brightest highlight for me was “Sun Dance”, a majestic, traditional Lakota Sioux performance which is riveting. The opening drum pummeling and atmospheric nature of “Ride” is instantly enticing, and opens the floodgates of Eye’s remixes and reconstruction of the title song. The destructive force of “Song of Cannonicus” uses metallic force and heavily distorted vocals to rattle one’s brain for a punishing six minutes and this one is on repeat for me. “Cannonicus Rivetburn Mix” features a hypnotic groove that could melt the walls of any club. Each song also includes the beats per minutes, with a riotous 128 bpm’s occurring on half of the efforts! This would not be a traditional listen for me, and I was unaware of Eye’s work prior to this, but he is highly prolific and worth of investigation. Fans of his earlier material should find reasons to celebrate this latest piece.

THE F BOMBERS - “Nobody’s Hero” Pledge Allegiance (Jailhouse Records www.jailhouserecords2.bandcamp.com)

This single is the lead track from the upcoming Pledge Allegiance record on Jailhouse records, the label responsible for unleashing the Pink Lincolns upon the world. The F Bombers are energized, hook-laden, and instantly engaging. The track is three and half minutes of pure, gritty punk with a tremendous sense of harmony. With aggressive vocals and a raw, yet melodic riff and big chorus, the song follows the blue-print of how to generate accessible punk. There is nothing not to like here, and this track bodes well for the full length effort. Check checking out the jailhouse website for details on a highly promising act.

THE LAST STAND (www.myspace.com/thelaststandnyhc)

This blink and its over EP is four songs of traditional, thunderous New York hardcore. The members of The Last Stand have been doing this for a while and there is nothing revolutionary about this effort. However, that does not detract for its power and fury. Those who appreciate Agnostic Front, Madball, and other no frills hardcore acts will revel in this. There is nothing not to like if you consider yourself a hardcore fan-the guitar riffs are concrete thick slabs of power compliments of Dion De Nardo. Surrounding him are fellow former Shutdown mates Stephen Della Croce on bass and drummer Jimmy McCormack. Together, their playing is an impenetrable fortress of aggression, acting as an ideal musical bed for the rage expunged by vocalist Mike Scondotto. The most satisfying aspect of this disc is that there is a level of sophistication to each of the four efforts, particularly “Opportunities Lost and Found” and “Life’s Questions”. This is not a bunch of kids screaming about a world they do not understand-these are still fuming, frustrated adults using hardcore to vent real dissatisfaction. If you are still angry after all these years, go find this one.

THE LOWBOTS t (www.myspace.com/thelowbots)

I am never in a mood mellow enough for this. Tony Low is a talented singer with a rich, textual voice, but I am not a fan of this style of playing. Part folk, part trippy pseudo-psychedelia, the Lowbots jingle and jangle through twelve non-threatening efforts. Songs like “Puffin” and “Like a Dream” are sure to be appreciated by those who wish the 60’s never faded, but I am bored. “Virtual-made Man” is a sarcastic look at today’s technologically driven world, but it is not truly critical; it comes across as a poorly delivered sarcastic rant and not a song of any real cultural substance. Other pieces, such as the mundane “Ride With Me” and “Been Here Waiting” take one idea and exploit it for too long. Musically, Low, along with Peter Tyler and Mike Glock are more than competent at their respective instruments, but the gentle tempos, harmless delivery, and bland arrangements leave me frustrated. In fact, as I listen to this album of polished, pop-rock nuggets, I am becoming increasingly angry. Save this for the coffee house circuit, if one of those still exists, but please keep this from me.

JIM TESTA The Wurst of Jim Testa: Music to Eat Sandwiches By (www.facebook.com/jimtesta)

I know I am going to sound like a suck-up by enjoying this and praising it, but I am not some easy-grader who is here simply to fawn over Jim’s musical adventures. Our friend Jim plays fun folk rock with a great sense of humor with nods to pop and even doo-wop without sounding fabricated or trite. Every word is delivered with brutal honesty and Testa is a skilled raconteur who can reference Justin Beiber, Elvis Costello, and the Ramones within the same track and have it make sense (the wonderfully sardonic “Blow Up Your Radio”). Granted, there are times when one must be of a certain age to truly appreciate the references, but if you know Jean Shepherd (everyone has seen “A Christmas Story”, so you need not be familiar with his early radio career) or fondly admire Husker Du (on the slightly punchier “Lunch with Husker Du”), Testa speaks directly to you. Testa paints teen angst with raw emotion on “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein”. Set in New Jersey in 1978, the narrator is every kid who ever pined for the homecoming queen and could not get a date for the prom, i.e. dorks like me. However, rather than ending the story in a teenage basement with a copy of Hustler, Jim takes you into the current state of that once gorgeous girl: four times pregnant, fat, and married to the former quarterback who is now bald. It’s a classic example of nerd revenge and it rules! Testa’s insight into the pseudo-hipster universe shines thrown on “Planet Williamsburg’ and “Sally’s Got a New Tattoo”, while his endearing self-depreciating humor is evident on the now somewhat dated “(I Need the) Queer Eye (For the Straight Guy)” and seamless double entendre of “Third Class Male”, which mirrors early Elvis in delivery. He even captures the spirit of “indie rock camaraderie” on “The W.E. Fest Song”, a tribute to emergence of a true grass roots festival success story. What makes The Wurst of Jim Testa so likeable is how Jim, whether you know him or not, comes across as an everyman; he is an earnest, insightful guy who sees through all the nonsense and exposes it with an acoustic guitar and a smirk. Besides, how can one not like a guy who pays homage to Festivus? Now it is time for the feats of strength, Jim!

JOHN SHIPE - Villain (Involushun Records www.johnshipe.com)

For those who appreciate the beauty of Americana, you will undoubtedly fall into the velvet embrace of John Shipe’s Villain. Ten albums in, Shipe seems to be hitting his stride on this lush collection of highly descriptive tales of love and woe. The highlight is the stunning “Hard to Believe”, a stirring duet with Halie Loren, but there will be undoubted debate about which effort truly stands out. “Love Belong to Everyone” is a warm, luxurious effort that defies a title that sounds a bit corny. The bouncy and pop-infused “Another Disaster” stands in contrast to more somber and wrenching “No Use Crying Over a Spilt Life”, but the two make a tremendous one-two combination arriving deep in the record. The latter is particularly cutting for those who find them unhappy in their current situation, but as Shipe reminds the listener that one should not complain when one “got a job and you love your wife/ no reason to fall on your knife”. The entire disc resonates with an intimacy through the production skills of Ehren Ebbage. John Hiatt and Jeff Buckley fans will instantly gravitate to this, particularly the witty and intelligent lyrical play of “What Right Do We Have to Fall in Love?” and the powerful piano ballad “Dead Kite”. This is atmospherically beautiful and harmonically sensual; a rich combination of musical dexterity and lyrical erudition. This is a striking record worthy of immediate attention.


FORMER GHOSTS - New Love (Upset the Rhythm Records www.upsettherhythm.com)

Dark, expansive, and intriguing, New Love is a musical investigation of loneliness, obsession, and suffering. The soundscapes of Former Ghosts fluctuate between sparse and fiercely penetrating. The opening “The Days Will Get Long Again” introduces Freddy Ruppert’s morose interpretation of pop. Even when the record becomes bouncy, such as the kinetic “New Orleans”, there remains a sense of uncertainty and potential despair. “And When You Kiss Me” will enthrall Joy Division fans, for one can feel Ruppert’s anguish in its raw, beautifully tortured manner, while the soaring vocals of Roza Danilova accentuates the majesty of “Chin Up”. Fittingly, Ruppert made a song titled “Trust” an instrumental, as it is a appropriate metaphor for the vacuous loss of faith and hope which dominates the disc. With ear-tantalizing rhythms and synth that can be pop-tinged or angular, New Love is a sanguine display of musical manipulation. The morbidity of Ruppert’s vocals are haunting on “Taurean Nature”, with its simple beats and gentle synth, while the up-tempo groove of “Right Now” masks the soul-wrenching sorrow found within. Yasmine Kittles provides a voice that is innocent yet infused with yearning on “I am Not What You Want”, making it the most infatuating effort of the bunch. The most excruciating demonstration of emotional suffering is on the fittingly titled “Bare Bones”. Ruppert laments about his state as he bemoans “I would sacrifice anything just to see you smile” and “love, keep it away from me” over an ethereal musical bed. His voice quivers and radiates with tangible agony-this is a troubling but deeply engaging examination into the depth of longing.

SOUTH CRY - Blue Moon (www.Southcry.com)

As I listen to this I am overwhelmed by a desire to angrily turn it off and throw away someplace very far, particularly following the band’s mid-tempo attempt at “Help!” by the Beatles. Yes, those Beatles. However, as I regain my composure and the blood slowly drains out of my face, I am somewhat glad that the disc continues on, for not everything South Cry does is so cringe-inducing. Following this debacle, which is the fourth track on the self-released disc, this Brazilian act produces a collection of yeoman style rock, occasionally touching on mainstream boogie, a la the Kings of Leon on “Actually’ and “Russian Roulette”. However, this is extraordinarily ordinary in every respect. South City are about as bold as Counting Crows, a band from whom they seem to draw inspiration on “Lord of Sound” and the closing “She!”. It is an unremarkable, but not entirely joyless listen, but you will never rush to hit repeat. If you have a friend who has never heard rock before and wants the most generic, flavorless approach to the genre, play that person Blue Moon. For the rest of us, keep on walking.

ROBERT POSS - Settings: Music for Dance, Film, Fashion, and Industry (Trace Elements Records www.TraceElementsRecords.com)

Robert Poss is responsible for a record that is mesmerizing and stunning in scope. This richly textured release features pieces commissioned for choreographers Alexandra Beller, Gerald Casel, and Sally Gross. This collection is a beautiful manipulation of sound, a droning amalgamation of artistically challenging brilliance. Leaving his guitar and wall of distortion at home, Poss generates songs of quiet, genteel serenity, almost to the point of not moving. Ethereal yet still piercing, Settings is a journey of enchanting beauty which hovers precariously on the verge of chaos. The opening bells of “Other Stories Interlude” (which return on “The Pleasure of Stillness”) and the engrossing “Feed Forward” are two of the works created for Beller, and two of my favorites. Longer efforts, particularly “Border Crossing March”, crafted for Casel, and the complex “Stare Decisis” are absorbing experiments of tone and structure. There is still room for remarkable warmth and beauty as exemplified by the lush strings on the majestic “Tourniquet Revisited”. The sophistication of Settings is staggering, for the record transcends soundscapes and enters rarified air usually reserved for only the most exemplary classical works. While each song is elegantly performed with a wholly unique personality, there is cohesion throughout the record as the fourteen tracks possess an intimacy and immediacy that defines the larger work. It is soulful and powerful in its scope and subtle force. Poss is a genius at creating atmospheres that are intimate yet expansive, daunting yet personal. Only on the concluding “Robert Palmer Tribute Coda” does Poss’ more traditional side emerge, as the song is a scathing eighty-five seconds of guitar squall and feedback. This is a triumph.

WE ARE HEX - Hail the Goer (Roaring Colonel Records www.myoldkentuckyblog.com)

This evocative disc is a charming combination of blunt force and delicate darkness. Throughout the record, the drumming is incredibly powerful and robust, quite literally the driving force behind each track. Conversely, there is sparse guitar work and even a little flute present, resulting in a band whose sound is truly genre-bending. However, what will undoubtedly enrapture the listener is the vocal style of Jilly. Her voice can be warm and comforting or a shriek of anguish, both done with equal command and power. Seemingly to borrow ideas from bands such as Bauhaus, Nirvana, and early Cure, the listener is dragged through a cathartic darkness on efforts “Teeth Collection”, “We are the Goer”, and the furious closer “Cutter/Given”. Clocking in at less than thirty minutes, We Are Hex does not waste your time-you are drawn into their fury and rattled until they decide to release you. There is no one style name to affix to this band, but it is a highly imaginative listen from an act unafraid of challenging people. I suggest multiple spins, for one will become a bigger fan with each listen.

JUKEBOX ZEROS - City of Bother and Loathe (Rank Outsider Records www.rankoutsiderecords.com)

Philly’s Jukebox Zeros give you four songs of awesome, honest, American rock n’ roll at a time when it is desperately needed. The title track has a chorus you will remember for weeks, while any song that includes the line “I killed a six pack just to watch it die” (“Goin’ Down to the Cop Shop”) is an instant classic in my book. The band manages to be both gritty yet still pop-laced, particularly the fabulous “Let’s Get Zooed Out”. Peter Santa Maria’s gruff and soulful vocals carry each track while raw energy oozes out from behind him. You may not have more fun with an album this year.

O’PIONEERS/ JUNIOR BATTLES - Split EP (Kiss of Death records www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

O’Pioneers is the big winner of the two here, for their forceful approach is tempered by a subtle melodic balance that makes “Hey!That’s My Blood” a tune with more than just a great name. A huge guitar riff and a jagged chorus give this song an abrasive edge which I love. Rare is the band that is so aggressive yet so melodic. I want more from these guys. Junior Battles, oddly enough the band backing vocalist Eric Soloman from O’Pioneers, do not capture the ferocity of the A-side. Junior Battles is a band with a much safer approach; they blend elements of punk-pop, heavy on the pop, with traces of more dexterous musicianship. The result is “Passing Out”, a song that possesses a well framed harmony, but was simply too pedestrian for my taste, although the talent is obvious.

RAPID CITIES/MOCK – Split EP
(myspace.com/ilovehaterecords)


Why is the world not singing the praises and celebrating the obvious brilliance of Rapid Cities? This act was born too late, for they would have defined the Dischord roster in the 90’s. Pointless nostalgia aside, these guys are amazing and need to be heard. “Techno After Party” has a moody, start/stop aesthetic which is soaring in terms of beauty and intensity. The guitar work is pristine, the vocals and powerful, and the rhythm section is flawless. This was so good, even my cat sat down and listened. Find this immediately and make these guys rock stars.

Germany’s Mock is a bit tougher to grasp than RC. Their song structure on “Count and Release’ is more complex and angular, making it both fascinating and frustrating. Therefore, it does what good art is supposed to do, which is confound and engage, and the deliberate vocal style and challenging guitar riff will do just that. Mock finds a disjointed quality within their harmonies, but the convoluted nature of “Count and Release” goes on for too long. There is a great idea in the center of this song; it just requires a great amount of work to enjoy it.

REASON TO FIGHT/CHESTY MALONE AND THE SLICE ‘EM UPS- Split EP (United Riot Records www.unitedriotrecords)

Always nice to give some love to my home state of Rhode Island, and the nation’s most historically defiant state is well represented with Reason to Fight. If you like old fashion hardcore with rumbling bass, searing guitar, and shout-out along vocals, climb up front and get prepared to be punched silly. Reason to Fight roar on both tracks here, including the classically-trained unity anthem of “Dying Breed” and the celebration of the blue collar workingman, “Hard Working, Hard Drinking, Hardcore”. There is nothing fancy here; just a crisply played, well produced slab of hardcore honesty.

Do you really need a review of a band called Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘Em Ups? It’s safe to imagine what you will get, and you will fall to your knees for this act. Oh, if GG Allin was alive today-he would probably be a huge mess, but he would also be on the road with these feisty characters. The role of Chesty is filled out (ha!) by Jaqueline Blownaparte (Ok, just awesome), and her snarling vocals are the highlight of “The Brain That Ate New York” and “Quest for Flesh”, two of the sterling nuggets here on this release. The playing here is raw and vicious and must make for a great live show. This is a perfect release for punk fans who do not mind a little humor with their circle pits.

TEARS OF FRUSTRATION- Live at CBGB’s (United Riot Records www.unitedriotrecords)

This five song release captures the spirit and vitality of the CBGB’s matinees. The urgency and energy of the playing is obvious as Tears of Frustration as a hardcore machine. The raging “Old America” gives way to a duo of scathing anthems, the blistering “Hold My Breath” and “No Retreat”, my favorite of the bunch. The production level is raw and you feel as if you are immersed in the sweat and grime of the club-this is not just a great hardcore act ripping up a legendary venue, it is a celebration of a spirit that is sadly now just a collection of memories. However, wipe away those tears and turn this up loud, for the B-side includes a pair of covers, highlighted by a scorching rendition of DRI’s “Yes Ma’am”. United Riot hits again.

ANIMAL PUKE ON THE PUKE TRAIN - Compilation (Soggy Dream/Puke records www.myspace.com/soggydreammusic)

So you want a collection of unknown punk acts doing it the old fashioned D.I.Y. way but you do not know where to turn? Fear no more, my friend, for Soggy Dream has a perfect release for you. This three band EP includes my new favorite song of 2010-“Babies are Horrible” by the Pukes. Everything about this song is perfect, from the nauseating lyrics to the shockingly sing along chorus. Play this for all those annoying new parents. Mike Puke (not to be confused with the aforementioned Pukes) is a classic punk throwback as he blends primitive energy with a rousing hook in the form of “New Toys for the Blue Boys”. Lastly, Animal Train plays rough and tumble archetypal punk, highlighted by “Delusional Poser”-a song that is even better than its name. This is worth doing a little work and finding.


 

SUCH GOLD - Pedestals (6131 Records www.6131records.com)

Emerging from Rochester, New York, Such Gold’s six-song EP is a solid collection of technically strong, emotionally driven hardcore. The opening “Cut Rides” only hangs around for just over a minute, but first time listeners can glean the band’s sound even in that brief sample. For those with more time on their hands, “Sycamore” and “The Brass Tax” are explosive in nature without surrendering harmony. The gang vocals on the aforementioned “The Brass Tax” harkens a classic hardcore sound, while vocalist Ben Kotin has a huge voice with dazzling range not usually found in this brand of music. The guitar playing of Nate Derby and Tim Heald are burly and aggressive, while the rhythm section of Devon Hubbard (bass) and drummer Devan Bentley is incredibly tight and commanding. Although the band occasionally flirts with elements of pop-punk, their overriding influences are clearly more ferocious in nature, as the closing title track proves. It is inspiring to hear a band whose sound is a bold combination of traditional hardcore stylings peppered with contemporary elements. This is most definitely worth your time.

SENSES FAIL - The Fire (Vagrant Records www.vagrant.com)

I can understand why Senses Fail are popular; they blend raw anger with incredibly melodic rhythms to create a sound that appeals to the monster in the pit as well as that sensitive aspect you never want to admit to possessing. Case in point is “Lifeboats”, a thunderous collection of verses about loneliness and lies (“Through therapy and through the pills I can let go/But what about the fucking fact I’m still alone), accented by a delicate chorus about self-loathing and isolation. This dichotomy of sound is found throughout The Fire and defines who Senses Fail is as a band. Unfortunately, they too often adopt a genteel delivery which comes across as pre-packaged for hipster teens going to their first show by themselves. “Saint Anthony”, “Landslide” and “Nero” fall into this trap, for while the songs are solid they are too glossy. It can be frustrating at times, for “Safe House’ and “Irish Eyes” include moments of raw power that are highly combustible, but then they fall back into My Chemical Romance territory. The biggest problem facing Senses Fail is competition-there are just too many bands who sound like this; maybe not with the same aplomb of Senses Fail, but after being inundated with limitless amounts of the screamo-cum-pop song structure, all the acts blend together so even the better ones become mundane. This is not without its moments, and the band is more mature lyrically then most of the acts with whom they will undoubtedly tour, but I’ll pass.

PAST/PRESENT: Breaking Out the Classics (Revelation records www.revelationrecords.com)

Want to feel old? Revelation Records is marking its 150th release and twenty-third year of existence! To commemorate this achievement, the label is delivering a true gift to those who have been around long enough to remember the company’s earliest days. Past/Present is a celebration of Revelation’s amazing stable of acts as performed by bands who were either inspired by or fans of the originals. There are twenty-three sterling tracks here, each a classic in its own right, but there are amazing moments, such as the opening take of Warzone’s “As One” by Sick Of It All. The true giants of hardcore and their distinguished careers are proudly celebrated here, including Gorilla Biscuits (”Hold Your Ground” performed by Damnation A.D. and “Forgotten” by Set Your Goals), Judge (“Where it Went” by Down to Nothing), Chain of Strength (“Through These Eyes” by On), Youth of Today (“Break Down the Walls” as interpreted by Death By Stereo is a highlight here), and Quicksand (“Clean Slate” from The Twilight Transmission). Other notables whose contributions are well documented include Burn, Texas is the Reason, Shai Hulud, and Bold. A number of acts make their mark on these gems, including This is Hell taking on both CIV and The Movielife, Ignite paying loving homage to YOD with “Disengage”, and Terror demolishing “Friends” from Side By Side. To prove that Revelation is still one of the most socially conscience labels in the world, half of the proceeds from this release is benefiting Human Rights Watch. This is more than interesting nostalgia, however; the music here is being resurrected by the acts performing it and will remind long time fans of how vital and urgent the classic sound was, and why it will never be dead. This is pure bliss.

I,BRUTE FORCE - Confections of Love (www.bar-none.com)

This re-release of a lost 1966 effort makes you ask just how far people will go in the name of kitsch. With a huge, sweeping, backing band, Brute Force sings a collection of satirical, painfully dated anthems about the struggles of love and relationships. “The Sad World of Mothers and Fathers” features a James Cagney reference and lyrics about attempting to extract a teenage girl from her date’s car. Laughing yet? Yeah, neither am I. If you like pure, ridiculous camp and you have other equally bizarre friends, you may want to throw this on and giggle a little, but otherwise, this will solely confuse. The problem with Brute Force’s innocent anthems is the repetitive and unabashedly corny song structures. “To Sit on a Sandwich” is an odd little nugget, but not in that cool, Captain Beefheart kind of way. This reminds me of the film Head, you know, the one co-written between Jack Nicholson and members of the Monkeys (it’s true-look it up), because this is just awkward, dated 60’s psychedelia that maybe sounded like fun forty years ago but now just comes across as silly. Sure, I laugh whenever you play me a song like “Tapeworm of Love”, but it is not going on my iPod. I usually adore unnecessary nostalgia, but sometimes the buried should just stay buried.

THE MEMORIALS (www.thememorialsmusic.com)

This California outfit starts their self titled release with a bold one-two punch of “We Go to War” and “Natural Disaster”; two punky, guitar laden pieces that instantly grab you by the shirt and shake you a bit. However, from there the disc is a cornucopia of soaring highs and head scratching misses. “Lets Party” is a hypnotic combination of Uriah Duffy’s thick bassline and Viveca Hawkins’ infectious voice. This fun, frantic anthem is pure adrenaline and is the highlight of the disc. The one drawback to The Memorials is their attempt to be all things to all people, as “Westcoast” and “GTFOMF” are trippy and funky, while “Dream” and “Real” are pop decadence. This dichotomy proves to be simultaneously impressive and frustrating; it is clear that The Memorials are deftly skilled, but whom are they attempting to impress? Nick Brewer’s guitar oscillates between an instrument of focus and accompanying feature, and the band would benefit by focusing on the former. The disc lingers a bit too long as well, for once you reach track ten, you know every trick the band can offer. Their diversified style makes for a slightly disjointed record as there is no defining “sound” of The Memorials. I hope they continue to churn out tracks like the opening duo of the record, but I am uncertain about what to expect. I’ll cautiously endorse this.

NO FRIENDS - Traditional Failures (www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

No Friends returns with another batch of impressive hardcore played as if the early 80’s never ended. Traditional Failures is six songs in eight minutes with old-fashioned hardcore aesthetics scrawled all over it. If you do not know No Friends, you are missing out on what could fairly be labeled a punk rock super group led by Tony Foresta, who brings back hardcore vocals with the same intensity as his other job (Municipal Waste) reinvigorates thrash. Supported by three members of the sorely underappreciated New Mexico Disaster Squad, No Friends rages with the purity and enthusiasm of four teens in their garage. “A Look Ahead” and “Letter of Apology” are intensely honest pieces asking for redemption or forgiveness, while “Armed to the Teeth” speaks of the nightmare of war, invoking trench warfare. “Permanent Black Eye” and “Control Freaks” are traditional hardcore diatribes against the powers that hold one down, whatever they may be, while the closing title track is another less than positive song of self-actualization. (“I don’t measure up to my friends/it kills me to scrutinize how time flies”.) This is for fans of all hardcore from any coast and from any decade.

STICKS AND STONES - Nineteen Eighty Seven (www.chunksaah.com)

What a great little time capsule this release is-prepare to be transported back to the age of Reagan, the Cold War, and limited recorded technology. Full of youthful exuberance and delightful naivety, Sticks and Stones provide six speedy, loveably sloppy bursts of unbridled hardcore energy. The six songs here were indeed recorded back in ’87 on analog equipment, and the sound is unmistakable to those of us old enough to remember. Brian Johns’ vocals and Peter Ventantonio’s buzzsaw guitar playing on “Still” and “Common Curse” are two of the many highlights here. Scott Hollingsworth takes the center stage with his rattling bass playing on the all too brief “Thanks for the Cash” and the teenage lament of “Society’s Pressure”, while John Gilch’s steady drumming is brought forth throughout the record by the re-mastering skills of Tony Mascara. This will make some feel ancient, but Chunksaah’s release is a nice nugget of punk rock incorruptibility for the kids today to gain an appreciation for a classic hardcore sound from an underrated band.

COKE BUST - Lines in the Sand
(www.sixweeksrecords.com)

I will be buried with this record. Thirty-three songs and one (!) clocks in at the two minute mark as the epic of the bunch. The songs from Lines in the Sand, which are accented by sixteen bonus tracks from Coke Bust’s demo and assorted compilations, play like one continuous effort. What separates Coke Bust is the relentless speed at which they play. Yes, bands brag about being faster than thou, but this one shatters new ground. You have not heard straight edge punk played like this since the salad days of DC and CBGB’s matinee shows. Every song is one of staggering genius, but “Countdown to Death” and “Your Hold” are two which had me throwing furniture around my basement. The raw, relentless anger of the latter much be heard to be truly appreciated while “Spit Out” would make the guys in Shit Storm sound like doom metal by comparison. It makes sense, for members of the legendary Magrudergrind are found here, and fans of their chaos will instantly fall in love with this. The band’s political angle is made readily apparent on “Slave to Democracy” (“Invading other countries without declaring a war/In our pocket, a slave to democracy”) and “Patriot” (“freedom and liberty are sounding more like a lie to me”). Coke Bust have been kicking around for roughly five years, but if this is your first exposure, get ready to be assaulted in a method unlike anything you have heard since the first time you pressed play on a Heresy or Converge disc. The bonus tracks are not as well produced, but the unrefined aggression is just as impressive. “Fumigation” will demand multiple listens just to prove that what you are listening to is actually real, while “Privileged”, “My Disgust”, and “No Middle Ground” must be live staples. Perfectly concluding the disc is a pair of appropriate covers, “Slow Down” from Youth of Today and The Faith’s “It’s Time”. This is sonic perfection- a masterpiece of epic proportion in terms of hardcore energy and dexterity. Should you hear anyone complain that here is nothing new and exciting, give them this and watch them become reduced to a puddle.

JC SATAN - Sick Of Love (Slovenly Records www.slovenly.com)

I guess I will never understand European culture. Three guys from France and two Italian ladies come together and create a band with a garage punk/fuzzy 60’s vibe but it takes me nine songs before I finally buy into this. Much of Sick of Love is ambling psychedelic pop punk that seems aimless, particularly “Your Place” and “The Day”. However, once the band hits “Can You”, the disc shifts gears and becomes less pop-oriented and instead strives for a dirtier, nastier sound. Maybe this is over my head, but the garbled vocals of Arthur Larregie and shoddy production value did not endear this to me; there are moments when JC Satan sound authentic, but too much of the exact same resonance becomes worse than repetitive; it is frustrating. “Endless Fall” closes the disc out nicely as Paula Horror’s backing vocals are given greater accessibility before you are treated to four bonus tracks. This is the ultimate hit and miss album; when JC Satan is on, they are fantastic and enthralling, case in point being “Adventure Boat” and “Lick My Feet” (I’ll screw you baby, I’ll screw you good”). However, when they miss, it is a colossal mess. If you are up for a potentially exasperating experience with a few elating highlights along the way, give this a shot, but do not go out of your way.

THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS - Seconds Late for the Brighton Line (ROIR Records www.roir-usa.com)

After thirty years of inventive and challenging compositions, the desire to confound has not abandoned the Legendary Pink Dots. Seconds Late for the Brighton Line features soundscapes that are broad and sweeping or highly focused and myopic in structure. The gentle ebb and flow of “Russian Roulette” and “Endless Time” mask a more sinister quality. Sounding like a journey into a demented nightmare, Seconds Late for the Brighton Line is a dark, compelling record. What allows the Legendary Pink Dots to still resonant with people is their ability to enthrall the listener; even those whose musical tastes do not normally stray from the traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure will find something fascinating in the seven expansive moments of “Leap of Faith” or the endless steppe of a sound that is “Hauptbahnhof 20:10”. “God and Machines” has the unsettling arrangement of a Kubrick film, while even a simple lyric such as ”only taste the icing, never taste the cake” becomes a haunting declaration on “Radiation Day”. The headspace and atmospheric fluidity remind me of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but the darker angels’ of one nature are laid bare as Edward Ka-Spel’s vocals convey an air of impending despair. The lyrics are not sad, rather they are ominous and foreboding. The pacing of the songs do not change, as the Legendary Pink Dots select one speed and remain consistent throughout the track, providing a methodical and mechanized sensibility that normally causes me great distress. However, the Legendary Pink Dots become more gripping by stripping away the humanity, leaving behind a calculated, terrifying visage of fear and terrorization. The band travels into uncomfortable places of the mind, and I suggest wearing the best headphones possible so one can be swept up in the chilling majesty of this work. The cold aesthetic and eerily controlled, softly spoken words create a world of disillusioned comfort which wraps around you, providing warmth initially before ultimately swallowing you whole. This is worth immediate consumption.

THE SADDEST LANDSCAPE - You Will Not Survive (Panic Records www.panicrecords.net)

The title of this disc is apropos, for many may have difficulty fighting off the highly kinetic and often violent sounds created here. The members of The Saddest Landscape are far more angry than sad, as acerbic vocals fight for air in the midst of an intimidating musical forest and swirling, seething guitar work wages war with a thunderous low-end. While “Declaring War on Nostalgia” is a compelling opening act, it is “Eternity is Lost on the Dying” that convinces me that this band is something truly special. The classic interpretation of a loud/soft dynamic is given a face-lift through towering guitar work and relentless energy. Delicately opening in an inconspicuous manner, the song suddenly rears a furious head and frightening teeth which tear at your with voracious intensity. This ability to counterbalance ferocity and composure makes You Will Not Survive an engaging and exhaustive ride. “Imperfect But Ours” has a similar structure to the aforementioned “Eternity”, for it too begins with an innocuous guitar intro before exploding into rage with uniquely placed backing vocals entering the fray near the song’s conclusion. “The Shadows I Call Home” seems to hover on the brink of annihilation (“walls close in and I can’t feel a thing”), and the concluding “From All of Those…” continues the disc’s theme of complementary insanity and clarity, catharsis and self-destruction. The Saddest Landscape returns to the world after seven years of absence; I hope we will not need nearly another decade before these guys unleash their absorbing force upon us.

YUPPICIDE - Anthology ’88-‘98 (Dead City Records www.deadcityrecords.com)

If you missed them, I feel sorry for you, if you remember them, I am sure the memories are fuzzy, so here is a brilliant and incredibly comprehensive anthology to take you back. Brooklyn’s Yuppicide is apparently twitching again, as the band has reformed to play a handful of shows, and this collection should garner new fans and get the old timers like me back out into the clubs to see one of New York’s truly legendary hardcore forces. Having the pleasure of experience Yuppicide live numerous times during the early 90’s, I am thrilled to see their long out of print catalog unleashed upon a world which desperately needs a band like this again. Yuppicide are speedy, heavy, and always melodic in the midst of the din they create. Their 1988 demo lays the groundwork for what will become an instantly recognizable sound; toned down guitars from Steve Karp, thick bass lines compliments of Joe Keefe, and Jesse Jones’ gruff but intelligible vocals. Gems such as “How to Hate” and “Yellow Journalism” exist alongside works in progress like “Ska Army”, but the fundamental excellence is apparent. This first disc includes the band’s first 7”, first full release, “Ourselves” from the Squat or Rot compilation, as well as the You’re Been Warned 7”. The growth from the first demo to the debut 7” is extraordinary as heard on “Be a Man (And Slam)” and the scathing “Jesse Helms”. The Fear Love record begins with the life lessons of “Sound Advice” and the band then runs though thirteen contemptuous slabs of socially conscious, energized hardcore, highlighted by “Albatross” and “Knife”. The band’s sense of fun is always present throughout this vast assortment of work, and “Cide-A-Billy” acts as a case in point. The three songs which comprise the “You’ve Been Warned” ep display a maturing act, for the title track clocks in at over five minutes, and “Out of Style” cleverly manipulates sound bites before launching at your throat. Listening to this now indicates how far ahead of the curve Yuppicide really was and why they should easily be embraced by a contemporary audience. Disc Two kicks off with the fuming “Socialization” from the legendary Sick But Slick compilation, and what follows mirrors the fury and intensity of Joe Pesci’s Goodfellas’ clip that opens the Shinebox record. The band begins to experiment with tempo and configuration on this record, for “New Jesus”, “Stranded” and “Sleep With Anger” are each delivered with passion, but Yuppicide does not rely solely upon blazing speed or standard hardcore song structures to make their points. 1995’s Dead Man Walking has a more professional and far larger sound, with “Thief”, “Tied Down”, “Fuse”, and their lyrically-creative take on R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” sounding more bombastic than any of the band’s previous work. Steve Karp’s guitars never resounded with greater might, and there are elements of cross-over brute force on display as well (check out “Twelve Steps”). Anthology closes with the band’s rare 1998 demo. “Destroyer” is the finest of the bunch, although a compelling argument can be made for the cover of the Specials’ “Concrete Jungle”. I am very pleased to hear that this is more than simply a trip down a musical memory lane and that Yuppicide is again contemplating a full-scale return. Yuppicide is a significant influence upon legions of bands and the time is perfect for the originators to return and show the kids how it should be done.


 

BARS OF GOLD OF - Gold (frictionrecords.net)

With elements of James Brown funk, Cows style noise, and a slight nod toward pop, Bars of Gold are a genre spanning act that creates an entirely new genre. This Detroit product is the spawn of Marc Paffi and Brandon Moss from Bear vs. Shark and also features members from the whirling noise fest that is Wildcatting. “Heaven Has a Heater” smacks of Fugazi in all the right ways for the tightly wound energy waxes and wanes throughout the track, and this song is enough to give you chills. And all of this is only two songs into the record! “The Hustle” features a subtle Americana twang and even some banjo before introducing a terse guitar riff, while Paffi’s engaging vocal delivery takes center stage on “Birds”, as he asks that legendary philosophical conundrum, “do you like birds?” “Up, Up, Up” is bouncy with the energy of an ADHD kid off his meds, slowing down for a moment before erupting into sheer chaos. The second side’s rich diversity of sound makes it a fascinating listen, such as the intricacy of “Cannibals”, although some may prefer the more straightforward nature of the opening side. The orange vinyl helps to reel me in before I even put the needle down, but I love listening to bands like this, for I guarantee that somewhere, a college kid with impeccable taste is making this band his life.

MIGHTY HIGH/ STONE AXE- Split EP (Ripple Music www.ripple-music.com)

Wow, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is back in 2010 and it comes from Washington. Stone Axe sounds as if all music ceased to be made after 1983 and I love it! “Metal Damage” sounds just as you think it would and as it should. This is Priest meets Sampson while hanging out backstage with Angel Witch. Great shattering vocals, a gloomy riff, and a soaring solo make this a retro classic.

When a band brags about being their new amp cabinet being formally owned by Foghat (!?), you know their dedication to 70’s rock is sincere. Mighty High is a better band name than band, only due to the fact that I do not click with Woody High’s vocals. His voice is strong enough, but the idea behind the band is what makes it “Don’t Panic, It’s Organic” so much fun. Imagine Let It Bleed-era Stones jamming with the Stooges and you get the vibe. Maybe I need to be high to enjoy this more completely, but I would prefer to throw on some leather and check out Stone Axe.

PACER (Chunksaah Records www.chunksaah.com)

This is just as one would expect from Chunksaah; this is punk with gloss and a penchant for huge, catchy hooks. I could easily see these guys opening up for the Souls and giving the New Jersey vets a serious run, particularly with the stellar “Pasternak”. The sing-along vocals on the speedy opener “Circles Around a Square” set the tone for this seven track effort. However, pacer mixes up tempos enough to carefully hold one’s attention. “xGU16x” is raw and aggressive, while “Rediscovering the Telephone” is one of the best songs about growing older that I have ever heard. The band revisits this topic on “Everything’s Fine”, a song that is simultaneously sincere, articulate, and forceful. The scathing attack upon the close minded in “Lonely Critics” is laudable for its message about respect as it is for its pure, adrenaline fueled hardcore sound. This ten inch release was over far too quickly.

THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION - Black Bunny/Black Rabbit (Temporary residence Records www.temporaryresidence.com)

There is something equally beautiful and terrifying about the Black Heart Procession’s new record and it is these qualities that will require multiple listens for a complete appreciation of what transpires here. Now just a duo, The BHP, led by Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel, experiment with soundscapes and conventional musicianship to produce sprawling, majestic pieces that radiate fear and warmth with equal aplomb. The opening “Blank Page” is an expansive track anchored by solid guitar work and lush backing vocals, but I am more intrigued by the haunting minimalism of “The Orchid”. Its’ reserved beauty is compelling, while “Devotion” is a nearly perfect track. The meandering beat is a backdrop to simple lyrics such as “I have so much to say to you/I have noting to say to you”. In lesser skilled hands, this song could come across as forced or even boring. However, when delivered by BHP, it is a song of lonely wanting, an emotionally gripping ride of isolation and regret. The remixes will garner the most attention here, and while the three new songs are all tremendous, it is the remixes that give this EP its true flavor. Two efforts, “Silence” and “Heaven Below” are remarkably re-structured by Jenkins himself under the name of Mr. Tube. The latter is startling and unsettling with its use of hushed vocals and ambient noise. Lee “Scratch” Perry takes the listener down a psychedelic highway with “Freeze”, featuring snippets of cat sounds and a person claiming to indeed be a feline. This one would be incredible in a club with enough chemicals in your system. (Not that I’m endorsing it, children, but I’m just saying…) The closing song, “Drugs” is given two distinctly different interpretations by Eluvium and Jamuel Saxon respectively. While a measured, muted opening of nearly five minutes, the song finally gives light to a delicate piano riff that dominates the next four minutes. It is subtle, poignant, and positively beautiful, bringing the song into even greater depths of gloom. Ironically, the disc ends with Saxon’s dance remix of the aforementioned track. This was unexpected and representative of BHP as a group. This is not dance pop, but the tempo is far different than that of Eluvium, and this version allows the lyrics to become a part of the listening experience, offering a unique dichotomy between the sadness of the words and the moments of exuberance of the mix. Returning fans will be instantly hooked on this record, while new followers will become quickly converted.

GRINDERMAN - Grinderman 2 (www.grinderman.com)

Nick Cave tosses aside his Bad Seeds for Grinderman and reintroduces himself to the world through a collection of bass heavy stompers. The opening “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” is a pounding, raucous beginning, kicking off the record with Cave lamenting, ”I woke up this morning and thought what am I doing here?” The controlled noise does not end there, as the disc continually implements touches of fuzzed out guitar, pounding drums, and bass lines thicker than Kim Kardashian. “Heathen Child” has a dark, sexy vibe interspersed with guitar squall in the midst of Cave’s yelps of “she don’t care about Allah, she is the Allah, she don’t care about Buddha, she is the Buddha” Even when Grinderman takes their collective foot off the pedal, as they do on “When My Baby Comes”, the band still cannot help themselves from collapsing into a sprawling mass of chaos. The bluesy “Kitchenette” has a sultry sensibility as Cave emotes about sticking “his fingers into your cookie jar and crush all your gingerbread men” as more guitar squall pierces through the track. “What I Know” meanders too slowly for my liking, but “Evil” is a cacophony of messy fury, a cathartic explosion of force and energy. Only on “Palaces of Montezuma” does the band completely ditch the clamor for beauty and this track has the line of the disc: “the spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee, I give to you”. With the stroke of the pen, Nick Cave continues to prove that he is a true original and at times, underappreciated genius.

TIM KASHER - The Game of Monogamy (www.saddle-creek.com)

Tim Kasher creates an album that should be mandatory listening for those in a marriage or other forms of a serious, monogamous relationship, for his work is extraordinarily poignant, emotionally open and honest, and deeply personal. Kasher sheds his association with the acclaimed Cursive and leaves himself exposed through biographical snapshots of what life as an adult can be. This is the side of adulthood no one ever told you about as a kid. Kasher ponders his life in the opening “A Grown Man”, wondering how he ever found himself in a position where he has to accept responsibilities. There are themes of unrequited love, unanswered prayers, and unfulfilled dreams-all topics that many people can find tangible in their lives. Kasher tosses about terms like “complacency” and “what if” quite often through this disc, which is largely gentle and serene aside from the bouncier “I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here” and “Bad, Bad Dreams”. Songs like “Cold Love” (“maybe we’re just tired of this vanilla existence”) and the brilliant “No Fireworks” (“we used to roll around like bear cubs, now all we wrestle with is indifference”) reflect the reality of romance; the eyes locking across the room and the lust that never fades simply is not real and people have to come to grips with this realization or they will never endure. The general theme of this record is that love is wonderful, but it breeds a comfort that in turns breeds contentment and at times, contempt. Kasher has an eye for details, whether it is the wrinkles in a nightgown or the uncontaminated eyes of the kids in his high school yearbook (“There Must be Something I’ve Lost”). Musically, the playing is extraordinarily tight, at times lush and lovely, occasionally accented by strings and piano which can be either genteel or raucous. This is a mature record from a maturing performer attempting to come to grips with one of life’s toughest aspects-growing older and even worse, growing up. The lyrics paint pictures with a mixture of realization and sarcastic self-depreciation, referencing topics ranging from past girlfriends to mortgages and children. You do not have to be struggling with age and familial responsibilities to enjoy this disc, but it does help bring the context alive.



THE TRIUMPH OF THE16 DEADLY IMPROVS t (Rosemont Recordings myspace.com/thesixteendeadlyimprovs)

Oh, what’s in a name? In some occurrences, nearly everything you would need to know about a band, which is the case with The Triumph of the 16 Deadly Improvs. This disc, sub-titled a “5th installment in an ongoing series’ is a whirlwind of progressive, convoluted, labyrinthine, jazzy, freak-outs that will leave you speechless. The record, and yes, it does have sixteen tracks, was culled from a marathon, two and half hour session recorded in June of 2008. Gene and Nick Bohensky, accented by Jeff Bridi, Dave Wilson, Mark Nowak, and Vin Villanueva, constructed pieces that can be quiet, jarring mesmerizing, troubling, warm, and chilling all within one effort. The songs are overwhelmingly instrumental, but there are a few spoken word nuances that add an eerie flavor to the overall record. “Invincible Pole Fighters” and “Sand Palm V” include carefully placed snippets from a 2009 documentary called “Shall We Protest”, but my favorite was “Rise of the Septopi” which includes a sample from “Killers From Space”, a 1954 space effort that would make the guys from man or Astroman? jealous. The complexity of the songs cannot be challenged, and these players have an amazing sense of timing and camaraderie, for no one steps on each other. This is the kind of album that needs to be heard in one sitting to be fully appreciated, as it is an intriguing compilation of genius. The Triumph of the 16 Deadly Improvs is complicated, challenging, and much cooler than whatever your band is doing right now. Go find and prepare to be amazed.

I AM SONIC RAIN - Between Whales and Feverish Lights (Deep Elm Records www.deepelm.com)

Hailing from a small Italian town named Treviso, just minutes away from Venice, the birthplace of Western Europe’s artistic revival via the Renaissance, comes a new type of artistic masterpiece; the sprawling, striking work of I Am Sonic Rain. This eclectic five-piece chooses not to incorporate vocals into their massive soundscapes, and we are the better for it. From the intriguing opening of “Jellyfish Are Murderers”, one is often gently submerged into dreamy, ethereal creations that are sporadically interrupted by fits of shocking violence. “It Had the Sound of a Long Goodbye” inches along for roughly seven minutes with guitarists Giulio Signorotto and Francesco Vettor framing the song with a hypnotic and tender riff while drummer Alessandro Stival ever so delicately provides a backbeat until the track erupts, for just a handful of fleeting seconds, before again retreating into the solace of its refined beauty. This same ebb and flow of force is heard on “Precipitate Isn’t a Great Idea”, an equally grandiose effort as its predecessor, making for a daunting and enthralling centerpiece of the disc. The poetic nature of the song titles (“As Rain We Fall”, “Fog is Drowning Us”) matches the band’s musical stylings, for the songs move like stanzas, at times repeating significant portions before taking the listener into a new direction, opening up fresh room for personal interpretation. The lush production, done by the band members themselves, provides each song with ample room to breathe, generously displaying the varied talents of all hands (including bassist Frederico Cipolla and the stirring keys of Andrea Sara), best heard on the sweeping “Just to Rise the Day After”, a track that seems to borrow from traditional gondola music as well as anything that Mogwai or Russian Circles ever created. The nearly childlike tones which open “The Nine Unknowns” are abandoned for a much darker, menacing construction that encapsulates the breadth of emotions I Am Sonic Rain can convey within the confines of only one song. The sound of whale song, or the noises made by whales as they interact with one another, adorns the closing title track and nestles with intricate precision within the hushed keys and warm structure of the song. Quite often soothing and never monotonous or predictable, I Am Sonic rain seems to enjoy lulling the listener into an aura of safety before suddenly and aggressively jarring them. Between Whales and Feverish Lights is quite a ride as one is brought from the depths of the oceans to the heights of expansive space through ten gorgeous pieces.

SHONEN KNIFE - Live At Mohawk Place 2009 DVD (Good Charamel Records www.GoodCharamel.com)

The diminutive Japanese princesses of indie pop deliver eighteen career-spanning efforts in front of an adoring crowd in Buffalo, New York. Led by the only original member, vocalist/guitarist Naoko, Shonen Knife go as far back as 1984 with the closing classic, “Twist Barbie”, and sprinkle other gems such as “I Wanna Eat Chocobars” and “Flying Jelly Attack”. Spending most of the show dressed in matching color coordinating outfits, the ladies look like a Japanese indie rock Supremes. This show was the final gig in the trio’s 2009 North American tour in support of their Super Group record on which they performed thirty shows in only thirty-four days. (“What a tough schedule”, grinned Naoko.) It is impossible not to smile and relish the pure joy exuded by all three members during their energized, infectious set. “Barnacle”, “Giant Kitty” and “Fruits and Vegetables” may come across as kitschy or downright foolish to the uninitiated, but I am certain the same critiques were hurled at leather-clad boys from Queens who delivered “Loudmouth” and “Beat on the Brat”. To that end, the punk meets bubblegum pop of “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny” and “Antonio Baka Guy” are among the highlights of this superbly shot concert. The between song banter is worth the price of the disc alone, as Naoko describes “Muddy Bubble Hell” as a song that is like heavy metal, “but maybe aluminum, something lighter” than heavy metal, and bassist Ritsuko’s explanation of her newfound affinity for buffalo wings is classic. This took me back to my college radio days in the early and mid-90’s when I eagerly spent what little money I had on a few Shonen Knife imports so my college radio show would have the Japanese versions of their work. I loved their stuff then, and I love it even more fifteen years later. Great music never gets old and Shonen Knife knows how to put on a show. When they grace these shores again, do not pass on the opportunity to, as Kurt Cobain once said about himself, become “transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert”. Well said.


 

THE GREAT EXPLAINER - The Way Things Swell EP (Chunksaah Records www.chunksaah.com)

This Jersey outfit should help to heal the wounds and alleviate some of the embarrassment brought onto the Garden State by a certain cast of television characters. (I know, we really have to blame New York and even Rhode Island for the cultural damage) With Bouncing Soul Pete Steinkopf sitting behind the controls, The Great Explainer churn out four punchy, guitar-fueled efforts chuck full of meaty riffs and skillful vocal interplay between guitarists Sean Bystrzycki and Matt Vaneekhoven. While Sean takes the more aggressive of the two styles, his growl is off-set quite nicely by the clean, melodic delivery of Matt. This give and take highlights the opening duo of “Quotas” and “I Finally Found My Dreamboat”, but the duo truly shine on the full frontal assault of “Codeine…Bourbon”, on which Bystrzycki sounds particularly focused and includes memorable and surprisingly melodic gang vocals. “Michael Jordan: 666” reveals a more sonically controlled side of the band, but it is as equally engaging as the three predecessors. Unlike many young bands, The Great Explainer already have developed a unique sound, yet are also mature enough to avoid becoming a slave to any one style. This is a richly enjoyable listen.

CASTEVET - The Echo and the Light (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

This Chicago, Illinois four piece is a perpetually interesting act, as evidenced by the closing track to the first side of this vinyl. (Issued in startling white vinyl as a nice touch) “Lautrec” is a rousing noise-fest which instantly awoke my senses, and when Nick Wakim yelps “the sound is deafening”, he could be describing the frantic intensity with which his band is performing. Even when the tempo is not as frenetic and the volume is somewhat muted, the band still sounds as if an explosion is simmering beneath their feet. This is heard with the ebb and flow fury of “Bike Notes” or the equally engaging “Narrow Hallways”. Surrounded by equally skilled players, Wakim and Castevet is an answer for those searching for sharp, angular, post-punk intelligence. The guys cite acts like Small Brown Bike and The Appleseed Cast as influences, and the similarities here are acts of homage rather then simplistic imitation. Castevet has the ability to overwhelm the listener or embrace them sweetly, and they do both with adroit meticulousness. The concluding “Cities and Memory” has articulate lyrics and equally precise guitar playing from Will McEvilly resulting in the summation of a band that proudly salutes the (recent) past without becoming stuck in it.

EVERYONE EVERYWHERE (www.tinyengines.net)

The closing three words of “Obama House, Fukui Prefecture”, the final track on Everyone Everywhere’s self-titled, effort are “warm and comfortable”, and they encapsulate the musicianship on display throughout the record. With a carefully crafted balance of delicate beauty and energized riffing, EE produce an indie rock sound that harkens to the heyday of the early 90’s but yet maintains progressive inventiveness. Songs like “Tiny Town”, which juxtaposes apartment living with a larger theme of conformity and “Blown Up Grown Up” (“We lie about how to get there/ and then get everybody lost”) are insightful, smartly structured songs that are intriguing and beautifully off-kilter, yet still relatable. My personal favorite here is found deep on the second side of the vinyl; the wonderfully honest “I Feel Fine by Everyone Everywhere” on which Brendan McHugh admits “I feel pretty good sometimes/I like my shirt/I like my haircut/ Let me like myself sometimes/Let me be narcissistic sometimes”. McHugh allows himself to be incredibly raw and vulnerable, his voice sounding as if he is attempting to convince himself to believe what he is saying. This one is simply the brightest star in a cluster of great songs. At times loud, often with subtle intensity, Everyone Everywhere is the type of band that resonates with you and you will become attached to the intimacy and poignancy of these songs. This is an excellent release from a highly promising act.

THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE - Pins And Needles (www.metropolis-records.com)

I am always upfront about my complete revulsion of keyboard-laden music, particularly when said keyboards are manipulated in such a way to sound “dark” or “menacing”. The Birthday Massacre falls into this loathsome category as Pins and Needles is eleven repetitive, slickly produced tracks that may gain the support of the mall crowd, but is far too pop-oriented for my liking. Vocalist Chibi has a highly palatable voice, as it is smooth and melodic, but it is underutilized on forgettable pap like “Secret” or the embarrassing cliché of “Two Hearts” (do you think they beat together…yes! You are right! They do…almost like two hearts beating as one. Wow! Lyrical pay dirt!) I apologize for cynicism, but try to get through “Always” without imagining this song adorning Madonna’s early catalogue-the keyboards here rock with the ferocity of the Material Milf’s “Dress You Up”, while “Shallow Grave” and “Midnight” sound like something that fell on the floor from the last Evanescence recording session. Shockingly produced by Dave Ogilvie, who has such luminaries as Skinny Puppy and Killing Joke on his résumé, Pins and Needles is contrived, predictable, and ready for the safety of prime-time angst. I am sure this will sell trillions and I’ll look like a fool, but I’ll take that risk. Maybe I hate this because I can’t dance. Regardless, point me in the direction of a bar where this would never be played.


 

WOMEN - Public Strain (Jagjaguwar Records www.jagjaguwar.com)

Noisy, dark, and mysterious, Alberta, Canada’s Women return with a record of sprawling soundscapes and vaporous structures. The opening “Can’t You See” is an opaque slab of sound featuring monotone vocals from Patrick Flegal and haunting strings. Not everything here is as foreboding as the opening track, as “Heat Distraction” and “China Steps” are nearly poppy in comparison. However, the low-fi hum and fuzz of “Penal Colony” and “Bells” are murky, intriguing pieces that swallow the listener in a vortex of suffocating sound. Simultaneously sweeping and restrained, Women exhume the corpses of acts like the Velvet Underground and the Zombies to generate a sound that is challenging yet inexplicably accessible. This will not perplex as much as it will arouse curiosity and pique interest. The strident “Drag Open” is my favorite track of the bunch with its metallic guitar work compliments of Flegal and Chris Reimer and the rock steady drumming of Michael Wallace. Public Strain extracts harmony from discord and organization in the midst of chaos, as “Drag Open” briefly collapses upon itself in amass of guitar fury before gaining composure and returning to its more defined arrangement. “Venice Lockjaw” is surprisingly reserved and mystical in its subdued grace with Flegal’s voice hovering in the air like an apparition. The band closes the work with ‘Eyesore’, a more melodic and approachable effort in which Flegal sounds less toured and more enthused about his delivery. There is a flavoring of 60’s pop within this song that is not present throughout much of the record. However, “Eyesore” does not feel tacked on; it is instead the next evolutionary step for a band that grows throughout this one album. I suggest listening to Public Strain in one sitting and have fun dissecting it layered compositions.

FLOORED BY FOUR (Chimera Music www.chimeramusic.com)

These lengthy four tracks ( the EP clocks in at over forty-five minutes) represent the finished product from Mike Watt and a trio of other celebrated players. Dougie Browne expertly handles drums, Nels Cline shines on guitar, and Yuka Honda offers majestic, beautiful keys throughout. Each song bears the name of a member beginning with “Nels”. At nearly ten minutes in length, Floored by Four takes its time and allows the song to breathe. There are quiet, ethereal interludes interspersed with bouncy, energized segments. Despite the differences in structure throughout the song, there is a remarkable cohesion here which is reflective of the talent on display. In the hands of less adroit musicians, this could become a sloppy mess. Instead, Floored by Four simply uses these tracks as a vehicle to investigate their limitless inspirations. “Yuka” is a touch slower than its predecessor, although similar in length. With sporadic lyrics from Watt and thunderous bursts of furious playing by Cline, this is a fascinating multiplicity of textures and arrangements. Ironically, “Watt” is the shortest and most straightforward of the songs here. At roughly four minutes, the band stuffs as much energy as possible into the song but it is not as varied as the earlier efforts. It does allow Watt to shine on bass, as his thick playing is the driving force here. The nineteen minute plus closer “Dougie” has traits similar to the opener, as again the band does not needlessly fill each second with sound. Instead, they allow for the track to move in a serpentine fashion around lush keys and an expansive musical landscape. The song is gentile, precise, grandiose, and understated all at the same time. This is a dizzying demonstration of what can happen with remarkable people close themselves off in a room together. It is not a surprise that Chimera is the label to release this, as their stable of acts reflects a dedication to the experimental and uncompromising. Set some time aside and enjoy this.

BRUTUS FAUST - Vengeance is Mine (www. brutusfaust.com)

Brutus Faust is actually Andres Serrano, the highly controversial artist who is most infamously responsible for “Piss Christ”. This 1987 piece is just as it sounds for those of you too young to remember; it is a crucifix submerged in a jar of Serrano’s urine. While the imagine of the Christian savior wallowing in bodily fluid may offend some, you may be even more sickened to learn that another piece of Serrano's work called "Blood and Semen III" adorned Metallica’s appalling Load album, while “Piss and Blood” was used as the cover on the equally nightmarish ReLoad. Now, in terms of Serrano’s music, Vengeance is Mine is a colossal disaster on par with the two aforementioned disgraces from former thrash legends. Vengeance is Mine is a bizarre amalgamation of covers and originals, including the butchering of “It’s Now or Never”, “Just My Imagination”, “House of the Rising Sun” (I’m not kidding), and even “500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be)”, yes that abysmal musical abortion from the Proclaimers. This reminds me of when Michael Jordan attempted to play baseball-just because one is highly gifted in a given field does not mean that one’s talent will correlate into other realms. I happen to admire Serrano’s artistic visions, for they are challenging, disturbing, and uniquely poignant, often displaying understated humanity in the midst of horror. However, he has a dismal voice and the songs are both predictable and mundane; two adjectives that should never be used to describe great artists. By the time one reaches the conclusion of this disc with an almost laughable take of “Sounds of Silence”, you wonder if this was not another attempt to confuse and disturb an unsuspecting public. I remember when Jesse Helms and other conservative Senators were railing against “Piss Christ” and declaring it as an apocalyptic vision of the world’s demise, and I thought how unnecessarily they were overeating. Well, I share their fear about Andres Serrano if he ever attempts to make another album.

COMBICHRIST - Making Monsters (Metropolis Records www.metropolis-records.com)

Remember that brief flash of time in the mid-90’s when everyone had “Smack My Bitch Up” from Prodigy on their lips and electronic music was going to dominate the world? Yeah, I vaguely remember it, too, but apparently Combichrist was not informed that no one, and I mean no one, actually believed that prediction would actually come true. Making Monsters tries very seriously to sound frightening and mildly offensive with song titles like “Throat Full of Glass” and “Fuckmachine”, (“You are such a dirty whore/You are my fuck toy”) but this is just silly. I cannot believe that Making Monsters is this band’s fifth album.(!) Based on how stale and recycled this is, I cannot imagine how monotonous their first four records must be. And for all you metalcore fans, do not be tricked to purchase this because Brandon Schiepatti from Bleeding Through makes an appearance on the bland “Follow the Trail of Blood”. I hope he was paid well, for I would not want my name associated with this. If one removed every ounce of talent Trent Rezner used to have and allowed his limp, disinterested corpse record an album, it would sound like this. Imagine Pretty Hate Machine without any of the angst or desperation and you have the comatose stylings of Combichrist. Andy LaPlegua is referred to the “mastermind” behind this band, and after I stopped shaking my head at that description, I read that this aforementioned genius (“prodigy”, perhaps?…) toured Europe last year with Rammstein, but even those tired pseudo metal guys are innovators in comparison to this drivel. The ill-shaped and directionless attempt at a soundscape called “Forgotten” should be the theme to this record, for this disc should be stricken from your memories. On the band’s press release there is a review from something called BlogCritics that ominously warns that one would not “bring your grandmother to this [Combichrist’s] show.” Of course you would not do such a thing; your grandmother, I am sure, loves you and does not deserve such horrid treatment. A better guest for a Combichrist show would be either the priest who abused you as a child or your ex-lover who killed your cat.

HEADS HELD HIGH - Dogs and Cats, Living Together (Fail Safe Records www.fail-saferecords.com)

So, you say you are looking for speedy, melodic, hardcore but you do not have much of an attention span? Well, my friend, you are in luck with Heads Held High. Providing ten songs in roughly twenty-two minutes, this Cleveland outfit does not mince words or believe in unnecessary theatrics. Instead, Dogs and Cats, Living Together is an earnest collection of thick slabs of blunt force. “El Machina” is one of the band’s rare songs that hangs around for a while, and this allows the listener to absorb the passion of vocalist Elliott Frank and the dual precision of guitarists Kevin Summers and Jack Holmes. David Breda (drums) and bassist Rob Schultz are an immovable object of a rhythm section throughout the disc, with individual highlights appearing on “Waiting for the Barbarians” and the scathing “Stay Mad, Stay Average, Stay Puft”. With intelligent lyrics and an absence of redundant break-downs, Heads Held High is a fresh return to the roots of hardcore. The band is articulate, well-read, and furious, as evidenced by “Groundhog Day”, “Dear Kilgore Trout” (“Do you ever wonder if you are the only one imbued with free will, standing amidst a sea of suffering machines?”), and the blazing closer, “This Too Shall Pass”. Reminiscent of fast paced punk acts like Gatorface intertwined with the political sensibilities of Strike Anywhere or Bane, Heads Held High is a band with a remarkably bright future. These kids even have the courage the sprinkle piano and trumpet on top of the spaghetti western vibe of “Van on Fire, Head Hurt’, thereby challenging hardcore’s unofficial rules and allowing themselves to stand out from the masses. Go find this, memorize the words, see these kids live, and scream every syllable back at them, for it is well worth the effort.

MAGNETIC ISLAND - Out At Sea EP (www.magneticislandband.com)

Emerging from the ashes of Brooklyn’s Renminbi, Magnetic Island finds Lisa Liu and SMV reuniting with an old friend in the form of drummer Jenny Johnson to create four deeply engaging and highly individualistic pieces. The opening “End in Bender” is a warm, richly textured track that provides Liu with a platform for her lush vocals and surprisingly serpentine guitar work. Johnson is the driving force behind “Sung (Not Said)”, a pounding, noisy, journey of a song that elicits elements of Sister or Evol as the track resides inside your mind. Complex yet inexplicably accessible, “Sung (Not Said)” is a miniature masterpiece and my favorite of the work here. The more reserved second side does have its share of unexpected nuances and subtleties, such as the slide guitar that accents “Summer Phase” or the sparse beauty of “Let it Lie”, a song dedicated to Liu’s former bandmate Joe Graziano. There is a tenderness that permeates this disc and it’s decidedly human feel allows Magnetic Island to sound as if they are playing this material just for you within the confines of your living room. This is a very pleasant surprise.

PARLOUR - Simulacrenfield (www.temporaryresidence.com)

Instrumental acts can be a tough nut; they are usually a fascinating experiment or a complete disharmonic mess that loses its luster quickly. Then, there is a band like Parlour. This Louisville, Kentucky outfit has been morphing into and molting from, a multitude of styles and schemes for over fifteen years. On Simulacrenfield, the guys expand to a seven man line up including former Rodan drummer Jon Cook and the return of Steve Good. The result is winding, expansive ride through seven complex and labyrinthine efforts. The songs reflect a wide array of emotions, from melancholy to joyous, and quite often these polarized feelings are visited and revisited within the same track. Since most of the material clocks in or around the five minute mark (with the closing “Sea of Bubbly Goo” existing for over ten), the band has plenty of room to experiment with mood, structure, and tempo. While “Jalepenooptics” is more thunderous and tightly wound, “Camus” and “Wedder” seem to muddle along with a more deliberate gait. To my astonishment, none of this becomes repetitive or predictable, as Parlour seems to reinvent itself as the disc progresses. The driving title track includes heavily textured interludes which are highly unexpected and border on chaotic before regaining composure. The briefest nugget of the bunch, “Carrier” is decorated with neatly placed saxophone, again providing an unexpected treat. The closing, meandering “Sea of Bubbly Goo” brings all the band’s talents together into one cauldron of overflowing potion. From Tim Furnish’s guitar intricacy to the polyrhythmic time structure, it is a dazzling way to complete a challenging but highly enthralling record.


 

THE WORKHORSE III (DRP Records www.drprecords.com)

Three battled tested, well traveled veterans of the Philly scene unite in one driving force of a band. The Workhorse III does not rewrite the book of rock n’ roll, but they plagiarize the best passages. Each of the twelve tracks here are boisterous, hook-laden anthems that beg to be played at the highest volume possible. Lisa Lyne Flynn’s voice drips with swagger, sounding both sexy and intimidating “Face in the Crowd” and “Slipping Away”, and this is matched by the churning riffs she delivers. Backing Flynn is her Lisa Christ Superstar band mate, Brian Blunker on bass and Eric Perfect on drums. (Perfect is an alumnus of both Limecell and the legendary Rancid Vat, two of my all-time Philly favorites) You cannot help be taken in by the energy of “Die Tonight” and the stomp of “Glory and the Sun”. Even when the band abstains from vocals as they do on “Workhorse I”, the intensity is palpable. The bruising force and guttural yelp of Flynn on “Infecting the Masses”, has the trio coming across as their namesake would imply; an agitated workhorse grinding out crusty, note-worthy rock with a punk aesthetic. When Flynn muses “what you wanted is not always what you get” on the closing “What You Wanted”, it is clear that she is speaking from well worn experience. Get this because it is great and these three deserve it.

NO REDEEMING SOCIAL VALUE - High In Holland (Live) (Dead City Records www.deadcityrecords.com)

The drunken madmen from Queens, NY decide to unleash their beer fueled mayhem upon the Dynamo Club in Eindhoven, and the result is a glorious testament to the power of this band. If you have never witnessed NRSV in a live setting, this disc throws you headlong into the pit and you finish this record bruised, sweaty, and exhausted. From the opening punch of “More Tattoos” to their scintillating cover of “Raining Blood”, this is a record that is an experience. Channeling the same fury that drives acts like Agnostic Front and Sick of It All, NRSV play with a viciousness that few can match, yet there is still a wasted grin on their collective faces as they dismantle you on “Pussy Pussy Pussy” (“We eat pussy every day/Why do we eat pussy?/Because we’re not gay”-Awesome!!), the hilarious “Your Boyfriend’s a Guido”, and “Drunk at the Youth of Today Reunion”. The last one sounds like something out of the Seth Putnam school of song titles, and if you do not find it funny, do some research so you get the joke. If you still do not find it funny, just stop reading this. The good times hit their apex on the ferocious “Beer=Fun” and the brilliant “I Hate Everyone”. NRSV have the best of all worlds occurring here, for their songs are hardcore gems that appeal to the visceral release of the music, but they are also easy to sing along with regardless of how sloppy you are. The disc delivers eighteen punishing anthems and this is a flawless encapsulation of this band’s brute force and talent. For a band that has been churning this stuff out for over twenty years, NRSV sound like they are fresh from the garage with an energy level that bands half their age could not match. If you want authentic punk rock played with an actual sense of fun go find this, then go see these guys for yourself.

VICTORY IN NUMBERS - Killing. Mourning. Love. (Bullet Tooth Records www.bullettooth.net)

This band’s history is one of devotion to a fallen friend and relentless commitment to their craft. Victory In Number’s name is actually a tribute to Vincent “Vin” Green, the band’s lead singer when they were known as Blue Collar. Green passed away in a car accident in 2004, but the band soldiered on in his honor. Bassist Nick Passio took the helm as vocalist and the newly christened Victory in Numbers plays smartly crafted pop with crunchy guitars. I will not go as far as to include the term punk anywhere near this band, for they are not. This is glossy, Fall Out Boy style guitar rock with good looking guys creating it. In other words, do not let your girlfriend attend a VIN show by herself because she will not be coming back to you. I cannot express my admiration for their perseverance strongly enough, and as much respect as I have for this band because of what they have endured, I just despise this stuff. It comes across as a glorified boy band trying to be loud. In essence, Victory in Numbers could be on Nickelodeon making a cameo on “iCarly”. The harmonics of “Falling to Pieces” or “Dare You to Dance” are too glossy and toothless for my liking. This is extraordinarily safe and panders to the girls who tear up when they hear Secondhand Serenade. The slower, acoustic, romantic “The Last Time” tells a flaccid love story that makes me laugh, and I do not think that is the intended result (“You bring your whiskey bottle/I’ll bring my broken wings”-Seriously?). At times, the guys experiment with some dance elements, such as the intros to “The Getaway” and “I Am”, but this simply falls flat and sounds like goofy studio tricks. It is fitting that Scott Stallone produced this, for his credits include Britney Spears, but even Britney was a little scary when she shaved her head. These guys are following the numbers on how to produce teenage-girl-swoon sessions, which is to be highly emotional in your verses and deliver each line as if your heart is shattering, write a catchy chorus with group vocals, pepper it with a loud, yet predictable riff and then repeat. I hope these kids succeed because they are performing for all the right reasons, but this is just not for me. However, for the young ones who have not yet become soured and jaded by the endless gaggle of bands like this, Victory in Numbers will dominate their Ipods until the next clones appear and replace them.

DASH RIP ROCK - Call of the Wild (www.alternativetentacles.com)

Dash Rip Rock’s Call of the Wild is a self-described party album and that theme is repeatedly almost ad nauseam throughout the disc. Like any good party, this disc has its highs and lows, and there are some songs, like some guests, that should have not been invited, and this disc also hangs around a bit too long when everyone else is ready to go to bed. Much of this does make for an entertaining ride, such as the tongue in cheek “Party 101”, a class taught by Professor José Cuervo (“no, you don’t have to spell it”), and the seemingly endless list of drunks, ne’er do wells, and all out maniacs (ranging from Sid Vicious to Charlie Sheen to the king of them all, Keith Richards) that dot the lyrics of “Party Hall of Fame”. However, by the time you reach the bluesy stomp of “Paint the Town Red” and the swinging bachelor pad vibe of “Everybody’s Getting’ Hooked up Tonight”, your eyes are slits and you are slumped in a corner trying desperately to rally for another beer bong. However, like a bad combination of beer, shots, and Mexican food, the music on Call of the Wild keeps coming back. “Cowbell Girl” does kick some life into a tired theme with it’s prevalence of um, well…cowbell, even making the obligatory “Don’t Fear the Reaper” reference, thereby eliciting a giggle from Jimmy Fallon somewhere. Maybe I am getting old and cannot hold my liquor like I used to, but I am not impressed with much of this. Dash Rip Rock is fun if you are in a bar, the weekend is just beginning, and you are too hammered to notice, but I think I’ll stay home and watch the game.

WORKING FOR A NUCLEAR FREE CITY - JoJo Burger Tempest (Melodic Records www.myspace.com/wfanfc)

If you can sit through all of this you are a better person than I. I know this will be adored by some, and Jojo Burger Tempest does have its moments of bucolic serenity, but I cannot enter into these meandering, non-threatening soundscapes for as long as WFANFC would hope. Much of this is lovely, particularly the sparse, hypnotic fragility of “Float Bridges”, “A Black Square with Yellow Stars” and “Inokashira Park”, or the more kinetic and challenging “Do A Stunt”. This UK four piece has garnered substantial respect and adoration on both sides of the pond, and the creativity and lack of conformity by Phil Kay, John Kay, Gary McLure, and Ed Hulme cannot be questioned. The work which dominates disc one is quite brief, offering a sampling of talent that lies within. There is a multitude of styles and influences are display here that are presented with a cut and paste formula (this is the entire structure of the thirty minute effort which is all of disc two). However, even as the band shifts gears effortlessly between serene intimacy and more robotic, calculated programming (“B.A.R.R.Y.”), I am already waiting for the next track. Generally, in order for aural experimentation to capture my attention, it must take me down a darker, more menacing path, such as the world of power electronics. Quite simply, this was too pretty and benign for my taste. WFANFC is playful, remarkably unique, and unabashedly original, yet it just does not appeal to me.


 

 

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