Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

HIS NAME IS ALIVE - Black Wings (HHBTM Records

His Name is Alive is the long-running spawn of Warren Defever, and Black Wings is a celebration of everything the band has always done extraordinarily well; namely creating penetrating musicianship through lush arrangements and bucolic, ethereal soundscapes. Vocalist Andrea Morici possesses a starkly beautiful tone, and she is the star on the majority of the work on the expansive, thirty-six song release. The opening trio of “Patterns of Light”, “Energy Acceleration”, and “You Best Pray” feature Morici’s breathy, haunting vocals as she is accompanied by only the sparsest amount of musicianship. The work on Black Wings includes expansive works of wildly passionate emotion, (“How Ghosts Affect Relationships”, “Get Air-La”), but the four piece, rounded out by fellow guitarist Dusty Jones and drummer J. Rowe, also explore a more thunderous side of their collective personalities on the guitar-heavy “Rush”, the rugged “The Examination”, and the furious din of “Demonfuzz”. Even “You Best Pray” is treated to a “fuzz” version, and the song that is heard earlier as genteel and stirring, becomes equally engaging as a far more menacing slab of brief, noisy, fits. The band has an uncanny knack for moving effortlessly between styles and formats, including elements of progressive synth on the “Dragonmix I” and “Patterns of Lights (Moog mix)”. Even brief snippets of songs, such as “Italia”, “Memory” and “Les Zeppelina” are beautifully arranged, and there is purposefulness to their presence in the midst of longer, more fleshed-out tracks. The cacophony of restraint of “After Greensleeves” is seated comfortably close to “White Loops”, a buried gem that sounds like a lost effort from the Stranger Things soundtrack. There’s even a cover of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” thrown in for purposes known only to the band. Bands like His Name is Alive demonstrate how much creativity there is still in the world; one may have to look deeply to find it, but the search is worth the effort when one encounters works of genius such as this.

SHARP VIOLET “These are the Rules, Boys” (

On a quiet Thursday night in Amityville, NY, I was fortunate enough to catch a set from Sharp Violet, Long Island’s contribution to a resurgent riot grrrl movement. A quick scan of their Bandcamp page gives an introduction to a band that is biting, musically skilled, and very intelligent. The sardonic “These are the Rules, Boys” attacks the phenomenon of “mansplaining”, but does so without blanket accusations or sweeping condemnation; instead, vocalist Liz Meehan, who looks and sounds like what could have happened to Taylor Swift is she grew up listening to the Kill Rock Stars roster, says, “It can be so easy/ If we got along/But you always have to be right/Even when you're wrong”. Accompanied by a riff straight from Bratmobile’s finest moments compliments of Jessica Benenati, along with a throbbing low end rumble from bassist Jasmine Fuentes and drummer Tala diBenedetto, the track glides along with a controlled sense of simmering frustration that ultimately explodes in the final moments with Meehan roaring “always talking, never listening”. Sharp Violet’s latest effort is “Domino Effect”, taking full aim at Harvey Weinstein and his nauseating ilk; Sharp Violet are the right band at the right time, for sadly there are all too many stories of abuse and misogamy for them to explore. However, while the behaviors the band chooses to excoriate are repugnant, Sharp Violet’s music is just the opposite. As someone old enough to remember Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and others when still in their infancies as bands, it is inspiring to hear riot grrrl punk still being played with such precision and rage. Go check out Sharp Violet immediately.

DEAD GIRLS ACADEMY - Alchemy (Victory Records

Sleazy hard rock has become a lost art sadly, but Michael Orlando and Dead Girls Academy are here to revive the form with all the necessary swagger and excess. However, DGA are not mullet-sporting retreads trying to capitalize upon a sense of nostalgia; this is an old-fashioned rock n’ roll band employing lyrics about life’s underbelly (“Right now I wanna feel this pain forever”) and scorching solos. While “I Can’t Feel a Thing” has a slower, more controlled tempo, “Everything” could have lit up the Sunset Strip in ’87, and I love every second of this. Edgy and overflowing with nervous energy, Alchemy is a stirring collection of impactful three minutes blasts of rage and frustration that may be snubbed by elitists, but that is not going to be DGA’s audience; instead, this band will appeal to purists who remember when rock had an element of danger and inspired panic. I love what Orlando is doing here, and this is a man who confronted death and rebounded with an even stronger sense of purpose. Alchemy represents his remarkable attempt to craft a niche for himself, and DGA will be a brilliant second act.

HUMAN ADULT BAND - Sonic Enlightenment (Third Uncle Records

Human Adult Band is the type of outfit that still gets me excited about delightfully odd music as if I was still doing college radio for ten listeners. From the green, swirly vinyl to the whimsical noise found within, Sonic Enlightenment is a cacophony of perfectly executed chaos. “This Will Happen Again in a Year and a Half” and “Tampa” are two schizophrenic blats of noisy, disorganized precision. As a huge fan of metallic din, I adore everything about Human Adult Band-this is anti-music to confound and annoy those who simply do not recognize the genius at play here, but for those in the know, Sonic Enlightenment is a gem. The brief, surf-tinged “Monopus” comes closest to a more traditional song structure, but its droning riff still sets it aside from one’s typical act. This could be punk, but in essence, Sonic Enlightenment is defiance set to a polyrhythmic structure. Only the massive “Easton Ave. Laundromat” and the feedback drenched “Old Timey Teratological” include vocals, and while the presence of lyrics adds something unique to these efforts, the majority of the work eschews any vocal presence and allows the listener to be overwhelmed by the musical directions taken by the band. “Cosmic Snake Bite Kit” begins with a rather benign intro before erupting into a screeching, agitated mass of force. Closing with “Departed Earthen Angel”, a song appropriate for a low-budget slasher film, Human Adult Band concludes distinct blend of no wave, experimental noise, and fearless originality.

MOJAVE NOMADS - Phases (Standby Records

Roaring out of Ogden, Utah of all places comes this six song EP of danceable guitar pop with sultry undertones. Mojave Nomads blend lush synth from Mason Hill with the highly emotive vocals of Tyler Harris to generate the dreamy sensibility of the opening “GIRL” and the particularly beautiful “Talk of the Town.” While “Morning Glory” has a swirling rock vibe, led by guitarist Colter Hill and supported by the rhythm section of bassist Bryton Bell and drummer Cole Eisenhower, the guys return to more somnambulistic tones on the genteel “Strange Love”. The closing “Heavy” truly demonstrates the warmth and breadth of Harris’ vocal abilities. I had no idea what to expect entering this release, and I finished Phases immensely impressed with what Mojave Nomads are doing.

CHANDLER TRAVIS THREE - O Backward Crooked From the Sunset (

Quirky, irreverent and highly skilled, Cape Cod’s Chandler Travis and his Three O’s play downhome, folk-inspired tracks that boast of unbridled irreverence. “Disappointment” is a meandering effort that is accented by a blast of guitar force before settling back down into Travis’ earnest vocals. “All the Little Things” has a Buddy Holly meets Johnny Cash vibe and the song bounces with a sublime level of kinetic energy, while “Settling for Less” has Travis’ traditional story-telling skills kissed by his subtle humor (“Number one is nice I know/But there are so many other nice numbers”). The lush piano one hears on “Salad Days” augments a heartfelt love song that still includes a dark sense of humor as the female love interest confesses about all of her past loves (and yes, there were many…) while the poor guy involved attempts to remain above the pain that comes from hearing about the vast number of conquests. The subtlety of the humor matches the playing on Backward Crooked From the Sunset, for the songs resonate with a natural warmth like the sun beating down on a crowded Cape Cod beach on the Fourth of July, as even the brief instrumental “Queen Rachel” has a stirring beauty to its arrangement. The high water mark is “The Mayor of Drunktown”, a rollicking, honky-tonk of a song that is both very funny and too realistic for many of us. At its core, the song is about someone having a good time, but woven within to this is the realization of what this behavior can do to the people around him. The closing “Not in Service” has a rich guitar tone and Travis sounds particularly inspired. For people who appreciate the art of a gifted raconteur and a highly proficient crafter of intelligence, personalized songs, Backward Crooked From the Sunset is a perfect soundtrack for the summer.

FOUR LIGHTS - Kobayashi Maru (Bomb Pop Records

These Seattle pop-punk lovers wanted to make “a big, dumb, rock record” according to vocalist and guitarist Dan Gardner, and the result is a grand, often-hilarious, highly satisfying listen. Kobayashi Maru (named for a test of one’s character from Star Trek so says the internet) opens with “Bent”, a song that rattles out of the box with a great hook. However, once the second track, “ComRAD” hits, it is clear one is in for a treat. With lyrics about falling love with a Communist at a coffee shop (“She asked me what I thought of Lenin/I told her that I really loved ‘Imagine’”), the song is blisteringly funny and played with effusive energy. “Jimmy’s Song (Part 2)” slows the tempo down a bit with a chunkier guitar riff, while “Run” and the highly self-effacing “Let’s Burn Burn Burn” are ideally crafted punk-pop gems. A picture on an ex’s Facebook page is the crisis explored on “He’s Got Good Teeth”, and the sad yet speedy track is paired perfectly with “No Return”. It can be potentially redundant to listen to twelve consecutive light-hearted punk tracks, but Kobayashi Maru is expertly structured so the songs vary in tempo and approach just enough to consistently hold one’s attention. I found myself sad when this ended-both for the heartbreaking stories so boldly shared on each song, and also because this is a sterling example of a band who knows what they do well and does so with ease.

HIGH PRIESTESS s/t (Ripple Music

Three metal goddesses (Katie Gilchrest on vocals and guitar, bassist Mariana Fiel, and drummer Megan Mullins) simply crush the listener through six pummeling, overwhelming efforts on their debut release. The band became the toast of LA’s metal scene through one demo released less than a year ago, and everything about their self-titled release illustrates why. Gilchrist’s vocals can be both ethereal and lush or terrifyingly guttural, and her two band-mates support her with thunderous low-end force, with Fiel’s bass lines offering consistently memorable waves of devastation. Yes, the mandatory Sabbath-inspired stomp is present, most noticeably on “Banshee” and “Take the Blame”, but it is not so prevalent as to become predictable. The opening ten-minute opus “Firefly” is an atmospheric triumph, majestic and intriguing. Mullins is a star behind her kit, contributing brain-rattling force to the otherwise airy “Despise”, as Gilchrest’s guitar force ebbs and flows with the same ease with which she controls her voice. The band is not traditional doom in terms of sounding as if they are collectively trapped in a musical tar pit, as both “Mother Forgive Me” and “Earth Divide” have stirring moments of quiet that accentuate the bombast with shattering intensity. Certainly fans of Sleep’s legendary work will find mush to appreciate here, for High Priestess emphasize musicianship that is sometime lost in the dirge that is doom metal. Artistic and visionary, High Priestess create truly engaging, and even energizing, doom masterpieces.

ANIMAL FLAG - Void Ripper (Flower Girl Records

Singer/guitarist Matthew Politoski is the leader of Boston’s Animal Flag and he rightfully describes the band’s records as each a separate “universe”. Within that single word lies an ideal summation of his band’s latest effort, Void Ripper. Animal Flag has witnessed numerous shifts in sounds and members, but Void Ripper is a scintillating nine-song experience that is occasionally challenging but consistently engaging. The opening quiet hush of “Morningstar” gives way to “Candace” with a sinewy aloofness, and “Candace” assaults the listener with a massive bass line from Zach Weeks and a groove that swings and smashes with wild aplomb. The rumbling loud/soft dynamic of “Stray” is simultaneously infectious and intimidating. Imbued with a powerful hook, the song’s darkness shrouds a band that knows how to craft sublime harmonies. Surrounding Politoski and Weeks are guitarist Sai Boddupalli and drummer Alex Pickert, and the four allow Animal Flag to integrate familiarity into a sound that is slightly impossible to firmly place. “Fair” has a panoramic sensibility; the track is expansive, but also includes a warm, nearly shoegaze pop aesthetic. The band takes the listener on oscillating emotional journeys on “I Can Hear You Laugh” and “Lord of Pain”. The latter begins with a seemingly innocuous acoustic riff before morphing into a more complex and multi-layered effort. The austere beauty of “Why” makes it my favorite of Void Ripper; however, this is not an easy choice and my feelings may change with subsequent listens, but for this moment, the expert power heard on the track makes it a perfect embodiment of this band’s prowess. Closing with a fury on “Five”, Animal Ripper has a gem of modern experimental rock with intellect, force, and precision.

THE BUNNY GANG - “Problem What problem” b/w “Protecting” (Zojak World Wide

The Bunny Gang plays lighthearted, instantly infectious ska that would act as a primer for those unfamiliar with the genre. The A-side is a cover of “Problem What Problem”, originally done by DoNots, a German outfit that took a little time to research, and The Bunny Gang inject a little life into the original. The B-side “Protection” is a smooth flowing track about looking out for those who matter most. The single overflows with positive vibes, and is a celebration of kindness and affirmative messages. This is not a reinvention of ska, but the band does not pretend to do so; instead, they proudly display their fun-loving nature across two songs that are equally easy in which to lose one’s self.

PUNKEMON – “Gotta Rock ‘Em All” EP (Sounds Rad Records

While obvious a niche piece, Punkémon is also a celebration of delicious punk-pop tomfoolery from some of the best in the business. Originally recorded in 1999, the two songs on the single sound as if they were cranked out last week. Dr. Frank from the Mr. T Experience is joined by Chris Imlay from the Hi-Fives, Mel Bergman from Phantom Surfers, and Lookout’s Chris Appelgren for a wonderfully adorable time capsule project. “Lickitung” celebrates an actual Pokémon character, who according to his bio, has the special talent of “licking”. It makes sense, but it almost makes too much sense, so I though the character was a creation of these twisted geniuses, but incredibly, Lickitung is an actual creation generated to be sold to children. At any rate, the brief B-side “Pocket Monsters” flies by far too quickly, as did the window of potential success for this band. However, it is a wonderful throwback to a simpler time in America.

SHARKFIST VS. BROWN PLAID – Split 7-inch (Splits McGee

Brown Plaid has me hooked with “A Perfectly Cromulent Song”; the track has both a title with a fantastic Simpsons reference and lyrics about Metallica’s mid-90s make-over (“I’m pissed off like a metal head when Metallica cut their hair”). The guys from Long Island play traditional punk-pop fare, but do so with a sharper than average sense of humor. Placing the inconsistencies and general stupidity of modern society through a sarcastic lens is nothing new in the world of punk-pop, but with references to Doug from “The State” (“We’re Outta Here”), and a keen eye for pointless nostalgia (“Practice”), the four songs are both aggressive and hilarious. Their Screeching Weasel acumen is obvious, and there is nothing wrong with that. Meanwhile, Sharkfist has a moniker that refers to partying “beyond comprehension” according to their Bandcamp page, and who can doubt their sincerity on “There’s No ‘I’ in Party”? This loud, snarky, outfit deliver their punk with a slightly less obvious pop affect than their split mates and they allow “.666 (The Batting Average of the Beast)” to breathe a little bit rather than rushing through the effort. I suggest picking this up digitally to gain access to the bonus tracks “Beer Pong Champions of Long Island” and “Drink ‘Em if You Got ‘Em”.

RADIATION RISKS - “Headless Horse-man” b/w “Nancy” (Feral Kid Records ttps://

This Buffalo outfit makes it clear that all that snow and ice can lead to cabin fever which leads to temporary insanity which leads to this. Radiation Risks play quasi-psychedelic punk that is somehow lo-fi, speedy, groovy, and majestically bizarre. With lyrics referencing The Godfather, “Mr. Ed”, and sexual fantasies involving Nancy Reagan, be sure to share this only with people who have been acquaintances for a long time. “Headless Horse-man” is almost atonal at times with the vocals buried deeply into the mix, while “Nancy” is much more clear so one can appreciate lines such as “Hinckley is free again, Jodie…she needs you John, to hunt again”). Throughout multiple listens, I truly have no idea what I am hearing, and I love it more each time.


This four-song EP from the only band from Wales that I know of is a surprisingly danceable blend of aggressive guitar rock and pop aesthetics. Emily Bates has a powerful voice, and when declares that everyone should declare, “hell fuckin’ yeah” on the title track, the line is delivered with and infectious and undeniable authenticity. The band has too many massive riffs, compliments of Dan Fry, to labeled as a pop-rock act, but they are certainly not afraid to craft easily digestible and incredibly infectious hooks. “Just Jump” is rife with a massive chorus and the closing “Sleep When You’re Dead” shimmies along with a bouncing groove from bassist James Hardwick. Playing what used to be labeled “hard rock” is a lost art, and Digital Criminals are unapologetic in their affinity for arena rock elements, but the foursome has an energy that elevates them above merely posing. With many bands of this ilk, the songs can sound a bit too overproduced or mechanized; while there are traces of that on the four tracks on this EP, the raw strength of Bates helps to preserve a level of fun-loving, too-drunk-at-the-party type of vibe. Digital Criminals are not trying to invent something new or rewrite the way rock n’ roll is played; instead, the focus their collective energy on crafting huge guitar-driven anthems that do not require any analysis-the band just wants to have fun. It’s a refreshing idea.

PARLOR WALLS - EXO (Northern Spy Records

Parlor Walls throws a little bit of everything at the listener in a celebratory mass of noise, jazz, rock, and dissonant fury. “Necromancer” is a hypnotic, dysfunctional combination of swirling force with a subtle hint of sexuality that makes the song a delectable slice of inspirational chaos. EXO is a highly robust EP, giving listeners much more than just four songs-the experimentalism and creativity of Alyse Lamb and Chris Mulligan is reflected through a powerful musical relationship. The songs rise and fall with both abrasive force and supple dexterity. “Love Complex” has a chorus that erupts with devastating volatility before regressing back into a more genteel approach. “Isolator” is a controlled ball of simmering force that toes the edge of exploding, but holds itself together for a scintillating, jazz-tinged ride. The closing “Low Vulture” has Lamb demanding to “get out in front of it”, with her voice slicing through the atmospheric din constructed around her. This is a flawless effort.


GREAT LAKES - Dreaming Too Close to the Edge (Loose Trucks Records https://greatlakesbencrum.

Ben Crum is a bit of a personal inspiration to me; we are the same age and both teachers. However, the similarities end there, as Crum is an immensely gifted singer/songwriter, whose heartfelt, earthy songs are pristine gems of smart, gritty rock n’ roll. Everything on Dreaming Too Close to the Edge rambles with a fluidity and confidence, from the opening barrage of “End of an Error” through the understated psychedelia of the closing “You Could Have Had Me for a Song”. The work of Great Lakes has the honesty of Tom Waits and the pop sensibility of The Byrds, best heard on the serene “Awaking Up Together”, a lush, rollicking piece that sounds effortless in its delivery. Crum’s bluesy, weathered vocals are ideal for the songs of Great Lakes-the stories he tells are those of maturity, self-discovery and recognition, and it requires a certain amount of miles to deliver such tales with the eloquence and passion they deserve. The record is highlighted by the sing along components of “Bury the Hatchet” and the earnest nature of “To Live is to Lose”. While not truly country-flavored, “Kingdom Came” contains a slight twang that provides a level of distinction from the other surrounding anthems. Suzanne Nienaber and guitarist Kenny Wachtel are two of the all-star caliber talent on display here, but the entire band, rounded out by drummer Kevin Shea, keyboardist Joe McGinty, pedal steel wizard Phil Sterk, and multi-everything player David Gould, support Crum through a collection of heartfelt anthems. The songs have both a battle-tested intimacy as well as a distinct nature that makes Great Lakes a captivating listen.

MIEN s/t (Rocket recordings

This wildly talented four-piece (whose other outfits include Black Angels and The Horrors) offers atmospheric electronica tempered with a classical Kraftwerk style component. The opening “Earth Moon” has a densely hypnotic tempo structure that dances on the edge of pop, but still retains a complexity that elevates the song well above standard fare. “Bleak Habit” wraps itself around a haunting groove that suddenly drops out mid-song before reemerging with even darker and fiercer energy. While Mien generates a specific sound, no two songs are repetitive, or for that matter, even remotely similar in nature. The forlorn emotion of “(I’m Tired of) Western Shouting” steps aside for the ethereal complexity of ‘You Dreamt”, as dance rhythms permeates the mind of the listener, making the song an uneasy but fascinating experience. The gentle ambiance of “Other” has a gentle quality that offers the initial impression of a warm embrace, but there is also a menacing component to the song, and this speaks to what Mien does so well. As one gets lost in the swirling masses of sound heard through the sprawling release, the experience is both uncomfortable and somehow serenely enveloping. Alex Maas, Tom Furze, Rishi Dhar, and John-Mark Lapham are all limitlessly skilled, as “Ropes” and “Echolalia” both demonstrate. The songs continue the theme of distemper and familiarity, for both songs entice with their beauty but one can never fully feel at ease. Each song on this self-title release is a vast soundscape kissed by pop hooks that allow the band to be both accessible and confrontational. The buoyancy of “Odyssey” is woven within a sedentary dance beat and haunting keys. Perpetually and majestically bi-polar, Mien is a challenging listen that is well worth the effort.

THE CARVELS NYC - Everything With You is a Travesty (www.thecarvelsnyc.

The Carvels NYC play five blasts of flawlessly executed garage punk with a healthy injection of pop fun. Lynne Von Pang is the inarguable star here, singing with a snarl dipped in delicious sarcasm. Her assault upon a vapid partner through the lyrics of the title track is a conversation everyone would love to have, but simply lack the courage to do so. (“No matter what I say, you just don’t pay attention/Then I have to answer all of your stupid questions”) The bluesy, controlled “Questioningly” (“I don’t love you anymore/What do you want to talk to me for?”) is led by the sax playing of Dave Spinley, but the band then instantly shifts into surf-punk overdrive on “You make Me Want to be Alone”, which is another scathing break-up anthem. “It Wasn’t My Idea to Break Your Heart” and “I Don’t Know What to do With You” are rare pearls that sound like the Runaways and the Shangri-Las sharing the same rehearsal space, with the latter highlighted by Brian Morgan’s guitar work. Complete with beautiful gatefold artwork and awesome stickers, The Carvels NYC do everything right!

NIHILIST CHEERLEADER - Riot, Right? (Perfect Attendance Records

Reminiscent of, but not simply imitating, the Riot Grrl movement that I fell in love with during the early 1990s, Nihilist Cheerleader is a band with limitless energy and an equally developed political acumen. This band would have been sharing a stage with Bikini Kill and been the darlings of Kill Rock Stars twenty-five years ago, but the world is lucky to have them now. Akin to the calls to action commanded by Downtown Boys, Nihilist Cheerleader attacks difficult topics with fearless intensity. Flynne Collins has a broad vocal range, but she is at her best when she unfurls her rage on “And She Takes It”. Guitarist Dylan Loftin and drummer Charley Barley run wild on the combustible “Shark Fin Soup” and “Three Drug Cocktail”, while bassist Leona Hinkle does a superior job of holding the songs together. Boldly embracing garage aesthetics, Nihilist Cheerleader play the purest form of punk-the noise and the aggression are there to make people put their phones down and listen. The swirling, dance groove of “Your Ur Uniform”, majestically controlled by Hinkle’s bass work, is a soaring example of a band that is firmly in control of their sound and are only getting better. The opening, menacing riff of “Bleach Boy” gives way to an explosion of disgusted fury that references several politicians who may or may not be in office by the time one reads this. With ten songs delivered in less than thirty minutes, this band does not waste a note. Athens, Georgia has quite a robust military history, but Nihilist Cheerleader may be the future of that great city.

BABY BONES - The Curse of the Crystal Teeth (Gubbey Records

Baby Bones utilize dark tones with a surf rock vibe to create an incredibly unnerving and thrilling listen on Curse of the Crystal Teeth. Borrowing Ace Frehley from Music From the Elder-era KISS and forcing him to sit in with Night Birds begins to explain a bit of what it is like to be bombarded by “Pay Us in Dimes”, the thunderous second track of the boisterous six found here. “Slick Shoes” is a rattling wall of force that is shockingly crafted by only three players as Dave Rucinski, Thomas Burgos, and drummer Badnewz Brandum simply decimate the track. This song stands in direct contrast with the sinewy, slithering “Bottom Breather” that also infuses a healthy blues hook into the dazzling conclusion. The psyche-noise clamor of “We’re Done Talking” is a triumph of a merger between punk and groove-oriented rock into one boiling mass of force, while the opening “Bought he Farm” is a hard-driving, pulsating rock gem. These guys have kicked around the Louisville area for years, but Baby Bones should make them national names.

EDITORS - Violence (Play It Again Sam Records)

While much of what Editors does swirls with extraordinary energy, their brand of soaring, dark wave is best embodied by “No Sound but the Wind”. Led only by Tony Smith’s vocals and sparse piano, the song resonates with profound impact through its lyrical power and stunning beauty. Blending elements of the old and the new, Editors sounds like Echo and the Bunnymen sitting in with Interpol, and the result is a collection of mesmerizing songs. With a stripped down delivery, “Darkness at the Door” and “Counting Spooks” are deceptive; a cursory listen may infer simplicity, but repeated plays allows one to hear the complex subtleties that make the songs so memorable. “Cold” can be both the soundtrack to a very adult night out or the coolest song ever played at a middle school dance, and therein lies the brilliance of Editors. Their songs are powerful and transcend genres and ages. When Smith says, “Baby, we’re nothing but violence”, (“Violence”) it is a soulful admission uttered with remarkable honesty and sensuality as a haunting beat cascades around him. The rich harmony and groove that drives “Nothingness” is matched by the ethereal expanse of “Magazine”, whose dance floor hook is addictive and anchored by Smith’s Bowie-like crooning. I had no idea that I would love this as much as I do.

MARC RIBOT’S CERAMIC DOG YRU - Still Here? (Northern Spy Records

Marc Ribot is a genius. There is no way to deny this fact after one hears the delightful lounge sounds of “Pennsylvania 6 6666” (“Pennsylvania, want to live there/Place where everyone is white”). The song meanders along, somewhat innocuously so, for four minutes before erupting into a rousing conclusion that includes stirring horns and cries of “don’t go back”, “white pollution”, and “never go back”. This comes on the heels of “Personal Nancy” in which Ribot, accompanied by two equally brilliant players in bassist Sahzad Ismally and drummer Ches Smith, alerts all within ear shot that he “has the right to scream like an idiot” and to “say fuck you!”. The entirety of YRU Still Here is just stunningly bizarre and it is unfeasible to not find one’s self swept away in the grunge meets surf vibe of “Agnes” or the hard-hitting swing of “Muslim Jewish Resistance”. The song is bellicose in nature, with John Zorn-style horn chaos and references to Steve Bannon and fighting against fascism. Politics are woven throughout the record with less than subtle allusions to our current leader, “I say the president’s dumber than an artichoke” may be my personal favorite line, but even when the band says nothing, they speak voluminously. “Shut That Kid Up” and “Oral Sidney With a U” are both thought-provoking instrumentals, with the latter borrowing heavily from 70s Blaxploitation funk and the former strutting down the street with too much confidence to be held by only a mid-tempo swagger. As angelic sitar opens “Orthodoxy”, I know that I have found my new obsession. Go tell your friends what they are missing and get ready for the stares of wonder and amazement once they have their lives transformed by this.


THE LAST GANG - Keep Them Counting (Fat Wreck Chords

The Last Gang’s Brenna Red screams, “Through music we will never die” on “Turn the Record Over”, the hidden bonus track on the digital copy of Keep Them Counting, and her intensity is palpable. While this release is the band’s first for Fat Wreck, the trio has been kicking around in one form or another since 2007. Keep Them Counting is ten (plus the bonus) tracks of blistering, hyper-aggressive punk with heart and harmony. The Last Gang places an emphasis on the “rock” in punk rock as the opening “Sing for Your Supper” demonstrates. With a massive riff and an infectious melody, fans of Anti-Flag, Rancid, the Distillers, or Damn Mondays will rightfully adore The Last Gang. Sleekly produced by Cameron Webb, the songs are crisp without minimizing the punch. The raw angst of “Nobody’s Prostitute” (I ain’t for sale now/I am forever/Don’t ever you say you don’t love me”) and the slashing riff of “Strange Fruit” are but two of the instantly memorable moments one finds on Keep Them Counting. Bassist Sean Viele and drummer Robby Wantland are a thunderous combination throughout the record, but truly excellent on the raucous “Believe in the Poet” and the driving “Karla”, acting as a perfect anchor to Red’s scorching vocals and thick riffs. Red is the star here, and she proves she has a multi-faceted arsenal on the acoustic “Secret Sounds”, a pop-infused anthem of darkness and lonesome travels with a damaged cast of characters. The Last gang has all the traits necessary to become a band with broad appeal without having to sell their souls to do so.

LONG NECK - Will This Do? (Tiny Engines Records

Lily Mastrodimos, formerly of Jawbreaker Reunion, surrounds herself with three highly skilled players (drummer John Ambrosio, bassist June Rose, and guitarist Kevin Kim), but truthfully, she is Long Neck. It is impossible to avoid being swept away by her dynamic voice throughout Will This Do? To answer that question posed by the title, all of this does quite nicely. On the swirling pop of “Elizabeth” Mastrodimos channels Natalie Merchant at her most affective, and “Love Letters” bobs with effusive buoyancy in a dazzling two minutes, contrasting with the darker, methodical “Ashes” that crawls along a dirty street with rugged guitar. The indie rock goodness of “Milky Way” is a clinic in how to produce smart, savvy, guitar pop that will impress even the most jaded of listeners. “Lichen” is a perfect example of how the presence of a fleshed out band changes the dynamics of Mastrodimos’ music-the track could work as a solo piece, as would the delicate beauty of “Rosy”, but the additional girth of a full band makes the loud/soft shifts more engaging. The concluding “10,000 Year Old Woman” is a return to Mastrodimos’ roots through a stirring acoustic work. Will This Do? is a lush, charismatic record celebrating both combined talents and the unique gifts of Lily Mastrodimos.

AWAKEBUTSTILLINBED - What People Call Low Self-Esteem is Really Just Seeing Yourself the Way That other People See You (Tiny Engines Records

Shannon Taylor may have just become my favorite singer. Similar to Marissa Paternoster or Victoria Ruiz, Taylor tosses all regard for her vocal chords to the curb and makes listeners feel each syllable throughout What People Call Low Self-Esteem. Surrounded by Borin Bou on guitar and Elijah Stoll on drums, Awakebutstillinbed create songs that rage and recede around Taylor’s unrelenting effort, particularly on the rattling “Safe”, a shape-shifting anthem that alters tempo with staggering ease. While the abrasive nature of Taylor’s angst is instantly intriguing, the band is more than just articulate screaming, as beautiful melodies carry “Saved” with a greater emphasis on a hook rather than searing vocal force, but the closing lines of “Why can’t we fix ourselves? Is there any way out? Why is there so much wrong with us?” is both chilling and brazenly honest. “Interlude” is a lush instrumental that does allow the listener to take a quick breath before being assailed again. The band’s strength is not only how they deliver their messages, but also what is being said. When Taylor states, “I know I’ll stop breathing one day, and I’ll never be able to justify the ways that I’ve lived my life. I just want something to feel all right, something to show for all this time”, she taps into a universal sense of worry. Beginning slowly, with a nearly menacing sensibility, “Floor“ eventually unleashes a cacophony of angular, biting guitar that smashes head-on with punishing drumming. Within a few seconds, the din subsides and Taylor’s honest tale of betrayal shines with intrepid honesty (“You were my best friend, but you fucked up my life”). “Closer” gives an initial impression of a jangly, nearly pop-inspired anthem before Taylor takes control. As the final seconds fade harmlessly into the air, one can finally stop, exhale, and appreciate what is an astounding experience.

RUNAWAY BROTHER - New Pocket (Tiny Engines Records

Representing Cleveland, Ohio, Runaway Brother has an emo component to their dreamy pop. The quiet moments on New Pocket are occasionally virulently shredded by blasts of guitar, but largely the band plays with maturity and control. The cleverly monikered “Conscience in Tumult” ebbs and lows with a hypnotic bounce and 90s indie rock guitar tones. Vocalist Jacob Lee has a voice that exudes passion, but often does so through a genteel, heartfelt delivery rather than looking to scream each syllable. “Canopy Eyes” includes sharp tempo shifts and Lee’s soaring harmonics that lead perfectly into the spacious “Bully”, a song highlighted by a dynamic performance from drummer Ian Phillips. The pristine nature of “Cats in the Sun” makes it a one of the true highlights of the record, as shimmering guitar and an intricate time scheme imbues the song with a level of sophisticated complexity. Woven into the lush sheen of “Kissing” are lyrics that capture a fleeting moment and expound upon it with an honesty that never seems contrived: “Revealing peel the innermost skill/all my feelings completely naked now”. There is a comforting familiarity to what Runaway Brother does, from the experimental aspects of “Paws” to the sprawling nature of “All Saints Day”, but yet this also sounds distinctive. New Pocket is a gorgeous demonstration of shrewd musicianship.

ELK CITY - Everyone’s Insecure (Bar/None Records

Majestic, spacious, and graceful, Elk City plays pop for people who look for depth within their musical voyages. The instant hook of the band is the stirring vocals of Renée LoBue, whose voice soars through a series of evocative and emotionally charged songs. The opening “Sparrow” begins with a low rumble of Martin Olsen’s bass before giving way to a sinewy groove revolving around LoBue’s partially hopeful, somewhat despondent realization that she will never “be as free as the sparrow”, while “He’s Having a Baby” (“He’s having a baby/ he says he’s not ready”) is mischievous take on falling in love with the right guy at the wrong time. Sean Eden of the newly resurrected Luna offers lush guitar work throughout the ten songs, most pronounced on the gripping “25 Lines”, but also a centerpiece on the fragile, shoegazing title track and the more rollicking “No Depth”. “Root Beer Shoes” seems to hover innocently in the air, guided with delicate care by drummer Ray Ketchum, who also produced this beautiful gem of a record, and pianist Carl Baggeley. LoBue begins the song by asking, “Whatever happened to Cupcakes O’Brian/she dated Bukowski for one day”, then references Hemmingway and the simple joy of having a person’s shoe brush against yours. These simple moments are captured with extraordinary care and what others may see as simply a passing event void of meaning, LoBue uses to construct mesmerizing stories. With a combination of chilling prowess and supreme musical command, Elk City’s brand of ethereal pop will enthrall.

ERIK CORE - No War, No Where, No Peace (Abouticore Music

Furious and hard-driving are not often terms associated with acoustic outfits, but Erik Core is anything but a typical act, and No War, No Where, No Peace is a series of constant surprises. I am stunned to hear acoustic music played with such devastating intensity, but this is a raging collection of politically shrewd anthems, leading off with “Smart Bombs” which acts as a blind-sided punch to the gut, and is an ideal table-setter for a collectively brilliant release. With only four of the ten tracks clocking in at over three minutes, Erik Core makes his points quickly and firmly. Even more impressive here is the fact that this is only a trio-Core leads the din on “Devil’s Workshop” and “Coming Loose”, but it is impossible to ignore the machine gun timing of drummer Josh “Bulldoza” Mendoza or the rattling low-end force of Al Stingle’s bass. Combined, these three take punk’s primal energy and folk’s social commentary and channel it into an articulate amalgamation of both forms. “Peace for Pawns” embodies this style perfectly, offering a glimpse into how an unplugged Dead Kennedys would sound. At times borrowing from 1960s protest songs (“Tears Running Red” and “No War”) and often rumbling with relentless energy (“Smoking Gun”), Erik Core exudes passion along with sophisticated songwriting.

DINOLA - Up High (Saustex Records

The New Orleans outfit plays think, intoxicating, blues-soaked rock n’ roll, led by the enthralling voice of Sue Ford to drive each track. The thunderous bass intro of “Apocalipstick” is only one of numerous highlights from Up High, a celebratory record of blunt force and subtle dexterity. The band’s backstory is a fascinating, as each member (drummer and Sue’s husband Jimmy, bassist Eddie Payne, and guitarist Eric Laws) survived the life-altering disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Rather than be subjugated by the destruction, the catastrophe became a rallying call and inspiration to celebrate the legendary city, hence the band’s moniker. The sludgy “Shut Up” is a teeth-rattling show of force with Ford bitterly spitting out the chorus with a tangible disgust as Laws’ guitar work rises and falls behind her. It takes remarkable courage to tackle Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ legendary “I Put a Spell on You”, but DiNola’s interpretation is a majestic slab of sexual energy and erotic bombast. The title track includes a gritty, Southern-boogie riff and Ford’s most sensual performance of the six songs here. Replete with wah-wah pedal and a rebellious spirit, the song is an ideal example of rugged, groove-oriented rock. I loved this from start to finish.

SPIDER ROCKETS - Along Came a Spider (P-Dog Records

I do not envy those performing in a hard rock band in 2018; with the genres and sub-genres within sub-genres, the music business has become a confusing labyrinth. However, a band like Spider Rockets cuts through the labels and plays old-fashioned, blaring guitar rock overflowing with harmonies and all the hooks one could hope for in eleven tracks. The old time, meat and potatoes groove of “Love Gore” and “Adore” is matched by snarky, self-affirming lyrics on “Love it When You’re Wrong”. Helena Cos has a voice that can channel the best moments of Donita Sparks or Pat Benatar, the latter lovingly honored with a cover of “Heartbreaker”. It is the mold of that 80s hit maker upon which Spider Rockets model themselves, and do so unashamedly. The thunderous “Sick” is counterbalanced by the slow grind of “Burn”, and the pop-rock glam of “Come to Me”, all the while the production of Dan Malsch keeps each song slick but never with too much sheen. The most obvious constant throughout the record is guitarist Johnny Nap who is the fuel powering the band, revealing the ability to balance technical prowess and catchy riffs to create songs that actually stay with the listener instead of simply fading into oblivion before the track emerges. The band’s strongest point may also be their biggest challenge-they can paly a with a legion of acts, and while much of what Spider Rockets does sounds comfortable and familiar, there is not much out there right now that sounds like Along Came a Spider. This is a band for people who still like bands and not “artists” and complete records rather than singles. I count myself among this rapidly diminishing group, so Spider Rockets has a devoted fan in me.

GOVERNESS (Radical Empathy Records /category/radical-empathy-records)

Washington DC’s Governess has one of the coolest backstories I have ever encountered-Kim Weeks, Kieca Mahoney, and Erin McCarly met each other while constructing a local cooperative-style preschool for their kids and formed an angular, snarling punk band. The three rip through eight raw, garage-tinged flare-ups with biting lyrics and cutting observations. Opening with “Broken Glass”, Weeks announces, “science was my savior until I was nine/I thought I wanted a test tube baby” over the top of a scathing yet still jangly riff. This ability to balance emotionally charged fury while still retaining a sense of melody is also true on the rollicking “Zipless”. Introducing a subtle surf vibe on “Elegy”, the band displays a deft command of tempo as haunting lyrics about the sudden arrival of an untimely death is extraordinarily hard-hitting, while the serpentine “Control Top” glides along methodically with minimal musicianship, asking “how can a full home feel so empty?”. The moody, spatial “Patterns” closes this remarkable record, with subtle guitar bursts and sixties girl-group harmonies coexisting in flawless symmetry. Blending the finest elements of Slater-Kinney with the raw energy of a band like Faunas or Coathangers, Governess is an essential re-release by Radical Empathy.

THE DEAN WEEN GROUP - Rock 2 (Schnitzel Records

Dean Ween has spent over three decades continuously reinventing himself, and Rock 2 continues the astounding musical journey that is his life. Rock 2 begins with the heartfelt “Don’t Let the Moon Catch You Crying” then shifts all too effortlessly to the grungy, smarmy “Fingerbanging”, oozing with sexuality, sax, and a soaring guitar solo. After opening with distinct styles of songs, only Dean Ween can offer “Theme From ‘Skinhead Kicking Your Ass”, a Zappa-esque burst of guitar wizardry dripping with sarcastic brilliance without saying a word, while “Pussy on my Pillow” includes references to a dog who “loved her daddy”. “Waste Station 9” is yet another effort that would fit perfectly alongside Weasels Ripped my Flesh from the Mothers with its supernatural guitar word and airtight rhythms. Manically twisted, the entire record is a throwback to a different age; a time when experimentation was celebrated and genius was not measured in numbers of views on YouTube. The seventies rock vibe of “Showstopper” and “Someone Greased the Fatman” is matched by the laser-light show ready guitar work of “The Ritz Carlton”., and the low-end thump of “Yellow Pontiac”. For anyone who doubted the talent of Dean Ween, Rock 2 illustrates for anyone with functioning ears that this man is boundless in his talents, swaying and frolicking at times, delivering thunderous monstrosities of force at other moments, and doing all with equal aplomb.

SPIT TAKE - Frog Rock (Ice Age Records

This highly DIY outfit from New Haven, Connecticut blasts through eleven noisy, punk-pop anthems replete with raw emotion and limitless energy. Frog Rock is actually a compilation of two cassette only releases recorded in 2016, now on one release for mass convenience, but there are marginal differences between the songs and that is a compliment. While the opening “Turn the Car Around” blazes past in a scant fifty-eight seconds, “Something Sometimes” and “Sideways” rattle with warmth reminiscent of Archers of Loaf and other early to mid-90s masters of controlled raucous. Vocalist and guitarist Joe bares his soul throughout the record, admitting “everything’s lovely ‘cuz last night you loved me” (the aforementioned “Sideways”) and “Behind this boy’s mask, I am an alien on a planet alone”. (“Long For Home”) Supported by bassist Maggie and drummer Dan, the band competently shifts tempos enough to provide each song with a level of distinction, which is critical on tracks like “How ‘Bout You?” and the hyperactive “Awful Long” in which lyrics are at a premium, and the songs are largely instrumentals carried by vigorous riffs and a clattering low end. Abrasive but never without heart or a penchant for a hook, Frog Rock is an impressive introduction to an intriguing band. “A Candle” (I'll always think about how badly/things ended up between you and me/I'll always keep a little candle burning) and “Rain-Soaked New York” are poignant, controlled anthems of raw pain, while the autobiographic “The Natural Facts” illustrate that even when one moves forward, there is a feeling that nothing has changed (I stayed on top of the laundry/ cleaned my clothes/ smelled a little better…but last year was a long year/like this year is a long year”). There is much to enjoy here and this is a record demanding repeated listens because there is something new to discover each time. This is not unhinged garage punk with a few pop accents-Spit Take blend fuzzy, dreamy pop elements and aggression into a well-balanced delivery. I absolutely want more of this band, and I hope college kids around the country are playing this one into the ground.

STEVE BARTON - Tall Tales and Alibis (Sleepless Records

Musicians are always looking to challenge themselves in an effort to expand upon their past achievements and progress. In the case of Steve Barton, he undertakes an nearly Olympian task with Tall Tales and Alibis; rather than release a string of records, Barton, he of the long-time and deservedly adored Translator, has unleashed three albums simultaneously, each distinct in tone, sound, and approach. Collectively, one is provided with a spotlight into the vast reaches of a truly brilliant mind, while Barton espouses, laments, celebrates, and mourns all of life’s events across a sprawling set of songs that are perpetually engaging.

The first release is Star Tonight, a dazzling compilation of buoyant pop songs that will instantly remind people of Translator’s finest Beatles-inspired moments. Poetic and beautiful, every effort on Star Tonight tells a stirring story, including the Mersey Beat tempo of “I Only Want to be Your Clown”, the seductive “Little Rule Breaker”, and the rollicking “Levitate the Pentagon”. Sounding like a singer/songwriter from a different era, Barton effortlessly alternates between fun-loving optimism and spatial, ethereal tracks. Referring to the legendary comedian, Barton admits on “Hey, Buster Keaton”, that he and the silent-film star could have been friends in 1922. Meanwhile, the majestic “When She’s Lost Your Mind” is more than just a great play on words, but also has a haunting streak that is matched by the more somber “Vacantville”. However, the subdued, introspective nature of this effort is heard throughout all of album number two, Shattered Light.

For those who are fans of bluesy, somber, acoustic playing from a man baring his soul for the benefit of an audience, than, like me, Shattered Light will be the favorite of the triumvirate of releases by Steve Barton. Every song is a genteel, airy track in which each syllable can be heard, analyzed, and digested properly before the next line is uttered, revealing a deeply spiritual poet and raconteur throughout. The closing “Stare at the Sun Tonight” (featuring the line, “Is the world the way we make it or does it make you and me?”) is driven by bare bones instrumentalism, accented by Springsteen-style harmonica and gutsy, gravelly vocals. Perhaps Barton’s recent move to Portland, Oregon inspired “Northwestern Girl”, easily the most energized of the anthems on Shattered Light, while “Breath” and the penetrating “I’ll be Loving You” are methodical anthems of quiet passion, with the latter enhanced by fuzzy guitar riffs that briefly cut through the quiet in a manner both jarring and engaging. The gut-wrenching “Tearing Out the Roses” is gorgeous in its ability to expose the most profound of emotional pain as Barton’s tale of suffering is carried by lush piano work. Also including a version of Sinatra’s 1955 hit “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and a deliberate reimagining of Translator’s “Unalone”, Shattered Light is a work of near perfection that, if released on its own, would be more than most others could hope to achieve in an entire career. However, Barton was still not done!

Before I Get Too Young is a more traditional rock album on which Barton is backed by a sterling group of friends including Translator buddy Dave Scheff (and for three songs, Attraction Pete Thomas) on drums, Derrick Anderson of Bangles on bass, and Marvin Etzioni and Willie Aron on guitar and keyboards in addition to their producing responsibilities. If Star Tonight dwelled in the land of the Fab Four, Before I Get Too Young certainly pays an ode or two to the Glimmer Twins. This occurs quite literally with a version of the Stones’ “Dandelion”, but “My Little Strange One” shimmies and sways with a sexual angst comparable to anything on Sticky Fingers, and the dirty guitar riffs that abound on the title track capture the early energy heard in the Jones-Richards line-up. Playing live in the studio, the songs flow effortlessly, from the sinewy sexuality of “She Is the Girl” to the bubbly energy of “Gimme Your Hand” and “Now That We Have Tomorrow”. Tackling each of these three pieces may seem overwhelming in theory until one undertakes the task and suddenly, one record’s conclusion simply demands that another one must begin. Steve Barton has been a revered player for decades, and while I suggest checking out all three of these releases, any of the components of Tall Tales and Alibis is enough to solidify Barton’s legacy.

BLIND IDIOT GOD - Undertow (Indivisible Music

Originally released in 1989, Undertow from Blind Idiot God sounds as fresh and important as ever. Blasting through thirteen songs, three of which are exclusive to the re-release, the record is an assault upon all musical senses. The opening “Sawtooth” is a brute of an introduction-a pummeling mass of guitar force that sets the table for a fascinating ride through rock’s darkest corners of noisy power. What makes BIG so compelling is that, while they have the ability to simply musically dismantle the listener on each track, they often select to reduce the tempo and volume and create anthems that embrace delicate beauty and near mysticism. This trait is heard on the richly textured “Clockwork”, but the song deftly gives way to the driving intensity of “Atomic Whip”. The pounding track establishes a template that remains true throughout much of Undertow, namely slashing, vicious guitar playing from Andy Hawkins that is often accented by blast beat style percussion from drummer Ted Epstein. “Drowning” concludes with a wall of screaming guitar rage, while bassist Gabe Katz shines on the darkly sensual “Alice in My Fantasies”. Most listening to this will be rightfully intrigued by the appearance of Henry Rollins on “Freaked”, a song that was used as the title theme for a cult classic film by Alex Winter (“Bill” from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), in which Randy Quaid played a mad scientist-in a case of perfect casting-who created a collection of freaks for the public to exploit. Rollins is the only vocalist on a Blind Idiot God track, and his voice and fury was at its peak during this recording, eliciting images of Black Flag’s most visceral moments. Undertow also includes a dazzling collaboration with master of chaos John Zorn in another ideal musical marriage on the schizophrenic “Purged Specimen”, a two-minute cacophony of blissful anarchy. The work of Blind Idiot God are showcases for three supreme musicians who relish musical destruction, such as the crushing “Waling Wall”, but also have the ability to contain their outbursts on the lush “Dubbing in the Sinai”. I do not remember how many people embraced this back when the Berlin Wall was crumbling and George H.W. Bush was reversing his course about “no new taxes”, but Undertow, with all of its bluster, vehemence, and musical vitriol, could certainly act as a metaphor for the world of 2018.

CRAIG WEDREN - Adult Desire (Tough Lover Records, available through Dischord Direct release/TL01/adult-desire)

Getting older is an odd experience-some adopt a “Peter Pan syndrome” and fight the process as fiercely as possible, occasionally clutching on to a youth that is long past, while others, such as Craig Wedren adopt the changes life brings and channel this new reality into a collection of majestic, mature songs. Much of Adult Desire is acoustically dominated, articulate stories addressing the grown up topics of love, family, marriage, and responsibilities. Rather than lamenting about the inevitable, Wedren embraces them, occasionally through very direct language, such as on the title track, but usually through clever metaphors and genteel vocal deliveries. Aside from one explosion of guitar force on “Join the Zoo/Live Again”, the songs are subdued, introspective gems, accented by subtle piano and minimal instrumentation. “Be a Man” has a thin layer of psychedelia behind its message, while the instrumental “Amnesia Wedding March” is a crisp piece of tender playing, sounding like a lullaby. There are refined studio tricks on “I am a Wolf, You Are the Moon”, and “2pristes (The Heat is On)”, but never enough to detract from the central purpose of the song. “Safe Home/Fadeland” and the concluding “Face the Pillows” are superbly crafted songs with hushed, whispered vocals that are smoothly and deeply reassuring, like coming in from the bitter cold into a warm house with loved ones happy to see your return. Richly poetic, adroitly performed, and beautifully constructed, Adult Desire is the soundtrack for a quiet, reflective evening.

THE HANNAS - Cut Loose ( /album/cut-loose)

This Montclair, New Jersey band incorporates several forms of pop-favored punk into an easily digestible aural stew on Cut Loose. Vocalist Joey J. has a sweeping voice, one that can easily shift from angst-fueled barks to falsetto “woah-ohs” that dominate the opening “Porcelain Hugs” and “Pyro”. The title track has a fittingly relaxed sensibility, with a subtle ska quality heard much more definitively on “Agree/Disagree”. The six songs on Cut Loose are a wonderful primer of the band, as The Hannas are not looking to reinvent good-natured pop, but instead, they find a pleasant balance of bored, suburban punk frustration and dance energy. The guys even channel goofy dalliances on the country-fried “Goin’ Out Tonight”, a song that may become a fun live staple, but seems to stop the momentum built by the previous two efforts. Closing with “Bad Juju”, the band again infuses comedy into their story-telling (“this room’s got bad juju”), while soft-hearted ska skips along at a mid-tempo pace before a furious sixty seconds of thicker guitar and speed brings the song a level of energy too often missing on the EP. As the final thirty seconds tick away, Joey J speaks directly to the listener, invoking a reference from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off- a great allusion, but I wonder how many of The Hannas fans will get it. Ultimately, Cut Loose is wholesome fun, but not destined to alter anyone’s life.

JOCEPHUS and the GEORGE JONESTOWN MASSACRE - 5 Minutes to Live-A Tribute to Johnny Cash (Saustex Records;

Before one hears even a single note on this record, it is impossible to not be impressed with the selections of covers. A typical Johnny Cash tribute may include “Walk the Line” or “Man in Black”, but instead, four more obscure anthems are treated to celebratory recreations led by Joey Killingsworth, Brian Costner, and Dik Leddux, but guests abound throughout this fleeting musical gem. Significant contributions come from former Jonny Cash and Carl Perkins drummer WS Holland, Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis, two supremely gifted musicians who are also two of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, J.D. Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers, and the indomitable Buzz Osborne of The Melvins. The collection opens with Pinkus’ wickedly self-actualized delivery of “The Losing Kind”, featuring the classic Cash lament of “Too proud to crawl, too weak to run, I’d shoot myself, but I lost my gun”, as the song is a darkly comical homage to all those who struggle. Killingsworth takes the vocal helm on “The Sound of Laughter”, a tragic story of how one woman’s derision and ridicule can drive a man to murder, while “Long Black Veil” features Osbourne’s forlorn crooning as another misguided victim meets an untimely demise. The title track’s vocal responsibilities fall to Harvey, and he provides a sterling performance for a song that was the theme song for a 1961 film featuring Cash starring alongside an up and coming child star named Ronnie Howard. The four tracks may fly by too quickly, but each second is worth savoring.

SPOOK SCHOOL - Could It be Different? (Slumberland Records

Glasgow’s Spook School makes quite the impression on “Still Alive”, the opening track of Could it be Different? as the refrain of “fuck you, I’m still alive” buries itself in my brain. A bold display of courage and defiance, the song is the ideal declaration of the band’s emerging confidence and an announcement to the world that Spook School is primed to become a band that will be help to define 2018. This socially progressive and politically cognizant act laments how “it’s been a bad year” on “Bad Year”, and while that is undeniably true for most, their brand of infectious, guitar rich indie pop may be enough to help get through whatever happens over the course of the next twelve months. The jangly, bouncy groove of “Alright Sometimes” begrudgingly surrenders to aspects of optimism, while the bass-heavy “I Only Dance When I Want To” is the finest New Wave-flavored song in a decade, and showcases the dazzling talent of Anna Cory and drummer Niall McCamley. “I Hope She Loves You” is a new take on the traditional break-up song, as Nye Todd acknowledges that he threw away a wonderful relationship, and offers a sentiment of regret (“I hope she loves you like I didn’t do”) while a furious barrage akin to Mission of Burma jamming with Husker Du roars beneath him. Nye and Adam Todd share vocal and guitar responsibilities throughout the record and soar most triumphantly on the endearing “Best Intentions” and the pop-coated “Body”, with lyrics of positive self-reflection (“Some people look so confident/I don’t know how they do it/You have a lot to be proud of/I have a lot to be proud of”) juxtaposed with reassurance given to a friend who entertained suicidal thoughts (“Are you ok now, do you feel alright? Why did you say that you want to die?”) The self-analysis of “High School” is both powerfully daring in its naked honesty, as well as preserving a poignant respect for nostalgia and wonder about how changes to the past would reshape the present. Leaving the failings of 2017 in the past is healthy, and Spook School provides something to eagerly enjoy in the new year.

THE WEDDING PRESENT - George Best 30 (HHBTM Records

Three decades after the release of their debut album, David Gedge and The Wedding Present take Steve Albini’s producing acumen and re-record George Best, expanding the scope and impact of these legendary songs. “Everyone Thinks he Looks Daft” and “What Did Your Last Servant Die of” retain their punk-influenced manic energy, but with Graeme Ramsay’s drumming far exceeding the original density, the songs have a sprawling quality missing back in 1987. “My Favorite Dress” and “Anyone Can Make a Mistake” are pristine examples of how the songs differ from the original studio versions-noticeable shifts in speed and energy levels allow listeners to envision themselves in the midst of a cramped recording studio, with The Wedding Present tracking song after song in one take with the fury and enthusiasm of a live show. Truly, that is what George Best 30 captures-the loose, free-flowing nature of a live performance without the hassle of other people. Christopher McConville’s guitar slashes across “A Million Miles” and shines on the sleek and soaring “Give My Love to Kevin”, while “Shatner” becomes an even nimbler three minutes of controlled chaos. Thirty years ago, I was not in a position to catch on to The Wedding Present, as Motley Crue, Ratt, and the other bastions of the fading Sunset Strip were lighting up my Walkman. However, between then and now, I am fortunate to say I have come to admire The Wedding Present, and while some may question the need for the re-recording of old classics, the combined talents of the older, wizened Wedding Present and Steve Albini illustrate how sometimes, occasionally, magic can be recreated and even improved.

BLACK WAIL - Chromium Homes (Rhyme & Reason records

This Jersey City outfit seems defiantly out of touch, and that is exactly the point. Forgoing any concerns with contemporary fads, Black Wail is a trip back to the most sludgy, psychedelic, and heavy aspects of the 1970s. Opening with the Sabbath-friendly bombast and stoner-rock riff of “They”, Black Wail unleashes a wall of pummeling low-end force. Anchored by the bass playing of Susan Lutin, the track is a hazy six and half minutes of tales about kings in ancient times, courtesy of guitarist/vocalist leader Michael Tarlazzi. Replete with dazzling guitar work and perfectly appropriate keys, I am instantly hooked. “Thee Ghost” includes atmospheric keyboard accompaniment from Bram Teitalman and another massive hook; the calling card of the band. All of Chromium Homes includes a classic metal vibe accented by 70s experimentation, as the band is prone to simply stop a track halfway through, take a breath, and then unveil a thrilling barrage of force. In the case of “Radioactive Mutation”, the song swings with an effortless freedom, and is a swirling breadth of musical range The title track has a more refined nature, taking cues from Badfinger or even Thin Lizzy, contrasting the menacing vocals one hears on “The Dead Man’s Hand”; juxtaposing the serene and the terrifying, Black Wail produces their most intimidating song with this sludgy gem. The EP includes a stirring version of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”, and while covering he Fab Four can be a risky, and often fruitless, venture, Black Wail make the song their own and it fits beautifully within the construct of Chromium Homes. This is an injection of rock’s best qualities into an age when it is desperately needed.

COUNT VASELINE - Tales From the Megaplex (Saustex Records

Stefan Murphy is the mastermind behind Count Vaseline, a singer/songwriter with a tremendous amount of courage and a penchant for lo-fi punk fury. On “Hail Hail John Cale”, Murphy sardonically spits out the line “Lou Reed died wishing he could be John Cale”, while a controlled din simmers beneath him. The impassive nature of his delivery does not deter from very clever wordplay throughout the record, as there are delightful references on “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What are You On?” (“I am Lawrence, I’m from Arabia, I’m on acid now”) With only one song reaching two minutes the length, the ideas are fleeting but all highly worthwhile. The country-punched “Texas Band” has references to “holding Charlie Sexton’s hand” and ultimately buried within “Texas land”, while “I’ll be Your Johnny on the Spot” is a loving ode to Ween. The darker “Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown” glides effortlessly, guided by a thick serpentine guitar riff. The bass-heavy “Song for Tom” tells a tragic tale of “a very good man” who “spoke six different languages”, who ultimately “died alone” as a mesmerizing dance beat radiates alongside Murphy’s richly expressive vocals. The closing “Town of Horseheads” is a dystopian anthem about the struggle of being “too old for revolution, too young to lie down and die” as a subdued synth-pop bubbles throughout the effort. I am continuously impressed and intrigued by Murphy’s work, and Tales from the Megaplex only increases my admiration for this truly distinctive talent.

POCKET FISHRMEN - The Greatest Story Ever Told (Saustex Records

I do not know how I have missed them until this point, but the Pocket Fishrmen are apparently Austin’s “greatest sci-fi punk metal band”, and The Greatest Story Ever Told is a massive thirty song collection that spans the entire “career” of this act. Every single song here is destined to offend someone, and in the midst of the current political climate, maybe the Pocket Fishrmen is exactly what this country needs-three chord blasts of dirty jokes, odd references, and old-fashioned fun! Listening to “Go Go Saddam Hussein” actually takes me back to a simpler time, while “Amy Carter” is a sarcastic gem. Sex puns are everywhere here, and I defy anyone to not incur a serious injury laughing at “Sex Billy”, “Flaccid is the Night”, and the priceless “Half Mast”. The Fishrmen are not afraid to borrow and even mock previous hit songs, turning “Angel of the Morning” into “David of the Merkin” and even “Pot Mountain” follows a very similar lyrical structure to AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie”. With lyrics devoted to unfinished Ed Wood films (“Queen of the Chimps”), delightful diseases (“Flesh Eating Virus”) and rough sex with a single mom (“Mommanatrix”), The Pocket Fishrmen make the kind of punk that will earn the ire of the straight-edge kids, but will have all the drunks at the bar dancing and singing with alcohol-fueled confidence. Rather than attempting to build complex, multi-layered songs, the majority of the work is richly melodic punk-pop singed by dark wit. Clearly, Brant Bingamon, Chris Burns, Jason Craig, and Lance Farley are not without day jobs, but these guys actually remember when having a slightly perverted sense of humor did not get you fired.

HELEN KELTER SKELTER - Melter (Shaking Shanghai Records

Living in New York, I admit that I sometimes forget that there is more to America than just the East Coast or what latest trend is sweeping California. The rest of this glorious nation is more than just cornfields and billboards about Jesus dotting endless stretches of highway. To prove this, I offer Helen Kelter Skelter, an Oklahoma based outfit that is truly unlike anything people are listening to as we speak. Melter is a swirling, sinewy mass of class rock vibes set to maximum swagger with soaring organ play, throbbing bass lines and danceable hooks. The slithering “Inside Out” is the best primer for the band, as the track glides with ease from night club dance floor to rock club to a long pause mid-way through the effort, as if the band stops to figure out where to go next. The song returns with an even larger beat and finishes the next three minutes rattling one’s head and shaking one’s memory for anything quite like this. HKS bring all the bluster of rock n’ roll without all the angst, preferring instead for steady doses of fun, wall-shaking groves. From the opening “21st Century” that announces the band’s presence with a sonic thrust of force to the dreamy, ambling closer “Wunschkonzert”, Melter is a dazzling record of spatial and ethereal rock that may befuddle the masses, but I am not sure this band will have a problem with that. Cody Clifton is the “bass thumper”, and while he shines on nearly every song, he truly carries “Tracers”, one of the collection’s finest moments. “Palamino” and “Time Bomb” inject modern psychedelia into bombastic anthems, while “Mysterio Prevails” takes a dreamier, more deliberate approach. Regardless of how the band constructs a song, everything works on Melter. The name drew me in to this band, but I definitely stayed for the music.

PROMISE OF REDEMPTION - Before and After (Know Hope Records

Shane Henderson of Valencia displays the emotional breadth of his writing and singing on Before and After, a collection of heart-wrenching acoustic pieces. These demos and B-sides are able to express an intensity that may otherwise be lost in a wave of guitar force. The delicate heartache and honesty of “Let the Waves Crash Down” is stark and majestic, and while Henderson ahs always had a penchant for passionate song writing, his talents are inarguably impressive here. Fragile piano opens “Hard Times” and when Henderson pleads, “You gotta say that you’ll be alright/You’re gonna make it out alive”, the song bleeds empathy. “On and On” aches with sentimentality, while “The Light” is a song of grand beauty. Gripping and raw, the song speaks of holding on to love while delicate strings play and Henderson reveals that “California is whispering”. Before and After says a great deal in only six songs and whether one has followed Henderson over the course of his career or just stumbled upon this, it is impossible to not be swept away by the sheer conviction of the playing.

DINOSAUR EYELIDS - Turn Left on Red (

This majestically DIY outfit from New Brunswick brings back a brash style to rock that is glaringly omitted by most bands today. Left Turn on Red opens with “Day Zero”, a thunderous eruption of guitar power that blends Dinosaur Jr-style fuzz with a slight Southern boogie into a teeth-rattling four minutes. The song embodies the band’s motto of “we may never be rich but we will always be loud”, a slogan later hard on the rumbling “Land and Sky”. “Into the Woods” readily embraces the more primal elements of grunge, most notably distortion drenched guitar and a low-end roar. “Basilone Bridge” is yet another aggressive track, but the band also plays with tempo shifts a bit throughout the song, but never deviates too far from their original purpose to be a massive sounding rock force. With guitar solos that are fleeting at best, Dinosaur Eyelids are not interested in technical wizardry, but are committed to making soulful, honest music that takes cues from classic rock as readily as contemporary acts to generate something that is both refreshingly new and instantly comfortable. The atmospheric aspects of “Neshanic” truly allow Evan Staats’ vocals range to shine, and when he laments, “If nothing is real, does anybody care?”, he could be speaking to today’s political environment as well as the state of music. Integrating slide guitar and a slower tempo, “L.A. Lady” oozes regret and passion, while the acoustic “Whiskey” is a tragic harmonica-driven anthem dedicated to the alcohol that can destroy: “When you’re empty, I’m empty, too”, Staats moans while Patrick McKnight provides the sorrowful musical accompaniment. “No Money Blues” allows the band to demonstrate a penchant for writing genre-spanning songs before returning to the hearty riff of “More Than Nothing”. There is much to enjoy here, and Turn Left on Red is a welcomed homage to true rock n’ roll.

THOR AND FRIENDS - The Subversive Nature of Kindness (Living Music Duplication

Thor Harris and his “friends” Peggy Ghorbani and Sarah “Goat” Gautier return for a second record, with the brilliant moniker The Subversive Nature of Kindness, a work created to, according to the band, “ease some of the terror” of the world in which we all dwell. Considering the tone and tenor of this world, that may be a lofty ambition, but the nine songs heard here are multi-instrumental pieces that say much even sans vocals. One cannot help but to be swept away by the craftsmanship, often connoting images of woodlands and deeply cloistered scenes. Harris, who spent years touring with the Swans, is a brilliantly gifted player of instruments few have heard of, much less actually heard, because in some cases, he has invented the item himself. The opening “90 Meters” features majestically delivered light percussion in which the beauty of the song cascades over the listener and sweeps one away into a serenity that is sporadically interrupted by squalls that fade quickly. The harrowing, melancholy “Carpet Creeps” is a song of reclusiveness; haunting and poignant. “Dead Man’s Hand” clocks in at over five minutes and is more playful in nature, similar at times to “Mouse Mouse”, another gentle, almost childlike effort. Sparse at some moments, melodically dense in others, “Dead Man’s Hand” sounds like something heard in an aboriginal rainforest. It would be a careless gesture and potentially an affront to select one or two songs as particular favorites, but “An Escapist’s Theme” is a soaring triumph. Genteel, but yet a touch speedier than its predecessors, the song propels itself into soaring beauty, sounding like a movie score for a masterpiece not yet made. What makes The Subversive Nature of Kindness so appealing is the multitude of talent who contribute to its collective brilliance-Michael Gira from the Swans contributes, as does Enrique Soriah, a throat singer from Oregon, and Aisha Burn a violin improvisationist and virtuoso. The darker, more ambient nature of “Standing Rock” is paired exquisitely with “Grassfire!” The most expansive song of the lot, “Grassfire!” is airy, yet replete with sound, including fascinating vocal contributions that slash across the landscape with penetrating impact. These constant paradoxes make the record a masterstroke of brilliance. The closing “Resist” continues this theme by building a series of complex ideas on top of each other into a stirring mass of delicate power. The finesse, originality, and radiance of this record cannot be overstated. I do not know if Thor and Friends will be able to quell some of the ugliness that currently abounds, but this record will be the perfect panacea to one’s daily stress.

JEREMY PORTER AND THE TUCOS - Don’t Worry, It’s Not Contagious (GTG Records

Jeremy Porter and his mates Gabriel Doman (drums) and bassist Patrick O'Harris do not waste time with gimmicks or studio tricks, opting for the path of traditional, greasy rock n’ roll. The third album from this Detroit act jangles and shakes with tales of broken hearts, failed relationships, and not giving up even after all the pain. The bluesy, whiskey-soaked “Walk of Shame” is a straight shooting, country-punched anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Doman’s hard-hitting nature carries the downhome “Huckleberry”, while Porter tries diligently to impress yet another woman who is hard to please. While the majority of the tracks here deal with love gone wrong, it stays in the world of adult heartache and never stumbles into any form of teenage melodrama. Like the music they play, Porter and his Tucos have seen some sights and are fighting off cynicism and sorrow on the reflective “Avenues are for Heroes” and the biting title track. The slower “Consolation Prize” is made deeply compelling by the soaring beauty of Jennifer Westwood’s stunning vocals, while the heart-wrenching “Torn” invokes the best moments of Paul Westerberg’s skills as a raconteur. “You Don’t Have to Ask Twice” and “Worth the Wait” both have a Tom Petty vibe made all the more poignant by that legend’s tragic passing, while “Patty’s Not Impressed” proves that Porter and the Tucos have a sense of humor. Accented once again by Westwood, the song details a tough critic who “did not like the opening band/even though they did their best” and cannot understand why Porter’s band always plays last. Jeremy Porter may hail from Detroit, but he has certainly traveled south down Route 66 for inspiration on “Urge to Cry”, an emotionally gripping anthem that is one of the finest moments here. For those who still appreciate honest rock, this is one of America’s best examples of pure talent and hard work.

SEAN KIELY and JEFF TAYLOR - Willow, Texas 7-inch (

The two-song effort includes a pair of delicate folk beauty. Kiely’s “Echo” has a haunting ambiance about particularly as he repeats the chorus of “Echo” while fragile guitar hovers beneath. His voice, just above a whisper, conveys tremendous depth as Kiely paints a vibrant picture of loneliness in only a few words. The equally compelling “Song in Texas” by Jeff Taylor is a stark piece of folk-inspired country that also explores a sense of isolation, as Taylor says “There is a song in Texas that I may never sing”. Both artists have distinctive styles and vocals, and each is deeply skilled at maximizing their minimalism.


AMINAL - In With the Gnu (https://www.facebook. com/AminalMusic)

First off, it is indeed Aminal, and while the name may be slightly challenging, one is only getting started with the oft-putting nature of this incredibly unique band. (Although, remarkably, a quick search will find several bands with this moniker) Perhaps we are living through times of unparalleled blandness, but regardless of decade, this is scintillating in terms of its originality. “The Kid is Still There” bounces and shakes with the energy of Zappa at his most charged. Searing, fuzzy guitar slash through the heart of the song, while bass lines that are equal parts jazz-fusion and thick funk drive the track forward. This wildly brazen and invigorating disregard for pretention or genre boundaries continues on “Underwater Catastrophe”, which again borrows from a Mothers of Invention style playbook, blending complex song structures and fluid time changes to produce a anthem that requires the listener to work. Aminal label themselves “molten rock”, which is fitting, for there is no label one can accurately apply to this band. Perhaps their finest moment is “It’s No Picnic with Snazzlepants, Baby”. With an infectious bassline, vocal tricks, and deceptively obtuse lyrics, this invokes the finest experimentalism that used to be far more ubiquitous in rock n’ roll. One can clearly hear the influence “Dynamo Hum” or “Peaches En Regalia” throughout the six songs, and I am particularly intrigued by the rambunctious nature of “Insex”, as the band effortlessly moves between rock, pop, jazz, and blues with lyrically puns abounding. The funk-fueled bass that commands center stage on “No Way, Know How” seems to have climbed off a 70s detective show, but when blended with equally groovy, wah-wah-kissed guitar, the marriage is one of perfection. Those with limited miles on them will likely shake their heads in amazement and confusion when introduced to Aminal, but others, whether more experienced or more adventurous, will embrace this and rightfully honor it for the bold tableau of ideas it is.

UNDERLINED PASSAGES - Tandi My Dicafi (Mint 400 Records

This Baltimore outfit plays lush pop with stirring vocals that injects a youthful joyousness into each syallable. Michael Nestor and Jamaal Turner are supremely gifted in crafting songs replete with powerful sentiments without ever becoming self-indulgent. This is partly due to the fact that their songs are a manageable three minutes in average length, but also because of their remarkable prowess as players. “Feelings” has elements of an early 90s homage, but while it strikes initially as a straightforward pop gem, there is so much more beneath the surface. The atmospheric dynamics present the song as something far larger than the work of only two men (accompanied by bassist Gary Hewitt). The richly melodic guitar riffs cascade over the listener while Nestor delivers lyrics that bare his soul as he smiles wryly. There is warmth to “Your Bedroom” that makes the song deeply sensual, nearly tactile, in its emotion. The track conjures images of two people alone imagining (perhaps secretly hoping) that they are the last people on the planet. In less proficient hands, this kind of ethereal pop can wander into areas of desolation, but instead, Underlined Passages offer gorgeous celebrations of brilliant musicianship. Equally stirring as its predecessors is the emotionally effusive “Bottlerocket”, as Nestor sings “I know you’re waiting for me now”. While the line is intentionally ambiguous, given the tone of the track, it carries extraordinary weight and purpose. “Thinking on a Sunday” is shorter experiment in genteel pop, but “Ruthina” rattles with a sharper drum tone. Once again, Nestor shines vocally, and when he admits, “We don’t know who we are”, there are lively feelings of hope and wonder more than confusion or self-doubt. The closing “The Days Were Golden My Friends” has an aura of nostalgia that is both painful, for one realizes that the moments being honored are passed, and also majestically celebratory, and this latter attribute exemplifies the band. Underlined Passages are the band to listen to when all seems bleak, for there is an optimism and a purity to their playing that is uplifting, reassuring, and triumphant. I am so happy this one came my way.

CROWN OF PITY - Everlasting Sunday (

I am immediately hooked with “Leviathan”, the opening effort on Crown of Pity’s newest release. David Dutton and Natalie Rakes are a devastating duo, integrating fuzzy guitars into an atmospheric haze that adds a level of mystery and sultry danger to the track. Hazy but not lo-fi, Everlasting Sunday has much going on within its six songs, with them often bathed in feedback and distortion while programmed drums rattle and shake. Crown of Pity immerses punk energy into a sea of 80s-era Sonic Youth hum, resulting in a gem like “Lost Heirs”. Possessing a harmony that defies convention, driven by Rakes’ thunderous bassline, the song is a pristine example of the pair’s ability to produce furious melody. The mid-tempo “Siren Song” glides effortlessly along with an unmistakable sense of darkness and longing, ultimately meandering with a tempo reminiscent of 90s shoegaze glory. Rakes takes the helm on “So Be It”, a reserved effort that allows her haunting vocals to shine brightly, accompanied by minimalist instrumentation until a swaggering conclusion erupts around her. The sludgy “Never Say Ever” and the lush, concluding “Bake Sale” display a refined sense of power. Everlasting Sunday is a stunning release from a dazzling band.

NEW AGE HEALERS - Where the Tragic Happens (

Owen Murphy’s New Age Healers hit hard and often on the emotionally driven and cathartic Where the Tragic Happens. A melancholy guitar riff commands “He Took a Bullet to Heaven” as Owen ominously declares “some of your friends are going to die/ they’re going to die young”. When Murphy asks “do you like surprises?” on the closing “Surprise Party”, one is inclined to scream “no!” an ran quickly away, for Murphy sounds both menacing and genuinely curious about the answer. This paradoxical nature drives the record, as Murphy blends beauty and fear with majestic efficiency. On “Stop”, Murphy declares that he has “a mind for sin”, and one can only imagine what that truly means. While he is surrounded by a wide array of talented friends, New Age Healers is nearly a one-man show. Murphy sings, plays guitar, bass, drums, and even contributes “drum ideas”, making him truly the mastermind of this release, with his talent evenly distributed among the eight distinct tracks. He plays with sentiment and tempo with stunning deftness, as “The Drowning” is a slower anthem, but each word is accented with dramatic bursts of force that provide tremendous weight to each syllable. This is contrasted with the breathy, bass-heavy “Disasters Offshore”, a song that simmers consistently but never boils uncontrollably, or the distortion-soaked guitar that mirrors a line about “distorted schemes” on “With Regrets”. Everything on Where the Tragic Happens is both somehow irreverent and wholly accessible, accenting their darker moments with fun-loving pop aspects to soften the edge a bit without ever becoming dull.


One has to appreciate a band with a track called “Shitty Person” in which vocalist Luke Henderiks admits that they are “a lying liberal with painted nails/been throwing my pennies at peace.” This level of honesty is refreshing, as is the music of Teenage Halloween - the soundtrack to an angry, politically charged, cynical party in which everyone is fed up and drunk. Accompanying Henderiks is a wide arrange of players including Connor Egan on trombone and flute, Kevin Sabik on trumpet, and Brandon Hakim on saxophone. However, rather than attempting to be another ska knock-off, the band integrates horns and Danni May Ciminnisi’s keyboards into the heart of each song, producing a highly energized brand of eclectic rock with a subtle pop sensibility. The enthusiastic horns that open “Jerk” and the furiously paced “Moving Song” establish a light-hearted vibe that defines the song, but not the band in general. Lyrically, the kids in Teenage Halloween are a confrontational punch to the chest of authority in the name of free expression and personal liberties. Supported by drummer Brian DeSeno and bassist Lynn Tuimill, Henderik’s raw confession on “Invalidate” becomes all the more powerful: “I will never be there while the risks you’re willing to take will eventually die”. Eli Frank’s guitar may get lost at times in the midst of the bombast, but he controls the pace of many of the tracks and shines on the aggressive declarations of “Car Sick”, as this call is put forth by a confident Henderiks: “Organize and assemble too, the salt the penetrates the wound/We won’t stop scheming til we’re free/Wipe the blood right off the floors, kids under all these trap doors/We won’t stop scheming til we’re free”. The closing “666!” is a brilliant pun on the once (I guess Mike Pence is still afraid of it) frightening numerical calling card of Satan, and just before concluding with delicate piano, Henderiks declares one final battle cry with “Gag me in plain sight/ And Tell me what we’re doing is wrong/ Just some raging queer kids/ And we’ll sing our own protest songs”. Not much is known right now about these bold New Brunswick residents, but I hope that changes soon.

THE FRONT BOTTOMS - Going Grey (Fueled by Ramen

It can be difficult to make a statement like “Holy fuck, I’m about to die” sound light and fun, but somehow, The Front Bottoms do just that on the opening track of their new record, Going Grey. This mixture of sardonic darkness and jovial enthusiasm is the crux of the release and one hears it overflowing on a number of tracks. The pop sensibility of “Peace Signs” can be immediately interpreted as ultra-light fare, but there is a subtle complexity to the music of The Front Bottoms that make their modern pop anything but disposable. This depth helps to make Going Grey constantly engaging, even when they introduce a song called “Bae”. I was more than a little nervous when I saw this name flash on my screen, but rather then being treated a middle school dance anthem, I am hit with the line “When you realize the crew you roll with/Is actually what makes you anxious”, a brilliant nugget of a statement that is quite similar in nature to the dance floor energy of “Grand Finale” (“It felt good before but now its getting older/’cause there’s no more empathy”.) Relationships and the complexities existing within them cut a swath lyrically through the disc, highlighted by “Don’t Fill up on Chips” (“Feel most complete when we’re asleep/My head even with your hips/I hug your knees/Who’s to blame, I don’t know/I feel no responsibility, though”), and “Trampoline (“I try to fake it/But you know me better”.) The quite literal “Far Drive” celebrates long rides with the ones a person loves to go see the people a person loves, while the 80s buoyancy of “Everyone But You”, also quite literal, details hating all people except that special one-the name you do not erase (“Got into a bit of a state last night/Deleted every contact in my life”). Ultimately, The Front Bottoms should continue to grow their audience with a collection of tracks that are instantly catchy and unapologetically energized. For those with a few more miles on their lives, the multiplicity of the lyrics will hold interest, and the little ones can fantasize about lives more interesting than those being currently lived.


The Philadelphia area has produced some important aspects of American history-the Continental Congress, Liberty Bell, the announcement of the Declaration of Independence come to mind-but perhaps nothing more fun than the work of Frank Phobia. Anthrophobia, a band that just refuses to die, returns with a five song blast in the form of Grind. Produced by the legendary J Robbins, the guys sound more animated than ever with Frank again looking back while simultaneously pushing the band forward. The title track is a celebration of skateboarding coming from a man who says it is been his favorite love since the “spring of 1975”. This track, like those that surround it, are muscular slabs of aggressive, rugged rock n roll with punishing guitar grooves and Frank’s instantly recognizable snarl. “Over Reactor” is a searing two-minute punch to the gut while “Ancient History” is boldly rhythmic and again allows Frank to carry a surprisingly soulful chorus on top of a heavy low end. “Time won’t stop for no one/Time is vicious and cruel”, he laments, but one would not be able to tell the miles on this band from listening to Grind. Vibrant and even a little cheeky (“the breakdown of “Ancient History” appears to borrow liberally from classic Van Halen), Anthrophobia are back to announce once again that retirement is boring and the remind the world just how badly it needs this band. “Before the Crash” shows a different side Anthrophobia, as the closing track is a nearly seven and half minutes in length that ebbs and flows with varying intensity as it cuts a wide swath across a heavy musical landscape. I have no idea what Anthrophobia has left in its collective tank, but as long as these guys have the desire, I hope they never stop.

PROFESSOR WHOMEVER - Wounded Brightness (https://

Maybe the funkiest figure to emerge from Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, Professor Whomever is a buffet of psychedelic, folk, rock, and experimental brilliance. Wounded Brightness is a soaring masterpiece of a record-a massive collection of esoteric complexities that consistently amaze and will leave listeners wondering from which time warp did this genius emerge? Opening with the acoustic psychedelic “ Find the Dog”, Professor Whomever alerts all within earshot that is far from a typical release. “The Bardo” is audibly stunning, with its panoramic beauty as bold anything Pink Floyd ever created, but the striking, sweeping “Examining/Wounded Brightness” will befuddle, mesmerize, and entrance as twenty-two dazzling moments wash over those with the stamina to endure. The sentence “we’re in the age of stupidity” emerges from the majestic din and in one fleeting second epitomizes everything that Professor Whomever is attempting to do-he is single-handedly smashing all preconceptions of what musical expression can be and forcing people to look around at just how limited the world has become. “Conflict” features an internal dialogue made public as a pair of voices argue about the state of humanity as one concedes that he is “done with people who are done with me”, and is ultimately challenged prior to the song’s triumphant conclusion with the question, “do you even know the Pledge of Allegiance”?” The closing “Wandering Ghost” is a lighthearted, jaunty track that seems to usher all out in a good mood after experiencing a mind-altering assault upon the senses. Of all the moments of brilliance, I am most intrigued by the paradoxical nature of “Freedom”. The song revolves around every child’s fantasy-a beloved plush toy coming to life; in this case a panda bear. However, rather than experiencing happiness together, the young girl separates herself from the bear in the woods and gazes upon the unsettling scene of the now mortal creature as it is attacked by insects before the doomed being wanders into a local mall dazed and injured, only to be shot dead. The song concludes with an emotional burial for the object as the words “ I watch the people/Walking by, I wonder if they're evil... We all wanna be free/But do we even know what freedom means?” Twisted, menacing, yet also intensely thought provoking, I have honestly never heard anything quite like the work of Professor Whomever. People like Zappa or Beefheart or even the Crazy World of Arthur Brown come to mind here, but that is merely a distant comparison, for Wounded Brightness proves that in a desert of mediocrity and redundancy, there can be an oasis of true originality.

THE HARMONICA LEWINSKIS - Bring Back Bush (https://theharmonicalewinskies.

I have been a longtime fan of The Harmonica Lewinskis since the first time I saw their name in print, and with an album titled “Bring Back Bush”, I knew I was in for a treat. The minimalist opener “I Wanna Laugh” includes the refrain of “I wanna laugh/I wanna cry”, and this sums up both the state of contemporary American society as well as the state of the band. During the recording of the record, leader/singer/guitarist Dan McLane passed away, and it is very difficult to separate one’s sorrow from listening to Bring Back Bush. Therefore, the usually upbeat, snarky, and energized punk-soul one hears is tinged with gut-wrenching sadness. The swinging, “What is it You Want to Know” invokes Beatles-esque style harmonies as the song breaks away from its rollicking chorus, while “My Babe” is a heartbreaking piece of acoustic beauty with the brilliant opening line, “I met my babe when I was only one from eleven”. Even “My Little Girl” has a sullen verse about a girl with tracks on her arms before a more triumphant conclusion. Perhaps nothing is more celebratory than “Grateful Ducks” that includes a loving tribute to Maxine Nightingale’s 1975 hit “Right Back Where We Started From”. “Get Some” features a dirty, bluesy riff that sounds like it woke up on the whiskey soaked floor of a Southern brothel and is paired nicely with the noisy, start/stop pomposity of “Comme Le Thon”. In the wake of McLane’s death, “Remember Monica” becomes particularly poignant, as the heartfelt, reminiscent lyrics and soaring harmonies are the finest treasures amongst a varied collections of gems. Fittingly, the band closes with a rousing, feel-good anthem in “Smile Today”, a boisterous rockabilly stomp that completes another collection from a genre-smashing, wildly talented band.

DOWNSWING - Dark Side of the Mind EP (Rise Records

Downswing are not interested in playing games, mincing words, or experimenting-this is a knock out your teeth hardcore band. While the guitars have an expected heaviness with a strong affinity for thunderous grooves, it is the low-end of this Albany outfit that impresses most significantly. The drumming is speedy, but also overflowing with fills, time shifts, and other trickery not often associated with hardcore, giving the band a unique approach to their aggression. The opening “Bitter” smacks of Vision of Disorder at their finest, while “Disease” is a raging detonation of blunt force. Clear the room of valuables before listening, and do not be embarrassed of a one-man circle pit as “Disease” kicks in to its Hatebreed-esque final moment. I am overwhelmed by an immediately visceral reaction to Downswing, and the metal-tinged “Enough” flirts with death-growl vocals, making it my favorite of this all too brief EP. “Hell” is a chaotic, slashing track that ultimately finds its way into a classic Agnostic Front style dropkick. The closing “Immolation” is enough to demonstrate how Downswing can hang with any headliner at metal/hardcore festivals as it throttles the listener with a thunderous assault. The band’s influences are paid homage, but there is extraordinary originality here.

HERETIC’S FORK - Greed (https:hereticsfork666

Travis Lee is the twisted genius behind Heretic’s Fork, a prolific curator of mind-altering “cybergrind”. I know I am one who tries to eschew labels, but I do find “cybergrind” to be not only cool, but also a highly accurate description of the swirling din that is Greed. The opening title track is abrasive, terrifying, and relentlessly intense; the song is the musical equivalent of a dentist’s drill to a raw nerve when the patient is strapped down, wide-awake, and immobilized. The pain is excruciating, and ultimately, the body just goes into shock and accepts the torture. I love every blinding second of it, as Heretic’s Fork taps into the classic experimental bedlam of Merzbow or Whitehouse on “On the Weed Ting” while tinny, rattling percussion drives “Equations, Equations, Equations” and the twenty-second orgasmic release of “Audio Asbo”. This is not music for everyone; in fact it is designed for very few, but for those daring enough to allow their heads to be rattled and their nerves decimated by “My First Trap Song (please like and follow mix)” will be better for the experience. Heretic’s Fork is the ultimate rejection of conventional music-it surpasses even the most barbaric of metal and enters into a schema that few performers can reach. As is the wont of artists such as Lee, the songs are fleeting, but much is achieved in only a few seconds. Find this and stun those ignorance of this brilliance.

PA ANGELO - Neurotica (

This three piece from Flemington, New Jersey opens Neurotica with a lo-fi blast on “TASB” as PA growls ominously for others to “take a step back” as a droning guitar riff and a thick bass line from Mike Thompson swirls around him. “Clouds” is a driving, simplistic anthem that features raw, aggressive vocals and a surprisingly melodic chorus. The song is emblematic of the band in general-loud but not barbaric, abrasive yet still controlled. The meandering “Summa Time” trips over itself due largely to length-the song is simply too long-and in an attempt to capture some form of 60s style tone of innocence and fun. The guys in PA Angelo are better when they are feeling feisty. Lyrically, the band scratches out a few lines and repeats them, therefore, not much is left to interpretation as “Breathe” reinforces. “Breathe in, breathe out, say hello, mellow” are the only words heard as the song flirts with a more melancholy, benignly ethereal approach. “Spiders” is a return to the more furious sound of the band, highlighted by a burst of chaos before a lengthy interlude of quiet ultimate submits to a violent conclusion. I struggle to take “Spiders” seriously, as the song tries too hard to be dangerous. The music of PA Angelo is akin to being the toughest kid at the country club-sure, it’s something, but what are you really? When “Pigs” continues the animal titles theme, the song embraces a tuned-down, surf vibe sounding like an angrier Dead Milkmen. The song rumbles along until another quiet conclusion, mirroring its predecessor. “Am I Hear?” clocks in at nearly eight minutes and really made it point long before it clocks out, and the closing “Tunnel of the Abyss” simply runs out of fuel. In all, PA Angelo works diligently, and there are fragments of songs here, but nothing on Neurotica is all fully formed.


NURSES - Naughtland (

Aaron Chapman and John Bowers is a wildly inventive pair of thinkers that could only emerge from isolation, the type of isolation one would experience in Idaho Falls, Idaho. From that remote locale, the duo eventually settled in Portland, Oregon, another town long known for its courage to embrace those traditionally considered outside of the norm. Together as Nurses, they return after almost six years with the powerful, vividly expressive Naughtland. The ten songs are heavy on synth, understated beats, oddly-tuned vocals, and lyrical virtuosity . “Heavy Money” may sum up the band’s approach, as “you’re telling me all these words/And they don’t mean a thing/It doesn’t matter much to me/ When I feel my fortune is free”. With hushed vocals, wonderfully placed intermittent beats, and keys that hang heavily in the air, the song is a wormhole into another musical universe. Nurses are a challenging act for the uninitiated, for the songs are delicate, lush, and layered with a breadth of remarkable precision. The title track’s heavily tuned vocals demand attention and are nearly menacing in tone, and this is reflective of the band’s broad palate of emotional levels. “Names You Know” has a groove that frolics with playfulness, while “Pillow Talk” is delectably sensual and almost tactile in its musical embrace. “Silver Moonlight” is both the midpoint of the collection and the center of the pore heard on Naughtland. Replete with chilling lyrics, one is paralyzed and fascinated by declarations such as “I’m out here I’m all alone/I’m all alone and I’m leaving behind the weight of the world/The weight of my life”. Dark, poignant, and descriptively impactful, Chapman and Bowers are above all, dazzling raconteurs, even if their messages are not always easy. The airy “Yours to Keep”, a song apparently motivated by Aaron Chapman’s recent marriage, finishes the release with a dreamy, nurturing embrace. The warmth of the song resonates and brings a spiritual experience to a haunting conclusion.

BRIXTON RIOT- Close Counts (

Lovingly referred to as “dad rock” by Jim Testa, Brixton Riot are four Jersey guys who play hard driving, you and the open road style rock n’ roll. There no frills, no tricks, and nothing artificial about their brand of The Knack style power pop, and much of the work on Close Counts is highly infectious. The opening “Can’t Stop Now” has a driving backbeat from drummer Matt Horutz, big guitar hooks, and the yeoman vocals of Jerry Lardieri. Lardieri shares guitar responsibilities with Mark Wright, and the duo offer riffs that harken back to the salad days of FM rock radio; Brixton Riot is a band that if asked to describe their sound, one can only reply “rock n’ roll”. This is most obvious on the cheeky “Ballad of Pete Best”, as Lardieri sheds some light on the lament of the original Beatle when he says, “thank you John Lennon, thank you Ringo Starr, I was the original drummer, should have learned to play guitar”. These biting lines are delivered within a song structure straight from With the Beatles, and it is both a little snarky and a tribute to the music of that era. The second half of Close Counts increases in intensity with “Maybe Tomorrow”, “A Little Spark”, and “Move On”. This trio of tracks includes more aggressive guitar playing, speedier tempos, and Lardieri barking his vocals a bit forcefully, revealing an edgier side to Brixton Riot. “Caroline” and “Closer” feature more methodical songwriting, replacing speed for a heavier bass line from Steve Hass, particularly on the latter. The rollicking, blue-collar effort of “Talk About Nothing” is a celebration of what the band does best, while the concluding “Surrender to the Void” completes Close Counts in a melancholy manner, but the listener is still left feeling encouraged by the complete picture painted by Brixton Riot.

THE MOMS - Doing Asbestos We Can (Bar/None Records

From the title of the record, it is obvious that the Moms have a great sense of humor about what they do, and this ability to not take themselves too seriously shines through Asbestos. The opening “Good Job” is the perfect table-setter for this disc, as the song is a festival of punk-pop fun. Bouncy, overflowing with jangly guitar and bountiful hooks, the three Moms-Joey, Jon, and Matty-embrace the rock’s quirkier components. Much of this reminded me of Weezer at their best, particularly “Push/Shove” and “Longshot”, which may be the best song Rivers Cuomo never wrote. The vocals are strained at times, lyrics can discuss the darker nature of existence, but the guitar tone and the band’s animated style always remind the listener to have fun. The Moms have the ability to vary their techniques, for while “Channel Surfer (Obsidian)” has a chunkier riff, “Soup Song” embraces a free-flowing, borderline Byrds-style harmony. “Rock the Boat” is the band at the most pointed; a fiery blast of destructive energy that is gone is just over a minute and then the record shifts again into the New Wave feel of “Heartless”. This penchant for consistently avoid reproducing the same idea gives the Moms an advantage over other indie punk acts, as this band is deceptively difficult to pin down musically, and thus, it is impossible to grow tired of anything done here. Bar/None has been doing this for a long time now, and it is obvious that the label’s ability to seek out and find intelligent, wholly unique acts is still strong.

DAMFINO - One Wrong Move and I’m Yours ( album/one-false-move-and-im-yours)

This talented four piece from Dumont, New Jersey play a folk-inspired brand of everyman rock. I first heard these guys on the most recent Mama Coco’s compilation Transmutations, and it’s exciting to hear a full length from them. “American Healthcare” has lyrics that are less protest song and more a prepared speech; a speech more articulate and empathic than any current politician. (“American healthcare as bad as it gets/A choice of insurance/In my state there’s none”). The frustration vented throughout One Wrong Move is real, and there is nothing playful or satirical about Damfino. The rollicking” Visit to the Women’s Planet” includes well-placed piano and solid guitar groove. “Quarter One” has a country twang to it and references to NBA games and financial woes, playing a quirky word game with the title. “Twenty-two Months” is a classic tale of a struggling relationship, as the song both celebrates the happiness and laments the failures, while “Shedding” ends with the haunting refrain of “Annie, don’t give up our baby, somehow we’ll find the money”. The songs on One Wrong Move are heartfelt, poignant vignettes of American society; the band is not providing answers or letting anyone know that it will be alright in the end, because frankly, most likely it will not be. “You Are Every Shade of Urine to Me” may have a disturbing title, but the song resonates with a greater bombast than the majority of the songs here, and “Lonely, Sad Port Antonio Night” swings with the effervescent bounce, led by the vocals of Alan Bachrach. The closing “To, For, and Because” has a dreamy, lush quality that resonates warmth before exploding into waves of distortion heavy guitar that conclude the record. This came highly regarded by one Jim Testa, and it easy to hear as to why.

MY TICKET HOME - UnReal (Spinefarm Records

In an effort to emphasize the worthlessness of musical labels, the guys in My Ticket Home refer to themselves as “puke rock”, a ridiculous, meaningless moniker intended to do nothing but confuse the feeble-minded. One can dispose of any silly tag once UnReal comes on, for the Columbus, Ohio outfit unleash a torrent of harmony and noisy, distortion-heavy grunge accented by equally rich harmonies. The work of Derek Blevins and Matt Galluchi is brought to the forefront on “Thrush”, indicating the band’s penchant for punishing guitar blows, while the dream-like vocals of Nick Giumetti hover like an apparition before changing direction and embracing a more menacing tone. “Flypaper” is a darkened slab of passion delivered with an intimacy and fury. “Hyperreal” and “Time Kills Everything” are the two brightest stars in this musical universe, as both experiment with tone and tempo, but never fully abandon the ability to be a boisterous, monolith of power. “Redefine” is another example of a song that shakes with an uncontrollable energy, and the band certainly channels the best of the grunge era on “Cellophane” and “Gasoline Kiss”. My Ticket Home craft songs that hit with a blunt intensity, including the impenetrable mass that is “We All Use”. I placed the majority of these songs on repeat, and with each passing play, I became more infatuated with all this band does. Very impressive.

J MARINELLI - Stray Volts (Twin Cousins Records (https://twincousinsrecords.

The one-man band who holds court and dominance over Morgantown, West Virginia returns with Stray Volts. J Marinelli plays a form of lo fi minimalism with real bluster and punk aesthetic. Peerless and free of pomposity, “Brand New Glasses” starts the record with a stomping bluntness while injecting an art-world sophistication into the din. Marinelli strips rock down to its most basic and brazen elements and performs without the shelter of fuzz, distortion, or studio tricks. The songs on Stray Volts are raw, exposing life’s both fleeting and poignant moments, at times simultaneously. “Madison Girls” is heart-breaking as Marinelli says, “I’m counting bruises where no bruise should ever be/While you spread doubt about the spawn of you and me/But when the dope runs out you’ll spend the week indoors/And resurrect the ghost of what we had before.” The song’s emotional depth is made all the more obvious through the subtle shifts in tone of the vocals, something heard throughout the record. The fifty-six seconds of country baked speed that is ‘Humble-Brag Man” introduces a set of tacks that barely crawl past one minute in length, but achieve great feats in little time. “Cocaine Activist” marches along with a rough and tumble bombast, replete with sardonic wit. The acoustic groove of “Evil of Two Lesser” invokes aspects of 60s folk and captures Marinelli at his best. The ephemeral “Common Come-On” is both a sterling play on words as well as a showcase for biting bursts of guitar while also utilizing the word “Australopatheticus”. The tempered, deliberate “Creak and Sway” is a wrenching story of giving up and surrendering to one’s darkest sorrow: “Put my neck into the loop last night/Pulled the rope ‘round a red throat tight/Cut the gas and read me my last rites/Creaked and swayed in the window light”. Somehow both gorgeous and excruciating, the song is mesmerizing in its ability to precisely capture pain. J Marinelli ahs been doing this for a long time and his talents are obvious.

THE SKULLERS - Meet The Skullers (

Gritty, bluesy rock and roll that sounds as if it woke up on the beer-soaked floor of a bar deep in the heart of Texas, but this all comes from Jersey. Jack Skuller has a Springsteen-esque story telling talent while he and mates play ZZ Top riffs on “Eyes Open” and the sinewy “Pressure Face”. “Meet Me in Memphis” captures rock’s blues-inspired origins, including rhyming couplets for lyrics accompanied by soaring harmonica and the controlled fury of Gabriel Scholis-Fernandez on drums. “Peace with You” is a meandering monolith with a rich tone and infectious groove, led by bassist Liugi Sardi. The energized “One Foot in the Grave” clamors with a Replacements-like glee and is the shining star of the five-song EP. There is a tremendous amount of talent within The Skullers, and when one considers that Jack Skuller was already a rock n’ roll veteran at age 14, the options are limitless for this outfit.

VERSING - Nirvana (

It finally happened-twenty-three years after Kurt departed this mortal coil far too soon, a band from Seattle takes the chance and names a record Nirvana. I think Cobain would approve of Versing’s cassette release and its continuous rounds of jagged, energized punk. The explosive burst of feedback that introduces “Call Me Out” is a fitting start for this band, but the song quickly adopts a more stilted vocal delivery, compliments of Daniel Salas, and a choppy musical structure that acts as a template for much of the record. The playing of Salas, guitarist Graham Baker, drummer Max Keyes, and bassist Kirby Lochner is somehow both familiar and unnerving. Versing’s sound is perpetually walking a serrated edge of vulnerability and self-destruction. The perpetual nervousness that permeates the record never allows the songs to ever truly relax, and thus neither does the listener. Even the more spacious anthems, such as “Body Chamber” and “Running Thru” retain a feeling that the songs are running violently towards an undetermined destination, creating an anxiety that defines the band. The playful, noisy picking one hears on “Cloaked” and “Swollen Rivers, Forgotten Sons” instantly connotes moments from In Utero, while the title track possess a massive guitar hook. When Salas bellow “and you die” on “Dii”, the sentiment is more than the centerpiece of the track-it is a resounding call to arms. The song is shredded by angular bursts of guitar noise and brute force. It may be an appropriate time to think about a new way to interpret Nirvana.

HANG TIGHT - Grind (

It is wonderfully fitting that Grind, Hang Tight’s new EP, has a bright pink color scheme, for the band exudes upbeat, energized, summertime punk pop. As I write this, the forecast calls for ninety degree temperatures on Long Island in late September, so the summer feel is still here and Grind makes a perfect accompaniment. The five songs are exuberant, infectious anthems starting with “The Rents”. Overflowing with a blissful ignorance and optimism, the song celebrates living life in which the only care is the girl next to you and trying to enjoy each moment-no worries about the unpaid rent or the dead-end job. “Digital Age” has a blatant Blink-182 vibe, borrowing a cadence similar to “First Date”, but the line “look at me, not your screen” rings so true in so many different situations. The guys in Hang Tight capture the hopeful nature of youth, and the band celebrates the beauty of romance with fearless honesty on “Be Mine”, as “I miss being your superstar/Just cause I can play guitar” is one of the vulnerable admissions uttered as the song draws to a close. The free-flowing pop-punk goodness of “Forget About It” includes an ode or two to Sum-41 riffage, while “Pretty in True Blue” opens with a dreamy, hazy intro before unfurling a jangly riff and a vocal delivery that will have every kid in the audience screaming back. My advice to the guys out there would be to learn each syllable this band says and when you go to the show, watch your girlfriends-I would not leave them alone with Hang Tight.

HOT WATER MUSIC - Light It Up (Rise Records

Chuck Ragan and Hot Water Music are back after five long years away, and Light It Up is a celebration of a collection of tough-skinned, hardened pros who write sophisticated post-punk. The gruff vocals and rugged melodies that have always defined the band abound on Light It Up , and Ragan never sounds more prophetic than on “Never Going Back” when he declares, “If you rest, you rust”. The opening “Complicated” has a controlled aggression that feels continuously combustible, but remains contained, while the title track is a blistering eighty-eight seconds of hardcore fury. The massive hook of “Show Your Face” makes it my favorite track on Light It Up and that is a difficult choice, but the record is a richly melodic journey of powerful, introspective songs. The darker tone of “Sympathizer” pushes Ragan’s voice to an edge in which his intensity rages, and his line that “Can’t build a wall if we don’t want to” I find particularly engaging. “Bury Your Idols” launches itself at the listener, while George Rebelo simply barrages his kit with relentless energy, and “High Class Catastrophe” merges Hot Water Music’s gritty, barebones musical angst and Ragan’s sharp, self-deprecating view of himself into a flawless anthem of guitar force, anchored by Chris Wollard. The closing “Take You Away” is slightly more subdued in nature, but this only allows Ragan’s already poignant vocals to become more impactful. This Gainesville outfit has nothing to prove, and they paly with a freedom few bands will ever experience, as the record is a progression of an already legendary career. However, rather than make fans compare this to what once was, Light It Up should make people excited about the future of Hot Water Music.

TIM BARRY - High on 95 (

“I’ve always been thirsty/I’ve always been a wreck”. With those two lines, I am immediately a fan of Tim Barry’s new release, High on 95. The man known and rightfully adored for his work in Avail offers a collection of stripped down, country fried slabs of raw honesty. Reflecting back upon his life, contemplating aging, and thinking about the future, High on 95 celebrates life’s tribulations, struggles, and celebrations through Barry’s gritty vocals and forthright troubadour style. Whether he describes the long and winding road on the title track or contemplating abandoning the “bills and rent” of his current life and heading out West on “Riverbank”, Barry is a man of constant conflict and internal debate. Within these anthems are lessons learned from a life lived on one’s own terms and colorful characters such as “Gumshoe Andy”, a front porch hootenanny piece that is a combination of swagger and Southern twang. Brooklyn calls back to the Virginian on both “Slow Down” and “Chelsea”, with the latter concluding with the bitter lines “I can’t explain the pleasures of being betrayed/Its in your best interest you take everything you need/ It’s about time you leave”. Barry saves his best work for deep in the record with the stirring “Running Never Tamed Me”. An autobiographical examination of personal strengths and failings, (“Run when I am angry, Drink when I get sad/Running never tamed me Lord/ And Drinking turned out bad”),
the song’s haunting violin and Barry’s advice to his newborn child of “Son, don’t do like me/Take only what you need” is beautifully heartbreaking. A lush collection of bold individualism and majestic poetry, Tim Barry delivers stirring Americana.

CHOKE UP - Stormy Blue (

Four best friends from Boson deliver a classic emo sound with a few subtle twists throughout the highly passionate Stormy Blue. While none of the songs hit particularly forcefully musically, the depth of the talent is evident. “Saturday Night” opens the disc with a meandering, rumbling build up that ultimately reveals a steady stomp. The throbbing emo sensibility of “Joyride” and the sustained energy of “Blue Moon” both have the finest components of Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World. One unique twist arrives on “Borderlands”, as the band injects a folksy tone with group vocals destined to inspire massive sing-alongs. With the lyrics, “isn’t it pretty to dream”, one is given insight into Choke Up-there is an innocence and hopefulness about the band that is refreshing. The bluesy “Roadside Graves” is my favorite track of the bunch, and the heartbreaking lyrics paint a dismal, but all too honest snapshot of American life. (“I never knew what I wanted/Except for you and the wind in my hair/Now those blue eyes are haunted/ And ash is in the air”). “Fireworks” is another effort featuring a slow boil and controlled burn, but I begin to drift off during the muted nature of “Level Me”. However, the closing “Sunday Morning” includes slashing guitar blasts and notable force. I do not know if one can announce an emo renaissance, but if one does begin, Choke Up should be among the leaders.

WITH THE DEAD - Love From With the Dead (Rise Above Records

The legendary Lee Dorian returns as the voice of sorrow and despair of With The Dead. With heavily down-tuned and distortion-bathed guitar, WTD is everything a doom devotee would want, but there is much more than simply desperate darkness on Love From With the Dead. Much of doom metal can be frustrating, for in the hands of lesser talents, it often plods along and features minimal diversity in tone or structure. The seven tracks on Love From With the Dead are certainly jarring waves of musical barbarism, but Dorrian, Tim Bagshaw along with new members Leo Smee on bass and drummer Alex Thomas inject a blast of speed to kick off “Egyptian Tomb” and soaring wah-wah pedal on “Reincarnation of Yesterday”. The songs revolve around layers of soul-crushing tales of loneliness and loss that seem to embody a global sense of hopelessness. The opening “Isolation” is mesmerizing in its stark beauty-the song is harrowing and punishing, utilizing Dorrian’s decades of experience to produce doom metal that feels invigorating-not an easy feat. What I appreciate most about With the Dead is that the band is not interested in producing answers for the misery; yes, the world is collapsing around us and there does not appear to be any respite from the agony, so rather then mire in the cathode ray of a television, the answer may be to submerge one’s self in the thick, Sabbath-inspired riffs of With the Dead and die ensconced in mind-rattling serenity. “Watching the Ward Go By” plays out like a psychological horror story with only a tragic ending as Dorrian murmurs, “I fear the claws of death/ Sinking into my chest/Taking out my soul/As the pain of reality eats me”. The bluesy “Cocaine Phantoms” adds another layer to WTD’s interpretation of doom force. One may think that doom metal would seem redundant in a world as bleak as our current environment, but in actuality, doom is needed now more than ever-it is nice to know we are not alone.

GENE LOVES JEZEBEL- Dancing Underwater (Westworld Records)

There are some bands that seemingly disappear from the face of the Earth and when they return, there is great fanfare and excitement. Gene Loves Jezebel is not one of those bands. It is not entirely their fault-the band had a couple of minor hits in America-“Jealous” was in moderate MTV rotation in 1990-but this was not a band that made my blood pressure speed up upon learning of their return. However, with all of that said, GLJ, led by jay Aston stays true to their Goth-inspired pop. “Charmed Life” and “Izitme” have slick grooves, with the latter kissed by wah-wah guitar work from James Stevenson, and frankly, the song could work in 2017 or 1987. Unfortunately, when the record stumbles, the misstep is obvious, none more painful than “How Do You say Goodbye (To Someone You Love)”. The spoken vocal delivery is pallid and the song never finds any semblance of genuine energy, resembling the grisly power ballads of the 80s, while “Cry For You” is a genteel, mid-tempo effort that begins with innocuous piano and evolves into a moderate piece of disposable pop. One highlight is “Summertime”, as it resonates with a fitting warmth, proving that it is still within the guys to craft a winning single. While “World Gone Crazy” begins with a strong volley of guitar force, the track dissolves a bit into an overly bouncy, sugary-sweet celebration about “having a good time” but lacks enough conviction to make the listener believe that a good time is actually being had; instead, it sounds as if GLJ are trying to convince themselves and those around them that this is fun. The closing “(I Don’t Wanna) Dance Underwater” is the most soulful effort of the bunch, alternating between acoustic playing and a sweeping classic rock chorus. Ultimately, Dance Underwater has its moments deserving of celebration, but it does not leave any permanent memories.

KRISTIN HERSCH - Wyatt at the Coyote Palace (HHBTM Records

Kristin Hersh has been making incredible music since she was barely out of middle school, and decades later, her talent is as robust as ever. Wyatt at the Coyote Palace (the title is a loving homage to her son) is a sprawling collection of heartfelt, sinewy songs of love, frustration, hope, and angst. Largely just Hersh and an acoustic guitar (the panoramic closer “Shotgun” includes a backdrop of angular guitar haze), one is given unmistakable insight into the prolific and richly metaphoric mind of Kristin Hersh. Even when it sounds as if she is predicting doom as she does on “Bubble Net” (“there’s no tomorrow”), there is a warmth in Hersh’s voice that makes the song an ode to blissful ignorance and experimentalism, a fearlessness that evades so many. “Secret Codes” may be the most poignant of the songs, as Hersh emits “Just ache with hope ‘til it goes away/You only know secret codes”. One may think that a twenty-four song double album may eventually grow weary, but not the case here; the funky bassline of “Detox” is one of many assorted surprises that exist fleetingly, but whose presence adds a depth to the tracks and fleshes out already lyrically gripping songs. While it may be tempting to simply hit play, turn off the lights, and allow Hersh’s storytelling skills to wash over, my suggestion is to sit with the lyric sheet and read along, for Hersh is a master of communication through highly descriptive and expressive phrasing. On “Killing Two Birds”, she announces that “You’re my nightmare in shining armor” and admits “I’m so hungover I’m ashamed”, while on “Some Dumb Runaway”, Hersh describes herself as “doubled over on my knees again/only way I know how to be”. Erudite and passionate, there is little to fault on Wyatt; instead, it should be revered as a majestic work by a singular artist.

PRAWN - Run (Top Shelf Records

Despite being in existence since 2008, Run is my introduction to Prawn and I am continuously delighted by what I hear. From the opening seconds of “Hunter”, Run is an audibly dynamic display of controlled intensity and heartfelt emotion. One could certainly lump Prawn into an “emo” category after a listen to the lush intro, but that is selling this band terribly short, as the four New Jersey natives wield their instruments with a deft precision. The rugged “Snake Oil Salesman” injects greater guitar force offset by interludes of deliberate quiet, while the hazy embrace of “North Lynx” features an infectious energy. Prawn has an uncanny skill to adroitly balance the delicate with the aggressive without simply parroting a well-worn loud/quiet dynamic. “Empty hands” is the epitome of this methodology as a massive wall of sound exists but the song is structured so that each member is allowed to individually shine brightly. While “Short Stem” slows the tempo a bit, the song loses none of its intended power as the intimacy of the playing envelopes the listener. “Rooftops” is an emphatic celebration of guitar bite in the style of Dinosaur Jr.’s best moments. The juxtaposition of angular and tender guitar on “greyhounds” is another sterling example of the vast talent possessed by this band. Run took two years to write, and the painstaking attention to detail makes this a celebration of intelligent and soulful songwriting.

THE 65's - Wolves and Men (Pyrrhic Victory Recordings

The 65s bring traditional, gritty rock n’ roll back into vogue through stripped down guitar crunch and the scotch and gravel voice of Joe Pugsley. “Wolves and Men” hammers away at the listener for four rumbling minutes, driven by the rumbling bass of Ryan Struck and deafening drumming of John Steele. When Pugsley pleads, “please don’t leave me behind”, he is boldly baring his soul for all to consume. “As My Body Numbs” is another straightforward slab of bare bones rock that embraces the grittiness of New Jersey. The 65s do not want to be fancy or a fad; they write tight, powerful songs that will remind those who may have forgotten what rock’s true mission is.

GRAND HEAD - Melting the Fuse EP (Gorbie International Records https://gorbieinternationalrecords.

Darker and more menacing, Grand Head return with a record dripping in feedback, reverb, and a general disdain for the world. The punishing “Melting the Fuse” is an immovable slab of guitar sludge and thunderous drumming. This is a band whose self-titled full length left me speechless, and the same sense of awe returns instantly with this release. The track shifts gears like a self-medicating bi-polar patient, abandoning the dirge tempo for a punk-infused blast of speed, only to return again to the curb-stomp groove that truly defines the song. Borrowing from My War-era Black Flag, the B-side “B.I.R.D.S.” has a slightly more bluesy-inspired swing, meshing classic metal styles with a jazz-like freedom. Those fortunate enough to download the EP are also treated to the skull-crushing “The Crossing”, available on the band’s website and Bandcamp pages. Barry Brusseau and Tim Ward make a devastating pair; they embrace rock’s finest excesses in terms of sonic volatility and dynamic range, while also utilizing a solid grasp of harmony to construct a powerful and instantly recognizable sound. Gran Head is an assault upon mediocrity and complacency, reveling in bombast and indulging in fury. I also strongly suggest the fourteen-minute “Genocide”. A mind-altering din of noise, this home recording uses silence as a weapon and avant-garde experimentalism to expose yet another aspect of this band’s talent.

THE HANGED MAN’S CURSE - 3 Song EP (Terranodon Media

The Hanged Man’s Curse is a perfect embodiment of the struggles so many bands currently face. Forming in late 2011, THMC have only been able to properly release one record, and that was done on a shoestring budget and not truly to the band’s liking. Now trying to raise money through Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites, these “Tex-Mex Western Death Doom Thrash” players have great talent, and I hope more people have an opportunity to check this out, for it is something quite rare in today’s world: It is original! “Say Goodbye Amigo” is a sprawling, haunting effort that is largely acoustic, but still resonates with a doom metal vibe. Almost excruciatingly methodical, the song intentionally emphasizes fading notes of fleeting guitar noise, as if providing the soundtrack for an Old West showdown. “Tales Without End” opens with another riff that could easily nestle within the credits of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, as one can envision Josey Wales meandering across the dusty terrain before heavier more menacing guitar inject themselves into the mix. While the “thrash” may not take center stage on this EP, the band’s other listed traits certainly do and I am greatly impressed with the vocals of Lobo Sangre. The live recording of “Scent of Prey” may be a bit rough around the edges, but it too is another menacing, tightly wound ball of force. I feel that THMC is holding back a bit on these efforts, or that may solely be a result of the quality of the recoding, but there is a great deal of talent and potential bubbling under the surface. I absolutely hope these guys can scrape together the funds for something more representative in the near future.

PROTAGONIST - Jean Jackets in June LP(Smartpunk Records

Produced by Pete Steinkopf, Florida’s Protagonist play bellicose, yet richly melodic hardcore on Jean Jackets in June. The five songs here reveal various tempos, styles, and skills of the band, but ultimately they coalesce together to honor an act that only continues to improve with each release. The opening “Oklahoma” is both a road journal and also a testament to perseverance as vocalist Peter Marullo declares, “We are the stray dogs/Exploited mutilated and beat/There’s no surrender/There’s no retreat”. The mixture of frustration and hope in these words reflects Protagonist’s ability to craft songs that are powerful and personal, making this EP a perfect next step in a career that somehow began in 1999. The mid-tempo “Hideaway” is a celebration of having someone in which a person can find peace before the blazing “Titan” and “Let’s Get It” demonstrates the band’s more aggressive nature. “Titan” is a furious two minutes of force as guitarists Brian Forst and John Marullo lay waste to the listeners as Peter declares “Our youth has been wasted/We are all titans/Drenched in blood/Side by Side/We won’t expire without a fight/We are bastards of lions/Our bloody battle of attrition”. Raw in its intensity and compelling in its honesty, the song is my favorite of the five. However, the melody of “Jean Jackets in June” and the poignant self-examination of “Let’s Get It” (“Please just give me your hand/We’re gonna find a way out of here/It’s not giving in, it’s not giving up/We’re gonna find a way out of here”) are equally compelling. In short, Protagonist is skilled in every area (rounded out expertly by bassist Marcus Kora and drummer Kyle Macdougall) and needs to be a more prominent name. The frustration vented on this EP is hopefully not a harbinger of a band ready to quit but instead, a band ready to benefit from years of sacrifice and commitment to a craft.

HERETIC’S FORK - Blasphemy (

The world of grindcore and power-electronics can be a lonely one, but being a one-man act does not limit the destructive force of Heretic’s Fork. Emerging from Edinburgh, Scotland, Travis Lee blends elements of down-tuned grind with a blackened atmosphere over the course of five fleeting tracks. The appropriately titled “You Call That a Microsong? This is a Microsong!” is a rousing one second in length, obviously throwing down the gauntlet and challenging the godfathers of grind Napalm Death and their infamous “You Suffer”. While the opening “Intro” is fourteen seconds of spoken word horror, leaving only three other songs clocking in at less than four minutes combined, Blasphemy is not a disposable collection of comedic anti-music. Rather, Lee has a full command of his chaos on “100 Corpses Litter My Floor”, a scathing assault of swirling noise with percussion that is, dare I say, highly rhythmic. Finally offering his voice to the world on the title track, Lee unleashes an unholy incursion of fury that will scare any demon out of your house. The mixture of powerviolence and ethereal terror is skillfully delivered, layering waves of force around a devastating wave of looping aggression. The concluding “Equations” picks up immediate where “Blasphemy” departs and features additional synth tricks to provide a unique personality for the song. It is this ability to generate both a recognizable sound without simply spewing forth a redundant monolith that makes Heretic’s Fork so engaging-yes, the record may be over far too quickly, but all this does is lure the listener to hear what else Travis Lee is concocting. To do that, check out his primary outlet, Bitter Lake, but do so after fully immersing one’s self in the churning Dante-esque nightmare of Blasphemy.

RAINER MARIA (Polyvinyl Records

The return of Rainer Maria is akin to having coffee with a long-lost friend; regardless of the years of separation, the conversation is easy, the laughs frequent, and the connection is instantaneous. S/T (short for “self-titled” but this is not a self-titled record), Rainer Maria’s first release since 2006, sounds instantly familiar but is also enhanced by the diverse life paths and personal growth experienced by the band’s three members. Kaia Fischer engaged in an intensive study of Buddhism and William Kuehn spent time in Yemen and Syria, while Caithlin De Marrais enjoyed a more traditional route, releasing two beautiful solo albums. The myriad of events encountered by these three come together to form a record of superior intellect and delivery. The opening “Broke Open Love” is a pristine slice of shoe-gaze pop that instantly returns to the listener to the band’s mid-90s origins, but as S/T continues, the songs become increasingly more compelling and intricate. “Lower Worlds” soars with De Marrais’ voice prominently commanding a track brimming with low-end rumbling, while “Suicides and Lazy Eyes” has a buoyant energy fueled by a tightly wound ball of bass-driven riffs. “Forest Mattress” is both deliberate and delicate, perfectly meshing the varied skills of the trio, and the haunting beauty of “Possession” is a torrent of sensuality and passion with a throbbing bass surge and fuzzy guitar embedded deeply within its expansive walls. The atmospheric, esoteric splendor of “Ornaments of Empty” emerges as the record’s climax; subtle in its darkness and relentless in its controlled fury, the song is a masterstroke of flawless song crafting. The plodding “Hellebore” strikes me initially as a disappointment, but after repeated listens, the power of De Marrais’ voice is given ample room to roam, although the preceding “Communicator” may have made for a more fitting conclusion with its thunderous dynamic range. However, that peccadillo side, I am thrilled to have Rainer Maria back.

THE CAPITALIST KIDS – Brand Damage (Eccentric Pop Records

The Capitalist Kids may hail from Austin Texas, but they unabashedly embrace the California sound made famous by the legions of bands that made up the Lookout Records stable. In a style inspired by Mr. T Experience, among many others, the Capitalist Kids rip through their songs as if they were paying for the studio time by the second, but verbose stories and massive riffs are compacted into limited spaces. “Decent Proposal” is a modern love song in which even the simplest detail is not omitted, creating a rich tale that becomes instantly relatable as a couple stumbles through an increasingly awkward marriage proposal. (“You can’t do this here, Jeff; you know I just peed on that tree.”) Capitalist Kids make no effort to hide the fact that these tracks are love songs of the purest form, even having the guts to sound a bit sappy on “No.472” (You’re in my hopes/my memories/my minor notes in major keys, and I wouldn’t do without you”), but the playing is so focused and furious that the songs explode with raw intensity. “Brute Force” and the Trump-smashing “Anti-Immigrant Song” are two bruising pieces of political commentary, but the band truly excels on the biting “Standing Still.” With lyrics referencing fifty thousand dollar Kickstarter campaigns for potato salad and luxurious “whoa-oh” backing vocals, the song is a soaring gem of pop-punk beauty. “Alternative Facts” is thirty seconds of dissident noise reflective of the topic for which the song is named, while the sun-kissed “Bye” clocks in at 2:40 and sounds like an epic in comparison to earlier efforts, but the song is rightfully given room to breathe and expresses profound sorrow juxtaposed with a bouncy exterior. This is a celebration of impressive modern punk with a nod to a classic approach.

THE SLOW DEATH - Punishers (Rad Girlfriend Records

The Slow Death deliver grimy rock n’ roll played with swagger and angst. Punishers features a controlled fury and these Minnesota gents can handle their instruments. While some of this can be intimidating upon introduction, a more refined listen reveals a sense of fun that flows throughout the record. “Picking You Up” pumps up New Wave energy and injects domineering muscle, while “Overrated” and “For All We Know” smash and batter their way through three minutes of searing guitar and howled vocals. “Classic Dilemma” and “Rick James Dilemma” both deliver knock-out blows in under thirty seconds and contrast perfectly with ‘The Ballad of Amy From Esco”, a work with daring vulnerability and sweetness. The aggression of “Voice 47” and “Bored to Death” sweat blood and are stellar tracks. Talented and raw, yet still refined, The Slow Death decimates my expectations on Punishers.

EXIT EDEN - Rhapsodies in Black (Napalm Records

This is a fascinating release, both in terms of the scope of talent and the power of the performances, but one cannot help but feel a bit cheated by Rhapsodies in Black. Exit Eden features four stunning female voices, as Amanda Somerville, Clementine Develay-Thieux, Marina La Torraca, and Anna Bruner sound majestic both together and solo, but each song here is a cover. There are no true failures on Rhapsodies in Black, and frankly, these dazzling singers only enhance the quality of each track they attempt, but I am eager to hear original material. It is a tricky proposition to take sugary pop and make it sound convincing as power metal, and that is what one hears on Rhapsodies, but there are moments when the songs become nearly caricatures of themselves. This is particularly true with Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”, for despite her recent performance with Metallica, Gaga is largely tween pop and dance floor saccharine. With four lush vocalists each offering their own unique interpretation of the song, “Paparazzi” takes on the qualities of an overblown and self-indulgent Broadway show gone wrong. The musicians playing behind the women of Exit Eden are a tightly wound machine, but I dare people to not smirk sarcastically when the chorus of Katy Perry’s cringe-worthy “Firework” kicks in under a barrage of legitimate drumming and orchestral vocals. Perhaps this is more of a struggle than it should be due to my lack of fandom of the originals here-I had not previously heard Rhianna’s “Unfaithful” in its entirety until Exit Eden’s version, for example-but I continuously sat hoping to hear the limitless talent used in a more meaningful manner. This is akin to the Three Tenors performing Justin Bieber-yes, they will certainly the increase the magnitude of the original, but why is this being done? I cannot find a favorite voice here, and the remarkable talent is matched by equally stunning beauty, so Exit Eden has much with which to work and the future for this band is extraordinarily bright once they separate themselves from the label of a “cover band”. Oh, and did I mention there is a version of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven”? Yes, that Bryan Adams-now an answer to game “Dead or Canadian?” (Just Canadian for right now) As the sweeping refrain of Bonnie Tyler’s mammoth MTV-era hit “Total Eclipse” washes over me, I hear elements of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Evanescence, all bands that have thrived with strong female vocals and melodic, driving musicianship; therefore, there is a model upon Exit Eden can build, for if one wildly skilled vocalist is great, then four is exponentially better. One cannot find a complaint about any of the performances one hears on Rhapsodies in Black, and I am in awe of four of these women. However, the material that they have been given to perform detracts from their overall presence and make them feel like a concocted novelty act instead of what they truly are, which is a brash new interpretation of melodic metal. Imagine mid-80s Doro singing simultaneously with three clones and one begins to slightly scratch the tip of the talent possessed by Exit Eden. Cannot wait for the sophomore release, but hopefully this band can sing their own words next time.

CLUB NIGHT -Hell Ya (Tiny Engines Records

Growing organically out of the Oakland, California's DIY scene, Club Night is a swirling, blissfully chaotic mass of noisy keys, obtuse guitars, and exuberant vocals equally delivered with a laissez-faire approach that is both rebellious and celebratory. “Shear” is a jarring ball of kinetic excitement that introduces the band’s fearless commitment to individuality and self-expression. Much of the vocals have a childlike quality that incorporates a sense of desperation and raw, visceral humanity. “Hair” is a wormhole of synth din compliments of Rebecca Lukens, introduced by an innocuous phone message that quickly dissipates after barely ninety seconds. “Rally” should be the theme song of the summer party that is talked about until Christmas, as it’s reckless refusal of traditional song structure makes the track a glorious example of daring writing. Josh Bertram and Ian Tatum’s guitar work exist in a form of bi-polar symbiosis in which each man is playing what is in his own head, but the divergent ideas mesh perfectly together. The low end of Devin Trainer on bass and drummer Josiah Majetich propel each song rather than anchor them, so to the credit of Club Night, this exploratory invention is alluring. The closing eight minutes of “Work” flies by effortless and the song is an amalgamation of the finest qualities of the band’s four previous efforts on the EP. Frenzied but not without constraint, the song clamors and clatters with piercing guitar riffs and scorching polyrhythmic audacity. The members of Club Night are not here to please you or placate listeners with easily digestible playing-this consistent juxtaposition between complexity and minimalism only happens in the hands of the few trained enough to master it. This is a wonderful surprise to my summer.


M.O.D.- Busted, Broke, and American (Megaforce Records

The legendary Billy Milano returns to resurrect the mighty Method of Destruction, and it is not a moment too soon. Busted, Broke, and American is an immediate and furious assault of crossover thrash that retains the purity of the past without sounding dated. Milano first made an impression on me thirty years ago when I picked up the cassette "USA for MOD" and was utterly blown away by the fury and the unapologetic nature of the work. I worry that far too many people today will not get the sarcasm of Milano’s writing, but for them, he does have a new anthem in the form of “You’re Fucking Dick”. Busted, Broke, and American certainly broaches political concerns but not nearly as many as I expected in the age of Trump. Rather, Milano speaks poignantly about his own experiences on “Shattered Dreams and Broken Glass” as he reflects upon the early days of New York hardcore, certainly delivering his lyrics with Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, and the legions of others in mind that paved the way for one of America’s most recognizable sounds. The record opens with a segment from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation in which he warned of the rising threat of an “industrial military complex” - words that were not instantly recorded as precautionary or even significant at the time of their delivery, but just as the owl of Minerva flies at dusk, history has proven the General to be tragically correct. This is bookended with a five-minute segment of a speech from John F. Kennedy railing against governmental secrecy and the potential abuse that emerges from a closed society. Ironically, in Donald J. Trump’s (and Ivanka’s) America, Kennedy’s message would be viewed as potentially treasonous as the legendary leader called upon newspapers to inform people, challenge the administration, inspire their readers about international events, and “even anger” public opinion. Billy Milano, the man who created firestorms with songs such as ”Aren’t You Hungry”, and “Speak English or Die” is today honoring the great liberal voice of JFK and his call for true freedom through the vital protection of the press. I do not know if M.O.D. will be labeled “fake news”, but I would love to see someone try and challenge Milano on that. These esoteric moments are surrounded by wild, thrashing blasts like “Fight”, “Hooligan”, and the “Rowdy” Roddy Piper-inspired instrumental “All Out of Bubblegum” (If you do not know the reference, go look it up, my young readers). The title track celebrates what matters to most to Milano, namely his family and his dog, as the song erupts into a classic dirge against frappachino sipping losers who should “get outside and enjoy your life”. The album’s high point arrives early for me in the form of “The Final Declaration,” a raging call to arms of primal hardcore aggression led by the lungs of a grandfather who can still destroy those more than three decades his junior. Milano’s Fox News leanings aside, I have long respected his fight and his commitment to maintaining a style and never cowering to fads. Busted, Broke, and American is another M.O.D. classic; I certainly hope that the rumors are not true about it being the band’s last release.

SUNSHINE AND THE RAIN - In the Darkness of My Night (

The husband and wife team of Justin and Ashley Morey have an unparalleled ability to seamlessly mesh 80s new pop with gritty punk. In the Darkness of My Night opens with “Let’s Go”, a sprawling anthem of blasting drum machine generated beats and Ashley’s fuzzed-kissed bass throb that perfectly sets the stage for ten masterful efforts. It is the grime along the edges of each pristine track that makes Sunshine and the Rain so captivating, as Ashley’s soaring voice and energized bass playing are prominently featured in the mix, courtesy of the legendary Jon Spencer. “Little Rag Doll” and “I’m Not Your Girl” incorporate rock’s primal foundations into a swirling panoramic accented by girl-group harmonies in the same vain as the Ronettes or the Shangri-Las, while “Come On Baby” rattles with effervescent excitement. The kinetic “Merchandise” is a Ramones-style performance combined with Fear Factory’s drum machine and Justin’s brilliantly noisy guitar to ultimately construct the most abrasive and alluring of pop. “Going the Wrong Way” invokes Echo and the Bunnymen style moodiness as Justin’s backing vocals and rugged guitar playing scaffolds his wife’s beautifully melodic voice as Ashley delivers a sardonic farewell. There is a consistent balance between sweet pop sensibility and angular blasts of intensity, as one hears perfectly on “Can’t Stop Thinking about You”, a lush love story slashed by piercing guitar riffs and feedback. In the Darkness of My Night is a nearly flawless release from two Jersey natives with extensive and impressive histories who are making newly brilliant work.

TUNABUNNY PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland (HHBTM Records

This is truly among the most bizarre, fascinating, and delightfully perplexing records to which one can ever treat one’s self. Tunabunny is a wildly creative act that demonstrates a vast breadth of influences and talents across the scope of PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland Jr. The opening “Cartesian Theater” is barely more than minute of swirling noise as the words “There’s someone inside my head looking at someone inside my head” is off-putting, disconcerting, and instantly intriguing. Tunabunny invokes delightful pop on “Incinerate” and equally raucous riot grrl force on “Noise Problems”. The fact that Tunabunny rejects any level of predictability makes the collection-released on vinyl as a majestically packaged double album-a ride of beauty, chaos, and limitless experimentalism. “Seek Consequence” has lyrics that ominously reflect, sadly, what some may feel about contemporary American politics (“Careful what you do and say/For some it’s a police state”), while “Blackwater Homes” is anchored by a gorgeous chorus, and “It Could be Something” is peppered by bursts of searing synth noise. “Start It” and “Winter’s Mind” come across as a twenty-first century Bratmobile and “Boundless Informant” is perhaps the must hauntingly beauty songs of the sprawling twenty-six song release. Tunabunny subtly injects political critiques throughout the record, as “Nevermind the Cobblestones” revolves around a biting refrain of “anywhere is better than here”, and “The World the World Works” includes this shrewd diatribe: “You cling to a victim status/Justify your apparatus/lament your existence in pop culture/Fail to see the real torture”. This is intelligent, sophisticated musicianship from a band fearlessly displaying a deliciously reckless appreciation for anything traditional, as one hears on “Shiftchanger”, a lengthier track that repeats solely the title phrase. Even when the band attempts some form of a traditional relationship anthem, Tunabunny travels down a unique path, for “Me and Nancy” tells a tale in which the protagonist says “When I come home/I come home to you/ When I go out, I go out its’ with Nancy”. “Julia” and “NRC” are barely more than a minute combined, but the fleeting noise is memorable. “Pretending to Bend” integrates more aggressive guitar playing accompanied by a powerful bass line, while “Images of Future” revels in a 1960s style psychedelic vibe. The eight and a half minute closer “I Thought I Caught it With You” follows an almost shockingly brief blast of clatter on “Pitocin Enduction Hour” and the longer din of “Revolution None”. There is no other band quite like that of Tunabunny, for what they do is not a mass coagulation of directionless chaos, but rather, a cunningly construction array of limitless imagination. This is a challenge, but it is worth each second.


BEST EX - Ice Cream Anti-Social (Alcopop!;

I love the name of this EP but the music of Best EX, the work of Mariel Loveland, formerly the curator of Candy Hearts, is far too bubbly and poppy for my liking. Granted, this is the type of collection that screams summer romance, particularly when Loveland says “Baby I’m bad news/But I am good for you” on “Girlfriend”. While her delivery is alluring, Best Ex ultimately sounds like what would happen if someone gave Taylor Swift an imagination and Selena Gomez’s producer. The buoyant “Lonely Life” is another anthem for the lovelorn teen, but the morose tempo of “February 4th” is a struggle to complete. Perhaps I am getting, or am official old, but the refrain of “Someday we’re gonna get it/Someday we’re gonna get it right” (from “Someday”) does not move me; in fact it just angered me. “See You Again” has a sturdier bass line that drives the song in a Go-Gos direction, making it the strongest of the six on display, but “Jellyfish” closes the release with a song that is sadly neither inspirational nor memorable. Save this on for the kids having their first kiss or learning what beer tastes like-I already know how these stories end, and trust me, it is usually crushing.

NOT A PART OF IT - The Nine Lives of the Night Life (Act Out Records

Portland’s Not a Part of It blatantly flaunt classic late 70s punk style throughout The Nine Lives of the Night Life, and the guys channel Stiff Little Fingers or Sham 69 on “Hostile Populace” and “Coast to Coast”. Both songs bounce with a loose, free-flowing groove. The latter celebrates the lost power of radio as Jason Burton snarls “Hey! Hey! Do you wanna be in radio/do you wanna hear a story?/Do you wanna talk to everyone?” , resurrecting ghostly images of Joey Ramone lamenting rock n’ roll radio all those decades ago. “We Have the Right (Not) to Work” honors the power of individuality and the choice to avoid the conventional, as Burton invokes the privilege “not to work, pursue, anything within in reason that we wanna do”. The song is an ode to self-fulfillment on one’s own terms, and this theme is heard on the aggressive “Fearless, Tearless, Peerless”. Not a Part of It
rejects mass conformity and materialism and do it all while also writing a great hook. However, within the raucous playing are warnings that need to be heeded, particularly the life lessons in the title track. “Nine Lives” is an abrasive track telling the stories of fictional characters like Cocaine Carl who “acts rich but can’t afford to eat” and Mary Eve who “majored in biology” but is just throwing her life away. Fittingly, “Stick ‘Em Up Rude Boys” injects a ska sensibility surrounded by a great bass line and a tale about a life of crime. “Bilateral” finishes the record with a blazing blast of guitar angst and a lesson for many living within our country: “Don’t ask me and don’t ask him-we’re all ignorant. Let’s take the time to learn about what’s going on outside America!” An excellent and timely collection of smart, invigorating punk that demands an immediate listen.

RAT FANCY - Suck a Lemon (HHBTM Records

Rat Fancy, in additional to being another wonderfully monikered act, play an infectious form of sweet, jangly, indie pop. “I Can’t Dance to the Smiths Anymore” is a heart-bursting tale of faded love. “Words lose their meaning, and they’ve lost their feeling” are lyrics of which Morrissey would certainly approve. Former member of the Sweater Girls Diana Barraza is at her best on “Five Fingers” when she asks “Remember when you told me all of your secrets?/I don’t know how you can carry on”, capturing the best of acts like Tiger Trap or The Softie as she dismisses a former love with a biting and painful tone. My one regret here is that Suck a Lemon is only six songs, but the title anthem brings me back to the cuddle-core sarcasm of cub when Diana coos “I’d rather suck a lemon than talk to you”. The song is also delivered in a more meandering pace as “Suck a Lemon II”, and it is not a throwaway filler, but an intoxicating revision of the original. With four releases already in 2017, Rat Fancy is prolific and poised to become your new indie darlings. Each track scores perfectly, such as the a soaring slice of fragile pop honesty and airy dreamscape of “Beyond Belief”. The one blast of potential optimism is “About You”, certainly the least crystalline of the songs here, as Gregory Johnson’s guitar is much more crunchy and tangible, along with the drumming of Gavin Glidewell. As Barraza bellows “What I love about you” five separate times, this may be the “couples song” of the bunch here. What I love about Rat Fancy is everything and with their penchant for creating new material, I imagine their next work should be out in a few weeks.

LO TOM s/t (Barsuk Records

With 125 years of musical experience flowing through their immensely talented, collected veins, the members of Lo Tom understand how to through a great set of songs together. That is largely the story of this debut collection, as eight songs were pieced together from fragments of ideas over the course of free moments and a couple of weekends. This will depress people who have worked for years on their music and continue to struggle to produce interesting material, for this was truly a compilation of friends bouncing ideas off of each other for the sheer joy of working together. Led by David Bazan of Pedro the Lion, the troupe gallops through eight pieces of smartly crafted indie rock that sounds both complimentary of the past and celebratory of the present. TW Walsh and Jason Martin, who contribute to Pedro and Starflyer 59 respectively, handle the guitar responsibilities and shine throughout, highlighted by the jubilant tone of the closer “Lower Down”. While “Covered Wagon” opens with a rugged groove, “Overboard” has a smooth, classic indie tone, rattling and shaking with excitement. “Bubblegum” is anything but lighthearted pop fare, as Wilson and Martin churn out a riff that coalesce perfectly with the low end thump of Trey Many (another Starflyer59 member). “Bad Luck Charm” has a fuzzy, mysterious quality also heard in the rollicking “Find the Shrine”. My favorite track is the swaggering, mid-tempo “Pretty Cool”. Aptly titled and supremely played, the song’s sultry demeanor reveals another aspect of the vast, chameleon-like qualities of the gifts on display here. The quality of this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows the histories of the members, but the finished product is a celebration of shared musical visions.

RATBOYS - GN (Topshelf Records

With a name like Ratboys, one may be quite surprised with the sound of GN (short for “good night”). This Chicago outfit revolves around the stunningly exquisite vocals of Julia Steiner who channels Tonya Donelly’s most emotive tones. The songs address rather complex emotions, starting with the opening “Molly” in which Steiner says, “I just want to love my family”. “Elvis is in the Freezer” displays both Steiner’s ability to draw listeners into intimate moments of her own life as well as Dave Sagan’s limitless guitar talents. The song includes a half-shrouded country twang sitting parallel to unhinged, slashing riffs, as well as controlled melody, and each style only accents Steiner’s supreme gift for storytelling. Steiner will rightfully garner the lion’s share of praise when one hears GN, but Sagan is an understated anchor on each track. His playing can be as fragile as Steiner’s most exposed lyrical deliveries or as furious as a burst of machine gun fire, quite often within the same song. The meandering “Crying for the Planets” is a deliberate, methodical piece of musical construction, holding the listener’s hand as the song continually ascends to a dazzling explosion of controlled passion. To add to the band’s intellectual acumen, “Crying” is a first-person tale told by Douglas Mawson who explored the Antarctic. Cerebral without even becoming supercilious, Ratboys play music that demands numerous listens to capture the various nuances inserted so casually into each track. The closing “Peter the Wild Boy” continues this academic strain of songwriting by detailing the life of an abandoned child in Germany who was eventually adopted by the King of England-not your typical topic. “Dangerous Visions” features Steiner at her best as she alternates between momentarily vulnerable then instantly defiant; her voice is scintillating as Sagan adroitly unleashes waves of noisy guitar violence behind her. On “Wandered”, Steiner revels that “rock n’ roll is my escape”, and while this is a sentiment expressed by many throughout the music’s history, there is a depth to her words that make a potential cliché sound like an act of liberation and self-discovery. The acoustic-led title track harkens back to the style of the duo’s earliest days, but well-placed slide guitar and other elusive tricks provide a quirky imaginative quality to a poignant piece. The dreamy, jangly pop of “The Record” is a straight forward love song, and a nearly perfect one at that. Ratboys again play with tempo through this song, allowing the loud/soft structure to its fullest potential without ever sounding redundant. This is a triumphant declaration by a limitlessly talented duo.


GLENN MORROW’S CRY FOR HELP (Rhyme and Reason Records

Bar None Records owner and legendary Jersey scene presence Glenn Morrow may have heard the final wave of feedback fade from Maxwell’s in 2013, but that did not mark the demise of Morrow’s musical ambitions. Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help plays sophisticated, refined, and superbly crafted rock with a bluesy aesthetic and a warmth that embraces the listener. “Comfort Zone” highlights Morrow’s charming vocal style, while he and fellow guitarist Ric Sherman’s playing wafts serenely about a solid backbeat. “Pony Express” revolves around a wave of rich backing vocals and an unavoidably sing-along chorus in addition to an increased guitar presence through Sherman’s solos. Mike Rosenberg and Ron Metz hold each song together on bass and drums respectively, and on efforts such as “Let the Kid Come Out” and “When Night Falls”, their talents are particularly noticeable. Morrow and his mates have an obvious affinity for the fundamentals of rock n’ roll and “Days to Come” and “Electricity” are two gems that reveal Morrow’s skills as a raconteur and his band’s penchant for driving riffs and propelling grooves. Even when the band slows the tempo down to an amble on “44”, Morrow’s haunting lyrics and understated delivery illuminates a tragic story with raw emotion (“In the end, my friends, I’ve got my 44”). Closing with “Return of the Wild One”, the band again intensifies their punch with a thick bass line and peppers the song with cheeky references (Morrow saying “excuse me while I kiss this guy” at one point). Glenn Morrow’s name is synonymous with the best of what the East Coast can offer, and it is inspiring to hear the musical fire burning with such continued intensity. In an interview with Jim Testa, Morrow lamented the current condition of rock n’ roll, and admitted that it “in many ways, it does feel like rock is dead;” but listen to this collection of songs and it is obvious that there are plenty of reasons to hope for its future. Veterans like Glenn Morrow should act as a call for rock’s next batch of leaders, reminding kids that electronics have their place, but there is no substitution for musicians with real instruments in their hands sweating out heartfelt, inspired songs.

THE COATHANGERS - Parasite (Suicide Squeeze Records

Julie Kugel of The Coathangers said that all she wanted to do was scream and curse during the recording of the band’s brilliant new five-song EP Parasite, and the world is better for this decision. While the title track is the only one of the bunch that truly utilizes screaming, The Coathangers put forth a collection of powerful and musically diverse songs just in time for your summer. The grimy, gritty riffs that permeate “Parasite” have a blistering quality matched only by the acidic nature of Kugel’s heartfelt frustration exorcised on the track. “Wipe Out” is a long way away from the Surfaries as bassist Meredith Franco takes lead and details stories about an acquaintance’s penchant for blacking out, drying out, and refusing to apologize for stupidity. The first single from the EP is the swinging power pop of “Captain’s Dead”, featuring a highly contagious chorus surrounded by a throbbing bass line and sultry vocals. Revisiting last year's Nosebleed Weekend, the band re-records “Down Down” and the result is an intoxicating blend of noisy guitar blasts, supremely controlled low-end force, and profoundly melodic vocals. The concluding “Drifter” introduces the delicate vocals of drummer Stephanie Luke, and the song is highlighted by an understated twang hovering through the beautiful closing ballad. Parasite is akin to hearing five different bands over the course of one listening experience, as The Coathangers are equally devastating when playing raw, raging garage punk angst or textured finesse.


So here is what I know about Arman Maqami: He lives with his parents in his native Manhattan, attends NYU, and makes music alone in his bedroom. I have no idea how old Maqami is, if his parents are pleased or horrified with this living situation, and if anyone outside of friends actually hears his music. That being said, the three songs on "No Life "are each a distinct universe unto themselves and reveal the early stages of a potentially engaging musician. The title track is a moody piece anchored by electronica elements that support the song without overwhelming it, and a buzzing guitar riff accents the chorus. The track is well constructed and musically adroit as Maqami works himself into an increasingly more frenzied lather. The fleeting, speedy “Bully” is an angry blast of punk force that hums with fury for roughly one hundred seconds before vanishing just a quickly. “The Future of Drone Warfare: China 2056” is an unsettling dreamscape of sentimentality that is clearly covering darker energy. There are a number of highlights here, and I hope Maqami continues to make music because he has an inventive mind and is not beholden to any one style. Go check this out.

HOLLOW EVERDAZE - Cartoons (Deaf Ambitions Records

With a name that encapsulates their dreamy sound, Australia’s Hollow Everdaze produce a vast tableau of psychedelic pop that harkens back decades. The title track of Cartoons bounces with a Beatles-esque lightheartedness as Dylan Young’s keys and Daniel Baulch’s ethereal vocals envelop the song. “Poisoned by Nostalgia” could perhaps be a criticism of the band itself, but the song does invoke images of Oasis with solid guitar playing and gently emotive vocals, while “Catastrophe” and “Still Ticking” saunter along at a mid-tempo pace, the latter accented by warm acoustic guitar. Throughout Cartoons, I hear nothing but lovely music, but the tracks seem to lack impact. As lush as “Never Going Back” is, it inherits too mush from its early 70s influences, ultimately acting as a track that is richly melodic but lacking in grit and sadly, staying power. The record floats by rather innocuously, briefly interrupted by the jarring opening of “Flat Battery”. However, even that song quickly fades into overly sentimental pop, leaving me struggling to focus by the time “Running Away” wafts serenely towards my ears. The genteel, overly sentimental delivery one hears on Cartoons hovers softly, and while majestic in intent, I find myself waiting for a significant impact that never arrives. “Same Old Story” is frankly, painfully slow, and “Warcry” sounds like Captain and Tennille rather than a fresh interpretation on psychedelic pop efficacy. For those seeking for carefree AM merriment, Hollow Evergaze’s time warp sound may intrigue and delight; I’ll skip the bubblegum escapism, however.


Erotic Novels is anchored by the luxurious and heartfelt vocals of Shannon Perez, a longtime New Jersey powerhouse known through her work in I Hope You Die and Side Bitch, among others. The cover of Debut features the bloodstained face of Fabio, and this glorious juxtaposition between pain and perceived beauty resonates across all five efforts. The gritty, driving style of “Hocus Pocus” celebrates Perez’s throbbing bass lines and snarling delivery, and when she declares, “you walked me into the dark/you taught me how to be cold”, there is a chillingly sexy appeal. Debut overflows a with a vast range of emotions, as Chris Tull’s guitar force churns and rages throughout “I’m Not Willing” (“I’m not willing to hurt myself anymore/After grandma asked me about the scars that are on my arm”). “Maiming Faces”, despite its ominous title, has a softer, more rounded edge to its delivery from Perez as she laments about her own insecurities (“when I fall, I fall hard”), but drummer Bobby C smashes with thunderous fury. “Out West on My Own” continues the themes of introspection and self-discovery as Tull and Perez hold a dialogue at times within the song, as the vocalist proclaims, “It was a weird year/Thought I was in love but I’m not”. Recorded by Chris Pierce, who skills have helped to illuminate the Night Birds’ finest qualities, Debut is a magnificent introduction to a band with limitless potential. The five blasts pass by quickly, but all that does is inspire repeated listens.

FAT DUKES OF FUCK - A Compendium of Desperation, Morality, and Dick Jokes (

Oh my god! Where has this band been all of my life, and where the hell have I been to miss this outfit until now?! In a world of political upheaval, domestic insecurity, and global strife, there is an increasingly frightening dearth of music to which one can truly escape-welcome, if you dare, the Fat Dukes of Fuck. Yes, the name is potentially unnerving, but the music is scintillating, and one examines the line-up, the chaos, brutality, and finite musicianship makes sense. With Dale Crover of the Melvins producing and contributing and David Yow of the equally legendary Jesus Lizard offering his distinctive voice, band leader Brent Lynch leads a dazzling gathering of talent across a sprawling collection of tracks. The opening title track is a brief instrumental which sounds like the theme from the most nightmarish and exhilarating circus on the planet-a schizophrenic, swirling coagulation of noise, loops, buried samples, and primal terror, I am instantly a lifelong devotee of this band after less then two minutes. “Whiskey and Bath Water” has a dark, pseudo-sensuality hat oozes out from each pore and leaves a permanent stain, as the song ebbs and flows through a series of climatic explosive choruses and subdued verses. The furious “Full Metal Jackoff” is a classic metal groove with equally aggressive vocals and hilariously off-color lyrics. “Side by Side” has a shockingly accessible blues riff, while “Where Assholes Come to Die” is a speedy piece of proto-thrash. “Tasteful Roy” is more expansive and experiments recklessly with tone and temperament, as it flirts with Zappa-like playfulness and a dynamic low-end swagger sans vocals. At nearly seven minutes, the fuzzed-out, meandering “No Single Men” has the listener waiting for a violent upheaval that finally occurs with roughly two minutes left before expiring breathlessly. The killer grind of “Kodiak Arrest” may level your neighborhood in only thirty seconds. While the majestically titled “The Monotonous Adventures of a Hopeaholic” (“your ironic tank-top just makes all the ladies drool”) is currently my favorite track of the thirteen, “Promise Keepers” is remarkably brilliant with its gospel-like refrain about “being ready Lord”. The concluding “I’ll Tell You When it Hurts” has a reference to Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and is a plodding, pummeling, dirge of sludgy force with jazzy scatting concluding this extraordinary achievement.

ANN BERETTA - “Kill the Lights” b/w “Forever Family” (Say 10 Records

Richmond, Virginia’s Anne Beretta return after a fourteen year hiatus with a new single that will have fans waiting anxiously for the full-length. A fourteen-year break would render most bands obsolete and forgotten, but one listen to “Kill the Lights” instantly recaptures the band’s richly textured guitar work and mastery of pop-tinged punk. With a massive hook and an unapologetic appreciation of harmonies, “Kill the Lights” is the result of players with years of experience and tremendous confidence in their talents. The chorus latches itself to the listener, channeling a punk style that exists in that perfect realm between having fun and remaining impactful. “Forever Family” is the band’s ode to others like themselves; a loving yet stark celebration of life on the road, the track celebrates the authenticity and intimacy of life as a touring band. The track is nearly two decades old, but retains its original youthful buoyancy. This is a perfect teaser for what should be a big year for Ann Beretta.


This Jersey shore outfit play light-hearted punk about serious topics, specifically the state of the world under America’s current leader. Vocalist Jay Insult adopts Jello Biafra style snarls as he condemns those who allow themselves to bask in their own ignorance while fascist rule envelopes the nation in plain sight. “Do the Drool” may have simplistic lyrics (“So let your eyes glaze over/let your brain shut down/and start getting used to being kicked around”), but the message is significant. The warp speed tempo of “Zero State Solution” takes apart the disaster that is Middle Eastern relationships, drawing a comparison with the conflict that besieged Northern Ireland for decades. The song adroitly illustrates the hypocrisy of the use of violence inspired by organized religion without targeting any one specific group. The song also turns a mirror on the United States to demonstrate the moral and political failings of this nation (“We have no right to turn our backs on the refugees from the wars that we create”). Subtle keys add a 60s surf vibe to the somber messages of “The Final War” as Insult declares, “a natural death these days ain’t the worst because you have to survive this world first”. The closing “Brick and Mortar” introduces a country jangle as the song as the band finds lines of symmetry between Fallujah and Kabul with New York and Ferguson. These four guys may offer a first impression of a cheery little punk act just having a few laughs at the expense of the political quagmire in which the nation finds itself, but upon a more studious listen, there are a multitude of astute points raised and discussed. Do the Drool with briefly make people smile, but more importantly, it will make people think.

TRU S/T (Destroy All Monsters Records

Any band that bills their work as “sad music for sad people’ has fan in me, but there is much more to this Montclair, New Jersey four-piece than sorrow. The opening “Take a Peek” sounds like an artifact found in a 1993 time capsule for all the best of reasons; a swirling and surprisingly heavy track, the song borrows the finest elements of 90s grime, highlighted by the dual guitar presence of Pat Defranisci and Keith Williams. The four-song EP does borrow much from the decade of the World Wide Web and Lewinsky scandal, but nothing about Tru sounds recycled. “Trouble” matches the opener in terms of the breadth of talent, but the intensity to the song resides more subtlety within the waves of guitar and deeply harmonic vocals. Cindy Ward and Steve Cerri handle the bands low-end, and the opening pair of tracks are a promising demonstration of their abilities. I am most intrigued by “Kristi”, a song that begins rather innocuously but steadily builds upon a mountain of pristine guitar work and effusive lyrics that are both subversive and heartfelt. (“You’re sweet and tender under me/You’re the only one for me”). Closing with “Hand in Hand”, Tru again demonstrates a penchant for luminous hooks and ethereal experimentation. There is a complexity to the music of Tru but they do not overwhelm the listener with technical excess, for the four tracks cascade effortlessly at first, but one can hear the burgeoning greatness of this band.

WALK THE PLANK - Cemetery Vacation (Say-10 Records

DC hardcore makes a thunderous return on Cemetery Vacation from Walk the Plank, a band whose rage and ferocity matches the frustration felt by many in the country about the state of the nation’s capital. Everything about this record pummels the listener, dares the victim to get up, only to destroy the poor soul yet again. The vocals of Ian Crocker are spat out with a vitriolic mixture of nihilistic disgust and raw vehemence. This is heavy, abrasive punk that could easily come from the streets of New York’s Lower East Side as much as from the scene around K Street. “I Don’t Believe” and “Sea of Scenes” are awash in a thunderous grove, while the meaty breakdown on “Pity Party” breathes new life into that occasionally overdone hardcore element. Walk the Plank straddles a sound that is both frighteningly violent and yet melodic, a combination of styles few can truly master. “Dead Broke” is a bit longer in length (only one track, “Emptying My Head” gets past the three minute mark) and features more expansive playing from Alex Reimer and Aaron Keller. “Dying on the Vine” is classic, circle-pit, broken teeth inducing hardcore. The song is a brusque dirge of blunt force with an equally crippling riff. The blinding sixty seconds of “Scapegoat” and “Unaware” leaves a person breathless. Chris Faust and Tim Bean round out this impressive line-up on drums and bass, respectively, and their airtight camaraderie anchors the band’s sound. Sounding like both a tribute to the past and the voice of future, Walk the Plank will remind the cynical why hardcore is so important.


The opening “Take Heart” is a gritty, bass-driven track with a distinctly moody and provocative sound from College Station, Texans The Ex-Optimists. With vocals buried somewhat in a mix of droning feedback and waves of distortion, the song acts a blaring introduction to a band about which I want to learn much more. While their original has me hooked, two Guided By Voices covers seal the deal for me. “Drinker’s Peace “ is a bold choice to tackle and the band supremely captures the original’s jangly energy without simply re-recording it. The acoustic intro of “14 Cheerleader Confront” gives way to a steady stomp and demonstrates the vast talent found within The Ex-Optimists. Economy Island delivers the emotionally charged, atmospheric “The Jerk” complete with a massive, fuzzy hook and impassioned vocals. This Austin-based outfit offers its own Guided By Vices cover, an imposing take of “Pantherz” dominated by furious guitar playing. The band, like Ex-Optimists, does far more than recreate Guided’s work; rather, Economy Island rubs some dirt into the original to produce a cover that will delight Guided fans while also increasing the already rapidly growing reputation of EI. This split is five outstanding tracks from two of the best Twistworthy Records has to offer.


BOSS EYE - Plays Cottage Vortex (Twistworthy Records

Opening with a wild cacophony of sound, “More Than a Kiss”, Boss Eye unleashes a furious ride of loud, noisy, explosive force. This continues on the immediately intriguing “Albino Blood” as angular guitar and melodically aggressive energy dominates the opening salvos. Featuring four members who have been in over thirty bands combined throughout the years, Boss Eye is a gathering of well-tested, independently minded musicians who take aspects of punk and inject an artistic streak that challenges traditional song conventions. “La Quinta” features a meandering, punishing groove, while “You’ve Gone Too Far” is a more visceral attack. “Saucer Boy” takes Devo’s love of off kilter song structure and smashes it head-on with noise-rock bombast to produce my favorite track of the record. “Chalky Aderall” has a guitar tone as brilliantly twisted as the song title, while “They’re Coming (For You)” is a soaring, challenging gem. This is not an easy listen, but Boss Eye is simply awesome.

ECONOMY ISLAND s/t (Twistworthy Records

Economy Island play deeply melodic, 90s-inspired guitar rock. The heavy, plodding “The Mountain” is a thunderous barrage of low-end density and an instantly infectious riff. “White Liar” has an expansive sound and another expansive guitar hook compliments of Richi Fatheree and John Christoffel. “Flower” and “Nothing Left to say” are prime examples of emotionally charged songwriting with a sharp ear for harmonious structure. The sprawling “Typically Weak” is over seven minutes of guitar-soaked brilliance as the band plays with a controlled burn distinctly unique to this song; Economy Island clearly a has a distinctive sound, but within that larger construct, they are not afraid to experiment with tone and tempo. This is an intelligent and well-crafted record.

FLESH LIGHTS - “No Longer” b/w “You Don’t Know” (Twistworthy Records

The Flesh Lights offer two pieces of punk-tinged garage rock with just enough pop hooks. “No Longer” is a raw, unapologetically rock n’ roll song that worships at the altar of 70s guitar force. “You Don’t Know” is driven by Max’s guitar riff and vocals working in perfect tandem, while Jeremy’s bass and Elissa’s drumming solidify the song’s dense yet melodic nature.



GHOST KNIFE - Garrote Guarantee (Twistworthy Records

Ghost Knife is a gifted, bluesy, loud, grove-driven band that embraces rock in its purest sense. “The Haunted House Adjacent to the Cursed Cemetery” is a rollicking anthem, dripping in grime and distortion. With a knowing wink to their own campy qualities, Ghost Knife blast away on the opening “RC Cola”, a song as worthy of praise as the underappreciated beverage for which it is named. The Austin, Texas influence is obvious on the subtle twang of “City Titties”. “I Know, I Know” is the most streamlined assault and my favorite of the bunch. The band takes 60s beach rock exuberance an injects a punk aesthetic to create a wild, four song trip.

HEATER s/t (Twistworthy Records

This Fort Worth, Texas outfit sweaty, aggressive punk with a true DIY approach. The bombast is genuine and organic, with the band roaring through four blistering tracks. Opening with “Reaching for Things Unknown”, Heater crafts songs with lyrics that are reflective of the band’s sense of self-reflection (“We’ve looked into our mirrors/with nothing left inside/We’ve looked into our mirrors/With nothing left to hide”). “Take a Look Around” sums up the state of our world today with the observation “Take a look around and see what we’ve become/we segregate ourselves with ignorance and hate/ What is race? What is gay? What is straight? What is woman? What is man? Still we hate”. The appropriately titled “Rattled Walls” is a thunderous low-end assault that intensifies the hardcore elements of the band. Finishing with the equally powerful “Blur the Lines”, Heater is a promising band with a tightly wound fury, explosive musicianship, and shrewd lyrics.

MICHAELIRONSIDE - So Dynamic (80 West Records

So a talented, young, editor told me in an informative email this act that “Michael Ironside is not a person but a band”, and that is partially true. There is a Michael Ironside and his IMDb page is worth some exploring. However, Michaelironside is indeed a band, and an odd one at that. Jeff Wasserburger and Adam Lepkowski play music that varies from cartoonish to hard driving, and seem to do so with little interest in what others may think. “Fixin’ for a Yeti” has an oddly melodic groove amidst its ridiculous premise, while “Frosty Tunez” is uniquely quirky and fun. With challenging time schemes and a bizarrely pretty structure, the song defies any contemporary style. The same is true of “Ape Lord”, with lyrics “He was an ape/He was a lord/Didn’t carry a gun/He carried a sword”. Fittingly, “Deathrage” is more aggressive but is forgotten pretty quickly when “Da Boof” comes along; a slice of lo fi, noisy, childlike fun about a creature that can “eat your face”. It sounds a great as it seems, and my only complaint is that the song is far too brief. “Naked Girls” has a wonderful title, but its slow tempo and muffled vocals does not hold my attention. “Albany” has a traditional 80s hard rock riff and hushed vocals which is a winning combination and gets even better as the song deliciously breaks down into chaos as it concludes. “Fade” is a return to atmospheric chill, wile “Mr. Observer” has a subtle funk-jazz flavor before injecting a more rambunctious riff. The closing “In the Mind” starts gently but its driving chorus concludes the record on a soaring note. There are moments of brilliance on So Dynamic, but I leave feeling a bit unsure of what I am hearing. I applaud these two guys for boldly challenging the boring, but I will always take anger over bubbly goodness.

SEETHER - Poison the Parish (Canine Riot Music

I had no idea that Seether has now released seven albums and I have no idea who buys them, but this South African outfit keeps chugging along and produces slick, well produced hard rock that the middle aged divorced dads play too loudly as they roll the mid-life crisis mobile into the Little League parking lot to impress all the ladies. If you enjoy predictable rock, boy howdy, you are in luck. Watering down late 70s rock riffs to the lowest common denominator, Seether gives the masses the opiate they deserve. Nothing on Poison the Parish is riveting, as the band scolds the modern generation for preferring instant fame over talent on “Stoke the Fire”, but I am not sure if Instagram-obsessed Kardashian fans will take Seether’s warnings to heart. There are theater sing-along anthems (“Something Else”, “Saviors”), the ubiquitous mid-tempo, emotionally charged tracks(“Up and Down”, “Feel Like Dying”), and the songs that start with acoustic riffs before really getting the fans hyped when the track switches to electric (“I’ll Survive”, “Sell My Soul”). There are fifteen (!) songs on Poison the Parish which is just more Seether than anyone needs.

7-Inch Singles

FITS OF HAIL - Belmore (Sound of the Sea Records

This Cleveland four-piece delivers a lush beauty on “Clutter”, a song that is anything but jumbled as a clean, mid-tempo pace accompanies Chris Anderson’s rustic vocals. “Came Through the Change” rattles a bit more than its’ predecessor, but again embraces a sense of heartfelt Americana and richly vivid lyrics. The song’s ascending chorus makes this effort the preferred of the two vinyl selections for my taste. The brief but endearing “Brandywine” is available through download only and is well worth the effort of paying these guys a few scant bucks on Bandcamp.

STINGER/MAULER- Split 7” (Serenity Now Tapes

This single saved my weekend and it can make even the worst day better. Stinger plays relentless, metal-tinged hardcore at a breakneck pace with vicious, head-stomping intensity. There is nothing one cannot love about the simmering power of “Swine Churn”. Brutal, abrasive, and full of unresolved anger, this is one to put on repeat. The low-end bombardment of “The Scum Files” punches the listener with the fury of classic Warzone or Agnostic Front. In short-you need Stinger in your life. Very little information is given about Mauler, but with “Despot Desires” and “Power Snake”, there is no need for words. The grindcore fury of this band has me instantly hooked and all three songs-get the digital version-are punishing and unapologetically raw. Mauler is the band that plays a basement show and the house crumbles around them. Serenity Tapes has just jumped up to the top of my favorite young labels.

DEEP STATE -Thought Garden (Friendship Fever Records

Deep State is a highly emotionally charged band that meshes numerous punk infused styles into a richly rewarding listen. An off-putting yet attention-grabbing instrumental opens Thought Garden before the more straightforward punk aesthetic of “No Idea, Pt. II” explodes out of one’s speakers. Vocalist/guitarist Taylor Chmura is clearly shaking with frustration, but not every syllable is blindly screamed into the void; instead, he incorporates sweetly harmonic vocals with a sweeping hook on “Mountains” and utilizes a dense riff on “Death Waltz”. Fellow guitarist Ryan Gray Moore holds a masters degree in guitar performance, and his skills shine throughout Thought Garden, even when the band takes on a minimalist approach for the title track. There is a subtly to Moore’s playing that reflects the larger theme of the band-the material here is intricate but not overwhelming. The songs have room to breathe even though there is a burning passion to get the thoughts out quickly and deliberately. Drummer Michael Gonzalez and bassist Christian Deroeck rumble together on “Heavy Lunch”, while sharp, jarring riffs rip through the heart of the song. The band is not afraid to show off their influences and penchant for varying styles, as “Nothing Speaking” swings with a mid-tempo, bluesy sound, while an infectious, jangly, indie-pop sensibility dominates “Infinitesimals”. Continuing to challenge and push themselves forward, Deep State introduces dark noise on “Eights” before quickly fleeing for the closing “Urn”. Starting with a nearly Beatles-esque attention to harmony, the song ebbs and flows seamlessly before a dust storm of choking guitar finishes off the record with a soaring climax. Inspired and progressive, Deep State is a deeply promising act.

FIRE IN THE RADIO - New Air (Wednesday Records

Philly’s Fire in the Radio have fittingly titled their second release New Air, as the band takes far more chances here than their 2015 debut. The guitar playing is crisp and the songs are more sophisticated yet do not lose any of the harmonies that made Telemetry such a encouraging release. “Drug Life” is the centerpiece of the record and the song’s dreamy vocals, compliments of Rich Carbone, are tinged with darkness, a juxtaposition of pop melodies and peripheral sadness that carries much of New Air. While the title track and “Vacant States” have very clear 90s qualities, specifically Superchunk, Velocity Girl, and Jawbox; however, rather than hearing these songs as merely paying homage to influences, Fire in the Radio is inspired to take that blueprint and combine other spatial elements. “Adeline” is a lovely, haunting track that moves at a brisk pace without losing any sentimentality. And “Lionel Hampton Was Right” gets a blistering start out of the gate and features a soaring riff that anchors Carbone’s passionate delivery. The songs are tightly wound and the urgency is tangible. This record is the product of a band desperate to be heard and is committed to making music that is both significant and stirring. “I Don’t Know, I Don’t Remember” is my favorite type of aggressive indie pop-the song is aggressive, powerful, and overflowing with hooks. Philly has long been a city for bands that play with tenacity and little regard for trends; Fire in the Radio take all the finest elements of 90s indie rock and grinds them into an awesome new form.

MARK LANEGAN -Gargoyle (Heavenly Records

Mark Lanegan is an interesting tale of persistence and drive. At fifty-two, Lanegan is a long-term veteran, scarred and replete with legions of stories about trying to survive as a musician. Gargoyle is a record that could only be made by a man of this ilk; sweeping in musical scope, the songs are dense, majestic, and richly textured. The opening, six-minute opus “Death’s Head Tattoo” establishes a theme for Gargoyle, namely a mixture of swirling darkness and understated beauty. The warmth is, as is the uneasiness created by the steady backbeat and swaths of guitar. “Beehive” has a bassline that would be the envy of Peter Hook while Lanegan’s gruff voice adds an additional layer of earthy grittiness to the track. Other efforts borrow a similar structure, such as the impressive “Blue Blue Sea” and the haunting “Sister”. The latter has a meandering pace and ethereal keyboards that allow Lanegan to fill all empty space with his vocals that sound like John Hiatt taking on Leonard Cohen in a whiskey shot drinking contest. “Emperor” rattles along with a structure reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” while the brilliantly titled “Drunk on Destruction” features guitar playing the weaves powerfully from subtle to punishing. “First Day of Winter” is appropriately depressed in both tempo and spirit, as Lanegan sorrowfully takes listeners through an empty town and an equally desolate past. Compelling and spiritually engrossing, it is my favorite of the record despite (or perhaps due to) its melancholy nature. Gargoyle concludes with “Old Swan” as Lanegan gain blends a Sisters of Mercy atmosphere with poignant lyrics and a heartfelt vocal performance. Mark Lanegan has been, perhaps inexplicably, off my musical radar until this point, but gargoyle will certainly inspire more research on my part.

ROUND EYE - Monstervision (Sudden Death records

Described as the “loudest, sexiest, and hairiest” band in China, the avant-garde, sax-punk geniuses Round Eye announce their return with a viciously beautiful release. Joe Bob Briggs makes numerous appearances on Monstervision, bringing his late night cable access television persona to an already mind-altering record. At one point, Joe Bob simply asks, “what the hell was that?”, and that query about sums up the relentlessly original approach taken by this band. Once banned from touring in China and forced to truly play “bunker shows” (famously documented by VICE News), Round Eye is a fearless combination of punk audacity and noisy defiance. “Cosmic Blues” sounds like Black Flag jamming with the Flying Luttenbachers, but the band then applies a more Cramps-like sentiment on “Billy”, a song about a deliberately violent cop. “Sifter” is a touch more poppy, with the ubiquitous sax sounds increasingly reserved when coupled with a more traditional effort. However, this respite does not last long as “Troma” includes angular, jagged playing that pairs itself nicely with the lo-fi chaos of “Hey Dudes”. The debauchery of “Pink House” is my personal favorite among this vast collection of genre annihilating, confounding, and engaging musical visions. Round Eye defies any contemporary comparisons, as evidenced through “Cat” and “Richie”. While the former holds on to a subtly harmonious groove only kissed by a sax, the latter begins with a scream and unleashes a menacing explosion as the phrase “reality TV never looked so good” is repeatedly shrieked. The closing “Crinkle” has vocals buried in a casket of waves of suffocating sound, and the song is a churning mass of jittery energy that is the musical equivalent of being water boarded. It is a fitting finish to a record that is equally captivating and obtuse.

AYE NAKO - Silver Haze (Don Giovanni Records

The term punk rock can rightfully be used to address a multitude of styles and Aye Nako continue to help redefine the phrase. Led by Mars Dixon and Jade Payne’s fearless aggression, Silver Haze is a showcase of deeply personal songs propelled by angst-driven energy. “Sissy” is a mass of guitar force and defiant lyrics (“Off world, shrill lisp/Hormonal bliss, spit in my face”), while Dixon and Jayde barrage the listener with both angular guitar work and highly charged singing on “Half Dome”. Rounded out by bassist Joe and drummer Sheena, the band excels on “Nightcrawler” with its noisy contained chaos, reminiscent of former touring mates Screaming Females. Noisy and abrasive, but always with a clear sense of parameters, “Muck” encapsulates the band’s ability to straddle a line between blunt force and refined beauty. Injecting more traditional pop sensibilities on “Particle Mace” does not in any way lessen the impact of the song, while the waves of distortion on “Arrow Island” and “Spare Me” infuse the tracks with a darker, more intimidating sensibility. The menacing nature of “Nothing Nice” roars with frustration that boils over into rage tinged with fear (“You detonate in the front room/They call it discipline/You detonate in the front room/I’m not safe at home/I do what I’m told/I do”). A suffocating wail of feedback opens “Tourmaline” as a brutish riff eventually gives way to a more subdued vocal style. Stunning in both breadth of force and intensity of delivery, Aye Nako is an astounding act.

THE PLANES - Wax Diamond (

I often find myself becoming overwhelmed by bands attempting to make their music as technically superior as humanly possible. Yes, the playing is dazzling at times, but there are occasions in which one simply wants a hook and a quick, smart song. The Planes deliver just that over the course of eight soaring anthems. Basking in the purity of simplicity, the band has a penchant for lush harmonies and fuzzed-out pop throughout Wax Diamond. The opening “Red Shift” bounces back and forth between the Feelings and Dinosaur Jr. with ease, with the latter sound dominate the chorus. With only two of the tracks crawling to the four-minute mark, The Planes pack quite a punch and never overstay their welcome. Lead vocalist Stephen Perry has a sly, self-deprecating humor on “Stick Around” when he admits “I learned a language just to speak to you/And I grew accustomed to the sound/But now I'm talking to myself/As if I don't need no one else/I kinda wish you'd stick around.” Blending heart-melting lyrics with buoyant guitar playing and a steady backbeat is not redefining rock n’ roll, but The Planes bring a timeless sound into a period of time that needs this sound. The unexpected body slam heard in the midst of “ATMs” is the band’s finest trait-one cannot simply press play and forget about Wax Diamond. The songs crackle with energy but can suddenly shift personalities and adopt a more aggressive nature before returning to their original personas. The support behind Perry’s guitar playing and emotionally charged vocals are bassist Jaclyn Perrone and drummer Jason Maksymillian, who carry the chugging “College Crush”, perhaps the best song ever penned about the topic. Perry bravely exposes himself as a love-struck frat guy who is “in the kitchen bartending”, begging and hoping for the object of his affection to come talk to him. The honesty of the song is immediately enduring, and is matched by the powerful “River” (The sun was out and I was flying/ I didn't know if this would last for long/ We have a love that's free and wild/ But I don't know if you and I belong”). Young and talented with a great sense of history, The Planes move indie rock forward by embracing the past.

EUREKA CALIFORNIA -“Wigwam” s/t “Only Birds No Feathers” (HHRTM Records

With a thick rogue wave of distortion opening “Wigwam”, I am immediately taken by the latest from Eureka California. The duo of Jake Ward and Marie Uhler blast away at a pair of garage-pop gems and a wildly entertaining cover of Superchunk’s ubiquitous college radio anthem “Slack Motherfucker” on a single that passes by far too quickly. The noisy, nervous “Wigwam” toys with pace and tempo; the track rises and fades, only to rise again with flawless precision, as these two find harmony within chaos. The song is two and half minutes of pure joy and gives way to the 90s vibe of “Only Birds No Feathers”. When Ward barks about “how simple of a life do you really deserve” and asks, “does it look like I care”, one does not know if he is smirking or snarling, and that embodies the band. Eureka California is defiant, dismissive, and entirely engaging. Go find this, as the band is selling it directly to fans for only three bucks in an effort to recapture a time when singles were affordable for all, but cost should not matter-pay the mark up price somewhere and support these kids.


This New Jersey outfit plays moody rock with introspective lyrics and an intrepid honesty. Stories of pain, loneliness, and failed relationships dominate the record, but the feelings the work elicits are not disparaging. Rather, one is captivated by the constant balancing act the band performs throughout he record. The guitars on the opening title track hover gently above scathing lyrics while the song fluctuates between fragility and bombast. This trend continues on “Front” as well, although it is a more traditionally structured track (“What I’m trying to say is it seems OK but its not OK”). The majority of the work is preoccupied with the massive struggles of relationships, describing even simple communication as a challenge in “Masquerade Ball” (“when I talk to you, I walk on rice paper”). Ghost of a Gentleman allow themselves to become a touch heavier and darker on “Can’t Take This Anymore”, and insert a vibrant, modern rock sensibility highlighted by aggressive guitar work on “Smothered”. (Every twisted truth you think I can’t untie begs for me to see right through your eyes”). “Street Signs” has a delicate introduction fitting for the song’s tale of fragile sanity, sleep deprivation, and a struggle to balance all of life’s pressures. The atmospheric “Nineteen Eighty-Five” with wraithlike lyrics buried deeply in the mix precedes a trio of songs dedicated to former band member James Kelly: “Just Breathe” channels the Foo Fighters while “Plastic Boy” is a genteel, largely an acoustic piece with a rich, heartfelt delivery. “Jersey State of Mind” concludes the triumvirate of dedication tracks as well as the record. Like “Plastic Boy”, it is also stripped down, but the song is brimming with hope rather then the pessimism and weariness that previously dominated Empty Room. Emotive and intelligent, Ghost of a Gentleman should certainly become more than just a local favorite.

KISSING IS A CRIME s/t (Don Giovanni Records

Matt Molnar is the leader of his outfit that creates a beautiful record of airy, classic guitar pop. “Noise at Night”, with Liz Hogg on vocals, is unabashedly and unapologetically harmonious, with a chorus that is equally stirring and scintillating. “Kids” begins the second side with a massive, soaring hook, while the more subdued “Sheila’s Gone” is intoxicating in its directness. The opening “Nervous Condition” sets the tone with jiggling guitar work and lush vocals. Molnar spent his early years bouncing around in a string of punk bands, and his roots reemerge on the more aggressive “You Would Never Understand”, but his true gift is the ability to generate infectious pop with swirling musicianship and pristine refinement. “Crown Royal” bounces with a highly dynamic groove and highlights the drumming of Alex Feldman. The evocative “Bling Bruises” is another standout with a burst of rugged guitar coexisting within the broader expanse of the song’s pop sensibilities. Molnar is a visionary with a genuine appreciation for bands that place majestic harmonies and intriguing lyrics as priorities. Once again, Don Giovanni finds another gem.

MODERN ENGLISH - Take Me to the Trees (

I was roughly ten years old when MTV invaded my home and changed my life. One of the ubiquitous videos of that age was “I Melt with You” from Modern English. If you remember watching the clip, a primitive yet earnest effort, congratulations-you are old! I always remember the video clearly, as I was usually waiting for it to end in hopes that anything from Ozzy or Judas Priest might be next. At any rate, a full generation has come and gone since that massive hit, and the original members of Modern English return with their first full-length release in thirty years! Incredibly, rather than a pallid attempt at rehashing 80s pop, the band brazenly and adroitly constructs pop in a contemporary vein while also subtly paying homage to their heritage. The opening “You’re Corrupt” opens with a throbbing bass line and a clearly articulated social commentary about greed and excess. Conversely, “I Feel Small” is a mid-tempo churner of a track that wraps Robbie Grey’s instantly recognizable vocals around a stomping groove. “Dark Cloud” has a clean, crisp retro sound as one could imagine Gary Numan singing along to this one. One of my favorite moments is the effervescent pop goodness of “Moonbeam”- a sugary blast of rich harmonies that will make Martha Quinn smile. The meandering “Something’s Going On” is deceptively unnerving, and despite its plodding tempo still possesses a mystical, ethereal quality also heard on “Sweet Revenge”. The closing “It Don’t Seem Right” is a dreamy effort that again proves that Modern English have the chops to reintroduce themselves to the world of relevance.

THING ONE - Fair Weather Friends WP (

Thing-One creates an uneasy atmosphere throughout the three-song Fair Weather Friends EP. The title track laments a now irreconcilable friendship with haunting lyrics (“my friend, you are dead/in my eyes you’re gone”) and an infectious dance beat. The closing “Far Too Bright” includes smoldering guitar woven into an ethereal tapestry of heartbreaking beauty (“Your face, your eyes, you’re far too bright”). “Nice Wife” is a stirring, powerfully emotional anthem in which Thing-One tells a stirring narrative through warm and gripping playing. A lullaby with a potentially explosive personality, the track attempts to pull the heart out of one’s chest with devastating honesty. I cannot believe that this latest release from Thing-One came with a flyer announcing their opening slot for Gin Blossoms, of all bands. I cannot image their fans appreciating this. Thing-One should out on the road carrying their own tour, not opening for relics from the 90s.

7” Singles

PETER HOLSAPPLE “Don’t Mention the War” (Hawthorne Curve Records

I have long lamented the lack of a good protest song for contemporary issues, but Peter Holsapple may have solved the problem with “Don’t Mention the War”, an ode to the horrors of combat and PTSD. With gripping honesty and a delivery reminiscent of the finest 1960s storytellers, the song is a gut-wrenching tale of isolation, suffering, and struggling family members. When Holsapple says “don’t mention he war”, it is an ominous warning as much as it is a piece of advice. The B-side “Cinderella Style” is a beautiful, delicate tale that, while not as dramatically forceful as the A-side still demonstrates Holsapple’s innate sense of human emotion. This is a pair of soaring, vastly powerful songs and I am immensely taken with this.

SANTA ANA KNIGHTS - "Knight School" EP (Red Brontosaurus Records

Santa Ana Knights play speedy guitar pop with a punk varnish that makes it tougher than your standard three chord posters. Sounding like a troubled troubadour on “”How’d I Get Home” and the title track, both featuring a touch of country-fried twang. “How’d I Get Home” includes the scathing lyrics “I don’t need hugs/ I Need Your Drugs!!” “The Bartender” kicks off the effort with the amazing advice of “Don’t Need Jesus/ Just be your own boss/ I’ll be the bartender when you need to drink”. I know nothing about this band, but this introduction is enough to make me seek out more.

SOMERSET MEADOWS - "We Will Rock" (Brain Genius Records

Somerset Meadows play 60s rock with a SoCal punk energy. “Hey Girl” bubbles with a hopeful enthusiasm as Richard Somerset hopes the girl of his dream will go away with him. This energy is matched on the early Green Day-inspired “She Makes It”. The record starts with “She is Waiting”, and while it never really hits a stride, “Time to Shine” is a rollicking burst of infectious pop guitar. As I write this, Long Island is in the midst of a mid-March snow squall and all I see when I hear Somerset Meadows is sunshine, girls, and summer. For that alone, I love this.


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