Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

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.


OPERATOR MUSIC BAND - Puzzlephonics I & II (

This wildly eclectic, highly distinctive New York outfit blends 80s synth, New Wave energy, and kinetic beats into one aural extravaganza. Led by Jared Hiller, Operator Music Band continuously challenges and shape shifts throughout Puzzlephonics, a vast collection of older and newer material. While Hiller’s vocals range from monotone to deeply engaging, the lynchpin of the band is Dara Hirsh. A furious guitar player and dazzlingly ethereal vocalist, Hirsh is a star of limitless capabilities. The opening “Banana” begins as a quirky, fun dance track but concludes with a thunderous barrage that leaves the listener wobbly. “Requirements” has a throbbing bass line and its pure New Wave delight with touches of synth noise and atmospheric guitar playing that helps the band blur the line between retro pop and basement experimentalism. “Mr. Director” takes the band down a slightly darker path with a steady backbeat and muffled vocals that then lead into “Trauma”. Perhaps the most conventional song of the ten tracks, “Trauma” utilizes understated vocals and apparition-like keys to create an eerie, mesmerizing mood. “EE UNS” is my favorite Hirsh moment, as her childlike delivery is superbly contrasted with noisy, disjointed guitar riffs and unnerving synth. Hirsh and Hiller share vocal responsibilities perfectly on “Koma”, a song with a thicker groove and instantly memorable hook. “Wobbulator” bounces with a mid-tempo vibe and is highlighted by sensual vocals and lyrics about “forget [ting] about him” and beginning a new life. The concluding “Activite” concludes in a manner similar to the opening “Banana”, bringing to a dramatic end one of the more unique records one will hear this year. The give and take between the various talents and styles of the gifted members of this band make Puzzlphonics consistently disarming and with the band currently touring, I imagine this must be a fascinating live experience.

GOODMAN - The Vicissitudes (Invertebrate Music;

I am instantly intrigued by how Goodman starts The Vicissitudes with the oddly pop-friendly “She Sez”, but I am a full-fledge addict once I hear “Modern Girl.” Any song that has the phrase “misdirected rage and sexual anxiety” as a chorus has me hooked. The Vicissitudes is a sprawling demonstration of a brilliant mind that constructs quirky, jittery, pop gems with no regard for modern convention. There are touches of 60's harmonies, subtle psychedelia, lo-fi fuzz, and earnest acoustic pieces (one must hear the beautiful “Stangehold,”) and Goodman excels at each with a seemingly effortless delivery, as embodied by the richly textured “Weathervane,” a song that would make George Martin smile. “Hiccup” is a perfect example of Goodman’s penchant for warm harmonies, as handclaps and an infectious delivery make the track a standout among a collection of engaging works. The subtle beauty of “Hourglass” is matched by the slick production of “I Saw Him,” complete with freakfolk legend Peter Stampfel's fiddle, soaring backing vocals, and a powerfully emotional delivery. The gritty “I’ll Die Out There” incorporates a steady backbeat and a song structure that begs for a sing along. As a product of Mama Coco’s, Goodman is always looking to take chances and push his musical visions into vast directions; to that end The Vicissitudes sounds like several careers on one release, and for most, this output would be more than a career could produce. “The Girl with the Titanium Heart” experiments with elements of noise and ethereal sound as it opens before launching into a trippy, lush sugar-pop gem with the alluring lyric, "it’s just a game we play in the dark said the girl with the titanium heart." The expansive “Secrets” completes the record, and its massive scope seems to travel across universes in just under four minutes. It is the type of song that demands to be listened to in the dark through high quality headphones, as Goodman injects vociferous touches into the hazy background behind his understated vocal. I have played The Vicissitudes from end to end numerous times and continue to hear new features with each listen. Michael Goodman is right now an unheralded genius, but that should change.

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Alexander F is the brainchild of Alex Toth and the band, initially an outgrowth of an eleven-day silent meditation retreat, ultimately crafts inspired modern rock that promises to be among the best records of the year. Beginning with the noisy, quasi- punk of “Swimmers”, the bulk of this self-titled release flies by quickly with only the closing “I Am Sensation” hitting the three minute mark, and much of that is part of a sound collage that concludes this work. The sullen and powerful “Soft Coffins” is juxtaposed with the throbbing groove and call and response lyrics of “Call Me Pretty”, perpetually keeping the listener delightfully unsure of what lies around the next musical corner. “Coffee”, with bass compliments of Brian Betancourt, is fittingly a jittery, kinetic burst of energy whose thunderous bassline is complimented by fuzzy vocals. A similar structure is replicated on “Yeah” and the equally dynamic “Noble Fucking Silence”, with the latter carried by the bass playing of Dandy McDowell. Vicious blasts of guitar force cut through these tracks as Steve Marion’s playing tears through the air with a terrifying force, making each song both bombastic and unnerving as Toth declares “somebody died/somebody always dies”. Alexander F never allows the listener to become comfortable and I am engaged throughout the release, from the ninety seconds of experimental noise of “Impermanence” to the slower, more plodding blunt force of “You’re Such a Kill”. The noisy, chaotic “Billie Holiday Shoes” still finds a way to retain a sense of harmony within the clamor, and by the time “I Am Sensation” fades into silence, I am equally exhausted and excited about what Toth and his mates have created.


This Brooklyn outfit has fifteen years of experience behind them and it shines throughout Sunk Costs. From the production value to the quality of the lyrics, the Challenged are not a bunch of upstart kids clanging around in a garage, but are rather a highly polished, sophisticated punk-pop band with gritty stories to share. The raging “Oh, What a Day” kickstarts Sunk Costs with biting sarcasm while placing a premium on speed and aggression. While nothing here is mid-tempo, the band does not solely rage; instead, Sunk Costs is a varied collection of thirteen honest and at times heart-wrenching tales of woe and isolation. The hopeful innocence of “City of My Town” is one of the rare moments when the listener believes that things may work out for the song’s protagonist as vocalist Rob emotes, “My favorite part of you is features/Your pretty lips, your nice white teeth /Why don't you throw caution into the wind /And join me for some flowers at my table on the beach, girl”. However, most of the love songs here reflect a painful dysfunction, eloquently expressed on “Fucking the World” (Some days are words flow like waterfalls /Today they’re stifled dripping faucets/Isn’t it strange just how suicidal we’ve become/Pulling strings like automated machines”) and “Hindsight” (“Feel lucky to be mad /Fortunate to be sad /that's a luxury that only /people with time have”). Failed relationships dominate Sunk Costs as “Happy Anniversary” and “Driving Backwards” depict pain with daring honesty and a remarkably poignant eye for detail. The Challenged bring listeners directly into their sorrow over the course of thirteen tracks that never tired or become redundant. While this record was quietly released in the fall of 2016, it is one that should dominate your 2017.

NOT A PART OF IT - Don’t Let the Bastards Down (

Eugene, Oregon should be extremely proud of this trio of classic punk devotees. Not a Part of It explode with a fury that takes listeners back to late 70s without simply imitating the classics. There is nothing one cannot like about Don’t Let the Bastards Down if one’s preference is for stripped-down, raw punk played with a mixture of adrenaline and admiration for the greats. The blinding speed of “They Won’t Get Us”, “It’s Been a Crazy Week Weatherwise”, and “Mind Games” take the finest elements of the UK Subs, the Clash, and GBH and smash them into a perfect concoction of simmering disgust, while “Blood City” is a staggering homage to Johnny Thunders. Jason Burton snarls with a tangible frustration throughout the record, while Daylon Liles and Cody Lamb hold down the low end of bass and drums, respectively. However, like the aforementioned influences, NAPOI do not solely clutch to one delivery-the closing “Rollercoaster” rattles with a bouncing ska beat while “Contemporary Charismatic Criminals” borrows a rockabilly sensibility to provide a brief respite form the angst-fueled passion that makes Bastards so impressive. With a shout-out to The Pogues and lyrics about the reality of life on the road, the four-minute “Shotcaller” is a mature, supremely crafted effort that illustrates the vast talent possessed by these three. While NAPOI may clearly carry the torch of punk’s early, sweaty start, they are not resolved to living in the past, and that makes them an exciting band to watch.

CLEM SNIDE - You Were a Diamond (HHBTM Records

You Were a Diamond is a collection of beautiful Americana and folk-inspired tracks recorded all the way back in late 1996 into early 1997. That may not seem like all that long ago, but take a second to think about how different he world was twenty years ago. On second thought, do not do that. Instead, just enjoy eleven vividly descriptive efforts delivered in a heartfelt and heart-rending manner by Eef Barzelay. His voice has a rustic gruff that is tailor made for a storyteller such as himself. Barzelay’s skills as a raconteur are particularly obvious on “Nick Drake Tape” and “I Can’t Stay Here Tonight”. Simmering with emotion, the songs radiate passion and authenticity as Jeff Marshall’s bass work and Jason Glasser’s majestic strings accompany Barzelay on the particularly poignant “Uglier Than You”. Pete Fitzpatrck’s banjo takes control on Hank Williams’ “Lost on the River” and the country fried feel of the song is ideal. I have no idea what led up to this recording or what transpired following it, but it acts as a wonderful time capsule of when a gaggle of highly skilled payers came together and produced music that was honest and inspired. We need much more of this now.

MISS OHIO - White Hot: the Best of Miss Ohio (Pyrrhic Victory records

Miss Ohio is a very cool band worthy of celebratory discourse, but I have to begin with the clear vinyl seven inch that arrived. The record is square and was hand-cut by a single individual using machines that are more then seven decades old. With groves that are shallower than typical records, the slab of plexiglass came with numerous warnings about louder than average noise, poor volume, and potential damage to my turntable. This is gold for college radio geeks (like I was and continue to be), and one simply does not see this type of originality and attention to detail any more. In terms of the band, Miss Ohio plays down home guitar rock with a slight country-twang from a bunch of Jersey guys. David Wilson leads the way on guitar and vocals and his brusque style compliments the grove set down by Pietro Lorino on bass and drummer Brandon Loikits. Giving the band a little extra bite is the dual guitar threat of Ed Roessler and Jim Kaznosky, making for three guitarists in total. The sound of Miss Ohio is massive, even when they attempt to settle down the tempo. From the opening six minute voyage of “14” to the spacious bounce of “Simple Thing”, Miss Ohio reveals a variety of styles and musical approaches. The Pabst Blue Ribbon resting proudly on top of an amp on the cover of this record is fitting, for like the beer, there is nothing pretentious about what Miss Ohio does. This is a band that believes in forthright lyrics, consistent energy, and intricately constructed songs that are both adroitly performed but avoid unnecessary complexities. “The Last of your Kidnapped Brides” begins humbly and evolves into a majestic piano-kissed ballad, while “Day Job” hums with a gritty passion fitting of its moniker. With the antics involving their vinyl, I expect Miss Ohio to be a hipper than thou indie outfit aimed at the millennial crowd; instead I am treated to mature and articulate rock.

SKINNY GIRL DIET - Heavy Flow (HHBTM Records

With an album cover that is unapologetic and bold, Skinny Girl Diet is clearly not a band for which subtlety is a concern. This trio play 90s revival grunge punk with a healthy dose of cynical pop throughout the fourteen works on Heavy Flow. Singer/guitarist Delilah Holliday has a brooding voice that emanates disgust and frustration on “Okay” and “Fix Me” while sister Ursula (drums) and bassist Amelia Cutler hammer away with a steady low end. “Eyes That Paralyze” may never leave my head and is the stand out track from a record that has numerous infectious anthems. With a rousing chorus and innate sense of melody, “Eyes”, along with “Pretty Song” and “DMJ” mixes angst, lust, and aggression into a perfect swirling storm. Skinny Girl Diet generate intelligent, strong, and reviving modern grunge that are bathed in an ocean of fuzzy distortion that makes the tracks all the more engaging. Some may call for enhanced production, but the lo-fi aesthetic fits this band well and I love what they are doing. This is a great listen-period. (Sorry)


These four bands all hail from the New Brunswick, New Jersey area, and are a wonderful testimony to the wide array of diverse sounds to be found within the region. The A side is carried by Shadow Band and King Dwarves. Both acts are quite genteel with Shadow Band blending whimsical aspects into their psychedelic-flavored folk-tinged playing. “Blue Dreaming” has a metaphysical quality and is a lush and beautiful song. King Dwarves is heavy on the Americana with “Yoke/Sightline”, and their influences are slightly more directly displayed than those of Shadow Band. When one flips the record, the noise explosion begins. “Bleeding” from Quit is an instrumental mass of guitar squall masquerading as a song and it is my favorite of the bunch here. Steeped in chaos and fury, Quit sounds like the type of band that has the ability to tear a club apart as they clear the room. Human Adult Band would make a perfect touring partner with Quit, as “(if You Got) Worms on the Brain” is a dark, menacing effort with abrasive, angular rhythms. Muddy vocals are buried well within the mix, contributing the general unnerving quality of the song. While I enjoyed how this compilation began, I could listen to its B-side for hours.

SOUND AND SHAPE - Peasants (Mogul Boys Records

Sound And Shape turn back the clocks on Peasants, not so much in terms of musical direction, but through the fact that one can only get this via vinyl only. The boys have set aside digital components-no Bandcamp, Pandora, Soundwave, or the Alexa thing that is always secretly listening to you-in favor of a classic, direct to the people approach. This no frills methodology is reflective of the band, for the five songs are heartfelt, classic Americana-tinged rock. While the opening “Peasants” rumbles with aggressive guitar work from Ryan Caudle and Chris Hurst, the first single from the EP, “I’ll Still Reach the X”, features a massively harmonious hook and even a touch of slide guitar. The song’s ethereal nature contrasts superbly with the opener and only emphasizes the emotional depth of Caudle’s vocals. “Dandelion” begins with a similarly genteel nature, as Caudle’s lyrics hover effortlessly in the embrace of a warm riff before the song explodes into a cascade of majestic beauty, anchored by drummer Grant Bramlett and bassist Gaines Cooper. The foursome shifts fluently among various tempos to construct an expansive, yet intimate sounding track. “Patchwork Heroes” continues this trend of writing a sprawling chorus and the song rattles with a combination of vulnerability, frustration, and acceptance to make it a powerhouse of a song and my favorite of the five. The closing “People in Paper Planes” introduces itself with subtle feedback before giving way to a bouncy, bass-laden groove, incorporating a lighter, more free-wheeling nature. Sound and Shape balance this buoyancy with a fuzzy riff and an airtight low end. This Nashville-based outfit is touring throughout much of the first half of 2017 and hopefully all of Peasants is in the set list.


There are moments when the world desperately needs creativity, individuality, and the bravery to challenge a sense of impending doom. Traditionally, during times of repression and fear, music has acted as a a stalwart for expression and the rejection of narrow-minded extremism. Mama Coco’s - the recording studio and music collective - is one of America’s great treasures and Transmutations 8 captures the incredible expanse of talent that records inside its hallowed walls. Beginning with the controlled chaos of “Mister Dirty” from the legendary Dan McLane, the compilation is a wild ride of blues, rock, lo-fi noise, hardcore, post-everything you can imagine over 29 thrilling, at times exhausting, tracks. Mama Coco’s is a home for people who are motivated to make music simply for the love of music; the studio respects art and honors those who defy convention. These traits are certainly heard on scintillating works by the perennial geniuses The Harmonica Lewinskies (“Grateful Ducks”), the uproarious No Shoes (“Lizzie’s Sandbox”), the fuzzy Zebedee (“Fright”), and the awe-inspiring pop noise of The ’94 Knicks (“Don’t Worry”). Beauty abounds on “False Alarm” from Moon Crashers and “Black Sheets on a Queen” by The Jackal, a song that takes one back in time about forty years for some of the most sugar-fueled pop imaginable. The lo-fi punk of “Ghosts” by Max Kagan is one of my favorites, along with the haunting honesty of “Killin’ Time” by Logan X and the darker blues of God Tiny's "Lucid Blues." The hilarious groove of “Life Begins” by Goodman will make all who hear it smile, as Goodman discusses the very interesting manner in which people are created and what the experiences in the delivery room can be like for those just entering this world. I would also be terribly remiss if I did not mention the jokes about neck tattoos and other delightfully snarky commentary on “No Punk Rock in Bushwick” by a Jersey-loving troubadour by the name of Jim Testa. In short, there is more than something for everyone with nearly every conceivable genre covered here, but most importantly, this is a compilation in which each act is distinctive with an unimpressionable sound; to have this level of quality and uniqueness as the product of one art collective is extremely rare and the importance of MCFK should never be understated.

LOGAN X - The Uncanny Logan X ( /releases)

Recorded at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, there is tangible warmth to the noisy, heartfelt work of Logan X. Sam Braverman, Jeremy Kolker, and Brian Larue play a varied form of power pop infused with enough disjointed noise to appease those who like their chicken spicy and their music furious. The opening “The Quarry” escalates slowly with simmering musical dexterity and poignant lyrics. When Braverman emotes, “Wouldn't you like to take a ride with me/how will you live your life? /I bet you'd love to love a simple boy/who shows you the stars in every sky”, one cannot help but to be drawn into his melancholy world. “Kalispell” is a rollicking, infectious track with a huge hook and soaring backing vocals. It is the most traditional sounding of the four here, but that is by no means a knock-it is an unapologetically a huge pop song. “Killin’ Time” is a slower, self-deprecating effort that dissolves into a distortion-drenched conclusion, as Braverman admits how “I wrote another stupid song about a girl/with kind blue eyes, she longs for the mountains, but she’ll settle for Maine.” The closing “Cloisters” meanders with soft-spoken, haunting lyrics and a deeply engaging delivery. It’s airy, spatial expanse allows Braverman’s lyrics to hit with unadulterated force as he comes to recognize aspects about himself that can be difficult to reconcile:” I've got a great idea/why don't you give up the front?/you're just a little kid/maybe it's time for you to grow up”. Impressive from start to finish, Logan X is a great way to start 2017.

AIM HIGHER - Homemade (Rise Records

Wow, what year is it? Kevin Seconds returns with a four-song kick in the head EP as the leader of Aim Higher. The band’s name is a goal we all should have as we enter a new administration with more fears and questions than assurances, but the blazing speed of “For a Reason” is still tinged with the hope that Seconds’ always possesses in his music. Kevin Seconds sounds energized and focused on “Mouth of a Stranger”, and we notes that there “are brighter days ahead”, one can only trust he is right. “Homemade” has a vintage sound with a contemporary level of energy and “Strain on Your Generation” could find a home on the first side of Walk Together Rock Together. No one knows what lies ahead but the uncertainty is palpable, which means we need Kevin Seconds more than ever and it is great to have him back.

SPILL - Top Ten (No Sleep Records

As a guy who spent four years as a bleary-eyed college student in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it does my heart good to know that the Chameleon Club still rocks and that this great college town is still producing quality bands. Spill, however, goes far beyond just quality; this is a dynamic band that merges punk aesthetics with nervous post-hardcore energy to generate a dazzling collection of songs on Top Ten. “Can’t Keep Cool” opens the record with an infections chorus that bounces with a harmony that is inescapable and merely sets the table for the rest of the work. The driving guitar that carries ”Keep Coming” is compliments of Andrew Gelburd, and his playing is one of several notable highlights. Lead vocalist and guitarist Brandon Gepfer gave up a mundane professional life to commit everything he has to Spill, and the combination of enthusiasm and anxiety abounds on the fuzzy “”All Right” and the frantically kinetic “So Bright”. Bassist Rafael Diaz and drummer Marco Florey help “You Know it’s True” build upon itself until one feels as if the layers of the song may collapse; however, where Spill excels is the ability to create order from chaos and this particular track is their finest example. The huge hook of “Only One” and the heart-breaking storytelling of “Turn Around” are equally impressive as they embrace pop warmth through different styles. The latter is a more subdued version of the band that allows Gepfer’s tale of woe to truly impact the listener, while “Only One” is a pop-punk gem that is built to decimate a club. Now acting a full-time touring outfit, Spill is a band that deserves admiration and success. They have built a loyal following in the central Pennsylvania region, but Top Ten should make them a household name in 2017.

MIKE WATT - Ring Spiel '95 (Columbia Legacy)

Mike Watt’s 1995 Ring Spiel Tour has become an alterna-rock Woodstock-attended by a finite select few but as the years progress, millions tell the tale of being there. This is true not only due to the presence of one of America’s most influential and essential bassists, but also due to his incredible backing band. Highlighted by the presence of drummer William Goldsmith, Eddie Vedder and Pat Smear on guitar, and the multi-talented, still grieving and pre-Foo superstar Dave Grohl on guitar and drums, the fourteen tracks reverberate with the type of dynamics that only players of this caliber can produce. And this was not some cutesy one-off; this was Watt’s actual touring band, traveling in a van, sleeping in discount motels, and sweating it out for thirty-one legendary shows; this particular night illuminating the Metro in Chicago on May 6th. The highlights abound here, but the opening cover of Daniel Johnson’s “Walking the Cow” is a deceivingly genteel manner to begin a riotous fourteen song collection. Describing himself as “a child of the 70s”, Watt defers to Vedder on vocals for “Against the 70s” and the song gallops due to the baseball bat swinging fervor of Grohl and Watt’s thunderous bass. Later Vedder gave a furious performance of “Habit”, a year before it would make it’s appearance on Pearl Jam’s No Code, and Vedder concluded the song describing himself as a “child of the 90s”. Watt’s Ball-Hog or Tugboat is highlighted with “Big Train”, “Piss Bottle Man”, and “Chinese Firedrill” while fireHOSE fans get “Formal Introduction” from 1993’s Mr. Machinery Operator, and a devastating rendition of “Powerful Hankerin” plus two Minutemen classics in the form of “Forever…One Reporter’s Opinion” and “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing”. Every moment here is exhilarating and becomes even more intensified looking back upon what has transpired over the past two decades for the players involved. The collection of encores are enough to be a separate release on their own as the band attacks Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and the Black” as well as “Secret Garden”, a gloriously obscure Madonna deep track, harking back to Watt’s stint with Thurston Moore in Ciccone Youth. For those who are too young to remember or too old and struggling to not forget, Ring Spiel ’95 is a thrilling time capsule.

GUTTERMOUTH - New Car Smell EP (Rude Records

Guttermouth return with another collection of blisteringly quick, freewheeling punk with a truckload of hooks. These battled-tested veterans have never shied away from adding a touch of pop to their sound, and New Car Smell retains that quality, even on the blazing “Soundtrack to the End of the World”, a song that seems to take on more relevance with each passing day. While Guttermouth displays a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek sense of self-deprecating humor on “Spud-like Torso”, there is nothing funny about the intensity of “Perma Walkabout”. The latter rages with a hardcore tempo that kids half the age of Guttermouth’s members would struggle to maintain. “New Car Smell” is another punk-pop gem, and the EP’s most hypnotic effort. The ebb and flow of speed and fury allow Guttermouth to continually harness a distinctive sound without ever becoming stale. These guys are a great band and the punk rock universe is better whenever there is new Guttermouth available.

SONS OF THE VOID (Sunrise Ocean Bender

Featuring David Max (formerly of Psychic TV) and Nick Nobody, Sons of the Void gently enters the room with a delightfully unsettling noise collage to introduce “Leichenblume”. The song builds in energy but retains a psychedelic beauty throughout its run. Warm pop harmonies highlight the lush “Don’t Forget to Pray” as the guitar work features a haunting fragility. Subtle noise hovers over the listener throughout the track like a menacing cloud, and the juxtaposition between fear and beauty makes the song wonderfully enticing. Sons of the Void can perform luxurious music, but there is always an elusive darkness to their work. Even when the band embraces Beatles-esque qualities on “The Things We Wish”, the song absorbs the air in the room and one is left fully immersed in the band’s playing. “A Kick Like That” is a deft, sparkling kaleidoscope of sound that is both esoteric and instantly relatable. Sons of the Void have a distinctive approach and two members with immense talents; hopefully, that is enough for success.

TEMPER AND HOLD - The Speed of Travel (Grafton records

Andi Camp is amazing! The vocalist/bassist for Temper and Hold has a stunning voice and a dynamic range that carries The Speed of Travel. Temper and Hold is a three-piece from Portland, Oregon and the band plays heartfelt, emotionally captivating rock without frills but with scintillating nuance. Accompanying Camp in the rhythm section is Paul Johnson, a man who hits with tremendous force throughout The Speed of Travel, and helps to make songs like “Trainwreck” and the expansive “Some Will Say” two of the finest on a truly brilliant release. Jacob Depolitte rounds on the trio on guitar, and his work is most noteworthy on the opening “Midway Arcade” and the kinetic “Thick as Thieves”. However, Depolitte also helps to control tempo, as he does on the majestic “Angels”, a song that closes with delicate piano work from Camp. However, there is simply no avoiding the exploding star that is Andi Camp-she dominates “Fully Killed”; a song of impressive bass playing and immensely passionate vocals. On “Foreverlong”, Camp and her mates dial down the speed but not the emotional intensity as one hears the rise and fall of Camp’s voice to weave a masterful story. The closing “Eraser” opens with an ominous bass hook and soaring feedback from Depolitte, and once Johnson kicks in, the song becomes a furious exorcism of negativity, particularly when Depolitte adds his voice to Camp’s. Yet Temper and Hold still allow the song to slither seductively in between fits of fury, demonstrating the band’s penchant for mature songwriting. I do not know where I was when this band released their debut record in 2015, but I am thrilled that I found this.

CICADA RADIO - Drift Dream (Killing Horse Records

Stunningly beautiful and poignant, the music of Cicada Radio is equally melodic and ethereal while also possessing a power that is deceptively aggressive. The Keefe bothers, Pat on vocals and guitar with Mike on guitar, do not construct riffs but rather waves of sonic fore that envelope the listener on “Torture” and “Golden Sands Motel”, with the latter accented by more delicate playing woven within the larger, soaring hook. Pat’s voice fights at times to be heard above the fray, but this only emphasizes the energy and urgency he possesses. This is best heard on the bruising “Beach Funeral”, one of several efforts on which drummer Josh Bartsch and bassist Brandon J Barron simply erupt into a torrent of force that allows the band to define a new path for post-punk rage. When Cicada Radio shifts tempos, as they do on the title track and the luminary closer “Don’t Look Down”, there is a haunting beauty to the work that reveals an expert appreciation for sonic harmony that is out of the reach of many who attempt this style. Drift Dream has songs to which one can nod their hand, tap along, and even attempt to sing with, but ultimately, it is best to sit back and let the songs wash over the room. When Pat Keefe announces “Your face is all I dream of” on “Drift/Dream”, there is a raw, impassioned longing mixed with tender sentimentality, and this blending of emotion perfectly encapsulates the band’s music. I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s 2014 release Crime Waves, and it is remarkable to hear their growth since that last effort.

VOICE OF DOOM - Screams in Space (Pyrrhic Victory Recordings

I loved every fleeting second of this release, for there are not enough Misfits references to go around hare, and there is nothing wrong with that. Starting with the fact that Voice of Doom released a comeback record on Halloween in 2014 after a twenty-five year break and Screams of Space also saw a Halloween release, the nod to Jersey’s legendary horror-themed punks is heard on “Operator, Get Me The Police” and the blazing title track. However, Vice of Doom has much more going for them than just a fun-loving nature and Evilheim on vocals: “Alice, Sweet Alice” is truly creepy and includes a blisteringly smooth guitar assault from John Steele and Frankie Fender, while “Trilogy of Terror” completes this EP far more quickly than I liked. Even though a two year wait seems blazingly brief when compared to twenty-five years, I hope the guys in Voice of Doom can carve out more time for more material more quickly, as there is nothing to not like hare. Speedy, aggressive, and straight forward, this is my kind of punk.


SLOTHRUST - Everyone Else (Dangerbird Records

Slothrust’s members studied music together at Sarah Lawrence College and they bring an academic sophistication to their modern grunge. Vocalist/guitarist Leah Wellbaum is the centerpiece of each song, as her singing style can range from drone to soaring harmonies, and she excels at all styles in between. Her guitar playing is devastating on “Pseudo Culture” and “Horseshoe Crab”, with the latter featuring a wave of distortion that took me back to the early 90s. However, while there is a clear line back to the salad days of feedback and angst, Slothrust is not a band set on just reinventing the past. With elements of blues, punk, and even subtle Americana, the trio explores a myriad of styles on songs that are engrossing both musically and lyrically. Wellbaum’s haunting delivery of “everyone’s got a violent streak” in the gorgeous “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone” is the work of a wildly talented visionary, and the song is my favorite of the bunch. Bassist Kyle Bann and drummer Will Gorin provide a wall of force behind Wellbaum, and their impact is felt on the bluesy “The Last Time I Saw my Horse”. Whether it is the controlled fury of “Mud”, or the more punishing “Rotten Pumpkin” and “Trial and Error”, Slothrust has the ability to accent their introspection and contemplation with blasts of rattling power. The closing “Pigpen” has a subtle country twang in which Wellbaum admits “I would spread my wings if they weren’t so goddamn heavy” while the song erupts into a torrent of fuzzy guitar and rumbling low-end bombast. Now six years into their career as a band, Slothrust has certainly found an identity and are refining it to perfection.

THE ATTACK - On Condition (Paper + Plastick records

This Orlando outfit plays dynamic and highly harmonious punk with a hefty nod to classic Southern California sounds on their second full length. On Condition is a raring, continuous assault with “Call to Arms” acting as a perfect introductory track. The effort is indeed it’s a title-a song of hope and nostalgia, and when the chorus kicks in and demands that the band is “calling on you to sing along”, it is impossible to refuse. One song in and I am a fan, and the record continues to inspire on “These Days” and “Title Fight”, a pummeling combination of anthems celebrating the life of a punk band, the love of the music they play, and the perseverance to keep on striving regardless of life’s obstacles. Hopeful without ever sounding clichéd, The Attack has an infectious energy about them that makes all of On Condition a refreshing blast of classic punk. The huge “woahs” that kick off “The Reason” is straight out of Anti-Flag and a call to “start a revolution” is not about inciting violence but picking up a guitar and a couple of friends and starting an outlet for frustrations. This is a punk record for those who truly love music and appreciate how songs instantly connote memories and bring a person back to a place in time; not every memory is pleasant but The Attack command their listener to live without regrets. This is a band that strips away pretense for authentic passion and I can only hope these guys tour often and soon.

NGHTCRWLRS - Raging Hot (Sniffling Indie Kids Records

New Jersey’s Nghtcrwlrs have cleverly discovered how to used a common name without getting sued and they have equal aplomb at delivering 90s style indie rock with a great sense of humor. One does need to work too hard to grasp the good times of “Coffee and Weed”, and when “Quarter Inch Cable” begins, the listener may be shocked to discover where the aforementioned chord is located. The opening “Are Two Dee Too” begins slowly as the song embarks upon a steady ascension from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin style dreamy pop to a more aggressive demonstration of guitar force. “Disco Diva” revolves around a kinetic bass line and engaging lyrics to create a glossy pop song with real punch. My favorite of the bunch is “Rot”, a deliberate, supremely well-orchestrated slab of dark indie pop reminiscent of early Pixies-the song is equally engaging and unsettling and I love the ambient atmosphere. I do not know much about these guys, but if Sniffling Indie Kids likes what they hear then Nghtcrwlrs has my respect. It is easy to lump this band in with the legions of other acts engaging in a 90s revival, but the fuzzy tempo shift on “Lost Lizard” is more than homage to two decades ago; there is a true authenticity to Raging Hot that demands repeat listens.

TRANSIENCE - Skyward (

Guitarist and vocalist Damien Ellinghaus leads Long Island’s Transience and Skyward is a deeply personal journey across eleven expansive songs of hard-driving and expressive modern rock. The rhythm section of Jon Antonik on bassist and drummer Liuigi Rueda anchors the band and when combined with Ellinghaus’ skillful guitar acrobatics, Transience sounds much larger than a trio. There are a few nods to the Foo Fighters, but this is largely a distinctive sound heard throughout Skyward. “Wreckage” dissects the torment felt by Ellinghaus when Hurricane Sandy ravaged Long Beach, New York, and the five minutes of "But Have You Considered the Implications?" begins with a perfect sample and revolves around a bruising low end and searing riff. Proving that these guys have courage, they drastically alter gears on the haunting, genteel “Absent”, while “Peaking” adopts a dramatically lo-fi feel before erupting into a mass of swirling, controlled fury as Ellinghaus admits “my mind betrays me always/ It never ceases to amaze me how I can be so careless and vain, yet so deeply unsure of who I oughta be/ My life’s a vicious circle of co-dependencies”. Each track on Skyward includes various emotional turns and the songs sound as if Ellinghaus is working out issues while the listener sits in and observes from above. There is a daring openness on “Just This Once” which is balanced by an infectious groove with soaring vocals, but I believe the band truly excels when frustration boils over on “It’s Getting Old”, and the fury of “Xenophobe”. There is much to celebrate here from a young band improving with each release.




DEAD TO ME - I Wanna Die in Los Angeles (

Jack Dalrymple  is back in Dead To Me and this San Francisco outfit sounds complete once again. The three songs on I Wanna Die in Los Angeles begin with the roaring title track, a blend of raw guitar playing and Dalrymple’s impassioned but always harmonic yelps accenting Chicken’s grittier tones. The quick hit of “Tune it Out” does not quite match its’ predecessor in aggression but it is equally melodic and again features soaring vocals. The closing “Comforting the Disturbed and Disturbing the Comfortable” is only two seconds shorter than the first two tracks combined and this berating room truly allows Dead to Me to demonstrate the collective talent of the band. Easing off the gas in terms of speed and intensity, the song allows Chicken to reveal a truly warm voice, and while it is a departure from the screams to which fans are more accustomed, this is by no means a push-over of a track. The low end rumbles, the guitars murmur with energy, and Dalrymple’s signature voice still makes an imprint on the effort. For those looking forward to the next full length from Dead to Me should be increasingly excited.


Friends since middle school, the guys in Young Mammals play like war-hardened vets despite their youth. The playing on Jaguar is at times jangly and fun, best embodied on the title track, an effort that is an oddly sweet love song with slight sexual innuendo but also delightfully nerdy. However, “The Slight” has a darker, denser guitar tone reminiscent of the Pixies. Vocalist/guitarist Carlos Sanchez has an uncanny ability to deliver hushed vocals with immense power behind them, as “Mango Beach” and “Turfed” share these qualities. The musicianship is pristine and delicate but there is a potentially explosive force lying beneath the tranquility, and this juxtaposition of simmering intensity and reserved playing makes Jaguar an intriguing listen. There are qualities that are both instantly recognizable and wholly unique about Young Mammals, for the band channels the finest elements of indie rock when Jose Sanchez and Justin Terrell propel “Auroras” with an infectious kick of boundless energy, and ”Rat in the Summer” effuses pop harmonies and rhythms thanks to guitarist Cley Miller. “Heavenly” is just that-an atmospheric, dreamy escape of fragility and angst bound together through superior craftsmanship of a highly skilled bunch. Now on their third full length, Young Mammals are finding themselves as a band and Jaguar is the work of a band with immense street-level hype now ready for something bigger.

ONEIDA AND RHYS CHATHAM - What’s Your Sign (Northern Spy Records

What happens when one of the world’s most brilliant avant-garde guitarists crosses paths with an equally inventive, rocking anti-traditionalist outfit? Well, in addition to one’s head exploding, the result is the searing, cosmically shape shifting What’s Your Sign? Oneida and Rhys Chatham provide six songs of abrasive, exhilarating, noisy, unforgettable compositions that keep alive the hope that music can still reinvent itself as a collection genre of human expression. “You get Brighter” opens the EP with bursts of squalling noise that perfectly accent the rock structure of the song-this is the only time that a clearly discernable rock groove is heard and the song acts a wonderful introduction to a journey that becomes increasingly more challenging and illuminating as the record progresses. “Bad Brains” is more vicious and visceral in its assault with stop/start chaos and punk inspired force. Nothing about this combination of Oneida and Rhys Chatham is subtle or overly refined, and it is an enthralling musical voyage through the depths of powerful and imaginative visions. The free jazz elements introduced on “Bad Brains” makes the song my favorite, but eerie clam of “The Mabinogian” is equally devastating. There is a clear sense of controlled chaos apparent throughout the record as this is not music attempting to destroy all music, but it is looking to meld worlds together in new ways. What is spawned throughout What’s Your Sign? is intriguing, mystical, and hypnotic, and that is just “Well Tuned Guitar”. “A. Philip Randolph at Back Bay Station” also begins under a cloud of inconspicuous hush of woodwinds before developing into a churning monster of force. The concluding “Civil Weather” opens with what sounds like an orchestra tuning, and the din resonates throughout the song, perpetually keeping the listener in wait for a climatic release that does not arrive. The psychological manipulations of preconceived musical options are a series of masterstrokes by these indescribably gifted creators. Listening to this is akin to a majestic painting suddenly leaping to life, its colors and forms coagulating into one multi-textual explosion of sound and beauty. I understand that this type of limitless, anarchistic musical construct is not for everyone, but I can listen to this on an endless loop.

THE PERENNIALS (Brassland Records

Pete and Amanda Wells are a mid-twenties married couple who are also The Perennials and their music belies their age. Hauntingly, at times excruciatingly fragile, the five songs on this self-titled EP are beautiful and profoundly moving. Gorgeous vocals from Amanda Wells carry the finest moments here, particularly the stirring “Dirt” as she emotes a hymn-like chorus that is lavishly stirring. Driven by gentle piano and wonderfully constructed shared vocals, “Miss Marionette” is my favorite song here, but the collective splendor shines throughout. The closing “When the World Got Old” overflows with emotion and the song becomes increasingly sentimental when one imagines it sung from a husband to his wife (“You kept me company when there was nothing else to keep/ You kept me company when we were all alone”). Comprised of intricate harmonies and a supreme depth, the opening “Breadcrumbs” meshes indie pop with a choral atmosphere to blend two highly distinct worlds into one passionate anthem. This makes sense when one learns that these two are not contemporary hipsters raised in the shadows of the indie explosion who harnessed their sound in basements and small clubs, but rather the duo met at a Bible school in the Italian countryside and intermingle life stories of homeschooling, extreme religious devotion, international missionary work, and Johnny Cash. Powerful, lush, and positively impossible to ignore, the Perennials are remarkable.

GRAHAM REPULSKI - Re-Arranged at Hotel Strange (3 cassette set) (

There is the odd, the bizarre, the unique, and then there is Graham Repulski. Over the course of forty-one songs across three different releases (Re-Arranged at Hotel Strange, Contaminated Man, and Boy Lung), one is treated to noisy, lo fi experimentalism constructed by a twisted genius. The proficiency of Repulski is matched only by ingenuity as distortion, feedback, and tape hiss abound. The mock guitar solo of “Dick Kicker” embodies the anti-everything stance of a wildly imaginative creator. While many ideas are fleetingly short, often mere seconds- “Expressive Yarn”, “Lord Bunt” and “Crass Lullaby” are three of man favorites from Contaminated Man-others are allowed to become more fleshed out, highlighted by ”Wolfington War Memorabilia, Pt. 1”, an opus at 2:49. The gentle “Large Window Swim” is only the slightest hint of fuzz and hiss, while “Robin, Run” (both from Re-Arranged) has muffled vocals, reverb-laden guitar, and a veiled attempt at a more traditional song structure. “Ratburn” is unsettling through its fog of heavily effected guitar, and “Sandpaper Iodine” includes heavy tape loops, effects, and lyrics sung backwards, but “I’m (Gone with Pope) embodies the disjointed, challenging but ultimately thrilling ride Repulski provides. Contaminated Man has most of the longer tracks found within this collection, and “Theme from Short Circuit” is as close to a pop song as Repulski will come, but it is the work on Boy Lung that truly captivates me. With only one song lasting more than two minutes, and half of the tracks less than sixty seconds, Boy Lung can be heard as only a smattering of ideas, but the reality is that the record allows Repulski to put forth a multitude of songs that while brief, are fascinating. “It’s In”, “Every Man and His Dog”, and “Scissoring” are cut and paste bursts of sound that do not need further explanation. This is music for true unconventional conventionalists, and if the people you call friends do not like this, get better friends.

THE DEAN WEEN GROUP - The Deaner Album (ATO Records

Dean Ween is a name synonymous with brilliantly quirky, delightfully askew music and The Deaner Album continues that proud tradition. The opening track is a tribute to Dickie Betts, wisely titled “Dickie Betts” with a clear nod to “Rambling Man”. “Exercise Man” is classic Ween comedy making fun of the “douche” out jogging and keeping himself in shape. It is great to see that even after thirty years of knocking around in the warmth of the underground, Ween has not abandoned his sense of humor. There are four instrumentals on The Deaner Album and one is “Schwarz Pete”, another ode to a guitar legend, this time in the form of Les Paul. For those who remember Ween’s contribution of “Ocean Man” to the SpongeBob Squarepants Movie soundtrack, “Schwarz Pete” could be its cousin with a thunderous classic 50s surf vibe. With “I’ll Take it and Break It”, “You Were Here”, and the low-end driven “Bums”, Ween takes a step forward as a modern Zappa, playing a myriad of styles with equal skill and peppering his genius with sophomoric yet biting lyrics. Much of The Deaner Album could be viewed as an Apostrophe for a new generation, perhaps best embodied by the closing “DooDoo Chasers”, with its clean guitar playing and soaring atmospheric layering. Ween’s guitar playing is sterling and his proficiency with both leads and rhythm deserves more admiration. Recorded in Ween’s own studio, hidden deep in the woods of Western New Jersey, the record sounds like a loose jam session among friends as “Nightcrawler” slinks along with a sludgy flair before “Mercedes Benz” introduces a Parliament-Funkadelic groove and horns into the mix. Most people struggle to produce any work of merit when they exist in a realm without rules, but for people with the creative vision of Dean Ween, a world without boundaries is the only environment in which they will thrive and The Deaner Album proves that. Each song is highly unique and the eclectic combination of tones, players, and styles meshes into a record that is perfect for a party with hundreds of lunatics or simply driving alone. I will say this proudly-Dean Ween is a national treasure.

AGAINST ME! - Shape Shift With Me (XTra Mile Records

Against Me! may be garnering attention for Laurie Jane Grace’s gender transition but her personal quest for contentment should now no longer be the first topic one thinks of when discussing this band. Shape Shift with Me is a record of extraordinary musical depth, obvious growth, and poignant emotion that offers a collection of intimant examinations of life’s emotional challenges. On “Boyfriend”, “Lie to me/Right through me” is snarled over the top of a throbbing bass line from Inge Johansson as Grace asks, “What happened to us?” It can be difficult to entirely separate Grace’s personal life from the music of Against Me!, and I struggle to reconcile if I am being overly simplistic in doing so, or does her transition act as vast tableau for the explosive passion one hears on Shape Shift. Regardless of how may approach the record, the energy put forth by the band is incredibly impressive. James Bowman is a tragically underappreciated guitar player and Atom Willard’s drumming resume is beyond reproach. On “Delicate, Petite & Other Things I'll Never Be" , Grace declares “I want to be more real than all the others” and the song rattles with a burning intensity. A similar combination of fury and beauty is heard on “333”, a song inspired by some free time in the Guggenheim art museum. The latter portion of Shape Shift has two of the finest moments of the record-“Dead Rats” is a scathing assault, and the refrain of “Shallow graves for all dead rats/I like the dark clouds the best” strikes me as especially significant. “Rebecca” is the most angst-infused love songs ever written about not wanting to fall in love. When Grace roars “I just want to grab you by the skull-Rebecca kiss me-let’s not fall in love”, a furious mixture of passion, fear, and lust converge into a dynamic climax. Against Me! Is a band that has been on my radar but not an act to which I paid extraordinary attention, but that changes now.

ALPHA HOPPER - Last Chance Power Drive (One Percent Press

Despite the title, there is nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen on this debut from a Buffalo, New York band of limitless promise. With a noisy, jagged song structure, Alpha Hopper takes the best moments of anarchistic indie punk and smashes them together with sophisticated hardcore intensity. Irene Rekhviashvili has a voice of a furious goddess-bold, fearless and massive in scope-and she is the focal point of a highly talented band. John Toohill, Ryan McMullen, and Douglas Scheder create swirling, densely constructed grooves that envelope the vocals and provide a tremendous wall of force against which Rekhviashvili can bounce her voice. The edgy, jarring “Black Stars” still retains an undeniable groove, while “8 5 3 15” takes Fugazi’s blueprint and injects a weirdness a la early Locusts to formulate a three minute slice of brilliance. When Rekhviashvili declares “I like it here” on “Launch Pad Blues”, it is more unsettling than comforting, and that reflects the overall tone of the record. Alpha Hopper continuously demands the listener’s full attention as the songs weave and crawl through numerous forms of aggressive punk. “Unruly Jane” updates the riot grrl sound for a new generation, and “No Face” is Screaming Females run through a post-punk meat grinder. If one looks at the best selling singles in this country it is easy to feel depressed, but Alpha Hopper makes me feel like the kids may actually be alright.

DOWNTOWN BOYS s/t (One Percent Press

More chaotic and unhinged than Gillette Stadium after a last-second Patriots win, Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys may be the future of punk rock. Originally released in 2012 and gobbled up by a small group of truly fortunate, forward-thinking fans, the ten blasts of X-Ray Spex style fury is highlighted by the force of nature that is Victoria Ruiz. Screeching, screaming, and railing like Kathleen Hanna at her most perturbed, Ruiz is the centerpiece of a band that thrives on disorder. Everything the Downtown Boys do is done with limitless intensity, and while the songs rarely stretch beyond two and half minutes, their impact is immense, particularly “Maldito”, a song that Ruiz carries triumphantly. The ubiquitous horns from Emmett Fitzgerald and Will Cioffi do more than add a little spice to this mix-they are as integral to the sound of Downtown Boys as Joey DeFrancesco’s guitar or the low end bombast of drummer Norlan Olivio and bassist Dan Schleifer, and the sax playing shines on “Poderimo Rok” and “No Pity for Boredom”. The gang vocals on “Life Ain’t Fair” and the bass line of “Rich Boys” are two more stellar moments that prove how the Downtown Boys also have an ear for rhythm in the midst of their madness. The listen is never given a respite form the anger and power of this band, and after the completion of “Big Cop”, the Downtown Boys leave smoldering piles of ash in their wake. Being a Rhode Island native myself, nothing makes me smile more than to be able to claim this band as a product of a state whose musical contributions are too often overlooked-there is no way to ignore Downtown Boys.


ST.LENOX - 10 Songs About Memory and Hope (Anyway records

Andrew Choi is St. Lenox and his soaring voice is juxtaposed with minimalist playing, particularly on the opening “I Still Dream of the 90s” as Choi references Kosovo, a blue dress, making “a mixtape from the ashes of the radio”, and his flying car. Actually, 90s references seem to be on Choi’s mind quite a bit here, as he name-drops the Gin Blossoms of all bands on “You can be Young Again”, a song of beautiful optimism tinged with a crushing sadness. That is the greatest skill of St. Lenox: Choi is able to be wildly emotive through vividly descriptive language that merges hope, love, sadness, and heartbreak into a swirling journey. The keyboard laden tracks, highlighted with simplistic programmed beats are merely crude tableaus for the stories spun by Choi with masterful precision. “That Old Time Religion” features a clean, sharp guitar solo that drops out for a soulful, R&B laced groove, while “It’s Better Than That” continuously asks questions about youth and innocence (“You thought you’d be the president?/You though you’d be a rock star?”). The more I hear of 10 Songs, the more I become drawn in to the nostalgia and whimsical nature of Choi’s writing. The sweet loneliness of “You’re Not Here” is heartbreaking in a self-deprecating way, while “Just Friends” tenderly examines the failure of a relationship with bold poignancy and self-awareness (“You could never understand why I never stopped to smell the roses/I could never hold my tongue and you could never hold your liquor”). The finest moment arrives with the powerful “Bitter Pill” as Choi again demonstrates an uncanny ability to say volumes with one unassuming image-in this case it is a picture on a refrigerator door, as he says, “a silly little gift for me /I kept the drawing to confirm that you were still with me”. I am stunned by how much I came to enjoy 10 Songs, as St. Lenox feels like a secret that I stumbled upon and can keep only for myself, but sadly, I know someday everyone will be in on this.


Few things are guarantees in life but one of them is that anyone associated with the Swans is a musical genius, and Thor Harris embodies that. Thor and Friends is a sprawling landscape of soothing, avant-lush percussion and arrangements that defy labels other than gorgeous. The use of a warehouse’s worth of instruments is heard on this self-tiled EP with “Crusades” and “Slow Prisoner” among my favorites. Vibraphone, xylophone, and tubular bells only begin to name the instruments Harris contributes, and while an array of players makes up his “Friends”, including John Dieterich (of Deerhoof), Jeremy Barnes, Raven Chacon, and Heather Trost, the outfit is primarily a trio with Harris supported by Peggy Ghorbani and Sarah “Goat” Gautier. Together, the nine meandering and mesmerizing tracks gently traverse a fragile and bucolic soundscape, alternating between experimental dynamics and soothing, meditative repetition. The songs each posses a vibrant life, often hovering wistfully with ethereal wind instruments accented by precise bells and percussion. This can be befuddling at times for the uninitiated listener (i.e. me), but ultimately one surrenders to the welcoming comfort of “12 Ate” and “Lullaby for Klaus”. By the time the fleeting “Thirsty Camel” slides past, it is impossible to not be captivated by the collective works of a limitlessly talented and creative force in the form of Thor Harris.

KNOCKED LOOSE - Laugh Tracks (Pure Noise Records

This Kentucky five piece delivers furious hardcore with a tangible metal edge. The arms and spin-kicks will fly during the breakdowns on “Blood Will Have Blood” and I would not want to the band that follows Knocked Loose on the bill, for their energy is limitless. “Deadringer” is the first release from laugh Track and it’s combination of raw, unhinged rage and thick riffs make it a perfect introduction. With gang vocals, swirling tempo shifts, and an appreciation of good hooks, Knocked Loose may be vicious but they are not blindly flailing. These kids have the ability to formulate intelligent song structures that move as a story-usually the tracks launch themselves at the listener before ebbing and flowing over the course of roughly three exhausting minutes. “My Heroes” has a thunderous low end compliments of bassist Kevin Otten and drummer Pacsun, and audiences will undoubtedly scream the phrase “all my heroes went to hell” until their throats are bloodied and hoarse. Vocalist Bryan Garris is all I look for in a hardcore singer-he is authentic, wildly expressive, and does not try to be anything more than what he is. He voice suits the band perfectly and while he has the pipes for clean sounding vocals, his guttural, enraged yelp carries each track. Guitarists Isaac Hale and Cole Crutchfield are a devastating duo throughout Laugh Tracks, but “Counting Worms” and “A Fetish” are my two favorite demonstrations of their talent. Knocked Loose has demonstrated incredible growth as musicians since their inception in 2013 and laugh Tracks is a collection of intelligent hardcore that is also unrepentant in its fury.

THE REFUSERS - Wake Up America (

While the title may smack of the alt-right, The Refusers launch a blistering attack upon the coma-educing state of music and the news industry on Wake Up America. It is clear on “Hang the Bankers” and “Who is The World For?” that Michael Belkin and his mates are not pleased with the status quo and declare war upon wage inequality and the domination of all aspects of American culture by the ultra-elite one percent. One may expect an onslaught of nihilistic punk fury, but rather, The Refusers throw a number of off-speed pitches throughout Wake Up, from the jazzy “You Won’t Read It in the New York Times” and swing of “Bubble People” to the slow-burn blues of “Go Back to Sleep”. However, the band is at their sharpest when the amps are loud and the groove is laden with a heavy-footed distortion pedal, particularly on “Backlash”. The Refusers embodies their name for they blatantly refuse to adhere to any one musical style, as “American Dream” sounds like something from a Springsteen B-side, while “2 Big 2 Fail” features intricate percussion and a borderline funk-inspired undertone. Perhaps even more engrossing than the music is the backstory of the man responsible for it: Michael Belkin made his fortune on Wall Street but abandoned the world of high finance in exchange for a home studio and authenticity as a person. His lyrics will resonate with those who adhere to the messages that have come to light via Donald Trump’s somewhat garbled Populist stance, Bernie Sander’s dream of a financially fair America, and Gary Johnson’s desire to alter the traditional two party choice. The closing acoustic “Professor Friedman’s magic Money Contraption” rings with the truth of a 60s protest anthem with a dreamy, headspace sound and richly sarcastic lyrics. The chaos inspired by the 2016 election is expressed with great clarity on Wake Up America and the record channels a multitude of styles to convey a clear message of disgust with America as she currently exists. The real question for the Refusers and for the rest of the U.S is will anything change? Cynically, the answer is most likely a resounding no, but Belkin and his friends make a great soundtrack to the political apocalypse.

SAT.NITE DUETS - Air Guitar (Father/Daughter Records

The American heartland is an interesting place-an amalgamation of honesty, kindness, and also darkness. Milwaukee is the city that can credit Sat. Nite Duets as its own, as this is the city that was both the backdrop for the fictional innocence of Laverne and Shirley and the real-life horror of Jeffrey Dahmer. Air Guitar is a classic indie rock album in the sense that there is a distinctive sound but Sat. Nite Duets also refuses to adhere to one particular genre; instead, the band has the courage to interject a variety of influences to construct a warm record of earnest pop. “Annie X” features gentle piano and hushed vocals about “a crucifix on your wall”, yet the opening “Attached to the Lamp” is an energized, Guided by Voices-style gem. The guitar work is speedy and the lyrics are sardonic and if one closes his/her eyes, one can be transported back to the early 90s. “St. Yuppie” has a straightforward rattle that shakes with nervous kinetic energy while injecting wonderfully fuzzed-out guitar playing into the mix. “Two Birds” and “Sober June” both feature beautifully delicate vocals, clearly influenced by the most ethereal of Beatles moments, that emphasize the glorious storytelling that happens throughout Air Guitar. The record has a fun-loving recklessness about it best heard on the bouncy “Country Worm”, yet Sat. Nite Duets have clearly labored to refine their unique approach to pretentious-free rock. “Manny D” is a classic rollicking effort with an infectious hook that would be the envy of Rivers Cuomo, Frank Black, and a legion of others. Sat. Nite Duet has all the makings of a true cult act-this is the band whose fans are delightfully rabid while others look on in appreciation but may not be able to fully comprehend what is happening.

THE BURNSIDE PROJECT - Syntax and Semantics (Bar None Records

The Burnside Project, a long defunct electro-pop trio, has released their shelved third record Syntax and Semantics for a free download on Bar-None Records as part of that label’s thirtieth anniversary. For some, this may generate a shrug of the shoulders, but do not simply write this off as an early twenty-first century artifact; this is a collection of smart, mechanized music delivered with a sense of raw humanity. “You Only Call” finishes that thought in the chorus with “when there’s something wrong” and the vocal delivery of Richard Jankovich is instantly enthralled and gut-wrenching. The gentle repetition of “Quicksand” is infectious and “We Are Not Heroes” embraces 80s nostalgia through the use of a vintage Casio CB 101 keyboard that resonates a tangible warmth. Jankovich once said that he envisioned the sound of The Burnside Project as “Pavement remixed by Fatboy Slim”, and thatim dream is brought to life on “Phalse Profit”. What makes the story of The Burnside Project interesting and I believe documentary worthy is the fact that they are light years ahead of their time. If Syntax was released today, it would raise eyebrows of intrigue and smiles of delight-this was 2016 played in 2004. One could sign deeply and mourn for Burnside Project as the musical equivalent of a roadside wreck that is driven by without garnering much attention, but Syntax and Semantics deserves a second listen with a fresh set of ears and a new appreciation for bands of this style. Blending electronic grooves with flesh and blood musicianship requires a delicate touch and The Burnside Legacy have a sound that should have made the band bigger than simply their huge reception in Japan. (This not a cliché-The Burnside Project were indeed truly huge in Japan) I do not know if Richard Jankovich and his mates have any plans to reassemble but if there was a time in which Syntax and Semantics would earn the acclaim it deserves, it is now.

K-MAN AND THE 45s (Stomp Records

Roaring out of Montreal comes K-Man and the45s. This Canadian touring juggernaut plays ska in various forms always accompanied by driving rock riffs and a punk-infused attitude. “They Gotta Know” is a classic ska anthem displaying the wondrous talent of Josh Michaud and Sebastian Fournier on trombone and trumpet respectively, while “Poppy’s Back in Town” has a sleek, pop-kissed sensibility that is reminiscent of latter-day Rancid. What makes K-Man and the 45s engaging is that they are willing to have a lot of fun and tell stories that are charming and light-hearted. “Piece of the Action” is a rollicking, swinging party anthem with the advice of “live it up now/were all gonna die”. The record also has “Space Thriller”, a ska War of the Worlds, and the tales of “Road Rage Randy” and “Johnny Thumbs”. “Randy” takes a potentially serious topic and makes it laugh out loud funny with a refrain of “he’s a Jerk” set to a 1950s rock vibe while “Johnny Thumbs” has the finest groove on the record. “This Moment” has an initial splatter of surf influence before effortlessly switching gears and injecting a subtle blues element into the song. K-Man and the 45s complete their third full-length release with “What’s Inside a Girl”, a track with a brilliant turn of phrase, relentless energy, and swirling ska intensity. I usually tire of most ska acts after three of four songs, but K-man and the 45s have a rare ability to differentiate themselves from other bands of this ilk by experimenting with their sound under a larger ska umbrella. They always stay true to the tenors of the genre but do so in consistently creative ways.


Painted Zeros is the Brooklyn-based one-woman project of Katie Lau and the three song EP Daylily is stunningly beautiful. Like the flower for which it is named, the EP is fleeting and delicate. The opening “III.BRarms & KyrKeGuard, B Major” features gentle waves of noise and hum broken fleetingly by inconsistent shards of sound in a swirling collage in which the muted vocals only add to the ethereal nature of the work. “Love Triangle (I was Jolene)” is a more structured anthem, and there is clearly a nod to 90s indie pop as Lau’s majestic voice is given far greater room to move. The song also includes a rhythm section that has an understated force and strength that gives the song an unexpected kick. Closing with “Beyond a Chemical Reaction”, Lau returns to her hushed, fragile vocal delivery, this time accented by strings as graceful as her voice. The song fades out as wistfully as it entered. This three-song release is my introduction to Painted Zeros, and if the same holds true for you, check out her debut release that came out last year on Don Giovanni.

THE UPPER CRUST/THE GRANNIES - Lords and Ladies (Saustex Records

I have long believed that rock n’ roll should be fun; therefore, whether a band wants to don make-up and call themselves a “demon” or a “star-child”, or if grown men select to dress like aliens from outer space hell-bent on destroying Earth, I’m all for it. Rock n’ roll should also be really loud. If you subscribe to these beliefs then Lords and Ladies, a spilt release from The Upper Crust and The Grannies, is just what you need. The Upper Crust is Boston’s hard rock version of Downton Abbey, as the band dresses like 18th century nobles, and despite looking proper, their songs reflect the debauchery of that era. “Highfalutin’” and “Person Non Grata” are meaty pieces of 70s hard rock-unapologetic in its bombast and replete with undeniably catchy hooks. The Upper Crust wants the listener to remember the songs and go back to listen again; they are not hung up on technical displays to dazzle people, and that is what helps make them great. “Rabble Rouser” will not leave my head for weeks and “Bleed Me” demonstrates that under their powdered wigs are fiercely committed musicians.
The Grannies have a more punk-tinged edge than the Upper Crust, and Jack Endino brilliantly directs their sound. The thick, grunge-fueled “Milchblut” and “Skylab” are punishing in nature and the two highlights for me. Yet, the band can surprise some and, like the Upper Crust, may be unconventional, but “Stone Fruit” proves how well they can play. The speedy, ultra-catchy effort also includes a harmonica performance that is highly unexpected but fits perfectly within the track. These two bands are touring together and my advice is that if they are within five states of your house, go see them.


The first track on the new Heroes of Toolik record is titled “Perfect” and appropriately so, as Like Night is a flawless display of refined musicianship and instrumental grace. The band is a collection of extraordinary talents with astonishing resumes. If you do not know who Arad Evans, Ernie Brooks, or Billy Ficca is, stop trimming your hipster beard and do some research! The core of the Heroes are individuals who defined post-punk, but I am willing to bet that they are not interested in stories about their luminous pasts, especially as Like Night aims to rework contemporary rock. The expansive guitar work woven into the otherwise dream-like atmosphere of “8 Miles” makes the track instantly mesmerizing. Jennifer Coates’ vocals are heartbreakingly beautiful and the song drifts effortlessly, enveloping the listener in an embrace that is somehow both comforting and menacing. John Speck’s trombone nicely accents the creative pop hooks on “Something Like Night” as Coates again demonstrates her storied vocal prowess. A second ideally titled track, “Warm”, hears Speck shine brilliantly as the expanse of the panoramic instrumental opens before the listener. The concluding two minutes of the song introduces a shift in tempo that gives the illusion of being two songs within one. The jazz-inspired swing of “Blind Man” is a highlight, along with the subtle Americana flavoring sprinkled throughout “Say Virginia”. With all due respect to the sincerity one hears within Evans’ voice, I am partial to the stunning harmony of Coates’ contributions on “Again”, as she places the song on her shoulders and carries it on top of a lush tableau constructed by Speck. Coates and Evans share the responsibilities on “Crazy Doll” as two master storytellers weave a captivating tale while gentle guitar acrobatics and ghostly horns cascade about them. The closing “You Will Not Follow” begins with fragile chimes that give way to a work of complex, multi-layered pop. The effort starts and stops several times, including a reintroduction of the chimes that portray a delicate vulnerability that, like all of Like Night, can only be performed by remarkable players at the height of their mastery.

CINEMECHANICA (Hello Sire Records

Cinemechanica play noisy, chaotic, and delightfully exhausting music. None of this is surprising when one learns that guitarists Bryant Williamson and Jordan Olivera, bass player Joel Hatstat, and drummer Mike Albanese are under the production guidance of Kurt Ballou, a man who knows how to harness angular force into a remarkably infectious din. While the opening “Hang Up the Spurs” explodes at the listener, I am completely taken in by “Vietnamese Pool Party”. The title alone will garner attention, but the blissfully abrasive playing juxtaposes raw, searing fury with intricate precision in a dazzling display of twisted brilliance. While “Blood Ties” and “I Ain’t Getting’ Shot in Louisville” bring similar energy, it is the darker, meandering “Trenches” that demonstrates a broader grasp of tempo shifts and rhythmic structure. “The Battlefields of Cajamarca” is a roaring instrumental led by the guitar work of Williamson and Olivera. The song quivers and shakes with an abundance of strength. Riffs abound on “Mike Whites Spies” as well, while the concluding “Biblical Noise” continues the flood of devastation, leaving the listener spent and immensely satisfied. One may have to sleep this off for a while.

SO COW - Lisa Marie Airplane Tour (Tall Pat Records

When Brian Kelly demonstrates his keen eye for the world on “What Makes a Man Start Gorse Fires?” as he describes “watching rich kids wrestle on a yacht” and “reading a book about Richard Nixon…maybe this is the version where he wins”, he wins me over instantly. Almost all of the twelve tracks by So Cow, Kelly’s one-man project, is guitar-fueled, pop-laced indie rock. The lo-fi goodness of “Captain of Industry” and “Westerly Direction” have qualities that artists from Kurt to Jack White would appreciate. With elements of jazz and improvisational noise thrown in for good measure, Kelly proves to be a daring experimental scientist. He even dials up 60s sugar on “At Home” and allows his vocals to soar mightily on “Something or More”. There is a childlike innocence on “Batman, Tonight” as the protagonist admits how “I will tell you what I think of you when I get the wording right”. A similar brazen vulnerability is exposed on “The Invigilator” as well, but Lisa Marie Airplane Tour concludes with a bluesy, more sophisticated effort in the form of “Half Past”. At times, So Cow can sound a bit uneven, but for those who revel in unique indie pop, Brian Kelly may be a hidden gem.

GREAT APES - California Heart (Asian Man Records

Asian Man has been an impressive label for a long time now and part of their continued relevance and success is the ability to release music like that of Great Apes. On the surface, the work on California Heart is angst-fueled punk-pop, but there is a depth to the lyrics and a passion to the vocals of Brian Moss that transcends the typical punk-pop label. The ten songs on California Heart tell heartbreaking tales of loneliness, alienation, and isolation but there is a resiliency and an uncanny ability to see through ignorance and misplaced priorities that should offer hope to those experiencing these same feelings. The title track includes this worldview: “maybe we’re just a chemical mess brought here on a comet from the sky/the failed experiment of an accident-maybe we’re just born to die”. Uplifting? No, but certainly sophisticated. This is not a record that will have people burying their heads in their hands and planning for surrender-instead, Great Apes are adroitly emphasizing the banality of most lives and that, in its own unique way, I find inspirational. On “Bullard Hex”, we are introduced to the sad events of a Halloween party in which the protagonist is “banished to the basement with the freaks”. Ultimately, a bottle of alcohol, an escape from cops, and a vomit-filled dresser drawer concludes the evening. “Brown Dots” is brilliantly funny with its uncanny ability to point out the most finite of details, such as the “Pantera Shreds” slogan adorning the “black Jansport” of the kid from whom a solid drug score was procured “before first period”. This is teen angst with an injection of humor as each of us can at least imagine what it would be like to be completely removed from the world during math class or listening to the “buzz of the bees” while lying in the grass. The speedy “Prom Com” is blazingly fast punk attack that just as scathingly rips those using online services searching for acceptance and validation. While “The Escapist” has a dark message, even its sense of despair is tinged with glorious beauty: “When I’m gone, you’ll forget me/Frankly that’s alright/You’ll be sleepwalking here in the cogs and the gears/While I’m exploding in the light”. California Heart will either stir up old unpleasant memories or remind some of the current state of misery that is usually high school and the start of adulthood. However, if one is going to suffer the pain and humiliation that often accompanies those years, this is the best soundtrack to have as a support group.

RED TEETH -Light Bender (GTG Records

The Andrews Brothers, Ryan and Rael, have kept Red Teeth going forward in one form or another since the early 2000s. The two have tolerated numerous changes within the band and they even shelved the project for half a decade, but they are back with a four-song EP of fuzzy and energized guitar rock. The opening “Light Bender, Sound Bender” is lengthy journey through space and time. Balancing spatial ambiance and guitar dynamics, the song is a perfect introduction to those, like me, who are new to Red Teeth. “Tas Pappas” is both much more brief and more aggressive then its predecessor, and slightly more focused as well. A singular, driving riff carries the effort and while it is less angular in nature, it remains an impactful song. “134 MPS” features a sonic force that ebbs and flows around a bass-heavy structure. The guitar work sounds as if it was flown in from another dimension. Ryan Andrews shines on “Elephant Graveyard”, as soaring vocals mesh with intricate time sequences. Distinctive and intricate without becoming byzantine in nature, gather your more daring friends and check this out.


Wild Tinderbox describes themselves as a “hard rock band from Austin”, and in today’s world that takes some guts. There is no hyphen when they describe their sound-no sub-genre, no myopic restriction about the style of music they deliver and that makes the five songs here very refreshing. Wild Tinderbox is indeed an old fashioned, hard rock band, blending speedy blues riffs, some grungy distortion, and some metallic bursts of power. “Lava Surfing” does rightfully have a surf-tinged riff, but the drumming of Brad Whitfield propels the song along a furious path. “Back for the Attack” channels Montrose, Blue Oyster Cult, and Thin Lizzy into one sweaty 70s rock stew. Jay Ziegler’s guitar work is commanding but does not overpower the song, allowing for both his vocals and Mike Prosser’s bass line to be properly represented. “Lost in Space” turns down the feedback and fuzz for a cleaner sound and by doing so reveals the amiable nature of this trio. The song bounces with a vibrancy that is then matched on the concluding "Race to the Moon". My favorite of the bunch, “Race to the Moon” dips into Sabbath territory for a thick low-end rumble and dense groove. Right now, Wild Tinderbox is a local Austin act driving the highways of Texas, but I do hope these guys are heard by the right set of ears because there is something here.

MODERN COLOR - Chromesthesia (Open Door Records

Modern Color’s record is perfectly titled as Chromesthesia is a condition in which sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke a experience of color, and if that is the case, I am going to venture that red would be a common vision here. Do not confuse this Redondo Beach act with a Philly band that adopts the European spelling of “color” with that misplaced and unnecessary “u”, for these guys are a tribute to great American intensity. It is very difficult to find much information about the members, but the mysterious nature of Modern Color only makes them more fascinating as one is bombarded by, in their words, “a fresh perspective” on modern rock. Never quite metal but far too energized for shoegaze, an effort such as “New Motion” is massively dynamic in scope while “Shade” has a controlled burn to it. “Habitual Pain” creates a path followed by many of the songs here, as there is a slow, nervous build up before the track finds itself locked into a slick, bass-heavy groove accented by rugged, throaty vocals. “Low” begins rather innocuously with a straight-ahead riff and a subtle, dream-like quality that then quickly steps aside another explosive vocal demonstration and pummeling musicianship. The schizophrenic nature of “Vibrating Body” makes it a centerpiece of this debut and a staggering jab to the body before the devastating headshot of “I’m Not Part of It”. The closing “Indigo Vision” is the band’s most mature and accomplished piece and acts a perfect conclusion to powerful introduction.

SKITTISH ITZ - Back to reality (Hidden Home Records

Who knew ska could come from Idaho? Proving that there is much more to the state than its “famous potatoes”, Skittish Itz unveils their farewell in Back to Reality. The guys, who have been kicking around for a while now, play fast, fun punk in roughly two minute spurts. The lyrics are personal and range from frustrations about work (“CDL Class B”), to healing relationships (“Fishbowl”), to the hilarious “Midlife Crisis Man” who has a “fresh new wife and a hot rod minivan”. Along the way, there is also a lighthearted shot at today’s youth in “Hungry, Hungry, Hipsters”, and the witty, sarcastic “Sccred Again”. In this effort, our protagonist is both fascinated by, and afraid of, the dark and is sadly, “thirty-five and can’ t distinguish fact from fiction/That might explain your constant Bigfoot obsession”. The speedy “Eighties Baby” takes the listener through what it is like to assist a birth in DeLorean, and the band exits on a high note with the farewell “The Inevitable Pause”. Through some research, it is obvious that Skittish Itz are regional giants and it is too bad that they did not become a broader national name. However, rather than toiling in complete anonymity, Back to Reality will please fans and old new for a long time and keep the legacy of this band alive.

TOY CARS - Sleeping Patterns (Counter Intuitive/Sniffling Indie Kids Records

Sleeping Patters is the second EP in barely two years of existence for Toy Cars, and the five songs demonstrate a dynamic range for this band. Toy Cars is led by guitarist/vocalist Matt Debenedetti and his vocals boldly kick off the opening “Bjork”. Fellow guitarist Lucas Dalakian is a perfect balance to Debenedetti as the two construct a very modern sound while still paying homage to 2000s stalwarts such as Brand New or Taking Back Sunday. “Books” rattles with a classic guitar hook and is the most infectious of the anthems here. Effortlessly, the band strips down to acoustic bare minimums on “Dull”, which is the antithesis of its title. Rather then feeling forced, the more reserved nature of the song merely allows for Toy Cars to present another weapon in their collective musical arsenal before returning to a more familiar strain on “Stone”. “Stone” is heavily melodic with flashes of guitar energy that presents a quiet/loud contrast in a manner that is not predictable or repetitive. The closing “Albatross” begins gently with warm vocals of profound emotion and a measured restraint that builds steadily to a triumphant conclusion. This was my introduction to Toy Cars and I am intrigued by what this band will do in the future.

DWELL - Innate (Blood and Ink Records

Dwell is a visceral explosion of force in a style made famous by Converge and continued today by Trap Them or Dillinger Escape Plan. Innate is a riotous collection of furious riffs, complex time structures, and larynx-searing vocals that is a little slice of heaven for me. The unapologetic rage that pervades the record smacks of Nails, but rather than forty to sixty-second long blasts of grind, Dwell writes more intricate and layered work that retains skull-rattling intensity without ever becoming too esoteric. These kids from North Carolina clearly understand that musical brutality is their primary mandate and from there, one can sprinkle in the more obtuse touches. “Open Vein” is one such example as the song enters slowly with an ambling guitar riff while Jacob Lilly’s vocals are deliberately buried in the mix like a person entombed alive, scratching and crawling to escape an unimaginable hell. The song perpetually exists on the edge of a musical cliff and the listener is drawn in, waiting for a musical devastation that never fully arrives. However, rather then disappointing, the song acts as a perfect set up for the rattling “Forfeit” that follows. This ability to offset loud/louder dynamics carries Innate and makes the record perpetually interesting. The opening “Scars of Grief” is lyrically sophisticated, as Lilly bellows ”Cut off your limbs that show scars of grief. Blame the creator of good for every amount of suffering you’ve inflicted”. This investigation of a higher power that is used as justification for the pain or pleasure endured by people is a theme on Innate, as are references to C.S. Lewis of Chronicles of Narnia fame. However, this is nothing kid-friendly on “This Ground is Cursed” or “Like the Leech on Our Skin”, two of the more bruising pieces the band produces. The guitar acrobatics on the title track are matched by the low end pummeling provided on “Relief of Sin”. Without even a passing second of filler, Dwell is a young band that incorporates their influences into music that is refreshingly crushing.

PILL - Convenience (Mexican Summer Records

Once again, Brooklyn is responsible for some of the best music being currently crafted by humans. Pill is the latest collection of multi-talented, politically sophisticated, genre-smashing heroes to descend upon the dumbstruck masses. When vocalist Veronica Torres (who absolutely owns this record) says, “I’m a girl’s girl” in “Dead Boys”, she is both incredibly vulnerable and erotic. Torres boldly declares herself as strong and resilient on “My Rights” when she challenges the status quo with this: “Is this situation based on power? My body, my queerness, my decision to bring life. My body, my fight-Congressman wants to steal all my rights”. Throughout the track, and the larger Convenience record, Torres is never preaching or inflammatory-she is simply a woman exercising her rights to express who she is and what she wants-and that alone is enough to frighten many people. Her bravery continues on “Fetish Queen” with the imagery “imagine me on my knees”, as Pill creates a new “Oh Bondage, Up Yours” for the 21st century, horns and all. Jittery, noisy, and deliciously uncomfortable, Convenience is one of the most defiant records of 2016, a year in which the nation needs real defiance-the type of rebellion based on intelligence, courage, and clearly defined moral stances and not bullying, bombast, and clichés that appeal to the most base elements of human nature. Under a haunting, atmospheric soundscape, Torres paints a stark image of artificial security in “J-E-N-O-V-A”: “The security alarm goes off, but there is no intruder. Take the batteries out and come back to bed.” Its closing refrain of “a sense of control” is repeated with an intimacy that is both sexually charged and chilling. Convenience begins with “60 Seconds”, a jarring, noise-bent introduction that acts a perfect foray into the wildly imaginative scope of the band’s talents. “100% Cute” is majestically abrasive as Torres channels her inner Kim Gordon with ferocious intensity, and the horns that appeared on “Fetish Queen” return again. I had high hopes for “Sex With Santa”, but it turned to be a one of the instrumental pieces-it is still cooler than what your favorite band is doing, but the title had my mind tilted, expecting a darker result. The sassy pop on “Speaking Up” belies the brilliant examination of the perils women face for pointing out sexual harassment. If Bikini Kill ever reforms, they should cover this song. In “Vagabond”, the phrase “Turn me on, foreign body” can be interpreted in various ways, and the listener is left to apply their own life experiences to what Pill delivers, as “Love and Other Liquids” has a soulful intro and sensuality that is exquisite. I am in awe of what Convenience offers as Torres, surrounded by Andrew Spaulding, Benjamin Jaffe, and Jonathan Campolo, inject new life into a new brand of jangly indie rock.

STORM THE SKY - Sin Will Find You (Rise Records www.riserecords)

Australia’s Storm the Sky will challenge the preconceived notions many have about what makes music powerful. Some people (i.e. guys like me) look for volume, fury, screaming, and rage to define power, but Sin Will Find You is a collection of deeply persona, vividly expressive songs that vary in levels of intensity musically but each hits with a stunning precision. “In Vein” and “Lilac” are the literal centerpiece of the record and the pair act as swirling twins of lush beauty and reserved nature. However, vocalist William Jarratt performs with a soaring confidence that gives his storytelling tremendous gravitas. Not everything on Sin is so subdued, however, as “Jaded Ghost” rattles with exhilarating bombast, integrating a penchant for big hooks along with hardcore ferocity. “Medicine” has swagger compliments of guitarists Andy Szetho and Lachlan Avis that allows the effort to ebb and flow with nimble delicacy. Bassist Benny Craib and drummer Alex Trail anchor a line-up that is incredibly daring and willing to take chances considering their young age. The jazzy, melancholy tones that meander in the distance in the opening minute of “Disappointed” fade and the song injects a subtle dance groove under Jarrett’s longing vocals. “Burning” closes the record with minimalist industrialization, sounding more Teutonic than Australian in nature over an expansive six-minute canvas that provides ample room for infusions of noisy guitar and ascending harmonies. This is a fascinating listen from a band of brazenly bold young guys that bare themselves for global observation. Making a record that sounds like Sin Will Find You is not easy, both musically and personally, for the poetic, heartfelt lyrics are open to various interpretations and therefore misunderstandings, while the music is anything but traditionally aggressive. However, few things in this world truly surprise us any longer and when genuine originality raises its head, it deserves to be praised and celebrated and not ordered to conform.

CLOSE LOBSTERS - Desire and Signs EP (Shelflife Records

The Close Lobsters play a majestic style of dreamy pop that is both stirring and soothing. Andrew Burnett’s vocals on “Under London Skies” hang like a low cloud ceiling amidst a fierce battle of streaking, jangly guitar between himself and Tom Donnelly. The song captivates with its mysterious, somewhat muffled words and delights with a musical crescendo that steadily builds over the course of the track’s nearly six-minute life span. “Wander Epic Part II” is part of a triumvirate of panoramic efforts, and fortunately, one does not need to know the plot of part One to enjoy the sequel. When Burnett says that he must “light the lamp of reason and purify the malady of the soul”, he is not speaking above the listener, but rather through each person fortunate enough to hear this effort, whose structure strikes me as a 21st century “Sweet Jane”. Haunting and lovely, Close Lobsters have a natural ability to convey complex ideas with wonderful clarity and ease, making this two song sampler a perfect prologue to a widely anticipated longer release.

THE FIREWORKS - Back and Blue EP (Shelflife Records

London’s fuzzed out four-piece The Fireworks are back and roaring with new music for the first time in a year, and the Black and Blue EP should, if the universe has any justice, elevate this band to something much larger than cult status. It is easy to note the Teenage Fanclub hanging out with My Bloody Valentine while listening to early Dinosaur Jr. influence, particularly on the faint drone on “Go So Slow”, but there is a litany of reasons to adore this band, starting with vocalist Emma Hall. Her voice is the introduction most people will have to The Fireworks on the opening “All The Time”, and it is a powerful tool to demonstrate the hook-laden force this band yields. “The Ghost of You” is carried by the amiable vocals of Matthew Rimmell with Hall supplying lush backing support, and the song’s warm, pop hook of captures the finest moments of the golden age of indie rock. While I am struck by all four songs, the intensified energy of “Bury Me” made it my favorite of the bunch and has me incredibly excited about what this band plans to do next. Hopefully this will include touring on this side of the Atlantic, for The Fireworks borrow the harmonious interplay of American girl groups of the 1960s and raise the intensity with some od fashioned bombast and a little pop sweetness. The concoction makes for a brilliant release.

GET DEAD - Honesty Lives Elsewhere (Fat Wreck Chords

This Bay Area outfit plays hard driving, straight ahead punk with flashes of various influences that perpetually keeps listeners guessing about the next musical direction they will choose to pursue. “Dyin’ is Thirsty Work” is a perfect example of roaring, pointed guitar playing in punk’s finest tradition with raspy-throated Sam King howling with authentic frustration over the top of a blazing riff. As he yelps the refrain “we all fall down”, the message sounds particularly ominous. However, within seconds of that anthem’s conclusion, “Grandiose” is just slightly kissed by ska, and “Keep Rowing, Stupid” borrows just enough from New Wave to make it another distinctive track among a collection of stand-alone efforts. Excellent guitar work highlights “She’s a Problem”, and King’s ability to find harmony in the midst of chaos is evident on “Copper to Gold” and “Monte Carlo”. Honesty Lives Elsewhere is an oxymoronic title in regards to this band, for Get Dead was collectively hit by tragedy as one of Sam King’s closest friends committed suicide prior to the recording of the record. The darkness that permeates this collection is bravely honest and embodied in the haunting “Ordnance” that closes Honesty. Its delicate piano introduction strikes a particularly foreboding chord when King says “Life’s easier if you don’t plan to make it back”. Balancing jobs, families, and other adult responsibilities can often ring the death knell for bands, but get Dead seem to take the daily frustrations of human existence and expel through smarty crafted, uniquely structured punk.

GUTTERMOUTH - Got It Made (Rude Records

How can this be Guttermoth’s first new music in ten years? Even more amazing is how the band plays punk rock that will resonate with long-time (read old) fans and show the millennials how it should be done. The six short blasts of angst and disgust on Got It Made kicks off with “The Point”, a track that shakes with energy from the oldest of schools and is an instant gem. The hilarious lyrics and filthy innuendos on “Freckles the Pony” contrast the song’s childlike name and will either remind fans or introduce people to the sharp, vitriolic sarcasm that always makes a Guttermouth record an experience. “A Punk Rock Tale of Woe” channels an early DK vibe as the band skewers pouting punks with tired mohawks (“nice hair, fruitcake”) and multiple felonies, while “Shitty Situation” is ninety seconds of speedy, self-deprecating punk greatness. The title track embodies the struggles of the working class better than any self-congratulatory politician as no one listening believes that any of us “have it made in the shade”, plus it has a huge riff. The twisted family stories of “Old Man” are brilliantly offensive and a perfect closer to an EP that I pray only teases of what this band will continue to release. Guttermouth is the band that makes this violent, self-destructive world a bit easier to take.

THE LYSINE CONTINGENCY - Virtuous Sentiments (Soundcloud

Long Island’s The Lysine Contingency is not a band afraid of taking chances. Their name refers to an aspect of Jurassic Park in which the dinosaurs are rendered dependent upon the Park staff for Lysine injections that will allow them to survive, and the guys boldly label themselves as “progressive metal”. Quite often, the second term is far more muddled than the dinosaur issue: one man’s “progressive” is another man’s unnecessarily complicated mess. Luckily, this young band does err on the side of musical callousness more than mathematical structures. Case in point is the five minutes of “Illusions of Prosperity”. The song has its moments of confounding noodling, but the heart of the song is found within a raw, driving riff and furious vocals. I love experimentation as much as the next metal fiend but not at the expense of writing a good hook-as a person with no musical skill, I already know how talented most bands are. I want a memorable song, not a masturbatory demonstration of guitar acrobatics, and when The Lysine Contingency streamlines their assault on the opening “Residual Echoes”, the result is highly impressive while still retaining an unconventional approach to song structure. Alternating between clean and harsh vocals makes “Counterfeit Impressions” memorable and “Renouncing Excess” is a barrel bomb of a song with pummeling drumming off set by expansive guitar work. Bands of this ilk can occasionally outsmart themselves and attempt to toss too many ideas into one equation, and while there are moments on Virtuous Sentiments that could be trimmed (at least a minute or so from “Rejoice”, for example), The Lysine Contingency largely control themselves and do not surrender to an overly self-aggrandizing delivery. “Overhead” finds the band flying highest as they embrace subtle doom elements before embracing a violent and highly technical death-metal delivery. Virtuous Sentiments is an impressive introduction to the world as The Lysine Contingency is looking to master the tall order of balancing brutality with sophistication and for the vast majority of this debut, they do so quite adroitly. These guys will continue to harness and refine their sound but there is clearly something potential special here.

SLOUCHER - Certainty (Swoon Records

Sloucher may musically be a trio but it is truly the project of Jay Clancy, known best for his work in Cayucas and Hibou. The seven songs on Certainty were written largely on acoustic guitar before being beefed up with the assistance of Jack Hamrick on drums and Kyle Musselwhite on guitar, and the root elements of the songs shine through quite brightly. There are elements of country-fried, Americana twang on “Constant Questions” and “Dear”, while “Dreams” is a fittingly ethereal, hazy escapade. The EP never raises its voice or alters tempos very often, instead creating a steady stream of heartfelt, daringly personal songs that allow the listener into Clancy’s life with brazen access. The title track is a sinewy song that slides and hops its way through four minutes of genuinely optimistic sentiments. When Clancy emotes “I can’t wait to see her face and for her to spend time with me”, he has the excitement of a teenager before his first date and the authenticity of his emotions makes the song infectious. The closing “Bigger Than Me” has a subtle haunting quality, a mood that is oddly difficult to describe but seems perfectly fitting for the song. Clancy is a gifted songwriter who has the ability to express complex emotions simply without making them cliché or myopic; the songs are gentle and extraordinarily accessible regardless of one’s musical appetite. With a style that incorporates elements of performers from Costello to Dando to Cobain, Clancy creates songs with a vast panorama and makes them sound almost uncomfortably close at times. This is a wonderful showcase for his talents and I certainly hope he pursue this.

50 FOOT WAVE - Bath White (HHBTM Records

Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh and Bernard Georges along with drummer Robert Ahlers return as 50 Foot Wave with six brilliantly subversive songs to challenge your conception of what punk rock should be. Sounding very little like the band that first made her an indie darling, Hersh snarls through Bath White as noisy, complex song structures surge around here. The opening title track begins with a steadily growing riff and Hersh’s instantly recognizable voice with its combination of innocence and fury until the song locks into a crunchy yet melodic groove. Balancing the abrasive and the harmonic is the theme of Bath White with “Human” as the EP’s literal and figurative centerpiece: a swirling mass of force, the song digs its claws into the listener’s back and creates delicious agony until its thrilling completion. “Ratted Out” marks a shift in the EP as this song possesses dreamy, atmospheric qualities that allow the tracks to breathe a bit more freely without losing any visceral impact. “St. Christopher” begins with a rumbling, angular explosion of intricate rage before shifting into a wistful landscape only to return to its initial fury, all the while Hersh, Georges, and Ahlers maintain complete control of this majestically sophisticated effort. A song of a similar ilk is the concluding “Sun Salute”, which hits even more forcefully than its predecessor while 50 Foot Wave injects more otherworldly elements into its construction. Dark, ambient, and musically vehement, Bath White was is exactly what I expect to hear from 50 Foot Wave but even better than I could hope.

GONE IS GONE s/t (Black Dune Records

Beginning as a duo of multi-instrumentalist Mike Zarin and Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders when they were crafting music for movie trailers, Gone is Gone quickly coagulated into a four piece with the additions of drummer Tony Hajjar from At the Drive-In and Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar. The music of this band is just what one may expect with such a diverse breadth of musical talent: Namely, dark, layered, and highly emotive songs that exude power both in terms of musical force and the scope of their depth. The opening “Violescent” is a slab of thunderous guitar with soaring passionate vocals. It is an ideal introduction to the band, as it establishes the eerily intimidating nature of the record. “Starlight” is celestial in its landscape with dazzling interplay among the guitarists, creating a cascading wave of controlled force held together by ethereal keys and Hajjar’s bombast. While “Stolen From Me” and “One Divided” are more traditional hard rock, metallic-tinged fare, “Character” and “Recede and Enter” are atmospheric, haunting tracks best designed for psychologically thrilling works as both efforts lure the listener into a darkened room and are equally terrifying and intriguing. The six minute closer “This Chapter” is an encapsulation of Gone Is Gone as it begins with morose keys that give way to sullen guitar playing and gothic vocals. Blending elements of Tool, the Sisters of Mercy, and Bauhaus, Gone is Gone is a fascinating act that rightfully realized that their visions should not be limited to film trailers, but needed to be developed into full length experiences.

DEAFNESS BY NOISE - A Long Way Down (Strength Records

I can truly assert that Deafness by Noise is the finest Croatian hardcore band I have heard in all my years as a music fan. Granted, they are also the only Croatian punk band I have heard, but they represent their nation well on A Long Way Down. The eleven tracks here incorporate a significant New York tough-guy hardcore vibe, most obviously on “A Tribute to Our Friend” with support from members of Sick of it All. Everything here is an easy sing along with gang vocals dominating the choruses of “Major City Brain Damage” and “85 Knots”. However, rather then simply reproducing American hardcore, Deafness by Noise mixes up their sound with a hip-hop flavor on “All Systems Down” and even a sax solo on “Sledge Hammer”. This willingness to experiment is a courage born of age and Deafness by Noise has been a regional staple since 1991. These guys have opened shows for an A-list of the finest hardcore, punk, and metal bands imaginable, and I am sheepishly self-conscious about my lack of awareness of them. It is obvious that Deafness by Noise is not interested in reinventing hardcore music, but the aggression and intensity heard on A Long Way Down is truly authentic and the byproduct of decades of remaining loyal to a sound. The next time you find yourself hankering for some classic sounding hardcore, put down your well worn copy of Victim in Pain and give A Long Way Down some love.

PLOW UNITED - Everything 7” (33 Forever Records

Plow United’s Three is a triumphant return for a band that too many people missed the first time around. “Everything” is available on that release and is a punk-pop lover’s dream with its hook-filled chorus and buoyant delivery from vocalist Brian McGhee. Written by bassist Joel Tannenbaum, the song charts all the different manifestations of a person over the course of one’s life. Whether it is a communist, a libertarian, junkie, or a vegetarian, McGhee states without irony that he “just wanted to do the right thing”. “What do we want? and when do we want to know?” are inquiries that surmise the questions that so many have about our lives regardless of the age at which we currently find ourselves. “’39” is a cover of old Queen song from A Night at the Opera, and Plow United makes this track purely their own which is quite a challenge for music by Brian May and Freddie Mercury. Featuring the ubiquitous Mikey Erg on backing vocals, “’39” makes the scant two bucks the band is asking for this single on Bandcamp a solid investment.

SATELLITE GO- Kate 7” (33 Forever Records

Falling somewhere between New Wave at the dawn of the 80s and the explosion of indie-pop of the 90s, Satellite Go play stripped down rock n’ roll with an emphasis of big hooks and rough and tumble guitar playing. “Go Back to Sleep” is a song that could be a product of anyone from Del Fuegos to fellow Wilmington, Delaware residents Plow United to Iron Chic; it’s just a great song about the reality of life’s frustrations (“Time to go to work/sometimes it really tests my will. When I say I hate it, I hate it, but I gotta pay, pay, pay those bills”). “Blackout” has a darker tone and reveals a greater vocal range of Tommy, but the song remains a showcase of guitar swagger at its core. The title track is a soaring anthem of broken, volatile love (“The court told you to stand 150 yards away but tonight you got come drinking down here”), and “Constant State of Devotion” is a classic slab of 90s indie-punk with a gritty low end rumble and richly harmonic vocals. Yes, there seems to be an endless line of bands channeling the (first set of) Clinton years, but make some room for Satellite Go.

THE MOLES - Tonight’s Music (Fire Records

This Australian outfit led by Richard Davies officially feel off the global music radar when they broke broke up in 1993, and Tonight’s Music marks the band’s first new music in more than two decades. The sprawling twenty-four-song collection is an assortment of oddly constructed pieces of sporadic length that are the hallmark of Davies’ musical visions. While there are brief flurries of guitar crunch, such as the obtuse “Stray Dog”, much of Tonight’s Music floats in and out with such brevity that one is usually intrigued but also puzzled. “Slings and Arrows”, “Dreamland”, and “Wear and Tear” are each uniquely melodic as they seemingly upend what traditional song structures are intended to be, but they also feel as if they are rudimentary ideas that are yet to be fully developed. I have this reaction too often to Tonight’s Music, particularly with “Space Fever”, “Are You Free Tomorrow” and “KBO”. However, there are also moments of abject beauty, such as the remarkable warmth of “Beauty Queen of Watts”. I understand that the Moles were legendary for their psyche-rock experimentation and intentional rejection of conventional arrangements but I am just not the person to be taking this in, as I look for more pronounced rage and bluster. Progressive and complex, The Moles have a distinctive sound to be applauded by a specific audience-not me, per se, but an audience nonetheless.

PLOW UNITED - Three (Its Alive Records

The reunion of Plow United in 2011 was widely celebrated and for good reason, but in 2016, Plow United sounds more focused, energized, and vital then ever. Much of the lyrical content of Three addresses getting older and looking back with appreciation rather then regret, delivered with the passion of a teen by Brian McGee. He offers veteran insight and life lessons on “We Should Take Time” as he declares that “We should take time/to see each day defined through the candor of a child’s eyes”, and “Break the Barrier” (“When we listen with our hearts and minds/We take a chance to see the other side”). Short, sharp blasts of richly harmonious punk abound for fourteen sweat soaked efforts, highlighted by “Going Dark”, an anthem that could easily fit in Plow United’s set lists in 1994, and the rowdy “Radio” which admits ultimately that “It sure appears that radio is dead”. The centerpiece of Three is the duo of “Momma, I’m Not Doing Well” and “Illustrations”-two bold, deeply personal revelations about life’s struggles played with a free flowing intensity that feels like an exorcism. In addition to the lush backing vocals of Emily Bornemann (who also significantly impacts “Let Me In”) “Illustrations” hears McGee referencing Edward Gorey, asking repeatedly “is it art?” and offering this heart-breaking couplet: “The moment I’d cashed in my relevance/was the moment I’d outlived my usefulness”. “Bright Eyes” includes a blazing riff from McGee accompanied by a blistering low-end punch from Sean Rule and Joel Tannebaum. As one listens to Three it is difficult to not lament the status of Plow United-a band that should have been far more acclaimed during their first inception, but would these current songs exist if this trio had become the instantly recognizable names they rightfully deserve to be? It is an impossible question, so all one can do is be appreciative of the incredible talent in display here.

AL SCORCH - Circle Round the Signs (Bloodshot records

Al Scorch has been kicking round the diverse Chicago music scene for many years now, yet his brand of country-fried, acoustic aggression sounds fresh and riveting. Reminiscent of a gravel-voiced Johnny Cash on “Lonesome Low”, Scorch displays raw humanity that would be contrived in the hands of a lesser talented player. The somber “Poverty Draft” is a modern protest song, invoking the finest moments of the Vietnam era as Scorch points out the disconnect of being a young person going off to war but returning to a country that offers little assistance for those attempting to readjust to civilian life. Kids are told that war is “just like a video game” and killing is necessary “so that others may live”, but so little is done for those who sacrifice so much. Other moments on Circle Round the Signs are more energized but not less engaging, particularly the opening “Lost at Sea” and nearly frantic pace of “Everybody Out”. “Insomnia” is my favorite of the bunch, telling the story of insecurity and worry for which there are not enough pills in the world to bring a respite. The front porch style of “Want One” embodies classic Americana with a lengthy fiddle solo but adds a distinctive injection of speed. Scorch possesses the most valued of talents for this type of music-he is a gifted raconteur who paints crystalized images through vividly descriptive language, bringing characters and scenarios to life. “Slipknot” is the musical equivalent of an old Hee-Haw episode but the track deals with the manufacturing of a hangman’s noose, sardonically juxtaposing feel good music with wonderfully dark verses. Do not allow the banjo to become disconcerting-Al Scorch is a hard-hitting, deeply passionate player with equal amounts of angst and soul. Circle Round the Signs is not a record that simply dissolves from memory after a listen, as the haunting ballads and poignant testimonials stay with the listener long after the final strum of “Love You ‘Cause You’re Perfect” fades away. Add Al Scorch to the list of significant, contemporary American songwriters.

THE BACKSEAT ANGELS -Saturday Night Shakes (Rum Bar Records

Playing Merseybeat for the 21st century, The Backseat Angels are a rock n’ roll band that just loves rock n’ roll. The lyrics can be inane but the catchiness is irresistible. The opening “My Baby Wants to Brainwash my Mind” sets the table for Saturday Night Shakes perfectly, as the Angels tap into the same sweet, surf-tinged harmonies that the Ramones loved oh so much, only without the blazing speed or neck-snapping intensity of the boys from Queens. The Backseat Angels have glam elements of T. Rex with just a smattering of grit compliments of Eric Knoxx. I am completely enamored with this band until the ultra-creepy “School Bus Driver”. Even the innocent refrain of “I’ve got a crush on you” comes across predatorily when one hears the adjacent lyrics about picking a girl up early in the morning and bringing her home late in the evening. That one aside, “Saturday Night” would bring a smile to a corpse and “To Be a Better Man” sounds like a Blues Magoos B-side with its towering chorus and sweeping hook. “Hard to Tame” is another rollicking 50s rock nugget that would have had Frankie and Annette shimmering on their beach blankets, and “Crazy Like a Fox” is a stomping ode to a girl Knoxx wants “to take out”. There is a perpetual purity throughout the record that simply cannot be imitated-Saturday Night Shakes sounds as if the guys in The Backstreet Angels stopped listening to music around 1975 and all they want to do is have fun. “Stupid Brats” and “Peppermint Girl” are wonderfully refreshing in their no frills, unapologetically straightforward methodology, eschewing sophistication for energy and authenticity. The Backseat Angels have timed this debut release perfectly for not only is this an ideal summer soundtrack, but in an age in which laptops and studio tricks dominate the musical landscape, Saturday Night Shakes brings people back to rock’s primal, endearing roots.

PSYCHIC HEAT - Sunshower (High Dive Records

The state of Kansas has largely been an enigma for most of the country-the last time it truly mattered may have been in 1856 when it regarded as “bleeding Kansas” due to nearly two hundred deaths related to clashes over the issue of slave ownership in the state. Since then, it has witnessed Dorothy swept away to Oz and the rejection of most progressive reforms. Therefore, it is with some amazement that this state produces a band like Psychic Heat. Sounding like an immensely talented 60s garage band, the four piece rattles and drones through a collection of fuzzed-out, noise-tinged rock accented by heavy doses of kaleidoscopic guitar and smoothly harmonic vocals. J. Even Herd blasts away throughout Sunshower but I am particularly taken with his range on “In Two” and the atmospheric ballad “Here Again”. While Psychic Heat has a unique sound collectively, there is tremendous variation among the tracks. The opening “Anxiety Eater” is more 90s shoegaze than 60s experimentation, while “Elixir” possesses a distinctive pop sensibility seemingly reserved solely for that effort. The ebb and flow of “Whale Falling” connotes The Who’s more expansive moments and “How Many Licks” is the equivalent of the Dave Clark Five on steroids. Heard and his mates Tanner Spreer, Sam Boatright, and Ricky Barkosky really let loose on “Des Tortion”, firebrand of song that cuts a vicious swath of ground through distortion-soaked force. After offering a brief respite through the serene instrumental that bears the record’s name, Psychic Heat close with a complex, six minute opus in the form of “Moment Moves On”. After a slow build up, the song locks into a driving groove while waves of feedback and guitar squall float by effortlessly. Balancing the complex in a manner than makes it sound unpretentious is not easy, but Psychic Heat does so without difficulty, making Sunshower a highly enjoyable listen.

MOON BROS. - These Stars (Western Vinyl

Matt Schneider graduated from high school in 1998, but after a listen to These Stars, I am beginning to think it was 1908. Soulful, mournful country twang played with a rich Americana tradition, These Stars is a beautiful example of modern folk if that is what one is after. The title track strolls at a glacial pace, accenting each pluck of the strings and pronouncement of syllables. Dominated by heart-wrenching songs that are sans lyrics, Schneider and his accompanying payers, Dan Bitney, Matt Lux, and Sam Wagster, each highly accomplished musicians in deeply respected bands themselves, bring the Deep South and the shaded woodlands of America to listeners via Chicago. Known historically for a legendary blues and jazz scene, Chicago is also fostering products like Moon Bros and the result is extraordinary. Every moment on These Stars seems both free-lanced and well versed as if Schneider has mastered the oxymoronic style of controlled improvisation. “Oh So Cold” and “Wool Blankets” posses a subtly profound spirituality while “Blues” may have a listener looking to start the construction of a log cabin before it concludes. The closing “ACDC” could not be further removed from the band with which it shares a name, as Schneider ever so gently elevates his weathered voice above a lonesome slide guitar, generating an atmosphere of palpable intensity. Somewhere between a hootenanny and a campfire sing-along, These Stars delivers a slice of American innocence via music at a time when the country is particularly jaded, nasty, and brutish. I just hope people choose to pay attention.


Playing a style of punk light years beyond their age, The Split Seconds bring jangly, early-era American punk with supple harmonies. The result is music designed for a good time but still infused with gritty intensity. The warmth of “Come to Mary” is engaging, but the band truly shines on the rambunctious “Cutting Out” and the surf-inspired “Half of the Time”(featuring the modern love conundrum lyric of “she loves her girlfriend more”). Vocalist Drew Champion has a distinctive style that pays homage to Richard Hell with his dry, unaffected delivery. Alex Massi is an effortlessly smooth guitar player who shuns traditional DC squall for a clean technique, occasionally caressed by fuzzy distortion, particularly on “If I Was You”. The low-end duo of Sean Peterson and Tristan Sahwell on drums and bass respectively anchor each of the eleven tracks with equal aplomb, whether Spilt Seconds choose to be poppy on “21 Months ”or sweetly aggressive on “How Was I to Know” and “Information Overload”. The Split Seconds redefined the DC sound by going back to punk’s more angular origins, trading in ferocity for exuberance and in the process making a very strong showing.



I knew nothing of the Brooklyn-based Giraffes and I openly admit my shame in my ignorance. Now unleashing their sixth album, The Giraffes display the type of music I love; namely aggressive, guitar-laded bombast. However, Usury does not simply bludgeon the listener over the head with the same trick. Rather, the Giraffes show off their wizened skills on the bluesy “Product Placement Song” complete with dazzling, highly sardonic lyrics. This blending of the rough and the enlightened is also evident on “Washing Machine” as Aaron Lazar bellows how people “can always stand united when the terrorists attack”. This effort revolves around a steady bluster with explosions of robust force. Each of the six pieces has a similar heaviness, but each is also equally smooth in their directness. Powerful and massive in scope, tracks such as “Blood Will Run” and “Facebook Rant” are cavernous and expansive, melding beauty and precision with blunt force. “How it Happened to Me” possesses a classic blues style while “White Jacket” gavottes with jazz-inspired swagger. The Giraffes have maintained a relatively low profile throughout their careers but music as excellent as this should not be ignored.

SAVAK - Best of Luck in Future Endeavors (

This six piece has one heck of an impressive collective resume including time with Obits, The Cops, and Silent Majority just to start. The work on Best of Luck ranges from jangly, pop-infused punk in a Rezillos strain to more aggressive pieces, but everything here reverberates with an abundance of kinetic energy. Beginning with a slowly developing intro, “Alive in the Shadows” rattles and shakes with an imposing low end; this naturally makes sense when one learns that Savak features two drummers in the forms of Matt Schulz and Benjamin van Dyke. “Reaction” is the centerpiece of the first side of the record and for good reason: it marks the perfect combination of hook-fueled pop and jumpy teen angst. “Early Western Traders” has a more abrasive riff that is perfectly balanced by soaring sax playing and a chorus that drills itself into your brain and makes its home there for hours after the song is done. The subtle surf vibes on “Knock Don’t Run” accent darker lyrics, as Michael Jaworski emotes, “Darkness hides/Right behind TV light/In bars at night/Drinking for our sanity”. This ability to balance the uncomfortable with the easily palatable is the band’s strength and makes all ten songs highly individualized while also cohesive. The band stretches their sound on “Call it a Night”, a danceable, sweaty anthem best played just as the club is about to close but none wants to go home. Savak is the band that plays the party after the after party as they can maintain energy for any audience at any time of night. This is just awesome.

NOT BLOOD PAINT - Believing is Believing (

Brooklyn’s Not Blood Paint is more than a musical experience-this is multisensory art so nuanced that one can nearly see the theatrics while simply listening to Believing is Believing. The introductory “Take Another Chance”, with its whimsical, nearly child-like opening lines, unveils a complex, at times labyrinthine, collection of melodic visions that range in intensity and structure, yet are each held together through the dizzying abilities of the four members. “One By One” is operatic in its scope, while “Borderline” is highlighted by moments of suffocating density accented by ethereal breaths of wistful space. “Play Nice” is another track with a dream-like quality, but the guitar playing sets a tone that is more menacing than soothing, as if one if traveling through a hallucinogenic fog in which reality becomes illusionary and there is no guarantee that life will ever again return to the original misconception of normality. “The edgier, less serene “I Am an Angel” revolves around a massive opening riff which births a song of limitless panoramic scope and vocals that are equally sensual and menacing, resulting in a song that can appear exquisite while wallowing in filth. This perpetual dichotomy of beautiful and revolting makes Believing is Believing an astounding ride without a label. There are too many potential references to list, but for those who believed that truly originally art-rock was a faded, if not entirely deceased style, Not Blood Paint will shatter that assertion and likely inspire a new army of future genre-smashers. “Erotic Loving Mercy” is fittingly titled, but even the eroticism is tinged with an intimidating ambiance that promises that nothing here will be gentle. Shared vocals and flawless musicianship are the selling points of each work here, but the closing “Imbalance” is an entire album’s worth of material for most bands condensed into one scintillating track. I cannot predict how many people will be able to fully appreciate the unique visions of Not Blood Paint, but the confusion this band will generate for most will certainly be matched by the undying adoration of the few that grasp on tightly. (Believing Is Believing will be released on June 17.)

SPEED THE PLOUGH - Now (Coyote Records

I am stunned by my enjoyment of this record. As “SOS” opens with delicate piano, I am convincing myself that this will be a struggle as Speed the Plow does not appear to be what I look for in a band, namely, skull-crushing brutality or speed. However, this thought quickly dissipated as I finally listened to what was going on here, and this experienced Jersey act plays meticulously crafted, truly heartfelt songs of sweeping beauty. “SOS”, with its refrain of “you saved me” is instantly captivating, but the tranquil “Buttermilk Falls” and the raw emotion boldly on display on “Miss Amelia” also captivate me. John and Toni Baumgartner began this project in the early 80s and remain the centerpiece of Speed the Plough. However, the wondrous talent around them has the ability to play soulful jazz on “On a New Day”, genteel precision of “Midnight in the World”, the jagged “telegraph”, and the guitar laden, rollicking “More and More”. John’s piano is front and center on the majority of the work, with Toni and Cindi Merklee providing stirring female vocals over the top of complex but easily memorable arrangements. “Be With You” has a graceful jangle to the guitar playing that is soft yet also sublime, generally summarizing the band as a whole. Each song, while collectively recognizable as the band’s sound, has a distinct personality and delivery that makes Now a vast demonstration of battle-tested veterans collaborating with a nearly flawless execution.

GRIM DEEDS - Hails (

There may not be a more appropriate time in world history than right now for a new record from Grim Deeds and Hails sees the band continue their superb metamorphosis into Screeching Weasel. While the opening “Jerk Off Therapy” speaks for itself, I laughed out at “Trop Punk” which celebrates punk bands from Indonesia while bluntly condemning U.S. punk acts as boring. Sixteen songs may seem like potential overkill but Grim Deeds flawlessly alternate between hook-stuffed, Joe Queer-worshipping punk and acoustic gems. The latter includes soon to be live highlights “Surrounded by Assholes”, which has a refreshing recognition of one’s own fault when Deeds admits that he “ just may be one myself”, “Bullshit Artist”, and “Nuke ‘Em High”, which is loving tribute to one of Troma Productions finest moments. The quieter moments are certainly worthy of celebrating, but “Showry”, a song dedicated to a wonderfully gifted performer who has a penchant for “making out with a squid” and “rolling around in raw meat”, as well as “My Real Doll” (“she may look dead in my bed but my real doll keeps me warm”), are two flawlessly executed slabs of melodic punk that demonstrates how this band continues to improve with each release. “Diligent” includes undeniably rich, harmonious backing vocals over the top of an aggressive riff, while “Whole Foods” blasts away for sixty exhausting seconds. There is a theme of Deeds being tired of negativity in the world, be it in the form of “The Braindead Masses” or “Moving to Kepiland”, two tracks that have an exasperated Deeds venting about the ugliness and ignorance that is so prevalent. However, this is not a lecture about how to live a better life; it is simply a cathartic release of frustration and rage with the world. Deeds does not pretend to have answers, he just wants to express how downright stupid so many appear to be. The darker “Stop Hitting Mom” would have been too much of a downer on which to complete this disc, so listeners are treated to a live version of “Secret Vasectomy”, a tune appropriately written just before Deeds found out that he was going to be a father. Hails is a profusion of buzzsaw guitars, gloriously sardonic lyrics, and shrewdly crafted songs that elevates Grim Deeds beyond just being clever and poises them as a legitimate force in American punk.

HAYBABY - Blood Harvest/Sleepy Kids (Tiny Engines Records www.

Haybaby makes the listener feel continuously uneasy and it is thrilling. Blood Harvest is intriguing in its darkness, particularly the breadth of emotion of “Joke/Rope”. There is a tension that throbs and propels these songs, from the opening acknowledgment of self-doubt in “Stupid” to the slow build up within the dense “Kramer/Dreams”. This sounds like a band that would have been a centerpiece of a Kill Rock Stars compilation as Haybaby meshes anger with profound emotional intelligence. The fury of “What it is” is visceral in its primal angst, as the band thunderously hammers away for a scant yet exhilarating two minutes. This track is then brilliantly juxtaposed with the meandering “Pig”, a thick relentless block of gloomy, anguished angst. The song slogs through muddy slop with inexorable persistence and is reflective of the band in general; a formidable and challenging listen.
Sleepy Kids is the record that first introduced most people to the impressive talents of Haybaby, and should be a mandatory listen for those charmed by edgy, expertly crafted sludge-punk. “Old Friends” opens the disc and is immediately followed by “New Friends” and both songs are nervous, kinetic tracks that overflow with energy and emotion. Distorted, artistic and deftly melodic, Haybaby is a remarkable find. “Pizza party” shimmies and convulses with more panicky excitement while “her” is a more controlled, mid-tempo track build around a thunderous bass line and splashes of abrasive guitar playing. This formula also carries “Shy”, while the slow, deliberate build up of “Edelweiss” has a majestic pay-off. Not afraid of the occasional pop hook, Haybaby offers “Elevator Song” as a bit of diversion from the fuzz and musical disfigurement. Noisy, heavy, yet shrewdly melodic, Haybaby should be your new obsession.

TENEMENT - Bruised Music Vol. 2 (Grave Mistake Records

This Wisconsin act has a vast catalogue of music for a young act and Bruised Music Vol. 2 is a collection of tracks that are not found on Tenement full-lengths. For those of us are new to this band, one must ask that if this is the material that does not make the cut, how impressive must their records be? “Taking Everything” is a perfect opening track as it bounds out of the gates with a wondrous energy, reminiscent of noisy yet pop-infused 90s indie punk a la an act like Sinkhole. “The Block is Safe Again” has the quirky catchiness of the Archers of Loaf or Pavement’s finest efforts and I was quickly in love. While “Wouldn’t Let You Go” includes an ambient conclusion that hovers for a bit too long, what preceded that vacantness was effervescent, humming guitar goodness. This willingness to experiment is heard again on ”Jet Slug” as gentle bells caress the air and do little more than generate relaxation or bemusement, depending on one’s mood. However, Tenement quickly gets back on track with “Your Life or Mine” and the rough and tumble “The Way it All Seems”. The thunderous bass hook and muddled vocals of “Violent Outlet” make it my personal favorite and it stands in such impeccable contrast to the buoyant “Daylight World” and the peculiar “Book on Hell and Sermons on TV”. The eccentric nature of tenement demonstrates not only a willingness to adhere to prideful nonconformity but also a deep reserve of musical influences and talents. Use the Internet for good instead of its typical evil and make this band huge.

WHITE MILES - The Duel (Long Branch Records

White Miles loves old fashioned rock n roll aesthetic in which musicians are supposed to plug in and bash away with the hopes of leaving the unsuspected speechless. This does happen at points throughout The Duel as Medina and Lofi sound like a band ten times larger than simply a duo on the rugged “In the Mirror” and the fiery “Crazy Horse”, two songs with massive hooks. This mysterious two-piece has been reticent about their backstories but has a clear affinity for bluesy, sludge rock, heard with thunderous clarity on “Keep Your Trippin’ Wild” and the uncomfortably erotic “Heid”. The latter is among the few moments when Lofi has a song to himself, and while his menacing delivery is engaging, I greatly prefer the soaring delivery of Medina on “Rivers of Gold”, another blueprint in wall-rattling force, or her sizzling sensuality on “Sickly Nerves”. The one stumble comes in the form of “You Don’t Know Him”, a spoken word piece that falls dangerously flat. However, that aside, there are many more highlights than missteps, and while White Miles have slogged through Europe, one does hope they make it to the U.S. soon.

ANIMAL DAYDREAM - Citrus (Jigsaw Records

Animal Daydream is a Swedish duo who clearly adores American pop from across the decades and unleashes four distinctive pieces upon the indie world. “Citrus” is a jangly, light-hearted, late-60s nuggets that seems innocuous at first but sneaks into your brain through its meshing of innocence and warmth. The soaring harmony of the chorus jumps from the late 60s to the staples of late 70s AM radio. The lush “Sun” incorporates an abundance of harmonious beauty and delicate guitar playing entirely devoid of crunch or angst, replacing those traits with a gently kissed melody. With deliberate vocals and guitar work that hovers with a serene fragility, Animal Daydream is a fitting moniker. The four tracks have a wistful quality that is equal part shoegaze and classically honed soft pop. This is not something to which I would normally run, but Daniel Friudlund Brandt and Alexander Wahl have an astounding gift for vocal interaction, highlighted by the beautiful “in My Room”. This should find a devoted audience throughout the States.

THE HERMS - Welcome All Tourists (Narnack records

Welcome All Tourists is the Herms’ first record in ten years, moving their center of operation from the Bay to Los Angeles, but the band’s sound remains consistent. The opening instrumental “parades” set the stage for a wildly engaging collection of quasi surf punk with big hooks. “Sounds Below” adopts a Doors-style vibe, while “Get On (Part II)” has a densely harmonious structure that demonstrates the vast writing skills possessed here. The boisterous “Read/Set ‘94” gets my vote as the highlight here with its roaring appreciation of indie rock ingenuity. The noisy bombast of “Bezlo” is next in line of personal favorites with its sense of confusion, waves of fuzzy guitar and deliberate chaos. “Chair and the Submarine” rattles and rolls like classic Dick Dale sitting in with one of the great surf acts, man or Astroman? This energy is matched by the volume and aggression of “Nightcave”. “Cousins” may be more reserved in nature, but its subtle country flavoring provides a distinct personality trait that is both out of place and right in line with the philosophy of the Herms. “A Light Away” is a breathy, Beatles-esque track that pensively fades away and the record closes with Autopos”, a song featuring the musical structure and tone of a classic 80s video game theme. There is truly a little something for everyone here, so all musical tourists can find a home.

PINKWASH - Collective Sigh (Don Giovanni Records

Pinkwash is a Philly act with deep roots in DC and those influences are evident throughout Collective Sigh. The noise-punk-ambient duo of Ashley Arnwine’s and Joey Doubek make music that is stirring, angular, lush, and confounding, and often this is all within one song. The challenge here is to avoid falling into overly simplistic traps of rattling off possible influences because the ultimate end product of Pinkwash stands alone. The opening “No Real Witness” begins with a ball of noise before finding itself as a metallic jackhammer of blunt force, while the dark, nearly threatening “Sigh” is a uncomfortably reserved song with Arnwine’s breathy, muzzled repetition of “inhale, exhale” over a monotone throbbing bass line gives the song a claustrophobic nature. “Metastatic” has a dynamic energy that transcends genre, while “Gumdrop” flirts with traditional hooks and celebrates the power of heartfelt vocals. To that end, Doubek offers his soul to the listener throughout all of Collective Sigh, but perhaps most powerfully on “Burning Too” and “Space Dust”, yet each track presents a unique version of Doubek’s verbal acumen, as the prior is a primal, vicious delivery and the latter is more tempered but equally impactful. This ability to reinvent themselves within the same collection of ten songs makes Pinkwash perpetually interesting and challenging, two traits of which there is a dearth. Frightening without being formulaic and noisy with a purpose, Pinkwash is another reason to celebration the lasting genius of Don Giovanni records.

A HOUSE SAFE FOR TIGERS s/t (Headless Actor Records

Delicate, genteel, and nearly impossible to appropriately label, A House Safe for Tigers is the product of two men with diverse professional musical backgrounds. Mark Costantino and Brandon Delmont have intriguing resumes, but their collective vision for A House Safe for Tigers transcends any of their previous incarnations through courage to challenge contemporary musical trends with a record of highly melodic, but atmospherically dense soundscapes that can be both haunting and richly beautiful. The opening “Entrance” does welcome the listener with open arms and an engaging smile, while “Ann Marie” (a track later returned to in a more stripped down performance to close the record), and “Search Lights” are expansive, majestic works that germinated from of all places, Costantino and his ukulele. However, while no one will find “Tiny Bubbles” anyone on this record, A House Safe for Tigers can be bubbly at times, as “I’ll Take the West to See You” indicates. The cover of Luna’s “I Want Everything” is fitting, for that band’s chameleon like-qualities resemble the sinewy, introspective work. “The Pines” is my favorite of the group here, due to its pristine beauty and flawless delivery. Delmont layers musical blankets over Constantino’s vocals, allowing the lyrics to become another tool to intensify the ambiance of the work. This is a record that makes me appreciate writing for Jersey Beat, as I may never have found this without it arriving at my home, and that would have been my loss.


I can almost smell my old college radio station as I listen to Versus, the rd record from Eureka California. Marie A. Uhler and Jake Ward are a pair of burgeoning musical geniuses with an ability to capture the mundane and the anxiety-riddled aspects of existence that dominate daily life. When Ward declares, “when I’m dead, you’ll get the whole house to your own” in “Cobwebs on the Wind”, he is announcing to the world that one of the great bands has arrived. The bass-heavy “Caffeine” stands next to the acoustic “Everybody Had a Hard Year” in which Ward declares bluntly, “All of you’re your other heroes are with Tennessee Williams and they’re pushing up weeds” perfectly summarizing the disgust and heartbreak that comes with recognizing the emptiness of most realities. The beautiful “I Will Write Mine Over the Potomac” moves easily from reserved to abrasive as Uhler and Ward play as a singular unit, and while the feedback and distortion clearly indicates how this pair has studied the finer points of 90s indie rock, there is also a pure punk aesthetic that is wildly appealing on “Sign My Name with an X”. The raw “Sober Sister” hears Ward announce that “summer’s here and the time is right for getting black out drunk in the street”, concluding another song of bitterness and difficult truth. The finest work on the record is the acoustic gem “Fear and Loathing in The Classical City”; the song is a clinic is brilliantly scathing songwriting for those who appreciate sarcasm and bitterness. A boldly honest and revealing self-analysis, Ward’s voice nearly quivers at times as he seethes with emotion, acting as a perfect metaphor for a band so driven to be heard that their bodies cannot contain their talents.

GREAT LAKES - Wild Vision (Loose Trucks Records

Ben Crum has been out in front of Great Lakes since 1996, and he is a man who works at a deliberate pace to create his craft. Great Lakes has released five records in twenty years, but the passion one hears on Wild Vision makes the wait worthwhile. Much of the material is accented by a country twang, particularly on “Kin to the Mountain”, “Wild Again”, and the majestically sparse “I Stay, You Go”. These efforts harken back to Crum’s days in Athens, Georgia and one would never imagine that Great Lakes have called Brooklyn home for the past fourteen years. The rough and tumble swagger of “Beauties of the Way” is a highlight here, as a galloping backbeat supports sterling guitar playing and lush vocals. Crum often employs a traveling circus of players, but the group that performs on Wild Vision is a collection he should consider holding on to for the foreseeable future; one only needs to hear the chill-inducing, gritty reality of “Blood on my Tooth” to appreciate the vast abilities of Crum and his cohorts. The closing “Shot at and Missed” is a rollicking conclusion to a record that takes elements of folk, country, and rock to make a celebratory record of American music.

WITCHING WAVES - Crystal Café (HHBTM Records

So you think you are jaded huh? Heard it all, seen it all? No one is more disgusted, dissatisfied, and disenfranchised than you? Well, sit down, pal, because Witching Waves make even the most hardened cynic seem downright giddy, and that is what makes this band so incredible. The loud/soft dynamic and fuzzy guitars that dominate Crystal Café are both familiar and distant, best embodied on “Anemone”, a song that slowly builds and then just as seamlessly deconstructs, leaving only a gaping hole of where sound once was. It is this apposition of the recognizable and the indescribable that carries “Seeing Double”, “Pitiless” and the soaring “The Threat” with Emma Wigham’s vocals dominating that latter. Bathed in distortion, Crystal Café reaffirms the power of truly independent music when played by people interested only in generating real emotion and not a hash tag. “Red Light” is another effort that slowly sneaks up upon the listener with a riff that is easily digestible before the concluding salvo of vicious guitar leaves one exhausted and stunned. Witching Waves continuously barrage the listener with unapologetic blasts of life’s inconsistent frustrations and the idea that hopelessness is quickly becoming the accepted norm. This may not be uplifting, but it is limitlessly engaging and exhilarating. Witching Waves can be labeled by a myriad of names, but one truth remains: there is not a punk band on the planet that would not want to be as authentic.

WHY THE WIRES - Flame Failures (One Percent Press/Jetsam-Flotsam Records

“I wasted my twenties forging suicide notes/Then my eyesight went and my liver and my pride/Woke up almost forty with a family, with a life”. Those words are the centerpiece of “Crashed Home”, the second track on Why The Wires’ fascinating post-everything record, Flame Failures. This upstate New York outfit boldly challenges preconceived notions of punk rock by injecting elements of noise, indie squall, math rock song structures, and even some saxophone into a swirling mass of controlled boil chaos. There is a threatening nature to each song, even when the band slows the lunacy down a bit on “Punch List”, an ominous sensibility abounds that soon the songs will spin out of control, leaving a bloodied pile of collateral damage in their wake. “Daycrawlers” embodies this mixture of exhilaration and terror with its winding path of a delivery, blending ferocious guitar work and sheer bombast with raspy, heartfelt vocals. The rumbling “Jesuser”, a kinetic blast of start/stop acrobatics that would be the envy of any DC outfit post 1985, highlights the second side of the record. Some bands can say volumes in only a few words, and that is true of Why The Wires; they do not make music that is easy or readily accessible, but for those who value individuality, audacity and grandiloquence, this is the band.

THE DANDY WARHOLS - Distortland (Dine Alone Records

The Dandy Warhols are one of those bands that have seemingly been around forever, remain sneakily relevant, but have also remained remarkably mysterious to those of us outside the circle of truly devoted, hardcore fans. To that end, I am shocked to find that Distortland is the band’s tenth release and Courtney Taylor and company have a collection of airy, delicate pop nuggets with just enough expected noisy garage qualities to prevent this from becoming too broadly acceptable. “Pope Reverend Jim” and “STYGGO” bob and weave with rich hooks compliments of producer Jim Lowe who has undoubtedly upgraded his house through his work with Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Seeing those names affiliated with the Dandy Warhols make me contemplate if the Dandy’s days as hipster darlings are now extinct, but while “Catcher in the Rye” and “All the Girls in London” have an undeniably playful tone, there is still a basement aesthetic that harkens back to the band’s earliest days as Portland’s coolest export. “You are Killing Me” is the feature track here for me, as Zia McCabe’s haunting backing vocals majestically accents Taylor’s singing and a steady and simplistic guitar riff chugs along incongruously. Flirting with majestic song structures, the warmth of “Doves” and the soaring, moody nature of ‘Search Party” are other examples of a band that retains its off-kilter roots but also continues to grow and challenge themselves. Distortland will undoubtedly satisfy long-time fans and will also act as a perfect gateway drug for those new to The Dandy Warhols.


If you wish it were 1966 instead of 2016, Rebooted is your record. From the whimsical appreciation of life’s good times in “Best Days” or the harmonies of “Disguise”, The Forty-Nineteens sound like they could be playing Hef’s Playboy Club with the Monkees at time just before America lost her innocence in Vietnam. Keys similar to the best moments of Gary “U.S” Bonds and flashes of noisy guitar that Pete Townshed made so famous both power “383 Dodge Charger”, while “Head Up Head High” incorporates pseudo psychedelics into a twist-ready rave-up. “I Walked with a Zombie” and “Dance with Me” offer nothing but pure fun, as the latter is a bouncy tribute to beach movie soundtracks and rock’s most unadulterated pleasures. Produced by former Mighty Lemons Drops David Newton, Rebooted does more than simply recreate a classic sound-the Forty Nineteens play with an authenticity than cannot be forged. “True True True” is infectious with its Beatles-esque harmonies and hook-laden chorus, and the closing “Moonlight Drive” is a heartfelt tribute to the Doors through a distinctive cover that clearly honors the original but does so through the prism of the Forty-Nineteens celebratory nature. This is a blast of exuberance and a perfect summer record.


The title of Ghosts is fitting for this record as much of the work hovers and glides like a benevolent apparition. There is but a single Healer here as Owen Murphy is the one-man mastermind behind this collection that uses the atmosphere as additional instrumentation to make “Lost Your Mind” and “Snow Angels” pristine, richly textured soundscapes. The longing on the title track is almost palpable as Murphy utters, “She slipped away/Cold sun, fights with the grey”, while “There’s No Tomorrow” includes the sad realization of the following lines: “She's slowly sinking in /There's no tomorrow /It's slowly sinking in /There's no tomorrow /There's just today”. The paucity of the lyrics adds a level of gravity to each word, demanding the listener’s full attention as intoxicating rhythms sweep over overhead. “I Want More” is highlighted by the endearing lines ”I love screwing/ I love screwing with you”; however, this confession does not come across as an attempt at low-grade shock or even clichéd due to the earnest nature of its delivery. Murphy’s breathy vocals make the song’s emotions tangible while a throbbing bass line pushes the song forward. There is a great deal of New Wave synth and Echo and the Bunnymen mating with the Psychedelic Furs and Love and Rockets, particularly on “Have Some Fun (the Fall has Begun)” and the closing “Hey Hey Hey, Yeah Yeah Song” but “Shadows vs. Los Angeles” features a thicker, more bombastic bass riff that injects some punk angst in this concoction. Impactful through profound subtlety and overflowing with intellectual darkness, this one is required listening.

SHIP THIEVES-No Anchor (No Idea Records

Chris Wollard’s resume needs no reintroduction, as his work with Hot Water Music is enough to have earned him the rightful distinction as a punk rock icon. However, his work with Ship Thieves has taken Wollard into a folk/Americana rabbit hole until the release of No Anchor. This a classic return to the style that so many adore without simply reproducing HWM’s golden age. The music on No Anchor is melodic, mid-tempo punk angst with solid, chugging hooks and infectious choruses. The big refrain of “so it goes” pushes the opening “Middle Man” along while the central lines of the title track, “we’re in for nasty weather/nothing lasts forever” are delivered with both a sense of immediacy as well as melancholy. “Long Way Down” and “Something is Missing” is a stirring duo in the center of a briskly paced, thirty-minute release that is commanded by Wollard’s flowing, richly melodic guitar work. “Ruts” is my choice for the track I have placed on repeat for it is the most ferocious song of the ten and allows Wollard to both exercise his musical acumen as much as it allows him to exorcise some rage as he howls with an intensity that harkens back to his earliest days. This is superb record from a gifted player with a well-deserved and hard-earned legion of fans.


Frank Phobia is back where he belongs - out in front of Anthrophobia. After eight years of pseudo retirement, Rewired finds the band hitting as forcefully as ever with six sludgy, heavy slabs of no frills, angst-fueled power. When Frank announces on the title track that he has “nothing left to prove” and that he “finally found my groove”, Anthrophobia is boldly announcing their return to a world that needs this type of attitude desperately. While “Below the Surface” ups both the intensity and speed, it is the Sabbath-esque stomp of the aforementioned title track, “Dirty”, and “Sleep Disorder” that truly captures my attention. The latter of this trio is a “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” for the 21st century, and I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun listening to an E.P. “Dirty” lives up to its name with a filthy guitar riff and a thunderous backbeat, while the opening “Buzzkill” is a head-rattling declaration of musical intimidation. Those who had the pleasure of checking this band out in their 90s incarnation will undoubtedly recognize many of the traits that made these guys so great, but Anthrophobia has also benefitted from improved production without omitting any of the furious riffs that defined them. “They Eat Their Young” rages like a band of kids half the ages of Anthrophobia’s members, and the six songs fly by far too quickly. I have always loved Anthrophobia going back to my mid-90s college days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and it is a gift to have these guys back. Eight years is too long to be away, but Rewired more than compensates for the wait. For all you kids out there who want to know what fearless rock n’ roll sounds like, go find this.

TOOTHGRINDER - Nocturnal Masquerade (Spinefarm Records

The world of extreme music can become stagnant and fans are often fickle, which is why a band like Toothgrinder is so vital. This young Asbury Park five-piece experiments with the perceived barriers of metal throughout Nocturnal Masquerade, blending both growled and clean vocals along with a myriad of polyrhythmic song structures that will have tech fans in awe. A limitless energy flows throughout all twelve tracks with a sound that can be both expansive and claustrophobic. “Lace and Anchor” and “The Hour Angle” are two highlights from the opening half of the record, and when vocalist Justin Matthews screams about “my cold, dead eyes” I defy anyone to not get chills. Guitarists Jason Goss and Matt Mielke work together flawlessly, alternating between operatic solos and pummeling groove-laden riffs while bassist Matt Arensdorf holds each song together as chaos swirls around him. However, as skilled as this trio is, drummer Wills Weller may not be of this world-his playing is a combination of a man possessed and a master percussionist, commanding each song with start/stop dynamics that are perpetually jaw dropping. The title track allows Matthews to shine as he moves effortlessly between a death metal bellow and atmospheric singing, while ”Schizophenic Jubilee” is appropriately titled with its graceful transitions from beauty to violence. The lush guitar work that opens “Dejection/Despondency” belies the fury that lies beneath the surface as Toothgrinder demonstrate a boundless penchant for dazzling musical acrobatics. There are not many bands like this and Toothgrinder needs to be supported.

KAL MARKS - Life is Alright, Everybody Dies (Moonlight Werewolf Records https://midnightwerewolfrecords

Kal Marks is a bruising outfit out of Boston that berates listeners with a barrage of perpetual low-end rumble and raw, searing rage via vocalist Carl Shane. The abrasive delivery of “Mankind” epitomizes the band’s approach to daily existence-it is harsh, unapologetic, and relentless, and even when the tempo is subdued slightly, as on “Dorothy”, there is a sense of foreboding darkness that permeates the music. “Loneliness Only Lasts Forever” and “Everybody Dies” have large hooks compliments of Shane while bassist Michael Geacone and drummer Alex Audette work as a single entity. Despite the melancholy nature of the titles, the energy of both tracks becomes radiate, particularly during the latter portion of “Dies” in the which the band displays deft musicianship. The instrumental “Its say to Know How to Say Goodbye” is lush in its desolation, but the noisy, rattling bombast of “Heavy Heads” is much more to my liking. “Coffee” and the closing “Grass is Green but Sometimes it’s Brown” are a fitting pair of concluding efforts, as both including droning guitar work, suffocating bass lines, and a maniacal vocal delivery that reemphasizes this band’s commitment to making music that is both riveting and uncomfortable. This is not easy listening, but it should be required listening.


HIGH HOPES - Sights and Sounds (Victory Records

Melodic metalcore is a dangerous term-it is becoming ubiquitous for labels that are unsure of how to describe an act that is both heavy and unafraid of a little harmony. However, as with all qualities of life, there are exceptions, and High Hopes represents that rare act that do rightfully embody both “melodic” and “metalcore” The ten tracks on Sights and Sounds are intriguing, heavy, and quite articulate. While two of the pieces are brief, the introductory “Pale Blue Dot” and the instrumental “Nostalgic Thoughts”, the other eight anthems are majestically pummeling. I am instantly taken with the vocals of Nick Brooks, whose voice alternates effortlessly between aggressive yowls and deeply emotive crooning. Always perfectly controlled, “The Callout”, “Vanguard”, and “Defender” are impressive examples of modern extreme music. as this group of five young but highly skilled Working in dazzling tandem, guitarists Nathan Pryor and Krishan Pujara are sophisticated without relying on unnecessarily labyrinthine structures. “The Greater Plan” and “MLK” are suffocating in their fury and I am highly impressed by what I hear throughout Sights and Sounds. This is a band that is injecting a new sense of life and energy into a genre desperately searching for both.

SLOW BUILDINGS - "Weapons Against Me" EP (

Jason Legacy and Slow Buildings have impressed me for many years now, and the five-song Weapons Against Me EP is another step forward for a skilled songwriter. The tracks buzz with a tightly wound kinetic energy beginning with the low-end rumble on the title track and “Invisible Kid”. Blending jangling guitars and nervously harmonic vocals, Slow Buildings rattle and shake through modern indie rock. “Teasing Rae” slows the tempo down a bit, adopting a 60s pop vibe while allowing Legacy to show off his sharp lyrics and a few vocal tricks, while “Dirt on a Dog” has an intricate song structure and uniquely catchy chorus. Eschewing guitar solos or unnecessary self-indulgences, every song from Slow Buildings is a smart, hook-filled anthem. The closing, largely acoustic “I Can’t Trust You” is heartfelt and beautifully sardonic that builds in intensity and is unforgettably harmonic. This is a solid release and a reminder why these guys should be a name more people know.

USELESS EATERS - Temporary Mutilation (Slovenly Records

Useless Eaters has my undying affinity because they simply love being weird; a devotion to non-conformity that so many bands lack. The opening cacophony of “Temporary Mutilation”, complete with horn squall, somehow gives way to a wonderfully off-kilter rhythm that carries a richly textured song. Much of this release, perhaps none more than “Breathing Smear” contains a Mission of Burma style vibrancy, as somehow the songs are both dense and ethereal, dynamic and lo-fi. The guitar playing on “Car Accident Face” is the equivalent to a sugar-fueled tantrum and the band stops and shifts tempo with incredibly deftness, demonstrating true growth as musicians. A child-like drum machine opens “Poison Dart”, but its’ buried monotone vocals and haunting bass line gives the effort a quietly menacing quality that rivals Joy Division’s loneliest moments. The closing “Scene + Sequence” is the most complete song of the bunch, as it is a thunderous, rumbling slab of blunt, claustrophobic power. Seth Sutton is on to something truly great here as Useless Eaters is a band that will force listeners to rethink what punk rock is, and all interested in a band that tosses aside labels in the name of making powerful music should find this immediately.

HOLY CITY ZOO - No Bunting (Sniffling Indie Kids Records

This very DIY New Brunswick band brings a swirling mix of post-punk and the sludgier elements of 90s grunge to No Bunting, and the results are chaotic, frantic, and highly enjoyable. Many of the tracks begin in a benign manner before finding an angry, nearly vicious, groove, best heard on “Poor Little Pinkus”, a song with a copious number of violent mood swings. The wonderfully titled “Saw a Bush, Thought it was a Person” is a visceral assault from its opening note and there is no let up or subtle time sequence shifting to be found; just a classic burst of aggressive guitar playing without any vocals to interfere with the bombardment. “Stan Lee’s Cup” and “David Byrne’s Magical Vacation” are two other examples of a band that does not adhere to any one particularly style, but instead greatly relish genre-bending antics, as both songs tease with melody but more often deliver off-kilter madness. The story about a pie-eating contest on the Jersey shore heard on “Vacation” is wildly engaging and entertaining, yet one cannot help believing that there is something more menacing hiding beneath those seemingly good-natured lyrics. “This is Your Life” is an abrasive and ferocious with raw, impassioned vocals and is my favorite of the eleven offering here. The closing “Nobody’s Vince” captures a 1993 guitar tone with intricate rhythm section interplay. The four members of Holy City Zoo do not reveal much about themselves, but No Bunting speaks volumes about just how impressive they are as a unit.

UP FOR NOTHING - Swindled (It’s Alive Records

Brooklyn’s Up For Nothing have been kicking around the East Coast punk-pop scene for quite a while now and their most recent effort is the product of years of refining their sound into a finely honed delivery. “Tiny Violins” and “The Faker” are two supremely crafted pieces of rugged but accessible punk with plenty of snarling vocals and hook-laden choruses. The blink and it’s gone “The Suspense is Terrible (I Hope it Lasts)” is delightfully bombastic but simply comes and goes too quickly. I am more impressed by the lengthier, fleshed out tales of “Don’t Wanna Know”, “Get Right”, and “80 West”; each is replete with heartfelt lyrics, Justin’s passionate delivery, and brisk playing. “Sink” and “Swindled” are forthright personal examinations delivered in the form of power chords and roaring backing vocals. I know there are legions of bands who play this style, and that makes Up for Noting all the more impressive in my eyes, as this stands out from a very large crowd. Swindled has a Florida-style punk-pop stomp to it balances serious themes with a fun-loving musical structure. Up for Nothing do not attempt to be anything more than what they are, which is an insatiably catchy act with sharp lyrics and unapologetically melodic song structures. Swindled enters quickly with “Dignity” and leaves just as briskly with “I’m Gone”. In between, there are twelve anthems that are uniquely individual yet still subscribe to a singular sound. This is a great way to start the new year.

ALL SENSORY VOID - Chasing Transcendence (

All Sensory Void have perfectly titled their album, for there is a transcendent quality to their brand of atmospheric, 90s-flavored guitar rock. The opening “Romantic Hopeless” clocks in at nearly seven minutes and the song maximizes each of the seconds to construct an intricate but not convoluted track of ethereal beauty. The song is a bit of misdirection from the majority of the work here, as guitarist/vocalist Eric Goldberg makes his presence felt immediately on “This Charmed Life” and “Desire”, both far more aggressive in nature than their lengthier predecessor. The latter of the pair particularly holds my attention as Goldberg pushes himself as vocalist with his bassist bother Danny and drummer Brian “Dreads” DePhillis constructs a formidable low end. “Cautiously Optimistic” and “Confounding” revert to more traditional loud/soft dynamics with a sneaky sense of harmony that lit up college radio in the mid-90s. All Sensory Void are not shoegazing here, the one exception to that coming in the form of the instrumental “Longing”, but they are not spitting out their rage either. Instead they fall into a spherical realm that embraces delicate musicianship but is not afraid to flex their muscles either. Perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch is the closing “Normalcy” that bounces with a pop sensibility eschewed until that point. All Sensory Void have progressed from a one-man outfit of Goldberg’s creation into a fully fleshed out making intelligent and sophisticated indie rock.

COMB THE DESERT - Humannoyed (

For a band whose moniker may be attributed to a sight gag from Spaceballs, nothing on Humannoyed is a laughing matter. This is viciously aggressive hardcore played with a metallic tinge and limitless energy. Unlike many bands of this ilk that write a few lines and shout them ad nauseam, the lyrics on Humannoyed are worth printing out and reading along, for within the screams are sharp tales and astute social critiques. Roaring from the start with the bass heavy “Walken Shoes” (what a great pun, by the way, boys), Comb The Desert are here to certainly get the circle pit moving, but also to make people think. On “180 Degrees of Positivity”, the following lines are spat out with blinding fury (Our chakras unite/Burn with a wondrous light /Let our chi all connect /Youth. Beauty. Intellect /We drank from the fountain /They drank all the Kool Aid /And we are expected /To clean the messes that all the fools made”), while the guitars squall and the drumming pummels. “Don’t HAARP on Me” launches itself at the listener with the subtlety of a bombing raid, utilizing Dillinger Escape Plan style chaos before locking into a tightly wound riff to surround the chorus. The title track and “Flightless Birds” both feature lyrics that speak of man’s demise, as the latter details a Blade Runner-esque scenario, where as “Flightless Birds” places the responsibility for the world’s failure squarely upon the shoulders of the inhabitants. However, the band saves the best for last as “How Stella Really Got Her Groove Back” is a title that belies a heatedly delivered effort that depicts a dystopia that eclipses even Orwell’s darkest moments. (“First they take your rifles /then your first born /then they make you warship a man with two shiny horns /Your road leads nowhere /you followed skewered maps /Open up your sewer Caps /you'll do fewer laps”). What makes this Jersey band different from the legions of other angered souls cathartically releasing their frustrations through music is that Comb the Desert fleshes out their songs for over three, sometimes four minutes; a sharp contrast to the typical structures of hardcore songs. While they may not allow the listener to breathe with their level of ferocity, Comb the Desert’s six pieces here indeed have room to breathe and morph into something much more intriguing than a typical young hardcore act. These guys would be an amazing act to see live, and I guarantee it would be a fight to survive that pit.

LOAD - Drunken Warrior Chief (

Most of my knowledge of Florida comes from the immortal television show Cops, and I have long believed that, outside of the Disney gates, Florida is a dank, humid, disgusting swamp that was not worth the five million dollars the U.S. paid for it as part of the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819. Load’s music is the living embodiment of a murky quagmire and Drunken Warrior Chief offers twenty-five slabs of this band’s finest offerings (if you download it). This mid-90s powerhouse bludgeons the listener with a combination of sludgy, dark aggression and raw, Black Flag style hardcore. Every effort here is a celebration of chaos, and Bobby Load was clearly among the finest underrated vocalists of the era. Every line is spat and squalled with a devastating sense of passionate disgust. “Lumberjack Death Dirge”, the title track, “Pastor’s Day”, and “Canon Procedure” are only a few of the pummeling, abrasive songs that highlight this collection. Compilations like this are both illuminating and distressing, for as incredible as Load was, I never knew of them and I can only wonder if people appreciated them at the time. A quick glance across the bland landscape of music today makes one long for more bands that deliberately decimate all in their paths and do not care about trends, corporate support, or predictability. “Haitian Incantation” and “Buried Alive” are heavy and crushing, while “Pa’s Moonshine” and “595 a Lezin” display but more light-hearted nature but are equally overwhelming musically. Bands such as Load sadly become fodder for debates among friends about the best of a scene, but they sadly never saw national recognition on a scale deserving of their talents. Ugly music that makes others uncomfortable is my favorite brand of act, and Load proudly flaunts their repulsion of the traditional. While I am saddened that Load may no longer be, thank Rat Town for bringing this to light.

GRAND HEAD (Gorbie International Records

This self-titled jewel plays out like the second side of My War in the sense that one knows that Grand Head is clearly a punk band, but with a slower, thicker sound. “Threshold of a New Day” epitomizes this outfit with its pummeling gallop of a guitar riff and rumbling low-end. Opening with the volcanic “Bull Ramos”, it may be easy to fall into a clichéd trap of waiting for the band to explode into blind rage, but that never occurs. Rather than a traditional hardcore assault, guitarist/vocalist Barry Brusseau stays in complete control and is in perfect sync with drummer Tim Ward. Occasionally adopting a Sabbath-like drone, Grand Head brings a tireless bombast on each of the nine crippling tracks. “Not a Cretin” has nothing to do with any Ramones homage, as there is no hop here, just an avalanche of thunderous guitar. Each song is sparse in lyrics, but this dearth of verbiage only allows each syllable to take hold and truly impact the listener. “Dark and Starry Sky” comes the closest to a raw, DC hardcore vibe, but even it slows down at the halfway point to allow Brusseau and Ward to brutalize the listener more deliberately. “Amongst the Rubes” has a bluesy intro matched by the equally intriguing “Shattered Hearts”, an effort in which Brusseau forcefully enunciates “My heart has taken a turn for you” in a manner more troubling than sentimental. While “The Lion’s Share” takes its time to warm, the guitar work is highly impressive and moves seamlessly into the jazz-tinged closing salvo, “Pine Box”. Grand Head is the product of two grizzled veterans and their talents are obvious.

NOON:30 Finding Release (HHBTM Records

I may have just been introduced to the most interesting band in America. Noon:30 opens Finding Release with the fittingly titled “Dream”, for the song is just that-a delicate, atmospheric journey into a blissfully dark subspace with Blue’s gorgeous voice leading you nervously by the hand. The acapella “Interlude” again demonstrates Blue’s stirring range, but as warm and soulful as her voice is, there is an unnervingly intimidating quality to her performance that makes this brief piece immensely powerful. When “Rodeo” hits, an ethereal hip-hop track explodes with raging vocals. Blue sounds as if she is inches from your face, veins bulging, eyes wide, as she implores each word with awe-inspiring conviction. In a world dominated by safe, ready-made pop for the blind masses, Noon:30 is a defiant middle finger to the entire music industry and general populace. Each song by Blue and Aissa is performed without a smirk or any sense of irony; Noon:30 wants to burn all music down to ash and start anew. When Blue boats of how she can “push it”, one may be briefly tempted to think of Salt N’ Pepa, but that image is short-lived as the sexual ferocity Noon:30 produces has nothing to do with subtle innuendo. The final of the four pieces, “Gun”, is actually the most straightforward of the bunch, but the haunting whispered chorus becomes imprinted on the listener’s soul. There is a devastating immediacy and brazen courage to Noon:30 and I consider myself fortunate to have encountered this, as this is not a style of music for which I would normally actively seek. The second side includes three remixes, two alternative takes on “Gun”, with Aimee remaining fairly true to the original an Bastards of Fate adding an additional layer of hazy atmosphere before injecting a bass-propelled groove. TunaBunny turns “Rodeo” into a powerful dance track while still retaining the forcefulness of the initial version. Go find this as quickly as hu


YUPPICIDE - Revenge Regret Repeat (Dead City Records

The world is a mess and we all know it-people are scared, angry, and growing increasingly disgusted with all that surrounds us. Therefore, the world needs Yuppicide, and the band delivers their first new disc in two decades! The legendary punk stalwarts return with a record that sums up the America of 2015 in three words, Revenge Regret Repeat. Frankly, bands that have been gone this long should not sound this good upon their return, but vocalist Jesse Jones is a beast with more authentic energy than kids half his age. If you are unfamiliar with these guys, your life at this moment remains incomplete, for machines like Yuppicide just are not made anymore. The roaring, scathing “Bad Blood” is tinged with a sense of dry sarcasm, while “Spread the Infection” is just a skull-splitting slab of aggression that also retains a wildly catchy hook. The George Carlin clip that introduces “Political game” is brilliantly selected as the track shreds the actions of governments that sacrifice the poor, news industries that keep the masses blind, and corporations that wallow in wealth through the blood-soaked profits of war. The social criticism continues on “Obsolete” as the band shrewdly dissects the struggling of those feeling being left behind in their lives. At times, Yuppicide displays just old fashioned chops and sing along passion such as “You’re Gonna get It” and “Hurts to Know”, while “Ghosts” invokes a ska groove and manages to fit perfectly within the larger constructs of a sneering, relentless punk record. Revenge Regret Repeat brings back the glory days of NYHC and we are all better for it.

LEFTOVER CRACK - Constructs of the State (Fat Wreck Chords

There are few bands in the world that can rival Leftover Crack in terms of political daring and musical experimentation. Blending elements of hardcore, crust, and ska, the band blazes through a dozen new gems on Constructs of the State. The opening duo of "Archaic Subjugation" and "Don't Shoot" are vicious blasts of classically structured punk while "System Fucked" and "Vicious Constructs" use ska grooves to convey socially conscious warnings. What makes this record unique is that Leftover Crack is not interested in simply bludgeoning the listener with just speed, for "Bedbugs and Beyond", while it has its more acerbic elements, also retains a strong sense of harmony, something heard with equal skill on "Last Legs" and "The Lie of Luck". Dark, sardonic, and superbly delivered, Constructs of the State is a collections of tracks that make one think and are a call to action in a manner reminiscent of classic early 80s hardcore. There is an underlying anger that drives the lyrical content but this is not overly apocalyptic-there is a sense that Leftover Crack, as embodied through the voice of Scott Sturgeon believe that, like Jefferson understood, a little rebellion is a good thing, and people have the ability to change the world around them as bleak as it may appear to be. In an age in which a xenophobic reality show billionaire can mount a numerically legitimate run for the White House, a band like Leftover Crack is desperately needed to remind people of the absurdities that surround them. I love everything about Constructs of the State.

ANTI-FLAG - Live Acoustic at 11th Street Records (

My appreciation for Anti-Flag now spans almost two decades, having first been introduced to Die for the Government way back in 1996. Through the years, I, like so many other fans of the band, have witnessed their maturity as social activists and songwriters, but honestly, I never would imagine an intimate acoustic set sounding like this. Justin Sane and Chris #2 play alone to a crowd that treated the show like a typical A-F gig, particularly during the closing salvo of “Die for the Government”. The set features tracks from American Spring, starting the evening with “Fabled World” and really hitting the high point of the performance with “Brandenburg Gate”. The duo interacted with the crowd quite a bit, both laughing and cheering their antics on, but also becoming somber at times. The introduction to “Broken Bones” by Sane is poignant in his call for people to seek help and to talk to others when depression sets in as he notes having lost too many good people to suicide over the years. The band’s shrewd political knowledge and frustration with the current system is rampant on “One Trillion Dollars” and “This is the End”, while the crowd nearly erupts during “Turncoat” proving that this is not a typical unplugged show. The lessons to be taken from this are twofold: firstly, Anti-Flag can truly play as both Sane and Chris #2 do not hesitate to challenge themselves with leads and solos and they do so magnificently. Secondly, great punk rock with a vital societal message does not have to be buried within distortion to be powerful. Anti-Flag takes yet another step forward in the career of one of America’s most important bands.

HOLLOW SUNSHINE - Bring Gold (Iron Pier Records

Reuben Sawyer is the mastermind behind the musical structure of Hollow Sunshine and Bring Gold is a modern reimagining of what sludgy, heavy post-punk can be. What makes this so unique is the unavoidable pop sensibility that creates a dichotomy between skull-crushing force and subtle texture. The title track repeats the phrase “run me down”, and musically, this is what the band does to the listener. The songs are not empty droning riffs; rather, Hollow Sunshine crafts eight impressive efforts with a menacing energy. “Last Chamber” layers blunt guitar force with an equally jarring low end. The vocals of Morgan Enos hover hauntingly and weave tales of powerful imagery on “Careful Travel” (“a stone through the edifice/I’m lying in it decaying and watching”) and “On a Balance” (“One way to find a means to me; the loss of entity/One way you come around to me; cold and full of need”). There is a poetic beauty to the songs, as the words are minimal but coexist flawlessly in an ocean of sound. There is a rare moment of respite from the overwhelming bombast on “Morning Green” which has a less melancholy aura with Enos’ vocals both a touch higher and more harmonic. The closing “Companion” is heartbreaking in its despondent splendor as Enos emotes “There is space for me/ You are not to blame/Find your way to breathe/There is space for me”. This is a majestic release from a two supremely talented players.

WILD MOTH - Inhibitor (Iron Pier Records

This young, Bay Area band reinterprets early-90s style noise with undeniable energy. Imagine a far more rambunctious Ride or an American version of Teenage Fanclub with a sharper edge and a Lou Barlow fixation and the results are“Mirrors” and “Thinner”, two of the strongest pieces here, along side the ripping “Buried”. The swagger continues on “Hello, Star” with a thick slab of guitar playing and sublimely sinister vocals. “You Found Out” opens with an angular, noisy introduction before falling seamlessly into the warm embrace of a highly melodic groove. “Traces” takes the best of Jesus and Mary Chain and even Swervedriver, while “Galleries of Walls” is what Mission of Burma would sound like if they formed in 2015. There is tremendous energy throughout Inhibitor as Wild Moth takes fundamental elements of shoegaze pop and kicks life into what can often be an overly misanthropic style in lesser skilled hands.

MAPMAKER - Critical Path (One Percent Press

Mapmaker plays exactly the type of indie rock I truly enjoy-it is loud, highly kinetic, almost to the point of being frantic, and there is an urgency that is palpable. Brimming with angular and nimble guitar playing, all of Critical Path roars with a fury that is the manifestation of teenage confusion remaining unsolved and the realizations of the unpleasantness of real life. “Caregiver” is my favorite of all the high-energy tracks that dominate the record, highlighted by wonderfully intelligent and introspective lyrics (“Ruminating thoughts are on the coffee table in the living room/burdens internalized and sleepless nights....when I was fifteen I thought my friends were dead because I couldn’t parent them”). Raw, highly emotive vocals are howled and yelped, but never screamed, throughout a dozen songs that sound as if the band is playing for their lives. “Out Loud”, “Forgetting What It’s Like”, and “Outside” are bombastic, charismatic songs that should earn this band a legion of dedicated fans. Mapmaker proves to me that there are still bands in the world that understand what confusion and anguish feel like and how to set those emotions to music. Each song snarls with a fury and one feels as if each track is ready to crawl out of its skin through some form of painstaking birthing ritual. “Stop Shaking Get Up” finishes the record off with the ominous words of “Tried to convince myself of control/ as it crowds around me”. Mapmaker does not pretend to have answers, give help, or offer solutions-they just want the listeners to know that they are there. This is a band that is impossible to ignore.

WOODEN WAVES -Wilder Dreams (One Percent Press

Wooden Waves deliver hook-laden, pop-accented rock with nice indie flair. “My Friend at Night” has Arches of Loaf style guitar playing woven within a blissfully soulful chorus. “Song Sweatypalms” wonderfully captures angst of any age in its purest form with the refrain of “I’m bored!”, as shared male/female vocals dance in precise rhythm throughout; a style repeated numerously during the Wilder Dreams’ ten tracks. The cleverly titled “Blue Gene’s Wilder Dreams” again emphasizes perfect vocal interplay, while “Let the Fun Come” has its lyrics delivered in a brilliantly sarcastic deadpan style, completely devoid of emotion. Wooden Waves take risks on odd time sequences and opaque lyrics, highlighted by “Welcome to Summerfeldt” (“Oh, I spent my last quarter on my Mighty Taco order/Sorry dude, I ain’t got change for you”) and “Dong of Time “ (“And every day that we play, we’ll do our very best/ and we’ll be broke, selling jokes”). There is a visible but not blinding 90s homage here, and Wooden Waves does enough to make this sound truly their own. The closing “Now You’re Strange” has a subtle intensity that seems to both define and encapsulate this band. In all, an intriguing listen.

ELECTRIC SIX - Bitch, Don’t Let Me Die (Metropolis Records

I do not know what this is. I took my time to listen to Bitch, Don’t Let Me Die wondering continuously why I am doing this to myself. I cannot determine if Electric Six is a joke, having fun that I do not appreciate, or are they just a dance-glam hybrid that is outside of my strength. Ultimately, I have to conclude that this band is a lot of fun, but this is not music for when one is sober on a Sunday afternoon; -this is late Friday night, early, bleary eyed Saturday morning when one cannot remember how many drinks have been consumed, and who (or what) has an arm around one’s neck. Opening with the pseudo-militaristic parody “Drone Strikes”, I am somewhat intrigued but the novelty is gone by the time I reach “Kids Are Evil”. Granted, while I can certainly concur with the sentient, the cheesy dance grooves leave me flat. “Roulette” does nothing for me, particularly with the sound effects augmenting a thin loop, and the final straw is the text message like title of “If U R Who U say U R”. Dick Valentine has a fairly warm voice, considering the studio tricks done to it, but this is just not my type of fun.

NATO COLES and the BLUE DIAMOND BAND - Promises to Deliver

When the sad day comes when Bruce Springsteen does walk away from music, his legacy will live on, not only through his rich discography, but with the legions of acts that imitate his soulful, blue collar playing. Nato Coles, who spent some time in Brooklyn in the underrated Used Kids, returned to his midwestern roots in 2010 and put together a Minneapolis collection of players who sound as if they could be the house band for any bar in Asbury Park. Rum Bar Records has re-released Nato & The Blue Diamond Band's 2013 LP Promises To Deliver on CD for the first time and it's a winner. “See Some Light” opens with a poetic, heartfelt delivery caked in the dust of Route 66, while “You Can Count on Me” rattles with a surprisingly frenetic level of energy. The band is at their best when they crank out straight forward, truck commercial sounding anthems such as “Econoline” or the rousing “True Blue Rocker”. The country twang that defines “Hard to Hear the Truth” and “Rudes and Cheaps” eliminates any predictability that one may fear overtaking the record, but the band’s real strength is old-fashioned rock n’ roll. “Late Night Heroes” is a late 70s hard rock nugget, while “Julie (Hang Out a Little Longer)” could be a lost studio outtake from the Hooters, dripping in 80s pop just below the classic rock guitar. The band is a tight collection of solid players, particularly Sam Beer’s guitar work and Mike Cranberry’s drumming that truly holds the unit together. Nothing on Promises to Deliver in wholly unique, but there is a definitive appeal to no frills, attitude and label free rock.

THE BRAINS - Out in the Dark (Stomp Records

Out in the Dark, the seventh release from these Canadian punks, sound like the spawn of unwanted copulation between the Misfits and the Stray Cats - loud, fun rockabilly with nothing but deathly imagery. Songs involving burning witches (“The Witch”), running away from werewolves (“Wolfman”), and even killer collections of mollusks (“Octopi”), make Out in the Dark a great way to spend around a half hour, as most of the eleven tracks check in at just under three minutes. What makes the record so intriguing is The Brains’ ability to clearly formulate a sound without becoming formulaic. The opening title track has a bluster about it that swings like something from the Big Band era while vocalist Rene D Le Muerte rages on guitar. This is equally apparent on the rousing “Need You Know” which is a beautiful ode to eternal love, assuming that death is an idea one can find attractive (“”I’m gonna die alone/I’m gonna die with you/A life that I’ve assumed/Forever faithful to”), as well as the ominous pronouncement of devotion on “Lifetime”. The band juxtaposes darkness with high energy, pop-kissed grooves on “Break” (“Break the skin and tear it all apart/let the crimson flow away”) and “Say Goodbye”, an infectious (sorry) tale of plague and suffering. The greatest quality of The Brains is that, despite all of the potentially comedic moments, this band is deathly serious and incredibly talented. The furious “Killer” that closes the disc is a raging punk dirge that would terrify even the most blood-thirsty zombie. Halloween may have passed, but the holidays are a perfect time for the Brains.

GLENN MERCER Incidental Hum (Bar None Records

The Feelies were always underappreciated, and Glenn Mercer was the leader of the undervalued Jersey legends. His second solo record is a swirling collection of fifteen instrumentals, including covers of Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”, Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun”, and even “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. While the covers are fun, it is the dozen originals that make Incidental Hum so enjoyable. Each song has a distinctly unique vibe, beginning with the opening lounge-inspired “Hana”, a song that sounds perfectly crafted for a swinging bachelor pad. Standing in delightful contrast to this is the noisy “Mobile”, and the droning, dense, seven minute requiem “Salem”. The various styles, tempos, and atmospheres illustrate the startling talent Mercer possesses. The Latin flair of “Yuma” is matched by the sweeping, flamenco, at times, Old West elements of “Hermosa” and “Twenty-Nine Palms”. There seems to be nothing that Mercer cannot do with a guitar, ranging from jazzy interludes on the soothing “Kodiac” through the trippy, ethereal, headspace of “Moss Point”. Each song paints a distinctive picture and constructs a wholly separate universe around itself, and therefore, Incidental Hum sounds like seven or eight different record in one, all performed by an artfully gifted player.

JOE KING CARRASCO Y LOS SIDE FX - Chiliando (Anaconda Records

One would be hard pressed to find a person having more fun in life than Joe King Carrasco. This record is like playing drinking games on the Rob Gronkowski party bus with Jimmy Buffett working the bar in between sets. If guitars and margaritas sound like a winning combination, then Chilando may be the record to help get through the approaching winter. The opening “My Ding Dong Daddy (Don’t Daddy No Mo)” pretty much sums up what the general theme is here: fun-loving, sun-worshipping music with the sole purpose of helping the listener forget about how soul-crushing life can be for a few hours. “No Way Jose” and “Tequila Revolution” are other highly energized, alcohol-fueled efforts that will probably lead to a long night of debauchery and a longer morning of recovery. Throughout the disc, Carasco and his Side FX partners borrow Chuck Berry style rock (“Who Put the “P” in Pendejo”), Tex-Mex styling (“Tengo Muchachita”), and even some Latin-tinged flamenco (“Buscando”) to create a wild cornucopia of sounds, flavors, and genres on a record that ends too soon. For all of those who are tired of having “Margaritaville” pass as the penultimate laid back drinking anthem, try out this Mexican spiced collection. Even Donald Trump would approve of this.

THE RENTIERS - Black Metal Yoga (Baldy Longhair Records

Joel Tannenbaum made quite a name for himself in both Plow United and Ex Friends, but he is now doing whatever he feels like with The Rentiers. “Black Metal Yoga” is a bouncy, pop nugget that is truly among the oddest songs I have ever heard and I cannot hear it enough. Annika Pyle of Chumped shares vocals along with Tannenbaum and the song begins as a message of inspiration as to how to either “get you out of the academy” or “keep you out of the cubicle” before shifting to a tale about doing hard time in prison on Mars. With references to Bathory, fingerless gloves, and finally arriving on Earth with a message of love, “Black Metal Yoga” is an unavoidably memorable tune that buries itself in one’s brain and refuses to surrender. It would make a perfect jingle, but I have no idea what product would ever be cool enough to deserve this. Mikey Erg and Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman contribute their twisted brilliance to a song that feels like a late night writing session gone completely off the rails that was recorded for fun, just the same. Regardless of the inspiration, “Black Metal Yoga” strikes me as something fun to do while re-watching the documentary about the guys from Mayhem for the one thousandth time.

KYLESA - Exhausting Fire (Season of Mist Records

There may perhaps be no better opening salvo for a record than “Crusher” which opens Kylesa’s latest offering, Exhausting Fire. This newest collection of works is the culmination of Kylesa’s evolution over the years; Exhausting Fire is a trippy, groove-laden slab of thick, stoner guitar and haunting vocals. Laura Pleasants has a staggeringly beautiful vocal range and Phillip Cope sounds as if he is delivering his lyrics from far on the other side of mortality, reminding me of acts ranging from pre-pop Cure to Sisters of Mercy to Throbbing Gristle. “Shaping the Southern Sky” is a meandering, head-space anthem that is also unapologetically heavy; the last component keeps one of Kylesa’s feet in the metal world, but this is far more than simply metal with a bit of a haze hanging above its head. Latter day Corrosion of Conformity and the best of Mastodon are heard in the swirling riffs of “Lost and Confused”, while “Inward Debate” and “Night Drive” are dark and misanthropic, two staples of quality metal, but the delivery is complex and wildly engaging. “Inward Debate” is a sludgy, dense aural stew of labyrinthine riffs and serpentine chord progression-a thunderous gem. “Night Drive” is particularly disturbing as the song’s sinewy nature makes for a writhing, pulsating mass of raw emotion, but it is ambiguous as to whether the speaker is frustrated, terrified, or entirely despondent. “Falling”, with Pleasants again commanding attention, is another less conventional anthem that only demonstrates the increasing confidence and musical defiance of Kylesa. “Blood Moon” may be the finest example of all the various elements of this record-the song slowly burns and builds into a thunderous riff from an ember of force while vocals hover in a dazzling ambient display, dissipating into quiet before the song erupts one final time before burning out entirely. While not a band to ever be reticent to experimentation, Kylesa can even write more straight ahead rock anthems like the closing “Out of my Mind”. This is worthy of immediate attention.

ROGER HARVEY - Twelve Houses (Black Numbers Records

Roger Harvey has been making music and touring since his pre-teen years, and the life experiences have led to a beautiful, swirling record in the form of Twelve Houses. Balancing fuzzy indie soul along the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel or The Mountain Goats (“Halloween”) with more psychedelic grooves (“Three Wolf Moon” or “Lovers Can be Monsters”), Twelve Houses is a warm, deeply personal collection of tracks that took over a year to finalize, but the attention to detail is apparent. The opening haze of “One Night as an Astronaut” dissipates and the latter half of the ten songs bounce with crackling energy, particularly “Tezcatlipoca, accented by sparking guitar tricks, and ‘Five Suns Song”. There is a density to the music that defies the gentle nature of Harvey’s singing; the juxtaposition of those emotions perfectly mirror Harvey’s own life story as a young man from a farming town in Pennsylvania who currently lives in Philly having also done time in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. This is a style of playing to which I do not instantly gravitate, but Roger Harvey has an intriguing sound that makes Twelve Houses quite special.

WOLF EYES - I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces (Third Man Records

Noise music has always helped to define your friends: appreciate the people who do not run in fear or turn away in disgust when introduced to Black Dice, Skullflower, or Whitehouse. Wolf Eyes was for years among those truly nightmarish noise acts, but I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces has a subtle beauty in the midst of the darkness and horror. What I most admire about these three distorted geniuses from Detroit, Nathan Young, Jim Baljo, and John Olson, is how they collectively generate terror through serenity; Wolf Eyes does not attempt to bombard the listener through walls of screaming distortion and brain-rattling fury. Rather, “Catching the Rich Train” includes genteel woodwinds encircled by spine-tingling effects and elements of noise that are more scary than abrasive. The white noise and distant moans that pass as vocals construct an ambient bath in which the listener slowly becomes immersed and ultimately falls into a sound sleep and drowns. The steady, almost plodding, percussion of “Twister Nightfall” exists under waves of a wraithlike atmosphere that is intriguing but not as radical as other material. Everything about I Am a Problem is dark, methodical, and yet gloriously contrasting in nature. Noise bands are not designed to have a structure, but recognizable arrangements exist, and each six songs are noisy without being noise. There is an off-putting beauty and near delicacy to the ghostly vocals on “T.O.D.D”, while “Asbestos Youth” penetrates the listener. Simplistic yet richly constructed, the song picks its spots for garbled, troubling vocals and the impressive, noticeable guitar work. “Enemy Ladder” is the most straightforward, clocking in around only three minutes, and possesses a more traditional rock sensibility about it. The closing, expansive musical steppe that is “Cynthia Vortex AKA Trip Memory Illness” is staggeringly powerful, multi-layered, and majestically complex. This is not designed to shatter speakers but to confound the listener. No one will be overwhelmed by a torrent of force or dragged into a vortex of chaos, but this is new noise. The touches of serenity that float in and out of the closer only bring an unexpected relief to an otherwise challenging listening experience. This makes the listen uncomfortable in the best possible way.

FICTION PLANE- Mondo Lumina (Rhyme and Reason Records

Fiction Plane’s first American release in nearly a decade is a pristine collection of delicate efforts that hang softly in the air and often fade from the listener with a painstaking fragility. Each of the twelve songs on Mondo Lumina is a lush, beautiful piece that is richly atmospheric, but will not hold the attention of those looking for guitar-oriented rock. The band, led by vocalist Joe Sumner, has remarkable control over their instruments as they weave tales of maturity and finding hope and optimism even in the midst of life’s challenges that are significant departures from previous lyrical works. The tempo never exceeds a slow heartbeat, but “Real Life” and “Refuse” are exquisite tales off humanity played by gifted friends who are not interested in rattling walls any longer, but certainly hope to make listeners think. This is perfect rainy Sunday afternoon music, but not in a melancholy way; despite the creeping, meandering pace, “Don’t Give up the Fight”, “First Time”, and “No One but You” are mesmerizing in their elegance. Guitarist Seton Daunt deserves tremendous credit as the all-star on Mondo Lumina, crafting precise riffs around Sumner’s forlorn vocals and Pete Wilhoit’s intricate drumming. Fiction Plane is not a band to which I would run when I am looking to get fired up for a big night out, but their talent is irrefutable and their penchant for creating beautiful, heartfelt music is undeniable.

BANQUETS - Spit at the Sun (Black Numbers Records

It is always sad to see talented bands call it quits; like athletes forced to retire while still in their prime, there is that wonder about what could have been. Banquets have disbanded, but their final gift to the world is a gem of a collection of sharp, angular pop-punk in the form of Spit at the Sun. ”Stop Signs In a Ghost Town” sums up the bands career both lyrically and musical, as the closing refrain of “it was good” is a fitting farewell and the song itself is a wonderfully harmonious, head-bobbing nugget of shrewd musicianship. Soaring vocals, tightly wound riffs and catchy choruses abound here and there is not a wasted second, as the urgency of the farewell is almost tangible on “Oblivion”, “”Backwash” and the poignant “To Reminisce”, with the latter allotting moments of heartfelt poignancy to emphasize the emotional breadth of the track. Quality bands should never be taken for granted for their shelf lives may be brief-Banquets is another act that is gone too soon.

THE SADDEST LANDSCAPE - Darkness Forgives (Topshelf Records

This is what happens when emo bands grow up-The Saddest Landscape do not wallow in misery, they expunge it out of their systems with a cathartic fury that is exhilarating. Darkness Forgives is an appropriately sinister sounding collection, with “Souls Worth Saving” and “Til Our Ears Bleed” as two examples of searing guitar playing and Andy Maddox pushing his vocals seemingly past his limits to create a sense of desperate frustration and angst. With heavy bass lines and thunderous drumming, The Saddest Landscape are a complete sounding act, balancing bombast with intricacy, and the slow boiling rage on “Trimmed and Burning” and “The Fire Between Heartbeats” is chilling in its ruthless delivery. The energy is tangible throughout the record and the closing of “A Heaven of Amplifiers” and “Admitting You’re Alive” are two of the more complex songs of the ten offerings. Every track is a swirling mass of dual guitar force that erupts, retreats briefly for the slightest of respites and then attacks the listener again with an invigorating vehemence. Noisy but expertly crafted, Darkness Forgives is a pristine torrent of bluster and force that is clearly a massive step forward for The Saddest Landscape.

TEEN AGERS/ WOLF-FACE Split EP(Say-10 Records

This bouncy split includes the infectious, sugar-pop sounds of two of Florida’s most fun-loving acts. Orlando’s Teen Agers play classic sounding punk-pop but this is largely not one chord, sixty-second blasts; rather, “KWM”, “River Road”, and “Learn to Swim” are fleshed-out, highly developed efforts with clearly articulated lyrics and well constructed songs structures. The shortest blast of the bunch, “Building” is a buzzsaw of a track with a ferocious riff while “It’s Hard to Know’ includes rousing gang vocals and is easily the most astutely assembled song of the bunch. St. Petersburg’s Wolf-Face is a surprise for me as I expected their act to tire quickly as they craft songs that revolve around actually being a wolf-like character. However, “Goddamn This Beast” starts slowly and meticulously builds itself up into a roaring anthem, while “Boof Ain’t Too Loose” pounds along with a chorus that is staggeringly smooth and melodic. “I’m So Much Better” is more traditional punk-pop fare and a fitting manner in which to close a split from two bands that, while they do not reinvent a genre, do a great job in preserving its ideals.

MONO IN STEREO - Long for Yesterday (Rum Bar Records

Someday in the future when a social scientist is attempting to explain rock n’ roll, Mono in Stereo may be the example used. Long for Yesterday is old fashioned, no frills, guitar-loving, beer-drinking, rock made for guys who love talking about girls and hopefully girls who love girls. There is more soul in the opening track “Late Night Confessor” than the twenty best bands in your town have combined. There is angst, loneliness, frustration, and a general ennui with the present that makes this instantly relatable, and the hooks just do not stop. Billy Maynard, Kevin Kalen, and Mike Melenas all paid their dues in Mulligan Stu, a band vastly underappreciated, and their songwriting chops are particularly evident on the title, “What We Sang”, and the emotionally gripping closer, “Another Man’s Time”. Not lamenting about the past, but certainly wishing that it could have been more, the trio of well-worn vets, accompanied by new drummer Jordan Acosta, play rollicking, groove-stuffed punk n’ roll that I personally adore. Striking a balance between aggression and harmonious is never simple, but Mono in Stereo do it with ease making Long for Yesterday a gem that best not overlooked. Find this and remind yourself why loud amps and big riffs will never go out of style.

TOGETHER PANGEA - The Phage EP (Burger Records

When I read that a band is produced by former Replacements wunderkind and permanent teenager Tommy Stinson, I am intrigued, and Together Pangea do not disappoint. This is a garage band without he garage as The Phage EP has a sophisticated, sleek sound that separates Together Pangea from other acts that bury their anthems in muddy production in the name of sounding “raw”. “Looked In Too” has a significant surf vibe without simply lifting an old Dick Dale riff, while “If You’re Scared” balances a smash and grab ferocity with more refined, pop harmonies. The almost fragile guitar that opens “Blue Moon” is reflective of a maturing band, eschewing most of the genre-defining limitations that afflict acts of this ilk. My personal highlight is the fun-loving bombast of “My Head is On Too Tight”, although the pubescent longing on “Awful” (It’s awful/don’t I want her”) is tangible to listeners of any age. “She’s a Queen” is a moody, mid-tempo effort that draws a sterling EP to a close and leaves anyone who hears this eagerly awaiting a full length.

NIGHT BIRDS - Mutiny at Muscle Beach (Fat Wreck Chords

The best band in America is back and they are furious. Perhaps, like me, the members of Night Birds do not understand why they are not universally famous or perhaps they intrinsically know that the world is crying out for a 12-song punk record played in less than 25minutes. Mutiny at Muscle Beach is an explosion of rampant frustration channeled into relentless, adrenaline-fueled rage on the opening “(I’m) Wired”, and this sets the stage for an assault unlike anything the Birds have done before. The smile-inducing surf grooves of the past do not appear until “In the Red/In the Black”, and do not return again until the rafter-rattling instrumental “Miskatonic Stomp.” The Night Birds play punk rock by bored suburban adults who were formally bored suburban kids; vocalist Brian Gorsegner cites his job in customer service as inspiration for the anger, and so many of us can identify with how exasperating the majority of humanity is and how everyday frustration can boil over into high-energy blasts such as ”Life is not Amusement for Me” and “Blank Eyes.” However, while the Night Birds can certainly bring the intensity, their true skill lie in their ability to generate the types of melodic grooves heard on “Golden Age of TV” and “King Kong.” The brilliantly titled “Lapsed Catholics Need Discipline” is another frenzied highlight from a record that does not stop to breathe. Expertly produced, supremely played with a combination of refinement and visceral aesthetic, Night Birds create a supreme collection of modern punk rock.

DAYCARE SWINDLERS - Reradiate (Say 10 Records

My memories of Daycare Swindlers are dominated by the sugary-rush ska heard on The Morning After, now more than a decade old. Reradiate is less about ska, although “Bad Luck” is a bouncy, kinetic song kissed with ska grooves, and more dedicated to energized, no-frills guitar punk. The opening one-two punch of “About a Girl” and “Telephone” make for a bruising introduction, while “The Wheel” is a dizzying burst of low-end power and a thick riff, accented by a subtle Chili Peppers touch of funk. Clearly these Jersey boys have matured as players and songwriters; that is by no means a knock against ska bands, but there is an intricacy to the work on Reradiate that was not always part of the band’s previous repertoire. “Unwinding” and “Spread Thin” are two impressive tracks dominated by swirling guitar that is reminiscent of 90s DC, clearly demonstrating another dimension to this band, while “Bicycle Seat” is an infectious, fun-loving ska nugget that is solely about having a good time and cheeky double entendres. I am addicted to the energy of this record, as “Nebula” is a punishing blast of bombast. Daycare Swindles have moved into that rarified position of bands that are impossible to pigeon hole, for they play more convention rock on “This Town” and “Get You Home”, with elements that range from the genteel the rousingly harmonious to even bordering on hardcore pink energy. There is a bit of something for nearly everyone, and everything Daycare Swindlers do sounds both authentic and heartfelt.

COHEED AND CAMBRIA - The Color Before the Sun (

Coheed and Cambria have long perplexed me-I am not a fan of concept albums and every release from this band has been just that-and I never grasped the ideas and themes of The Amory Wars that acted as the centerpieces for their previous work. All of that changes on The Color Before the Sun - the science fiction themes are gone and one can focus solely on the musical talent of this band. The skills of Claudio Sanchez could never be faulted or doubted, but the miscellaneous, otherworldly imagery clouded my appreciation for his expertise. Opening with the rousing “The Island”, Sanchez and his mates seem relaxed and fluid, effortlessly constructing affable guitar rock that dominates the ten tracks here. “Eraser” is a rattling burst of force, while “Here to Mars” is a touching declaration of love that also shows off the intricate rhythm section of drummer Josh Eppard and bassist Zach Cooper. While “Colors” and especially “Ghost” wander off the driving rock path, the songs allow Sanchez to reveal more subdued but deeply passionate vocals as well as the dexterity of fellow guitarist Travis Stever. Sanchez has been recently quoted as admitting how his fictional concept pieces acted as “a curtain to hide behind” and how he feared being a “heart-on-you-sleeve songwriter”; his courage to admit his concerns is admirable, but I certainly hope that Sanchez now embraces the humanity he displays on “Atlas” and “You Got Spirit, Kid”, and this marks a new path for Coheed and Cambria. The Color Before the Sun is a freewheeling, celebratory collection of classically honed modern rock with all the best connotations imaginable. The thick, doom riff that carries “The Audience” is majestically menacing, reaching back to some of C&C’s earlier metal influences. This is wonderfully juxtaposed with the serene “Peace to the Mountain” whose atmospheric beauty gently brings the record to a conclusion. Whenever bands choose to step into unchartered territory they inherently run the risk of angering, frustrating, and even alienating long-time fans that may feel a sense of misguided betrayal. In reality, Coheed and Cambria boldly display tremendous growth as songwriters and as a collective unit. Yes, some may argue that this is a more accessible version of the band, but as a long-time outsider looking in upon the aura of C&C, I believe that The Color Before the Sun will only expand their audience and more people will comprehend how and why this band has such a rabid following. I always wondered why legendary metal drummer and Howard Stern Show contributor Richard Christy admitted to wearing a diaper to C&C shows so he would not have to miss even a second of their set for a bathroom break, and while this new record will not have me wearing Huggies in public anytime soon, I can now at least consider myself a recruit into their legion of fans.

SAND IN THE FACE - Music Made to Riot: New Jersey Hardcore 1982-1983 (Mad At the World Records

I could listen to this all day, every day. Sand in the Face was a perfect encapsulation of frustrated, suburban punk in the early 80s. I do not know who exactly masterminded the re-release of this material but bless them for the world today needs more bands like this. Rather than existing in a cyber world, kids around America should be issued this album, told to listen to it, and vent their modern frustrations through a classic means-form an angry punk band. “Teenage Life” is just one of the blazing, raging hardcore nuggets here and the lyrics “Sitting in my room, sitting all alone/Staring into space, don’t wanna hear the phone/Hatred locked inside, waiting to get out/Is this what teenage life is about?” ring as truthful today as when they were first scribbled down by Pete Aaron (Wegele), Paul Schraft, and Mark Lombardi back at the dawn of the Reagan era. “I Don’t Need It”, “No Relations” and “I Wanna be Dead” rage like a Jersey version of Minor Threat with impassioned screaming vocals, rattling bass lines and battering drumming. This was the incipient stages of hardcore and the growing pains are there, check out the less than mature rant “I Hate SSFs”, but the raw, unpolished nature of the playing is what makes this so appealing. “Auschwitz” is a furious assault on the senses, while “Laugh at Me” summarizes every high school anxiety imaginable into a one flawless blast of fearless musical bombast. In a style similar to one of my other early hardcore favorites, Deep Wound, Sand in the Face play Discharge style D-beat without even realizing how incredible it is. “Fuck the Army”, ”I Hate”, and “Ugly World” are barbaric in their attack and could only be generated by incessantly unsatisfied teens. “She’s Dead” plays out like a dark joke and the one-second length of “Go to Hell” came years before Napalm Death’s legendary blast of “You Suffer”. The closing “Pleased to Hate You” features a slow burn of an intro before unleashing its raw, unforgiving angst upon the world. It is no wonder that Mike Judge later said that Sand in the Face inspired him to form the legendary band that would carry his name. There is so much to love and nothing to dislike here, and I urge every person, young, old, or in the middle, who truly loves hardcore to educate yourself about this resurrected gem.

CAUSTIC CASANOVA - Breaks (Retro Futurist Records

This DC outfit features brilliant minds such as drummer Stefanie Zaenker and bassist Francis Beringer, both graduates of the prestigious College of William and Mary. They are joined by guitarist Andrew Yonki, who I am certain is highly intelligent as well, if his playing is a reflection of his intellect. Caustic Casanova is deceptively heavy and the band revels is expansive, panoramic songs that include various shifts in tempos as well as a luxurious amount of room for each nuance to be fully explored. When Beringer howls “we are all doomed” on “Show Some Shame”, he does so with a harmoniously deadpan delivery, eschewing any disgust or apathy one would more commonly associate with such a sentiment. Yonki’s playing dominates the opening “Thundersnow” and “No Sky July”; two pieces delivered with jaw-dropping deftness and precision. Meanwhile, “Elect My Friend For a Better World” features bursts of psychedelia that effortlessly transitions to chugging metal riffing accented by a thunderous bass line. “The Forgiveness Machine” is a slab of low-end blunt force that succumbs to a scintillating guitar exhibition that ultimately retreats back into a lair of punishing bombast. Each player shines here and Caustic Casanova is determined to make the listener do some work-one do not simply sit back and allow this waft across the room-but the effort is well worth the result.

ERIC AND AARON - To Keep From Losing Our Minds (Zeudle Records

This pair of adroit singers delivers six cute, highly innocuous pop nuggets. One has to adore innocent pop to truly appreciate what Eric and Aaron do; the warmth of “Lola” is reminiscent of 70s AM radio heyday, while “Woods” could easily be a lost B-side from Bread. This is adult contemporary for a new generation, but not my taste. While “On the Road” is overflowing with delicate harmonies, “Long Time” includes the emotionally raw yet somewhat clichéd line, “its takes a while to love yourself”. The struggle for me throughout these six tracks is how the two straddle the line between heartfelt humanity and tired “mature pop” trappings. Too often this feels as if Eric and Aaron are overly desperate to share everything about themselves with the listeners. The earnest nature of “Apples” is honorable, and for those who admire shared male vocal dynamics it will undoubtedly be among the most requested of the six offerings on the EP. However, while their ranges and honesty is impressive, I will pass in favor of something more aggressive.


Merging numerous Cleveland, Ohio scene vets, Impending Lies blends keyboards, melodic, clean vocals, and dark, guttural growls to create an industrialized metal grove with a sharp, serrated edge. Crisply and cleanly produced, the songs rage with a thunderous energy as a soaring chorus and virulent backing vocals highlight “Believe”. The themes of and the limitless depths of human deception are lyrical catalysts throughout the EP, embodied by “Just Stop” and the pummeling “Let Go”. The choice of covering Journey’s arena-rock, mid-80’s anthem “Separate Ways” would be a disaster in the hands of many bands, but Impending Lies makes the track a sterling combination of aggression and tongue-in-cheek fun. This is not quite electronic and not quite metal, but Impending Lies falls somewhere within an interestingly murky middle. This is a promising statement.

DOGS ON ACID (Jade Tree Records

Normally I am afraid of dogs, especially those on some form of dangerous hallucinogenic, but this collection of Philly scene vets captures without blindly imitating 90s indie rock a la Polvo, Archers of Loaf, and Sebadoh. There is a touch of distortion and crunch on the opening “Keep in Touch”, the rowdy “The Prick” and “Make it Easy”, but much of this self-titled release bounces along a pop-kissed path. “Flushed” is a genteel piece of softly constructed guitar elasticity led by Joe Reinhart while “9 Times” traipses along with a deceptively heavy low end compliments of Nate Dionne and bass and drummer Nick Tazza. Peter Helmis leads this troupe and his while his voice is occasionally buried a bit in the mix, as on the fuzzy “Sun Bleached”, he embodies the kinetic energy that makes this band so appealing. My favorite moment is the rattling energy of “Let the Bombs Fall Off”-a brilliant mixture of controlled abrasiveness and richly melodic chorus. The free-flowing nature of the songs contains a sense of youthful innocence with a sophistication that can only be crafted by seasoned professionals.

MAKE WAR (Black Numbers Records

This Brooklyn trio was once known to the world as Sad and French, but has now rebranded themselves both in terms of moniker and sound. Make War is a fitting change, for the music on this self-titled debut is more aggressive than that of the band’s previous form, although the themes of loneliness, break-ups, and the quiet anguish faced by so many remain in tact. This is punk with more of a jangle tone than a skull-crushing bombast, allowing Jose Prieto’s raw, emotionally charged vocals to shine through on “Shorter Days and Longer Nights” and “Another Way to Let You Go”. Rounded out by bassist Edwin Santacruz and drummer Greg Taylor, the three bash their way through nine rough yet melodic anthems. “When the Poison Flows” and “Listen to the Songs” pulls forcefully upon heartstrings with a nearly tangible intensity, while “Sweet Little Nightmares” shifts tempo to construct a slower, darker piece that recalls the finest days of Deep Elm Records. There is an urgency that permeates the disc as if Prieto is grabbing the listeners by their shirts, staring into their eyes and demanding their complete attention. He is intimately committed to each syllable uttered, yelped, barked, and crooned here, and the passion of the playing makes this a wonderfully cathartic experience. Fans of Sad and French will be pleased to know that while that band has moved on, it has progressed into something beautifully powerful.

DESAPARECIDOS - Payola (Epitaph Records

Incredibly, it has been more than a dozen years since Desaparecidos unleashed their first record upon the world, and the raw and abrasive sound that dominated Read Music/Speak Spanish still remains, but is more polished on Payola. For those not aware, the band is a significant departure from leader Connor Oberst’s more commonly known act Bright Eyes, as Desaparecidos play richly melodic and bombastic punk miles away from the aforementioned more reserved nature. There is a ragged edge but a pop center to much of the work here as “City on the Hill” (featuring an appearance by Tim Kasher) and the beautifully sardonic “Golden Parachute” ripple with massive riffs and catchy hooks from both Oberst and fellow guitarist Denver Dalley. Payola is a sweeping condemnation of many of the country’s political ills, ranging from immigration to corporate greed as “Parachute" attacks so perfectly when Oberst bellows “numbers too big to fail/never have to go to jail”, wonderfully surmising the frustration that so many feel about the hallowed One Percent. Yet despite the angst and bluster, the band never loses sight of harmonious song structures, even on the virulent “Radicalized” and the “Te Amo Camella Vallejo”. The finest moments of Payola strut with a swagger reminiscent of the Clash’s apex, as heard on “Slacktivist”, which also features the So So Glos, and the bashing, blunt force stomp of “Steps Behind”, on which drummer Matt Baum truly shines, accompanied by Landon Hedges’ perpetually pummeling bass playing. Smartly crafted and highly intelligent both musically and lyrically, one is given a bare-bones civics lessons through fourteen barreling tracks in barely over forty minutes and people should welcome the resurrection of Desaparecidos.


Jersey’s Smalltalk are back with another truncated release and those of us who love what they do should be appreciative, but I still long for a full-length someday. “Just Thought” is a burst of twenty-first century The Wedding Present-like anguish with Pete’s controlled fury on guitar meshing perfectly with emotionally charged vocals. “June July” is a cutting tale of romantic betrayal (“You kissed me all night/then called me by his name”) that could easily be a Bouncing Souls anthem if the pace was sped up a bit, but in the hands of Smalltalk, the song becomes a classically crafted rock song. “Only You”, like the EP’s opener, includes beautifully delicate backing female vocals from Tara Jones, expanding the breadth of the splendor of the effort. Smalltalk takes the finest aspects of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure’s less lethargic emotions and propels it thirty years forward for a new audience. Pristine in both quality and scope, EP IV is another step forward in the evolution of this band. I look forward to what episode V will bring.


The name of this release is fitting as Downtown Mystic is joined by two legends of Springsteen’s Hall of Fame E Street Band, namely drummer Max Weinberg and bassist Garry W. Tallent. Collectively, Downtown Mystic plays very traditional, straightforward guitar rock that smacks of the 80s corporate hey day. “And You Know” is a meandering tale of heartbreak and woe with soulful vocals that match the weariness and sorrowfulness of the lyrics. “Hard Enough” is a rollicking, piano-driven track that could have been buried somewhere on the B-side of Tunnel of Love, but is now destined to be your parents’ (maybe grandparents?) favorite song of the summer. “Sometimes Wrong” and its successor “Way to Know” both include a subtle honky-tonk vibe the smacks of, if one wants to be positive and optimistic, Rockpile or mid-level Stones, but the Fabulous Thunderbirds if one wants to be snarky. This is clearly geared for the late middle-age set that remembers popping their collars while listening to the Boss on cassette and following the antics of the Reagan administration. This is nowhere near my first choice, but maybe all that hardcore I still love is just my way of fighting off

SELF EVIDENT The Traveler (Double+Good Records

This retrospective of sorts offers listeners a bit of everything Self Evident has to offer, blending four old tracks with a pair of new efforts and even two smart covers. One finds tremendous consistency but not redundancy over the decade covered here, and The Traveler celebrates the intriguing nature of this band. Self Evident is a swirling mass of sophisticated contradictions-the trio is bombastic yet delicate, complex yet harmonious, challenging yet welcoming. This ability to straddle jazz-tinged, emotionally charged rock without alienating the less-than musically gifted is rare but it abounds throughout the disc. The oldest of the works, 2004’s “Time Capsule” is a massive expanse of power, encapsulating the foundation of an intricate, fascinate band, heard on the majestic “Swell” and the richly layered “Salvaged”. “A New Way” and “House” are the two new products and while there is a noticeable evolution in the band’s penchant for experimentalism, the groundwork of captivating vocals and guitar acrobatics remains true. The two covers, one by Bear Claw (“Loaded Down with Static”) and the other from Traindodge (“Drowned in Flames”) are skilled tributes to the rightful owners but Self-Evident adds their own unique approach to each. The Traveler is a wonderful celebration of this act’s immense talent.

TEEN MEN - s/t (Bar/None Records

Teen Men is more than a band, they are in actuality, a multi-sensory, multi-genre artistic expression. Blending both audio and visual storytelling into one form, with a name taken from a 1960s Playboy magazine advertisement, Teen Men offer ambient, graceful anthems brimming with fragile guitar playing, atmospheric keys and evocatively innocent vocals. Nick Krill has a voice that abounds with vulnerability on “Adventure Kids” and “Rene”, songs that sound as if they should be handled with white cotton gloves. The haunting nature of the band lies not in the creation of ghostly keys, but the distance from which the songs seem to be played, creating a sense of longing that dominates the disc. At times psychedelic (“Fall Out a Tree”), lush (“The Sea, The Sea”), and experimental (“New Kind”), this self-titled release is a complete sensory experience that merges various art forms into an intricate mold of sophistication accented by purity. The swirling keys of “Los Angeles” are reminiscent of a classic torch song before childlike vocals enter and alter the overall tone of the piece. The closing “Kids Being Kids” is the finest work of the record, meshing male/female vocal interplay between Krill and Catharine Maloney into a well-woven story. This is out of my comfort zone, but a fascinating listen.

DONOVAN WOLFINGTON - How to Treat the Ones You Love (Top Shelf Records

This New Orleans-based band brings back Seattle, Portland, and Chapel Hill from the 90s into one insanely catchy brew with a little NOLA flavoring. How to Treat the Ones You Love was recorded as a dear friend of the band suddenly and tragically passed away, and the frustration, confusion, and sense of loss manifests in various manners over the course of the baker’s dozen tracks here. There is pure rage on the fittingly titled “Hxc Punk”, and angular speed on “Basalisk”, but much of the record is a steady burn of uniquely melodic indie punk. “Ollie North” “Slow Lois”, “John Cena”, and “Rhonda” are hook-rich slabs of well-crafted darkness highlighted by Matthew Seferian’s guitar work and Neil Berthier’s emotionally charged vocals. His ability to accurately and sincerely convey a multitude of conflicting feelings gives every song a distinctive personality within the larger construct of Donovan Wolfington’s sound. One of the many highlight is on “Manchac” when he asks “How many shotguns how you shot/ I forgot it’s a lot/We smoke pot” with a knowing sarcasm that is nearly tangible through one’s speakers. The majority of the songs fight to extend much beyond two minutes, but there is quite a bit of power stuffed into these tiny packages. However, the band truly shines a the selection of lengthier tracks, especially “Hershel Tuesday” which takes In Utero style clamor and funnels it into a sleek, modern take on punk rock. The closing “Sadhead” will make Pixies fans weep with pride and it a perfect way to conclude a record that is both an homage to the recent past and a celebration of the present. Donovan Wolfington gives me hope for the future.

GRIM DEEDS - Psychologically Displaced (

Grim Deeds is exactly the band the world needs right now. In an age of false outrage in which every person is potentially offended by everything, Grim Deeds is here to stuff your arrogant, self-righteous head into a public toilet. Sure, the raw punk of “No Con-troll” or “Cuddle Café” are great, but I equally love the acoustic, country punk of “Ode to Oderus”, a loving homage to Dave Brocke, the lead scumdog of the universe who left us far too soon. Brimming with obnoxious lyrics, garage rock riffs, and unapologetic honesty, Psychologically Displaced is both brilliantly comical and wonderfully confrontational. Yet, in the midst of the classic two-chord gems like “The Benefits of Getting Laid”, “High School Scars”, and “Andy Social”, there are the more heartfelt anthems “The Archives” and “Strung Me Along”. The former is particularly bold in terms of the humanity that is revealed, detailing a notebook of memories that caused suffering to others. However, before anyone thinks that Grim Deeds is somehow growing older and more sentimental, there is “When You’re Stoned” that proudly tells the kids of today how “everything is better when you’re stoned”. I have this entire record on repeat, but I keep coming back to a trio of hilarious acoustic tales led by “I Smoked Weed with Cronos”. Grim Deeds has long made references to metal in previous records, and this story of Venom’s legendary leader is a classic. Following this up is “We’re All a Little Racist”, a song that is both funny but also bluntly honest (“We can blame each other or acknowledge our own faults/we’re all a little racist after all”). Lastly is “No One Gives a Shit” which places personal educational success into proper perspective. The world may be a mess, but as long as a band like Grim Deeds continues to exist, it is a bit easier to endure.

JOHN THE GUN - Tread Eternal (

John The Gun is a band for fans of indie rock with a flair for adventure. The guitar playing on “Ghost” conjures the artistry of Coheed and Cambria or The Mars Volta. Dense and punishing, Tread Eternal is not an easy listen but it is worth the effort, as “Unilateral” and “Please Advise” attest. The songs are driven by complex arrangements and tempo shifts that are intricate but not convoluted, which is the strength of the band. Skilled musicians will identify the sophistication of the playing and appreciate the wealth of talent, but those of us without a shred of ability will also be able to allow the force of “Sticky Ninjas” or “Renaissance” to wash over us. These two pieces are tightly wound tracks of hair-trigger guitar force and shockingly nimble arrangements. The sullen and delicate “Whiskey Water” and “Emilia” unveils yet another facet of the aptitude found within the ranks of John the Gun. The band sounds much larger than a trio and the ten songs on Tread Eternal feature a broad range of emotions and lyrical cleverness. John the Gun is a thunderous act that also has the talent to deliver “Lunar”, the warm, richly harmonious conclusion. Erudite, well produced, and intriguing, John the Gun is a band bringing elevated skill to the often-uniform world of indie rock.

MAN OVERBOARD -Heavy Love (Rise Records

This Jersey crew has longed been attached at the hip to Blink 182, due to both their moniker and their sound, but Heavy Love, while still significantly steeped in late 90’s punk-pop, features subtle advancements in tone and direction. “Reality Check” and “The Note” are classic pieces of sleek, poppy punk for the teen scene and their girlfriends, but “She’s In Pictures” bubbles over with 60s harmonics that are more Brian Wilson than Mark Hoppus. Produced by Bill Stevenson, the band’s energy is allowed to shine through on all twelve tracks, highlighted by the raucous “Cliffhanger” and “Invinsible”. The rough and tumble “Deal” highlights the talents of drummer Joe Talarico while vocalist Nick Bruzzese spins anther yard of frustration and confusion that will ring true with those dealing with the reality of adulthood as readily as those struggling with high school. The rollicking “Anything” is another example of Descendants-inspired melodies layered on top of New Found Glory’s best moments, while “For Jeannie” will bring a tear to the eye of any Yellowcard or Box Car Racer fan. Closing with “A Love that I Can’t Have”, Man Overboard perfectly sums up romantic challenges with three chords and warm harmonies. Man Overboard is a band that should only release new material during summer months because they capture the energy and fun drama of the season. Despite its title, Heavy Love is like summer fare-light, easy to digest, and does not stay with you for very long, but it is highly enjoyable.


Jameson Edwards and Ava Farber are best known in circles of East Coast hipsters as members of I Am the Heat, and they bring their distinctly harmonious voices to Bloody Your Hands! Like the aforementioned act, Bloody Your Hands! travels a wide swath of indie pop, beginning with the bass heavy rumble of “Grass Stains”. This is a bit of an anomaly when compared to the gentle fun of “Boys and Girls” and “Stacking Dolls”; two songs with pristine vocals and infectious fun. The record truly hits its stride on “Little Notes”, a jangly, punk-pop gem that overflows with kinetic energy and is exactly what your summer soundtrack needs. Edwards and Farber sound as if they have been singing together since birth and their talents are majestic in scope. Borrowing a bit from post-punk deities like Television and Wire, “Product of Luxury” shakes and rumbles incessantly, seemingly ready to lapse into chaos, but somehow this trio always grasps tightly to brilliant melodies as Jamison cries, “I want to rule the world/but I’m too lazy I’m told”. “Strangers” could be a rare Feelies B-side with slightly heavier guitar playing, and “Sleep Forever” is a rattling frenzy of irresistible power again highlighted by the verbal interplay of Edwards and Farber. I still do not know why I Am the Heat is not a nationally celebrated act, but if that cannot be the case, Bloody Your Hands! should make these kids stars because Paper Cuts is a multi-faceted canvas of all that is likable about twenty-first century indie rock. Bloody Your Hands! pays homage to giants of the past but their gifts are unique and undeniable. The closing “Blackthorn” reveals a more complex song structure and arrangement in contrast to the previous efforts, offering a peek at where the band may be headed and it is extremely promising.

USELESS ID - The Lost Broken Bones (Fat Wreck Chords

There are obvious connotations associated with being a punk band from Israel, but Useless ID focuses their collective energy on producing equally aggressive and harmonious punk in a Southern California style a la Bad Religion. It would be easy for these guys to craft overtly politicized punk and I am sure it would be articulate and powerful; however, all nineteen efforts here are relatable for a global audience and there in lies both the brilliance and maturity of Useless ID. There are certainly political implications to “Shallow End” and “Always the Same”, but what captures the listener instantly is the astounding shared vocals and contagious hooks that abound here. The gallop of “Already Dead” is matched by the hardcore energy of “Dissolve” which is then equally impressive as the soaring harmonies of “My Alter Ego”, demonstrating remarkable range for this veteran four-piece. The marriage between Fat Wreck and Useless ID is a perfect match, as Useless ID nestles ideally in the Fat stable of sonically bruising but melodically attentive punk. Quite often nineteen songs would be a bit too much for a single sitting for me, but The Lost Broken Bones glides effortlessly and I loved the seven bonus tracks included here. This record was originally released on Suburban Home Records in 2008 and it is a glorious re-issue, for Broken Bones sounds as if it was recorded last week. It is safe to say that seven years is a lifetime in punk years and one may worry about this sounding dated, but this is fresher than anything taking the stages at festivals across the country. Vocalist Ishay Berger has a voice that is both powerful and empathetic, generating a broad range of emotions throughout the record. If you share my shame in missing this the firth time around, run out and find this immediately. There is an urgency to the playing that reflects the tension and intensity of the region from which the band hails, but this transcends the band’s role as Middle Eastern punk ambassadors; this is just a scathing, sleek, profoundly human record that needs to be celebrated.


The Brooklyn What are a classic sounding rock outfit that transcends decades and remembers when rock music was about guitar hooks and melodious choruses. “Runway” could easily be a Hollies track updated for the twenty-first century, while the opening title effort is a rollicking smash and grab of a song that opens with the lines “I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna have something to do, I just wanna be high, I just wanna be in my room”. The song is overflowing with punk angst, but the soaring backing vocals courtesy of guitarists Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo softens the blow a bit and makes the track majestically harmonic. These two pieces perfectly encapsulate The Brooklyn What, as Jamie Frey’s vocals are heartfelt and delivered with poignancy, particularly on the less bombastic “Jesse’s Trip”. The closing “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows” is a Guided By Voices cover that is expertly handled here. GBV is not an easy act to cover and Brooklyn What take on this challenge and confidently master the task by retaining the gritty grandeur of the original while also injecting their own raw energy. This is a bold release from another band proudly waving the flag of good ol' rock 'n' roll.

"Suck Berry" EP (

Everyone already knows that Brooklyn is one of the hippest, coolest dens of musical inspiration to be found in this great nation, but I dare say one would be hard pressed to imagine a band like the Harmonica Lewinskies calling that particular borough home. This multi-talented eight-piece with a wonderful name plays horn-laden funk and soul with some fun loving pop energy mixed in for good measure. While the quick-moving “Wandering” features more traditional rock energy, starting with a feedback-heavy intro, “Aberdeen” grooves and slides through nearly five minutes of bluesy lamentations about growing up in a small town. With nimble guitar playing and the strong vocal interplay of Rob Roberto Bettega and Madeline Gioia, the song displays the wealth of talent here. The horn section of Chris Lucca, Marco Sanchez, and the aforementioned Gioia inject a jazzy, high-energy jolt into “Papa’s Got a Brand New Man”, bringing together a hybrid of James Brown and the J. Geils Band. Everything about this band is cool and I love how they boldly follow their own path, for no one in the clubs of NYC is bashing out anything like what one hears on “Suck Berry”. The closing “Song # 42” has a meandering pace in which the band dramatically constructs a track with a much more deliberate tempo, but it is no less infectious that the earlier efforts. The Harmonica Lewinskies are a multi-purpose act that can either make people move furiously or allow an audience to sip their drinks with leisure. However they choose to perform, I am a fan.

INSECT ARK - Portal/Well Autumnsongs Records

This is my new favorite record-Insect Ark creates the penultimate anti-summer album with Portal/Well. Dark, mysterious, and perpetually sneaking up behind you, Dana Schechter is a genius. This one-woman instrumental project has a crushingly heavy vibe on each song, but the doom is merely a strand in the larger fabric of this effort. “Octavia” is majestic in its beauty and devastating in its power-it is a thunderous mass of intensity that envelops the listener and renders them deliciously helpless. The majority of the tracks here are over six minutes long, but none ever approach redundancy. Instead, the lengthier pieces are given room to breathe and explore the aural capabilities of this staggering artist. “The Collector” is driven by low-end power that meshes seamlessly with freely flowing distortion and sanguine guitar work, cascading into a result less doom and more post-grunge. The highlight for me is the terrifying “Taalith”: this effort has all the necessary components for a horror film. It is sinister, brooding, and also offers the listener brief respites from the impending doom. Schechter’s ability to alternate between various emotions is mesmerizing and her skill for expressing such intense sentiments sans words makes her a true virtuoso. When one learns about more about the woman behind Insect Ark, her penchant for generating such devastating music makes sense. Schechter immersed herself in Bay Area metal in the 1990s and even toured with Swans leader Michael Gira. The blending of metal’s ferocity with the Swans intellectual noise manipulation is palpable throughout Portal/Well, but is most apparent on the title track and the staggering “Parallel Twin”. The stifling “Low Moon” that closes the disc has a paranormal sensibility that demands for a late-night listen, but I certainly do not have the courage to try. It is haunting in the truest definition of the word, and while it may not contain the same level of punishing doom as its predecessors, “Low Moon” would make the guys in My Dying Bride shudder in fear, and therefore is a perfect closing anthem. Insect Ark will be touring soon with Schechter adding a live drummer, Ashley Spungin, to more completely animate the unending nightmares heard here. Those bold enough are commanded to find this immediately.

MARION WALKER - Serious Picnic (Casino Trash

This three song EP clocks in exactly at 11:11 and is formatted to be a singular piece to be enjoyed in a lone listen. Led by guitarist/keyboardist/singer Jessie Marion Smith and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Walker Akins (see the name now?), the band is rounded out by drummer Donovan Williams and bassist Cark Demeritt. The opening “Seriously” is highlighted by Smith’s lush backing vocals over the top of Akins’ solid but less emotive singing style. This is the liveliest of the trio of songs on Serious Picnic, as “Seriously” is replete with sinewy guitar work and tangible pop aesthetics. As the EP progresses, the band’s unique take on traditional guitar rock becomes more apparent as they add elements of subtle psychedelia, wonderfully placed noise, and abstract time signatures that help to make “Silver Drone” in particular such a fascinating piece. The closing “Volunteers” features a more pronounced low end, highlighting the power of Williams as Akins again takes command of the lead singing responsibilities. There is quite a bit to celebrate here as this is is a band with a distinctive sound. Smith is a dancer and choreographer and her talents are metaphorical for how her band plays-there is a significant amount of moving parts throughout the three songs. I would like to have them divided up into individual segments, but that complaint aside, I am very impressed with Marion Walker.

THE PLURALS - “An Onion Tied to My belt” (GTG Records/Diet Pop Records

This highly energized Lansing, Michigan trio had me as a fan before I even heard the first note-the title of this disc is a partial quote from Homer Simpson’s aged father Abe Simpson, who less obsessive fans may know simply as “Grandpa”. Regardless, guitarist Tommy McCord, bassist Nich Richard, and drummer Hattie Danby set a high bar for themselves in my eyes, and they did not disappoint. Onion is a twelve-song collection of various degrees of intensity, but each track includes a heartfelt devotion to authentic melodic punk. There is just enough noise sprinkled throughout the disc to keep me satisfied, particularly on “Oh Yeah”, “Dunwanna”, and the highly off-kilter “Red Lobster”. All three members share lead vocal responsibilities and while I do not have a particular favorite, should the band decide to promote Danby to primary vocalist, I would not object. While references to early 90s DC indie noise is appropriate, it is far from the entire story of the Plurals. The sarcastic, understated “Facebook” is a significant departure from the more challenging “Term Oil” or the slow burn of “Rock N Roll”. There is everything to like about this band, particularly the manner in which they carve out a unique niche within a well-worn style. The Plurals do not reinvents any genre here, but they bring energy and a purity back to indie punk-pop that is severely missing. This is a great find.

CHELSEA - Saturday Night Sunday Morning (Westworld Records/Four Worlds Media

Chelsea is a band that can honestly count themselves among punk’s pioneers. The memories may be hazy at this point, but when the Sex Pistols and the Clash were learning how to tune, Chelsea was producing the type of raw, angry slabs of musical angst that would define the British scene of the mid to late 1970s. The band ultimately splintered into two factions with one half of the band moving on to become Generation X with singer and future cameo highlight of Adam Sandler films, Billy Idol. All these many years later, Chelsea can still bring the goods as evident on Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. The anger is still living within these guys but it manifests itself through highly melodic pieces that are far more polished than their early work. Obviously age and practice will change the band’s sound over the decades, but classic British cheekiness still reigns supreme. A band has to be a little arrogant to write a song called “Crazy Train” without even the slightest nod to Ozzy. This is wonderfully harmonic punk that will get old fans to break out their safety pins but may not necessarily resonant with younger punk fans. However, “They Don’t Care About You”, “You’ve Gotta Survive”, and the les than subtle “Fuck All” are each darkly rhythmic pieces featuring well chiseled riffs and impassioned vocals from Gene October. “You Never Listen” sounds like a perfect teen anthem regardless of the age of the performers, for the central message never gets old. I do not know how much attention Saturday Night Sunday Morning will garner, but for those fortunate enough to hear it, Chelsea proves how old pros can stay current while never abandoning their roots.

DUSTIN KENSRUE - Carry the Fire (Vagrant Records

The devoutly religious former Thrice member returns with his third solo record, a collection of songs dedicated to the power of love and the celebration of watching it flourish. In complete honesty, I was never a fan of Thrice and it took me quite a while to find the time to review this. What one finds within the ten songs of Carry the Fire is a record with a very serious tone and a collection of straight ahead rock with some subtle variations. It is an easy listen, and while moderately enjoyable, I am not moved by anything I hear. Perhaps I am just a curmudgeon who no longer subscribes to the wondrous mystery and excitement of a loving relationship, but really, I am just a guy who likes loud, abrasive, angry music more than songs about how beautiful Kensure thinks his wife is, as heard on “Juggernaut”. The old-time feel of “There’s Something Dark” is authentic in nature but not stirring and while “Death or Glory” has the same title as a legendary Clash song, the similarity ends there. “In the Darkness” could easily have been recorded by Springsteen in the late 70s and while “Of Crows and Crowns” and “What Beautiful Things” reminds me of Bill Janovitz’s finest solo work, I keep waiting for the record to feature at least a fleeting moment of raucous guitar. While the closing title track shows signs of life, Kensure never fully unleashes either his vocal prowess of guitar weight. That is disappointing, for these songs are the skeletal blueprints of what could be immensely powerful tracks if placed in the hands of more devastating musicians. If you are looking for streamlined, readily accessible rock from a man who formerly led a church, this is your record.

DEAF RHINO - Dirt, Rust, Chaos (

Once I dropped my own snarky attitude towards the band’s name (seemingly a combination of a properly spelled Def Leppard and Rhino Bucket?), I realized that this New Jersey outfit has noticeable chops and an ear for radio ready rock. “Don’t Believe What You’ve Heard” opens with a riff straight from late 70s Crazy Horse before settling into an elastic groove with an instantly memorable chorus. After a slow start, “Hey You” rocks with a controlled burn that should delight those looking for a more mature take on contemporary rock with enduring another grunge revival clone, while “If I Could” is driven by rousing rhythm section interplay and a level of infectious energy that must get every person moving in a small club. The bluesy “Infinite” and the guitar-fueled “The Heights” act as bookends for the record’s two slower efforts, “Once in a Lifetime” and “The Dance of You”. While both of those works have their value, I am far more drawn to the sturdier, more bombastic work on Dirt, Rust, Chaos. With an ability to alter tempo and tone, heard wonderfully on the closing effort, “The Water”, Deaf Rhino plays a with a sophistication that makes them real contenders for notoriety far outside of their Jersey stomping grounds. This is not just a local opener, for based on the quality of this self-released work, Deaf Rhino should soon have local acts supporting their tour stops.

ANNABEL - Having It All (Tiny Engines

Perhaps early adulthood angst has never been so succinctly stated as on the title track of Annabel’s third full-length when Ben Hendricks offers this nugget: “I just wanted the acceptance of my peers/I got this feeling that I wasted all these years”. The direct, unapologetic, and somewhat self-deprecating nature of that line surmises the entirety of Having it All. The record is richly melodic and harkens back to the dawn of the emo age with eleven pop-infused anthems of introspection and heartache. The band wants the listener to believe that these songs are straight forward efforts that could be mastered by any group of frustrated teens with enough time on their hands, but this belies what is a highly talented outfit led by Hendricks. The song structures on “If Only” and “Ex-Introvert” (“I have been working on an impression of myself but it still needs work”) are darkly beautiful and obtusely coherent while the misanthropic “Days in Between” is the band’s high water mark. The jangly guitars that dominate the opening “Another Day, Another Vitamin” and the closing “Nothing Gets Away” fade away on the more rugged “The Fortunate Ones” and the equally buoyant and heart-wrenching “On the Importance of Disappointment”. There is an energy that sweeps throughout the record, a subtle intensity not even lessened by the more delicate acoustic guitar playing on “”How To: A Self Help Guide”. While one famous son of Akron, Ohio just came up a little short in an effort to be a champion, all of the mid-west can rally around these guys.

IKE REILLY - Born On Fire (Firebrand Records

If one listens to the majority of prognosticators about the current state of music, it is easy to believe that there is a dearth of talented songwriters and the concept of constructing heartfelt, poignant stories set to music is now a lost art. However, one listen to Ike Reilly’s Born on Fire is enough for me to completely dispel that earlier assertion, as his latest assortment of down-home heroes, their struggles and triumphs, is a sterling collection of authentic folk-infused rock that brings the listener into the lives of the topics being discussed through wonderful eloquence by a dynamic vocalist. Reilly’s influences are obvious, but his implementation of various styles is always homage more than imitation. Dylan is certainly alluded to on “Am I Still the One”, with its subtle twang and words of love and confusion, and how those two ideas often intertwine. The title track is a defiant declaration of independence and fearlessness devoted to anyone who has ever felt repressed or doubted, while “Do the Death Slide” rattles and shakes like a late-50s lost gem, a style later heard on the sexually charged and innuendo-laced “The Black Kat” (“I rub your spine/ you throw head back”). “2 Weeks A Work, 1 Night A Love” is expertly titled and Reilly delivers his lyrics with passion of a preacher and the mixture of rhythm and blues and soul makes this one of Born on Fire’s many highlights. “Let’s Live Like We’re Dying”, “Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl”, and “Good Looking Boy” is a trio of immaculate songs that resonate like Twain set to Americana musicianship. The songs spins yarns of hope, beauty, pain, and desperation through hauntingly poetic phrasing and Reilly’s voice, a gruff feature often accented by elements of heart-breaking vulnerability or earnest exuberance. Reilly has selected to release his first record in nearly five years on Firebrand Records, the new imprint of Tom Morello, who amazingly hails from Reilly’s hometown of Libertyville, Illinois and contributes his talents to the concluding “Paradise Lane”, a powerful piece about the dichotomy of growing up and growing older in one place while life continuously changes. Soaring, impassioned, and emotionally charged, Born on Fire is a bold return from a talent who deserves broader national recognition.

CARTER PRINCE - "Electric Love" EP (

Carter Prince hopes people will turn up the volume on his new five-song collection and “explore this tasty audio tunage just as a lion explores the carcass of a downed zebra”. I do not know if I can go as far as to compare anything about Electric Love to a hungry carnivore tearing through the lifeless body of a zebra, but this is a fun assortment of tracks from a unique talent. “High Off Beans” does not need to be nearly five and half minutes in length with its extended keyboard solo, understated guitar riff, and occasional harmonica, but all of those components help to paint a picture of Carter’s good-natured quirkiness. His confession of “I’m in love with being in love” is the center of the song, and one is left wondering if that is providing him hope or agony as he continues to say that “I don’t think I can go on anymore”. That same theme is heard on “Helpless Unromantic”, another roughly recorded piece from this Jersey native’s home studio. The track includes surprisingly noisy guitar work and expertly delivered deadpan lyrics: “you tell me sex is my only goal, when I’m looking at your chest I’m looking for your soul”. A suggestion across the board here is to trim a bit of fat from each song, as they can meander, particularly “Home” and “Happy Day”, but for only one kid with a guitar, a keyboard, a percussion loop, and assorted samples and noises, that is a bit of a nitpick. Prince’s Korg gets quite a workout on “Happy Day”, whose title matches the overall vibe of the song, before giving way to extended guitar solos. The closing piano-laden “Good Morning You Stupid Armadillo” again draws upon Prince’s penchant for self-effacing lyrics about getting out of bed, taking a shower, and returning to bed as the accomplishments of his day, before fading away in a cloud of drum loops in a manner that may not bring the EP to its proper conclusion, but certainly encapsulates the unpredictable and non-conformist style that defines the release.

COMRADES - We Got This (

It takes a tremendous amount of guts for a relatively unknown band to christen themselves as “NYC’s only punk band” but after listening to We Got This, I defy someone to tell me that Comrades does not deserve real consideration for the title. Comrades deliver blasts of kinetic, bombastic punk with a fearless dedication to challenge and decimate all in their path through raw shared male/female vocals and politically scathing lyrics. Listeners gain an education about the seedy side of New York City on “Benjamin Swenson” (“I'm robin hood on Easter/ Sixth and seconds where I'll spend it have a little feaster), “Cats Not Cops”, and “Tompkins Lullaby” (“dirty mattresses and crying under trees/and I guess I am my disease/and I guess I'll do just what I please”). There is an unforgettable urgency and fury in each syllable and every riff, and when the songs spin out of control, such “Lice Bingo” and “In Circles”, the chaos only adds a punctuation to the rage and importance of the band’s message. Comrades brazenly encourages the destruction of entities they see as corrosive on “Wal-Mart Liberation Front” and “The Party’s Over” with a les than veiled shot at a certain American leader: “No change no hope! We're sad we're broke toxic air we choke on/The lies they spoke their intimidation manipulation exploitation indoctrination all of it needs to end resist revolt”. This is not predictable punk politics of blaming Republicans for the world’s ills, but rather no one is left off the radar here and that ability to find responsibility and fault within all parties for the current state of America is both refreshing and representative of a more intellectually sophisticated act (For the clearest proof, check out he spoken word “Freedom Interlude”). However, at their core, Comrades is a band that subscribes to the age old, but increasingly difficult to find, beliefs that punk rock should be abrasive to the point of being obnoxious, fear is a powerful emotion, and that a great band will frighten people. Americans have been able to sit in the comfort of their homes and watch as lives have been taken and cities have been burned; as panic begins to take hold, the citizens are then berated by talking heads who act as the denizens of mass media before moving on to the next interesting calamity, leaving behind the destruction of the previous night’s lead story. Comrades is the sound of a burning city after the news crews have left and the solution has not been found within the construct of a sixty-minute talk show. Even when Comrades inject a country and western swagger into “Once Upon a Crime”, they still sound profoundly disgusted with their world and all that they see. We Got This will cause some people to worry and others to run; therefore, Comrades are a perfect punk band and not to be taken for granted.

THE EARLY NOVEMBER - Imbue (Rise Records

This Jersey outfit first earned their stripes as an unknown act on the early years of the Warped Tour, and although Imbue is not a record designed for skate parks, it is a lush achievement of soaring vocals, harmonious guitar playing, and a warmth that is nearly tangible. While the ebb and flow that defines the ballads “Circulation” and “Harmony” is quite beautiful, I am drawn to the more energized emo of “Boxing Timelines” and “Cyanide”, as Ace Enders shines as a vocalist with an understated intensity. Throughout the record, the vocals and guitar riffs play off of and against each other in a sophisticated dance that takes one back to 90’s alternative without simply repackaging an old trick. “I Don’t Care” roars with simmering angst, while the opening “Narrow Mouth” is instantly attention-grabbing with a tightly played riff accented with a subtle pop bounce that reminds me of The Starting Line. In essence, what The Early November clearly is a more refined, polished, and battle tested emo band that are very content to be just that. I find nothing on Imbue to be overwhelming, but everything is well played. This is a record that just requires someone to start the first track and then let it play out for the duration of the ten offerings here. For fans of the 90s, The Early November will take you back, and although their sound is not wholly unique, it is easily palatable. There is nothing here to not like, but I just find myself have a difficult time getting truly excited about Imbue.

JAWBOX - My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents (Arctic Rodeo Records

Jawbox is one of those bands for those of us of a certain age that instantly conjure images of swirly vinyl seven-inch singles, sweaty, small clubs, and indie rock’s glory days. This career-spanning collection will remind listeners of how talented this band was and show today’s youth was it like to be a hard working, endlessly touring outfit that earned each fan through a relentless commitment to connecting with an audience. Over the course of twenty-three songs, Jawbox evolves from a raw trio brimming with unharnessed talents to a confident, daring four-piece that boldly covered artists ranging from Frank Sinatra (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”) to Tori Amos (“Cornflake Girl”). Along the way, J Robbins, Kim Coletta, Adam Wade (later Bill Barbot joined on guitar and Zach Barocas took over for Wade on drums) delivered remarkably melodic and richly textured guitar rock with Robbins’ soaring vocals initially emerging from the fray of “Static” and “Chinese Fork Tie”, and later settling in as an accompaniment to his fellow players on “The Big Shave” and “Mirrorfull”. The rollicking force of “Sound On Sound”, the MTV hit “Savory”, and “It’s Expected I’m Gone” still stands up nicely regardless of now being nearly twenty years old. Jawbox was renowned for their classic DC sound and nearly unprecedented decision to abandon Dischord Records for Atlantic Records, but they are also a band that influenced legions of others to follow in their path and Jawbox simply did not garner the appreciation they truly deserved. It is easy two decades after the fact to look back fondly upon a band and lament the apparent lack of respect they incurred, but in the case of Jawbox, this is not rose-colored hyperbole; one listen “Low Strung” or “Won’t Come Off” and it is easy to realize why a two-record retrospective is more than nostalgia but is actually a testament to a band that embodied an age that may never return, but whose music will endure.

HUNGRY TIGER s/t (Sex Sheet Records

Beer-loving, basement dwelling beasts from the streets of Portland, Oregon, Hungry Tiger offer eight blasts of loosely played, fun-loving punk. Billy Kemmer has a strong voice and is backed up by fellow guitarist Jeff Borkgren most powerfully on “Status”, “Falling Houses” and the closing romp “Positive Side of Negative”. Nothing here is particularly furious, but each song is a well constructed and memorable. Hungry Tiger reports on their Bandcamp page that they “are stoked” about what they have produced here, and with good reason. The record soars past very quickly, and this is an effort worthy of instant repeated listens. “Loser Candy” and “Tuesday Night Lights” are two other pieces of infectious punk-pop without all of the sugary elements that too often bog down other bands of this ilk. The ability to inject greater than average intensity into this genre is due to largely to the outstanding low end of bassist Ledena Mattox and Amai Hart who anchor the band across the entirety of this self-titled release. Sex Sheet is a young label but they are off to a perfect start.


New Politicians may call Centerville, New Jersey home but they sound as if they should be sharing a flat with the members of Joy Division. There is a majestic elegance to the seven songs of Remission; music that hovers with atmospheric fragility yet is still immediately impactful. “Killer on the Mend” is chilling in its precision and ethereal breadth, while “Cut a Hole” is cinematic and deceptively heavy in its delivery. While nothing here pounds or screams, it is a slow death by a thousand subtle riffs and stirring playing. Opening with “Revelator,” New Politicians present themselves as a darkly fascinating act with a substance that is impossible to label and more difficult to ignore. The songs seem to embrace the listener, particularly “Been in the Wars” and “Cut a Hole” with a low end that hangs menacingly like a low cloud ceiling on a bitter day, accented by slashing guitar work. Vocalist Renal Anthony has limitless talent and he routinely leaves me stunned with the passion and emotional depth of his performance, best heard on the stately title track. Even as the songs meander, the tracks seem to repeatedly reintroduce and reimagine themselves, morphing into intricate, emotionally driven masterpieces. This is music most people would love to make but simply do not possess the prowess to do so-each moment of Remission carries the listener away and reminds each person that there are bands out here still taking real changes, making distinctive music, and celebrating an adherence to non-conformity. Become the coolest person in your circle of friends and claim this band as your own before they do.

GOOD RIDDANCE - Peace in Our Time (

It is extraordinarily rare for a band to have eight years pass between records and still sound relevant upon their return. It is an even more startling feat for a band that soared throughout their brief career but faded away too quickly, such as the story of Good Riddance. Politically and socially conscious long before people believed that statements of one hundred forty characters could impact the world, this California outfit roars back with Peace in our Time, a blazing collection of high-energy punk that is intelligent and powerful. “Contrition” and “Take it To Heart” rumble with warm harmonies in a Pennywise vain, while even when Good Riddance slow the tempo down a bit, as they do on “Grace and Virtue” and “Teachable Moments”, there is a still a profound force behind the playing. The heartfelt honesty of “Washed Away” resonates with an openness and maturity that only experienced, confident, and battle-tested veterans can write. “Shiloh” and “Dry Season” are textbook West Coast punk, while “Running on Fumes” is my favorite of the fourteen; a sleek, articulate look back upon one’s life that never comes across as remorseful or bitter, but simply accepting of what has transpired. Good Riddance is a band that deservingly rabid fans but they never became the household name they deserved to be-perhaps history, unlike the actions of Neville Chamberlain for which this disc is titled, can be corrected this time.


The best punk band from the Big Sky Conference returns with another batch of pop-infused, good natured anthems that reveal the band’s sense of humor as much as their musical prowess. Teenage Bottlerocket has a wonderful penchant for taking jabs at metal and it continues with “Nothing Else Matters (When I’m with You)” with references to listening to Kill ‘Em All and defending Jason Newsted, but the band’s finest moments come when they bow to the Queers and write riffs more contagious than Ebola in a refugee camp. “Cockroach Strikes Again”, “Can’t Quit”, and “They Call Me Steve” are classic pop songs with a serrated edge accented by brilliantly sardonic lyrics. However, the video for the latter is a mock-up of Minecraft, which seems a few years too late, but it’s OK; perhaps that game is just reaching Wyoming now. “I Wanna Die” is a furious track that injects SOA style rage into less then two minutes of visceral honesty, while “Haunted House” is a return to the band’s ability to write songs that may contain ridiculous lyrics but the quality of the musicianship demands one’s respect. The one clunker is the closing acoustic effort, “First Time”. Coming across as TB's desperate attempt at their own version of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, the track is a misshapen prom song that brings an otherwise sterling record to a screeching, forgettable halt. Perhaps future printings will simply leave this one, for the first thirteen efforts are superior pieces of perfect punk fun.

THE CUT 45 - 10" EP (Sex Sheet Records

This Portland, Oregon trio play a unique brand of grunge-inspired punk on four highly individualized tracks. Each song has its own personality, yet successfully retains the remnants of a distinctive sound, whether in the form of Tom’s vocals or the intensity of the low end of drummer Gordy and bassist Ethan. “House Flies” is noisy triumphant slab of rugged pop carried by an unexpectedly catchy groove and raspy, shouted chorus. “Plague of Information” sounds as if it was found in an early-90’s time capsule with its shared vocals, high energy riff and moody shifts in lyrical delivery. This is my favorite of the four, followed closely by the lengthier closer, “Corn Liquor”. Sounding very much like Fugazi’s hyperactive younger cousin, this track is a demonstration of truly adroit musicianship from a band that has a wealth of ability and is willing to experiment with tempo and tone, occasionally several times within the same track. “Satellites” is a bass-heavy effort that also includes dissident guitar work and impassioned vocals. I love what this band has to offer and need to hear more very quickly.

HEY MANDIBLE - The Arse (Fort Lowell Records

Where was this band twenty years ago when I was in college radio? Hey Mandible is a bruising, acerbic celebration of squealing guitar noise that is constantly churning with some form of indescribable rage. The opening “Supernovatone” is equal parts hook-laden fun and anti-social fury, with both halves driven by deliciously pummeling angst. “It Figures” is an abrasive, chaotic gem with understated vocals walking seemingly obliviously to the imposing vortex swirling around them, and this would have fit well alongside Guzzard and Lubricated Goat on AmRep. To that end, “Human Ape” interjects a subtle, almost subversive, pop aesthetic into an otherwise thunderous explosion of blunt force, and Jesus Lizard would approve of what these three twisted Floridian geniuses. The bass line of “Missing Monet” has me instantly hooked, and this track is perhaps the most moderate of the ten on The Arse. The closing “Kids” included the refrain “Kids today don’t know anything about anything”, and after numerous listens, I am unsure if Travis Taylor, Mike Easters, and Kevin Roberts are lamenting about the state of today’s youth or mocking the frustration felt about the contemporary generation. It’s a brilliant lyrical conundrum and the answer will depend solely upon the mood of the listener. The intentional ambiguity encapsulates Hey Mandible-this is a band that seems to borrow heavily from the recent past yet creates something wholly unique and futuristic. This could be where punk is headed, and if so, the future looks hopeful.


SHILPA RAY - Last Year’s Savage (Northern Spy Records

Shilpa Ray has long prided herself on being a true artist, not conforming to any preconceived standards or altering her musical visions in any manner. For that alone, she deserves to be celebrated; however, while her path has been gloriously confrontational, her talent is undeniable. Shilpa Ray has the kind of voice that simply leaves one speechless. Her tone alternates between defiant and vulnerable throughout Last Year’s Savage and there is a brimming sensuality to each approach. Any woman who can so powerfully deliver a song titled “Sanitary iPad” is instantly my dream girl, but she truly shines on the more rambunctious “Johnny Thunders”, a rugged musical tumble deserving of its namesake. Ray’s biting sense of dark humor is also readily apparent on “Pop Song for Euthanasia” and “Pipe Dreams Ponzi Schemes”, two tracks in which her devilishly angelic voice hovers through the air like a mist before settling upon your skin and absorbing itself into your bloodstream. This is music that is not forgettable because a woman not tied to corporate mass production but rather to a desire to generate songs that are endearing, challenging, and majestic produces it. “Shilpa Ray on Broadway” bounces with a buoyancy one may not associate with her normally, but that song once again proves that Shilpa Ray cannot be neatly identified, while “Oh My Northern Soul” and “Hymn” are soaring, gorgeous efforts that seem effortless in their delivery, but the humanity found within is exalting. Beautiful keys act as the driving force within most tracks, accented naturally by the power and the honesty of Ray’s voice and lyrical prowess. This is not punk, but there is something more rebellious about it than the overwhelming majority of kids playing three chords and inspiring spin kicks, for Shilpa Ray takes the ugly aspects of life and exposes it through a lens that is equally brutally honest and gorgeous. As much as I want her to succeed, selfishly, I hope Shilpa Ray always remains a prized secret for those who truly value ambitious art.

THE GRIP WEEDS - How I Won the War (Jem recordings

The Grip Weeds clearly do not know what decade this is and they do not care. How I Won the War could be described as a “Maximum R&B” record a la old posters of The Who. With jangling guitar, soaring, richly harmonic Byrds-style vocals, and trippy tales of rainbow quartz and inner lights, this Jersey act is more of a Mersey act. For people who routinely enjoy having a Sunday morning “Breakfast with the Beatles” or find themselves puttering around an Underground Garage, How I Won the War is a seventeen-song celebration of beautiful songwriting from four highly gifted players who took the name for this record from a 1968 film starring John Lennon. There elements of sugary pop-rock, particularly “Life Saver” and “Heaven and Earth”, two songs on which guitarist Kristin Pinell truly shines, but even in this lighthearted moments, there is a depth to the playing that prevents the Grip Weeds from simply trying to recapture the innocence of Meet the Beatles or Out of Our Heads. This is made abundantly clear on the stunning “Force of Nature” and the equally emotive “Other Side of Your Heart”. Kurt and Rick Reil have the type of vocal interplay that only siblings can share, and even if the band has suffered through personal struggles, the euphoria heard throughout War makes that difficult to believe. This is not a blindly optimistic record, but rather one that is cautiously celebratory. There is a gamete of emotions explored throughout the vast canvas of the disc, and the Grip Weeds can move easily between soul churning honesty and giggling pop goodness.


You may not have more fun this year than Grim Deeds. We all love the Queers, and I have certainly spent years writing about bands that sound like Joe and his revolving door of mates, but few bands capture the perfect blend of humor, self-loathing, sexual frustration, and general sardonic disgust more effectively than Grim Deeds. “I Don’t Care (About Your Kids)” perfectly sums up the pretentious, overly self-congratulatory parents of Millennials better by declaring “I don’t see why the world has to salute you/just because a husband came inside his wife”, while “Fake Dad” takes on the same anger as “My Old Man’s a Fatso” and relates it solely to an obnoxious step-father. The bouncing, kinetic punk energy of “Mouth Off to Mom and Dad” is just amazing as the band juxtaposes pop-kissed punk with sharp political observations about the current disaster that is the Middle East and the legacy of the Iraq invasion (“Mouth off to mom and add/ they voted for George Bush twice and that’s bad”). Grim Deeds once sang a song about smoking weed with Cronos from Venom and their metal adoration continues on “I Only Listen to Goregrind”, a song that proudly name drops Carcass and Cattle Decapitation with tremendous comfort and ease. However, these guys really secured my undying devotion with a triumvirate of lonely guy songs: “She Won’t Fuck Me”, “Massage Parlor” and “Addicted to Porn” are just perfect anthems for frustrated married men and these efforts are not only hilarious, but also provide support for all the guys who worry that they are the only men in sexless marriages. The closing duo of “Violent Videos” and “Ballad of the Opening Band” are both lyrically spot-on, particularly the latter as Grim Deeds sings about playing to empty rooms, greedy club owners, and printing up stickers and t-shirts. This Foster City, California band is a punk rock gem. Go make them famous immediately!

GONG I SEE - You (Madfish records

Apparently the 1960’s never quite ended for the men of Gong, but that is perfectly fine for this is not a gaggle of upstarts attempting to recapture a long-lost sound, but rather, Gong has proudly existed for over forty years and I See You is another step for a band continuously progressing and challenging itself. Founder Daevid Allen, now in his 70s and sadly undergoing cancer treatment so all at JB wish him only best, drives Gong through a dozen wildly creative and layered tracks, brimming with superior horns and jazzy interludes. This is a record with which one can simply press play, sit back, and let the music waft over and through one’s mind, as each song is electrifying and perpetually surprising. The closing duo of “Thank You” and “Shakti Yoni and Dingo Virgin” is roughly twenty minutes of beautifully expressive playing, even as the closing moments of the latter are largely hushed. The title track starts the record in manner that mixes lyrical innocence and a complex song structure as Allen says “I’ll see you in your dreams” in a manner more hopeful than frightening, while “Eternal Wheel of Life” sounds as if it could be a cornerstone of any street performer in Haight Ashbury with the message “Harmonic waves we are riding/shimmering with light/fractured moments passing/octave doctors calling”. I am not quite sure what that actually means, but I am positive that in the correct frame of mind, it is a work of staggering genius. Meanwhile, “Syllabub” is the highlight of the disc for me, not only due to a soaring sax solo from Ian East, but also because of the wickedly sharp lines about the paranoia and invasive nature of today’s world-when Allen sings “Whatcha doin big brother” and “take a peek-take a peek at Wikileak”, he is both lampooning and sadly summarizing life in the twenty-first century, an Orwellian nightmare so feared by those who first rebelled against big government, lies, and political maneuvering in the 1960’s. This concept emerges again on the fittingly titled “This Revolution” which should be studied as a primer on how to express why people rise up in unison against perceived ills. I am fairly certain that most people by age 75 have slowed done, forgotten about the idealism that drove them to eschew traditional life for a an existence of greater significance, but that is not the case with Daevid Allen or the other members of Gong and we are fortunate for that.

HALF CLEVELAND - Live at the Wi-Fi café (

This twelve-song, largely acoustic record was recorded within a student center at the Recording Arts and Technology and according to the band’s own press, it only comprises a small percentage of Half Cleveland’s self-described high energy that dominates their more electric performances. I will never criticize anyone for trying, but this was music played for older people by older people that even old people would struggle to enjoy. Half Cleveland’s set is a mixed bag of folk-tinged rock but the stories are just not highly engaging. The lyrics to efforts such as “Workingman’s Beer” and “Le French Movie” are difficult to absorb with a straight face, and the band seemed unsteady in a more intimate, stripped-down setting. Perhaps if these songs were played through more volatile amps and delivered with greater intensity, “Larry’s in the Cut-Out Bin” or “New Enemy” would have more bite, but here they seem flat; as if the songs themselves are struggling to find the energy to get moving. Chris Butler and Harvey Gold have impressive resumes that span decades and the quality of their songwriting cannot be challenged, but Half Cleveland sounds like just that: half a band. I will chalk this up to a talented group of players caught between two worlds and committing to neither of them. I am not ready to simply discard Half Cleveland for there is far too much talent within this group; however, I am going to pass on this version of the band and wait for them to deliver more force in the future.

THE DESCRIBED MOUTH - "Play for Fates" (

Bryan Elkins does not offer much in the way of information about this four-song solo EP, but his performance is highly engaging. Also a member of In Musth and Black Vail, Elkins has a haunting voice that conveys deep emotion yet also sounds quite ethereal as it each word delicately dissipate into the air. All of the tracks are stripped down acoustic pieces, and Elkins plays with a deliberate force on “The Bell”, alternating aggressive chords with interludes of serene quiet. “A Reversal” is a lush track with a rich structure and Elkins’ understated vocal delivery that allows the lyrics to be fully appreciated for their intriguing beauty. The title track is less controlled than its predecessors as the song unravels at times, exposing a vulnerability that is one of the hallmarks of the EP. The mood of the song ebbs and flows, and Elkins’ ability to take the listener on a winding journey in only a matter of a few minutes is his finest skill. Ironically, he closes with “Normal Song”, and while it is the most traditional sounding of the four, “Normal” does not mean repetitive or predictable. I know nothing of Bryan Elkins and his artistic ventures, but Play for Fates certainly motivates me to explore what else this man has done, for if this EP is any indication, it will be unique in nature.

THE REAL MCKENZIES - Rats in the Burlap (Fat Wreck Chords

Blending raging punk fury and traditional Celtic beauty, the Real McKenzies prove to be a band that continues to burn with a youthful fire even after more than two decades touring the globe and seeing the finest and nastiest elements of the world’s offerings. For those who admire bag pipes, Aspy Luisson’s playing on “Lilacs in the Alleyway” and “Yes” is magnificent and is the centerpiece of two soaring anthems that also revolve around a driving punk riff, while “Midnight Train to Moscow” and “Stephen’s Green” are punishing slabs of power on which Paul McKenzie paints vivid images of tough living and survival with wonderfully descriptive lyrics. The band erupts out of the gate with “Who saw the 42nd?” and maintains a unwavering devotion to swinging punk vigor until the tongue in cheek tale of a food stealing feline, “Bootsy the Haggis-Eating Cat”, proving that even battle-scarred vets like the Real McKenzies have a sense of humor. Rats in the Burlap works so well because the record includes a diversity of tempos and techniques-while “Who’d a Thought” is unabashedly aggressive, the closing “Dead or Alive” is a poignant, personal acoustic track about the life-long struggle that is the residual effect of loss. Both songs are indicators of the wealth of talent possessed by ?guitarists Mario Nieva and Mark “The Bone” Boland, along with the thunderous rhythm section of bassist Troy Zak and drummer? Jesse Pinner. The Real McKenzies have richly and rightfully earned a reputation as a touring juggernaut and Rats in the Burlap provide fourteen potential new classics to be added to increasingly impressive set list.


Lunar Electric will shatter most preconceived notions of what “indie” music is supposed to be, and that is what makes this band so engaging. Guitarist and leader Dre DiMura is a rock god from another time and perhaps another dimension. The riffs on this four song EP are monstrous and easily mesh the bombast of T Rex and Zep with subtle psychedelics into a whirling, moody voyage. The closing “Crossfire Child” is my favorite as a monstrosity of a groove generated by drummer Kaleen Reading and bassist Geena Spigarelli swallows the listener like a sinkhole while DiMura playing swirls above the heavens. The opening “Bread and Circuses” would have been the dream of an FM radio jock in the early days of the format, yet it is not dated. Rather, Lunar Electric brings the familiar to a new age with a swagger that sets this band far apart from its contemporaries. From the song titles like “Moonlight” and “Sleepwalker” (two more pouting, stomping gems) through the throw back vibe of their band’s font for their moniker, everything about this band rejects twenty-first century culture. I am surprised they even have a website; something about Lunar Electric would lead me to believe that they are traveling across the country in a van, handing out flyers, and spreading their music through actual face to face contact rather than through social media. However, while Lunar Electric may have to join in with the blogosphere and Twitter World, let them use those tools to promote exactly what they are: one hell of a great American rock n’ roll band.

MATTER OF PLANETS - The Ballad of Baberham (Bastion Recordings

The one fear a band like Matter of Planets must face is the inevitable concern that their brand of instrumental prog-metal may be too much of a niche sound. Specifically, are they able to be a band that the average, no-talent, knucklehead (i.e. me) will be able to fully appreciate, or will they only be adopted by expert musicians able to dissect each chord progression with a twenty minute dissertation? Fortunately, The Ballad of Baberham is incredibly accessible and easily grasped, despite its very pronounced intricacies. The band’s origin story is as fascinating as their music, as drummer Joel Chastain has a hip-hop and jazz background, the latter of which is readily apparent throughout the record. His fellow comic book loving virtuosos, Joe Rosenblum, Blake Herschler, and Jake Laramore each played in doom bands prior to exploring the sonic universe with MoP. The seven songs weaves engaging stories even without the presence of lyrics, and the nine minutes epic “Heavy is the Head” is a thunderous, rumbling piece that possesses a multitude of personalities as tempo and abrasiveness shift throughout the track, but always with a dazzling sense of control. Some may listen to an instrumental outfit with a jazz-trained drummer and imagine a free-form ball of improvisation, but while that feeling exists, the true form of the band is remarkably precise and expertly crafted. “Stress Fracture/And So On” is a glorious thirteen minutes of lush, majestic instrumentation delivered by four individuals thinking and playing as one. I am particularly taken with the brilliantly titled “Baberham Lincoln” and “Water Wolves”, two methodically pummeling efforts that also inject a sense of levity into a genre of music often derided for taking itself far too seriously. Nothing on Ballad is a laughing matter, but it is obvious that MoP love what their doing, and rather than simply glaring down at their instruments, this is a prog-metal-rock hybrid with members that may actually look at the audience and even smile.


The four songs on Never Young’s self-titled EP are bruising, crushing prophesies as to what the future of punk may become in the not so distant future. Blending gaunt guitar power and blunt, mechanized force, songs like “Spectacle Boy” and “Like a Version” are anthems for a new wave of aggressive music. However, this band’s subtle calling card may be their abilities to also write a big harmony, as heard on “Crigsaw”. Christopher Adams and Nikolas Soelter share both vocal and guitar responsibilities and the two have equal skills in each area, and understand how to bring the listener to the edge of chaos but pulling back just before their songs explode. “Ur a Front” takes elements of early Sonic Youth and plays it through the speakers on a mid-priced laptop so the energy is caught up in a swirling ball of fiery noise; in short, it’s awesome! Samuelito Cruz’s drumming is colossal throughout each of the four songs, but he instantly makes his presence known on “Like a Version”; a dark, scathing song that opens with futuristic beats and a brief soundscape before quickly becoming submerged in the roar of this youthful and gloriously talented outfit, rounded out by the wallop of Niko Escudero’s bass playing.

SHILPA RAY - Make Up EP(Northern Spy Records

After listening to the two tracks available on this EP, I cannot wait for the arrival of Last Year’s Savage, Shilpa Ray’s next full length, scheduled for a May release. At Northern Spy’s site, one can check out “Pop Song for Euthanasia” which will certainly encourage your fingers to pre-order what should be one of 2015’s most eclectic and thrilling releases. As an appetizer, Shilpa Ray, often described as “an artist’s artist”, delivers two beautiful efforts on Make Up. She takes Lou Reed’s second side opener from Transformer and injects her own unique interpretation to a song that was already wildly distinctive. When Ray declares “you’re a slick little girl”, there is a level of sensuality that makes the song irresistible. Ray adds a level of bombast to the verses not heard on the original before quietly cooing about “coming out of our closets/out on the streets”. The song bounces with thunderous energy as Ray delivers Reed’s sexually charged lyrics (“Rouge and coloring, incense and ice/ perfume and kisses, ooohhh, it's all so nice”) with both great poise and defiance, traits that have marked her career. She then effortlessly changes gears with “What a Difference a Day Makes”, the 1934 Maria Grever song originally titled “Cuando Vuelva a tu Lado”, but known more readily in America as a 1959 hit for Dinah Washington. This torch song ballad is a perfect platform for a demonstration of Ray’s remarkable range and the fragile beauty of her vocals. Go find this immediately.

ALECTRO - School of Desire (

If a tear comes to your eye whenever you see “Hang ‘Em High” or “For a Few Dollars More”, then Alectro is the outfit for you. Jeff Eyrich and Steve Kirkman brings surf-country twang to life through eleven tales of hard living, lonesome traveling, and trying to find an elusive place called “home”. With a healthy application of fuzz and distortion, School of Desire resonates with 60’s fidelity from a pair of weathered vets with endless stories to share. “Fork in the Road”, “Hard Travelin’”, and “Take Me to the Highway” are just as one would imagine; the songs conjure images of open roads and American independence offset by a melancholy realism that individualism has its sacrifices. “Shining Star” is nearly six minutes of washed out surf guitar and Eyrich and Kirkman’s poignant vocals, while “Sunset at County Line” is sans vocals and merely pulls at one’s heartstrings through a soulful, haunting riff. Some of the material here is a bit too slow in tempo for my liking, but the story telling of “Cross and the Switchblade” and “Whiskey Water” is superb. The duo also do a faithful rendition of “Tobacco Road”; one that is much more true to the original of The Nashville Teens than some of the world’s failed attempts. One need not be driving through a remote section of the dusty Southwest to appreciate this, but if listener closes their eyes, one can almost hear a lonely coyote howling at the moon while Alectro performs.

ENRAGE - Gateways Vol. 1 (

Enrage is a scathing example of New York hardcore with a tangible infusion of punishing metal, and Gateways is the first of a three EP series which promises to explode this band onto a world that needs more bands like this. “Godhead Murderer” pays homage to classic thrash metal with a monstrous riff that kicks in around ninety seconds into the track and is a ruthless assault that fans of Agnostic Front and Sick of It All will love. “Monday Morning Steamroller” is a fist-throwing, spin-kicking juggernaut of a hardcore anthem with chugging guitar, gang vocals, and the instantly recognizable pipes of Sheer Terror’s Paul Bearer. This is the most fun one can have while getting pummeled. The closing “Folsom Prison Blues” is a tough-guy interpretation of the legendary Johnny cash’s anthem, and covering such an iconic song is a challenge. However, Enrage beef up the song’s intensity and its tale of desperation rings with even greater despondency and fury. I only hope the next two releases follow quickly.

MODERN WARFARE - “Delivered” (UT Records

Once one fights through all of the results that are connected to video games, one can finally gather some biographical information on this highly distinctive outfit. This early 80s punk gem has been resurrected thanks to the geniuses at Buffalo’s UT Records, and if you are like me and was too young for Modern Warfare the first time around, this single is a primer on what LA punk was like just before the hardcore scene took control. Quirky, jangly, spastic guitar riffs cut jagged edges throughout each track as Jim Bemis sings about “post-nuclear fashion” (“Dayglo”), a menacing figure, bullied by society, lurking in the dark (“In the Shadows”) and the urban decay of America during the last moments of the Carter era (“Delivered”). Surrounding Bemis and his Richard Hell meets Jello Biafra delivery is Tim Gaines and Steve Sinclair both on bass (!), Ron Goudie on guitar, drummer Randy Scott and subtle keyboards from Tish Lucca. The high pitched, rapid fire guitar riff of “Delivered” sounds like Devo jamming with the Damned while “Dayglo” is a hyperactive blast of apocalyptic terror that sounds quaint in comparison to modern threats of global terror. Bemis ran both the band and Bemis Brain records which ultimately morphed into Enigma, a company that celebrated the unique in their own right. This is both a fun and worthwhile blast of nostalgia compliments of one of America’s best little labels.

THE MONOCHROME SET - Spaces Everywhere (Tapete records

The Monochrome Set is the musical equivalent of the person who you see waiting in line and you swear you know them but you just cannot place them-everything about Spaces Everywhere seems distinctive yet also maddening familiar. From Bid’s vocals, a hybrid of Morrissey, Ray Davies, Mark Knopfler, and torch song crooners, through the warm harmonies of “Fantasy Creatures” and “rain Check”. There are the morose elements of Velvet Underground, bubblegum pop energy, and rock’s most visceral qualities. “Avenue” rollicks with a keyboard riff straight from FM radio of the late 70s, while “When I Get to Hollywood” is a bouncing anthem that is quite effervescent in personality, but like much of the record, the light-hearted nature of the music defies darkness within. The turbulent emotions of the protagonist in “Oh, You’re Such a Star” and the eulogy of “In a Little Village” stand in contrast to the flute that adorns the latter or the banjo on “”The Scream”. Spaces Everywhere is an eclectic, vibrant collection of songs that would be comfortable in the confines of a 60s cooperative, but will undoubtedly stun people in 2015.



There are c ertain bands for which there is no simple label or genre that one can thrust upon them and be done with it; for my money, no act embodies this more effectively than Screaming Females. I know this trio is a pretty big deal if you consider yourself among the living, but why they are not ruling the world is beyond me after checking out the first four efforts on Rose Mountain. The dark, angular “Empty Head”, the aggressive “Ripe”, and the boisterous “Burning Car” take Sleater-Kinney’s finest moments and inject a level of angst that even Carrie and her mates cannot quite match. Marissa Paternoster has a voice that is wildly expressive and her guitar playing matches her vocal intensity, even when she plays more delicately on “Wishing Well”, or adopts an island vibe on “Broken Neck”. Accompanied by bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty, the band has the ability to erupt violently and then recede with equal ease into serenity, albeit usually quite short-lived. The rugged, metal tinged riff of the title track gives way to graceful versus in which Paternoster displays her rich, harmonic range, a trait also found on the closing “Criminal Image”. “Hopeless” captures its title through the melancholy mid-tempo pacing and somber vocal delivery, while “Triumph” rebounds with a kinetic energy and a soaring chorus. This is a flawless record as it alternates between abrasive and charming, punk fury and pop hope with an adroitness few can imitate. I want to start a petition to get Screaming Females on next year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

MAKE DO AND MEND - Don’t Be Long (Rise Records

There is scant information on this four-piece, Boston via West Hartford, Connecticut outfit, but Don’t Be Long says much more than any clichéd press release ever could. Despite an existence that measured close to a decade, this is my first exposure to the band, and their hardcore roots occasionally appear on the title track or “Ever Since”, but Make Do and Mend have clearly softened the corners to produced a highly melodic record replete with huge hooks and moments of heartfelt sentimentality. “Sanctimony” opens with the line “what ever happened to the first summer we ran away/ Hearing our hearts pound on 95 Southbound” and gives way to powerful riff tempered with rich harmonies, while “Begging for the Sun to Go Down” is a genteel acoustic track that is mirrored by the equally reserved “I Don’t Wonder at All”. Both of the latter tracks allow singer James Carroll to demonstrate his emotive and warm vocal skills. Other tracks such as “Bluff”, “All There Is”, and “Sin Miedo” are slightly more rugged in tone, but even when the band elevates the bombast, there is always a pop sensibility that stops any song from becoming overly aggressive. To their credit, Make Do and Mend have put together a collection of highly crafted, intelligent songs that rattle some walls as they break some hearts, and they certainly have a sound ready for prime time. I can imagine these guys getting thrown into a “post-hardcore” blender, but there is much more “post” than hardcore here; which is fine, as Make Do and Mend are clearly leaving some of their younger angst in the past and are focusing on more refined work. I believe they have the potential to become a significant band if given the right exposure, and there is an earnest quality to all eleven songs without any filler. I just wish they would enhance their online presence!!


The members of Life Eaters do not care what rock is “supposed” to sound like in 2015 as these five New Jersey area vets, including two members from the always incredible Rye Coalition, strut and smash their way through twelve pummeling songs. “I’m the One You Wanted” is a jarring opener with its boundless energy and a hook-laden chorus, but before the amps finish humming from that track, the guys shift gears into the bluesy sludge of “Man Pain”, a tar pit of an effort that nearly doubles the length of its predecessor. Regardless of tempo, Life Eaters deliver the goods in the form of no frills rock for those who may have forgotten what that art form sounds like; “Look Out” and “Lock it In” are among the finest one-two punches one will hear this year, while the closing “Lie to Me” is delivered with a wry sensibility and an underlying sexuality that drives the song. Taking the energy of Night Birds but exchanging the Dead Kennedys influence for some Monster Magnet and a healthy dose of 60’s groove ( check out “Atom Bomb”), Michael Sylvia leads his friends through twelve blasts of sultry, hard-edged rock n’ roll bombast. Romel Espinel (formerly of No Pasaran!) and John Gonnelli are a ferocious guitar duo, buzzing through the rollicking “Animal” and the blazing “Cut Above” with garage-punk intensity and refined skill. The low end is handled by drummer Gregg Leto and bassist John Feuerbach, who carry the rousing “Government Kicks”, a track that drags the sound of the Damned into the twenty-first century. The ability to import a wide array of styles and angst into one cohesive knock out punch makes Life Eaters a disc deserving of celebration.

DWARVES - Gentleman Blag (Fat Wreck Chords Can it really be possible to be exhausted after listening to a scant four song EP, including one track that is over is thirty seconds? It is when one is discussing the mighty Dwarves! The Gentleman’s Blag EP is the band’s first release on Fat Wreck Chords and one has to wonder what took this marriage so long to occur. For fans of this seminal act, nothing here is a surprise-it’s fast, aggressive punk that is dripping with sex, but not in a charming way, and it also includes more legendary cover art. “Gentleman’s Blag” is a celebration of Blag Jesus’ male apparatus, while “Trisexual” is a blindly quick gem that is over before it starts. (Some may relate to that problem) However, lest one believe that there is limited substance here, “Kings of the World” is one of the most hook-laden songs you will hear this year, and “Stuck in the Void” is carried by vicious guitar playing and includes guest vocals from Rex Everything (Nick Oliveri) along with pristine production from Andy Carpenter. The band sounds huge on this EP, as each player is allowed to shine, particularly on “Kings” and “Stuck”, the two more complex anthems of the bunch. If you can handle huge harmonies and like it little rough, jump in bed with the Dwarves again for this one.

NOISE BY NUMBERS - High On Drama (Jump Start Records

After listening to “High on Drama”, the opening title track of Nose By Numbers EP, I am furious with myself that I had never heard of these guys previously. This six -song effort is an impressive display from a Chicago four-piece that uses the band as an outlet for fun, but I for one would love to see this become a permanent project. “Are You Still My Enemy” rattles and smashes its way over the listener the way Mission of Burma’s best work did, as Noise By Numbers injects poetic bombast into each song without losing the intimacy that makes the record so impactful. Their brand of Husker Du meets Superchunk power punk hits its apex on “Southgate House”, a rollicking song with an infectious hook and the impassioned vocals of Dan Schafer, who clearly grew up inspired by the rugged honesty of Paul Westerberg ‘s delivery. “Make up Your Heart” is another soul-bearing anthem that resonates with a warm guitar tone and celebrates the glory of a guitar riff that fans will hum in their heads long after the song finishes. Noise By Numbers plays sincere rock with an understanding that catchy songs are increasingly rare commodities and all of High On Drama is unavoidably memorable, including the slower paced “Town of Hamburg” and their version of the Lemonheads “Rudderless”, which is a fitting homage to the song without simply recycling it. This may be the concluding chapter of Noise BY Numbers career or it could inspire the to continue to write full lengths together; regardless of what happens in the future, no one should miss the opportunity to check out High on Drama.

LOW FAT GETTING HIGH (Money Fire Records

The rugged instrumental “Introduction” that opens Low Fat Getting High encapsulates the band’s grunge worshipping, noise-rock aesthetics by punching the listener in the back of the head and then walking away laughing. It is a thrilling start to a sterling record from an abrasive, primal act that has rightfully earned high praise and a healthy buzz around the NYC area. Drummer Kaleen Reading joins Artie Tan and Michael Sincavage, and Reading steals the show on the thunderous “Start All Over Again” and “No More Feelings”, while the guitar acrobatics of “Bath Salts” and “Mint Gum” are viciously beautiful. “Hate Them All”, which opens the second side, and “Gunther” possess a controlled aggression reminiscent of a band like Titus Andronicus. Low Fat Getting High clutches on to riffs with white-knuckle intensity as the songs spin dangerously out of control in an exhaustive listen. After eleven slabs of teeth-rattling, concussion-inducing sludge, the band shows a sly wit by ending the disc with a mid-tempo stomp in the form of “The Car is Waiting”. I do hope this band gets out and slays the rest of the country with the ferocity they are currently enjoying in the big City.

P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S. - “Hit and Run” b/w “45 Minutes” (Doomtown Sounds

This Portland, Oregon five-piece brings high-energy fun to their brand of punk rock on a highly enjoyable single. “Hit and Run” displays an affinity for the early masters of sleazy, gritty rock n’ roll, as the track borrows heavily from Raw Power-era Stooges, particularly the guitar work of Scott and Matty and the vocal intensity of Bradly. This is not rewriting the punk manual, but no one is asking P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S. to do that and listeners do not have to work very hard here. They do fall back on another well-worn trick by injecting some country twang into “45 Minutes”, but like its predecessor, this is an entertaining ride.

WIDOWS WATCH - This Message Repeats (Toxic Pop Records

This Baltimore outfit is comprised of long-time scene vets who play harmonious, hook driven efforts that sound like 1993 never ended. With former members of Greasegun and Can’t Say, among others, Widows Watch is a band that makes music for the pure appreciation of writing good songs and their passion shines on This Message Repeats. Because Widows Watch is not a full time job for the members, as they all wrestle with real responsibilities like families and jobs, this is not an outfit that will tour the nation. While this is a shame as the world needs more bands this pre and honest, their reclusiveness adds to their mystique. If you are waving goodbye to your twenties (or older), it is difficult not to find solace in the laments of songs like “Bleeding Heart” and “American Gulag” with their tales of the daily hassles of life that bind many of us together. I was also taken with “Lazy” and “Stumble” for their ability to capture the challenges that can make each day conquered a victory, (“It’s the lonely times that drag on and on/ I Know it’s all in my head/A lot of good that does in practice/ Because its where I’ve go to live”-“Stumble”) or the importance finding comfort in the people who truly matter on “Kindred Company”. Ultimately, it was “Fake Smile” that resonated most personally for me, and the poetic nature of Andy’s vocals is the highlight of the record. With a double guitar structure, the songs are each richly textured and can hit with surprising force, such as the All-inspired “Zero Sum”. This is a rewarding find and a band worth celebrating beyond their occasional local club app

SMALLTALK III ( album/smalltalk-iii)

Smalltalk is best known as the side project of Pete Steinkopf from the Bouncing Souls, but the band should be regarded as a wholly independent entity worthy of respect solely based on musical acumen more than name recognition. This three song EP integrates 90’s pop jangle and Smith’s styles harmonies for three richly engrossing anthems. The opening “Spellbound” steadily builds with a structure similar to that of the best moments of Siamese Dream, complete with squalling guitar and rich melody, while “Like You” could easily be a single from Meat is Murder. With a bouncing, rollicking aesthetic, the song gallops along for a scant two minutes before moving along to “Indecipherable”, a smoothly delivered effort that drips with references from Big Star to The Wedding Present with the biting line “every time I need you to step up, you step down”. This is another impressive collection from a skilled collection of players (Zak Kaplan, John Chladnicek, Jamie Goldfarb and Tara Jones round out the outfit), and hopefully a full length is coming soon.

EARLY AND JUSTIN - Jonsing For Some Jones (

This five-song gem is the byproduct of a drunken 2am conversation, and this only proves that alcohol fuels brilliance. Early Gates and Justin Melkmann take a handful of soulful George Jones anthems and play them as if it was open mic night at CBGB’s in 1978. Their fast, fuzzy, and punky playing takes country lyrics of alcoholism, loneliness, and general exhaustion with life and injects a vivacious energy that makes the tracks almost uplifting. “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” sounds like a fun night out in the hands of Gates and Melkmann, while “Just One More” and “The Race is On” are kinetic, highly charged efforts that bounce with a joy that only emerges when the homage is performed with true admiration. The finest of the group is “Something to Brag About” with the lush and sultry vocals of Mariann Salvato who is irresistible when she coos lines about her ”hourglass figure and her big brown eyes”. I know that country music can become a caricature of itself and the same can be said of some punk, but in the hands of true professionals, both genres are incredibly expressive and deeply human. These qualities dominate this EP that is more than just two friends having fun-this is sparkling punk-pop.

d.smith - Groping For Luna Vol. 1 (Dromedary Records

The d. smith in question here is Dan Smith who first gained a level of prominence in the early through mid 90’s act Shirk Circus, a band I distinctly remember through the haze of my college radio salad days. Groping for Luna is sixteen tracks of largely melancholy, sometimes aggressive, but always introspective pop-tinged rock that brings one back in time around two decades without sounding imitative of his earlier career work. Smith is a bit of a unique character, never touring and rarely granting interviews, so the songs here are glimpses inside his thoughts and “So Long (And So Forth)”, “The Ballad of Squeaky Fromme”, and “Ghost” are among a trio of articulate songs that examine life in a unique manner under the warmth of fuzzy riffs and rolling bass lines. While some of the work becomes a bit too reserved for my tastes, such as “Walk Through Fire” or “On (and on and on and on)”, [although the latter of those two features a lush backing vocals from a bevy of talented singers] the majority of the record is pointed and poignant, blending latter career Husker Du riffage with late 90’s pop harmonies. My greatest surprise here was the warmth of Smith’s voice-never straining too far in terms of range, Smith envelopes the listener and invites the person into his world for a little while. One feels as if Smith is sharing secrets that he will later wish he did not reveal but the honesty is engaging. Along with drummer Bobby Diamond, Smith concocts straightforward but not simple songs that offer his distinctive worldview. Not only is this record worth picking up because of the talent heard within, but it also marks the final release for Al Crisafulli’s Dromedary Records, a consistently impressive indie whose releases I have routinely enjoyed since the company’s inception. The good news is that while Dromedary closes a chapter, The Sugarblast Music Company is now shaking off the afterbirth and will soon unleash music that, according to Crisafulli, is “louder” and “more obnoxious” than the work heard on Dromedary. Sounds good to me.

THE GOOD GRACES - Close to the Sun (Fort Lowell Records

The Good Graces is largely a one-woman show in the form of Kim Ware’s delicate guitar playing and serene vocals. The genteel nature of her work allows for her insightful lyrics to shine. Her impressions and observations on the complexities of relationships dominate Close to the Sun and the emotions span a wide gamete. The lamentations of better times are haunting on “My Own Grace” (We went dancing and stayed out ‘til two/You held me close and I looked up to you/And everything felt right/Now all we do is fight”), while Ware boldly embraces loneliness on “Cold in California” (I’ve been spending all my days/Wondering hat might have been”). Ware surrounds herself with the appropriately understated musicianship of John McNicholas, Erik Ostrom, and Rob Dyson among others, and these players shine on the lush “Standing in Line” on which Ware is frustrated with a partner’s lack of decisiveness (“If you could just make up your mind/ Make up your mind/Why can’t you just make up you mind?”). The closing “Before You Go” celebrates the subtle gestures that comprise true love with Ware’s voice gracefully emoting “Before you go, please know that I love you” with a profound sincerity. Ware is a highly skilled songwriter with highly astute assessments of the intricacies of human relationships.

THE MODERNS - “When She Gets Back” b/w “Escape Velocity”/ “Run” (Ut Records

There is a cool story to this one: This was originally recorded in 1979 but Ut Records has unearthed it and released upon a 21st century that desperately needs more bands like this. The A-side is a standard piece of jangly pop fare with a slight edge, but the record truly explodes when one flips the record over to side B. “Escape Velocity” is properly titled as the track is a speedy, punk-tinged effort that sounds like it could crawl along the alcohol-stained streets of London even thought he band was led by California’s Modern Warfare mastermind Jim Bemis. The closing “Run” has traces of what became grunge as the track blends fierce intensity with soaring harmonies. This is a nice find, and while the recording sounds a bit dated, the energy and emotion is timeless.

WHOLE WHEAT - Songs From My Parents Basement (Mystery Circles

I was not sure if this was a joke, but Brian Austin, aka Whole Wheat, has been actively recording music since the late 1990’s and he kept the tapes stashed in his basement until last year. I am uncertain if they deserved to be released from their mildew and mold infested crypts. The songs range from primitive beats with monotone deliveries (”Tragic Death”, “Seaworthy”), to acoustic melodrama (“It’s Alright”, “He Knew How to Smile””, and “Spread Eagle”), to Beatles-esque pope delirium (“We Can be So Happy”) to finally, the keyboard laden moodiness of “Depression Days”. All the while, despite the occasional moment of levity, for example, “Tragic Death” does have some very sarcastic and sardonic lines about suicide, the majority of the work is monotonous and repetitive. For those who truly love a lo-fi vibe, this is it, and while I know that recapturing a 90’s aesthetic is quite popular right now, I think Mr. Austin is best served retaining these memories for himself.


In addition to having a great name, this Columbia, South Carolina outfit has an ear for pop-punk harmonies and a willingness to make their points quickly and then get out of your life. With eleven of the fourteen songs here checking in at under two minutes, and four of those at under one, the Downtrotters do not waste the listener’s time nor do they care to demonstrate technical dexterity. They simply unload a barrage of guitar fueled, garage-laden punk with warm harmonies and make songs like “Bipolar Bears”, “Will Never Save the Day”, “40 Years”, and “Homewood” both powerful and memorable. “40 Years” is also reflective of the band’s lyrical prowess, writing with a style that tempers bitter sarcasm with realism (You got an MBA from USC/Now you're standing on the corner with the guys on the street/If you had another chance you would do it differently/But it's much to late for that). The shared vocals of guitarists Kyle Cooley and Chip Duncan along with bassist Kellen West give the songs resonance and depth even in their brevity. Thousands of bands have and will continue to steal the best moments of the careers of Ben Weasel and Joe Queer and attempt o make them their own, but the Harlem Downtrotters do not simply recreate Love Songs for the Retarded; instead they succeed in making intelligently crafted hook-happy punk that could stand out among the throngs of acts attempting to do the same.

DANIEL LANOIS - Flesh and Machine (Red Floor Records

Daniel Lanois’ career as a producer is renown and overflowing with majestic achievements. He is also a leader in the ambient music genre as exemplified by Flesh and Machine; a staggering achievement of beauty and elegance. Lanois first gained recognition as the Aristotle to Brian Eno as Socrates, and Lanois revisits elements of those early days on his latest work. Among the sterling moments is “Sioux Lookout” as Lanois merges what appears upon a cursory listen as a combination of human and animal sounds, but in actuality, the songs transcends the natural world as the composition of noises were created by Lanois himself. “My First Love” strikes a fitting tone that is less abrasive than “The End” or less complex as “Two Bushas” as it both ethereal but also hauntingly beautiful and hopeful. The irony of that is that Lanois used the same instrument to create “My First Love” as he did for the song “Apollo…” made famous in the gut-churning toilet scene from the classic film Trainspotting. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lanois’ work is the humanity behind it; when one usually contemplates ambient work, the connotation is a series of keys and other machines being manipulated by one twisted madman buried within his recording studio, but Lanois employs bassist Jim Wilson and the punishing drummer Brian Blade to inject real flesh into Flesh and Machine. The presence of these men makes “Tamboura Jah” and “Forest City” two more of the brilliant and confounding mesmerizing works fond here. Daniel Lanois is a musical visionary and genius who borrows from his past to present an entirely new future on Flesh and Machine.

THE SAINTS - King of the Sun/King of the Midnight Sun (Highway 125 Records

The legendary Austrians punks The Saints continue to find ways to reinvent themselves; this time they do so on the same record. The wily vets have released a double album that is the same collection of songs recorded in two different manners. This obviously runs the risk of becoming redundant, repetitive, and even disturbingly arrogant. However, none of those adjectives fit here as the Saints simply offer fans a glimpse into the diversity of their talents as the Chris Bailey and mates have clearly matured and refined their sound over the many years of the band’s existence. The first batch of songs that make up King of the Sun are more reserved in nature, adopting a less bombastic approach as well as slower tempos. This allows for each syllable to be articulated with greater clarity and each riff or chord progression to be appreciated with more lucidity. While the title track and “Sweet Chariot” are my favorite of the group, I am highly relieved that The Saints increased the volume and the intensity on King of the Midnight Sun. “Road to Oblivion Part Two” and “Mystified” are lush, sweeping anthems on King of the Sun and their beauty is unquestionable, but the crunchier riffs and darker sensibility one hears on Midnight Sun makes them more engaging. The Saints have brought Barrington Francis back into the fold of the band for the first time in over fifteen years, and the injection of spirit and energy is obvious. The Saints have never been an outfit to do the expected and this has unfortunately relegated them to a band that is not immediately mentioned within the Pantheon of punk legends, yet their position as leading punk pioneers cannot be doubted. However, this overt eschewing of traditional path courses and the embrace of individualism makes The Saints an act of contemporary resonance and impact while the overwhelmingly majority of their peers have long faded from recording studios. Long time fans of the band will admire both sides but may ultimately find themselves returning to Midnight Sun more frequently. This is proof positive that there are musicians out there still defying standard modes of operation and defining their careers on their own terms.

VORTIS - Safety First (

In an age in which punk rock can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, it is wonderful to have Vortis back. This Chicago-based trio of Jim DeRogatis, Louie Calvano, and Tony Tavano play short, sharp, and biting songs that truly deserve the moniker of punk. Safety First is a 17-song exploration of political hypocrisy and redundancy through the lens of three gifted and unafraid social commentators. As a fan of the band since 2003, I am thrilled to see the old gem “Free the Detainees” rerecorded with extra verve and poignancy here; sadly the need for the song reflects one of the failures of the Obama administration as then candidate Obama promised to close the doors to Guantanamo Bay. The band’s classic style dominates the disc as the trio race through aggressive anthems that often struggle to reach one minute in length, but their brevity does not undermine their impact. “Raison D’Etre,”“ All American Drones,” and “Cosmos” are thought-proving efforts that combine blazing speed, low-end bombardment, and unapologetic realism in their lyrics. “Downtrodden” and “Know More” are two of the brightest moments here, with the latter acting as a sardonic look at the digital age. Throughout the years, Vortis’ sound has not drastically changed, but Safety First has a fluidity to it that allows the band to sound like they are in their first rehearsal space banging out abrasive noise. There is positively nothing to dislike about this record and I do hope that the guys can make their way to the East Coast.

THE SUCCESSFUL FAILURES - Captains of War, Captains of Industry (FDR Label

For fans of easily digestible soft, pop-rock., there are certainly more success than failure on Captains of War, Captains of Industry. With strong harmonies and a commitment to hook-laden choruses, The Successful failures offer mass-market accessibility on “Milwaukee”, “Hit the Ground Running”, and “Falling Out”. “Navigation by the Stars” has a slight Southern twang, while “1954” and particularly “Ghost Around Here” takes 90’s indie pop and integrates a modern sensibility to flesh out well-rounded songs. Efforts such as “O Carolina” and “Knew Me on a Sunday” would please fans of the Florida-Georgia Line as both revolve around a pronounced country aesthetic. The Successful Failures are solid songwriters, but there is nothing truly memorable here-ultimately Captains of War, Captains of Industry features songs that could movie score fodder, but the band will struggle to separate itself from the clutter of radio-ready pop-rock.


Make room in the garage for some of rock’s most primal energy in the form of The Satisfactors-a gritty, gutsy, and grimy act from Jersey that is what the world needs so desperately right now. From the opening “woah-oh’s” on “She Got Charm”, it is instantly apparent that this is genuine, hard knocks rock n’ roll, and the very next track, “I Love Girls” sums up all that American music should be with its celebration of lechery through a triumphant riff. This is a dream team of well-traveled, battled scarred vets who eschew fads for authenticity and produce majesty through simplicity. No overdubs, no samples, no tricks-just loud amps, monstrous hooks, and lyrics that one can memorize after a single listen. The bluesy, Stones-flavored one-two punch of “Hey Mama” and “Sweet Sunshine” shows off the skills of vocalist Bruce Ferguson, while “Johnny Commando” is the stand out track here. It’s a loving tribute to the legendary Johnny Ramone that sums his life and personality up perfectly when Ferguson says, “You broke down the doors with a buzzsaw slam/never gave in to all the glitz and glam”, while Gar Francis captures Johnny’s likeness with ripping guitar work. It is a perfectly fitting salute to the godfather of punk guitar, but “Hit Me, Hit Me, Hit Me” will make Chuck Berry beam with delight as the guys invoke rock’s earliest originators. Honoring the past while moving forward is a theme on the record, as “Give Me My Rock N’ Roll” is a sentiment to which many can relate today as the track pays homage to Iggy Pop, Johnny Thunders, and Richard Hell among many others as The Satisfactors decry, “there ain’t nothing on the radio!” Rounded out by a furious rhythm section of bassist Kenny Aaronson and Curtis Roy, The Satisfactors are the real deal and prove that once again, rock and roll will never die.

TETHERBALL - Whimsy (Silver Point Records

Upon an opening listen, one may inclined to label Tetherball as another up-tempo, buoyant pop-rock band, but there is so much more happening here due to the complex visions of Steve Voss an friends. The opening “Bootss” and particularly “Vegetarian” have elements of classic 70’s rock, from Squeeze to ELO to McCartney’s post-Beatles work placed through an indie rock meat grinder. Meanwhile “Puzzles” and “Gilded Rings” may be mid-tempo but both possess highly intriguing lyrics, particularly the latter as Voss states, rather matter of factly, “You’re all alone, father’s gone and left you here/By the water, with a hacksaw”. The gentle “Hometown” features lush backing vocals from Joshua Vaught and drummer Nathan Wahlman, while “Spring Chicken” includes sterling horn accompaniment from Ryan Tullock as Voss issues the following gem: “Thinking logically will only get me so far”. My favorite of the ten efforts here is “Absinthe”, an energetic, bouncing song that summons Queens of the Stone Age with beautifully dark lyrics about sniffing out a girl and talking to a dinosaur with an English accent. It may be difficult to follow exactly where Voss is going at times, but Tetherball offers a profoundly mature and decidedly interesting twist on standard pop fare.


This Pennsylvania’s four-piece bring together tightly wound indie pop with a healthy dose of punk angst to create an EP of passionate and acutely melodic pieces that will resonate with a wide swath of a rock audience desperately craving songwriting just like this. The opening “Time Bomb” is a menacing song, from the guitar tone to the lyrics about emergency surgery, tourniquets, morphine and pain. It’s not exactly what I expect from former members of Digger and Weston, but I love the juxtaposition of pop harmonies and disturbing images. “White Night” is a quirky bit of splendid songwriting about being on the road, driving recklessly and getting in a fight. The unexpected point of view makes the song all the more interesting: it is told through the eyes of nervous thirteen year old, which is what vocalist Phil Milia remembers being on the night this occurred while his uncle and his uncle’s roommate drove like maniacs. “To the Sun” is powered by Ben Stephens’ bass work and it rattles with intensity before flaming out and giving way to the very heavy “Dressed to Kill”. Matt Balikian shines on this rugged, aggressive nugget of punk anguish that expresses pure disgust as Milia spits “disguised like a fine faux fur/I despise everything about her” while his band mates slam forth a bruising groove. There is quite a bit to like here and if one reviews the resumes of the men involved, it is not difficult to understand why.

AARON and THE BURRS - “Release the Bats” b/w “Oh No, More Bats”

To begin, a great name; this Buffalo three-piece has taken one of the great rapscallions of American history (he killed Alexander Hamilton is a duel in Weehawken, NJ-Hamilton did not think Burr was serious so he shot into the air as Burr shot Hamilton in the stomach) and turned his namesake into a surf band. A surf band from Buffalo is a great concept in itself, and “Release the Bats” is a fun, sunburned surf gem that is as much Dick Dale as it is Man Or Astroman? The B-side, “Oh No, More Bats” is a bit more abrasive, but in both cases guitarist Nicholas Reynolds shines and he is well supported by Carson Cain on drums and Biff Bifaro on bass. The second track takes more liberties musically and distinguishes itself slightly more than the A-side, for it is a more punk interpretation of surf, while “Release the Bats” is a traditionalist’s dream. I have no idea where Aaron and the Burrs plan to go with this sound, but it’s a fun single that I will certainly turn to once the snow kicks in; something that has probably already happened in Buffalo.

BEACH SLANG - Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street (Tiny Engines Records

Philly’s Beach Slang compress an impressive amount of talent and musical diversity into a tightly played four-song EP which will only make people yearn for a full length as quickly as possible. The opening “All Fuzzed Out” is fittingly titled, but the vocals are not lost in the guitar haze, but rather they mesh perfectly with the surprisingly thick riff that carries the track. Blending understated Teenage Fanclub drone with reckless, Replacements style uninhibitedness, “All Fuzzed Out” is a glorious homage to Westerberg and Stimson through both verbal delivery and bass hook. “Dirty Cigarettes” feeds on Catherine Wheel style indie rock with an injection of pop aesthetics that distinguishes this song from the other tracks, but Beach Slang is well on its way to developing a distinctive sound as a band. There is great energy on “American Girls and French Kissers”, cleverly titled ball of compactly wound energy that is restrained but not subdued. The song surmises in one articulate line the lives of so many making music about which they care so passionately: “Friday night and I’m in the basement/ screaming out my lungs with my best friends/ I hope when I die I feel this alive”. “We Are Nothing” is a great acoustic closer that instantly hooks the listener with the honest reflection, “Sometimes I don’t wanna try/ I’d rather just fuck up”. Powerful and defiant, the song resonates strength with both warmth and intensity. This is a great listen from a very promising band.

MERIDIAN - The Awful Truth (Victory Records

In a world shattered by war, oppression, and disease, there is not much positive news or optimism to be found, and that always sends me running to music to salvage some vestige of sanity. Apparently, despite their young ages (all under twenty-one), Poughkeepsie’s Meridian feels the same way. The Awful Truth is a sharp, intelligent, and thrilling collection of modern hardcore with a devotion to big riffs, soaring harmonies, and passionate playing. The opening “Gloom” sets up the record perfectly-at less then two minutes, Meridian introduces itself briefly before launching head first into “Everything That kept Me Moving” in which lead singer David Mitchell laments viciously while guitarist Chris Evanko delivers richly moving vocals creating a seamless balance between fury and refinement. Each of the twelve songs reflect a search for a more profound meaning in one’s life, and “Slip Away” embodies this struggle with a majestic chorus and tremendous lead playing from Juan Espinoza. Seventeen-year-old bassist Chris Titer is a flawless counterpart to the menacing playing of drummer Ronnie Scocozza, and the band hits their collective apex on “Waves”, a punishing yet unavoidably melodious anthem that captures the best elements of this genre. “Piece of Mind” and “Making My Way” are daring songs of independence and emotional strength set to the backdrop of playing that is suffocating in its intensity, while “Slither” is an uncompromising assault that revolves around a heavy low end groove and a malicious verbal thrashing from Mitchell. Meridian understand how to balance the two varied vocal styles without ever becoming redundant or predictable, which is an impressive feat for a band of grizzled vets, much less a collection of guys still adjusting to shaving regularly. This is an incredibly exciting album because one can only imagine this band will be doing in five years if it already this cohesive and skilled.

COURTESY DROP - Stabilize (Animal Style Records

This five song EP truly stands out in a world of repetition and monotony. Nashville’s Courtesy Drop play intensely visceral indie rock without utilizing the traditional musical styles to articulate such disgust. The opening “The Eighth Gate” speaks to this point beautifully with its ethereal opening that evaporates before a wave of guitar fuzz and raw, gut-wrenching vocals from Paul Chalos. “What’s the point of living life if you live it when you get home?” is a biting, sharp-tongued jibe that carries more resonance when barked with the passion heard in Chalos’ strained vocal chords. “Orion” ebbs and flows in both volume and structure, creating a track that is uniquely melodic and bold. The song weaves a convoluted musical path but never gets lost within its own construct; it balances simplicity and bombast with equal aplomb. The dream-like “Space and Interaction” is a lush, expansive song that sounds as if it was recorded within a black hole and includes majestic backing vocals while “Beauty is in the Eyes of the Imperfect” moves with a deliberate pace through a maze of guitar haze and dynamic power as the furiousness of the messages intensifies as the songs draws to a powerful conclusion. The last track of the bunch, “Pegasus” is a soaring, expansive effort that beautiful concludes a thunderously impressive EP of sparkling, modern shoegaze.

ENTROPY-All Work, No Plagiarism (Say-10 Records

Raging out of Orange County, New York for another dose of old-fashioned, blink and you miss it hardcore is Entropy, and not a second too soon! America needs this desperately and I am thrilled to hear this band return with such aggressive, yet well honed fury. There is not a wasted moment to be found on All Work, No Plagiarism, even when the songs do not reach sixty seconds in length. I cannot get enough of “War, on Drugs”, “Forever Unclean”, and the vicious “Strange Things are Afoot at the Circle K”. Played with a freewheeling sense of urgency, this is early 80’s hardcore done in its purest form. What I admire about Entropy, besides the ability to deliver sixteen songs in barely twenty minutes, is how they tinge their anger with biting humor and fun pop culture references. The hidden track, “Crazy Eddie’s Business School” is a loving homage to ska, but “There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand”, “Dead Things, Mikey, Dead Things”, and “Choppin’ Broccoli” are all brilliant in their no nonsense approach to traditional hardcore. Entropy is not a band interested in style points, technical sophistication, or experimentation-they know what they are and they are superb. If you claim to be any form of hardcore fan, throw away the masturbatory act of unnecessary subgenre assigning and start your own circle pit to this gem.


AP MAURO - The Rebel in Us (Lamon Records www.lamonrecordscom)

AP Mauro employs a number of very talented friends on The Rebel in Us and the finished product is a warm collection of country pop songs with a smooth polish and sheen. The opening “Unfaithfully” could be a crossover radio hit on pop rock stations as much as any country station as Mauro’s rugged voice is free of twang. However, “River Leave Me Alone” is a honky-tonk ready piece, although is hugged in a loose bluesy embrace. “I Fall from Grace” and “Miami” could easily fall under an adult contemporary label as the tracks eschew much of what one associates with country music, and “Miami” features a subtle Caribbean flair. While Marc Muller’s lap steel is featured prominently throughout the record, Rebel is also buoyed by the soaring background vocals of Deb Lyons and BethAnne Clayton, two dynamic performers in their own rights. What AP Mauro performs is not, and will never be, my type of music, but I am not ignorant enough as to deny talent, and Mauro has an abundance of skill. Even when “Sophia” begins to drag or “Cry and Cry”, inspires a country-line dance to materialize, the musicianship is excellent. I wish more of Rebel is cut from the “Unfaithfully” mold, but the soulful “Let’s Dance in the Rain” is a stand out effort, as it the piano ballad “The Way I Look at You”, a song more appropriate for a small jazz club rather than a ribs and wings joint with the Alabama game on TV. The dark “Dragon Chasing You” charts one’s suffering as a friend wrestles with the agony of addiction, and “Tenderly” bounces with a similar verve as the disc’s opener and balances light rock and pop quite effectively. I will never have any of this on my iPod, but AP Mauro is a strong songwriter with an honest appreciation of Americana and downhome aesthetics without allowing them to slide into caricature.

O’DEATH - Out of Hands We Go (Northern Spy Records

It is amazing to think that O’Death hail from Brooklyn as their sound resonates from deep within the American South. Bluesy, folk-inspired music played with occasional fits of aggressiveness has been the band’s calling card since first emerging over a decade ago and the same is waiting here for those lucky enough to listen. Out of Hands We Go is a pristine collection of rugged acoustic demonstrations of angst and raw emotion, led by vocalist Greg Jamie. “Wait for Fire” is a supremely beautiful in its haunting fragility, while “Apple Moon” hums with a tangible kinetic energy that is richly infectious. Fans of The Builders and the Butchers and Murder by Death will adore this if they are not already doing so. “Go Play with Your Dead Horses” is as bleak and gripping musically as its title would suggest, expressing a longing that is nameless in its depth, while “Roam” and “Wrong Time” are driven by a picking style that takes one to a back porch hootenanny, only missing a jug band and gallons of moonshine. “We Had a Vision” is a meandering, graceful song whose intimacy is matched by the brief but lovely “When My Dog Gets Out Let Him Run”. The gem of the disc for me is the stark “Isavelle”, a rolling, engaging effort that allows Jamie to flex greater vocal muscle. O’Death is another of the gaggle of unabashedly unique acts that call Brooklyn home.


The Screaming Headless Torsos, one of the world’s most fascinating acts, finally remerges for the first time in nearly a decade with a wild concoction of blues, rock, funk, soul, jazz, and pop on Code Red. The eleven songs here make the nine year dry spell worth the wait as the opening title track features a muscular riff from guitar virtuoso and Guggenheim fellow David Fiucyznski and is anchored by a thick, funky bass line compliments of David Ginyard. “Brooce Swayne” features both a great title and Maroon 5 guitarist Jimmy Valentine, and one can certainly imagine his band performing this blend of soaring pop and transcendent soul. There is an extraordinary complexity to the music of the Torsos, as they feature two drummers (Gene Lake and Skoota Warner), yet their talent is so staggering that the final product is still accessible to those without any musical acumen, i.e. guys like me. “Wizard of Woo” includes bassist Bernie Worrell and the song is a headspace, mind-melting fantastic voyage that brings the Mothership into the twenty-first century. With innumerable tempo and genre-shape-shifting, “Wizard” bounces effortlessly between ‘70s funk, dark blues, and contemporary anti-corporate rock, replete with a mooing cow and a reference to a “purple kazoo” that somehow makes complete sense in the scope of the song. A similar ride is provided on the sprawling “Fried Tongue”, a rollicking ride of harmonic gymnastics and musical dexterity that is richly engrossing, experimental, eclectic, and stabilized by a thunderous low end. “Tongue” steps aside for “Sideways”, a jazzy ballad that is only given two minutes of existence before quietly departing for the arrival of the richly layered “Running Black Water”. Delicate, beautiful, and lush, the longest track of the bunch (it has one second on the closing “My Reasons for Silence”), includes elements of jazz and soul, along with a spoken word component, and profound bass playing; again seamlessly blending funk and jazzy-inspired soul, the song takes the finest qualities of Earth, Wind, and Fire and Steely Dan to construct a rich tapestry of musical expression. The wah-wah pedal gets quite a work out on “Almond Pear in Love”, a song whose lyrics may be obtuse, but the seductive nature of the track is undeniable, and when it reaches its climax with the refrain “lust for life, life for lust”, the afterglow is majestic. The sardonic “Dead Christmas Trees” is my favorite of the bunch, with yet another example of remarkably intricate percussion and a deeply emotive vocal performance from Freedom Bremner. This could be for a very select audience, but I am glad I am a part of that group.

KING GIZZARD AND THE WIZARD LIZARD - I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (Castle Face Records

One may snicker at the name and dismiss this band before an adequate listen, and that my friend, would be an act of unforgivable ignorance and laziness, for King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard play fuzzed out garage rock that finally embodies the sound Dave Davies was looking for when he experimented in the studio on “You Really Got Me”. The seven members of this outfit thrive on free form rock lawlessness and the ten songs play out as nearly one continuous jam. The opening contradictory duo of “I’m in Your Mind” and “I’m Not in Your Mind” sound like a schizophrenic arguing with himself both in title and in musical form-bathed in heavily distorted guitar, the latter of the two is a wild voyage through the musical unknown with a multitude of playful tricks without a vocal to be heard. The initial single from the record, “Cellophane” borrows trippy late 60’s psychedelia and introduces it to punk energy and pop flair. It is a recipe that results in disasters for lesser bands, but it works here flawlessly. The may adore the Zappa-Beefheart school, but they have clearly done graduate work at the Underground Garage for tracks like “Ami in Heaven?” and title track rattle and shimmy with a delicious disregard for technical arrogance and instead teeter a line between exhilarating and destructive, always managing to barely hold the sound together while flirting with spontaneous combustion. Even when the band alters the tempo a bit, as they do on the bouncy “Hot Water”, the more deliberate and wah-wah happy “Slow Jam”, and the nearly Sabbath style sludge of “Satan Speeds Up”, I’m In Your Mind Fuzz still shakes with an energy lacking in most bands. The disc closes with “Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” and it the most conventional of the tracks here, but it is also the most fully fleshed out, including a guitar lead taken straight from Carlos Santana’s playbook circa 1971, Steely Dan rhythms, and warm, richly harmonious vocals. There is a little something for a wide variety of fans here, and I find myself deeply intrigued by this.

MEATBODIES (In The Red Records

Chad Ubovich may be from Los Angeles, but he sounds as if he grew up living on the dole in London. The self-titled effort from his act Meatbodies is a celebration of the raw elements of traditional punk rock angst, spruced up with cleverly crafted harmonies. For fans of Stiff Little Fingers and the Buzzcocks, “Disorder”, “Off”, and “Gold” are speedy and pogo-inducing traditional style punk with savvy guitar playing and Ubovich’s distinctive vocal delivery. “Mountain” retains a classic style with the addition of a thunderous bass line, while “Dark Road” is a moody yet menacing effort that approaches slowly before launching itself uponits prey. A similar vibe is heard on “Two” and “Plank”, with the latter carried along on a groove that is instantly infectious. Two of the most interesting moments come on the brilliant “Tremors”which employs dexterous, J Mascis style guitar playing to generate an aggressive yet highly artistic experience and the closing “Master” that bounces with a nearly funk-fueled dynamism. Throughout the slight variances within the songs, Meatbodies never fully surrender their adoration of punk’s kinetic spirit and boundless energy, as heard on “Wahoo”. Punchy, energetic punk never gets old and Meatbodies takes a classic sound and injects a fury that makes them contemporary and not solely beholden to the sounds of the past. This is a soaring debut from a expert songwriter.

PILGRIMS/GHOSTT BLLONDE- Home and Home Vol. 2 (Negative Fun Records

The members of Pilgrims were clearly born too late as their brand of indie rock has influences from their parents’ generation, if not earlier. “Blue Bloods” is a shot of 70’s Southern rock swagger replete with handclaps and a huge, piano-kissed chorus. Amazingly, as well worn as this path is, Pilgrims play with a genuine fervor that is the hallmark of any band that found its voice in a garage. There is a level of devil may care sloppiness that keeps this fresh and wildly interesting. Additionally, it is simply a fun ride for three and half minutes. “Captain” is a no frills slab of jangly guitar and sugar rush energy with a penchant for harmony akin to that of Surfer Blood, but with a subtle snarl in the same vain as Johnny Thunders or Richard Hell. When contrasted with “Blue Bloods”, this is band that has the talent to follow any musical path they choose. Ghostt Bllonde’s “Dissonance” is perfectly titled, for there is delicate, nearly fragile beauty to the song as it approaches the listener sheepishly before displaying moments of greater fury before retreating once again. Marc Kuzio’s vocals are limitlessly passionate while occasionally fighting for air in the midst of the fuzzy, ethereal playing swirling round him. Incredibly, Ghostt Bllonde has only existed for a year, but their future is gloriously promising.

CASSAVETES - Oh So Long (Black Numbers Records

Oh So Long is a collection of straight ahead, driving rock n’ roll with no pretense and no overdubs. “Follow” is simultaneously harmonious and bombastic, converging two highly admirable qualities into one package. “Like Ghosts” has the jangle of 90’s indie pop with enough of a low end punch to keep heads bobbing until a wall of guitar force kicks down the door to a rousing chorus. “Realize” and especially “So Loud” incorporate a highly melodious loud/soft dynamic that was the calling card of Nirvana and a scores of imitators, but these songs possess a vitality that prevents Cassavetes from falling into the category of some sort of post-grunge karaoke. The thick rumble of “Maribel” invokes a darker, more Melvins-esque approach and is one of the true standouts here, particularly the abrasive guitar solo. The record closes with a highly subdued acoustic title track that is slightly unfulfilling when contrasted with the earlier pieces, but the majority of Oh So Long is a return to the fundamental principles of rock played with intensity and veracity.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS - Council of the Dead (In Vogue Records

I normally shudder at the mention of a concept record, particularly one that addresses the worn topic of life after death. However, rather than construct a theological exploration of the afterlife, Famous Last Words uses Council of the Dead to tell the tales of seven individuals who find themselves in the Land of the Deceased-a type of purgatory in which they await judgment. While their eternities hang in the balance, listeners are treated to the intricacies of their lives-their mistakes, successes, and the manner in which all of the group are intertwined. The title track lays the groundwork for the record as the deceased are informed of their current condition by an anonymous force who says “I’m not here to judge you and I’m not here to preach/My role here is to guide you as we search through your past”. The twelve songs are pummeling metalcore efforts with unearthly keyboards accenting the thunderous playing. Two delicate instrumentals (the opening “Letter to the Council” and the beautiful “Entity”) offset the raw intensity of “Hell in the Headlights” in which Eric, a devoted father, is killed by a drunk driver while his daughter lives and “The Killing Zone”, a tragedy in which a young, misguided man joins a gang and commits a murder in the hopes of someday earning the respect of his father. In “The Uprising”, a young girl named Aisha is caught in the midst of a war-torn city in a story that all too well mirrors the violence the world is witnessing in the Middle East, while “The Fog” explores the death of Nancy, a woman who ultimately loses her battle with dementia through the mixing of various drugs, and her death sends her son Jake into a violent downward alcohol-infused spiral that ultimately impacts the life of the aforementioned Eric in the most nightmarish of manners. Vocalist JT Tollas is the star here as his voice is able to capture the various emotions connected with confusion, loss, and the feeling of hopelessness that the death of a loved one can produce. There is a legion of bands that share this sound, but Famous Last Words is among he leaders of the class along with Adestria and Capture the Crown. The band incorporates keyboards and even a little dub step here but they never lose sight of their ultimate goal of producing deafening, thought-provoking metalcore.

HOAX HUNTERS - Comfort and Safety (Negative Fun Records

The twelve songs on Comfort and Safety are bathed in distortion and feedback but the talent on display is still quite evident. PJ Sykes has made quite a name for himself behind the camera as an artfully stylistic photographer but fans of noise-soaked rock will be happy to have him back on a stage. Starting with a punk foundation Hoax Hunters builds an avant-garde monolith on Comfort and Safety with songs usually clocking in at less than three minutes, but there is certainly room fir unique experimentation as well. The raw “Copy of a Copy” is a thrilling ball of high-energy noise and while the Husker DU comparison may be too easy, it does fit perfectly, particularly as one hears the punishing playing of Tim Falen. “Volume” and “Breathe” are two examples of brief tracks that display subtle harmonic nuances before erupting into a swirling din, while “Perception of Choice” takes its cues from Mission of Burma with its low simmering rage and impending bombast. Regardless of which path the band chooses to follow, there is not a misfire here and not a moment wasted. “Riskless Business” gains a running start before hurling itself at the listener with endless sonic brusqueness and ultimately collapsing from exhaustion. “Erase” is among the longest tracks on the record and the five minute long effort provides a broad canvas for Sykes, James O’Neill, and Falen to merge into a precisely honed torrent of aggressive and intelligent noisy punk. This is a sweaty, glorious mess in the best possible sense and captures what music should sound like when it is played by passionate and recklessly brave souls not interested in following trends. The closing “F.Y.T.W.” is simply two minutes of noise that appropriately completes the record, for it is grating but also acts as a calling card for future chaos. If SST Records still existed, Hoax Hunters would be the leading act, but since that is not possible, Negative Fun has a great release here.

REAGAN’S POLYP - America Needs More Ass/Number Ones/Deadenator (Vetoxa Records

I would like to believe that I have heard a wide variety of musical styles in my four-plus decades on this planet, but nothing prepared me for the genre-smashing, confusion-inducing, mind melt that is Reagan’s Polyp. This ridiculously talented outfit haunted the dives of Little Rock, Arkansas from 1992-2006 and released thirty (!) records, most of which on cassette or reproduced on CD-R’s, but through the visionary actions of Vetoxa Records, twelve of these masterpieces will be re-released upon an unsuspecting world three slabs at a time. I begin with America Needs More Ass-firstly, this is a position I can firmly get behind (sorry), but it is also a brilliant cocktail of noise, punk, hardcore, and grind that sounds like the unholy creation that would result if Genghis Tron and the Boredoms molested Zappa’s corpse. The nineteen pieces on America Needs More Ass are frightful bursts of keyboard laden chaos with a thunderous, nearly suffocating low end, splashes of skull-crushing guitar force, and eerily digitized vocals spitting out perverse lines about all varieties of sexual perplexities, one more disturbing than the next. “Todd Y. Takes Facial”, “Stop Sucking my Cock” and “Don’t Fuck the Snack” (the lyrics instead tell the listener to “fuck the fish”), make anything done by the Meatshits look like a Disney production. However, this is not just about grotesque shock and awe, that would become very tired very quickly; instead, Reagan’s Polyp attack the occasionally overly serious and myopic punk rock world with a barrage of ferocity and sarcasm that is far more abrasive than anything generated by the legions of tough guy hardcore bands that one finds in every town in America; with specific insults directed as Little Rock suburbs Benton and Bauxite, the title track may be a bit too inside of a joke, but the brilliance of the song makes its message universal. One only needs to hear the dark humor of “Rich and Horny” (I belong to the country club and I’m 17 years old/My daddy runs a bank or two and I’m gonna put my cock in you”) or “Let Me Fetish Your Jockstrap” to realize that this band hopes to shine a light on punk’s hypocrisy and make people laugh as they do so. To that end, the political nihilism of “Oink and Die (Fucking Capitalist Pigs)”, “Vote for Mondale”, and “54-40 Or Fuck” are among my favorites, particularly the latter for one usually does not hear the presidency of James K. Polk referenced in such a manner. “Tina of the Warrior People!” and “Pleasures of a Girl” are stunning in the breadth and relentlessness of their sonic bombast. Although “The Obscene “Anal” is Father of the Secret Father of Enjoyment” is a blasphemous, terrifying work of power electronics whose lifespan is barely over a minute, it would lay waste to cities with its force, and after concluding this indoctrination, I am excited for what comes next.

Number Ones is a “greatest hits” collection with music spanning the career of Reagan’s Polyp from the early nineties until the mid-2000s. Among the numerous points of interest is the French horn laced “You Smell Bad” (with the lyrics “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, you stink”). From the band’s debut Facefuckingbatspermantidotepudding is “They Installed Teeth in My Ass” and from fan favorite Cream Gun is the amazing “Tunky the Talking Bear”, a tale of pain, misery and violent sexual revenge that defines the life of a science experiment gone wrong. While the scientists promised that Tunky “will make you come like the San Francisco earthquake” as a lush jazz standard plays as accompaniment, the song quickly shifts tone and one learns of Tunky’s rape of the scientists that created him as a form of punishment for their actions before the song concludes with an equally vicious barrage of blunt bass pummeling. The jazzy, funk-tinged “Queen of Sados” exposes the wealth of talent possessed by Krel and Astronaut Body along with their supporting cast as the song lulls the listener into comfort before ravaging the victim with crushing wrath, while “Have Sex with Us” is noisy and disjointed chaos backing a light hearted verbal dialogue about being face down in cocaine and sex binges. The live portion of the disc, “Reagan’s Polyp in Concert”, recorded at a now defunct Indian restaurant in Little Rock, must have completely frustrated and angered the suburban teen punks in attendance as Reagan Polyp asked “Are there any Beatles fans here” and then played the intro to “Day Tripper” four different times, spicing up their set with samples of Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” and even The Doobie Brother’s ubiquitous 70’s radio staple, “China Grove”. I can only image the vitriol spat at these guys, but their bravery and devotion to a fractured musical vision in a community that either could not or simply refused to accept them is impressive. “Take Off Your Pants” is simply a voice and vocal beatbox attempting to coerce the removal of one’s trousers because “there’s a nice breeze blowing”, while “I Can’t Stop Fucking Myself” closes the disc and is truly the oddest of the bunch, and that is quite a feat-it is found on a “free jazz” record called Polyp Ah Um from 2000 and the constant refrain of the song’s title is heard buried under a wall of keyboard trickery and electronic manipulation. It is experimental noise at its finest that lasts for four perplexing and exhilarating minutes.

The 1998 release Deadenator includes the first batch of re-releases, and this true masterpiece opens with “Bridge of Asses”, a song that borrows is musical styles from stars ranging from Paul Simon to ELO to Japanese noise-core before finishing with a ska riff. The English language lacks the proper amount of adjectives to adequately describe the wildly experimental, improvisational genius one hears throughout these discs; Reagan’s Polyp must have befuddled most and potentially thrilled a tiny minority during the course of their careers, but like most who are truly ahead of their time, the recognition they so richly deserved will arrive posthumously (the band is over, but the guys live on and I am calling for a reunion). However, for those who believe that fearlessness is the primary component of artistic greatness, then anything by Reagan’s Polyp is a mandatory listen. The band’s ample use of jazz’s polyrhythmic structures combined with their own atonal nature truly does, in the words of the legendary Flying Luttenbachers, destroy all music. The vicious, uproariously obscene “Tunguska Blast of 1908” and anarchic breakdown of the sexually disconcerting and psychologically unsettling “Pony” carve permanent homes in one’s brain and Reagan Polyp’s sense of twisted humor is my favorite trait of this band, as they deconstruct arrogant intelligentsia with searing satire and obtusely cringe-inducing concepts. Reagan’s Polyp is wickedly subversive on “Rock and Roll ‘Music’”, although their targets will most likely not even realize that they are being humiliated, much like the audience at the Riverfront Hilton as another brief live set is heard on Deadenator. One woman in the third row is asked, “Who dressed you? Spiro Agnew?” Does it make any sense? No, but that is not the point-Reagan’s Polyp unhinges the concept of musical structure and in their efforts to obliterate commonality, spawn something wholly unique.

TEENANGER - EP LP (Telephone Explosion Records)

This Canadian outfit sounds as if they just finishing opening up for Johnny Thunders as they play with an arrogant swagger that defines the best of the late 70’s punk. While Teenanger pays homage to the past they are not interested in simply recreating it; the eight songs here slither in the muck of a band frustrated with the world around them right now, not the world of their fathers. “Fly on the Wall” opens with snarling vocals from Chris Swimmings and an elastic bass line from Melissa Ball, and I am instantly hooked. “Sky Saxon” allows guitarist John Schouten to shine as he captures a tone reminiscent of garage bands of the sixties while drummer Steve Sidoli keeps a steady and rollicking backbeat. The song morphs into a scourge of Michael Jackson as Swimmings repeats Jacko’s name with pure disgust. This is old-fashioned, ripping rock n’ roll with rough and tumble kinetic energy, best heard on the hyperactive “Think About It”. Yet the guys can still create full bodied grooves such as “Mild Survival” and the brilliant closer “Hot Rods at the Loser Convention”, a tune in which Swimmings barked that “your name means zilch”. The fact that a band this cool would drop the word “zilch” in their put-down proves that these kids do not care about what others think, another critical prerequisite for rock authenticity. I do hope Teenanger get across the border soon because this is among the most complete punk bands to come around in the post-CB’s era.

USELESS EATERS - Bleeding Moon (Castle Face Records

Useless Eaters make rock n’ roll as if they had never heard it before and were asked to create how they believed rock should sound. Each track on Bleeding Moon is a raucous, stripped down anthem of adrenaline and passion spat back in the listener’s face with reckless abandon. These are guys having a great time slamming through efforts like “Out in the Night”, “Sitting on the Fault Line”, and “Whip”. Why the world melts over the Strokes and not these guys in incomprehensible to me as Useless Eaters delivers a raw garage vibe with far greater intensity than the now innumerable collection of bands trying to do the same. Everything here seems to shake with enthusiasm and unbridled angst, capturing lust, disgust, and excitement of the unknown in the form of three-minute (on average) nuggets of abrasively harmonious songs. Useless Eaters are deceiving in the fact that they create music that is both contrarian in nature to mainstream formulaic bands but yet Bleeding Moon screams potential sweeping mass acceptance. Granted, the muddied vocals and the serrated edges of the guitar playing will alienate some, but this is a band on the precipice of true importance. Check out “American Cars” for a stunningly impressive rhythm display and then jump over to “Aftershock” if you like a little noise and experimentalism in your rock soup. This is cool from start to finish.

ILL NINO - Till Death, La Familia (Victory Records

Ill Nino has been kicking around for quite a while now and has survived through the years of metalcore’s ups and down and even nu metal’s desperate attempt at resurgence. To that end, they have never fit snuggly into one label and that trend continues on ‘Till Death, la Familia with the opening “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow”. In addition to sounding like some sort of teenage Facebook message of naïve optimism, the song is a departure from the expected-it’s nearly poppy and would be a bona fide radio hit if Cristian Machado did not curse like it was his only form of communication. Machado is a fascinating vocalist as he can sing, harmonize, bark, and scream with equal aplomb and the band crafts songs that allow him to demonstrate each skill. There are qualities to ‘Till Death, La Familia that may confound or even ostracize some hardcore fans of the band, such as the keys heard on “Not Alive in My Nightmare” and the richly textured but less hardened nature of “Blood is Thicker Than Water”. I applaud the guys for not simply making another traditional metalcore record and for having the courage to challenge themselves as musicians. However, Ill Nino is a band that also understands its roots and appreciates its fan base, so the closing salvo of “Dead Friends”, “Breaking the Rules”, “Payaso”, and the rattling closer “My Bullet” strip away and niceties and are vicious barrages of guitar brutality led by Ahrue Luster, albeit accented by choruses with which one can still sing along. The band has always included traditional Latin instrumentation and this record is no different, particularly with percussion thanks to Oscar Santiago and even a bit of flamenco on “I’m Not the Enemy”, so Till Death La Familia does stand out from the majority of the metalcore crowd. Ill Nino is a band that is now seven albums and over fifteen years into its career and is continuing to refine and creatively enhance their sound.

ISLANDER - Violence and Destruction ((Victory Records

With a title like Violence and Destruction I hope to hear bruising, skull-splitting fury that has defined Victory’s stable of artists, but instead, Islander steals the Deftones playbook and makes hook-filled, hard rock with a few nu metal touches, but nothing that will connote images of Fred Durst. The twelve songs are well crafted, guitar heavy, melodic anthems that interject elements of morbidity (“Pains”, “Hearts Grow Cold”) as well as experimentation (“Mira”). Nothing about Islander is revolutionary but they are not redundant either. While I struggle to get through “Coconut Dracula”, I am much more impressed with the aggressive “Side Effect of Youth” and the well utilized vocals of P.O.D.’s Sonny Sandoval on “Criminals”, two efforts that are emblematic of a band that does not hesitate to honor their influences but is still working to truly refine a sound that is uniquely their own. Andrew Murphy is a highly skilled guitar player and his riffs march in perfect lock step with the melodious voice of Mikey Carvajal, particularly on “The Sadness of Graves” and the strong closing title track. None of the work here is is particularly punishing, but Islander brings back hard rock, a sound rapidly moving into extinction. There is no need to add a hyphen to the type of music Islander makes; while it may remind some of the mid-2000s, the band has enough of a polished sound to remind listeners of the better acts of that time period, particularly as they minimize any rap delivery. I will watch this band with interest for there is quite a bit of potential here and how Victory handles Islander, an act that does not necessarily meet the criterion of the typical Victory line-up, will be crucial. More growth is needed, but Islander may stand on the precipice of actually becoming rock stars.


GASLIGHT ANTHEM - Get Hurt (Island Records

The Gaslight Anthem has been one of America’s darling bands for a few years now and that is an immense amount of pressure for anyone, much less a collective of humble Jersey guys who somehow seem immune to the rock trappings that usually befall young and talented acts. Get Hurt is a rock record from another age - perhaps the 90’s, but in the midst of contemporary music, the Gaslight Anthem sound as if they have been dropped from another generation entirely. The sixteen songs are well crafted, radio ready guitar rock anthems that invoke Vitology-era Pearl Jam as readily as 70’s Cheap Trick. “Stay Vicious,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,”and “Ain’t That a Shame” are majestically fashioned blasts of quick-hitting rock in its purest form, while the title track is a gentle, ethereal beauty, and “Break Your Heart” is a haunting, folksy ballad that echoes of pristine Americana through the prism of ragged angst. Brian Fallon stretches himself as a vocalist, proving to be a singer of tremendous depth and emotional range whether barking out lyrics in the sweaty “Helter Skeleton” or sounding thoughtfully haunting on the deftly poetic “Sweet Morphine.” Supported by a highly adroit rhythm section of Alex Levine on bass, drummer Benny Horowitz, and the multi-talented Alex Rosamilia, Gaslight Anthem is a band comfortable in its own skin and proud to expound upon their influences. The record closes with a triumvirate of sparse efforts in “Mama’s Boy,” “Halloween,” and “Have Mercy,” the last leaving the stage in a beautifully minimalist manner. I am unsure if old time fans will be thrilled or befuddled with what one hears on Get Hurt, for the steady diet of pounding, punk-inspired anthems played through Springsteen’s equipment circa The River is no longer the only option on the menu; instead Gaslight Anthem open themselves up as performers and writers, producing a highly diversified record as resoundingly satisfying as any of their earlier works. This is authentic American rock n’ roll played with a genuine level of integrity and authenticity.


THE BASTARDS OF FATE - Vampires are Real and Palpable (This Will be Our Summer Records

The Bastards of Fate could be the finest examples of indie rock anti-heroes alive today-their brand of music is so deliciously bizarre and wondrously off-putting that one is unable to turn away but it is not due to some type of desperate attention seeking exaggeration, but the irrepressible intelligence on display. Shattering the conventional paradigm of song structure is a goal of many bands, but it usually defines power electronics, grind, or other more abrasive genres. Roanoke’s Bastards of Fate are as mysterious and confounding as the disappearance of their hometown’s initial settlers; Doug Cheatwood sings, croons, rages, and emotes feelings one did not even know were human throughout ten twisted anthems that should be what indie rock sounds like, but is far too daring for most bands to attempt. By no means will this ever reach commercial success, hence the limited knowledge of the band’s debut record, but for those who appreciate distorted visions spun through delightfully dissonant chaos, Vampires is a scintillating listen. Gentle piano gives way to squalls of guitar noise, shrieking explosions of anti-melody cuddles up to warm harmonies, and waves of noise hold hands with pristine serenity as a perpetual darkness permeates each effort. The opening “Winter of Our Discontent” leads the listener down a path of harrowing intrigue as the song grows increasingly unbalanced and intimidating, setting the stage for a deranged carnival of musical genius. The closing “Optometrist” features barreling rolls of thunderous noise, while “Go No Further” rivals anything constructed by Beefheart or Zappa in their most inexplicable moments. “One True Love “ is a swirling mass of heartfelt emotion, constantly teetering on the verge of unraveling, hovering effortlessly between the worlds of campy fun and deeply unsettling depravity. Occasionally, bands emerge whose place in music cannot be readily defined or explained, and their contribution to society may be ignored but all but a select few, but for those who are fortunate enough to embrace The Bastards of Fate, their lives are enriched and their minds are opened. I am lucky to call myself a fan of this band.


Nick Oliveri’s numerous abilities are well known to anyone who has been conscious over the better part of more than two decades through Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Moistboyz, and the myriad of other projects with which he has been associated. However, Leave Me Alone is Oliveri’s first true rock solo record, as he did release acoustic products in 2004 and 2009. Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable is largely just Oliveri-he plays every instrument on the record-with some help from a few very cool friends such as Phil Campbell of Motorhead, Dean Ween, and Stephen Haas to drop a few impressive names. Aside from the quiet title track, the primary objective of Leave Me Alone is to rattle the heads of those who listen with thunderous and classically driven rock bombast. Oliveri strips away all pretense on “Luv is Fiction” and “Death Leads the Way”, while “Keep Me in the Loop” is an unfettered mass of noisy blunt power. Oliveri’s is preeminently known for his bass playing and the low-end is among the highlights of the record across all the tracks, but it is the guitar work that carries the disc. From the opening heavy crunch of “Human Cannonball Explodes” to the groove-laded “Get Lost with Me”, Leave Me Alone is a feast of high-powered playing that should translate to a crushing live show. Oliveri is a man with a colorful and somewhat convoluted past, but this is a straightforward, exceptional burst of energy from a highly gifted player.

SW/MM/NG - Feel Not Bad (

There is quite a bit of depth to the music of Sw/mm/ng but it is difficult to not imagine this Arkansas act as the best Cure cover band ever. Brian Kupillas has his poignant vocal delivery enveloped by luxurious guitar playing and a majestically ethereal tone that makes “Some Dreams Come True” a soaring achievement in modern indie rock. Despite the band’s insistence in some interviews that their playing is traditional and simple, there is a complexity to the songwriting that makes Sw/mm/ng different from other collections of upstarts attempting to simply imitate late 80’s/early 90’s haze. “We Do It All the Time” celebrates one of the freak ice storms that hit the Deep South within the past year and how this weather anomaly provided a great reason to have parties and connect with people. It’s a charming song with an equally endearing story accented by lush guitar playing by Kupillas and Jared Hennessy and ethereal keyboard playing compliments of Jack Lloyd. Feel Not Bad is a collection of pristine pop with subtle power behind it - none of the songs are rollicking or overly aggressive in nature, but “Younger” has an unexpected level of energy and antagonism I find highly enjoyable. “Oils” comes across as the best song The Church never recorded, driven by the rhythm section of bassist Joel Paul and drummer JD Paul as flashes of guitar cut through the track with surgical precision. Although “Slow Den” is indeed a touch too slow for my liking, the harmony is still striking and it gives way to the slightly more up-tempo “All I Want”. Although Feel Not Bad is only eight songs, there is is much to enjoy within each, and I am impressed by the talent on display here.


Eureka California actually calls Athens, Georgia home and features the sarcastic, snarky musicianship of Jake Ward and Marie Uhler. The two have a penchant for capturing mid 90’s indie pop with subtle nuances that make eleven songs on Crunch memorable and instantly relatable. Ward, who labels himself “overeducated and underappreciated” in the band’s bio sings of life’s general frustrations for the twenty-somethings who will instantly recognize themselves within his lamentations. “Oh, I’m a deep thinker/And I know who Descartes is” he announces on the wryly-titled “Edith (One Day You’ll Live in a Bunker)” and declares, “You know Athens is dead” on “This is No A-side”. Alongside simple but richly harmonic riffs and a steady backbeat from Uhlie, Ward’s lyrics tell tales of emptiness on “No Mas” (“Nobody will remember your name”) and general apathy (“I’d like to think that I still care”) on “There’s No looking Back”, a song that displays a more rambunctious side of the band, and while its never abandons its steadfast pop sensibilities, the track incorporates more aggressive punk aesthetics into its structure, a trait matched on the brief “I Bet That You Like Julian Cope”. The apex of the record is the self-reflective and self-ridiculing “Art is Hard”. Ward is a clever wordsmith who demonstrates a keen sense of acerbic introspection when he states, ”Money, money is everywhere, but there’s not a cent to spend/So what do I care? If I don’t get my share?” The song bounces in a manner similar to the A-side’s closing “#1 in the State”, but it also retains a tangible despondency that makes the track so intriguing. Ebbing and flowing in intensity, the song encapsulates the talent and comradery shared by these two skilled individuals. Some may claim that they have heard this before, but only if one is of a certain age: the kids just gaging the frustrations of a burgeoning adulthood will find this refreshingly identifiable and those who appreciate agitated pop will also find quite a bit to like.


What makes good punk rock worth listening to is its ability to redefine what “punk” is supposed to be. Muuy Biien is one of those young bands who simply do not care about rules, expectations, guidelines, or predispositions: they simply want to create angry, intelligent, hyper punk and if you do not like it, then you were not supposed to get it anyway. D.Y.I. is a throbbing, convulsing record that stands on a ledge and dares itself to jump- a highly kinetic explosion of force and sound accented by ambient touches and the most unexpected of harmonies. After the opening ethereal rush of “Cyclothymia I” passes, vocalist Josh Evans leaps on top of the listener with “Human Error”, an violent spasm of a song in which the words “human error/its inevitable” have never sounded so authentic. With a throbbing bass line, “She Bursts” is a riotous slice of youthful frustration married with a level of control that defies the ages of the members. This could have been a song of blind rage, but it is instead a smartly crafted anthem of gender relations set to a furious and well-defined riff. Each of the members of Muuy Biien took time to release solo ambient projects before reconvening to create D.Y.I. and the three “Cyclothymia” pieces pay homage to that interest without deterring from the overall record-they actually allow for the listener to catch a breath before being doused again with a relentless wave of animated passion of “Virus Evolves” and “Dust”. Clocking in at under one minute each, Muuy Biien say much in a brief amount of time, declaring in the latter that “It doesn’t matter to me/the people say what they think/uneducated and vain”, while a schizophrenic guitar riff swarms the track. The highlight of the record for me is the pummeling title track that precedes the closing splintered piano of “Cyclothymia III”, as Evans orders with bile rising in his throat, “Be a man/do yourself in”; a call to depart this world rather to live by the naïve and empty standards set by others. This is a call for purity rather than self-destruction and is followed by a cacophony of angst-driven liberation. The aforementioned piano that lingers only briefly concludes an exhaustive journey through the staggering progression of a gifted and incredibly exciting band. Get these kids opening for Night Birds and you’ll have the greatest tour in the world.


For many reading this review, the fact that Pete Steinkopf of the luminary Bouncing Souls is a member of Smalltalk is the band’s primary’s selling point; in full disclosure, it is what certainly grabs my attention. However, in less than several seconds, “Fountain of You” proves that Smalltalk is nothing like Pete’s other job. Rather than hook-laden, high energy punk, Smalltalk pays homage to the darker, more melancholy acts of the 80’s and early 90’s. Blending Echo and the Bunnymen delicacy with college rock jangle, “Kill Me Fast” is a sterling example of a band that creates a new subgenre of “shoe-glancing”-there is too much energy on “Go Love” to create a full-on gaze, but the tendency is there on the other two efforts. The opening “Fountain” is pristine and heartbreakingly beautiful-it is a song of profound longing expertly delivered by Zak Kaplan, and when he announces how he wants to “dive into the fountain of you”, the emotion is genuine and boldly raw. With an ethereal riff that could be co-opted by anyone ranging from the Cranberries to Parquet Courts, Smalltalk talks classic indie goodness and injects a modern flair. The song hovers with a lush fragility and features layers of subtle drone that envelopes the pop, while “Go Love” is accented by gorgeous backing vocals from Tara Jones. Usually a three song EP is too small of a sample size to make concrete determinations about a band, but that is not the case here. The talent on display is well tested and highly proven, but a collection of great players does not always make a great band. Once again, Smalltalk defies that fear by producing a trio of intelligent, poignant songs that are both instantly recognizable and obtusely unique. This is sure to be a highlight of the summer.

CINEMA CINEMA - A Night at the Fights (Lumiere Label

The relationship forged between Cinema Cinema’s Ev Gold and Paul Claro with producer Martin Bisi began during a chance meeting during the clean-up in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation of that storm and the resilience it took for the band to soldier forth is heard on the abrasive aggression of A Night at the Fights. There is a visceral, primal quality to the eight songs here as Cinema Cinema creates sinewy yet furious slabs of punishing guitar rock. Gold has a vocal delivery that is as thrilling and aggressive as his guitar playing, yet he is not averse to writing songs with covert harmonies, such as “Raging Bull”. The record opens with a blast of precise bellicosity on “Broad Daylight” and follows that up perfectly with “Decades”, for when Gold screams “it’s 1994, now who’s the whore?”, there is a maniacal quality to his voice that is simultaneously engrossing and wildly intimidating. However, the duo truly excels on the noisy, expansive “Boxcutter” and “2010” as Claro’s thunderous drumming anchors the experimental and wonderfully unrestrained guitar playing of his cousin. The loud/soft dynamic of the former track goes well beyond bending tempos; it is off-putting and rattles the listener with its explosive transformation (“the blade is out so shut your mouth”). The dark ambient noise that opens “Gowanus Ghost” gives way to an impenetrable low end rumble that carries the track through seven exhilarating minutes, borrowing expertly from Fugazi along the way. The closing “Shiner No.4” is a splitting, fascinating soundscape of swirling clamor played with a mechanical precision that reflects a terrifying sense of detachment without ever surrendering its intimacy or humanity. The entire record, but particular this song, takes the listener into the heart of the band’s sound and one is perpetually surrounded by a whirling mass of fiendishly exhilarating musicianship, seemingly surrounding and even swallowing the listener. This is an extraordinary record that covers a massive swath of musical landscape in a scant eight songs, but with six of the eight clocking in at five minutes or more, the band offers ample room for their brand of fearless and intelligently crafted hostility.

BUENOS DIAZ - The Love Balloon EP (

Buenos Diaz plays music from a different era-specifically the 1950’s, and while they do it well, this is too much of a niche act for my liking. Nick Diaz is a talented crooner and skilled blues guitarist, but The Love Balloon falls flat for me. The title track sounds like a Richie Valens B-side, and while “Out of My Arms” has soul, its trombone and trumpet is more Blues Brothers than downhome blues. The record explores various failed relationships, with “My Love” best embodying this theme as Diaz wallows in the pain of losing a girl named Roxanne, doing a fine Bobby Darin impression in the chorus. “Santa Cruz” has the coolest vibe of the five songs here; reminiscent of hipster jazz clubs that would inspire Beat poetry, its porcelain guitar work and smooth percussion is unavoidably infectious. I can listen to a track of this nature all night, and perhaps its finest aspect was its lack of vocals-not that Diaz is not a good singer, for he is quite polished, but quality of the musicianship can get lost in the overly fanciful vocal delivery. “The Love Device” suffers from this affliction as the song is anchored by a classic blues lick that invokes the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughn, but still comes across as a lounge act-a very likable lounge act, but Buenos Diaz can be more.

HEROES OF TOOLIK - “Aquarium School” b/w “Dances with Elsa” (

It is rare for a band to release a two-song single and have so much happening within each track, but not many bands are like Heroes of Toolik. This is an act that treats the accordion as a pivotal aspect of their sound and not something used for clever accents, and engages in shared male/female vocals with a sense of powerful urgency and simmering sensuality. “Aquarium School” is driven by trombone and the aforementioned accordion while vocalist Arad Evans delivers a subtlety sarcastic take on conformity through deliciously deadpan vocals backed up by the hauntingly beautiful voice of violinist Jennifer Coates. It is a song that demands multiple plays, not only for the unique idiosyncrasies of the structure, but the song becomes increasingly infectious with each listen. “Dances with Elsa” has an old-timey feel to it, but it is also gritty, harking back to both traditional American music as well as the grime of bluesy rock n’ roll. Evans and Coates again engage in a vocal dance, with Coates’ voice accentuating the despondence heard from Evans. With the additional of original Moderns Lovers Ernie Brooks on bass, Heroes of Toolik only continue to elevate the quality of their work, and this is a tempting sample of what is to come.

IL SOGNO DEL MARINAIO - Canto Secondo (Clenchedwrench/Org music

For those not familiar with Il Sogno del Marinaio (“The Sailor’s Dream”), one name does instantly leap off the page, and that is the ubiquitous and inexhaustible Mike Watt. Watt and guitarist Stefano Pilia met in 2005 while Watt’s opera The Secondman’s Middle Stand was touring Italy and ultimately recorded a full-length effort together, along with drummer Andrea Belfi in 2010. The work on Canto Secondo is beautiful and challenging, at the same time. With minimal vocals, and when they do appear they are quite often monotone in nature, the record is a celebration of three supremely gifted musical thinkers who master their instruments with such command that they are free to generate music with staggering fluidity. Much of “Alain”, “Skinny Cat” or “Il Songo del Flenile” may sound improvisational in nature, and perhaps it is, but the trio’s interactions are so flawlessly intricate as to lead one to imagine that each second was painstakingly preordained. The three recorded the music for Canto Secondo over the course of only eight days and literally emailed their vocals in later, and the tone of the record reflects this frenetic pace and explosion of musical visions. Canto Secondo is incredibly intimate and warm, from the lovely traditional structure of “Nanos’ Waltz” to the more experimental, light-hearted and elastic “Stucazz?!!”. The denser, guitar heavy “Sailor Blues” is a climactic moment in a record that is a pure delight-one simply presses play and is escorted to another place and time over the course of ten extraordinary songs; the works reflect the beauty of Italy where the tracks were recorded while always maintaining a very modern sensibility. I am honestly surprised by how much I enjoy this, but il Sogno del Marinaio make music simply for music fans-one not need adhere to any one particular genre to be able to find this engaging.


Upon first listen, I am instantly taken by how seemingly primitive the recording quality of this five song release is, but I soon grasp that this is intentional, and I love it. Dead Tenants wallow in the muck of noise, grime, and years of festering filth that defines exciting punk rock. Their name alone captures a sense of loss and unexplained dread; no one knows how these tenants died or who found them, but there is an ominous sense surrounding this EP. The Queens-based trio is most scathing on “Syntax”, beginning with an ear-splitting guitar squall from Doug Capraro before he lends his vocal talents to the effort. Capraro is the ideal singer for an act of this nature-he is aggressive and abrasive, yet he is not a vapid screamer. There is authentic frustration being exorcised in a mastery of cathartic release on “Soft Spot” and “The Light that Broke the Vial” as bassist Alex Capraro and drummer Alex McKendry flex their pronounced low-end muscles. Woven within the tracks is also a concerted devotion to psychedelia, but not in a traditional, stereotypical definition of the word. The ethereal portions of the work by Dead Tenants is more representative of a scary trip that lasts far too long than anything soothing or passive. Additionally, this juxtaposition of post-punk noise and experimental psychedelics is extraordinarily liberating as the songs are both engaging and punishing. This may not reach the same level of intimidation of an act like Unsane, but this is a promising start from a band that does everything right here-the packaging is as primeval as the music and this is a band I will follow with great interest.

THE JIGSAW SEEN - Old Man Reverb (Vibro-Phonic Records

I am hoping and expecting some old fashioned rock n’ roll angst with a title like Old Man Reverb, but instead of blistering rock attitude, one hears a cornucopia of soulful Americana. There is a great deal of old man here, but little to no reverb. Dennis Davison is the mastermind of The Jigsaw Seen, and his direction takes the band down numerous pathways, from the acoustic “Idiots with Guitars”, a sardonic look at selling out, to the spitfire “We Women”, and the gut-wrenching “Grief Rehearsal”. Even if acoustic guitars, piano, and the occasional Johnny Cash-style song structure (“Abide”) are not for you, there is much to admire here. Davison is surrounded by skilled players, notably Jonathan Lea on guitar, and the record is a wildly diverse swath of traditional American music. Not all of it works for me, as I find “Hercules and Sylvia” a touch redundant in its attempt to clone Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles a bit too blatantly, but the aforementioned “We Women” is a smart-mouthed, snarky track that crackles with guitar sparks and oozes sarcasm (“We women are tired of taking all the blame”). “Your Mind is Like Mind” and “Understand” are equally beautiful in their sparse grace, highlighting Davison’s warm vocals and lyrical chops, while “Madame Whirlgig” utilizes the most subtle of psychedelia and strings the accent the fragility of the title character as the song fades gently into the good night. There are not many bands doing what The Jigsaw Seen is doing and their work was even featured in Futurama, and that is enough to earn my seal of approval. However, for fans of folk, Americana, garage rock, and pop-flavored psychedelia will find something to their liking on this vast musical buffet.

SOTO ST. - Lies (

Soto St. is a much needed kick of energy and adrenaline as the band plays classic sounding California punk in a style reminiscent of the Adolescents or TSOL with a flair for modern fury. The ten songs here are no frills punk rock with blazing guitar, intense vocals, and traditional topics that are always ripe for ridicule. Cops and politicians take the brunt of the assault (“Police Brutality”, “Johnny Law”, and “Two Party System”), but each song is an incendiary gem. The title track takes one back to the age of matinee shows, while “Regret” displays a true penchant for hooks as vocalist Jeff eases off the aggression slightly in exchange for a more rhythmic delivery. “Falling Down” and “Going Nowhere” as they become tracks to sing along with after only one listen. Soto St. is what I hear in my head when I think of punk rock music-it is fast, and abrasive, yet tinged with a level of intellect that holds the attention of the listener. One hears years of experience and deliberate thought on songs like “This is Your Life” and “False Flag”; these are not frustrated teens setting up shop in a garage, but the angst and disgust harbored by those bands is still heard in the work of Soto St. Lies is only the second release from this band and it should quickly make this act more than a California favorite.

TWIN FORKS (Dine Alone Records

The key component to any good Americana act is story-telling; the band has to be able to paint images that, even if they are not necessarily events to which the listener can intimately relate, they are compelling enough to move people emotionally. This is the strength of Twin Forks. Their classic Americana singed with country twang and marinated in downhome folk spice is not my first choice for musical expression but damn if I do not find myself brought into the warmth of the yarns being spun. “Kiss Me Darling” and “Something We Just Know” are beautiful, fanciful efforts while “Back to You” and “Done is Done” are gritty, heartfelt anthems that celebrate the vast talent of this four piece. The band excels lyrically, painting stories both vivid and personal. The potential success of Twin Forks is found in their ability to appeal to a broad audience who enjoys a variety of traditional musical styles. This is class American music played with straightforward percussion, acoustic guitar, and some strings supporting warm vocals. Twin Forks is not bringing anything wholly original to this party, but they are instantly endearing and that is more than most can do.

NOX BOYS (Get Hip Recordings

The sound of the Nox Boys is pure garage rock n’ roll; it is testosterone and angst driven mayhem so desperately needed today and it is being churned out by a line up including three high school kids and a veteran slide guitarists in his late fifties. The elven songs on the band’s self-titled debut pay homage to everyone from the Count Five to the Zombies with enthusiastic gems of ragged, fuzzed-out bombast accented by supremely written harmonies. Bob Powers is the (very) old man of the group and his slide guitar playing is the centerpiece of the majority of the work and makes an instant impression on the opening “Desperate Girl”. Powers, a fixture in New York City performance art during the 1990’s and uncle of drummer Sam Berman, brings well-honed sophistication to the Boys’ wild-eyed energy. Leader vocalist and guitarist Zack Keim may only be seventeen but he handles the delectable pop of “Mrs. Jackson” and “Susie Lee” and the more raucous “I Don’t Care Anymore” and “Save Me” with equally adroit aptitude. “Take My Heart and Break It” should delight Jack White while “Novelty” and “Smilin’ Dave” are both destined for heavy rotation within a certain Underground Garage. Keim has a voice that defies his age, but that is a quality found within each of the three teenage members, rounded out by the bluesy bass playing of Zach Stadtlander. What is most satisfying about the Nox Boys is their ability to resist over thinking the rock n’ roll process-the majority of the tracks hang around for less than three minutes but it is enough to clearly grasp the gifts these kids possess. The Nox Boys are not another band trying in vain to save rock music; they are simply proving that it is doing far better than what one may think.

SECRET PHOTOS - Layers (I Love to Hate Records

Layers is a fitting title for this release as Shaun Weeden leads Secret Photos through a winding demonstration of finely crafted indie pop. This is bold departure from the life Weeden once led as the leader of New Jersey hardcore act Purpose, but the music of Secret Photos is no less intense than his hardcore efforts, just delivered differently. I am not a fan of drum machines and therefore, “Spouses” or “Red Lights” are not among my favorite tracks here, although their energetic pop crackles behind the warmth of Weeden’s vocals. For me, Layers hits its stride on the deeper tracks that conclude the record, particularly a string of anthems in the form of “Catch the Breeze”, “How She Said It”, “and “Awakenings”. “Catch” revolves around a complex time structure after an intriguing opening sample that makes it a challenging yet fascinating listen. “How She Said It” may be the most straight forward rock song of the bunch with the trio (backing Weeden is Mark Weinberg and Ernest Intorella) driving ahead with aggressive drumming and a more pronounced riff. The dreamy “Awakenings” is a supremely delicate work of haunting, atmospheric pop detailing the struggles and euphoria found within so many relationships. This song is a credit to Weeden’s talents as a lyricist and Secret Photos’ ability to capture human emotion in a memorable pop structure. The danceable closer “Find Your Way” harkens back to the up-tempo vibes that carried the earlier tracks and it concludes with a soaring crescendo before quietly fading away in a wave of droning noise and feedback to close a unique record.

THUNDEREGG - C’Mon Thunder (

Thunderegg’s Will Georgantas is a wonderful storyteller; the lyrics on C’Mon Thunder are personal pieces of highly descriptive writing that captures life’s moments with remarkable clarity, be them awkward, tender, or funny. However, once placed to music, I lose interest. The playing of Thunderegg is as perplexing as their name-the band simply does not know what they want to be. Are they acoustic, folk-inspired rock? Are they country-twinged pop? Are their mildly rollicking rock? It is impossible to know for certain, but one receives tastes of all of the above on their record and all of it is delivered through Georgantas’ monotone vocals that, while they are not fully without expression and emotion, become overly redundant. The shame of this is that there is so much potential here-“We Kissed Again, and Ran Some More” recalls a majestic teenage moment when the protagonist stole a car belonging to his girlfriend’s grandmother hoping to escape with his love for a few stolen moments (“We released the brake and rolled it down the driveway, and made ourselves believe we would never see this place again”), only to crash to car, but still managing to enjoy a few kisses on his neck. It’s a poignant, wonderfully romantic tale that captures the innocence of youth while “An Absolutely Ordinary Date” sums up today’s digital relationships with the words “He crafted his approach, hit the button and then just hoped”. In both cases, the band taps into heartfelt emotions of fear, exhilaration, and anxiety, but the playing simply does not match the levels of emotion being conveyed lyrically, as pedal-steel guitars and sitar guitars leave me feeling flat. The band does score a pair of wins with the lovely “Write Me a Caption” and the autobiographical “Blazin’ in Princeton”, but these successes are mired by attempts such as “The Richest Men in the World Were Saying Nice Things About the Astronauts” and “I’d Stay”. The former wastes nearly two minutes in an atmospheric intro that does not push the song forward and the latter is designed to be a song about a man finally moving on and taking a chance with his life (“I have been telling everyone I know either me or this city has got to go”) but the lyrical delivery seems more listless then restless. Ultimately, C’Mon Thunder is a smart, albeit flawed record that will appeal to fans of softened rock but I have to pass.

DWELLERS - Pagan Fruit (Small Stone Records

The sophomore release from Dwellers opens with the lines “I cut off my hair/ I sold it to a witch” from “Creature Comforts” and one is off and running on a pummeling trip through a world of heavy distortion, fuzzed out guitar histrionics, and a thick, bubbly slow-boil groove. Pagan Fruit recalls the finest moments of Sabbath, Spirit, Neil Young, and a legion of other guitar-led acts, but Dwellers refuse to rely upon a finite number of influences or limit the scope of their sound. Dwellers play a different type of heavy music, for none of the songs are vicious in nature; they simply repeatedly hammers at the listener with a consistent force that includes lush atmospheric riffs and pointed solos that balance the blunt with the refined on “Return to the Sky” and “Waiting on Winter” to name but two. This Salt Lake City trio harkens back to 60’s psychedelia, 70’s acid rock, and contemporary doom-tinged bombast to generate nine fully fleshed out visions of sludgy, stoner glory. Vocalist Joey Toscano has a subdued but soulfully expressive voice that works in wondrous tandem with his soaring guitar work, while drummer Zach Hatsis and bassist Dave Jones fluidly author punishing low end thunder. The seven minutes of “rare eagle” are an extensive journey through atmospheric guitar force that would delight fans of St. Vitus while “Son of Raven” feels like the type of song that could be played for a jam of unlimited tie mina live setting as Toscano’s cry of “come home” reverberates with vibrant intensity. The soaring “Devoured by Lions” includes perfectly placed harmonica in the midst of warm hook and rolling drumming, and the subtlety of this makes the song all the more engaging, particularly as the solo startles a line between Iron Butterfly and Mudhoney. If you worship at the altar of power chords as I do, Pagan Fruit is an instant modern class-an emotional expedition through the power of well-structured musical force performed by artists with an ear and sense of dynamics.

EX FRIENDS - Animal Needs (Coolidge Records)

Despite only existing since late 2011, Ex Friends have been remarkably proficient, and this four song EP is either a helpful introduction to the band or a satisfying stopgap between full-lengths. The four efforts here are quite quick and richly harmonious with vocal duties shared by founder Joel Tannenbaum (you should all remember/know Joel from Plow United) and guitarist Audrey Crash. Crash carries the sly opener “Don’t Do It Like That (Do It Like This)”, a bouncy sugar-fueled gem that boldly flaunts its pop-kissed energy and she joins Tannenbaum for the sixty-two seconds of the sardonic “Word Police”, a song that says quite a bit in only a few words and a simple, infectious riff. “Real Life” and “Fadeage (City Inspector)” are far more fleshed out, with the latter including understated saxophone to accompany Tannenbaum’s forceful vocals and soaring backing assistance from Crash. All the while, drummer JP Flexner, the second mastermind in the formation of the band, is tireless in his intensity and guitarist Jayme Guokas rounds out a collection of musicians who insist upon precision in their quest for pop-punk purity. If one wants noisy punk with a softer but not inhibited edge, Animal Needs should be your early summer soundtrack.

HOT BLOOD - No Kings (Little Dickman Records

New Jersey’s Hot Blood are fast, angry, and loud-the three key ingredients for any hardcore band. However, what makes them sound a bit more refreshing than the thousands of other testosterone fueled, politically and socially frustrated bands out there is guitarist Alex Rosen. Rather than a continuous buzz saw playing that is fun but ultimately monotonous, Rosen punches up his playing with garage inspired, even surf-tinged riffs that gives Hot Blood a more polished and finished sound. Everything here rages with the ferocity one expects from Jersey hardcore-it’s fifteen songs in under thirty-one minutes so you do the math, but even the gone in sixty seconds gems like “Your Band Sucks” or the more fleshed out “The Wolf” possess a level of intellect then other acts lack. The record includes a series of scorching pieces, including “Scott”, “Class Warfare (with the fist pumping refrain “they have the numbers but we have the power”), “Hypocrite”, and “You Can’t Hold Us Down”. Vocalist Matt Kiley really can sing even when he’s shouting at you, and the low end rumble of bassist Charlie Schafer is matched with equal bombast by drummer Billy Straniero, making Hot Blood a complete act. There is no filler on No Kings, and even when the band interjects a little humor on “Don’t Be a Dick’, it comes across as much more of a warning that a light-hearted joke. I would love to hear these guys destroy a live setting.

MUSCLE AND BONE Peace and Light (Black Numbers Records

Robert Travis’s voice overflows with heart-wrenching emotion and his lament “I don’t want to feel blessed, I just really want to feel perfect loneliness” on the opening “XO” encapsulates Muscle and Bone’s sincere appreciation for an emo sound some may believe is long gone. Peace and Light intersperses pop and emo moodiness accented by a bare honesty that makes the music both intriguing and endearing. Along the way, the eleven songs include both boisterous guitar riffs and moments of tranquil fragility. “I am an Oak” is a majestic demonstration of the band’s appreciation for various levels of rhythmic intensity while the record’s title track is warm embrace of a song that begins innocuously then gradually raises the level of intensity before exploding into a cascade of soaring beauty like a person surrendering to an onset of tears. There are unapologetically pop-infused efforts here as well, starting with the bounce of “Song for the Broken Road” and later, the serenely textured “Direction”. “Keep Sinking” bears a striking resemblance to the ubiquitous radio hits of the Gin Blossoms, but I do not know if the band appreciates the comparison. In a slightly more indie-credible vein, much of Peace and Light harkens back to bands like the Anniversary or Joan of Arc, and the men of Muscle and Bone have a tremendous gift for crafting angular pop that is both sweet and clever, best heard on the beautiful “Neither the Vine, Nor the Branch” and “Meaningful Things”. The former stops nearly completely dead mid-song with only the faintest audible hum left to those straining forcefully enough, and just before one assumes the song is simply an unnecessarily short effort, it erupts into a torrent of Travis’ haunting vocals, wraithlike guitar playing, and jarring cymbal crashes. With no previous knowledge of this Asheville, North Carolina four piece, I am admittedly smitten with their dour world view and emotionally driven playing.

BEING AS AN OCEAN - As We Wondrously Perish (InVogue Records

Much of the post-hardcore/screamo/whatever term you choose to use material out there can quickly grow stale and repetitive. While I am consistently drawn to the earnest energy and often hopeful worldview exposed by so many of the acts, the riffs simply could not hold my attention for a full record. That problem does not exist with Being as an Ocean, a band whose hope for the world is obvious in their moniker, a name inspired by a Gandhi quot. I have listened to As We Wondrously Perish over two dozen times and what repeatedly leads me to return to it is the diversity of the playing. Whether it is the subdued, jazz-like conclusion of “Mothers” or the unbridled intensity of “Death's Great Black Wing Scrapes the Air”, the band consistently reinvents itself throughout the disc in a manner sounding wholly organic and not the least bit contrived. The alternating screaming/clean vocals are manifestations of tempo shifts and work seamlessly within the context of the songs and are not unnaturally forced upon the listener. Lead vocalist Joel Quartuccio has an intimidating growl which is superbly juxtaposed with the more refined efforts of former The Elijah guitarist Michael McGough. There are moments of spoken poetic lyrics on many of the songs here, such as the opening moments of both “The Poets Cry for More” and the exquisite “L'exquisite Douleur”, a track with a sophisticated start/stop structure with a multitude of abrupt shifts in both intensity and measure. The band’s willingness to expand the boundaries of the genre is heard on the concluding hum and noise of “We Drag the Dead on Leashes”, and the greatly subdued closer “Natures” which contrasts to the more straight ahead groove of “Even the Dead Have Their Tasks” and the lush “Grace, Teach Us What We Lack “, two tracks that come the closest to pop than of any others on As We Wondrously Perish. This is a unique and captivating record from band with less than three years’ experience and two new members on board. Being as an Ocean takes the best moments of post-hardcore and combines them with an experimental streak to produce a record of driving, heartfelt anthems.

ONLY CRIME- Pursuance (Rise Records

While the term “supergroup” usually makes people shudder as the results rarely live up to expectations (Killer be Killed, anyone?), it is not much a stretch to use the term here on Only Crime. This staggering lineup includes Russ Rankin from Good Riddance, Aaron Dalbec of Bane and Converge, and the legendary Bill Stevenson to name only three-fifths of the band, and the style of playing on Pursuance is brash coagulations of the different histories and styles of the members. One can hear touches of the acts with whom these men first gained notoriety, but within this cacophony of punk genius lays subtle jazz influences and explosive bursts of deafening power. In terms of lyrical themes, the record emphasizes the more distressing elements of life, particularly on “No Truth in Love”, “Emptiness and Lies”, and the closing “Bred to Fail”. The pain that drives the lyrics is matched by the power of the playing as “In Blood’ and “Absolution” shower the listener with a vicious cascade of guitar barbarism from both Dalbec and second guitarist Matt Hoffman, while Stevenson is paired perfectly with bassist Dan Kelly. Rankin’s vocals were always the centerpiece of Good Riddance, but he shines even more brightly here, with “Drowning” and “Find Yourself Alone” emerging as two of the many high points on the records. With adroit musical precision, this is a collection of songs that cuts through both speakers and listeners with deftness to the intensity that allows the band to generate a unique sound but one that also gives each track a highly distinctive personality. This is a majestically cathartic release from a collection of proven, limitlessly talented players from whom young bands can learn much.

DIKEMBE/THE JAZZ JUNE (Tiny Engines Records

This split release features one song each from two bands with inimitable talent for creating lush music that balances serenity and force. Dikembe’s “Healer of the Pride” is driven by powerful drumming and warm vocals with guitar playing that dances in and out of the song. The track slows down considerably around the two minute mark and adopts a stark, haunting aesthetic until gently fading away. It is a style reminiscent of the band’s debut record and bodes well for their new release this summer.

The Jazz June has not been heard from in over a decade but “Over Underground” sounds as if the band never left. Striking a chord that follows a direct line from Archers of Loaf or Superchunk, The Jazz June still possess an uncanny ability to craft pop harmony in the most unique of manners. Richly melodious and sincere with a pristine guitar riff and supremely placed backing vocals, this is a wondrous three minute return. It is great to have this band back and they plan to release a new full length before the end of this year.

THE HUNTERS - Art Electric (

These four twenty-somethings from Quebec City play a smoldering form of intelligent punk with a keen mind for harmonies. The thirteen efforts on Art Electric have a whip-smart energy and daring openness. The opening “Dave Grohl” would make that individual quite proud as The Hunters balance rage and melody with a skill as adroit as Grohl’s Foo Fighters. While well-polished, there is nothing clichéd about the work here, as “Connecticut” and “It Had to Be You” are soaring tales of intense and genuine passion constructed on the backs of anthemic choruses and soaring guitar riffs. Even when a well-worn line like “I love you more than I can ever say” is delivered on “Promises”, it is so intensely passionate that one is drawn into the song and one feels the immediacy of the sentiment. The synergy of the rhythm section and guitar force on “Lighthouse” is stirring as the refrain of “all I do is miss you” cascades beautifully within a rollicking din of force. The lyrics throughout Art Electric are quite emotional, loving, and even pretty, yet they are funneled through a swirling mass of punishing punk-tinged rock. There is an energy that is tangible on “Hold On, Marci” and “Paranoia” in which the songs are tightly wound coils of potency ready to explode. It is extremely rare for a band to have a sound that is both radio-friendly and raw, but The Hunters celebrate their ruggedness as freely as their abilities to craft pop-inspired hooks. Each of the songs shimmer with sentiments and are majestically crafted. A disc like this gives people hope that meaningful rock with a potential mainstream appeal is still being made.

BROWN PLAID - Chico’s Revenge ( album/chicos-revenge)

Long Island New York’s Brown Plaid claim to have written this record while “drinking beer, listening to Screeching Weasel, and watching cats poop in a dirty basement”: while the amount of cat excrement and beer is unknown, the Screeching Weasel influence is blatantly obvious. This is fast, hyper-melodic punk played with an abundance of goofy fun and obnoxious attitude. Nothing here lasts over a minute and a half and the guys pride themselves on avoiding the trappings of a famous punk act that Brown Plaid skewers on “I Hate the Sex Pistols”. It’s strange to think that the Pistols have become the Pink Floyd of modern punk bands-just as Johnny Rotten once defiled musical royalty by hand-scrawling “I hate” above Pink Floyd’s name on a t-shirt, Brown Plaid rips Mr. Lydon and his mates for crafting “four minute songs on a major label” and selling “shock value like Marilyn Manson and image like Good Charlotte” (Ouch! Really?! Good Charlotte?) The song is the centerpiece of this nine-song effort with other highlights including the Queers-inspired “Hippies” (imagine a sloppier version of “Granolahead” with the lamentations “why don’t you take a shower, why don’t you get a job, put down the bong and shave your armpits”) and “Guidos”. There are a few unabashedly silly moments here such as “Flapjack Faceslap” and “Baby Wants a Bottle”, a song detailing the moment when your girlfriend tells you that she does not drink beer out of a can. Every song is supremely harmonious, even if the harmonies are gone after thirty or forty seconds. Brown Plaid is not trying to change the world-they simply want to help people forget about it for about it for a few minutes.

PORCH - Walking Boss (

Originally forming the early 1990’s, Porch lay dormant until 2011 when guitarist Todd Huth recompiled the band with bassist Christopher Frey and drummer Michael Jacobs. Walking Boss, a discordant, free-flowing, and musically complex record borrows heavily from jazz and noise-rock dynamics to produce mesmerizing efforts. While the blazing “Spider Attack” is forty-three seconds of guitar wizardry, the melancholy “Dark Corner” is anchored by thunderous bass work and vocals that are haunting in their dissonance. The instrumental “Bow to the Clown” epitomizes the band with its ethereal riffs and start/stop interludes that is terrifying in its beauty, while the opening “Heart Attack” begins with sullen, simple notes before over the course of several minutes gradually working towards a coagulation of the trio’s combined fury and musical dexterity. Huth had first made his make with Primus, leaving the band before the mainstream MTV market found out about them, but his adoration to challenging traditional song structures is heard throughout Walking Boss as “Tourette’s Class” is a rattling, thunderous machine of a song and this is juxtaposed by the reserved “Manana” and the plodding “Ballad of Cruelty”. This is a brilliant celebration of non-conformity and Porch is a band desperately needed.

ICED INK - Television Ears (

With the recent appearance of a “blood moon”, some are claiming that the end may be upon us-if that is the case, I can die contently having heard the work of Brooklyn’s Iced Ink. Forming originally in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in 1998, Iced Ink calls New York City its current stomping ground and NYC is one of the few places that can appreciate and contain the monstrous amount of twisted brilliance this act demonstrates. “Bob Forrest Relapse” begins with a thrilling very loud/quiet song structure highlighted by jazzy interludes that are too well played to be in jest, while “Stupidface (v5.0)” is carried by a thunderous guitar riff. However, as both songs are perfectly interesting, they merely set the stage for a whirlwind of deliciously bizarre anthems to follow. Each of the fourteen efforts one finds on Television Ears are sans vocals and while many of the songs stand alone, some, such as “These Aren’t’ the Drones You’re Looking For”, act as an introduction for the explosive chaos of the subsequent song. This is the case with the aforementioned “Drones” bleeding into “There’s a Bee in Here”. These two tracks are emblematic of the band: “Drones” is a subtle, unsettlingly reserved soundscape that gradually increases in intensity until “Bee” explodes in the listener’s face, but even the latter includes moments of bouncy, nearly cartoonish interludes before returning to a crescendo of grindcore speed and skull crushing doom riffs. “There’s a Bee in Here” manages to incorporate nearly every form of contemporary metal into one glorious work. To thwart those expecting a grand follow up, Iced Ink offer “Ride the Dragon”; a majestic track only six seconds in length. Television Ears has no set pattern or flow, no level of predictability or formula, and therefore is both immensely satisfying and the antithesis of the pop culture swallowing us today. Clearly the members of Iced Ink are devotees of all areas of the popular landscape, but their homage to television and other forms of beautifully mind-rotting activities is superbly crafted chaos. Rather than attempt humor through campy sound effects or samples, the playing of Iced Ink reflects an appreciation of super heroes, sci-fi, and long hours spent basking in the serene glow of television’s forgiving warmth, best exemplified through the whistles and sheer goofiness of “Here Comes Gary”. (Gary later returns on the record’s closing track) The band returns to its more aggressive nature on “I’m Feeling Good, I’m Feeling Great, I’m Feeling Wonderful”, a song whose bombast may hide the fact that it is a tribute to Bill Murray’s much-revered character in the semi-lost classic What About Bob?. “Naan-Compliant” is a lush but nearly silent work of delicate soundscape that says very much with very little, while “Devonshire Tea” is just a few seconds of uncomfortable sound effects. Although Television Ears did not end in particularly convincing fashion, this is a tremendous amount of fun and an intriguing listen.

THE KIMBERLY STEAKS - To Live and Die in West Central Scotland (

This Glasgow, Scotland trio produces bouncy, sugar-fueled punk-pop perfectly designed for the short attention span-afflicted among us. With the average track clocking around one minute (only the closing title track alters this by delivering a n impressive five minutes replete with acoustic section and brilliantly placed Simpsons sample), the songs come and go quickly, but each one does retain enough distinctive traits to prevent this record from simply amalgamating into one repetitive three chord parade. Greig (guitar) and Ade (bass) share vocals and tales of loneliness and frustration, such as “Wrong Exit” (“So I shut myself in my room and lock the door /And write songs about watching TV and being bored /But I don't think I can live like this anymore”), “My Quarter Life Crisis” (“And I'm all wound up in my feral thoughts and apathy/And this gradual but steady detachment /Is what’s really killing me), and “Fear and Loathing in Larkhall” (“Feels like my best years are behind me now/Pretty sad when you're only twenty-five years old/I'm not coping well at all”). These lyrics of depression and sorrow are juxtaposed by effervescent, infectious hooks and highly kinetic playing infused with energy of over-caffeinated kids. This is certainly not revolutionary, but it is a wonderful example of a contemporary act that is certainly inspired by the legions of now classic punk bands of this style-The Kimberly Steaks may not play with the same snarl as the Queers or with the speed of the Ramones, but the spirit remains quite similar. I am a fan of self-effacing, brutally stark tales of woe that are funneled through three chords and a blissful delivery, for I find the stories more unsettling. This is highly impressive.

SPACE WOLVES The First Year: The First Four Tapes on One Cassette (UT Records

With only eighteen of the fifty (!) songs hitting the two minute mark, one may expect blazing, jaw-shattering hardcore, but Space Wolves play upbeat, light-hearted songs about girls, break-ups, bad relationships, and more girls. The Buffalo duo have clearly struggled with the ladies in their past as five of the songs have women’s names and “I Watched You Go”, “I’m Pretty Sure (You Don’t Want Me)”, “I Saw You (With Your Boyfriend)”, and “(I Don’t Have the Nerve) To Talk to You” surmises the emotional angst splattered for the listener’s consumption. However, rather than scream about their fits of despair, Space Wolves incorporate the most elemental components of rock on “Die Trying” and “Halfsies on a Rock”, playing with a style reminiscent of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. There is nothing particularly flashy or rambunctious about the musicianship here, as they meld innocence and instantly catchy riffs into an easily digestible package that can either break one’s heart (“Does She Still Love Me?”) or make one laugh (“Here’s Pizza {Do You Love Me Too?}”). “Too Short” utilizes Dick Dale style surf guitar (“too short to kiss the tall girls/too plain to kiss the pretty girls”), while “Disjointed’, “I Watched You Go,” and “Stay” provide a glimpse of what the Smiths would sound like if only Johnny Marr and Morrissey played together. The twelve second “Issue 363” is a lovingly snarky crack at Maximum Rock N’ Roll while “(It Broke My Heart) When You Forgot My Name” is another celebration of rejection played in a austere fashion for ninety seconds. The Space Wolves are talented songwriters for they articulate sorrow with a knowing smirk and a sense of camaraderie; granted, fifty songs of this is a bit much in one sitting, but I do hope these guys get out of basements and take their tales of sorrow on the road to the weary masses who should undoubtedly relate.

STREET EATERS - Blood: Muscles: Bone (Nervous Intent Records

This Bay Area duo smashes through ten blistering songs on Blood Muscles Bone that retain elements of punk pioneers from the late 70’s as well as the riot grrl fury of the early 90’s. Drummer/singer Megan March and bassist/singer John No have remarkable symmetry with each other as the songs rumble and rage with an infectious amount of harmonies. Their shared vocals, quite often delivered in a call and response style, are vastly different but mesh seamlessly. Not afraid to incorporate a few “woahs” and “oh-ohs” into their songs, Street Eaters deliver smartly crafted noise brimming with unorthodox melody on “Dead Parts”, “West”, and the soaring “Reverse”. March’s voice is rich in tone and perfectly balances the blood-curdling intensity of No’s impassioned yelps. The two play with a sense of urgency and immediacy that is only achieved from countless days spent on the road playing basements and small clubs, while also existing in a relationship on a personal level. “Running Dog” and “Null” are sonic avalanches of musical force that defies what most duos are able to achieve; there is no minimalism here as Blood Muscle Bone has a monstrous sound in which one can able hear the walls of the studio shake. Politically savvy and not afraid of confrontation, “Waxwing” (“we must produce, we must consume”) is a perfect primer on the band’s personal stances as well as its musical prowess. Street Eaters is described as a “truewave” band; I am not sure of exactly what the term means, but if it is intended to represent a great band, then it fits this gifted two-piece perfectly.

CHUCK RAGAN - Till Midnight (SideOneDummy Records

Chuck Ragan was one of punk’s most intelligent and unique voices when he was a member of the seminally brilliant Hot Water Music, but he has reinvented himself as a voice of Americana as he replaces blazing riffs and howling vocals with sweetly delivered songs of love and introspection accented by folk guitars and strings. We have seen this movie many times before as the once flammable punk giant mellows out and becomes a more subdued singer/songwriter. However, Ragan should be a nationally celebrated hero for his current work. This is not just an aging punk giant breathing easier; this is a superbly gifted songwriter using another vehicle to express his emotions as ferociously as ever. One need not scream to be passionate and Till Midnight is a beautiful collection of heartfelt, earnest songs and Ragan paints pictures with words with the same blue collar clarity as Springsteen or Steve Wynn. “Bedroll Lullaby” includes lines with which any transient heart will identify as Ragan emotes “Somewhere I hear a lonesome train burning in a direction I can’t name, I’ll shut my eyes and lay these bones to rest, off the beaten path we all know best.” His voice is gruff and exudes honesty while his backing group is an enormously skillful collection of players, particularly Todd Beene on pedal steel and guitar and Jon Gaunt’s poignant fiddle. The brooding “Wake With You” is stirring in its inspirational openness as Ragan asks his love to “take me in, I’ll be good to you babe, and I’ll do my damnedest to make my mistakes but once” as lush harps and lap steel cascade around Ragan’s poetry. On “Revved”, Ragan describes a scene in which a woman stands “to the wind as her hair blew back” with an equally romantic level of passion as heard when a young Jersey troubadour sang about Mary’s dress and a screen door on “Thunder Road”. Ragan also appreciates the power of a great pop hook and “Vagabond” has it when he sings about “waking up on the wrong side of fantasy/waking up on the wrong side of you and me”. The closing “For All We Care” is a genteel effort that centers itself on Ragan’s brusque vocals before concluding during the last minute and a half with the rumbles of drummer David Hidalgo. This finishes the record on a soaring note and marks the completion of a wonderfully played ten songs that balance the finest aspects of Americana with daring candor and brazen sincerity.


Broken Darling may have recorded this six song EP in East Brunswick, New Jersey, but the down home sounds would fit quite nicely in Southern fried honky-tonk joints or front porches throughout the heartland. The songs are pristine gems of country-twinge pop flavored with just a sprinkle of rock energy. Each of the six tracks is a radio-friendly, instantaneously catchy effort overflowing with beautiful vocals, particularly Lia Menaker. Menaker is an undiscovered star-a performer with a soulful, haunting voice that shines either exclusively on “Bones” (a track she wrote as well) or with Mark Bodino on “Willow Tree” and “Grains of Sand”. The closing “Nothing That You say” has a darker riff bathing in distortion subtlety buried within the mix under a wall of melodic vocals and acoustic guitar. Reminiscent of the Decemberists, this closing tune is my favorite moment of the disc. Blending Americana with a sly pop sensibility, “Grains of Sands” is stirring, while “Pass the Years” is screaming for massive exposure-a buoyant track with a chorus accented with hand claps and ideally balanced vocals, it is a supremely well-constructed song. At times evocative but often cheerful, Broken Darling is a band with authentic musical chops and this release is a wonderful tableau for their talents. This will certainly appeal to an adult contemporary style crowd, so therefore I will never be found at a Broken Darling show, but genuine talent is still easily distinguishable, and this band possesses it.

THE FALLING BIRDS - Native America EP (

Despite playing around New York City, The Falling Birds retain a sensibility of small town America. The five songs on Native America wrap themselves tightly in a blanket made of blues and country, but there is a garage component on “Arms Out Wide” and “Dead Man Walking” that add even more grit to an already rugged collection of tracks. Stephen Artemis is the leader of The Falling Birds and his fixation with the more primal elements of rock n’ roll is discernable on three of the five pieces here. The wah-wah pedal work during “Dead Man” is scintillating, and the controlled aggression heard within the riff of the opening “Darling” is equally impressive, harkening to the foundations of rock with a nod to grunge and even a little punk. Conversely, “If Time Allows” and “A New York Love Song” are genteel in nature, particularly “Time” which swaggers with a Wild West aesthetic highlighted by rousing harmonica playing before erupting into a full on hootenanny for the closing two minutes that would make the members of the Charlie Daniels Band smile. Apparently, a New York love song must be quite sullen in nature, for the closing effort revolves around Artemis’ melancholy vocals, understated acoustic guitar, sparse harmonica, and even an appearance of triangle. I greatly enjoy the rowdier, more guitar fueled songs here, and The Falling Birds are on to something; I am curious to see how they fit within the parameters of the New York Club scene, but this one is both engaging and unique. And for a band still in its infantile stages, its virgin release comes as a disc enclosed in the pocket of a pair of Lee jeans (give them credit for understanding their audience right there) and the stitching looks like it may have been done by hand. This is undoubtedly a labor of love by a three men looking to push a standard American music form into new directions.

IRIE IDEA - Blues Like Sandpaper/Rocksteady Like Dirt (

The concept of a two-man ska band seems highly unrealistic, but Curtis Irie and Morgan Smith not only deliver a record of tremendous depth and warmth but also one that incorporates a myriad of styles. Granted, they do receive some musical assistance and accompaniment along the way but Irie and Smith are the heart, soul, and brains behind Irie Idea. I am not and will never be a devotee of ska, but the varied genres explored here prevent me from becomingly overly fixated on one particular delivery. The more traditional ska vibe of “Soul Vending” and “Smoke Signals” coexist effortlessly alongside the bluesy, harmonica-driven “St. Johns Alley” and the appropriately title “Oregon Blues”. “Good on Paper”, “Portrait of a Lady” and the closing “Hours” each possess an infusion of pop energy to accent the warm harmonies. “Han Shoots First’ is a wonderfully played rocksteady instrumental that took me back to the finest moments of Madness while “There Goes the Neighborhood” harkens back to the duo’s earliest days as members of punk bands with the song’s fast, rugged guitar, heightened intensity and duration of just under a minute. Following this injection of aggression, Irie Idea deliver a n island paradise soundtrack with the wafting “What’s a Matter” whose rhythms lazily float through the breeze. Both men are extraordinarily talented and have enjoyed distinctive careers that have led them from local punk scenes in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania out to the more serene Pacific Northwest hub of Portland, Oregon. I am highly impressed with the skills on display, even if efforts such as “Who” or “Machines (Here I Am)” are a bit too slow for my liking. Irie’s and Smith’s lives on the road and their devotion to generating distinctly unique music has resulted in an eclectic disc that will undoubtedly thrill fans of the Specials or The Menzingers, but the references should not stop there, for this places Americana, folk, punk, rocksteady, surf, and blues into a musical blender and rather than pouring out a discombobulated mess, Irie Idea create finely crafted anthems of authenticity and charm.


SAINTSENECA - Dark Arc (Anti Records

Columbus, Ohio’s Saintseneca play folk with a punk rock spirit. It is not that every track on Dark Arc is a voluminous explosion of anger and force, but there is a menacing quality to the lyrics and ferocity to the playing that one does not usually hear with Americana-inspired bands. “Happy Alone” celebrates isolation and immersing oneself within personal darkness, but the tune itself is deliciously effervescent. This is a musical duality that has been used in the past, but Saintseneca make it sound fresh. The more meandering “So Longer” is played with a tangible intimacy as Zac Little sounds as if he is sitting next to you, deftly singing in your ear. This is a wonderful juxtaposition to the glorious “Takmit” and “Falling Off’ which are driven by shockingly powerful percussion. “Visions” features majestic vocals and an interesting balance between reserved country and more boisterous pop-oriented song structures. It is Saintseneca’s ability to switch gears so effortlessly that keeps Dark Arc intriguing. One can certainly imagine Gordon Gano offering this his seal of approval, and like the Femmes, who could shift from raw-nerve punk angst to country-tinged darkness with equal aplomb, Saintseneca provide a multitude of ideas within each effort without the songs ever feeling too busy or disjointed. Each track tells its own distinctive and occasionally oft-putting story with the natural ebbs and flows that reflect any individual’s life. The concluding “We Are All Beads on the Same String” is intensely moving through the raw delivery of Little as he lays himself out bare repeatedly wailing “don’t you let me down again”, all the while utilizing his voice in a such a profoundly unique manner that this phrase will undoubtedly create various connotations, while the title track also prominently features Little and little else before his bandmates join in with lush group harmonies and a massive expanse of acoustic-flavored musicianship. New interpretations on Americana are not an easy sell, but Saintseneca bring a multitude of new ideas to Dark Arc.

THE GENERATORS - Life Gives-Life Takes (Randale Records

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

PANTHER MODERNS - Strange Heaven (

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


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

HEENEY - Demos (

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

PERFECT PUSSY - Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks

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

DIRECT EFFECT - Sunburn (Tiny Engines Records

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

THE FEELING - Boy Cried Wolf (BMG Management

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

GRIP WEEDS - Inner Grooves: Rare and Under-Released Tracks (Ground Up Records

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

IRON BRIDGE BAND - Road Not Taken (Messej Media

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

I LOVE RICH - Respect the Rich (

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


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


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

PEZZ/SET ASIDE split 7” (7AM Vinyl

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

BAYSIDE - Cult (Hopeless Records

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

THE OFFENDERS - Endless Struggle/We Must Rebel (Norman Records

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

NOT AVAILABLE - No Excuses (Ant Street records

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

RISE FROM ABOVE - Ain’t Like You (District 763

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


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

STILL BLEAK - Not Dead Yet (District 763

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

TEEN AGERS - I Hate It (

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

BRAIN FLANNEL - Empty Set (Grave Mistake Records

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



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


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

THE SMOKING HEARTS - Victory (Bullet Tooth

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

PAGERIPPER – 7-inch EP (Sex Sheet Records

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

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

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

BAD PEOPLE - The First Seven Inches (Bad People Records album/bad-people-pearls-before-swine-ep)

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

SAVE ENDS - Warm Hearts, Cold Hands (Tiny Engines Records

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

SECRET SMOKER - Terminal Architecture (

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

SIGNALS MIDWEST - Light on the Lake (Tiny Engines Records

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

DEATH OF SAMANTHA - If Memory Serves Us Well (

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

ACID FAST - Rabid Moon (

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

EVERGREEN TERRACE - Dead Horses (Rise Records

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


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


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

POW! - Hi Tech Boom (Castle Face Records

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

THE TYE TRYBE - Word is Born (

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

MAN MAN - On Oni Pond (Anti Records

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

TWO COW GARAGE - The Death of the Self-Preservation Society (Last Chance Records

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

BOSTON - Life Love & Hope (Frontiers Records

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

GHOST THROWER (Broken Circles Records)

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

TIM KASHER - Adult Film (Saddle Creek Records

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

CHROME - Half Machine From the Sun (King of Spades Records

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

VOICE OF ADDICTION - "Modern Day Meltdown" EP(

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

JANE EYRE - With Our Thoughts We Make The World (A Landfill of Records

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

PLACES TO HIDE - Almost Nothing (

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


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

CLOSE YOUR EYES - Line in the Sand (Victory Records

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

SEEKER - Unloved (Victory Records

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

MOTORHEAD - Aftershock (

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

YOUNG TURKS - Where I Rise (

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

ISOLATED - This is Q-Town, Not LA (District Records

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


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

TRC - Nation (No Sleep Records

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

STAND FOR NOTHING - Demonstration of Frustration (

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

WAR GENERATION - Start Somewhere Never Surrender (Rise Records

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

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

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

MELT BANANA - Fetch (A-Zap Records)

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

REDBUSH - Milkmaid

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

STATE LINES - For the Boats (

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

ENTROPY -Out Of Spite (

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

THE FLATLINERS -Dead Language (

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

DOYLE - Abominator (Monsterman Records

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

GREAT APES - Thread (Asian Man Records

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


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

TERROR - Live By the Code (Reaper Records

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

TONIGHT WE STRIKE - Bombs and Bibles (Stop the Machine Records

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

PLACEHOLDER - I Don't Need Forgiveness (Black Numbers Records

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

SHELLSHAG – Shellshag Forever (Don Giovanni Records

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

THE ALL ABOUT - Suburban Heart (

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

NIGHT BIRDS - Born to Die in Suburbia (Grave Mistake Records

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

HUGE - 7-inch EP (681 Productions)

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

CLOAKROOM - Infinity (

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

THE SIRS - Miserable (Psychic Volt Records

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

X-MEN - Kid Blast (Brighton Bar Records

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

PORNOPHON 5 (Hasscontainer Music

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

RETOX - Ypll (Epitaph Records

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

STAND YOUR GROUND - The Chaos Around (District 763 Records

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

THE EVERYMEN - A Very Short Tribute to Jonathan Richman (Oedipus Records

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

NIGHT BIRDS - Maimed for the Masses EP (Fat Wreck Chords

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

BIG EYES - Almost Famous (

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

LAWNMOWER - Whack Yr Brain (

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

MAN OVERBOARD - Heart Attack (

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

RED HARE - Nites of Midnite (Dischord records

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

ARROWS IN HER/GIFTS split (Meadowbrook Records

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

IMPLANTS - From Order to Chaos (Cyber Tracks Records

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

NIGHTSHADE - An Endless Vision (

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

SO SO GLOS - Blowout (

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

UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS Mind Control (Rise Above Records

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

JOWLS - Cursed (Tiny Engines

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

LAND OF BLOOD AND SUNSHINE - Servants and Light (

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

RUN, FOREVER - Settling (

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


AUTHORITY ZERO - The Tipping Point (

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


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

NIGHTMARES FOR A WEEK - Civilian War (Suburban Home Records

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

THE COLOR MORALE - Know Hope (Rise Records)

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

GO DEEP - Counseling (

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

NO MISTAKE – “4 More From No Mistake” EP (

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

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

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

PLOW UNITED - Marching Band (Jump Start Records

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

DINOSAUR EYELIDS - Conflagration (

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

NORWEGIAN ARMS - Wolf Like A Stray Dog (

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

NOT ON TOUR - All This Time (

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

THE VENETIA FAIR - Every Sick Disgusting Thought We Have in Our Brain (

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



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

GOT NUTHIN’ - Back on the Streets (District 763 Records

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

LA ARMADA (Fat Sandwich Records

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

DARREN DEICIDE - “Bomb This Joint” b/w “Hudson River Hangover” (Ever Reviled Records

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

THE SCUTCHES - Ten Songs, Ten Years (Bright and Barrow Records

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

THE STEREO STATE - Crossing Canyons (Creator-Destroyer Records

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


EXECUTE ORDER 66 - In the Shadows of Giants (

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

GREYS - Drift 7-inch EP (Kind of Like Records

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

MURDER BY DEATH - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (Bloodshot Records

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

OUR LAST NIGHT - Age of Ignorance (Epitaph Records

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

RSO - Awl (

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


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

HOMELIFE - Translation (Bermuda Mohawk productions

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

LEGACY OF DISORDER - Last Man Standing ( Black Orchid Music

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


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


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

SURRENDER THE FALL - Burn in the Spotlight (Rum Bum Records

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

New York-Connecticut Hardcore Connection (United Riot Records

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


96 - Caught In the Grips (

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

NOT THE BEES - Another Hour to Burn (

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









BORN LOOSE (Drug Front Records)

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

DRGN KING - “Holy Ghost” b/w ”Son of Wolfman” (

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

THE GIRLS - “Rodney” b/w “Say Yes” (

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

THE STAGS 7-inch (Drug Front Records

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


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

CONVERGE - All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph Records

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

NO MISTAKE - Connect the Dots…Complete the Puzzle (

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


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


10cent FUCK FLICKS (Drug Front Records

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

VIBRAM 94 - You’ll Never Take Us (United Riot Records

I am miles away