Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 

HEATHER WOODS BRODERICK - Invitation (heatherwoodsbroderick.bandcamp.com)

While Heather Woods Broderick may be known for being a band mate and collaborator of Sharon Van Etten, she excels on her own throughout the deeply stirring Invitation. Written largely in solitude in Oregon, the songs permeate the listener as Broderick blends intimate fragility with incredible soul. A gentle piano riff and a massive chorus drive “Nightcrawler”; the song acts as a perfect companion for a day with a low, grey cloud ceiling and constant rain. The minimalist beauty of “Slow Dazzle” is my favorite moment of the record until I hear Broderick describe herself “moving through the white tail of the jet stream” (“White Tail”), and there in lies my only challenge with the record: just as one stirring anthem finishes, another begins and it is easy to get lost in Broderick’s vocals as she explores raw emotion with a daring vulnerability. “Quicksand” is a gem from this virtuoso, as Broderick takes the listener on a journey that ebbs and flows through heartfelt waves of emotion. The tile track is where I truly fell in love with all Broderick does, as she declares, “I dreamt it took me last night into the darker side of life. I accept the invitation”. The song is a wistful, richly personal song that encapsulates the brilliance of the entire record. From this point forward, people should boast of ever working with Heather Woods Broderick.

KITTENHEAD - NYB (www.kittenheadla.com)

Kittenhead play riot grrl anthems for a new generation with their own unique spin on the angst that fuels the music. The LA based five-piece understand the power of a towering hook and memorable chorus, and the opening duo of “Numb” and “Bloom” certainly illustrate that point. Vocalist Kivi Kittenhead is not a screamer, but a truly refined singer whose voice conveys elements of sensuality, fear, rage, and disgust all with equal aplomb and with excellent range. “Bloom” hums along at a mid-tempo pace with hazy guitar from VJJ and Daddy Kittenhead as Kivi’s vocals soar majestically above the refined chaos. The feedback that ends the song illustrates the band has its foot (paw?) squarely in punk aesthetics, but as “Confusion” opens, the hook is undeniable and one quickly learns that this is a well-honed rock n’ roll animal of a band that can balance harmony and fury with expert ease. Yet, for those looking for a bit more frenzy in their music, the title track will leave listeners exhausted and richly satisfied. An acronym for “not your bitch”, “NYB” is a ripping assault upon the Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps of the world as Kivi spits out “I’m not your toy/ I’m not your test/ I’m not your pick up game” over the top of a thumping bass line from dd Kittenhead and the punishing low end of O-Face Kittenhead. The song breaks down into a sarcastic lecture that needs to heard on repeat at least ten to twelve times to be fully appreciated, and this one is easily my favorite track of the bunch. The closing “143” is a speedy, punk-pop nugget overflowing with bratty arrogance and a great sing along line of “we don’t care”. I can only hope that Kittenhead make their way to the east cast soon because they are a rare mix of smarts, humor, and a killer set of songwriting talents.

THE YAWPERS - Human Question (Bloodshot Records www.bloodshotrecords.com)

Taking their name from Walt Whitman is always a great start in my book, and the Yawpers only improve their standing with me from that point forward. The band plays a unique blend of bluesy, breathy, rock n’ roll, particularly the ultra cool “Dancing on my Knees”, a track accented by unexpected blasts of noisy guitar. The title track is a harmonious, bubbling work with understated yet impressive guitar work and thought provoking lyrics, matched by the erudite folk of “Man as a Ghost”. The fuzzy, reverb-fueled guitar on “Earn Your Heaven” is rugged, but still has rounded edges for greater accessibility and incudes beautiful Wurlitzer piano from Alex Hall who also masterfully produces the record. “Carry Me” soars like a religious revival while the bluesy stomp of “Forgiveness Through Pain” swaggers with confidence. The trio tap into their love of 60s pop on the jangly “can’t wait” as the guys channel The Byrds and then later borrow from the masters on the Beatles-esque “Where the Winters End”. The Yawpers give listeners a little taste of all forms of American music and excel at every turn.

THE GET UP KIDS - Problems (polyvinylrecords.com)

The Get Up Kids may no longer be kids, as they now have children of their own, but their commitment to warm, lyrically introspective playing remains intact. The work of this band has traditionally been accented by a shrewd pop sensibility, and that is certainly heard throughout Problems. From the self-deprecation of "Lou Barlow" (“I saw Lou Barlow on the street/I don’t think he noticed me”) to the equally critical “The Problem is Me”, the songs here resonate with lyrics of self-contemplation and memorable choruses. The guys do deviate a bit and take more chances throughout Problems, particularly on the keyboard-laden “Waking Up Alone”, as the song recoils, lunges, and bounds with sugar-fueled energy without the sole focus remaining on the guitar. The same holds true on the piano-kissed “The Advocate” which becomes a bit darker after the subtle beauty of the intro. Matt Pryor continues to craft songs of hope, sorrow, and loneliness, but now he does it for those of us who have deeper concerns than fleeting crushes. His heartfelt, genuine emotional breadth is heard around the heavier riff of “Symphony of Silence” as he admits “I used to be good once/I used to be gorgeous”. The closing “Your Ghost is Gone” is a churning piano ballad that does not end the record on a whimper, but rather with a devastating emotional punch. Problems illustrates how after more than twenty years, the Get UP Kids still appreciate the combination of heartbreak and pop hooks.

MEKONS - Deserted (bloodshotrecords.com)

From the second of their inception in 1977, Mekons have been one of the most confounding, fascinating, and erudite bands in punk. Perhaps too punk for some art folks and too art for the punks, the band has long existed in a sphere of their own genius. Finally returning after eight long years away, Deserted continues this brilliant combination of off-kilter musicianship and stirring storytelling. “Weimar Vending Machine” is just one of the numerous gems found within this collection, and the song is a varied, winding tale of references to the German government post-Kaiser Wilhelm, Iggy Pop at a Berlin vending machine, and the fact that the world has been teetering on the edge of complete self-induced destruction for far longer than just the past few years. Always imbued with elements of folk, Mekons embrace go full on Southern boys (considering they are original from Leeds, England) on “Andromeda” as singer John Langford carries the song with his lush vocal range, and again on the closing “After the Rain”, propelled by the shared vocals of Sally Timms and Langford over the top of haunting fiddle. “Lawrence of California” is a brilliant introduction to the record, as the song opens with a slowly developing wave of feedback before launching into a rousing chorus as the band pays homage to Joshua Tree State Park which surrounded the studio in which they recorded the virtuosity that is Deserted. “How Many Stars?” is a gentle slice of subtle beauty that envelopes the listener, while the atmospheric nature of “In the Deserted” is established by the remarkable voice of Timms who once again is rightfully among the Mekons ranks. Bouncy, fuzzy guitar abounds on yet another historical reference, “Harar 1883”. The song is a nod to French poet Arthur Rimbaud who, while searching for more dramatic life experiences, traveled to the city in what was Abyssinia (today Ethiopia) in his early twenties. Some bands defy comparisons and peer groups, and Mekons are such a band. It is good for all of us that they have again graced the world.

RICHARD VAIN - Night Jammer (bigneckrecords1.bandcamp.com)

The thunderous rumble of guitar reverb that opens the appropriately titled “Tremors” by Richard Vain act as a forbearer of what is to come over the scope of nine largely expansive tracks. At times, the work is offset by moments of more delicate, jangly riffs, such as what one hears on “Castles”, but even this effort has bursts of skull rattling guitar force. Merging 80s alternative with the darkest aspects of grunge, Night Jammer is a powerful record from a deftly adroit songwriter named Jared accompanied by a keyboardist/drinking buddy called Carbomb and a drummer named Lugs. There is a experimental vibe that runs through tracks like “Encounter” as ethereal keys hover sparingly above an angular guitar hook that introduces itself and recedes quickly throughout the song while Jared’s slightly hushed vocals fight to be heard above the controlled din. Briefer flashes of manic force, namely “Rats” and “Tar Pits” tap into the band’s affinity for punk energy, but still retain a musical dexterity that elevates Richard Vain above standard punk fare. The blasting force of “Punks Inbred” takes me back to Dinosaur Jr.’s finest moments in which melody is not lost in the midst of blunt force. There is a delicate line to walk between merging styles and sounding recycled, and Richard Vain masterfully celebrate the past while contributing something distinctive to modern punk.

SWEET JAP - Be My Venus (bigneckrecords1.bandcamp.com)

I love this type of story, albeit a bit heartbreaking. Sweet Jap was a band that existed between 2000 and 2004 and they vanished with only one official release to their name, but left behind a legion of devoted fans, a few magazine covers, and sweat-soaked tours. Big Neck Records brazenly declared that fifteen years after the break-up the world needs Sweet Jap and released this collection of lost and never released efforts. Opening with the scathing “I’m Only Moonlight”, one is transported back to the time when The Mooney Suzuki, the Vines, and others were in the business of “saving” rock n’ roll. With driving grooves, raw, abrasive guitar, and rugged vocals, “La Rock” embodies everything a rock song should be-two and half minutes of attitude and grit. The blistering one hundred and twenty seconds of “Found There No Go” is exhausting and pure fun as the song hovers dangerously on the edge of simultaneous combustion. The one-two punch of “SJAP” and “You Know Reno” are inspired, scream-along anthems that take hardcore speed and combine it with a Dead Boys-inspired snarl that works perfectly. Closing with “Oh, My Pretty Face”, one is left lamenting about what could have been and wondering if these guys just ran too furiously to have an extended lifespan. At any rate, one should be grateful for what they did produce and to Big Neck for their genius to release it.


GANG OF FOUR - Happy Now? (Gilmusic)

“We’ve got so much catching up to do”, says vocalist John Sterry on “Toreador”, the first track on gang of Four’s new record, Happy Now?. Blending mechanized and industrial with pop aesthetics is never easy, but all of Happy Now? is biting and drenched in sarcasm. Certainly the presidency of Donald Trump has brought a sense of concern to the world, but Gang of Four shoot for Trump’s most sensitive area with “Ivanka: My Name’s On It”. With references to Moscow hotel rooms embedded within a steady, throbbing beat, the song is much more than a wave of insults hurled at the current occupant of the White House; it is an exploration of the hyper-sensationalized age in which we all find ourselves. Gang of Four, led by sole original member Andy Gill is not here to answer questions or provide solace-the guys know the word is a mess, but hopefully we can get through this together. The danceable darkness of “I’m a Liar” moves effortlessly into the foreboding “White Lies” that warns, “time destroys empires”. The more up-tempo but equally serious “Alpha male” is another example of the band’s ability to spotlight bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Tobias Humble. Gang of Four first illuminated the world forty years ago with Entertainment!, a brilliant, biting post-punk gem. Four decades later, Gang of Four has changed personnel, altered their sound, but the remarkable insight and creativity remains.

CLUB NIGHT - What Life (Tiny Engines www.tinyengines.net)

I love this band-Club Night is comprised of five veterans from Oakland California’s music scene, and the result is a genre-smashing assault upon indie rock. “Path” explodes with a blast of childlike energy and enthusiasm with undeniable passion. Emotive and highly intelligent, the song is led by the guitar playing of Ian Tatum and vocalist Josh Bertram, whose soaring vocals reach beyond the occasional din that accompanies the majority of the work on What Life, whose songs are at times accented beautifully through the synth work of Rebecca Lukens and even cello from Robin Miliken. The lyrics, compliments of Bertram, capture fleeting snapshots of life with remarkable detail and poignancy and often examine one’s struggles and reflections upon life with a mixture of sorrow and a realistic optimism for the future, all the while stunned by the rapid passage of the years. (“I took the ashes off our mantle/the white linen cloth on the dining table”) The songs are each stirring manifestos about not achieving dreams quite yet and the realization and acceptance that life may not be what one wants. This record helps people realize that they are not alone in these frustrations, particularly on the fleeting pop of “Village”. By Club Night’s parameters, the song is a sugary little gem, and when Bertram says, “Love does us in over and over again”, one cannot help but heave a heavy sigh and bask in the pain. The ambling, delightfully quirky “Mute” plays with the definition of what indie rock can be, as the song is a light-hearted effort with a more serious underside. (“It is strange the sound of your own voice bleating out against the wind/I hope the sad buzzards don’t notice our death /The years they have made a mess”) The song is the embodiment of the feeling of being just on the verge of tears but being able to just hold one’s self together. “Cherry” is an equally brilliant ride (“Feeling like a tourist in my own mind”), blending subdued indie pop with wildly beautiful, double-jointed riffs to create challenging harmonies. The closing, seven-minute “Thousands” notes, “not everyone I know is poisoned by the fear of the unknown” as a stirring mass of cacophonous angst erupts around the listener, driven by drummer Josiah Majetich and bassist Devin Trainer. All I hear on What Life wonderfully stuns me, and I cannot wait to tell my friends about this band.

LO-PAN - Subtle (Aqualamb Records www.aqualamb.org)

Lo-Pan plays modern hard rock and they do not care what anyone thinks about that. That later statement is made abundantly clear throughout Subtle because nothing here is subtle-there are no studio tricks, cute instrumental accents, or experimentation. The guitars from Chris Thompson are loud, the low-end of drummer Jesse Bartz and bassist Skot Thompson is heavy, and vocalist Jeff Martin can hit notes that the vast majority of humans cannot reach. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I give you what you thought was no more-rock n’ roll. The question for Lo-Pan is how can they get themselves known in a world that seems to have a dearth of these acts. I cannot answer that for right now, but the music on Subtle speaks for itself as “Old News” grinds with a nice blues-based touch, while “10 Days” and “Bring Me a War” craft something that many bands fail to incorporate into their songs, and that is a hook. The traditional bombast of big time arena rock is present on every track, whether it is the bitter love song of “Savage Heart” or the varied tempo and multi-textured “Butcher’s Bill”. These guys can play, have strong structures throughout all eleven tracks and the record never grows repetitive. Lo pan helps to demonstrate that there is more than just Greta van Fleet playing rock right now.

CLOWNS - Nature/Nurture (Fat Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

It takes bravery for bands to alter their sound, especially when an act begins as a hardcore band. Typically, audiences can be quick to scream “sell out” or reject a band outright if they deviate from the initiate intensity that first won people’s hearts. For Melbourne Australia’s Clowns, they began as a hardcore band and remain a hardcore band, only a sharper, more mature, and musically focused outfit. The opening of Nature/Nurture is “Bland is the new Black”, a searing, decimating slab of classic punk barbarism which is quickly supported by the equally crushing “Soul for Sale”. By the time one reaches “I Wanna Feel Alive Again”, however, something changes, and the variations of song structure is exciting. Rather than solely kicking one’s head inside out for two and half minutes, Clowns, led by vocalist Stevie Williams, begins to delightfully play with eccentricities in tempo and mood. Guitarists Rod Goon and Will Robinson drive the song’s meandering shift from melancholy to self-actualized through riffs that alternate between ethereal and slashing. “I Shaved my Legs for You” and “May I Be Exhumed” are snarky both musically and with their titles as the song are tightly wound blasts of energized punk in the more classic definition of the form, with the latter as ninety seconds of brain rattling, angular noise. Bassist Hanny J and drummer Jake Laderman shine most brilliantly on “Prey for Us”, a track that rattles with the pomp and circumstance of arena rock without sacrificing street punk credibility. However, the concluding title track is the biggest deviation; a five-minute journey that climbs slowly and steadily towards a massive hook, the song is the culmination of a band’s evolution thus far. One gets the feeling that Clowns will continue to experiment and challenge themselves and their fans as the years and records progress. To me, that is a sign of both confidence and impressive ability, which Clowns clearly possess. This is a great find.

GIRLS ON GRASS - Dirty Power (https://www.girlsongrassband.com/)

One finds interesting results when doing a quick Google search for “girls on grass”, but this band, led by Barbara Endes on vocals, plays a mixture of bluesy, country-fried rock with limitless self-confidence and tough-chick attitude. “Down at the Bottom” is a rollicking opener that allows Endes to shine, along with David Weiss on guitar. Drummer Nancy Polstein hits fervently throughout the record, but truly makes quite the first impression. “Got to Laugh to Keep From Cryin’” has both a classic country title as well as a battle-tested country delivery through which one can almost hear the truck driving down a dusty road. Girls on Grass, rounded out by Dave Mendl on bass, are skilled storytellers that do their best to stay out of the political maelstrom that currently envelopes this country, but try as one might, it is difficult to not comment on the state of our land, and “Commander-in-Their” is a less than subtle summary about Washington D.C.’s most famous spray-tanned inhabitant. Additionally, “Because Capitalism” is a scathing critique of how politicians take on their jobs “for the cash and the underage ass” and revel in the elimination of food stamps despite starving families and ignore the homeless living in train stations, while twangy guitar rattles overhead. This is blistering Americana that injects indie rock rebellion into traditional bluegrass licks. The title is perfect, as there is a grizzled veteran quality to the playing here; Girls on Grass deliver forceful songs with a sense of knowing defiance that only comes with age; namely the age when one stops caring about what others think. Go get this.

HEAVENSAKE - Post-Chroma (https://heavensake.bandcamp.com)

I always appreciate when a band is willing to embrace who they are without attempting to create some type of pseudo-intellectual, sub-genre label. Heavensake formed in 2016 and readily declared themselves part of an “emo revival” and everything on their five song EP Post-Chroma sounds like a return to the best moments of the Deep Elm Records roster, replete with biting lyrics from vocalist Mikey Lince, intricate guitar playing from Pat Wood and Sean Burke, and derisive titles. All of the above meshes perfectly on “If You’re a God, Then I’m an Atheist” featuring the lines, “The hate I have for everything inside me” and “I can never seem to get you out of my head”. The Philly via New Jersey five piece (including bassist Skeeter Seifert and drummer Anthony Massimini) sound like a band with four times their experience throughout the release. “Aftercoulour” starts everything off with a new interpretation of loud/soft song dynamics by injecting a combination of youthful exuberance and streamlined precision. A thunderous low end carries “Bleach” as Lince asks sarcastically, “so this is what you call your best life?”. “L’appel Du Vide” is the most traditionally melodic of the bunch, allowing Lince to show off his impressive vocal range, but my favorite effort is the poignant “Did I Leave Everyone, or Did Everyone Leave Me?”. Opening with a hazy, near shoegazing groove, the song is a multi-faceted demonstration of this band’s great reservoir of talent.

FAT CHANCE - Do Not Resuscitate (https://fat-chance.bandcamp.com)

Eight years in the making, this DIY Jersey band plays an aggressive form of true ska punk. I find the horn playing in most ska often creates an artificially happy construct, but that does not happen here; Fat Chance are singing songs of real pain, loss, and a seemingly endless quest for redemption, and the sadness is only enhanced through the sax work of Lacey Liptak. I am instantly impressed on “Quit Bitchin’!” and the reference to ‘Where Eagles Dare” by the Misfits, but that is merely the start of a remarkable musical journey. The stark lyrics of “Blue” (“I woke up this morning and I started thinking suicidal thoughts”), “Running”, and “Pathetic” each feature a speaker in distress, and there is no silver lining or neatly arranged ending. “Rise or Die” and “Capitalism” both express a disgust and hatred for the current conditions in America, with the latter delivering these concerns over a mid-tempo groove that is unapologetically rhythmic. Vocalist Ferris Denequolo adroitly adjusts his voice from a rugged shout to a melancholy melody, best heard on the majestic closing title track that also allows the duo of bassist Weston Mohr and drummer Shawn Werman to truly shine. Boldly baring his soul, Denequolo offers lines of raw despondency, noting, “These visions I have in my head keep on changing/ and they’re changing until I’m dead/ So I stay withdrawn/I create my own meds/Cigarette burns on my hands/and your texts before bed” before bellowing out a heartsick demand of “do not resuscitate”. The nearly twelve minutes associated with this song may appear daunting, but be sure to hang around for the special bonus track which will leave the listener smiling a bit after the preceding bakers’ dozen of anguish. Fat Chance allows people to truly enjoy being miserable.

JONNY KOSMO s/t (https://jonnykosmo.bandcamp.com)

This L.A.-based act opens this release with an ethereal “Prelude”, a concoction of church-like organs that hovers with a sense of gravitas and leaves the listener completely befuddled as to where the self-titled work is going. “Come Down to Get Down” bounces with a 1970s disco groove that makes Jonny Kosmo sound as if he could have been a guest on the old Dinah Shore Show. The blithe retro-themed fare continues throughout the record, as “Jessica’s Triangle” sways gently beneath Kosmo’s warm, falsetto vocals. It is interesting that he labels his music as “pop-strange”, when in actuality, Kosmo is blending 70s soft-rock melodies and varying degrees of non-threatening vocals that range from sweetly delivered to breathy. Perhaps this sounds “strange” to those who are too young to remember the “Music” part of MTV, but for those of us of a certain age, Jonny Kosmo is mainstream pop goodness. KC Rabbit’s relaxed rap delivery on “Strawberry Vision exists over the top of a hook reminiscent of Van McCoy’s “The Hustle”. “Lazy Susan” and “Overgrown” are far more ethereal in their deliveries, as Kosmo’s vocals drift and glisten through the musical equivalent of dazzling light. This feels like an artist looking to recapture the past but not in a contrived manner; one gets the sense that Jonny Kosmo loves the bedazzled relics of the past and is looking to inject new life into them. I’m fine with allowing the past to be the past, but Jonny Kosmo makes yesterday today.

ELIZA NEALS AND THE NARCOTICS s/t (www.elizaneals.com)

The sexiest record of 2019 has already been determined and it the steamy blues of Eliza Neals and the Narcotics. The highly emotive singer-songwriter is a treasure, and every moment of the self-titled release overflows with sultry eroticism. The opening “Jekyll and a Hound” is a gorgeous, textbook version of how classic, American, blues should sound and I am hooked before the track concludes. Without giving listeners time to collect themselves, the band hits with “You Ain’t My Dog No More”, and when Neals coos “no more licking my face”, I understand that I am in the presence of true greatness. The slide guitar of Howard Glazer is the centerpiece of the track, but Neals is irresistible with an extraordinarily inviting vocal performance. Clearly raised on a steady diet of Mississippi Delta blues legends, along with B.B. King, Bo Diddley, a little Motown swing, and maybe some Georg Thorogood thrown in for fun, the Detroit native has a scotch-soaked voice that perfectly conveys tales of frustration and heartbreak, accented by a limitless sexuality. “Breaking and Entering” is perhaps the most enticing anthem of the bunch, but it is still laced with a tongue in cheek sense of humor, as Neals admits that seducing a man is “like robbing an armored car” and concludes the track by announcing how she will “feel your gun pop”. A splash of funk drives the infectious grove of “Love Dr. Love”, while she slows the tempo majestically on “Cold, Cold Night” and the equally sensual and dazzling “At the Crossroads”. Get ready to find your next and last true crush.

JEFF WHALEN - 10 More Super Rock Hits (Supermegabot Music www.supermegabot.com)

This is pure fun. Jeff Whalen plays lighthearted, sing-along power pop that does not reflect the angst that so dominates the first two decades of the twenty-first century. It may be criminally impossible to get the hooks of “Goofing Around” or “Jendi” out of one’s head after only a single listen. Much of 10 More Super Rock Hits sounds like the Knack hopped up on Pop Rocks and soda as the songs shake and shimmy with an uncontrollable energy. Sugary efforts such as “Ground Game for Worm” and “Man of Devotion” bubble with a warmth and happiness that make some of this seem out of place within contemporary political and social climates, but that may be the entire point: Whalen is rebelling through his sense of innocence, hope, and overall positivism. Rather than following the depressed, angry heard of malcontents, Whalen wants people to smile and celebrate. Even when he slows down a bit, Whalen’s love of lush pop is obvious on the piano-laced “Soylent Blues”, and he goes back in time to the silent-film era with the ragtime jam “Shanghai Surprise”. (And no, there’s no reference to the historically bad Madonna-Sean Penn film project) It takes an astounding amount of confidence to deliver this type of music, for one risks being laughed out of the room by those who do not appreciate Whalen’s commitment to the integrity of true Americana. The backing “woah-woah” vocals on “Don’t Give it Up” are wonderfully appropriate as the song harkens back to the glory days of AM radio with an affinity for harmonies that would make the Bee Gees, Seals and Crofts, or even Captain and Tennille jealous. I am old enough to remember Columbia Record Club and their ads for “super hits” on cassettes and my misspent youth came flying back on the closing title track. I want to buy this on 8-track.


CHOKEHOLD - With This Thread I Hold On (Good Fight Music https://goodfightmusic.merchnow.com)

Certain bands are needed for specific times, and the world needs Chokehold right now. Fortunately, the band heard the cosmic cry for their classic brutality and answered the call with With This Thread I Hold On, a devestaing work of sheer aural barbarism. The chugging riff, screamed vocals, and riotous low-end force of the opening “2.0” announces the bold return of this much beloved but woefully underappreciated act. Complete with spin kick inducing breakdowns, the work of Chokehold is pummeling but not without an adherence to the power and the lure of a huge hook. These vets craft songs; they are not merely stringing together angry rants under the guise of twenty-first century hardcore. “Profit Over People” thunders along a path of mosh-ready hardcore power, blending politics with intelligent lyrics and bone-shattering intensity. The guys attempt to burn down the world on “Silenced”, as Chokehold’s raw, violent playing illicit comparisons to other weathered gods such as Terror , Vision of Disorder, or Earth Crisis, along with the fury of a young act like Knocked Loose. The results are virulent blasts of blood-spitting rage such as “G.O.D.” and “Instilled” that seamlessly blend hardcore and thick metal grooves into slabs of relentless intensity. I cannot hear this enough.

MASKED INTRUDER III (Pure Noise Records http://www.purenoise.net)

Masked Intruder return with their brand of free-flowing, good time punk. Borrowing from 50s rock n’ roll (“Mine All Mine”) or playing with more reckless bombast (“B&E”), the guys hold every song together with an affinity for soaring guitar, richly harmonic vocals, and clean production. The classic Queers influence abounds on III and there is nothing wrong with that. The driving “All of My Love” is a textbook example of guitar-fueled power punk-pop. Despite the sheen that one hears across this record, there is also just enough grit to prevent Masked Intruder from crossing over from melodic to unnecessarily saccharine. The sun-kissed fare of “I’m Free (At Last)” and “Please Come Back to me” are still rooted in punk’s most raw nature, and even the loving “Maybe Even” still rattles. Masked Intruder are not afraid to sing songs of lost love and frustration, but their work is also accented by a resounding faith hat life can get better, as heard wonderfully on “Stay with Me Tonight” and through the fuzzed-out guitars of “Dream a Little Dream”. This is a perfect band when your anger has subsided, but not your need for assertive guitar punk.

DEAD SWORDS - Enders (Human Blood Records https://deadswords.bandcamp.com)

Dead Swords features Alex Rosamilia from Gaslight Anthem and former I Am the Avalanche member Corey Perez, and together, the two produce chilling, deeply haunting musical beauty through vastly panoramic songs that are each a complete and complex musical journey. While this could be played in coffee houses, the impact of more forceful guitars makes this a stirring collection of staggering magnificence. “Tonight” is largely acoustic, and its lush nature is obvious, but the more bombastic aspects of the song, highlighted by stirring keys, provide majestic, celebratory moments. “Black” and “Fumetsu” hum with a controlled but readily identifiable rage, as the duo deliver shoegaze with the addition of crushing, antagonistic qualities. Bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine are instant comparisons, but the guitar playing on “Letters” slices through the calm with the intensity of a black metal outfit. The ghostly figure in black that adorns the cover is a perfect representation of this band’s collective vision. The music is intriguing more than terrifying, but that does not take away from the eerie elements still heard within. Dead Swords balance aesthetic pleasantry with doom-laden intimidation, most expertly heard through the chugging riff of “Perception”. The song propels itself into a realm of conventional metal before launching skyward into a lush crescendo. Two mysterious “interludes” (numbered 4 and 5) are spooky reminders of the band’s breadth of creativity, as odd spoken word pieces are delivered in whispered vocals over a wall of subtle hiss and noise. The title track is a ten-minute excursion into the sonic depths of splendor, meshing walls of sound with intimate songwriting. Masterfully mixed by Kevin Dye, the record is a journey trough sound that is both intriguing and unnerving. The musical complexity and sense of dynamic power make Dead Swords a staggering achievement.

THE DEAFENING COLORS - Run Pass Option (www.thedeafeningcolors.com)

The Deafening Colors are a band with a deft touch for serene, atmospheric beauty that sounds distinctly unique yet somehow familiar. The six tracks on Run Pass Option hang in the air like melodic apparitions as minimalist lyrics, genteel song structures, and understated guitar playing, specifically from John Arthur, work together to create a swirling mass of beauty. The hushed singing on “Saracen Revisited” provides the track with a subtle uneasiness that juxtaposes the more kinetic, musically disjointed “Count on a Crime”. The latter includes fuzzy guitar but still retains an adroitly soft pop touch. “Crash Course” mirrors this approach as well, while soft riffs and beautiful melodies, particularly a strikingly warm two-part harmony, enliven “Love on Television”. The lonesome “She Moved to Oklahoma” includes woeful keys accompanying soulful, ethereal vocals that revel in 1980s studio antics. The band sounds like they are from another time and planet, not a bunch a guys who recorded this little gem in Weehawken.

SUNBATHERS - A Heat Wave (https://sunbathersmusic.bandcamp.com)

Sunbathers cannot wait for summer, and this four song EP is the perfect way to shed late-winter/early spring ennui. “Honeysuk” opens with 80s synth-pop sensibilities and a devotion to funked-up, dance club energy. The song radiates fun with the refrain “I want you all the time” driven by a steady bassline. The same approach is heard on “Bare”, an equally light-hearted blast of sunshine that blends modern R&B with splashes of indie pop. This is screaming for mainstream success, and I can easily hear much of this featured in a commercial for mass consumption. The appropriately titled “Intimacy” bumps and grinds with varying degrees of enthusiasm, eventually finding a groove that climaxes with the lines “I feel like an animal/make me beautiful”. The closing “Sugar” is the most gentle of the bunch, delicately kissed by affectionate sax. I would not normally gravitate towards this style, but sitting in my basement with dirty snow on the ground and a chilled rain falling, A Heat Wave is just what I want.


FEMME DE CHAMPAGNE - Impulsive Sky (reverbnation.com/femmedechampagne)

Everything about this is stunningly beautiful, maybe too pretty in fact, at least for my more hardscrabble tastes. The delicate piano riffs that runs “Sois Gentil” is lush and majestic, matching the equally stirring vocals of Babette Novak. Sophisticated, refined, and mature, Femme De Champagne play music for adult cocktail parties in which only the finest liquor is served and everyone knows their limits. Sung largely, but not entirely in French, Novak has an angelic voice, and “Shimmering Lights” and my favorite, the soaring “Famished Heart” are masterworks in song structure and deft performance. Only a trio, Novak is supported by Fran Kondorf and Mike Collins on bass and drums respectively, Femme De Champagne have a massive sound, enveloping a room with their ethereal prowess. My mouth left agape and me utterly speechless, I am drawn to talent such as that displayed by this Chicago outfit. Impulsive Sky exists for lovers of jazz, blues, and old-fashioned Broadway-level skill. It is refreshing to know that artists like this still exist.

NAT FREEDBERG - Better Late Than Never (Rum Bar Records rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

Nat Freedberg, known for his work in the legendary Upper Crust and the Satanics, brings bluesy, sultry rock n’ roll for clubs that overuse the smoke machine and the audience left their phones in their cars. Freedberg displays impressive chops through Better Late Than Never, with “All My Love” and “I Think I Die and Went to Heaven” as examples of dusty slabs of gritty rock n’ roll steeped in rockabilly blues. “If I Could be the One” struts with exuberant confidence with Freedberg adopting a subtle twang for the chorus. I could not help but love a song called “Heavy Metal Cow”, and rightly so as it includes the lyric, “heavy metal cow/I wish that you loved me”. Everything on Better Late Than Never combines early rock brazen attitude with punk’s snarky quality and wraps it around huge hooks and soaring choruses. The lead single “Madame Butterfly” is a roundhouse punch of a tune that is the embodiment of everything one is treated to throughout the record. It is a delight to hear Freedberg express himself and place his various skills on display.

THE SUCK - In-Cog-Neat-O (Mom’s Basement Records www.facebook.com/MomsBasementRecords)

Here is a band that does not live up to its name. The Suck play fast, agitated, blasts of pop punk in the purest of fashions, blending speedy riffs and smart-aleck lyrics. “#youredead” may sound like a collection of kids trying too hard to make a contemporary cultural reference with a song title, but the track’s buoyant energy grabs the listener from the opening second, and this theme carries through the next seven pieces. With The Cola on vocals and the Dunk and the Alien on guitar, The Suck already have a great nucleus, but it is the drumming of the Basement and the bass playing from the Problem that set the band apart on tunes like “Death Machine”, “Catfish”, and the very funny “Vape Store”. The stodgy among us with grunt and say they have heard this all before and that Ben or Joe did it better, but The Suck have the same energy and love for the genre as the giants who preceded them. It is next to impossible to listen to “Basement Buzz” and not have the urge to throw things round, and that to me, is all I need to hear. Go find this now.

THE CARVELS NYC - “Life Is Not a Waiting Room” EP (Tarbeach Records www.tarbeachmusic.com)

Some bands make life very to understand; simply put, if you do not love the Carvels, you do not love rock n’ roll. If rock should be swagger and attitude wrapped around angst-fueled talent, then Lynne Von Pang and her crew are all you need. Printed on gorgeous, deep-blue vinyl, the record opens with “Life is not a Waiting Room”, a track that jumps out of the speakers with a blaring sax from “Sweet” David Spinley, rousing guitar, and Von Pang’s snarky and richly melodic vocals. Incorporating classic NYC punk vibes with rock’s original sense of bombast, the Carvels make the past the present with an explosive mixture of fun and frustration. While they do not take themselves overly seriously, the Carvels craft sharp lyrics, particularly on “Scarcity”, with its opening line of “I just write a love letter to the person I might have been”. The song’s mid-tempo pacing and garage meets doo-wop approach mirrors what one hears on the soaring cover of “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy”. Both tracks allow Von Pang to fully explore her dynamic vocal range and masterful delivery as guitarist Brian Morgan, bassist Mike Dee, and drummer Steve Pang play with a simmering boil that balances raucous energy and refined prowess. The three songs are over far too quickly, and I can now sit anxiously and wait for a full length.

DOC ROTTEN - Illusion to Choose (docrotten.bandcamp.com)

Produced by Bouncing Soul Pete Steinkopf, Trenton’s Doc Rotten play old time hardcore that puts the listener in a headlock and never loosens his grip. “Mind Control” is merely a fleeting sample of the twelve blistering tracks on Illusion to Choose, as the band injects heartfelt harmony into the work one hears here, highlighted by “Questions”, striking a balance between teeth-rattling power and refined song-crafting talent. “Hold Fast”, “So Long”, and “Listen Up” are all sing-along anthems with high energy and a hint of Rancid-style groove. With a pair of guitar players (Andy K and Wes) who also share vocals, Doc Rotten produce a rich sound that resonates both warmth and fury, rounded out by bassist Doug and drummer AJ. With an ability to play with a tempo on “Federation” and the bluesy “Sick and Suffering”, the band proves that they have the chops to write much more than just two minute blasts of rage. Smart, insightful, and at times even downright fun, Illusion to Choose is contemporary punk with a true, but not worn, sensibility.

LOST WAX PROCESS - “Mix Tape” b/w “Pushing Out” (Sonopherique Records https://lostwaxprocess.bandcamp.com)

As a person who was recently hired as a Political Science professor, I adore three of the members of Lost Wax Process who share the same job. Mark Copelovitch, Andrew Kydd, Michael O’Russa, and Jon Pevehouse play intelligent and interesting pop. “Mix Tape” is an ode to late 80s and early 90s indie pop with an ethereal guitar riff and easy on the ears vocals from O’Russa. I prefer the slightly darker groove of “Pushing Out”. While still resonating with a pop-kissed jangle, the song reverberates with more energy and tells a rich story. Fitting to the job of three quarters of the band, this is the embodiment of college rock, harkening back to the days of indie rock’s earliest rejections of over-production and celebrates songwriting. Familiar yet still invigoratingly fresh, Lost Wax Process is gem I am thrilled to discover.

TULLYCRAFT - The Railway Prince Hotel (HHBTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

Having been immersed in college radio in the mid-90s, I did become aware of the twee and cuddlecore movements and lovingly remember my first encounter with Tullycraft. Incredibly, more than twenty years later, this Seattle outfit continues to hang on to their collective innocence, blending the most pop-friendly tempos and sprinkling in lighthearted, sentimental lyrics that point out the most minute of details with good natured sarcasm. Titles like “Has Your Boyfriend Lost His Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” and “Lost Our Friends to Heavy Metal” reveal the band’s penchant for writing buoyant tales of self-awareness and growth that sound like 1995 never ended. “It’s Not Explained, it’s Delaware” is a quirky, slightly faster effort that rattles more than the majority of the other songs on The Railway Prince Hotel and features a subtle country giddy-up along with more pronounced guitar, while the jazzy “The Cat’s Miaow in a Spacesuit” is a demonstration of shrewd instrumental control. The genteel nature of the title track and the closing “Vacaville” can sometimes overshadow the intricacy of the songs, but there is a great deal happening here. Tullycraft is incredibly impressive all these years later.

PAVO PAVO - Mystery Hour (Bella Union Records www.ballaunion.com)

This is the type of story that always gets to me-Pavo Pavo is the work of prolific musical duo Oliver Hill and Eliza Bagg, or at least it was; the pair are no longer together as a couple but continue to produce majestic music together. Beginning as a friendship while studying at Yale, the two came to collaborate on various musical entities, and Pavo Pavo’s work is a soaring testament to two highly distinctive talents. The record began as a form of therapy as the two addressed the realization of a crumbling relationship, and the hunting nature of Mystery Hour reflects the anguish felt during the recording. The songs ache as they swim through the air with Hill’s voice resonating with anguish on “Mon Cheri”, lamenting as he gazes at a picture and notes how he “will never adjust to the dark”, while Bagg’s exquisite soprano vocals often carry the majority of the material. Deeply emotive keys along with poignant guitar work create an individual universe for each song, at times both intimate and expansive. “Check the Weather” is extraordinarily beautiful, as a mid-tempo dance beat propels an 80s synth groove with shared vocals longingly stating to “stay here at night”. “Close to Your Ego” is a gripping tribute to the challenges of any emotionally strained relationship, as two people balance what they want for each other along with what they need for themselves. Lush and gorgeous, “Around Part I” and the instrumental “Around Part II” are stirring works, while the sullen closer “Goldenrod” features the vocals of Hill and Bagg working in such close proximity that they seem to blend together as one. It is a fitting metaphor for the pair and they work effortlessly well together but still look for aspects of individuality. This is a lovely record about a painful process.

THE SAXOPHONES - "Singing Desperately Suite" EP (Full Time Hobby Records www.fulltimehobby.co.uk)

The saxophones do not play music for the upbeat and celebratory. Singing Desperately Suite is an EP of heartbreaking work that resonates with sadness and negative self-reflection through the lyrics of vocalist Alexi Erenkov. Written sporadically throughout 2018, including the appropriately crafted “Crude Advance” during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, the band, accented by the dynamic Alison Alderdice and Richard Laws, offer ambient folk that is far more griping than one may expect from such a genre. The jazzy, thirty-second introduction of “Prelude” gives way to the morose “Singing Desperately”, a song of dark introspection and regret. Minimalist musical accompaniment allows for Erenkov’s vocals to garner full attention as he bemoans the failures of relationships with the recognition that the blame should be placed aggressively on his shoulders. While “Crude Advance” moves at sloth’s pace, the lyrics of loneliness and longing become all the more affecting due to the haunting instrumentation. The closing “You Seem Upset” is a brief piece with hushed vocals and delicate playing. The dreamlike atmosphere may induce some to become somnambulistic, but I was enticed by the openness expressed by Erenkov. He is wrestling with his own lack of empathy and why it exists throughout the world. The song ends too quickly, much like the release itself, and one feels as if The Saxophones have only begun to explore an issue of great significance.


AGEIST - Babyface (Arctic Rodeo Records http://arcticrodeorecordings.com)

Whenever a band is described as “old men playing in a band no one has heard of”, I know I am gong to be a fan. Ageist is much more than old guys still bashing out noise like if they stop they will die, for there are truly gifted musicians here. Go do a little research on your Google machines, kids, and look up the resumes of members Eric Odness, Frank Bevan, Arty Shepherd, and Tucker Rule, then be prepared to be highly impressed. The opening “Lead Legs” is an eruption of distortion-laden, 90s grunge guitar on top of relentless drumming and warped vocals. The title track teeters on chaos and displays a masterful control as the riff ebbs and flows to allow the vocals to alternate between violent diatribe and controlled purposefulness in manner than embodies the record as a whole. For a collection of grizzled, seen-it-all men of experience, there is not a second of rest to be heard on Babyface, as “Breathe In” and “Kicked in the Head” include angular, thick bass lines that wrap themselves around the sharp guitar segments to create dense and heavily melodic songs that revive the sounds of twenty-five years ago with ease, largely because guys like Ageist invented the sounds from twenty-five years ago. “USA vs. USSR” is built around a thriving guitar riff and a pulsating bassline that deftly alternates in a loud/soft power-play that creates a tension that is nearly tangible. For those interested in bands that attempt to recreate the intricate ferocity of 90s indie punk, go listen to Ageist and gain yourself an education in how this style should truly sound.

JD HANGOVER s/t (Hound Gawd Records www.houndgawd.com)

This six song EP delivers distorted, stomping, punishing blues and does so effortlessly. Stiv and Roberto Villa make the blues sound dirtier and muddier than ever on “Broken Bones Blues”, a distortion pedal snapping romp that quivers with energy, while the steady thump that opens “Barrelhouse Queen” is instantly riveting. The two sound as if they are sitting right next to the listener, as each song has an intimacy that conveys a rough and tumble fury accented by flashes of cutting guitar noise and drone. “Headspinner Blues” is aptly named with its thunderous low end and heavily distorted slide riff, but I fell for the meandering grind of “Down at the Public House”. Sounding as if it is crawling along a liquor slicked barroom floor in desperate search for an exit, the track is a unsettling display of blunt guitar angst and waves of noisy power. I could listen to this for hours as long as the drinks keep coming and there was no need to go home. Entertain your inner deviant and celebrate debauchery with a wild ride of a release. Hound Gawd knows how to find the real jewels hiding in the world.

BOB MOULD - Sunshine Rock (Merge Records www.mergerecords.com)

Bob Mould may have moved to Berlin and grown a beard that provides him with a grandfatherly appearance, but his fury has not come close to dissipating. Do not be fooled by the cheery disposition of “Sunshine Rock”-the buoyant title track to Mould’s latest collection of sardonic guitar angst-for this not a light-hearted romp, but by Mould’s standards, it, along with “Sunny Love Song”, and “Camp Sunshine” are downright dreamy odes. The consistency of the term “sunshine” is intentional but not overbearing as the sun motif does not become redundant. Instead, it is juxtaposed with the biting guitar force of “What Do You Want Me to Do?”, a track in which Mould seems to be oscillating between overwhelming frustration and begging for forgiveness (“Now you’re home and I’m a total mess”). Truly flexing experienced guitar muscle, “Send Me a Postcard”, a cover of the Shocking Blue anthem, and the biting “I Fought” are two of the more iconic moments on a superbly delivered collection of powerful tracks. Harkening back to his 90s solo work, “Sin King” is a clever play on words (“You’re sin king our democracy”) while a blanket of distorted guitar spreads across a vast musical panorama. With a subtle, danceable quality, “Lost Faith” is a somber lament (“I’ve lost faith in everything”) before Mould gives himself a rousing pep talk and declares, “Life is so complicated, don’t let your hopes and dreams disappear”. “30 Dozen Roses” is a painful tale of a broken heart on the jagged rocks of a searing riff with Mould proclaiming, “olive branches piled up at your door, you don’t let me come inside your place no more”, and one is treated to a reflective, more wistful veteran on “The Final Years”, as Mould ponders about his “sense of misplaced rage”. Sunshine Rock is a snarky title for unsteady times crafted by a master who still produces voluminous gems at a crushing level of intensity.

WILLIAM TYLER - Goes West (Merge Records www.mergerecords.com)

William Tyler leads an adroitly skilled collection of players through ten serene and expansive tracks, each progressively more sprawling in scope. While delicate, Goes West is still able to capture the rugged terrain of the untamed West with an intimacy that is both haunting and soothing. The tracks seem to mesh effortlessly into each other, specifically “Call Me When I’m Breathing Again” and “Eventual Surrender”, two pristine works of genteel guitar playing from Tyler and Meg Duffy and expertly placed percussion from Griffin Goldsmith. “Rebecca” exudes a joy that is clearly a celebration of the person for whom the song is named, while “Not in Our Stars” has an ethereal and atmospheric quality befitting its name. “Venus in Aquarius” and “Virginia is for Loners” both exude a more country feel that could easily be the soundtrack for your next covered wagon journey through the Oregon Trail. As I listened, I was perpetually curious about what lyrics would have done for these tracks, but ultimately, the record was exquisite without any vocals, allowing the songs to breath and roam unencumbered. Like the land it references.

DAN FRANCIA Come Back to Life (Exploding in Sound Records http://www.explodinginsoundrecords. com)

Much of Dan Francia’s new solo record was written as he was working at New York’s Noguchi Museum, and that is important to note; for like the legendary sculptor, Francia does not adhere to any one school of thought in regards to his art. His songs are consistently beautiful in nature, but vary in degree of experimentalism, from the refined beauty of the title track (including the poignant lyric, “tell me you love me before you go to bed”), to the subtle cacophony of “Pass it On” to the more direct, sixteen-second noise-fest “I’m Not Insane”. With polyrhythmic structures merging with free form horns, “Ghost Stories” is a perfect embodiment of all Francia is as an artist. The song begins as if it is simply a collection of gifted players each performing a solo piece collectively en mass before settling into a more cohesive groove until that structure completely unravels into a John Zorn-like eruption of sound before once again finding a more well worn path, and then launching into a full meltdown as the song moves towards its conclusion. Challenging, intriguing, and even a little exhausting, it is a fascinating four minutes of creative genius. The fist single is the antithesis of much of the record, as it is an iPhone recorded pop gem called “Stereotype” that features Nora Dabdoub of Shea Stadium as the centerpiece of the song, and Francia harkens back to Lou Reed’s work from the 1980s as a source of inspiration for the song’s tone. Meanwhile, the keys that carry the nineteen seconds of “I’m Ready for Death” possess a haunting quality to them and they mysteriously dissipate in favor of the lush “No Matter What”, clearly the most conventional of the works here. With gorgeous backing vocals, the song is a delicate ode to trust, optimism, and love. “Can’t Forget” opens rather serenely before devolving into a furious mountain of rage with noisy, angular guitar ripping and shredding through the air as brazen and relentlessly intense vocals define the song’s vitriolic nature. This is a brilliant start to the new year.

-----------------------------------------2019-------------------------------------------------------

GRIM DEEDS - Gree! (https://grimdeeds.bandcamp.com /album/gree)

Well, the calendar has turned to a new year but existence is still dismal for Grim Deeds, and we all benefit from his misery. Gree! is another collection of biting, cynical tracks that discuss problems but offer a dearth of solutions. For those who love self-loathing and punk rock guitars, Grim Deeds is all one needs in life. The jangly guitar on “I’m Not Allowed” (a brilliant song about how life takes away all of one’s fun), “Four Letter Words” (which include the terms “life” and “love”) and “Mostly Miserable”) are closer to pop nuggets, but the more aggressive “Shithole Town” and “Life is a Nightmare” are two of the bright spots (relatively speaking) on Gree!. Grim Deeds comes through boldly through a very commendable cover of the Motorhead classic “Ramones” and highlights the stupidity of social media on “Facebook Wisdom”. The rapid fire playing of “Stress Addict” and the dark humor of “Sad Cannibal” embody all the Grim deeds is-a wildly self-flagellating, twisted musical visionary whose suffering helps me, and I am sure many others, fight through life’s daily tribulations.

KLEENEX GIRL WONDER - White Lacuna (Reasonable Records https://kgw.me/album/white-lacuna)

Kleenex Girl Wonder, aka Graham Smith, has been kicking around for more than two decades producing gorgeous and whip smart pop. White Lacuna is another step forward in the evolution of this vision, as the ten songs presented here are soaring blasts of pristine pop goodness that are both remarkably light in texture but are not without depth, both lyrically and musically. Although drummer Matt LeMay, keyboardist Ryan Smith, and guitarist Thayer McClanahan assist Smith at times, Kleenex Girl Wonder is a vehicle for Graham Smith’s unique outlook on life. “A Sweet Person” overflows with grace as free flowing, jangly guitar works in perfect congress with Smith’s vocals. “Hope All is Lost” admits that “giving up has a certain seductiveness” and the expansive “Angelina” is a shimmering jewel of a song. The danceable “White Witch” seems to fit perfectly alongside the more raw, acoustic energy one hears on “Emerita”, and Smith commands both songs with glorious ease. “History of Ice” is a sterling opener with a density to the ethereal pop sweetness, while “Worry the Well” has a bouncing bassline and biting lyrics (“you’re still broken hearted and impotent”) that makes the song my favorite of White Lacuna. The longevity and the continuous creativity of Kleenex Girl Wonder remains incredibly impressive.

OBNOX - Bang Messiah (Smog Veil Records www.smogveil.com)

Bim Thomas is noisy, one-man wrecking crew whose legendary status is well earned and expands far outside his home of Cleveland. Bang Messiah will only continue to enhance that reputation, as the record is a sprawling mountain of occasionally chaotic, at times refined, and constantly engaging fury. The opening “Steve Albini Thinks We Suck” is a visceral punch to the face through a mass of noise, but when one reaches “I Hate Everything”, the song plays out like a 1960s psychedelic garage gem replete with harmonious vocals accented by soaring cymbal crashes and a ethereal guitar riff. This dichotomy of the unbridled and the precise makes Bang Messiah such an enchanting listen. While “Cream” is an atmospheric beauty, “Enter the Hater” is a rugged, muscular wall of guitar force. Thomas mixes and matches hip-hop (“Rally on the Block”) with distorted noise-core (“Off Ya Ass”) and he excels at all he attempts. This is not an easy listen but nothing experimental should be; rather, this is a wild ride across numerous genres and styles with Thomas continuing to refuse to cower to the expected. Bang Messiah is too dark in nature to correctly label as “fun” and doing so would minimize the impact of a visionary artist, but there is something inherently enjoyable about being bashed from limitless directions throughout the dozen songs one finds within this record.

THE BLANKZ - “It’s a Breakdown” b/w “You’re Not my Friend Anymore” (Slope Records www.sloperecords.com)

The Blankz provide another glorious explosion of punk-pop goodness that explores just how bad things really are but do so without entirely ruining the listener’s day. The Blankz have an uncanny ability to inject Blondie-esque, New Wave keys into rugged punk riffs to produce apologetically catchy tales of sarcastic woe. “It’s Breakdown” sums up the current state of affairs in this nation with the line “hang myself or hang around/It’s a breakdown” as an infectious hook propels the track. “You’re Not my Friend Anymore” addresses the pitfalls of living through social media with references to disliking posts and the sorrow associated with disconnecting virtually. This Phoenix band plays angry, passionate punk for confusing and frustrating times.

BURLY - Self Titled Demon (Five Kill Records https://www.fivekillrecords.com)

This upstate New York outfit plays gentile, nearly fragile music that is majestic in its beauty. The songs on Self Titled Demon revolve around fragments of memories and faded glimpses of events in one’s life and are lush in their beauty. Each of the songs meanders along at a steady, albeit deliberate pace that incorporate muted jazz-inspired sax and the exuberate warmth of the vocals. Everything the band tries works here, from the inconspicuous genius of the drumming to the whistling that accents “Snowden”. With references to smoking pot through a corn cob pipe (“Happy Bday”) and meeting with friends in Providence, Rhode Island (“Kent Lame”; a song whose dissident guitar is rapturous), the music of Burly brings the listeners into intimate moments as if all parties involved are old friends. “Branches of Blood” has an understated darkness, while the line “You’re not a person that I think about a lot/ And I don’t mean for that to come off as a slight” in “Happy Birthday” is somehow both illuminating and heartbreaking. This is a gorgeous collection of five lovely and painstakingly constructed songs.

GRANDCHILDREN (https://grandchildren.bandcamp.com)

I am a sucker for great romances, and Grandchildren is just that, plus a dazzling band musically. The seven songs are the tales of Alecks Martray and Shari Bolar, two highly skilled songwriters who met while Martray was on his first tour with Grandchildren, and nearly a decade later, the two present seven musically dense and powerful tracks. The opening “Ok, I’m Waiting” is more traditional pop fare with soaring harmonies and a staggering gorgeous arrangement. It is an intriguing start to the record, as Grandchildren pride themselves on their highly eclectic mixture of folk, rock, pop, lo-fi, and electronic touches. The rollicking “Zuni” possesses a hootenanny, front-porch sing-along sensibility accented by lush atmospheric beauty and the shared brilliance of Bolar and Martray. The bluesy “Phantom Pains” has a thicker guitar riff that exists is sharp contrast to the spectral nature of “Want it Bad”, a song of engaging warmth. The shared vocals and lyrical refrain of “I don’t believe the wicked/I don’t believe the poor” make “Gravity” another highlight from a collection of distinctive tracks. “Motherboard” feels as if it fell from the late 1960s as it blends pop and psychedelia into a flawless mass. The genteel closer, “Only One” exudes a sensuality while a quietly infectious drum loop propels the effort. This is striking and impossible to hear without being moved.

MARSHMALLOW COAST - Memory Girls (HHBTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

The opening “Warm Bodies” sets the tone for delightfully canorous release from a truly distinctive band. Marshmallow Coast play electronica for those who normally hate electronica, as this is largely pop-kissed gems that have hints of electronic flavoring. The beats are understated and heavily groove-oriented, occasionally co-existing with both serene keys and more bombastic guitar playing, best heard on the masterful “Take You On”. “K. Freeman Enslaved” is a perfect encapsulation of all the band is-jangly guitar holds hands with a retro dance beat and a layered vocal delivery hovers between a whisper and a panicked conversation. “Sinz of my Father” radiates with a tangible 1980s vibe from the robotic vocals to the instantly catchy groove, the song is akin to opening a vault from the past and one can nearly envision the dancers from a JJ Fad video grinding to this. The playful “Foxy Boy” is anchored by a steady throb and spacious, jazzy saxophone that pushes the song into R&B territory. As we approach a new year and hope for the best, it may be difficult to find anything more unique than the work of Marshmallow Coast.

NIGHT BEATS - Myth of a Man (Heavenly Records http://heavenlyrecordings.com)

Danny Lee Blackwell leads Night Beats through twelve tracks that sound like they have arrived from another era. From the flamenco sounding, sultry “I Wonder” to the 1960s pop bounce of “There She Goes”, Myth of a Man is the type of record that takes the listener far away from current troubles and places them firmly in the grasp of a highly gifted songsmith. The closing “Too Young to Pray” is a gentle love ballad ensconced in a web of haunting lyrics. The innuendo-laden “On Thing” has a guitar riff that ricochets off the walls and reverberates with psychedelic energy and encapsulates the varied talents on display throughout the work. It is among the finest pieces on Myth of a Man, which is a record that strolls and saunters with Texas-sized confidence on “Wasting Time” and “Let Me Guess”. The theme of the work addresses how many people seem to exist solely to hurt and manipulate others, and just how painful it can be when it happens to you. Blackwell examines fleeting moments of happiness, such as the refined beauty of “Footsteps”, a sterling gem that is matched by the jazzy groove of “Stand With Me”, a rack with a guitar riff that would make Carlos Santana beam. This is wonderful musical escapism delivered by a collection of highly skilled players.

TRANSGRESSORS - They Made Her a Criminal (Super Secret Records https://supersecretrecords.bigcartel.com)

This Texas act plays old time rock n’ roll with a heavy drawl and a gun-slinger’s sense of confidence. Exuding cowboy swagger, the Transgressors rumble through “You’re Running Wild” and “Ask Me No Questions”, while the Americana vibe of “Maddux Creek” channels Johnny Cash as the song gallops along while telling a wild yarn of potential violence. (“Put that knife away, son”) This same tone returns on “Driving Nails in the Floor for You”, as The Transgressors again infuse their work with Southern fried colloquialisms and slide guitar. “I’d Die to Kill for You” saunters forward with a strong bassline and more lyrics of murder and mayhem. For those who believe that the Stratocaster is the be all, end all of rock instruments, The Transgressors are your band-a gritty, hard-driving collection of players who clearly believe that the trends be damned and they stay true to rock’s honest and earnest outlaw origins.

For more Rich Quinlan reviews, click here...

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