Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 

DIVINE DIRT - From the Underworld (www.facebook.com/Divine-Dirt)

Bloody F. Mess will always have a special place in my heart. I first learned of him as the leader of Bloody Mess and the Skabs, a band that infamously opened for one of GG Allin’s parole-dodging tours, and later, Mr. Mess declared O.J. Simpson an “innocent man” more than a year before the end of that trial with song rightfully called “O.J. Simpson” which I played into the ground during my salad days of college radio. All these years later, he returns with his new act, Divine Dirt, and delivers From the Underground, a rocking, transcendental collection of trashy punk gems. Divine Dirt is largely more rock than punk, particularly on the ultra-catchy ode to the band itself (“Divine Dirt”) and the Sabbath-like stomp of “Lifting the Veil”. While the songs may play with tempo, there are more than a few true punk nuggets to be found, especially “Everyone’s On Drugs” which chronicles the legal drug trade that keeps more Americans than ever artificially able to get through their days, and “My Mind’s Diseased” ( including a new mantra of modern life-“My mind’s diseased with daily life”). The plodding “Skeletons” grinds slowly while Mess does his best Alice Cooper impression, a style matched in both tone and tenor by “Howling at the Moon”. The low-end thump of “Thieves Dressed as Kings” meshes sludge and a classic Judas Priest metallic assault to produce a slab of fun that could have illuminated parking lot parties in the early 80s. It is always great to have Bloody Mess back, and Divine Dirt displays, dare I say, some maturity from Peoria’s finest product.

UV-TV - Happy (Deranged Records www.derangedrecords.com)

UV-TV is able to create music that both bubbles over with energy and exuberance but the joy is also skillfully muted throughout Happy. The noisy, occasionally ambient, but always-impressive guitar work of Ian Bernacett and the remarkable vocal prowess of Rose Vastola lead the outfit originally from Gainesville, Florida. On the title track, Vastola’s sweetly sarcastic tone highlights the song’s declaration that “I’m so happy for you/Well it’s true/I’ll tell you/ it’s just a lot of shit”, while crunchy punk guitar dominates. There are aspects of the band’s earlier, more cuddle-core style, but UV-TV is embracing their angst on “inside Out” as raw, slashing guitar accents Vastola’s passionate delivery. (“You’re always upside down/I’m always inside out”) Subtle sweetness is heard on “Hide” and “Untitled” as both songs radiate enthusiasm along with rich harmonies. “World” is a more refined work as both it and the closing “Falling Down” are lengthier efforts that reveal the evolving nature of the band, as the members have the confidence to grant more air between notes. The work on Happy proves that UV-TV can strike at a listener’s head and heart with equal poise.

CHEMTRAIL - Collider (Good Fight Records https://goodfightmusic.bandcamp.com)

Instrumental bands deserve limitless respect; it is extremely difficult to produce music that is both stirring and relatable without a vocalist and lyrics to connect the listener to the band. An act like Animals as Leaders comes to mind in terms of bands that are capable of creating such an impact, and Chemtrail deserve to be within this conversation as well. Collider is a richly textured, complex mass of musical expertise from Ashbury Park. The band has three members who play guitar (Mike Burke and Chris Camano also offer their skills as keyboardists as well) and Chemtrail’s prowess is placed on full display with the opening “Void Crawler”. Ambient and innovative with sharp time structures, the song is a beautiful wall of sound that is stunningly lush and intricate but still graspable even for those of us who could never play like this. The spiritual nature of “Young Warrior” emerges again during the second half of “Collider”. This treasure of a song opens with aggressive guitar work before injecting a wave of distortion that cleanses the palate before the track drifts into a mist of unnerving calm that becomes hypnotic in its soothing nature. While “Parameters” and “Frozen Dream” are fleeting and beautiful, the fleshed out majesty of “Safe Passage” takes the listener on yet another astral expedition. There is something wholly unique about what Chemtrail does and they are a band for those who can appreciate truly refined musicianship as well as those who simply want to be swept away by dazzling compositions.

SUB DIO (undercomm.org/records.sidewithus.com/)

I love a band with a great backstory and Sub Dio certainly has that. Brian Moss has kicked around in a number of impressive bands throughout his life and has also spent time as a middle school teacher in San Francisco, and Danaca Von Hartwig is a social justice lawyer. Alongside Shane Hendry on drums, Danthrax on guitar (although Rob carter appears here) and Ran Marshall on bass, the band rampages through five blistering efforts of intelligent, hardcore flavored tracks. Von Hartwig and Moss share vocals and the give and take between them gives each song an aura of chaos while thunderous playing swirls around their impassioned voices. Each effort retains a similar sound that blends speed with raw emotion starting with “Takies”. With lyrics inspired by Von Hartwig’s critical but often times frustrating work, the band demands that listeners sit up and pay attention. “Skeeters” builds slowly and methodically before detonating into a mushroom cloud of fervent emotion. There is a clear nod to vintage DC post-punk on “Credible Fear”, particular the dissonant and discordant guitar playing that acts as the foundation of the song, and “Peachy Keen” is a flesh-ripping assault of a song. With Hendry’s breakneck drumming opening the song, Moss and Von Hartwig once again throw themselves into the musical fray, roaring and screaming about “hating the feeling” and “staring at the ceiling” with the repeating cry of “so peachy keen” taking on a sense of biting sarcasm. The concluding “Pardon Me” acts a perfect bookend to a five-song thrill ride of uncompromisingly abrasive and potent playing. I hope these guys can push their day jobs to the side and tour for a while.

CRO-MAGS - "Don’t Give In" EP (Victory Records, www.victoryrecords.com)

It is nightmarishly redundant to say that the Cro-Mags are one of the defining forces of American hardcore, but their history is important to understand as one listens to the new three-song EP. Granted, only one original member remains, but there is still something greatly endearing to hear Harley Flanagan bark, “Can’t let the circumstances define who you are” on “No One’s Victim”, the blistering final song of the three. The past two decades have been wrought with legal battles about the band’s name that were as bitter as the nastiest child custody case, with Flanagan finally gaining the right to record and tour under the moniker “Cro-Mags," the band he started when the vocalist was barely out of middle school. The trio of tracks are heavy, crossover hardcore that is done extremely well; it may not be revolutionary, but just having new Cro-Mags music after nearly twenty years is exciting. The band features the well-traveled Rocky George on guitar, and the opening “Don’t Give In” has aspects of Suicidal Tendencies running through it as Flanagan scowls his affirmations of toughness and self-reliance over three minutes of thunderous playing. It is a phrase Flanagan must know well, for not giving in defines his musical career. Guitarist Gabby Abularach and drummer Garry “G-Man” Sullivan bring their own brands of raw energy to the EP, and the Cro-Mags sound like they could throw down with kids more than half their ages, as the scathing “Drag You Under” proves. For those who were around to see the Cro-Mags in their early days of 80s New York City hardcore, it may be difficult to imagine that the band is still alive and vital in 2019, but of course, no one in the NYC of the 80s could imagine Times Square with a Disney store and family-style restaurants, so much has changed. However, one constant is Flanagan’s commitment to the spirit of the bare-knuckled brutality that defines the Cro-Mags. These three songs are not announcing a comeback as the legend and influence of the Cro-Mags never left. Instead, this is a declaration that the sleeping beast has once again risen.

THE GIRAFFES - Flower of the Cosmos (Silver Sleeves Records https://www.facebook.com/ silversleeverecords)

The Giraffes have been a long time staple of Brooklyn, particularly the Brooklyn prior to gentrification and rents that rival Manhattan. Their shows are infamous, and while Flower of the Cosmos may not necessarily capture the insanity of their gigs, the record is a collection of simmering blasts of metal-tinged rock. The opening “Can’t Do This in Your Head” is a noisy, guitar-heavy festival that is equal parts garage noise and hard-driving rock n’ roll. The Giraffes exist somewhere within those murky punk rock waters that infuse punchy force with just enough musical sophistication to know that the members are pros and not just a gang of guys slapping instruments around a rehearsal space. “FAKS” rattles like “No One Knows” from Queens of the Stone Age and a similar vibe is captured on “Golden Door”, with the latter delicately flavored with just enough atmospheric haze. The superbly titled “Raising Kids in the End Times” leaps skyward with a energized bass line that correlates with equally bombastic guitar riffs blending in with smoothly delivered lyrics from Aaron Lazar as he notes that “nothing’s gonna change”, and we are all “just living day to day”; this sad acknowledgment of man’s futility feels all too poignant right now. Lazar and fellow guitarist Damien Paris dominate “Bubble Scum”, an effort that oozes bluesy sensuality, while “Dorito Dreams” shakes with uncontrollable energy. Lazar declares on “Fill Up Glass”, “we’ll change your minds tonight”, and while the masses who attend the sweaty, furiously intense live performances from The Giraffes may not to have their opinions of the band changed, for those who are new to this outfit, Flower of the Cosmos is a perfect introduction. This is a record of progressive thinking rock as the band delivers hard-hitting tracks with a musical dexterity that is highly impressive. Now I just have to get to one of their gigs.

LOLA MONTEZ - Dissonant Dreams (lolamontezband.com)

Most people know Lola Montez as the famous mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria who fled the Germanic states during the ill-fated revolutions of 1848. However, if history does not interest you, the new reference point for Lola Montez will be this outstanding trio from Nashville. The band plays an infectious brand of well-crafted modern rock with a few playful nods to other genres. The majority of the work revolves around the guitar work of Blake Scopino and the beautiful vocals of Inga Rudin. Rudin’s voice soars majestically throughout the record, cutting through the songs like blazing comet in the night sky, and she even matches the power of Grace Slick on the band’s bold cover Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”. Scopino provides a wide array of guitar tricks and displays impressive nimbleness without ever becoming redundant. “Sacred” is one such example of this dynamic, but the song also possesses a subtle ambient nature also heard on “End of the Rainbow” that provides a sense of mystery and experimentation not always found in modern hard rock. Lola Montez also allows each of their songs to have air to breathe and room to roam as most of the tracks clock in at over four minutes in length. Maintaining the attention span of fans today can be challenging, but each of the ten songs resonate with warm harmonies and large, sweeping hooks, best heard on “Cyanide”. “Can You Feel Me” includes a funky, impish structure that allows Scopino to shine, while “Monster” has a heavy low-end groove. The song also features one of Rudin’s finest vocal performances, for her warning of “don’t touch me there” is delivered with a mixture of sensuality and caution. The shared vocals on “Break Up” gives the effort extra musical depth and is reminiscent of classic FM rock radio from a bygone era. Lola Montez does not solely clubber listeners for ten songs, but rather, the band alternates their fits of intensity with elements of serenity and sophistication. This is a band to which people need to pay attention.


 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Western Stars (Columbia Records www.columbiarecords.com)

I have seen the future of rock n' roll and he is now nearly seventy, but Bruce Springsteen continues to write songs of brilliant Americana that convey images of blue-collar struggles in a manner that makes him rock's Steinbeck. Springsteen famously invoked that legendary author on his Ghost of Tom Joad record, and Western Stars will undoubtedly remind many of that work, along with those who traveled with The Boss to Nebraska. Springsteen is once again alone on the road, traveling through the forgotten and ignored places such as the "lonely town" detailed on "Sundown" as the narrator simply travels "from bar to bar" lamenting a lost love. Rather than taking listeners to the heartland, Western Stars is a tribute to the rugged, still somewhat untamed aspects of the American West represented by figures racked by loneliness, depression, and painfully self-destructive regret. Self-reflection and the crushing sorrow of failure dominate the lives of the characters captured by Springsteen, whether this takes the form of the dissipation of a relationship ("There Goes My Miracle") or a desire to shed one's skin and start anew only to meet more disappointments ("Tucson Train"). The opening "Chasing Wild Horses" invokes sentiments of youthful anger that carried far too deeply into adulthood, while "Somewhere North of Nashville" includes the line, "I traded this song for you" offering a poignant emptiness that Springsteen referenced in both his autobiography and his sold-out Broadway show.

Springsteen's strength has always been his ability to capture a fleeting snapshot of American life and make it broadly relatable; on "Drive Fast (Stunt Man)", the protagonist lists his ills and the lasting suffering caused by his profession. In the hands of a weaker writer, the story could come across as clichéd, but Springsteen makes the tattered stunt man an analogy for anyone who has been battered and bruised by life's struggles. The work here is gentle, largely acoustic, and richly country-flavored, with Springsteen's gravely, well-worn voice and stunning musicianship granting each syllable uttered increased significance, accented by stirring strings, such as the lushly constructed "Stones" ("I woke up this morning/stones in my mouth") and the desperate self-deprecation of "Hello Sunshine" ("I always had a soft spot for the rain"). While "Sleep Joe's Café" is a divergence from this style with its buoyant tempo, "Moonlight Motel" has a lullaby sensibility and a haunting fragility in which memories flood back as the speaker gazes at a location of transitory contentment and offers "one last shot" of Jack Daniels to honor a place of past happiness, acting as a template reflective of the collective work of Western Stars. The career of Bruce Springsteen has included numerous aspects of rock's best qualities, but there is nothing in his catalogue that sounds quite like what one hears on Western Stars. The familiarity of the lyrical style remains in tact, but the musical structure takes the legend down yet another path, this one dusty and isolated replete with cowboys and the big sky of the West. Sit by the campfire and allow New Jersey's best to transplant all who listen to a majestically heartbreaking corner of the world.

AAN -- Losing My Shadow (Fresh Selects Records www.freshselects.bandcamp.com)

Aan is another wildly creative act from Portland, Oregon that shape-shifts genres by blending atmospheric keys with dreamy soundscapes and injections of sharp pop harmonies. Woven throughout the fabric of Losing My Shadow are tales of complex personal revelations and self-awareness, as Bud Wilson admits on the title track, “In my head I knew something my heart wasn’t ready to face/You wanted my love and I wanted your trust/But I was telling you lies/I was down in the dust” as psychedelic guitar riffs and a minimalist beat float around him. “Truly Massive” feels as if could exist in the late 60s as swirling, ethereal beauty envelopes equally beautiful lyrics (“Your touch is such a deception/Each kiss is a lesson I can’t seem to learn/It’s truly massive the way the world spins round you/I’m a blip in your atmosphere”), while “Born a Sucker” is propelled by warm programming compliments of Cameron Spies. The resplendent “Mistakes” is a serene, poignant effort that possesses a subdued R&B groove deftly accented by warm keys. This ability to balance humanity with the use of digital assistance is a fine line to walk, and Aan does so with remarkable grace. Much the way that Sgt.Peppers or Pet Sounds utilized every inch of the studio, Losing My Shadow conveys a similar sentiment for each song is overflowing with ideas and waves of sound. The songs never become cluttered or overly busy but are certainly complex in their majestic approach. The heartwrenching “Hurts to be Alone” is not a standard lament about feeling ignored, but is rather a declaration of pain and confusion by Wilson as he proclaims to the world, “I’ve got love for everyone” while gentle keys caress each syllable. Aan does not shy away from challenging the listener, as Losing My Shadow is not a record that one simply puts on as background noise; the nine songs demand rapt attention and are layered, adroitly textured works that are both similar in nature and yet still distinctly unique from each other. The closing “Life of the Party” has an aura that is the antithesis of the title as the song has a wraithlike quality hat perfectly captures the line, “I’m just a ghost in the room”. The loneliness and self-doubt Aan explores is quite painful and one can almost hear the anguish Wilson is suffering, but his ability to express these motions with such daring clarity makes Losing My Shadow a powerful listening experience.

CORPORATE CITIZEN - A Brief Moment of Sanity (El Topo Records www.eltoporecors.com)

Corporate Citizen labels itself a hardcore band but unlike acts that play fleeting blasts of speed that come and leave within a blink, Corporate Citizen flesh out their songs and develop a highly distinctive sound. This is not to say that the band does not hit with authority, as the opening “Batten Down the Hatches” is a sonic blast of power, but the track also demonstrates several tempo shifts and plays with chord progressions that displays more sophistication than sometimes heard within the genre, as Corporate Citizen even write identifiable choruses. Some of the themes addressed on A Brief Moment of Sanity are standard hardcore fare, particularly on “Next Big Thing” on which vocalist Bob Meder admits that he is “just fine with where I’m at” and eschews capitalist pursuits through musical conformity, butt he topics are addressed with a more mature level of experience. The work of Corporate Citizen retains hardcore’s driving intensity and gang vocals that will undoubtedly inspire massive spin-kick karaoke, as heard on “Got No Time” and “Just Walk Away”, but there is a depth to the nine songs that will provoke as many thoughts as stage-dives. The closing “The Good One” is a rugged beast of guitar crunch offset by an unapologetically harmonious chorus. The song is rife with emotion as Meder says farewell to an unwanted acquaintance with this biting dismissal: “To me you are inconsequential/A bump in the road that I will always avoid”. Bitter and still melodic, Corporate Citizen are not afraid to expand the boundaries of what hardcore can be.

PRETTIEST EYES - Vol. 3 (Castle Face Records)

This L.A. based post-industrial outfit returns with a distinctive mixture of angular rhythms and Devo-esque quirkiness. Prettiest Eyes experiment with tempos and intensity levels throughout Vol. 3 granting the band the rare quality of originality, for while they honor their influences they do not simply imitate past heroes. The wildly infectious “It Costs to be Austere” bobs with the energy of “Uncontrollable Urge” and has a chorus that resonates long after the song fades. “I Don’t Know” and “Mr. President” have a more deliberate pace that allows for the subtle noise and carefully placed effects to gain greater attention. Drummer and lead vocalist Pachy Garcia has a voice that streaks like a comet at times, capturing extraordinary emotion while still retaining a great sense of humanity even while being profoundly impacted by mechanized alterations. This balance between man and machine is the band’s greatest strength, as the quality of the songwriting is not lost within a mass of studio tricks. It can be easy for bands like Prettiest Eyes to be lured into a trap of overwhelming the listener with layers of density that, while technically impressive, ultimately suffocate the songs; rather than becoming laborious masses, the textured force heard on Vol. 3 straddles the line before aggression and refinement. The work and contributions of keyboardist/noise fiend Paco Casanova and bassist Marcos Rodriquez are audibly identifiable even at the band’s most chaotic moments, such as the blaring “The Shame”, a song that blends the fury of the Screamers and the mind-altering passion of Suicide to be my personal favorite of the bunch. The sullen, quiet soundscape “Another Earth” is disturbing in its subtle darkness, matched in apparitional beauty and by “Strange Distance”, with Garcia’s disturbingly ethereal voice hovering just above streaking blasts of guitar and intermittent keys. “Marihuana” is thunderous blast of danceable punk that fits snuggly in the midst of the swirling forces that surround it. “Summer in L.A.” captures a similar vibe and sounds like Brainiac jamming with early-90s Ministry while listening to Dead Kennedys to create a grinding, swirling ball of power. The closing “La Maldad” concludes with song collapsing upon itself in a heap of exhaustion, capturing the emotions of the listeners after completing their vital work.

TOMMY AND JUNE s/t (Fat Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

This is quite the departure for Fat Wreck; Tommy and June are true folk duo playing jangly, predominantly acoustic nuggets that are fleeting in nature and often darkly comical. “Jetlag Blues” describes hassles at LAX, as the song details spending “six hours at the gate because I look like someone who may be smuggling drugs” and “Monogamist” offers this realization: “I fell into this/I would never choose this way of life/It may fit for someone ready to give up his teenage dreams”. While self-deprecating ,the lyrics never come across as pining for lost youth, in fact Tommy and June recognize on “Adulthood” that we are all in this aging process together, and while it may not enjoyable, there really is no gain in simply complaining about it. The raucous “Ghost of Paris” slams itself with a far greater ferocity than the rest of the material but it still recalls 60s garage rock more than the punk one usually associates with Fat Wreck. At first listen, the song may sound out of place, but the frustration expressed by the song is matched by the sarcasm of “Better Life Story”. In the latter, Tommy and June laugh at their friends who decided to have kids, now go to bed at 10pm, and surrendered their lives of independence. The record is a primer for those learning to come to grips with enhanced responsibility and the recognition that life may become more serious, but it does not mean that all the fun disappears. The music one hears here proves that claim to be true.


ELECTRIC FRANKENSTEIN - How to Make a Monster (Re-issue) (Victory Records www.victoryrecords.com)

Well, I guess I am officially old; I remember sitting in my small, basement apartment twenty years ago writing a review of the new Electric Frankenstein record, How to Make a Monster. I distinctly recall thinking how this band was kicking rock n’ roll in its bored and tired face, and twenty years later, the impact is exactly the same. A scathing set of blistering garage rock with an uncanny ability to blend big choruses with unfettered speed and angst, How to Make a Monster can rightfully take its place as a true rock classic. From Steve Miller’s full-throated vocal delivery to the dual guitar power of Jim Foster and Sal Canzonieri, the songs only know one gear and the band is supremely tight. Capturing EF at perhaps their creative peak, Monster is a bluesy, greasy record that leaves you exhausted and bloodied, but it is impossible to not love every second of it, from the campy intro “I Was a Modern Prometheus” through the concluding 50s-tinged rocker, “Phatty Boom Batty”. While “Use Me” was an early favorite of mine, I find that many of the deeper tracks hold up with equal ease. “My World”, “Don’t Know How to Stop You” and the scorching “Something for the Pain” are flawless bursts of sarcastic, biting punk rock that does not shy away from the desire to balance speed with precision, as heard by the driving low end force of bassist Dan Canzonieri and drummer Ron Sefcik. “I’m Not Your Nothing” is an affirmation of revulsion accented by a defiant sense of pride and sums up this essential listen. Gather around children, EF is about to reintroduce to what rock should be.

HAYBABY - They Get There (Tiny Engines Records www.tinyengines.net)

Haybaby lists their music on their Bandcamp page as “post-nap sludge pop”, and while I love the cheeky nature of this depiction, there is an apt accuracy to it as well. “Total Bore” saunters with a Kelly Deal-like bassline and subdued vocals. One waits patiently for an explosion of force that never comes, and this sets a tone for the record. Haybaby experiments with song structure and gives the aforementioned opener, “Monster” and “My Mother Tells Me” ample room to breathe, stretching ideas over tableaus lasting up to six minutes. “Monster” is particularly captivating as it a progressive increase in intensity before falling back into a tightly wound groove of fuzzy grunge. “Animosity” manipulates the definition of dark pop as Leslie Hong asks, “hey baby, why can’t you keep it together for a minute?” and her oneiric vocals are the centerpiece of the song, and this deft ability is heard again on the start/stop structure of “I’ll Wait”, giving the song a tangible urgency. Heartache, loss, and disgust fuels the music of They Get There as “Witch Like Me” addresses the long and trouble history of abuse towards women with Hong’s vitriolic delivery on full display. Noisy and furious, the song is a two-minute juggernaut. The equally menacing “Empathy” has a latter day Nirvana sensibility, as it balances rage with an infectious hook compliments of Sam Yield and Jeremy Duvall. Yet another great release from Tiny Engines.

NECKING - Cut Your Teeth (Mint Records www.mintrecs.com)

I am thrilled to see this, as Mint Records has been a favorite source of music since my earliest college radio days in 1991. A particularly fond memory was actually bringing cuddlecore giants Cub to my school where they delighted an audience comprised almost entirely of my college radio geek friends; to that end, Mint has delighted me for over twenty-five years and Necking only continues that proud legacy. The roaring opener ”Big Mouth announces the arrival of Necking’s second release and first full length. With thunderous drumming and Nada Hayek’s declaration of “Big mouth/you got a really big mouth”, one hears traditional riot grrl fury funneled through a contemporary filter. “Drag Me Out” taps into Sleater-Kinney’s finest sonic force and hook-crafting skills, traits equaled on the biting “Boss” which attacks sexism within the workplace with laser focused lyrics that will undoubtedly ring true for far too many. The nine songs of Cur Your Teeth are fleeting blasts of erudite song writing, meshing blunt force with uncompromising lyrics but doing so in a way that is more than standing on the shoulders of the giants that proceeded Necking. The four-piece from Vancouver turns up the punk-pop speed on “Go Getter” while also creating a darkly tinged sing along on “Rover”. (“I’m a dog calling home/crawling back can be alone”). “Spare Me” is driven by a highly kinetic bass line and leaves a lasting influence long after its scant one hundred seconds fade. The finale, “Habbo Hotel”, begins with a slower, deliberate pacing reminiscent of Bikini Kill’s more controlled moments before closing with a searing blast of aggression.


ACQUAINTANCES - 8 ½ Lives (File 13 Records www.file-13.com)

There are bands that one knows will be good before pressing play due simply to the line-up, and Acquaintances definitely meets this description. Featuring Jared Gummere of the Ponys and Patrick Morris of Don Caballero, Thumbnail’s Stephen Schmidt and Justin Sinkovich, along with drummer Chris Wilson who has done time with Titus Andronicus and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, this is an all-star cast. It can sometimes be difficult to have all of this talent collaborate effectively, but everything on 8 1/2 Lives flows with streamlined expertise, from the refrain about a “beautiful collapse” on “Mutual Denial” to the opening blast of driving guitar on “And it All Went Black”. The hyperactive energy of “Bermuda Triangle” shakes with passion while the title track rumbles along driven by a thick bass hook and a classic 90s indie-style riff. “Mistakes I Made” balances a droning groove with bursts of noise to emerge as one of the strongest pieces of the bunch, and the expansive “The Last Page” moves with the ease of a light-hearted jam session, which is close to what Acquaintances is as a band. With members in Philly, Chicago, and Portland, this is a long-distance relationship that actually works, and all of us are the beneficiaries.

B-BOYS - Dudu (Captured Tracks www.capturedtracks.com)

Despite the moniker, B-Boys has nothing to do with old-school hip-hop; if any comparison is to be made, these guys sound like something that should have ripped apart the stage at Max’s Kansas City in the late 70s. Discordant, blaring, and usually fleeting in length, the songs of Dudu are intriguing puzzles of fuzzy force. When vocalist Andrew Kerr shouts, “It’s been revoked” on the opening “Cognitive Dissonance”, the song begins to spin out of control and crashes in a glorious blaze. “Pressure Inside” captures the confusion of the modern age with the declaration, “I’m always busy in my mind/can’t think things through” as an intensive swirl of guitar noise dominates the air. The tightly wound playing consistently sounds as if it is on the verge of exploding into a pile of unrecognizable rubble and this creates a sense of tension and anxiety for those listening, keeping an audience permanently uncertain about what will happen next. This quality makes the music of B-Boys, the band also including Britton Walker and Brandon Avalos, particularly exciting, best heard on the tense “Closer”. “Automation” has curt guitar riffs that slice through biting lyrics before erupting is a speedball of punk angst. Even what the band offers highly truncated efforts, such as “No”, and the punishing “Smoke You” the B Boys make statements, but they excel when the songs have more room to move, such as the sardonic “I Want” which includes Veronica Torres of Pill (“ I want pretty things/I want poetry”, “I want intelligence”, “I want quite a lot”) which rattles with a Feelies style nervousness. Snarky and overflowing with boredom, “Can’t Stand It” is the encapsulation of contemporary dissatisfaction. At fifteen songs, one may worry that the record may become redundant, but everything on Dudu slams and clangs with consistent potency, including the engaging off-kilter nature of the fifty-second instrumental closing title track and the speedy “Taste for Trash” (“I’ve got no taste for trash”). It always does my heart good to hear something new and exciting, and B Boys deliver on both accounts.

LITE - Multiple (Topshelf Records www.topshelfrecords.com)

The sixth album from this limitlessly unique Japanese band is not just genre bending, but genre smashing in its approach. Jazz, funk, guitar rock, and soul are seamlessly meshed together, occasionally all on one song. The opening ‘Double” is track played with dizzying speed but coherent enough to grant the listener an appreciation for the talent on display. A thick, danceable bass line thumps alongside rapid riffs and tempo shifts that are the musical equivalent of doctoral level trigonometry. To Lite’s credit, this is not just a collection of virtuosos simply cramming any many brilliant ideas into an incoherent mass; each song has a clearly defined start, middle, and end, even if may take a while or multiple listens, to identify them. The effervescent “Blizzard” is one such example. Featuring minimalist vocals, slap bass, and a more controlled, jazz-fusion style guitar work, the song is both a musical departure and yet still representative of their larger aural approach, which “Maze” is a two-minute long anthem for the coolest after-hours club imaginable. The jagged, start-stop nature of “Last Mile” gives the song a sense of schizophrenic energy that is equally thrilling as it is unnerving. “Ring” offers a new bend to the path of contemporary hip-hop as rapper Tokyo-based Maco Merets commands the mic over the top of a blissfully smooth, island-influenced beat. “Temple” meanders along gracefully, at times interrupted by bursts of metallic force before pausing for just a fleeting few seconds before reinventing itself as a nearly entirely different song. “4mg Warmth” has a lush, atmospheric nature that wraps itself around hypnotic rythyms., and the song leads majestically into the scintillating closer, “Clockwork”. With potential eruptions of sound hovering just beneath the surface, the song acts as a perfect conclusion to an immensely entertaining release.

PRETTIEST EYES Vol. 3 (Castle Face wwwcastlefacerecords.com)

This L.A. based post-industrial outfit returns with a distinctive mixture of angular rhythms and Devo-esque quirkiness. There is truly nothing quite like this, as Prettiest Eyes experiment with tempos and intensity levels throughout Vol. 3. The wildly infectious “It Costs to be Austere” bobs with the energy of “Uncontrollable Urge” and has a chorus that resonates long after the song fades. “I Don’t Know” and “Mr. President” have a more deliberate pace that allows for the subtle noise and carefully placed effects to gain greater attention. Drummer and lead vocalist Pachy Garcia has a voice that streaks like a comet at times and retains a great sense of humanity even while being profoundly impacted by mechanized alterations. This balance between man and machine is the band’s greatest strength, as the quality of the songwriting is lost within a mass of studio tricks. The work and contributions of keyboardist/noise fiend Paco Casanova and bassist Marcos Rodriquez are audibly identifiable even at the band’s most chaotic moments, such as the blaring “The Shame”, a song that blends the fury of the Screamers and the mind-altering passion of Suicide to be my personal favorite of the bunch. The sullen, quiet soundscape “Another Earth” is disturbing in its subtle darkness, matched in apparitional beauty and by “Strange Distance”, with Garcia’s disturbingly ethereal voice hovering just above streaking blasts of guitar and intermittent keys. “Marihuana” is thunderous blast of danceable punk that fits snuggly in the midst of the swirling forces that surround it. “Summer in L.A.” captures a similar vibe and sounds like Brainiac jamming with early-90s Ministry while listening to Dead Kennedys to create a grinding, swirling ball of power. The closing “La Maldad” concludes with song collapsing upon itself in a heap of exhaustion, capturing the emotions of the listeners after completing their vital work.

SUMMER CANNIBALS - Can’t Tell Me No (Tiny Engines www.tinyengines.net)

I always love a release with a fascinating backstory, and Summer Cannibals’ Can’t Tell Me No is one of most inspirational I have heard in a very long. The band, led by Jessica Boudreaux, discarded an entirely finished record in order to craft something in defiance of a person Boudreaux described as “abusive and manipulative” that worked on the now abandoned work. In its stead came the songs for Can’t Tell Me No, a bold, confident collection of anthems that reflect personal strength and a commitment to one’s principles. Boudreaux’s voice roars with focused rage on “False Anthem”, a song that directly confronts abusers and those who do not listens to victims’ stories, and “Behave” on which Boudreaux confesses, “I try to behave/it’s gets harder everyday” and asks, “What if I can’t change?” Blending indie rock with a solid dose of riot grrl strength, Summer Cannibals confront gender roles with biting social commentary on “Innocent Man” (“An innocent man doesn’t scream, doesn’t cry when he’s right”), a song that proves that one need not play with reckless fury in order to be effective. The trifecta of “One of Many”, “Staring at the Sun” and “Start Breaking” are flawlessly delivered piece of pop-kissed indie rock that also deliver a devastating punch to the jaw when one loses focus and each accents the talents of Casi Blum who devoted numerous fourteen hour days with Boudreaux to create Can’t Tell Me No, Devon Shirley, and Ethan Butman. The serene “Innocent Gold” finishes the record on a tender note musically, but the lyrics reflect extraordinary strength (“Out of the dark and back into gold”) and that quality encapsulates Summer Cannibals.

CHERRY POP - Sue Me (https://cherrypopli.bandcamp.com/releases)

I had the distinct pleasure of watching this band open up for the Murder Junkies a few weeks back, and they absolutely owned the club that night. Cherry Pop is a Long Island four-piece that injects a healthy dose of sleaze back into punk rock. Vocalist Cherry B, who also handles all lyrical responsibilities, commands scathing and sexually anthems "Complicated" and "Whore" as guitarist Austin Vomit proves that he is anything but simply a three-chord wonder. On "Fool", the band throws itself into high gear, delivering a track of blazing speed dripping with unabashed anger. Bassist TJ Dirt and drummer Nick Hero are a punishing low-end duo that provide a devastating backbeat for the biting "Past Your Prime" and the grinding "Garbage". This may only be a six song EP, but Sue Me is a bold introduction to a band with outstanding promise.

STRANGEWEATHER - Of the Reeds(strangeweatherpdx.bandcamp.com)

For people wondering where one can hear quality musicianship with a healthy dose of glockenspiel, one need only look to Strangeweather. This intriguing Portland, Oregon outfit plays a hypnotic blend of haunting darkwave and soaring chamber music. Rhone Lachner makes an immediate impression on the majestic opener "Syrinx", an expansive, profoundly lush anthem of delicate beauty. While the song concludes with a subtle bit of clamor, her flute playing seats a particularly soothing aura. "The Wind and the Wheel" is replete with perspicacious lyrics ("Everything you love/everything you hate/time will turn into dust blowing past your grave"). Invoking Etruscan mythology, "Born in Armor" references the lives and adventures of Minerva and Diana in a sprawling anthem with prominence given to bassist Joshum Hardy who also handles vocals on "The Wind and the Wheel". "Wooden Cage" is the darkest of the six pieces here ("Fell to pieces in the blink of an eye/ and then reveled in the pain") and its atmospheric intensity is almost unnerving. The poetic nature of "Five of Cups" is particularly serene as sparse lyrics are uttered throughout a richly textured song. The band fittingly references winter for there is a penetrating chill created on "Ace of Swords", another stirringly delicate that seems as if it could shatter into pieces at any second, highlighted by the cello playing of Brenna Sahatjian and intricate percussion from Dirt Deodara. Sounding like the soundtrack to a seance, the song, and the larger record, is simply mesmerizing.


 

ABOLITIONIST - Ugly Feeling (Between the Days Records; http://betweenthedays.storenvy.com/)

Apparently, this is Abolitionist’s swan song as the band is moving on, and if this is the case, what a way to exit. Ugly feeling is twelve blasts of melodic punk, textured with a dual guitar sound compliments of vocalist Dustin Herron and Jeremy Dunlap. The songs balance rage and control as Herron emotes, “He’s just not getting it/ yell a little bit louder/he’s just not getting it” on “Yelling” and he asks “Is the byproduct of patriarchy to consider only yourself?” Or is it a human thing?” on “The Selfish Gene”, a track driven by the drumming prowess of Sean Rule. The songs all focus introspective, contemplative lyrics that address the complexities of being human “in such a weird time” (“Ambivalent Nerd”). Throughout the record, the band, including bassist Joey Mohler, examines the human condition on tracks like “World Inside”, “Shelter”(“It wasn’t too bad living “in the sticks” surrounded by the trees and the loneliness”), and “Walls”. The songs shake with frustration and the insecurity that comes with feeling like an outsider; Abolitionist capture teen angst but make it clear that those feelings do not dissipate with the onset of adulthood. Instead of looking for blame, Herron bravely reveals a reality known by many on the title track when he admits, “It wasn’t all that bad growing up in the rural life, being shredded by the eggshells of an unhappy marriage of two unhappy souls” while driving riffs propel the song along at a furious pace. I am always drawn to intelligent songwriting, and that trait abounds on Ugly Feeling as Herron bares his soul throughout the fleeting tracks and asks profound and painful questions on “Family Affair” and Crossroads”; the types of questions that are not solved by simplistic answers, but rather may remain permanently unresolved. I do hope this is not the last of Abolitionist because punk needs more thoughtful acts such as this. Listeners may see themselves within these songs and may feel uneasy; however, the music of Abolitionist proves that feelings of disillusionment and uncertainty are not isolated emotions.

MYKEL BOARD AND THE CLEAN BOYS - “It’s Punk Rock” EP (The Only Label in the World; facebook.com/mykel.board)

Legendary punk gadfly Mykel Board returns with a roaring three-song release. Featuring the Clean Boys (Danish punks with an impressive discography of their own,) "It's Punk Rock” is a blazingly fast and noisy anthem that reminded me of an ode in the vain of Sebadoh’s “Gimme Indie Rock.” Defiant and proud of it, the song rumbles along with all the anger one would expect compressed neatly into about two minutes. “Fight Fight Buy” has a tone reminiscent of something the Jabbers would have recorded, overflowing with traditional punk disgust with society but delivered with a keen sense of melody.

The B-side is when things take a turn for the very weird: Singing along with the lovely voice of Persille Ingersler, Board delivers a lounge version of the Paul Anka hit “Having My Baby”. Played gently along with Peter Peter with a hint of sarcasm, the song seems particularly snotty in an era of the #MeToo movement and abortion laws driving women back to draconian measures concerning personal freedoms. While Board’s vocals do not approach the velvet tones of Anka, the song does not mimic Sid Vicious’ vomit-covered take on Sinatra, either. No one actually needs this, but the world should appreciate its existence.


THE CANDY SNATCHERS - Moronic Pleasures (www.houndgawd.com)

There are legions of stories of bands that should have been huge but through a combination of bad luck, bad timing, or bad habits, it just simply did not come to fruition. One of the most heartbreaking of these tales to me is The Candy Snatchers, a riotous act of sweat, beer, and violence that never disappointed. For those who never caught the band live, they missed unpredictable evenings of on-stage fights, an often-bloody vocalist in the form of Larry May, and the most ripping punk rock one would ever want to experience. All of this reckless energy burned itself out too quickly, culminating with the tragic loss of guitarist Matthew Odietus, although, to be fair, no one ever expected The Candy Snatchers to retire gracefully and quietly. Moronic Pleasures is an expansive collection of songs that is often labeled a “lost album”. Whatever label one wants to affix here, it is nineteen blasts of fearless aggression, with nothing even coming close to hitting three minutes in length. Everything on this record just crushes the listener, but good luck not throwing things around the room when “Pissed Off, Ripped Off, Screwed”, “Gone for Good”, or “Killing my Buzz” come through the speakers. The band was a searing mass of garage rock aesthetics and blunt punk rock force. Nothing about the band was subtle or refined, but the tongue in cheek humor of “She Sure Can Blow” and ”Ass Casserole” makes it clear that the guys, rounded out by bassist and frequent sparring partner of May, Willy Johns, and the thunderous Sergio Ponce on drums, took their fun seriously. While May has moved on to sing for the great Born Loose, his legacy will always be the front man of The Candy Snatchers. There is nothing to not absolutely worship here, and I have already worn out the vinyl. The Candy Snatchers may be gone, but their legacy should be a blueprint for any group of kids picking up instruments in a garage right now.

ROD HAMDALLAH - "Think About It " EP (www.houndgawd.com)

Rod Hamdallah has been creating his brand of rock n’ roll chaos since he was only sixteen, and while "Think About It" is only five songs, every second is a pleasure. The record meshes bluesy garage force with heartfelt lyrics about being lovesick, lost, and lonely. Hamdallah declares, “my heart is beating/beating on the ground”, and the refrain comes to carry the song “Heartbeat”, a sultry march accented by accordion that slowly grinds under Hamdallah’s vocal prowess. Each song celebrates Hamdallah’s highly emotive voice, but the most significant calling card is the explosive nature of the songs that rises and falls with seamless ease. When one hears the scream “take me back” during the song of the same name, the combination of anger, lust, and hope converges into a richly textured chorus that goes well beyond a standard love tale. “Carry You Home” bounds with soaring rythyms as Hamdallah announcs, “ain’t nobody loves you the way I do”, a statement of personal bombast as Adam Holliday delivering outstanding Hammond organ. The record radiates with a lo-fi aesthetic and it’s clear that this young man was influenced by the legends of the delta blues genre as “I Don’t Mind”, featuring the lyrics “I don’t care who you’re loving as long as you love me so”, would make Muddy Waters proud, while the scathing solo will delight any true rock aficionado. This one is a gem.

NEBULA - Holy Shit (Heavy Psych Sounds; www.heavypsychsounds.com)

Certain bands know how to characterize their music in only a few words, and Nebula has that done perfectly with Holy Shit, the name of their first release in ten years. A decade away would usually place most bands in the either the “recycled” or “nostalgia” categories, but not here. The Sabbath style riffs abound, particularly on the pummeling “Witching Hour” in which guitarist /vocalist Eddie Glass leads the band through a rollicking feedback drenched dirge that retains a highly melodic groove. Bassist Tom Davies and drummer Michael Amster are airtight anchors of the band’s heavy low-end rumble, from the hazy opening “Man’s Best Friend” to the Stooges-esque instrumental “Handful of Pills”. The songs elevate themselves above the typical stoner-doom genre but adding an atmospheric tone that both harkens back to 70s guitar rock and is still surprisingly contemporary. The meandering crawl of “Tomorrow Never Comes” is seven minutes of fuzzy, hypnotic power that will have every head in the crowd bobbing in rhythmic unison, and includes a dramatic tempo shift into a rambunctious mix of intricacy and truly heavy force before finding its original anthemic nature again. Despite Holy Shit being Nebula’s sixth release, this is my introduction to them, and I guess the old adage of better late than never applies here, for I am better for hearing this. “Gates of Eden” has a subtle Southern rock boogie to its otherwise meandering psychedelic sound, and would be an ideal blast for rock radio if that still existed. With touches of everything from Deep Purple to Iron Butterfly to Spirit, Nebula brings expansive headspace rock into the twenty-first century, perhaps truly highlighted by the blazing (pun intended) “Let’s Get Lost”, a punishing assault of scathing wah-wah effects pedal guitar work and impassioned vocals demanding “Let’s get lost/ let’s feel something”. It could be a “Sweetleaf” or “Dazed and Confused” for the vape generation or simply a new anthem for those of us looking for a return to rock’s more experimental nature. Concluding with “Cry of a Tortured World”, Nebula boldly announces their return and people should sit up and take note.

THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST - I’ll See You in the Art You Love (store.cdbaby.com/ cd/thenextgreatamericannove2)

This New York City band eschews the dirt and grime of the City in exchange for beautiful, richly harmonious folk with a healthy dose of pop. What is easily appreciated here is the juxtaposition of buoyant playing with shockingly dark lyrics, as one hears on “American Queen” (“Here I am with the razor blade/ too good for my body”) and “Clover Color Blooms” (“Love will bring you laughter/then hang you from the rafter”). The songs are delivered with a sense of hopelessness that conveys early adulthood depression with the reality of life through the passionate vocals of Sean Cahill, who channels the best of Elliot Smith on “Mental Highway” and “Blue”, a song in which Cahill laments, “Nobody’s on my side”. The band has subsequently evolved from the release of Art You Love to become a louder act, as Cahill joined forces with Jason Cummings and Danny Sher, but the delicate beauty of the songs here are deeply moving. The sadness is unavoidable throughout Art You Love, and the record plays like one long break-up, but for anyone who has ever had their heart broken, the songs are a testament to a pain that is all too real and often indefinably penetrating. What I admire most here is that Cahill remains devoted to his suffering; there are no happy endings to these songs nor is there any silver lining-everything he feels hurts and he is boldly exorcising these obsessive thoughts for all to hear. Despite the similarities in tone and topic, the songs never become redundant, and even the six minute “Prosthetic Memories” moves along briskly and poignantly. Closing with the ethereal title track, the record closes with a breathy, solemn statement that reinforces the anguish Cahill feels. His suffering is the world’s gain and I can clearly understand why the Boss of Jersey Beat wanted this one to get some attention.

NOT A PART OF IT - Defiant Indifference (Next 7 Exits Records https://www.facebook.com/next7exits)

Not a Part of It returns with more ultra fast, biting political punk. The Trump era has inspired the most incensed politically motivated punk since Reagan and this highly skilled trio makes it clear that America is in trouble. On “And?”, the band warns that “they are coming for you”, and the ominous nature of the line is intensified when one considers that the band does not designate who the targeted group actually is. The denser but equally speedy “So?” reminds us all that it is “not enough”, while guitarist/vocalist Jason Burton expels biting frustrations. The B-side “Yeah?” demonstrates the complete talents of the band, particularly bassist Daylon Liles and drummer Rush Lamb-ah! Harkening back to the sound of the Damned and Stiff Little Fingers, the track speaks of a nation that has voluntarily made itself “emotionally blind”. This is menacing music for unsettled times.


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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